Week 8 of the 2021 NFL season had some close Halloween matchups, including the Cowboys edging the Vikings with Dak Prescott sidelined and quarterback Cooper Rush making his first start. The Titans and Colts went to overtime after a wild pick-six for Tennessee in the final two minutes followed by a game-tying drive for Indianapolis. The Titans ultimately won on a big OT field goal.
The Jets came from behind to beat the Bengals with Mike White under center, notching their second victory of the year. The Steelers navigated a 15-10 win over the Browns despite losing their kicker, and the Panthers got past the Falcons to get back in the win column. And on Thursday night, the Packers hung on against Kyler Murray and the Cardinals to hand them their first loss of the year.
But not every Sunday game was close. The Eagles blew out the Lions behind a dominant run game, and the Rams’ offense posted 38 points against the Texans. The Bills won against the Dolphins, who fall to 1-7 on the season, and the 49ers scored 18 points in the fourth quarter to defeat the Bears.
In the afternoon slate, Tom Brady threw a late pick to end the Buccaneers’ comeback hopes vs. the Saints. The Seahawks destroyed the Jaguars, the Broncos beat Washington and the Patriots boosted their playoff hopes by stopping the Chargers.
Our NFL Nation reporters react with the takeaways and lingering questions from this week’s action. Plus, they each look at the bigger picture with their current team confidence rating — a 0-10 grade of how they feel about the team’s outlook coming out of the week. Let’s get to it.
What to know: Nobody could have expected this. Quarterback Cooper Rush entered Sunday’s game against Minnesota with one completion for 2 yards in his career. He left Minnesota with a win, throwing a 5-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Amari Cooper with 51 seconds to play. With the Cowboys resting starting quarterback Dak Prescott, who has a calf strain, Rush threw for 325 yards on 24-of-40 passing in the first start of his career, with two touchdowns and one interception. Playing in one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL, Rush showed a poise that was beyond his experience, especially on the winning drive, hitting CeeDee Lamb, Noah Brown, Ezekiel Elliott and Cooper with passes. The defense, especially rookie Micah Parsons, was outstanding in limiting running back Dalvin Cook and confusing quarterback Kirk Cousins for most of the game after allowing a touchdown on the opening drive. Winning without Prescott, who had been playing at an MVP level, is another indication that the Cowboys, winners of six straight, are a real contender in the NFC. — Todd Archer
What if offensive tackle Tyron Smith‘s ankle injury is bad? If it is something that will keep him out for some time, then the Cowboys have to consider moving Terence Steele to the left side and using La’el Collins at right tackle. Steele replaced Smith at left tackle last year and has played well at right tackle. Smith’s value became more evident as his replacement, Ty Nsekhe, struggled against Everson Griffen. Smith first hurt his left ankle Oct. 17 against New England and said the bye week helped him get healthier, but he could not make it through two quarters after aggravating it. Coach Mike McCarthy is a big believer in offensive line continuity, which is partly why Steele continued to start at right tackle even though Collins returned from a suspension. He might not have a choice now. — Archer
Archer’s confidence rating (0-10): 9.6, up from 9.1. When you win without Prescott, even if it wasn’t always pretty, that should tell you this Cowboys team could be special.
Next game: vs. Broncos (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Minnesota wanted to be a different team offensively entering the second half of the season but the same issues remained in the loss to the Cowboys. The Vikings failed to capitalize on Dallas’ penalties and turnovers or have any shred of a sense of urgency, with nine of their 12 possessions lasting five plays or fewer. Quarterback Kirk Cousins’ stat line (23-for-35, 184 yards, TD) doesn’t accurately reflect how uncomfortable the quarterback looked in prime time. Cousins didn’t take nearly enough chances (one reason Justin Jefferson finished with two catches for 21 yards) to put the Cowboys away. Outside of the Vikings’ first drive of the game, on which Adam Thielen scored a 20-yard touchdown, there was little to nothing to like about what the offense did in Week 8. The offense Minnesota is running is not good enough, and the way it has folded in the end of games is a consistent pattern that speaks to its limitations. — Courtney Cronin
If Minnesota can’t beat backup Cooper Rush, how is it going to beat the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson, the Chargers’ Justin Herbert and the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers in its next three games? Rush can now be added to the list of backup quarterbacks, which includes Matt Moore and Chase Daniel, who have found a way to dismantle the Vikings. Minnesota got outcoached by Dallas on a day it was without Prescott and let the Cowboys’ No. 2 quarterback throw for 325 yards and two touchdowns. Rush took chances not synonymous with backup-level QBs, and the Vikings allowed it to happen. — Cronin
Cronin’s confidence rating (0-10): 4, down from 4.5. The Vikings now begin a tough two-game road stretch against the Ravens and Chargers. The problems that showed up against Dallas don’t appear to be going away, making a Vikings’ rebound even more challenging during the hardest part of their schedule.
