A Packers home loss to lowly Minnesota. Pittsburgh toppling the Ravens in Baltimore to stay undefeated. The Dolphins and the Bengals pulling off wild upsets behind rookie quarterbacks. The theme of Week 8 was to expect the unexpected, though the Jets proved to be a stabilizing force by losing to Kansas City in as ugly a fashion as predicted.
Here’s what we learned:
The Vikings may be rebuilding, but they’re all set at running back. Minnesota has taken its share of abuse during a rough start to the season. But General Manager Rick Spielman has repeatedly rejected the idea that the Vikings are rebuilding, regardless of the team’s defensive woes, because no team with a running back as good as Dalvin Cook is rebuilding. Cook proved Spielman’s point — emphatically — in a 28-22 upset victory at Green Bay. Cook ran for 163 yards, picked up another 63 through the air and scored four touchdowns. Minnesota’s defense came out of nowhere to fluster Aaron Rodgers down the stretch, and while the Vikings’ record improved to only 2-5, the team earned some N.F.C. North bragging rights.
The Steelers are for real. Despite being the last undefeated team in the N.F.L., the Steelers had faced some lingering questions about how good they really were. Those questions will probably fade after the Steelers held on for a thrilling 28-24 win on the road in Baltimore. The Steelers conceded 265 yards rushing to the Ravens, but forced Lamar Jackson into several mistakes. Jackson, the reigning N.F.L. most valuable player, was intercepted twice and lost two fumbles. Baltimore still had a chance to win in the final seconds, getting all the way to Pittsburgh’s 23-yard line while trailing by 4 points, but Jackson’s final pass fell incomplete as time expired.
The Steelers have now matched their 1978 squad for the best start in franchise history, and the team would undoubtedly like it noted that it won the Super Bowl that season.
Russell Wilson is building his case. The Seahawks quarterback has never received a single vote for the Most Valuable Player Award, but he is up to 26 touchdown passes — in just seven games — which is only one fewer than Peyton Manning had in 2008 when he was named most valuable player. The total also matches or exceeds 10 single-season outputs of other quarterbacks who have been named M.V.P. since the A.F.L.-N.F.L. merger in 1970. Wilson had four touchdowns in Sunday’s 37-27 win over San Francisco, which kept him comfortably ahead of Patrick Mahomes, who threw for five in a blowout win over the Jets to improve to 21 for the season.
Joe Burrow is slippery. He’d had good statistics in several games this season, but Burrow showed just how great he could be in the Bengals’ 31-20 win over the favored Titans. He outplayed Ryan Tannehill and put up enough points that a 112-yard game from Tennessee running back Derrick Henry didn’t matter. A pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes were exactly what Cincinnati needed to secure its second win of the season, but Burrow will be on this week’s highlight reels for a meaningless third-down play in the third quarter (above) that went for just 7 yards. Under intense pressure, he spun his way through two would-be sacks and escaped to get positive yardage on a play that looked as if it would lose as many as 10. Cincinnati punted on the next down, but the play will stay in the heads of opposing pass-rushers.
Tua Tagovailoa didn’t win as much as Jared Goff lost. On the second play of his first start, Tagovailoa of the Dolphins was welcomed to the N.F.L. by the Rams’ Aaron Donald, who ripped the ball out for a strip-sack turnover. Los Angeles capitalized with a touchdown on the ensuing drive, but then Goff self-destructed. He threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles, which allowed the Dolphins to reel off 28 consecutive points in a 28-17 victory. As the wheels fell off for Los Angeles, Miami rose up as a team. The Dolphins scored on a 78-yard fumble recovery and an 88-yard punt return in addition to a pair of touchdowns from the team’s offense. Tagovailoa completed just 12 of 22 passes for 93 yards, but his career record is 1-0 just the same.
Darius Leonard has great timing. The superstar linebacker for the Colts had been out with a groin injury since Week 4, but returned just in time. Indianapolis was clinging to a 20-14 lead in the fourth quarter and Detroit had reached the Colts’ 25-yard line. Leonard then burst into the backfield, knocking the ball out of Matthew Stafford’s hands for a fumble that was recovered by the Colts’ Justin Houston. The stomach punch to the Lions’ morale was extreme and the Colts were able to dominate the rest of the way in a 41-21 win that improved the team’s record to 5-2.
Sunday’s Top Performers
Top Passer: Patrick Mahomes
The performance should, perhaps, be graded on a curve as it came against the lowly Jets, but Mahomes seemed to have more fun than he has at any point this season. He topped 400 yards passing for the fourth time in his career and added a new trick to his formidable repertoire by going with an underhanded toss to Travis Kelce for one of his five touchdown passes. Mahomes played so well that he watched his team’s final possession from the sideline, letting backup Chad Henne get some work in garbage time.
