There was a whole lot that went down around the NFL on the eighth Sunday of the regular season. From Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks pulling off a must-win against the Carolina Panthers to the Chicago Bears continuing their free fall in New England, some teams were able to overcome recent struggles while others found themselves further behind the eight ball.
Drew Brees and the Saints made a major statement at home against Green Bay, as did the Pittsburgh Steelers in a dynamic offensive performance against the Indianapolis Colts. And in less surprising fashion, the Oakland Raiders remain the only winless team in the NFL.
Let’s check in on 10 takeaways from Sunday’s Week 8 NFL action.
1. Mike Smith’s Job in Atlanta
Following a last-second loss to the Detroit Lions in London, the Falcons are now 2-6 on the season and pretty much without any hope of contending for a playoff spot in the second half of the season. More than that, Atlanta couldn’t hold what was a 21-point halftime lead, something that isn’t acceptable at any level.
Now 6-18 since losing the NFC Championship game back in January of 2013, there are a lot of rumors flying that Smith could very well be relieved of his duties in the not-so-distant future. As these rumors swirl, Falcons owner Arthur Blank didn’t do much to quiet them following the loss (via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).
You’re up 21-0,” owner Arthur Blank told Bradley after the game. “There’s no way you lose that game — just no way. There’s nothing else I can say.
While injuries have played a role here, the decline of this team from Super Bowl contender to cellar-dweller has to be eye opening. And that could very well cost Smith his job sooner rather than later.
2. The New England Patriots are Back
Tom Brady had as many touchdown passes (five) as incompletions in a 51-23 blowout win over the Chicago Bears on Sunday. This brings his four-game total to 14 touchdowns and zero interceptions. It isn’t a coincidence that the Patriots have won those four games by a combined 71 points. This coming on the heels of questions about where New England might be headed following losses in two of its first four games.
The interesting dynamic here is that New England, even at 6-2, hasn’t quite pulled away from the pack in the AFC East. After routing the New York Jets on Sunday, Kyle Orton and the Bills are 5-3 on the season. Meanwhile in Miami, the Dolphins are one game above .500.
While New England continues to play some really good football, the AFC East might not be the pedestrian division we have seen in the past. With games coming up against the Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and San Diego Chargers, this Patriots team is surely going to be tested. But for right now, concerns about this team have been quieted.
3. The NFC South is Ripe for the Saints’ Taking
Following an impressive 44-23 victory over the Green Bay Packers, Drew Brees and Co. are right back in the thick of the NFC South race. Combine this win with losses by all three of the Saints division rivals, and it’s easy to draw the conclusion that they are in the driver’s seat heading into November.
Brees completed 27-of-32 passes for over 300 yards and three scores. He led the Saints to scoring drives of 80, 69, 88 and 71 yards, which helped keep the ball out of Aaron Rodgers’ hands throughout the game. Defensively, the Saints forced two interceptions and held the Packers to just one touchdown in the second half. Underrated defensive end Jordan Cameron got to the quarterback for two sacks, while Jordy Nelson was held to three receptions on five targets.
Overall, it was a great performance from a Saints team that needed it badly. And now at 3-4 on the season, New Orleans is in a prime position in a division that he headlined by a Panthers team that has won one of its last six games. That’s the type of statement week that can go a long way in determining who wins a well below-average NFC South this season.
4. Carson Palmer’s Improvement is Real
After yet another solid performance from Carson Palmer on Sunday, he continues to show that a career which was once considered over is now back on track. Palmer may have completed less than half his passes. He did struggle with accuracy at times. And yes, he made a couple questionable decisions. But the veteran did not throw a single interception and managed the game pretty darn well against the Philadelphia Eagles in a 24-20 victory for the now 6-1 Cardinals.
By virtue of going another game without throwing an interception, Palmer’s total now sits at one in 156 pass attempts. While the sample size is surely too small, it does appear that he’s no longer the mistake-prone quarterback we have seen for the better part of the last decade in Arizona, Oakland and Cincinnati. If Palmer continues to play this type of football, the Cardinals will find themselves atop of the NFC West when January comes calling. It’s all about sustaining this success in what promises to be a difficult stretch run.
5. The Oakland Raiders are NFL’s Worst Team
Now at 0-7 on the season, there is little doubt that the Raiders will find themselves with the No. 1 overall pick when the 2015 NFL draft rolls around. This football team is bad, really, really, really…bad.
Oakland’s latest loss came at the hands of a Cleveland Browns team that had just allowed the Jacksonville Jaguars to notch their first win a week prior. And to be honest, there isn’t one thing you can point to as it relates to Oakland’s lack of success on the field. Darren McFadden was running the ball pretty darn well before a third quarter fumble changed the tide of the game for good. Derek Carr had his moments in the first three quarters before it became evident that he was growing frustrated.
This is what happens to bad football teams. They find a way to lose games they should win. Cleveland didn’t necessarily play great football here, instead enabling the Raiders to remain in the game after settling for three field goals in the first half. But with the Raiders seemingly ready to gain momentum, they simply couldn’t get out of their own way.
