NFL RECAP Week 8: Cowboys Romp, Vikings Lose Cousins
In the 2023 season, where predictability is a scarce commodity, the one thing we did not need was a rash of injuries at the quarterback position to muddle things. But such is the landscape of most NFL seasons. The return of a healthy star QB (Joe Burrow) is marred by the loss of another (Kirk Cousins) playing at the peak of his powers.
But even in games where injury kept its ugly head covered, things did not go according to logic. The Commanders, with the worst offensive line in the NFL, were sure to get dusted by Philadelphia and its powerful defensive, right? We were confident the Chiefs, winners of six straight, were finding their stride and would take care of Denver, a team that QB Patrick Mahomes never loses to. Surely, the 49ers would get find their mojo and return to some semblance of the juggernaut that crushed the first five weeks of the season.
And, of course, New York punters Thomas Morestead (Jets) and Jamie Gillan (Giants) would have enough time between duties in the first half of their MetLife rivalry to update their Facebook profiles.
Did common sense prevail? As so often is the case with pro football, injuries and the natural ups and downs of a season keep messing with logic and predictability.
Week 8 was no different.
NFL Week 8 RECAP
Philadelphia 38, Washington 31
In a repeat of their Week 4 barnburner, the Eagles (7-1) fought tooth and nail to get the win against their division rival from the nation’s capital. Philadelphia built a 14-point fourth-quarter lead over the Commanders (3-5), before Washington QB Sam Howell hit a diving Jamison Crowder for a score that cut the deficit to 31-24 with one minute remaining. The Eagles’ DeVonta Smith snared the ensuing onside kick to lock down the win.
Of all the games this NFL weekend, this matchup was the least true to form: The Eagles’ running game, one of the best in the NFL, managed just six yards rushing in the first half; the Commanders’ offensive line, allowing an NFL-leading 40 sacks through seven games, held Philadelphia’s vaunted pass rush to just one sack; Sam Howell, who is just as apt to struggle against a bad NFL defense, threw three TDs against one of the best. And the scrum that inevitably results in a Jalen Hurts short-yardage conversion or touchdown ended with a fumble and turnover on 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line.
Hurts’ fumble in the third quarter was the second Eagles turnover inside Washington’s 10-yard line. The first came in first half, when the Commanders, leading 14-3, forced and recovered a fumble by RB Kenneth Gainwell, ending an Eagles’ scoring threat.
Then Philadelphia’s best receiver asked his teammates “What can Brown do for you?”
A.J. Brown became the first player ever to post six straight games with at least 125 receiving yards, and did so in spectacular — and meaningful — fashion. With 34 seconds left in the first half, the big wideout made one of the highlights of the 2023 season, a one-handed stab in the end zone while being draped by Commanders DB Benjamin St. Juste. That 16-yard catch cut the Commanders’ lead to 14-10. In the third-quarter, Brown outmaneuvered two Commanders defenders on an underthrown pass for his second TD grab of the day, a 26-yard score that tied the game at 17.
New York Jets 13, New York Giants 10
Placekicker Greg Zuerlein kicked a 33-yard field goal in overtime to give the Jets (4-3) an improbable win over fellow MetLife Stadium occupants, the New York Giants (2-6). It was a brutal loss for the Giants and an even tougher game for fans living outside of the tristate area to watch.
However, if you adore a defensive struggle, in which two teams combine for 15 punts in a first half (the most since 2000), then this tug of war with a greased shoelace was right in your wheelhouse.
The standout defender for the Giants, LB Kayvon Thibodeaux, recorded a career-best four sacks, including two take-downs of Jets QB Zach Wilson late that appeared to preserve the 10-7 advantage. But Giants kicker Graham Gano missed his second field goal of the day, a 35-yarder with 24 seconds left that gave the Jets’ offense one more chance to tie the game.
