Some of the top contenders were making moves to separate themselves from the pretenders in NFL Week 7. Then there’s the rest of the league, which is still a hodgepodge of uncertainty.
One of the NFC’s top teams from 2016 made a huge statement on the road, albeit against one of the conference’s worst. One of the top contenders in the AFC looks to be establishing its identity heading into the second half of the season and won big, too.
These are the biggest winners and losers from NFL Week 7.
Winner: Rams’ offensive barrage continues to impress
The Arizona Cardinals had no answers Sunday against the high-powered Los Angeles Rams offense. Entering the weekend as the top-scoring offense in the NFL, it wowed the crowd in London during the 33-0 blowout win for the Rams.
As he’s been doing all year, running back Todd Gurley put on a show. The third-year running back totaled 154 yards and scored a rushing touchdown, helping the Rams own the time-of-possession battle by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. Jared Goff wasn’t perfect but didn’t need to be, passing for 235 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
From the start of the game until the end, Los Angeles controlled the outcome, opening with a 14-play drive that ended in three points. That score was all they needed, as the Cardinals had serious troubles of their own on offense and would not score a single point.
Loser: Hue Jackson continues to pump quarters into QB carousel
Before the season began, Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson told everyone he was going to stick with rookie DeShone Kizer this year, come what may. Of course, we know that he hasn’t stuck to his guns there. In fact, heading into Sunday’s game at home against the Tennessee Titans, Kizer had already been benched twice in six games.
Make it three times in seven. Following back-to-back interceptions in the second quarter Sunday, Kizer got the hook once again. And it’s sad, because this is exactly what you cannot do to a young quarterback. As we recently argued, either don’t play him to begin with or let him work through his struggles early in his career and live with the results.
Also, let’s be honest. The Browns don’t have any better options behind the rookie out of Notre Dame. Kevin Hogan was nauseatingly bad last weekend against Houston, and Cody Kessler threw an atrocious interception as Kizer’s replacement Sunday.
Making matters worse here is the simple fact that Cleveland was never going to win much this year, no matter who was starting. After Sunday’s overtime loss to Tennessee, they’re 0-7. So, in essence, Jackson has trashed a rookie quarterback’s confidence for no reason whatsoever. And he made it clear after the game that this quarterback carousel might just keep spinning all year long.
Winner: Buffalo’s offense comes alive
Coming into Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Buffalo Bills sported the league’s second-worst offense. As we’ve learned this season, Tampa Bay’s defense is one that can be exploited, so this was the perfect opportunity for the Bills to finally spread their wings and fly.
They did just that. Tyrod Taylor didn’t make any key mistakes, passing for 268 yards with a touchdown. He also added 53 yards on the ground, which was a perfect complement to LeSean McCoy’s output. Shady finally scored his first touchdown of the year (watch here), finished with two and totaled 122 yards. In total, the Bills finished with 434 yards and only one turnover.
They needed all that production, because the game came down to the wire. Overcoming a really bad sequence to close out the first half (fans booed them off the field), Buffalo’s offense came through in the clutch with a touchdown-scoring drive with under three minutes remaining to tie the game up. Then after the defense forced a fumble on its next possession, Taylor and McCoy came through again, leading to a game-winning field goal.
Loser: Jets D falls apart, ruining big game by Josh McCown
Josh McCown scored four touchdowns Sunday, and the New York Jets were ahead of the Miami Dolphins by two touchdowns with around one minute remaining in the third quarter. Jay Cutler had been knocked out of the game with a chest injury, and it sure looked like the Jets were going to get back above .500 on the season with a big win at home.
That’s when the wheels came off of New York’s defense. The Jets couldn’t generate much in the way of a pass rush, and backup quarterback Matt Moore picked the secondary apart. Moore would finish with 188 yards and two touchdown passes, and he led scoring drives on three of the Dolphins’ final four offensive possessions of the game.
It’s also worth pointing out that New York’s offense was shut down at the end of the game. So kudos to the Dolphins for winning on both sides of the ball in the 31-28 win. That said, we cannot ignore just how putrid the Jets were defensively to give up the lead.
