The Week 7 games on Sunday had some big wins, including three shutouts. Here are some of our big takeaways:
Here's what else we learned on Sunday:
- Cowboys star runner Ezekiel Elliott galloped beautifully from wire to wire, burying the Niners with 219 total yards and a trio of touchdowns. I haven't seen Zeke play a better game all year, as he plowed for tough yards even when the line wasn't blowing open gaps in the defense. Through the air, Dak Prescott found Jason Witten for a one-handed, 18-yard touchdown grab that buried the Niners in a hole they wouldn't emerge from. Especially after Elliott hauled in a second-half screen lob from Prescott and barreled 72 yards into the end zone to carve out a 24-point Dallas lead. With Elliott dancing down the sideline with defenders all around, you might not find a prettier touchdown run all season.
- Burn the game film. C.J. Beathard made his share of plays in relief of Brian Hoyer last Sunday, but the rookie passer was on the receiving end of a painful beating in Week 7, with the Cowboys blasting him for five sacks, repeatedly collapsing the pocket and ending the first half with a crushing DeMarcus Lawrence strip-sack that short-circuited a potential scoring drive. The rookie gave the ball away again on a fourth-quarter strip-sack by Jaylon Smith. Beathard generated a scattering of chunk gains, but a team like the Niners has no shot when their young quarterback spends the entire day on the run. We're bound to see Hoyer again before long.
- One injury to keep an eye on: Ultra-reliable Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey left the game in the first half with a groin injury. Quickly ruled out, his absence forced the team to attempt a failed two-point conversion after Witten's touchdown and subsequently use safety Jeff Heath as their starting kicker. The Dallas backstop did his best, booting a kickoff into the end zone and making two of three PAT attempts. The 'Boys will need to find help in a hurry if Bailey's injury lingers.
-- Marc Sessler
- This Rams team is better in almost every facet this season. That includes the team's ability to play keepaway and hold on to a lead with a strong running game and third-down conversions. Todd Gurley finished with 156 yards from scrimmage on 26 touches, many of which came on a 16-play fourth quarter touchdown drive that took over ten minutes off the clock. The Cardinals only had the ball three times and possessed it for less than seven minutes in the entire second half. The Rams held the ball for 39 minutes in the game overall.
Gurley and the team's offensive line deserve game balls after this one. Gurley ran hard, breaking tackles and finding room outside the tackles against the nondescript Cardinals defense. Jared Goff, who didn't need to play particularly well to win easily, had all the time in the world to survey the field to pick up manageable third downs.
- Quarterback Carson Palmerwill have surgery on a broken left arm suffered Sunday and will likely miss eight weeks, coach Bruce Arians announced. Palmer exited late in the second quarter with the injury and was replaced by Drew Stanton. This could potentially be the end of an era in Arizona. Palmer openly debated his football future this offseason before deciding to play another season. Arians' future and whether wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald keeps playing figure to become bigger storylines in the coming weeks.
The Cardinals' chances for a competent offense with Stanton at quarterback do not seem high. After Palmer left, Stanton sprayed passes and did not look comfortable in the pocket. (He completed 5-of-14 passes for only 64 yards with an interception and a fumble.) The Cardinals' offensive line didn't give Palmer or Stanton a chance and Adrian Peterson found little room to run, finishing with 21 yards on 11 carries.
- Wade Phillips' Rams defense continues to get better each and every week after a slow start to the season. Linebacker Alec Ogletree was very active breaking up plays, showing why the Ramsrewarded him recently with a new contract. Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers may be the best interior defensive line duo in the league right now.
-- Gregg Rosenthal
- When his career is over and he's no longer making the two-hour trip up I-5 in his decked out Sprinter van, we're going to miss Philip Rivers. Yes, his throwing motion is awkward and it sometimes produces some wounded ducks, but the quarterback consistently places the ball accurately, and he was as sharp as ever on Sunday. Rivers engineered an incredibly efficient drive in the second quarter, going 65 yards in nine plays and capping it with a touchdown pass to Austin Ekeler in the flats.