Wilson was mostly ineffective on the day, completing just 17-of-36 passes, with the lone highlight in the first 47 minutes being a short pass that RB Breece Hall scampered with for a 50-yard TD. But on the final drive of regulation, he was the second coming of John Elway. The Jets’ signal-caller hit the unrelated Garrett Wilson (seven catches, 100 yards) down the middle for 30 yards, then connected with Allen Lazard for another 30. After Lazard’s catch put the ball at the Giants’ 16-yard line, the Jets rushed to the line and managed to spike the ball with one second remaining. Zuerlein came on to hit the 33-yarder to send the game into OT.
Giants starting QB Tyrod Taylor left the game with a rib injury severe enough that he was taken to a local hospital. No word yet on the extent of the injury. Tommy DeVito, a Joisey boy, took over and seemed poise to get his first win before the G-Men’s defense collapsed so impressively in the final minute of regulation. The loss betrayed an outstanding day for the Giants’ RB Saquon Barkley, who galloped for 139 yards against an otherwise stout Gang Green defense.
Dallas 43, Los Angeles Rams 20
Today’s pasting of the Rams was the kind of performance that has Cowboys fans and some league observers sticking their heads above the trench line to anoint Dallas (5-2) the class of the NFC.
We are not buying it.
But we are also willing to recognize how potent Dallas can be when their stars — and not the ones adorning the side of their helmets — put in an appearance. And show up Dallas’ stars did, especially during a first half blitz that saw the Cowboys shoot to a 32-3 advantage. CeeDee Lamb caught eight passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns. Throw in a 12-yard reverse for good measure and Lamb had the most explosive 30-minute stretch of his career. Star edge rusher Micah Parsons, held to one sack in the past two games, got to Rams QB Matthew Stafford twice in the first half, jarring the ball loose for one turnover. Dak Prescott was on the money, also. He finished the day with 301 yards and four touchdown throws on a sterling 25-of-31 passing, but did his biggest damage before intermission.
Yet, despite the marvelous play of the Cowboys luminaries, it was the special teams that ignited the key sequence that turned the game into a rout. Dallas’ Sam Williams blocked a punt out of the end zone for a safety. On the subsequent kick by Los Angeles, the Cowboys’ KaVontae Turpin returned the punt 62 yards to set up another Dallas score, which extended the lead to 26-3.
The Rams linked a TD drive at the end of the first with one at the start of the second and cut the lead to 33-17. But Dallas scored the next 10 points to douse any hopes of a massive Rams comeback.
The Rams (3-5) lose ground in the NFC West, but the outcome might be less concerning to coach Sean McVay than how unprepared his team looked in a mistake-riddled midseason loss. Another concern is the state of QB Matthew Stafford’s thumb after he banged his throwing hand on the helmet of Dallas’ Mazi Smith at the end of the first half.
Concern over Stafford’s health can not cancel out the fact that the veteran QB did not play very well, finishing 13-22 for 162 yards. He threw a pick-six to DaRon Bland early in the second quarter that, in addition to Williams’ blocked punt, helped green-light the blowout. In Stafford’s defense, the Rams’ offensive line was manhandled by Parsons and the Dallas defensive front. Any hopes Stafford, McVay and the Rams have for a postseason appearance hinges on the offensive line playing much more forcefully than it did today.
Miami 31, New England 17
Though we were already looking hard for reasons to believe, a Patriots upset honestly seemed ready to materialize at different points in the first half of Miami’s win. New England (2-5) jumped on top 7-0 following a Tua Tagovailoa interception and a Mac Jones touchdown throw to Kendrick Bourne. The Dolphins (6-2) responded with two scores to go up 14-7.
Then the key play: With the Patriots driving, Miami’s Jaylen Ramsey, just reactivated after weeks on IR with a knee injury, baited Jones into a pick that the vet DB returned 49 yards to set up another Miami score.
