Welcome to Season 7, Episode 7 of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-yet-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots’ weekly matchup.
A Patriots-Bears matchup isn’t one that jumps out at you when the schedule is released, but this one has a chance to be interesting. The Patriots, 4-2 after last Sunday night’s instant classic 43-40 shootout win over the previously undefeated Chiefs, visit a 3-2 Bears team that under coach Matt Nagy is developing a promising young quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky and a defense that already has a knack for getting after the passer.
The Patriots have scored 30 or more points in three straight games after their ugly 1-2 start, but Chicago’s fourth-ranked defense is the most resistant that they have met in that stretch. Tom Brady is 4-0 against the Bears in his career, but remaining undefeated against them might be tougher than we might have initially thought, especially with Rob Gronkowski out. The Bears aren’t bad. Sunday we’ll find out if they’re actually good.
Kick it off, Gostkowski, and let’s get this one started …
Three players I’ll be watching not named Tom Brady
Josh Gordon: I always feel like I should preface the optimism about Gordon with a reminder that his situation is tenuous. So I guess that’s the reminder. Now for the optimism: Tom Brady keeps looking and throwing Gordon’s way – he was targeted nine times against the Chiefs (5 catches, 42 yards) and played 63 snaps, by far a season-high – even though it’s clear he may not be in the right spot from play to play. He still seems lost on back-shoulder throws and comeback routes … and yet Brady keeps going to him, keeps working with him, makes sure tp keep him involved. Given Brady’s low tolerance for receivers who stray off his demanded course, Brady’s patience is a heck of an acknowledgement of Gordon’s ability and, presumably, the effort he is putting in to make this work.
Khalil Mack: There are a lot of boneheaded moves to choose from, but early returns suggest trading Mack will turn out to be one of the dumbest decisions the Raiders have ever made, perhaps even as dumb as rehiring the guy who traded him, Jon Gruden. Mack, a two-time All-Pro and the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, totaled 36.5 sacks over the past three seasons while also averaging 76 tackles per season from his outside linebacker spot. Mack, who has five sacks this season, injured his ankle Sunday against Miami and hadn’t practiced as of Thursday, but he was back out there Friday and expected to go. Let’s see if Tom Brady can deke him like he did Brian Urlacher in 2006.
Sony Michel: The Patriots’ rookie running back admits that despite his impressive success recently – he’s averaging 105.2 rushing yards over the past three games, including 106 on 24 carries against the Chiefs – he’s left some yards on the field, either by being too impatient while waiting for his blocks or missing open space that’s just one cut away. The Bears rank behind only the Saints, Eagles and Ravens in rushing defense (83.4 yards per game) and have not allowed a 100-yard rusher.That might suggest James White will be featured more in the passing game, but the Patriots won’t minimize Michel. He’s going too well, and this should be an advanced test of his progress.
Grievance of the week
The grievance of the week whenever the Patriots face the Bears is the standard tried-and-true one. Not only did the shufflin’ Bears slaughter the Patriots in Super Bowl XX, 46-10, but they were so graceless and oafish about it that they failed to get Walter Payton a touchdown. They were one-hit wonders, but I suppose it was a heck of a hit.
Also, I suppose we should get past this one since it was 33 years, 8 Patriots Super Bowl appearances, and 5 Patriots Super Bowl wins ago. Sure wish Steve Grogan could have got a ring, though. And John Hannah too.
And a bonus grievance, on behalf of Bill Belichick: Do not ever even tangentially compare anyone to Lawrence Taylor. Got it?
Belichick was asked about Mack during a press conference last week, and in a fairly innocuous way. The question went like this: “You’ve seen a lot of good pass rushers in your career, starting with Lawrence Taylor. … Does Mack rank up there with the better ones you’ve seen?’’
Belichick looked at the questioner like he’d just asked him whether Navy could beat the Salvation Army in football.
“Now, wait a minute,’’ said Belichick. “We’re talking about Lawrence Taylor now. Yeah, I’m not putting anybody in Lawrence Taylor’s class. So, you can put everybody down below that. With a lot of respect to a lot of good players now, but we’re talking about Lawrence Taylor.’’
You can tell Belichick is serious when he uses the player’s full name every time he mentioned him. Taylor is the greatest defensive player I’ve ever seen, but one of these seasons I’m going to need one of those 20-minute Friday soliloquys from Belichick explaining in anecdotal detail what made Taylor – excuse me, Lawrence Taylor – so extraordinary.
Prediction, or did you know Jay Cutler is the Bears’ all-time leader in touchdown passes and passing yards?
If that doesn’t tell you all you need to know about the Bears’ pitiful quarterback history, I don’t know what will. Let’s just say there’s not a high bar for Mitchell Trubisky to clear before he’s one of the best modern quarterbacks the Bears have ever had.
As for this week, the Bears do deserve a little bit of respect. They’ve allowed just 19.2 points per game (fourth in the NFL), and they have 18 sacks (former Patriot Akiem Hicks has three), compared to just seven for the Patriots. The Patriots are without tight end Rob Gronkowski and right tackle Marcus Cannon, which could give Mack and friends even clearer paths to Brady on occasion.
I’d expect to see a lot of Julian Edelman and James White on quick-hit plays, with Brady occasionally taking a shot downfield to test how Josh Gordon has progressed. Chicago has some quickness on offense – top receiver and former Falcon Taylor Gabriel averages just 11.3 yards per catch, but he is a burner – and the Patriots’ defensive backs have a lot to prove after getting toasted by Patrick Mahomes and his speedy friends last week. The Bears will hover around for a while, but the Patriots will pull away in the second half. Make it four in a row. Patriots 34, Bears 14.