Rivers spread the ball among seven receivers, completing 15 of 26 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. The Chargers iced the game with a methodical, 10-play, 92-yard drive that ended with a 42-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to Travis Benjamin, securing redemption for their heartbreaking opening-weekend loss.
Barbre was repeatedly smoked by opposing pass rushers, with Bosa beating him for a sack and Chris McCain sprinting around him twice for two sacks and two forced fumbles. Barbre wasn't alone, though: As a group, Denver's offensive line surrendered five sacks on Sunday. Siemian was anticipating pressure as a result, forcing him to scramble and heave prayers as a last-ditch effort, knowing the endless rush was coming for him yet again. Combined with an inability to run the ball (and a lack of trying to do so later in the game, as evidenced by Denver's 19 total rushing attempts), Denver's offense was the worst its been all season and was shut out for the first time since 1992.
- The Broncos' defense performed admirably -- Von Miller recorded two sacks -- but they were on the field for far too long, thanks to a Denver offense that barely mustered a whimper. The time of possession numbers actually favored Denver, but anyone watching the game -- including the broadcast team, which noted this in the fourth quarter -- would also tell you that Denver's defense could only do so much to keep the Broncos in the game. Two lost fumbles and an interception ended Denver possessions and brought the Broncos' defense back out much too quickly. Benjamin's touchdown was the result of a designed pick play and a poor pursuit angle, which will doom anyone trying to catch a receiver with world-class speed like Benjamin.
-- Nick Shook
- Le'Veon Bell was once again the best player on the football field. The Steelers rode him. Bell toted the rock 35 times for 134 rushing yards, adding three receptions for 58 yards. Bell's patient style gashed the Bengals underbelly between the tackles, turning would-be two-yard gains into six- and seven-yard carries. The Steelers employed more heavy packages Sunday, utilizing multiple tight-end packages and fullback Roosevelt Nix to help pave the way for Bell. With his 38 touches in the win, Bell has received 25-or-more touches in each of the past four games. Pittsburgh is at its best riding Bell hard, but it's fair to wonder if he can keep up this pace as the season progresses.
- After giving up two touchdowns on three first-half drives, the Steelers' D clamped down. Pittsburgh allowed just one first down over six drives in the second half, forced two interceptions of Andy Dalton, and earned four sacks. On those six drives, the Bengals earned 19 total yards. Dalton ended with 34 yards passing in the second half. When the Steelers' fast defense is smothering opponents, Pittsburgh is the most balanced team in the AFC, and by far the class of the division.
- A.J. Green was held in check. Since Bill Lazor became the Bengals offensive coordinator in Week 3, Green has been the focal point of the offense, averaging 7.3 receptions on 11 targets per game for 121.0 yards per contest and three total touchdowns. The Steelers put an end to that trend. Green finished with three catches for 41 yards on just four targets. The All-Pro receiver didn't catch a pass after the first quarter. With the Steelers intent on slowing Green, the Bengals offense was discombobulated and completely off track.
-- Kevin Patra
- The Giants were primed to score another upset victory after a first half in which they were dominated in time of possession yet somehow hit the intermission with a 7-3 lead. Seattle stopped inflicting damage on itself in the second half, and the wheels fell off for New York. The Seahawks scored a quick touchdown in the third quarter to take a 10-7 lead, where the game stood for quite some time as New York's offense struggled per usual as its defense stymied the opposition. That changed with Russell Wilson's heave to Paul Richardson, which resulted in an acrobatic touchdown catch. An indeterminable tie-up between he and Giants safety Landon Collins resulted in a replay review that couldn't overturn what was definitely not a sure thing. The score flipped momentum permanently in favor of the Seahawks, who won their third straight after a 1-2 start to the season.
