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Ten Thoughts on the NFL

Reflections on a fun Week 9 of NFL action

SPORTS-FBN-BEARS-FIELDS-VICK-TB Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

1. Saturday on Sundays

The Indianapolis Colts relieved Head Coach Frank Reich of his duties after an embarrassing 26-3 loss to the New England Patriots and replaced him with former Colts center Jeff Saturday, who spent this year on the sidelines coaching high school ball. Now I’m not going to spill precious virtual ink on how insulting that move is to the Colts assistant coaches and the dues coaches pay to be lucky enough to hold even the interim title. I’m here to admire the absolute madness of Jim Irsay.

Irsay hiring Saturday – even to an interim post – is so weird there isn’t much precedent. The last person to be hired as a head coach without previous NFL coaching experience was Norm Van Brocklin to coach the expansion Minnesota Vikings in 1961. This is one of those moves made by a wealthy and powerful person where no one in their orbit can or will tell them how bad of an idea it is. As for Reich, I think he’ll be fine. He’ll certainly catch on somewhere as an offensive coordinator if he’s unable to land another HC job by the end of the year. He’d be on the shortlist for me in Carolina.

2. Jets Make a Statement

Robert Saleh’s New York Jets knocked off the juggernaut Buffalo Bills at home on Sunday 20-17. The stories coming from Gang Green generally revolve around their sophomore quarterback Zach Wilson, but the focus should be placed on their excellent defense. Slowing down the Bills attack to a season-low 17 points bodes well for a team on the upswing in the thick of the playoff hunt. First round draft pick CB Sauce Gardner appears to be the frontrunner for Defensive Rookie of the Year and their front seven is one of the better units in the game.

If only they wouldn’t have been so seduced by off-platform throws and taken the best QB on the board, they’d really be a dangerous threat…

3. Loser Leaves Town

The Bucs – Rams game had a real air of desperation to it. Two offenses that simply haven’t been able to sustain anything this year looked particularly bad in a game that finished in the teens. Tom Brady won the game with a late drive to seal a victory for the Bucs to keep them alive in the NFC South, but at this point they don’t seem the least bit dangerous. A weak division may allow them to sneak into the playoffs, but it won’t help them advance. A disappointing first half for them, to say the least. Oh, and Brady hit another milestone – over 100,000 career passing yards… for whatever that’s worth.

The Rams seem hungover. I have long attributed the Super Bowl hangover to the losing team, not the winning one, but when you look back on the Rams offseason, the warning signs were there. Sean McVay and Aaron Donald both talked about retirement. When they both decided to come back, I figured they would pick up where they left off last season and take advantage of a wide open NFC. At this point, the Rams are as good as done and one would assume Aaron Donald might indeed pack it in as one of the greatest defensive players ever. The winners of the last two Super Bowls look sad and just need to be put out to pasture.

4. Chiefs Escape

I love watching the Titans and Chiefs play. The juxtaposition of styles makes for an entertaining watch every time. It seems like the typical NFL narrative writes off the Titans every year because they aren’t particularly flashy – but that’s what makes them so dangerous to a team like the Chiefs. Andy Reid would love to get into a shootout because he has Patrick Mahomes and he likes his chances. The Titans want to get down in the muck and sling mud at you for 60 minutes. The Titans played the game they wanted to but in the end couldn’t pull it out. They’re still the clear favorite in the division and could still play foil in the playoffs. One would think the Chiefs would prefer a different matchup if they can get it.

The Chiefs just keep stacking wins as their AFC West counterparts come apart at the seams. No one is likely to challenge them for the division and despite losing to Buffalo, the Chiefs could sneak in to that number one seed once again if the Bills slip again in a tough division.

5. Jelly of Justin Jefferson

Mentioned this earlier in this space but Jefferson has now tied Odell Beckham Jr and Randy Moss for the most 100 yard receiving games (19) in the first three NFL seasons. He’s got the second half of the year to take the lead and put the number up high enough to keep it for a long time.

