CHICAGO -- A Hail Mary pass that is completed but doesn't result in a touchdown is the ultimate embodiment of bend-but-don't-break football.
So the way the New England Patriots finally put away the Bears -- standing Bears receiver Kevin White up about a yard short of glory -- was the perfect conclusion to the kind of weird, undisciplined game the Patriots had to survive to win. They did, 38-31, for their first road victory of the season, outlasting dropped interceptions -- two of them in the end zone -- ill-timed penalties, two fumbles that resulted in Bears touchdowns, an early 10-point deficit, and, oh yes, the absence of Rob Gronkowski and an early knee injury to Sony Michel.
So why do the Patriots always feel miles ahead? The Patriots are 5-2 and have left in the dust whatever concern about a possible regression emanated from their 1-2 start. Only the undefeated Los Angeles Rams can make any claim to dominance this season. So the Patriots are doing what they always do, cobbling wins together, surviving and advancing, and getting better as they go along.
Cordarrelle Pattersonfumbled one kickoff that led to a Bears touchdown and a quarter later returned another 95 yards for his own touchdown. Michel fumbled as his knee got twisted in a pile to lead to another Bears score, and then James White took over, catching two of Tom Brady's three touchdown passes. A blocked punt by Dont'a Hightower led to another touchdown. Josh Gordon went over a defender for a 19-yard grab on fourth-and-one on the drive that gave the Patriots an improbable lead at the half, and Brady said they'll continue to work on their confidence in one another. Go figure.
"I still think we can do a lot better than we did today," Brady said, inarguably. "We have to get better every week. I'd certainly take building on wins rather than losing games."
That, of course, is the story of the Patriots' dynasty. With the exception of their 2007 undefeated regular season, they have rarely been better early than late. Except when they have been bedeviled by injuries, the Patriots don't so much arrive at the postseason as surge into it. Assuming that Gronkowski's back flareup is not a long-term injury, New England is doing it again.
It helped that the Bears chose to have their best pass rusher, Khalil Mack, dropping into coverage for most of the day, leaving Brady mostly unbothered (he was sacked once, when he gave himself up before anyone could touch him). It also helped that Mitchell Trubisky is the kind of sporadically accurate quarterback who is capable of completing a Hail Mary while scrambling to his left, but is much more likely to completely miss on everything from routine dump-off passes to anything directed down field. He completed 26 of 50 attempts for 333 yards with three total touchdowns and two picks, but he missed badly when the Bears had a chance to extend their early lead and again when trying to mount a less frantic comeback attempt in the third quarter. An interception with the Bears driving deep in Patriots territory to potentially tie the game in the third quarter occurred because he underthrew his intended target.
"When you throw the ball 50 times, there's going to be some that are inaccurate," Bears Coach Matt Nagy said. "This is this kid's second year in the NFL, and this is his first year in our offense. So not everything is going to be dead on. He had a good game today."
Trubisky, though, exposed moments when the Patriots lacked defensive speed, bedeviling them with scrambles -- he ran six times for 81 yards.
"Unusual game," coach Bill Belichick said.
Only in form, but certainly not in result. The Patriots have won four in a row, and half of their remaining games are against division opponents, all of whom lost Sunday.
"The more we're on the field, the more we can practice, the more we can figure out where everyone fits and what we're doing a good job at and what we're doing a good job at in general," Brady said. "Those will sort themselves out."
Same as it ever was.