LA Rams win battle of NFC heavyweights against Green Bay Packers to remain perfect, Aussie punter’s star continues to grow, Super Bowl champs survive Wembley scare and much more. Here’s what we’ve learned from Sunday’s Week 8 games.
New Orleans Saints 30, Minnesota Vikings 20
1. Minnesota couldn’t muster any miracles this time around. In their first nationally televised home game since the Minneapolis Miracle victory over New Orleans in last year’s Divisional Round, the Vikings got out to a first-half lead over the Saints, but were undone by turnovers on either side of the half and surrendered momentum, the lead and the game in quick succession to New Orleans. Up 13-10 and driving at the end of the first half, the sure-handed Adam Thielen fumbled in the red zone, and New Orleans turned that turnover into seven points within two plays. Minnesota never recovered from Thielen’s fumble and scored just once in the second half.
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The game was officially salted away when Kirk Cousins tossed a pick-six in his own territory, handing the Saints a two-score lead it would not relinquish. Whereas the Saints, paced by Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram’s ground attack, took advantage of their second-half opportunities to extend the lead, Cousins’ Vikings didn’t rise to the moment as they had nine months ago when Case Keenum was under centre. Whether it was due to poor decision-making, offensive-line play, balance or all of the above, Minnesota shrunk in prime time, playing not to lose and eventually doing just that.
Josh Reynolds celebrates a touchdown. Picture: GettySource:AFP
2. The Saints didn’t need a bravura performance from Brees to silence Minnesota in the second half. That responsibility fell to Kamara and Ingram, the recently reunited RB tandem who played keep away from the Vikings with 168 total yards on 36 touches. Their punishing one-two punch proved pivotal on a 15-play, eight-minute field-goal drive straddling the third and fourth quarters on which the duo picked up three of New Orleans’ six first downs. The Saints are a perfect 3-0 since Ingram returned from suspension. Meanwhile, Brees, in the midst of an MVP season, was forced to throw for just 120 yards, his lowest output as a Saint in a game in which he started and finished. In fact, the longest pass of the play belonged to Taysom Hill, who split time under centre and at tight end Sunday night. At one point, Brees, Hill and Teddy Bridgewater were all on the field for a play. The Saints are playing loose, and they deserve to. New Orleans has won six straight since losing their home opener and have defeated three consecutive division contenders (WAS, BAL, MIN). Another playoff hopeful awaits next week. The undefeated Rams are coming to the Bayou with NFC supremacy on the line.
3. After missing out on Patrick Peterson, New Orleans made a move for Giants cornerback Eli Apple this week. The Saints slotted him on the outside across from Marshon Lattimore, kept P.J. Williams into the slot and sent Ken Crawley to the inactives as a healthy scratch. Upon first glance, the shakeup in the secondary didn’t help matters; Cousins still threw for 359 yards and two scores. But perhaps it facilitated an improved Saints pass rush. New Orleans hit Cousins nine times and sacked him on four occasions. Those QB takedowns were split by 2016 first-rounder Sheldon Rankins and 2018 first-rounder Marcus Davenport.
– Jeremy Bergman
Los Angeles Rams 29, Green Bay Packers 27
1. A battle between two NFC heavyweights lived up to the hype in a back-and-forth affair at the L.A. Coliseum. Characterised by lulls and explosions by each offence, Aaron Rodgers and Jared Goff matched score for score in the second half. The Rams got off to a slow start, facing their largest deficit of the season, trailing 10-0 in the second quarter. L.A. responded with a 23-3 scoring run to take a 23-13 lead before Rodgers and Packers’ offence got back on track. ARod’s 40-yard touchdown shot to Marquez Valdes-Scantling gave Green Bay the lead 27-26 midway through the fourth quarter. However, a bad Packers punt gave the Rams great field position to kick a go-ahead field goal with 2 minutes remaining.
