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Top 10 takeaways from Sunday’s Week 8 NFL action

Week 8 of the NFL season represents a crossroads for teams. We can now decipher contenders from pretenders. Those teams that struggled earlier in the year either find a second wind or lay flat for the remainder of the campaign. It’s the midway point of the season. It’s also in this that it represents the most-important slate of action of the entire season.

The Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints saved their seasons with home wins against favored NFC West competition. Back in Western New York, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots laid the smack down against the Buffalo Bills.

Meanwhile in the NFC East, the Dallas Cowboys made a major statement against the division-rival Philadelphia Eagles. It’s one game that could very well define the NFC Playoff race moving forward on the season.

And in England, Londoners were treated with a highly entertaining game, only to be disappointed when the Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals ended in a tie following this missed field goal.

These are among the top-10 takeaways from Sunday’s Week 8 NFL action.

1. Arizona Cardinals embarrassed by the Carolina Panthers

There was legitimately some doubt about whether or not Carson Palmer would find a way to get out of Carolina alive. The veteran quarterback was hit. He was hit again. He was treated like a rag doll throughout the game.

In the end, Palmer found himself sacked eight times and thrown to the turf a total of seven more times in a 30-20 blowout loss at the hands of the previously one-win Panthers. It was bad. Really, really bad.

The protection issues here were from the interior of the offensive line. Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei recorded three sacks by himself, continually abusing the Cardinals’ offensive line throughout the game. Meanwhile, fellow defensive tackle Kawann Short recorded another sack for good measure.

Now at 3-4 on the season, Arizona finds itself dangerously close to being considered one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL. More than that, it needs to find a way to break through these recent struggles. Should that not happen, what started as a season with Super Bowl expectations will end with the Cards sitting at home in January.

On the other hand, Carolina needed a win big time. Here’s a team that entered its Week 7 bye with a 1-5 record, the second-worst mark in the entire NFC. In reality, Cam Newton and Co. headed into Sunday having to win nine of 10 in order to even contend for a playoff spot.

In the end, Carolina’s struggling defense stepped up in a huge way with the team’s season on the line. It got to Palmer eight times, forced two turnovers and held the Cardinals to 4-of-12 on third-down opportunities.

Even at 2-5 on the season, Carolina has a long way to go. However, pulling off that first win following a bye was huge for Ron Rivera and Co. It’s now all about building momentum next week against the Los Angeles Rams and going from there.

2. Continual struggles in Indy-land

Chuck Pagano

Now at 3-5 on the season and two games behind the Houston Texans in the AFC South, one has to wonder if the Colts can really move forward on the season with Chuck Pagano on the sideline. You simply can’t consistently lose to teams you should be able to handle, especially at home.

That’s only magnified by the fact that the Kansas City Chiefs’ entire starting backfield of Alex Smith and Spencer Ware had to leave due to concussions. Think about that for a second. Kansas City was able to hand the Colts a loss in Indy with Nick Foles and Charcandrick West touching the ball on the vast majority of its plays. That’s ridiculous. And in reality, that speaks to the overwhelming issues we’re seeing with the Pagano-led Colts thus far on the season.

It wasn’t really one thing on Sunday against Kansas City. Instead, it was a manifestation of what we’ve seen from the Colts throughout the first half of the season. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce caught 7-of-10 targets for over 100 yards and a touchdown.

Players at that position are now catching well over 85 percent of the passes thrown their way against the Colts. Meanwhile, Nick Foles found a way to complete 16-of-22 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns after relieving an injured Alex Smith.

On offense, the Colts were stymied from the get-go. Facing pressure throughout the entire game, Andrew Luck was sacked six times and hit a dozen times in total during the 30-14 loss. We really can’t blame Luck for another down game. Instead, this was on the ineffective performance of the team’s offensive line and the equally disturbing inability of the front office to give him any sort of talent upfront.

We’re definitely a the point right now where there should be serious discussion about Pagano’s job status. Unfortunately for fans in Indianapolis, owner Jim Irsay appears to have some sort of a unreasonable expectation that Pagano himself isn’t a bad coach. That will likely lead to irrelevance as the season progresses. Sunday’s loss was another prime example of this.

3. Dallas Cowboys put on their man pants against the Eagles

Dak Prescott, Dez Bryant

It was right there for the losing. Down by 10 points at home in the fourth quarter. A rookie quarterback tasked with coming back from a two-score deficit. Tony Romo breathing down his back. A nationally televised game against one of the Cowboys’ biggest rivals. It was at this moment that Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys grew up.

