The mission for Chicago's defense Sunday at Soldier Field against the Patriots is clear-cut yet extremely difficult: stop Tom Brady.
Not since mid-October has any opponent succeeded in containing the NFL's leading passer, whose .770 winning percentage is by far the best among current players and the best of any quarterback since 1966. Since throwing two interceptions in a 23-20 victory over the Ravens on Oct. 17, Brady has 17 touchdown passes and no interceptions. That's 228 passes without a pick.
"The guy has been one of the best around for a lot of years," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "They get the same kind of play from him each week, consistent play, and [he's] a Hall of Famer."
Brady was so good last Monday night while completing 21 of 29 passing for 326 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-3 dismantling of the Jets that he even made it difficult for the New York offense.
"They were lights out, early and often," Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said. "They've been able to score a lot (No. 1 in the NFL in points), and that puts a lot of pressure on us as an offense to be able to go down there and match them score for score. We've got to have a complete game: offense, defense and special teams."
It's not just the stunning numbers that Brady has been putting up for the past decade. It's the almost effortless style that impresses opponents. Looking downfield, waiting for a receiver to come open, Brady's body language resembles someone standing on a street corner waiting for a bus.
"It's just how relaxed he is in the pocket," Bears nose tackle Anthony Adams said. "He's calm and he's cool. The rush doesn't bother him. He'll take a hit."
Not very often, though. He's been sacked 18 times this season and just six times in the past six games. By comparison, Cutler has been dropped 41 times.
"It's his whole demeanor," Bears safety Chris Harris said. "He's so calm and cool back there. He doesn't really let much get to him. We're going to have to try to get him off his mark, try to make him uncomfortable in the pocket."
Easier said than done, but the Bears do have 12 sacks in their last three games, their best pass-rushing stretch of the season.
"We can force him to throw some interceptions if we can get in his face or bat a ball down or force him outside the pocket or chase him," Adams said. "Just [get] in his face. We can definitely affect some of his throws."
Nickel back D.J. Moore, who leads the Bears with four interceptions, isn't conceding anything to Brady.
"I think it's kind of exciting, but every year there's great quarterbacks," Moore said. "I mean, he's a good quarterback. He won a Super Bowl (three, actually). It's not past years or whatever. They didn't come off a Super Bowl win last year. So it's just another team on the schedule."
Most of Moore's teammates would disagree – especially about Brady.
"He's arguably the best player in the NFL right now, the best quarterback," Harris said. "We're definitely going to have our hands full. He's playing tremendous football. He's putting up monster numbers, so if they had the vote today, I wouldn't argue him being MVP."
For the season, Brady has 27 touchdown passes, just four interceptions and a 109.5 passer rating. His 94.7 career passer rating (252 TDs, 103 INTs) is sixth in NFL history.
"I watched the Monday night game, just seeing how much in command he is of that offense," Cutler said. "He's done everything to make that stuff work. He's making the calls, he's making the shots, and he does a great job of it."
In two career games against the Bears, Brady has been a mere mortal, but they haven't faced him in more than four years. The Patriots won the last meeting, 17-13 in Foxborough in November 2006, as Brady completed 22 of 33 passes for 269 yards and one touchdown, but he was picked off twice by Charles Tillman and finished with a 76.2 passer rating. In 2002, at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, the Patriots won 33-30 with Brady completing 36 of 55 passes for 328 yards with three touchdowns, one interception and a 92.1 passer rating.
K Robbie Gould
NOTES AND QUOTES
Robbie Gould is the fifth-most-accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history with an 85.5-percent success rate, but this year he's shown greater range than ever and added impressive distance to his kickoffs.
In his first four years with the Bears, Gould was allowed to attempt only two field goals of 50 yards or longer, and he missed both. Last year he connected on two of three, hitting from 50 and 52 and missing from 53. Last week he made a career-long 54-yarder in Detroit, and he's also hit from 50 and 53. His only miss from 50-plus was a 54-yarder that was blocked.
"You always want to get better," Gould said. "You always want to find a way to help the team out the best way you possibly can. All I have heard about is how I can't make a 50-yarder, how I can't kick [long] kickoffs. That's fine. That's part of it. But it's been a lot different this year. It's one of those things where you go out there and you tell yourself you can do it, and you just want to show everyone that you can."
The Patriots originally signed Gould in 2005 as an undrafted free agent out of Penn State. But they also had Pro Bowl kicker Adam Vinatieri, so Gould was cut before the season. After three weeks on the Ravens' practice squad, he was signed by the Bears five weeks into the season to replace Doug Brien. ...
With more snow expected and continued below-normal temperatures, there's a good chance the already-below-par playing surface at Soldier Field will be a factor Sunday.
"The turf is what it is," Cutler said. "With our speed, we'd like to get something a little bit tighter. We probably have one of the worst fields in the league at this point. We did last year as well. We've got to deal with it, and our guys know it. They're aware of how to cut and how to move on it. We've just got to go out there and play.
"[Opposing players] go out there in pregame, and they're wondering what cleats to wear, [depending on] exactly how torn up it is. It's a shame."
Word has already reached the Patriots, but wide receiver Wes Welker downplayed it.
"It's supposed to be a slower track out there, and I've heard it's not in that great of shape and they've re-sodded it and everything like that," Welker said. "You've just got to get ready for the field, whatever condition it's in." ...
The Bears faced a similar scenario to this week's home game against the 10-2 Patriots when the 7-3 Eagles came calling two weeks ago and left on the short end of a 31-26 score.
"The Eagles came in one of the best teams in the league, a big home game for us," Smith said. "It's the same situation right now. We're a little bit further along. We have a better idea who really is legit, and you can definitely say that about [the Patriots] the way they're playing. You watch them on video, and you have to be impressed by what they're doing." ...
After Josh McDaniels was hired as the Broncos' head coach following the 2008 season, his desire to replace Cutler, his incumbent quarterback, with Matt Cassel led to the trade that brought Cutler to the Bears.
McDaniels was fired Monday, but Cutler didn't have much of a reaction.
"None of my concern," he said. "I'm worried about the Patriots."
QUOTE TO NOTE
"We'll get to it. We've tried to throw the ball down the field here a little bit. It will come more often. It's something that will materialize, I promise." – Offensive coordinator Mike Martz, discussing the long ball, which has been absent from the Bears' passing attack, even though Cutler's passer rating continues to climb.
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