CHICAGO – Neither bad weather nor the Bears bothered Tom Brady.
The quarterback 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.
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 coach Bill Belichick to his 174th career win. That put him in a tie for 10th place with Mike Holmgren.
Brady was brilliant again despite the brutal conditions, picking apart the league's third-ranked defense. He completed 27 of 40 passes and went without an interception for the eighth straight game.
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 show it could beat the league's elite.
Jay Cutler struggled, going 12 of 26 for 152 yards with two interceptions and two sacks. And the running game was a non-factor, with Matt Forte managing 25 yards on nine attempts.
The game-time temperature was 26, 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 alone as the Patriots put up 33 points, the second most allowed by the Bears in an opening half.
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 in the first quarter.
The game quickly got out of hand in the second, the Patriots pouring it on as if they were facing the Jets on a Monday night.
Danny Woodhead capped an 88-yard drive to start the quarter by running it in from the 3, and 20 seconds later, New England was up 21-0.
The third touchdown came right after the Bears took over at their 38, when Johnny Knox got stripped of the ball by Devin McCourty on a slant and Gary Guyton returned the fumble 35 yards with 9:56 remaining.
Later, Julian Edelman returned a punt 42 yards to the Bears 30, setting up a 30-yard field goal by Shayne Graham that got blown just inside the left upright. That made it 24-0 with 4:36 left.
Eric Moore immediately forced a fumble when he sacked Cutler on the Bears' next play from scrimmage. Jerod Mayo recovered it, New England took over on the Chicago 9 and Graham kicked a 25-yarder.
Edelman had a 71-yard punt return for a TD wiped out by a holding penalty in the closing minutes, but no problem. The Patriots took over on the 20, and Branch beat Charles Tillman deep along the left sideline for a 59-yard score as time expired, making it 33-0.