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Patriots Increase AFC East Lead Over Jets

(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (AP) — Tom Brady was unfazed by it all.

He shrugged off the brutal weather, dismissed one of the league’s stingiest defenses and all but yawned when someone mentioned the New England Patriots are headed back to the playoffs.

Brady threw for 369 yards and two touchdowns, and the New England Patriots locked up their eighth playoff berth in 10 years with a 36-7 pounding of Chicago on a snowy, blustery, bone-chilling Sunday.

“They don’t cancel football games very often,” Brady said. “It’s not like baseball. We don’t play out there in San Diego all the time.”

It sure looked like a day in the sun, even with the brutal conditions.

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 checkmate,” 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.

“It’s not that we’re a bad football team” Bears defensive end Julius Peppers said. “We played a good football team today. I don’t know if you all saw the game last Monday night. They beat somebody else worse than they beat us today. It’s not like we were playing a bad football team. We played a great team today and they came to play and they executed better than we did. That’s it.”

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.

“We’ve been playing in an environment in Foxboro for a long time that has inclement weather conditions,” Brady said. “So, all of us who were out there today have certainly played in snow and wind and bad weather. Everyone executed pretty well at times today.”

NOTES: Devin McCourty sat out the second half with a rib injury, and coach Bill 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.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

pixy Patriots Increase AFC East Lead Over Jets