In some ways, NFL Week 7 brought a sense of order to a season that’s been wildly unpredictable. But in other ways, it was just as confusing as the six that game before it.
The slumping New England Patriots’ defense gave the Atlanta Falcons’ offense a chance to break out of the slump. It couldn’t have gone more in the opposite direction. The Miami Dolphins and New York Jets treated the fans to a classic that, surprisingly, had good quarterback play.
The Chicago Bears’ victory over the Carolina Panthers was impressive. Still, we didn’t get the strategy. On the other sideline, we don’t get anything that’s happening with Cam Newton.
NFL Week 7 was filled with moments, players, coaches and games that left us scratching our heads. These were the most notable head-scratchers among them.
High-powered Falcons offense dormant in Super Bowl rematch
We understood that the Falcons weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders offensively. Still, the Patriots allowed 354 passing yards to Josh McCown in Week 6. So, even if only temporarily, we figured Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense would break out of its slump. As it turned out, we’re now heading into Week 8 wondering if the Patriots’ defense has figured something out, or if it just got a huge false positive against an offense that’s, quite frankly, inept.
Ryan was 23-for-33 for 233 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. That looks okay until we realize how much of that was garbage time. In the first half, Ryan was 9-for-16 for 110 yards with no touchdowns and a 77.6 passer rating. He did get it going in the second half, but New England was up 17-0 at halftime. Even still, Ryan’s improvement still only led to one garbage-time touchdown and another missed field goal in the second half.
Week 7 represented a chance to get things going. Instead, it just further validated the idea that Atlanta is in a lot of trouble, and that fans have had it up to here with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian.
Bengals forget about Joe Mixon
In a big game against a divisional rival, common logic would say that a coach should ride the hot hand and do whatever is needed to get a win. Someone should probably tell Marvin Lewis that.
The Bengals led the Pittsburgh Steelers 14-13 at halftime. Rookie running back Mixon was a big part of that, rushing for 48 yards on only seven carries in the first half. He finished the game with seven carries for 48 yards. Instead, Cincinnati went to Andy Dalton, who threw two second half picks. Even more maddening is the fact that A.J. Green did not get a single target in that second half, either.
It’s one thing to leave a good player out in a game plan. It’s quite another to include him in the game plan, see him perform well, and then forget all about him in the same game. The Bengals had a chance in this one and squandered it away with play calling that was frankly baffling.
Best quarterbacked game of Sunday features Matt Moore, Jay Cutler and Josh McCown
Only one game on Sunday featured both teams finishing the day with quarterbacks that had a 100-plus passer rating. Even stranger is that, because of an injury to Jay Cutler, this game had three quarterbacks all topping the 100 rating.
Cutler was genuinely good before he got hurt. He was 12-for-16 for 138 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. In his stead, Matt Moore went 13-for-21 for 188 yards with two touchdowns and a pick, leading the Miami offense to a dramatic come-from-behind win. New York Jets quarterback Josh McCown was pretty good himself. He was 17-for-27 for 209 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
Not only was this the best quarterbacked game of the day, it was just the best game of the day. Show us someone who claims to have predicted that, and we’ll show you a liar.
Aaron Jones emerging as a star
Highlights were few and far between for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. But one was the play of running back Aaron Jones.
Jones broke onto the scene with a big Week 5 performance against the Dallas Cowboys. But that came against a team with a shaky defense that also had to respect the passing threat of Aaron Rodgers on every play. With Rodgers out, the New Orleans Saints had no such concerns. Still, Jones went for 131 yards on only 17 carries. Even if we take his 46-yard touchdown run out of the equation, 85 yards on 16 carries is better than five yards a haul.
With Rodgers out, this season is not shaping up in a great way for the Packers. But even if 2017 yields a poor record and a missed playoff appearance, the emergence of Jones can make the season a clear positive for Green Bay’s future.
Finish of Thursday night
There must be something in the water in the Bay Area. The games hosted by the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders have been genuine thrillers. In Week 3, it was the Los Angeles Rams holding off the 49ers in a 41-39 win. In Week 7, the Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs took center stage in a game that had one of the wildest endings in recent memory.
Oakland appeared to have scored the winning touchdown twice. Once, Jared Cook was ruled down, then Michael Crabtree was called for pass interference. Kansas City appeared to have the game won twice. Only, both of its winning plays were negated by holding penalties. Finally, the Raiders won when Derek Carr found Crabtree to cap off the wild game.
