FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Next weekend’s activities come at an opportune time for the New England Patriots and Chicago Bears.
With Tom Brady and his team playing their best football of the season, the Patriots host Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
With the Bears playing their worst, they can watch other teams lose on television during their bye week.
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”We are going to have time to really look at ourselves, individually and collectively,” Chicago coach Marc Trestman said. ”The break comes at a good time for that.”
Brady had one of the best games of his 15-year career with five touchdown passes and the Patriots won 51-23 on Sunday after leading 45-7 early in the third quarter.
The Patriots (6-2) will put their four-game winning streak on the line against the Broncos (6-1), whose only loss was in overtime to the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
”We have a week to prepare,” Brady said, ”so we’ll kind of build our confidence throughout the week.”
His should be sky-high after the way he’s played his past four games.
He’s thrown for 1,268 yards, 14 touchdowns and no interceptions in that span. Sunday’s game was his best of the bunch – 30 completions in 35 attempts for 354 yards. And Rob Gronkowski, healthy after being sidelined most of last season, caught three touchdowns passes.
”He can run well. He has great hands,” Chicago linebacker Sean McClellin said. ”And when you put that with a quarterback like Tom Brady, he’s going to be tough to defend for anyone.”
Brady’s completion percentage of 85.7 is the third best in his 227 games during the regular season and playoffs, and he threw fewer passes in the two higher ones. His passer rating of 148.4 is his eighth best.
”I love coaching Tom. I’ve been fortunate to have him the whole career since he’s been here,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. ”He does a great job of executing the team game plan.”
The Bears (3-5) must execute theirs better when they return from their bye week with a visit to another tough opponent, the Green Bay Packers.
”We’ve got to decide how we want to end this year,” said Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler, who threw three touchdown passes. ”Do we want to just pack it in and hover around .500, maybe a little bit below, or do we want to use the talent in that locker room to try to make a run for this?”
Some highlights from New England’s victory:
HURRY UP AND SCORE: The Patriots scored three touchdowns in 57 seconds in the final 2 minutes of the first half to take a 38-7 lead. Brady threw scoring passes of 2 yards to Gronkowski and 9 yards to Brandon LaFell before Rob Ninkovich returned Cutler’s fumble 15 yards for a touchdown.
Cutler called that stretch ”agonizing.”
”I don’t think the score is really indicative of the game,” Belichick said. ”It kind of got out of hand there.”
CATCHING ON: Gronkowski caught nine passes for 149 yards. LaFell had 11 receptions for 124 yards, both highs for his five-year career, and scored his fourth touchdown in five games.
Then he praised Brady, who led scoring drives on the Patriots first six possessions.
”He’s like this every day in practice,” LaFell said. ”We’ve seen the look in Tom already throwing the ball like that all week, so it’s allowed us to play faster.”
POSTGAME ADVICE: Bears receiver Brandon Marshall, heard shouting in the locker room after a 27-14 loss to Miami a week earlier, had a tip for reporters waiting outside the Chicago locker room Sunday.
”Put your ears closer to the door,” he suggested.
No yelling was heard.
”We’re sitting at 3-5 and half the season is gone,” Marshall said in a subdued room after making three catches. ”It’s going to be tough.”
RUNNING AROUND: Bears running back Matt Forte had another solid statistical day for Chicago with 114 yards on 19 carries and six receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown. He began the day fifth in the NFL with 448 yards rushing and first with 52 catches.
New England’s Jonas Gray ran for 86 yards on 17 carries in his second NFL game. The 24-year-old Gray, who spent all last season on Baltimore’s practice squad, was promoted from New England’s practice squad before its win over the Jets on Oct. 16 after Stevan Ridley suffered a season-ending right knee injury. Gray rushed three times for 12 yards against New York.
DANCING FOOL: Bears defensive end Lamarr Houston hurt his knee while celebrating a sack on backup Jimmy Garoppolo with about 3 minutes left and the Patriots leading 48-23.
”I’m disappointed for Lamarr,” Trestman said, twice.
Chicago rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller missed the second half with a hip injury.
”I’m going to be all right,” he said.
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