NFL Roundup – Week 8, 2015

NFL Week 8 Headlines and Round-up

  • Kansas City Chiefs Continue a Resurgence, Thrash the Detroit Lions in London
  • Denver Broncos Outclass the Green Bay Packers in the ‘Battle of the Undefeateds’
  • Offensive Records Set as the New Orleans Saints Edge the New York Giants in Shootout

With only the Monday Night showdown between the Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers still to play, Week 8 of the NFL season has seen the fall of undefeated teams, numerous heart-breaking injuries, and offensive records crushed.

Miami 7 – 36 New England

The emotional, resurgent juggernaut of Dan Campbell’s Miami Dolphins was brought to an abrupt halt by the superior and still undefeated New England Patriots on Thursday night. The Patriots’ ability to make the most of what they have, create stars, and dominate, no matter the circumstances again proved too strong for their opponents this week. Completely shutting down Miami’s run game, the class the Patriots boast in Brady, Gronkowski, Edelman, and now Dion Lewis completely smothered the Dolphins who, for the two weeks previous, looked like a very dangerous team playing hard for their interim coach, demolishing both Tennessee and Houston consecutively. The strength of their opponents may have given the Dolphins a false sense of security though, and with the potentially season-ending Achilles injury to pro bowl Defensive End Cameron Wake, the resurgence of the Dolphins may be short lived. The Patriots, on the other hand, continue to look a step ahead of every other team in terms of game plans and quality, playing with a bespoke approach to every opponent they come across, and succeeding. In this form, talk of an undefeated season looks increasingly credible.

Detroit 10 – 45 Kansas City

The London game has gained a reputation as something of a ‘coach killer’, its latest victim being Joe Philbin of Miami following their devastating week 4 loss at Wembley. The Detroit Lions have already replaced their Offensive Coordinator this season, and after the team’s performance this week in London which saw them fall to 1 and 7 and dead last in the league, Lions Head Coach Jim Caldwell must be on a very hot seat. If anything, the ten points flatter Detroit who played without ambition and a spark, only managing to score a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. For Kansas City, you can only beat who you play, and Kansas City more than did that job. Starting with a well worked end-around to Charcandrick West and bookmarked by a standout game by Alex Smith, the Chiefs dominated the Lions in all facets of the game. Smith threw for two touchdowns and rushed for another, as well as rushing for 78 yards, highlighted by a 49 yard run the Lions D will be very embarrassed to have given up. In contrast, Matthew Stafford who was benched earlier in the season due to bad play, must have been close to the same fate this week after throwing two interceptions in close proximity and driving with very little success. The Lions are playing well below the potential Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate III and Ameer Abdullah should provide while the Chiefs, who looked to be struggling severely going in to Week 7, have now won 2 straight games.

Tampa Bay 23 – 20 Atlanta (OT)

In undoubtedly the upset of the week, Tampa Bay visited their division rivals in Atlanta and handed them only their second loss of the season in overtime. In an early flagship career victory for Jameis Winston, the rookie who had struggled with turnovers early in the season played an unremarkable but smart game, leading the team to a game winning field goal where just the week prior the Bucs had given up a similar lead, largely built on a strong running game. While Julio Jones returned to statistical form for Atlanta, the Falcons were disappointing in defeat, giving the ball up four times and allowing the Buccaneers to compete. The result was certainly disappointing, and their 6-2 record flatters them, but ultimately, the Falcons will remain happy with their standings, still very much in contention for a playoff place either as divisional winner or wild card.

San Diego 26 – 29 Baltimore

In this match-up of underachieving AFC teams, a suitably close match was decided by the sure foot of Ravens kicker Justin Tucker. Philip Rivers has the unenviable trait of putting up huge statistical numbers as a passer without necessarily consistently winning games, and this week fell in to that pattern as Rivers threw for 301 yards and 3 touchdowns, only to be let down by a defence which is among the worst in the league.  This was exploited by a Baltimore Offense which has been decidedly mediocre on 2015, with Joe Flacco recording 319 passing yards and a touchdown, as well as a rushing touchdown. Unfortunately though, this game could well be remembered for a very disturbing reason. What Offense Baltimore have had in the air has almost exclusively been the result of the tenacious, once-in-a-lifetime talent of Steve Smith Sr, and this game seemed to be little different as Smith gained 82 yards as a receiver before falling to a season-ending Achilles injury. Injuries are upsetting as they are, as was the season-ending one to the Chargers’ talismanic wide receiver Keenan Allen, but the season-ending injury to Steve Smith Sr is a real heart-breaker. The fiery, charismatic playmaker had indicated that this season would be his last, and this season could spell the end of a glorious career. Both teams now lie at 2 and 6 in divisions boasting undefeated teams and despite any explosive offensive displays in this game, both teams are almost certainly already out of playoff contention.

