Fighting through it all
CHICAGO — Not sun, rain, sleet, hail, wind, and certainly not snow seem to faze the rampaging New England Patriots.
Yesterday’s arctic conditions at historic Soldier Field featured snow, a windchill of 9, and, most intriguingly, a wind that averaged 30 miles an hour and gusted in the 40s and beyond.
“One time Tom [Brady] threw to me and I thought I’d have to jump for it,’’ recalled receiver Wes Welker. “It came to my belly area.’’
Around here, they like to call such atmospheric conditions “Bear Weather.’’ The Patriots, now 35-5 in December since 2001, call it “Just Another Day At The Office.’’ Rolling up a season-high 475 yards in offense, they blasted the Bears by a 36-7 score to clinch a playoff berth.
Predictably, the coach was positively giddy with excitement.
“That’s good,’’ acknowledged Bill Belichick. “We’ve got to keep playing. I’m sure when the end of the season comes, somebody will tell us what to do.’’
It was a rather surreal postgame scene. The coach was doing his thing for the assembled media, while some 15 feet to his left a nice flat-screen television was showing the Jets en route to a crushing home loss to the Dolphins. You had to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the coach had sneaked a peek at the screen?
Ah, that would be a no. Informed that the Jets had just lost (dropping them two games behind his Patriots with three games to play), Coach Bill paused for maybe 10 seconds and said, “We can’t be scoreboard-watching and worrying about every team in the league. We worry about ourselves and just try to play well. Whatever happens, happens.’’
Right. Got it.
That being the case, let’s take a look at what his team has done since stinking up the joint next to another Great Lake five weeks ago in Cleveland.
■The Patriots have won five straight games.
■They have scored an average of 39.2 points per game.
■They have outscored their last three opponents, 102-10, in their last nine periods of play.
■They have outscored the Jets and Bears, who entered the last two games with a combined record of 18-5, by a score of 81-10.
As for Brady, perhaps you have a good unused adjective. I don’t. Totally unfazed by the elements, he threw for 369 more yards and two more touchdowns. That goes along with the 326 yards and four TDs he had last week and the 341 yards and four TDs he had the week before that.
Just think if he only had someone to “stretch the field.’’ (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
For the eighth straight game, Brady did not throw an interception. He needed a little luck to maintain that streak yesterday, because, on the Patriots’ second possession, linebacker Brian Urlacher tipped a pass that should have resulted in an end zone pick for safety Chris Harris. But Harris dropped the ball, and do I have to tell you what happened on the very next play?
Brady threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski. It’s obvious the grid gods are looking out for him these days.
The last two games have been huge statement games — for the other team. All Patriots fans knew how Rex Ryan had turned the “Monday Night Football’’ game into a preliminary Super Bowl. Well, yesterday’s game had great resonance out here, too. This was going to be proof that the 2010 Bears were worthy of being officially known as the “Monsters of the Midway.’’
But Brady deflated the crowd by orchestrating back-to-back scoring drives of 12 plays, 85 yards and 11 plays, 87 yards. And when Devin McCourty separated wide receiver Johnny Knox from the ball after a reception, Gary Guyton picked it up and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. It was 21-0 by the time the game was 20 minutes old, and suddenly the shivering Chicago fans were thinking that a fireplace and a frosty cold one would have made a much better decision than subjecting themselves to this slaughter.
The ultimate indignity occurred in the waning seconds of the half. Leading, 27-0, the Patriots had taken over at their 20 with 1:38 remaining. Brady could have begun massaging the clock right there. What’s wrong with a 26-0 halftime lead? A 19-yard completion to Deion Branch (8 catches, 151 yards) got the ball out to the 40. With five seconds left, and a third and 9 at their 41, surely Brady would take a knee. At least, that’s what Branch and I were thinking. Branch later said he definitely heard one coach saying to take a knee.
Shows you what stupids we are. “Tom called a route,’’ Branch said, “And I thought, ‘Good route.’ ’’ Branch sped past his man and there was no help from a safety. Brady laid it out there and Branch had himself a nice 59-yard TD reception.
It was that kind of day.
Surely the coach could explain just what’s gotten into his team since that debacle in Cleveland.
“Not a lot of good things happened in that game,’’ Belichick said. “Each game is its own game. We had challenges this week against Chicago that were different from what we’ll have next week against Green Bay. We have to take one game at a time and try to figure out what we need to do to compete against that particular opponent.’’
Right. Got it.
Truth is, there is no secret formula. They are talented, and they work at it under the guidance of perhaps the greatest coach of all time. Brady throws it and his receivers catch it. They now have a consistent running game (124 more on the ground yesterday). The defense has come a very long way. We can accurately say they are officially hard to run against, and we can likewise say the pass defense gets better and better.
Of course, it all starts with the two Bs, Brady and Belichick. We all can see what Brady does. Only the players know what the coach really does.
“The coach does a great job of game-planning every week,’’ said Branch. “And they’re all different.’’
I wouldn’t worry too much about complacency setting in, either. “I don’t think we have every problem solved,’’ Brady said. “There are plenty of defenses that have kicked us around a little bit. We don’t sit here and think we have it all figured out.’’
No other team has as many quality wins as the Patriots. Can’t wait to see what happens when they do figure it out.