Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski missed his first game of the season on Sunday, sitting out the win over the Bears with a back injury.
The new issue popped up on the New England injury report late Friday and Gronkowski did not travel with his teammates to Chicago on Saturday. But according to Patriots head coach Bill Belichick the team wasn't sure Gronkowski would be out of action against the Bears until game day.
"In this case it really went all the way up to Sunday morning before we were 100-percent sure even though we knew it was a possibility before that," Belichick said during his day-after-game conference call with the New England media Monday afternoon.
The coach had praise for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the offensive staff for adjusting without one of New England's top contributors.
"We have to be prepared each week for backups for every position," Belichick began. "Something could happen on the first play and somebody else could have to play for that player. You never know who that player is. For example what happened with Sony [Michel] there in the first quarter, that could happen to anybody at any time, unfortunately. So we have to be prepared for those things. At whatever point the die is cast and we know it is then we go in that direction.
"Josh and his staff do a great job of being able to put together a game plan and make adjustments in the game when things change, whether that could be by personnel or schematically as the game unfolds. Yeah, Josh is very, very good at that. He's a great play caller. He does a great job in preparation and planning. He does a great job in play calling, in-game adjustments and knows our offense very thoroughly, without question, and is able to adapt quickly to whatever changes he needs to make."
As Belichick noted, running back Sony Michel left Sunday's win in Chicago with a knee injury in the first half and did not return. Reports have indicated that a Monday MRI on the first-round pick came back with relatively positive information and that the injury wasn't as severe as it may have looked or been feared initially.
But, Belichick would not offer up an update on his team's leading rusher.
"No. We'll put that out on the injury report on Wednesday when we know a little bit more," Belichick said.
Beyond his comments on playing without Gronkowski and Michel's status, here are some of the other key takeaways from Belichick's Monday afternoon conference call.
"C.P. made him miss and it was all over": One of the biggest plays from Sunday's win, New England first road victory of the season, was Cordarrelle Patterson's 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter that cut an early Bears lead to 17-14. Asked what stood out on film from one of two key plays in the kicking game, Belichick had plenty of praise to pass around.
"I thought we did a good job on the front side. They maybe overplayed it a little bit to the kick side. We kind of had to run some of those guys past the hole a little bit," Belichick explained. "C.P. cut it back and got good blocks on the back side from J.C. [Jackson] and I think it as Brandon [King]. Then obviously great running by C.P. turned what would have been a tackle maybe around the 35-yard line into a touchdown. But we had a hat on a hat. It was fairly clean through the line and then [Kevin] Toliver had a shot at him coming over from the safety position and C.P. made him miss and it was all over."
Jones/Jackson interceptions true takeaways: Big plays in the kicking game and a few turnovers on defense certainly keyed New England's 38-31 victory. Cornerback's Jonathan Jones and rookie J.C. Jackson each had interceptions to halt Bears drives and give their own offense extra chances to attempt to score. Belichick praised the individual efforts and plays by his young defensive backs.
"All of our defensive backs work very hard on their ball skills and playing with their back to the ball and those types of plays and when to reach for the ball and how to judge the pass without actually seeing the quarterback throw the ball," Belichick began. "There are different techniques that we use on that. Jon's play, that was a tremendous play where he showed his athleticism to be able to go up for the ball just at exactly the right time based on his recognition of the receiver's actions and go up there and made a great catch.
"J.C. was on a scramble play and kind of a 50/50 ball there where he threw it right into, [Mitch] Trubisky threw it kind of right between the receiver and the defender. J.C. was able to get in there and kind of get his hands in there and pull it away. It was a great play by both players."
Though some turnovers are relative gifts from the offense, Belichick made it clear his two young DBs earned these particular interceptions.
"Sometimes you're the beneficiary of just an offensive mistake but in those two cases I thought those are great examples of good defensive plays where we kind of took the ball away from them as opposed to they just gave us a good opportunity for it. We were able to get it away from them. So that was good," Belichick said.
"Didn't do a very good job" containing Trubisky: While the two interceptions may have been the high points for the New England defense at Soldier Field, allowing Chicago's quarterback Trubisky to run for 81 yards on just six scrambles, including reverse-field 8-yard touchdown, left Belichick less than pleased.
"We didn't do a very good job of rushing the passer," Belichick said. "Bad coaching. Bad tackling. Some bad playing. Just not very good. He ran well. He broke a couple tackles. But not very good by us in any area.
"We just let him out into open space. There are a lot of yards to be gained when there is nobody out there. A guy just runs until he runs out of bounds or picks up a first down. There are other things involved in that. The bottom line is a lot of things could be better, need to be better. A lot of things that we need to work on. That's schematically and fundamentally. All of the above."