Minnesota 23 – 20 Chicago

A balanced performance in the air and on the ground saw the Minnesota Vikings snap a seven game losing streak at Soldier Field following a fourth quarter surge. The Chicago Bears had looked strong since the return of a seemingly motivated Jay Cutler at quarterback, and were on a two-game winning streak themselves going in to this game. The Bears, Cutler and wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey were productive but were ultimately overpowered by the elusive play of Teddy Bridgewater mixed with the 100+ yard game by Adrian Peterson which saw them improve to 5 and 2 and a three-game winning streak to make them a realistic playoff contender.

Arizona 34 – 20 Cleveland

A promising and explosive start by Cleveland was nullified by a second half collapse as Arizona scored 27 unanswered points to secure an away victory in Cleveland. This game was like a microcosm of McCown and the Browns’ season – some encouraging, eye-catching play, ultimately undermined by inconsistent play. McCown threw touchdowns to Gary Barnidge and Brian Hartline, but their offense dried up in the second half, with McCown giving the ball away twice while the well-oiled Arizona offense took the game over with a 100+ yard rushing game from Chris Johnson and 374 yard, 4 touchdown performance by Carson Palmer. Arizona look as dangerous offensively as they did last year before Palmer’s injury and have to be considered favourites for the NFC West crown while Cleveland, already 5 games behind the undefeated Bengals, have nonetheless made definite advances this year and are better than their 2 and 6 record suggests.

 

Tennessee 6 – 20 Houston

The Marcus Mariota-less Tennessee Titans travelled to Houston to take on another struggling team in the Texans. With Ryan Mallett out of the building, Brian Hoyer has been able to step up as QB1 without controversy, and though an unconvincing franchise prospect, Hoyer has the ability to shine and win games. He showed that against the Titans, passing for 235 yards and 2 touchdowns in a game where the Texans were never really troubled. The game was really won, however, in the trenches, with the Texans rushing and harassing backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger, sacking his 7 times; 2.2 for J.J. Watt and 3.5 for Whitney Mercilus (living up to his name). Under that sort of pressure, Mettenberger and the Titans could never really get anywhere as they fell to 1 and 6. Luckily for them they are in the worst division in football and find themselves still in contention for the divisional title. That is even more the case for the Texans, now 3 and 5 but second in the division. This loss proved to be the final straw for Head Coach Ken Wisenhunt though as he was fired after the game due to the poor performance of the Titans, and while he may feel aggrieved at that given that his rookie star quarterback Marcus Mariota is out injured, it is important to remember that the Titans struggled even with Mariota, as well as Wisenhunt’s his combined 3 and 20 record as head coach.

New York Giants 49 – 52 New Orleans

The term ‘shootout’ has never been more aptly used than in this insane offensive battle in New Orleans which saw both quarterbacks setting personal records, and collective records, combining for 13 passing touchdowns and over 100 combined points. Both defences had limited highlights, with sacks totalled for the Saints early on and two takeaways from the Giants witch the in-form Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie central to both. Those successes aside, this game was a defensive catastrophe with Eli making throws that had no right to be made, and Brees picking apart a depleted Giants secondary. Ironically in a game with only points from touchdowns, the Saints managed to just outstretch the Giants with a last-minute field goal to break Giant hearts. Given the kind of game it was, the result almost felt like a toss up, but the Giants ultimately cost themselves by allowing a long punt return compounded by a personal foul penalty which put the Saints and new kicker Kai Forbath just about in range to make the game-winning field goal. The loss saw the Giants fall back to .500 but retain their light grip on first place in the NFC East though depending on the final standings at the end of the season, it could be a loss that hurts them. The Saints went the other way, improving to .500, which is only good for third in the ultra-competitive NFC South.

Cincinnati 16 – 10 Pittsburgh

Ben Roethlisberger returned to the field in Pittsburgh in an ugly divisional encounter with the Cincinnati Bengals that ultimately saw the Bengals retain their perfect record and move to 7-0 for the first time in their history. This was an inconsistent game for both the returning Roethlisberger and for Andy Dalton, who has been gaining plaudits for over-performing his reputation all year, though his performance took a definite step back this week, throwing for 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Roethlisberger would later apologise to Steelers fans though after throwing 3 interceptions, eventhough the play made on him by Shawn Williams was more earned by brilliance than poor play. That was the difference in the game though. Dalton played slightly better than Roethlisberger, the Bengals Defense slightly outplayed Pittsburgh’s, and it was just enough to maintain their clean record. The return of Big Ben improves the Pittsburgh offense overall, but he looked hobbled and rusty, and in a week full of upsetting injuries, the likely season-ending injury to Le’Veon Bell will hurt the Steelers especially as they haven’t been able to get all of their play-makers on the field at once, making playoff aspirations from 4 and 4 seem increasingly unlikely. Bengals fans may worry about ‘the real Andy Dalton’ showing himself this week, but it is a truthful cliché that championship teams win ugly even if their standard drops, and perhaps that was what we saw this week.

