Chicago Bears: Holes apparent in week eight loss

Trevis Gipson, bears

In what was deemed a very winnable game for the Chicago Bears in week eight at home, the Bears struggled, failing to put together a complete game in all three phases. Chicago averaged 4.8 yards per play, with rookie quarterback Justin Fields rushing for a 22-yard touchdown on fourth-and-one to give the Bears some life.

The Bears season isn’t necessarily over but Chicago has now lost three straight games to NFC opponents. Since week six, losses to the Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and now San Francisco 49ers have put the three win Bears on the outside looking in, in the context of a playoff spot.

Sunday afternoon was an eye-opening moment for the Bears as a whole. Through the first seven games of the season, the assumption was that Chicago featured a solid defense while the offense would struggle. Sunday afternoon proved to be different.

The 49ers gashed the Bears’ defense throughout the second half, with multiple throws down the middle of the field late in the fourth quarter. Chicago simply wasn’t playing with enough speed on the defensive side of the ball to warrant slowing down the 49ers’ offense. The Bears pass rush failed to generate any sacks, even with Khalil Mack out

Mack’s absence leads to an important question regarding Akiem Hicks and Robert Quinn, both of whom failed to record a sack on Sunday. How much of Hicks and Quinn’s success in 2021 is the result of Mack’s presence? Mack may not always pad the stat sheet but his impact was felt on Sunday afternoon.

The Bears offense did show signs of life but there wasn’t enough. It’s clear that the Bears aren’t a very good team around Fields, with the inability to execute prevalent from the wide receiver, tight end, and offensive line.

The Bears have a long way to go before being relevant again. Fields provides hope for the future but Chicago’s holes were visible on Sunday afternoon for a team that has struggled mightily in 2021.

New York Giants: Could Evan Engram be traded before the deadline?

New York Giants, Evan Engram

The 2021 NFL trade deadline is nearly here. At 4 p.m. on Tuesday, November 2, trades will no longer be allowed this season. All trades must be finalized before that deadline. The New York Giants are a team that has been brought up in trade discussions frequently. One popular name that has been thrown into the rumor mill is Giants tight end, Evan Engram.

Evan Engram has had a rough season for the New York Giants. The former first-round pick has never been able to live up to the expectations that were set out for him. Now, with the trade deadline coming up, Evan Engram could be a trade piece for the New York Giants.

Could Evan Engram be traded?

The New York Giants will play against the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football. Could that be the last time Evan Engram ever suits up in Big Blue? If the rumors are true, there is a strong chance that Evan Engram could be traded this week.

According to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, multiple teams are expressing interest in Giants tight end Evan Engram. Teams like the Green Bay Packers could be suitable landing spots.

The Packers recently lost their starting tight end, Robert Tonyan, for the season with a torn ACL. If they are in the market for a new tight end to pair with Aaron Rodgers, Evan Engram could make a lot of sense.

The Buffalo Bills are currently playing without their starting tight end, Dawson Knox. They are another team that the Giants could call up about a potential deal for Evan Engram.

Evan Engram has had some bright moments for the Giants, however, he is no longer a favorite amongst fans. Fans boo the tight end when he takes the field and cheer when he heads to the sideline. At this point, it is probably best for both parties to move on. Engram has some talent and a change of scenery could help him realize his potential. For the 2-5 Giants, a long-term outlook would benefit them. Obtaining draft capital for Evan Engram would be a smart choice for the Giants as they prepare for their future.

NASCAR: Alex Bowman wins at Martinsville as Championship 4 is set

Martinsville’s chaos stages a championship battle between Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing at NASCAR’s 2021 finale next weekend.

Hendrick Motorsports won Martinsville’s battle. But Joe Gibbs Racing has a chance to win Phoenix’s war.

Alex Bowman of the No. 48 HMS Chevrolet crashed the NASCAR Cup Series’ playoff party at Martinsville Speedway’s Xfinity 500 on Sunday afternoon. Bowman’s fourth victory of the season came with a hint of controversy, as his winning move made contact with Denny Hamlin, sending the latter’s No. 11 Gibbs Toyota spinning into the wall with seven circuits remaining in the 50-lap event. The late incident required a two-lap overtime finish, which saw Bowman hold off a furious push from Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, each of whom needed to win to advance to the final four.

Hamlin nonetheless clinched a spot in the Cup Series’ Championship 4, an illustrious quartet that will race for a title at Phoenix Raceway in next Sunday’s season finale (3 p.m. ET, NBC). He’ll be joined by JGR teammate and 2017 series champion Martin Truex Jr., who overcame late damage to his No. 19 Toyota to finish fourth and clinch his own spot.

