With no teams on a bye, Week 8 of the 2023 NFL season was jam-packed with talking points. Alas, one half of our regular team, Shaun Blundell, was unavailable for selection this week, leaving Sean Tyler to pick six of them to discuss in more detail. He remembered to change the clocks and didn’t miss a thing so read on for tales of a shock loss for the Chiefs, a tsunami of QB injuries, a terrible New York ‘derby’ and a monster debut for Will Levis.
New York, New York, so bad they named it twice
The co-tenants of New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, the Jets and Giants, met in a key battle for a much-needed win and local bragging rights. Although the Jets eventually prevailed, winning a 13-10 OT game in steady rain, I don’t think either team has much to brag about.
OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh. For the now 2-6 Giants, Saquon Barkley did at least look like he was trying, with a career-high 36 carries for 134 yards. On the other side of the ball, the defense was outstanding for 59-and-a-half minutes. Kayvon Thibodeaux in particular was a game-wrecker, with three sacks, three tackles for loss, three quarterback hits and a forced fumble. As for the eventually victorious Jets, Breece Hall had a nice 50-yard TD reception. Other than that, nope. I got nuthin’.
None of us wanted more than 60 minutes of this Mess-at-MetLife but still, we had to endure endless errors, sloppy play and poor coaching decisions. Where do I start? The fact that these two teams combined for more punts (24) than points (23) tells you everything you need to know. The only reason this can’t be classed as a dumpster fire is because it was raining too heavily.
With Daniel Jones already out for Big Blue, his deputy Tyrod Taylor sustained a rib injury during a sack midway through the second quarter. Taylor went 4 of 7 for 8 yards before undrafted practice squad rookie Tommy DeVito entered the fray. They clearly didn’t trust him to throw the ball as the Giants ran the ball on 33 of their 34 second-half plays, which included a rushing TD by DeVito himself. They ended the game with a historically bad -9 net passing yards, punted 13 times and converted just two of 19 third downs.
Nonetheless, their opponents were no better and after trading eight consecutive punts, the Giants looked to be snoozing their way to victory. Thibodeaux’s final takedown of Zach Wilson, which gave his team the ball at the Jets’ 26-yard line with 1:26 to play and a 10-7 lead, all but iced the game. But after three Barkley runs for a total of nine yards, Brian Daboll opted to send out kicker Graham Gano on the ensuing 4th-and-1. In missing for the second time during the game, he left the door to a unlikely Jets victory slightly ajar. They pushed it and stepped through.
With 24 seconds left and no timeouts remaining, Zach Wilson connected with Garrett Wilson and Allen Lazard on consecutive 29-yard passes before rushing to spike the ball with just one second on the clock. Greg Zuerlein’s 35-yard field goal sent the game to overtime. Without a trusted QB, the fast-unravelling Giants inevitably went three-and-out and after the Jets reached midfield on their first possession in OT, a 30-yard defensive pass interference penalty by Adoree’ Jackson moved them into the red zone. Once again, Zuerlein split the uprights to give the 4-3 Jets a third consecutive win they barely deserved. [ST]
Broncos buck the trend
Just two weeks ago, I wrote about Kansas City beating Denver 19-8, about how well Travis Kelce played and about how they’d won 16 in a row against their AFC West rivals, despite not firing on all cylinders. Well, a fortnight on, the Broncos turned the tables on their divisional foes in the reverse fixture, winning 24-9 and beating Patrick Mahomes for the first time.
Ranked 31st in points allowed and dead last in yards allowed, Vance Joseph’s Denver D unexpectedly kept Mahomes, Kelce and company out of the end zone, holding them to just three field goals. Mahomes, who began the day on the injury report with a dose of the flu, must have been under the weather. He had no touchdowns, three turnovers – two pretty poor INTs and a fumble – and got sacked three times. Kelce led the Chiefs with just 58 receiving yards, not just on Sunday but weirdly the last time they lost to Denver (way back in Week 2, 2015). Also noteworthy is that he’s averaging 46.5 yards when Taylor Swift isn’t in attendance, like this week, and 108 when she is. Go figure.
But it wasn’t just Mahomes and Kelce who looked off-colour. Marquez Valdes-Scantling gave away a fumble, Skyy Moore dropped a crucial TD pass and Mecole Hardman muffed a punt on his own 5-yard line in the fourth quarter, which inevitably led to the Broncos’ third and decisive TD.
