Faith in system makes Bears certain they can beat Patriots
Kyle Long was on the field in Foxborough, Mass., on that sunny late October afternoon four years ago when the earth shook underneath the Bears.
Rob Gronkowski’s “Gronk Spike” after each of his three touchdowns had something to do with it. So did Tom Brady’s five touchdown passes.
Remember Lamarr Houston tearing his right ACL while celebrating a sack? It was the injury after the insult. The Patriots scored 21 points in a humiliating 57-second span before halftime. The 51-23 beatdown began to reveal how Marc Trestman’s Bears were built on sand.
OK, so that’s ancient history. But that’s the point. Only recently have the Bears gotten back on solid ground. And just in time for the quadrennial game against the Patriots, who have won two Super Bowls since the last meeting.
The Patriots — the model of sustained success in the NFL — have a way of exposing teams’ weaknesses, stripping them down to what they really are. That’s what happened to the 2014 Bears.
It’s also why this year’s team, a group consisting of so many important new parts, says bring ’emon.
“This is the New England Patriots, and there’s a lot that comes along with that,” Long said. “But we get an opportunity to prove to ourselves and to the league that we can play with anybody.”
Long didn’t need to detail the Patriots mystique. But for those into counting trophies, they have five Super Bowl titles, eight AFC titles and 16 division titles since coach Bill Belichick took over in 2000.
Maybe the Bears will win Sunday; maybe not. But entering the sixth game under coach Matt Nagy, they are vowing they won’t flinch.
That’s because there’s a growing, genuine sense of belief within Halas Hall. Belief in their processes. Belief in their talent. Belief in their schemes.
And for a team with so many newpieces— a first-time coach, a young quarterback, a new defensive star, new receivers, etc. — belief is crucial fuel for their ascent.
Nagy, in fact, senses similarities between his current team and last year’s Chiefs. In Week 1, with Nagy as offensive coordinator, the nine-point underdogs stunned the defending Super Bowl champs 42-27 in Foxborough. The Chiefs’ 537 yards were the most the Patriots had surrendered under Be li chick until the Eagles gained 538 in February’s Super Bowl.
“When you have a belief in yourself and your teammates and everybody, it’s crazy how that can help you in somany different ways,” Nagy said. “So that’s where I’m trying to see where we’re at as a group right now.
“And we’re hammering that home: That it’s important to have respect for your opponents, but also the belief in yourself, too, of … what we can do and what the future holds for us.”
To fully understand Sunday’s challenge, Long could ask his brother, Chris, to see his Patriots Super Bowl ring. He has the newest issue, the one with 283 diamonds, an homage to how they overcame a 28-3 secondhalf deficit to beat the Falcons 20 months ago.
Or there’s a more immediate way.
“Put aside the championships,” Long said. “You can look at the film from last week, and it shows you who they are. My own lived experience is such that if you don’t bring your ‘A’ game, you can get embarrassed. You better prepare. Because you knowthey are.”
They starts with Belichick and Brady, of course, the most decorated coach-quarterback tandem ever. This will be the 260th game of their partnership. Nagy and Mitch Trubisky are tadpoles in comparison.
Belichick long has been a master at taking away what an offense does best and varying the alignments of his defense to cause confusion.
That, more than the Patriots’ clout, has the Bears’ attention this week. It’s not necessarily that teams shake in their cleats because they’re playing the vaunted Patriots. It’s that Belichick makes the Patriots damn good.
As a defensive strategist, he creates challenges that are as much mental as they are physical, said Bears receiver Allen Robinson, whose Jaguars lost to the Patriots in last season’s AFC championship game while Robinsonwas injured.
“The biggest thing is trying to slow you down, trying to make you think,” Robinson said. “Trying to take you out of your groove as far as playing. It is a challenge for us to be able to see everything, take on that mental challenge pre-snap and still be able to play our brand of football.”
That brand has been established as a diverse attack. The Bears, then, have a chance to legitimize the gains they have made offensively in the last two games.
To seize it, Trubisky is trusting how Nagy’s Chiefs moved the ball against the Patriots last year and how the Chiefs and their similar offense did it again Sunday in a 43-40 loss at New England.
“He has given me a lot of confidence that we’ll be able to move the ball and put up points against these guys,” Trubisky said. “We justhave totake care of the football, be smart, while staying aggressive.”
Trubisky was 7 when Brady won his first Super Bowl. (“It’ll be cool to compete against him,” Trubisky said.) And while this probably will be his only shot at beating Belichick and Brady, the Bears have a few players who have done it on a grand stage.
Tight end Trey Burton has a newly minted Super Bowl ring to prove it. Linebacker Danny Trevathan beat the Patriots twice in the AFC championship game as a member of the Broncos. Cornerback Prince Amukamara was a rookie with the Giants in 2011 when they beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Whenit comes to preparing to defend Brady, Amukamara puts it in terms his Bears teammates can understand.
“It’s just like No. 12 up north,” Amukamara said, referring to the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers. “You just know these guys are different. Youwatch Brady’s Facebook series, you know this man prepares. He’s going to be ready. He’s going to have his guys ready.”
Brady’s mastery of the quick passing game is a timely test for a defense that suddenly broke down last week against the Dolphins. The Bears missed 12 tackles in blowing an 11-point lead in the second half
The Bears acknowledge the difficulty of Sunday’s matchup, but they aren’t conceding anything beyond healthy respect for a quarterback and team that reset the bar for NFL greatness.
Within that mindset is an appreciation for the climb up the NFL mountain, and the Bears feel self-assured on that ascent.
Trevathan said Thursday that this year’s Bears are “probably the top confident team I’ve ever been around.” It’s a lofty claim considering his two Super Bowl appearances and one victory with the Broncos.
“We’re all together,” he said. “We’re young but we’re still confident. We’re learning together.”
Mitch Trubisky says the Chiefs’ success against the Patriots last year under Matt Nagy gives him confidence.