Week 8 Takeaways: Tight Divisions, Blowouts, the Mike White Show

I’m once again filling in for Gary Gramling on the Week 8 edition of the Sunday FreakOut, but he is officially listed as probable to return next Sunday. This Halloween, we are handing out reactions and overreactions to everything that happened in the Sunday afternoon games. For the full Sunday roundup podcast-style, be sure to subscribe to The MMQB Podcast, in your feed every Monday morning…

Things You Like to See

Week 8 Takeaways: Tight Divisions, Blowouts, the Mike White Show

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Feisty divisional games. The Steelers eked out an ugly 15–10 win in Cleveland in a classic AFC North contest. The Colts took the Titans to overtime as they tried to stop them from running away with the AFC South, only to be foiled by Carson Wentz’s second gutting INT of the day. And Tom Brady lost his third regular-season game to the Saints since joining the NFC South, this one without Drew Brees and (mostly) Jameis Winston, who left with a knee injury in the second quarter and was replaced with Trevor Siemian. Brady beat New Orleans in the divisional round of last year’s playoffs en route to a Super Bowl, but during the regular season the Saints appear to be his new Dolphins, that division opponent that just knows how to play him. Brady turned the ball over three times, including a pick-six during the two-minute drill.

The Jets’ second Any Given Sunday win of the season! We may never understand how the Jets’ only two wins of the year have come against the Titans and the Bengals, two of the best teams in the AFC. Just last week, the Jets lost a game by FORTY-ONE points, and the Bengals delivered one of the franchise’s biggest wins in recent memory. The Jets also used TWO DIFFERENT backup QBs during the game, though the interruption to Mike White’s 400-yard day was brief. But we are here to embrace the chaos, and also to praise The MMQB’s Albert Breer for being likely the only human not related to a member of the Jets’ organization who picked them to win this week, in what was definitely a deliberate and not-at-all-accidental selection.

A wide-open AFC. Well, not entirely wide open (more on the really bad teams below). But both the AFC North and the AFC West are anyone’s division, and the Patriots are keeping things interesting with the Bills in the AFC East thanks to a huge road win against the Chargers to improve to 4–4. Only in the AFC South does one team, the Titans, have a commanding lead. The NFC is already stratified with a small group of good teams, but watching how the seven AFC playoff spots fall into position promises to be incredibly entertaining.

Jimmy Garoppolo puts off a QB change in his homecoming to Chicago. Trey Lance is healthy again, and the 49ers’ three-game losing streak revived questions about whether it could be time to switch to the rookie. But Garoppolo played well enough to push off that conversation, at least for now. He passed for more than 300 yards and rushed for two TDs (and provided an extra little push on a third one). It’s clear that the ideal situation for the 49ers is if Garoppolo plays well enough to let Lance sit, learn and develop this season, and Sunday’s performance should extend the status quo.

Players showing out against their former teams. Adrian Phillips, the former Charger, intercepted Justin Herbert twice; and his fellow former Chargers teammate, Hunter Henry, sealed the Patriots’ win by recovering L.A.’s gotta-have-it onside kick. Saints linebacker Kwon Alexander, who began his career with the Bucs, capped his team’s upset win over the defending champs with a fourth-down sack of Brady. And Eagles CB Darius Slay scooped up a fumble and took it 33 yards to the house in his return to Detroit.

Stephon Gilmore picks up where he left off. In his first game since being traded to the Panthers and activated off the PUP list, Gilmore undercut rookie Kyle Pitts’s route for the game-clinching interception in his new team’s 19–13 victory against Atlanta.

Justin Fields’s incredible 22-yard TD run on fourth-and-1. The play was dead, with nowhere to go. 49ers DL Arik Armstead was lunging for him. But Fields kept the play alive, reversing field and weaving his way to the end zone, aided by a few key blocks from his teammates. The Bears didn’t win, but after last week’s miserable loss to the Buccaneers, in which the frustration was apparent all over Fields’s face, the rookie QB played his best game yet. He completed 70% of his passes and broke 100 yards rushing, including this TD that reminded everyone of his ability to make plays happen and make defenses look silly.

Halloween on an NFL Sunday. The calendar’s aligning this way for the first time since 2010 meant that game-day fits could be Halloween costumes, including Bills QB Josh Allen as Phil Mickelson and Bears RB Khalil Herbert seemingly celebrating his recent ascent by wearing an inflatable jetpack. The clear winer, though, was Myles Garrett as the Grim Reaper, with a cape listing all the QBs he’s brought down on the back.

