The Week 8 games on Sunday had several close wins. Here are some of our big takeaways:
» Even though the Texans lost, rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson held his own against the Legion of Boom.
» Cleveland took an early lead, and the game was close into the fourth quarter, but the Browns still can't get out of their own way.
» The Bills' formula is remarkably consistent: Win the turnover battle and let Tyrod Taylor do the rest.
1a. We all know about Pete Carroll's now 8-1 record against rookie passers at home, but Deshaun Watson is a different creation entirely. The first-year Texans quarterback showed no fear on Sunday, drawing first blood with a beautifully thrown 59-yard strike to Will Fuller, the first opening-quarter touchdown given up by Seattle all season. Watson's fast start took a hit when All-Pro safety Earl Thomas instinctively jumped a route one drive later for a 70-yard pick six, but Watson shook off the turnover to pile up 402 yards passing with four touchdowns on the day. The rookie also lobbed a pair of second-half picks to Richard Sherman, but I love how Watson shrugs off these occasional setbacks.
1b. Seahawks ticket-holders have enjoyed outstanding defense at home for ages, making Sunday's performance by the Texans all the more fascinating. Midway through the second quarter, Houston had outgained Seattle 246 yards to 77 with 14 first downs to merely four for the 'Hawks. The explosive nature of this attack is legitimate, with Watson fearlessly testing the Legion of Boom with deep shots and patiently using his feet to move the chains. The Texans rookie showed full command, especially during a juicy fourth-quarter touchdown drive that saw him spin away from pressure to find Lamar Miller in the end zone to put the Texans up 31-27. Watson is a rainmaker.
- The brilliant Russell Wilson offered tricks of his own during a game capped by a signature come-from-behind drive by the Seahawks star quarterback. After throwing a killer pick with 5:37 remaining and Houston up 38-34, Wilson authored a marvelous three-play, 80-yard touchdown drive capped by his 18-yard scoring strike to tight end Jimmy Graham to put the game away. It was another reminder of Wilson's unique, magical abilities. The veteran unfurled a catalog of sensational throws against Houston's wanting secondary, tossing a pair of scoring bullets to Paul Richardson and a 53-yard bomb to receiver Tanner McEvoy during a game that saw both teams combine for 79 points, 988 yards and five lead changes. Wilson's efforts are even more impressive as he's doing this for an offense utterly bereft of a ground game.
- Everything has been written about DeAndre Hopkins, but the Texans wideout showed again on Sunday how he can hang with any cover man in the league. Hopkins finished with 224 yards off eight receptions and made one of the toughest catches you'll see all year, pausing his body mid-stride to shift, fall backwards and catch a pass from Watson behind a twisting Richard Sherman. Hopkins then took the game in his own hands with a blazing 72-yard touchdown from Watson that put the Texans up 38-34 with four-plus minutes to play. His handiwork was nearly overshadowed, though, by Fuller's two-touchdown romp, giving the deep threat an NFL-leading seven scores off just 13 catches this season:
-- Marc Sessler
- Detroit lost this game at the goal line, bungling three second-half red-zone opportunities. On their first two second-half drives, Detroit had first-and-goal from the Steelers' 4, only to come away with just three points. The Lions, down one, turned the ball over on downs the first time around after calling two pass plays from the 1-yard line. A Steelers touchdown later, Detroit found itself in the same position, got stuffed on two Dwayne Washington runs and chose to then kick a field goal. Then, with just over two minutes to go, Detroit was back in the red zone, down five, and again went four-and-out, opting for passes short of the sticks and an ill-advised Theo Riddick draw play.
On five second-half drives, Detroit punted just once, yet only came away with a field goal. For a Lions team that prides itself on fourth-quarter comebacks and second-half heroics, Sunday's defeat will bite.
- JuJu Smith-Schuster is a joy. Rumored to be pushing Martavis Bryant out of town, the Steelers rookie continued his excellent run of play with a breakout game (7 rec, 193 yards, TD) on national television. Known more for his eccentric celebrations and bicycle dramatics, JuJu went down in Steelers lore with a 97-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter, the longest pass play in franchise history. With the score, JuJu became the only player in NFL history to tally four touchdowns before turning 21 years old. The Smith-Schuster era is just beginning in the Steel City. The same cannot be said for Bryant, who was a healthy scratch.
