Mandatory Credit: Photo by Kirk Irwin/AP/Shutterstock (13476159go) New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick stands on the sideline during an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, in Cleveland Patriots Browns Football, Cleveland, United States – 16 Oct 2022
Chicago Bears (2-4) at New England Patriots (3-3)
Time/TV: 7:15 p.m. CT/ESPN
The New England Patriots looked dead in the water after three weeks, sitting at 1-2 following a double-digit home loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The defense had seemingly been exposed, and Mac Jones was intercepted three times in the loss without passing for a touchdown. While New England also lost their next game to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, the game nonetheless felt like a turning point for a team facing a ton of adversity. Backup quarterback Brian Hoyer got the start that day, but he’d be replaced early in the game after an injury by rookie Bailey Zappe. Nevertheless, the Patriots would force overtime behind conservative, adequate quarterback play and an opportunistic defense that made Aaron Rodgers look ordinary for most of the afternoon. Although New England lost, it felt as if they’d restored some of the standards that they’d set in previous years on the defensive side of the ball. Over the two games since, the Pats are 2-0, with a 29-0 blowout of Detroit and a 38-15 blowout at Cleveland last Sunday. Now 3-3 with a manageable schedule ahead, it feels inevitable that the Patriots will hang around and compete for an AFC playoff spot down the stretch.
They’ll welcome the Chicago Bears to Gillette Stadium Monday night, a team in the midst of a three-game skid. Chicago’s 12-7 loss to the Commanders on Thursday Night Football in Week 6 was misleading in one sense, as the Bears’ offense gained a season-high 391 yards of offense. It felt like a step in the right direction in many ways for young quarterback Justin Fields, but Chicago’s miscellaneous mistakes all over the field did them in any way. The Bears muffed a punt that ultimately cost them dearly, and Justin Fields threw away a promising drive in the first quarter with an interception. The Bears will need to get out of their own way Monday night if they want to come out of Foxborough with a win, but they’ll also need to protect Fields better when he drops back to pass. Fields was sacked another five times against the Commanders, adding to a total of 23 sacks through six games this year.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick will certainly dial up the pressure on Fields as much as possible Monday night as the future Hall of Fame coach seeks his 325th career victory in front of the Patriots’ home crowd. Doing so would move him past George Halas into sole possession of second place on the all-time wins list, just 22 short of all-time leader Don Shula. Whether Belichick coaches long enough to reach that next milestone remains to be seen, but he’s not one to look that far ahead anyway.
Monday night also likely means the return of Patriots’ starting quarterback Mac Jones, whose uneven play early this season (two touchdowns, five interceptions) has left some talking heads wondering if the job should be his over the aforementioned Zappe. Regardless of who starts at quarterback, New England will likely try to pound the rock with their duo of running backs, Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. Chicago’s secondary has been the strongest part of the Bears’ defense, allowing the third-fewest yards through the air in the NFL this season, while the Bears have been second worst in the NFL against the run.
A win for New England would move them to 4-3, right in the thick of the AFC Wild Card hunt and within shouting distance of the Bills and Jets atop the competitive AFC East. Chicago is looking to move to 3-4, hoping to tie the Packers for second place behind the runaway Minnesota Vikings.