NFL

Rams-Bears reaction, NFL power rankings, playoff picture and more

The Chicago Bears beat the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday night, but if the Bears want to make a Super Bowl run, Mitchell Trubisky must be better.

Before every Chicago defensive snap, air raid sirens blared over the sound system at Soldier Field.

Jared Goff will be waking up in a cold sweat to that noise for quite some time.

On a 29-degree night in the Windy City, the Bears were utterly dominant defensively in their statement 15-6 win.

The unit held the Rams to a season-low in yardage (214) and points (6). Goff threw four interceptions. Todd Gurley rushed for 28 yards.

Chicago improved to 9-4 on the season and took a stranglehold on the NFC North. Los Angeles is back to being the second seed, with the Saints holding the head-to-head tiebreaker at 11-2.

Yet for all their defensive might, a looming question remains. Will Mitchell Trubisky be the anchor to Chicago’s championship steamer?

Sins have a tendency to be forgiving and forgotten in victory. Excuses are made, defenses are drawn up. Nobody wants to rain on the parade. It’s unbecoming.

The truth is, Trubisky must be better for this Bears team to get where it can go. Chicago is Super Bowl-caliber in every sense. Just not when Trubisky plays like he did Sunday night, completing 16-of-30 passes for 110 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions.

Chicago was able to beat Los Angeles with that performance at home in December. Doing so under sunny skies in California come the playoffs will be more difficult. That’s not to minimize the great accomplishment just achieved, but to provide perspective.

GOING DEEP: Cowboys, Bears show defenses will be heard in NFC

In a jubilant locker room, Trey Burton acknowledged the need for more. Halfway through a question about whether the offense would need to play better in a rematch. With a hint of annoyance, Burton blurted out “obviously, obviously.”

Allen Robinson led the team with five receptions on eight targets, notching 42 yards. Still, the marquee free-agent addition echoed Burton’s sentiments, albeit more eloquently.

“Most definitely,” Robinson said. “Not even getting that far, we have to play better next week. We know that. But we can put ourselves in the position to clinch a division (with a Minnesota loss on Monday), so everything we said from the start of the season is right there in front of us. We’ve never wavered from that, we’ve never doubted that.”

All that said, the Bears have every reason to believe moving forward. It’s unlikely Trubisky is that bad again should the teams make acquaintances down the line. Perhaps some of his struggled had to do with the sore shoulder that kept him out the past two weeks, but now we’re veering towards excuses after victory.

It must be noted, however, that defense is beginning to define the NFC is recent weeks. Since last Thursday, the high-powered Rams and Saints have each been held to 10 points or less in defeats by teams that didn’t crack 17. Whether or not that’s repeatable when the venues switch remains an open question, but the fact that it’s a question after the first three months of this record-setting season is intriguing in its own right.

As the fans dispersed into the night, the long-missing sound of optimism filled the chilled air of the concourses.

For the Rams, they’ll move onto another Sunday night showdown, this one at the L.A. Coliseum against the Philadelphia Eagles. The loss stings due to playoff positioning, but the page has been turned.

“We ain’t worried about Trubisky right now,” Talib said. “We are going to worry about (Carson) Wentz next.”

Still, one wonders what the Rams will be thinking about when they wake up on Monday morning.

Probably those damn sirens.

Power rankings

Top 10 pending unrestricted free agents

1. DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys
2. Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans
3. Dee Ford, Kansas City Chiefs
4. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
5. Landon Collins, New York Giants
6. Grady Jarrett, Atlanta Falcons
7. Golden Tate, Philadelphia Eagles
8. Brandon Graham, Philadelphia Eagles
9. Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
10. Trey Flowers, New England Patriots

Quotable

“It’s a two-way street in this business. You have to want to stay in a place and the organization, team, coaches have to want you to be here. It’s a two-way street. I’m appreciative of the Bidwill family for giving me the shot to continue to play and call Arizona home. It means a lot to me.”

– Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald on breaking Jerry Rice’s record for most receptions with a single team

Podcast

Matt Verderame and Josh Hill record a new episode of Stacking THe Box every Sunday night, with breakdowns and insight of the week ahead and the games ahead. Make sure to download on iTunes and subscribe to get all the latest!

Random stat

Josh Allen has rushed for 500 yards this season, including a pair of 100-yard afternoons.

With that total, he is the Bills’ leading rusher and would be pacing the Ravens, Jaguars, Vikings, Raiders and Eagles.

Info learned this week

1. AFC playoff picture sees wild day

The Houston Texans finally lost. The New England Patriots lost in the most painful way possible.

On a day where the playoff picture was turned upside down, the Texans and Patriots are feeling the most pain. New England could have clinched its division, only to allow a 69-yard lateral extravaganza to end up being a game-winning, season-saving Kenyan Drake touchdown.

The result is New England sitting two games behind the Kansas City Chiefs for the conference’s top seed. We’ll get to them in a minute.

As for Houston, a 24-21 defeat against the Indianapolis Colts is the first setback in 10 games,. The Texans still control the AFC South, but hopes of landing a first-round bye may have evaporated.

