Smoke and Mirrors
New Bears kicker Eddy Pineiro missed a last-second field goal attempt that would have won this game for the Bears against the Chargers. That will be the headline coming out of the game and that will be the narrative going forward - at least until the Bears play the Eagles next week.
It echoes the narrative that swept through the Windy City all summer as Coach, Matt Nagy, held a search for a new placekicker, resembling the way X-Factor finds a winner, whittling down the talent from a pool of many until the last man standing gets the job.
It looks now as if too much of the Bears’ attention was on the search. Of course, the context of it all was the “Double-doink” kick that rattled the uprights in the last seconds of the Bears’ playoff loss to the Eagles last year but one kick did not make a season.
The Bears’ defense is fearsome and is the backbone of the team. Most fans wouldn’t want it any other way, but to dominate this season the same way as they did last season was always going to be tough. They are still ranked 7th overall as a defensive unit despite their third loss in a row.
The summer search for Eddy Pineiro masked a lot of other problems within the team and they are now badly exposed. Quarterback, Mitch Trubisky is still struggling to move the offense. This game was better but that was much more to do with the welcome return to the running game of David Montgomery who carried for 135 yards. Trubisky doesn’t look confident, which was widely evident during multiple takes, remaining yards from the goal line, finding no route into the end zone. Added to that, Nagy just doesn’t look all that confident in Trubisky either.
The Chargers have had a disappointing season and stand at 3-5. Perhaps we had gotten used to them not being the contender they may have been thought of before this season. The Bears, now 3-4 for the year, are coming as a shock to the whole league.
Questions must be answered by Nagy though who largely has the support of the fans. He needs to start answering some of them between now and January with the others not ignored behind a smokescreen of a very public search for a new kicker or another charade.
The 49ers’ 51
Perhaps a bigger surprise to NFL fans than the Bears’ regression is the resurgence of San Francisco. They are still undefeated after Sunday’s demolishing of the Carolina Panthers 51-13. It’s only the second time in their history that they have found themselves 7-0 in a season. The last time was in 1990 when they finished 14-2 and came within three points of the Super Bowl.
They had hall-of-fame quarterback Joe Montana back then. This year they have Nick Bosa - lead defense - second only to the undefeated New England Patriots. Bosa is playing on another level, taking Panthers quarterback Kyle Allen down three times and intercepting him once. Now averaging at least one sack per game since entering the league, Bosa is marking himself as a real contender for rookie of the year. He is leading the charge for a 49ers defense that is giving quarterback, Jimmy Garofalo room to hand off to Tevin Coleman who averaged nearly 10 yards-per-carry on Sunday, scoring three touchdowns.
But the 49ers are less a one-man show and more a team which is down to head coach, Kyle Shanahan, and his coaches. They are proving themselves to be amongst the most creative play-callers in the league as well as the most effective.
The 49ers now have a short turnaround before their Thursday night game against Arizona but they are looking good for a first appearance in the playoffs since 2013. Their schedule for the second half of the year doesn’t look kind with two games to come against divisional rivals Seattle, as well as, games against the Rams, Saints, Packers, and Ravens. It may not end 14-2 but the difference between last years 4-12 and now is one of the big stories of the season. However, they look like good value for the record.
For the Panthers, it will be a weekend best forgotten. Though, with quarterback Cam Newton slowly getting back to health, you get the feeling that backup, Kyle Allen who has been a more than capable understudy in his absence will be returning to the sidelines before long.
Back in Business
So many people saw the Eagles as a big contender for this year's Lombardi Trophy before the season started, only to backtrack from their previous statements, scratching their heads as they went 3-4 over their first 7 games.
Some of it was unlucky but in a league where every moment matters - each dropped pass and every fumble - what looked like bad luck gave way to a team just not performing. Philadelphia is a team with holes, particularly in the backfield where they look shaky. Off-field, things haven’t been plain sailing either with released cornerback, Orlando Scandrick spending the majority of last week in the light of the press, branding his former teammates as underperformers while living way too comfortably off the Super Bowl win of two seasons ago.
