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Judging Week 3 overreactions: Is Mitchell Trubisky done in Chicago? How bad is the NFC East?



It felt as if Bears coach Matt Nagy overreacted Sunday when he yanked starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky from the game and put in Nick Foles. Sure, Trubisky hadn’t been great against the Falcons. And he’d just thrown a drive-killing interception. But we’ve certainly seen him look worse, and besides, the Bears were off to a 2-0 start with Trubisky under center.

By the time Foles went into the game, I’d begun thinking about the weekly overreactions column and all I could think was that Nagy was trying to bigfoot me. Here he was overreacting before I even opened my Word document!

But then I looked again, realized whom the Bears were playing, and decided this had a chance to look real good for Nagy. Which, in the end, it did.

It didn’t start out great, as Foles’ first drive ended with his own interception. But the accommodating Falcons kept giving him the ball back quickly and Foles took advantage. He led the Bears back from a 26-10 fourth-quarter deficit with three touchdown passes against Atlanta, which blew a 15-point fourth-quarter lead to the Cowboys a week earlier. Trubisky watched from the sideline, probably excited that the Bears won the game but also having to wonder whether he’d just lost his job.

The Bears have to be the weirdest team in the league right now. They’re 3-0 and have no idea who their quarterback is. They came back from a 23-6 fourth-quarter deficit against the Lions in Week 1. They nearly blew a 17-0 lead to a horrendous-looking Giants team in Week 2. And then this.

So where better to start this week’s overreactions than in Chicago, where Nagy looked like he was trying to get the jump on us but in fact was just making the right gut call at the right time:

Mitchell Trubisky has started his last game for the Bears

If Trubisky’s performance was the reason for Sunday’s benching, it’s hard to see how what followed would change Nagy’s mind. After the interception, Foles looked like his old Eagles Super Bowl MVP self. He finished 16-for-29 passing for 188 yards and three touchdowns. He figured out how to find Allen Robinson, his best receiver, pretty much every time he needed to. He was, for one brilliant quarter, everything the Bears want and need their quarterback to be if they’re going to contend for an NFC playoff spot. If you were sick of Trubisky in the third quarter, you were all-in on Foles in the fourth.

The verdict: OVERREACTION. Surely, Foles will start next week against the Colts. But he’s a career backup who hasn’t always been the picture of health and has lost starting quarterback competitions on four different teams — including his current team less than a month ago. The Bears’ coaching staff thought enough of Trubisky’s progress by the end of August that they gave him the job over Foles.

And here’s the big thing: Foles didn’t do anything Sunday that Trubisky didn’t do against the Lions in Week 1! Who’s to say that full-game Foles is going to look like fourth-quarter Foles did Sunday. Yes, the Bears will try it. But his history indicates that at some point they’ll have to at least consider going back to the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft.

I stand by my preseason prediction that each of these guys starts at least six games for the Bears this season. Trubisky is halfway there. How close will Foles get before they switch back? And better question: If they keep winning all of their games, does it matter?

The NFC East is worse than ever

When all the divisions are on the playground, the NFC East is the one everyone else makes fun of. “Your division’s so bad, the team that had the best day Sunday tied the Bengals!” Sick burn, other divisions, but the truth hurts.

The Eagles called and executed plays in the final moments of overtime against the Bengals without trying to win — content to tie one of the league’s worst teams even after a last-minute regulation comeback from their embattled quarterback — and still gained a half-game on every other team in the division. Washington and Dallas are tied for first place at 1-2. The only two wins the NFC East has through three weeks are (1) against another NFC East team and (2) against the Falcons, who basically use only nine guys on defense in the fourth quarter.

The NFC East is a combined 2-9-1 through three weeks. That’s a .208 winning percentage — the second worst by any division after three weeks since the league went to eight divisions in 2002. The 2002 AFC North was 2-8 after three weeks.

The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. I’m not ready to say the NFC East champion won’t have a winning record — the 2002 AFC North ended up with two teams over .500, and one of them was the Browns — but it’s not impossible.

The Cowboys have allowed 78 points over the past two weeks, and their only win was a historic miracle. The Washington Fumble Team came back to beat the Eagles in Week 1 but has turned the ball over seven times in the two games since. Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has three touchdown passes, six interceptions and hasn’t hit 50.0 in Total QBR in any of his three games. And the Giants just lost 36-9 to a team composed almost entirely of 49ers backups. Not sure if the math works this way, but it’s possible that if you can’t beat a team’s backups, you can’t be considered one of the top 32 teams in the league.

It’s ugly out here in these NFC East streets, and none of these teams has even had to play the Ravens yet. (And they all will.)

