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2021 NFL season, Week 8: What we learned from Sunday's games

Around The NFL breaks down what you need to know from all of Sunday's action in Week 8 of the 2021 NFL season. Catch up on each game's biggest takeaways using the links below:

Dallas Cowboys
2021 · 6-1-0
Minnesota Vikings
2021 · 3-4-0

Grant Gordon's takeaways:

  1. Winnin' with Mr. Cooper. Cooper Rush's game-winning touchdown pass to Amari Cooper was the first TD in NFL history in which the passer's first name and receiver's last name were an exact match, per NFL Research. It was a trivial note that concluded a triumphant and truly special first NFL start for Mr. Cooper Rush. Much of Sunday was an ode to the absent Dak Prescott as the Cowboys offense sputtered and shined a spotlight on just how valuable Prescott is to his team. But Rush, who'd thrown just three passes in his career previously, frankly showed more moxie and fearlessness than his Vikings counterpart in driving Dallas to the win. This prime-time showing had all the obligatory shots of Rush's parents in the stands and, as it grew in its drama, Rush seemingly became more and more poised by the play. Rush, who threw for 325 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including the 5-yard game-winner with 51 seconds to play, became the first QB since Gary Hogeboom in 1984 to win his first NFL start in a prime-time road game, per NFL Research. Who knows what the future holds for Rush? But on this night, the Cowboys took the cautious route by making their star QB inactive, and Rush was able to lead them to a win. Maybe it'll be forgotten in time, but on this special Sunday night, Rush orchestrated the kind of magical showing that kids dream about and kept the first-place Cowboys rolling right along even with their superstar on the sideline.
  2. Micah Parsons is a machine. Parsons has drawn acclaim since the preseason and it's waned a bit as stars are plentiful on America's Team. Nonetheless, the Dallas defense stepped up on Sunday, holding the Vikings to a measly 278 yards of offense and Parsons was a catalyst. He was all over the field in tallying up a game-high 11 tackles, along with four tackles for loss, a QB hit, two QB pressures and two stuffs. Dan Quinn deserves plenty of credit for the improvement of the Cowboys' defense, but the life breathed into it and the talent added by Parsons cannot be overlooked. This feels like a special career is getting going in Dallas.
  3. Vikings can't cash in. Entering an opportune situation, the Vikings were fifth in the league in total offense. The Kirk Cousins-led unit looked nothing close to that lofty ranking. Minnesota averaged 4.6 years per play, totaling just 278 yards of offense for the game. Cousins was 23 of 35 for 184 yards, a touchdown, no interceptions and an 88.3 rating. Those numbers look far better than what the film shows. When the game was in the balance, Cousins wobbled. The Vikings were a miserable 1 of 13 on third downs, and when big scores were needed, they came up short over and over again. After a TD toss to Adam Thielen on the opening drive, the Vikings mustered just three fields goals thereafter. As Rush worked out growing pains, Cousins and Co. were unable to take advantage. There is often too much criticism levied on Cousins. That's not the case tonight. He made no huge mistakes, but time after time came up short when a big play was called for, and the Vikings let a big win slip from their grasp.

Next Gen stat of the game: Kirk Cousins was 6 of 15 for 29 yards under pressure.

NFL Research: Cowboys WR Cedrick Wilson, who threw a 35-yard completion to CeeDee Lamb, has a career passing line of 4 for 4 for 80 yards, a touchdown and a perfect 158.3 passer rating.

New Orleans Saints
2021 · 5-2-0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2021 · 6-2-0

Chase Goodbread's takeaways:

  1. Saints take Brady off his game -- again. Something about the Saints just seems to spook Tom Brady, and it doesn't even have to be Halloween. The G.O.A.T. has struggled with the Saints historically, notwithstanding his playoff win over New Orleans last year, as he entered losing three of five meetings since 2006 with a 78.1 passer rating that's his lowest against any team in that span. The Saints had him out of rhythm again Sunday with two very un-Brady-like interceptions, including one with 1:36 left to play and the Bucs trailing by just two points -- crunch time, when Brady is normally good as gold. Brady also lost a fumble on a strip-sack, one of three times the Saints dropped him in the backfield for the day. Brady has now lost four of six meetings with the Saints in the Sean Payton era.
  2. Winston sharp early, Siemian closes deal. Jameis Winston's first game against the Buccaneers since the club cut bait with its former No. 1 overall pick was off to a fine start for Winston until an injury knocked him out of the game -- a horse-collar tackle by Devin White ended Winston's night. He looked sharp early with a TD pass to Tre'Quan Smith, perfectly timed and placed to beat Ross Cockrell, for a 16-yard score that beat a blitz and knotted the game, 7-7. He'd rumbled for 40 rushing yards on just four carries, as well, looking every bit the new-and-improved Winston that 2021 has thus far brought us. It was Trevor Siemian, however, who had to navigate most of the game in the Saints' takedown of the defending Super Bowl champs. He played just well enough, paired with an opportunistic Saints defense, to pull it out at the end.
  3. Saints in red zone. The NFL's best red-zone team took a step backward in that area on Sunday. The Saints defense allowed touchdown passes by Brady on both of Tampa Bay's trips inside the red zone. Meanwhile, the Saints offense made seven trips into the Tampa Bay red zone and came away with just three touchdowns, although the last one was a kneel down to end the game. No team can play well in the red zone every week, but it ranks among the most telling indicators of outcome, and New Orleans had dominated in that area entering Sunday with the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense and its No. 2-ranked offense inside the 20-yard line.

