Chicago Bears must evolve and adapt with team identity

justin field, bears

The Chicago Bears will be leaving Las Vegas with a big road win and some momentum heading into a Week 6 home matchup against the division-rival Green Bay Packers. Over the last three weeks, we’ve gotten a sense of what the Bears’ identity is as a team: The defense is the backbone while the offense is built on a solid running game.

Chicago’s formula for success has worked so far. Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders was a clear example of how the running game has quickly become a strength of the Bears’ offense. Damien Williams and Khalil Herbert combine for 34 carries, 139 rushing yards, and one touchdown, averaging 4.1 yards per carry.

“When the running game is going like this, we can do a lot of things on offense,” quarterback Justin Fields told CBS Sports Evan Washburn after the game. “Hopefully we can keep that going and keep winning games.”

The numbers also reflect that the Bears identity is run first. Chicago controlled the ball for just over 32 minutes on Sunday afternoon, which equates to around 50 percent. As a passer, Fields was 12-for-20 with one touchdown and 111 passing yards. This is the second straight week Chicago has taken a somewhat conservative approach with Fields as a passer.

The Bears will need to open up the offense more, allowing Fields to make plays through the air. With games against explosive offenses such as the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers looming, a solid ariel attack will allow Chicago to keep pace with both teams.

The Bears passing game did have some bright moments in week 5, including a 13-yard pass from Fields to wide receiver Darnell Mooney on 3rd-and-12 with just 7:26 to go in the fourth quarter. Fields fit the ball into a tight window between two Raiders defenders, giving Mooney a chance to make a play.

“That’s just a timing throw,” Fields said after the game. “So we practice that all throughout the week. Just that look, just trying to get a first down, trying to keep the drive going, it was a great catch by Mooney, and a great call.”

Chicago’s identity has been solid so far, however, as the season continues to progress, the Bears will need to adapt to continue winning games, and prevent other teams from figuring out a way of stopping the offense.

New York Giants lose 44-20, suffer injuries against Dallas Cowboys

daniel jones, giants

The New York Giants fell short in their Week Five matchup with the Dallas Cowboys. The Giants’ record falls to 1-4 after their 44-20 loss to Dallas.

The Giants lost in more than one way today. They lost the game but also lost multiple key players to injury. Daniel Jones (concussion), Saquon Barkley (ankle), Kenny Golladay (knee), and Rodarius Williams (knee) all suffered injuries during today’s contest that kept them OUT for the game. Updates to come, but seemingly every injury was significant.

Key stats and takeaways

If there was a bright spot for the New York Giants, however, it was 2021 first-round pick Kadarius Toney. The rookie wide receiver had a breakout performance. Toney caught 10 passes on 13 targets for 189 receiving yards and 7 rushing yards on one rushing attempt.

The Giants’ offense fizzled out upon the loss of Daniel Jones. The Giants’ starting quarterback suffered a severe concussion that resulted in him getting carted off the field. New York hopes to see their young quarterback recover and return to the field soon.

The Dallas Cowboys ran at will on the New York Giants defense. The Cowboys totaled 201 rushing yards thanks to a strong Ezekiel Elliot performance (110 rushing yards and 1 touchdown). Dallas had an overall elite offensive performance, totaling over 500 yards of offense including 302 yards through the air from Dak Prescott.

Mike Glennon filled in for Daniel Jones and turned in 2 interceptions including a pick-six in the fourth quarter. Dallas’s defense constantly put pressure on the Giants’ quarterbacks.

The New York Giants will be back at home next week to host the Los Angeles Rams. They have fallen in a hole after five weeks, being placed alone at the bottom of the NFC East. It seems like one again, the Giants’ season might give fans a reason to start looking into the NFL Draft early.