In Kansas City, the Chiefs needed a miracle out of the satchel of Patrick Mahomes. They got it. Trailing 24-17 with 1:29 remaining in the fourth quarter, Mahomes scrambled right and hit a hobbled Tyreek Hill deep across the middle. The result was a 48-yard play that eventually led to a wild 27-24 overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens.

Baltimore has to crushed considering what happened later on in Oakland. The Steelers, double-digit road favorites, found a way to lose again. This time, it was the Raiders who stunned the black and gold, winning 24-21 in the waning seconds.

Ultimately, the seeds didn’t change but the complexion of the race did so dramatically. Kansas City can clinch a bye week and the AFC West title on Thursday with a win over the Los Angeles Chargers. The Texans and Patriots are now fighting for the second seed, barring two or more losses by the Chiefs over their last three games.

A wild, wild day in the AFC.

2. Cowboys stave off Eagles to take control of East

It’s not over mathematically, but it’s over. With their overtime win over Philadelphia, the Cowboys have effectively put the defending champs down and out. Should the Cowboys win one more game this season, or the Eagles lose a tilt, the NFC East belongs to Dallas.

With five straight wins, the Cowboys are suddenly becoming a dangerous out in the NFC playoffs. Dallas finally has a compliment to Ezekiel Elliott with the addition of Amari Cooper (the crow tastes good), and the defense is a top unit behind the superb play of rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.

On the other side, the Eagles have to be wondering how it all went sideways. One year after their first championship since 1960, the Iggles are headed home before the fun begins in January. It’s a dismal disappointment for a city with repeat dreams.

3. Packers win easily in wake of McCarthy removal

The Green Bay Packers might end up regretting the Mike McCarthy firing. They sure didn’t on Sunday, though.

Green Bay finally won a game after losing three straight, toppling the Atlanta Falcons, 34-20. The Packers still didn’t get much form Aaron Rodgers, who completed 21-of-32 for 196 yards and two touchdowns, but the rushing game was terrific. Aaron Jones led the way on a 138-yard effort, including a score.

At 5-7-1, the Packers are out of the playoff mix. Still, the win helps to move on from a chapter that long went stale at Lambeau. As for the Falcons, they are cruising for a top-10 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft and perhaps a last-place finish in the NFC South.

4. Big changes coming in Carolina?

Last week, Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera fired two first-year assistants. It’s fair to wonder if he’s going to be the next man out the door.

On Sunday, the Panthers were handed their fifth consecutive loss, this time a 26-20 decision to the Cleveland Browns. Baker Mayfield threw 22 passes and only four fell incomplete, while Nick Chubb led a ground attack that racked up 116 yards and two touchdowns on 5.5 yards per attempt.

Meanwhile, Cam Newton was held to 265 yards on 6.3 yards per pass. If Christian McCaffrey wasn’t making the offense go — and McCaffrey has been the most relied upon weapon in football, taking 97 percent of the snaps  — nothing was happening.

The results have been far too meager in Carolina for Rivera to feel safe as the holidays approach.

5. Giants making late push; Redskins cratering

In many corners of the NFL, executives haven’t figured out that backup quarterbacks matter. The Washington Redskins are finding out the hard way.

Washington was blown out by the New York Giants, 40-16, losing any hope of making the playoffs. At 6-7, the Redskins have now lost four straight, largely because Mark Sanchez and Colt McCoy are Mark Sanchez and Colt McCoy.

GOING DEEP: Backup quarterbacks play huge role in playoff race

There are ample examples of teams refusing to pay backups, and it’s been costly. Conversely, we saw the Bears stay afloat for a few weeks with Chase Daniel. In the past, veterans like Matt Moore and Buddy Brister have kept teams on the playoff trail. Hell, Kurt Warner says hello.

Instead of being prudent, the Redskins are toast.

History lesson

Derrick Henry’s 99-yard touchdown run on Thursday night was only the second in NFL history. The other came in 1983, when Tony Dorsett set sail on Monday Night Football against the Minnesota Vikings. Both were on primetime, and both went down the sidelines.

The main differences? Dorsett’s Cowboys only had 10 men on the field (per the great Gil Brandt), and Henry kept the ball while Dorsett spiked it away, only to regret it later.

Parting shot

With three weeks remaining in the regular season, some coaches are beginning to get boxes ready.

After losing to the San Francisco 49ers, Vance Joseph is one of them. The Denver Broncos aren’t a franchise accustomed to irrelevance. With the team about to miss the playoffs for the third straight year — second straight under Joseph — it’s unlikely he returns.

While Joseph’s status remains tenuous, there are others with more certain fates. Todd Bowles and the Jets are parting ways come season’s end. Dirk Koetter and the Buccaneers are also headed for a split. The Cardinals and Lions both have first-year head coaches in Steve Wilks and Matt Patricia, and although both are safe neither is going to feel that comfort come 2019.

Then there’s Marvin Lewis, who is finishing up his 16th season with the Bengals. Cincinnati has Hue Jackson as the head coach in waiting. If Lewis retires or takes a position within the front office, Jackson simply ascends.

In less than a month, the coaching carousel ramps up to full speed. Interesting, as always.

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