Next Gen stat of the game: The Bucs blitzed on eight of Winston's 10 dropbacks, but came up with no pressures among them.

NFL Research: Brady passed former Saints QB Drew Brees for the most games with three or more TD passes, tossing three for the 98th time in his career.

New England Patriots
2021 · 4-4-0
Los Angeles Chargers
2021 · 4-3-0

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. If last week was the Patriots pushing the throttle, Sunday was their takeoff from the runway. After blowing out the Jets last week, New England earned its first legitimate statement win of 2021 to get back to .500 after eight games. The Patriots did so by calling a balanced offensive game that allowed Mac Jones to get comfortable, overcome earlier struggles and make multiple key plays late in a close game. Frankly, the Patriots probably could have won by a wider margin. New England had a touchdown run wiped out by a holding call, then fumbled away a red-zone opportunity two plays later. Damien Harris had another big run called back by another holding penalty, eventually leading to the Patriots settling for a field goal. Even with the mistakes, the Patriots did enough to seal the win when it mattered most. They'll have to clean things up going forward, but the Patriots are forming an identity. They aren't stat stuffers, but they're doing their job when it's most important, and their defense is carrying its share of the load. With three wins in their last four, they're headed in the right direction by playing no-frills football.
  2. The blueprint to bottling up Justin Herbert is located in Foxborough. Baltimore might have been the first to do it in 2021, but no team has found more defensive success against one of the most promising young passers in the NFL than the Patriots. In their two meetings, New England has kept Herbert from completing 52% of his passes or better, and it proved to be the difference Sunday. Herbert threw two interceptions -- including one that appeared to be a miscommunication with Jared Cook -- and he didn't get much help from Keenan Allen on a key third-down attempt late in the game. The Chargers were unable to do much offensively, and even a late touchdown drive when trailing by 10 wasn't enough to make up for the struggle-filled day that was Sunday. While Herbert has found success against most everyone else, he's had a tough time executing in his last two games. The narrative could be: Is the NFL figuring out Justin Herbert? Maybe, but the evidence is stronger in favor of New England. Perhaps it's just a product of timing, but it's certainly a feather in the hoodie of Bill Belichick.
  3. These Patriots are becoming a throwback to the earliest part of this century. New England isn't exactly an incredibly explosive team, but is playing complementary football very well. The Patriots dominated time of possession by more than 10 minutes in this game and ran 17 more offensive plays than the Chargers, choosing to play ball-control offense with a methodical approach that shined on their penultimate possession. New England ate up nearly seven minutes of clock in a one-possession game, making sure to stay in bounds after gaining yards, and capped it with a field goal to make it a 10-point game. The Patriots' defense executed an excellent game plan, forcing Herbert to make mistakes and weathering a few big plays along the way. The offense did enough to overcome self-inflicted mistakes and produce enough points for a win. Even if New England's defense isn't near an elite level at this point, the previous sentence sounds like something we'd say about the Patriots in the early 2000s. That formula could help them break double-digits in the win column when it's all said and done.

Next Gen stat of the game: Justin Herbert's two lowest completion-percentage-over-expectation marks have come against the Patriots. He posted his second lowest CPOE of his career Sunday at -12.4.

NFL Research: Justin Herbert's two worst passer rating and completion percentage games of his career have come against the Patriots, who limited him to a passer rating of 66.7 and a completion percentage of 51.4 Sunday.

