Bill Belichick stood one away from eclipsing George Halas on the NFL’s all-time wins list Monday night at Gillette Stadium. Instead, the Chicago Bears eclipsed the New England Patriots there by a score of 33-14.
Here’s a glance back on what could have been No. 325 for the head coach. His side moves forward with movement under center and a 3-4 record.
Mac’s return becomes Zappe’s in the second quarter
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones found himself warming up in the fog prior to kickoff. By 8:15 p.m. ET, it became clear. The Alabama product would be starting versus the Ohio State product whom he faced in the College Football Playoff’s national title game.
Back from the high-ankle sprain that kept him sidelined since the final week of September, Jones began in “11” personnel. A scramble followed after being limited in practice and questionable on the injury report. So did consecutive three-and-outs from shotgun before a first down was secured by calling his own number. But the team captain had more rushing yards than passing yards. He completed 3-of-6 for 13 and threw off his back foot as rookie safety Jaquan Brisker corralled a one-handed interception.
And that would give way to Bailey Zappe with 11:55 to go before halftime. The rookie by way of Houston Baptist and Western Kentucky connected with tight end Jonnu Smith on his first dropback. He soon found a wide-open wideout in Jakobi Meyers for a 30-yard touchdown strike. Up next was a 50-50 ball to receiver DeVante Parker down the left sideline for 43 yards. Zappe did not have a pass hit the turf until his fifth attempt. But a fumbled exchange, ineffective punts and 23 unanswered points for the Bears crept up in short order. Zappe finished 14-of-22 through the air for 185 yards with one score and two interceptions.
The width of the field needed to find Fields
Four slots before the Patriots took Jones in the 2021 NFL draft’s first round, the Bears took Justin Fields — and the entire width of the field.
Chicago’s quarterback went 13-of-21 through the air for 179 yards with one touchdown and one interception in primetime. He added an early touchdown with his legs that made it a 10-0 lead. The play was never over until it was over against a threat who had 74 rushing yards by intermission.
Outside linebacker Matthew Judon recorded 2.5 sacks before then. And in between them, on a deflection courtesy of the back-to-back-to-back Pro Bowler, cornerback Myles Bryant picked off Fields. But the QB responded by scrambling past the sticks on a third-and-14 before a double-teamed Anfernee Jennings broke off the edge to force a fumble on a sack of his own. Containing from zone coverage proved easier said than done.
Heavy dose of base defense unable to grind down Chicago’s backs
No offense around the league had thrown for fewer yards per game than Chicago’s in 2022. No offense had attempted or completed fewer passes per game, either. That helped explain why a tandem of running backs had drawn matchup comparisons to the Cleveland Browns’ Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
It was earned. Khalil Herbert entered with 63 carries for 402 yards and three touchdowns on the year. David Montgomery entered with 62 carries for 246 yards and one touchdown while missing one game. The two Bears would combine for 124 rushing yards on 27 handoffs as well as two scrimmage touchdowns on Monday. They would behind a rearranged offensive line — and against a front that regained Lawrence Guy yet was without the pressure of Christian Barmore due to a knee injury.
The Patriots opened in the big base with three defensive tackles, outside linebackers Anfernee Jennings and Jamie Collins, plus inside linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai. Heavy substitutions featuring seven defensive backs were the result on passing downs. Rookie cornerback Jack Jones recorded the first tackle for loss. But a blitzed screen pass was seen before halftime, too. A TD for Herbert was the outcome from 25 yards out. A TD for Montgomery then came in the fourth frame. An ankle injury sustained by safety Kyle Dugger further impacted New England’s response. Chicago hadn’t scored 33 points in a game this fall or last fall.
Cannon gets the call at right tackle
At age 34, Marcus Cannon had been a standard elevation, an eligible tight end and a rotating right tackle since re-signing with New England. But the 2016 second-team All-Pro and three-time Super Bowl champion would be a starter in his old stomping grounds on Monday.
With Isaiah Wynn inactive because of a shoulder injury, Cannon got the call opposite blindside protector Trent Brown, who was flagged twice for offsetting holding penalties as well as one false start less than 10 minutes into the contest.
New England’s offensive line conceded one sack to a Chicago defense that stood third-best around the NFL in passing yards allowed per game. Center and captain David Andrews went to the locker room to be evaluated for a head injury after an illegal blindside block midway through the fourth quarter. Bears defensive tackle Mike Pennel was ejected following the play as veteran backup James Ferentz took over at the pivot.
After two-touchdown outing, Thornton draws five targets in start
Patriots wide receiver Tyquan Thornton saw his snap counts go from 25 to 40 upon being activated off injured reserve. The climb went quietly for the second-rounder on Monday.
With Kendrick Bourne scratched due to turf toe and Nelson Agholor working back from a hamstring issue, Thornton started next to Meyers and Parker against the Bears.
Even so, the former Baylor burner would be held to one well-adjusted catch for 19 yards on a handful of targets after finding the end zone both as a rusher and a receiver the week prior. He was later the intended recipient of what wound up being an interception by rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon.
2019 first-rounder revisits New England over the middle
N’Keal Harry became a Bear in exchange for a 2024 seventh-round draft choice before training camp opened in July. And on Monday, the wide receiver became a visitor to the organization that filled out his draft card at No. 32 overall back in 2019.
“Big, talented kid,” Belichick told reporters last week. “Things didn’t really work out here the way that I think all of us hoped for. Everybody tried, it just didn’t work out. So I’m sure he’ll be ready to go. I’m sure he’ll play hard.”
For Harry, who began the regular season on injured reserve, it marked his debut for Chicago. His lone look was drawn midway through the first quarter. It picked up 14 yards on a post pattern from the slot before being brought down by safeties Adrian Phillips and Devin McCourty. Starting wideouts Darnell Mooney and Equanimeous St. Brown accounted for seven receptions for 101 yards by night’s end.
A struggling Patriots ground game unable to continue the Bears’ trend
Rhamondre Stevenson had been in the New England backfield for 114 out of 130 offensive downs since Damien Harris exited with a hamstring injury against the Detroit Lions. When the latter returned on Monday, the split did not.
The Patriots started Stevenson. The 2021 fourth-rounder from Oklahoma finished with 39 rushing yards through 11 carries and a touchdown. And Harris, who accounted for eight rushing yards on three handoffs, had a drop from play action after spelling in on the second series. Both caught passes. Both also combined to average 3.35 yards per run as their starting quarterback held the team lead in rushing until the fourth quarter.
Despite All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith closing in on his fifth straight 100-tackle season and tacking on a sack to go with a pick, Chicago’s defense had ranked 26th around the NFL in yards per carry allowed.