The world was waiting for Rodgers to do what he does and burn the opponent for leaving too much time on the clock. Instead, a Ty Montgomery fumble on the kickoff gave the Rams the ball and iced the game. Rodgers didn’t get a shot to produce his magic. And the Rams remained the only undefeated team in the NFL.
2. Special teams played a huge role for the Rams as the offence started slowly and the defence got burned by Rodgers at times. Punter Johnny Hekker tossed a first-down pass to Sam Shields early in the first half. Later, with the Rams still down 10-0, Hekker’s perfect punt was downed by Shields on the 1-yard-line leading to a safety. The special teams play jump-started the Rams, who went on an offensive run. After generating just 89 yards on their first five series, L.A. went for 223 yards on their next four possessions to open a 10-point lead. Greg Zuerlein, returning from injury, went 2-for-2 on field goals, including the game-winner. And the kick coverage team forced the pivotal Montgomery fumble. Throughout the season, Sean McVay’s undefeated team showed it can win with all three phases.
Kareem Hunt hurdles another defender on route to the TD0:00
NFL: Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt is extremely difficult to stop, as the Broncos’ defensive unit found out in week 8.
3. The Green Bay defence did its best to slow a Rams offence that came in averaging 33.6 points per game and 446.4 yards per game. Mike Pettine brought pressure repeatedly forcing Goff into errant throws and five sacks. The well-timed blitzes forced the Rams slow start to the game. Led by a dominant performance by Kenny Clark (2 sacks, 5 tackles) and Blake Martinez (12 tackles, 1 sack), the Packers defence looked like the version fans expected when Pettine was hired this off-season. Corner Jaire Alexander, returning from injury, had a fantastic game, looking like the shutdown corner the Packers needed with their first-round pick. The rookie has the speed to stick with receivers in space and showed great ball-skills breaking up five passes and blanketing wideouts. When the young backend of Green Bay’s defence plays as well as it did for most of Sunday’s affair against a great offence, it’s a good sign for the future of a unit in which Green Bay invested heavily.
– Kevin Patra
Arizona Cardinals 18, San Francisco 49ers 15
1. From early ugly offences to a low score, the battle of 1-6 teams produced what could be expected. But somebody had to win this matchup, and the Cardinals showed grit to overcome a 15-3 deficit early in the fourth quarter to improve to 2-6 and extend a winning streak over the 49ers to eight games.
Rookie quarterback Josh Rosen shook off a sluggish three quarters to lead the comeback, throwing two touchdowns in the final quarter. Rosen’s first touchdown went to veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald for 13 yards. The second scoring pass came on a laser in the back of the end zone to rookie wide receiver Christian Kirk for a 9-yard touchdown to cap off an impressive 12-play, 73-yard drive with :39 remaining on the clock. Fitzgerald caught the 2-point conversion to give the Cardinals a three-point lead.
Rosen finished the game completing 23 of 40 passes for a career-high 252 yards, while Fitzgerald produced eight catches for 102 yards on 12 targets, all season highs, to go along with his touchdown. Kirk chipped in with three catches for 42 yards and a touchdown.
2. The change in offensive coordinators in Arizona from Mike McCoy to Byron Leftwich didn’t produce immediate magic. The Cardinals entered the game ranking last in the league with a 23 per cent third-down conversion rate, but finished making 6 of 14 attempts (42 per cent) mostly because of the fourth quarter.
Completely insane catches0:00
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The Cardinals, however, appeared to make a concerted effort to get the ball in running back David Johnson’s hands as much as possible. Johnson touched the ball 19 times as a rusher and receiver, totalling 101 yards to mark the first time he eclipsed the 100 total yards barrier since Week 4. The Cardinals dodged a scare late in the game when Johnson left to be evaluated for a concussion, but he returned late on the team’s final drive.
3. Holding a 15-3 lead early in the final quarter, the 49ers played with fire and quarterback C.J. Beathard didn’t do enough to hold off the Cardinals’ comeback. Beathard finished the game completing 14 of 28 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown, but he completed just 5 of 10 passes in the final period, where the 49ers converted 1 of 4 third-down attempts. The 49ers gained just 55 total yards in the final quarter, while the Cardinals produced 150 total yards. The loss dropped the 49ers to 1-7 on the season.