Seattle Seahawks
2021 · 3-5-0
Jacksonville Jaguars
2021 · 1-6-0

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Geno Smith earns first win as Seahawks starter. Geno didn't need a late-game chance this week. The quarterback came out firing against an overwhelmed Jacksonville defense, picking apart the Jags with ease. Smith completed his first 14 passes of the game as the Seahawks sprinted out to a big lead and never looked back. Smith generated a +24.7 completion percentage over expected, the highest by any QB in a game since 2020 (minimum 14 attempts), per Next Gen Stats. Tyler Lockett was unguardable, and Smith hit him in stride time and time again. The Jags couldn't handle Lockett's speed and quick cuts as the WR went for 12 catches and 142 yards. DK Metcalf cleaned up in the red zone, posterizing the Jags for two touchdowns and 43 yards on six catches on the day. The duo showed that when given opportunities, they remain one of the dominant WR tandems in the NFL. The Seahawks took their foot off the pedal late -- Smith attempted just two passes in the fourth quarter. It was an outing that the Seahawks needed with their backup quarterback to keep their postseason hopes alive after three straight losses.
  2. Seahawks D feasts. Seattle's defense channeled its inner Legion of Boom, berating Trevor Lawrence on seemingly every drop back. The defensive front dominated the line of scrimmage. The secondary didn't give Lawrence anything deep. Safety Quandre Diggs generated an INT and had several big hits. Jamal Adams and Bobby Wagner roamed the field, combining for 24 tackles. Carlos Dunlap added two batted passes in addition to whipping Jacksonville OTs. The Seahawks generated 22 total QB pressures on the game. The secondary allowed just three passes to be completed of 10-plus air yards. A garbage-time TD wiped out a shutout, but it was a complete game by the Seattle D that played its best game of the season against a hapless opponent.
  3. Urban Meyer's team looks lost. It felt like the Jags were still on a bye. Jacksonville came off their week off laying an egg in all three phases. The offense couldn't move the ball against a Seahawks defense that had been picked apart this season. The O-line couldn't block a soul. The run game was nonexistent after James Robinson exited early with an ankle injury. Lawrence's head was spinning. The rookie QB played his worst game in a bumpy season. Constantly under pressure, Lawrence was a check-down king. On 53 pass attempts, he completed just 32 for 238 yards, an INT and a garbage-time score. There were miscommunications with receivers and several bad balls from Lawrence. It's incredible that on 53 attempts, the Jags barely attempted anything downfield, even trailing by 20-plus points most of the game. Lawrence went 0 for 4 on 20-plus yard passes with an INT. The defense was a sieve and consistently confused pre-snap -- including having 12 men on the field on back-to-back plays at one point. And the special teams were no better, including giving up a late onside kick TD. Meyer's team also committed 12 penalties for 93 yards. In an already rocky start to Meyer's NFL career, this was the worst performance.

Next Gen stat of the game: Josh Allen earned five QB pressures and two sacks on 19 pass-rush snaps (only Jags player with more than one pressure).

NFL Research: DK Metcalf had two receiving TDs in Week 8 and now has 25 in 40 career games. Metcalf is the fifth WR in the Super Bowl era with 2,500-plus receiving yards and 25-plus receiving TDs in his first 40 games (Others: HOF Jerry Rice, HOF Randy Moss, NYG Odell Beckham Jr. and SD John Jefferson).

Denver Broncos
2021 · 4-4-0
Washington Football Team
2021 · 2-6-0

Chase Goodbread's takeaways:

  1. No Miller, no problem. With Broncos pass rusher Von Miller unable to play due to injury and Bradley Chubb still on injured reserve, Denver still managed to generate a solid pass rush against Washington. There was no bigger takedown of WFT quarterback Taylor Heinicke than Malik Reed's sack-fumble that should have sealed it (but didn't; read on) in the final minute for the Broncos. Stephen Weatherly, newly acquired in a trade with the Vikings, knocked Washington out of field-goal range right before the half with a sack, beating right tackle Saahdiq Charles around the edge to help preserve a 10-3 Denver lead at the half. Dre'Mont Jones came up with a third-down sack in the second half that forced WFT to punt from its own end zone. Reed notched a second sack in the final seconds to snuff out a desperation drive. Injuries aside, Denver's defense carried the day.
  2. Blocks, blunders and Blewitt. A roster move at the kicker position could be in the works in Washington. New kicker Chris Blewitt, whom the club signed a few weeks ago, now has had field goal attempts blocked in consecutive weeks. This week, it happened twice. In the first half, Blewitt blasted a 45-yard attempt so low that Denver's Shelby Harris, without significant penetration, was able to block it not with an extended hand, but with his upper arm. In the second half, Jones got a piece of a 47-yard attempt that denied Washington a would-be 13-10 lead. WFT has bigger problems, to be sure, but inconsistent kicking is always costly in the close ones. Blewitt did knock home a 52-yarder in the first half.
  3. How's this for trying to give the game away? With a drive that should've ended in the victory formation, here's what the Broncos did with a 17-10 lead and a first-and-10 from their own 22 with 0:49 left on the clock: First down) A Javonte Williams 1-yard run on which he lost the ball but wasn't ruled to have fumbled; Second down) An incomplete pass that allowed Washington to save a timeout; Third down) A Melvin Gordon fumble, forced by Chase Young for a turnover that breathed new life into the WFT. It made for a bit more suspense than should have been necessary, but a Denver defense that came through all day rose up one more time.