HMS Chevrolets account for the rest of the group: defending series champion Chase Elliott finished 16th after contact with Keselowski but made it in through victories over the first two race stages. Kyle Larson (14th) had already clinched his Phoenix ticket with wins at the first two Round of 8 races at Texas and Kansas.

Hamlin was visibly displeased with Bowman, menacingly driving up to him as the No. 48 engaged in its victory burnout. He later called Bowman a “hack” in his postrace interview with NBC Sports.

The eliminated Busch and Keselowski finished second and third respectively while another Hendrick Chevy, the No. 24 of William Byron, rounded out the top five. Busch finished three points short of advancement Keselowski’s Team Penske teammates Joey Logano (10th) and Ryan Blaney (11th) likewise saw their championship dreams end.

The Greatest Showman

Bowman was eliminated after the Round of 12, as his postseason output has been tough to bear. Entering Sunday’s event, Bowman had only one top-five finish over the first eight playoff races (fifth at Bristol) and led only a single lap in that span,

This Martinsville triumph allowed him to cap off his first season piloting the legendary No. 48 car on the right note. Behind the wheel of the ride Jimmie Johnson drove to seven Cup Series titles, Bowman has earned career-bests in nearly every major stat category, primarily his aforementioned win total (he had two wins entering the 2021 season).

“These last couple of months have been painful. It’s been so frustrating,” Bowman admitted. “Honestly, our teammates have kicked our butts for quite a while now. I think Greg and myself have both been pretty down and frustrated…We weren’t doing things any differently. We weren’t approaching weekends differently. We just have been off.”

“To come to a place that was probably our worst place when we started together, have such a good day, get another win, it feels great,” he continued. “Obviously, four wins this year feels great. Wish we were in the Round of 4. We just need to figure out consistency and this team will be something really, really special.”

Bowman ran behind his teammates over the first 130-lap stages, finishing in the runner-up spot to Elliott in the latter. He lingered near the front during the third stage, the only delay coming on a slow pit stop when the leaders pitted at lap 380 during a caution induced by Daniel Suarez’s spin. The No. 48 quickly worked its way back up and competed with Hamlin for the win over the final stages.

Bowman continued to insist that the contact with Hamlin was nothing intentional during his postrace availability.

“I hate that we got into the 11,” Bowman said. “I just got underneath him and spun him out. I’d be mad, too. I get it. But he’s been on the other side of that enough to understand.”

“I understand why he’s mad. I’d be mad, too. I drove off into the corner, got loose, spun him out. At the same time, I didn’t do it on purpose. If I did, I’d tell you. That’s part of it.”

Team FedEx Fed Up

The incident with Bowman capped off an eventful afternoon for Hamlin: the No. 11 had to start from the rear after multiple inspection failures and was denied points on the first stage after he was caught speeding on pit road. He would rally back to take the lead at lap 389 from his teammate Truex and managed to keep it when the leaders pitted 56 circuits later during a caution for Austin Dillon’s encounter with the wall.

Alas for Hamlin, a third win was not to be but he managed to build a points cushion sizable enough to push him into the Championship 4 for the third straight season. But his postrace comments and display have stolen the headlines as the series moves on to the desert.

“He’s just a hack. Just an absolute hack,” Hamlin said of Bowman in the publicized interview with NBC. “He gets his (butt) kicked by his teammates every week. He’s (expletive) terrible. He’s just terrible. He sees one opportunity, he takes it.”

“We had a good, clean race. I moved up as high as I could on the racetrack to give him all the room I could, he still can’t drive.”

Yet another championship opportunity awaits Hamlin at Phoenix, as a Cup Series title hoist is perhaps the one thing missing from his NASCAR career. His 46 wins are second-most in Cup Series history amongst drivers without a championship (behind only Junior Johnson’s 50).

Martin’s Ville

Hamlin won’t be alone as he returns to the championship circuit, as he’s joined by Truex after a gutsy run in the No. 19. The Mayetta, NJ native ran near the front for most of the afternoon but went through an absolute rollercoaster over the last 150 laps.

Truex’s Camry slightly overheated before he took the lead from Dillon at lap 386. After losing the top spot to Hamlin, he held a consistent lead on the battle for fourth but contact with Byron damaged his left front corner. Further contact with Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch shot him up the track at lap 471, but a surplus of lead lap cars prevented him from coming to pit road. His damaged No. 19 managed to maintain a spot in the top five, giving him just enough points to send Keselowski and Kyle Busch home.

