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Biggest winners and losers from NFL Week 8

Jesse Reed
Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson after a crazy game in NFL Week 8

With an early game in London, NFL Week 8 had die-hard fans glued to the tube from sunup to sundown. And it was pretty darn entertaining, too.

For a while there, the Factory of Sadness looked pretty darn good. Then reality hit, and Hue Jackson fell to 1-23 as a head coach. Rain had something to do with a number of games, and it wreaked havoc on one in particular.

Oh, and we had a good, old-fashioned shootout in the wild, wild Pacific Northwest.

These are the biggest winners from all the action around the league in NFL Week 8.

Winner: Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson put on game of the year

Are you kidding me, Deshaun Watson? Are you for real?

The rookie quarterback waltzed into CenturyLink Field and treated it like his own backyard. Watson opened up the game with a 59-yard touchdown strike to Will Fuller, temporarily silencing the loudest stadium in the league (watch here). Watson finished with an astonishing 469 total yards and four touchdowns. He took some heat from Earl Thomas (pick-six) and Richard Sherman (two picks), but never once backed down from the toughest challenge for quarterbacks in the league — facing the Legion of Boom in Seattle.

He also passed Hall of Famer Kurt Warner by passing for 18 touchdowns in his first seven career games — a new NFL record.

Thanks to Watson’s exploits, Houston scored 38 points. In Seattle.

It wasn’t enough.

Russell Wilson loves a challenge. Sometimes it seems like he needs adversity to bring out the best in him. And he certainly got it. Wilson saw the rookie’s pile of cash sitting in the middle of the pot and raised him.

He finished the game with 482 total yards, four touchdowns and one interception, and he led the game-winning drive of the year. Driving 80 yards in just three plays (thanks to two unreal catches by Paul Richardson and Tyler Lockett) he finished off the game with a touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham, who hauled in two of the four scores.

This quarterback duel was something special. In essence, Watson is Wilson six years ago — a rookie who’s not afraid of anyone and who thrives under pressure. Watching the master school the pupil in the game’s final moments was something we won’t soon forget.

Loser: Browns inching closer to undesirable NFL record

The Cleveland Browns had a very strong first half early Sunday in London against the Minnesota Vikings. After DeShone Kizer punched in the team’s second touchdown of the game near the end of the second quarter, the offense broke out with a jubilant celebration, and it looked like maybe the Browns would finally get off the schneid.

Of course, that didn’t end up happening. After that touchdown, Cleveland was outscored 24-3, and the Vikings cruised to their sixth win of the year.

Now at 0-8 on the season, the Browns are the first NFL team to begin two consecutive seasons with that unfortunate mark since the 1993-94 Cincinnati Bengals. And if their losing ways continue for five more games, they’ll set a new low bar for futility in the history of the league.

Winner: Ravens collect two defensive TDs in shutout win over Fins

Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith pick-six

Maybe it was the sight of seeing their quarterback on the ground without his helmet, calling immediately for the trainers. Maybe it was the sight of seeing their backup quarterback get abused by one of the dirtiest players in the game today. Whatever the reason, Baltimore Ravens defenders took the game over in the fourth quarter.

Already up 20-0, the Ravens hauled in two pick-sixes against Matt Moore and the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night. Those two scores helped turn a shutout victory into a 40-0 statement.

Baltimore has now forced 17 turnovers and has scored three defensive touchdowns. That’s how a team that has been awful offensively finds itself with a 4-4 record halfway through the season.

Loser: The Bucs are broken

So, let’s talk about that Hard Knocks hype, shall we? The team that captivated fans around the nation over the summer has fallen flat on its face the past month-plus.

In fact, since beating the Chicago Bears in their first game, the Bucs have won just once, that one being a squeaker over the New York Giants — one of the worst teams in football. They’ve lost their last four games and were utterly useless offensively Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

Jameis Winston is hurt, so we kind of get why he’d struggle. Yet it wasn’t just Winston. And hasn’t just been Winston this year.

Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson have combined to catch just six touchdowns all year. They haven’t been able to win very often against tough cornerbacks, and Winston has been relying on his tight ends more as a result. The running game has been a mess (No. 31 heading into Week 8) and continued to struggle against Carolina.

Tampa Bay’s defense came into the game with the third-worst pass defense in the league and hasn’t been stellar stopping the run, either. And we all know about the team’s special teams problems. In all three phases of the game, Tampa Bay is broken. There isn’t much more time to fix it before this becomes a lost season, now at 2-5 and three games behind the New Orleans Saints.

Winner: Buffalo goes old school to rumble over Raiders

While the passing game is all the rage these days, the Buffalo Bills are winning with defense and a potent rushing attack this year. They utilized both of those weapons to lethal effect against the Oakland Raiders Sunday in a blowout win (34-14) at home.

