FOXBOROUGH – When a talented NFL team plays so badly that it becomes the topic of discussion all week, it generally responds the next week with a solid effort.
Case in point: New England's drubbing of Cincinnati in Week 5 after the Patriots got barbecued in Kansas City the previous Monday night.
Into town this week came the Chicago Bears, who'd been talked about around the country since last week's loss, when there was an overheard locker room outburst between teammates. Pundits declared the Bears in complete disarray, but there's too much talent, particularly on offense, to think Chicago would simply surrender when they got to Gillette Stadium. They'd be (pardon the expression) loaded for bear.
Except it didn't happen. There was no urgency to the Jay Cutler-led offense. Chicago's already banged up defense, meanwhile, continued to suffer losses to its starting lineup during the game. The laughable final two minutes of the first half, which saw New England score three touchdowns in under 50 seconds, effectively ended the game by intermission. The Bears scored some second-half points, but were never, ever a threat to mount a serious comeback.
It's never easy to win games in the NFL, but sometimes it looks easy. Tom Brady threw five touchdown passes and nearly completed every pass he threw. Three miscues were drops by receivers, one was an intentional throw-away, and another was just well-defended by Chicago. Two of Brady's receivers – tight end Rob Gronkowski and wideout Brandon LaFell – easily topped 100 yards receiving. Both scored touchdowns, too (Gronk had three). Running back Jonas Gray, late of the team's practice squad, in just his second game came close to 100 yards rushing (he finished with 86).
The defense, meanwhile, sacked Cutler three times. He lost a fumble and threw an interception to New England's D as well. The Patriots made it look really easy on Sunday. But how?
"What's so good about being here," LaFell explained, "the same looks we get in practice from the guys on the scout team, we come out here [on game day] and we'd seen the look already. Tom threw the ball like that all week. It allowed us to play faster.
"It looks easy from the outside, but those guys are pretty good, man. We put up a lot of points, but we had to work for it. Nothing was given. Those guys, next week they could shut somebody out. Those guys are good. They just need to get healthy."
DE Rob Ninkovich said on Friday that without Chandler Jones (out with a hip injury), he would step up and make more plays. Ninko lived up to that promise, scooping up Cutler's fumble and running it in for a score. Afterward, he insisted that he's never surprised when things go so according to plan like they did against Chicago.
That's the kind of confidence you get from a team that's starting to play well on offense, defense, and special teams. And it couldn't come at a better time. New England's schedule gets incredibly difficult over the next month-and-a-half.
Did every Patriot expect it to be so easy?
"No," defensive lineman/co-captain Vince Wilfork stated, "but I knew we had a good week of practice. I think it really came together for us. Leaving the field Friday we really had a good feeling about the game plan. Everybody was in tune with our focus. I didn't know it was going to be like this, but I was looking for a good, good football game. We showed that we were ready to play tonight."
"You prepare the best you can every week," observed cornerback Darrelle Revis. "Your mentality coming into the game is to make turnovers, especially as a defense, and try to go three-and-out and try to get the ball back for the offense. Clearly, we were hitting on all cylinders today. It feels great to see us doing great in all three phases of the game."
"The offense did a great job today," Ninkovich added. "They were able to run the ball, set the tone early, and play Patriots football. That's all three phases playing well. Special Teams were flying around. We were able to do a good job this week stopping the run and getting them in a one-dimensional type of offense. It comes down to preparing well and understanding what they like to do and the things that work for them, and I think we did a good job of shutting that down."
The convincing win sets New England up for yet another classic Brady-versus-Peyton Manning showdown next Sunday, when the juggernaut Denver Broncos visit Gillette.
"Going into next week," LaFell continued, "we're going to need all hands on board. Those guys [in Denver] are a good defense, but we've been clicking lately on this offense. On defense, everyone's doing their part. We need to continue to do that. We can't have an off week this week. We have to come in tomorrow and start preparing to get on top of these guys."
"We have a challenge ahead of us," said Wilfork, "but… if we take the steps we did last week coming into this week, we'll be OK."
"These are the games you want to play for," Revis declared of the upcoming Denver tilt. "I can speak for everybody that is on this team. We live for games like this, for next week. We are looking forward to it and it's going to be a great matchup."
Just don't expect it to be so easy.