- New England was without Rob Gronkowski and lost leading rusher Sony Michel to injury. Chicago threw their final Hail Mary to ... Kevin White, the fourth-year receiver with no catches so far this season. The Patriots came out on top in a game filled with unexpected twists.
Kevin White was the best man for the job.
The Bears’ injury-plagued draft bust (at least so far) came into the Week 7 game against the Patriots without any catches this season, so he seemed an unlikely choice to depend on to make a Hail Mary catch with the game on the line. But teammates say that the fourth-year receiver and free-agent signing Allen Robinson are Chicago’s best players at high-pointing the ball and using their height (both are 6' 3") to get vertical and pull down that kind of catch. When the Bears practice the Hail Mary play during situational work every Saturday, White and Robinson are go-to targets.
Robinson was limited in the game with a groin injury, and so quarterback Mitchell Trubisky chose White as the target for his last-second throw for a shot to tie or win the game. White pulled in the ball at the one-yard line just before Patriots receiver Josh Gordon could get a hand on it from behind him. But when White tried to turn towards the end zone and finish the job, he was swarmed by Gordon and two other Patriots defenders and was stuffed just shy of the goal line. White’s long-awaited redemption story was not meant to be.
This game came down to one yard, and White’s 54-yard completion when he really needed 55 was just one of several game-changing plays at Soldier Field on Sunday. Patriots coach Bill Belichick condensed the back-and-forth 38–31 Patriots win into one sentence: “An unusual game with a lot of big plays.”
Chicago scored 21 points off of New England turnovers, while the Patriots scored two touchdowns on special teams plays—one blocked punt returned for a touchdown and one kickoff return for a touchdown. New England is now sitting pretty at 5–2 after four straight wins, but players were not interested in entertaining any sort of “righting the ship” narrative. Receiver Cordarelle Patterson shook his head to that idea saying, “No, we’re focused on our next game.”
It was a strange game for the Patriots offense, which was without leading receiver Rob Gronkowski, who did not travel with the team to Chicago while nursing a back injury. To make things worse, in the second quarter they lost their leading rusher, rookie running back Sony Michel, to a knee injury. Third-string tight end Jacob Hollister was also inactive, leaving New England with only Dwayne Allen at tight end. Allen was not involved in the passing game and used primarily as a blocker.
How did New England’s game plan change without Gronkowski? “I wish I could answer it,” Allen said in typical evasive Patriots fashion. “You gotta talk to [offensive coordinator Josh] McDaniels about it. Our game plan was our game plan. We just went out and executed whatever he called. As far as I know there was a never a thing where it was like, here’s a Gronk-less game plan.”
In Gronk’s absence, New England relied more on Gordon, now in his third game as a Patriot. Gordon had his first 100-yard receiving game with New England and made two crucial catches in the game: A 19-yard fourth down conversion down the right sideline, where he caught the ball high and away from his body and jumped so aggressively over Bears cornerback Kendall Fuller that he lost his helmet, and a 55-yard catch-and-run to the one-yard line where he broke several tackles to set up New England for a touchdown.
With Michel sidelined, James White and Kenjon Barner stepped up in the run game. White had 40 yards in addition to 57 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns.
The Bears defense still has not allowed a rushing touchdown yet this season, but only has one sack in the last two games. The unit took a less aggressive approach for Tom Brady, and frequently dropped back into coverage rather than bringing in pass rushers to pressure Brady, who finished with 277 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Star outside linebacker Khalil Mack was limited all week with an ankle injury, and it showed in this game. He started the game, but finished with just one tackle.
Chicago’s second-year quarterback is still searching for consistency in the passing game. He seemed to be overthrowing his receivers in the first half, and in the second half, he was under throwing them. But Trubisky made several stunning plays on scrambles, one where he spun out of an Adrian Clayborn tackle and followed behind two of his lineman for a casual, walk-in touchdown; and another where he rushed for 39 yards to set up another score. He’s so good on the move and escaping from a collapsing pocket, but his receivers didn’t seem to be ready to capitalize on the extended plays.
There were several instances where none of the Bears receivers were open or coming back to Trubisky after the quarterback had successfully escaped the pocket. On one play where he was on the move, Trubisky pointed to receiver Josh Bellamy as his target, threw to Bellamy, who got a hand on the ball but was picked off by Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson, who wrapped up Bellamy and took it away. Bears receivers have to be better for Trubisky in those situations.
The Patriots gave the Bears several opportunities to take the game, but New England’s special teams plays were the difference maker. “We had production from a lot of different people,” Belichick said. “So did they. Luckily, we just had a little bit more.”