“There’s not a whole lot you can do other than drive,” Truex said of his approach to the final portions. “Thinking about it, worrying about it doesn’t do you any good. You just got to try to go, hit your marks, get the most out of your race car. Luckily, we were able to do that.”

Up Next

The Cup Series’ season finale returns to Phoenix for the second consecutive season after nearly two decades at Homestead-Miami. Elliott led 153 laps after starting from the back to capture his first Cup Series title and finished fifth in this season’s first desert outing back in March. Truex took home the victory in that race after leading the last 25 laps while Hamlin is one of five active drivers with multiple wins at the track, visiting victory lane in 2012 and 2019.

For full results, click HERE

For full standings, click HERE

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Giants: Kadarius Toney primed for ‘OBJ’-like breakout on MNF

kadarius toney, giants

Stop me if you’ve seen this before: A New York Giants rookie wide receiver garnering national stardom after a breakout performance on prime time television.

Yes, just about any New York Giants fan could tell you where they were when ‘the catch heard around the world’ took place at Metlife Stadium on November 23rd, 2014. While Odell Beckham Jr. had already broken out to some extent before that Sunday night game, his 10 catch, 146 yard, and 2TD performance against Big Blue’s most hated rival put him on the map for keeps.

The similarities between New York Giants rookie phenom wideout, Kadarius Toney, and Beckham Jr. are uncanny. Both smaller in stature, but ultra shifty and explosive, Toney will do well for himself if he can end up being half the player Odell was for the Giants during his time with the franchise.

Both Toney and Beckham were largely unheralded in college, for the most part, and appear to be better-suited for the professional game. They both played in the SEC for schools that are traditionally known for pounding the rock on the ground, so it was difficult for them to truly make their marks at the collegiate level.

Yet, because their talent levels were so immense, ‘KT’ and ‘OBJ’ each ended up going in the middle of the first round for the New uYork Giants. Further, both the wideouts got off to slow starts due to being inactive for various reasons to start their careers, only to take off just about immediately after getting their first opportunities.

The 2014 New York Giants were 3-7 heading into that late November matchup with the Dallas Cowboys. Even though they ended up losing that matchup to the 7-3 Cowboys that night, the energy Beckham Jr.’s performance infused into the franchise was palpable for some time to come. Hopefully, Kadarius Toney can do something similar tomorrow night against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Toney already has surpassed Beckham’s rookie team record for receiving yards in a game with an 189-yard output a few weeks ago against those same Cowboys. Now, we’ll see if – like Odell – his game rises on the biggest stages.

To be frank, the New York Giants have little chance of walking out of Arrowhead Stadium with a victory on Monday night. What they can walk out of the stadium with is a reinvigorating feeling that they do, finally again, have a player on their roster that is worth the price of admission all by his lonesome.

(Follow this contributor on Twitter, here)

New York Jets: Three stars from Sunday’s win over Cincinnati

New York Jets

Mike White and Michael Carter guided the New York Jets to a jaw-dropping victory over the AFC-leading Cincinnati Bengals.

Behind 405 passing yards from Mike White and 172 scrimmage yards from rookie rusher Michael Carter, the New York Jets earned a 34-31 win over the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals. White, making his first start in place of the injured Zach Wilson, earned the 11th 400-yard game in Jets history and first since Vinny Testaverde reached the mark on Christmas Eve in 2000.

With a huge win under their belts, the Jets (2-5) return to action on Thursday night against the Indianapolis Colts (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox/NFL Network).

ESM bestows three game balls from the jaw-dropping triumph..

Honorable Mentions

  • RB Ty Johnson: 86 total yards, 1 receiving TD
  • WR Jamison Crowder: 8 rec., 84 yards
  • WR Elijah Moore: 6 rec., 67 yards
  • WR/Ret. Braxton Berrios: 1 receiving TD, 29.5 kick ret. average
  • LB C.J. Mosley: 10 tackles (1 TFL)
  • DL Sheldon Rankins: 4 tackles (2 TFL), 1 sack
  • DL Quinnen Williams: 1 sack

3rd Star: LB Shaq Lawson

1 interception

A victory over the AFC leaders was child’s play for the Jets’ linebacker.

