17-14 (OT) BEARS
To beat the Patriots, you have to be the Patriots.
It’s no coincidence the only team to beat the Patriots since Week 2 is the Browns, who are coached by Eric Mangini, a Bill Belichick disciple, and have two other coaches and seven players who are former Patriots.
The Browns won 34-14 on Nov. 7 in Cleveland by beating the Pats at their own game: mixing the run and pass, winning the turnover battle, dominating time of possession (38:08-21:52) to keep Tom Brady off the field, scoring off an early turnover and throwing a few things at the Patriots they weren’t ready for.
If only it were that easy, good teams would do it.
But it’s never that easy to beat the Patriots. It didn’t hurt that the Browns had two weeks to prepare. Or that the game was against the 2-5 Browns, a franchise so star-crossed it couldn’t even win with Belichick as its coach.
When the Patriots (10-2) are on this kind of a roll, you need to do so many things right that you can’t really call it a formula. The ‘‘formula’’ for beating the Patriots is every football cliche come to life: discipline, tackling, avoiding turnovers, communication, pressure from the front four, preventing the big play and execution. Just do all that in the same game. And you still might need a break or two.
It’s not that the Patriots are invulnerable. They are 31st in the NFL in total defense, allowing 390 yards per game. It’s that under Belichick, they have a knack for covering up their vulnerabilities from game to game.
They can win in myriad ways
The Patriots have allowed 400 or more yards six times this season and won five of those games.
The Patriots have been held to 179 yards, just 3.1 yards per play, and still won.
The Patriots have won with a time of possession of 24:52. They’ve won when Tom Brady had a passer rating of 69.5. They’ve won when their longest rush was nine yards.
They’ve won with Randy Moss. They’ve won without Moss. They’ve won against Moss.
They’ve won when committing 10 penalties. They’ve won when they’re minus-2 in turnover differential. They’ve won when trailing by 10 points in the third quarter.
Whether or not Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz admires Belichick, it was easy to see that he respects him.
‘‘The thing about Bill — and this is something we try to do on offense — he’s been there so long, there’s an aura of discipline that he demands of those guys where we’re trying to get to,’’ Martz said.
‘‘I say, ‘Eliminate mistakes, get better every week.’ They’re that way every week because it’s ingrained there. And when they bring somebody in, they have to buy into that.
‘‘They’re very, very disciplined. I never see them out of position. They adjust extremely well, and they just don’t make mistakes. And that gives them the best chance to win. So that’s the best compliment you can give somebody, I think.’’
If anyone needs to be disciplined and on his game today, it’s Martz. The Bears’ offense has been making steady progress since the bye week. But as he well knows, it takes more than steady progress to beat Belichick, who, as we all know, can do wonders with a little bit of film on an opponent.
Bears must try something new
The Bears’ offense has been good enough for long enough now that a sharp guy such as Belichick has figured it out. Now it’s up to Martz to come up with a wrinkle to stay a step ahead. A ‘‘mad scientist’’ such as Martz knows how important that is.
‘‘We do different things every week,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s just the nature of this offense. We kind of move in the running and passing game. We’re getting to the point where we’re playing faster and more confident, so we can move things around a little bit.’’
It’ll be interesting to see what Martz comes up with. After the Patriots scored a touchdown against the Browns on a tipped ball to pull to 10-7 in November, the Browns had a first down at the Patriots’ 11. On a Wildcat play, Josh Cribbs took a handoff, the line moved right and Cribbs handed off to Chansi Stuckey going around left end for a touchdown. The Patriots never recovered.
‘‘It was a new play; they hadn’t run it this year,’’ Belichick said after the game. ‘‘We had prepared for plays like that, but we obviously didn’t prepare very well.’’
That’s how you beat Belichick. You have to be Belichick.
Just a hunch, but Martz seems very capable of filling that role.