As we anticipated, Miami’s offense did not look sharp against a Bill Belichick defense, following the Dolphins’ loss to Philadelphia last Sunday night. But there were some numbers, nonetheless, that again showed the full thrust of Miami’s so-far historic offense. Tua, who came into the game as the NFL’s top-rated passer, threw for 324 yards and three touchdowns. Tyreek Hill caught eight catches and one touchdown. His 112 yards receiving brought him 1,014 yards, making him the first player in the Super Bowl era to reach 1,000 yards in the first eight games of an NFL season. Hill’s running mate, receiver Jaylen Waddle also had a big day with seven catches for 124 yards and a touchdown.
Miami restored its equilibrium. The Patriots lost, which is all that haters of Belichick and New England care about.
New Orleans 38, Indianapolis 27
You never know from where an entertaining game of a given NFL weekend might come. In New Orleans’ win over the Colts, the Saints’ offense Sunday came the closest to realizing its offensive vision under Derek Carr since they signed the vet QB as an offseason free agent. Carr passed for 310 yards and two touchdowns, and was at his most dynamic when targeting Rashid Shaheed, who hauled in three passes for a secondary-wrecking 153 yards. Carr and Shaheed connected on a 58-yard bomb that gave the Saints a 21-17 lead with five minutes left in the first half. Then, late in the game, with the Saints (4-4) the duo hooked up on a third-down 51-yard pass play that put the game away with 2:50 left.
New Orleans running back Alvin Kamara, still working his way back into the Saints’ attack, posted 109 all-purpose yards, including a crackling 18-yard catch and run for a TD to put New Orleans on the board. Tayson Hill complemented Carr’s heroics with a 20-yard designed run for a score and 63 yards rushing for the game. Kamara would add an 18-yard touchdown run early in the fourth to put the Saints up 28-20.
For the Colts (3-5), more frustration on a day when things started so positively. RB Jonathan Taylor seemed on the verge of one his most productive games ever, gaining 82 yards rushing in the first quarter. But he finished with 95 yards as the Saints run defense stiffened and the Colts went away from their ground game. Indy QB Gardner Minshew threw two TDs, but his 213 yards on 41 attempts highlights the inefficiency that has kept the Colts’ offense in dock for the first half of this season.
New Orleans win, coupled with Atlanta’s loss to Tennessee, vaults the Saints into a tie for NFC South lead. Indy’s loss sees them fall one further behind AFC South-leading Jacksonville.
Tennesse 28, Atlanta 23
An inspiring win for the nowhere-bound Titans (3-5) and a knife-twisting loss for Atlanta. The story of this game was the standout debut of rookie QB Will Levis, Tennessee’s first-round pick and, according to any Tennessee fan you polled today, the future of the Nashville-based franchise.
Levis got off to a fast start, completing six of his first seven throws, and finishing with a somewhat remarkable four TD passes, three to his battery-mate of so many years, DeAndre Hopkins, including big plays of 47 and 61 yards. On the day, Levis threw for 239 yards on 19-of-29 passing. Playing from in front allowed the Titans to feed RB Derrick Henry, who ran the ball 22 times, tying a season hight, for 101 yards.
The Falcons made a run in the fourth quarter with backup QB Taylor Heinicke, who replaced Desmond Ridder in the first half when the starter entered concussion protocol. The former Washington QB threw for 175 yards in relief, directing two fourth-quarter scoring drives that cut the Titans’ lead to 28-23 completing. Atlanta had the ball late in the game with a chance to win, but on 4th-and-5 play in their own territory, a wide open Van Jefferson dropped a Heinicke pass to end Atlanta’s hopes of a comeback win.
Whether from concerns over his health or his carelessness, head coach Arthur Smith did not reinsert Ridder, even after the QB was medically cleared to play. Ridder has shown stretches, especially in late-game situations, where he seems capable of being Atlanta’s long-term answer at quarterback. But turnovers are his undoing — six in the prior two games and a first-half fumble Sunday, in his own territory, which Levis to Hopkins turned into a 14-3 lead.
Coach Smith will undoubtedly face questions about which QB will start next week. That decision might very well determine whether Atlanta makes the playoffs or is on the outside looking in, come January.