Adam Gase will be fired if the Jets lose to Denver on Thursday night

Again, the Giants lost by four touchdowns to a team missing at least nine starters, and there’s a legitimate debate in New York about which team is worse. Gase made the playoffs in 2016, his first year as Dolphins coach, but he’s 20-31 since, and it’s safe to say his reputation as an offensive mastermind has taken some hits.

No team gained fewer yards last season than the Jets, and only Washington scored fewer points. The Jets entered Sunday last in the league in yards and added only 260 in the blowout loss to the Colts. Their 37 points through three games so far is the lowest total in the league — one point behind those aforementioned Giants. And perhaps the most damning case against Gase is the way guys like Ryan Tannehill, Kenyan Drake, DeVante Parker and Robby Anderson have played since they parted company with him.

The verdict: NOT AN OVERREACTION. The Broncos team the Jets play Thursday is also 0-3 and has scored just 40 points. But Denver had to play Sunday without its injured starting quarterback and its best wide receiver. The Jets, yes, are extremely banged up at receiver, but even so, the third year of Sam Darnold was supposed to be one in which he showed real progress. Sunday, he was 17-for-29 passing for 168 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions, two of which were returned for Colts touchdowns.



Kalen Ballage tries to leap over a Colts defender, but he takes two big hits instead and is stopped in his tracks.

The Jets traded up and took Darnold No. 3 overall in the 2018 draft, and they have a fifth-year option decision to make on him this spring. He needs to show growth if they’re going to commit to him beyond 2021, and if they end up with the first pick in the draft their fans will want them to take Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and start over again at the position. This is not a good spot for a coach to occupy.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Sunday morning that ownership was growing restless and Gase’s seat was getting hotter. If the Jets are 0-4 after Thursday night, they have 10 days before their next game and time to make a change if they want to. Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams went 5-3 as interim coach of the Browns after they fired Hue Jackson two years ago — just sayin’.

Deshaun Watson‘s crew made a game of it Sunday but couldn’t hold on against Pittsburgh, and the Texans are 0-3 for the second time in three years. Tennessee leads the AFC South at 3-0, followed closely by 2-1 Indianapolis, and both look like legitimate contenders. After an offseason in which coach/general manager Bill O’Brien caught a lot of heat for trading away top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins over a contract dispute, the slow start isn’t helping anyone give him the benefit of the doubt.

The verdict: OVERREACTION. Remember a couple of seconds ago when I said the Texans were 0-3 for the second time in three years? Yeah, well, they recovered and won the division in 2018. And they’ve won it four of the past five years. You can bang on O’Brien’s GM decisions if you want, but as a coach he has shown an ability to make the playoffs.

The Texans still have the best quarterback in the division, Ryan Tannehill‘s sizzling start notwithstanding. And it’s entirely possible that the three teams they’ve played so far — Kansas City, Baltimore and Pittsburgh — are the three best teams in the entire league. What did they do to get the schedule-makers so mad at them? Swear, when I checked their schedule while writing this, I half-expected their next two games to be against Buffalo and Seattle. They are not.

The Texans, though, are unquestionably through the toughest part of their schedule. They have two head-to-head games against each of their division opponents. There are seven playoff spots in each conference this season. And they’ve been here before. It’s too early to panic in Houston.

Drew Brees is part of the problem in New Orleans

The Saints lost to the Packers on Sunday night to fall to 1-2, six days after they lost to the Raiders in Las Vegas. Their 41-year-old quarterback looked sharper than he did in Week 2, but he still seemed reluctant to take shots downfield, and running back Alvin Kamara did the bulk of his yardage work for him after the catch. Kamara had 57 yards after the catch on his 52-yard touchdown catch. Think about that. Brees came into the game averaging 4.81 air yards per attempt, and Sunday night he averaged 4.61. Those are really low numbers, and they’re moving in the wrong direction.

The verdict: OVERREACTION. This was a close one, but I’m giving the future Hall of Famer the benefit of the doubt. Brees isn’t going to win games on arm strength at this point. No shame in that. But if he can be accurate and smart and operate the offense in rhythm, he has enough brilliant players around him to make it work. Michael Thomas, who set an NFL record with 149 catches in a season a year ago, has missed the last two games due to injury and should be back soon. Tight end Jared Cook left Sunday’s game in the first half with an injury.

The Saints’ 25 penalties for 336 yards this season. feel like a bigger reason for their current predicament. Once the rest of the Saints’ offense is whole, we should see a better and more consistently sharp Brees, and a New Orleans team that recovers from its 1-2 start and contends for the NFC South title as we all expected. I could be wrong, but I think, given the circumstances, that it’s too soon to give up on Brees in 2020.


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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

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