San Francisco 6 – 27 St. Louis

The NFC West is a reverse image of what it was just two years ago when San Francisco were a juggernaut ultimately competing for Superbowl 47. This year both the Seahawks and 49ers are struggling, Arizona and St. Louis are in the playoff driving seats, and Colin Kaepernick is being benched due to poor performance and a reported split in the 49er locker room. Kaepernick has looked to be regressing at the position, and has looked shaky and indecisive for most of the season. In this game he threw for just 162 yards and no touchdowns but also was guilty of terrible vision on an early play where wide receiver Torrey Smith was lined up completely uncovered, trying desperately to get the attention of his quarterback, only for Kaepernick to run a rush up the middle for a couple of yards anyway. Contrast this with the play of the Rams’ skill players, especially breakout rushing talent Todd Gurley and the explosive Tavon Austin, and it is clear that St. Louis simply played with too much quality for San Francisco to handle. Gurley rushed for 133 yards and a touchdown and Austin gained just shy of 100 receiving yards and touchdown while the 49ers could only manage field goals. T win improves St Louis’ lot and though they remain two games back of Arizona, they are still very strongly in contention for a playoff berth. Meanwhile, the 2 and 6 49ers are seemingly imploding. Kaepernick is to be replaced by the proven mediocrity of Blaine Gabbert, have unfortunately lost Reggie Bush to a torn ACL, and have traded away genuine receiving threat Vernon Davis to the Denver Broncos. In terms of ambition, the 49ers season is all but over, and attention will turn to rebuilding the historic franchise back in to a position where it can win though the question of who their quarterback of the future is to be will be a tough one to answer.

New York Jets 20 – 34 Oakland

The Jets and the Raiders are two teams who have struggled in recent years but have been showing significant signs of recovery in 2015. Oakland find themselves above in genuine playoff contention for the first time in years while the Jets were at 4 and 1 before losing a well-contested game to the Patriots last week. The Jets’ success this year has been based on excellent defense and a quietly explosive offense through Chris Ivory and Brandon Marshall, but what defined this game as well as the Jets’ loss was the quarterback play. Despite the special talents of Ivory and Marshall, they are held back by relative mediocrity at the quarterback position. Fitzpatrick started and was replaced by Geno Smith after Fitzpatrick injured his thumb. Smith, the initial choice for starter was injured in the preseason when IK Enemkpali assaulted him, came in to the game and performed acceptably, throwing for 265 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception. While the Jets seemingly have two quarterbacks who can carry a team while being susceptible to careless play, the Raiders currently have perhaps the most explosive and promising prospect behind Center in Derek Carr. After a laudable rookie season, Carr has become a dependable playmaker for the Raiders in 2015, perhaps put in sharpest focus in this game. Taking on a Defense which significantly troubled the Patriots, Carr threw for 333 yards and 4 touchdowns, despite the Jets and Darelle Revis practically shutting down any protection from Rookie of the Year candidate Amari Cooper, and showing a Brady-esque ability to successfully find lesser-name talents. That, mixed with the Raiders gaining nearly double the rushing production of the Jets and the Raiders elder statesman of Charles Woodson adding to his takeaway stats, was enough for the Raiders to gain their fourth game of the season without much trouble. Jets fans will be worried about the two game losing trend they are now on in a division with the still-perfect Patriots, but they are still likely to stay in contention through the season. The Raiders are in a very similar position, 4 and 3 in a division also featuring the still-perfect Broncos, and while they are in playoff contention, the most pleasing fans for Raiders fans is that they can be quietly confident of finally having a franchise quarterback after this game.