- Pittsburgh's pass defense was really exposed for the first time all season. The unit came into Sunday night ranked first in yards allowed per game (147.0), but allowed more than that (206) to Stafford in the first half. Contributing to Stafford's big night (423 yards) was that Pittsburgh's sack-happy pass rushers (T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree) failed to get home against the elusive QB. Stafford led the league in sacks taken heading into Week 8, but was taken down just twice by the Steelers. Stafford also exposed the vulnerable spots of Pittsburgh's cover-two defense on big plays in the first half.
-- Jeremy Bergman
- Was it raining down the entire east coast of the United States on Sunday? It was pouring in Philadelphia during the Eagles' win over the 49ers, in New York during the Falcons' win over the Jets, and again in Landover. It made for a trio of soggy, mistake-filled games. Fumbles seemed only a moment away on almost every play, and for Washington, the wet conditions caused two of their own. Dallas turned those mistakes into six points, though it should have been more if an Ezekiel Elliott touchdown wasn't called back on a bogus holding call on Tyron Smith, who had his hands inside the frame of his opponent and drove him into the ground, but was flagged for it. Kirk Cousins tossed what looked like an interception twice on a late drive, but again thanks to the conditions, they ended up being incompletions. That wasn't the case when the Redskins got the ball with less than a minute remaining and 88 yards to go to tie the game. That drive ended in a Byron Jones pick-six.
- The Cowboys played about as sloppily and ineffectively as they could without being the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, and yet, they entered halftime with a 14-13 lead. Sometimes, that's the way things go in this weird-yet-amazing sport. Even on a drive that only covered 27 yards in eight plays, Dallas still managed to come away with three points early in the third. As the rain refused to relent in the second half, Dallas leaned on its ground game to burn plenty of clock, but repeatedly couldn't turn drives into touchdowns, only field goals. That allowed Washington to remain in the game, but the competition ultimately became a battle of two sloppy teams playing in sloppy conditions, with the winner being just a little less sloppy.
- Speaking of Elliott, all that talk about the running back looking slow and perhaps out of shape (I was admittedly very vocal on this) can be tossed aside. Zeke is in shape and running as well as ever, totaling 150 yards and two touchdowns (should have been three) on 33 carries. Every time Elliott touched the ball, it was realistic to think a big play was coming. That wasn't true earlier in the season for Dallas, and it's incredibly encouraging for the Cowboys as they hit the second half of the season.
-- Nick Shook
- The New Orleans Saints won a game without a Drew Brees touchdown pass for the first time since October 4, 2009. Sean Payton once again rode Mark Ingram, as Brees attempted a season-low 28 passes, completing 23 for 299 yards. The veteran QB made timely throws to Michael Thomas when needed, but allowed Ingram to do the heavy lifting. The bulldozing running back ran angry early, powering through a stout Bears defensive front for 75 yards and a touchdown on 18 totes. Ingram also keyed the first-half screen-heavy attack with six receptions for 24 yards. Ingram's performance, however, was marred by two fourth-quarter fumbles as New Orleans tried to salt away the game. The flubs -- both great plays by the Bears' defense -- gave Chicago the chance to swipe a game they had no business being in. Ingram was benched for the final possession, with rookie Alvin Kamara taking over. The question is whether Payton will trust Ingram in tight games in the future.
"He's going to bounce back," Brees told FOX of Ingram after the game. "Listen, there is not a guy who is more competitive or cares more than him. There's not a guy who's more well-respected or loved on this team than Mark. So he's the heart and soul. Sometimes that stuff happens, even to the best of us. He'll bounce back, I know he will."
- Mitchell Trubisky set career highs in completions, attempts and yards, going an inefficient 14 of 32 for 164 yards and an interception that clinched the game for New Orleans. After weeks of hiding Trubisky, coach John Fox was forced to let his rookie quarterback throw often in an attempt to come back. Trubisky shows flashes of brilliant accuracy, is deadly out of the pocket, and made a few jaw-dropping throws. However, he was mostly inconsistent on the road. Trubisky made some blatant rookie errors, forcing balls into coverage, tossing wide and behind several receivers. He almost threw a handful of interceptions in the drives preceding his airmail to end the game. The struggles aren't all on the rookie. He's playing with a bevy of third-fiddle pass-catchers who can't uncover from defensive backs and don't have needed chemistry with the young quarterback.