Next game: at Ravens (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: What a resilient win for the New Orleans Saints, who battled back after quarterback Jameis Winston was carted off because of a knee injury in the second quarter. The defense, which has been New Orleans’ driving force all season, forced three turnovers by Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady — including the game-clinching pick-six by defensive back P.J. Williams. Veteran quarterback Trevor Siemian was an unlikely hero. This wasn’t a perfect win by any stretch, with the defense giving up two uncharacteristic deep balls in the second half. But it’s getting harder by the week to dismiss this team’s scrappiness. — Mike Triplett
Who plays QB for the Saints if Winston misses extended time? Taysom Hill would be the natural choice, but he has been sidelined by a concussion since Week 5. With Hill’s status unclear for Week 9 against the Atlanta Falcons, the Saints might opt to stick with Siemian in the short term. Siemian hasn’t been a regular starter since 2017, but he’s 13-12 in the role and obviously got the job done in a huge spot Sunday, and he can succeed if he plays turnover-free ball like he did against the Bucs. — Triplett
Triplett’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.2, up from 7. Maybe the Saints should take a dip after Winston’s injury. But this team was already leaning so heavily on its defense and run gamec, and the cupboard isn’t bare at QB. Getting Hill back soon is key, no matter his role.
Next game: vs. Falcons (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Bucs overcame a 16-point third-quarter deficit against the Saints in the fourth quarter, only to surrender a field goal and for quarterback Brady to be pick-sixed by Williams to close out the game. Brady turned the ball over three times with a lost fumble, Williams’ pick and another interception by C.J. Gardner-Johnson. But the real story? Penalties. Coach Bruce Arians said earlier in the week, “You can’t go into a game against these guys and beat yourself.” They did that, with 11 penalties for 99 yards — second most of the season for them. Six of them set up Saints first downs, including one from Ross Cockrell on third-and-5 that allowed the Saints to retake the lead, 29-27, with 1:41 to go. — Jenna Laine
Can the Bucs cut down on penalties? This isn’t a new issue. The Bucs opened their season with 13 penalties against the Dallas Cowboys. They also led the NFL in penalties in 20202 before making a concerted effort to get it corrected after their Week 4 loss at the Chicago Bears last season. And they wound up having the fewest penalties in the league last season from Week 5 on. The Bucs also had just one penalty last week against the Bears. Against New Orleans, they played with emotion instead of passion. — Laine
Laine’s confidence rating (0-10): 8, no change from 8. The Bucs are now 6-2 and the Saints are 5-2, so Tampa Bay still has a half-game lead over New Orleans in the NFC South.
Next game: at Washington (1 p.m. ET, Nov. 14)
What to know: After a 10-day stint since the Thursday night loss in Cleveland in Week 7, the Broncos hoped getting wide receiver Jerry Jeudy and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam back would bring some good fortune. But they might have lost another defensive starter to injury in cornerback Bryce Callahan and their offense remains a choppy affair. For example, when Denver was trying to simply run out the final 38 seconds, it fumbled twice in three plays, with Washington recovering the second for a last gasp. Yes, the Broncos did just enough to claw back to 4-4 by eking out a win against a team with almost as many problems, but if that’s what a mini-bye week of self-examination brings, the teams with postseason aspirations will continue to feast on Denver’s inconsistencies on offense and a defense that is having an increasingly difficult time holding up. — Jeff Legwold
Just how stubborn are the Broncos going to be with this offense? It’s unclear how many times the Broncos have to keep seeing this movie, but the same things have been popping up over and over again during the past five games. They continually open up the formation though they don’t protect well enough to keep quarterback Teddy Bridgewater from taking a hit or give him enough time to throw beyond the sticks. In one-score games, they keep abandoning a run game they say they like. And they don’t find matchups they can exploit often enough or work to take advantage of those matchups. In the end it hurts their ability to find any momentum. — Legwold
Legwold’s confidence rating (0-10): 5, no change from 5. Same as it’s been, because the losing streak might be over but if the offense isn’t going to do more the Broncos will be starting a new one soon.
