Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees has called time on his 50-year coaching career.

Pees announced his retirement on Monday after the Falcons failed to make the playoffs, finishing the season with a 7-10 record.

The 73-year-old worked for seven college programs and four NFL franchises, finishing in Atlanta after spells with the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans.

Pees is one of eight defensive coordinators in NFL history to coach in a Super Bowl with two different teams, playing his part in New England and Baltimore's runs to one of the biggest events in sport.

His retirement comes less than a month after he was taken to hospital ahead of the clash against the New Orleans Saints after being involved in an on-field collision.

Pees had been with the Falcons since coming out of retirement following the hiring of Arthur Smith two years ago.

Falcons head coach Smith said of Pees: "You appreciate all the work and the sacrifice.

"We all get paid to do this and we're lucky as hell, but there are sacrifices you have to make. Dean's a guy who has coached at every level and had success.

"He has impacted a lot of lives and he has impacted the game."

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins will miss the New Year's Day trip to face the Atlanta Falcons due to a knee injury.

Hopkins had been listed as questionable for the Week 17 encounter on Sunday and he was ruled out on New Year's Eve after his injury flared up this week.

He will sit out a seventh game of the season for a Cardinals side that are out of playoff contention.

Hopkins missed the opening six games of the year due to a suspension for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy.

Andre Baccellia has been promoted from Arizona's practice squad in the absence of Hopkins.

The Cardinals confirmed on Friday that David Blough will be the starting quarterback against the Falcons.

 

The Arizona Cardinals will have their fourth starting quarterback this season after coach Kliff Kingsbury announced that David Blough will get the nod for Sunday's game at Atlanta.

Blough, signed off the Minnesota Vikings' practice squad on December 14, will fill in for a still-injured Colt McCoy.

McCoy had cleared the NFL's concussion protocol earlier this week but reported a recurrence of symptoms following Thursday's practice.

Kingsbury told reporters on Friday that McCoy, who inherited the starting job after Kyler Murray tore his ACL in Week 14, will likely be held out of Arizona's final game of the season at San Francisco as well.

McCoy also missed the Cardinals' 19-16 overtime loss to Tampa Bay on Christmas Day. Trace McSorley made his first NFL start and threw for 217 yards with one interception while completing 24 of 45 passes.

Kingsbury said the Cardinals want to get a further look at Blough, a five-game starter for the Detroit Lions in 2019, and then will decide between his options as to who will start on Week 18.

"We'll give him a chance, evaluate him, and see how that goes," Kingsbury said of Blough.

"The last week, we'll see where we're at and name a starter then.

"[Trace] is a competitor, but he understands the situation we are in and where we are at. There is some evaluation that needs to be done at this point."

Blough went 0-5 when pressed into duty as a rookie for the Lions. The 27-year-old threw for 280 yards and two touchdowns in his NFL debut on Thanksgiving Day of 2019, but completed just 52.9 per cent of his passes with five interceptions over his four subsequent starts.

He will be taking the field on Sunday for a Cardinals team that has lost five straight games and sits last in the NFC West at 4-11, one year after finishing 11-6 and reaching the playoffs. 

Atlanta Falcons running back Caleb Huntley suffered a torn Achilles in the first quarter of Sunday's loss to the New Orleans Saints, ending his season.

Huntley, 24, went undrafted in 2021 before spending his entire first campaign on the Falcons' practice squad.

He was elevated to the active roster for the first time in Week 2 this season, before being thrust into a starting role two weeks later, scoring his only professional touchdown in Atlanta's Week 4 win against the Cleveland Browns.

The former Ball State player set a new career-high in Week 7 against the Carolina Panthers, carrying 16 times for 91 yards in an overtime win, but he has since been relegated back to a depth role as Cordarrelle Patterson has returned to health and rookie Tyler Allgeier continues to impress.

Avery Williams will function as the third-stringer going forward, with the backfield trending towards Allgeier after he put up 139 rushing yards and a touchdown from 17 carries against the Saints.

Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees has been taken to hospital ahead of the clash against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday after being involved in an on-field collision.

The 73-year-old's neck was stabilised by medical staff on the 35-yard line before he was placed on a stretcher and carried off the field.

In a statement, the Falcons said: "Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees was involved in an on-field pre-game collision.

"He was stable, alert and responsive and has been transported to University Medical Center New Orleans for medical testing.

"Frank Bush will serve as interim defensive play caller for today's game."

Pees has been with the Falcons for the past two seasons, having come out of retirement following the hiring of Arthur Smith.

The business end of the NFL season is here as the playoff picture starts to emerge.

You can tell things are getting interesting as this weekend sees three Saturday games, meaning football fans can stretch out their weekend viewing even further.

Saturday sees the Minnesota Vikings host the Indianapolis Colts, the Baltimore Ravens visit the Cleveland Browns and the Buffalo Bills taking on the Miami Dolphins.

Sunday's action includes a clash in the NFC South where no team seems to want to finish first, but the winner of the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints will leave themselves with an inexplicable chance to do so.

Stats Perform has taken a look at the numbers behind a selection of Week 15's games.

Indianapolis Colts (4-8-1) @ Minnesota Vikings (10-3)

While the Vikings have been having a far better season than the Colts, they are just 7-18-1 all-time in the series between the two (including playoffs). It is the Vikings' worst record against any single opponent.

Indianapolis entered their bye week with a 54-19 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, in which they were outscored by 33 points in the fourth quarter (33-0), the largest point differential in a single fourth quarter in NFL history.

Matt Ryan needs 125 passing yards to reach 3,000 for the 13th consecutive season, which would make him the eighth QB in NFL history to accomplish the feat, joining Philip Rivers as the only two to do so without a Super Bowl victory.

Justin Jefferson set a franchise record with 223 receiving yards on 11 catches against the Detroit Lions. Jefferson is up to 4,516 career receiving yards, the most of anyone in NFL history in a player's first three seasons (next most being Randy Moss with 4,163).

Miami Dolphins (8-5) @ Buffalo Bills (10-3)

The Bills have a five-game winning streak at home against the Dolphins, tied for their longest of all-time. This is just one game shy of matching Buffalo's longest home win streak against a divisional opponent (twice against the Colts and once against the New England Patriots).

The Dolphins lost 23-17 to the Chargers last week, posting a season-low 127 passing yards. Miami's 10 completions in the game were their fewest since Week 13 of 2015 (nine).

Tyreek Hill had a 57-yard fumble return touchdown and 60-yard receiving touchdown last week, and leads the NFL with four plays of 50 or more yards this season. Hill had four total plays of 50 or more yards in his last three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Sean McDermott is 9-2 (.818) in his career as a head coach against the Dolphins, the best record by any head coach with at least eight games against Miami all-time. Only two coaches have 10 or more career wins against Miami (Bill Belichick, 26, and Marv Levy, 15).

Atlanta Falcons (5-8) @ New Orleans Saints (4-9)

The Falcons' three-point loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in their last game was Atlanta's 10th game this season decided by six points or fewer, tied for the most in franchise history (also in 1995, 2015 and 2017).

Cordarrelle Patterson is one of three players in NFL history to average 5.0+ yards per rush and 9.0+ yards per reception over his career (minimum 400 rushes and 200 receptions), along with Jim Brown and Bobby Mitchell.

The Saints have held their opponent to fewer than 300 net passing yards in 22 consecutive games, tied with the Bengals for the second-longest active streak in the NFL (after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with 27).

Chris Olave has had at least 40 receiving yards in all 12 games of his career thus far, the second-longest streak by any NFL player to begin his career in the Super Bowl era behind fellow Saints player Michael Thomas (19).

Elsewhere...

