New England (11-2) clinched a playoff spot with its fifth straight victory and delivered a strong message to the in 9-degree wind chill and 50-mile-per-hour wind gusts that blew enormous clouds of snow throughout Soldier Field. If the last two weeks, when the Patriots beat two likely playoff teams by a combined 81-10, are any indication, they are ready for a lot more.
While Patriots Coach reviewed the game with reporters, the final moments of ’ demise was playing out on a television a few feet away. , which put them with three games to play, was pointed out to Belichick, and it drew the same shrug that a question about clinching a playoff berth did.
But Belichick was spotted mingling with players in the locker room after the game, a rare show of bonhomie in front of reporters and an indication of how happy the Patriots are with their position as they prepare to host the next week.
“It’s good, but we’re just going to keep playing,” Belichick said of the playoff spot, in his best monotone. “I’m sure when the season ends someone will tell us what to do.”
Belichick is 10-0 in snow games in part because he rarely takes the Patriots into their indoor practice facility in Foxborough, Mass. Belichick used the warm-up period before the game to examine the elements, installing and ripping up plays as the wind and footing allowed. And the Patriots indicated immediately that the weather would not alter their essential style.
operated out of the shotgun on his first play, a 5-yard completion to Wes Welker, who had warmed up before the game in shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt. Brady continued to use short passes, using the catch and run that has become the Patriots’ offensive profile to chew up the empty spaces that the Bears’ cover-2 defense gives up.
With Chicago’s pass rush thwarted by the poor footing, Brady, who completed 27 of 40 passes for 369 yards, was under little pressure, even when he did not release a quick pass. Deion Branch and Welker each finished with more than 100 yards receiving under conditions so unpredictable that Welker said that on one pass he thought he was going to have to leap, only to have the ball wind up near his belly button.
The Patriots went on scoring drives of 12, 11 and 7 plays, and the defense twice forced fumbles that were quickly turned into points.
But the signature play of the game, the thumb in the eye to prognosticators who imagined the Patriots’ passing game would be held up in the wind, came on the final play of the first half. On third-and-9 from their 41, the Patriots — , even when their opponents are inept — eschewed taking a knee and ordered up a Brady pass down the deep left sideline to Branch.
Branch was wide open when he caught the ball and ran, seconds ticking away, for the Patriots’ fourth touchdown of the first half. The Patriots had scored as many points — 33— as the Bears had yards. And Brady continued his run toward the league’s Most Valuable Player award, with .
“They don’t cancel football games very often,” Brady said. “It’s not like baseball. It was one of those days a lot of people would be cozied up by the fireplace with hot chocolate. But we work on Sundays.”
For the Bears (9-4), this game, which sent frozen fans streaming to their cars with four minutes remaining in the second quarter, provided a startling reality check. They had against largely weaker opponents, but when they beat the Eagles last week, they suddenly seemed like legitimate N.F.C. contenders. With their division rivals, the earlier in the day, the Bears had a chance to seize a two-game division lead with three games remaining.
Instead, they finished with just 185 yards of offense and allowed 475 yards by the Patriots. The Bears were angered and surprised by their performance, and face a critical game against the next Monday at a site to be determined.
“That’s an elite team there, and to get where we want to go, those are the teams we have to beat,” said Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who completed just 12 of 26 passes for 152 yards, with two interceptions. “It’s little mistakes out there, and those things add up in a hurry, especially against a team like that.”