- The Bears had a spectacular third-quarter touchdown catch by tight end Zach Miller shockingly overturned after review. It appeared from every TV replay angle that Miller came down with the ball, but officials deemed the veteran didn't control it through the process. To make matters worse, Miller suffered a brutal injury on the play. Fox confirmed after the game that Miller dislocated his knee and was taken to a local hospital. Bears fans can gripe about the four points lost on the overturned play. What Chicago can't complain about is missing out on seven first-half points with a missed field goal and a Saints field goal turning into a touchdown after an offside penalty.
-- Kevin Patra
- Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa entered the game with 34.5 combined sacks the past two seasons, tops among any pass-rushing duo league-wide. How the Patriots countered these two powerful beasts reminded me of their victory over the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, with Tom Brady unfurling a flurry of quick-release passes to his stable of versatile running backs. Dion Lewis, James White and Rex Burkhead combined for 163 yards off 14 grabs, keeping the defense honest in between the occasional deep shot downfield. The Patriots quarterback saw plenty of heat, leaning on brilliant footwork and eyes in the back of his head to avoid free rushers. Bosa couldn't be kept down entirely, though, sacking Brady in the second quarter to bring his takedown total to 8.5 on the year and 19 over his first 20 games, an NFL record.
- Melvin Gordon loomed as a question mark at kickoff due to a painful case of turf toe. The Chargers running back quieted those concerns on the team's third drive, finding a wide-open hole behind a pulling guard for a career-long 87-yard touchdown blast, the longest scoring dash allowed by the Pats since Maurice Jones-Drew's 74-yard gallop back in 2006. It also tied a franchise-record for the Bolts. Gordon crossed the 100-yard barrier less than 16 minutes into the game and finished with 132 yards on a day that saw Los Angeles test the Patriots with a smattering of Wildcat snaps.
- Give the Chargers credit for holding New England to a rash of field goals when the game repeatedly felt like it might spin out of control. After running 40 plays to just 19 for L.A. in the first half, the Patriots managed just six points down the stretch. The Bolts hung around thanks to a pair of missed kicks by New England's Stephen Gostkowski and a beautiful 24-yard touchdown catch by Chargers wideout Travis Benjamin. It simply wasn't enough from Philip Rivers, though, with the Bolts signal-caller throwing a game-ending interception at the goal line as time expired. Take away Gordon's long run and Sunday served as additional proof that New England's defense is rounding into shape. As for the Chargers, this just isn't the same attack when fascinating pass-catching tight end Hunter Henry (2 catches, 11 yards) is taken out of the equation.
-- Marc Sessler
- The Bills' formula is remarkably consistent: Win the turnover battle and let Tyrod Taylor do the rest. The Bills' defense forced three turnovers, gift-wrapping 13 points in a game that wasn't as one-sided as the final score indicated. Give head coach Sean McDermott and his hard-hitting group credit. Even without two key members of the secondary and recently departed starter Marcell Dareus, who was traded to Jacksonville, the Bills forced turnovers with hard hitting and flying to the ball. Buffalo leads the NFL with a +14 turnover margin and is now 4-0 at home and in great shape for playoff contention at 5-2.
- Buffalo is especially dangerous because their running game has become unlocked after their bye. After re-introducing some of the concepts that worked for the team last year, LeSean McCoy had his best two games of the season. He finished with 151 yards on 27 carries, making a lackluster Raiders linebacker group including recent pickup NaVorro Bowman, often grasping for air.
- Oakland's offensive rhythm displayed against the Kansas City Chiefs was short-lived. Amari Cooper was handled by Bills rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White for much of the day. And don't blame Oakland's struggles to establish the run on the absence of Marshawn Lynch. The Raiders' offensive line has allowed penetration far too often this season.
-- Gregg Rosenthal
- The Falcons ended their three-game losing streak, but they were far from perfect. Matt Ryan lost three fumbles on the snap exchange, accounting for two turnovers and a failed 2-point conversion attempt. Austin Hooper dropped a sure touchdown. They had just two touchdowns in six red-zone trips. A punt return touchdown was wiped out by penalty. And yet, it was still good enough to beat the Jets, who do just enough to lose every week. It's the sign of a truly good bad team.
- For the third consecutive game, the Jets scored a touchdown on their opening drive. They're also 0-3 in those games, so go figure. This time, an eight play, 75-yard drive ended with a 20-yard strike from Josh McCown to tight end Eric Tomlinson. Credit goes to Jets offensive coordinator Johnnie Morton, who is obviously doing a nice job scouting these opposing defenses and has had a nice season overall.