- Seattle has such a luxury with Wilson at quarterback. After watching New York opponents attempt to scheme against the Giants' dynamite front-seven and repeatedly fail to keep Jason Pierre-Paul (among others) off their quarterbacks, in trots the Seahawks and the mobile Wilson, who used his legs to evade JPP and make plenty of tremendous throws. Wilson rolled to his right along his own goal line in the third quarter and squeezed a bullet into the hands of Amara Darboh, moving Seattle out of the shadow of its own goal post. In the fourth, he made a similar play with his feet, scrambling right and head-faking Pierre-Paul for extra yards before wisely sliding in bounds to keep the clock rolling with Seattle nursing a 17-7 lead. That drive ended in a 1-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Jimmy Graham, whose pair of first-half drops (including one in the end zone on fourth-and-1) were a microcosm of Seattle's play in the first 30 minutes.
- Despite being a tweener for a tight end, Evan Engram is blossoming into New York's best (and last remaining) target on offense. The tight end caught six passes for 60 yards and a touchdown, and could have had another long grab and possible score had he not been flagged on the play. For a Giants offense that has lost Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall and struggles to run the ball (and protect the passer), Engram is a small but bright light in an otherwise dim room. Outside of Engram, the offense has plenty of work to do on coming anywhere close to being competitive. The offensive line can't protect Eli Manning or sustain drives of substance (Seattle held the ball more than 10 minutes longer than New York did Sunday). As a result of so many empty possessions, New York is wasting what is one of the best defenses in the league.
-- Nick Shook
- The initial fallout from Aaron Rodgers' glaring absence will inspire little hope in Title Town. Even with the benefit of Green Bay's strongest rushing attack of the season, Hundley failed to move the chains through the air. Overreliant on penalties and Hundley's third-down scrambling ability, the passing game lacked any semblance of rhythm. The former UCLA star managed to connect with his top three receivers and No. 1 tight end just seven times for a meager 57 combined yards as the Packers were outgained by a whopping 225 yards on the afternoon. Entering the bye week, coach Mike McCarthy will have to head back to the drawing board, finding a way to simplify Hundley's reads and get the ball out of his hands more quickly.
- While Hundley struggled in his NFL starting debut, the Saints had the decided advantage of a seasoned quarterback boasting nearly 70,000 passing yards and a stockpile of experiences in close games. Bouncing back from a pair of first-quarter interceptions in scoring territory, Brees directed a balanced attack that put the ball in the hands of open-field playmakers Ted Ginn and Alvin Kamara. Bolstered by Sean Payton's creative play-calling, Brees kept the Packers' defense guessing over the final three quarters. Folding under a pass rush that has been toothless since Mike Daniels wrecked Seattle's offensive line in the season opener, Green Bay hemorrhaged a season-high 485 yards on defense.
- When rookie Aaron Jones cleared the 100-yard mark in his first career start two weeks ago, we surmised that he was destined to eat into Ty Montgomery's workload because he's simply too good to keep off the field. Jones officially unseated Montgomery versus New Orleans, starting the game and scampering for a Packers season-long 46-yard touchdown on the opening possession. Compensating for a broken aerial attack, Jones exploded for 131 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, leading Green Bay to a season-high 181 yards on the ground. The difference in play speed between the two backs is obvious. Jones is the better runner -- and not by a little.
-- Chris Wesseling
- The Super Bowl rehashing drove the pregame and the early content, but by halftime, it was pretty clear these two teams were not the same ones who met in Houston last February. New England dominated the Falcons in the first half on offense and defense, and rode that lead to the end of regulation for an emphatic win on a national stage.
- More of what we expect from the Patriots' offense. Dion Lewis led all running backs in snaps with 23, and right behind him were Rex Burkhead (22) and James White (21), with the latter also accounting for a receiving touchdown by shaking linebaker Deion Jones on a deftly run angled route out of the backfield and into the end zone. Brandin Cooks caught four of his five targets for 65 yards and a touchdown, and Rob Gronkowski caught three passes for 51 yards. Tom Brady capped another efficient night that didn't quite produce fireworks (it's a good thing, because with the fog that rolled in, visibility was already low), but did more than enough to cruise past Atlanta. His line was clean -- 21-of-29 passing, 249 yards, two touchdowns -- as was his play as New England improved to 5-2.
