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Thirty-three things we learned from Week 8

*These are the ties that bind us to football. For the second week in a row, we saw a draw -- this time in England! After tying the Patriots' TD record, Rob Gronkowski broke it on Sunday with his 69th touchdown grab. The Raiders and Bucs were heading toward a scoreless overtime period before Derek Carr pulled off some "Black Jack" magic. Here's what we've learned so far: *

  1. The Bengals-Redskins game could have been over several times if it weren't for a missed extra point by Cincinnati kicker Mike Nugent earlier in the game or a hooked game-winning attempt in overtime by Redskins kicker Dustin Hopkins. It will be interesting to see if there were any hot takes about field conditions at Wembley Stadium. Otherwise, an eight-hour flight home is a long time to contemplate a missed kick from 33 or 34 yards out.
  1. In Tyler Eifert's true season debut, we saw glimpses of the oft-dominant offense that helped the Bengals win the division a year ago. Eifert finished with nine catches for 102 yards and a beautiful, leaping 15-yard grab in the red zone. Cincinnati was bottoming out near the goal line this season but now has a massive target for opposing defenses to consider. Arrivals like this also sometimes break up the coordinator equivalent to writer's block, as evidenced by a slick QB bootleg drawn up by Ken Zampese in the third quarter.
  1. Josh Norman was a definite upgrade at cornerback for this defense, and while A.J. Green's numbers suggest otherwise -- nine catches for 121 yards -- it was stunning to see how hard Cincinnati had to work to get Green the ball when Norman was in coverage. The Redskins corner was on and off the field Sunday with a few minor injury scares and in those brief moments, Andy Dalton would not look anywhere else. Norman was over-aggressive at times -- three of the five penalties called on him were accepted -- but his positioning and instincts were phenomenal. The Fox broadcasting team called it a poor game because he "dropped" a pair of interceptions, but the truth was that only a few corners could have gotten to those balls in the first place.

-- Conor Orr

  1. The Panthers won this game before halftime, just like in last season's NFC Championship. The beleaguered Panthers defense was the key, led by nose tackle Star Lotulelei's three sacks and three tackles for loss. They pressured and confused Carson Palmer consistently, sacking him eight times. They held the Cardinals to three first downs and a lost fumble on Arizona's first five drives. By then, it was 24-0.
  1. The stats (14-for-27, 212 yards passing) don't show it, but Cam Newton delivered an MVP performance. Carolina featured Newton as a runner early and the return of Jonathan Stewart (117 yards from scrimamge, 2 TDs) had Carolina's multifaceted running game humming again. Cam completed some difficult dimes to set the tone, including some throws on third-and-long.
  1. The Cardinals have been one of the least effective teams throwing deep in football, and didn't have a completion over 20 yards all afternoon. On a day where the Panthers loaded up to stop David Johnson (10 carries for 24 yards), Palmer was unable to make them pay. At 3-4-1, Arizona is struggling to transition to a defense-led squad.

-- Gregg Rosenthal

  1. Tom Brady should have had a fifth touchdown pass, but a wide open James White dropped a pass on the doorstep of the end zone in the middle of the fourth quarter. Even with four games lost to suspension, Brady is going force his way into the MVP discussion by outplaying every other quarterback in the league -- with room to spare. He's on pace for the greatest age-39 season in NFL history, leading Bills coach Rex Ryan to concede at midweek, "I don't know if I've ever seen him better." Through four games, Brady is completing 73.1 percent of his passes at 9.84 yards per attempt for a cool 133.9 passer rating -- career-best marks across the board.
  1. LeSean McCoy and Sammy Watkins are Buffalo's franchise players. When they are both missing from the lineup, Tyrod Taylor simply doesn't have the firepower to keep up with Brady's full arsenal. It didn't help that Taylor was off target most of the afternoon, turning in his worst passing performance of the season. With McCoy and NFL sack leader Lorenzo Alexander each nursing hamstring injuries leading up to next week's tough matchup at Seattle, the Bills are in danger of falling below .500 in a tight AFC wild-card race.
  1. Gronkowski scored his 69th career touchdown on a perfectly-placed Brady pass, breaking Stanley Morgan's long-standing franchise record. Six and a half seasons into a mold-breaking Hall of Fame career, Gronkowski already ranks third behind only Tony Gonzalez (111) and Antonio Gates (106) for touchdowns among tight ends. Leading the NFL in yards per reception this season, the perennial All Pro is playing better than ever. He's averaging 118.3 yards over the past four weeks -- the most productive month-long stretch of his career.

