Patriots’ Bill Belichick is unprecedented challenge for Bears’ Matt Eberflus

As the Bears’ Matt Eberflus continues trying to establish legitimacy as a first-time head coach, he’s about to take on one of the legends of the profession in Bill Belichick.

As Belichick looks to overtake George Halas for sole possession of second place on the all-time wins list when the Bears visit his Patriots on Monday, Halas’ team has done little to slow his pursuit. The Bears’ lone win against Belichick was in 2000, when Shane Matthews outdueled Drew Bledsoe at Soldier Field.

That was Belichick’s debut season with New England, and everything changed when Tom Brady took over as starting quarterback the next year. Belichick is now a six-time champion with a 324-159 record and he has five consecutive wins against the Bears by a total of 71 points.

Belichick is 70, and depending on how long he plans to keep coaching, this could be the only shot Eberflus gets at him. The Bears don’t have another set matchup with the Patriots until 2026, though they could host them in 2024 depending on where each team finishes in the division the season before.

While Belichick certainly was fortunate to strike gold with Brady, his defensive mastery has been unmatched. The Patriots were top-10 in fewest points allowed the last 11 seasons and stand seventh this season at 18.8 per game. As someone who spent his entire 30-year coaching career on defense before taking over the Bears, Eberflus knows he’s up against true excellence.

“Look at the record,” he said. “We’re all really judged on wins and losses and championships, and certainly he has that… And his teams do the same thing — they’re fundamentally sound and they play football the right way.”

Under Belchick, the Patriots have been the model organization when it comes to that.

They draft and develop, they’re prudent in free agency and they identify talent where other teams miss it. Their contingencies are often better than other teams’ Plan A.

They constantly bring in quarterbacks and maximize them, making it little surprise that Mac Jones has been the steadiest of the 2021 draft class and even rookie Bailey Zappe seems instantly competent. Jones is questionable with anankle injury, and Belichick hasn’t said who will start Monday.

They’re an incubator for future head coaches and general managers,the Harvard of the NFL when it comes to player evaluation and scheme sophistication.

The Bears are more of a cautionary tale of what it looks like when a franchise can’t check any of those boxes.

That’s what makes wide receiver N’Keal Harry, for example, an intriguing case study. He was a rare draft miss by the Patriots, who took him in the first round in 2019 and couldn’t develop him.Theycut their losses by offloading him to the Bears for a 2024 seventh-round pick in July.

Can Eberflus and offensive coordinator Luke Getsy — under the watch of general manager Ryan Poles — solve a riddle that stumped Belichick?

That’s more of a big-picture question. More immediately, Eberflus needs to show he’s able to hold his own merely in the game Monday.

He must prepare quarterback Justin Fields and the offense for the most unpredictable defensive strategist in the league. Eberflus has to prove he can use his defensive expertise to decode Belichick’s, and it shouldn’t be too much to ask of him to come up with a game plan that can flummox Jones (20 career starts) or Zappe (two).

If the Patriots overpower the Bears on the strength of their personnel, Eberflus will have to accept that. But he can’t allow Belichick to thoroughly outfox him. It’s not a valid excuse that Belichick is the NFL’s top coach. There are no weight classes in this league. Eberflus has to show he can trade punches with the best.

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