By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots found themselves in a much tighter game than they wanted to be in on Sunday afternoon in Chicago, but they were able to escape the Windy City with a victory.
It was about as narrow as narrow gets, as Mitchell Trubisky completed a Hail Mary to Kevin White on the final play of the game, but the Patriots’ defense swarmed the receiver to prevent White from scoring the game-tying (or game-winning) touchdown.
The Patriots managed to win, 38-31. The game had its fair share of Ups and Downs.
Dont’a Hightower/Kyle Van Noy
Special teams played a significant role in this game, and no play was bigger than Dont’a Hightower’s blocked punt in the third quarter.
Hightower bulldozed through the line without missing a step and then continued on directly to punter Pat O’Donnell to block the punt. After a couple of slight bobbles, Kyle Van Noy eventually scooped up the loose ball and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown to put the Patriots up 31-24.
The play was accentuated by a devastating block delivered by Brandon King on the punter.
J.C. Jackson/Jonathan Jones
J.C. Jackson, the undrafted rookie cornerback, had himself some issues out there, getting called for three penalties — one of which came in the end zone. But he made up for it with a truly spectacular play on a Trubisky pass up the right sideline in the second half.
Jonathan Jones made an even more impressive interception later in the second half, and it came at the Patriots’ 4-yard line, so it took points off the board for Chicago. Jones turned and began to leap all in one motion, before making a one-handed snag in front of receiver Anthony Miller.
The Patriots then drove 96 yards for a touchdown after that pick, to go up 38-24. That touchdown proved to be the winning score.
Tom Brady/James White
The Patriots knew they’d be without Rob Gronkowski when the day began, but they didn’t know they’d lose Sony Michel after a quarter. Despite the setback and despite being shorthanded, Tom Brady made sure the offense functioned more or less like it usually does.
James White was, as always, a critical contributor to the offense. He caught a team-high eight passes for 57 yards and two touchdowns, and he also rushed for 40 yards on 11 carries.
Brady completed 25 of his 36 passes for 277 yards, three touchdowns and one pick. His one interception came on a dropped pass from James Develin, a play not entirely unlike the drops by Gronkowski and Chris Hogan that led to interceptions against the Colts three weeks ago.
His early gaffe was significant. You’ll hear about that momentarily. But no matter what mistakes a player makes, it is required by law that returning a kickoff for a touchdown automatically puts that player on the “Ups” list.
Patterson did that in the second quarter on Sunday, returning a kick 95 yards for a touchdown to cut Chicago’s lead to three. He put a devastating juke on Kevin Toliver, and then he was off to the races, needing only to beat kicker Cody Parkey. He obviously succeeded.
Patterson had a 37-yard return in the final five minutes of the game, too, when the Patriots were ahead by seven points. That return set up the Patriots at the New England 40-yard line, though they couldn’t capitalize by scoring on that drive.
Julian Edelman powered his way into the end zone to cap off a near-perfect opening drive by the Patriots. … The offensive line — with Trent Brown and LaAdrian Waddle at the tackle spots — made the injured Khalil Mack a non-factor all game long. … Adrian Clayborn recorded his first sack as a member of the Patriots, and it came on a third down. … Duron Harmon, Jason McCourty and Devin McCourty prevented White from scoring on the last-second Hail Mary.
The addition of Josh Gordon has substantially cut into Patterson’s role in the offense, thus making him primarily a kick returner. And when someone is primarily a kick returner, it becomes even more important that he returns kicks efficiently and without incident.
Patterson didn’t come through on that endeavor, fumbling a kickoff late in the first quarter and setting up Chicago with excellent field position in what was a 7-3 game at the time. The Bears quickly turned it into a 10-7 lead.
He wasn’t even hit by a Bears player, either. Patterson simply ran straight into the back of Nicholas Grigsby, and the ball popped out.
Patterson tried to make up for it on his next opportunity, as he caught a kick about 5 yards deep in the end zone and decided to run it out. He only made it to the 18-yard line, costing the Patriots seven yards of field position.
The Entire Defense
There’s just no excusing the Patriots’ complete inability to contain Mitchell Trubisky from running for big gains. What’s worse is that the Patriots exited the locker room after halftime knowing they needed to be better in this area, and they promptly allowed Trubisky to nonchalantly waltz for 39 yards to set up the Bears at the 1-yard line. Chicago scored a few plays later to take a 24-21 lead.
In the first half, Trubisky made the defense look silly when he ran 72 yards … on an 8-yard touchdown run.
Trubisky ran for 81 yards and the touchdown on six carries. Prior to Sunday, Trubisky’s single-game career high in rushing was 53 yards.
The defense also found it impossible to cover Trey Burton. He finished the game with nine receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown, on a day when Trubisky wasn’t throwing the football particularly well.
Everything was going so well for the rookie running back. But it all changed in an instant.
Michel ran off the left tackle early in the second quarter, when he was wrapped up by 290-pound defensive tackle Bilal Nichols. Michel appeared to have gotten his left foot stuck in the ground as his body twisted with force. He suffered a knee injury on the play.
Michel fumbled, and Chicago recovered, but the greater concern on the play was Michel’s status. He needed to be helped to the sideline before being carted to the locker room.
Elandon Roberts is a linebacker. He’s not known for his pass-catching ability.
Even with that being said, though, there’s no excuse for not catching the pass that hit him in the chest, directly between the 5 and the 2 on the front of his jersey.
Had he been able to make the interception (on a pass that wasn’t even thrown hard) in the end zone, the Patriots would have instantly taken points off the board for the Bears. Instead, the Bears rushed up the gut for a touchdown on the very next play to stretch their lead to 10 points.
J.C. Jackson had the aforementioned penalty problems. … Julian Edelman muffed a punt, but the Patriots recovered. … David Andrew twice allowed a free lane to Brady for Bilal Nichols. … Keion Crossen (unsportsmanlike conduct) and Nate Ebner (facemask) each took 15-yard penalties on special teams.