Lawson was in the holiday spirit when he arrived in East Rutherford on Sunday, as he was dressed like the horror film icon Chucky. He went on to become a nightmare for the Bengals, picking up the Jets’ first interception of the season at the perfect time. That crucial turnover situated Gang Green 14 yards away from the end zone as they went on to punch in the winning score via White’s touchdown pass to Tyler Kroft.

Mosley described Lawson’s takeaways as a “Hall of Fame defensive end type of play”.

“I think about Terrell Suggs doing that all the time, tipping the ball and getting it to himself,” Mosley said, per notes from the Jets. “What a great time to have that happen.”

“I didn’t even think I was going to get it,” Lawson himself added. “I’ve been fortunate these last couple of years. I scored last year, and a pick this year. That ain’t never happened like that. You always run to the ball, and being around the ball good things happen. that’s what we preach every day.”

2nd Star: RB Michael Carter

172 total yards, 1 rushing TD

Carter’s hold on the Jets’ primary rushing duties has grown over the past few weeks (though Johnson remained a factor through some big aerial gains). He had reached triple digits in yards from scrimmage before (doing so in last week’s disastrous visit to New England) but he made a major impact on the Wilson-free settings. Carter’s final tally is the fourth-best output from a Jets rookie running back. He’s also the first such rusher to reach that mark in consecutive weeks since Freeman McNeil in 1981.

“He’s a rookie, but he’s taken it as a vet,” Johnson said of Carter’s efforts. “I told him today, I was like, ‘Man, he was playing a lot. And I was like, ‘Hey man, I appreciate you. You took every single rep you had and you were on your P’s and Q’s, you were on your alignments, your assignments, and your execution.’ So, I was like, ‘Get your body right, let’s do it again on Thursday.’”

“He’s a rookie, but he’s proven that he’s built for this and he’s a vet in a rookie body.”

1st Star: QB Mike White

37-of-45, 405 yards, 3 TD

White’s first career NFL start became a national headline, one that was historic on both a team and national level. His final yardage total, already a rarity by Jets standards (joining Testaverde, Joe Namath, Ken O’Brien, Richard Todd, and Glenn Foley as the green quarterbacks to do so), is the second-best tally for a quarterback in his first start over the past six decades, passed only by Cam Newton’s 422 from his 2011 debut. The quarterback also tallied two of the game’s most important points by himself, literally taking matters into his own hands on a Halloween trick that saw Crowder loft a two-point conversion toss to him, creating the final 34-31 margin.

White was an obvious recipient of the Jets’ offical game ball bestowed by Saleh in the postgame celebration. The head coach confirmed that White earned the right to start Thursday’s game in Indianapolis.

Looking back on White’s Sunday showing, Saleh believed that his quarterback had something special brewing from his first possession. White completed 7-of-7 passes on the drives (part of a 10-of-10 showing to start the game) and the trek ended with the team’s first opening quarter points of the year via a six-yard scoring rush for Carter. That was enough for Saleh to put the game in White’s hands.

“Mike White was poised and took what the defense gave him, but also took shots when he had to,” Saleh said. “He came out comfortable and poised. He drove the ball right down the field and scored that touchdown. I was like, ‘Alright, let’s get this dude the ball and see what happens.’ I know we had some mishaps in the first half where we could have been even more explosive as it pertains to points, but to be down three at halftime despite three turnovers, to show the grit and grind that this group was fighting through. To be down 11 and come back, it’s a gritty group. It was awesome to see.”

White’s instant legend grew so large that fans began chanting his name in support.

“It was a lot of fun. Anytime you get to play football it’s fun,” White said of his first East Rutherford experience. “That’s what we all grew up doing and that’s what we all came to this level to do, so I embrace it, but I think I personally did a good job of not making it more than it is. What helped a lot too, was the coaches’ faith in me and the team’s faith in me. There wasn’t a flinch and guys were supportive, guys were rallying around me and it made it that much easier.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Here’s what we learned at UFC 267

What an action-packed day of fights we were all able to bear witness to yesterday: UFC 267 was certainly one for the books.

Fight fans were even more primed than usual for a meaningful card after a mostly stagnant month of October in the UFC. From top to bottom, the fighters delivered on the biggest of stages to set up all types of massive implications moving forward in several divisions.

Let’s dive right in.

Age is just a number

A common narrative around the UFC light heavyweight title bout between Glover Teixeira (33-7 MMA, 16-5 UFC) and Jan Blachowicz (28-9 MMA, 11-6 UFC) this week was that this fight left a bit to be desired in terms of true championship talent. This was simply not ever the case, and especially is not now after witnessing what 42-year-old Glover Teixeira pulled off in Abu Dhabi at UFC 267.

