What to make of the defense, and other thoughts on the Patriots’ win

I have to admit, I have no idea what to make of this defense.

Chicago, IL - 10/21/2018 - (4th quarter) New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates with New England Patriots running back James White (28) after the two connected to go up 38-24 during the fourth quarter.  New England Patriots vs. Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.  -  (Barry Chin/Globe Staff), Section:  Sports, Reporter:  Ben Volin, Topic:  21Patriots-Bears, LOID:  8.4.3538702313.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates with New England Patriots running back James White after the two connected to go up 38-24 during the fourth quarter of a game against the Chicago Bears. –Barry Chin/Globe Staff

1. I suppose you just take the win and move on. Tom Brady was relatively efficient and mostly excellent (25 of 36, 277 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception), James White was Mr. Reliable as usual (97 total yards, two touchdowns), and the defense … well, the defense didn’t give up more points than the offense scored, and that’s the name of the game, so there’s that. The Patriots have won four in a row and take a 5-2 record into next Monday’s game against the Buffalo Bills, who as far as I know will be starting J.P. Losman at quarterback. They’re in first place in the AFC East, and in a good place in general.


2. But I have to admit, I have no idea what to make of this defense. They didn’t exactly allow Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to look good on Sunday (he was 26 of 50 for 333 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions.) But at times they allowed him to look competent, especially running the ball (81 yards), and I’m not sure he’s even that. This is a quarterback a better Belichick defense would have bewildered and punished. Instead, they let him stick with them for far too long.

3. So I can’t tell if the Patriots defense looks so vulnerable because pretty much every defense looks vulnerable in the current NFL, which appears to want every team to play with the finesse and flair of the 1999 Rams, or because it is just not very good. But I’m leaning toward the latter after Sunday.

4. A quarterback of Trubisky’s limited caliber would not look competent against a typical midseason Patriots defense, the kind that gets better as the year progresses. And his numbers would have been much better had he not failed to recognize open receivers all day.

5. The Patriots defense looks slow, which isn’t a shock. But to see them out of position time and again, so deep into the schedule, is troubling.


6. Hard to believe Kyle Van Noy’s return of Dont’a Hightower’s blocked punt for a touchdown in the second half was the Patriots’ first since Tedy Bruschi achieved the feat in 1996. For some reason I had it in my mind that Jamie Collins had done it at least once.

7. It’s understandable for Patriots fans to be enamored with Josh Gordon, whose extraordinary talent is obvious pretty much every time Tom Brady throws the football his way.

8. It’s a whole different thing for the Patriots players and coaches to trust him to make big plays in big spots already, as they did Sunday.

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9. Gordon picked up a huge first down on fourth and 1 late in the second quarter when Brady went up top to him with Kyle Fuller right there in good coverage. Gordon boxed out Fuller, leapt and caught the ball with his hands even as Fuller bumped him, then lost his helmet upon landing for an extra flourish.

Josh Gordon makes the reception for a first down in the second quarter.

10. Later on, he had a 55-yard catch in which he spun off a pair of tacklers and probably would have had a touchdown had he not run out of gas (I suspect a wrapped hamstring also slowed him a bit).

11. He finished with four catches for 100 yards. It’s obviously dangerous for the Patriots to be relying on a player with his baggage, because one misstep and he’s gone, and then what?

12. But I also get this: Gordon is so good, it’s impossible not to lean on him already. He’s not Randy Moss. But he sure has a few of his tricks in his repertoire.


13. The Sony Michel injury is such a bummer, and the reasons aren’t a mystery.

14. The first-round pick has been been outstanding over the last month after an injury-abbreviated training camp, and having already lost Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead, the Patriots lack depth at the position, especially with players that can duplicate his skill-set.

15. Kenjon Barner was decent in relief (10 carries, 36 yards), but he’s not the answer for 15-20 carries a game. I’d actually prefer Mike Gilleslee if they decide to bring him back, and we know his limitations.

16. Michel’s absence, for however long he’s gone, also could put too much of a workload on James White, who had 11 carries among his 19 touches Sunday. He also had the receiving touchdown that put the Patriots up 21-17 in the second quarter.