Chicago Bears beat Las Vegas Raiders in Khalil Mack revenge game

justin field, bears, matt nagy

Five weeks into the 2021 NFL regular season, the Chicago Bears are over .500 for the first time since December 27th, 2020. Chicago jumped out to an early 14-3 lead in the first half before stalling in the third quarter. The Bears would then add on two field goals in the fourth quarter, courtesy of kicker Cairo Santos.

Notable moments from the Bears win included rookie quarterback Justin Fields hitting tight end Jesper Horsted for a two-yard touchdown pass, giving Fields his first NFL touchdown. Running back Damien Williams scored again in the second quarter to cap off a 16 play, 86 yard drive that took nearly eight minutes off the clock.

Bears outside linebacker, Khalil Mack, who was acquired from the Raiders for two first-round picks just one week before the start of the 2018 season had a nice revenge game against his former team. Mack totaled eight tackles, one sack, and one tackle for loss. The eighth-year pro made a key stop on the Raiders only touchdown of the afternoon, sacking Raiders quarterback Derek Carr on a two-point conversion attempt.

Rookie running back Khalil Herbert, usually a returner on special teams, had a solid outing as a running back. The sixth-round draft pick rushed 18 times for 75 yards, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Herbert used extended playing time to prove that he could be a part of the Bears’ offense moving forward, especially with injuries to veterans David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen.

Chicago’s defense was stout on third down, going 5-for-14, including a stop just before the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter. Sean Desai once again called a solid game as veterans like outside linebacker Robert Quinn get involved early and often, setting the tone quickly for a unit that’s continued to stack strong performances on top of each other.

What’s next for the Bears? The Green Bay Packers will come to town for a week 6 showdown. With both teams riding a winning streak, Bears-Packers next week is sure to provide plenty of entertainment.

NASCAR: Kyle Larson caps Round of 12 with win at the Roval

Larson already clinched his spot to the NASCAR Cup Series’ semifinal round, but captured his first victory at Charlotte’s road course.

Faced with rare adversity after last week’s visit to Talladega, Kyle Larson clinched his spot to the NASCAR Cup Series’ semifinal playoff round in style.

Larson earned his circuit-best seventh victory of the season by leading the final eight laps of the Bank of America Roval 400 held at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course. The win helps Larson reestablish himself as the Cup Series’ playoff favorite after Monday’s rescheduled race at Talladega saw him finish 37th after contact with the wall. He’ll advance to the Round of 8, the three-race prelude to the championship race at Phoenix.

Non-playoff entrants Tyler Reddick and Chris Buescher finished behind Larson, while Joe Gibbs Racing postseason representatives Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five and likewise advanced to the last eight.

Other qualifiers to the semifinals included Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, and Martin Truex Jr. It wound up being a bittersweet day for Hendrick Motorsports, which saw Larson and Elliott advance while dealing with the subsequent eliminations of Alex Bowman and William Byron. Other exits include those of Christopher Bell and Kevin Harvick, the 2014 series champion who suffered his earliest elimination since ousting rounds were introduced in the same season.

The 5 Comes Alive

Larson had a healthy 22-point lead on the cutoff to the semifinals entering Sunday’s event. But an early elimination was a realistic possibility when voltage issues forced the No. 5 HMS Chevrolet crew to make a battery switch and get a new alternator belt at lap 35 of 109 during a caution period induced when the Fords of Buescher and Chase Briscoe got together. Larson fought back to become the first driver in Cup Series history to win three road course events in a single season, having also won at Sonoma and Watkins Glen.

“My team did an amazing job today,” Larson said after the win. “(Hauler drive Steven Legendre) got the belt changed, (car chief Jesse Saunders) changed the battery, my pit crew stayed calm, I listened to (crew chief Cliff Daniels)…It’s so satisfying because I really did not think that we were going to have a shot to win today. I had a lot of different emotions throughout the middle portions of that race, thinking that this is so depressing and sad and crazy that I’m going to lose my shot at a championship because of an alternator issue, to, okay, now we got it fixed, let’s try to get away with a top 15 finish, keeping all the fenders on it.”