- Atlanta looks nothing like the offense it was in 2016, and it's starting to reflect poorly on offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. No sequence of Falcons plays was uglier Sunday night than when the Falcons found themselves inside the Patriots' 1 with two downs to score and promptly threw an incomplete pass and attempted to run an end around to Taylor Gabriel flush to the line of scrimmage, resulting in a big loss and turnover on downs. With two downs to gain all of 12 inches, there's simply no reason to get cute, and it cost the Falcons their last legitimate chance to get back into the contest.
-- Nick Shook
- With Mike Wallace landing in the league's concussion protocol minutes into the game, Joe Flacco found himself unfurling passes to guys like Michael Campanaro and Griff Whalen. The Ravens and Vikings failed to reach the red zone in the first half, while Baltimore finished the day at a ridiculous 3.3 yards per play. That should come as no surprise to Ravens fans, who are "treated" weekly to one of the NFL's ugliest air attacks. Flacco threw for an outrageous 51 yards over the first 30 minutes of play before finishing with 186 yards on the day, with too much of that coming on a final garbage-time march. Baltimore couldn't get anything done in the backfield, either, managing just 64 yards on the ground. Spinning this positively, Baltimore was facing a Minnesota defense that looks like a Super Bowl-worthy unit.
- The Vikings missed injured rookie back Dalvin Cook early on, but Latavius Murray broke the contest wide open with a hard-charging 29-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that safely put Minnesota up 18-6. This came after Murray busted out for a 35-yard gain en route to 113 yards at 5.1 yards per carry, by far his finest output of the year. Minnesota couldn't make up for the loss of wideout Stefan Diggs, though, with Case Keenum throwing for 188 yards with no pass-catcher accounting for more than 54 yards. Once again, though, Keenum was safe with the ball and kept his team out of trouble.
- Perhaps you aren't a fan of games locked 6-6 at the half, but it's hard not to respect the handiwork of both team's kickers. Baltimore's unparalleled Justin Tucker nailed field goals of 57, 48 and 47 yards, while Minnesota's Kai Forbath banged kicks of 52, 51, 34, 32 and a pair of 43 yarders. His six field goals were one shy of a team record held by Rich Karlis.
-- Marc Sessler
- Eddie Jackson: 14 points. Carolina Panthers: 3 points. The Bears rookie safety was Johnny-on-the-spot in the first half and the only player to hit the end zone in Chicago on Sunday. Jackson scooped up a botched pitch by Panthers wideout Curtis Samuel and dashed 75 yards up the sideline for a touchdown on the opening drive of the game. Later in the first half, Jackson snagged a Cam Newton pass that was popped up in the air and scooted for 76 yards to pay dirt. Jackson became the first Bears player with two defensive touchdowns in a game since 1948 (Fred Evans), per NFL Research. The two defensive scores carried a Bears team that couldn't move the ball on offense.
- The Bears won a game by 14 points despite Mitchell Trubisky completing just four passes and the run game gaining 68 total yards. Chicago sat on an early lead, going 3-and-out on their first five possessions of the second half. The only two first downs in the final two quarters for Chicago came on the game-ending drive. Trubisky wasn't asked to do much, passing just seven times on the day for 107 yards. He completed one big pass on a beautiful 70-yard strike to Tarik Cohen but looked mostly lost on his few dropbacks. The rookie struggled with the Panthers pass rush, taking four sacks (including one that backed the Bears up in field goal-range, leading to a miss). Trubisky is the first non-injured starting QB to win a game with fewer than five completions since Tim Tebow in 2011, per NFL Research. The Bears won by double digits on a day in which they lost time of possession 21:25 to 38:35; earned just five first downs to Carolina's 20; ran 37 plays to 69; and were out-gained 153 yards to 293. Give Eddie Jackson all the game balls.
