When the Patriots ran:
Based strictly on the numbers this was not a big day for the Patriots ground game. And even if Sony Michel hadn’t sustained a knee injury on the first play of the second quarter that likely wouldn’t have changed much. Michel ripped off an 18-yard run on the first play of the game, then totaled 4 yards on his other three carries before leaving for the day. Kenjon Barner gamely stepped in and run hard, but picked up only 36 yards on his 10 carries. James White also carried a career-high 11 times and finished with only 40 yards, leaving both he and Barner with less-than-impressive 3.6-yard averages. As a team New England barely squeaked out 100 yards, needing 27 carries to get 108 yards for a 4-yard average. But despite than less-than-gaudy totals it was White’s work in the four-minute offense that was key. Protecting a 38-31 lead with 4:05 to go, White carried the ball on eight consecutive plays and had gains of 5, 4, 2, 8, 3, 3, 2 and 0 yards while picking up a pair of crucial first downs. By the time the Bears stopped him, they had just 24 seconds and 80 yards to go for the tie. With Michel out, White stepped up in a role he hasn’t really filled and his toughness was the difference.
When the Patriots passed:
This wasn’t one of Tom Brady’s signature games but he made enough plays to put points on the board. He completed 25 of 36 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns but he did throw a costly interception that nearly allowed Chicago back into it. Despite holding a 38-24 lead midway through the fourth quarter, he unwisely threw a hurried pass in the face of heavy pressure toward a tightly covered James Develin. Kyle Fuller wound up grabbing the deflected pass and Chicago was suddenly back in it. Brady also misfired on a couple of throws, including one over the middle in which he underthrew Josh Gordon. But he also was outstanding dealing with Chicago’s front, consistently recognizing where the pressure would come from and delivering the ball quickly. The schemes also forced both Leonard Floyd and Khalil Mack into coverage at various times, and part of that credit goes to Brady. He hit Gordon four times for 100 yards, none bigger than a key fourth-down conversion for 19 yards on a touchdown drive in the second quarter that gave the Patriots the lead. Gordon also shook free for a 55-yard gain in the second half that helped put the game away. White was his usually reliable self in the passing game with eight catches for 57 yards and a pair of touchdowns and Chris Hogan was productive in the second half, finishing with six grabs for 63 in a solid effort. Without Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman was quiet with five catches for just 36 yards although he did open the scoring on a 9-yard screen.
When the Bears ran:
Judging Chicago’s two offensive matchups is a matter of how one view’s Mitch Trubisky’s running. Since all six of his attempts came off scrambles they’ll be treated as part of the passing game, therefore the Patriots get the edge here by shutting down Jordan Howard (12 carries, 39 yards, 1 TD) and Tarik Cohen (six carries, 14 yards). Counting Taylor Gabriel’s 1 attempt that was stopped for no gain, that’s 19 carries for 53 yards (2.8-yard average) as a team for the Bears. The Patriots continued their rotation up front, starting with Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy, followed by Guy and Danny Shelton on the second series and Brown and Shelton on the third. For the most all three pairs were effective with very few exceptions. Dont’a Hightower and Elandon Roberts did a nice job of filling the running lanes and Howard rarely found his way through the initial line of defense. This was a solid day for the guys up front in the passing game.
When the Bears passed:
Bill Belichick said after the game that Trubisky’s 81 rushing yards were part of pass defense so it makes sense to include them in this matchup. He was outstanding as a runner, consistently escaping the pocket thanks to very little pressure, and once he hit the second level he found little resistance. His 8-yard touchdown run was troubling in that he retreated to his 30-yard line before completely reversing course and finding the end zone on the other sideline. He added a 39-yard run down to the 1 in the second half. Truth be told the erratic quarterback probably did enough damage through the air to earn the edge anyway, passing for 333 yards and a pair of touchdowns despite being wildly off target throughout the game. He threw two interceptions – both terrific plays by J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones – but could have thrown more. He also could have completed more than the 26 of 50 throws he attempted had he had some help from his receivers. Tight end Trey Burton was his only reliable target, catching nine of the 11 passes thrown his way for 126 yards and a touchdown. Cohen caught eight balls for 69 yards but was unable to make many key plays. Allen Robinson hobbled around the field for a while before leaving with a groin injury that has plagued him recently. He was ineffective with just one catch for 4 yards. But despite all the ineptitude, Trubisky led a 63-yard touchdown drive with a little more than four minutes left to get his team within a touchdown at 38-31. He then hit Kevin White on a Hail Mary as time expired for 54 yards, but Duron Harmon and his friends made sure he didn’t pick up the final yard he needed to tie the game.
It isn’t often that a game that features a turnover and three penalties on special teams earns a team the edge, but then again it’s not often that the same team scores a pair of touchdowns in the kicking game either. After Cordarrelle Patterson fumbled on his first kick return of the day, he later ripped off a 95-yard touchdown when he broke free from Kevin Toliver’s tackle attempt and exploded past kicker Cody Parkey for the score. It came at a key juncture as the Bears had just cashed in on Michel’s fumble to take a 17-7 lead midway through the second quarter. In the second half with the score tied at 24, Hightower shot through up the middle to block Pat O’Donnell’s punt, allowing Kyle Van Noy to scoop it up and run 29 yards for another touchdown. It wasn’t all perfect for the special teams though, as Keion Crossen (unsportsmanlike conduct) and Brandon King (facemask) were flagged for personal fouls and the kicking team was called for delay of game. Edelman also muffed a punt and was fortunate ro recover inside his 10 late in the first half, and Cohen had a 17-yard punt return. But those two touchdowns were the keys to a tough road victory.