Winner: Patriots defense lights out, nearly shuts out Atlanta
This was a close game for a bit more than one quarter as these two Super Bowl teams from last year felt each other out. Then Atlanta Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborne did something colossally stupid and hit Tom Brady late on what should have been an interception by Robert Alford (watch here). The Patriots got a second lease on life, and the rout was on after they scored their first touchdown of the game two plays later.
New England ran away with the game, winning 23-7 in some creepy fog that snuck into Gillette Stadium. The Patriots were rock solid on offense, but it was their defense that really set the two teams apart. Matt Ryan and Co. couldn’t generate a score until late in the fourth quarter when Julio Jones finally caught his first red-zone touchdown of the year.
Remarkably, there were no turnovers in the game by either team. Atlanta’s offense couldn’t stay on the field, however, converting just 2-of-9 of their third downs and 1-of-3 fourth-down attempts. The Super Bowl hangover appears to be creeping up on this Falcons team, which has now lost its last three games after three shaky wins to open the year.
Loser: Marshawn Lynch should know better
We all know Marshawn Lynch plays by a different set of rules than the rest of the world when it comes to most things. He’s a rare bird. But when it comes to the gridiron he’s subject to the same rules as everyone else.
During the second quarter of Oakland’s one-point thriller of a win over Kansas City, Lynch was on the sideline when a scrum broke out following a late hit by Marcus Peters on Derek Carr. Lynch was the only player for either team to leave his sideline and get into the mix, and he compounded his mistake by grabbing the jersey and pushing one of the game officials (watch here).
Not surprisingly, Lynch was suspended by the NFL for one game. He’s going to appeal, but given the language used in the letter sent to the running back it’s hard to imagine he’ll be let off the hook. So not only is he going to miss out financially for his faux pas, Lynch is letting down his teammates, who need him to scrape out of the hole they’ve dug themselves in early in the season.
Winner: Vikings use old-school approach to keep winning streak alive
We picked the Minnesota Vikings as one of our teams on upset alert, simply because the team’s offense has been decimated by injuries. Without Sam Bradford (still), Stephon Diggs and with other players banged up, it was a reasonable jump in logic. And honestly, looking at what Case Keenum was able to accomplish Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens (188 yards, one interception), we weren’t wrong on that count.
However, Minnesota rediscovered a rushing attack in this game. Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon combined for 160 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries, moving the chains to keep drives alive. The Vikings also performed admirably on defense, holding Baltimore to just 208 total yards and one touchdown, which was scored on the final offensive play of the game.
Now at 5-2 on the season after winning three in a row, Minnesota is in sole possession of first place in the NFC North. Green Bay is one game back, and struggling without its leader.
Loser: Cam Newton’s Jekyll and Hyde season continues
Cam Newton has either been really good or downright awful, but it’s clear Mr. Hyde has been showing up more than Dr. Jekyll this year. With another three turnovers Sunday in Chicago, Newton’s Carolina Panthers had no chance to beat the scrappy Bears.
Two of Newton’s turnovers turned directly into 14 points for Chicago. He finished with just 211 yards on 21-of-34 passing with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Newton was also sacked five times, and his offensive line was downright atrocious in this game, both “protecting” Newton and in the run game.
But even when Newton had time and open receivers, he often threw off his back foot, causing his balls to sail. He’s just not comfortable at all right now, and the offense in general is ugly. Making matters worse, Newton is going to hear from the league office because he refused to speak to media this past week leading up to the loss, which puts him in violation of the rules.
Winner: Le’Veon Bell’s monster game sparks easy win for Pittsburgh
Le’Veon Bell had a huge game Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, carrying the ball 35 times for 134 yards. He also caught three of Ben Roethlisberger’s passes and took them 58 yards, totaling 192 yards on the game.
Because Bell was so dominant moving the ball on the ground, the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to cruise to a 29-14 victory, despite the fact that Roethlisberger completed just 14 passes.
