NFL Winners and Losers: Bears lose but more important, QB Justin Fields has arrived
The Chicago Bears gave Justin Fields the worst hand possible to play with this season. He has turned 2-7 offsuit into a big winner.
The Bears haven't helped Fields at all but he's succeeding anyway. That is a great sign for the Bears moving forward, assuming they finally understand what they have and want to actually build around him.
Fields was fantastic on Sunday as he continues to emerge as the best quarterback of the 2021 draft. Not that there's been much competition there. The Bears lost 35-32 to the Miami Dolphins but don't blame that on Fields. He threw for three touchdowns and ran for 178 yards with another touchdown on the ground. That 178-yard day broke the regular-season record for rushing yards in a single game by a quarterback, beating the old mark of 173 yards by Mike Vick. Fields was electric.
In the final two minutes, Fields had a chance with the Bears trailing by three. On fourth-and-10 he threw a great pass to Equanimeous St. Brown, and St. Brown dropped it. That's what happens when you invest next to nothing in the passing offense.
In the big picture, the loss to a good Dolphins team doesn't matter that much. The Bears are 3-6 and still rebuilding. Fields' play does matter. While other QBs from the 2021 draft class have been inconsistent or simply bad, Fields is showing signs that he could be a top-end quarterback.
Fields' 2022 has been a study in overcoming obstacles. The Bears did everything they could to make it harder for him. They hired a defensive-minded head coach in Matt Eberflus. They didn't improve the offensive line or receiving corps in free agency. They had two top-70 picks in the draft and used both on defensive players. Early in the season the staff looked scared to death to feature Fields, and he had eight, seven and eight completions his first three games.
Eventually the Bears' new regime seemed to figure out that the 2021 first-round pick at quarterback might be worth using more. His usage has increased as the season has gone on, and the Bears' offense has looked a lot more capable. Go figure.
Fields still isn't polished. His passing still needs work, but how much of that is due to the absence of a decent offensive line and no standout receivers aside from perhaps Darnell Mooney? Regardless, Fields' dual-threat ability is exciting. His 61-yard touchdown run through a good Dolphins defense showed the full extent of his playmaking talent. Not many quarterbacks can make plays like that.
The Bears started to get Fields some help by trading for receiver Chase Claypool from the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. That's a start. Chicago needs to fully invest in the offense next season, and the Bears have the picks and salary-cap space to do it. It seems, especially after Sunday's exciting loss, that they have one question for next offseason out of the way. They know they have hope at quarterback.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 9 of the NFL season:
Geno Smith, MVP?: Many years ago, Rich Gannon was nothing but a journeyman in his mid-30s. He had no success in the NFL. Then, it suddenly turned and at age 37, he won NFL MVP. It’s one of the most unlikely stories in league history.
Smith isn’t that old yet. But history is just as unbelievable.
Smith had another good game and the Seattle Seahawks stayed hot with a 31-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals. Smith had 275 yards and two touchdowns. One of his biggest plays came late in the fourth quarter on a screen pass that tight end Noah Fant took upfield for 51 yards. That led to a Kenneth Walker III touchdown that put the game away.
Smith might not win MVP, but with Josh Allen’s struggles on Sunday the door is opening. Voters like good stories and there’s no better story in the NFL right now than Smith. He flamed out as a second-round draft pick with the New York Jets and has mostly been an afterthought since. Before this season anyway.
Regardless of whether Smith wins any trophies, he has had the type of turnaround season that nobody could have seen coming. Well, maybe the Seahawks saw it coming.
Justin Herbert and Austin Ekeler: The Los Angeles Chargers have a ton of injuries, but they're still finding ways to stay alive this season.
Mostly, it has been Herbert and Ekeler making enough plays for the Chargers to get by.
Ekeler scored both Chargers touchdowns, including a receiving TD from Herbert, and Herbert got the Chargers in position for a field goal as time expired to beat the Atlanta Falcons 20-17. Herbert made a huge play, hitting Josh Palmer for 22 yards with less than 30 seconds left to set up the field goal.
The Chargers seem to lose key players to injury every week, but they're 5-3 in spite of those losses. It's going to be hard to keep it up, but Herbert and Ekeler will do their best until some players start to come back.
The Detroit Lions ... defense?: If you needed proof that the Green Bay Packers are broken and Aaron Rodgers isn't what he once was, put on the replay of Sunday's loss to the Lions.
There will be plenty of time to dissect the Packers' season being over or close to it, so let's give some credit to the Lions for the 15-9 win. Rodgers threw two interceptions in goal-to-go situations for the first time in any game in his career, but the Lions did make those plays. One was lucky, with a pass off a helmet going straight up in the air, but on the other, Aidan Hutchinson sniffed out a trick play and backed into coverage, picking off a pass meant for offensive tackle David Bakhtiari. On the Packers' final drive, the Lions nearly recovered two fumbles but were out of bounds both times, but still held the Packers to a loss on downs.
