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Coach Lovie Smith identified November as a target month. This one did not end exactly as he or the Bears would have liked.
The Bears finished the month 2-2, failing to score more than 13 points in three of their four games and closing a grueling three-game spin through the Northeast with a disappointing 17-13 loss to the New England Patriots, who have allowed only one of their 11 opponents to score more than 17 points.
Whether it was a half-full or half-empty game is in the eye of the beholder. Rex Grossman threw three interceptions, all to cornerback Asante Samuel, and lost a fumbled snap. But the Bears ran for 153 yards on the NFL's No. 2 rushing defense. They gave up 269 passing yards to three-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady. But that was without their No. 1 nickelbackand they lost starting safety Todd Johnson to injury early in the game.
"We had opportunities," Smith said. "Offensively it's tough to win when you have four turnovers. It's as simple as that."
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, a game between the NFL's best defensive teams was dominated early by turnovers and impact plays. After Charles Tillman came within inches of blocking a Patriots punt, Samuel jumped a quick slant from Grossman toward Muhsin Muhammad and intercepted the pass to give New England the ball at the Bears' 39.
But the rash of turnaround plays was just beginning. Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson dropped into coverage and broke up a pass, and two plays later Brady threw to tight end Ben Watson at the Bears' 1. But Johnson delivered a huge hit right on the ball before Watson could secure it, and the ball popped high in the air and down into the arms of Tillman, whose third interception of the season gave the Bears possession at their 6.
Grossman then shook off any effects of the interception and directed a drive of 14 plays to the New England 22. He converted three third downs with passes of 9 yards to Desmond Clark, 13 to Bernard Berrian and 15 to Mark Bradley in addition to a 21-yard completion to Berrian.
But the drive ended badly when Robbie Gould's field goal from 40 yards was nullified by blocker Alfonso Boone's false start. Moved back to 45 yards, Gould's second attempt, with a lower trajectory, was blocked by defensive end Richard Seymour. It was Gould's first miss since Dec. 18 against Atlanta.
New England came back with a drive to the 11, the big play a 26-yard run by Corey Dillon that grew by 10 yards when safety Danieal Manning was called for a late hit. But Lance Briggs beat a block by tackle Matt Light and stood up Laurence Maroney, then ripped the ball out to give the Bears the ball at their 15.
The Bears then proved again they could drive on New England. Cedric Benson picked up 18 yards on three carries around a 13-yard completion to Berrian, who outfought Samuel to take in a 47-yard pass and reach the New England 7 as the quarter ended.
What went right: The offense moved the ball well on one of the NFL's elite defenses, piling up 155 yards and converting three of five third downs.
What went wrong: The first two possessions ended in mistakesan interception and a field-goal miss because of a penalty. The third possession, three plays into the second quarter, also ended in disaster with a dropped snap by Grossman.
Audible: "He kept coming at me and trying me, and I just made the plays." Samuel, who intercepted Grossman three times.
A dark shadow flitted over the Bears on the third play of the quarter when Grossman dropped the snap and Seymour fell on the ball and stepped on Grossman's right hand. That ended the drive at the New England 8. Brian Griese then began warming up, helmet on, while Grossman had some difficulty controlling practice throws along the sideline. But Grossman was able to return by the time the Bears got the ball back. That, however, was after a New England touchdown and after the Bears had received another scare.
On the Patriots' TD drive, linebacker Brian Urlacher was briefly shaken up and left the game for a play to be checked out by the medical staff. Brady completed a third-down pass with Urlacher out and followed with a 25-yard completion to Daniel Graham to the New England 46. The Pats continued moving, and with Maroney handling the ball on four straight plays from the Bears' 27, scored on a 1-yard run by Maroney with 9 minutes 8 seconds to play in the half.
The Bears continued to rebound from their problems. Grossman missed his first pass after the ensuing possession, but Benson was in his best rhythm of the season, ripping off a 16-yard gain after a 14-yard completion to Muhammad to convert a third-and-10. The offense was finally settling in and holding on to the ball, if not always advancing in big chunks. Thomas Jones picked up another third-down conversion as the Bears moved to the 29 before settling for a 46-yard Gould field goal.
