Patrick Mahomes

Patrick Mahomes' injury will have direct impact on NFC North race

Patrick Mahomes' injury will have direct impact on NFC North race

The Kansas City Chiefs and the entire NFL universe nearly imploded Thursday night after reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes suffered a dislocated kneecap in the Chiefs' victory over the Denver Broncos.

It was hard to watch. Not only did it feel like the league was losing its top superstar, but the vision of Chiefs trainers popping Mahomes' right kneecap back into place was, well, unpleasant.

Speculation about how much time Mahomes will miss in 2019 spread like wildfire on Twitter. A range of three weeks to the rest of the season was suggested. After undergoing an MRI Friday, it appears Mahomes will be back sooner than later. He'll miss some games, but not the rest of the season, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Assuming Mahomes misses just three games, his absence will still have a massive ripple effect on the NFC North. Two of the Chiefs' next three games include the Packers and Vikings, both of whom the Bears are jockeying with for divisional supremacy. The Bears, meanwhile, face the Chiefs in Week 16 when all indications suggest Mahomes will be back to firing missiles all over the field.

It's great news that Mahomes avoided a serious injury. It's less than great news that his injury will only hurt Chicago's chances at a second-consecutive division title.

Here's to hoping Mitch Trubisky catches fire over the final 11 games and outduels his 2017 draft classmate in the penultimate game of the season.

Off-week musings: Intriguing shifting tides on Bears first-place schedule

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USA TODAY

Off-week musings: Intriguing shifting tides on Bears first-place schedule

As seasons play out, most good teams improve. Some pretenders fall off. Some surprises emerge. So while the Bears were idle in their off-week (not “bye” week – a bye is when you advance in a tournament without playing, as in “first-round bye in the playoffs”) – their first-place schedule underwent some genuinely intriguing twists.

And this is all before the Green Bay Packers host the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football.

At roughly the one-third point of the season, elements of the Bears’ schedule, the preseason fifth-hardest based on combined 2018 winning percentages of their opponents, have come into some interesting focus – some parts more difficult, some not so much.

Toughening up

The New Orleans Saints (Oct. 20), who some prematurely wrote off after quarterback Drew Brees tore a ligament in his right hand, gathered even more downhill momentum with Teddy Bridgewater, in place of Brees. Simply put, Bridgewater has consistently played like the No. 1 pick he once was in Minnesota with his career on the Pro Bowl trajectory it was before his catastrophic knee injury in the Vikings’ 2016 training camp.

The 5-1 Saints’ 13-6 win over Jacksonville was their fourth in four Bridgewater starts, with him completing nearly 70 percent of his passes with seven touchdown passes vs. two interceptions over those starts.

Meanwhile, the Vikings (Dec. 29), the same Minnesota Vikings whom the Bears seemingly extinguished a couple weeks back, put 38 points on the Philadelphia Eagles to reach 4-2 with quarterback Kirk Cousins throwing for four touchdowns, three to Stefon Diggs.

Why this particularly matters is that Cousins has completed 44 of 56 passes over his past two games and suddenly looks like anything but the supposed weak link in a team with Super Bowl aspirations and talent. If Cousins is in fact emerging as the quarterback the Vikings thought they were getting, this is a serious concern the Bears.

The Vikings already run the football better than the Bears. They are the equal of the Bears on defense. If they’ve now gained an edge on the Bears at quarterback… .

Out (AFC) West

On the hopeful side, the once-thought-invincible Kansas City Chiefs (Dec. 22) lost for the second straight week to a team that committed to running the football. On its 41 rushing attempts, Houston netted 192 yards and three touchdowns, which are nearly as many yards as the Bears have rushed for in their last three games combined, and one more touchdown than the Bears have rushed for all season.

The Texans-Chiefs game was the first meeting between the quarterback (Patrick Mahomes) that coach Matt Nagy was involved in drafting at Kansas City, and the quarterback (Deshaun Watson) that the John Fox staff thought it was getting until informed otherwise by general manager Ryan Pace a couple hours before the 2017 draft.

After a playoff finish in 2018, the L.A. Chargers (Oct. 27) fell behind the lowly Pittsburgh Steelers and a third-string quarterback 24-0 in the third quarter and through six games have lost as many games (four) as they did all last season.

The Super Bowl Curse, which causes Super Bowl losers to miss the playoffs the following season, may be claiming the L.A. Rams (Nov. 17), who sagged to 3-3 with a 20-7 home loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

The NFC L’East

The NFC East suddenly looks eminently beatable, playing its way into being the only NFL division with exactly zero teams above .500.

