Welcome to your Week 8 wrap. We had the Falcons getting a big win, the Broncos defense surviving the loss of their coordinator, Gronk hitting a significant number (for him, and the Patriots), the Cardinals being embarrassed at the site of their debacle in the NFC Championship Game, the Chiefs rolling despite big injuries, and the Seahawks showing they need some serious offensive help. We saw Brock Osweiler look somewhat capable, the Jets winning but not helping themselves against the Browns, and Bill O'Brien going off on an assistant. There were also some serious miscalculations by Andy Reid, Pete Carroll and the Patriots, and some more problems with the officiating (put the flags away, guys). We saw a few awesome performances as well, but we'll start with what seems to be a budding MVP candidate in Oakland.
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Your resident “Wet Blanket of Reason” takes the temperature of the most intriguing storylines out of Week 8 of the 2016 NFL season:
Go crazy, folks:
Derek Carr is a legit MVP candidate: Raiders QB Derek Carr was absolutely sensational in the Raiders’ 30–24 overtime victory against Tampa Bay. Carr completed 40 of 59 passes for 513 yards and four touchdowns (117.4 rating). He became only the third player in league history (Y.A. Tittle, Ben Roethlisberger) to throw for over 500 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. Considering how bad the Raiders’ defense is, the fact that the Raiders lead the AFC West at 6–2 with three game-winning drives from Carr means he is very much a legitimate MVP candidate if Oakland can stay at the top of the division.
Gronk is the best: As long as his career doesn’t end tomorrow, Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski will go down as the best in the league at his position. Not bad for the 42nd overall pick in 2010, who was taken off of some teams’ draft boards because of a back injury that wiped out his junior season at Arizona. Gronkowski had five catches for 109 yards and a 53-yard touchdown against the Bills. It was Gronkowski’s 69th career touchdown, and you know what that means baby…he passed Stanley Morgan for first on the Patriots’ all-time list.
The Cardinals should be embarrassed: After choking away a home victory against the Seahawks in Week 7, the Cardinals went on the road to play reeling Carolina and fell behind 24–0 before losing 30–20. Instead of being 5–3, Arizona is now 3–4–1 and it looks like its only avenue to make the playoffs is upending the Seahawks (4–2–1). Things were going well in Arizona for a while, but this season it looks like coach Bruce Arians has lost his deft touch, and he’s going to need to get it back, because the Cardinals are going to have to coach their way out of this one. The bye week comes at a good time—things need to change, starting up front. The Cardinals had 6 rushing yards in the first half and QB Carson Palmer was getting pummeled.
The Falcons finish one off: After failing to secure victories the previous two weeks thanks to Matt Ryan interceptions, the Falcons had to gain a lot of confidence by coming back to beat the Packers 33–32. Ryan was terrific throughout, completing 80% of his passes with three touchdowns and a 129.5 rating. Ryan was masterful on the final drive, hitting Mohamed Sanu five times, including on the 11-yard game winner with 31 seconds remaining. The Falcons are now 5–3 and are the only team in the NFC South with a winning record.
The Broncos do it for Wade: Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips took a hard hit on the sideline midway through the second quarter, was carted off the field and had to be taken to the hospital. Initial reports were good. Phillips can take solace in knowing that his unit again carried the Broncos to a victory with three interceptions (one for a touchdown), three sacks and two fourth-down stops.
The Chiefs show their mental toughness: Despite losing QB Alex Smith (twice) and backup RB Spencer Ware (starter Jamaal Charles wasn’t active), the Chiefs just kept on rolling to a 30–14 road victory over the Colts. Nick Foles completed 16 of 22 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns (135.2 rating) and the Chiefs totaled 422 yards of offense.
The Seahawks need help on offense: Seattle has scored just one touchdown on its last 23 possessions, and it starts with a terrible offensive line. The Seahawks absolutely have to find some help at tackle before Tuesday’s trade deadline.
Welcome back, Tyler Eifert: The Bengals’ TE, in his first full game of the season, had nine catches for 102 yards and a touchdown as the offense got cranked up in an eventual 27–27 tie with Washington. Eifert makes a big difference in that offense.
Aaron Rodgers isn't necessarily back: Packers QB Aaron Rodgers had a great game against the Falcons, no question (28 of 38 for 246 yards and four touchdowns; six rushes for 60 yards). But it was the Falcons. If you've ever watched their defense, you’ll see that they're terrible (26th overall and 24th against the pass, according to FootballOutsiders.com). Atlanta also can't execute the type of man-to-man defense or keep Rodgers in the pocket, which leads to the biggest frustrations for the Packers. Maybe Rodgers is indeed back, but don't use Sunday's performance as all of your evidence.
The Packers defense is OK: If I know Packers fans like I think I do, there will be a lot of criticism for defensive coordinator Dom Capers as the Packers allowed 367 yards and Matt Ryan to complete 80% of his passes. First of all, the Packers were down two starting CBs and OLB Clay Matthews, and they went with the approach of not letting WR Julio Jones beat you. Jones only had three catches for 29 yards, and if Ryan beats you without Jones, you just have to tip your cap.
The Jets are still done: The Jets got their second-straight win after a 31–28 victory over the Browns, and there’s now a little chatter about them not being out of the playoff race just yet. Please. It’s over.