Prescott, making just his seventh start, would go on to complete all five of his passes in the extra stanza, a drive that culminated in a game-winning touchdown pass to Jason Witten. However, it was long before that one possession to lead off the extra stanza that it became apparent the Cowboys were prepared to take a step forward against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Facing a 23-13 deficit with just over 13 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys’ defense needed to step up. It did just that with Terrell McClain forcing a Wendell Smallwood fumble on an inside move against what was an overpowered Eagles offensive line. While Dallas would respond with just a field goal on the next possession, it made a comeback more attainable.

It’s in this that Prescott would go on to lead the Cowboys to two touchdowns, including that game winner, on the team’s final three possessions.

How big was this win? It pushes the Cowboys to a two-game advantage in a suddenly competitive NFC East. If the Eagles had found a way to hold on to a two-score lead, they would have been tied with Dallas atop the division. That’s no longer the case.

It could have wide-ranging ramifications on the division race. More than that, the Cowboys’ dramatic win could very well have a huge role in who boasts home-field advantage come playoff time. In reality, this is one of those wins that can define a young team. That’s not an overreaction. It’s purely what we saw happen on the field in Dallas Sunday night.

4. Browns can’t close out Jets, remain without a win

The Cleveland Browns sure did look like they were going to get their first win of the season. Hue Jackson’s squad was dominating a struggling New York Jets team throughout the first half of Sunday’s game. In fact, Cleveland put up over 250 yards in the first half alone. It was looking so good for the Browns that Terrelle Pryor found a way to put up 100-plus receiving yards against Darrelle Revis in the first half alone.

Unfortunately for Cleveland, the two teams had to play a second half. It’s in this that New York found a way to regain control of the game. In the end, Cleveland lost by the score of 31-28 after watching Ryan Fitzpatrick lead the Jets to three touchdown-scoring drives after intermission.

There are definitely good things to point to here. Pryor went for six catches and 101 yards. Duke Johnson tallied 116 total yards on just 10 touches. Heck, Josh McCown threw for 341 yards and two scores. But fantasy football numbers aside, Cleveland simply didn’t do enough to win after opening up a 20-7 halftime lead.

Moving forward on the season, this was pretty much Cleveland’s best opportunity to actually collect a win. Of the team’s final nine games, five come against teams that are currently at .500 or better, including a home date against the 6-1 Dallas Cowboys next weekend. We hate to call it now, but the Browns could be in the midst of a historically bad season. Like, 2008 Detroit Lions bad.

5. Finally a good London game

The 17th time is a charm. This has to be what’s running through the heads of Londoners after the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins played the first really good game in the short history of the international series. Chock-full of exciting plays and not missing any late-game drama, this one unfortunately ended in a tie. Yes, you read that right. The second tie in as many weeks.

This doesn’t change the fact that Cincinnati and Washington presented those fans across the pond with a well-played game. Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins completed 38-of-56 passes for 458 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. On the other hand, both A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert went for 100-plus loss for the Bengals.

Those in Britain should be accustomed to football games ending in ties. Though, that’s not exactly the same sport we’re talking about here. Nonetheless, at least the NFL provided those at Wembley Stadium with a game that defined good American football. In reality, that’s all they can ask for after being forced to watch the Jacksonville Jaguars play on an annual basis.

6. Raiders overcome penalties, ride Derek Carr’s big day to 6-2 record

These Oakland Raiders may not be perfect. They are among the worst teams in the game on the defensive side of the ball. They committed an NFL record 23 penalties on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. None of that really matters. Following a stirring overtime road win against the aforementioned Bucs, Oakland finds itself at 6-2 on the season and clearly a legitimate contender in the AFC.

However ugly it might have been, Sunday’s win tells us a story of a team and a quarterback that has made it to the big leagues. Derek Carr completed 40-of-59 passes for 513 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Those 513 passing yards represent a franchise record. And Carr’s overall performance puts him in some elite company.

It was Carr’s 41-yard scoring strike to Seth Roberts (watch here) with less than two minutes remaining in overtime that sent the Raiders to a 6-2 record and their fifth consecutive road win to start the season. Overall, Oakland put up an absurd 626 yards in the 30-24 victory.

As crazy as it might sound, the Raiders’ offense has now proven itself to be among the big boys in the NFL. Whether that leads to contending for a conference title moving forward remains to be seen. What we do know is that Oakland has to be considered one of the top-three teams in the AFC. That much cannot be denied.

