NFL Preview - Chicago (3-4) at New England (5-2) (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) - Perception meets reality in Foxboro on Sunday.
The Chicago Bears think they're good and the New England Patriots, who will be shooting for their 13th straight regular-season home win, know it.
Brandon Marshall's emotional outburst after last Sunday's ugly 27-14 home loss to the Miami Dolphins has placed the focus in Chicago on whether the enigmatic receiver's relationship with quarterback Jay Cutler is strained.
What should probably be spotlighted is that the Bears are 3-4 and looking up at both Green Bay and Detroit in the NFC North.
Those searching for drama, though, put a lot of emphasis on the fact Marshall was heard ranting about all the "talent" Chicago has on the offensive side of the football without mentioning Cutler before adding that the "same mistakes" regarding protecting the football are holding the team back, perceived as a direct salvo across Cutler's bow.
The mouthy Marshall has tried to back off in the ensuing days.
"Listen, I have a really nice condo. And guess what? Jay Cutler built that condo," Marshall said on Showtime's "Inside The NFL" on Tuesday. "We're great, we're great. But you know, we're like brothers. I think coach (Marc) Trestman said it the best, you know, but if I have a problem with Jay Cutler, I'm gonna go to Jay Cutler. If Jay Cutler has a problem with me, he's going to come to me. We have that type of relationship."
Marshall has also been trying to have his cake and eat it, too, claiming he doesn't regret a word he said to his teammates, but wished that the doors were closed and the media assembled didn't here his version of a reality check.
"Oh, absolutely my voice was heard," the star receiver said. "The only thing I regret is that the door wasn't closed, you know, but I wouldn't change any of my reaction because it came from my heart, and that's how I felt, that's how I still feel.
"I think that we have all the coaches we need, I think we have all the players that we need to get that job done. And 3-4 is unacceptable, but we have everything that we need to turn this ship right now."
Unless Cutler plays defense, though, that really can't explain how Miami's Ryan Tannehill was nearly perfect during the first half in Week 7.
Tannehill completed his first 14 passes and misfired only once in the opening 30 minutes as the Dolphins built a 14-0 lead. He finished the contest 25-of-32 for 277 yards with a pair of touchdowns and no interceptions, adding 48 yards on six carries.
Cutler completed 21-of-34 passes for 190 yards with a touchdown and an interception in defeat. Matt Forte totaled 109 yards from scrimmage with a touchdown catch and a rushing score for the Bears, while Marshall caught six passes for 48 yards against his former team.
"That's a very sick locker room right now," said Bears head coach Marc Trestman.
New England, meanwhile, has won ugly at times this season but is in its customary spot atop the AFC East with a 5-2 mark.
In a Week 7 win over the New York Jets, the Patriots possessed the ball for less than 20 minutes but it was still enough time for Tom Brady to make it work.
Brady tossed three touchdown passes and Chris Jones blocked Nick Folk's 58- yard field goal attempt on the final play of the game to help New England hang on for a 27-25 win over the Jets.
Brady, who has now thrown nine touchdown passes without an interception during a three-game winning streak, was 20-of-37 for 261 yards for the Pats. He also moved to 7-0 in his career on Thursdays, tossing 16 touchdowns compared to just two interceptions in those contests.
"They were 1-5 and they gave us everything we could handle," he said. "They played good. Played good on offense and played good on defense when they needed to. We didn't play as well as we can and need to get back to work."
Shane Vereen, filling in for the injured Stevan Ridley, caught five passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns and added 43 yards rushing on 11 carries. Rob Gronkowski had five receptions for 68 yards in the triumph.
The Patriots have won three consecutive games over Chicago and are 8-3 all- time versus the Bears.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Part of the Bears' issues is a weird sense of entitlement coming from a team which really hasn't performed all that well on a consistent basis.
"We have too much talent on this team for one, to have the record that we have, and two, to not be producing the way we should," Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs said on his weekly Comcast SportsNet show. "For me, it's hard to fathom."
Should it be?
The Bears were 10-6 in Lovie Smith's last season as coach in 2012 and fell back to 8-8 in Trestman's first try a season ago. In the five seasons before that, there was one playoff appearance. They rarely beat Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay and now the Lions have certainly lapped Chicago in the talent department.
Just maybe the Bears are what they have looked like under Trestman, a mediocre team which is 11-12 during the coach's watch.
A major part of that pedestrian reality is Cutler. In a position that almost demands leadership by its very nature, the 31-year- old veteran has always been a pass-the-buck guy whose on-field antics and sideline pouting sessions when things are going bad are always front-page news in the Second City.
Cutler, has won nine of his past 12 starts against AFC foes, is definitely a guy with prodigious talent, most notably the arm strength to keep the football dry when throwing it through a car wash, and the athleticism to surprise even the most athletic of front-seven defenders in this league.
Those positives, however, are often diluted by a shoddy attention to detail, especially when it comes to the fundamentals and mechanics of playing the position.
The Patriots, on the other hand, don't have the horses they once had but remain relevant because of the stewardship at the top, namely head coach Bill Belichick and Brady.
The high-octane explosiveness isn't there any longer with the New England offense but Brady's ability to protect the football has helped generate a plus-nine turnover ratio, a strong contrast from Chicago's minus-one.
"We're 5-0 this year when we haven't turned it over," Brady said. "We've got to continue to do a good job of taking care of the ball. And that's throwing it, not forcing it into coverage. It's also taking care of it in the pocket. It's also when we hand it to the backs, those guys do a great job of protecting it, receivers in their routes doing a great job of protecting the ball from the defenders. It's really a team effort."
The Pats have improved offensively over the pass three weeks, however, due to the reemergence of their tight ends. New England got only 188 total yards from Gronkowski and Co. during their 2-2 start and 391 in three games since.
There was one on-field issue with the Pats this week as star cornerback Darrelle Revis overslept on Tuesday and was told to stay home by Belichick. No further discipline is expected, however, and Revis is expected to play with Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey looming.
Finally, New England acquired linebacker Akeem Ayers from the Tennessee Titans this week to help fill the void created when Jerod Mayo was lost for the season with a knee injury.
Ayers started 44 of the 50 games he played for the Titans, who selected him in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He has compiled 254 total tackles with nine sacks and two interceptions.
This is an opportunity for the Bears to put up or shut up against a New England team which wins with guile, experience and coaching more than anything else.
"It's going to be a big challenge for us, but we're excited for it," Brady said. "Hopefully we can go out and try to get to 6-2."
Chicago is 3-1 on the road this season so getting away from the Windy City is probably not a bad thing. Another loss, however, and Trestman might be on the verge of losing a locker room he may have never really had.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Patriots 23, Bears 20