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1st-and-10: Bears better brace for the best of Tom Brady

After getting taunted by Aaron Rodgers, the Bears now face a red-hot Brady, who surely has vengeance on his mind after his costly brain cramp in the Bucs’ 20-19 loss to the Bears last year.

Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) completed 25-of-41 passes for 253 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for an 86.7 passer rating in a 20-19 loss to the Bears last year at Soldier Field.
Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) completed 25-of-41 passes for 253 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for an 86.7 passer rating in a 20-19 loss to the Bears last year at Soldier Field.
Kamil Krzaczynski/AP

If Aaron Rodgers owns the Bears, Tom Brady has a minority stake in them.

Like the Bears’ arch-nemesis, the ageless Brady has his own history of torment against the Bears — two touchdown passes in the final 2:46 to win 33-30 with the Patriots in Champaign in 2002; juking Brian Urlacher in a 17-13 victory at Gillette Stadium in 2006; throwing for 369 yards in the snow in a 36-7 rout at Soldier Field in 2010; five touchdown passes in a 51-23 demolition at Gillette Stadium in 2014; three touchdown passes in a 38-31 victory at Soldier Field in 2018.

The Bears did get the best of Brady last season with the Buccaneers, when Brady appeared to lose track of the downs in the final minute of a 20-19 loss at Soldier Field. It was a rare mental hiccup in a moment of extreme decision for Brady. But he still ended up winning his seventh Super Bowl ring.

And it’s a good bet Brady hasn’t forgotten that embarrassment. So the Bears can expect Brady to be laser-focused — even more than usual — when they play the Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. Bears secondary coach Deshea Townsend knows that as well as anybody at Halas Hall. He’s been there.

As a starting cornerback for the Steelers in 2004, Townsend had a 39-yard interception return for a touchdown against Brady that sparked a 34-20 victory over the Patriots in the regular season.

The Steelers finished 15-1 and were the No. 1 seed in the AFC. But in the rematch in the AFC Championship Game, Brady burned Townsend for a 60-yard touchdown pass to Deion Branch in the first quarter that sparked the Patriots’ 41-27 rout at Heinz Field.

“One of those calls where some of the guys in the secondary … it was a post and I got to call my boy Troy [Polamalu] and apologize to him every week,” Townsend said. “We fuss about that one all the time. But it was just a play you gotta make.”

To this day, Townsend laments the 60-yard bomb more than he revels in the 39-yard pick-6. He thinks it was 80 yards, when it was actually 60.

“Those are the ones that you don’t sleep well,” Townsend said. “Those are the ones you always wish you can have back. The plays you made come and go, but the ones you gave up are the ones you remember most.”

2a. Brady is 5-1 with a 105.3 passer rating against the Bears (15 touchdowns, four interceptions) — the exact career rating Rodgers had against the Bears going into last week’s game.

2b. At 44, Brady leads the NFL in passing yards (2,064 — 344 per game), is second in touchdown passes (17, with three interceptions) and sixth in passer rating (108.0).

2c. Since turning 40, Brady has thrown for 19,686 yards (281.2 per game), 142 touchdowns and 42 interception for a 98.6 passer rating. In the same span (2017-21), Bears quarterbacks have thrown for 15,164 yards (184.9 per game), 87 touchdowns and 58 interceptions for an 85.0 passer rating.

2d. When Brady started against the Bears in 2002, the Bears’ starting quarterback was Chris Chandler, who played in the 1980s and is 56 now. Justin Fields was 3. Even Jason Peters, at 39 the third-oldest player in the NFL, was just a sophomore tight end at Arkansas in 2002.

3. Did You Know? The Bears have beaten the top five teams in this week’s ESPN power rankings during the Matt Nagy era: No. 1 Arizona (16-14 in 2018), No. 2 Buffalo (41-9 in 2018), No. 3 L.A. Rams (15-6 in 2018), No. 4 Tampa Bay (20-19 in 2020) and No. 5 Dallas (31-24 in 2019). Yet the Bears are 19th in this week’s rankings.