Carolina 15, Houston 13
Bryce Young got his first win as an NFL quarterback, besting his counterpart, Houston’s C.J. Stroud, in the matchup of top two overall picks from last spring’s draft. The rookie Young directed a 14-play, 69-yard drive that culminated in Eddie Pineiro’s game-winning 23-yard field goal with no time remaining. It was Pineiro’s third field goal of the game, all coming in the second half.
Carolina (1-6) is winless no more. For Houston (3-4), this setback is a tough one, as they lose a game they likely penciled as a win and fall further behind division-leading Jacksonville in the AFC South. The game seemed to play out in the Texans’ favor — the Houston defense shut down Carolina’s running game and sacked Young six times. But ten penalties, including two on the Carolina’s game-winning drive, damaged the Texans’ hopes for a key road win.
As for that rookie QB matchup. We imagine that those scoring at home will give the decision to Young.
Through the first six games of the season, Stroud played extremely well, throwing for nine touchdowns and just one interception. Yesterday (140 yards passing, zero TDs) might be his least effective start, though he did not turn the ball over. Young’s first games as an NFL quarterback were beset by poor offensive line play. Against the Texans, nothing much changed, but Young still managed to produce, completing 22 of 31 passes for 235 yards and one TD and had his first 30+-yard completion of the season. He also avoided turnovers and continued building his rapport with vet WR Adam Thielen who caught eight passes, including a key three-yard pass on 4th-and-2 to keep alive Carolina’s game-winning march.
Minnesota 20, Green Bay 10
The Vikings (4-4), a team that in the last three weeks put its crumbling season back together, had a wrecking ball taken to its playoff hopes when QB Kirk Cousins tore his Achilles tendon in the fourth quarter of Minnesota’s win at Lambeau Field.
Until that moment, Cousins had played some of the best football of his career, which coincided, remarkably, with the injury to star wideout Justin Jefferson. In Jefferson’s absence, Cousins leadership came to the fore, as did his performance. Again, yesterday, despite a paltry running game (62 yards), the veteran QB expertly distributed the ball, with three different Vikings catching six or more passes yesterday. K.J. Osborne led the way with nine catches for 99 yards. Tight end T.J. Hockenson hauled in six catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. Rookie wideout Jordan Addison continues to shine in Jefferson’s absence. The former Trojan caught seven more passes and a TD, making him just one of six players to catch seven TD passes in their first eight games.
Cousins completed 23-of-31 passes for 274 yards to go along with his two TD throws. But those impressive numbers barely register on a day when the Vikings lose their leader for the season.
For the Packers (2-5)…where to start. Green Bay committed 11 penalties, the running game was again MIA, and watching Jordan Love quarterback an offense right now is akin to splashing bleach in one’s eyes. The young QB’s struggles early in games persist — if the Love-led Packers and Pickett-helmed Steelers were to meet, the first half would feature more three-and-outs than plays run. The Packers’ offense failed to pick up a first down until the team’s final drive before intermission. At least Love led the team in rushing (34 yards); RB Aaron Jones tapped out at seven carries for 29 yards.
As he did in previous games, Love rallied some in the second half to make his numbers (229 yards, one TD) somewhat respectable, but the pattern of offensive ineptitude has to have Packers coach Matt LeFleur contemplating a quarterback change — and the Green Bay front office weighing the pros and cons of Caleb Williams and Drake Maye.
Denver 24, Kansas City 9
Need any more proof as to wacky the 2023 season is? A defense scorched for 70 points in September held the mighty Kansas City Chiefs offense to one scoring drive in two games in October. The upset of the year saw the Broncos’ 31st-ranked scoring defense once again hold down Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, and Travis Kelce, limit the KC attack to 275 yards of total offense and blank the Chiefs (6-2) in the second half. The Broncos intercepted Mahomes twice and sacked him three times, two in the fourth quarter by Baron Browning, who strip-sacked Mahomes on one of the takedowns. Overall, Denver forced five turnovers, and held the Chiefs’ running game, subtracting Mahomes 20 yards, to just 42 yards one 13 rushes (3.2 average).