More importantly, Jefferson continues to be the central cog in the Vikings attack. I’m not sure what the heck got into Kirk Cousins’s mayonnaise sandwiches this offseason, but he is certainly acting like a different dude. I know it’s the Vikings and we should all probably turn on them soon, but I for one am here for the one-year purple reign of the NFC North before the navy and orange take over.

6. AFC BEast

The AFC East has surprisingly turned in the best first half of the 2022 season with all four members above .500. That’s a tough break for the aforementioned Bills as they will have to slug it out against a tougher division than their primary opponents for the #1 seed. Those divisional games will be a lot of fun down the stretch.

The Dolphins probably have the best shot at sneaking out the division down the stretch with their dynamic pass catching duo of Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill. Waddle is averaging just a bit under 100 yards per game while Hill has already cleared 1,100 yards. The separation of Mahomes and Hill led a lot of analysts to believe one or both would suffer immensely. Turns out they’re both perfectly fine.

7. Lions Beat the Pack

One of my better calls this week was betting the Lions to beat the Packers outright. In hindsight, the result is probably more of a reflection of Aaron Rodgers melting down and throwing three red zone interceptions than the shootout I had envisioned at the time but no one needs to know that I got it right for the wrong reason. Except for you that read this far and you won’t tell on me.

The Lions are not a good football team but there are a lot of not good football teams in the league this year, including the Packers. One common theme among Packers fans since this embarrassing loss is pointing out that while Bears fans are enjoying the Packers demise, the Bears have the same record, so there. Yeah, we know – that’s why it’s funny. The Bears told everyone with their actions that they were expecting to lose, the Packers told everyone they were competing for banners. That’s the joke.

8. That was a Close One

Each and every week, we seem to get more and more competitive games that come down to the wire (maybe something to file away for betting the underdog on big lines). Through nine weeks, we have had 61 games decided by 6 or fewer points, the most through 9 weeks all-time (hat tip to NFL comms team).

This is exactly what the league is looking for. Close games that make for high drama. Close games that keep viewers in until the final commercial break. While I won’t go so far as to say there’s any conspiracy, I do believe that the league rules that promote parity are working on a micro level as evidenced by these close games, and at the macro level with teams bunched in the middle fighting for playoff spots. Make no mistake that the 7th seed was added to keep fans of more bubble teams around for additional weeks. It’s working and the revenue lines continue to point up.

9. Running is the new Passing

We need to stop and appreciate just how special this Chicago Bears running attack has been the last four games. Another 252 yards on Sunday against the Dolphins extended the Bears streak to four consecutive games rushing over 225 yards. The Bears join the Steelers as the only two teams in the Super Bowl era to do so. The Bears have the Lions on the schedule next, who give up the 2nd most rushing yards per game in the league.

A far cry from previous regime running attacks, this Luke Getsy offense is a masterclass in mixing and matching running styles, blocking schemes, and eye candy to distract the defense combining to something special. The counter to defenses playing more two deep safeties was always going to be running the ball, but the Getsy attack is a cut above with a sound philosophy and counters off every play. It’s impressive.

10. Justin Freaking Fields

Yes. Yes! YES!!!

That was fun, wasn’t it? Justin Fields etched his name in the record books with an amazing 178-yard rushing day, the most for a quarterback in a single regular season NFL game. Ever. Over 16,600 of these things have been played, meaning over 33,000 quarterback starts have been logged, and no one has ever had this kind of performance. The mark is all the more impressive because the Dolphins field a good defense. Everyone seems to be coming out of the woodwork to give their praise of the young signal caller. Welcome, friends, enemies, and frenemies alike.

The offense is starting to really click and there are some lesser opponents on the near-term schedule that should allow Fields to showcase just what he can do at this point of his development. It’s an exciting time to be a Bears fan. Thanks for sticking with us through the tough weeks and let’s enjoy the rest of the season now that a corner has seemingly been turned.

*Programming note: Sam Householder will fill in for me in this space next week. I’ll be back after Week 11 to recap all the action. Until then, follow me on Twitter @gridironborn