CHICAGO -- A game like this doesn't just happen. A game like this can't just happen. It was 24 degrees but the wind-chill was barely above zero. The wind was blowing steadily at 30 mph, and gusting to 58 mph. Which means the snow -- oh, right; the snow -- was coming in hard and fast, and horizontal to the ground. There was no escape from the elements, which is why a game like this can't happen.
Not the way Tom Brady played it.
It was Chicago weather and it was the Chicago stadium, but only one team played like it was comfortable Sunday at Soldier Field -- and it wasn't the Chicago Bears. It was Brady's team, New England, which won 36-7 for its fifth consecutive victory.
The Bears had won five straight of their own coming into the game, and at 9-3 they had the second-best record in the NFC. But what started out as a possible Super Bowl preview ended up as a lesson for the Bears. Olin Kreutz, the team's veteran center, was paying attention.
"They showed us the difference between good," he said, "and great."
It starts with Brady, who is playing the best football of his life -- as impossible as that sounds. He's too old, at age 33, to be playing the best football of his life. He has too few weapons around him, no deep threat, not much of a running game.
"Their skill positions probably isn't as good as a group as he's had in the past," Bears quarterback Jay Cutler said. "But he's still completely dominating."
How? Don't ask Patriots tackle Matt Light.
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"I have no idea how he does what he does," Light said.
Brady threw for 369 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday, completing 27 of 40 passes in the sideways snowstorm. The conditions were so brutal that Cutler, a very good quarterback having a very good year and playing in his home stadium, was miserable: 12 for 26 for 152 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions. His passer rating was 32.9.
Brady's passer rating was 113.4, which would lead the NFL if maintained for the course of an entire regular season.
And this was Brady's worst game, as far as passer rating, in six weeks.
As it is, he's on the best five-game stretch of his career, and while that may well be crazy talk for a quarterback who has won an MVP trophy and reached five Pro Bowls, it's true. This is the first time in Brady's 11-year career that he has posted a passer rating of at least 113.4 for five consecutive games. He has thrown for 1,572 yards in those five games. That includes 15 touchdowns and no interceptions, the best five-game ratio of his career.
|Tom Brady throws for 369 yards and two touchdowns in the snow. (Getty Images)|
This was a Hall of Fame butt-kicking, and not just because of Brady. Only the Bears seemed affected by the NFL's worst weather conditions of the season. They couldn't run. Couldn't throw or catch. Couldn't hang onto the ball, or onto Patriots ball carriers. They couldn't even punt.
This was a butt-whipping in all three phases, four if you include coaching. One play underscored the difference between Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who was throwing downfield in the fourth quarter because he's ruthless, and Lovie Smith of the Bears. It was early in the third quarter, a fourth-and-1 play for the Bears near midfield. Chicago trailed 33-0 and already had been booed off the field once, at the end of the second quarter, but the boos would come again now because Lovie Smith decided to punt. On fourth-and-1 near midfield. Trailing 33-0.
Bears punter Brad Maynard dropped the snap, scooped up the ball and hastily buzzed a line drive just over the line of scrimmage, resulting in a rolling, 19-yard punt. Cowards, you see, never win. And on that play call, Lovie Smith was a coward.
The difference Olin Kreutz was alluding to earlier, the difference between good and great? Coaching is part of that difference. So is the play in the trenches. The Patriots opened huge holes for BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who ran 21 times for 87 yards. The Bears, meanwhile, opened nothing for Matt Forte (nine carries, 25 yards). They fumbled four times, which was four times more than New England. On one fumble, Bears kick returner Rashied Davis ran up the back of a teammate and lost the ball. On another, New England's Gary Guyton returned it 35 yards for a touchdown.
The Bears looked like they were cold. The Patriots looked like they could care less.
"It was fun," Patriots running back Danny Woodhead said. "We don't worry about the weather elements."
With home games against Green Bay and Miami sandwiched around a trip to Buffalo, the Patriots are looking at a possible 14-2 finish -- a record they had in 2003 and '04, when they won back-to-back Super Bowls.
"The Patriots are the best team in the AFC," said Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher. "They came in here -- our field, our weather -- and pounded us."
Old man Brady is swinging the hammer. And somehow swinging it better than he ever has.