The Chicago Bears play their second prime-time game in two weeks when they face the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on “Monday Night Football.”
The Bears (2-4) hope 10 days of rest and preparation will help them as they try to bounce back from an ugly 12-7 loss to the Washington Commanders in a Thursday night game.
As kickoff approaches against the Patriots (3-3), here’s our snapshot look at the game.
1. Player in the spotlight
Mac Jones (or Bailey Zappe)
Jones returned to practice this week after suffering a high left ankle sprain on Sept. 25, and the second-year quarterback is listed as questionable to play Monday.
After completing 64 of 97 passes for 786 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions in the first three weeks, Jones missed the next three games with the injury. Brian Hoyer started in Week 4 but suffered a concussion, paving the way for rookie fourth-rounder Zappe to make his debut.
Over two-plus games, Zappe completed 51 of 70 passes for 596 yards with four touchdowns and an interception, a strong showing that fueled questions about whether Jones would take over when healed. But multiple outlets reported the job is Jones’ when he is ready.
Jones’ return would set up a meeting between the fourth and fifth quarterbacks drafted in the top 15 in 2021. The Patriots drafted Jones 15th in 2021, four spots behind Bears quarterback Justin Fields. Jones had the best rookie season of any of the five, throwing for 3,801 yards and 22 touchdowns with 13 interceptions.
Now he could be back to continue his development.
Multiple Bears defensive coaches and players this week said there’s not much difference for them if Jones or Zappe starts.
“The thing about them is their offense stays the same no matter who their quarterback is, no matter who their running back is,” linebacker Nicholas Morrow said. “So you’ve just got to play. Both of them are really good. Zappe has been off to a hot start and has had three good games, and Mac Jones is a good player. We’ll be prepared for both.”
The Bears also have two running backs to worry about. Rhamondre Stevenson has 87 carries for 448 yards and three touchdowns, and Damien Harris has 57 carries for 257 yards and three touchdowns.
2. Pressing question
Are changes coming to the Bears offensive line after the mini-bye evaluations?
Coach Matt Eberflus has declined to confirm whether the Bears will mix up their offensive line starters after struggles in pass protection have contributed to a league-high 23 sacks of Fields.
Lucas Patrick, whom the Bears signed to play center, was in a rotation at right guard with Teven Jenkins while recovering from a right hand injury that kept him from snapping. But Patrick moved to left guard when Cody Whitehair went down with a right knee injury. Eberflus said the Bears were looking at whether it made sense to move Patrick to center to replace Sam Mustipher.
That would leave several options for left guard, including veteran Michael Schofield and Alex Leatherwood, who is in a 21-day window to return from the non-football illness list after mononucleosis but would need to be activated.
Patrick said his play has been “definitely not my standard.”
“(Patrick) has had to bounce around to a bunch of different positions, and that’s never an easy thing for an offensive lineman,” offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said. “He never complains one second about it. … We have to focus in on the fundamentals. Even he would admit that he probably lost his fundamentals a bit last week, and he’s going to work his butt off to make sure he’s ready to rock and roll this week.”
The Patriots have 17 sacks. Linebacker Matt Judon has six sacks and 12 quarterback hits, and defensive lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. has five sacks and six quarterback hits.
Fields said this week that the pressure he faced against the Commanders affected his composure on plays when he had a clean pocket. He said he asked Getsy and quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko to remind him to reset when he begins to look antsy on such plays.
“You can’t simulate what it feels like to have those guys around you,” Getsy said. “The timing and trying to read coverage, making sure you have the protection in the right way, where’s your weakness in the protection, all that stuff going through your mind and being prepared for the play and going through the progression.
“You can’t simulate that to that level. I really do believe that it’s just gotten better and better each week and he’s going to continue to grow through that. That’s just getting these repetitions in practice and then getting them in the game. Trying to make practice as real as we can.”
3. Keep an eye on …
Bill Belichick vs. Justin Fields
Eberflus said Fields had an “A-plus” week of practice after the pair had a conversation last week about resetting following the loss to the Commanders.
“He has been positive, upbeat,” Eberflus said. “He’s been executing well in the walk-throughs and in practice.”