17. White is a wonderful player, but he’s listed at only 194 pounds, and they can’t afford to let him take too many lumps. Given the injury history of Edelman and Gronkowski, an argument can be made that he’s the Patriots’ most reliable weapon for Brady.

18. Michel was running extremely well early in Sunday’s game, picking 18 yards on the first play from scrimmage and catching a pass for a first down on the next play.

19. The Patriots went nine plays and 75 yards on their first drive, with Julian Edelman fighting his way in for a 9-yard touchdown catch. That was his second touchdown catch since returning from his suspension.

20. At that point, it seemed like it might shape up to be one of those 9-catch, 110-yard games that would look right at home on his pro-football-reference.com page.

21. But Edelman had just four more catches for another 27 yards the rest of the way. I’m still not certain what the ceiling for expectations should be.

22. Cordarelle Patterson is either going to win the Patriots a playoff game or cost them one, and I have no idea which way it will go right now.

23. Patterson’s fumble after the Bears cut it to 7-3 with just under 4 minutes left in the first quarter was inexcusable. He ran upright, straight into the back of a blocker. It was the kind of thing you usually see associated with Football Follies. Or the Jets.

24. The CBS crew quickly noted that the Bears had forced 10 fumbles this year, which is impressive. But that was not a force so much as it was a gift.

25. I’d love to know what Belichick jotted down with his pencil on that little piece of paper after Patterson’s fumble. I suspect whatever it was will come up in a film session, and not politely.

26. That did not stand as the Patriots’ most embarrassing play of the day for long, though. With 59 seconds left in the quarter, the aggressively unimpressive Trubisky gave the Bears a 10-7 lead with an 8-yard run in which he scrambled back to the 30, shed Adrian Clayborn, and covered about 70 total yards before strolling past the goal line.

27. It’s obviously a play a defense can’t plan for, and part of the reason he had running room was because the Patriots maintained their coverage assignments. But even a mobile quarterback shouldn’t be able to cover that much ground without getting flattened at some point. Trubisky got a how-dare-you shove from Patrick Chung after crossing the goal line, but that was it.

28. The CBS broadcast took forever to acknowledge that Michel was injured after he coughed up the ball on an early second quarter hit. Then when they did notice, Dan Fouts continued to speculate that it was an ankle injury. Not good.

29. Reports Monday morning were that Michel had suffered an MCL sprain. If that’s all it is, it’s obviously a major bullet dodged. It’s also surprising considering Bears players were patting him on the head as he was helped off the field, a sign that those involved thought it was something serious.

30. When Josh Howard ran it in from 2-years out to give the Bears a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter, it started feeling like one of those random games that come along every year or two when the Patriots are thumped unexpectedly by an inferior team.

31. I swear I haven’t heard Kevin White’s name called for the Bears since, oh, Cade McNown was their quarterback, but the lamented former first-round pick had two catches for 62 yards.

32. J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones have combined for 4 interceptions this season. The McCourty Twins are looking for their first. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by this.

33. Elandon Roberts should have had an interception in the end zone on the play before Howard’s TD run, but Trubisky’s pass ricocheted off his chest. If he’s ever on the hands team, it will be to clear the way for players with actual good hands.

34. Pretty good day for Chris Hogan, who had six catches for 63 yards, following up a strong game last week against the Chiefs. The return of Edelman and the addition of Gordon have allowed him to settle back into a more familiar and fitting role.

35. The forgotten man in the passing game has been Phillip Dorsett, who had his only catch of the game, for 8 yards, right before the half. He didn’t have a catch against the Chiefs.

36. Loved the direct snap to White in the second quarter, even though it didn’t work. The touch of having Brady walk toward Dwayne Allen right before the snap to give him direction was quite believable.

37. CBS had Rob Gronkowski listed among the starters on its pregame graphics. That would have been an achievement given that he wasn’t even in Chicago.

38. I’m completely fine with Gronkowski missing this game. Reportedly his back locked up on him in practice last week, and he’s been battling an ankle injury for most of the season. Best to give him time to get right, even if it means his maintenance day is a Sunday.


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