-- Chris Wesseling

  1. Brock Osweiler earned the win, but his performance won't quell fans nerves about the quarterback. Osweiler was merely adequate against a bad Lions defense missing its best defensive tackle, best linebacker and top cornerback. Credit the quarterback for picking on a crummy Lions linebacker unit that can't cover. Brock still doesn't stretch the field, throws disgusting deep passes -- one deep shot landing miles out of bounds -- and is scatterbrained in the pocket when his first read is taken away. Even when DeAndre Hopkins was targeted, the star receiver had to make ridiculous catches just to earn 44 yards on four receptions.
  1. The Texans took advantage of their tight ends early against Lions linebackers that couldn't stop C.J. Fiedorowicz early. Houston's trio of tight ends compiled 10 receptions for 94 yards in the first half. Detroit adjusted in the second half shutting down the middle of the field as the Texans offense sputtered until late.
  1. Matthew Stafford turned mortal this week, unable to pull off another come-from-behind victory. The Lions quarterback couldn't connect down the field all game. Credit Houston's corners A.J. Bouye and Kareem Jackson for sticky coverage, especially on Marvin Jones. Stafford was relegated to short tosses and check downs most of the afternoon, compiling just 240 yards on 41 attempts (5.9 average). Outside of the return of Eric Ebron (7 receptions for 79 yards on 10 targets) and Theo Riddick, Detroit was shut down. Stafford had been precise all season on intermediate and sideline throws, but we didn't see the same accuracy or urgency from the Lions offense Sunday.

*-- Kevin Patra *

  1. The discrepancy between penalties called was eye-opening in this game. Perhaps you could rationalize it by saying that the Seahawks play an aggressive style of pass defense and essentially gamble that the referees will not throw a flag on every play. Sometimes, the calls simply catch up. But the Seahawks were clipped for 11 penalties for a total of 76 yards while the Saints were hit with just two for a total of 10 yards. The physical play in both secondaries led me to believe that those numbers should have been evened out a bit. By my count, four of the 11 calls on Seattle were of the pass interference, defensive holding or illegal hand usage variety.
  1. Good for New Orleans. This team seems like a powder keg in the best possible way. The combination of Drew Brees and that receiving corps is still tantalizing but something is always holding them back. Sunday was not the assertive offensive explosion we were looking for, but it was a physical and efficient performance. The ageless Tim Hightower went for 102 yards (nearly four per carry) while Brees spread the ball around nicely -- six players had two or more catches and two had six catches each.
  1. Credit Seattle for this: The middle of their defense is absolutely terrifying. I counted five straight handoffs over two goal line possessions to Hightower where the play was shut down without a score. Drew Brees had to go over the top for one score and had to dial up a pick play slant for another. The teeth of this unit is built to thrive in November and December, so don't count them out by any stretch.

-- Conor Orr

  1. No Randall Cobb, no Ty Montgomery, no Eddie Lacy, no James Starks, no Jared Cook -- no problem for Green Bay's offense. This game featured vintage Aaron Rodgers, tossing four touchdown passes and adding a career-high 60 yards on the ground -- his finest overall performance since September of 2015. Rodgers kept plays alive with his legs and consistently hit throws that he had been missing too often this season. He also caught defensive end Brooks Reed nonchalantly walking off the field, granting Green Bay a key first down on a 12-men penalty while saving Jordy Nelson from a brain cramp on a failed third-down conversion in the red zone. Rodgers lacks a running game and a reliable downfield element in his aerial attack, but the arrow is finally pointing up again. Over his past six quarters going back to last week, he has completed 48 of 64 passes (74 percent) for 422 yards, seven touchdowns and a 128.5 passer rating.
  1. Matt Ryan has been one of the league's most successful comeback artists since entering the NFL in 2008. With Julio Jones hobbled by a tender ankle and drawing extra coverage, Ryan and Sanu made magic on the game-winning, 11-play touchdown drive to answer Rodgers' 13-play scoring drive late in the fourth quarter. A strong MVP candidate, Ryan has completed 69.2 percent of his passes at 9.5 yards per attempt for a lofty 115.8 passer rating at the season's midpoint. He's on pace to set career highs across the board.
  1. Jones' red-zone drop on Atlanta's final drive was his lone target of the second half after he twisted his ankle in the second quarter. The Falcons had just three second-half possessions: the game-winner, a three-and-out and a run-heavy drive that lasted nearly eight minutes. It's tough to tell just how much Jones' injury limited his production.