All those facts point to defensive coordinator Vance Joseph being handed a game ball. Joseph’s game plan kept Mahomes off balance all day and handed the reigning MVP his first ever loss to Denver.
On offense, the Broncos (3-5) were not much better than Kansas City. The passing game again labored, though Russell Wilson and Co. were going one of the league’s top pass defenses. Wilson threw for just 114 yards but did manage two TD throws, a highlight being his 11-yard dime to Jerry Jeudy in the back corned of the end zone for a second-quarter score that put Denver up, 14-3.
Harrison Butker added two field goals for Kansas City to make it 14-9 at the half. After neither team scored in the third, Wilson threw a six-yard TD to Courtland Sutton early in the fourth quarter to put Denver back in control.
The real star for the Broncos’ offense was the fine rookie RB Javonte Williams. Neither his 85 yards nor 3.1 yards-per-carry average jump out, but Williams made a number of tough runs among his 27 carries to extend drives and keep the Chiefs’ offense watching from the sideline.
Baltimore 31, Arizona 24
It is hard to point to yesterday’s win as proof that Ravens (6-2) are ready to assume the mantle as the AFC’s best team. After all, the offense that looked so explosive against Detroit managed 268 yards against a defense inferior to that of the Lions.
But Cardinals’ defensive coordinator Nick Rallis came at Lamar Jackson with a familiar game plan: keep the dangerous dual-threat QB from scrambling and make him beat you from the pocket. Easier said than done, but the Arizona defense held Jackson to 157 yards passing and 4-of-11 on third downs, and managed, even with their policy of containment, to sack the elusive quarterback four times.
The Cardinals offense, however, did not support all the good things Rallis and his unit were doing. True, Arizona outgained the Ravens and QB Josh Dobbs threw for two scores — but his two interceptions were killer. With the game tied 7-7 late in the first half, Baltimore’s Brandon Stephens picked off Dobbs in Arizona territory, and the Ravens promptly cashed in the errant throw to go up 14-7 at the half. Late in the third, Dobbs threw another INT deep in Cardinals territory (this one picked by Geno Stone). Ravens’ RB Gus Edwards capped off the ensuing short drive with a seven-yard TD run, his second of three rushing touchdowns on the day.
That made the score 21-7. The Cardinals found some life in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 points, with Dobbs throwing touchdown passes to Trey McBride and former Raven Marquise Brown. But the earlier turnovers made it too much of an uphill climb.
Bengals 31, 49ers 17
The bye week for Cincinnati (4-3) seemed to wrangle the calf injury that cowed Joe Burrow and the offense for the first six games of the season. The fourth-year QB looked nimble and threw the ball with power in the Bengals’ decisive road win. That Burrow was feeling better became clear early when he lined up several times under center — in the first six games Burrow lined up in the shotgun 97 percent of the snaps to reduce the amount of stress put on the injured lower leg.
At one point against the 49ers (5-3), Burrow completed a career-best 19 consecutive passes and finished a remarkable 28-of-32 (87 percent) for 283 yards and three scores. Per usual, he looked a lot for Ja’Marr Chase, who grabbed an even 10 passes for an even 100 yards and one TD. Not only is Burrow’s health good news for the Bengals, but so is that of WR Tee Higgins (six catches for 83 yards), who now seems fully recovered from the rib injury that knocked him out of a couple of games. And the Bengals running game, mostly ineffective so far this season, came along for the ride. RB Joe Mixon tallied 87 yards (5.4 average) and made a number of tough physical runs. He also ran in the game-clinching score late in the fourth quarter.
The Bengals offense, which came into the game dead last in the league in explosive plays and yards per attempt, certainly benefitted from a healthy Burrow. They both benefitted from playing the 49ers’ defense.
