FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Asante Samuel had two footballs under his right arm and a third in the crook of the left.

They had been in Samuel’s possession twice, first as interceptions, later presented to him as game balls after the New England Patriots had beaten the Bears 17-13 Sunday.

One at a time and as the sum of all three, the Patriots cornerback had taken the ball and the game out of the Bears’ hands.

“He could have had five picks,” fellow defensive back Artrell Hawkins said.

“Man, I could have had six,” Samuel said, laughing.

Such chances are common when the opponent uses a heave-and-hope passing game, as Bears quarterback Rex Grossman repeatedly did against the Patriots. It was exactly what New England expected.

“Maybe they saw something on tape and said, “We’re going to chuck the ball down the field,’ and that’s what they did,” Hawkins said. “With the rules that don’t allow a defensive back to touch (a receiver) after 5 yards, it’s a good play. Throw it up, and either your guy makes a play or you hopefully get pass interference.”

The Bears’ got two big pass-interference calls, one setting up their game-tying touchdown early in the fourth quarter, the other leading to the later field goal that made it 17-13.

But Samuel’s three picks, and a lost fumble by Grossman at the New England 5, got the Patriots out of holes they dug with five turnovers.

“(Samuel) had a Pro Bowl day, straight up and down,” Harris said.

His three interceptions tied a franchise single-game record shared by six others but that no one had matched in 23 years. Samuel, who missed last week’s game with a knee injury, has six interceptions this season.

“Of course this is big,” Samuel said. “To do it in prime time against the best team in the NFC …”

With Tom Brady passing for 269 yards and a touchdown, New England rolled up 354 yards, the first team to gain more than 298 against the Bears all season.

“He’s the best quarterback I have ever faced,” Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris said. “He does a lot of things well.”

Those usually don’t include running, yet Brady had two runs for first downs during the Patriots’ drive for the winning touchdown.

One was just a quarterback sneak, Brady slipping almost unnoticed under a pile of bodies. On the other he was completely exposed to a possible body slam by Brian Urlacher, but a feint left the Bears linebacker flatfooted as Brady ran past him for 11 yards.

“An uncoordinated stutter-step is probably what it looked like,” Brady said of his move. “Maybe he thought I would be sliding, and it put him to sleep.”

Brady was so excited about the run he punctuated it by giving a forceful first-down signal and discussing it with Urlacher.

“(Urlacher) said, “Man, you made me look bad,’ ” Brady said. “I said, “Man, you make a whole team look bad.’ “

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