Next game: at Cowboys (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Washington is just a bad team. Forget about being young or immature. Washington has now lost four straight games. While it has shown some grit and resiliency — the team is down three offensive-line starters, among other injuries — it needs to get results. Washington cut a kicker in Dustin Hopkins who had made 12-of-14 field goals for a guy who had not kicked in five years — and in two games he has had three kicks blocked. Chase Young has not produced; it’s not just about sacks, it’s about applying consistent pressure. Yes, injuries have played a role, but that alone is not a reason for the bad play. Patience will be tested very soon; if the team doesn’t show progress in the second half, 2022 will be interesting. — John Keim
Where do they go from here? Washington has a bye week, then hosts Tampa Bay. Barring a big upset, it’s staring at a 2-7 record and there’s little it can point to as true progress. The team might be favored in one game the rest of this season (home vs. Philadelphia). In its past 13 trips inside the opponents’ 30-yard line, the offense has one touchdown, two field goals, two interceptions, three blocked field goals and five loss of downs. Horrible. The team needs a quarterback. But that’s not surprising; Taylor Heinicke will be a good backup and that has never been in question. Its key offseason acquisitions have not produced; its young defensive ends, notably Young, have not lived up to expectations — his own or anyone else’s. Another frustrating year for Washington fans. — Keim
Keim’s confidence rating (0-10): 3, down from 4.3. It continues to plummet; not only are the players banged up — quite a bit on offense — but they have yet to play a complete game. It adds up to tough times for Washington.
Next game: vs. Buccaneers (1 p.m. ET, Nov. 14)
What to know: These are the types of games the Patriots had been losing — filled with costly holding penalties, ball-security issues and questionable playcalling — but their ability to stay mentally tough and make game-changing plays in the clutch finally helped them overcome those issues. Safety Adrian Phillips was the star performer, with two interceptions, the second of which he returned 26 yards for a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. On a day when quarterback Mac Jones looked like a rookie — falling off after a hot start before rebounding with a key fourth-quarter, clock-killing drive — the Patriots needed the defense to pick him up and help them overcome some questionable playcalling at the 1-yard line (two incomplete passes instead of running against the league’s worst rush defense). That’s long been one of the winning ingredients to the Patriots’ success — when one unit lags, another picks it up. — Mike Reiss
Can this win catapult the Patriots into the playoff race? Up to this point, the Patriots had a notable mark against them — their wins had come against the Jets (twice) and Texans. They had to prove they could beat a team with a winning record — on the road no less. By doing so against the Chargers (4-3), albeit not in the most aesthetically pleasing fashion, the Patriots take another step forward in becoming the team they hope to be. It evens their record at 4-4, with the rest of the season and a wide-open AFC playoff race ahead of them. They now look ahead to a three-game stretch at Carolina, at home against Cleveland and on the road against Atlanta. This can be a confidence-builder. — Reiss
Reiss’ confidence rating (0-10): 5.2, no change from 5.2. A grind-it-out win on the road — when self-inflicted wounds and a slow start on defense easily could have led the team to falter — was a significant step.
Next game: at Panthers (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: For a second straight year, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert was given fits by the Patriots. In 2020, he was hit 11 times, sacked three times and threw two interceptions as the Chargers were blown out 45-0. While they scored this time around, it wasn’t much better in 2021. Herbert threw two interceptions, one of which was returned by Phillips for the go-ahead touchdown, and couldn’t lead his team on a game-tying drive when the Chargers were down 24-17 in the fourth quarter. He seemed out of sorts at times and barely completed more than 50% of his passes (18-for-35). It was very un-Herbert-like in a game they were predicted to win. Once again, Patriots coach Bill Belichick made him look ordinary. — Shelley Smith
With injuries to CBs Michael Davis and Asante Samuel Jr., who’s left in the secondary? Well, the Chargers still have Derwin James Jr. and Chris Harris Jr., but it’s not enough. They might have to acquire someone by the trade deadline, something GM Tom Telesco has not done since 2013. But he might not have a choice depending on the severity of Davis’ hamstring injury and Samuel’s concussion. — Smith
Smith’s confidence rating (0-10): 5, down from 5.7. They are running out of players on defense, where they are at their most vulnerable.
