By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
It’s fitting that a roller coaster of a game would have its fair share of ups and downs. The Patriots escaped Soldier Field with a 38-31 regulation win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday, and it was far from perfect.
The biggest ups and downs for the Patriots came on special teams, when big plays went both for and against them. Defensively, there was a little good and a little bad. The offense continued to have some of the same issues, but also came up with some big-time plays.
An interesting case in this game is Cordarrelle Patterson. Optimists may say he’s “rising” since he finally scored a return touchdown. Cynics would simply point to his fumble and say he’s way down, since that’s pretty much the one thing he can’t do in order to maintain his spot as the primary kick returner. Let’s call him “even” after that game.
Here’s the rest of the Patriots who are worth noting as “rising” and falling” in this imaginary stock market we’re running here at the Sports Hub…
Rising: Josh Gordon
Much has already been said about Gordon’s big game. Only four catches, but at least two of them fall under the category of massive clutch plays in crucial situations. His 19-yard catch on fourth-and-1 set up a James White touchdown to give the Patriots a four-point lead late in the first half, and his 55-yard catch-and-run set up White’s second touchdown to extend the Patriots’ lead. Gordon continues to earn a bigger role in the offense. So far, so good.
Falling: J.C. Jackson
The rookie did make an interception that helped stop the Bears from gaining momentum in the second half. But that was already after he’d been penalized three times in coverage down the field. His mistakes directly contributed to points for the Bears, which hardly makes his interception a big redemption story. Jackson has some talent, no doubt, but he’ll need to show more discipline if Belichick is going to keep rolling him out there.
Rising: Chris Hogan
After a shockingly quiet start to the season, Hogan had a season-high in catches and targets on Sunday against the Bears. He hauled in six of his seven targets for 63 yards, once again looking like the reliable complementary receiver he’s been for Brady. Hogan especially stood out on the possession that led to Stephen Gostkowski’s game-tying field goal at the time, making three catches for 36 yards on the 64-yard drive.
Falling: Patriots safeties
Duron Harmon made one big play for the group, standing up Kevin White at the goal line on the Bears’ last-second Hail Mary attempt. But overall, another shaky afternoon for the Patriots safeties in coverage against tight end Trey Burton. Though the big plays didn’t burn the Patriots like they did against the Chiefs, they struggled to disrupt Mitchell Trubisky’s connection with Burton over the deep middle of the field. Burton finished with nine catches for 126 yards and a touchdown (albeit in garbage time). Maybe Bill Belichick was OK with Burton’s production in the end, because the Bears’ receivers and running backs were mostly severely limited. But the tight end coverage certainly could’ve been better.
Rising: Special teams blocking & coverage
The Patriots’ coverage units on special teams have been sloppy to start the season, and they weren’t really tested defending against returners on Sunday. But they certainly had a day against the Bears. Besides Cordarrelle Patterson’s fumble, the special teams units had a great game. Strong blocking up front helped spring Patterson for his redemptive 95-yard touchdown return. And Dont’a Hightower made the biggest special teams play of the game when he bulldozed the Bears’ Ben Braunecker on the way to blocking Pat O’Donnell’s punt, which Kyle Van Noy scooped up for the touchdown return. That was apparently the first time Hightower ever played on the punt-block unit, let alone the first time he ever blocked a punt. Perhaps he’s earned a permanent role now.
Falling: Run defense…on the quarterback
The Bears rushed for 134 yards on 25 carries, led by … Trubisky? The Bears quarterback ran buck-wild all over the Patriots defense on Sunday, and perhaps Belichick was ultimately OK with it. Trubisky wasn’t able to burn the Patriots too badly through the air, but did rush for 81 yards with a touchdown on just six carries. The Patriots clearly still have issues defending mobile quarterbacks. Trubisky just didn’t throw the ball well enough to make the issues more costly. It’s something they simply need to fix before they face running quarterbacks who will be more dangerous with their arms. Like, say, Aaron Rodgers.
Rising: Pass protection
Khalil Mack, anyone? Anyone? Bueller? The Bears’ dynamic pass rusher was almost completely, totally silenced on Sunday. Just one tackle, tied with teammates Benny Cunningham and Anthony Miller, who play offense. The Patriots had a bit of an issue against Bilal Nichols up front and Roquan Smith flew around the edge for the Bears’ only sack of the day. But besides that and three QB hits, little trouble for Brady getting rid of the ball. The Bears were better in coverage than they were up front, which is among the afternoon’s biggest surprises.
Falling: Ball security
Still an issue for the Patriots, especially on offense. Tom Brady now has seven interceptions in as many games. His latest clanged off the hands of James Develin. It’s easy to blame the fullback in that spot, but that’s on Brady. That’s his risk to take throwing to the fullback in the first place. Can’t really get on Sony Michel for fumbling, since it happened just as he suffered a serious injury, but a fumble is a fumble and no one on the Patriots could recover it.
Patterson’s aforementioned kick return fumble forced the Patriots to dig out of an early hole. And let’s not forget Julian Edelman muffing a punt right off his facemask, which could go relatively unnoticed since he recovered his own fumble. The Pats are still being uncharacteristically sloppy with the football on offense and special teams. It hasn’t hurt them all that much so far, but it should be a concern if it continues to stretch beyond the first half of the season.
Next “Rise & Fall” comes next Tuesday, after the Patriots take on the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.