USA TODAY US Edition
NFL Week 8
32 things learned, plus winners/losers
At the halfway point of the NFL season, it’s clear that a handful of teams are legitimate threats to compete for a trip to Super Bowl LIV.
Still, there are some upstarts who have made their cases and could be disruptive forces in the power structure of the league. But before we get ahead of ourselves, here are the winners and losers from Week 8.
Aaron Jones: The Packers’ running back is a winner here, though perhaps it should be his quarterback listed. Jones has become an invaluable asset in the passing game, and in Green Bay’s 31-24 victory on the road against the Chiefs, it seemed like any time Aaron Rodgers saw Jones facing man coverage against a linebacker, he flung the ball his way. Jones caught seven of eight targets for 159 yards and two scores to help the Packers improve to 7-1 and tie them with the Saints for the second-best record in the NFC. With receiver Davante Adams still injured, Jones’ emergence in the passing game not only improves Rodgers’ resume as an MVP candidate, but it makes Green Bay so dangerous down the stretch.
Eagles: They avoided a three-game losing streak and did it on the last leg of a three-game road trip. And they did it 31-13 in dominant fashion against a Bills team that had entered the day 5-1. The most promising news for Philly was that it limited turnovers (one), converted three of four red zone trips into touchdowns, and converted on 8 of 15 (53.3%) third-down attempts. Those were all strengths of Doug Pederson’s teams when the Eagles rolled through the playoffs and won the Super Bowl two years
ago. With the Eagles (4-4) now just a half-game back of the Cowboys (4-3; bye week), their hopes to win the NFC East are very much alive.
Cam Newton: Yes, the Panthers lost. And they lost badly. A 51-13 beating against the 49ers is tough. But with Carolina’s offense struggling and with Kyle Allen completing just 19 of 37 passes for 158 yards and three picks, this can put to bed the budding debate that started to bubble about whether Newton should remain on the bench once he’s fully healthy from his foot injury. In fact, there was chatter the Panthers should consider moving on from Newton altogether as the team’s franchise quarterback. Newton has been very supportive of Allen, helping him on the sideline and in the weeks leading up to games. But even though Allen played well, the Panthers are clearly a better team when Newton has the ball in his hands.
Refs blowing plays dead: It happened, again, inexplicably. And, again, it directly impacted the outcome of a game. This season, NFL officials have been quick with their whistles, often blowing plays dead and wiping points off the board. It happened Sunday and might have cost the Buccaneers a victory. In a 27-23 loss to the Titans, Tennessee opted to run a fake field goal play late in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Devin White tackled Titans punter Brett Kern short of the line of scrimmage. The crew blew the play dead. Problem was that broadcast replays showed the ball being jarred loose and safety Andrew Adams eventually scooped the ball and trotted off for what would’ve been a clear touchdown. It would’ve given Tampa a lead with fewer than four minutes to play. It has been a frequent issue, and officials need to swallow their whistles and let replay overturn plays, if needed.
Matt Nagy: Though he defended his decision and said there was “zero thought” to advance the ball to make a potential game-winning field goal a little easier for Eddy Pineiro, Nagy’s decision to kneel the ball even though there were still 53 seconds left on the clock and even though he still had a timeout might have cost Chicago the game. The Bears lost to the Chargers 17-16 when Pineiro’s kick hooked wide left. Certainly, Pineiro needs to convert these kicks. But Nagy’s concession after the game in which he admitted he thought his team would “lose three, four yards” shows a lack of trust and faith in his offense. His play calling inside the red zone was uninspired. Turnovers, again, were a problem. After winning the NFC North last season, the Bears are 3-4 and might be fading in a tough NFC.
Sam Darnold: Ugh, what a week for Darnold. Coming off a game just six days ago in which he set career lows in passing yards (86) and QB rating (3.6), as well as a career high in turnovers (five), Darnold perhaps wasn’t seeing ghosts, but it wasn’t much better. He tossed three more interceptions to make it seven over two weeks in a 29-15 loss to the Jaguars. Most concerning is that Darnold’s footwork and mechanics have broken down in the last two games. He has shuffled his feet and thrown off his back foot. Jacksonville scored touchdowns off of Darnold’s first two picks and the third came late in the game when it was all but over. Also, after Darnold had to have a toenail removed last week, at some point Sunday, he sprained his thumb on his left hand. He was sacked eight times. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Jaguars taunted him by playing the “Ghostbusters” theme after his final interception.