The Wrap - Week 7

What a night covering the NFL from the Sky Sports studio! It was a wild Week 7, particularly in the final half an hour of the early games. We saw Detroit-Atlanta, Pittsburgh-Tennessee, Cleveland-Cincinnati and Carolina-New Orleans go right down to the wire.

It was all going off around the league, including – due to a storm in Nashville – the sound from our main game between the Steelers and the Titans. It kind of just added to the wackiness of this NFL season when I found myself taking over the play by play duties for half of Tennessee's final drive just before the two-minute warning, calling completions from Ryan Tannehill while updating on the frequent scores in the Browns-Bengals showdown in Ohio.

As we so often say when it comes to the NFL… expect the unexpected. And always keep a depth chart handy!

There was less drama in the late afternoon games, but the intrigue was just as great. San Francisco took apart New England both physically and mentally, Tampa Bay laid down a marker with a big win in Las Vegas and there was a snow game in Denver… in October! The nightcap saw Arizona take down previously-undefeated Seattle in overtime on Sunday night.

Some of those games have more meaning than others when it comes to the playoff races in each conference but I have to highlight the Detroit Lions' 23-22 win over the Atlanta Falcons, who found another way to shoot themselves in the foot as they fell to 1-6 in a difficult season.

The long and the short of it is that the Falcons had this game won and it was over. Except it wasn't and that was solely down to their inability to play smart situational football.

With 1:04 left and Detroit out of time outs, Todd Gurley broke through the line of scrimmage with his team trailing 16-14. Had Gurley dropped to the floor inside the five-yard line, the Falcons could have kicked the easiest of field goals for the 17-16 win as time ran out.

Instead, Gurley raced nine and a half yards of his 10-yard touchdown before realising his mistake and slamming on the brakes. But he couldn't stop his forward momentum and he fell across the goal line. While the score gave Atlanta a 22-16 lead following the two-point conversion, it stopped the clock and threw the Lions a lifeline that simply should not have been there.

Gurley should have been instructed time and again in the huddle not to score, especially if Detroit's defense was about to part like the Red Sea and allow him in. It was a bizarre play as Lions defenders pulled themselves off their initial tackle attempts on Gurley and Detroit linebacker Jamie Collins was appealing for the touchdown to be given. Not something you see every day.

Gurley should have known better, though. He gave up a chance to score a touchdown in similar circumstances against Green Bay a couple of years ago and did the same thing for the Los Angeles Rams against, ironically, the Lions in the same 2018 season. So, he has previous form for doing the right thing in these situations.

The faux pas kind of sums up this season for the Falcons and it was hardly a surprise when Matthew Stafford marched Detroit 75 yards in eight plays for the win.

But even on Detroit's victory march there was great drama. Kenny Golladay – who put his body on the line time and again for his quarterback on Sunday – made one of several circus catches for a big gain and Stafford then fired the game-tying touchdown to tight end T.J. Hockenson as time ran out.

What's that you say? You want more drama? Okay, how about an after-the-touchdown penalty on Detroit's Danny Amendola? That meant Matt Prater's extra point had to cover 48 yards instead of the usual 33. It was good and his boot once again decided a one-point, drama-filled game between these two teams as it did at Wembley Stadium six years ago today.

From that London game loss in 2014 during which the Falcons blew a 21-point lead to the travails of this season – with a blown 25-point lead in 'that Super Bowl wedged in between at the end of 2016 – the years change, but these Falcons continue to find unique and heart-breaking ways to lose games.

Who's Hot…

Tom Brady… This is becoming more than just a nice story with the GOAT enjoying a career renaissance in Tampa at the age of 43. Brady is looking great once again and he has these Tampa Bay Buccaneers believing a Super Bowl is very possible this season. Why not the 5-2 Bucs? The NFC is wide open. Brady threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-20 win over the Raiders, spreading the ball around and succeeding through the air even on a quiet night for Mike Evans. Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski and Scottie Miller all played key roles and scored touchdowns and more receiving weaponry is coming for Brady in the form of controversial wideout Antonio Brown. If he can fit into the mix – and that remains a big question – these Bucs are loaded, dangerous and ready to make a run.

