Justin Fields making the leap; Packers banged up; Vikings underrated: NFC North Notebook


Are the Chicago Bears must-see TV now? Could the Minnesota Vikings be poised for a deep playoff run? Are the Green Bay Packers quite literally broken? There was no shortage of storylines in Week 9 inside one of the NFL’s most interesting divisions. Here’s a wrapup of the NFC North from this past weekend.

Justin Fields Keeps Improving

For the Bears this season, moral victories are the ones that matter. No coach, player or staff member is going to say that, given that they are all the ultimate competitors, but given the expectations and the amount of work the Bears need to do to retool the entire roster, that’s a realistic sentiment. And what’s more, is the Bears are getting them, especially in the form of their young quarterback.

Evaluating and determining if Fields was the guy was the new regime’s priority in Chicago. The first part of the season was a learning curve as Fields got used to his second system in as many years. But Fields already looks like he’s beyond the learning curve over the past few weeks.

Ever since the team’s mini-bye between their Thursday night game against the Commanders and their Monday night shocker against the Patriots, Fields has made tangible improvements (as has the offense as a whole). Each week the narrative isn’t about how Fields had one of the best performances of his career even though Chicago lost on Sunday. There isn’t an air of dejection around the city. It’s jubilation: the Bears finally have a quarterback.

Fields completed 17 of his 28 pass attempts for 123 yards for three touchdowns. He didn’t throw any interceptions. His passer rating ended up at 106.7 — the third-best of his career.

More than his passing performance was the rushing dimension of his performance. Fields broke Michael Vick’s single-game rushing record of 173 rushing yards by a quarterback in the regular season by five yards. Fields carried the ball 15 times for 178 yards and a touchdown. Per NFL Research, he’s now the first player since at least 1950 to record over 150 rushing yards and three passing touchdowns in a single game.

“I think we are doing a lot of good things in protection to help ourselves moving the pocket and giving sight lines and vision lines for the quarterback that he likes,” head coach Matt Eberflus said. “That is really good for him, and he’s doing a great job with that. He still obviously has the ability to use his feet when things break down.”

The NFL quarterback prototype is changing. No longer do you need a pocket passer throwing the ball 40 times a game to win. In fact, with how sophisticated defenses are these days, having a dual-threat quarterback like Fields, like Lamar Jackson, like Josh Allen, is perhaps the only way to get a leg up on your opponent, and like Fields in Chicago, could be the future.

“I think that when you have the design runs the way we have them, I think it sets them — we have the sweeps and the powers and the counters and the misdirections, and then you have the ability to — our runners didn’t have the numbers they usually have today but they have had great numbers and having that one-two, punch, with really the third punch with the quarterback being able to run the ball that way, I think it’s very difficult for the defenses,” Eberflus said.

Vikings Best Equipped for Postseason in NFC

A coach once told me that the teams that often have the most successful seasons aren’t the ones where everything goes perfectly for them all year. It’s often the team that has to overcome adversity along the way.

Vikings defeat Commanders 20-17 after Dalvin Cook and Kirk Cousins lead fourth-quarter comeback

Vikings come back after Kirk Cousins finds Dalvin Cook for a 12-yard touchdown, following up with a game-winning drive to beat the Commanders.

Sunday was the sixth-straight win for the Vikings and the sixth-straight one-score game for them as well. This after going 6-8 last season in such games. Struggling against the Commanders isn’t a good look of course, but they still pulled out the win, and that’s what matters. Say what you want about the Commanders, but the feature one of the toughest front sevens in the league. They were in full force against Minnesota as quarterback Kirk Cousins was under duress all day. Yet, he didn’t crumble. The offense didn’t crumble. They continually find ways to win week in and week out to get it done, and we aren’t talking about that enough.

We aren’t talking about them enough.

Green Bay at a Breaking Point… Literally

Eight different players suffered injuries in Sunday’s game on the turf of Ford Field against the Detroit Lions, and those injuries are all over the spectrum. News surfaced Monday that Green Bay’s best pass rusher in Rashan Gary is now out for the season with a reported ACL tear. Wide receiver Romeo Doubs could be out as many as six weeks with an ankle sprain. Cornerback Eric Stokes could be out a significant amount of time as well, but the team is still evaluating. 

Running back Aaron Jones left the game in a boot. Wide receiver Christian Watson exited the game early to be evaluated for a concussion. Left tackle David Bakhtiari was in and out. So were guard Jon Runyan and linebacker Krys Barnes. Tight end Robert Tonyan was hurt late.

It proved too much for the Packers to overcome, especially given the fact they were already dealing with plenty of shortcomings on both sides of the ball. But this was extremely costly and it’s led many, including linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, who was inactive for the game, to question the playing surface.

“I think the majority of the players, if you polled them around the league, would say they prefer grass,” said head coach Matt LaFleur on Monday. “That’s a big reason, even when we do play on turf, that we get a majority of our practices outside on the grass. I think it’s a little bit easier on their bodies.”

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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