In many ways, you could forgive the Philly public for letting go of hope after this disappointing first half of the season. They came out to see a Buffalo Bills team with one of the league’s best defenses give up 31 points to their Eagles team, amid renewed hope for the season. Perhaps due to the multitude of offensive mistakes with the ball in the air when thrown from quarterback Carson Wentz, the win was fought on the floor with a running game that saw backs, Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Boston Scott and Wentz himself carry the ball in for touchdowns.
It’s an approach that they will have to refine against the Bears’ defense next weekend but one that got the Eagles looking forward again. It’s a crowded field in this year's NFC but they are still only a game behind the Cowboys and will hold real hope of improvement going forward.
For the Bills, at 5-2 they still have a more realistic shot of getting the wins they need to get through to the playoffs this year. They need to get back to tackling the run in defending the way they were a few weeks ago.
The Atlanta Hot Seat
For anybody new to NFL terminology, the hot seat isn’t a good thing. It usually refers to the seat of a head-coach who is finding themselves under huge pressure either from fans, team ownership, players, staff or all of the above. In the case of this NFL season, the term refers to Dan Quinn at the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons now enter their bye week in full reset mode after a season that has been something of a disaster, easily described in their record of one win and seven losses from their eight games. For a team that boasts receiver Julio Jones who had 10 receptions on Sunday, averaging more than 15 yards on each, they have simply not been good enough. Though he sat out this game because of injury, quarterback Matt Ryan is a top ten passer, leading a team that is currently the 18th highest point scorers in the league this season.
While Quinn clearly holds a lot of respect for what he has achieved with the Falcons, including the Super Bowl win just three seasons ago, his fall from grace has been rapid. Added to that is the fact that this defense is largely his sole responsibility after he took the defensive coordinator reigns.
This means that there is no hotter seat in the league at the moment than the one here. Team owner Arthur Blank eluded to this by suggesting Quinn is on borrowed time if they don’t come out of the bye with a win (an unlikely event seeing as they play against New Orleans). A 27-20 loss against Seattle would normally be a fairly respectable loss for a team with no hope of achieving anything this year but when they found themselves 24-0 down at half time against the Seahawks on Sunday, the writers started gathering at the wall.
And while there are some very good players on the Falcons who are simply not performing, particularly in defense, the writing on the wall usually ends with the words, ‘head-coach fired’. This is an organization that has flaws reaching way beyond Dan Quinn, however.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson is brilliant. This may not be news to anybody, however, he had another great game on Sunday against the Raiders, maintaining a spot at the MVP table going into the second half of the season. He put up 279 yards, throwing for three touchdowns but his best attribute was his field awareness, bravery, and heart. This was displayed by him taking a shot to the eye, yet still blindly managing to throw for an improbable first down.
Oakland continued to surprise those who said that they would implode this season, pushing Watson to produce another praised performance. This led Houston to a 27-24 win, keeping up with the pace set by Indianapolis. You would imagine that the Texans should be able to find their way into the post-season from this platform, as long as Watson stays healthy.
Making it more difficult however will be the loss of star defensive end JJ Watt who is now out for the season with a torn pectoral. He had just gotten back to near his very best in the last few weeks after a stop-start couple of years with injury. This now leaves a big hole in the Texans defense.
Watson must continue to perform as well as he has for the rest of the season to keep the offense scoring while the defense rallies. The next four weeks will see the Texans play Jacksonville, Baltimore, and New England with a huge divisional clash with the Colts sandwiched between the Ravens and Patriots. If Watson can lead them to a positive record from that run, the play-offs and maybe even an MVP award await.
The Definition of Clutch
We often leave the sixth statement to note when something needn't be left unnoticed.
This week, this column is saluting kicker, Adam Vinatieri. The future Hall-of-Famer hasn’t had a vintage season while he had a horrible game against Denver on Sunday. His first field goal attempt sailed way off to the right and he missed an extra point attempt low and left which left the Colts a point down going into the last moments of the game.
Once they found themselves in field goal range, the Broncos forced the Colts backward until the final seconds leaving Vinatieri a 51-yard attempt with just 26 seconds left on the clock.
After his horror show earlier, the soon to be 47-year old coolly strolled onto the field and used all of his experience to sweep the ball through the middle of the uprights to lead the Colts to a 15-13 win, holding the team above the Texans in the AFC South.
Contributing Author - Rees Dale