Next Gen stat of the game: Washington DL Jonathan Allen recorded a game-high seven pressures with a sack on 19 pass-rush snaps.

NFL Research: Teddy Bridgewater has had a completion percentage of 70+ with no interceptions in all four of Denver's wins this season. No other quarterback has more than three such games in 2021.

Philadelphia Eagles
2021 · 3-5-0
Detroit Lions
2021 · 0-8-0

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. Eagles won this one in the trenches. Without Miles Sanders, Philadelphia bucked its prior tendency to avoid the run and instead turned to a backfield committee, relying on its blockers to clear space for success. Boston Scott and Jordan Howard combined to rush for 117 yards and four touchdowns on 24 carries, while Kenneth Gainwell and Jalen Reagor chipped in another 48 yards on 15 attempts. Jalen Hurts remained the exciting player he's proven to be, using his legs to extend plays and pick up a little over 10 yards per run. The combined effort eliminated the need to throw the ball effectively and helped the Eagles dominate time of possession 35 minutes to 25. After looking lost in Las Vegas last week, the Eagles were very much in control of this one and can fly back to Philadelphia feeling proud of their efforts.
  2. Philadelphia's defensive front needed this rebound performance. After failing to record a sack and giving up two rushing touchdowns last week, the Eagles responded by dominating up front. Philadelphia harassed Jared Goff relentlessly, sacking him five times (and David Blough once), and the Lions essentially had no chance to run the ball effectively, finishing with 57 yards on the ground. Long down-and-distance situations sank Detroit's hopes, with the Eagles bottling up anything the Lions attempted to do, allowing 3.9 yards per play. Former Lion Darius Slay capped the complete defensive performance by returning a fumble for a touchdown, punctuating a dominant day for an up-and-down Eagles team that enjoyed a high on Sunday.
  3. Dan Campbell's Lions have hit a new low. Detroit looked like the worst team in football on Sunday, failing to protect Goff and doing little else offensively, while also struggling to mount much resistance to whatever challenge the Eagles presented. The stats don't paint a picture of a game that was as lopsided as it appeared, but the tape doesn't lie: The Lions were totally outclassed in their own building by an Eagles team that hadn't exactly found its footing through seven weeks. The days ahead will be reserved for some soul searching for the Lions, who were competitive enough prior to Sunday to be expected to hang in against the Eagles. Instead, they were on the wrong end of a drubbing.

Next Gen stat of the game: Philadelphia pressured Jared Goff 18 times, registering a pressure percentage of 46.2, more than 14% higher than their rate for the season.

NFL Research: After scoring three rushing touchdowns combined in Weeks 1-7, Eagles running backs combined for four rushing touchdowns in Week 8, posting season-high marks in carries (37) and rushing yards (144).

Carolina Panthers
2021 · 4-4-0
Atlanta Falcons
2021 · 3-4-0

Chase Goodbread's takeaways:

  1. Darnold improved before exiting. After getting benched in a positively atrocious offensive performance last week, there was a mix of good and bad from Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold. On the positive side, he cleaned up the turnover woes that have plagued him in recent weeks, moved the chains several times with scrambles and sneaks (eight carries, 66 yards) and, as usual, played better than the box score will show thanks to more dropped passes by the NFL's most butterfingered collection of pass catchers. But when the biggest negative is on the scoreboard, it can't be overlooked -- Darnold did not complete a touchdown drive, although he did get the Panthers to the doorstep of their lone touchdown, which clinched the game late, before he exited with a concussion. Darnold completed 13 of 24 passes for 129 yards, not exactly inspiring numbers for the improved protection he got (see below).
  2. Panthers put pinch on Pitts. With Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley unavailable (personal matter), the Panthers secondary was better able to blanket rookie tight end Kyle Pitts with all sorts of attention. Pitts entered the game looking to become the first NFL rookie tight end to collect three 100-yard receiving games in a row. It didn't come close to happening. The Panthers frequently had two defenders on Pitts, deterring Matt Ryan from targeting him. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the 2019 AP Defensive Player of the Year, made his season debut and drew Pitts at times, recording a late interception that all but clinched the win while covering the promising 6-foot-6 tight end. Pitts was targeted six times and had two catches and just 13 yards. Even apart from the tight coverage, Pitts didn't have his best day -- he dropped a perfectly thrown deep ball from Ryan on a crucial third-and-2 that was followed by a missed field goal.
  3. Pass rush woes doom Falcons. Opposing pass rushes have had a field day against the Panthers of late, but apparently, there isn't a better tonic for that than the Falcons. Atlanta was held without a sack against Carolina and generated just three hurries all day. The Panthers offense was still relatively pedestrian -- it didn't score a touchdown until the fourth quarter -- but the best pass protection Darnold has enjoyed all season unquestionably contributed to Carolina's pairing of an interception-free day with five scoring drives. Darnold was pressured on only six pass attempts before exiting with a concussion. If the Falcons decide to be buyers at this week's trade deadline, pass-rush help should top the list.