Always a fan favorite, it was truly special to watch Teixeira achieve his lifelong dream in what was sure to be his last chance to do so. Make no mistake about it, though, this was not just a feel-good story; Glover Teixeira is still one of the best mixed martial artists on the planet. Despite both Teixeira and Blachowicz being slapped with the ‘really good, but not great’ label, Teixeira likely etched his name into the UFC Hall of Fame with his dazzling performance.

From the get-go, it was clear what Teixeira’s gameplan was: take down Jan Blachowicz and keep him down. It worked to perfection, with the UFC vet landing a beautiful takedown about 30 seconds into the fight and then laying on top of Blachowicz with his patented top-heavy pressure. Using the seldom applied (anymore) ‘can-opener’ guard-splitting technique bothered Blachowicz tremendously and may have done more damage (physically and mentally) than we’ll truly ever know.

The pivotal moment ended up being a crisp left hook that had way more pop on it than the one Blachowicz was able to return with, as the former champ never fully recovered from the shot. Clearly, Blachowicz was in his own head about potentially getting taken down again as he jumped when Teixeira feinted a level-change and the fight ended shortly after this sequence.

As we said here, Glover Teixeira should not have been a 2.5-to-1 underdog in this fight.

Is Teixeira talented enough, at 42, to take down a rising star in Jiri Prochazka in 2022? Who knows. The good thing is, none of us have to worry about that quite yet.

Petr Yan may be the best striker in the UFC

If not for Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega just squaring off in an epic battle at UFC 266 last month, Petr Yan (16-2 MMA, 8-1 UFC) vs. Cory Sandhagen (14-4 MMA, 7-3 UFC) would be getting some serious love for the UFC ‘2021 fight of the year’. It was that spectacular.

Sandhagen came out looking sharp with a brilliant game-plan that centered around constant movement and stance switching to establish distance control with his decided reach advantage. It worked, for a short time. However, Petr Yan is simply on another level than anyone else in the 135-pound division, and maybe even the entire UFC.

Yan was able to weather the early barrage and do what he has always done since he’s been in the UFC, which is break his opponents down over the course of 15-25 minutes. To his credit, Cory Sandhagen is as tough as it gets and had no business surviving some of the damage like he did and he should be around the top of this division for years to come.

He just won’t get to be champion anytime soon.

Khamzat Chimaev continues legendary start to UFC career

Khamzat Chimaev, folks — we may never see another one quite like him. Now four fights into his UFC career, Chimaev has managed to outstrike his opponents a whopping 254-to-1.

As ridiculous as that stat-line is, it almost doesn’t give true justice to just how dominant Khamzat Chimaev (10-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) has been inside the Octagon. Once again, this fight was over before it even really began. Chimaev even found the time in between carrying Li Jingliang around like a child and bashing his face in to have a full-on conversation with UFC boss Dana White.

We’ve truly never seen anything like this and probably won’t again.

Other UFC 267 revelations

Islam Makhachev (21-1 MMA, 10-1 UFC) is here to stay as a legit 155-pound title contender, with another scary dispatching of a tough UFC lightweight foe. Makhachev has a real claim to fighting the loser, if not the winner, of next weekend’s clash between Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler at MSG at UFC 268.

Alexander Volkov (34-9 MMA, 7-3 UFC) cruised to a (30-27X2, 29-28X1) decision win over Marcin Tybura (22-7 MMA, 9-6 UFC) but this was largely the most uneventful fight on the entire UFC 267 card. If there is anyone out there in the heavyweight division that is ready to challenge Francis Ngannou or Cyril Gane for the title, they weren’t in the Octagon yesterday.

Amanda Ribas (11-2 MMA, 5-1 UFC) got back on track with an impressive victory over fellow top-15 strawweight Virna Jandiroba (17-3 MMA, 3-3 UFC). After a shaky first round, Ribas mixed up her attacks and looked like she was on a different level than Jandiroba, overall. Amanda Ribas should be in line for a top-five contender next.

Featherweight Lerone Murphy (11-01 MMA, 3-01 UFC) easily had the most jaw-dropping finish of the day when he provided a blueprint for any UFC fighter struggling against a smothering grappler. Somehow, he was not awarded a UFC performance bonus, which speaks to how terrific of a card this ended up being.

Lastly, I was able to get back on track in the gambling unit department after a 3-1 day (with our only loss on a +400 underdog) and officially enter the green for the year.