Tyrod Taylor was efficient and didn’t turn the ball over. But he only passed for 165 yards. The engine that drove the offense was LeSean McCoy. He totaled 173 yards and ran in a score from 48 yards out to put a cherry on top of the big win late in the fourth quarter.

Buffalo’s defense forced four turnovers, one of which was turned into a touchdown when Matt Milano rumbled 40 yards on a DeAndre Washington fumble.

Sean McDermott’s old-school formula, combined with a no-nonsense approach to the roster by general manager Brandon Beane, has worked wonders. The Bills are a half game behind the New England Patriots for the AFC East lead and are tied in the loss column with a record of 5-2.

Loser: Jets can’t close the deal 

In an ugly game that saw the New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons fumble the ball a combined seven times in the pouring rain, the home team couldn’t do anything right down the home stretch. The Jets took a 17-10 lead late in the second quarter when Josh McCown threw his second touchdown of the day to Robby Anderson. It looked at this point in the contest as if New York was well on its way to another huge win.

Then the defense crumbled. Atlanta engineered a 10-play drive that ended in three points to close out the half. All of a sudden the momentum New York had built up was gone. The Falcons outscored the Jets 9-3 in the final two quarters, and the difference in the game boils down to a few plays — one muffed punt by Jeremy Kerley and two missed field goals by kicker Chandler Catanzaro.

Those mistakes can easily be blamed on the rain, which was torrential. But in the end the Jets couldn’t execute when it mattered most. And that’s been the common theme the past three weeks in a row.

Winner: Who Dat? Saints rising

New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore

The New Orleans Saints. We’ve known them as the team that could pass the ball on anyone but couldn’t stop anyone, either. They’ve gone 7-9 the past three years running, thanks to this awful formula. But suddenly, things are different.

Sunday’s 20-12 win over the Chicago Bears wasn’t pretty. Mark Ingram, who totaled 99 yards and a touchdown, coughed up two fumbles in the fourth quarter to give Chicago a shot. Drew Brees didn’t throw a single touchdown for the first time all year. The defense gave up 155 yards on the ground to Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.

None of that mattered in the end. When the Saints needed a big play on defense, they got it. Rookie Marshon Lattimore picked off Mitchell Trubisky to seal the win with under 90 seconds left, and the Saints ran out the clock.

Since losing their first two games, the Saints have been incredible on the defensive side of the ball. Even including the game against Detroit (38 points allowed), they’ve allowed just 16 points per game during their five-game winning streak. That’ll get the job done.

Loser: 49ers actually getting worse

The San Francisco 49ers are the only other team in the league besides the Cleveland Browns without a win. That said, for a while there they were awfully competitive, losing five games in a row by a combined 13 points. They had two overtime battles during that stretch, and at least there was a silver lining among the clouds.

The past two games, however, have seen the 49ers take steps backwards. Rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard hasn’t been the answer, and he’s doing even worse than Brian Hoyer was before he got benched. The offensive line got absolutely bullied Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, the defensive front was destroyed by Dallas the week before and the defense has given up 73 points the past two games.

There’s a reason for all this, of course. The 49ers entered the season without much talent on offense, and aside from their talented defensive front there’s a lot of holes on that side of the ball, too. Now the team is dealing with injuries, which has a lot to do with the lack of production on either side of the ball.

Bottom line: San Francisco is going to give Cleveland all it can handle in the race for the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.

Winner: Carlos Dunlap rescues Bengals from another embarrassing loss

The Cincinnati Bengals should have dropped their fifth game on Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. Their offense coughed up four fumbles, losing two, and kicker Randy Bulluck had a chip-shot field goal blocked. Andy Dalton had some good moments. He put the Bengals up by four points on the first drive of the second half with a 25-yard touchdown, his second of the game. But when it came time to close the game out, the offense went punt, lost fumble, punt.

During that stretch, the Colts put up 10 unanswered points to take a six-point lead.

It sure looked like Cincinnati was going to squander a perfect opportunity to beat a weak opponent at home. That’s when Carlos Dunlop put the team on his shoulders. Midway through the fourth quarter, he tipped a Jacoby Brissett pass to himself and rumbled into the end zone for six points (watch). The extra point gave Cincinnati a one-point lead, and it proved to be the game-winning score.

Dunlap also had three solo tackles, one sack and two quarterback hits and certainly deserves the game ball. Cincinnati is hanging around now with a record of 3-4, thanks to the big play it got from the lanky veteran pass rusher.