– Herbie Teope
Indianapolis Colts 42, Oakland Raiders 28
1. Indianapolis’ offence is coming together. With Marlon Mack, T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle returning to the lineup over the last three weeks, the Colts have developed into a well-oiled, balanced machine, taking care of the bottom-feeding Bills and Raiders in consecutive games with a contender’s ease. On Sunday, Andrew Luck (239 yards, 3 TDs, zero sacks again) chose to rely on pass-catchers not named Hilton on Sunday, who recorded a season-low one reception. Instead, three Colts tight ends (Doyle, Eric Ebron, Mo Alie-Cox) caught touchdown passes in Oakland, the first time that has occurred in NFL history. In his first game back from a five-week hip injury, Doyle (6 rec, 70 yards) was Luck’s go-to target on Indy’s go-ahead fourth-quarter scoring drive. Even longtime Chargers receiver Dontrelle Inman (6 rec, 52 yards) got in on the act in just his second game in Indy. On the ground, Mack had a career day, becoming the first Colts running back since Joseph Addai in 2007 to rush for 100 yards in consecutive games. Sure, the Colts opponents the last three weeks haven’t been world-beaters — but you could say the same things about the remainder of Indy’s schedule. The 3-5 Colts play just one team (at HOU) currently with a record over .500 over the next eight weeks.
Derek Carr drops his head after an error. Picture: GettySource:AFP
2. At the tail end of a week during which his star receiver was traded out of town, his starting running back was placed on injured reserve and he was unfairly ridiculed for reportedly crying on the sideline, Derek Carr (four total TDs) bounced back with his most impressive showing of the season. Without Amari Cooper or Marshawn Lynch, Carr completed 75 per cent of his passes and threw three touchdowns — at one point, he led four straight TD drives and completed 17 straight passes — but Carr’s best wasn’t enough. After the Colts tied the game at 28 in the fourth, Oakland’s offence went three-and-out and then on its next possession Doug Martin fumbled away the game. It was a frustrating end for Martin, who in replacing Lynch was having the best game of his Raiders career (13 car, 72 yards). The Raiders offence can bounce back from its recent departures. The defence is a different story. Jon Gruden switched it up in the secondary, starting Daryl Worley and Gareon Conley at corner and sitting Reggie Nelson at safety, but the results were the same. Expect more changes to come in Oakland before Tuesday’s trade deadline with everyone save for the rejuvenated Carr at risk of losing his job.
3. Adam Vinatieri made history Sunday. Again. With a second-quarter 25-yard field goal, the Colts kicker became the NFL’s all-time leading scorer, surpassing Hall of Fame kicker Morten Andersen (2,544). Vinatieri entered the game with 2,540 points and tied Anderson’s mark with a first-quarter extra point and field goal. The kicker recorded 10 points on the day and closed with 2,550 career points. There are few records remaining for Vinatieri to break. He is unlikely to break Andersen’s record for most games played (382) or George Blanda’s record for oldest player to play in an NFL game (48 years, 109 days). But Vinatieri has not counted out a return next season and beyond. “I don’t ever want to get to a point where it’s, ‘I should have hung it up a year ago,’” Vinatieri told NFL Network’s Judy Battista in a feature published this month. “I’m not putting a time on it.” Keep on kickin’, old man.
– Jeremy Bergman
Cincinnati Bengals 37, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 34
1. Jameis Winston’s days in Tampa Bay might be numbered. The quarterback threw four interceptions, including a pair of really ugly ones, putting the Buccaneers in a deep hole and the worst part of it all was none of it was surprising. The final blow was enough for Dirk Koetter, feeling the warmth on his backside, to bench Winston for Ryan Fitzpatrick, who immediately sparked an 18-point fourth quarter that nearly sent the game to overtime.