Right now, the Niners defense can not tackle, cover, defend the run or rush the passer. Otherwise, it’s a formidable unit. In the running game, Cincinnati gashed the Niners defense repeatedly, and though the Niners — who went sackless against Minnesota on Monday night — did sack Burrow twice (Arik Armstead collected both), he had mostly a clean pocket to throw from.
And once again, as it did in the road losses to Cleveland and Minnesota, the 49ers defense failed to get a stop when it mattered most. After a Brock Purdy-to-Christian McCaffrey touchdown pass cut the lead to 24-17, Cincinnati took the ensuing kickoff and, with more than eight minutes remaining, promptly drove through the permissive San Francisco defense for a game-sealing touchdown.
The Bengals defense was itself gouged throughout the day but, unlike its counterpart in red, came up with big plays when it had to — none bigger than Logan Wilson’s one-handed interception with the Niners driving for the game-tying score late in the third quarter.
Purdy’s three turnovers will have his detractors chirping, but the woeful play of the defense is putting too much pressure on the offense to keep pace. The second-year QB still made a number of outstanding throws on his way 365 yards passing. TE George Kittle (149 yards receiving) and WR Brandon Aiyuk (101) both had big days. With two scores, McCaffrey tied the NFL mark for most consecutive games with at least one touchdown.
The Niners fall behind the Seahawks in the NFC West and will presumably use their bye week to find a defense. If that does not happen, then expect this midseason slide to continue.
Seattle 24, Cleveland 20
In the most dramatic ending this side of MetLife Stadium, Seahawks QB Geno Smith connected on a nine-yard touchdown pass with rookie wideout Jaxson Smith-Njigba with 38 seconds remaining to edge visiting Cleveland (4-3). With the thrilling win and the 49ers pratfall farther down the West Coast, the Seahawks (5-2) find themselves in first place in the NFC West. QB Geno Smith threw for 254 yards and two touchdowns.
Seattle built a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. A 42-yard run by Kenneth Walker (66 yards on eight carries) set up Smith’s first TD pass, a three-yard run by rookie receiver Jake Bobo. Seattle’s second TD drive was set up by LB Jordyn Brooks’ strip-sack of Browns QB P.J. Walker.
Smith finished the drive by spinning out of a tackle and launching a pretty touch pass to Tyler Lockett in the back corner of the end zone.
Cleveland responded with a first-quarter TD drive of its own, the key play a 42 yard catch and run by Pierre Strong Jr. Walker completed the drive by throwing an 18-yard TD to David Njoku to make it 14-7. The Seahawks came right back. A 43-yard bomb from Smith to D.K. Metcalf, returning from injury, set up Jason Myers’ 32-yard field goal. In the second quarter, Cleveland’s defense shut out the Seahawks and the Browns drew within three at the half, following a Kareem Hunt one-yard touchdown run. A 24-yard pass from Walker to Amari Cooper (six catches, 89 yards) set up Hunt’s touchdown.
Smith’s day also included a couple of crucial interceptions. The first occurred at the end of the first half. With Seattle already in field goal territory, Martin Emerson Jr. picked off a late Smith pass along the sideline to keep the deficit at just three points.
In the third quarter, Cleveland drove from its own 17-yard line to tie the game on a short Dustin Hopkins field goal. Njuko again had a big play, a 42-yard catch and run on a tight end screen pass. The tight end enjoyed his most productive day of the season with four catches for a season-high 77 yards.
On the next Seattle drive, Maurice Hurst II deflected and picked off a Smith pass in Seattle territory. For the second drive in a row, the Seahawks D kept Cleveland out of the end zone by Hopkins kicked the Browns into the lead, 20-17, with a 27-yard field goal with under three minutes remaining in the third.
The 20-17 score held until Seattle’s Julian Love picked off a deflected Walker pass near midfield with just over two minutes remaining in the game. Six plays later, Smith-Njigba took a bubble screen in for the game-winning score, aided by a block/hold by Metcalf on the outside.