The Week 8 Wrap

It was fitting the San Francisco 49ers wore their all-white throwback uniforms from the 1990s on Sunday because I half expected the likes of Joe Montana, Steve Young, Charles Haley or Deion Sanders to show up in their 51-13 beatdown of the Carolina Panthers.

It was an old-school thrashing which highlighted the gulf between this Niners team and one of the genuine playoff contenders in the NFC. It was a one-sided affair which only served to cement San Francisco's status as the real deal this year and a team that is threatening to go all the way... and win it.

Let's start on defense where the pass rush came in wave after wave of white-clad behemoths intent on knocking Kyle Allen's block off. And they succeeded in taking him down seven times and striking for three interceptions when the young passer had not thrown a single one in his first five NFL starts.

The only man in Levi's Stadium who was happier than 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was Panthers injured starter Cam Newton. This contest just won him his job back when healthy.

That is probably harsh on Allen, who shouldn't be singled out for too much criticism. This San Francisco defense is playing at a Super Bowl level and has allowed just 23 points in the last four games. So they are doing this to quarterbacks across the United States right now.

Rookie Nick Bosa continues to impress at defensive end and he recorded three sacks and an interception. His arrival has raised the level of play from an array of big-bodied linemen such as Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas and, to a lesser degree, DeForest Buckner.

Offensively, I was impressed with the physicality of San Francisco's rushing attack considering they are still missing both of their starting offensive tackles in Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey. But it was more than just a case of lining up and pounding the Panthers. There is so much creativity that comes from Kyle Shanahan's attack and he was very clever on Sunday just after Carolina had scored to pull to within 14.

He used Carolina's pumped-up aggression against them with a lot of misdirection, a few end-arounds and a masterful touchdown drive capped, fittingly, with a 20-yard run from wide receiver Deebo Samuel.

The 49ers ended the afternoon with 232 rushing yards - the third time they have topped the 200-yard mark on the ground this season. And they continue to rotate successfully through Tevin Coleman, Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert, which is only going to serve them well as they go into the business end of the year.

With that kind of powerful showing on the ground, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo merely needs to steer the ship and he does so efficiently. The schedule is going to toughen up for San Francisco in November and December - but I think this team is showing they are more than up for the challenge of tougher tasks ahead.

Who's Hot...

Jags pass rush...The New York Jets were the latest victims of a Jacksonville pass rush featuring explosive rookie Josh Allen and veterans Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue. But they won't be the last to be undone by that particular front. The Jags recorded eight sacks in Sunday's win over New York and the aforementioned trio combined for five and a half of them. Allen is explosive and exciting and he will do well to learn at the knee of Campbell, who is the consummate pro. Jacksonville's pass rush has also had a big impact in turnovers with the Jags forcing seven in the past two weeks, albeit against Cincinnati and the Jets. You can bet your bottom dollar that Houston will be game planning furiously to limit the effectiveness of Allen, Ngakoue and Campbell.

Matthew Stafford...There is a Groundhog Day-feel to watching Matthew Stafford highlights via NFL Redzone every Sunday. The stadiums and uniforms of the opposition change, but the production from Detroit's quarterback stays the same. Stafford is playing at a very high level this season and every week he is launching bombs downfield that catch your eye. And he shares out the big days among his receivers. One week it is Marvin Jones and the next, Kenny Golladay... with a little bit of Marvin Hall sprinkled in for good measure. Stafford has a career high passer rating of 105.3 and he is making the Lions fun to watch each and every Sunday. And that's progress in Detroit.

New England Patriots...The Patriots have rarely - if at all - been included in this section this season and that indicates just what a high bar they have set in the NFL. They're 8-0 and in historically-dominant form, at least on defense, and we kind of take them for granted. While the offense is okay in 2019, the defense is off-the-hook great. That unit scored its fourth touchdown of the season in Sunday's 27-13 win over Cleveland and they are allowing just 7.6 points per game on the year. They had too much brawn and brains for Cleveland's Baker Mayfield and the hustle shown on Jonathan Jones chase-down and forced fumble on a Nick Chubb run sums up how hard-working, intelligent and well-coached this group is. They have Tom Brady on the other side of the field, but defense is powering New England to another Super Bowl.

Who's Not...

Matt Nagy...At the end of a day when the Chicago Bears once again struggled to show signs of offensive consistency, head coach Matt Nagy showed an alarming lack of faith in his team. After Mitchell Trubisky had scrambled 11 yards for a first down, the Bears were on the Los Angeles Chargers' 21-yard line. LA called a time out so the clock was not an issue for Chicago. But Nagy called for a QB kneeldown that moved the ball back a yard to the 22. From there, Eddy piniero hooked his 41-yard field goal attempt wide left and the Bears lost 17-16. Nagy said on Sunday that he didn't want to pass for fear of a sack, an interception or a fumble and he didn't want to run because it would lose too many yards. Have some faith in your offense, coach! I get the current lack of faith in Trubisky, but you rushed for 162 on the day and didn't trust your team to gain another four or five on the ground? Nagy did himself no favours on Monday when he doubled down and said he would take the knee 1,000 times out of 1,000. That is so utterly unimpressive and depressing.

Baker Mayfield...His ill-timed, underhanded flip of the ball straight to Patriots defender Lawrence Guy summed up Baker Mayfield's start to the 2019 campaign. He has made some boneheaded decisions this year, quite often as a result of pressure in his face, but that has not always been the case and a lot of this poor play is on Baker. The Browns look lost at 2-5 but their schedule does soften up a little bit now with Denver, Miami, Arizona and Cincinnati (twice) the rest of the way. The problem is that they also have to play Buffalo, Pittsburgh (twice) and Baltimore and have left themselves very little room for error.