The difference in the offence’s image was stark with Fitzpatrick on the field. While their scoring plays are similar on paper (Winston hit DeSean Jackson for a 60-yard touchdown; Fitzpatrick connected with Mike Evans for a 72-yard touchdown), the pace was different and most importantly, so was the self-inflicted damage (or lack thereof). Winston is under contract in 2019 (the Bucs picked up his fifth-year option in April), but the money isn’t guaranteed until the new league year begins in March. That leaves a window for the two to part ways, if one side so desires. After Sunday’s display and taking a look at Winston’s career turnover total, it’s simple to see: The guy is going to take chances and turn the ball over. It seems as though the Bucs are finally tiring of it.
A.J. Green makes an incredible catch for a touchdown. Picture: GettySource:AFP
2. Had the Buccaneers turned to Fitzpatrick earlier, this might have been a different story and we might have been burying the Bengals after what would have been three straight losses. Instead, Cincinnati salvaged a game that quickly became a meltdown — so much that Marvin Lewis afterward twice emphasised how disappointed he was to see his team allow the opponent back in the game — by doing just enough to get into range for Randy Bullock’s game-winning field goal. The Bengals allowed 45 points to the Chiefs last week, and the Steelers to go down the field for a game-winning touchdown within the final two minutes the week before that. This time around, they surrendered 576 yards to a team that benched its quarterback late in the third. Defensive concerns are justified for these Bengals, even with their six sacks and four interceptions.
3. Lost in this wacky game was the offensive production of three key Bengals: Joe Mixon, Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green. The latter made a good portion of his living on the final drive to set up the game-winning field goal, while the other two paced the Cincinnati offence for much of the day. Boyd caught his first five targets and finished with nine receptions (on 10 targets) for 138 yards and a touchdown (and was painfully close to another), while Mixon racked up 123 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Cincinnati’s offence was humming — until it wasn’t. The Bengals twice went three and out in the fourth, then punted after an eight-play possession. That allowed Tampa Bay to make up ground and necessitated the game-winning kick. There are reasons to continue to be encouraged, but the Bengals right now seem like a puzzle with a piece or two missing.
– Nick Shook
Pittsburgh Steelers 33, Cleveland Browns 18
1. Baker Mayfield took his lumps in a rough-and-tumble outing that saw the Browns rookie passer constantly on the run as Cleveland amassed just five yards in the third quarter. Unable to close drives, the Browns squeezed out 10 marches that went for fewer than 30 yards (including four for negative real estate) and finished at just 4.0 yards per play. Mayfield threw a deep shot that was picked off by ex-Browns corner Joe Haden, a turnover that set up a long Steelers touchdown drive before the half. The first-overall pick returned in the third quarter to unfurl a pretty scoring strike to Antonio Callaway and a garbage-time touchdown to Seth DeValve, but those were the lone bright spots on a day hurt by kicker Greg Joseph missing a 41-yard field goal and an extra point. Embattled left tackle Desmond Harrison also killed the team with a hold in the end zone for a Steelers safety.
2. The Steelers started slow until Antonio Brown (6/74/2) caught fire during a second-quarter drive that saw him pile up three grabs capped by a beautiful 43-yard touchdown strike from Ben Roethlisberger. I thought Cleveland’s defence looked gassed at the end of the first half as James Conner moved the sticks and Big Ben completed nine straight lobs during a 16-play, 87-yard series capped by the Brown’s second score to build a 14-6 lead at the break. Tight end Vance McDonald made a handful of tough catches, while Conner — a special player on Sunday — devastated the Browns with 212 yards off 30 touches. The versatile back put this contest away with long, leg-churning runs; yards after the catch; and two second-half touchdown bursts that buried Cleveland for good.
Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger on the charge. Picture: GettySource:AFP
3. Losers of 15 straight in Pittsburgh, the Browns must earn our trust. Sunday didn’t help. Cover man Denzel Ward continues to highlight Cleveland’s talented rookie class, jumping on a second-half fumble and giving this Browns defence some bite. The Steelers, though, house established stars, guys like Brown who always get well when these teams clash. Cleveland is coming off a week tainted by in-house tension between the coaching staff and whispers about the job security of play-caller Todd Haley. The Steelers, meanwhile, overcame their on-field ups and downs to do what they’ve done for endless eons against the Browns: Wait for Cleveland to unravel. Sitting at 4-2-1, Pittsburgh now has the chance to create separation in the North with next week’s encounter against the suddenly spiralling 4-4 Ravens.
– Marc Sessler
Washington Redskins 20, New York Giants 13
1. The gulf between first and last place in the NFC East seems remarkably shallow, with a top-tier defence proving to be the difference-maker over a team that might be just as focused on harvesting draft picks as it is winning games. Washington’s stifling pass rush caused a multitude of problems for Eli Manning, limiting the Giants to 273 total yards. Matt Ioannidis, Ryan Kerrigan and Da’Ron Payne played key roles in dominating the line of scrimmage. Ioannidis finished with 2.5 sacks as Washington tallied seven sacks and 10 hits on Manning. The secondary did their part, too. When Manning did have time to throw and venture beyond 10 yards, the Redskins usually made him pay. D.J. Swearinger picked off Manning twice, with his first interception coming in the red zone to dissolve what was the Giants’ best chance at a touchdown early in the game. Barring two pass interference penalties that helped fuel a late Giants field-goal drive, it was another impressive performance for an underrated defensive unit that has been the driving force behind the team’s 5-2 start.
2. With the trade deadline less than 48 hours away, are the Giants (1-7) going to keep avoiding the elephant in the room and not address their dismal quarterback situation? Eli Manning was almost completely ineffective, limited to mostly short-yardage passes that produced points only when paired with good field position off Redskins turnovers. It wasn’t all his fault — the O-line couldn’t give him consistent protection and there were several dropped passes. The Giants left potential points on the field following a 43-yard fumble return by Olivier Vernon when Evan Engram let a very catchable fourth-down pass through his fingers in the fourth quarter. Still, Manning struggled to piece together drives as the Giants went 2 for 14 on third downs and were 1 for 4 in the red zone. Manning finished with a garbage-time padded 30-of-47 passing for 316 yards, with his touchdown coming in the final seconds of a 2-yard pass to Engram. Had it not been for the game’s final drive and some incredible catches by Odell Beckham, the numbers would have been a more accurate reflection of what was a bland performance. Manning is once again wading into the subpar malaise that spurred the franchise’s old brain trust to bench him last year. It’s difficult to fathom the Giants faring much better with Alex Tanney or Kyle Lauletta at QB, but the Giants could be a lock for the No. 1 overall pick in 2019 if something doesn’t change. After the game, Giants coach Pat Shurmur didn’t want to discuss the possibility of benching Manning. “I don’t want to go there. I don’t want to tease that. I’m going to look at everything.”
3. Adrian Peterson continues to showcase the ageless skills that have made him one of the steals of this year’s afterthought free-agent market. His spectacular 64-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter put the game away. The 33-year-old churned out 149 yards on 26 carries and, in the process, passed Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett for ninth on the all-time rushing list. He offers the Redskins a strong one-two punch in combination with Alex Smith, especially when the quarterback doesn’t have his best game. Smith completed 20 of 32 passes for 178 yards and a TD in the win.
– Austin Knoblauch
Chicago Bears 24, New York Jets 10
1. No Khalil Mack, no problem for the Bears. With the pass rusher inactive for the first game of his career, the rest of Chicago’s defence stepped up to ground the New York Jets. Vic Fangio’s crew dominated the first three quarters, holding the Jets to 98 total yards and four first downs heading into the final frame. On the day, the Bears allowed Gang Green to cross midfield just twice, while holding the Jets to 207 total yards, with six three-and-outs and 3-of-14 on third downs. Lead by the perennial underrated defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, the Bears smothered New York’s ground game, allowing 1.8 yards per carry to running backs. With a secondary that blanketed the receivers, the Bears more than made up for Mack’s absence and a lack of consistent pass rush against a limp Gang Green offence.
