There’s a lot to process from the 29:51 the Patriots had the ball against Chicago. But the biggest takeaway is that the offense made do with what it had.
They were Gronkless to start the game and lost Sony Michel with what looked to be a significant knee injury in the first half.
Kenjon Barner and James White as the only running backs and Dwayne Allen as the lone tight end is no way to go through a game, but the Patriots still put up yards and points so there’s no need to nitpick too long on the 24 points the offense put up.
Tom Brady had by far his most accurate game of the season, chewing up the underbelly of the Bears Cover-2 defense by hitting James White, Chris Hogan and Julian Edelman for a combined 19 catches and 156 yards.
WHAT WE SAID BEFORE THE GAME
But those numbers paint the picture of the way the offense needed to operate -- 8.2 yards per catch is the epitome of the kind of death-by-one-thousand-papercuts style the Patriots were happy to play as the Bears gave Brady easy throws.
The only blemish on Brady’s day -- and it was a significant one -- was his lone interception. Lobbing a balloon to the flat to fullback on third-and-2 from the Bears 35 with 6:31 left was an awful idea and the Bears gave Brady what he deserved by picking it off and then turning it into a touchdown to make it 38-31 and set the stage for unnecessary drama in the closing minutes.
It was Brady’s seventh pick of the year and –- for a player who’s never thrown more than 14 picks in a season -- he's been dogged by uncharacteristic lapses with ball security. Against the Chiefs last week, the walkabout fumble he burped up led to a third quarter touchdown for Kansas City that made it 27-26 and put wind in the Chiefs sails.
He finished 25-for-36 for 277 with three touchdown passes. Plenty adequate. And really, he’s going to be the least of the Patriots concerns.
What will be a concern is running back. As brilliant as White is as a pass-catcher/chain-mover/red–zone-savant, he’s not built for a between-the-tackles pounding. He carried 11 times for 40 yards on Sunday. The carries are a career-high topping the 10 times he carried against the Chiefs in the 2017 opener.
The 10 carries for Barner was a career-high for him as well. He’s more solidly built than White but that’s not his forte.
With former Patriot Mike Gillislee still unsigned, he seems a logical option.
The Patriots running game in recent weeks keyed the performance of an offense that averaged 40 points the past three games. The loss of Michel means more heat on the wideouts so it’s fortuitous that Hogan had by far his best game of the season with six catches for 63 yards on seven targets.
Meanwhile, Gordon had his longest reception of the season – a 55-yarder that set up a touchdown – and also made an acrobatic and powerful catch on the right sideline when he elevated and plucked a pass from Bears corner Kyle Fuller for a 19-yard gain on a fourth-and-1 from the Bears 42. He did have a drop, though, and Brady missed him along the sideline with a poorly placed pass.
The performance of the Patriots offensive line was probably the biggest bright spot. Brady got only modest pressure – he was sacked once and the Bears were credited with three quarterback hits. Dealing with a diminished Khalil Mack didn’t hurt the Patriots chances for success but the Patriots were getting the ball out so quickly to open spots he probably would have been rendered mostly moot.
The Patriots were able to get by with their 24 offensive points because their special teams put up 14 of their own.
But there will be bigger challenges posed than the one Mitch Trubisky brought for the Bears on Sunday. For example, Aaron Rodgers looms in two weeks.
With the running game now plunged into some doubt, the Patriots best offense would be a good defense. That has only been seen in tiny glimpses.
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