There's an old ancient Chinese proverb: "When the snow falls, so does the Patriots' opponent". Much was made heading into this afternoon's game about the weather and the role that it would play in New England's ability to come out of Soldier Field with a victory. The prevailing theme seemed to be the concern that the cold, windy conditions would affect the precision of the kicking game and open up the door for some big Devin Hester returns. While the kick return game for both teams seemed abnormally bountiful, the Patriots got up by so many points so fast, that the kicking game ended up being a non-factor. Hester could have returned four kicks for touchdowns and the Patriots still would have come away with the win. The bottom line is that no team this century has been more dominant in snowy or sub-zero temperatures than the New England Patriots. Forget "Crazy Train" or "Machine Head", the theme song for this Patriot's franchise should be "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow". In the past ten-plus years, I can't think of a single extreme winter weather game that New England lost. To take it a step further, outside of the "Tuck Rule" game, I'm having a hard time coming up with a game that they didn't dominate!
Despite the Patriots' success in the snow, Chicago fans can't blame Jack Frost for their team's performance this afternoon. Whether the temperature was -2 or 102, the Patriots flat-out B.E.A.T. the Bears up and down the field. For the most part, both teams seemed to function fairly well in the conditions. Sure, there was some slipping and sliding, some missed tackles, and some dropped balls, but overall, there were no "game changing" plays that were aided by the weather. In the end, the Bears did what everyone expected them to do. They brought solid pressure to Brady with their front four, sacking him three times. However, the versatile attack of the Patriots was too much for their vaunted defense. As many of the league's top defenses have come to discover, with Welker, Branch, Gronkowski, Hernandez, Woodhead, and Green-Ellis all on the field, there are simply too many threats to be accounted for. Brady was able to use his patented play-action to pick his spots, and, as a result, pick apart the Chicago defense.
That's not to say that the New England defense didn't have a good day as well. Devin McCourty was able to force a fumble which Gary Guyton returned for a touchdown, and both Guyton and Merriweather were able to pick off Cutler. Chicago was held to just 185 total yards of offense, while the Patriots passing attack alone, despite the storm, was able to rack up double that amount. For all the heat that this young defense took early on, it sure seems like they are coming together at just the right time. In the past nine quarters, the Pats have surrendered just ten points. The defense may be 32nd in the league in yards allowed, but it's 1st in big-time plays, and 1st in wins.
- Tthe Patriots just need 26 more points over the final three games, to achieve the 2nd most points in franchise history. 2007's 589 is undoubtedly off-limits. However, despite the fact that the Patriots are not nearly as explosive as they were three years ago, in some ways, they seem almost more "unstoppable". I don't think they'll drop points in the high 50's to low 60's on anyone this year, but they're putting up plenty of enough points to win. In 2007, the ground game was relatively weak. Teams mostly had trouble covering Moss without having Welker pick them apart, but towards the end of the season, the opposition figured it out, and things got closer, and closer, until... Sorry for brining that up.
But seriously, Brady's got a brick wall of a line surrounding him. He has two receivers he'd trust with his life. You've got a power back in Green-Ellis, and a shifty-quick back in Woodhead. Then you throw in the tight end wrinkle with Crumpler/Gronkowski/Hernandez, and I just don't know how you contain that for 60 minutes. You can figure out how to stop Moss/Welker. How do you figure out stopping six guys?
- That being said, the offense could easily have an off night, which is why the maturation of this young defense has been so important. The past few games, we haven't seen the offense in a race to off-set the defense's mistakes. There haven't been any "close calls". It's just been big plays and dominance from the young crew. The Patriots no longer have to score 35 points a game in the playoffs to make it to Dallas, and that's huge.
- Luke Hanson's record as a Patriots fan: 2-0. Points margin: 81-10. New York Jets' record: 0-2
- And speaking of the Jets... Thanks to their fall to Miami this afternoon, the only thing standing in the way between the Patirots and the AFC East title and a first-round bye? The 3-10 Buffalo Bills. That's right. If the Pats just beat the Bills in two weeks, it's all wrapped up! They could lose to both the Packers and Dolphins, and the worst they could do is a two-seed. If the Steelers drop another game, then Buffalo = Home Field Throughout.