Vic Fangio...Joe Flacco sounded off on his team's lack of aggression on Sunday night following their 15-13 loss at Indianapolis. Mysteriously, Flacco was ruled out indefinitely on Monday with a neck injury. I'm not buying that. I think there is a good chance Vic Fangio wanted his outspoken quarterback out of the mix but couldn't be bothered to deal with all the questions surrounding the move. Flacco has a point - the Broncos were very conservative on Sunday and the jury is still out on Fangio given his team's struggles on defense early in the year. But some might also suggest the Broncos have to play conservatively with a Joe Flacco at the helm. Either way, it's a mess in Denver and Fangio is struggling.

The Fast Five...

Jacoby Brissett looked dead to rights on the Colts' game-winning drive against Denver as the great Von Miller was bearing down on him in the end zone. Somehow, Brissett evaded the sack, re-set his feet and delivered an inch-perfect howitzer downfield for a toe-tapping T.Y. Hilton. 35-yard gain on one of the throws of the year.

Talking of throws of the year... how about Aaron Rodgers' three-yard effort to Jamaal Williams in Green Bay's 31-24 win over Kansas City. While it was a three-yarder, Rodgers actually threw the ball close to 30 yards in the air. He was falling to the ground with two defenders on him and he landed an inch-perfect strike to the back corner of the end zone, prompting NBC commentator Cris Collinsworth to ask on air: "How do you land it there?" Rodgers and the Pack are purring.

The Philadelphia Eagles delivered a rude awakening to Buffalo's third-ranked defense in a 31-13 palindroming of the Bills. Philly rushed for 218 yards and three touchdowns and the Bills, who are not that prolific on offense, showed they will struggle to keep up on days when their defense has a letdown.

Bucs head coach Bruce Arians defended Jameis Winston on Sunday after his quarterback was responsible for another four turnovers in a loss to Tennessee. Winston was picked twice and lost two fumbles, making it 10 turnovers for him in two games. Arians put it on his receivers but there were quite a few occasions where Jameis threw up hope passes and those receivers bailed him out. The seat is warming for Jameis.

Deshaun Watson reminded us just how box office he is with his game-winning touchdown pass to Darren Fells against the spirited Raiders on Sunday. Most quarterbacks would have been flat on their back given the pressure on Watson, but he is so tough to bring down and is pure excitement when in action. Enjoy him in London this Sunday.

Fact of the Week

There have been 121 missed kicks this season - field goals and extra points - which is 12 more than any other season in the last 25 years at this stage of proceedings.

Finish That Sentence

Each week in this spot I ask readers - via Twitter - to randomly send me the start of a sentence and, as we do on our NFL UK Live stage show tours, I will finish the sentence with the first thought that comes into my head. Here we go...

From Stuart Dixon (@StuartDixon4) Sky are not showing the Wembley game this weekend because...they get divided up between broadcasters at offseason meetings featuring people who earn a lot more money than me! Listen, I would love to show every single game and to be at every single game played in London - it killed me last weekend to get in a car after my stint at the NFL Tailgate party and head back to Sky to cover the game from the studio. But, contrary to public opinion at times, I don't make all the calls. I will be at the tailgate party again on Sunday, will sneak into the stadium to watch the first couple of drives and then head off to Sky for our regular show. Make sure you join us once the London game is done on the BBC.

From Tom Marshall (@aredzonauk)... When Nick Foles is healthy the Jaguars should start...**Gardner Minshew. He has given this time a jolt of energy and there are times when he looks Brett Favre-like in his ability to extend plays and make magic out of seemingly-nothing. People inside the Jags have been telling me that Minshew is so much more than headbands and 'that' moustache. He is supremely intelligent and that is why he has looked good hitting the NFL ground running. There will still be bumps in his road, but I think you let Minshew Mania play out for a while yet. And the Jags do have a good soldier in Nick Foles in reserve when healthy. He is not the type to rock the boat publicly or behind the scenes.

From Jack (@kushty86)... The best wide receiver in the NFL is...still Julio Jones, of the Atlanta Falcons. Fans probably want to ignore him given that his team sucks, but he remains a matchup nightmare for every defender he faces. I would put two other guys into the conversation alongside Jones and they are both similar big-bodied types in Michael Thomas, of the New Orleans Saints, and Mike Evans, of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They are tough to defend on a weekly basis and Evans in particular will often bail out his quarterback by making off-target throws look good.

From Ian G (@IanG1878)... The empty seats at Wembley were...not on my radar and anyone who is trying to make this an issue is being very petty indeed. There was a late return of tickets from the Rams and Bengals, as well as some seat kills that no longer needed to be seat kills due to confirmation of camera positions from broadcasters. I know some frustrated fans are keen to open the ticket tout can of worms any time an empty seat appears at Wembley or Tottenham, but there is much more going on behind the scenes than first might appear. I think it is unfair to suggest a few empty seats here or there are a sign of some greater problem. Have a look around the NFL on Sunday night and show me stadiums in America that were fuller than Wembley, which was still packed with 83,000 fans. I bet you cannot show me five. The San Francisco 49ers are undefeated this year and there were swathes of empty seats for their big game against the Carolina Panthers. Thousands of empty seats for one of the biggest games of the year for one of the best teams in the league. Don't try to tell me London has a problem selling these games. I'm not buying it.

Final Thought...

Lost amid the headlines of Sunday evening was the return to action of Drew Brees and he showed no signs of rust while throwing for 373 yards in a routine win over Arizona. The Saints are the complete team and they now have their leader back. New Orleans at 7-1, Green Bay at 7-1, San Francisco undefeated and the likes of Dallas, Minnesota and the LA Rams knocking about. The NFC playoffs are going to be an absolutely brutal affair this season.

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