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The Sunday Aftermath

Justin Fields Takes Two Steps Forward

by Patrick Daugherty
Updated On: December 13, 2021, 2:18 pm ET

Justin Fields took two steps forward against the Packers. The number of steps back? That is up for debate, but it was fewer than two. Making his first start since Week 11, Fields was the Bears’ leading rusher with 9/74. He was a weapon, if an imprecise one, in the passing game, tossing touchdowns of 46 and 54 yards to role players Jakeem Grant and Damiere Byrd. We would be remiss if we left out the fact that nearly all the scoring yardage was of the YAC variety, but even the fact that Fields is now dotting his i-s and crossing his T-s is a new development. When his playmakers were in space on Sunday evening, he found them for big plays.

Most of the time. Fields did leave meat on the bone, a lot of it. He missed open throws. He committed three turnovers, one of which turned into a game-changing pick six. He wasn’t exactly acing the finer points of quarterbacking. 

Sunday was nevertheless a critical step in his development. One of the first things a boom/bust quarterback needs to do? Actually boom. Fields’ rookie year has featured too many busts. By establishing his scrambling bonafides and down-field credentials, Fields is finally putting pressure on defenses. By finally putting pressure on defenses, he is creating space in the shorter areas of the field. You won’t camp out with impunity on the rookie if you know if he might actually make a big play. 

The bottom line of Fields’ rookie campaign is that it has been far from glorious but featured more flashes than either No. 1 or 2 picks Trevor Lawrence or Zach Wilson have displayed. It is hardly “case closed” that Fields is Chicago’s quarterback of the future. There can also be reasonable hope he is. Believing in Fields does not require blind faith. Chicago’s likely coaching change won’t be great for continuity, but there is a strong chance it results in an upgrade. You can be excited, even if there’s still a long way to go.   

Five Week 14 Storylines  

Josh Allen tweaks foot late in Bills’ overtime loss to Bucs. The Bills asked Allen to be superman in Tampa. He paid the price in the fourth quarter, getting his left foot/toe rolled up at the end of one of his innumerable scrambles. His limp was immediate and apparent, though he stayed in the contest and kept on running, effectively. Afterward, he was in a walking boot but expressing little concern. Adrenaline will do that for you, but the hope is that Allen has escaped with “just” a case of “mild” turf toe. Any NFLer will tell you, there is nothing mild about turf toe, though it is an ailment you can play through if you’re one tough son of a gun. That’s what Allen is. There is little chance he misses any stretch-run contests with the Bills fighting for their playoff lives, while his rushing will undoubtedly remain a critical part of the game for an offense without a backfield.  

Lamar Jackson carted with ankle injury in Cleveland. L-Jax’s nightmare deepened with his first career carting. He had attempted only four passes and two rushes before going down, leaving fantasy managers with near zeros in one of the most critical weeks of the season. Even if he is not done for the Ravens’ season, he is functionally done for the fantasy campaign, either missing the first few weeks of the playoffs or offering limited rushing ability upon his return. Managers have to turn somewhere else. They could probably do worse than Jackson’s backup, second-year dual-threat Tyler Huntley, who does a decent Jackson impression. If the idea makes you squeamish, some of this week’s more readily-available streamers are Tua Tagovailoa against the Jets and Justin Fields vs. the Vikings. There are no shortage of Jimmy Garoppolo and Ben Roethlisbergers to choose from. If that’s the choice, however, cast your lot with Huntley against the Packers.   

Rashaad Penny randomly revives for best game of his career in Houston. Penny’s 137 yards rushing were a new personal best by eight. The 100-yard effort was his first in over two years, and just his third in 33 lifetime appearances. Penny’s chunk gains included 32- and 47-yard touchdowns. They are the kinds of plays good players make against bad teams, but we had received scant evidence heading into Sunday that Penny is a good player. He has four more weeks to change the narrative as he plays out his rookie contract. With Adrian Peterson injured and Alex Collins ineffective, Penny will undoubtedly get another opportunity in Week 15 vs. the Rams. It’s a long shot worth following in these running back desperate times.  

Davis Mills clears 300 yards for second consecutive start. Sure, the other start was on Halloween, but Sunday highlighted an indisputable Mills fact: He occasionally has good games. That is more than can be said for almost all of his rookie quarterback competition, particularly the players who went No. 1 and 2 overall. Like Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, Mills is at the center of a hopeless setup. Unlike them, he still gets some yardage out of it, including 69 from Nico Collins and 51 from Royce Freeman against the Seahawks. On the whole, Mills’ stats are not great, but it is a serious upset we have to add the “on the whole" qualifier. The No. 67 overall pick is now a person of interest for the Texans’ stretch-run schedule, most keenly this Sunday’s date against the Jaguars.  