- The best one-on-one battle of the day was Julio Jones vs. Morris Claiborne, at least while it lasted. The Jets cornerback did an excellent job keeping the Falcons' All-Pro playmaker in check before Claiborne was forced out of the game with a foot injury. With Claiborne sidelined, Jones made his lone impact play of the game -- a 54-yard reception where he easily got behind Darryl Roberts. It was surprising that Ryan did not target Jones more after Claiborne went out, but there's a lot about the Atlanta offense that's difficult to understand this season.
-- Dan Hanzus
- The Vikings came out sleepy in London but pulled away in the second half. Case Keenum played well, finding underneath dump offs to Jerick McKinnon early to move the chains. The QB made a bevy of third-and-long throws to keep Vikings drives alive. Keenum converted on third-and-15, third-and-11, third-and-9 (DPI), and third-and-10. The veteran attempted 43 passes, his most of the season, finishing 27 of 43 for 288 yards, two TDs and an INT against a leaky Browns secondary. It wasn't all perfect, as Keenum had four balls batted at the line of scrimmage in the first half, one of which was intercepted. Keenum has been a pleasant surprise this season replacing an injured Sam Bradford. Keenum's been steady on balance for a defense-first squad. With Teddy Bridgewater getting healthy, the Vikes are in an enviable position of having options under center moving forward.
- DeShone Kizer started and played the entire game this week. The Browns' game plan early included a plethora of quick dump offs designed for Kizer to get the ball out of his hands quickly and avoid a fierce Vikings pass rush. With Spencer Drango starting in place of injured left tackle Joe Thomas, Kizer wasn't sacked until the fourth quarter. While his decision making improved slightly, Kizer continued to struggle mightily in the red zone and was again off the mark on deep shots. The rookie didn't throw an interception for the first time in his NFL career, finishing 18 of 34 for 179 yards.
Cleveland took an early lead, and the game was close into the fourth quarter, but the Browns still can't get out of their own way. Cleveland turned the ball over twice (leading to two field goals), squandered a 71-yard kick return on a missed field goal, and missed a PAT. Coach Hue Jackson also bizarrely took a timeout with 42 seconds left in the first half at the goal line, which helped lead to a Minnesota field goal before halftime.
- Vikings star receiver Stefon Diggs returned after missing the past two games. The wideout was used mostly on underneath drag routes early, catching four passes for 27 yards in the first half. Diggs didn't go deep much but caused a big pass interference in the fourth quarter with the score still close. The presence of Diggs helped open up Adam Thielen for another big day, earning 98 yards, five receptions and a TD on 10 targets. With Diggs healthy, the Vikings own one of the top receiver tandems in the NFL for whoever suits up under center in Week 10.
-- Kevin Patra
- Cam Newton and the Panthers rediscovered a bit of swag in snapping their two-game losing streak. The mercurial quarterback was more smile than scowl after a somewhat ho-hum performance. Newton completed 18 of 32 passes for 154 yards, a touchdown and an interception. His 25-yard TD pass to Kelvin Benjamin in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach for an anemic-looking Bucs offense that was outclassed by the Panthers' defensive blockade. Newton also benefited from a running backs corps that helped diversify the Panthers' attack. Jonathan Stewart became the first Carolina player other than Newton to score a rushing touchdown and Christian McCaffrey broke the team's single-season record for receptions in a single season with his five-catch, 49-yard effort, giving him 49 catches for the season. It wasn't a chunk playfest by any means, but Newton probably will be happy to talk about this one.
- Remember those rosy offseason prognostications about the Bucs? They're all but a distant memory, and Sunday's performance certainly throws another shovelful of dirt on what could be dying playoff aspirations. The defense put in a solid effort, but the Jameis Winston-led offense looked lost at times. Winston completed 21 of 38 passes for 210 yards but struggled to piece together drives and threw two fourth-quarter interceptions. Although a stronger run game and more reliable receivers could've enhanced Winston's effectiveness, the bottom line is he didn't play well enough to give the Bucs a solid chance. It'd be premature to say the third-year quarterback is facing a stunted development season (he had a strong second-half effort against the Bills last week and has been dealing with a sore shoulder), but he'll need to play better if the Bucs have any hope of a post-Halloween resurrection.