“I don’t even really want to think about luck, good luck, bad luck, anything right now. I just want to go out there and do our jobs and it will all take care of itself.”

Larson is renowned for his prowess in all kinds of racing, but he struggled on road courses before earning the historic trio this season. The scariest part is that Larson feels that he and his No. 5 team have only scratched the surface of what they can accomplish on such tracks.

“I still feel like I’m so far away from being where I could be as far as road course racer,” Larson said. “I still think there’s lots of, tons of, room for improvement. I think there are so many more people out there that are better than me at underbraking, just doing little things better than me and we’re able to get wins like we are. I feel like if I can put some more work in, I should hopefully get a lot better.”

Chase the Past Away

Despite Larson’s win, Hendrick headlines are likely set to center on defending series champion Chase Elliott, who also won the prior two visits to the Roval.

The young yet storied rivalry between Elliott and Harvick embarked on a new chapter on Sunday: halfway through the event, Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford made contact with Elliott’s back bumper, and the subsequent damage spun Elliott out of control and eventually cost him his rear just over 30 laps later. It might’ve been fair to assume that Harvick’s gambit was revenge for an incident between the pair at Bristol Motor Speedway’s night race three weeks prior: each blamed the other for costing them a chance for a valuable playoff win and confronted each other on pit road after that event. Harvick took the lost victory especially personally, as he’s still searching for his first win of the season after winning a series-best nine in 2020.

Elliott was able to stay on the lead lap and rallied back to finish 12th. His efforts paid off when Harvick’s day ended in heartbreak with 11 laps to go: his tires locked up going into the first turn, sending his No. 4 into the wall and relegating him to 33rd.

There was no love lost between the respective teams as Harvick’s departure was labeled “karma” by Elliott’s spotter Eddie D’Hondt. Elliott himself tried to keep things centered on his advancement during a postrace interview with NBC Sports, but he slipped in a sly reference to Harvick’s nickname of “Happy”.

“I’m really proud of our team, just proud of moving our NAPA team. (They) did a really, really good job of fixing this thing. It’s destroyed,” Elliott said. “Our team has a lot of fight. I’m just super proud of that. As far as Kevin goes, just want to wish them a merry off-season and a happy Christmas…Opinion (of Harvick) is certainly not changing. But it’s all good, just glad we’re moving on. (I’m) proud of our team.”

Bye-ron

Further Hendrick heartbreak awaited Byron and Bowman, who saw their postseasons in the Nos. 24 and 48 Chevrolets end. With each facing a 40-plus point deficit, their Chevys faced a must-win situation at Charlotte.

Bowman was never a factor after enduring electrical and mechanical issues similar to Larson’s early woes, though he did manage to secure his 15th top-ten finish of the season, tying a career-best set last year. Byron, on the other hand, led a race-best 30 laps but a subpar pit stop with just over 20 laps to go cost him some track position. As he tried to get back to the front, Byron made contact with Reddick’s No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, causing him to miss a required chicane. He worked his way back to third on the penultimate lap but contact with the wall relegated him to an 11th-place finish.

Byron would later criticize Reddick, who was amongst the first four drivers eliminated from the playoffs in the Round of 16, for his “lack of awareness”.

Up Next

The Round of 8 kicks off next Sunday afternoon’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET, NBC). Kyle Busch disrupted the final eight’s party last fall with a rain-delayed victory, his fourth in Fort Worth. Larson won the most recent visit to the track, winning the oval’s first hosting of the NASCAR All-Star Race in June.

For full results, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: Three stars from Sunday’s loss vs. Atlanta

New York Jets

The New York Jets took a few steps forward after a brutal first half, but their overseas comeback effort fell just short.

Deja vu flirted with the New York Jets, but Gang Green couldn’t seal the international deal against the Atlanta Falcons.