Deebo Samuel returns to one reception, eight carries. Samuel — who remains seventh in the league with 1,028 receiving yards — caught only one ball for the third straight appearance. He compensated by finding the end zone on the ground for the fifth time in four games. This would be a fascinating career transition. Samuel did it mid-season. It has added a missing, change-of-pace element to the running game without hurting the passing attack, as Samuel’s “absence” has freed up looks for fellow high-end talents George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk. While it is true that the formula feels a bit unsustainable, Samuel is being set up to succeed, with a huge percentage of his backfield touches coming in high-value situations a la Cordarrelle Patterson. That increases Samuel’s big-play and scoring odds, especially since he is typically sent in pre-snap motion, and can beat almost any defender to the edge. Samuel’s unparalleled RB1/WR1 campaign will march on with a soft Week 15 matchup in the Falcons.  

Don't forget, for the latest on everything NFL, check out NBC Sports EDGE’s Player News, or follow @NBCSEdgeFB or @RotoPat on Twitter.

Five Week 14 Storylines  

Cam Newton’s benchings up to three over past two games. Sunday started out well enough for Newton, with the 32-year-old dual-threat capping the Panthers’ opening drive with a 12-yard touchdown run. Then? Punt, pick six, punt. P.J. Walker entered for Carolina’s final drive of the first half only to throw a horrid interception of his own, further reiterating the Panthers have nowhere safe to turn at quarterback. Newton returned to lead a scoring drive to begin the third quarter before the familiar pattern of lost fumble, turnover on downs, turnover on downs. Then Walker finally engineered a scoring drive, but it was too late. Speaking afterward, coach Matt Rhule said Newton would remain his starter, but gave himself an out by proclaiming Walker was better versed in the two-minute offense. That may be true. It’s also not saying much. At this point a poor man’s Taysom Hill, Newton will be a risky superflex option against the Bills.    

Trevor Lawrence held without touchdown for fifth time in six games. Lawrence did his part as the Jags’ already boundless misery deepened in a shutout loss, tossing a season-worst four interceptions. It was his first multi-INT effort since he did so in each of his first three starts. Lawrence’s bottoming out came as the backfield rushed eight times for eight yards, highlighting the hollow edifice of every pillar of the Jags’ offense. Combine that with the incompetence on the sideline, and you have a dire situation, one where the only possible antidote might be back-to-back games with the Texans and Jets. Somehow, that’s what the Jags have, though just as Houston and New York are the soft matchups for Jacksonville, the reverse is also true. Impossible to grade because of the chaos around him, Lawrence is impossible to praise because of the lack of production. Even in this nightmare situation, a talented quarterback would usually offer something, anything. With his YPA under 6.0, his completion percentage south of 60 and his QB rating below 70, Lawrence is going to have to start from scratch with what will presumably be a new coach in 2022.     

Zach Wilson remains stuck in neutral. The other team’s quarterback had a smashed-up finger and still completed 26.2 percent more of his passes. Taysom Hill also generated nearly as many passing yards (175 compared to Wilson's 202) on literally half as many attempts as Wilson’s 42. Wilson, of course, was missing his top-two receivers behind a shaky offensive line, but that isn’t necessarily encouraging. That’s how a young quarterback loses all hope, a reality the Jets seemed acutely aware of when they held Wilson out in favor of Mike White and Joe Flacco. Yet to put anything on film, it’s a bad sign that Wilson’s positive case — everything around him has gone poorly! — is negative.  

Travis Kelce held under 30 yards for second consecutive contest. Is it the age model or the two-high safeties? Whatever it is, Kelce has now been held without a touchdown in four straight contests, and seven of his past eight. It’s a drought that would have been inconceivable in any of Kelce’s first three seasons with Patrick Mahomes, but none of his rate stats check out as particularly alarming. Kelce’s 1.81 yards per route run would be a new career-low, but his average of 6.0 yards after the catch would be his most since Alex Smith was under center. Speaking of Smith, 2016 was the last time Kelce’s aDOT (7.7) was this low. Concerning in a vacuum, but almost certainly a function of the Chiefs’ newly-conservative offense, which makes the fact that Kelce’s yards per catch are hanging around 12 something of a relief.  Overdue for positive touchdown regression, Kelce gets a Chargers defense surrendering the seventh most TE fantasy points on Thursday Night Football.    