Panthers QB Sam Darnold has won both of his starts this season and has not thrown a pick in either. He has now won seven straight starts dating back to 2020 in games where he has not thrown an interception, tied for the third-longest active streak among QBs (Jimmy Garoppolo 16, Jalen Hurts 13, Joe Burrow 7), and will look to extend it against the Steelers.

The Dallas Cowboys will have to find a way to stop Jacksonville Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence. Since November 1, Lawrence has the highest completion percentage in the NFL among players with at least 100 attempts (71.8). On the season, the Jaguars are 5-2 when he completes at least 70.0 per cent of his passes compared to 0-6 when he does not.

The Las Vegas Raiders will look to bounce back against the New England Patriots after blowing a 13-point lead with fewer than four minutes remaining in their 17-16 loss to the Los Angeles Rams last week. Over the last 40 seasons, the only other time the team had lost a game it led by 13+ points with four minutes or less remaining was in Week 3 of the 1993 season to the Cleveland Browns. 

Tom Brady was 34-for-55 for 253 yards last week, the 11th time in his career he has attempted at least 55 passes. His teams are now 3-8 in such games, with wins in 2002 against Chicago, 2015 against Buffalo, and Week 9 of this season against the Rams. The Buccaneers (6-7) will hope he can guide them to a much-needed W against the Bengals.

The Atlanta Falcons are returning from their bye with a new starting quarterback.

Head coach Arthur Smith announced Monday that rookie Desmond Ridder will take over the starting duties from Marcus Mariota for Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints.

"I did make a switch at quarterback. Desmond Ridder will be the starter. It’s a performance-based decision," he said in a press conference.

The move had been expected after it was reported last week that Ridder would be named the starter.

A third-round pick in April’s draft, Ridder has yet to take an offensive snap in the regular season after throwing for 10,239 yards with 87 touchdowns and 28 interceptions in his four-year collegiate career at Cincinnati.

He takes over an offense that is in need of a jolt, with Atlanta having lost four of five, averaging 15.3 points in those defeats.

Despite their recent slide to drop to 5-8, the Falcons are only a game behind the first-place Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the lowly NFC South, so a path to the playoffs with Ridder at QB is not out of the question.

Ridder will foreseeably be the Falcons' starter for the remainder of the season, as Smith said Mariota will likely be placed on injured reserve with a knee injury.

Mariota was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week following his performance in the Falcons' 28-14 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 6, but he's struggled to generate much offense over the last month.

In Atlanta’s last five games, Mariota was averaging just 157.4 passing yards with five touchdown passes and three interceptions for an 81.6 rating.

The Atlanta Falcons are handing Desmond Ridder the starting quarterback berth when they return from their bye week.

The 2022 third-round pick has been elevated to starter ahead of Marcus Mariota, with NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport saying his first game in that role will come in Week 15 against the New Orleans Saints.

Having traded Matt Ryan to the Indianapolis Colts in the offseason, Ridder was picked up on Day 2 of the Draft and showed flashes of his ability during preseason – though a patient approach has led to him standing as back-up to Mariota for the first 13 weeks of the campaign.

Standing 5-8, the Falcons have hit a rough patch after failing to score more than 17 points in each of their four losses over the past five weeks, with Atlanta's chances of reaching the playoffs now looking slim.

Turning to Ridder for the remaining weeks of the season will provide experience to the rookie ahead of an expected first full campaign as the leading quarterback in 2023.

A decision will need to be made regarding Mariota, however, with Tom Pelissero reporting the 29-year-old is due $12million in 2023, including a $3m bonus in March.

Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields is feeling the effects of Sunday's 27-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, telling reporters he hurt his left shoulder late in the contest.

Fields has broken out over the past couple of months, establishing himself as the Bears' quarterback of the future, but it is yet to translate to wins.

After only throwing a touchdown pass in one of Chicago's first four games, Fields has now thrown a touchdown pass in each of their past seven fixtures, going 1-6 in that stretch.

It is hardly Fields' fault, with the defense conceding an average of 35.5 points per game across their past four outings, while Fields has also broken the record for rushing yards from a quarterback in a single regular season game (178) and the record for most over a two-game span (325).