Matt Ryan threw for 342 yards, 119 of which went to rookie Kyle Pitts. The fourth overall pick from April’s Draft proceedings also had a touchdown alongside fellow tight end Hayden Hurst as Atlanta escaped with a 27-20 victory after the Jets nearly came back from three possessions down. Michael Carter and Ty Johnson had rushing touchdowns for the Jets (1-4) while Zach Wilson threw his ninth interception of the season as Atlanta built its early lead. The loss comes after the Jets erased a nine-point lead against the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans at MetLife Stadium.

Both the Jets and Falcons (2-3) will now take the standard week off granted to teams that partake in overseas contests. New York re-opens its season on Oct. 24 as they head up to Foxboro to battle the New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

ESM has three game balls to bestow as silver linings from this latest loss…

Honorable Mentions

  • RB Ty Johnson: 4 carries, 12 yards, 1 TD, 2 receptions, 22 yards
  • WR Corey Davis: 4 receptions, 45 yards
  • WR Keelan Cole: 2 receptions, 38 yards
  • WR Denzel Mims: 2 receptions, 33 yards
  • WR Jamison Crowder: 4 receptions, 24 yards, two-point conversion
  • CB Bryce Hall: 7 tackles, 2 passes defended
  • CB Brandin Echols: 9 tackles

3rd Star: LB C.J. Mosley

8 tackles, 1 forced fumble

Mosley’s reintroduction to the NFL has been a wonder to behold. He temporarily transferred momentum to the Jets’ side by forcing a fumble from Hurst when Atlanta entered the red zone again. His cough-up was recovered by Michael Carter II and the Jets embarked on a 16-play drive that netted a Matt Ammendola field goal.

2nd Star: RB Michael Carter

10 carries, 38 yards, 3 receptions, 20 yards

Despite some solid contributions from Johnson, Carter’s takeover of the primary rushing duties took another step forward on Sunday. The Jets’ best first down yardage came from Carter touches, ones that set the Jets up handsomely on the latter strikes. With his Sunday score, Carter is one of only three rookie running backs to visit the end zone twice. He also capitalized on extended duties through the air, his three receptions sitting behind only Corey Davis and Jamison Crowder.

1st Star: LB Quincy Williams

8 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 QB hit

The Jets’ pass rush struggled to build upon the momentum established against the Tennessee Titans last week, failing to get to Ryan at any point in London. Williams did what he could to establish pressure and once again stifled a dangerous run game with some clutch takedowns. He also forced two fumbles in the second half: another forced from Hurst bounced harmlessly out of bounds but another taken away from Mike Davis and recovered by Shaq Lawson stopped an Atlanta drive in New York territory.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Yankees: Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton silenced the critics in 2021

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For years, New York Yankees’ fans have recognized Aaron Judge’s talent to play baseball, but always complain that he is incapable of staying healthy for a full season. Before this year, the last time he played something close to a full campaign was in his breakthrough year, in 2017, with 155 participations.

Likewise, Yankees’ fans were even rougher on Giancarlo Stanton. Not only they ridiculed him for being injury-prone, but a portion of fans were critical on his production and his ability to provide big, timely hits.

It’s safe to say that those concerns have been erased somewhat. Perhaps not fully erased, but both men showed that they can stay healthy and be productive for a full year.

Judge played 148 of 162 games with the Yankees in 2021, or 91 percent; and Stanton took part in 139 contests this season, or 85 percent. Having both men playing most of the games is huge for the Bombers’ chances in 2022, because those two were the ones who carried the team all year long.

By weighted Runs Created Plus, or wRC+, three Yankees regulars were above-average performers (a wRC+ over 100) on offense: Anthony Rizzo, with 113, Stanton, at 137, and Judge, with 148.

The Yankees’ top two producers by far

Judge and Stanton were a tier and a half above everybody else, and this is something the Yankees will need to fix during the offseason. But having those two sluggers healthy and producing is a very good start.