- Tom Brady isn't the NFL's only age-defying playmaker. Julius Peppers is playing like it's 2007. He increased his season sack total to a team-leading 7.5 on the season and finished with two tackles. Peppers also move up to fourth on the NFL's all-time sack list. Still, he wasn't the only one making life hard on the Bucs. Luke Kuechly, in his first game back from his third concussion in three years, had an interception, a fumble recovery and six tackles. Overall, it was strong defensive effort the Panthers can build upon. "I think our guys played hard and played as a group," Kuechly told FOX after the game. "We got to be consistent. We got a lot of good teams coming up ... hopefully we can take the momentum from this win and move forward."
-- Austin Knoblauch
- It was fitting to watch a game between these two teams go down to the wire because their quarterbacks, Andy Dalton and Jacoby Brissett, were mirror images of each other. There was some good. There was some bad. But it was mostly mediocre play from the two for the afternoon. They both demonstrated very poor pocket presence that led to plenty of sacks (four on Brissett, three on Dalton) and incompletions (the two were a combined 42-for-68 for just seven yards an attempt). Brissett ended up making just one more mistake than Dalton, a tipped-at-the-line interception that Carlos Dunlap took home for a score, and that ended up being the difference in the game.
- The Colts' backfield situation is fascinating to watch. Marlon Mack is a really good tailback, showing burst and evasiveness that make him a possible 1,000-yard runner down the road who can also catch the ball like a third-down, change-of-pace RB. Yet every time it looks like the Colts are going to turn him loose and give him the bulk of touches, Frank Gore does just enough to earn his carries back from the rookie. Gore runs tough, he always falls forward and he chewed up a lot of necessary yards (he ended with 82 yards on 16 carries) for the Colts when they were trying to run down the clock late. The rookie's time to shine will have to wait at least another week.
- If Joe Mixon didn't like the way his workload went last weekend, he's probably going to be unhappy again this afternoon. The Bengals seem to follow the same script every week: Have success feeding Mixon early and then fall behind in the second half to the point where they have to get away from giving the rookie the ball. Dunlap's late pick-six allowed the Bengals to take the lead and let Mixon get a few extra carries in the final five minutes of the game, but he still finished with just 14 touches (11 carries and three catches) despite having 109 total yards with those touches.
-- Edward Lewis
- What very easily could have served as Philadelphia's trap game ended in a comfortable win for the Eagles, who used a wild minute of game time at the end of the first half to blow open what was otherwise a close contest. On a soggy Sunday afternoon, Carson Wentz and the Eagles struggled to get things going for much of the first half, but took a 17-0 lead into halftime after finding more success running a no-huddle offense. The same struggles crept back up in the second half and the Eagles entered a lull offensively, but then came savior Alshon Jeffery. The big-bodied receiver leapt to catch a 50/50 ball over Ahkello Witherspoon (who had just intercepted Wentz on the previous possession), break his tackle attempt and outrun two more defenders for a 53-yard touchdown. It was Jeffery's best play as an Eagle and a demonstration of Wentz's resiliency, airing it out through the rain moments after throwing an interception that led to a Niners touchdown. Wentz wasn't his best statistically (18 of 32, 211 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) and had a handful of missed opportunities, but it didn't doom the Eagles. At 7-1, no one's going to lament how Philadelphia's quarterback could have been better in a win.
- San Francisco gave up 33 points, yes, so this might seem like an odd space to credit its defense, but we're going to do it anyway. Outside of the minute in the second quarter in which Philadelphia scored an offensive touchdown and tacked on another score moments later on a pick-six, the 49ers played some pretty good defense. After a first half that most anyone would be happy to have until the final two minutes of it, the unit forced Philadelphia to punt on its first two possessions of the third quarter, held the Eagles to a 51-yard field goal, intercepted Wentz and helped keep the Niners within two scores. Problem was, the offense couldn't hold up its end.
- Beathard was pressured mercilessly by a relentless Eagles front seven, who took advantage of Joe Staley's departure due to injury to pin its collective ears back and go after Beathard with reckless abandon. It's as much an indictment of San Francisco's suddenly thin line (and offense) as it was a display of why the Eagles are true contenders, who get plenty of credit for their flashy offense (it was at times Sunday, even in a driving rain) but should get some more attention for their defense. Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry, Chris Long, Brandon Graham and Mychal Kendricks all harrassed the rookie quarterback and form one of the league's better front sevens. The lesson gained here: Don't fall behind against Philadelphia and find yourself forced to throw your way back into the game. It'll be a long afternoon.
-- Nick Shook