Besides the doormat Washington Redskins, who were out-tanked by the Miami Dolphins, and defense-lite (five of six games allowing 28 or more points) New York Giants (Nov. 24), the Philadelphia Eagles (Nov. 3) were on the receiving end of Cousins’ efforts in the 38-20 thumping in Minnesota. That was followed by the Dallas Cowboys (Dec. 5) struggling against and losing to the New York Jets – yes, the JETS.

Why Matt Nagy doesn’t think it's fair to compare Mitch Trubisky to Patrick Mahomes

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USA Today Sports Images

Why Matt Nagy doesn’t think it's fair to compare Mitch Trubisky to Patrick Mahomes

Matt Nagy finds himself in an interesting position, having coached both of the quarterbacks selected in the first 10 picks of the 2017 NFL Draft. He tutored Patrick Mahomes behind the scenes with the Kansas City Chiefs last year, and now is tasked with developing Mitch Trubisky into the successful franchise quarterback that’s eluded the Bears for so long. 

Trubisky and Mahomes are and always will be inexorably linked, as all quarterbacks picked in the first round of a given draft are (add Houston’s DeShaun Watson to that 2017 group, too). And so far, the comparison hasn’t been favorable to Trubisky. 

Through two games in 2018, Mahomes has thrown more touchdowns (10) than Trubisky has thrown in his entire career (nine). Mahomes how holds the NFL record for most touchdown passes through the first two games of a season, a record previously held by Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. The Chiefs’ offense is the talk of the NFL; the Bears’ offense, meanwhile, have proven to be a work in progress in two nationally-televised primetime games. 

Nagy, on Tuesday, offered his take on why comparing Mahomes to Trubisky isn’t quite an apples-to-apples thing. Specifically: While Trubisky was learning and operating a completely different offense designed by John Fox and Dowell Loggains in 2017, Mahomes was digesting Nagy’s offense in Kansas City, giving him a significantly larger knowledge base on which to work in 2018. 

“He’s had a full year, more than a year to sit behind it and learn and understand and watch tape with those quarterbacks last year and get to see all the talk, all the discussions of where you go on this play and that play, whereas Mitchell hasn’t had that,” Nagy said. “He’s being forced into this thing right away, and so that’s where these growing pains are going to occur. That’s where — I just want to make it clear to him and to everybody, if you’re realistic about it, it does take a little bit of time and in the mean time, as you saw last night, we have a defense that can help us out during this process. And so the sooner we get it and it starts clicking, then the better, but that’s the difference between the two, and it’s obviously neat to see Patrick doing so well right now.”

Every quarterback is different, and every situation is different, but Mahomes’ instant success coupled with the massive Year-2 gains made in 2017 by the Rams’ Jared Goff and the Eagles’ Carson Wentz does put Trubisky’s growing pains in more of a spotlight. While Mahomes and Wentz are/were in their second year in an offense, Goff made the Pro Bowl in Year 1 of operating Sean McVay’s offense. 

Things can change quickly, though. A year ago, the question wasn’t if the Bears screwed up by not drafting Mahomes, it was if they screwed up by not drafting Watson, who lit the NFL on fire with 21 total touchdowns in seven games before tearing his ACL. Through two games in 2018, Watson only has three touchdowns to two interceptions for an 0-2 Texans side as the takes have shifted to pitting Trubisky against Mahomes. 

This isn’t to say that the Bears got it right or wrong with Trubisky. We don’t know that yet. The Bears believe they got it right, but Trubisky still needs to prove them right. Others believe Bears got it wrong, but two — or 14 — games is too small a sample size to make that sweeping declaration. 

There are things in Trubisky’s game that can be picked apart and scrutinized that go beyond the box score, but the counter-argument presented around Halas Hall is that these things take time. And that’ll continue to be the case in Chicago, no matter how much instant success Mahomes has in western Missouri. 

“I think a lot of outsiders will because it’s easy to compare two people because they were drafted in the same draft, top 10, one ahead of the other, so those comparisons are easy,” Nagy said. “But what’s real behind that is what I just said. You have one guy that has had plenty of time now to learn it, and when I say plenty of time trust me, (Mahomes is) learning this thing too. So he’s just had an extra year to go through it. I don’t think that’s fair to Mitch to be put in that position, and so I know Mitch doesn’t put that on himself. We certainly don’t do that. Hopefully in the end both of them have great, long careers in this type of offense.”