It was unique for a few reasons. One, Thursday night games usually serve as the cure for insomnia. This was anything but. Additionally, in a league that so often botches big calls in close games, the officials got these ones right. All four of the called back plays were clearly correctly called. Thursday night gave us a game that we really can’t complain about. How often does that happen?
Chargers rout Broncos, throw AFC playoff picture in flux
After wins in Weeks 5 and 6, the Los Angeles Chargers faced a monumental task in Week 7. Winning in front of the hostile home crowd. They did just that against the Denver Broncos. Los Angeles took an early lead, quieting the overwhelmingly pro-Broncos crowd in the process. Denver was shut out for the first time since 1992 in the loss.
As a result, the AFC playoff race is like a Rubik’s Cube.
With their wins, we’re pretty confident that the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers are going to win their divisions. We can say the same about the Chiefs, despite their two-game losing streak. But the AFC South is wide open and with the Broncos sliding, both of the AFC Wild Card spots are up for grabs. Buckle up through the second half of this season.
Tyrod Taylor airs it out in win over Buccaneers
When the Buffalo Bills’ offense is functioning well, it’s a run-oriented attack. That happened on Sunday, with Buffalo running for 173 yards. But Taylor aired it out, as well.
The Bills’ quarterback was 20-for-33 for a season-high 268 yards with a touchdown and no picks. After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took a late lead, Taylor was a combined 4-for-4 for 73 yards on the drives that tied and won the game.
That may not seem extraordinary. But one of the issues with taking Buffalo seriously as a contender is that we just don’t trust the passing game in the big spots. The performance on Sunday was a big step in erasing those doubts. Even if it did come against Tampa Bay.
Adrian Peterson’s game doesn’t clear customs
Adrian Peterson must have access to a time machine. In Week 6, the 32-year-old Peterson looked like he was 25 again. He ran all over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his first game with the Arizona Cardinals. In London one week later, Peterson looked like he’d aged about 20 years.
It may not seem like 11 carries is enough of a sample size. But those 11 carries only netted Peterson 21 yards. So, it’s hard to say that he deserved more touches. With Carson Palmer out for at least four and maybe eight weeks, we’ve got to think that Peterson will get more chances in the weeks to come.
But after Sunday, we have no idea what to expect from him.
Jeff Heath kicking
The Cowboys were utterly dominant in their win over the 49ers on Sunday. So if you turned out early, we don’t blame you. But if you did, you missed the kicking exploits of Dallas safety Jeff Heath.
Dan Bailey was hurt early. Since punter Chris Jones is also the holder, he couldn’t handle kicking duties. So, the Cowboys had to turn to Heath. He didn’t attempt any field goals, but was 2-for-3 on extra points. Do that for the Buccaneers and you might get your number retired.
Certainly, Dallas was happy that the game was a laugher. But Heath actually looked okay in what was a very unfamiliar role. It made for a fun, unique highlight in an otherwise boring, lopsided game.
Browns’ quarterback merry-go-round continues
It’s hard to figure out exactly what Hue Jackson was expecting from DeShone Kizer. Kizer was very raw coming out of college and was going to a Cleveland Browns team with little talent around him. Did Jackson think he’d step in immediately and be an All-Pro quarterback?
Kizer was benched for the third time in as many starts on Sunday. Rumors later swirled that Jackson was unhappy with Kizer’s alleged partying, but that doesn’t make a lot of sense, either. First of all, Kizer is a 21-year-old. Partying has to be expected there. Secondly, if Jackson was really upset with the night activity, then he should have benched Kizer at the beginning of the game.
Kizer was playing poorly. But this really goes back to the beginning of the year when the decision to start Kizer was made. Once that happened, the team really had to stick with the rookie through thick and thin, giving him a chance to improve throughout the year. Jackson’s handling of the young signal caller has been truly inexplicable, and it was again on Sunday.
Amari Cooper explodes on Thursday night
One of the more confusing parts of Thursday’s game centered around Cooper. The Oakland receiver entered Thursday with 18 receptions for 146 yards and only one touchdown in the first six games of the season. On Thursday, he caught 11 balls for 210 yards with two touchdown, helping save Oakland’s season in the process.
