With upsets everywhere you looked, NFL Week 8 was rich in shocking results. Pittsburgh remained undefeated, further enhancing their chance at a first-round bye week in the playoffs, while Miami made a statement and Cincinnati were unlikely winners against Tennessee, writes Matthew Carolan.
A Miami statement game?
Tua Tagovailoa had a debut to remember. Not because he was particularly special, but because Miami comfortably handled the LA Rams in something of a statement game.
Miami has had an up and down season so far. With Ryan Fitzpatrick as their starter, they were 3-3, with losses against New England, Buffalo and Seattle. But once they started winning some games, they made the switch and brought in their first-round draft pick, Tua Tagovailoa. Going into the Rams game, the neutral fan could not escape the fear of Aaron Donald wreaking havoc and injuring Tua right away. But Tua held his own. It was not an outstanding game, but it was an outstanding result.
The 28-17 scoreline may look like it was relatively close, but in reality, the Rams never looked like winning. LA scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter having not scored one since the first quarter. Miami dominated in between, albeit largely on defence. Flores has had games like this (see San Francisco on the road) where his defence steps up time and time again. It is a promising sign for Miami fans.
As for Tua, he never needed to be excellent. That might sound strange because he only completed 12 passes for 93 yards, but he was safe and relatively efficient. He did start off awkwardly with his first attempt being ruled as a fumble, but once he settled down, he looked comfortable and that is a great place to start. He also got his first touchdown - the first of many to come, no doubt.
It was Miami’s defence that really stood up, though. They managed to pick off Jared Goff twice and even managed to force a fumble in the red zone, which they returned for a touchdown. A bad day at the office for Goff, sure, but a great one for Miami’s defense.
Miami is an interesting team. Nobody thinks they will push on to contend for the Super Bowl, but in a year where each conference gets seven teams in the playoffs, there is a very real chance that they could sneak in. They have one of the easier schedules and their points differential shows this.
Tennessee all shook up
Upsets happen every week, but they never become less surprising. Tennessee is a good team. They have played fundamentally sound football and with just one loss prior to Week 8, they were a team many would want to avoid in the AFC playoffs. But the display against Cincinnati was lethargic and it raised some questions.
Questions like; where was the Titans’ pass rush? They registered no sacks and Burrow had all day to pick them apart. Why was AJ Brown not targeted more? He received one pass in the first half.
The Titans will not get it right every week, few teams do. But their game management against the Bengals was poor considering this should have been a bounce-back game after the Steelers loss. Where once this team was an outside bet at a Super Bowl, now there is uncertainty.
As for the Bengals, this marked Burrow’s second NFL victory as he continues to improve. Over the past three games, he has posted an average of 322 yards per game with a completion rate of 69.6%. He is efficient, he has poise and it would be no surprise if he won rookie of the year, albeit he has stiff competition. It is worth noting Burrow has been impressive with little surrounding talent, whereas Herbert has much.
The hilarious Bears/Saints fracas
The New Orleans Saints narrowly beat the Chicago Bears in overtime on Sunday night. It was a close game throughout and as is often the case with the Saints, it was feisty. But there was one moment, in particular, that was more so comedy gold than it was a cause for concern.
With the game tied 13-13, Saints cornerback Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (who was previously involved in a bust-up with Saints receiver Michael Thomas this season) got inside the head of Bears receiver Javon Wims, and Wims could not let it go.
Instead of letting it go, Wims approached Gardner-Johnson (presumably mouthing expletives) and swung his right fist at his head. While he was wearing a helmet. Not only did he punch him while he was wearing a helmet, but Gardner-Johnson did not react either. He hit him in the head and he did not flinch.
It was both hilarious and embarrassing for Wims at the same time. His reaction was akin to some godly form looking down on a mere mortal with amusement, but he might be smaller than Wims in reality. It was just that pathetic an attempt. Wims did not stop there. Incensed by the non-reaction, he paused, considered what to do next, then hit him again and chaos ensued between both teams.
The Bears received a 15-yard penalty, the Saints went on to win, and Wims probably will not play again for some time. It was some much-needed fun in these times.
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The Baltimore v. Pittsburgh rivalry is alive and well
The game of the week was the AFC North clash between old rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh, with the latter winning this closely contested affair.
