CHICAGO — Bad weather didn’t bother Tom Brady. The big, bad Bears didn’t, either.
He was cool as ever on a snowy, blustery, bone-chilling day, unfazed by the elements and not quite ready to pop the champagne after the New England Patriots locked up another playoff spot.
They’re in it for the eighth time in 10 years after a 36-7 dismantling of the Chicago Bears on Sunday in which Brady threw for 369 yards and two touchdowns despite the harsh conditions.
“There’s a long way to go,” he said. “I don’t think anything’s really been accomplished yet. We’re working hard. I don’t think we’ve got every problem solved. There are plenty of defenses that have kicked us around this year. We don’t sit in here and think we’ve got it all figured out.”
So he wasn’t ready to celebrate. Nor was coach Bill Belichick.
“Good, we got to keep playing,” he said. “I’m pretty sure when the end of the season comes, someone will tell us what we need to do.”
The win was the fifth straight for the Patriots (11-2), and this one was no less impressive than their 45-3 rout of the New York Jets on Monday night.
They wasted little time blowing it open, grabbing a 33-0 halftime lead and sending Belichick to his 174th career win. That put him in a tie for 10th place with Mike Holmgren.
Brady picked apart the league’s third-ranked defense, completing 27 of 40 passes with no interceptions for the eighth straight game. And the Patriots increased their lead in the AFC East to two over the Jets.
“It was a chess match, and he said check mate,” Bears safety Chris Harris said.
Deion Branch caught eight passes for a career-high 151 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown at the end of the first half. Wes Welker had eight receptions for 115 yards and the Patriots totaled 475 yards while holding NFC North leader Chicago to 185.
The Bears (9-4) had won five straight since their bye, saving their season when it appeared to be slipping away. But they were no match for the team that came in tied for the league’s best record.
Chicago is still a game ahead of Green Bay in the division, but came out flat with a chance to widen its lead and join the league’s elite.
“It happens from time to time, especially against a good football team, but then you go back and this game counts as one loss, no more than that,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We went into this game against the Patriots in first place in our division and we still are. We just have to take care of business from here on out.”
Jay Cutler struggled, going 12 of 26 for 152 yards with two interceptions and two sacks. He had a 32.9 rating, and the running game was a non-factor.
The game-time temperature was 26 degrees, and with snow and a 30-mph wind swirling through the stadium, visibility wasn’t great. The field was blanketed in white and the boundaries, goal lines and yard markers were tough to see. Logos were all but invisible, too.
That didn’t stop Brady from throwing for 195 yards and two touchdowns in the first half as the Patriots put up 33 points, the second most allowed by the Bears in an opening half.
“Whatever the elements are, we’ve got to be mentally tough to play in them,” he said. “Both teams are playing in them. Coach always stresses that the opponent that we’re playing is the Chicago Bears — not the weather, not the refs, not the crowd.”
Brady led an 85-yard TD drive in the first quarter, finishing it with a 7-yard strike through the flakes to Rob Gronkowski to put New England ahead 7-0 with about five minutes left.
The game quickly got out of hand in the second, with the Patriots scoring 26 points.
The half ended with the sideline calling for a knee and Brady ignoring the order before hitting Branch with that 59-yarder as time expired.
“There was a lot of yelling and screaming,” Branch said. “I do know that I heard one of the coaches saying they wanted to take a knee, but I think Tom’s eyes got a little big. He looked over at me like, ‘No, take this shot.'”
NOTES: Devin McCourty sat out the second half with a rib injury, and Belichick said he wasn’t sure how serious it was. Defensive lineman Ron Brace also suffered a head injury. … The Patriots scored 45 points in the first half against Tennessee last season in a 59-0 romp. … They were without LB Brandon Spikes after he was suspended four games without pay for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. … The 475 yards were the most allowed by the Bears this season. … Chicago’s Nick Roach started at strong side linebacker for the Bears in place of the injured Pisa Tinoisamoa (right knee).