New England defied bitter winter weather to secure their eighth NFL playoff berth in 10 seasons on Sunday with a 36-7 thumping of the Chicago Bears.
In gusting winds and swirling snow, Tom Brady threw for 369 yards and two touchdowns as the Patriots posted their fifth straight victory and improved to 11-2.
The victory came after a quick turnaround from the Patriots’ 45-3 drubbing of the New York Jets on Dec. 6.
Despite the difficult conditions, Brady and the Patriots destroyed Chicago’s third-ranked defense. He completed 27 of 40 passes and went without an interception for the eighth consecutive game.
“It’s one of those days a lot of people would be cozied up near the fireplace drinking hot chocolate, but we work out on Sunday,” Brady said. “And all of us were pretty much committed to try to play well, try to execute well in pretty tough conditions and for the most part we did that.”
Deion Branch caught eight passes for a career-high 151 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown to cap the first half.
Wes Welker had eight receptions for 115 yards and the Patriots totaled 475 yards, while holding NFC North division leaders Chicago to 185.
Although they assured themselves of a playoff berth, Brady said the Patriots had plenty of work to do.
“There’s a long way to go,” he said. “I don’t think anything’s really been accomplished yet. We’re working hard. I don’t think we’ve got every problem solved. There are plenty of defenses that have kicked us around this year. We don’t sit in here and think we’ve got it all figured out.”
The Bears had won five in a row since their bye. They remained one game ahead of Green Bay in the NFC North after Green Bay were stunned 7-3 by the Detroit Lions.
The Packers were hampered by the loss of quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the second quarter. He was knocked out of the contest with his second concussion of the season.
Atlanta also improved to 11-2, maintaining the best record in the NFC with a 31-10 victory over the NFL-worst Panthers in Carolina.
Had other results fallen their way the Falcons could have punched their playoff ticket, but they’ll have to wait after Philadelphia held off determined Dallas 30-27.
Atlanta could still have gotten in yesterday if the New York Giants — who came into the week tied with Philadelphia for the NFC East lead — were to lose to Minnesota in a game rescheduled and moved to Detroit because of the snowstorms that disrupted travel and then damaged the inflatable roof of the Vikings’ stadium.
Jacksonville edged closer to a playoff berth with a 38-31 victory over Oakland.
David Garrard threw three touchdown passes and Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings both topped 100 yards rushing as the Jaguars overcame a 10-point deficit.
The Jaguars stayed a game ahead of Indianapolis atop the AFC South and can clinch the division with a victory over the Colts next weekend.
The Raiders lost for the third time in four weeks as their -playoff aspirations faded in the AFC West.
San Diego, whose own campaign for a fifth straight AFC West title appeared doomed in recent weeks, routed division leaders Kansas City 31-0 to pull within one game of the Chiefs.
The Chiefs floundered in the absence of quarterback Matt Cassel, who didn’t make the trip to San Diego after having an emergency appendectomy on Wednesday.
The San Francisco 49ers notched a 40-21 victory over NFC West rivals Seattle, moving within one game of the division-leading Seahawks and St Louis Rams — who fell 31-13 to the Saints in New Orleans.