The Broncos defense definitely won the day but the offense ate the clock up and did just about enough, despite the KC pass rush sacking Russell Wilson six times. Running the ball 40 times allowed Dange’Russ to be effective in the passing game when called on. He may have only thrown 12 of 19 for a measly 114 yards but he still managed to find Javonte Williams, Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton for touchdowns with a quarter of his completions. And unlike his counterpart, there were no picks to blot his copybook.
Albeit sitting at 3-5, the Broncos now enter their bye week with back-to-back wins, giving them at least some hope for the rest of the campaign, especially with the Raiders and Chargers also stuck on three wins. As for the Chiefs, they travel to Germany to face the Dolphins (also 6-2) in a battle of the top two AFC seeds. To get something from that game in Frankfurt, they’ll need a healthy Mahomes… and maybe a plane ticket for Ms. Swift. [ST]
Once you strop, you just can’t stop
I’ve always told my kids that tantrums don’t get you what you want and to a large degree, that holds true. But there are exceptions, like when the Eagles’ star wideout AJ Brown threw his toys out of the pram in Week 2, complaining that he wasn’t getting enough of the ball. Well, since his well-documented sideline hissy-fit, he has been unstoppable. Brown now has produced six consecutive games with at least 125 receiving yards, which breaks the league record previously held by the great Calvin Johnson.
Week after week, he makes highlight-reel-worthy catches, trucks defenders and finds pay dirt, and this week was no exception. He racked up 130 yards and two touchdowns on eight receptions in Philadelphia’s 38-31 win over the Washington Commanders as he helped his QB Jalen Hurts to 319 passing yards and four TDs. It also doesn’t hurt that he now has another big-bodied receiver, Julio Jones, alongside him to draw some of the attention away.
Brown has amassed 60 catches for 939 yards and five TDs for the now 7-1 Eagles, although he still trails Miami’s Tyreek Hill in all categories so far (61 catches, 1,014 yards and 8 TDs). But with nine regular season games left, these two are surely in the race for Offensive Player of the Year honours – and who knows, maybe even MVP if their trajectories continue to soar.
Looking back to draft weekend 2022, GM Howie Roseman might also be worthy of the trade of the year award, if there were such a thing, for dealing the 18th and 101st picks to Tennessee for the 24-year-old receiver. [ST]
Bengals begin to bite back
After a 0-2 start, Bengals fans hoped they’d turn a corner once the statuesque Joe Burrow healed up, just like last year (appendectomy). And in facing the 49ers in Santa Clara this weekend, they also hoped for a trajectory-setting win coming off their bye, just like last year (a 37-30 victory over the Steelers). Well, it appears that 2023 is the new 2022 and their wishes have come true. Cincinnati’s franchise quarterback seems mobile again and they registered their fourth win in five to go 4-3. The 31-17 result leaves the Niners nursing their first home loss in 12 games and QB Brock Purdy contemplating his first-ever home defeat, despite a career-high 365 passing yards.
Make no mistake: even as four-point underdogs, Cincy’s two-score victory wasn’t perfect. For the Niners, CMC posted 118 total yards and two touchdowns, equalling the NFL record of 17 consecutive games with a TD. George Kittle threatened to make it a George Kittle game (149 receiving yards from nine catches were both season highs) and even Brandon Aiyuk’s five catches went for 109 yards. Burrow was also sacked three times. But with their bend-but-don’t-break approach, they conceded yards but not points. Logan Wilson and Germaine Pratt handed Purdy his second consecutive multi-interception game and despite sustaining an ankle injury, Trey Hendrickson soldiered on to claim another sack, taking his season’s tally to eight.
That was enough to let a rejuvenated Cincinnati offense do its thing at long last. Ja’Marr Chase (100 receiving yards, 1 TD) was impressive once again, Tee Higgins was more involved after a recent rib injury and Joe Mixon (110 scrimmage yards, 1 TD) had his best game of the season. But the Bengals’ fortunes live and die by their franchise quarterback. While nursing a dodgy calf, Burrow was undoubtedly poor. As he healed, he improved and after a week’s rest, he’s seemingly back to his best, carving up the Niners like a pumpkin. His 283 passing yards, three passing TDs and no INTs included a series of 19 straight completions and his 87% completion rate (28 of 32) is the highest recorded against the 49ers in their entire history. The aerial onslaught was complemented by 43 on the ground through quarterback draws, sneaks and off-script scrambles, the likes of which we haven’t seen this year due to his injury, as well as the greatest escapolgy act we’ve seen so far this season.
