Week 9 brought a lot of unexpected twists and turns that made us look at some teams and players in a different light. We’ll have more mid-season evaluations at MMQB later this week, but first, here are seven things to know after Week 9.
1. Justin Fields may still be the Bears’ silver lining of the season. The rookie quarterback was certainly the silver lining in Monday night’s 29-27 loss to the Steelers. It was an ugly performance for the Bears during the three quarters, thwarted by a stagnant offense and what would be a total of 12 penalties (although some, like the illegal low block call on guard James Daniels who cleared a touchdown in the third quarter, were certainly questionable). But Fields rallied the Bears with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including Darnell Mooney’s 16-yard touchdown pass that briefly gave Chicago the lead with less than two minutes to go. Trying to get his team out of a 20-6 deficit, Fields delivered some of the electric plays that made him a first-round pick. To set up the first touchdown in the fourth quarter, he landed a 28-yard shot at Jimmy Graham that was deftly placed past the near end and before Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick could play on the ball. Fields then recovered the ball with 2:52 remaining, followed by six. On a third and two, he delivered a 39-yard pass to Allen Robinson that reminded us of what Fields can look like when he has enough time to pitch. The next game was the Fire TD at Mooney, on which Fields escaped from a pocket that collapsed to keep the game alive and managed to throw it while on the run, pulling Mooney away from his. defender for the score. (The only criticism was that they scored too quickly, giving the Steelers plenty of time to maneuver for the winning basket.) Be that guy who shows up in the big moments, ”Fields told reporters after the game. The Bears lost that game, but the most important result for the future of the franchise is that Fields has shown that he can be that guy who shows up in NFL big moments as well.
2. There are 20 teams in a game of .500 or better. Every season, no matter how much we tell ourselves not to make any team proclamations in the first month of the season, we do it anyway. Perhaps the chaos of the 2021 season so far is enough for us to correct our ways. The Bills looked like they wanted to get away with the AFC East, but after losing to the Jaguars, they are only half a game ahead of the Patriots, who opened the season 1-3. The four AFC West teams have five wins. The Falcons, who only won in Week 3, are currently in a position to be the No.7 seed in the NFC (which, of course, still means absolutely nothing). And after a weekend in which the Titans without Derrick Henry toppled the Rams and the Broncos without Von Miller shut down the Cowboys, we’re less sure who the top teams in the NFL are.
3. Aaron Rodgers’ next move might surprise us too. The earliest the Packers quarterback can return from the COVID-19 roster is Saturday, a day before Green Bay’s game against Seattle. If Rodgers is cleared in time, he will play in this game. But, given the events of the past week, this may not be a routine return from the reserve / COVID-19 list. Rodgers’ positive test and mandatory 10-day quarantine revealed his unvaccinated status last week, despite telling reporters during training camp that he was “immune”. Rodgers then went to the Pat McAfee Show to explain himself, but in doing so he spread medical misinformation and spoke out against the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols that were collectively negotiated with the union that represents Rodgers and his NFL peers. Monday evening, a article on People.com quoted a source close to Rodgers as saying he was “upset” and “very unhappy with the response given to him”. And now? The league is investigating Rodgers’ potential breach of protocols for unvaccinated players, including his attendance at a team Halloween party and his failure to wear a mask at indoor press conferences; he could face a fine. But he will also face tough questions from the media, on topics such as his misleading response that he has been “immune” and what ingredient he is allergic to in mRNA vaccines. If he is “very unhappy with the answer given to him,” how will he behave in a live press conference? Will he even attend press conferences or face escalating fines? Will he once again let the possibility of getting away from it all hover, which he said he considered in the past offseason? Rodgers has never been one to hide what he thinks, so it’s all on the table as to how he handles his comeback and the rest of the season.
4. Jeffery Simmons has become one of the best defensemen in the NFL. Kudos to Gary Gramling, who predicted this from Simmons on The MMQB NFL podcast this summer, even if we looked at him askance when he made an incomparable comparison to Aaron Donald. But the hallmark of a passionate talent assessor is to be one step ahead of emerging players, and according to Pro Football FocusSimmons leads all inside defenders with 42 QB presses this season, one more than Donald. Simmons looked unblockable in the Titans ‘win on Sunday night in Los Angeles, weaving his way through the Rams’ offensive line to sack Matthew Stafford three times and put pressure on him once again in the end zone to force an interception. We had no idea how the Titans were going to play after losing their closest Derrick Henry to a foot injury. But their defense answered that question in Game 1 without Henry, and Simmons showed he can be another guy closer to the now 7-1 Titans.
5. This is Mike Mayock’s opportunity to lead the Raiders in his own way. Mayock has been the chief executive since 2019, but until last month, when Jon Gruden resigned after the public posting of emails in which he used hate speech, Gruden was the one with the final say on all matters. decisions regarding the list. Over the past week, Mayock has acted decisively in response to serious infractions committed by two recent first-round draft picks, freeing Henry Ruggs after being charged with several felonies including DUI resulting in death and now Damon Arnette , who was shown in a video making death threats while holding a gun. “We cannot stand the video of Damon with a gun, threatening to take a life,” Mayock said. It might be a low bar to cross, but we know how often NFL teams make excuses for talented players they’ve invested a lot of resources in. The 2020 Raiders draft class has been almost a total wash for the team, with the two first-round picks now cut off after off-field misconduct, and two of their third-round picks, Lynn Bowden, Jr. and Tanner Muse. , traded and cut, respectively, the two without ever playing a regular season snap for the team. Speaking of Arnette’s pick on Monday, Mayock has taken full responsibility for her writing despite “significant concerns” about her character. It’s hard to imagine the decision to write it up was actually 100% on Mayock, but the decision to move on from him was.
6. The 49ers are headed in the wrong direction. The 49ers are now 32-40 in 5 and a half seasons under Kyle Shanahan, with over 40% of those regular season wins in the 2019 13-3 season. That year, when they went at the Super Bowl, Shanahan and John Lynch’s vision seemed to come together even sooner than expected. They had acquired Jimmy Garoppolo in 2017 for a second-round pick, securing the QB cheaply, at least in part because of Bill Belichick’s belief that Garoppolo could thrive under Shanahan. Garoppolo tore up his ACL the following year, but the team’s 4-12 result saw them sign Nick Bosa, a player who would help them propel their Super Bowl appearance. But if the roster looked like it all came together, the 49ers looked more like a team in need of repairs in Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals (who were missing both Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins). Yes, the Niners have been injured again this season, but their opponent threw down mate Colt McCoy. It’s fair to ask where the 49ers go from here on out, with plenty of holes to fill and fewer resources to work with after sacrificing massive transport to trade for Trey Lance.
7. We cannot rule out more QB moves for the Saints. Perhaps that will be the departure of Taysom Hill, the player Sean Payton in the very recent past was so eager to enter the pitch that he was ready to remove Drew Brees. Maybe that will give some insight to rookie Ian Book, a 2021 preseason Conor Orr sleeper. Maybe he’ll bring in a free agent. But the Saints have a defense capable of stopping reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers in Game 1 and defending Super Bowl champion Tom Brady last week, which means they should be able to compete with anyone. Trevor Siemian rallied in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Falcons after a lackluster start to the game, but with games against the Titans, Bills and Cowboys next month, it is very possible that the Saints are looking for more. ‘other responses to the QB position to make the most out of the season.
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• MMQB: Lamar Jackson is returning captain again