Patriots Closing In On AFC East Title

With their 17-13 victory over the mighty Chicago Bears on Sunday, the New England Patriots improved their record to 8-3 and inch ever-closer to that coveted AFC East crown. For New England, a game like the one Sunday against a better offense could have spelled disaster, as it did in the team's 2005 playoff loss against the Broncos. For now, a win was just what they needed to stay on track.

Entering last Sunday's game against the Bears, all the talk surrounded how the Patriots couldn't beat a good team. They've struggled against the better teams in the NFL over the past two years and were beaten soundly at home this season by both the Colts and Broncos. The Patriots and their fans can breathe a little easier after a 17-13 win over the Bears, even though the victory may not have been pretty.

New England turned the ball over five times but still managed to squeak out the win thanks to four turnovers by the Bears, all credited to quarterback Rex Grossman. The Patriots are now 8-3 and in command in the AFC East.

"That is the way it has gone for is," quarterback Tom Brady said. "When we turn it over, we are not very good. When we don't turn it over, we can be pretty good. We are 8-3. We are in a good position, but we have to take care of the football much better. It goes for all of us right up and down the roster. Everyone who handles the ball has to do a better job."

While the Patriots won, there are still some concerns. The running game continues to be inconsistent. Reche Caldwell is really the only threat at receiver, and the Bears managed to rack up 153 yards on the ground.

After the game, coach Bill Belichick was quick to point out that the Patriots still have plenty of things to work on, despite beating a team that came into the game tied for the best record in the NFL.

"We gave up some long balls," Belichick said. "We almost had a punt blocked, turned the ball over. They had some of the same problems. Like I said, it's not the way you draw it up. It's a question of making plays at the time you need to make them to win the game. Luckily we made a couple more than they did."

The offense wasn't clicking all game long but made plays when it needed to. Brady converted two huge third-down conversions. One was a 40-yard reception to tight end Ben Watson and the other was an 11-yard run by Brady where he faked out Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher to get the first down.

"Well, I knew I needed 9 yards for the first down," Brady said. "So, if I had slid at 4 yards, my teammates would have killed me. I tried to do the best I can to make a guy miss."

With the offense struggling at times, New England relied on its defense, which held the Bears to just 13 points. Cornerback Asante Samuel picked off Grossman three times, including the game-clinching interception late in the fourth quarter. A free agent at the end of the year, Samuel is having a Pro Bowl season. His performance in a big game like this is going to earn him a lot of money in the offseason.

"He came up big today. He had a Pro Bowl day straight up and down," safety Artrell Hawkins said. "He could have had five picks. He played the pass perfectly. Even the pass that they caught on him earlier in the game, he was in position to make that play and just didn't go up and get it at the high point. Three picks are big for our team, and it's good for him. The first play he picked off a slant and we were in straight blitz coverage. He had no help and no one behind him."

The Patriots only have one game left against a winning team, so they're in good position to capture their fifth AFC East title in six years. They'll prepare to host the struggling Lions at home this Sunday before heading on the road to face the surging Dolphins.


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