4. Aaron Rodgers, the master of the free play, had some good advice for Justin Fields when asked about Fields’ mis-read on the free play against the Packers that ended up being intercepted in the end zone.

“Most times — including 12 [men] on the field — I’ll peek to the line judge to the side of the foul and just make sure there’s a flag coming out,” Rodgers said. “I think there’s been a couple of times over the years where we think we’ve got ‘em and we didn’t and maybe [I] didn’t check. But because of those [instances], I usually like to check and make sure that flag’s in the air.”

5. The Bears scored a touchdown on their opening drive against the Packers, then hit a lull — with an interception and four punts on their next five drives. If that looked familiar against the Packers, it’s because it was.

In fact, the Bears have scored a touchdown on their opening offensive drive 15 times in Matt Nagy’s four seasons and are 12-3 in those games. All three losses have come against the Packers — in 2018, 2020 and last Sunday. They’re 9-0 against everyone else.

6. You’re not going to beat the Packers with 14 points — the Packers are 45-1 when allowing 14 or fewer points when Rodgers starts and finishes — or many good teams, for that matter.

The Bears have scored three or more offensive touchdowns against a winning team just three times in Nagy’s 56 games as head coach. That’s tied with the Jets for the fewest in the NFL in that span (2018-21) and well below the NFL average of 9.8.

7a. Credit where it’s due: The Bears looked lost at left tackle when they cut Charles Leno and had six players line up with the first team in the search for his replacement — including rookies Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom. Picking up 39-year-old Jason Peters looked like a desperate move — and perhaps it was. But it’s working out so far. Peters is ranked fourth among tackles by Pro Football Focus in overall effectiveness.

Peters’ performance against the Packers was “probably his best technical game,” offensive line coach Juan Castillo said. “In pass protection … we had talked about being able to play square and be consistent and this probably was his best game [with] those techniques. He’s getting a little bit [more] in shape every game, so he’s getting to that point we’d like to have him at.”

7b. The Bears still are holding out hope Jenkins will play this season. The Bears have not provided an update on Jenkins since he had back surgery in August, but the rookie has been engaged in meetings recently. Castillo has Jenkins and Borom do written/video scouting reports on defensive opponents.

“I’ve got him doing things to keep him active,” Castillo said of Jenkins. “He’s in meetings all the time — staying very active, stays around the guys. Great kid, hard worker, excited. He’s a very smart young man and very dedicated.”

8. Bits & Pieces: The Bears are 10-for-24 (41.7%) on third-down conversions in Fields’ last two starts. They were 2-for-19 (10.5%) in Fields’ first two starts. … The Bears had one three-and-out in eight drives (12.5%) against the Packers. They had 11 three-and-outs in 28 drives (39.3%) in Fields’ first three starts. … Packers punter Corey Bojorquez’ 82-yard punt was the second-longest against the Bears in franchise history. Cardinals’ quarterback Doug Russell had an 84-yarder in 1938. … The Bears’ longest punt is 94 yards in 1931 by Joe Lintzenich, the grandfather of announcer Joe Buck. … Ex-Bear Kyle Fuller has fallen out of favor in Denver — playing two snaps against the Raiders on Sunday. … After going 2-for-2 on PATs against the Packers, Cairo Santos has made 45 consecutive regular-season kicks — with active streaks of 34 field goals and 27 PATs.

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week — Rams outside linebacker Leonard Floyd had 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in a 38-11 victory over the Giants. Floyd has 4.5 sacks this season and 15 sack in 22 games with the Rams.

10. Bear-ometer: 8-9 — at Buccaneers (L); vs. 49ers (W); at Steelers (W); vs. Ravens (L); at Lions (W); vs. Cardinals (L); at Packers (L); vs. Vikings (W); at Seahawks (L); vs. Giants (W); at Vikings (L).