Attempting to come back from a late deficit against the Falcons, Fields told reporters he believes he landed on it awkwardly, forcing him to finish the game in pain.

"I don't know what happened, to be honest with you," he said. "I just landed on it, I think.

"I was hurting, but it was the last drive of the game. I tried to be there for my teammates and fight through the pain.

"The pain right now is pretty bad. I'll just take it day by day and see how it feels later in the week."

Bears head coach Matt Eberflus added they are expecting an update mid-week.

"We will have an update on Wednesday," he said. "We don't know what exactly it is, that's why we are going to take a look at it."

Marcus Jones scored the first punt return touchdown of the NFL season in the final seconds as the New England Patriots continued their hoodoo over the New York Jets.

The AFC East rivals appeared destined to take a game severely short on offensive production into overtime.

However, with the game locked in a 3-3 tie, rookie Jones took Braden Mann's punt back 84 yards to clinch a 10-3 win for New England and spark delirium at Gillette Stadium.

The dramatic ending was in stark contrast to the nature of a game that saw field goals from Nick Folk and Greg Zuerlein in the second quarter as the only scoring prior to Jones' decisive touchdown.

His return means the Patriots have won their last 14 games against the Jets, who were held to 2.1 yards per play in an offensive performance likely to spark significant questions about second-year quarterback Zach Wilson.

Had they ended their drought against New England, the Jets would have sat atop an ultra-competitive AFC East.

Instead, their defeat, combined with the Buffalo Bills' win over the Cleveland Browns, means drops them to the bottom of the division at 6-4.

Eagles survive scare

The Philadelphia Eagles lost for the first time on Monday, suffering defeat at the hands of the Washington Commanders, and they narrowly avoided a second successive loss on Sunday.

Philadelphia trailed the Indianapolis Colts, playing their second game under interim coach Jeff Saturday, 13-3 going into the fourth quarter.

But Jalen Hurts threw a 22-yard touchdown to Quez Watkins to set a comeback in motion, and eventually broke Indianapolis hearts with a seven-yard touchdown run with 80 seconds left, improving the NFC-leading Eagles to 9-1 with a 17-16 win.

Philadelphia also gained extra breathing room in the NFC East as the New York Giants dropped to 7-3 with a home loss to the Detroit Lions.

Patterson makes history in Falcons win

The Atlanta Falcons are still in the mix in the NFC playoff picture after coming through a thrilling game with the Chicago Bears 27-24.

It is a win Cordarrelle Patterson will remember forever after he took a kick return 103 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Patterson's score marked the ninth kick return touchdown of his career and saw him claim the outright record for the most in NFL history

Atlanta's NFC South rivals, the Carolina Panthers, lost 13-3 to the Baltimore Ravens, who are now 7-3 at the top of the AFC North.

The Atlanta Falcons missed the chance to move into top spot in the NFC South as interim Carolina Panthers head coach Steve Wilks guided his side to a 25-15 victory on Thursday.

Panthers running back D'Onta Foreman starred with 31 carries for 130 yards in rainy conditions, including a third-quarter touchdown to complete a seven-play 84-yard drive at Bank of America Stadium.

The Falcons, who slipped to 4-6, were well beaten throughout, yet got within one score with 2:56 remaining in the fourth quarter when QB Marcus Mariota found a wide open KhaDarel Hodge to make it 22-15. Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo, who had made 71 consecutive extra points coming into the game, inexplicably missed the conversion, having spurned one earlier too.

Marquin Haynes sacked Mariota for the second time to end Atlanta's final drive, with Eddy Pineiro's 37-yard field goal padding out the margin.

Mariota made numerous unusual decisions throughout and was sacked five times. He completed 19 of 30 pass attempts for 186 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, linking up with rookie Drake London for a third-quarter TD after trailing 13-3 at half-time.