Next Gen stat of the game: Falcons QB Matt Ryan was pressured on 56.7% of his dropbacks, the most pressure he's faced since 2016.

NFL Research: The Panthers rushed for a season-high 203 yards, their highest total since Week 5 of 2019 against Jacksonville (285).

San Francisco 49ers
2021 · 3-4-0
Chicago Bears
2021 · 3-5-0

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Jimmy Garoppolo quiets critics. With whispers of Trey Lance taking over for a struggling Jimmy G, the veteran QB put on his best performance of the season. Garoppolo overcame several drops early to keep drives alive. The signal-caller threw for a season-high 322 yards as the Niners didn't punt all game. Drives stalled in the first half, with the 49ers settling for field goals. In the final two quarters, those marches ended in touchdowns. Showing coaches they don't need Lance in the red zone, Jimmy G ran for two TDs -- the first time in his career he's had two rushing scores. Facing a Bears defense that didn't get much pressure without Khalil Mack -- zero QB hits, zero sacks, just eight pressures -- Garoppolo had time to find targets and hit his receivers in stride enough to pick up YAC. It was the type of performance Kyle Shanahan has been begging for from his veteran QB.
  2. Deebo dominates. Speaking of yards after catch, Deebo Samuel once again showed he is a YAC demon. The wideout took a simple screen on a third-and-20 with the 49ers trailing in the second half and dashed 83 yards, weaving past tacklers and running by defensive backs. He was called down at the 1-yard line after the sprint, leading to a Garoppolo score. On key third downs, Garoppolo consistently looked Samuel's way. He finished with 171 yards on six catches, more than half of Jimmy G's passing yards on the day. Deebo once again reminded fans he's a go-to target.
  3. Justin Fields shows promise in loss. The rookie QB played his best game, looking in rhythm early and getting the ball out quick. When Fields hit his back foot and released the ball, the offense moved the chains against a 49ers defense that struggled to tackle seemingly all day. The Bears rolled Fields out more Sunday, giving the rookie the option to throw on the move -- which he does well -- or run. It was a smart offensive game plan, with running back Khalil Herbert keeping Chicago in good down-and-distances and Fields converting on money downs. The QB used his legs more effectively, dashing for 103 yards on 10 carries. He provided a jaw-dropping play on a fourth-and-1 in which he scrambled to the right, reversed field and dodged defenders for a 22-yard TD run. It was the type of athletic play that few NFL players can pull off and shows that Fields can be special when it all coalesces.

Next Gen stat of the day: Fields scrambled 59.6 yards on his 22-yard rushing TD, the farthest distance traveled by a quarterback as the ball carrier on a rushing TD this season.

NFL Research: Samuel's 819 receiving yards are the most in 49ers history in the first seven games of a season, breaking HOFer Jerry Rice's record of 781 set in 1986.

Pittsburgh Steelers
2021 · 4-3-0
Cleveland Browns
2021 · 4-4-0

Nick Shook's takeaways:

