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Patriots defeat Bears in sloppy game, 17-13

Chicago's Grossman has three passes intercepted, and possible Super Bowl preview is marred by nine turnovers, five by New England.

November 27, 2006|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

FOXBOROUGH, MASS. — So this was the best the NFL could offer?

The Chicago Bears, the elite team in the NFC, saw their first nine drives Sunday end this way: interception, missed field goal, fumble, field goal, punt, end of half, punt, punt, interception.

The New England Patriots, winners of three of the last five Super Bowls, treated the home crowd to a first nine drives that ended punt, interception, fumble, touchdown, punt, field goal, punt, fumble, interception.

"It isn't exactly the way we drew it up," deadpanned Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, otherwise humorless after the 17-13 victory. "There were plenty of mistakes to go around out there."

And to think the games were going to be far less sloppy now that the Patriots have artificial turf at Gillette Stadium. Sunday's showdown, a potential Super Bowl preview, featured four turnovers by the Bears and five by the Patriots.

"We've got to find a way to take care of the ball better," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. "You can't win like this. This was luck today."

Luck, skill, whichever, it was a milestone victory for a team that had yet to beat a team with a winning record. By defeating the Bears, the Patriots (8-3) joined Indianapolis, San Diego and Baltimore among the cluster of teams to beat in the AFC.

Chicago (9-2), which still has a comfortable two-game lead in the NFC, showed its vulnerability at quarterback. Rex Grossman finished with zero touchdowns, three interceptions, a fumbled snap, and a knee-knocking passer rating of 23.7. That brought Grossman's road totals this season to six touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

"We didn't complete the job tonight but Rex is our quarterback," Bears Coach Lovie Smith said. "We'll make the necessary corrections, which we've done in the past, but ... we still had an opportunity to win the football game, and we're not going to put that on one guy."

This much is clear: The Bears are fiercely loyal to their quarterback. For instance, around the same time Grossman was accepting the blame for the fumbled snap, center Olin Kreutz was in another part of the locker room putting the mistake on his own shoulders.

"I fumbled it," Kreutz said. "I shorted the snap, and Rex Grossman did not get it. I have to get the ball to Rex. Rex is going to take the blame, but I know what happened."

Regardless, Chicago has a habit of committing giveaways in bunches. Four times this season, individual teams have had six-turnover games; two of those stinkers belong to the Bears.

"Obviously it is frustrating any time you lose and don't play the way you're capable of playing," Grossman said.

Sunday's game was certainly a championship-level performance by Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel. Despite coming off a knee injury that sidelined him for the Green Bay game a week earlier, Samuel tied a franchise record with three interceptions.

The last of those interceptions came with one minute, 51 seconds to play, when Samuel made a diving grab of a throw over the deep middle for receiver Rashied Davis.

The Patriots' winning drive consumed the first half of the fourth quarter, and ended when Brady fired a two-yard touchdown pass to Ben Watson for a 17-10 lead.

The most memorable play of that 73-yard drive was an 11-yard scramble by Brady on third and nine, a dazzler on which he even juked All-Pro linebacker Brian Urlacher. Brady, typically self-effacing, said moves like that surface "once every couple of years."

"It was the uncoordinated stutter-step, probably what it looked like," Brady said. "I'm not the most athletic guy so maybe he was thinking I was sliding and it put him to sleep."

No one will be caught napping on the Patriots, particularly not now. They have a two-game lead in their division with a relatively easy final five games, against Detroit, Miami, Houston, Jacksonville and Tennessee.

If those games go anything like Sunday's, things could get ugly. But for the Patriots, beauty is sometimes overrated.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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