CHICAGO - Neither serious winter weather nor the Chicago Bears bothered Tom Brady on Sunday.
The quarterback threw for 369 yards and two touchdowns, and the New England Patriots locked up their eighth playoff berth in 10 years with a 36-7 pounding of the Bears on a snowy, blustery, bone-chilling Sunday.
The win was the fifth straight for the Patriots (11-2), and this one was no less impressive than their 45-3 rout of the New York Jets on Monday night.
They wasted little time blowing it open, grabbing a 33-0 halftime lead and sending coach Bill Belichick to his 174th career win. That put him in a tie for 10th place with Mike Holmgren.
Brady was brilliant again despite the brutal conditions, picking apart the league's third-ranked defense. He completed 27 of 40 passes and went without an interception for the eighth straight game.
Deion Branch caught eight passes for a career-high 151 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown at the end of the first half. Wes Welker had eight receptions for 115 yards and the Patriots totaled 475 yards while holding NFC North leader Chicago to 185.
The Bears (9-4) had won five straight since their bye, saving their season when it appeared to be slipping away. But they were no match for the team that came in tied for the league's best record.
Chicago is still a game ahead of Green Bay in the division, but came out flat with a chance to widen its lead and show it could beat the league's elite.
Jay Cutler struggled, going 12 of 26 for 152 yards with two interceptions and two sacks. And the running game was a non-factor, with Matt Forte managing 25 yards on nine attempts.
The game-time temperature was 26, and with snow and a 30-m.p.h. wind swirling through the stadium, visibility wasn't great. The field was blanketed in white and the boundaries, goal lines and yard markers were tough to see. Logos were all but invisible, too.
That didn't stop Brady from throwing for 195 yards and two touchdowns in the first half alone as the Patriots put up 33 points, the second most allowed by the Bears in an opening half.
Brady led an 85-yard TD drive in the first quarter, finishing it with a 7-yard strike through the flakes to Rob Gronkowski to put New England ahead 7-0 with about five minutes left in the first quarter.
The game quickly got out of hand in the second, the Patriots pouring it on as if they were facing the Jets on a Monday night.
New England 7 26 3 0 – 36
Chicago 0 0 7 0 – 7
NE–Gronkowski 7 pass from Brady (Graham kick), 5:47.
NE–Woodhead 3 run (Graham kick), 10:16.
NE–Guyton 35 fumble return (Graham kick), 9:56.
NE–FG Graham 30, 4:36.
NE–FG Graham 25, 3:20.
NE–Branch 59 pass from Brady (kick failed), :00.
NE–FG Graham 29, 10:56.
Chi–Taylor 1 run (Gould kick), 8:43.
First downs 27 12
Total Net Yards 475 185
Rushes-yards 35-124 14-47
Passing 351 138
Punt Returns 2-43 1-17
Kickoff Returns 1-18 7-196
Interceptions Ret. 2-13 0-0
Comp-Att-Int 27-40-0 12-26-2
Sacked-Yards Lost 3-18 2-14
Punts 2-35.5 5-32.2
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 4-2
Penalties-Yards 4-43 4-30
Time of Possession 39:41 20:19
Rushing: New England, Green-Ellis 21-87, Woodhead 7-21, Taylor 3-16, Morris 1-2, Hoyer 3-(minus 2). Chicago, Forte 9-25, Cutler 2-21, Taylor 3-1.
Passing: New England, Brady 27-40-0-369. Chicago, Cutler 12-26-2-152.