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Bears' mini-bye changes produce immediate results | Quick Hits

Bears running back Khalil Herbert
Bears running back Khalil Herbert

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Before Monday night's game in New England, general manager Ryan Poles praised coach Matt Eberflus for conducting a thorough evaluation of Bears players and schemes during the team's recent mini-bye.

"The work that was put in was incredible," Poles told reporters, "making some adjustments to get guys in positions to be successful and do better and hopefully win some games."

Over the next three hours, Poles watched those words come to fruition in an impressive 33-14 rout of the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

The Bears were fueled by dominant performances on both sides of the ball. After New England scored two touchdowns in a 3:39 span to turn a 10-0 deficit into a 14-10 lead midway through the second quarter, the Bears scored the game's final 23 points.

The offense produced points on seven of nine possessions, including five straight, while the defense generated four takeaways in a span of eight New England drives, including three interceptions.

"We had a chance to take a breath during the [mini-bye] and really figure out what we needed to do and needed to adjust what we're doing well," Eberflus said. "Some things we needed to tweak a little bit; no big changes but some things to enhance our player skill sets, and I thought we did a good job with that."

"It feels amazing," added running back Khalil Herbert. "Just coming off that mini-bye, being able to re-evaluate what we were doing and guys coming in ready to work … we had a great week of work and it definitely showed up today. Everybody was on their Ps and Qs and all their details and it showed today."

Key changes made by coaches on offense included more designed runs and read options for quarterback Justin Fields, who made the most of those opportunities by rushing for a game-high 82 yards and one TD on 14 carries.

The second-year pro was especially dangerous on third down, helping the Bears convert a season-high 61.1 percent (11 of 18) of their chances. Fields was responsible for 10 of the successful conversions, with five completions for 89 yards and five rushes for 39 yards.

"He's special," Herbert said. "I always tell him, 'Be special, be you, use your legs and do what you do.' He was able to do that tonight definitely."

Playing takeaway: The four takeaways and three interceptions by the Bears defense were both season highs.

The first pick came early in the second quarter when rookie safety Jaquan Brisker made a leaping one-handed grab of a Mac Jones pass along the sideline at the Bears' 21. It was the first interception of the second-round pick's NFL career.

"I saw two routes, so I tried to split in the middle and then he just threw it right to me," Brisker said. "I just made sure I capitalized on it and got my first interception."

Asked if he works on making one-handed interceptions, Brisker said: "In practice when I'm messing around, but not with the JUGS machine. It's always two hands. But I just made a great play."

The Bears' final two interceptions both came in the fourth quarter after they had built a commanding 33-14 lead. The first was by Roquan Smith on a Bailey Zappe pass that was deflected by Dominique Robinson and the second was the first of rookie cornerback Kyler Gordon's NFL career.

Smith also registered a team-high 12 tackles and recorded a sack on a third-down blitz that forced the Patriots to punt. In the process, he became the first player in Bears history to compile an interception, a sack and at least 12 tackles in a game.

"Big-time game, Monday night, national TV," Smith said. "So it was only right showed up with my boys, teammates and we got a great 'dub,' so it was pretty awesome."

Momentum swing: The turning point of the game came after the Patriots had scored two quick TDs to take a 14-10 lead.

The Bears answered with a 9-play, 75-yard drive capped by Fields' 25-yard TD pass to Herbert, giving them a lead they would never relinquish at 17-14 with 1:54 remaining in the first half.

"It was huge," Herbert said. "Just being able to get the lead back, steal that momentum back, and I think from there we were just able to ride the momentum and continue to make plays on offense, defense and special teams."

The Patriots blitzed on the play, enabling Herbert to catch the short pass from Fields and dash into the end zone untouched.

"It was wide open," Herbert said. "They blitzed everybody so there was nobody in the back end. It was easy for me. 'EQ' [Equanimeous St. Brown] made a great block and I was able to just walk in. Shoot, I mean that's probably the easiest touchdown I'll ever get. Justin did a great job pumping it, getting the ball out to me and I was able to make a play."

Line changes: The self-evaluation during the mini-bye led to changes on the offensive line. Lucas Patrick replaced Sam Mustipher as the starting center after playing both guard positions in the first six games. And veteran Michael Schofield III started in place of Patrick at left guard.

Patrick, however, exited with a toe injury in the first quarter and did not return. Mustipher entered the game and played the rest of the way.

"I stay ready at all times," Mustipher said. "I've got people counting on me to make things happen. All those guys in that room, they believe in me. When it was my time to step up, I stepped up. That's how it is. The game of football is the next-man-up mentality and I was ready to go."

"That's the old thing in pro football," Eberflus said. "Rosters are really small and one thing happens and you're back in the ballgame. Sam did a great job of having a positive attitude during the course of the week when we made the move. He's a consummate pro and he's the toughest guy on the field, I promise you that. He did a really good job of coming in there and executing."

Welcome back: Former Patriots receiver N'Keal Harry made his season debut with the Bears after missing the first six games with an ankle injury.

"It felt good," said Harry, who caught one pass for 14 yards. "It felt good to come back here. I saw some of my guys pregame, but it just really felt good to get back on that field and get back out there."

Harry was acquired by the Bears July 13 in exchange for a 2024 seventh-round pick. He was selected by the Patriots in the first round of the 2019 draft and played three seasons in New England. After failing to live up to expectations with the Patriots, he wasn't surprised when fans at Gillette Stadium booed when his name was announced following his first-quarter reception.

"It was funny," Harry said with a smile. "I enjoyed it actually. It was just great to be back, back on the field and especially get a W."

Different look: Veteran Dante Pettis replaced rookie Velus Jones Jr. as the Bears' punt returner, averaging 11.0 yards on three returns with a long of 33 yards. Pettis muffed one of the punts but was able to recover it. He also had a career-long 29-yard run on a jet sweep.

Still perfect: Cairo Santos made all four field goals he attempted from 42, 23, 38 and 50 yards. He is now 11-of-11 on the season, including 4-of-4 from 50 yards and beyond. Santos has now made 17 straight field goals dating back to last year. It's the second longest active streak in the NFL behind the Raiders' Daniel Carlson, who has hit 39 in a row.

This and that: The Bears snapped a four-game losing streak to the Patriots and won for the first time in five all-time meetings in New England … The Bears' 20 first-half points were the most the Patriots have allowed in the first 30 minutes since Week 16 of the 2020 season … With Monday night's loss, Bill Belichick remained tied with Bears legend George Halas for the second most wins (including playoffs) by a head coach in NFL history with 324. Don Shula is the all-time leader with 357.

Watch the Bears' Monday Night Football matchup against the New England Patriots unfold through the lenses of our sideline photographers at Gillette Stadium.

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