- Bad Cam showed up Sunday. Credit the Bears defense for battering Cam Newton. The Panthers' quarterback was sacked five times, hit 11 and pressured on nearly every drop back. Newton was off the mark from the start, tossing high and wide repeatedly. Despite the Bears giving the Panthers every chance to get back in the game in the second half, Newton and Co. couldn't take advantage, netting zero first downs on their final three possessions. Newton's second interception of the game wiped away any shot of a comeback, as he put the ball right into linebacker Danny Trevathan's gut. The Panthers run game remains lost. Inside handoffs to Christian McCaffrey seems like wasted plays as this point. The first-round rookie finished with just 10 yards on seven carries, 1.4 yards per attempt. In a tight NFC playoff race, the Panthers could lament losing a game in which they allowed three points on defense.
-- Kevin Patra
- The Dolphins won because Matt Moore replaced an injured Jay Cutler and led Miami to 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. After a sluggish start, Moore got hot on touchdown drives of 42 and 54 yards. Moore makes more sense as the guy behind center going forward, and it looks like he'll get at least one start. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports the Dolphins fear Cutler suffered cracked ribs and is likely to miss Thursday's game against the Ravens.
How did Moore lead the Dolphins back? He kept throwing in the direction of Jets corner Buster Skrine over and over. Skrine was the man in coverage on both Miami touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. He also committed three penalties. One can imagine that Jets coach Todd Bowles would have pulled Skrine had injured backup Xavier Coleman been available.
- Josh McCown's performance perfectly encapsulated why he's stayed in the league for 15 years ... and why he's on his eighth team. The Jets quarterback accounted for four touchdowns -- three through the air and a QB sneak -- but he quickly ran out of steam for the second straight week. The Jets have blown 14-point leads in back-to-back Sundays, and they probably win both games if McCown can find a way to move the offense with some efficiency in the second half. The McCown pass intercepted by Bobby McCain with 39 seconds to play was an all-timer, an ill-advised throw across his body that cost New York the game.
- Credit to the Dolphins, who wiped out a 17-point deficit at halftime in Atlanta last week and a 14-point deficit in the final 12 minutes against the Jets. This is a good look for Dolphins coach Adam Gase and the rest of his staff, who have shown the ability to maintain composure and regroup in the face of adversity. The Jets can watch the tape tomorrow and learn a lesson.
-- Dan Hanzus
- The ball-chucking, dime-dropping version of Blake Bortles last seen with much fanfare and hope among the Jaguars' faithful in 2015 made a 60-minute encore at Lucas Oil Stadium. The performance certainly caught the Colts' secondary off guard, and it raised questions as to whether the Jaguars' offense might not be as one-dimensional as some might believe. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette didn't play against Indy and Jacksonville still managed a very healthy 518 total yards. The Colts didn't look up to the task of stopping the Bortles aerial assault, especially when first-round safety Malik Hooker left in the second quarter with a knee injury. Bortles completed 18 of 26 passes for 330 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps Bortles does have a smidgen of dynamic passer left him. We'll need a bigger sample size (and maybe a couple tougher opponents) before making any predictions of a Jaguars QB renaissance.
- While Bortles flourished, Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett had a frustrating day in his constant mandatory meetings with the Jaguars' pass rush. The face-to-face collaboration resulted in 10 (yes, 10) sacks for Jacksonville and a ho-hum stat line for the young signal caller: 22-of-37 passing for 200 yards. It resembled more of an after-school special for Brissett than an NFL game. Lessons will be learned, but it's debatable whether the Colts' offensive line will provide the level of protection necessary for Brissett (and maybe Andrew Luck) to succeed this season.