Devin White… It's not just the offensive guys making eye-catching plays for the Buccaneers, either. Devin White is in beastly form at linebacker. We saw him making several big plays against the run during the win over Green Bay in Week 6 and he totally harassed Derek Carr on Sunday, sacking him three times. His closing speed and ability to work from sideline to sideline makes him arguably the best middle linebacker in the game today. It's early in his career, but we have to start putting White's name into that particular conversation.

Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams… The Houston Texans had no answer for Green Bay's pairing on Sunday night as the Packers got back on track with a 35-20 win. Rodgers only threw for 283 yards, but he was razor sharp in the red zone, throwing four touchdowns. His main target was Davante Adams and it was clear the Texans had no plan for covering him as he went off to the tune of 13 catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns. The only other Packers wide receiver to catch passes on the day was Malik Taylor, who had two for six yards and a score. So even though Adams was clearly Rodgers' main man, he was unstoppable.

Who's Not…

Cam Newton… I think we are starting to see the reason why Cam Newton was still available as a free agent quarterback deep into June. He is forcing some throws into crowded areas and missing on others where defenders are nowhere in sight. Those are rarities, though, because incidents of wide receiver separation from New England's downfield targets are few and far between this season. Cam doesn't look comfortable throwing the football at all and he appears to be racked by indecision – a death knell for any quarterback. He was terrible during New England's 33-6 loss to San Francisco last night, throwing three interceptions before riding the pine in the fourth quarter. It will be tough for Jarrett Stidham to fare any better given the skill position options in Foxboro, but he could be worth a look in the coming weeks.

The Dallas Cowboys… What a messy season this is turning out to be for the Cowboys, who fell to 2-5 with a disappointing 25-3 loss to Washington in which Dallas never put up a fight. And the inability to put up a fight irked head coach Mike McCarthy after quarterback Andy Dalton was knocked out of the game following a vicious hit by Washington linebacker Jon Bostic. Dalton gave himself up on the play and was brutally attacked by the defender, who dived head first into the sliding quarterback. And yet the Cowboys players just stood around numb to it all. I'm not advocating on-field violence here, but it would not have been a surprise to see that result in a bench-clearing brawl. But, at the moment, there doesn't seem to be much fight in these Cowboys and they did nothing. The players are calling out the coaches, the coaches are calling out the players and a season that held so much promise is disappearing down the toilet.

Buffalo's red zone offense… Sean McDermott has called his team's 18-10 victory over the New York Jets "a character win." It's good to see the positives in any game, but there has to be some concern over five trips into New York's 20-yard line that yielded no touchdowns. Tyler Bass kicked six field goals for the win, but Josh Allen and his offensive buddies need to find their mojo again. The red-hot start to 2020 has certainly cooled off for the Bills' offense.

The Fast Five…

  1. And then there was one. The Pittsburgh Steelers are the last remaining undefeated team in the NFL after Sunday's 27-24 win at Tennessee. This was much closer than it looked like being at the half, but a couple of notable stats stood out to me in this win. Pittsburgh held Derrick Henry to just 75 rushing yards on 20 carries and with Chase Claypool quiet at receiver, others stepped up in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson. This was a massive win on the road and another huge challenge beckons in Week 8 as Pittsburgh take on Baltimore.
  2. Baker Mayfield, of the Cleveland Browns, and Cincinnati's Joe Burrow played out a 'whoever has the ball last' game in the Battle of Ohio. The young quarterbacks were outstanding. Burrow threw for 406 yards and three scores, but it was Mayfield who had that football last and he capped an excellent display with the game-winning touchdown pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones with 11 seconds remaining. Mayfield threw for 297 yards and five touchdowns in Cleveland's 37-34 win.
  3. The 49ers showed their depth and toughness in their big win over the Patriots. But they also showed their excellent play-calling from head coach Kyle Shanahan. In a game where the Niners were without the injured pairing of Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman – and lost Jeff Wilson to injury – they rushed for 197 yards and four scores, getting production out of another in the RB production line in JaMycal Hasty.
  4. It has been less sensational from Patrick Mahomes in 2020 as defences drop off and refuse to give up as many big plays to Kansas City. It hardly matters, though, because the defending champs moved to 6-1 on the year with a 43-16 hammering of Denver in a snowy Mile High in Colorado. Kansas City scored on the ground, through the air, on defense and on special teams and keep showing that different areas of their team can step up to deliver the win.
  5. Russell Wilson has been sensational this season and there were moments where he was great again on Sunday night. But his three interceptions severely hurt the Seahawks in their 37-34 overtime loss to the Cardinals, particularly the pick poorly thrown to Isaiah Simmons in the extra period. It's hard to be too critical on Wilson, but Sunday night was a reminder that this team will rise and fall on his arm.

