The Chicago Bears will make their second ever trip to Gillette Stadium this Sunday (1 p.m., FOX) and will be seeking their first win over the Patriots since December of 2000.
The history between the Pats and Bears is scant, with the most notable game coming in 1986 when Chicago walloped New England, 46-10, in Super Bowl XX.But Sunday’s game in Foxboro will be one of the marquee games on the Sunday NFL slate, as both teams entered the season with expectations of a playoff berth. The Bears are a desperate bunch at 3-4 but the Patriots know they must take care of business this week before they focus their attention on the AFC-leading Broncos. A few things to look for on Sunday:
Where the rubber meets the road
Throughout the course of an NFL season, nearly every team has a “turning point week,” where things either get better or go South in a hurry.
The 2014 Patriots have seemingly already encountered their fork in the road as they were blown out on National TV against the Chiefs, 41-14, in Kansas City in Week 4, but then turned around six days later and, on National TV, spanked the then-undefeated Bengals, 43-17, in Week 5.
The 2014 Chicago Bears have come to the crossroads this week. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall called out his quarterback, Jay Cutler, in the locker room following the Bears’ 27-14 home loss to the Dolphins this past Sunday and a loss this Sunday to the Pats would drop them to 3-5 on the season. Chicago is already looking up in the NFC North standings at the Lions (5-2) and Packers (5-2), so you’d better believe there will be a sense of urgency in the visitor’s locker room at Gillette this Sunday.
The Patriots defense will be without Chandler Jones for several weeks as the defensive end endured a hip injury in the second quarter against the Jets last week. This was already a defense reeling from the season-ending loss of signal-caller Jerod Mayo. Add in the fact that their best defensive player’s commitment has been questioned this week, as Darrelle Revis has caught flak for being tardy, and this is suddenly a defense with many question marks.
Getting pressure on Jay Cutler will be vital, and with Jones out – expect to see rookie Dominique Easley as one of the Pats’ primary pass rushers.
As former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher pointed out this week, Cutler is not considered an “elite” NFL quarterback right now. But the ninth-year QB has shown plenty of flashes of greatness over his career and is still most definitely dangerous. Just ask the 49ers and Falcons about Cutler’s short-comings. Cutler threw four touchdown passes in a road win against San Fran in Week 2 and shredded the Falcons in Atlanta just two weeks ago for 381 yards.
Strangely, all three of Chicago’s wins this season have come on the road.
Adapt or die
No Patriots win or loss looks the same throughout the course of a season as they are quite adept at adapting to take advantage of the opponent’s weakness week-to-week. But the last few weeks have been a fascinating study in what offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is trying to accomplish in 2014. The run-pass balance in the win over the Bengals was as close to perfect as it will likely get as the Pats ran the ball a whopping 46 times and passed it 35 times.
In the past two weeks, the offense has resembled more of what it has looked like over the previous 10 seasons with a heavy reliance on Tom Brady. The Pats ran the ball just 27 times for 50 yards against the Bills and just 15 times for 63 yards against the Jets.
It’s not as though Brady can’t carry the load. He has thrown nine touchdowns without an interception since the Kansas City game. But the Patriots’ offense is obviously at its best when the running game is supplementing Brady.