2. Mitch Trubisky’s in-game roller-coaster season continued. The Bears quarterback had a rickety first half. A perfectly timed screen call by Matt Nagy against a Jets blitz went for a 70-yard first-quarter touchdown by Tarik Cohen — the call was so good that centre Cody Whitehair released to block, but he didn’t have anyone to hit. Outside of that big play, Trubisky completed just four of 12 passes in the first half for 46 yards. The second-year signal-caller bounced back in the second half, looking calmer in the pocket. Behind great protection, Trubisky went through his progressions and used his legs with aplomb in the final two quarters as the Bears pulled away. Despite continued struggles with inaccuracy, the QB finished 16-of-29 passing for 220 yards and two touchdowns. After generating 174 yards of offence in the first half, Chicago ended the day with 395 total yards. Sunday’s win was another example of the ups-and-downs Trubisky will experience as he continues to learn Nagy’s system. Credit the coach with working through the struggles and putting his quarterback in a position to overcome bouts of inconsistency to produce wins.
3. A banged-up Jets receiver corps missing Robby Anderson and Quincy Enunwa provided Sam Darnold little chance to make plays. New York receivers rarely gained separation, and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates couldn’t creatively scheme open shots for his rookie quarterback. Too often the Jets’ OC slammed his running backs into a brick wall on first down. If New York doesn’t at least threaten with play-action on first downs early in the game, the run game will continue to struggle against good defences. With no ground game to speak of and receivers who don’t get open, it’s impossible to properly judge Darnold’s progress. The rookie has moments of clairvoyance, especially his sublime pocket excitability. There just isn’t enough help around the first-round pick right now.
– Kevin Patra
Kansas City Chiefs 30, Denver Broncos 23
1. Denver was faced with a tall task of attempting to keep pace with Kansas City’s well-oiled machine, and for a half, it did a bang-up job. Phillip Lindsay led the way on the ground, rushing 18 times for 95 yards and bringing much-needed balance to the Broncos. Devontae Booker spelled him nicely, carrying the ball nine times for 78 yards, and Case Keenum spread the ball among eight different targets. Courtland Sutton made another high-ball grab, Emmanuel Sanders found spaces to make catches and move the chains and Demaryius Thomas did his part. Even Jeff Heuermann and Tim Patrick got involved with touchdown grabs. But the prevailing lesson from watching the Broncos’ offence in Week 8: The offensive line is still struggling to block as a cohesive unit. That’s to be expected from a team replacing a starting guard and starting tackle (playing Max Garcia in place of Ron Leary and Billy Turner in place of Jared Veldheer), but needs to be shored up for this team to reach its full potential.
2. Credit is due to Denver’s defence for finding a way to frazzle Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs still couldn’t be completely contained — they scored 30 points, after all — but the Broncos at least made Mahomes work for it, forcing him to scramble like mad at times and intercepting him once. Unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly enough, especially with an offence that has struggled to keep pace. The play of the day best summarised how the afternoon went for both teams. Running an option to the right, Mahomes saw the toss to Tyreek Hill was going to be covered, so he shovelled it forward to Kareem Hunt, who sliced through the defence, hurdled a defender and stumbled into the end zone for a touchdown. It was a highlight-reel play that encapsulated how Denver did some, but not enough to take down a Chiefs team that keeps on rolling.
3. The mid-season catch-up to Andy Reid’s offence has arrived, but these Chiefs are different. They’re simply talented enough with their surplus of weapons to overcome most good defensive gameplans. On Sunday, it was the Chiefs taking advantage of mismatches over the middle with Sammy Watkins, either against soft zone coverage or linebacker-on-receiver match-ups. Outside of that, Week 8 was more of the same excellence from a Kansas City team that keeps rolling and did a good job of beating back a feisty Broncos squad bent on scoring an upset a week after dominating the lowly Cardinals.
