Patriots attempt to take back that home field swagger
By Shane Leketa
Sunday was a sight for sore eyes to see the beauty of the plush green carpet in the confines of Gillette stadium. The sky was bright in the beginning, the air was balmy compared to the normal late November conditions and the New England Patriots defense came to play full throttle.
As expected when I originally saw that the Chicago Bears were going to visit the Patriots, this game was a defensive battle. The hits were hard. The fights were brewing. The overall feel during this game is that it was going to erupt into something bigger than what it actually was.
This contest with the 'monsters of the midway' was a defensive skirmish to say the least. You could see evidence of this immediately in the beginning of the game. The first strike came from Asante Samuel intercepting his first of three picks stopping the Bears opening drive. The Patriots tried to capitalize attempting to drive the ball into the end zone for what looked like was going to be the first score of the game when Chicago safety Todd Johnson laid right into tight end Benjamin Watson's numbers jarring the ball loose with his helmet causing an interception. This was the tone right off the bat for this battle of defenses.
In the ensuing possession the Bears drove down the field only to be stopped and have a second attempt field goal blocked at the hand of Richard Seymour. The Patriots back on offense drove down the field with a fair amount of ease only to be dashed by Laurence Maroney coughing up the ball at the ten yard line. Here come the Chicago Bears trying to capitalize on the Patriots second turnover driving all the way down the field only to be shot down by a Rex Grossman fumble on the Patriots 5 yard line, which was recovered by Richard Seymour. I think that you get the point of how this contest went.
The two teams drew lines in the sand and duked it out to see who was going to flinch first and make the first costly mistake or make the first execution. Back and forth they went. This was definitely not a pretty game for either side but both teams could come to one conclusion, it was all going to be about what happens at the end of the game.
The first to strike offensively was the Patriots with Maroney making up for the stripped ball and punching one in the end zone after an amazing catch by tight end Daniel Graham. After a successful drive by the Bears to only be capped off by a field goal, the rookie kicker for the Patriots, Stephen Gostkowski booted a 52-yard field goal just before the half.
"I heard the whistle right before I kicked it and I kind of stuttered," Gostkowski said after the game. "We work on if they call a time out, just kick it anyway. It was nice to see the way the ball was flying. I squeaked it in. I got lucky, but I'll take it any way I can get it."
Still, no breaking on either team, they were playing with all they had but at the same time, looked conservative not trying to make the big mistake. As most in the football world know, if you try not to make mistakes, then that is when the most mistakes happen.
The second half was not really any sharper and cleaner of a game with a drive by New England being tarnished by another Ben Watson turnover. Watson was stripped of the ball after a catch and run. Actually the play had two turnovers in it because Reche Caldwell recovered Watson's fumble then had it stripped away from him also, only to see it recovered by the Bears.
Chicago finally put a good drive together, behind good running by Thomas Jones, driving all the way down to the 29 of New England only to be stopped again by Samuels' second interception of the day. The Pats revved the engines and drove back down the other direction but Brady was intercepted on a tipped ball.
Was the turnover festival ever going to end, I wondered?
The key to this game though was the fact that it was all on the field with not that many questionable calls on the field. It had been a fairly clear-cut and simple game. Smashmouth football with both defenses making plays all over the field. Then the referees suddenly became more involved in the game.
Two controversial penalties with one obviously wrong call, kept the drives alive for the Bears. They were deep pass plays that were prayers thrown by Grossman. I think that teams should take a look at this and when in doubt, throw the ball in the air as high and as deep as you can and let the men in stripes -- nine times out of ten -- call a pass interference penalty. While watching the game a comment that Hall Of Fame quarterback, Troy Aikman made intrigued me. He stated that maybe the National Football League should look into making the pass interference a reviewable play. The call against Artrell Hawkins and also the defensive holding call in the end zone against Ellis Hobbs on Mushin Muhammed were "phantom calls" that had Patriots fans staring in disbelief.
I digress on that part but it is something to think about.
Well after Watson's 2 yard TD catch and the defense stopping the Bears dead in their tracks to hold them to a field goal again, the score was 17-13 in a low scoring, defensive struggle.
I think Asante Samuel said it best after the game, "It's hard to tell [who is better]. They made a lot of plays. It was a battle. They had a good defense, and we had a good defense. It was a good game. It was just about making the plays at the time when we need them. At the end of the game if they go down and score a touchdown, they win. So we made the plays and it kept us in the game."
One of the stats of 2006 held true in this one with the fact that the Bears defense this year gave up and average of 12 points and the Patriots defense a measly 13 points. The final score showed this fact.
The first couple of quarters looked as if there was a lot of miscues and mistakes by both teams. If the defenses were the cause of the problem so be it, but some might say that it was just sloppy play. I personally feel that good defense leads to panic and irrational decisions so; this is reason for many of the nine turnovers by both of these teams.
Next week is going to be another battle against an NFC team which so far this season they have a record of 3-0 and are going to try to bring that to 4-0 against the Detroit Lions.
Shane is a lifelong Patriots fan who grew up in Worcester, MA. He showed his Patriots spirit representing his home team all over the world while in the military and attending games regularly through the years. He now resides in Bangor, ME where he roots for them from afar. He stands firm in his belief in the team and regularly makes the 500 mile round trip trek to watch them whenever he can.