Patriots 17, Bears 13

Sunday, November 26th 2006, 7:42 pm
By: News On 6

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) The New England Patriots finally quit stopping themselves.

After New England turned the ball over 3 times inside the Chicago 20-yard line, tight end Benjamin Watson hung onto Tom Brady's 2-yard pass in the end zone, giving the Patriots a 17-13 win Sunday over the NFL leader in takeaways.

Then Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel put an abrupt end to the Bears' comeback hopes with his third interception with 1:46 to play.

Playing on their new artificial turf, the Patriots (8-3) persevered against the Bears (9-2), who had allowed 120 points this season, the fewest in the league. But New England's was the second stingiest defense coming into the game, having given up just 131.

The Bears capitalized on the 4th of their 5 takeaways, and Charles Tillman's second interception,- and tied the game 10-10 just 7 seconds into the 4th quarter on Cedric Benson's 2-yard run.

The Patriots then moved 73 yards after the kickoff and went ahead with 8:22 left. Brady provided the dramatics with a scrambling 40-yard completion to Watson and an 11-yard run for a 1st down that ended with him jumping up and making an emphatic 1st-down signal.

That put the ball at the Chicago 14, and Watson scored 5 plays later.

The Bears began the day with a chance to clinch the NFC North title. But Minnesota's win over Arizona earlier Sunday ended that.

Their loss would have kept them from clinching anyway, but they had a chance to win after Alex Brown recovered Corey Dillon's fumble at the Bears 22-yard line with 1:52. Fittingly for a game with 9 turnovers, Chicago committed the final one on the very next play when Samuel intercepted Rex Grossman's 40-yard pass intended for Rashied Davis.

Brady then knelt with the ball for 3 straight plays, and made sure he grasped it tightly on every one.

The Patriots had failed to score on only 5 of their 39 trips inside the opponents' 20-yard line this season, but came up short time after time against Chicago, which had allowed the fewest yards in the NFL.

With both teams coming off shutout wins, the game shaped up as a defensive struggle and that's the way it turned out.

Not even the new FieldTurf, installed after season-long problems with the natural grass caused players to slip, made much difference for running backs trying to plant their cleats and shake loose for big gains.

The 1st half ended with a bizarre set of plays. Two passes by Brady that were ruled completions on the field were overturned on video review. The last negated a potential 27-yard pass to Watson that would have put the ball at the Bears 7 with 6 seconds left.

That left rookie Stephen Gostkowski with a 52-yard field goal attempt that went wide to the right. But Chicago had called a timeout just before the kick and Gostkowski's second try barely made it over the crossbar. His longest kick of the season gave New England a 10-3 halftime lead.

Both teams had trouble holding onto the ball early. On their first three possessions, each team lost a fumble and an interception. On Chicago's other series in that stretch, Robbie Gould missed a field goal attempt for the first time in 25 tries this year when defensive end Richard Seymour deflected the 45-yard try.

The Patriots took a 7-0 lead on Laurence Maroney's 1-yard run with 5:53 gone in the 2nd quarter, ending a 92-yard march after Seymour recovered a snap that Grossman fumbled.

On the next possession, Gould made it 7-3 with a 46-yard field goal.

At a more critical moment, the Bears chose to go for a field goal on 4th & 6 at the Patriots 14 with 3:36 remaining. Gould came through from 32 yards, cutting the lead to 17-13, but their final possession ended with Samuel's game-clinching interception.