Looking ahead, San Francisco take a much-needed week off, which should help them reset after three straight losses and get the likes of Deebo Samuel and Trent Williams back on the field. Meanwhile, the Bengals push on to a Sunday Night showdown with the Bills. Much has been made of Cincy’s tough schedule from here on in but if Joe Burrow is as dialled in as he was this week, it’s gonna be one hell of a game. [ST]
Will Levis be the answer?
From Levi’s Stadium to Will Levis…
“Not a bad debut,” said master of understatement Mike Vrabel. “He was ballin’, playing out of his mind,” stated Derrick Henry. As for Levis himself, he said “I dreamed of this moment as a kid and to get a win is incredible.”
In place of the injured Ryan Tannehill, the Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback put on an absolute show in a 28-23 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. In his first career start, Levis completed 19 of 29 passes for 238 yards and four touchdowns (one in each quarter of the game) and no picks. In so doing, he joins Marcus Mariota and Fran Tarkenton as the only players in NFL history with four-plus touchdown passes in their NFL debut.
Resplendent in a light blue throwback Oilers uniform, Levis turned back the clock to before the franchise moved east, when the great Warren Moon orchestrated Houston’s offense. Suiting Tim Kelly’s vertical offense perfectly, Levis showed off his cannon of an arm, hitting three TDs of 30-plus yards – the most ever in an NFL debut. All three are now among the 10 longest touchdowns by air distance this season, per Next Gen Stats. It’s also noteworthy that the 6’4” QB was only sacked twice. He can obviously move in the pocket, unlike Tannehill and the other backup, Malik Willis, who seems to have slipped down the pecking order.
It’s a short week for the Titans, who next play on Thursday night in Pittsburgh. The Steelers defense will be more of a challenge than the Falcons were but even a half-decent showing could see the rookie keep the job. His inconsistencies at Kentucky divided opinion when coming out of college but the second-round draft pick has already thrown twice as many TD passes this season than Tannehill (just two in six games). It’s therefore no surprise that Coach Vrabel has already indicated that he will re-evaluate the role once the veteran QB is fully healthy. The clock on Tannehill’s time in Tennessee is ticking louder than ever. [ST]
Blood. Bandages. Broken body parts. No, I’m not talking about a Halloween fancy dress party, I’m summarising the state of starting quarterbacks after a particularly destructive Week 8 slate.
Arguably the highest profile and most damaging of the injuries on Sunday was the season-ending Achilles tear sustained by Vikings QB Kirk Cousins in the fourth quarter against Green Bay. Now enamoured to many of us through the Quarterback series on Netflix, Cousins had completed 23 passes for 274 yards and two TDs when he went down, leaving rookie Jaren Hall to see the Vikes over the line with three completions for 23 yards in his NFL debut. Despite the 24-10 win, With Cousins’ time in Minnesota probably up now, the team now faces the long-term trilemma of letting Hall continue under center, hoping veteran Nick Mullens can return from a back injury or going shopping before Tuesday’s trade deadline. Andy Dalton or Jameis Winston, anyone?
The New York Giants are also down to the bare bones in the QB room. With Daniel Jones still out with a neck injury, Big Blue have been relying on Tyrod Taylor of late but he got knocked out of Sunday’s game with the Jets with a rib injury that needed hospital attention. Once again, an untested rookie, Tommy DeVito, was called into action. Alas, he completed just two passes for -1 yard and Gang Green stole an OT 13-10 victory, as detailed earlier. The Steelers’ Kenny Pickett (10 completions for 73 yards) also sustained a rib injury in the second quarter of their game against Jacksonville. Coming shortly after a hamstring injury to Minkah Fitzpatrick, it left too much for Mitch Trubisky to compensate for. The stand-in QB mustered 15 passes for 138 yards and a TD, but he also gave away two INTs in a 20-10 loss.
And there’s more. Rams QB Matthew Stafford injured the thumb on his throwing hand twice in their 43-20 loss to Dallas, first during a Micah Parsons sack and then when he hit it against an opponent’s helmet during a two-point attempt shortly after halftime. Brett Rypien (5 of 10 for 42 yards) deputised from then on but it was never going to be.
The Atlanta Falcons also played half a game with stand-in Taylor Heinicke after Desmond Ridder was evaluated for concussion (but cleared to return) in their 28-23 defeat to the Titans. Ridder led his team to just three points, lost a league-leading 12th fumble of the season, took five sacks and threw for just 71 yards before his departure. HC Arthur Smith later confirmed that Ridder’s removal wasn’t performance-based but his choice of starter going forward might well be, given that the team mustered 20 points with Ridder’s deputy. [ST]