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4 things to watch in Bears-Patriots game

Bears quarterback Justin Fields
Bears quarterback Justin Fields

The Bears (2-4) will look to snap a three-game losing streak when they visit the Patriots (3-3) Monday night in New England. Here are four storylines to follow in the game:

(1) How will Justin Fields and the passing game fare?

Patriots coach Bill Belichick is notorious for being able to take away what his opponents do best and force them to beat him another way. The strength of the Bears offense is a running game that ranks second in the NFL, averaging 170.8 yards per contest. So that means it's likely the Patriots will stack the box against the run and dare Fields to pass.

"We've got to win our one-on-ones and make contested catches," said tight end Cole Kmet. "Justin's going to make the throws for us, and we've just got to come down with the ball and move the chains that way. They're going to challenge us like that. They're going to try to stop the run game, but we've got to be able to make plays down the field."

The Bears passing game ranks last in the NFL, averaging 122.8 yards. They remain the league's only team that has gained more yards on the ground than through the air. The aerial attack could get a boost Monday night with the potential return of veteran receiver N'Keal Harry. The fourth-year pro, who was acquired in a trade with the Patriots July 13, has missed the first six games with an ankle injury he sustained in training camp.

Interestingly, Fields' two most prolific passing games came in his only two Monday night appearances; last season he threw for 291 yards against the Steelers and 285 yards versus the Vikings.

(2) Will the Bears defense build on its most recent performance?

The defense deserved a better fate in the Bears' 12-7 loss to the Commanders Oct. 13 at Soldier Field. The unit yielded only 214 total yards and 14 first downs, permitted 2-of-11 third-down conversions and gave up just one touchdown—on a drive that started on the Bears' 6 after a turnover.

It was a vast improvement over the previous game in Minnesota, when the defense allowed the Vikings to score touchdowns on their first three possessions and permitted 8-of-12 third-down conversions in a 29-22 loss.

The Bears are hoping for another strong effort Monday night in New England. The defense has struggled stopping the run all season, ranking 29th in the league, but must also generate a consistent pass rush.

"It's very important," said defensive end Trevis Gipson. "It's really just working four players as one and them all playing off of each other to be relentless. The main thing right now is we've got to stop the run. So in order for us to even get those pass rush opportunities, we've got to tackle better and really just play sound technique on first and second down."

The Patriots ground game is led by second-year running back Rhamondre Stevenson, who is seventh in the NFL in rushing with 448 yards and three TDs on 87 carries. "He's a hard runner," Gipson said. "He likes to fall forward on his runs. He breaks through arm tackles, so it's going to really be a matter of us hamstring tackling and making sure that we bring the running back down."

The Bears hit the Halas Hall practice fields Thursday afternoon for their first practice of the week ahead of Monday night's road game against the Patriots.

(3) Will the Bears offense solve its red-zone woes?

The Bears produced season highs with 391 total yards and 20 first downs against the Commanders but mustered a season-low seven points. The main culprit was a red-zone offense that failed to produce any points on three drives that reached Washington's 5-yard line.

The Bears opened the season by scoring touchdowns on five of their first six possessions inside the 20 but have generated TDs on just two of their last nine red-zone drives. Overall, they rank 28th in the NFL in red-zone TD percentage (46.7).

"It's got to be a big emphasis just because we do a good job getting to the red zone," said running back David Montgomery. "Now we've just got to finish when we're in the red zone, not with field goals but with touchdowns. We emphasized that this week. We've just got to be sure we're clean on everything and be ready to score."

(4) Who will start at quarterback for the Patriots?

New England hasn't announced whether Mac Jones or Bailey Zappe will be under center Monday night. Jones is the incumbent, but he's missed the last three games with an ankle injury. He practiced Thursday through Saturday on a limited basis and is listed as questionable on the injury report.

Zappe is a rookie fourth-round pick who led the Patriots to wins the last two weeks, beating the Lions 29-0 and Browns 38-15. In two and a half games this season, he has completed 72.9 percent of his passes for four TDs, one interception and a 111.4 passer rating that is tops among the 37 NFL quarterbacks with at least 50 pass attempts this season.

Not knowing which quarterback they'll face didn't cause the Bears many issues this week in practice because Jones and Zappe have similar play styles.

"You've got to prepare for two different guys if you have a running quarterback in a different style offense where they are running all the RPOs and different things in quarterback runs as opposed to a drop-back passer," said coach Matt Eberflus. "But we see those quarterbacks as similar style."

As a rookie first-round pick last season, Jones led the Patriots to a 10-7 record and a wild card playoff berth, throwing for 3,801 yards with 22 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and a 92.5 passer rating.

"For a young player, he's got really good poise in the pocket, delivers the ball on time, he's very accurate, he's tough," Eberflus said. "He's done a lot of good things. His last year as a rookie was amazing, so he's a great talent."

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