The defense dodged a touchdown when a Brady pass went through the hands of rookie wideout Chad Jackson well behind the secondary. But the Patriots finished the half with a 52-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. The rookie had missed his first attempt, but Smith had called time out just before the snap, and the second try was good for a 10-3 halftime lead.
What went right: Two key completions were overturned by replay reviews on New England's final drive. The Bears converted 5 of 10 third downs for the half.
What went wrong: The defense was sent reeling backward on an 11-play, 92-yard drive, second longest given up this season and only the third time this year the Bears have given up a five-minute scoring drive.
Audible: "We were definitely monitoring how he was throwing on the sideline and if that was affecting him at all. He said he was fine and ready to go." Offensive coordinator Ron Turner, who had Griese warming up after Grossman's hand was stepped on.
The defense, with two takeaways in the first half, started getting them two at a time. After the teams traded three-and-outs, Brady found Watson isolated on Briggs and completed a throw to him for 23 yards. But Briggs pursued the play and popped the ball out from behind, only to have it go to wideout Reche Caldwell near the 20. Danieal Manning then stripped the ball from Caldwell and recovered it at the Bears' 13.
The Bears then began a drive of 12 plays that reached the New England 29. A 17-yard run by Thomas Jones was good for a third-down conversion and Grossman sneaked 1 yard for a fourth-down conversion. But Grossman also threw behind his intended target and had his second pass intercepted by Samuel.
The Bears' defense struck right back with another takeaway. Tank Johnson fought through a double team and got late pressure on Brady, whose pass to Troy Brown was deflected by Manning and intercepted by Tillman, his second pick on a deflection, to give the ball to the Bears at their 47.
On third-and-8, Grossman spotted Berrian deep down the right side, stood in against New England pressure and got off a pass that turned into a 45-yard penalty when safety Artrell Hawkins interfered, giving the Bears a first-and-goal at the Patriots' 6.
What went right: The defense took away the ball in crucial situations. The offense, shut down on the first two possessions, drove for six minutes, only to have the drive end with an interception.
What went wrong: Grossman, possibly still bothered by his sore right hand, completed just 1 of 6 passes for 18 yards and threw an interception.
Audible: "We ran the ball pretty well on them. We just didn't finish our drives and take care of the football, and that's a bad combination." Grossman, who dropped a snap and was intercepted twice through three quarters.
Benson powered into the end zone from 2 yards out behind left guard Ruben Brown and tackle John Tait to bring the Bears even at 10-10 on the second play.
A 40-yard completion on third down from Brady to Watson, however, took the momentum back as Manning and Chris Harris left the tight end alone downfield. Brady spiced up the drive by beating Brian Urlacher one on one in the open field on a scramble as the Patriots drove for 6 minutes 31 seconds to regain the lead on a 2-yard toss from Brady to Watson with 8:22 left.
Jones powered the Bears' offense back up with a 17-yard run, bouncing off New England linemen and picking up second-effort yardage. On third-and-7 from the Patriots' 48, Grossman heaved the ball again toward Berrian, who drew another interference penalty, this time on cornerback Ellis Hobbs. The Bears moved the ball to the New England 14 and closed within 17-13 on a 32-yard field goal by Gould, figuring their defense could get the ball back for a shot at victory.
That opportunity came on another forced fumble by Manning, who knocked the ball out of Dillon's hands. Alex Brown recovered at the Bears' 22-yard line with 1:52 to go. But on the first play, with Rashied Davis against single coverage in the deep middle, Grossman was intercepted for the third time by Samuel at the New England 38 to end the Bears' chances.
What went right: As they did in Arizona, the Bears created exactly the turnover they needed at exactly the time they needed it.
What went wrong: Whether the problem was in the throw or the route, or just a superior play by a defensive back, the Bears were unable to exploit the Patriots' deep coverage on their final play with the game on the line.
Audible: "We had some guys step up and make big plays at the right time. That was the difference in the game." Patriots coach Bill Belichick.