– Nick Shook
Philadelphia Eagles 24, Jacksonville Jaguars 18
1. Laughing in the face of one of the NFL’s most ferocious pass rushes, Carson Wentz’s talent and resiliency radiated brightly in a game the Eagles (4-4) desperately needed to win to remain out of the abyss of the NFL’s also-rans. Following a rough first quarter that saw Wentz fumble away the ball and throw an interception, the quarterback refocused and put in one of his finer performances of the season. Taking advantage of a Keelan Cole fumble recovery that was picked up by Malcolm Jenkins, Wentz jump-started the Eagles’ comeback in earnest when he connected on a beautiful 32-yard touchdown pass to Dallas Goedert in the closing seconds of the first half. Philly’s steady scoring output continued in the second half thanks to a 36-yard touchdown dump off to Wendell Smallwood and a 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Ertz to cap off a six-play, 75-yard drive. Wentz finished the game completing 21 of 30 passes for 286 yards and three TDs. Wentz was his usual Houdini self when it came to ducking and twirling around Sacksonville’s top-ranked pass-rushing unit, but he had plenty of help from his offensive line. The unit performed very well without Lane Johnson, who was carted off early in the first quarter after suffering a sprained MCL. Jason Peters also sat out most of the first half while undergoing evaluation for a head injury. With the O-line helping Josh Adams and Smallwood establish a run-game to complement the passing attack, the defending Super Bowl champions once again showed the world why no one can underestimate them despite their middle-of-the-road record.
2. Blake Bortles performed much better following his benching last week against the Houston Texans, but the quarterback was ineffective in the fourth quarter when the Jaguars (3-5) needed their starting QB to spearhead a comeback. Some of it wasn’t his fault. A dropped pass by rookie D.J. Chark in the end zone with seven minutes left in regulation forced the Jaguars to settle for a 24-yard field goal. After the Jaguars’ defence forced the Eagles to go three-and-out on the ensuing possession, Bortles couldn’t figure out how to beat the Philly secondary despite having plenty of time in the pocket. He completed two passes on the Jaguars’ final possession before the drive fizzled out at mid-field. Although Bortles converted on some critical first downs and made some nice passes en route to completing 24 of 41 passes for 286 yards and a touchdown, he was inconsistent at junctures for an offence that continues to sorely miss Leonard Fournette’s production. Carlos Hyde, who the team acquired via trade last week had fewer rushing yards (11) than Bortles (43).
– Austin Knoblauch
Carolina Panthers 36, Baltimore Ravens 21
1. Chiefs coach Andy Reid isn’t the only old dog willing to learn new tricks. Panthers coordinator Norv Turner, who has been calling plays since the Cowboys dynasty of the early 1990s, is helping Cam Newton reach the next level as a passer through creative play designs and pre-snap acumen. Newton’s accuracy and decision-making have been markedly improved, particularly in his willingness to settle for underneath routes rather than rifling scattershot throws downfield. Against a defence that entered the week ranked No. 1 overall and No. 2 against the pass, Newton started with an array of impressive tight-window throws, took advantage of a few lucky bounces and broke Baltimore’s back with a 12-yard bootleg touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Carolina’s brass has long envisioned a Ben Roethlisberger-like transition for Newton. It’s finally here. Leading a quick-tossing attack with an arsenal of playmakers, Newton is completing a career-high 66.4 per cent of his passes at just 6.9 yards per attempt for a rating of 97.4.
2. There’s an old football maxim that suggests a decent team is only an injury or two away from reaching its true potential, allowing younger, more talented players to replace veteran progress-stoppers. Limited to the Cordarrelle Patterson package of end-arounds, sweeps and slants early in his rookie season, D.J. Moore was thrust into a starring role with Torrey Smith nursing a knee injury. Showcasing a Percy Harvin-like elusiveness with the ball in his hands, Moore dominated a 99-yard scoring drive with chunk plays of 33 and 37 yards in addition to an 11-yard end-around in the red zone. It’s going to be hard to keep him out of the lineup going forward. Throw in a healthier Greg Olsen, steadily improving dual-threat tailback Christian McCaffrey and promising second-year playmaker Curtis Samuel, and this offence has plenty of room to grow in the second half of the season.
