FOXBOROUGH -- They played football at the Big Razor yesterday.
It might not have been pretty for those who believe the game should play out on Sunday the way it's drawn up at a Tuesday night staff meeting, but for those who understand what football is all about yesterday's rough house, 17-13 Patriots win over the Chicago Bears was the way the game is supposed to be played.
If one didn't see it and reads there were nine turnovers, their conclusion would be that the game was sloppy. Well, it wasn't sloppy. It was bone-jarring. It was mind-numbing. It was teeth-rattling, turnover-forcing football.
Now, obviously you turn the ball over five times, as New England did, or four times, as the Bears did, and the winner is exactly what Tom Brady described his team as : "lucky." But there wasn't much luck involved in the majority of those turnovers. There were collisions involved and there were smart defensive plays involved. Luck was not a factor in any one of them except perhaps the fumbled exchange between Bears quarterback Rex Grossman and center Olin Kreutz, but even that was very likely a result of the kind of pounding nose tackle Vince Wilfork was dishing out in the middle.
It's a funny thing about football. If the defenses force the offenses to make mistakes by rattling their bones and balls squirt free , it's sloppy. If the offenses drill holes through the defenses, it's execution. Well, yesterday was all about execution. Defensive execution.
"Both teams played to who they are," Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said and he had the red scratches and purple welts to prove it. "We wanted to be physical. They wanted to be physical also. Our offense was able to move it on them but they forced [five] turnovers. That is how they play. The second half they wanted to play smashmouth football. The defensive line is our strength. We welcome that challenge.
"When their defense is making plays like they made, we realize as a defense we have to do something ourselves. You try to compartmentalize it from series to series but at one point I looked at Vrabes [Mike Vrabel] and said, 'Did we fumble twice on the same play?' They were making plays and we were making plays."
The Patriots did indeed fumble twice on one play, when tight end Benjamin Watson had the ball knocked loose by Chicago's Lance Briggs, then receiver Reche Caldwell grabbed it in midair only to have it dislodged and recovered by safety Danieal Manning. That's the kind of game it was. The kind where nobody with the ball in his hand s was safe.
"It's not fun when you fumble the ball that many times but that's how their defense plays," Caldwell said. "When we watched them on film that's what they did and when we played them that's what they did. I was surprised they got as many from us as they did but you lose concentration for a second out there and something's going to happen."
Something did. Collisions happened and balls ended up in hands that were never intended to receive them. Chicago forced five but New England forced nearly as many, Asante Samuel making three critical interceptions and Richard Seymour falling on Grossman's fumble at the Patriot 5-yard line. It was plays such as those that made this game anything but sloppy if you respect defensive football.
The Bears forced three of the Patriots ' five turnovers after New England had moved to the Chicago 24, 11, and the 5, the last coming with 1:52 remaining and the Patriots seemingly in control. The only chance the Bears had was to again find a way to knock the ball loose and they did, stripping Corey Dillon as he ran off tackle. Manning, the rookie safety, jarred the ball loose and so the Bears had it again, needing to travel 78 yards inside of two minutes with no timeouts to win.
Either that or New England's defense would have to stop them one last time.
Then again, the Patriots could just take the ball away one last time, which Samuel did on the very next play when he leapt over Rashied Davis for the interception. It was the way this game needed to end.
"I'm going to say their defensive back made some great plays, that's what I'm going to say," Bears coach Lovie Smith said when asked about Grossman's errant throws. "At the end, we had the look [we wanted]. We had zero coverage. We had a corner man-on-man without safety help. You want to throw in that situation. I'm going to put a little bit on him and talk about the great plays that Samuel made."
Spoken like a true defensive coach.
The kind of guy who preaches turnovers to a defense that now has forced 34 yet could still appreciate it when their opponents do the same.
"It was a slugfest tonight," Bears cornerback Charles Tillman said. "I don't think they got that win easily. I thought we fought pretty hard until the end. Tonight was a heavyweight battle. They got turnovers. We got turnovers. They got some hard hits. We got some hard hits. But at the end they came out on top so you have to tip your hat and give the Patriots credit."
Give them credit for playing hard-nosed, resilient football. Give them credit for knowing what they were up against in the Bears, whose defense is the stingiest in the NFL, and matching it, bruise for bruise, battle for battle. Give them credit for making one more defensive play when it counted than they team they were slugging it out against. Simple as that. Football.
"They brought their best work to the job site and we did too," said Patriots defensive end Ty Warren, who made seven tackles. "That was just a highly competitive game. There was a lot of ball hawking going on. There were a lot of guys running to the ball. Every play."
On a day in which Junior Seau was probably lost for the season with a broken wrist or worse and Ryan O'Callaghan was battered into submission and left the game never to return and Grossman hurt his hand and safety Todd Johnson left with an ankle so dented he, as Smith put it, "could not complete the game," things ended the way they should have. With a defensive play.
But do not be fooled by those nine turnovers. None were the result of sloppiness unless you hate defensive football as much as the suits at NFL headquarters seem to. What caused them was a brutally physical approach to a brutally physical game. What caused them was defensive pressure. The kind of pressure that, when applied properly, makes otherwise prudent men put the football on the ground.
"The Bears do a real good job of punching the ball out and we knew this coming into the game," Watson said. "That's what makes it worse, that you know it's coming and they still do it. They're a physical defense. They bring it. They have a lot of good players over there but our defense made some big plays, too."
From the first quarter to the last, both defenses did. The offenses weren't sloppy. They were slapped silly.
"You saw playmaking going on out there," Seymour said. "They got some good players over there and we aren't too shabby over here ourselves. If you play defense the way these two teams play defense turnovers are part of the game. What's important is how you react to those situations. They made some plays and we made some, too, but at a crucial point, we made one more play than they did."
Ron Borges can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.