But Fields doesn’t have the easiest test to get going again against Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
“It’s a very complex defense and personnel usage that he has in where guys play,” Patrick said. “But you have to understand what each player might be trying to do in that defense and attack him that way.
“All weeks you need to study, but this is a week you really have to understand numbers, personnel. What is typically their base position? But they can flex a bunch of guys in different positions. It’s really studying personnel and understanding which package is out there for defense.”
The Bears could have an opening to do some damage with their ground game behind Fields, David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert. The Patriots are allowing 119 rushing yards per game and gave up 188 to the Baltimore Ravens — including 107 by quarterback Lamar Jackson — and 199 to the Green Bay Packers in back-to-back weeks.
4. Record watch
When the Patriots beat the Cleveland Browns in Week 6, it brought Belichick’s career record in the regular season and postseason to 324-159. He tied Bears founder George Halas for the second-most wins among NFL coaches behind Don Shula’s 347. With a victory Monday night, Belichick could move into sole possession of second place.
After the win, Belichick said his father, Steve Belichick — a former player, coach and scout — and Halas were friends.
“My dad knew people on the staff that coached for Coach Halas,” Belichick said. “He coached Bill Wade at Vanderbilt, so they had a lot of Chicago-Halas connections. When they came to Baltimore, we would go to the locker room after the game, stuff like that. They were always very gracious and generous. They let me hang around. A ton of respect for Coach Halas and the McCaskey family and what he did for professional football.”
Eberflus spoke highly of the impact Halas and Belichick have had on the game.
“(Belichick’s) record speaks for itself,” Eberflus said. “We’re all really judged on wins and losses and championships, and certainly he has that. … His players play for him, are fundamentally sound. And his teams do the same thing — they’re fundamentally sound and they play football the right way.”
5. Injury report
For the first time this season, the Bears didn’t list any players on their injury report.
Wide receiver N’Keal Harry, who had ankle surgery in August, is among the biggest names to watch this week. He was cleared to play in Week 6, but the Bears kept him inactive because of limited practice time. He could make his debut this week against his former team.
Meanwhile, the Patriots have 12 players listed as questionable: Jones; wide receivers Nelson Agholor (hamstring) and Kendrick Bourne (toe); cornerbacks Shaun Wade (illness), Anfernee Jennings (calf), Jonathan Jones (ankle) and Jalen Mills (illness); defensive linemen Christian Barmore (knee) and Lawrence Guy (shoulder); offensive linemen Mike Onwenu (ankle) and Isaiah Wynn (shoulder); and linebacker Josh Uche (hamstring).
Brad Biggs (3-3)
Opponents have been able to run the ball on New England before last week, when the Patriots shut down Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in Cleveland. Even with a second-year quarterback in Mac Jones and a rookie in Bailey Zappe, the Patriots have been scoring, reaching 24 points or more in each of the last four games. You know how rare that is around these parts? The Bears have had two streaks of four-plus games with a minimum of 24 points since the start of the 2014 season. Rhamondre Stevenson has been running well for the Patriots and Damien Harris, who missed last week with a hamstring injury, could return. Expect a heavy dose of the Patriots ground game.
Patriots 27, Bears 17
Colleen Kane (4-2)
Bill Belichick’s seven-minute, 1,000-plus-word assessment this week proclaiming the Bears’ strengths didn’t quite convince me the Patriots are in danger of being upset. In back-to-back wins against the Lions and Browns under rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe, the Patriots outscored their opponents 67-15, and now they could get Mac Jones back. The Bears, meanwhile, have lost three straight, failing to get beyond 12 points in two of those games. The Bears defense is capable of keeping this one from being a blowout, but the offense will have had to make a lot of strides coming out of the long break to pull this off.
Patriots 24, Bears 16
Dan Wiederer (4-2)
Bears coaches believe they can stimulate a stagnant passing offense with a couple of adjustments to the line and a few schematic tweaks to assist Justin Fields. But after six weeks it’s hard to envision a dramatic elevation of what this group is capable of. Bill Belichick, of all opponents, should be able to expose the Bears’ vulnerabilities.
Patriots 23, Bears 13