3. After jumping out to a 7-0 lead on the game’s opening drive, the Ravens unravelled for the rest of a lopsided first half, drowning in a sea of ill-timed penalties, mental errors, poor field position and just plain bad luck. A blown blocking assignment led to Kyle Love’s forced fumble on Alex Collins, setting up a quick Newton touchdown to Panthers tight end Greg Olsen. A bold fake-punt conversion from Baltimore’s own 10-yard line was negated by an illegal shift penalty. Willie Snead lost a key first down due to his own pass interference, forcing a third-and-long situation that resulted in an egregious Joe Flacco interception just before halftime. It didn’t help matters that the ball bounced Carolina’s way on the 99-yard scoring drive, highlighted by an errant backfield pitch that ended up in Moore’s hands for a big gain which paved the way for a leaping Christian McCaffrey touchdown off a pass deflected by safety Eric Weddle.
Unable to stop Newton’s offence in the second half, the Ravens had no chance to mount a serious comeback bid. On this day, at least, the Panthers were the superior, luckier, more-physical, better-coached team.
– Chris Wesseling
Seattle Seahawks 28, Detroit Lions 14
1. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson started off hot, connecting on his first 10 passes to finish the first half completing 11 of 12 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns for a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Wilson didn’t cool off coming out of halftime and kept the pressure on in the second half, picking apart a Lions pass defence that entered the game ranked a respectable seventh in the league.
Outside of Wilson finishing the game by completing 14 of 17 passes (82.4 per cent) for 248 yards and three touchdowns, another statistic proved just how good he was through four quarters: The seventh-year pro finished Sunday’s matchup with a perfect 158.3 passer rating, easily surpassing his previous single-game high rating of 151.1 set on Nov. 17, 2013 against the Minnesota Vikings.
2. The Seahawks entered the game ranked seventh in the league in rushing, and found a perfect matchup to add to the totals against a Lions run defence that ranked 29th (139.3 yards allowed per game) in the league. In the first half, running back Chris Carson paced the Seahawks with 61 yards rushing, as the team totalled 95 yards on 19 carries entering halftime. The Seahawks’ offensive line also deserves some kudos here, as Carson found some open running lanes throughout the game because of the front five. Carson finished with 105 yards rushing and a touchdown on 25 carries, as the Seahawks totalled 176 yards on the ground on 42 carries.
The Seahawks’ dominance on the ground translated to success in other areas. Wilson thrived on play-action calls with Detroit defenders frozen at the line of scrimmage out of respect for the run game. Additionally, the Seahawks easily won the time of possession by a wide margin of 34:55 to the Lions’ 25:05 en route to improving to 4-3 on the season.
3. The Lions looked great on the opening possession, marching down the field on a 13-play, 91-yard drive capped off by quarterback Matthew Stafford’s 39-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marvin Jones.
And then the wheels came off, as Detroit quickly fell behind 21-7 before losing 28-14.
While a lot of the credit should go to the Seahawks’ ability to control the game on offence, the Lions failed to gain any semblance of momentum even when they had the ball after the opening possession. Detroit had a favourable matchup against a Seattle run defence that ranked 24th in the league, but couldn’t get rookie Kerryon Johnson going. Johnson, who exploded for 158 yards in Week 7, managed just 22 yards rushing on eight carries as Detroit totalled a season-low 34 yards on the ground as a team.
And despite a 310-yard passing and two-touchdown performance, Stafford didn’t help the cause with a brutal red-zone interception with the Lions down 14 in the fourth quarter. Sunday’s loss dropped the Lions to 3-4.
– Herbie Teope
Originally published as NFL wrap: Rams perfect, Aussie’s star grows
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