Craig Reynolds” emerges as Lions’ lead back. A third-year UDFA, Reynolds entered Sunday with two career touches. He exited with 11 carries for 83 yards and two receptions for 16. Behind him, Jermar Jefferson and Godwin Igwebuike combined for eight touches, with eight of them belonging to Igwebuike. In other words, Reynolds has leaped Jermar Jefferson on the depth chart and put the move on Igwebuike. An interesting development, but one that won’t be particularly relevant for Week 15 against the Cardinals’ run-funnel defense if Jamaal Williams (COVID-19) gets cleared. Williams’ vaccination status is unclear, but if he’s taken the jab, there’s a good shot he will be ready to go. If not, he could be ineligible to return after testing positive on Friday. Reynolds is worth a speculative flier as we wait.    

Questions 

1. Is Urban Meyer more sunk cost or fallacy at this point?

2. Do the Raiders ever intend on playing a different type of season?

3. Did the Cowboys actually know they were drafting Lawrence Taylor when they selected Micah Parsons?  

Early Waivers Look (Players rostered in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)

QB: Tua Tagovailoa (vs. NYJ), Ben Roethlisberger (vs. TEN), Jimmy Garoppolo (vs. ATL), Justin Fields (vs. MIN), Tyler Huntley (vs. GB), Taylor Heinicke (@PHI), Mac Jones (@IND), Davis Mills (@JAX)   
RB: Rashaad Penny, Boston Scott, J.D. McKissic, Ty Johnson, Rex Burkhead, Ameer Abdullah, Craig Reynolds, Derrick Gore, Royce Freeman 
WR: K.J. Osborn, Rashod Bateman, Gabriel Davis, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jamison Crowder, Sterling Shepard, Kendrick Bourne, Jalen Guyton, Allen Lazard, Donovan Peoples-Jones
TE: Tyler Conklin, Jack Doyle, Cole Kmet, Brevin Jordan, James O’Shaughnessy, C.J. Uzomah, Geoff Swaim
DEF: Dolphins (vs. NYJ), Vikings (@CHI), Browns (vs. LV), Texans (@JAX), Washington (@PHI), Eagles (vs. WFT), Jaguars (vs. HOU)          

Stats of the Week

Four. That’s how many quarterbacks in NFL history have passed for 300 yards and rushed for 100 in the same game. Lamar Jackson, Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and … Josh Allen

Zero. Cordarrelle Patterson’s number of fourth quarter snaps. He was never announced with an injury, but keep an eye on this throughout the week. More than likely, he felt some residual ankle soreness and the Falcons played it safe. 

One. How many games the vaccinated Keenan Allen is expected to miss after testing positive for COVID-19 last Monday. He will be ready for Thursday’s critical divisional showdown with the Chiefs. 

Mike Clay breaks down the Aaron Jones/AJ Dillon situation: “AJ Dillon tripled Aaron Jones in carries (15 to 5), out-snapped him 34-29 and, though Jones held a 3-0 edge in targets, Dillon was only four behind in routes run (16 to 12). That's about the same as what we saw in Week 12, too. Dillon seems to be 1A and Jones the 1B right now.”

Julio Jones ran only 23 routes (on 39 dropbacks) in his return. He’s a tough sell as a WR3 in this week’s deepened player pool. 

The Jaguars are averaging nine points over their past seven games. That is historically bad. 

Awards Section 

Week 14 Fantasy All-Pro Team: QB Josh Allen, RB Dalvin Cook, RB Rashaad Penny, WR Davante Adams, WR Hunter Renfrow, WR Tyler Lockett, TE George Kittle 

Bears Fan Tweet of the Week, from Adam Rittenberg: I wish Aaron Rodgers actually owned the Bears.

Bears Fan Tweet of the Week II, also from Adam Rittenberg: No one in Chicago will miss third quarters under Matt Nagy. 

Quote of the Week, from new Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman on what he learned from his time with the Bears: “You learn how to take defeat.”

Non-Bears Tweet of the Week, from Rumford Johnny: Sean McDermott doesn’t want a Belichick/Brady fever dream in consecutive weeks. He’s clapping harder than Jason Garrett right now.

The Send This Fact Straight to Hell Award: Mike Glennon with a rushing touchdown, and Elijhaa Penny converts the two point conversion. 

The Down Bad of the Week: The Bills’ first running back rush being a failed third quarter fake punt. 

That Seems Like A Lot of Lost Fumbles Award: The Raiders.