  1. Sometimes, the difference between a win and loss comes down to culture. In this game, the Steelers' history of success, ability to fight and continued defensive excellence proved to be the difference. It was all about contributions from veterans, starting with Ben Roethlisberger, who completed 22 of 34 passes for 266 yards, one unlikely touchdown and a crucial completion to ice a one-score win. Pittsburgh's defense made multiple key plays to break up passes -- Minkah Fitzpatrick was there to pressure Jarvis Landry on a fourth down the Browns absolutely needed -- and former Browns linebacker Joe Schobert forced a fumble that shut down the Browns' best chance to regain the lead in the fourth quarter. Finish the ribbon ceremony by welcoming Diontae Johnson to the podium (with Roethlisberger as his running mate), awarding him the honor for his 50-yard catch-and-run that sealed the win for the gritty Steelers. A hat tip is due to tight end Pat Freiermuth, too, for his unlikely touchdown catch. Cleveland beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs last season, but the Steelers are still the franchise that knows how to win the tough ones. They did exactly that Sunday.
  2. Steelers' offensive line is starting to come together. Pittsburgh's gradual offensive improvement cannot be analyzed without directly linking it to the improvement of Pittsburgh's revamped blocking unit. On Sunday, the group did the work necessary to get Najee Harris going, leading to a 26-carry, 91-yard, one-touchdown day that was more impactful than it looks on paper. The group also did a solid job against Cleveland's pass rush, limiting Myles Garrett to one sack and the Browns defense to two overall. Pittsburgh converted third downs when the Steelers needed them the most, and kept slow-moving drives going in a tight game defined by who would win the Week 8 war of attrition. If the group played like it did early in the season, the Steelers don't win this game. Instead, they're above .500 and out of the AFC North cellar.
  3. This could be a turning point toward the worst for the Browns. The usually reliable Landry deemed Sunday as a must-win game, then proceeded to drop a handful of passes and fumble on a crucial possession. The banged-up Browns again dealt with a few injuries, but had two chances to overcome a deficit late and twice failed in a slog of a game that was a grind at its best and more realistically a trudge toward a crushing defeat. At 4-4, the Browns have lost almost all of the positive momentum built by a three-game win streak. The margin for error going forward is slim, and the weeks ahead will serve as a true test of Kevin Stefanski's ability to rally his players. The going doesn't get any easier: The 5-3 Bengals await the Browns in Cincinnati next week in what can be seen as another must-win game. They all are at this point for Cleveland.

Next Gen stat of the game: Ben Roethlisberger completed 13 of 19 passes of 0-9 air yards for 167 yards and a touchdown Sunday.

NFL Research: With a sack Sunday, Myles Garrett reached 10.5 sacks this season, breaking his own franchise record for the most sacks in the first eight games of a season in team history.

New York Jets
2021 · 2-5-0
Cincinnati Bengals
2021 · 5-3-0

Chase Goodbread's takeaways:

  1. White-hot quarterback leads the way. Setting aside for the moment that Jets quarterback Zach Wilson needs a couple years and more talent around him to be properly judged, there was nevertheless a hard reckoning for Jets fans on Sunday. Mike White, a fifth-round pick who held a clipboard for three-plus years until now, moved the Jets offense significantly better in his first career start than has Wilson. That's not to say he should keep the job when Wilson returns from injury, but White at least made a statement after the Jets traded for Joe Flacco just a few days ago. White marched the Jets, in his first career start, to a touchdown on their opening drive to snap the club's ugly season-long drought without any first-quarter points. He was 7 for 7 on the possession while calmly connecting with five different receivers. He then overcame two first-half interceptions that came off of deflections to lead a two-minute TD drive before the half. Then he had a brief exit after a big second-half hit, only to bring Gang Green back for the win. He finished 37 of 45 for 405 yards and three touchdowns. For a week, at least, let him be the toast of New York.
  2. Bengals stuffed at the line. A phenomenal goal line stand by the Jets defense turned the Bengals away scoreless in the first half in a sequence that made a huge difference in a tight game. Cincinnati had a first-and-goal from the Jets 1 after an interception return by Jessie Bates, but the Jets defense stuffed Joe Mixon for a loss on first and second down. Following an inexcusable drop in the end zone by Ja'Marr Chase on third down, Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams dropped Joe Burrow for a sack on fourth down to complete the improbable denial. In a high-scoring game it will be too easily forgotten, but there wasn't a more important series in the Jets' second win.
  3. Carter drives the engine. Jets rookie running back Michael Carter played magnificently in the win. On a day when his Bengals counterpart, Mixon, was thoroughly bottled up by the Jets defense on the ground, Carter ran for a game-high 77 yards on 15 carries with a touchdown. But it was his performance as a receiver that was even more impressive. Targeted a whopping 14 times, several of which were hot routes that White used to beat a blitz, Carter caught nine balls for 95 yards and total yardage of 172 on the day. White distributed at least one completion to 10 receivers, but Carter, the rookie from North Carolina, came through in clutch moments time and again.

Next Gen stat of the game: Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase had zero deep targets (his first game this season without a deep reception).

NFL Research: Jets QB Mike White became the second QB since at least 1950 with 400+ pass yards in his first career start. He joined Cam Newton, who threw for 422 yards in his first start in Week 1, 2011 against the Cardinals.