*-- Chris Wesseling *

  1. Plenty changes from one football season to the next, but not in Denver, where the Broncos -- like last year -- will go just as far as their defense takes them. The unit did the trick on Sunday, snuffing out a pair of late-fourth-quarter drives by the Chargers to preserve the win. Along the way, Denver sacked Philip Rivers four times, registered 13 quarterback hits and harassed the San Diego signal-caller with three interceptions -- including a game-changing pick six. After a long touchdown march to open the game, the Chargers went eight true possessions -- punt, punt, punt, pick six, punt, missed field goal, interception, interception -- before Rivers engineered a pair of second-half touchdown drives.
  1. With their defense creating turnovers and chaos, Denver's offense did just enough to seal the win. Trevor Siemian directed scoring drives in all four quarters, but the Broncos certainly missed C.J. Anderson. With its starting running back sidelined, Denver struggled for just 58 yards rushing, allowing San Diego's front seven to batter Siemian for one sack, eight quarterback hits, a crushing strip sack by Melvin Ingram and a fourth-quarter pick-six. Denver finished just 5-of-15 on third down at a measly 5.1 yards per play. Rookie back Devontae Booker was bottled up for three quarters before churning out key yardage on a critical fourth-quarter touchdown drive. After rumbling for 190 yards in Week 7, though, the Broncos have work to do on the ground with four road games over their next five tilts.
  1. It's masked in the loss, but Chargers running back Melvin Gordon delivered a fine performance on Sunday with 111 yards at 4.8 yards per pop -- becoming the first back in 22 games to cross the 100-yard barrier against the Broncos.

*-- Marc Sessler *

  1. Ryan Fitzpatrick was a raging mess out of the gate, throwing for just 30 first-half yards against a Browns defense that allowed an outrageous 559 total yards last week to the Bengals. The Amish Rifle gained steam from there, guiding New York to 24 unanswered points in the second half. Fitzpatrick -- 16 of 34 for 228 yards -- kicked off the onslaught with a third-quarter rope to wideout Quincy Enunwa, who broke three tackles en route to a 24-yard score. Enunwa fried the Browns on the following drive, too, with a pretty 57-yard grab that set up Matt Forte's go-ahead touchdown run. Forte scored again on the following series to bury the Browns for good. While Fitzpatrick remains a week-to-week proposition, he did enough on Sunday to keep the Jets on life support.
  1. With strong-armed Josh McCown at the helm, coach Hue Jackson leaned hard on the vertical passing game, throwing the ball 20 times over Cleveland's first 25 plays to help forge a 20-7 lead at the half. McCown picked up where he left off in Week 2, ripping through New York's secondary for completions of 35, 32, 32, 24, 18, 17 and 15 yards. The offense vanished in the second half, though, with two straight punts before McCown -- 25 of 49 for 341 yards and two scores -- tossed back-to-back fourth-quarter picks to refocus Cleveland's attention on what really matters today: the Indians.
  1. Anyone still doubting Terrelle Pryor isn't watching him play. The massive-bodied Browns receiver piled up 101 yards playing primarily against Darrelle Revis. The Jets cornerback found out what NFL defenses have discovered week after week: Pryor makes plays no matter who he faces. The quarterback-turned-wideout crossed the 100-yard barrier with three-plus minutes left in the first half, but disappeared along with the rest of Cleveland's offense down the stretch. While elements of his game still require refinement, Pryor's performance won't stop the questions around the spotty play of Revis.