The team’s defense did a fine job as well, forcing Andy Dalton the two interceptions and sacking him four times. With Bell as the focal point of the offense and the defense stepping up its game big time this year, the Steelers are in great shape heading into the second half of the season.
Loser: The Giants stink again
After starting out the season with five straight losses, the New York Giants showed some spunk last Sunday night defeating the Denver Broncos. If only they could have rekindled that magic Sunday at home against the Seattle Seahawks.
Alas, it was not to be. The team’s overwhelming loss of offensive talent due to the injury bug showed up in a big way against the Legion of Boom. Eli Manning averaged a pathetic 3.4 yards per attempt passing the ball, and the Giants could only scrounge up 46 total yards on the ground.
On the other side of the ball, New York’s defense was helpless to stop Russell Wilson from doing whatever he wanted to through the air. Wilson passed for 334 yards and three touchdowns, and he was sacked only one time.
The end result was a 24-7 victory for Seattle, which remains in great shape in the NFC West after a Week 6 bye. Meanwhile, the Giants dropped to 1-6 on the season and appear for all intents and purposes to be completely out of the playoff race in the otherwise competitive NFC East.
Winner: Blake Bortles had a very good game
We’ve harped on Blake Bortles many a time for his poor judgement and excessive turnovers. So it’s only right we give him his due when he has a wonderful game.
Playing without the benefit of his tremendous rookie running back, Leonard Fournette (out with ankle injury), Bortles didn’t throw a single interception, even though he attempted 26 passes. He ended the game with 330 yards, dealing strikes all over the field, and one touchdown.
Jacksonville racked up 518 yards total, the offense converted 8-of-14 on third downs and Bortles converted 14 first downs passing the ball. That’ll get it done.
Loser: Chargers clearly have lost their fan base
It was pretty amazing Sunday that, once the Los Angeles Chargers opened up a lead, you could hear a pin drop at StubHub Stadium. The reason for this is that the small stadium was not full, and the fans that did show up were almost all Denver Broncos fans.
Seriously. It’s crazy. There were almost no Chargers fans there watching (look).
We get that fans are upset about the team leaving San Diego. But the level of interest in this team is at an all-time low, to be sure. And this is even more clear due to the fact that the Chargers have been in all their games this year and have now won three in a row. The last win was huge, a one-point win over Oakland. Fans should be excited that good things are happening. Yet nobody seems to care.
And honestly, it’s hard to blame fans for abandoning the team that abandoned them.
Winner: Ezekiel Elliott and the ‘Boys steamroll the hapless 49ers
The Dallas Cowboys had their way with the winless San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium Sunday.
Ezekiel Elliott was a man on a mission. He finished the day with 219 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. As a team, Dallas rushed for 265 yards and three touchdowns.
Not to be outdone, quarterback Dak Prescott threw three touchdowns and ran in another. From the start of the game to the finish this was a one-sided affair. The Cowboys walked away with season highs both points and yards, 40-10.
Loser: Broncos stuck in reverse
How bad is it right now for the Denver Broncos? On Sunday, they were shut out by the Los Angeles Chargers, who didn’t really have that hot game themselves offensively.
Quarterback Trevor Siemian could not engineer one single scoring drive. He turned the ball over twice, and his interception in the fourth quarter turned into seven points Los Angeles’ next possession.
Denver’s defense did fairly well most of the game but did give up two touchdowns. The special teams unit allowed Travis Benjamin to romp 65 yards for a score on a punt return.
This was a total team loss. And suddenly, after a strong start to the season, Denver is looking very vulnerable having lost two in a row (to the Chargers and New York Giants, no less) and three of its last four.
Winner: Eddie Jackson comes up huge in big win for Chicago
Eddie Jackson. Remember that name. This fourth-round rookie safety came up with 14 of Chicago’s 17 points in the Bears’ win over the Carolina Panthers Sunday. He scored on a fumble recovery, going 75 yards, and then again on a pick-six that went for 76 yards (watch here).
That was all the scoring Chicago would need. They won 17-3, despite the fact that Mitchell Trubisky only attempted seven passes, completing four of them for 107 yards. Seventy of those yards came on one play, as Tarik Cohen got loose deep. He finished with 135 total yards on 22 touches.