Fact of the Week

Week 7 saw the Cardinals defeat Seattle, Buffalo beat the New York Jets and Philadelphia overcome the New York Giants. All overcame deficits of 10 points or more to win. With one game remaining in Week 7, there have been 22 games in which a team has overcome a deficit of at least 10 points to win this season – the most in NFL history to this point of the season.

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 Chris Foley (@HTStMonicas) Bill Belichick needs to…_ trade for either Julio Jones or Michael Thomas if he wants to save this season. Both seem unlikely to head to Foxboro so I would say his next-best move would be to see what he has in Stidham at QB the rest of the way. We've seen enough of Cam. Moving forward, New England need to draft some difference-makers in the passing game and create more of a pass rush. That cannot happen until the offseason, of course, so for now it is about making the best of a bad situation and laying down plans for the future. But the cupboard looks pretty bare right now.

From Bryan Friel (@coveygunner) The temperature on Mike McCarthy's seat is… warming with each passing week. It may only be his first year in Dallas, but McCarthy is on a hot seat, for sure. Watching Sunday's pitiful effort against Washington, the head coach has lost his team and they are not fighting hard for him or each other. Team owner Jerry Jones is 78 years old and running out of patience after a quarter of a century out of the Super Bowl mix. I don't think he would hesitate to make a move at the end of the year if this mess continues. When players quit on their coaches, there is rarely a good way back.

From Ryan Isherwood (@RyanIsherwood10) The team under .500 with the best chance of making the playoffs is… the Philadelphia Eagles at 2-4-1. That's a bit of an easy answer because the winner of the NFC East this season is very likely to have a losing record. It's amazing to me that no team has more than two wins in the East and the 1-6 New York Giants are in the midst of a playoff race. But outside of the NFC Least, I wonder if the Los Angeles Chargers can get hot? They are 2-4 and have a bunch of playmaking receivers around strong-armed rookie quarterback Justin Herbert. And let's not forget that they had lost four one-score games in a row before beating Jacksonville. So they are close every week. And although I think they are poor and about to slide into obscurity, the presence of Bill Belichick makes me nervous when thinking of completely abandoning the Pats.

Final Thought…

As if Week 7 were not good enough, things are about to get very interesting across the NFL in the coming week. The trade deadline falls after the Week 8 games on November 3. But if teams want to get their new players through Covid-19 protocols and on the field for Week 9, moves will likely be made on Wednesday or Thursday of this week. And recent history suggests we will see some big-name players on the move as those chasing a Super Bowl look to bolster their rosters in deals with teams rebuilding for down the road. With that in mind, let's keep an eye on the Atlanta Falcons and Minnesota Vikings to see if they offload any players. The Vikings have already shipped out defensive end Yannick Ngakoue to Baltimore after just five games in Minneapolis. That formula for trades makes me wonder why Michael Thomas would be allowed to leave the Saints. He may want out, but I would be shocked if New Orleans granted his request. That aside, I bet we are talking about some big players on the move come the weekend.

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