1st & 2nd Quarters
…I found it mystifying the way Chicago elected to employ its best defender, OLB Khalil Mack, from the outset. Mack suffered a right ankle injury a week earlier and was virtually a non-participant in Bears practices, save on a limited basis last Friday.
Normally, he lines up on the left side of the defense, meaning he typically matches up with the other team’s right tackle. All week, the expectation would be that he’d go up against New England’s backup right tackle, LaAdrian Waddle, who was subbing for concussed starter Marcus Cannon. Even on a bad ankle, it would seem like an advantage for Mack.
However, the Bears lined Mack up on the other side, against starting left tackle Trent Brown, who has been solid all season for the Patriots.
…WR Chris Hogan was lucky to escape injury after Mack rolled onto the back of his legs while Hogan was blocking for fellow WR Julian Edelman during Edelman’s touchdown screen pass. Hogan needed attention on the field and briefly on the sideline, but managed to play without missing another snap.
…Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky is an athletic player for that position. New England recognized this, of course, and tried to counter that on the opening Chicago drive by blitzing him several times. Jonathan Jones came twice on corner blitzes and nearly got Trubisky the first time around.
…Trubisky’s unusual rushing numbers aside (81 yards on six mostly broken-down pass plays), the Patriots did a fairly decent job defending traditional running plays against Chicago. One excellent example came on Chicago’s second possession, when LB Kyle Van Noy used textbook technique to set the edge and prevent RB Tarik Cohen from getting to the outside. Cohen, in fact, lost three yards as a result of Van Noy’s ability to hold his ground while Cohen drifted toward the sideline. LB Dont’a Hightower also did a goo job just inside of Van Noy to maintain his ground so as not to allow Cohen to cut back inside.
…After looking closely at kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson’s fumble in the first quarter, two things stood out. First, the Bear credited with the forced fumble, Nick Kwiatkoski, got away with a hands-to-the-face penalty against Patriots blocker Nicholas Grigsby before Patterson arrived at the point of contact.
Second, Kwiatakoski didn’t knowingly force the fumble. As Patterson was trying to get around him and Grigsby, Kwiatkoski and Grigsby were entangled and falling to the ground. As this occurred, Patterson’s right arm, in which he was carrying the football, collided with the shoulder pad of his teammate, Grigsby. Chicago’s DeAndre Houston-Carson found himself in the right place at the right time as the ball squirted directly into his arms for the recovery.
…New England’s coverage in the secondary was pretty solid for most of the first quarter, but it also contributed to Trubisky being able to scramble for so much yardage. His 8-yard touchdown run was a perfect illustration of this.
The Patriots had all Bears receivers covered so well that, when both DEs Trey Flowers and Adrian Clayborn whiffed on sacking Trubisky as he unwisely backpedalled 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage, the secondary had to stay with their men because Trubisky was still eligible to throw the ball.
A couple of defenders tried to chase him down, but there was so much room for him to run and two giant o-linemen in front of him to block that he waltzed into the end zone from 30 yards out, although he only gets credit for the eight yards, where the line of scrimmage was on the play.
…CB Jason McCourty started and played the first quarter against Chicago, but in the second, he yielded to rookie J.C. Jackson, for reasons unclear. Rough beginning for the rookie, who nearly gave up a touchdown in the early second quarter.
Then, a few plays later, he incurred the first of his three penalties with a hands-to-the-face infraction against WR Kevin White. That initial one got declined by Chicago. There was no question, looking at it again, that Jackson got his hands on White’s facemask and kept them there too long. The officials had no choice but to flag him. Same on the second one a few plays after that.
…Jackson made his first good play, though, when he delivered one of several crucial blocks by the Patriots KOR team on Patterson’s 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Jackson’s block helped maintain an opening through which Patterson could run up the middle. Patterson then used his own vision and awareness and athleticism to avoid the last oncoming Bear before turning on his jets to outrace kicker Cody Parkey to the end zone.
…WR Josh Gordon had a good day in Chicago, catching four passes for 100 yards exactly. He could have been even better, however. The first of the three passes thrown to him that fell incomplete should have been caught. Brady’s pass was a touch underthrown, but Gordon, sitting in a zone, made the mistake of not coming back for the ball. He simply stood and waited for it to arrive, at which point it was so low to the ground that it was too difficult for Gordon to secure. He could have done better there.
…Gordon did much better a few plays later on 4th-and-1 from just inside Chicago territory. Facing a 1-on-1 with Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller, Gordon made a tremendous body adjustment as he leapt over Fuller to haul in a back-shoulder pass from Brady that gained 19 yards and a first down.
3rd & 4th Quarters
…Missed tackles of Trubisky hurt the Patriots all day. CB Eric Rowe, coming on an early third-quarter blitz, failed to wrap up Trubisky properly and the QB got away for a big gain.
…Appeared as if a blocking assignment miscommunication between center/co-captain David Andrews, right guard Shaq Mason, and right tackle LaAdrian Waddle might have led to Brady’s one and only sack on the day, down in the Bears’ red zone on 3rd-and-1.
…Another penalty committed by Jackson – a pass interference of WR Taylor Gabriel – was also warranted, as he clearly grabbed Gabriel after the opponent had beaten him downfield during his route.
…Hightower’s fantastic blocked punt – which Van Noy scooped up and then scored – came as direct result of his bulldozing of Bear Ben Braunecker at the line of scrimmage. I’ve rarely seen an NFL player get so thoroughly run over on a punt protection before.
…CB Eric Rowe left the game in the third quarter after aggravating a lingering groin injury. It looked to have happened on the play just before Jackson made his best play of the day – a sideline INT of Trubisky. Rowe, in coverage downfield, pulled up lame as he chased the receiver down. He didn’t return to action thereafter.
…Jackson did a nice job of staying with WR Joshua Bellamy as Trubisky scrambled to his right and Bellamy tried to shake Jackson on an improvised comeback route. Then, the rookie just outmuscled Bellamy for the ball that Trubisky tried to zing to his receiver. The ball was low to the ground, and Jackson ripped it from Bellamy’s grasp while making sure his arm was between the ground and the ball. Excellent play.
…A flat-out drop by Gordon along the sideline on the ensuing possession should have been an easy grab for him. Patriots had to punt as a result.
…CB Jonathan Jones made an equally, if not more impressive INT of Trubisky – a leaping grab with one hand on a slightly underthrown deep ball.
…Gordon’s most exciting play of the day came in the fourth quarter, after that Jones INT. Running a dig route across the middle, Gordon hauled in the pass from Brady, then powered his way through two Bears defenders and spun back toward the end zone. Strangely, it didn’t look like he was running full speed and he was eventually caught from behind, but not after a 55-yard gain inside the Bears’ 5-yard line.
Overall for this game, not Gordon’s best effort, but he’s certainly made and continues to make great strides as a full-time contributor in such a short amount of time since arriving in September. He’s added a needed element to this Patriots offense with his downfield catch potential and sure hands on shorter routes over the middle.