That’s how you protect your rookie quarterback. Now at 3-4, the Bears are only two games back of the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings.
Loser: Colts no-show divisional game at home
The Indianapolis Colts lost at home Sunday by the score of 27-0, and the game was over before it ever began. Indy didn’t come out with any fire. And after Jacksonville marched down the field on a 12-play drive that ended in a touchdown to open the contest, that was all she wrote. The Jaguars went on to score in each of their first four drives, taking a 20-0 lead into halftime.
Then the wheels truly came off the bus for Chuck Pagano and Co. in the second half. The offense turned the ball over on fourth downs in three of its final four possessions, and all of them were pathetic, both in terms of playcalling and execution. Things are so bad that T.Y. Hilton threw the offensive line under the bus after the demoralizing shutout loss.
It’s really time for the Colts to throw in the towel. Admit the season is lost. Andrew Luck isn’t going to play until at least late November, by the latest reports, and he really shouldn’t play at all. Put him on IR (finally) and just use the rest of the season to develop a winning plan for future seasons.
Winner: Amari Cooper saves Oakland’s season
Okay so it might be a bit hyperbolic to say Amari Cooper saved Oakland’s season. But only a little. Heading into Thursday’s game, Cooper had dropped nine passes in six games, and his most recent four games were unmitigated disasters, all losses for the Raiders, too.
Then in a must-win game against AFC West rival Kansas City — a team that features a defensive secondary that typically gives Oakland fits — Cooper exploded. Finishing with 11 catches, 210 yards and two touchdowns, he was the difference in the game.
Making his performance all the more meaningful, it came in a game that saw Marshawn Lynch get ejected. So, while everyone was talking about Lynch on Friday, the real story should have been about how Cooper’s revival was the key to Oakland staying relevant in the AFC West instead of getting buried.
Loser: Green Bay’s defense comes up small
With Aaron Rodgers likely out for the year, the Green Bay Packers knew they’d need some big-time production from the defense the rest of the way. No offense intended to Brett Hundley, but he’s not good enough to win games by himself, which Rodgers did on a regular basis before getting injured.
Early on during Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Saints, it looked like the defense might actually have a big game. Davon House and Damarious Randall both came up with interceptions. Though those didn’t turn into points for the Packers, it did help them get off to a strong start, and eventually a 14-7 lead. Predictably, however, Green Bay’s offense sputtered. And as the offense failed to build on its lead, the defense started to crumble, too.
In the end, New Orleans racked up 25 first downs (including 8-of-15 on third-down conversions), 485 yards, and most importantly 26 points. Hundley threw a late interception, and the Saints were able to close out the game in victory formation at Lambeau Field.
Winner: Have a day, Kenny Stills
Jarvis Landry had more yards in Sunday’s three-point win over New York than Kenny Stills did. But there’s no doubt that Stills was the difference in the game. His impact was felt early in the first quarter when he miraculously hauled in a pass that had been batted around while on his back (watch here). Miami scored a touchdown on the next play to tie things up 7-7.
Then, when the Dolphins needed big plays at the end of the game, Stills was the man for the job. He caught both of Matt Moore’s touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, helping to complete the comeback win.
In total, Stills had just six catches for 85 yards, and three of them were monumental to Miami’s success.
Loser: Adrian Peterson must have used up all his extra gas last week
We marveled at the way Adrian Peterson began his tenure with the Arizona Cardinals last weekend. He looked like the 2015 version of himself, rather than the tired, run-down version we’ve seen the past couple of years.
Well, maybe he used up all his stash of extra gasoline in Week 6, because he was stymied by the Los Angeles Rams. Peterson carried the ball 11 times but only generated 21 yards. He also hauled in one pass for 12 yards, though he was targeted four times.
Now that Carson Palmer is dealing with an injury, the Cardinals are in even worse shape offensively. If Peterson continues to struggle in the coming weeks with Palmer out of the lineup, it’s going to be a dark time for these birds.