CHICAGO — Nick Kwiatkoski and DeAndre Houston-Carson combined for a big play for the Chicago Bears on a kickoff in the first quarter against the New England Patriots on Sunday.
Chicago’s (not very) special teams got progressively worse from there.
The Bears managed very little resistance on Cordarrelle Patterson’s 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and Kyle Van Noy scored off a blocked punt in the second half of the Patriots’ 38-31 victory.
“Special teams errors just in general are inexcusable,” said a sullen Ben Braunecker, a backup tight end who was unable to stop Dont’a Hightower on the blocked punt. “But those especially, against that competition.”
Chicago (3-3) had played pretty well on special teams before this weekend, but the breakdowns against New England (5-2) were too much to overcome, even with the Patriots lacking star tight end Rob Gronkowski because of back and ankle injuries.
It was the first time New England scored two touchdowns on special teams since Oct. 4, 2010, at Miami, when Brandon Tate returned a kickoff 103 yards against the Dolphins and Kyle Arrington scored off a blocked field goal.
“Obviously we take a lot pride in what we do, so we’ve got to watch the film, correct it and get ready to make some plays coming up the next game,” Houston-Carson said.
The Bears made it a one-score game on Mitchell Trubisky’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Trey Burton with 4:13 left, but Patterson returned the ensuing kickoff 38 yards to the Patriots’ 41.
New England punted the ball into the end zone in the final minute and Chicago was turned away on its last chance when Kevin White was stopped at the 1 on a 54-yard reception as time expired.
The dramatic finish made the Bears’ trouble on special teams all the more painful.
“Anytime you give you give up two touchdowns, and oh, by the way, it’s the Patriots with Tom Brady, your chances are slim,” coach Matt Nagy said.
It wasn’t all bad. Kwiatkoski forced a fumble on Patterson’s first return of the day and Houston-Carson recovered, setting Chicago up deep in New England territory. Trubisky’s 8-yard run made it 10-7 Bears with 59 seconds left in the first quarter.
Jordan Howard scored on a 2-yard run in the second quarter, but Patterson took the ensuing kickoff, cut inside past rookie defensive back Kevin Toliver II and ran away from kicker Cody Parkey on his way to his sixth kick return TD since his debut with Minnesota in 2013, tops in the NFL in that span.
“I just missed a tackle. That was it,” Toliver said. “Just something I just can’t do.”
The game was tied at 24 in the third quarter when Hightower bowled over Braunecker and got to Pat O’Donnell in plenty of time for his first career blocked punt. Van Noy picked up the ball and ran 29 yards for his first career touchdown .
It was the first blocked punt returned for a touchdown by New England since Tedy Bruschi accomplished the feat at Baltimore in 1996. It was the first time it happened against Chicago since Tom Flynn recovered a punt blocked by Eric Howard in the end zone for the New York Giants on Sept. 14, 1987.
Braunecker wasn’t exactly sure what happened right after the loss, but called the play “really unacceptable” and said he was embarrassed.
“My legs just got taken out from under me and before I knew it I was flat on my back,” he said. “It’s just, can’t imagine a worse feeling on the football field knowing that you’re responsible for something like that.”
Jay Cohen can be reached at https://twitter.com/jcohenap