Next game: at Eagles (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Seahawks played their most complete game in recent memory. And for one afternoon at least — with quarterback Geno Smith playing his best football since taking over for Russell Wilson and the defense pitching a shutout until the final two minutes — they looked like the dominant Seahawks of old, as opposed to the version whose season has been hanging by a thread. Yes, it was against a one-win team. And the hole they dug themselves by starting 2-5 may prove to be too deep to climb out of, but they’ll give themselves a chance if they play like they did Sunday. Smith completed his first 14 attempts — the most by any QB to begin a game this season. With no certainty on when Wilson will be back, the Seahawks may need more of that from Smith for at least one more game. — Brady Henderson
When will Russell Wilson return? He’s had his stitches removed from his right middle finger and, as coach Pete Carroll put it, is “making all of the strides that he should be making” since Oct. 8 surgery to repair two injuries. But Wilson has yet to have the pin removed from his finger, which has to happen before he can resume throwing. As of Friday, no one had a good idea of when that will happen. The Seahawks head into their bye before playing the Packers on Nov. 14. Wilson will be eligible to come off IR this week, and that Green Bay game will be on the early end of the four-to-eight-week timetable initially reported by ESPN. With the pin still in, Wilson returning in Green Bay is anything but a given. — Henderson
Henderson’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.8, up from 4.3. There were all sorts of encouraging signs in this game, but the test will be much tougher against the 7-1 Packers at Lambeau Field, where the Seahawks haven’t won since 1999.
Next game: at Packers (4:25 p.m. ET, Nov. 14)
What to know: Boy, does quarterback Trevor Lawrence need a lot of help. There’s nobody on the field who scares defenses. Nobody who teams worry about game-planning to stop. No outside speed. Marvin Jones Jr. is a solid receiver. Laviska Shenault Jr. was supposed to have a breakout year, but that hasn’t happened. When running back James Robinson left the game because of an ankle injury, the Jaguars were unable to find any kind of rhythm. They need help in a lot of spots, but adding playmakers for Lawrence has to be this team’s top priority in the offseason. — Mike DiRocco
Should Jaguars fans worry about Lawrence after this performance? Heck no. Lawrence was not good — it may have been his worst game of the season — but rookies are going to have games in which they play badly. Lawrence had progressed steadily over the first six weeks. Had he not done that, then, yeah, this day would be a major red flag. The youngster is going to be fine. — DiRocco
DiRocco’s confidence rating (0-10): 1.9, down from 3. Jaguars looked a lot like they did in Week 1: disorganized, confused and sloppy — on both sides of the ball.
Next game: vs. Buffalo (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Titans proved they can win an important game without an outstanding performance from running back Derrick Henry. That was in large part due to Ryan Tannehill and A.J. Brown, who connected 10 times for 155 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets. The win gives the Titans a sweep of the Colts and a three-game lead over Indianapolis in the AFC South. Tennessee has the Rams and Saints as the toughest games left on their schedule. The Colts have difficult matchups with the Bills, Buccaneers, Cardinals and Raiders. — Turron Davenport
Are the Titans wearing Derrick Henry down with so many touches? Henry carried the ball 28 times against the Colts after 29 carries against the Chiefs last week. Henry endured a pretty good pounding against a physical Colts team on Sunday and didn’t have his usual explosiveness. Henry has 219 carries on the season, putting him on pace to break Larry Johnson’s single-season record of 416. The Titans’ staff has no plans to scale back Henry’s carries. Fortunately for Tennessee, Henry has shown in the past that he is capable of carrying the load. — Davenport
Davenport’s confidence rating (0-10): 9, up from 8. The Titans overcame an early 14-0 deficit and came back on the road against a division rival. Tennessee was able to generate two turnovers to put it in position to win. The Titans are now in the driver’s seat with a 6-2 record (3-0 in the AFC South).
