By Jeff Joniak-

(CBS) The Bears (3-4) hit the road to face the Patriots (5-2) on Sunday. Here’s what’s on my mind heading into the contest.

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First impression

A year ago, the Long brothers squared off in St. Louis. On Sunday in New England, it’s the Vereen brothers who will share the field. At no point last year did Bears guard Kyle Long like anything about playing his brother Chris. But Bears free safety Brock Vereen is looking forward to sharing the field with Patriots running back Shane Vereen.

“Can’t wait for it,” Brock said.

The unique angle to this brother-brother showdown is the realistic chance that Brock will have to tackle Shane after a run or catch, and it will be a first in their football lives.

“The last time probably when we were wrestling as kids, it’s been a while and we’re both looking forward to it,” Brock said.

When Brock was a freshman in high school, Shane was a senior at Valencia High in metro Los Angeles. They have never played competitively against each other in any sport besides backyard basketball and video games.

The brothers talk “every single day” about football, according to Brock.

“Now that we’re on the same level, I think he can talk to me on a more mature standpoint, and any time he has something for me to learn, I take full advantage of it,” Brock said.

Shane has 53 carries and one rushing touchdown for New England, averaging 4.9 yards per carry, while catching 23 passes from Tom Brady, two for touchdowns. He’s a former second-round pick of the Patriots out of California in 2011. Brock played defense at the University of Minnesota and joined the Bears as their fourth-round pick this past spring.

Second thought

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WBBM football statistical guru Doug Colletti has crunched numbers for 30 years. He identifies trends, draws some interesting conclusions in his comparative analysis of players and teams, and he puts everything in perspective. He’s great at what he does. For years he’s been selling Tom Thayer and me on the impact of the punt on games. He simply calls it the most important snap in football.

“So many things can happen on a punt, and it’s already impacted the Bears positively and negatively this season,” Colletti said.

There are obvious positives and negatives associated with punts. They can be downed at the one, shanked and blocked. Punters can outkick their coverage, leading to a big return. A muffed punt is a game-changer. Field position can be flipped by an impactful punt. Now more than ever, inside-the-20 punt numbers grow steadily. There’s great value in a directional punter who can kick you out of trouble, kick the opponent into trouble or create a big play that can turn the game.

The Bears were the only team in the league to invest a draft pick in a punter, and Patrick O’Donnell flashed his skills against Miami with a couple of 57-yard bombs with great hang time.

Third degree

Dolphins tight ends Charles Clay and Dion Sims combined to catch six out of seven throws for 91 yards and a touchdown against the Bears last week. Levine Toilolo of the Falcons caught only three of his six targets for 34 yards. Panthers tight ends Greg Olson and Ed Dickson combined to catch eight of 11 targets for 88 yards and two touchdowns in Carolina. Packers tight end Richard Rodgers caught both of his targets for 52 yards, in Green Bay’s win.

Three Jets tight ends caught seven of 11 targets for 82 yards. Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald of the 49ers caught  four of the five balls thrown their way for 50 yards. The Bills didn’t pass to their tight end Scott Chandler in Week 1 against the Bears.

All told, tight ends have caught 30 balls for 397 yards and 13.2 yards per catch against the Bears. I bring it up because the Bears defense has to be ready for the Patriots second-leading receiver Rob Gronkowski (31 catches for 409 yards and four scores) and Tim Wright (10 catches for 121 yards and two scores) on Sunday.

The Bears defense has to defend the middle of the field. Only one Patriots receiver has more than 20 receptions in the first seven games, and that’s leading receiver Julian Edelman. Tom Brady will use his tight ends.


The Bears are 3-4 for a lot of reasons. When you need a big play, your best players are asked to make them. That’s why we talk about them, that’s why they are paid the way they are and why they have the profile they do. Big plays are an eraser, suddenly scrubbing away the down-to-down trouble that inevitably invades every team, every week. The Bears haven’t made enough big plays when they have urgently needed them. Yet, it doesn’t mean they won’t in the coming weeks.

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Jeff Joniak is the play-by-play announcer for the Bears broadcasts on WBBM Newsradio 780. Follow him on Twitter @JeffJoniak.