I’ll look to keep that up next week on what truly is the biggest UFC event of 2021.

(Follow this contributor on Twitter, here)

Yankees likely out on one shortstop target as they aim bigger

yankees, trevor story

The New York Yankees will have their hands full this off-season trying to find a long-term solution at shortstop. The likely move for them is finding a player who can hold over shortstop for the next two years while they wait for Anthony Volpe to reach the MLB level.

However, there are a few quality players they could be considering, but one is expected to be left off their wish list. Colorado Rockies star infielder Trevor Story was a trade deadline target for the Bombers this past year, but spending big money on him instead of Corey Seager or Carlos Correa could end up being a bad move.

According to Bryan Hoch of, the Yankees have “soured” on Trevor Story as a primary shortstop target this offseason. Hoch indicated that the Yankees tried to trade for Story at the deadline this past season, but failing to do so has convinced them to look elsewhere.

Story hit .251 this past season with 24 homers and 75 RBIs. He recorded a career-low 23.4% strikeout rate, but looking over at Seager presents an entirely different talent.

Comparably, Seager hit .306 with 16 homers and 57 RBIs but enjoyed a far lower 16.1% strikeout rate and solid 11.7% walk rate, the highest since his rookie season in 2015. Seager struggled in the postseason significantly, hitting .188 with a 26.4% strikeout rate, which undoubtedly will give the Yankees a bit of caution tape to work around, but ultimately he is an incredibly consistent contact hitter with a bit of power.

Correa could end up costing far too much to land this off-season, so expect the Yankees to be heavily involved in the Seager sweepstakes. In addition, adding a strong lefty bat that you can depend on with batters in scoring position is valuable, and a short right porch at Yankee Stadium would work wonders for Seager.

Nonetheless, it seems that the Yankees will hyperfocus on Corey and potentially Correa, depending on how much their representatives are demanding on the open market. Spotrac has Seager’s value at $32 million per season and Correa at $26.6 million. I anticipate Correa will earn a more lucrative deal over Seager, given his injury issues the past two seasons.

Knicks’ Thibodeau shows RJ Barrett the respect he deserves in resilient win over Pelicans

rj barrett, knicks

After the first four games of the season, some questioned if young guard RJ Barrett was ready to take the next step forward as a professional. The New York Knicks never wavered in their confidence in Barrett, and he showed resiliency this past week, indicating he has been given the talents to be a phenomenal player.

The past few games have been far more productive, ever since he indicated he usually starts the season slow and picks up steam as he settles in. Against the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday evening, Barrett posted an incredible 35 points, six assists, and eight rebounds. In fact, his statistics looked more like Julius Randle‘s on any given night, who finished with just 10 points over 38 minutes. Randle gave way to Barrett in this contest, allowing him to ride the hot hand and showcase one of his best performances as a young player in the NBA.

The Knicks are seeing RJ Barrett become a man:

Shooting 12-of-18 and 6-of-8 from three-point range, he displayed shooting proficiency that indicates a big step forward this season. Even head coach Tom Thibodeau showed him the respect he deserves in crunch time, calling plays specifically designed for him to maximize his skill set.

“That was Thibs. He was running plays for me at the end. It’s kind of reading the defense. I know I’m the type of player who can have nights like that and I’m just happy that I was able to show that today. But I’m just trying to win really.”

RJ hasn’t only experienced offensive production over the past two games but has the highest DFG of any starter on the roster at 31.7%. He also has a DIFF percentage of -13, showing that when he’s on the court, the team scores more points and stops more opponents.

The numbers show a quality player, but even Barrett was critical of his performance in the victory, stating, “I was terrible on defense today. That was not good.”

The best players are the ones that find something to learn from and improve despite a great performance. Barrett seems to have that mental gift.

3 keys for the New York Giants against struggling Kansas City Chiefs

New York Giants, Daniel Jones

At the beginning of the regular season, most circled the New York Giants’ contest against the Kansas City Chiefs as an automatic loss. However, Kansas City is coming off a disappointing defeat to the Tennessee Titans in which they scored just three points.

With the Chiefs struggling and showing vulnerability, this could be an opportunity for the Giants to take advantage, coming off a solid victory against the Carolina Panthers. However, it is going to take a stellar performance in all phases to take down a strong Chiefs team on offense specifically, so let’s take a look at a few factors that could give them an advantage.