Top Runner: Dalvin Cook
Getting his team a win over rival Green Bay trumps any individual accomplishments, but Cook carved his name into the Minnesota record books by joining Chuck Foreman and Ahmad Rashad as the only Vikings players to score four touchdowns in a single game. He was also the first player in N.F.L. history to score touchdowns on each of his team’s first four possessions.
Top Receiver: DK Metcalf
With every performance like this it becomes harder and harder to believe that Metcalf lasted 64 picks into the 2019 draft before Seattle called his name. Metcalf stands 6 feet 4 inches, weighs 230 pounds and runs a 4.33 40-yard dash, making him the type of receiver you would create in a game of “Madden,” rather than one you’d expect to encounter in real life. Metcalf has made it his mission to outplay each of the eight wide receivers taken before him last year, but Russell Wilson thinks Metcalf can set his sights quite a bit higher. “I don’t think there is anybody better in terms of what he can do and how he’s done it,” Wilson said after Sunday’s win. “And he’s only in his second year.”
One* Sentence About Sunday’s Games
*Except when it takes more.
Steelers 28, Ravens 24 Baltimore was playing at home, and was up by 10 at halftime, only to have it all fall apart in the second half. Pittsburgh now has a commanding two-game lead over the Ravens in the ultracompetitive A.F.C. North.
Bengals 31, Titans 20 Cincinnati was again without running back Joe Mixon, but Giovani Bernard did his part in the upset with 78 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. The Bengals have a way to go before anyone will be scared of them, but Coach Zac Taylor got his first career win over a team with a winning record and the Bengals matched their 2019 win total (two).
Vikings 28, Packers 22 Minnesota gave Aaron Rodgers the ball down by 6 with 47 seconds remaining at Lambeau Field. All too many times in Rodgers’s career a setup like that meant Green Bay was about to storm to victory. This time, the Vikings’ beleaguered defense held strong, allowing a few completions before getting a devastating strip-sack from D.J. Wonnum that sent the ball flying and allowed the clock to run out.
Broncos 31, Chargers 30 Justin Herbert seemed well on his way to his first career winning streak by having his team leading by 24-10 entering the fourth quarter. But Los Angeles managed just two field goals in the final 15 minutes, while Denver’s Drew Lock responded with three touchdown passes, including a 1-yarder to K.J. Hamler as time expired. The score — along with the extra point — gave the Broncos a crucial win at home.
Seahawks 37, 49ers 27 It wouldn’t be Sunday if the 49ers didn’t lose a running back to injury, and they kept that bad luck going by having Tevin Coleman — who was playing in his first game since Week 2 — ruled out after hurting his knee. By the end of the game, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle left with injuries as well.
Colts 41, Lions 21 Jordan Wilkins picked up the bulk of the Colts’ yardage on the ground, but his fellow running back Nyheim Hines stole the show with a pair of receiving touchdowns, each of which he celebrated with gymnastlike floor routines in the end zone.
Chiefs 35, Jets 9 After failing to cover an outrageous 19.5-point spread in this blowout, the Jets fell to 0-8 for just the second time in franchise history, a feat that matched the 1996 Jets, who finally won in Week 9. A “Monday Night Football” matchup against the reeling Patriots is theoretically the team’s best bet for a win for this year’s Jets as well, though even that is far from a given.
Dolphins 28, Rams 17 Miami didn’t get big offensive yardage the way it did with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, but the team increased its winning streak to three games, outscoring opponents by 95-34 in that stretch.
Bills 24, Patriots 21 Josh Allen was limited once again, and Buffalo barely held off New England despite the Patriots missing several key players. The Bills have a solid lead in the A.F.C. East, but it’s worth noting that their point differential for the season is -1, while the second-place Dolphins are +58.
Saints 26, Bears 23 Wil Lutz won the game in overtime with a 35-yard field goal, but the lasting memory from this one will be wide receiver Javon Wims slapping at safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson’s helmet before unloading for a few seemingly unprovoked punches. Wims paid for the aggression by having Janoris Jenkins ride him like a bull and was subsequently ejected.
Raiders 16, Browns 6 A chilly day in Cleveland kept things remarkably quiet in a matchup of two teams mostly known for high-scoring games. Somewhat surprisingly, Las Vegas looked far more comfortable grinding things out than Cleveland did, getting 128 yards on the ground from running back Josh Jacobs on a day when neither team’s quarterback threw for even 125 yards.
Eagles 23, Cowboys 9 There was nothing exciting or entertaining about this game that featured six combined turnovers including an intentional safety. Philadelphia won mostly by default — and in doing so took a fairly large lead in the N.F.C. East with a 3-4-1 record.