CHICAGO -- Here are some quick-hitting thoughts from the Patriots' wild 38-31 win over the Bears . . .
NOW THAT'S AN ENDING
The game seemed over when the Pats had a 38-24 lead and the ball, and -- despite an interception and a subsequent Chicago touchdown that cut the lead to seven -- still seemed over when the Pats, having forced Chicago to use all its timeouts, punted in the final 30 seconds. The Bears had to go 80 yards in 24 seconds with no timeouts . . . and they fell one yard short:
The Rutgers trio makes the stop at the goal line to preserve the Patriots win. Not exactly the finish you're looking for -- it was an ugly game on multiple fronts -- but the Patriots are headed home 5-2.
MICHEL DOWN, WHITE THE WORKHORSE
Sony Michel left the game after the first play of the second quarter when he suffered an ugly knee injury and had to be carted to the Patriots locker room. In his place, both James White and Kenjon Barner saw increased roles. White carried 11 times for 40 yards and caught eight passes for 57 yards and two scores. (White now has 45 catches through seven games.) Barner carried 10 times for 36 yards and served more as the between-the-tackles runner once he got involved. At 5-foot-9 and less than 200 pounds, Barner's not exactly a "big back." Far from it. But he didn't see a target in the passing game. At the end of the game, the Patriots went back to White to kill clock. White is one of the most sure-handed ball-carriers in football. He has not fumbled in the regular season in his career. He kept that streak alive and now has 359 regular-season touches without a fumble. (He's fumbled once as a pro, in the 2015 postseason.)
BRADY AND GORDON SHOWING SIGNS
In yet another sign that Tom Brady and Josh Gordon are starting to connect on a level that few Patriots receivers reach, Brady sent Gordon a back-shoulder throw on a fourth-and-one play on their sixth drive of the half . . . and they connected. Gordon made an acrobatic, hands-only, leaping grab that extended the Patriots drive and eventually led to a James White touchdown. Asked about back-shoulder throws this week, Gordon said he felt better about them -- despite missing badly on three previous attempts with Brady in Weeks 5 and 6 -- and Brady agreed. The proof was on the field in a critical moment. On a throw that requires timing, chemistry, and an ability to see the coverage through one set of eyes, Brady and Gordon executed. That has to be a scary thing for opposing defenses moving forward. Brady's 55-yard completion to Gordon -- Gordon's longest catch-and-run since 2013 -- helped set up a fourth-quarter touchdown by James White to go up, 38-24.
HIGHTOWER SHOWING UP ON "TEAMS"
Dont'a Hightower isn't known as a special teams maven, but he made one of the plays of the game when he blocked a Bears punt that was scooped up by Kyle Van Noy and returned for a touchdown to give the Patriots a 31-24 lead. The play kick-started my short-term memory because I'd spent a good portion of Wednesday tracking down old Bill Belichick quotes on Lawrence Taylor. One of the things Belichick loved about Taylor? His willingness to play special teams and his effectiveness there. Belichick may have had the same kinds of thoughts rolling through his head when Hightower and Van Noy combined for one of the biggest swings in the game.
"When I was with the Giants, Lawrence Taylor was on four special teams," Belichick said in December of 2014. ". . . And [he] made an impact on all of them, too. He wasn’t just out there taking up space. Whether it’s [Julian] Edelman or [Jamie] Collins or [Rob] Ninkovich, you can go right down the line, the guys that are out there – we’ve had them in the past, the [Rodney] Harrisons, the [Tedy] Bruschis, the [Mike] Vrabels, the [Lawyer] Milloys, Troy Brown – some of our best players made some of the biggest plays in this franchise’s history in the kicking game. Players that are competitive that want to help their team win, want to help their team win in every situation, not selectively. Like they’re just going to do it here, do it there, because that’s when it’s convenient or when they feel like – good football players, championship players, winning players, they do it every chance they get."
SPY NOT MORE?
Kyle Van Noy helped snuff out a Bears third-down try when he lined up on the line of scrimmage and then instead of rushing the passer, he dropped to spy Trubisky. Facing pressure, and with nowhere to run, Trubisky sailed an ill-advised pass (one of many for him) incomplete. The Patriots had been gashed by Trubisky runs to that point, and perhaps spying him (something the Patriots did frequently to Marcus Mariota in last year's Divisional Round) was the answer Bill Belichick needed. Like Mariota, Trubisky is athletic, but he's not a good on-the-move passer. There's a balance to strike between pressuring a quarterback like that to force him into bad decisions and keeping his legs under control. Having a dedicated spy on that first-half snap helped the Patriots strike that balance. The Patriots later utilized Elandon Roberts and Dont'a Hightower in a similar role but they continued to have issues containing him. Trubisky finished with six carries for 81 yards.
REMINDER: PATRIOTS CAN'T WIN UNLESS THEY DON'T LOSE
Makes sense, right? That's something that's said inside the walls of Gillette Stadium ad nauseum. You can't win until you learn how not to lose. Well somehow the Patriots led the Bears at halftime, 21-17, despite playing losing football for large portions of the first 30 minutes. They fumbled twice, once on a kick-return that led to a quick Chicago scoring drive. They were penalized four times for 28 yards, but they had two more penalties that were declined. Breakdowns up front led to 42 yards rushing on five attempt by Mitch Trubisky. It was ugly, and it gave Bill Belichick and his staff plenty to work on during next week's practices before they even hit the locker room.
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