So, what gives? Does this guy have some identical twin that none of us knew about? Maybe something will come out to make sense of all of this.
But right now, all we know is that a player who might as well have had a fork in his back for six weeks was arguably the league’s best player in Week 7. It makes no sense. In a way, that’s a perfect reflection of the 2017 season.
Bears starting, but not using Mitchell Trubisky
We’re at a point where we’re really not surprised about the Bears winning, even if they beat a potential playoff contender. Chicago has shown itself to be just frisky enough to hang with anyone. What’s surprising is the plan of attack with Trubisky.
Trubisky attempted only seven passes against th Panthers on Sunday. It’s hard to figure out how this helps the young quarterback. We understand that being out there may get him used to the huddle and what the speed of an NFL game is like. But he has to develop a passing game. You just can’t do that when you attempt 23 passes over two games.
On the one hand, both of those games were wins. So, it’s hard to critique the game plan. On the other hand, the Bears are still 3-4. Shouldn’t more attention be given to actually developing the quarterback? Even with a few pleasant surprises, this is not a team that’s competing for a playoff spot. So even if it costs Chicago wins in 2017, developing Trubisky should be priority number one. That way, he may be ready to step in and be a bigger passer in 2018, when the games could be more meaningful.
No Leonard Fournete, no problem for Jaguars
Even without the star rookie, the Jags’ game travelled quite well as they blew the Indianapolis Colts out at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Jacksonville has shown that it’s capable of blowing teams out this year. Given that the Colts aren’t any good, we’re not especially blown away by the 27-0 margin. But despite the fact that Fournette was out, the Jaguars racked up 518 yards of total offense and 23 first downs.
Blake Bortles looked like (dare we say it?) a franchise quarterback, going 18-for-26 for 330 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. T.J. Yeldon went for 122 yards rushing on only nine carries. Jacksonville has been a playoff threat all year. But if that’s how the offense is going to perform without Fournette, the Jags are more than just a playoff threat.
Joe Thomas’ remarkable iron man streak comes to an end
For the first time in his NFL career, Joe Thomas missed a snap on Sunday. Cleveland’s left tackle departed Sunday’s game with a triceps injury after 10,363 consecutive snaps to start his career.
The streak itself is amazing. Thomas plays in the trenches, and it’s nothing short of remarkable that he’s never gotten rolled up on, or suffered any injuries against the biggest, strongest players that the NFL has to offer.
It’s unfortunate that it took an injury to really put all of that into perspective. But Sunday will always be remembered in part for Thomas missing action, and helping us realize how exceptional he’s been for so long while playing for such a bad team.
Saints put their foot down as one of the NFC’s best
We don’t want to overreact to the fact that the Saints beat the Packers on Sunday. Even at Lambeau Field, Green Bay is a much different team without Aaron Rodgers. But we are darn impressed by how New Orleans won on Sunday, and how it’s been winning all year.
This isn’t a matter of Drew Brees chucking the ball around for 500 yards. While Brees did pass for 331 yards, two interceptions actually made Sunday a modest day for the future Hall of Famer. But Mark Ingram rushing for 105 yards on 22 carries and Alvin Kamara going for 57 on only nine? That will work any day of the week. That’s the kind of effort that the Saints will need to have late in the year and in the playoffs, especially on the road.
Given that New Orleans shares a division with the last two NFC Champions and started 0-2, we weren’t looking at this team as a playoff contender at the beginning of the year. Now, it looks like a potential Super Bowl contender.
Cam Newton, Panthers offense laid a turd on Soldier Field
Newton was bad on Sunday. He finished the day 21-for-34 for 211 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions leading the Panthers to a 17-3 defeat at the hands of the Bears.
To show how nice we are, we’re not going to hold either of Chicago’s defensive scores against Newton. The first was a fumble and while his pitch wasn’t great, the ball should have been caught. At the very least, Carolina should have recovered the fumble. It’s harder to ignore the pick-six, but the ball was deflected straight in the air. Newton’s pass was reasonably on target.
Bu even striking those plays from the record, Newton had a terrible day. It gets worse when we remember that the Panthers were on a mini-bye, having played on Thursday in Week 6. Even if the Bears are better than we thought, this is not a team that should have done that to Newton. His play was well below expectations.