We are now at the point in the season where it makes sense to look at whether the Raiders will win a game for the remainder of the year. Do you honestly see a game here the Raiders can realistically win? All but one of the opponents remaining on their schedule currently possess a winning record. In order for the Raiders to win even one of these games, they need to perform better in all aspects of the game. Simply put, Oakland’s margin for error just isn’t there with the lack of talent on the roster.
6. Steelers Offense Can be Dominating…at Times
I have been beating on this drum for a while now. When the Steelers offense doesn’t get it in its own way, it really can be dynamic. We saw this firsthand against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. Ben Roethlisberger had the best single-game performance of what is already a Hall of Fame career. He tallied 522 passing yards and six touchdowns on 40-of-49 passing. That yardage total ranks him in a tie with Boomer Esiason for fourth on the all-time list.
While Roethlisberger was breaking records, the Steelers offensive line held up big time. They didn’t allow a single sack on 49 pass attempts. That’s a major improvement from previous years. Antonio Brown did his normal thing, going for 10 receptions and 133 yards. Meanwhile, rookie Martavis Bryant recorded two touchdown catches and 83 yards on seven targets.
Be it play calling or a lack of execution on the Steelers’ part, this offense has struggled to remain consistent throughout the season. And after a record-setting performance on Sunday, there aren’t any more excuses here. This unit has an opportunity to be among the best in the NFL. It’s now all about showing it on a consistent basis.
7. This Detroit Lions Team is Different
Different in that they don’t look to be on the verge of a mid-season meltdown like we saw so many times under the unmentionable Jim Schwartz in previous years. Falling down 21-0 to a hapless Atlanta Falcons team on Sunday morning, Detroit rebounded for a last-second win.
While it was evident that Detroit didn’t play its best football in London, it found a way to win a game that it would have lost in the past. Matthew Stafford connected with a pair of former Notre Dame standouts, Golden Tate and Theo Riddick, to the tune of 15 receptions for 225 yards. This lends some credence to the idea that Detroit’s offense can have success without Calvin Johnson, who has now missed the last two games due to an ankle injury.
Defensively, the 6-2 Lions didn’t play the best football until it counted the most. They found a way to pressure Matt Ryan and shutout the Falcons after yielding 21 points in the first half. Barring something major, this team will be in the playoffs come January. And to be honest, first-year head coach Jim Caldwell deserves a lot of the credit.
8. Rex Ryan and Jets Have Two “Quarterbacks”
Which obviously means that they don’t have any. Geno Smith threw three interceptions in the first quarter before being replaced in the lineup by Michael Vick, who proceeded to throw two of his own. While the Jets’ quarterback situation may not be their only problem, it’s rather obvious that this position isn’t even giving the team a chance to win. Including Sunday’s 43-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills, Jets quarterbacks have turned the ball over 16 times in eight games.
It’s so bad that Rex Ryan’s squad yielded 43 points on Sunday with Kyle Orton completing a total of 10 passes. With upcoming games against the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers, could the Jets potentially find themselves with a 1-9 record heading into their Week 11 bye? If so, what does that mean for Ryan’s job security?
9. Something Still isn’t Right in Seattle
If you had the pleasure of watching the Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers play on Sunday, you would have had no idea that these two teams boasted the best record in the NFC last season. Both played incredibly sloppy football in a game that was one of the ugliest we have seen around the NFL all season.
Seattle was able to pull off a 13-9 victory after Russell Wilson led the team down the field on a game-winning touchdown scoring drive in the final minute of the game. Up until that point, Pete Carroll’s squad was a hot mess. They committed six penalties in the first half, converted on just 4-of-11 third down opportunities and let Carolina control the time of possession battle in the first half.
While some will conclude that a win is a win, Carroll and Co. have to be concerned here. They put up 13 points against a Panthers team that had yielded an average of 34.8 points in their previous five outings. And now two games behind the Arizona Cardinals entering November, the Seahawks have a steep hill to climb. The talent is here, but several fixes are needed in order for this team to live up to expectations.
10. The Chicago Bears Season is Over
When your stud free-agent signing injures himself celebrating a sack down by 25 points in the fourth quarter, you know your season isn’t going too well. This is the situation the Bears found themselves in after defensive lineman Lamarr Houston apparently suffered a serious knee injury late in their 51-23 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday.
But before that embarrassing play, the Bears found a way to embarrass themselves all up and down the field against New England. Falling down 38-7 at the half, Chicago was never really in this game. Jay Cutler turned the ball over on consecutive possessions ending the first half, both of which led to touchdowns for Tom Brady and the Patriots. Defensively, Chicago allowed Brady to complete 30-of-35 passes for 354 yards and five touchdowns. Yes, he had as many touchdowns and incompletions. He was also able to succeed with a clean pocket throughout the entire game and find Rob Gronkowski for three of those scores.
Now at 3-5 on the season and three games behind the Detroit Lions in the NFC North, it’s rather obvious that Marc Trestman’s squad isn’t going anywhere this season. And without much to build on as it relates to a young talent to show progression, this franchise is clearly at a turning point right now. However these final eight games play out will determine a whole heck of a lot heading into what promises to be a busy offseason in Chicago.