Next game: at Rams (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: So much for the Colts making the AFC South race interesting. What started out with them sending a message early by jumping out to a quick 14-0 lead, ended when Colts quarterback Carson Wentz threw his second interception of the game — all in the final 90 seconds of regulation and in overtime — to severely damage their chances at winning the division. The Colts’ best hope at making the playoffs now is wild-card spot as they’re three games behind the Titans in the division while also losing the tiebreaker because of the season sweep. Wentz had thrown one interception all season, but his two Sunday led to 10 points and a victory for the Titans. — Mike Wells
Does the schedule favor the Colts to make a run to the playoffs? No. Six of Indianapolis’ final nine games are against teams that went into Sunday with a winning record. The one thing that favors the Colts is only two of those games against teams currently with a winning record — Buffalo and Arizona — will be played outside of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. — Wells
Wells’ confidence rating (0-10): 4.4, down from 5. It’s hard to be a playoff team if you can’t beat teams with a winning record. All three of Indianapolis’ victories this season have been against teams with a losing record.
Next game: vs. Jets (8:20 p.m. ET, Thursday)
What to know: The 49ers won a game they had to have, but the next two weeks will be the real test of whether this season is headed in a positive direction. It wasn’t pretty, and Bears quarterback Justin Fields made the Niners’ defense look silly at times. But when you’re on a four-game losing streak, style points don’t matter. At 3-4, the Niners are staring up at the top two teams in the NFC West division: the Cardinals and Rams. Coincidentally, those are the next two teams on the schedule, with both coming to Santa Clara. Things can change quickly in the NFL, and if the 49ers are going to truly turn the tide on this season, we’ll know it after those games. — Nick Wagoner
Is Deebo Samuel headed toward his first All Pro honor? The competition is tough, but the way it’s going, he should absolutely be in the conversation. Samuel had another monster game Sunday, finishing with six catches for 171 yards. He now has 44 receptions for 819 yards in just seven games this season. That’s the most receiving yards by a 49er in the first seven games of a season ever, surpassing Jerry Rice’s 781 in 1986. What’s more, Samuel’s 819 yards has already eclipsed his career-high total for a full season (he had 802 in 2019). The likes of Cooper Kupp, Davante Adams, Ja’Marr Chase and Tyreek Hill are going to be in the Pro Bowl mix, too. But it’s time Samuel at least gets mentioned among the game’s best at the position. And even if he doesn’t land a nod, he’s in line for a really nice payday in the offseason. — Wagoner
Wagoner’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.3, up from 4.9. There was a lot to be encouraged about offensively, but until the Niners show some consistency on both sides of the ball, it’s hard to go much higher than this.
Next game: vs. Cardinals (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Jimmy Garoppolo runs the option to perfection on this 5-yard touchdown.
What to know: Chicago seemingly had the game under control until its defense allowed the 49ers to score three second-half touchdowns. Simply inexcusable. The Bears have allowed 30 points or more in back-to-back games for the second time in the Matt Nagy era. Chicago’s defensive collapse ruined a strong day for rookie quarterback Justin Fields, who dazzled the Soldier Field crowd with a sensational 22-yard touchdown run. But it did not matter. The Bears lost a game they simply had to win, all but ending their NFC North title hopes. — Jeff Dickerson
Where do the Bears go from here? The Bears (3-5) trail Green Bay by four games in the division. You can forget about them winning the NFC North, and the playoffs seem like a long shot. The Bears still have the Ravens, Cardinals and Packers on the schedule, not to mention two games against the Vikings. This could get ugly. With many calling for Nagy’s job, the final nine games could get uncomfortable. The Bears only have themselves to blame. The defensive effort in the second half against San Francisco was atrocious. The fear now is that the Bears are about to sink even deeper. — Dickerson
Dickerson’s confidence rating (0-10): 2.3, down from 2.6. If you can’t beat the struggling 49ers, who can you beat?