Loser: Chargers engineer comedy of errors 

Los Angeles Chargers receiver Travis Benjamin dropped for a safety in NFL Week 8

When Melvin Gordon ripped off an 87-yard run to get the scoring started early, it looked like the Chargers were in great shape to win their fourth game in a row. Then the offense took a long nap, going punt, punt, end of half, punt, punt before finally getting back on the board in the fourth quarter.

In the middle of all that, Travis Benjamin made the puzzling decision to run backwards on a punt return that turned into a safety for New England. He muffed the punt initially at the 11-yard line, then hauled it in around the nine-yard line, only to run into the end zone where he was brought down.

Philip Rivers made a big mistake, too. In the third quarter, rather than throw the ball out of bounds as he was being pressured, he tried to run away from it. Not known for being fleet-footed, the veteran ended up losing the ball, scooping it back up and ultimately lost 20 yards on the play. It was just that kind of day for the Chargers.

New England managed just one touchdown and missed two field goals. It was the perfect opportunity for Los Angeles to win a huge road game. But the comedy of errors the Chargers produced were too glaring to overcome. As such, the game ended as it should have, with a Philip Rivers interception.

Winner: Dallas’ running game continues to shine

The past two games have brought forth the best out of Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line. Even dating back to the Green Bay Packers game, the ‘Boys have started to click in the running game in a major way. Elliott rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns Sunday against Washington, helping the Cowboys win by double digits over their hated NFC East rival.

It was the third game in a row that he went over 100 yards. He’s racked up 505 total yards and five touchdowns during this stretch of games, and the Cowboys have averaged nearly 35 points in those games. That’s not a coincidence, folks.

It’s unknown if Elliott will be available to the Cowboys going forward. He was cleared to play through this week, and nobody knows yet if he’ll be able to suit up in Week 9.

As reported by Kate Hairopoulos of SportsDay, “U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla, of the Southern District of New York, will decide whether to grant Elliott a preliminary injunction after a hearing at 4 p.m. Central on Monday in Manhattan.”

If the judge denies the injunction, then Elliott will not play again until his six-game suspension is served. If she upholds it, then it’s highly likely he plays out the rest of the season while the court battle plays out.

Loser: Julio Jones continues to be allergic to the end zone

One of the game’s best receivers, Julio Jones’ scoring allergy is starting to become a problem. No doubt, part of the problem is that offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian isn’t as good at calling plays as Kyle Shanahan. But last weekend’s touchdown against the New England Patriots — the one where he literally ripped the ball out of Malcolm Butler’s hands — remains his only score of the year.

On Sunday in New York, Jones came up with just three catches on six targets. Yes, one of them went for 53 yards, but other than that he was almost a non-factor.

Through seven games, Jones has caught just 37 passes for 540 yards and one touchdown. If he continues at this pace, Jones will catch 84 passes for 1,234 yards and two touchdowns. Many receivers would be happy with those numbers. But this is a guy who has been averaging 107 catches, 1,624 yards and almost seven touchdowns per year his last three seasons.

Needless to say, things could be better for Julio Jones.

Winner: JuJu Smith-Schuster walks the walk

There’s been a ton of stuff written recently about Martavis Bryant, who has been shading JuJu Smith-Schuster something fierce this year. Then Smith-Schuster was in headlines because someone stole his bike, and then he got it back. Afterwards, he tweeted out that people were paying him a lot of attention but that it was all #FakeLove. He said if people really did love him they should start him on their fantasy football teams.


After all that, the rookie out of USC backed up his talk by walking the walk — or in this case he ran like the wind. The highlight of the night was Smith-Schuster’s 97-yard touchdown catch that put the Pittsburgh Steelers up over the Detroit Lions for good on Sunday night.

Afterwards, he busted out a chain on the sideline and locked up the stationary bike, which ties into everything that happened during the week (watch here).

All in all, Smith-Schuster really did come out smelling like roses. Meanwhile, Bryant watched the game from the sidelines in street clothes as his chief rival caught six passes for 189 yards and that touchdown.

Loser: Really, Jay Gruden? Again?

We’ve been over this more than a couple times already this year. Chis Thompson is the most dangerous weapon the Washington Redskins have on offense. And it’s not close. Whenever he’s the focal point of Washington’s offense, it thrives.

Sunday, at home against the hated Dallas Cowboys, Gruden abandoned the running game. Rob Kelley was (once again) ineffective, gaining just 19 yards on eight carries. Thompson (once again) was explosive and ripped off a 16-yard run, only to see just four carries all game long.

It’s unfathomable that Gruden would keep his best weapon handcuffed like this. Sure, Thompson did catch eight passes on nine targets. Great. But by refusing to utilize him as a main weapon in the running game, too, Gruden is limiting the explosiveness of his offense.