Judge slashed .287/.373/.544 with 39 homers and 98 RBI. Perhaps more importantly, he improved his strikeout rate to 25 percent, and provided some huge hits, like the game-winning single against Tampa Bay in Game 162 to force a Wild Card game against the Red Sox.

Stanton hit .273/.354/.516 with 35 blasts and 97 RBI, and had a huge series against the Red Sox in the next-to-last weekend of the season. He was also the one bat to show up for the Yankees in the Wild Card game, with two balls hit to the Green Monster and a late homer.

As long as both men are healthy, they should be the top two offensive producer for the Yankees for the foreseeable future, provided that the team is able to extend Judge’s stay beyond 2022.

NewYork Rangers, Mika Zibanejad agree to 8-year contract extension

New York Rangers announced on Sunday morning that the club has agreed to terms with center Mike Zibanejad on an eight-year contract extension.

General manager and president Chris Drury made the announcement New York Rangers fans have been waiting for, the club has agreed to term on an eight-year extension with Mika Zibanejad.

“Since joining the team in 2016, Mika has emerged as one of the premier players in the NHL,” Drury said via an NYR press release. “In addition to being a great player on the ice, Mika is an exemplary person off of the ice. We are fortunate to have him as part of our Rangers organization and are excited that he will continue his career in New York.”

Larry Brooks of the New York Post is reporting that the AAV is in the $8.85million range.

Zibanejad, 28, skated in 56 games with the Rangers last season, registering 24 goals and 26 assists for 50 points, along with 18 penalty minutes. He led the Rangers in goals, game-winning goals (seven), and shots on goal (171), and ranked second on the team in points in 2020-21.

The 6-2, 200-pounder has skated in 604 career NHL games over parts of 10 seasons (2011-12 – 2020-21) with Ottawa and the Rangers, registering 200 goals and 234 assists for 434 points, along with 173 penalty minutes. Zibanejad has played five seasons with the Blueshirts (2016-17 – 2020-21), tallying 136 goals and 147 assists for 283 points in 323 games. He has skated in 31 postseason games in his NHL career, registering five goals and 14 assists for 19 points. In addition, the Stockholm, Sweden native will represent his country at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Zibanejad was acquired by the Rangers from Ottawa on July 18, 2016. He was originally selected by the Senators in the first round, sixth overall, of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

Eichel Rumors Put To Rest

This most likely means the team is out of the Jack Eichel sweepstakes. The Rangers have been the team mentioned in most trade rumors s the Buffalo Sabres are looking to move their former captain. The AAV Zibanejad will be reportingly making would make it impossible for the Blueshirts to carry the $10 mollion AAV that Eichel’s contract currently has.

Captain

The Ranger’s next big announcement is due in the coming days who will be their next captain.  The contract extension will now put Zibanelad’s name in the mix along with Chris Kreider and Jacob Trouba.

 

New York Giants: Andrew Thomas expected to play in week 5

New York Giants, Andrew Thomas

The New York Giants play the Dallas Cowboys later today, and they should have Andrew Thomas on the field when they do it. The left tackle has been questionable all week because of a foot injury, and the decision to let him play seems to have come in at the last minute.

It’s not a stretch to call this move a surprise. Thomas was limited in practice throughout the week and the injury was sustained to the same foot that he had surgery on in the offseason. That injury appeared to be a major factor in his play last year,

Thomas has been a major part of the offensive line this season. The year has come with a step up in his performance, and the Giants especially need Thomas on the field given the absence of others on the offensive line due to injuries.

The team can only field a portion of their expected offensive line from the beginning of the season right now, and to also lose Thomas would be a critical blow.

With that being said, Thomas may not be 100% even if he does play.

He’s been battling the injury all week and hasn’t shown the signs of making a full recovery. While Thomas is set to play, it appears he’s playing through the injury rather than playing healthy.

The extent of how much the injury will affect his play on the field remains to be seen, but it’s something to keep in mind as context for any changes in performance.

