Yet another storm is weathered
CHICAGO — Note to Mother Nature: Try again.
Same goes for the National Football League.
In successive weeks, the Patriots have taken on two of the league’s top teams in poor to terrible weather conditions.
They emerged with victories against the Jets (9-2 at the time) and Bears (9-3) by a combined score of 81-10.
A week ago it was a 45-3 shellacking of New York in bone-chilling temperatures and a strong wind at Gillette Stadium.
Yesterday it was a 36-7 domination of the Bears that felt like 96-7 considering the elements and hopelessness of Chicago’s offense (33 net yards at halftime).
“It looked like the weather didn’t affect them at all,’’ Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said.
At this point is there any weather condition that could derail the Patriots?
“Maybe if it was 90 [degrees] right now,’’ said left guard Logan Mankins. “We’d sweat to death.’’
Maybe so, but the Patriots wouldn’t change a thing about the methods to their massacres.
What has become clear is the Patriots know who they are and they’re not changing for anybody — and certainly not for any weather conditions.
While some so-called experts (ahem) figured the Patriots would have to go to the ground more and play conservative in the passing game, New England came out in the shotgun with no running backs in the backfield.
The Patriots ran 40 offensive plays in the first half as they built a 33-0 lead, and 22 were out of the shotgun. Tom Brady dropped back to pass 22 times, while the running backs got 18 carries.
The Patriots ran the same offense they always do: a short and quick passing attack about half out of the shotgun with multiple personnel packages (they even used five receivers on a few occasions). They mixed in the run with just as many power runs behind pulling guards and tight ends as they normally do.
“Yeah, pretty much,’’ left tackle Matt Light said. “Tommy knows how to deliver a ball in these kind of conditions and he does a pretty good job of getting rid of it. And [offensive coordinator] Billy [O’Brien] and the rest of the guys did a great job calling them.’’
Defensively it was also “Groundhog Day.’’ Do an acceptable job against the run, mix the pressures, limit the quarterback’s favorite target (this time Earl Bennett), and find a way to make big plays on defense. The Patriots defense, led by cornerback Devin McCourty (again) and linebacker Gary Guyton, came up with four turnovers.
That the Patriots are able to get the same results with the same methods is a testament to Bill Belichick and the sound fundamental football his coaching gets the team to execute.
“When you talk about us doing the same thing and you’re not really seeing different things, it’s because guys are just doing the fundamental things right,’’ linebacker Tully Banta-Cain said. “And when you do those right then you don’t have to do a lot of changes and a lot of big adjustments.’’
Every NFL coach preaches fundamentals and practices them. But it’s another thing to have them be replicated in game conditions week after week.
On days like yesterday it helps that the Patriots practice outside. A lot of coaches, especially of the West Coast offense variety, wouldn’t be caught dead practicing in the elements.
“You’ve got to be mentally tough enough to play in them,’’ Brady said. “We don’t go in our [practice] bubble very often. If it’s windy, we practice out there. If it’s snowing, we practice in the snow. If it’s raining, we practice in the rain.’’
Belichick also aided the Patriots with their attitude toward the weather.
It’s a fine line. You want your team to be prepared for what it will encounter, but you don’t want to overdo it to the point where the elements are in the players’ heads.
Belichick’s message was to know the surroundings, but use them to your benefit.
“Really you want to take advantage of it and understand what kind of game it’s going to be,’’ Banta-Cain said.
“He said it’s a great opportunity for us defensively to get any kind of pressure on the ball,’’ said cornerback Kyle Arrington. “With the temperature, the weather, it’s a good chance we’ll get [the ball] out of there. Putting pressure on [Jay] Cutler, try to strip-sack him or the running backs, try to get the ball off of them. And then offensively, preach ball security, so it was a big point of emphasis heading into the game.’’
The Patriots checked off all those things. Again. It’s why they’re officially headed to the playoffs and near another division title.
Whatever happens from here on out, the Patriots will not be a mystery. They don’t deviate for any variable. Not that they should.
“The way Tom’s playing, they put points on the board,’’ Cutler said. “They put a lot of pressure on the opposing offense. If you don’t convert third downs, if you don’t sustain drives, if you have a turnover, they’re going to take advantage of it. Any little opening they make you pay for it. That’s what the really good teams do.’’
Until the rest of the league figures them out, the Patriots will be tough to beat.
Right now that looks like it won’t be until the Super Bowl, against the Falcons or Saints.
The Chiefs loom as possible trouble because it remains to be seen if the Patriots can beat a team that is committed to the run and executes. The Jets and Browns both did in New England’s only losses this season.
Both seem like they happened in another season. The way things are going, the Patriots will overcome by doing what they do.
The weather, opponent, or locale doesn’t seem to matter to this group.