-- Marc Sessler

  1. Trusting his offensive line when it mattered most, coach Jason Garrett went for it on fourth-and-1 in Philadelphia's territory on the first drive of overtime. Dak Prescott ran a successful sneak play and extended what would amount to Dallas' game-winning drive. Four plays after, Prescott atoned for earlier red zone errors (0 of 5 and one terrible interception) and found tight end Jason Witten wide open in the end zone for the comeback victory. Dak also guaranteed himself a start next week against the Browns; owner Jerry Jones said after the game that Romo still isn't ready to play, per NFL Network's Jane Slater.
  1. One week after the most unsettled performance of his rookie season, Carson Wentz delivered an efficient outing in his first intradivision prime-time game. Using mostly short to intermediate slant routes, Wentz carved up the Dallas defense with 74-percent passing for 202 yards -- his completion rate would have been higher if it weren't for the Eagles wideouts' fascination with dropping passes. The rookie made much better decisions than he did against the Vikings last week, spreading the ball out to nine different receivers and being uber-deliberate, nearly to a fault in his progressions so as not to toss any gimmies to the Cowboys' secondary.
  1. With Tony Romo slated to return from injury in the coming weeks, Prescott had an opportunity to seize the starting role from his predecessor before he returns to full health. The reviews from Sunday night? Meh. For the majority of the game, Dak (19 of 39, 287 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) was off on passes inside the pocket, missing wide open receivers like Cole Beasley in the flat and throwing ill-advised balls against the Eagles' swarming cornerbacks. A lot can and should be said of Dak's ability to lead two 10-plus-play scoring drives in the fourth quarter and overtime, but the devil's in the details. Despite the Cowboys' expanded lead atop the NFC East and Romo's continuing injury issues, Dallas should continue to tread lightly with anointing the rookie.

-- Jeremy Bergman

  1. Black Jack Del Rio saved us all from experiencing the third tie game in a week. With less than two minutes left in overtime against the Buccaneers, the Raiders faced a fourth-and-4 from near midfield. Rather than punt and basically hope for a tie, Del Rio went for it. Oakland didn't just get a first down -- instead, Derek Carr hit Seth Roberts over the middle, who then broke a tackle to streak his way to the game-winning touchdown.
  1. The Raiders entered Sunday's game leading the league in penalties. They followed that up by setting a single-game record with 23. They gave the Buccaneers chance after chance, often giving Tampa Bay new life. One Bucs drive was extended four times by penalties -- three of them came on third down. They went on to take a 24-17 lead on that drive on a Jacquizz Rodgers one-yard run with 4:45 left to play. This game proved Tampa Bay still has ways to go. The Bucs (now 0-3 at home this season) should have found a way to get a win when the opponent kept shooting itself in the foot.
  1. How were the Raiders able to overcome all the miscues and lack of discipline? Simple: franchise quarterback Derek Carr. The third-year signal-caller set a Raiders record by throwing for 513 passing yards -- and that's negating at least 100 more that were lost due to penalty. Carr stayed composed even when the rest of his team kept blowing up. He threw four touchdowns and did what elite quarterbacks do -- beat average or worse teams when everyone around you plays down to their level. In a year when there isn't quite an easy MVP pick, Carr should definitely be in the discussion. The Raiders are 5-0 on the road this season, an incredible feat considering where this team was when they drafted him two years ago.

-- Mark Ortega

  1. Whether it was Alex Smith or Nick Foles, the Chiefs repeatedly found ways to extend drives deep into Colts territory. Smith was efficient as usual but not as effective at sliding, twice being knocked out of the game after getting hit while attempting to give himself up. Foles stepped in and proved why his joining Kansas City in the preseason made sense. He looked familiar with and comfortable in the Chiefs' offense, completing 16 of 22 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns. Kansas City didn't miss a beat.
  1. The Chiefs took a 10-point lead and managed to sit on it for much of the game by answering each Colts rebuttal with one of their own. The advantage required Foles to go 80 yards on six plays, including a big connection with Tyreek Hill -- with whom Foles established a rapport that went back to their preseason action -- and ended with a touchdown run by Spencer Ware. Kansas City experienced some lulls in the second half, but kept rolling later even without Ware, who left with a concussion.
  1. When the Colts looked poised to make the game tighter, they repeatedly failed to follow through. Indianapolis struggled against the pass rush, allowing Luck to get sacked six times. When it came to third-and-long situations, Luck frequently pulled the ball down to escape the pocket, resulting in scrambles that came up short. The pressure showed even more when, late in the first half, Luck fired a ball in the general direction of no one specific (the box score listed Donte Moncrief as the intended receiver), which ended up in the hands of Phillip Gaines, who caught the ball while falling down. It was that inaccurate, and indicative of a day on which the Colts frequently couldn't get out of their own way.

*-- Nick Shook *

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