Next game: at Steelers (8:15 p.m. ET, Nov. 8)
What to know: Quarterback Mike White, in his first career start, delivered one of the Jets’ most memorable wins in years. In a word, he was sensational. He did what injured starter Zach Wilson hasn’t: He energized the franchise by playing “boring” football, to use coach Robert Saleh’s word. White played a smart, conservative game, throwing underneath and hitting his checkdowns. He wound up passing for 405 yards and three touchdowns, the Jets’ first 400-yard performance in 327 games. He didn’t attempt a pass over 20 yards, and he got the running backs and wide receiver Elijah Moore involved in the passing attack. White did have two interceptions, but they weren’t bad decisions, just slightly off-target throws. A no-name QB gave the Jets their best win in years. — Rich Cimini
Do the Jets have a quarterback controversy? One thing is for sure: White earned another start. He will start Thursday night against the Colts, no doubt. Joe Flacco, acquired in a trade, had designs on that gig, but it’s not happening. What about long term? Wilson (knee) may miss one more game. If White has another big game, the Jets will have a decision to make. Clearly, Wilson is the future, but the future can wait a little bit, right? — Cimini
Cimini’s confidence rating (0-10): 6, up from 2. From one of their worst losses to one of their best wins in a span of seven days.
Next game: at Colts (8:20 p.m. ET, Thursday)
What to know: The Bengals got the humbling lesson they desperately wanted to avoid. Cincinnati blew an 11-point fourth-quarter lead and, despite being heavy favorites, suffered a stunning upset. Cincinnati was coming off a massive win over Baltimore. And against a one-win New York team, the Bengals squandered a chance at a three-game winning streak and instead created questions about whether they can sustain their strong start. — Ben Baby
Is the defensive performance concerning? A little. The Bengals have statistically been one of the NFL’s best defenses this season and were coming off a dominating performance against the Ravens and quarterback Lamar Jackson. Cincinnati was straight-up walloped by first-time starter Mike White, who threw for 405 yards and three TDs. — Baby
Baby’s confidence rating (0-10): 6.5, down from 8.5. Some of the Bengals’ old ghosts — shaky offensive play early and a bad defensive outing — showed up in the worst way in the Meadowlands.
Next game: vs. Browns (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Bills put together four consecutive scoring drives to end the second half, but this was not the blowout performance against inferior teams that Buffalo had earlier this season. The defense allowed quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to find receivers downfield, especially DeVante Parker, and seemed slow to get going overall. There were mistakes on offense, defense and special teams, and against a one-win Dolphins team, it was hard to tell that Buffalo was coming off a bye week. Tight end Dawson Knox and starting right tackle Spencer Brown were missed. The positive for the Bills is that despite all of that, they made solid halftime adjustments and came away with the win. Defensive tackle Ed Oliver, someone Buffalo needed to take a step forward this year, exploded at the line of scrimmage throughout the game. The Bills are 5-2 and have yet to play their best football. — Alaina Getzenberg
Are the Bills’ offensive issues in the first half — especially against the blitz — something to be concerned about? The Bills struggled to get anything going offensively in the first half, converting one of six third downs and earning five first downs. The three points scored were the team’s lowest in a half since Week 17 of 2019. Quarterback Josh Allen struggled against the blitz in the first two quarters, going 3-for-9 for 17 yards and zero first downs. Allen entered the day facing blitzes at the second-lowest rate this season (16%). The Bills put together two nine-plus-play scoring drives to establish a significant lead in large part because of adjustments to the Dolphins’ blitz, with Allen completing 11 of 15 passes for 91 yards and two touchdowns vs. the blitz in the second half. The offensive line was reshuffled for this game with Brown out due to a back injury, and getting him back will help. Going forward, it’s not something to be overly concerned about as this offense is still dangerous, but the Bills need to make better first-half adjustments. — Getzenberg
Getzenberg’s confidence rating (0-10): 7.7, down from 7.8. The Bills were coming off a bye week, yet looked slow and the game was far too close against a struggling Dolphins team, but this is still a good football team that played one of its worst games and won.
Next game: at Jaguars (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Jordan Poyer gets the interception, and Josh Allen runs in a touchdown to help the Bills top the Dolphins.
