The honeymoon is over for Matt Nagy. In his first season in Chicago, Nagy led to the Bears to a 12-4 record and NFC North title and won the NFL’s coach of the year award. The Bears’ season came down to a 43-yard field goal at the end of a taut playoff game against Philadelphia. Every moment since has been a disaster for Nagy. The kick clanged off the upright and crossbar, and his second season is a mess.
The Bears’ 17-16 loss at home Sunday to the (then 2-5) Chargers dropped Chicago to 3-4. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, whom Nagy was hired to groom, has regressed badly in his third season. Nagy staged an awkward, obsessive kicking competition this summer, and the search led the Bears to Eddy Piñeiro, who missed two field goals Sunday, including the possible 41-yard game-winner as time expired.
Chasing the Packers, Vikings and Lions in its division with a brutal schedule upcoming, Chicago has put its season on the brink, at best. Nagy was beloved last season. After the way he managed Chicago’s kicking situation and Trubisky’s decline, he could be creeping surprisingly close to the hot seat.
The AFC South is anyone’s guess. Former Colts quarterback Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement just before the start of the season set an apt tone for the division he played in. Nobody knows what might happen next. For a division with uncertainty and inconsistency, though, it provides plenty of quality — all four teams are .500 or better.
The 5-2 Colts have control, but their 15-13 squeaker over Denver did not mark them as invulnerable. The Titans appeared headed for irrelevance, but now they’re 4-4 after a victory over Tampa Bay made them 2-0 since replacing Marcus Mariota with Ryan Tannehill. The Jaguars also have won two in a row after it seemed their season had skidded. They pounded the Jets on Sunday behind three touchdown passes from rookie Gardner Minshew II.
The Texans may have the highest ceiling, even if they lost to Indianapolis, because of the presence of quarterback Deshaun Watson. He led them to a wild, 27-24 victory over Oakland, throwing for 279 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 46 yards on 10 carries. It was a costly win, however, with superstar defensive lineman J.J. Watt suffering a season-ending injury.
The 49ers and Saints are on a collision course. It is fashionable to declare New Orleans the NFC’s best team, and with good reason. The Saints welcomed back Drew Brees from his thumb injury and stomped the Cardinals, 31-9, as Brees completed 34 of 43 passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns. Thank you for your service, Teddy Bridgewater, but there will be no quarterback controversy on these premises. The Saints are 7-1 overall and 7-0 in games their starting quarterback does not leave with an injury.
Despite the Saints’ pedigree and excellence, however, they should not be considered the NFC’s best. They must at least share that designation with San Francisco, which has become an absolute wrecking ball. The 49ers annihilated the previously 4-2 Panthers, 51-13. They have outscored opponents by 130 points, which ranks behind only the Patriots, despite not having had the benefit of playing the Dolphins.
On offense, they are bullies — they rushed for 182 yards. On defense, they are a quarterback’s nightmare — the 49ers sacked Kyle Allen seven times and intercepted him three times, including once by defensive end Nick Bosa, who has emerged as a defensive player of the year candidate as a rookie. Coach Kyle Shanahan has built a legitimate Super Bowl threat.
With apologies to Green Bay, which earned a hard-fought win Sunday night over a Chiefs team that was playing without the injured Patrick Mahomes, the Saints and 49ers are the favorites to square off in the NFC title game. It would be a contrast of team-building philosophies. The 49ers have steadily built through the draft, trying to set up their young quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, for long-term success. The Saints have constantly shoved in their chips to bolster their roster around their 40-year-old quarterback. The Saints probably have the best offensive line in the NFL, and the 49ers probably have the best defensive line. The teams will meet in New Orleans on Dec. 8.
Miles Sanders rescues the Eagles. Philadelphia this week endured massive fallout from its unsettling blowout loss last Sunday night at Dallas, which included a Festivus-level airing of grievances by just-released cornerback Orlando Scandrick about alleged locker room issues. Early in the second half, the Eagles were locked in a tight game at Buffalo.
Then they called a handoff to Sanders from shotgun on their opening drive of the half, and Sanders showed why the Eagles used a second-round draft pick on Saquon Barkley’s collegiate backup and why he generated so much buzz in the preseason. Sanders burst through a hole, bounced outside and blew past Buffalo’s safeties for 65 yards and a game-breaking — and potentially season-saving — touchdown. The Eagles won, 31-13, as Sanders finished with 118 total yards.
The Eagles were a team in need of a spark. Sanders provided it. After beating a good team on the road, they kept contact with the idle Cowboys in the NFC East race.
It’s bleak in New York. It must have been Sunday, because the Jets and Giants both lost. New York’s teams are a combined 3-12 after the Giants fell at Detroit and the Jets lost at Jacksonville. Daniel Jones, cast as the Giants’ savior, has lost four starts in a row, and second-year coach Pat Shurmur is now 7-17 with the Giants.
Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, an object of envy at the start of the season, has been a source of mockery for most of the year. His mononucleosis diagnosis launched a million tired jokes on social media. His “I’m seeing ghosts” comment while wearing a microphone on “Monday Night Football” against the Patriots has become such a widespread gag that the Jaguars’ mascot dressed in a ghost costume and the Jaguars played the “Ghostbusters” theme after one of his three interceptions.
The refs had another bad day. The Buccaneers are the NFL’s latest aggrieved party. Blatantly bad officiating directly cost the Lions a victory two weeks ago, and Sunday it might have cost the Bucs as well.
In the fourth quarter and leading by the eventual final score of 27-23, the Titans attempted a fake field goal. Punter Brett Kern fumbled after rookie Devin White drilled him, and Tampa Bay scooped the ball and took off for what would have been a touchdown. But officials ruled the play down by contact — precisely what the refs are not supposed to do when there is a fumble and possible defensive recovery.