Things You Don’t Like to See

Chris Boswell’s getting hurt on a fake field goal attempt by the Steelers. It was a bold but exciting decision by Mike Tomlin to call for the fake from the Browns’ 10-yard line, with Boswell’s taking the direct snap and then drifting right to look for an open receiver. But the outcome was the worst possible, with the 185-pound kicker’s taking a big hit from 303-pound Browns defensive tackle Jordan Elliott. Boswell was ruled out for the game with a concussion. The injury was the worst part of this play, but former NFL referee and current CBS analyst Gene Steratore pointed out that the Browns actually should have been called for roughing the passer (even though the passer was a kicker, in this case), which would have given the Steelers a fresh set of downs.

A bad call helping to decide a game. As much as we embrace the chaos of the Jets’ beating the Bengals, the unnecessary roughness call on Mike Hilton that prevented the Bengals from getting the ball back in the final two minutes was a bad call. All efforts to reduce helmet-to-helmet contact are important, but in this case, Jets running back Ty Johnson’s lowering his head before the collision with Hilton resulted in the contact. Hilton, it seemed, was aiming to strike Johnson’s torso. A lot of things went into deciding this game, but had that penalty not been called on the third-down play, Cincinnati would have gotten the ball back just inside the two-minute warning.

The 1–7 Dolphins are the most disappointing team in 2021. A lot has gone wrong in Miami, including a starting QB who has had to constantly wonder if the team will trade for his replacement and an offensive line that hasn’t given him much time to do anything. But a year after the Dolphins won 10 games and looked like their rebuild was ahead of schedule, Miami now has the exact same record as it did halfway through 2019, the season when they stripped down their roster to start the rebuild.

The prophecy of an unfortunate name for a kicker fulfilled. New Washington kicker Chris Blewitt has had three of his first five field-goal attempts blocked.

The amazing almost-catch by Keelan Cole being ruled incomplete. Don’t get us wrong, that was the right call—at least according to how the NFL defines a catch—because the replay showed that the football moved as Cole tumbled to the ground and he had to resecure the football while out of bounds. But boy, it’s a bummer that Cole’s incredible effort to twist away from the defender and fully extend his right arm out to secure the football wasn’t rewarded. (The Jets did score two plays later.)

The Rams botch another onside kick. After a rule change limiting the formations that the kicking team can use, the onside kick recovery rate dropped to about 8%. But twice in two weeks, the Rams have allowed their opponent to recover an onside kick. I am aware I risk angering our editor Gary Gramling, who loathes small sample sizes, but there’s no doubt the Rams will be spending extra practice time working on onside kick coverage in the coming weeks.

Games with glaring talent imbalances. The Texans, Lions and Jaguars have the three worst rosters in the NFL, and this weekend that resulted in two of the worst games of the season plus another laugher. Both Houston and Detroit were essentially finished by halftime, although the Texans did cut their 38–0 deficit down to 16 points in the fourth quarter with a flurry of scores, helped by their onside kick recovery. The Lions were down 38–0 at the same time, and they lost to the Eagles 44–6. Then in the late window, the Jags fell behind the Seahawks 24–0 before a garbage time touchdown finally got them on the board.

Things We Are Left Wondering

Week 8 Takeaways: Tight Divisions, Blowouts, the Mike White Show

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Is Mike White … good? There were some moments of doubt like, you know, his back-to-back interceptions in the first quarter. But he also became just the second QB ever, joining Cam Newton, to throw for 400 yards in his first NFL start. When we questioned the Jets’ backup QB situation, maybe we were all just wrong. At the very least, we all have a lot more reason now to look forward to Thursday Night Football this week between the Jets and Colts. (Robert Saleh did smile when he said White would start the game.)

Should the Bucs start worrying about their Week 17 game against the Jets? The Jets apparently can only beat good teams. The defending champs are on notice.

Will OBJ get traded? This has been a nagging question as Odell Beckham Jr.’s Browns career never quite took off as hoped, due to a combination of injuries and never quite seeming to fit in the offense. It still seems unlikely, given Beckham’s $14.5 million salary and the fact that the Browns still want to contend this season. But in the final week before the trade deadline, Beckham had another quiet game in which he again seemed like an afterthought in the offense, with one catch for six yards.

Will the Lions get a win this season? We wrote last week how we liked Dan Campbell’s approach, but trying to compete week to week despite a glaring talent gap can become a slog. And they have a lot of tough opponents ahead. Their best opportunities might be the Bears at home on Thanksgiving or Week 18 if the Packers have already locked in their postseason seeding. Even if a season is clearly lost, players will tell you avoiding the stain of a winless campaign is meaningful for both the team’s direction and their individual careers.

Should the Saints call Cam Newton? Newton hasn't been with a team since the Patriots cut him in conjunction with naming Mac Jones the starter. Newton no doubt improved his chances of landing with a team by deciding to get vaccinated (even if no team will outright say so). Siemian was an able spot replacement, but with Sean Payton’s calling Winston’s injury “significant” postgame, the 5–2 Saints could be looking for a long-term replacement.

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