Seattle 13 – 12 Dallas

The return of Dez Bryant to the Dallas Offense couldn’t bring a much-needed spark to the team as he was blanketed by the coverage of Richard Sherman and the Cowboys could only manage four field goals against the Seahawks. 12 points were nearly enough to win the game, but Russell Wilson and his Offense finally managed to edge the Cowboys in what was truly a defense-heavy game with very little to highlight offensively. While both teams managed over 100 yards rushing, their ground and pound styles ultimately led to little on the scoreboard. As has so often been the case this season though, the Seattle quarterback managed to prove the difference , scoring the game’s only touchdown on a connection to Luke Willson and driving the team in to field goal range for the game winner in the dying minutes. Seattle returned to .500 after a slow start to the season but while they seemed to be on a surge in recent weeks, they will need to perform above this standard offensively to have any shot at the playoffs this year. Dallas’s fifth successive loss should see them out of contention, and they do have a difficult road to the playoffs , but the Giants’ loss in New Orleans went some way to keeping them in contention in the mediocre NFC East. In sadder news, Seahawks receiver Ricardo Lockette was added to the long list of players added to the IR list for the season after a scary-looking injury during a kickoff return saw him laying unconscious on the field and requiring surgery to stabilise ligaments in his neck.

Green Bay 10 – 29 Denver

Rumours of Peyton Manning’s demise may have been greatly exaggerated. In this battle of two undefeated teams, the game seemed to be two greats facing off at different phases of their careers with an in-prime, all-time great in Aaron Rodgers facing off against a diminishing great in Manning who has been propped up by an excellent Defense. The game didn’t match the build though as the Denver Broncos smothered Green Bay in all phases, shutting down Rodgers for the almost unbelievably small production of only 77 yards and no touchdowns and keeping the Packer rushing offense to only 69 yards. Though the Packers have looked to be slowing in recent weeks, they have never looked like being contained like this. For the Broncos, though Manning didn’t score any touchdowns himself, he threw for 340 yards, making some key long throws on the way which had seemed beyond his abilities so far in a season which has shown him throw painful interceptions on a regular basis until this week. On the ground, C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman combined for 161 yards and three touchdowns while the headline-grabbing Broncos Defense frustrated the Packers with blanket coverage and constant quarterback pressure. Green Bay may no longer be perfect, but they lost to a near-perfect team in the Broncos, and lying at 6 and 1 with the quality of players they boast, remain in a very strong leading position in the NFC North. Denver move to 7 and 0 and are firmly in the driving seat in the AFC West. The sighting of an in-form Peyton Manning will be encouraging to the Broncos as they are perhaps the most complete team in the league when he is performing at his best, but it should be remembered that this performance came on the back of a Broncos bye week, and it remains to be seen if Manning specifically can continue this form week after week or whether the grind of the game will cause him to struggle again in the future.

 

 

Indianapolis 26 – 29 Carolina (OT)

In the heavy Carolina rain, a game that started off slow, tentative, and ugly, turned in to breathless race to victory which nearly saw the Colts secure a three-score comeback, only to be fought off by the Panthers who would remain perfect at 7 and 0. The first half was a mistake-riddled slog as players struggled to handle and progress the wet ball with Andrew Luck looking especially vulnerable and both teams losing the ball on slippery snaps. Under pressure, Luck was making terrible decisions and missing relatively easy throws, leading to three interceptions in the game for him. The weather made it hard for the Panthers to run away with the game until, seemingly, the fourth quarter where a Corey Brown touchdown seemed to seal the game with a 17 point lead. In complete contrast to the rest of the game though, Luck responded, leading his team to a game tying 17 unanswered points, and looked more like the player who made the Colts among the preseason favourites for Superbowl contention. Overtime provided both teams with opportunities to win the game. The Colts added a further three points to the board, forcing the Panthers to drive down-field and score three themselves. Top shelf tight end Greg Olsen proved his value yet again, making a one handed catch to continue the must-score Carolina drive before the Panthers Defense took the ball back after a tipped pass from Luck, allowing the Panthers to win with a final field goal in sudden death. This will be a painful loss for Indianapolis after their amazing effort to force overtime, but despite their fourth quarter surge, there is much for the Colts to be concerned about. Andrew Luck looked like a prime benching target in the first half of the game, and if that is representative of Luck for the rest of the year, they will be in trouble. Remarkably though, they find themselves somehow top of the AFC South, and if Luck can turn himself around and play more like he did in the fourth quarter, they will be favourites to reach the playoffs from the weak division. Carolina, despite their perfect record, are only a game and a half ahead of the Falcons in the contrastingly strong NFC South. Cam was by no means perfect, throwing an interception himself and showed a disregard for his own health, but he nevertheless looked a strong and determined leader as well as a match-up nightmare for defences who need to prepare for him to both throw and run on them. Cam and Olsen are enough to make their Offense dangerous, but that mixed with their star-studded Defense make them a very difficult team to overcome, and very strong prospect for the playoffs.

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