Laviska Shenault Jr scored the only first-half touchdown, exploding down the sideline on a 41-yard run after P.J. Walker's swing pass.

Walker, who was preferred to Baker Mayfield, completed 10 of 16 passes for 108 yards, highlighted by a 43-yarder to Terrace Marshall Jr, leading to Foreman's touchdown run in the third.

The win improved the Panthers to 3-7, with Wilks having presided over two wins from five games in interim charge.

The Atlanta Falcons missed the chance to move into top spot in the NFC South as interim Carolina Panthers head coach Steve Wilkes guided his side to a 25-15 victory on Thursday.

Panthers running back D'Onta Foreman starred with 31 carries for 130 yards in rainy conditions, including a third-quarter touchdown to complete a seven-play 84-yard drive at Bank of America Stadium.

The Falcons, who slipped to 4-6, were well beaten throughout, yet got within one score with 2:56 remaining in the fourth quarter when QB Marcus Mariota found a wide open KhaDarel Hodge to make it 22-15. Falcons kicker Younghoe Koo, who had made 71 consecutive extra points coming into the game, inexplicably missed the conversion, having spurned one earlier too.

Marquin Haynes sacked Mariota for the second time to end Atlanta's final drive, with Eddy Pineiro's 37-yard field goal padding out the margin.

Mariota made numerous unusual decisions throughout and was sacked five times. He completed 19 of 30 pass attempts for 186 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, linking up with rookie Drake London for a third-quarter TD after trailing 13-3 at half-time.

Laviska Shenault Jr scored the only first-half touchdown, exploding down the sideline on a 41-yard run after P.J. Walker's swing pass.

Walker, who was preferred to Baker Mayfield, completed 10 of 16 passes for 108 yards, highlighted by a 43-yarder to Terrace Marshall Jr, leading to Foreman's touchdown run in the third.

The win improved the Panthers to 3-7, with Wilks having presided over two wins from five games in interim charge.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have added a wide receiver but will not be able to field new recruit Calvin Ridley until 2023 at the earliest.

It emerged on Tuesday the Atlanta Falcons have traded the suspended Ridley to the Jaguars in exchange for a complex draft compensation.

The Falcons will receive two draft picks that will range from a maximum compensation of a 2023 fifth-round selection and a second-rounder in 2024.

Ridley, 27, is suspended through at least the conclusion of the 2022 season for betting on NFL games during the 2021 season.

His suspension was handed down in early March, and he may not apply for reinstatement until February 15, 2023.

Jaguars general manager Trent Baalke said: "We are excited to welcome Calvin Ridley to our organisation and the Duval community.

"This is an opportunity to add a proven playmaker to our already talented wide receiver room as we continue to build our roster for 2023 and beyond. We are looking forward to finishing strong this season and integrating Calvin into our programme at the appropriate time."

The intricate nature of the trade was reported by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. If Ridley gets reinstated by a certain date, the Falcons will receive a fifth-round pick in 2023. If not, it will be a sixth-rounder.

If he makes the Jaguars in 2024, the pick becomes at least a fourth-round selection. And if he reaches a certain playing-time milestone, the pick is a third, while if he signs a long-term deal with the Jaguars, the pick is a second-rounder.

Ridley placed his bets over a five-day span in November 2021, when he was away from the team to focus on his mental health and was on the reserve/NFI list. The league opened an investigation and concluded there was no insider information on the betting activity and none of the coaches or players on the Falcons were aware or involved.

Ridley, who is slated to make $11,116,000 in 2023 on the final year of his rookie contract, appeared in just five games in 2021, catching 31 passes for 281 yards with two touchdowns.

This came after he totted up 1,374 receiving yards in 2020 to finish tied for fifth in the NFL.

A first-round pick by the Falcons in 2018, Ridley had 217 catches for 3,061 yards and 26 TD receptions over his first three seasons. His TD reception total is tied for the 20th most in NFL history by a player through his first three pro seasons.

It's fair to say that, eight weeks into the 2022 NFL season, it has been a year of surprises.