Three keys for the New York Giants to overcome the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8:

1.) Control the clock

One of the easiest ways to limit the Chiefs on offense is to keep them off the field, which is precisely what Tennessee managed to accomplish last weekend. The time of possession heavily favored the Titans, as they managed 36:21 compared to 23:39. Running the football is incredibly important, but converting on third down is equally a catalyst.

Tennessee converted 24 first-down compared to 22 for Kansas City, but they also curated three turnovers.

Winning the time of possession is a big necessity for the Giants, but forcing a few turnovers wouldn’t hurt either.

2.) Play 2-deep safeties

No quarterback is seeing more two-high safety looks in the league than Patrick Mahomes, as teams look to limit his abilities throwing downfield to Tyreek Hill and Co.

Expect to see plenty of Logan Ryan, Julian Love, and Xavier McKinney playing the deeper portions of the field trying to mitigate big plays. With a speedster like Hill, it is easy to split the safeties on deep post routes, so the Giants will need to be wary of that.

Mahomes is one of the most accurate deep ball passers in the league, scoring three touchdowns this year on throws between the numbers 20+ yards downfield. However, he has struggled to throw to the outside left, so forcing him to throw across his body and take more risky attempts would help the Giants.

Nonetheless, it is going to take a defensive master class by coordinator Patrick Graham to stifle this offense, but coming off their best performance of the season against Carolina, they are ready for the challenge.

3.) Capitalize on BAD Chiefs defense

The Chiefs’ defense is arguably the worst in the NFL, ranking of the bottom six in points allowed per game with 29 on average. The Giants’ offense took advantage of a strong Carolina defense last weekend, posting 25 points and establishing the run sufficiently. However, the expectation is that Saquon Barkley and Kenny Golladay will be inactive for this game, but there is optimism Kadarius Toney will be available.

Toney plastered the Dallas Cowboys for over 180 all-purpose yards a few weeks ago, and if he’s healthy enough to play the entire game, the Chiefs should feel the brunt of his qualities. Their cornerbacks are spotty at best, and the pass rush has been nonexistent, so if Daniel Jones can stay in the pocket and make efficient throws, the Giants should have a productive day through the air.

RJ Barrett’s career night quiets doubters as Knicks improve to 5-1 start

RJ Barrett is a man on a mission.

Barrett, New York Knicks third-year wing, took his game to another level two nights after a solid offensive performance and a game-winning defensive stop.

Miffed by the seemingly never-ending disrespect about his game and career trajectory, Barrett put on the type of performance that should silence his doubters.

Barrett scored 16 of his new career-high 35 points in the fourth quarter, including nine in the final 99 seconds, as the Knicks repelled the injury-plagued New Orleans Pelicans, 123-117, Saturday night at the Smoothie King Center for their third straight win.

The Knicks improved to 5-1, catching the Washington Wizards at the top of the Eastern Conference.

Barrett took over down the stretch with his college running mate and friend Zion Williamson, the no.1 pick in their draft class, reduced to being a spectator due to a foot injury.

After a 9-0 Pelicans run trimmed the Knicks’ lead down to two, 111-109, with 1:51 left, Barrett started his takeover. He used a double screen by Taj Gibson and Kemba Walker to drill a three-pointer from the top of the key.

A Devonte Graham three-point play proved to be New Orleans’ final stand. In the next play, Barrett set up Gibson for a wide-open dunk off a pick and roll. With the Pelicans forcing him to go right after repeatedly killing them with his left, he gladly welcomed the challenge. Barrett used Gibson’s pick and went to his right, and calmly drilled a three-pointer.

The Knicks’ cushion pushed to seven, 119-112, with 43.9 seconds to go. Barrett scored three more free throws to put the game away.

“He was terrific. He had an all-around game from start to finish. Clutch shots. Great hustle. Great effort. Rebounding the ball. He made plays. He got downhill, shot it well. That’s what RJ is and we needed it,” said Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau effusive in his praise of Barrett.

Indeed the Knicks needed Barrett’s offensive brilliance on the night when Randle was held down to a season-low 10 points. But Barrett, the 2019 third overall pick, returned the favor to Thibodeau for handing him the keys to the Knicks’ offense down the stretch.

“That was Thibs,” Barrett said. “Thibs was running plays for me at the end. It’s kind of reading the defense. I know I’m the type of player who can have nights like that and I’m just happy that I was able to show that today. But I’m just trying to win really and read what the defense was giving us.”