Should the Mets retain struggling outfielder Michael Conforto for next year?

The New York Mets had an extremely disappointing offense in 2021, and it was perhaps the biggest reason why the team vastly underperformed preseason expectations. They had a solid group of pitchers, they just couldn’t produce runs with any sort of consistency.

One of the Mets’ slumping stars in 2021 was, without a doubt, Michael Conforto. The slugger slashed .232/.344/.384 with a 106, slightly above average production thanks, mainly, to all the walks he took. While swinging the bat, he didn’t inflict too much damage, with 14 home runs in 125 games and 479 plate appearances.

It was an uncharacteristic down year for Conforto, a career .255/.356/.468 hitter with a 124 wRC+. He couldn’t replicate his 2019-2020 form, when he slashed .274/.376/.499 in 205 games combined.

It’s true that he had to endure a bad hamstring injury that took about a month of his season, but the Mets couldn’t enjoy production either before or after getting hurt.

Having considered all these factors, should the Mets bring back Conforto for 2022? How about long-term? It’s a tricky question, but the answer is yes.

The Mets would be wise to extend a qualifying offer

Conforto is still 28, so he should have a handful of good seasons left in his bat. He wasn’t good in 2021, but he has a long track record of success before that. Perhaps the injury was extremely problematic.

Maybe his mind had something to do with his slump, too. “When you’re thinking too much, you’re becoming too mental at the plate. You’re not supposed to think at the plate,” now former Mets Rojas said on Aug. 2. “You think outside the box. Outside the batter’s box, you’re thinking, you have your plan, you go in, and all your chips are in. That’s in. You step in there, you look for your pitch, and you just swing. I think he’s thinking too much at the plate, and that’s causing him to be in between. We want to brush that off.”

The Mets have the ability to offer him a qualifying offer, which is worth the mean salary of MLB’s 125 highest-paid players. Last year, the QO was $18.9 million.

The Mets should offer it, because if he takes it, they have a good, starting-caliber outfielder for a year and they give themselves a longer window to negotiate another deal, while closely monitoring his performance in 2022 before investing. If he declines the offer, they get a high draft pick in compensation.

The QO or a contract up to three years sounds like a good idea for the Mets. Any longer commitments are worth handling with care.3.032

 

Will Yankees’ Brett Gardner be back for the 2022 season?

New York Yankees, Brett Gardner

The New York Yankees have a lot of decisions to make this off-season, including who will play shortstop and whether or not skipper Aaron Boone will return to the team for the foreseeable future.

While a lot of these decisions are in their hands, one decision that is left up to the player is outfielder Brett Gardner. The veteran signed a two-year, $5.15 million deal this past off-season at 37-years-old, and with the team being knocked out of the postseason early, his decision to return could be even more likely.

The contract has a player option for the 2022 campaign, which would pay him $2.3 million in salary.

“I hope that I’m back next season, but that’s really not on my radar right now,’’ Gardner said after the Wild Card loss to the Red Sox.

“I’m just kind of trying to process all that went on.”

Last season, Gardner hit a career-low .222 with 10 homers and 39 RBIs. His strikeout rate hovered around his 2020 numbers, but his impact has become more defensive than as a quality lefty bat in the lineup.

It is clear that age is making an impact on Gardy’s production and efficiency, but the decision to bring him back is not the Yankees’ favor. Alternatively, they could’ve allocated that money differently, but $2.3 million isn’t anything to get heated over.

It is always good to have a veteran presence and a lefty in case of emergency, but the Yankees can’t continue on starting him and feeling confident about it. The expectation was that Clint Frazier would be the primary starter in 2021, but due to migraines and injury, the Bombers had no choice but to utilize Brett. The loss of Aaron Hicks early on in the year also took a toll.

Luckily, both should be healthy for the 2022 campaign, hopefully mitigating Gardner’s impact.