The New York Giants have six wins, the Seattle Seahawks lead the NFC West and two preseason NFC favourites, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers, have collapsed to 3-5 starts.

This is a campaign in which to expect the unexpected and, as such, three of the top quarterback displays from Week 8 heading into Monday Night Football are entirely in keeping with the theme of 2022.

While one star still shaking the rust off following an injury lay-off delivered the kind of game most have come to anticipate from him, the degree of accuracy displayed by the trio of signal-callers surrounding him at the top of Stats Perform's well-thrown rate chart by the end of Sunday's action was eyebrow-raising to say the least.

And there was one quarterback who tried and failed to find a new team in the offseason who rose above the rest. 

Jimmy G's perfect day

There will never be a game that definitively decides the endless Jimmy Garoppolo debate in the Bay Area, where the San Francisco 49ers' quarterback who was meant to be elsewhere this season remains a beloved but polarising figure.

But nobody could argue Garoppolo was not excellent in Week 8 as the 49ers scored 24 unanswered points to sweep the Los Angeles Rams with an emphatic 31-14 win at SoFi Stadium.

So much of the attention in the immediate aftermath was rightly on Christian McCaffrey, who became the fourth player with a touchdown pass, rushing touchdown and touchdown reception in a single game since the 1970 merger in a remarkable performance just 10 days on from his trade from the Carolina Panthers.

However, Garoppolo also deserves a share of the spotlight following what was, by at least one measure, a perfect game from a quarterback frequently criticised for his volatility.

Garoppolo ended the defeat of the Rams with a 100 per cent well-thrown rate. Each of his 25 passes, excluding throwaways, was deemed to be accurate and well-thrown.

He is the 35th player to achieve such a feat and the second this season following Trevor Lawrence for the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 2 against the Indianapolis Colts.

While Garoppolo averaged only 6.76 yards per attempt, he still completed a host of big-time throws, including a third-down touchdown shot to a leaping McCaffrey and a 56-yard bomb down the left sideline to Ross Dwelley that was followed by a perfectly placed ball to George Kittle in the back of the endzone on a sprint out pass that iced the game.

At 4-4 heading into the bye with a star-studded offense and a series of players still to return from injury on defense, the 49ers are ideally positioned for a surge down the stretch. They won't get perfect every game from Garoppolo, but if he maintains a level close to what he produced in Inglewood on Sunday, San Francisco will be a major threat in the NFC.

Air Marcus has Falcons on top

Marcus Mariota had hardly been trusted to throw the ball over the four games prior to Atlanta's wild win over the Carolina Panthers by head coach Arthur Smith.

Only once over those four games had he registered more than 20 passing attempts, but Mariota was allowed to air it out on Sunday, and the Falcons should be delighted by the manner in which he did so.

The former second overall pick delivered an accurate well-thrown ball on 92.6 per cent of his 27 pass attempts, maintaining remarkable accuracy while pushing the ball down field with consistency in a captivating shoot-out.

Mariota averaged 10.15 air yards per attempt against Carolina. Just five quarterbacks – Josh Allen (12.96), P.J. Walker (12.33), Tua Tagovailoa (11.79), Russell Wilson (11.04) and Jalen Hurts (11.04) – were more aggressive in that respect.

Of that quintet, Tagovailoa (82.4 per cent) and Wilson (84.6 per cent) were the only two signal-callers to even post a well-thrown rate of 80 per cent.

Mariota blended accuracy and deep-ball aggression in a way most quarterbacks struggle to replicate and, though he tossed an overtime interception that should have cost the Falcons the game, his performance may convince Smith to diversify his approach and shift to a more balanced attack as the 4-4 Falcons look to make a surprise run at the NFC South title.

Dak looks all the way back

The case could be made that the Cowboys were still running the 'Cooper Rush' offense in Prescott's first game back from a finger injury in Week 7 against the Detroit Lions.

