CHICAGO — The New England Patriots’ defense has lacked consistency over the last three weeks. OK, that might be too nice.
The Patriots’ defense has not been good over the last three weeks.
Still too soft?
Fine, they stunk, for the most part, Sunday in the Patriots’ 38-31 win over the Chicago Bears. The Patriots made Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky look like Gale Sayers as he scrambled six times for 81 yards and a touchdown, and they didn’t show any interest in covering tight end Trey Burton as he caught nine passes for 126 yards with a touchdown.
Overall, the Patriots’ defense let up 453 net yards to the Bears on Sunday. It was the third straight week they’ve allowed 439 or more yards in a game.
But they’re doing one thing very, very well: intercepting opposing quarterbacks.
The Patriots have intercepted a pass in every game this season, and they have 10 on the year. They came away with two more Sunday against Trubisky on highlight plays.
Rookie JC Jackson’s pick came on a scramble play. Patriots coaches teach their defenders to plaster defenders, but that’s easier said than done.
Jackson was covering Bears receiver Josh Bellamy on the play, but as Trubisky rolled to his right, Jackson stuck on him and made a diving pick.
“You’ve just got to be disciplined,” Jackson said. “Your eyes, you can’t be looking back at the quarterback. I kept my eyes on my receiver, and I just made a play.”
Jackson had committed three penalties — two accepted — early in the game and was removed from the defense. But when fellow cornerback Eric Rowe re-injured his groin, Jackson was thrust back into the game in dime.
“It meant a lot to me,” Jackson said. “I feel like they know I can play. I just have to keep playing aggressive, but eliminate the penalties.”
Cornerback Jonathan Jones also intercepted Trubisky. It was of similarly high difficulty.
Jones had his eyes downfield as he covered rookie wide receiver Anthony Miller. Jones stuck out his arm and picked off the pass one-handed.
“It was just a bang-bang play,” Jones said. “I was able to get down there and turn my head around right on time.”
Most defensive backs might just try to bat away that pass. But not Jones.
“You’re just watching the receiver,” he said. “As soon as he slows down, you know the ball is coming, and it’s coming slow. So, if you get the opportunity to turn around, that’s kind of the play to make. Just being able to get down there and get my head around, and the ball fell through.”
So, what’s allowing the Patriots to intercept so many passes? They had just 12 last season, and they’re currently on pace for 23. The most passes the Patriots have picked off since Bill Belichick entered the fold as head coach was 29 in 2003.
“I would say the main thing is marrying up good rush and good coverage,” safety Duron Harmon said. “And then just catching the ball. I mean, we also had a couple opportunities today to get our hand on the ball that we didn’t catch.”
One of those dropped interceptions came with 11:14 left in the second quarter, when linebacker Elandon Roberts couldn’t haul in a would-be pick in the end zone. Bears running back Jordan Howard scored on a 2-yard touchdown one play later.
The other also came in the end zone, when cornerback Stephon Gilmore dropped a passing attempt with 13:01 left in the third quarter. The Bears scored two plays later.
“Oh my god, lost it in the sun,” Gilmore said frustratedly. “It was so easy because the sun was coming this way, but I was so mad on that play.”
The Patriots’ defense as a whole must improve as the season progresses, but for now, turnovers are helping keep points off the scoreboard. The Patriots also had a takeaway when linebacker Dont’a Hightower blocked a punt, which was returned by linebacker Kyle Van Noy for a touchdown.