Sometimes, the game you look forward to most ends up being a letdown. It happened when Tampa Bay played Green Bay in Week 6, as well as Cleveland’s game with Pittsburgh that week. It occurred when Baltimore played Kansas City and the Chiefs walked away with it comfortably. It often happens, so when a big clash lives up to expectations, it is highly rewarding.
The Steelers edged out Baltimore 28-24, and although Lamar Jackson did not have his best game, he still had his moments. We have been hesitant to give Pittsburgh too much credit too soon this season, because a lot of their wins have come against easier opposition. But back-to-back wins against Tennessee, and now Baltimore, warrants praise.
The Steelers’ defense does not always shut teams down or keep them to low points, but they consistently disrupt the line of scrimmage and make plays in big moments. This was the case again on Sunday as Lamar felt the force of TJ Watt and co. A pick-six at the start of the game summed it up for Jackson, who has regressed in 2020 on the back of an outstanding MVP campaign in 2019. That does not mean he is bad now, rather that teams are performing better against him than they were previously. Maybe they understand how to play him a bit more.
Baltimore’s run game saw more success, and it was not until the second half when Pittsburgh made some moves. In fact, two or three throws aside, if you only watched the first half you might think Baltimore should have won the game. The second half was different, though. Ultimately, it was the Pittsburgh defense that acted as the catalyst to bring them back into it, with Jackson being intercepted at the start of the second half. From there, the Steelers managed each situation well and Roethlisberger was able to find Claypool, Ebron, and Smith-Schuster repeatedly.
The second game between these two on Thanksgiving might be worth staying up late for.
DK Metcalf - highlight machine
The Seahawks are always entertaining. Russell Wilson’s style of play means that they are always electric. But the emergence of DK Metcalf as one of the best receivers in the league has taken this team up a notch, and he has become a human highlight reel by this stage.
Sunday’s fixture between San Francisco and Seattle only enhanced Metcalf’s reputation as one of the NFL’s best. He had 161 receiving yards and two touchdowns, but the stats are not the reason why fans are salivating over his performances.
One moment that got fans off their seats came at the end of the first quarter. With the game tied 0-0, Wilson found Metcalf on a slant route and the receiver did the rest. He continued on towards the sideline before surging past the San Francisco defense like a Super Mario character who had just powered up with a star, leaving defenders in his dust. They could not get near him. Metcalf has that raw athletic ability, but he is now running routes better than most and that is a terrifying prospect for oppositions.
His second touchdown came before half-time. This time, Wilson fired it into a much tighter window and Metcalf showed his brute strength to muscle the defensive back away and claim the ball as his own. Where one touchdown showed DK’s ability to burn players with his pace, his second showed the league that, even if you mark him tightly, he is strong enough to take it for himself anyway.
The concern with Metcalf coming out of the draft was that he had the physical attributes - size, speed and power - but perhaps not the nuanced route-running ability or hands to make him a star. With just eight games gone in his second season, those concerns should be gone by now.
The Chargers blow another lead
So much has been made of Atlanta blowing leads that the world seems to have forgotten about the Charger’s ability to do it too. Where Atlanta have adopted this ability, the Chargers have always had it. They were born with it. Moulded by it.
The Chargers, in their last four games, have blown leads by:
- 17 points
- 17 points
- 16 points
- 21 points
The latest blown lead came as the Chargers were leading 24-3 against, let’s face it, an average Denver Broncos team. The team just cannot stop the opposition from coming back into games. Defensive collapses are not exactly overshadowing the fact that Herbert is enjoying a really impressive rookie season, but the Chargers would rather have wins. As they are missing one of the best safeties in the league in Derwin James, the team looks like a leaky bucket.
If it ever feels like the Chargers are on Red Zone more than anyone else, it is because they probably are. In Weeks 1, 3 and 8 (as well as next week) they have kicked off at 21.05 - the in-between slot that generally gets a lot of airtime. In Weeks 2 and 7, they kicked off at 21.25 - as part of the slate of three or four games max.
This team is always on TV, but as long as they keep blowing big leads, we should not have much of an issue with it.
Written by Matthew Carolan.
Read last week's Shocked, Not Shocked.