Barrett showed his complete offensive package tearing apart the Pelicans’ defense. His 12 makes from 18 attempts came from constantly putting the pressure on the rim, scoring off the bounce, drilling stepback 3s, and picking his spots on the floor. He was 6 for 8 from deep and added seven rebounds and a season-high six assists.

Pelicans guard Josh Hart got pinned down in the double screen that opened up Barrett for the three-pointer, which kickstarted the Knicks’ closing run. He was disappointed with their defensive execution.

“Everyone in the league knows RJ Barrett is going left. And in a game like that, it comes down to possessions, you can’t let that happen. You can’t allow him to go left constantly and he did. Obviously, he’s a good player but we have to make sure we’re going to execute our game plan a little bit better,” Hart said.

But even if they know Barrett was going left, it’s hard to stop him when he’s in rhythm, not now that he has learned to use his body and strength.

“[RJ] knows he’s good. He never questions himself. He’s playing an all-around game. When he goes downhill, I think people don’t realize how big and strong he is,” Thibodeau said. “He can take contact and so, he’s getting more comfortable with it. He works at it. You can’t say enough about him.”

His offseason work with his trainer Drew Hanlen, who focused on his off the bounce game after adding a catch and shoot 3 last season, is paying off.

Knicks associate head coach Johnnie Bryant is also helping Barrett. Bryant, who worked with Jazz rising star Donovan Mitchell in Utah, has been teaching Barrett how to use his strength and angles, changing his old, ineffective way of playing bully ball. Barrett admitted he used to drive to the basket with his head down.

Despite his second straight big game, Barrett is still far from satisfied.

“It was definitely a good game offensively, but I was terrible defensively. That’s not good. But you know, we were able to get the win and that’s the most important thing,” Barrett said.

It almost felt like a trap game after New Orleans’ other go-to guy Brandon Ingram joined Williamson on the sidelines with a hip contusion. The Pelicans played on back-to-back nights following another tough loss to the Sacramento Kings on Friday. They slid to a league-worst 1-6, tied with Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers.

In a game that brought back haunting memories of their upset loss to the Magic last week, the Knicks led by as many as 16. But the Pelicans kept answering every time they tried to pull away.

Randle had a sub-par game by his standards. The All-Star forward shot just four of nine from the floor, pulled down six rebounds, and handed out four assists in a game-high 38 minutes.

But unlike last season, when the Knicks could only win three of the eight games in which Randle put up less than 15 points, they had enough firepower this time.

Aside from Barrett, new additions Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier combined for nine triples and scored 19 points apiece.

The Knicks continued their splendid outside shooting sinking 19 of 33 3s for a staggering 57.6 percent clip.

In the fourth quarter, Mitchell Robinson and Gibson held their ground against Jonas Valanciunas after the Pelicans big man torched them with 25 points three-fourth of the way. Their defense limited Valanciunas to two points on 1 of 3 shooting in the final quarter.

Gibson had a strong game off the bench, producing 13 points and seven boards, one assist, one steal, and one block as Nerlens Noel continues to be sidelined by a knee injury. Louisiana native Robinson delivered eight points and five rebounds in his hometown.

“We want to develop everyone,” Thibodeau said. “The thing that I like about both [RJ] and Mitch (Robinson) is their age and work ethic. RJ has great work capacity. He wants to be good. It’s important to him. He’s very coachable. He’s a great teammate. And when you see how he approaches things, he has toughness. He has basketball IQ and he has competitiveness. And when you have those three things to go along with your talent, you usually improve.

Barrett’s growth is a positive development for the Knicks, who are off to their best start since winning their first six games during their magical 54-win playoff push in 2013.

With the All-Rookie team and ESPN’s Top 25 under 25 list still on his mind, the 21-year old Barrett continues to play with those big chips on his shoulder.

Following his defensive leap that came to the fore in their win in Chicago the other night, Barrett was asked if he feels that he should be in the same conversation with his draft peers Ja Morant and Williamson.

“Everybody is different,” Barrett said. “Everybody’s journey is different. “It doesn’t matter what anybody says. I know who I am. This team believes in me so, that’s really all that matters.”

His supreme self-belief and the Knicks organization’s faith in him have fueled his surge. It became his mission to become a defensive stalwart in a Knicks team filled with certified bucket-getters. But when Thibodeau put the ball in his hands in the most crucial moments, he flashed his killer instincts and delivered like a superstar.

After one of his six three-pointers, Barrett brought his index finger to his lips to silence the Pelicans crowd and perhaps his doubters.

The usually timid Barrett showed rare emotions on the floor. Barrett has arrived.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo