Okay. Bit of license there. But even if this game wasn't actually played at the peak of mighty Chomolungma herself, the Patriots and Bears spent several hours yesterday contending with a weather pattern at Soldier Field that looked straight out of Into Thin Air, with stinging gusts and whipping snow (though there are presumably vastly fewer drunks in Santa costumes on the actual slopes of Everest).
And yes, I know. We know from weather around here. We are from New England and are totally the toughest (as well as equally capable of drunkenly donning seasonally-appropriate costumes). We regularly sit in snowbanks to watch the Patriots and we do it with a smile. We've even been known to celebrate touchdowns by cheerily throwing fistfuls of the snow we've been sitting in up in the air, for Pete's sake. It is clear that we, and our football team, are unafraid of the cold.
But the cold in Chicago is something different.The weather in the Midwest in general, I can say from some experience, has a more lethal edge than any we experience around Boston, from Serious Tornadoes to floods of the Mississippi basin to winter conditions that leave little doubt that Mother Nature would, in fact, sincerely attempt to kill you should you ever happen to find yourself without shelter, your Gore-Tex, or your cell phone.
Just look at how Bill Belichick dressed for this game. When the same Belichick who's patrolled the wintry Gillette Stadium sideline in cut-off sweatshirt sleeves looks geared up to coach a game on the planet Hoth:
You know we're talking about a different level of freezing one's ass off entirely.
The Patriots offense would punt once in the first 30 minutes of football yesterday, after their first possession was stymied by a sack on Brady. Otherwise, they picked up where they left off against the Jets, which is to say, with the Ass-Kick-O-Meter still reading TILT. After that first abortive drive, they would score on every subsequent possession of the first half. Even as the last seconds of the second quarter ticked off the clock, the Patriots were still scoring on the Bears, as Deion Branch scampered into the end zone to make it 33-0 New England.
Said scamper came after a completion from Brady on a third and nine play, with less than 30 seconds left to go in the half. The score came from 59 yards away.
We thought we'd learned a new meaning for the word "domination" last week against the Jets (not to mention a redefinition of the phrase, "big brass ones"), but the first half against the Bears matched that level of efficiency and ruthlessness. They would return in the second half with a run-focused python squeeze of a game plan, chewing time off the clock in great chunks, and scoring only three more points.
But 29-point leads don't just happen one-dimensionally.
Solid play by corners a standout vs. Bears
Sometimes when I'm pouting about a defensive mishap, my dad wll say: "the other guys are playing too." In the case of this game, it was kind of the opposite. There were so many deflections that could've been interceptions, kick returns millimeters short of a breakaway, that I do have to admit up front that the Bears, like the imploding Jets last week, were beaten by their own miscues and missed opportunities as much as by anything the Patriots defense did.
But considering they kept the Bears out of the end zone save once the entire game, I'd say they put in a respectable day.
The play that first springs to mind when I think back on this game, for example, is the fumble recovery that was run back for six points by linebacker Gary Guyton, just when the Bears were starting to look like they were driving, still only down two scores in the early second quarter. That Guyton play was the first of a handful of backbreakers for the Bears in the middle quarters of this game.
But before Guyton could pick up that rock and take it to the house, the play had to be ruled a fumble, which it was, because Bears' wide receiver Johnny Knox had made a catch, maintained possession, and taken two steps before the ball came out.
And that ball didn't just pop out into the cold air on its own -- it was stripped from Knox by Devin McCourty.
McCourty, who at this point seems a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year honors from at least someplace (heck, even if I have to fashion my own sad little thing out of popsicle sticks and glue and mail it off in a manila envelope, he should be getting one), had a less statistically visible game today than in some previous weeks, but he played the same kind of crucial enabling role for the rest of the defense throughout this game that he did for Guyton on that one play.
Still, we've known for some time that McCourty is the real deal, as have New England's opponents. Coming in to the game, Kyle Arrington looked to be the weakest link in the Patriots' secondary, but it was clear he'd held up his end of the bargain once the game had actually been played.