- Telvin Smith has that thing that makes you go "whoa!" The Jaguars linebacker was one of primary culprits behind the Colts' sputtering offensive effort, even if he did have plenty of help in locking down the shutout. Smith recorded seven tackles and created seemingly constant problems for the Indy O-line. Assisting in the cause was defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who recorded 2.5 sacks, and Calais Campbell, who added two more. Sacksonville is real, and AFC South quarterbacks should be very, very afraid.
-- Austin Knoblauch
- Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, who was nursing an AC joint sprain earlier this week, looked comfortable against the Bills on Sunday. Though the Buccaneers' offense was held to field goals in the first half, a O.J. Howard touchdown in the third quarter helped propel the Bucs into comeback mode. In the Week 7 loss, Winston went 32 of 44 for 382 yards passing and three touchdowns. Howard finished with two touchdowns and 98 receiving yards (His first game with two TDs).
- Bills running back LeSean McCoy took advantage of a struggling Buccaneers defense and racked up 91 yards rushing on 23 carries and 31 yards receiving with two touchdowns. McCoy bewildered the Buccaneers' defense, who one week prior faced a resurged Adrian Peterson. Sunday marked the Bills' best rushing game this year. Today alone, Buffalo had 173 rushing yards, which surpasses what the team has done on the ground all season. McCoy's fumble, however, in the fourth set the Bucs up to tie the game. Lucky for McCoy, that fumble didn't cost Buffalo the game.
-- Andie Hagemann
- Less than a week after Marcus Mariota led the Titans on a crucial touchdown drive on Monday Night Football, Tennessee couldn't get anywhere near the end zone in the fourth quarter. Again restricted to the pocket, Mariota faced frequent pressure from Cleveland's front seven. Head coach Mike Mularkey's exotic smashmouth offense, which has been reduced to just smashmouth recently, failed to break 100 yards on the ground, which choked Tennessee's offense and resulted in the touchdown embargo. Tennessee looked far from the squad that put up 36 points in a come-from-behind win over the Colts, but credit is still due to Mariota, who completed 21 of 34 pass attempts for 203 yards and did enough to win, despite the lack of fireworks. More importantly, in the wide-open AFC South, Tennessee secured another victory to keep the Titans in a tie atop the division with a Jacksonville team that appears to get stronger with each week.
- Cleveland's defense was outstanding. The Browns might be a disaster on offense, but Gregg Williams has his unit playing with fire and desire. The group's Sunday peak came in the third quarter after another DeShone Kizer interception. On first and goal from Cleveland's 1, the Browns stonewalled DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry on three of four attempts from three feet out, keeping Tennessee from the end zone with a turnover on downs. The stand proved to be crucial in keeping the game close, and was also Tennessee's last trip to Cleveland's red zone for the day.
The Browns bottled up the Titans on the ground, limiting Tennessee to 80 yards rushing on 34 attempts. Browns defenders also made crucial pass breakups while trailing by three points, with Christian Kirksey shadowing Delanie Walker through the back of the end zone and cornerback Michael Jordan breaking up a ball to Eric Decker on third down, helping Cleveland preserve its chances. Unfortunately for the still-winless Browns, the defense could only hold for so long, especially when faced with bad starting field position after consecutive three-and-outs in overtime.
- Firing a staff won't help anything develop in Cleveland, but Hue Jackson's (mis)management of the quarterback position is alarming. Jackson has now switched from Kizer, to Kevin Hogan, back to Kizer (and demoting Hogan to third string), to Cody Kessler after another poor outing from Kizer. For a coach who was a supposed quarterback whisperer, he's been as consistent as the fall weather in Cleveland. His quick hook on Kizer has screamed desperation, and after yet another loss, it would be foolish to expect anything less in the coming weeks. The problem with this is this creates a quarterback room with each guy constantly looking over his shoulder for his replacement, which definitely doesn't breed confidence.
"I'm sure (Cleveland's quarterbacks) don't want the yo-yo, but it goes both ways," Jackson said after the loss. "In the process of developing quarterbacks, I want them to not turn the ball over."
-- Nick Shook