Los Angeles Rams
2021 · 7-1-0
Houston Texans
2021 · 1-7-0

Michael Baca's takeaways:

  1. Rams enjoy pseudo bye week in Houston. With a 38-0 lead entering the fourth quarter, the Rams trotted out backup quarterback John Wolford to play the entire final frame. While the Rams ended up getting outscored, 22-0, in that duration, Wofford's presence alone was a luxury that exemplified the Rams' dominance for three quarters. Matthew Stafford's day ended with 305 passing yards (21 of 32) and three touchdowns, accounting for all of the Rams' scoring drives and maintaining a fluid offense that didn't turn the ball over. Cooper Kupp led all receivers with seven receptions for 115 yards and a score while Darrell Henderson (90 rushing yards on 14 attempts; TD) led a rushing attack that aided Stafford's effortless day. Most of the Rams' 467 total yards on offense were gained in those three quarters, and outside of a shoulder injury to rookie wide receiver/punt returner Tutu Atwell, the Rams leave Houston unscathed.
  2. Ernest Jones highlights dominant day on defense. A shutout was in play until a wacky fourth quarter reared its head with the game already out of hand. The Rams defensive line suffocated the Texans, allowing fewer than 100 yards of total offense through three quarters, but it was the rookie linebacker Jones who highlighted the unit's dominant outing. After this past week's trade of Kenny Young, Jones entered the starting lineup and produced a team-high nine tackles, half a sack (two QB hits) and had the only interception of the day. Aaron Donald (1.5) and Leonard Floyd (two) led a pass rush that found five sacks against a rookie QB who made several mistakes when under duress. Cornerback Donte' Deayon made a play on one of those ill-timed throws, but his highlight-reel pick was negated by a defensive penalty. The Rams D looked spectacular for three quarters of play, but the final quarter of prevent defense (aided by an onside kick recovery) is something for defensive coordinator Raheem Morris to work on.
  3. Another bad chapter amid a lost season. Houston's offense mustered just 323 yards of total offense, most of which came in the fourth quarter. Rookie quarterback Davis Mills went 29 of 38 for 310 passing yards with two touchdowns and an interception, but things didn't get going for Mills until the Rams basically watched the game clock for the entire fourth quarter. Brandin Cooks (6/83; TD) and Rex Burkhead (45 scrimmage yards; TD) helped breathe life into a Texans offense that rattled off 22 points within the final eight minutes of play. That crazy sequence ended an embarrassing scoreless quarter streak that went back to the third quarter of Week 5 (12 straight TD-less quarters). Some help is on the way for Houston, however, with Tyrod Taylor nearing a return, but he takes over a squad with several issues at hand.

Next Gen stat of the day: Matthew Stafford was 8 of 11 for 223 yards and a TD on passes of 10+ air yards; 7 of 12 for 55 yards and 2 TDs versus blitzes.

NFL Research: Cooper Kupp is the only player in the Super Bowl era with 900+ receiving yards and 10+ receiving TDs in his team's first eight games of a season. Kupp is the first wide receiver with 10+ receiving TDs in his team's first eight games of a season since Detroit's Calvin Johnson in 2011 (also with QB Matthew Stafford).

Tennessee Titans
2021 · 6-2-0
Indianapolis Colts
2021 · 3-5-0

Kevin Patra's takeaways:

  1. Carson Wentz turns over chance to challenge Titans for the division. Wentz has played more effectively than his stats have shown this season. But Sunday, the quarterback tried to do too much at times, costing his club. With the game tied late in the fourth quarter, Wentz tried to keep a screen pass that was dead in the water alive from his end zone and threw a pick-six to put the Colts down. The QB helped tie the score late with his now-patented deep defensive pass interference leading to a short touchdown that forced overtime. But in the extra period, Wentz threw another pick that led directly to the Titans' game-winning field goal. Wentz missed more throws than he had all season to this point, completing just 27 of 51 pass attempts for 231 yards, three TDs and two interceptions. After taking an early double-digit lead, the collapse was a brutal way for the Colts to fall three games back in the AFC South race, with two losses coming to Tennessee. The Colts' struggles thus far this season haven't been on Wentz, but this week, they needed the QB to come up big. He couldn't deliver.
  2. Titans once again overcome adversity. Well, Ryan Tannehill and Co. like to make it interesting. After the QB threw an INT on his first pass of the day, Tennessee was down 14-0 in a blink. But Mike Vrabel's club didn't panic, churning out positive possessions to get the deficit to 17-14 at halftime. While the Titans defense gave up chunk gains and was flagged for several long DPIs, it also made game-changing plays when needed. Kevin Byard's interception on Wentz in overtime was the perfect example of the Titans' star players making plays. The big plays were needed as the Titans overcame a whopping 161 yards in penalties on the day, several that set them back late and helped the Colts force overtime. It's rarely pretty with the Titans, but they're used to coming out on top of bruising scraps.
  3. A.J. Brown picks up the slack. For once this year, a defense slowed Derrick Henry. Indy held the bulldozing back to 68 rushing yards on 28 carries, a 2.4 yards-per-carry average. The Colts tackled well, keeping Henry from gaining momentum that leads to big runs. Henry generated 37 yards on 20 rushing attempts with seven or fewer defenders in the box (1.8 average), per Next Gen Stats. While Henry was slowed, Brown dominated. The big-bodied receiver dashed for 155 yards on 10 catches with a 57-yard TD. Brown got open in every key spot for Tannehill, proving uncoverable for long stretches. A key sequence came late in the second quarter. Down 14-7, Tannehill threw an INT to Colts defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis, who fumbled as he went down hurt on the return. The Titans recovered in the scrum. The next play, Tannehill hit Brown, who broke a tackle and galloped for the tying score. From there, a back-and-forth tussle ensued.