The cornerbacks -- Kyle Arrington included -- robbed Cutler of weapons while the linebackers and safeties made big plays, the defensive line played like the hounds of hell, and the result of all that was this game.
Just another W, no more, no less, the Patriots were surely saying in their locker room yesterday, but we fans can afford to revel, and call it what it is: another all day long, old-fashioned country ass-whupping doled out by the Patriots. On both sides of the ball.
My, how this young defense has grown.
Special teams play unusually non-skippable during DVR viewing
Due to the time being taken out of my life currently by various chores relating to the procurement and preparation of holiday cheer, I had to "speed-watch" this game on my DVR long after it was over. Normally when I do this, I can skip right past punts and kickoffs, but not this time.
The Patriots got lucky in a few instances when they managed to stop a Bears return game that threatened to break out at any moment. And Julian Edelman bobbed and weaved his way first to a 42-yard return in the second quarter, and then to a punt return for what should've been a touchdown toward the end of the third quarter.
Sadly, the triumphant run would be for naught, thanks to a holding penalty on rookie special teams linebacker Dane Fletcher.
However, Fletcher would later redeem himself with another special-teams showstopper: a touchdown-saving shoestring tackle on Devin Hester, who otherwise had nothing but snowy turf between himself and the Patriots end zone on a kickoff return in the early fourth quarter.
So what does it all mean?
Let the inevitable comparisons to past years begin (and henceforth be beaten to, and then past, death, by various members of the chattering classes).
Yes, it's kind of like 2001, in that a majority of the team is relatively unknown, even to dedicated Patriots fans, there are many 'scrap heap' reclamations that turn out merely to be superior player evaluations (e.g. Danny Woodhead), and in the way that how they're being coached is forming them into a whole greater than the sum of their parts.
Yes, it's also a bit like 2003 and 2004, too, in the way these teams have had a variety of players, rookie and veteran alike, play a variety of roles, sometimes out of necessity, sometimes out of strategy, as well as the atmosphere of near-brainwashed discipline cultivated around those teams.
Want a theory as to why the last couple of seasons for the Patriots have been a bit more, shall we say, lackluster? Here's one: the more recent teams had fewer young, fresh players, athletic enough to make up for their youthful mistakes, and more importantly had fewer players malleable to the season-long mental conditioning process perfected by Belichick and previously used to engineer not just championships but long runs of football perfection.
In this season, as with the last time Belichick was able to bend a crew of hungry "no-names" to his will, astounding team success can be the result.
And, finally, yes, it's even a bit like 2007, too, with some "running up the score" talk and Tom Brady playing once again like he was kissed in his crib by the Archangel of Football.
But it's also lke none of those years. The 2001 team didn't even know what it had in Brady until the very end. Belichick, too, was not as established then as he is now. There is less, dare I say it, arrogance, in the response to this season's run of success as compared with 03 and 04, given the uncertainty with which this season began. And the high-flying circus of the 2007 offense had a very different flavor from the balanced "hit it where they ain't" approach this year.
It's more like the season started in 2001, by midseason we were feeling perhaps a kind of cautious arrogance akin to, say, 2003 (hey, most of us are Massholes, and judging by the millinery and jerseys around Gillette on any given Sunday, a disconcerting number of us also seem to be Yankees fans, so that's the best we're gonna do, I think)...and then all of a sudden, everything turned into 2007. Except with what looks like a better defense. And a more balanced offense. Which, along with the fan base, has already eaten a healthy share of humble pie this year.
But then, there's that old saying about chickens and counting. Green Bay will not be an easy opponent next week, and nothing has been won yet.
The bottom line for today is, the Patriots won another crucial game by a wide margin against a quality opponent, and clinched a playoff spot**, ending all talk as to whether they are "for real". Now the question is whether they can stay that way, and live up to the comparisons with great seasons of the past.
* Awkward transition alert! I'll admit it: I just wanted to work in that screencap and reference to Hoth.
** Also thanks to a Jets loss today, which I can only hope is the start of a tailspin for the rest of their season, touched off by our boys in blue last week, because yes, I am that vindictive sometimes, and yes, I really do hate the Jets that much.