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Bears’ Matt Forte will be major challenge for Patriots’ defense

FOXBOROUGH — After surrendering more than 200 yards rushing to the Jets a week ago, Patriots defensive players said part of the problem was poor tackling.

It might not be possible to get that fixed in a week’s time, but they hope there has been some improvement over the last few days. Not only is Chicago running back Matt Forte a dual threat — he leads the league in receptions and is fifth in rushing yards — he is also a YAC machine.

Of his 436 receiving yards, 392 are yards after the catch. Some of that is likely because he is receiving the ball near the line of scrimmage, but to have nearly 90 percent of his yards come post-catch is a testament to how slippery he can be.


Vince Wilfork said Thursday that poor tackling can be highly detrimental.

“That’s the biggest thing defensively — being able to tackle,” he said. “That’s part of our problem, too. Sometimes, we miss tackles and overplay some things, and that costs us. It costs us big.

“We have to be sure tacklers. We have good tacklers, but we just have to put it together on a regular basis. That’s what it comes down to, no matter how you slice it. We have to tackle.”

Forte has received high marks from everyone from Bill Belichick on down this week; the Patriots coach called him a “terrific” and “complete” player, and Wilfork said there are very few players like the former second-round pick.

“The way he catches the ball out of the backfield, you’d think he was a receiver,” said Wilfork. “He can run the ball well. You saw it last week [against Miami], the first drive of the second half, what they did with him getting the ball in his hands and they went down and scored. He was the one who put them in the end zone on that drive.


“I can see them doing a lot more of that coming into this game.

“Trying to get that running game started so it can open up the play-action pass and get the ball down vertical to those big receivers. But we have to do a real good job up front of trying to take away their run game.”

Wilfork noted that one positive from the Jets game was the defense’s play in the red zone, but his group has to do a better job with the “little things,” such as penalties, third downs, and standing up against the run.

Is grass greener?

The last time the Bears were at Gillette Stadium, in 2006, was the first game the Patriots played on their new FieldTurf surface. Taking the unusual step of changing the surface midseason, the Patriots played their final home game on grass in Week 10 against the Jets, making the decision to tear up the muddy surface after that rain-soaked game. Especially after Tom Brady slipped and his knee bent awkwardly.

Crews worked in shifts, laboring around the clock for nearly two weeks (the Patriots played in Green Bay after the Jets game) to get the project done in about one-third of the time it usually takes.

Despite Brady’s health being one of the factors in the change, he said he prefers the real stuff.

“I remember before that [Bears] game we played the Jets in a rainstorm, and the field really started off pretty crappy that year,” said Brady. “I think there were a lot of concerns.


“The start of the year when we played Buffalo, it was like a sand pit. The players were pretty excited to get better footing. I’m sure all the players now are probably more excited to have grass again. That’s kind of the way it goes.

“A lot of teams have gone to FieldTurf over the years. Maybe it provides better footing, but I think everyone really prefers natural grass.”

Fifteen NFL stadiums still have natural grass playing surfaces.

Branch on hand

Veteran defensive tackle Alan Branch was in the locker room Thursday, but declined to chat with reporters. A massive man at 6 feet 6 inches and listed at 325 pounds, Branch was wearing a University of Michigan sweatshirt, giving Brady a fellow Wolverine to chat with. Though there was a No. 97 practice jersey hanging in Branch’s locker, his signing was not on the league waiver wire . . . The Patriots’ Thursday practice report was the same as Wednesday’s: DE Chandler Jones (hip) did not participate, while OL Dan Connolly (concussion), DL Dominique Easley (shoulder/knee), DB Nate Ebner (finger), OL Cameron Fleming (finger), WR Matthew Slater (shoulder), and OL Bryan Stork (concussion) were limited. Bears DL Jared Allen did not practice, getting a veteran’s day off. WR Chris Williams (illness) and S Danny McCray (knee) also didn’t participate. TE Martellus Bennett (hamstring), LB Jonathan Bostic (back), LB Lance Briggs (ribs), CB Kyle Fuller (hip/hand), and T Jordan Mills (foot) were all limited.


Home cookin’

The Patriots’ win over the Jets was their 12th straight at home, the longest current home winning streak in the NFL . . . New England running backs coach Ivan Fears has coached for only two NFL teams: the Patriots and Bears. After 15 years as a college coach at William & Mary and then Syracuse, Fears came to New England when Dick MacPherson was hired away from Syracuse to be head coach here in 1991. After MacPherson’s two-year stint with the Patriots, Fears went to Chicago, coaching the Bears receivers from 1993-98. He returned to New England in 1999, when Pete Carroll was head coach . . . Former Patriots linebacker John “Bull” Bramlett, who played with the team in 1969-70, died at age 73 in Memphis. (Obituary, B12.)

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at