Dallas laboured somewhat in that one before pulling away and, though the Week 8 performance was not a faultless one from Prescott, it was one to breed hope the Cowboys can legitimately contend to go deep into the NFC playoffs with him at the helm of the attack.

Prescott posted a well-thrown rate of 92.3 per cent in the Cowboys' 49-29 win over the Chicago Bears, with arguably his most aesthetically pleasing throw coming on his first touchdown pass as he split safeties Eddie Jackson and Jaquan Brisker on a 21-yard rope to CeeDee Lamb on third-and-nine.

Third down did not prove a challenge for Prescott at any point. He completed five of his six third-down throws for 85 yards and a touchdown, with a Bears defense ill-equipped to stop the Cowboys consistently frustrated when they got into positions to get off the field. 

An interception by Jackson was the sole blemish on the day for Prescott, who also had a rushing touchdown, and the room for improvement he clearly still has after a showing of this calibre should be of great excitement to the 6-2 Cowboys as they attack the second half of the season.

Fields fills Chicago with hope 

The Bears did not produce the all-round performance to keep pace with the Cowboys, but it was another effort by last year's first-round pick Justin Fields to boost optimism around his prospects of blossoming into one of the league's better quarterbacks.

After finally building a gameplan around his athleticism in the Monday Night Football win over the New England Patriots, the Bears once again leant on Fields' mobility. He threw seven times on the move, with Chicago also implementing play-action and the quarterback bootleg into the attack.

The results were impressive as Fields finished the game with a well-thrown rate of 90.9 per cent while averaging 9.5 air yards per attempt. On top of that, he did not throw a single interceptable pass, though he did have one pick called back because of a roughing the passer penalty.

Fields was perfect on play-action, with all six of his passes from those concepts well thrown, and he would have had significantly more than 151 passing yards to his name had rookie receiver Velus Jones not dropped an outstandingly placed moonball down the right sideline from the Chicago 47-yard line in the second quarter.

But Fields still accounted for three touchdowns, throwing two and rushing for another in a 60-yard display on the ground. Though the Bears' decision to trade defensive stars Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith will play a role in limiting their wins in 2022, the Bears will be increasingly convinced Fields is the right man to rebuild the team around if he continues in this vein of form.

The Carolina Panthers did not place the blame for their defeat to the Atlanta Falcons squarely at the feet of D.J. Moore, despite his hugely costly penalty in the final moments of regulation.

A sublime touchdown pass from P.J. Walker to Moore looked to have stolen victory for the Panthers, tying the game with only 12 seconds left.

But the extra point that would have won it for the Panthers was pushed back by 15 yards after Moore ripped off his helmet in celebration and earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Eddy Pineiro's attempt from 48 yards missed, and the Falcons won 37-34 in overtime after another Pineiro miss.

Moore accepted his mistake, even if he described the celebration as "a natural reaction", as the Panthers slumped to 2-6, now two games back on the 4-4 Falcons in the wide-open NFC South.

Steve Wilks, the team's interim head coach, said: "We didn't find a way to finish. We had too many opportunities to win this football game, and we didn't find a way to get it done. And that falls on me.

"We've got to make sure we're smart enough. Something to learn from. Celebration penalty, big play like that, we've got to keep our poise.

"It was a great job with D.J. coming up with the big play in the end zone. Great pass by P.J. But as a team we've got to make sure that we're smart and just ready. Take it to the next level, next step."

Wilks added: "It didn't come down to that [penalty]. Of course, it would have given us an opportunity to win, but offense and defense, special teams, we could have had it way before then.

"And with me, I'm encouraging [Moore] and trying to build him up. I told him, 'Hopefully we give you the opportunity to come back and win it for us,' which unfortunately we didn't."

Moore had been a hero for the Panthers the previous week as he caught the opening TD pass from Walker in a shock defeat of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"D.J. is smart enough to understand that's something to learn from," Wilks said.

"Very talented player, glad he's on our team. But moving forward that's something we'll learn from, and we won't make that same mistake."

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