The Lions' defense has been awful all season. But on Sunday, they shut down Rodgers and the Packers.
The 7-1 Vikings: Minnesota is 7-1 and Green Bay is five games behind it in the loss column. Didn't expect the Vikings to have practically clinched the NFC North in the first week of November, did you?
The Vikings' win Sunday was like most of their other wins. It wasn't exciting or pretty, but they won. Minnesota trailed 17-7 in the fourth quarter but came back to beat the Washington Commanders 20-17. A massive interception by safety Harrison Smith set up a game-tying touchdown, and the game-winning field goal came at the end of a long drive in the final minute.
The Vikings don't look like a dominant Super Bowl contender. But they're pretty much division champs already.
Rams offense: The Los Angeles Rams have some personnel issues on offense. Their line isn't good. Their running backs look subpar, though maybe that's due to the line. The receivers other than Cooper Kupp don't make anything happen.
Yet, it still shouldn't be this bad.
The Rams lost 16-13 on Sunday, and the headline was Tom Brady's touchdown drive in the final minute. But that drive wouldn't have been possible if the Rams did anything on offense. The Rams had 206 yards on offense and 69 of that came on Cooper Kupp's touchdown. That was the only touchdown the Rams scored.
Near the end of the game, after the Rams defense forced a turnover on downs, all Los Angeles needed to do was get one first down. They got six yards and punted. That set up Brady's heroics. The Rams' offense is awful and nobody, especially coach Sean McVay, has an answer for it.
Josh Allen's hold on the MVP: Allen, the Buffalo Bills quarterback, was the frontrunner for NFL MVP. But he might be losing his grip on that spot.
Allen threw a couple of bad picks last week in a win over the Green Bay Packers but wasn't so lucky to get out of Sunday's game with a win. The New York Jets pulled a massive 20-17 upset over the Bills, and Allen had the type of game he had a few times last season, throwing a couple more bad picks and barely moving the ball against the Jets. He had a chance late to drive the Bills to at least a game-tying field goal, but Buffalo went four-and-out. On one play he was hit and fumbled, and came up flexing and rubbing his right elbow. Then on fourth down his desperation pass downfield was incomplete.
The Jets had a massive win, their biggest in the Robert Saleh era. The Bills are still good, but last season they lost a chance to be the No. 1 seed in the AFC with some baffling losses. Sunday wasn't a good day for them, or Allen.
Frank Reich and his job security: At some point there's no more coordinators to fire or quarterbacks to bench, and the responsibility for an awful season falls on the head coach.
Reich benched Matt Ryan. Then he fired offensive coordinator Marcus Brady, even though Reich calls plays.
The Colts might be the most disappointing team in the NFL this season, or in a short discussion for that "honor," and it kept getting worse with a listless 26-3 loss to the New England Patriots. The Colts are hard to watch. They have offensive injuries including running back Jonathan Taylor, but that doesn't explain everything about their 3-5-1 record. Colts owner Jim Irsay can't be happy with this downturn, and there aren't many people under Reich left to replace.
Steve Wilks: He has done some good things for the Carolina Panthers. They have looked a lot better since Matt Rhule was fired and Wilks took over as interim head coach. He'd likely be a fine pick as the Panthers' permanent head coach.
But the truth is, the Panthers have an awful situation and Wilks probably needs to be about perfect to get the job on a full-time basis. Panthers owner David Tepper is impatient and Wilks isn't the kind of splash hire that seems like Tepper's style.
The Panthers had the kind of game Sunday that will linger a while. They were awful, getting blown out 42-21 by the Cincinnati Bengals. They were down 35-0 at halftime. They put in Baker Mayfield in the second half because why not. Joe Mixon had five touchdowns against them. The Panthers will have some rough games — they're bad enough that they already fired their coach, after all — but Wilks probably can't afford any more embarrassments. Sunday's outcome won't impress the owner.
Another Raiders debacle: Well, the Las Vegas Raiders didn't get shut out and embarrassed this week, like they did at the New Orleans Saints in Week 8.
This time around, Josh McDaniels' team blew an early 17-0 lead to lose 27-20 to a Jacksonville Jaguars team that was 2-6 coming in.
The Raiders are 2-6 and McDaniels' first season as Raiders head coach has been a debacle. There's time to dig out from that mess but don't buy excuses that the new regime needs more time or that Derek Carr's back is injured. The Raiders were supposed to be a lot better than this. They're one of the worst teams in the NFL.