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(Sunday, December 12th)
Final Score: New England 36, Chicago 7
Chicago, IL (Sports Network) - The Patriots clinched a playoff berth in what used to be the hard way -- on the road, in the snow and against a top defense.
They made it look easy.
Tom Brady passed for a season-high 369 yards and two touchdowns, finding little trouble in a steady snowfall, and New England scored the first 36 points of the game on the way to a 36-7 rout of Chicago.
The Patriots (11-2) became the first team this year to make the playoffs and will be in the postseason for the seventh time in eight seasons.
Brady threw both touchdown passes in the first half, including a 59-yarder that Deion Branch took down the left sideline on the last play from scrimmage to give New England a 33-0 lead heading into the locker room.
Branch finished with 151 yards on eight catches, and Wes Welker also caught eight passes for 115 yards in another dismantling by the Patriots' offense that scored 45 points in last Monday's win over the AFC East-rival Jets.
"They came in here on our field, our weather and just pounded us," said Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher. "We just couldn't do much."
New England gained 475 yards on offense despite the weather and won for the fifth week in a row.
"We've been playing in an environment [at home] for a long time that has pretty inclement weather conditions," said Brady. "So all of us executed pretty well today."
Chicago's only offense came from a one-yard run by Chester Taylor in the third quarter. Jay Cutler passed for 152 yards with two interceptions, and receiver Johnny Knox lost a fumble that was returned for a New England touchdown.
The Bears (9-4) walked onto Soldier Field with a five-game winning streak, carried by a defense that yielded more than 20 points only once in victories over Buffalo, Minnesota, Miami, Philadelphia and Detroit.
By the end of the first half on Sunday, however, that same unit was booed off the field after surrendering 15 first downs, 273 yards and 33 points to the Patriots in spite of the wintry conditions.
"Are we surprised? Yeah. Obviously you'd think we would play a better game," said Bears linebacker Lance Briggs. "But sometimes you need a good butt- whipping, and that's what we got."
It started in the first quarter when Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for a seven-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring, finding his tight end behind a goal line that was visible only after being brushed clear of snow.
Gronkowski made the catch despite being draped by Urlacher.
His foot on the pedal, Brady led the New England offense on an 87-yard scoring drive to start the second quarter. Danny Woodhead gave the Patriots a 14-0 lead on a three-yard run.
Brady was 3-for-4 on the drive for 39 yards and finished an efficient 27-of-40 for the game with a passer rating of 113.4. Not bad for a game where the wind chill dipped to 9 degrees.
"Tom prepares as well as any player I've ever been around, so I think he's very capable of getting ready to play and going out there and playing," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. "He's been doing that for a long time."
The Bears had trouble moving the ball in the snow, but most of their mistakes had less to do with the white stuff than with a swarming Patriots defense.
On the first play after Woodhead's score, New England cornerback Devin McCourty stripped the ball from Knox, and linebacker Gary Guyton returned it 35 yards for a touchdown to make it 21-0.
Shayne Graham kicked field goals from 30 and 25 yards, the second one coming after Patriots lineman Eric Moore hit Cutler for a fumble that New England recovered.
Julian Edelman made several sharp cuts in returning a Chicago punt 71 yards for a touchdown, but the score was nullified by a holding penalty. Not that it mattered.
Brady located Branch in blown coverage on the left sideline for an easy 59- yard score that left no time on the clock and gave the Patriots their 33-0 halftime lead.
"We just did a great job of game planning," said Branch.
Chicago punter Brad Maynard couldn't handle a snap on the first series of the second half -- the ball bounced off his open hands -- and got off a kick of only 19 yards.
New England turned the mistake into its final three points on Graham's 29-yard field goal.
Chicago responded with its only scoring drive of the game, set up by Devin Hester's 61-yard return and a 30-yard catch and run by Matt Forte.
Cutler was later intercepted on two consecutive series by Guyton and Brandon Meriweather.
The Bears gained just 185 and made only 12 first downs...Forte gained 25 yards on nine carries...BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for 87 yards on 21 attempts for New England.
12/12 22:35:13 ET
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