Ten Thoughts on the NFL: Bears Win, Packers Lose
1. Winning sure feels good...
A waterlogged Soldier Field greeted the Bears and 49ers to open the season and it looked like offseason plans about a new offensive approach were drenched and unusable, replaced by an old John Shoop call sheet. A broken play in the late third quarter allowed Fields to find Dante Pettis standing alone on the opposite side of the field, resulting in a 51-yard score. The Bears finished the game with 19 unanswered points before a deluge started that stopped any comeback attempt before it could get started.
The easy thing to do here is write it off as a fluky win in the elements, not a replicable set of conditions and the Bears just got lucky. I’m not so sure. While I don’t think true success for the 2022 Chicago Bears should be measured in wins and losses, I do think there’s incredible value in recognizing the resiliency and discipline this football team played with. Chicago won the turnover battle and committed only three penalties. The HITS philosophy will keep the Bears in a lot of games, thus making them infinitely more watchable than previous versions even when things aren’t working like the first half of the game.
2. ...and the Packers losing sure is nice
One of the storylines the NFL was absolutely salivating for was to have Green Bay take the all-time wins lead in league history against the team that has held it for virtually forever on Sunday Night Football. They gave the Bears a tough opener and thought, well, at a minimum, the Packers will at least tie. Not so fast, my friends.
The Packers were kindly handed an opening day loss by the Vikings in dominating fashion. All off-season the Packers essentially got a pass for not putting more talent around Rodgers, particularly in the face of losing All-Pro Davante Adams. Rodgers had a no-good, awful, very bad day throwing to that group of targets, leading to a beat down, which is just the best thing to pair with a Bears win. I mean, there’s peanut butter and jelly, biscuits and gravy, and Bears wins with Packers losses. We can get both in the same contest next week…
3. Can the Vikings break through?
Let’s start to acknowledge that the Vikings could be a contender for this division, as mentioned in this space last week. Minnesota dominated that contest wire to wire headlined by the amazing Justin Jefferson. The star WR kicked off his 2022 season with 9 grabs for 184 yards and 2 touchdowns. Any conversation about the best wideout in the league includes his name and by the end of the year, it might only contain his name. Don’t be shocked if he takes his rise all the way to an Offensive Player of the Year award like Cooper Kupp did last year, particularly if the Vikings can win the division.
While the Zimmer era Vikings boasted good defenses, particularly 3rd down defenses, this iteration could be better. Sometimes a culture change is all it takes and Kevin O’Connell’s approach could be what allows the Vikings to move past the Packers this season. To be honest, I’ll take any team ahead of that team up north.
4. Eyes Wide Open
The Buffalo Bills kicked off the NFL season with a demolition of the Rams’ House (Who’s House? Ummm, maybe the Chargers?). If there’s any positive for the Rams, it might be that they kill the phrase “Rampeat” before it gets going. The Bills entered the year as the prohibitive favorite and you see why. Josh Allen absolutely thrilled from the start with Stefon Diggs roasting Jalen Ramsey early and often to an impressive extent – Allen’s QB Rating was perfect when targeting Diggs.
The scary thing about the Bills is that they didn’t play a perfect game by a longshot, turning the ball over on fumbles from their backup running backs and on two errant Josh Allen passes (one a tip from a WR). They were a whisper away from the AFC Championship Game last year but anything less than a SB win would be disappointing for this squad.
5. Note to self: don’t ever doubt Mahomes
Unless of course they can’t get by the Kansas City Chiefs who came out scorching hot to incinerate the Cardinals in the desert. Patrick Mahomes threw for 360 yards and 5 touchdowns as the Chiefs cruised to an easy victory. With Tyreek Hill’s departure, I thought it might take some time reestablish the offense. I guess not.
We have seen this before with Andy Reid teams where they come screaming out of the gates. That makes sense as Reid is one of the best offensive minds in the history of the game. To doubt his ability to craft an offense around one of the most talented QBs in league history is a little silly (when will I learn…). The downfall of the old Andy Reid is that he uses up his tricks and by the late year, the league has caught up with him. With four straight trips to the AFC Championship Game, I think we need to give him the benefit of the doubt that the Chiefs are still a heavyweight.
6. Old Friend Alert
Khalil Mack is currently on pace for 51 sacks this season, which I’m told would be some kind of record. Obviously, Mack won’t keep up this pace, but you get this sense that he’s got something to prove this season getting traded for the second time in his career. If he can stay healthy, he’s got a chance to help lead a talented defense in an ultra-competitive AFC West and reestablish himself as an elite pass rusher. The ascension of Justin Herbert will mean more prime time games for the Chargers and more spotlight for the talented defender.
So far, so good.
7. Fade to Dak
The Cowboys were my favorite team to fade coming into the season. I described them as late-game Jenga where one more block is going to make the tower fall. Well, a broken hand for Dak feels more like falling onto the Jenga table and scattering the pieces everywhere on the ground. The Cowboys have little to no chance of saving their season in the face of a Prescott injury as they notably did not back him up with a premium option. Short of trading for Jimmy G, this Cowboys season is likely done before the leaves turned.
8. Limping to Victory
On the other side of the field, the Bucs sluggishly put the Cowboys away on Sunday Night Football despite Tom Brady struggling with his reconstituted offensive line. The last ride, no really, this is the last time, I’m serious, for Tom Brady could be a long one if the new linemen up front can’t keep TB12’s jersey clean. The saving grace may just be that the NFC South is one of the weaker divisions in football and the conference remains wide open.
9. Situational Football Failure
The Bengals overcame a terrible showing from Joe Burrow to score the go-ahead touchdown late, only to miss the extra point because of a bad snap from the backup long-snapper. With a chance to win in overtime, the Bengals brought back the field goal unit on 3rd down. The snap went high and the kicker yanked the ball for a second miss. The Steelers then drove down and drilled a game winning field goal to steal a win.
The biggest mistake here was not the physical one made by the emergency long snapper (the high snap) but not understanding the context from the holder and kicker. Because the Bengals chose to kick on 3rd down, the holder should have taken that high snap and ran a scramble drill (Fire! Fire!) and threw the ball away. The kicker, seeing that it was not a clean hold, could have held up and induced the scramble drill. That’s why you kick on 3rd down – for exactly this reason. It cost the Bengals a divisional win. Let’s see if that comes back to haunt them.
10. Justin Freaking Fields
Justin Fields managed to pull off an upset of the heavily favored 49ers with improvisational skills and perseverance. Despite a couple of bad throws, Fields hung tough and found a way to break through on the aforementioned scramble drill to Pettis (hat tip to ESB for the block downfield). Two more touchdown drives would follow as the Bears scored 19 unanswered points to seal the victory.
There’s not a lot of schematic takeaways from a win like this – sloppy field conditions really limit what is applicable in “normal” conditions – but I think the resilience is the thing here. This young man wears the C on his chest for a reason.
What were your takeaways this week? Hit up the comments below or find me on Twitter @gridironborn.