As a result of his poor game plan, Kirk Cousins was largely ineffective. Operating behind a mangled offensive line, he managed just 269 yards on 26-of-39 attempts with one touchdown and one interception at the end that was returned for six points by Byron Jones.

What’s even more maddening about all this is that Washington had a one-touchdown lead over Dallas in the second quarter. But Gruden chose to throw, throw, throw the ball. That’s a trend, and it’s a big reason Washington is now 3-4 on the season.

Winner: Mike Zimmer deserves a gold star

Heading into their bye after destroying the Cleveland Browns in London, the Minnesota Vikings are somehow 6-2. They lead the NFC North by 1.5 games over the reeling Green Bay Packers.

They’ve done all this despite losing their starting quarterback, Sam Bradford before Week 2 and their starting running back, Dalvin Cook (for the season), in Week 4.

Thanks to a defense that’s been allowing under 15 points per game since Week 5 and competent play from backup Case Keenum, the Vikings have rattled off four wins in a row heading into their bye. Best yet, Teddy Bridgewater might be coming back in Week 10, which would be a huge boost to the offense.

Loser: What was Jim Caldwell thinking?

The game was very close, 13-12 in favor of the Steelers, late in the third quarter. The Lions had engineered a long drive that chewed up about five minutes off the clock and got down to the goal line. Then Pittsburgh made a tremendous defensive stand, forcing fourth down.

For reasons that defy logic, Lions head coach Jim Caldwell decided to go for it on fourth-and-goal. Pittsburgh once again put up a brick wall, taking over at the two-yard line after the turnover on downs. Three plays later, JuJu Smith-Schuster went yard.

That was the game-breaker.

Detroit never got into the end zone in this game. The Lions managed one more field goal to cut the lead to five, and that’s where it ended (20-15). They turned the ball over again on a failed fourth down attempt late in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh ran the clock out and that was that.

The lesson here is that you should always take the points. Just take. The points.

Winner: Eagles soaring atop the NFC

Heading into the second half of the season, the Philadelphia Eagles have no peer in the NFC. With a record of 7-1, they’re in prime position to be this year’s version of the 2016 Dallas Cowboys.

Second-year quarterback Carson Wentz has been making excellent use of the added weapons general manager Howie Roseman provided for him — he’s already exceeded his touchdown total from his rookie campaign. LeGarrette Blount has been proving quite useful late in games to put teams away. And the defense has been able to do enough up front to make up for the lack of skill on the back end.

Sunday’s 33-10 win over San Francisco was the cherry on top of what’s been a fantastic first half of the 2017 season for Wentz and Co.

Loser: The Raiders appear to be toast

After watching the Raiders implode in Buffalo Sunday, it’s safe to say last week’s Thursday night explosion was the aberration. Sandwiched in between that magnificent display of offensive firepower and late-game grit are five losses. And while it’s too early to say the Raiders cannot reverse course, everything our eyeballs tell us screams out, “The Raiders are done!”

Oakland is averaging just a hair over 13 points per game in their losses. For a team that was defensively challenged to begin with, it’s no wonder they’re getting hosed by the likes of Washington, Baltimore and Buffalo.

For a team that many figured would challenge the New England Patriots for AFC supremacy, it’s been a brutal fall to the bottom of the barrel.

Winner: Christian McCaffrey already has a single-season Panthers record

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey during the NFL preseason

The Carolina Panthers have played just eight games this year. And already, Christian McCaffrey owns the franchise record for most receptions by a running back in a single season. With his five receptions (for 49 yards) Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, McCaffrey eclipsed the previous record of 47, set by teammate Jonathan Stewart back in 2011.

This kid has eight more games to pad his record. If McCaffrey keeps up his current pace, he’ll finish his rookie season with 98 catches for 756 yards and four touchdowns. He’s already the most reliable receiver Cam Newton has in his arsenal. If the Panthers could get more creative about getting him the ball regularly, he’ll become a superstar.

Loser: Dolphins are a hot mess

On many levels, the Miami Dolphins are losers for their performance in NFL Week 8.

The offense couldn’t score a single point. Jay Ajayi was almost invisible. The defense couldn’t do anything to stop one of the worst offenses in the league. The 40-0 final tells us all we need to know about how competitive the game on Thursday night was.

Aside from the awful production all around by Miami, the team’s lack of discipline was a problem. Kiko Alsonso should have been tossed for his late hit on Joe Flacco, which knocked him out of the game with a concussion. And Ndamukong Suh, who was hit with two personal fouls (should have been three), literally choked Ryan Mallett and should have been tossed himself.

The Dolphins have won their four games this year by a combined 14 points and are lucky to have won two of them (Chargers, Jets). Though they are 4-3 on the year, this team is not in good shape heading into the second half of the season. Not by a long shot.