What to know: Players don’t tank — and the Dolphins haven’t thrown in the towel quite yet. Holding the Bills’ second-ranked scoring offense to three points at halftime took an inspired effort, especially considering Buffalo’s bye week gave it extra time to prepare. Miami held quarterback Josh Allen in check throughout most of Sunday’s game and was especially impressive on third down early. While Miami’s offense took a while to get going after missing a field goal and fumbling on its first two trips to the red zone, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa led his team to a TD that pulled Miami within six points with 9:39 left, completing a 40-yard pass on fourth-and-6 in the process. All things considered, the Dolphins redeemed themselves from the 35-0 drubbing Buffalo handed them in Week 2 and have a very winnable matchup against the Texans in Week 9. — Marcel Louis-Jacques
At 1-7, will the Dolphins be sellers at the trade deadline on Tuesday? ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Texans aren’t expected to trade quarterback Deshaun Watson before Tuesday’s deadline, but with its season essentially beyond saving, Miami could acquire some extra draft capital by trading a player or two. Receiver DeVante Parker returned from injury and caught eight passes for 85 yards, both season highs. He could possibly fetch a pick from a contender in need of a physical receiver. Miami could get a first- or second-round pick for cornerback Xavien Howard as well, saving it the hassle of renegotiating his contract this offseason. — Louis-Jacques
Louis-Jacques’ confidence rating (0-10): 3.5, up from 1. They are clearly not ready to close games out, but giving the Bills all they could handle deserves recognition.
Next game: vs. Texans (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: Even without a place-kicker in the second half, the Steelers proved resilient in their first meeting with the Browns this season. Neither side of the ball earned any style points, but the offense did just enough to grind out a win thanks to Najee Harris‘ (24 carries, 88 yards, one TD) continued development and Pat Freiermuth‘s emergence (four catches, 44 yards, one TD). Defensively, the Steelers mostly neutralized the league’s best run game and held the Browns to fewer than 100 yards rushing. The defensive stand late in the fourth quarter that forced the Browns to turn the ball over on downs at the Pittsburgh 26 coupled with T.J. Watt‘s recovery of Jarvis Landry‘s fumble kept Cleveland at bay. — Brooke Pryor
How much did the Steelers’ failed fake field goal affect the outcome? It wasn’t insignificant. The Steelers have made questionable playcalls at other points this season, but none more head-scratching than the decision to attempt a fake field goal facing fourth-and-long from the 10. Not only did Chris Boswell‘s high pass to a well-covered Zach Gentry in the end zone have no prayer of being completed, the Steelers’ kicker was drilled on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Jordan Elliott. In an absolute worst-case scenario, not only were no flags thrown, but Boswell was also ruled out the rest of the game after being evaluated for a concussion. That left the Steelers without a true place-kicker in the second half. Rookie punter Pressley Harvin III took over kickoff duties and warmed up for field goals on the sideline with defensive back Cam Sutton working as the emergency holder. But the Steelers’ lack of confidence in the patchwork crew led to the team attempting — and failing — on two 2-point conversions. Instead of leading by seven points midway through the fourth quarter, the Steelers had just a 15-10 lead. They held on thanks to a defensive stand and a Browns fumble, but things got dicey in the fourth quarter. — Pryor
Pryor’s confidence rating (0-10): 4.8, down from 5. The Steelers came out victorious in a typically atypical AFC North slugfest thanks to timely defensive plays, but they were hindered in the second half without a place-kicker.
Next game: vs. Bears (8:15 p.m. ET, Nov. 8)
What to know: The Browns, who entered this year with Super Bowl aspirations, find themselves in last place in the AFC North standings. And following an uninspiring performance against the Steelers, that’s exactly where the Browns deserve to be approaching the halfway point of the season. The passing game has fallen off a cliff. The defense can’t get key stops. Mental mistakes are abundant. And the injuries continue to mount. Cleveland’s season, which began with so much promise off last year’s playoff run, is already teetering on the verge of calamity. — Jake Trotter
What has happened to Cleveland’s passing attack? QB Baker Mayfield has been up and down all season while battling the torn labrum to his non-throwing shoulder. But Sunday, during Cleveland’s final two drives, he gave the Browns a chance late in the fourth quarter. Instead, multiple drops and a Jarvis Landry fumble robbed Cleveland’s hopes of a comeback. With Odell Beckham Jr. having become a total nonfactor and Mayfield ailing, Cleveland’s offense is suddenly a total mess — even with its overpowering ground game. — Trotter
Trotter’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.8, down from 6.7. At 4-4, the Browns have little margin for error to still make the playoffs — and they have multiple issues they’ll have to resolve to get there.
