FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — After the New England Patriots replaced starting quarterback Mac Jones with Bailey Zappe in the first half, it looked like they were going to make things difficult for the Chicago Bears with a pair of quick second-quarter touchdowns.
Both the Bears and Patriots head into Week 8 sporting identical 3-4 records.
Weather games are the Bears’ forte. They opened the season in a deluge and beat the San Francisco 49ers. Monday, against the Patriots, slick turf and heavy fog hanging over Gillette Stadium were no factor en route to a 33-14 win.
The Bears snapped a three-game losing streak with 10 days in between games. Chicago coaches promised personnel changes and scheme adjustments during the mini-bye week and delivered. Justin Fields energized the offense with his rushing ability, and not in typical fashion. Designed runs — not scrambles — were the Bears’ weapon of choice for their second-year quarterback. The 33 points Chicago scored in Week 7 were the most in a game with Fields starting.
General manager Ryan Poles held an impromptu news conference hours before kickoff to address the state of the Bears nearing the midway point of the season. His message? This team might be young, but the Bears need to learn how to finish games after coming close during their first six games. Chicago’s win on “Monday Night Football” is a step in the right direction for a motivated, well-coached group.
QB breakdown: Chicago’s game plan was simple: get Fields on the move. By the end of the first half, Fields had the most rushes (12) and rushing yards (55) on designed runs for a game in his career, which included a 3-yard touchdown run. Utilizing their quarterback’s biggest asset — his legs — was a benefit for the Bears and helped Chicago score on five straight drives, which is tied for its longest streak in the past four seasons. Fields finished with a team-high 82 rushing yards and went 13-of-21 for 179 yards, a touchdown and an interception. This was the most comfortable Fields has looked all season. He was patient, waited for plays to develop and went through his progressions in ways he hadn’t earlier this season. Monday’s win is something the 23-year-old quarterback can build on.
Eye-popping stat: Fields is one of two players in the past 30 seasons to have more than 100 passing yards and 70 rushing yards along with at least one passing and rushing touchdown in an opening half, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The last player to do so was Russell Wilson in 2014.
Promising trend: The adjustments the Bears made — both in personnel and scheme — following their Week 6 loss to Washington paid off. Designed runs, RPOs, quick throws and an uptick in pre-snap motion (their highest usage in a game all season) helped Chicago establish the tone on offense. The Bears went 11-of-17 on third down, just shy of the most third-down conversions allowed by a Bill Belichick defense. There were moving pockets for Fields, which helped him avoid pressure in ways he hadn’t been able to previously. After not being targeted against the Commanders, wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown led the team with seven targets and churned out four receptions for 48 yards. The change at punt returner with Dante Pettis taking over for Velus Jones Jr. yielded a 27-yard return, Chicago’s longest of the season.
Buy/sell on a breakout performance: The Bears received criticism for taking defensive backs with their top two draft picks instead of addressing needs at wide receiver and on the offensive line, a decision Poles defended on Monday. Both of their top rookies — cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker — came away with interceptions in Chicago’s first win in Foxborough. The Bears’ secondary is in good hands for years to come.
Next game: at Cowboys (1:00 p.m. ET, Sunday)
New England Patriots
Do the New England Patriots have a quarterback controversy? Mac Jones‘ return from a high left ankle sprain didn’t go as planned, and rookie Bailey Zappe provided the offense a spark when he entered the game in the second quarter before fizzling out in the second half.
Coach Bill Belichick told ESPN sideline reporter Lisa Salters that the plan entering the game was to play both quarterbacks. Jones played the first three series, throwing his sixth interception of the season to end his third drive. The pass hung in the air and the restless home crowd began chanting “Zappe! Zappe! Zappe!”
Jones finished 3-of-6 for 13 yards and the pick, while Zappe was 14-of-22 for 185 yards, with a touchdown, two interceptions and a lost fumble.
Biggest hole in the game plan: Accounting for quarterback Justin Fields as a runner. The defense, which had been stout in wins over the Lions and Browns, showed unexpected vulnerability and struggled to get off blocks throughout. Fields, who also hurt the Patriots with his arm after buying extra time, rushed 10 times for 74 yards and a touchdown in the first half. It was the most rushing yards the Patriots have allowed to a quarterback in a half in Belichick’s tenure (2000-present). The Bears called designed runs for Fields nine times in the first half.
Under-the-radar stat that matters: The Patriots’ defense couldn’t get off the field on third down, allowing 11 conversions on third down, as the Bears built a 33-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Describe the game in two words: Blown out. The Bears came into the Patriots’ home stadium and powered through them with unexpected ease.
Troubling trend: Left tackle Trent Brown was called for four penalties, three of which came within the team’s first two drives. He was called for holding twice, a false start and tripping. Starting right tackle Isaiah Wynn, who was inactive due to a shoulder injury, had entered the day with eight penalties on the season.
Next game: at Jets (1:00 p.m. ET, Sunday)