The New England Patriots were far from perfect Sunday in their 38-31 win in Chicago, but well-timed, key second-half turnovers thwarted any comeback attempts by the Bears.
The Patriots and Bears were knotted 24-24 midway through the second half. The Bears then finished three consecutive drives with a blocked punt (which isn’t technically a turnover but in this case is close enough), an interception and another interception and suddenly trailed 38-24 by midway through the fourth quarter. Life comes at you fast.
The Patriots went with a different look on their punt return team on the block. As ESPN’s Mike Reiss noted, the Patriots swapped linebackers Nicholas Grigsby and Elandon Roberts, cornerback Jason McCourty and wide receiver Chris Hogan for defensive linemen Danny Shelton and Lawrence Guy and linebacker Kyle Van Noy. The Patriots wanted a block and got exactly that.
The play wasn’t exactly complicated. Hightower simply ran through Bears tight end Ben Braunecker and blocked punter Pat O’Donnell’s attempt. Van Noy had to double clutch for the recovery but eventually picked the ball up and ran it in for a touchdown.
After the Patriots kicked the ball back to the Bears, rookie cornerback JC Jackson picked off quarterback Mitchell Trubisky on Chicago’s ensuing drive with 3:47 left in the third quarter.
The degree of difficulty on the interception was incredibly high. Jackson had to “plaster” wide receiver Joshua Bellamy on a long scramble play. He then came over the top of Bellamy and had to pry the ball away as the receiver was trying to haul the pass in.
— Bellamy had better leverage for the ball.
— But Jackson was able to stick his left hand in between Bellamy’s arms.
— Jackson hauled in the football over Bellamy.
— Jackson had possession first. This answers a few questions I received about why Bellamy wasn’t ruled down by contact with a reception. He never had the ball.
— But Jackson still had to fight Bellamy for the football on the ground.
— Jackson ultimately and decisively came out with the ball.
The Patriots weren’t able to score off the turnover and punted back to the Bears, who then picked up 56 yards on seven plays.
With 13:12 left in the fourth quarter, Trubisky threw it up to rookie wide receiver Anthony Miller. Patriots cornerback Jonathan Jones turned his head as he threw his arm up. He hauled in the interception one-handed and was able to hang on as he fell to the ground.
Talk about a high degree of difficulty. The Patriots then drove 96 yards down the field for a touchdown on a 2-yard shovel pass from quarterback Tom Brady to running back James White. They picked up 55 of those yards on a catch by wide receiver Josh Gordon, who probably should have scored, but he ran out of steam before he could find the end zone. He broke two tackles after the catch, which came on a deep in-route.
The Patriots were able to hold on and win 38-31, stopping Bears receiver Kevin White from getting into the end zone on a last-second Hail Mary completion.
Here are the rest of our film review observations:
— The Patriots allowed 81 yards on six carries by Trubisky. Two of those scrambles came on stunts by Patriots pass rushers, which opened up a rushing lane. Two more came on whiffs by defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who did also have his first sack in a Patriots uniform.
— Bears tight end Trey Burton had a field day, catching nine passes for 126 yards with a touchdown. Five of those catches came when Burton found holes in the Patriots’ zone coverage. Jones fell down in coverage on Burton’s touchdown.
— Brady went 25-of-36 for 277 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Brady and fullback James Develin can split blame for the pick. Brady shouldn’t have thrown the ball as he was getting pressured, but Develin also let it slip through his hands.
— White is unbelievable. He’s on pace for 103 catches for 869 yards with 14 touchdown catches, plus 91 rushing attempts for 432 yards with two touchdowns. He almost played the role of clock-killin’ Corey Dillon at the end, too, picking up two first downs on a drive that started with 4:05 left in the fourth quarter. He couldn’t pick up a third to fully drain the clock.
— Wide receiver Chris Hogan had his second consecutive impressive performance.
— Linebacker Elandon Roberts continues to shine as a run defender. He’s also looking better in coverage this season.
— Cornerback Stephon Gilmore didn’t let up a single catch on four targets. Safety Devin McCourty also had a nice bounce-back game.
— Jackson had three penalties — two accepted — before his interception, which led to him being removed from the defense until cornerback Eric Rowe reinjured his groin just in time for the rookie’s pick.