Brock Osweiler still has a ways to go: Embattled Texans QB Brock Osweiler certainly played better in a 20–13 victory over the Lions (it’s hard not to) by completing 20 of 29 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown. But it was against the Lions’ 25th-ranked defense, and Osweiler threw a brutal interception that took points off the board. If the Texans are going to be a real threat, Osweiler needs to get much better.
O’Brien should be ticked off: Cameras showed Texans coach Bill O’Brien apparently going after special teams coordinator Larry Izzo to start the second half. The Texans had only 10 players on the field for the kickoff and had to take a timeout. Some people think O’Brien was out of line. But if one of your coaches can’t do his job, he deserves to be ripped.
A look at the worst coaching decisions from Sunday.
• The Chiefs were completely dominating the Colts 10–0 after a touchdown early in the second quarter, but gave the Colts life when Andy Reid approved of an onside kick. The Colts recovered and scored a touchdown to make it 10–7. Luckily for Reid it didn’t wind up costing his team the game, but that was not a smart move.
• How do the Seahawks throw an 8-yard pass in the middle of the field with 16 seconds left, the ball at the New Orleans’ 18-yard line and no timeouts left?? Seattle had to spike the clock on third down with 2 seconds remaining, leaving only one more play. Throws to the sideline or end zone could have given the Seahawks a couple more shots, but instead, they were handed their second loss of the season.
• Leading 31–10 midway through the third quarter with the Bills facing a 4th-and-3, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia called a defense (man to man with pressure) that allowed Bills QB Tyrod Taylor to run 26 yards untouched for a touchdown. That’s embarrassing.
• After getting down to the Denver 2-yard line trailing by eight points with 2:54 remaining, the Chargers didn't elect to run once with Melvin Gordon (23 carries, 11 yards) and instead threw four incomplete passes. The strength of Denver's defense is their coverage and pass rush, while they're a little iffy in the middle against the run. And not even one carry for Gordon?
• Packers coach Mike McCarthy should have taken a timeout when the Falcons made a first down with about a minute remaining in the game. He didn't, and the Packers were left with just 31 seconds to try for the winning field goal.
Everybody loves to hate the refs, but let’s take a closer look at how the zebras performed today:
— How did the officials in the Cardinals-Panthers game miss a blatant and vicious low hit by DE Calais Campbell on Cam Newton? I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but the refs left a lot of unnecessary shots against Newton go—and Newton noticed. If that’s Tom Brady, there is definitely a flag.
— Officials in the Seahawks-Saints games missed two crucial offensive pass interference penalties on the go-ahead touchdown, and on a third down near the end of the game. Seattle was called for 11 penalties, and the home team was called for just two. I’m not saying, I’m just saying…
— It was a good call to flag Lions safety Tavon Wilson for head hunting on Texans TE C.J. Fiedorowicz.
— It was a good call to nab Patriots WR Danny Amendola for blocking early on a James White screen pass.
Coolest thing I saw
In a sign of how bad the Seahawks’ offense is at this point, they needed to use a trick play to get a jump on the Saints. In the second quarter, Russell Wilson lateraled left to receiver Tanner McEvoy (he saved the game against the Cardinals with a late punt block), who threw a perfect pass to C.J. Prosise for 43-yards down to the Saints’ 2-yard line. One play later, the Seahawks led 14–3.
— Saints LB Nate Stupar making a diving interception on a 100-mph heater from Seahawks QB Russell Wilson. A lot of offensive players would have trouble catching that one.
— Jets receiver Brandon Marshall blocking two different Browns players on a touchdown by Bilal Powell.
— Cardinals RB David Johnson makes at least one play a game that makes you marvel at him. Against the Panthers it came with 3:23 left in the third quarter when he caught a pass, hurdled CB Robert McClain, and did a jump stop that fooled LB Luke Kuechly.
A look at a previously unheralded player (or players) who popped this week:
Tim Hightower, RB, Saints: After an early fumble, the Saints benched starter Mark Ingram, which could have been problematic considering New Orleans wanted to try a ball-control gameplan against the Seahawks. The 30-year-old back, who played 2014 for the Blacktips of the Fall Experimental Football League and then joined the Saints in 2015, ran for 102 yards on 26 carries. It was the first 100-yard performance by a Saints RB this season.
Numbers sometimes lie
31–28: Score of the Browns’ loss to the Jets. Doesn’t seem all that bad for a team searching for its first victory, but when you consider the Browns scored eight points with 12 seconds left and that they had a 20–7 halftime lead, it was a brutal loss. At least only about 40,000 saw it, instead of the announced 67,000 (another number that lies). The Moneyball era in Cleveland isn’t off to a flying start.
23 for 200: Penalties and yards on the Raiders in their 30–24 overtime victory over the Buccaneers. The number set an NFL record, and the yards were the third-most in league history. They also had three declined and one offset. The Raiders had four holding penalties and four unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties. The undisciplined effort nearly cost the team a victory. But, it’s the Raiders. It’s like Al Davis never left us.
After the whistle
Finally, the NFL is back, but it needs to chill with the flags. After struggling to find good football for the first seven weeks, there was a lot of exciting action in Week 8. The London game (yes, you read that right) between the Bengals and Washington was back and forth, and the last four games of the afternoon (Saints-Seahawks, Raiders-Bucs, Chargers-Broncos and Falcons-Packers) were a ton of fun with all the games seesawing back and forth. But, man, the games to seem to be way over-officiated. Hopefully things will settle down for the rest of the season, because there's nothing better than November and December football. Every division but the AFC East is up for grabs. Let the boys play some ball.