Next Gen stat of the game: Michael Pittman caught 10 of 15 targets on the day for 86 yards and two TDs. Five receptions for 20 yards and two TDs came on passes down the seams. Pittman had receptions on six different routes (Hitch, in, out, screen cross and post).

NFL Research: Brown scored his seventh career 50-plus-yard TD. The only player with more 50-plus-yard TDs in that span (since 2019) is teammate Derrick Henry (eight).

Buffalo Bills
2021 · 5-2-0
Miami Dolphins
2021 · 1-7-0

Jelani Scott's takeaways:

  1. Bills just hold on to win at home. Make that seven straight victories for Josh Allen and the Bills against their struggling division rival. This one, however, wasn't nearly as smooth as their 35-0 Week 2 drubbing. For starters, the offense struggled to get going in the first half, mustering just one field goal (its lowest point total in a half this season) over five drives -- the longest of which went for just 35 net yards. The Bills' biggest play came on a 34-yard Allen scramble. But when the second half got going, so did the Bills. After punting on its first drive, Buffalo compiled four straight scoring drives, the first come late in the third and the other three following in the fourth. Allen finished the game with 249 passing yards (110 of which went to Cole Beasley) and two TDs and a game-high 55 rushing yards and TD to salt the game away. Credit the Dolphins defense (more on it in a moment) for putting up more of a fight, but perhaps the early bye was also part to blame. Whatever the case was, it was odd to see a team that hung 30-plus on Miami in each of their previous six meetings and came into the game averaging 33.8 PPG struggle for much of the day against such a generous unit. Worried members of Bills Mafia needn't get ahead of themselves, though, with a favorable Week 9 matchup against the Jaguars on tap.
  2. Nearly slowed to a halt. The Dolphins defense hasn't looked nearly as tough as it did in 2020. The group's effort on Sunday, while it wasn't enough to get the job done, should provide a much-needed boost of confidence as the season continues. Beasley's big game is an obvious eyesore, but the secondary, again led by Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, did a solid job of keeping Stefon Diggs (5/40/TD) and the rest of Allen's weapons in check. This was most notable in the run game, where the Bills backs were held to 47 yards on 15 carries and no scores, a far cry from the 108-yard, three-score day they had in Week 2. Christian Wilkins played a key role in that effort; he finished with six tackles (two for loss) and a pass deflection at the line. Holding the Bills' high-powered offense to a season-low 26 points may not sound like much, especially in a loss. But Brian Flores has to be encouraged by the effort, even though falling to 1-7 is a tough pill to swallow.
  3. Bills defense tightens up in the clutch. The scouting report looked a little different this time around, with a red-hot Tua Tagovailoa under center instead of Jacoby Brissett. Averaging 310.0 passing yards per game in his last two starts, Tagovailoa was starting to display some of the prowess that made him a first-round pick after having most of his sophomore season marred by injury. Outside of Tagovailoa's connection with a returning DeVante Parker (8/85), Miami struggled to capitalize on the strong effort of its defense. Following a missed field goal on their first red zone trip, the Dolphins' second ended with a Bills fumble recovery after a botched snap that saw Mike Gesicki get hit by the ball while in motion. Still, Miami found itself down 20-11 with under 3:30 remaining in regulation with the ball. That drive last just four plays thanks to a Jerry Hughes strip-sack (which MIA recovered) that pushed the Fins back to third-and-26 and a Jordan Poyer pick on a deep ball. Hughes, who set the tone on Tua's first attempt with a pressure that forced him to throw it away, spearheaded what was smothering effort by the D that produced two sacks and a handful of pressures.

Next Gen stat of the game: Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa completed two of his eight pass attempts of 10-plus air yards for 63 yards and an INT.

NFL Research: Josh Allen's 28 rushing touchdowns tie Cam Newton for most rushing TDs by a QB in first 50 NFL starts in NFL history.

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