7. Philip Rivers throws away Chargers’ playoff hopes

It was a two-game swing. One way or another, the San Diego Chargers were going to be in a much different position following Sunday’s action than they were heading into the day. Unfortunately for the fledgling team, it wasn’t to be in Denver against the Broncos. Primarily due to the struggle of Rivers, the Chargers now head into Week 9 at 3-5 and three games out of first place in the AFC West.

Rivers threw three interceptions, was sacked four times and found himself hit to the ground 13 times by a swarming Broncos defense. He didn’t have time to pass the ball, struggled when he had a clean pocket and found a way to throw up questionable pass after questionable pass. When Rivers did put the ball on the money, it resulted in six points the other way.

We can’t really blame San Diego’s franchise quarterback for his struggles in the game. Heck, we can’t blame Rivers for the mediocrity we have seen in San Diego. That Bradley Roby pick-six is a prime example of this. We can, however, blame him for not stepping up when the team needed him the most.

By virtue of wins for Denver, Kansas City and Oakland, the Chargers find themselves as the ugly stepsister in the AFC West. The one team that’s unlikely to contend for a playoff spot as the season progresses. Sunday’s 27-19 loss was just the latest self-inflicted wound for this increasingly embattled organization.

8. Huge win for Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons

Julio Jones, Matt Ryan

It didn’t look too promising early. Atlanta yielded three Aaron Rodgers touchdown passes in the first half alone. Even without their top three running backs, it looked like the Green Bay Packers were going to be able to enforce their will against a questionable Falcons defense. Then, following halftime, the Falcons found a way to stifle Green Bay’s offense to the tune of 123 total yards and a score on just four possessions.

The key here was Atlanta’s ability to maintain drives after the half. Matt Ryan and Co. put up two drives that went for 75-plus yards, each culminating in a touchdown. And while scoring points makes it all that much better, keeping the Packers and Rodgers off the field for a grand total of 11 minutes surely did help.

It was the last drive that may have saved Atlanta’s season from sinking into the abyss. Down 32-26 after Rodgers led the Packers on an 86-yard touchdown-scoring drive, Atlanta took over at its own 25 yard line with less than four minutes remaining. Ryan proceeded to complete 9-of-11 passes, ultimately hitting Mohamed Sanu for an 11-yard touchdown with just 31 seconds remaining.

How big was this win for Atlanta? By virtue of the New Orleans Saints’ win, Atlanta would have just been a half game up in the NFC South heading into Week 9. Instead, it now holds a commanding two-game lead in the win column. In the process, Ryan and the Falcons might have matured just a tad against a perennial Super Bowl contender.

9. Saints pull off season-saving win 

It took a goal-line stand and a mistake-free game from Drew Brees, but the New Orleans Saints were able to pull off an upset home win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon. Heading into Sunday’s game with a 2-4 record, New Orleans desperately needed a win. It’s in this that the team came through with its best all-around performance of the past two seasons.

NFL Week 8, Drew BreesBrees completed 27-of-35 passes for 265 yards with two total touchdowns and zero interceptions in the 25-20 win. It was his seven-yard touchdown pass to John Kuhn late in the third quarter that provided the difference in this one.

Defensively, the Saints’ defense withstood a long 13-play, 72-yard drive by Russell Wilson and Co., holding Seattle out of the end zone after the road team ran three plays inside New Orleans’ 10. The end result here being a measly field goal to pull Seattle within two with less than seven minutes remaining. New Orleans would then go on to run nearly five minutes off the clock on an 11-play drive culminating in a field goal that pretty much put the game away.

By virtue of this win, New Orleans finds itself at 3-4 on the season and just 1.5 games out of first place in the NFC South. If the team had not come through with a win, it would have been 2-5 heading into Week 9 and pretty much out of the NFC Playoff race. That’s how big this one performance was.

10. Tom Brady is just filthy good

What Brady has done in his first four games after returning from suspension is about as absurd as it gets. The future Hall of Fame quarterback added four more touchdowns to his resume, bringing his four-game total to 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 133.9 quarterback rating.

It goes without say that Brady himself is playing like a man possessed. And following a 41-25 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, the Patriots appear to be the class of the NFL. In the process of blowing out Buffalo, the Patriots also avoided a sweep at the hands of their division rivals, avenging a shutout loss earlier in the year.

In the four games that Brady has started since returning from suspension, the numbers are absolutely absurd for New England. They also speak to the Patriots having to be considered the clear favorites to hoist the Lombard in Houston come February.

Following a Week 9 bye, New England will put this theory to the test at home against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday Night Football at Gillette Stadium. That should tell us a lot more about this team. But as it stands, Brady has returned with an ire unknown to mankind. That should scare the crap out of the rest of the NFL.