NFL Week 8 Closing Thoughts: The Favorites Hold Steady

NFL Week 8 was pretty chalk, as evidenced by the fact that the elimination pool I’m in so nobody get knocked out for the first time all season. There were no big battles, no landscape-changing moments. So why not just start with the basics, and that’s the consensus three best quarterbacks in the NFL. Tom Brady and Peyton Manning dug themselves holes before turning on the gas, and Aaron Rodgers shone in prime-time.

New England 27 Miami 17: The Patriots trailed 14-0 early and 17-3 at half, before a third-quarter flurry gave them the lead. Brady and the passing game still can’t get untracked–he was 13/22 for 116 yards. The New England rush game was solid–Stevan Ridley carried 14 times for 79 yards, but Miami matched it with Lamar Miller. While the Pats won the turnover battle 3-1, one of those was a desperation interception on the game’s final play.

So what swung this key AFC East battle where Miami had the chance to close within a game of their rival? The defensive line play of New England. The Pats had six sacks, two of them by Logan Ryan, as this team continues to look more like those that won Super Bowls in 2001, 2003 and 2004 then some of the Brady shows that have been entertaining and successful, but never a champion.

Denver 45 Washington 21: The Broncos trailed 21-7 early in the third quarter after a pair of Peyton Manning turnovers–one a fumble and one a pick-six by DeAngelo Hall. Denver promptly reeled off 38 unanswered points. Manning had the numbers at 30/44 for 354 yards, but with three interceptions, he was a double-edged sword all game.

The real story in this game was that RG3 was simply awful. The stats are bad–15/30 for 132 yards and two interceptions, before being lifted for Kirk Cousins after the game got out of hand. But the stats don’t tell the story. I watched this game and it was simply the worst football game RG3 has played. I’d include the first two games of this season, where the effects of his injury were most evident, and if you qualify those for health then it’s no contest that Sunday was his worst display.

I blame the Redskins’ defense for a lot, but not for this fourth-quarter collapse. The defense hung in there with a great offensive team, but you can’t leave them on the field forever.

Green Bay 44 Minnesota 31: The Vikings took the opening kickoff back 109 yards for a touchdown and it was all Packers from that point forward. Green Bay got a big special teams score of their own, Aaron Rodgers was completely locked in (24/29 for 285 yards, no picks) and Eddie Lacy continues to give a solid ground presence, rushing for 94 yards on 29 carries.

Rodgers is losing receivers left and right, but Jordy Nelson is still on hand and with seven catches for 123 yards, that was enough against a Minnesota team that is essentially falling apart in front of us.

Other top teams that held serve on Sunday…

Kansas City 20 Cleveland 17: The Chiefs scored the first 13 points and then hung on. It was the usual formula of ball control–they owned the rushing battle 136 yards to 57 behind Jamaal Charles–and no turnovers. An area of concern has to be pass protection. The Browns sacked Alex Smith six times and you can’t play a ball-control offense out of 2nd-and-16, or even taking sacks on third down and giving up field position.

New Orleans 35 Buffalo 17: Saying that one team had Drew Brees at quarterback and the other had Thaddeus Lewis might be an overly simplistic way of analyzing football. In this case, the simple explanation is the correct one. Brees threw for over 300 yards and five touchdowns on a day when the teams’ ground games and pass rushes were essentially even. Brees also spread the ball around to seemingly every one on the New Orleans roster.

Seattle 14 St. Louis 9: If you ever doubt that turnovers define an NFL game, remember this one. Seattle richly deserved to lose this football game. They did not run the ball and they did not protect the passer–how bad does the protection have to be for a mobile quarterback like Russell Wilson to be sacked seven times? Robert Quinn and Chris Long had careers coming off the edge. Seattle’s defensive front was overrun, as the Rams generated 200 rush yards behind rookie running back Zac Stacy.

But Seattle did not turn the ball over, they got red zone stops and they got an 80-yard pass play from Wilson to Golden Tate. That was enough for an unimpressive win, and was salt in the wound for the sports fans of St. Louis on a Monday night when the Rams had to fight what I presume was a losing battle for attention against the baseball Cardinals who were also in town, with Game 5 of the World Series.

San Francisco 42 Jacksonville 10: The Jaguars are bad enough that I feel comfortable raising a criticism of the 49ers after a 32-point win in London. Where was the pass rush? In spite of Chad Henne dropping back 45 times, he was not sacked once. This is something that San Francisco struggled at down the stretch of the 2012 season and they can’t afford for this to persist when they start playing legitimate opponents again.

Both the NFC and AFC had a game between playoff contenders that proved notable, albeit for completely different reasons…

Cincinnati 49 NY Jets 9: The Jets’ defense, which has played so well this season, must have still been celebrating last week’s win over the Patriots. Andy Dalton was made to look like Brady and Peyton combined, as Dalton went 19/30 for 325 yards and five touchdown passes. He hooked up with Marvin Jones and A.J. Green repeatedly, each getting over 100 yards in the air, and there was no pressure to be found on the Cincinnati quarterback.

Detroit 31 Dallas 30: The Cowboys led this game through most of the second half, as a 13-7 game after three quarters ended up a shootout. Matthew Stafford ends up with 480 pass yards, 329 of them to Calvin Johnson, and Detroit went 80 yards in four plays to steal the win with 12 seconds to go. If the Cowboys don’t win the NFC East, and presumably the Lions won’t win the NFC North, this game could loom large in tiebreakers come December.

And the rest of the Week 8 games…

Carolina 31 Tampa Bay 13: Cam Newton is just playing some very efficient football right now. The Panthers’ three-game winning streak isn’t coming against powerhouses, but a nice job of keeping focus in a short week (this was the Thursday night game) on the road.

NY Giants 15 Philadelphia 7: The Eagles only touchdown came on defense, so Chip Kelly’s offense has now produced only three points in the last two weeks. The Giants are now 2-6, but with the Eagles 3-5 and flailing, the Redskins 2-5 and looking bad, and the Cowboys an inconsistent 4-4, yes New York can win the NFC East.

Oakland 21 Pittsburgh 18: If the Steelers don’t allow Terrelle Pryor a 93-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, then Pittsburgh likely wins this game. But even if they had, I’m just deeply disappointed in the complete lack of a running game, just one week after Le’Veon Bell had run over Baltimore.

Arizona 27 Atlanta 17: Matt Ryan threw four interceptions, but there are two things we should not do. Given that the Falcons’ attack made the Steelers’ running game look like the 1980s Redskins by comparison–27 total rush yards–Ryan had to throw the ball 61 times against a good, aggressive defense, and that’s asking for trouble.

But while not making Ryan’s interceptions the story, we should also not call him an “elite” quarterback, to use the worn-out phrase in today’s media. Elite quarterbacks don’t throw that many picks whatever the reason.