The New England Patriots earned their fourth consecutive win and fifth victory of the season to stay atop the AFC East, defeating the Chicago Bears 38-31. The Patriots overcame a lot of injuries to win in decisive fashion.
Here’s what we learned.
The Patriots are in trouble at running back
Sony Michel left the game early after a leg injury and was declared OUT after halftime. If Michel is unable to play, and at first glance it wouldn’t be surprising if he were out for a couple weeks, the Patriots would need to add another running back to the roster.
Rex Burkhead and Jeremy Hill are already on the injured reserve, leaving James White and Kenjon Barner as the only healthy rushers on the team- and Cordarrelle Patterson, too, if you’re feeling generous.
Perhaps they could sign former practice squad rusher Ralph Webb for a couple weeks because neither White, nor Barner are reliable runners between the tackles. Barner and White combined for 76 rushing yards on 21 attempts (3.62 yards per carry) and the Patriots finished the game with 108 rushing yards on 27 carries. They’ll need another runner.
Josh Gordon had his breakout game with Rob Gronkowski sidelined
Gordon had 100 yards on 4 receptions, his first 100-yard game in a Patriots uniform, as New England needed someone to emerge after so many injuries.
Rob Gronkowski didn’t play with his ankle and back injuries, while Michel suffered an injury of his own. Chris Hogan had a fine game with 6 catches for 63 yards and Edelman added 36 yards and a touchdown on 5 catches.
White finished the day with 97 yards and two touchdowns as the obvious engine of the offense. But Gordon did a great job rising to the occasion.
Props to LaAdrian Waddle and Trent Brown and the offensive line
The Bears recorded one sack on Tom Brady and had one other hit on the day, as the Patriots quarterback had plenty of time to navigate around the pocket against a fierce Bears defensive front.
Khalil Mack had one tackle on the day. Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman combined for four tackles (one for loss) on the day. That’s it.
David Andrews probably had the most difficult day of the Patriots linemen, but the offensive line did a great job against the Bears elite defense.
Can anyone tackle a scrambling quarterback?
Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky ran 6 times for 81 yards and a touchdown. Four of those runs came on third down and all went for either a first down or a touchdown, and a fifth went 39 yards to the goal line.
The Patriots struggled for a variety of reasons, with defensive ends either losing contain, or defensive tackles failing to roll into the open gaps, allowing Trubisky to have wide open field to roam. The New England defense will have a lot of work to fix that issue over the coming games.
Can anyone cover a tight end?
We all expected Tarik Cohen to give the Patriots some difficulty as a running back coming out of the back with favorable match-ups against the New England linebackers. Cohen finished the game with 80 yards on 17 touch attempts (targets + rushes). Cohen is the Bear’s leader in yards from scrimmage, so all in all, that’s a pretty good job by the defense.
But Trey Burton was fifth in the Bears offense in yards from scrimmage entering the game and gained 126 yards and a touchdown with 9 receptions on 11 targets. He found all the holes in the Patriots zone defense, in front of both Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung and behind Dont’a Hightower and Elandon Roberts. He shook the man coverage of Chung and McCourty and Jonathan Jones.
What more can the Patriots do?
Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce had 61 yards last week. Colts tight ends Eric Ebron and Erik Swooper combined for 149 yards and 3 touchdowns the week prior. They get to face the Buffalo Bills next week (thankfully) but then they get the Packers with Jimmy Graham and Aaron Rodgers in week 9. They have two weeks to fix this problem.
New England defense had a pair of clutch interceptions, but should have had more
The Patriots recorded a pair of great interceptions by Jonathan Jones and J.C. Jackson, but should have had more. Mitchell Trubisky was wildly inaccurate as a passer and was fortunate that Elandon Roberts and Stephon Gilmore dropped two passes in the end zone.
Stephon Gilmore continues to be the team’s best defender
Despite that dropped interception, Gilmore continued to play at an incredibly high level. How many completions did the Bears have throwing in his direction? That requires some more film review, but if it came back “zero for zero yards” I wouldn’t be shocked. Same applies for Jason McCourty.
Allen Robinson had 1 catch for 4 yards on 5 targets. It was a great day for the Patriots’ outside cornerbacks as Gilmore is putting together an All Pro caliber campaign.
Special teams gives and takes away
Cordarrelle Patterson fumbled a kickoff in the first quarter to help the Bears take a 10-7 lead. But Patterson also returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown and added in a 38-yard return on the team’s final drive to help put the end zone out of reach for the Bears.
Dont’a Hightower also blocked a punt, which Kyle Van Noy returned for a touchdown, the first punt return for a score since 1996 by Tedy Bruschi in his rookie season.
Stephen Gostkowski also connected on all six of his kicks.
The Patriots needed their special teams unit to make some big play and they delivered.
The Patriots are in great position in the AFC East
The Patriots won to move to 5-2 on the year.
The Miami Dolphins lost to the Detriot Lions to fall to 4-3. The New York Jets lost to the Minnesota Vikings to fall to 3-4. And the Buffalo Bills were embarrassed by the Indianapolis Colts to fall to 2-5. The Patriots are back on top the AFC and the rest of the division looks awful. Everything is back in order.
Oh, and the Jacksonville Jaguars lost 20-7 to the Houston Texans to fall to 3-4. The only way this week could turn out better for the Patriots would be if the New Orleans Saints defeat the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals upset the Kansas City Chiefs.
Next week, the Patriots are on the road against the Bills for Monday Night Football. We’re sorry, America.