Next game: at Bengals (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Eagles ran the ball! And whaddya know, it worked. Quarterback Jalen Hurts had been shouldering too much of the offensive load for the bulk of the season, but he had an easier day at the office Sunday as Eagles backs rushed 39 times for 165 yards in a blowout win vs. the Lions. Jordan Howard and Boston Scott combined for four rushing touchdowns, which is one more than all Eagles running backs had combined coming into the game. Coach Nick Sirianni was more creative in his playcalling. He and the offense showed growth. — Tim McManus
Was this performance for real, or just a product of playing the winless Lions? The Lions’ ineptitude factored in pretty heavily here. But both Sirianni and defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon made some adjustments to their approach, and those changes helped accentuate the strengths of their units: the big men up front. With a lean toward the ground game, the offensive line was able to play downhill and exert its will, while tighter coverage in the back end and more pressure looks on defense allowed the defensive linemen to get home against Lions quarterback Jared Goff. It’s a recipe the Eagles should stick to moving forward. — McManus
McManus’ confidence rating (0-10): 3.7, up from 3.1. The Eagles need to show up like this against a decent team. Next week’s home game against the Chargers provides such an opportunity.
Next game: vs. Chargers (4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Boston Scott runs in a pair of short touchdowns for the Eagles vs. the Lions.
What to know: On paper, this was a potential get-well game for both teams. And it was for one. Unfortunately, the Detroit Lions played their worst game of the season in a 44-6 loss. Fans began to exit Ford Field before the end of the third quarter with the Lions down 38 and boos showering the stadium. The sour reaction was warranted as the Lions barely avoided a shutout. — Eric Woodyard
Should the Lions be concerned about the offensive line? Yes. Granted, offensive tackle Taylor Decker and Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow both remain out with injuries, but the O-line still shouldn’t be allowing quarterback Jared Goff to be sacked five times against Philadelphia. Goff was sacked four times in the first half alone, which tied for his most first-half sacks in any game in his NFL career and also tied for the most first-half sacks by any quarterback in a game this season, per ESPN Stats & Information. This is a serious concern in an embarrassing effort by the home team, which fell to 0-8 for the first time since the infamous 0-16 season in 2008. — Woodyard
Woodyard’s confidence rating (0-10): 1.5, down from 3. Although they’re eight games into the season, the Lions lack an identity as the losses continue to mount.
Next game: at Steelers (1 p.m. ET, Nov. 14)
What to know: Coach Matt Rhule was right: Carolina had to run to protect Sam Darnold and win. The Panthers rushed a season-high 47 times for 203 yards, and Darnold wasn’t sacked after being sacked 15 times in the previous four games, all losses. The only flaw in Rhule’s theory was Darnold didn’t protect himself on a fourth-quarter run, which resulted in a concussion that could sideline him for the next game. Carolina (4-4) still stuck to the run for the clinching touchdown. — David Newton
Will the Panthers spread out the running game as they did Sunday when Christian McCaffrey returns? McCaffrey should come off injured reserve this week after missing five games because of a hamstring injury. He typically takes the bulk of the workload, but to protect him, the Panthers may be wise to spread the wealth as they did Sunday. Chuba Hubbard had 24 carries, but Ameer Abdullah had eight, Royce Freeman five and Darnold eight. The backs also were targeted eight times on passes. A solid formula. — Newton
Newton’s confidence rating (0-10): 5.3, up from 4. McCaffrey’s potential return would give reason for optimism, but the potential loss of Darnold is concerning, even as poorly as he had been playing the previous four games.
Next game: vs. Patriots (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: It looked, in many ways, like the season-opening offense against the Eagles. Not much movement. Not much downfield. A game plan that appeared at times ineffective and at others disjointed. There are a lot of potential reasons for this — and one has to wonder how much the game plan was altered by Calvin Ridley being inactive because of a personal issue after practicing all week. But even with Ridley out of the lineup, there’s little reason for Atlanta to have been this ineffective. — Michael Rothstein
How does this team move on without Ridley? The receiver announced during the fourth quarter that Ridley was stepping away from football to work on his mental health, and it’s not clear when or if he will return. His absence means the Falcons are without one of their best offensive options — and their biggest playmaker outside. This elevates Kyle Pitts to becoming the team’s top receiving threat and means perhaps an even bigger role for running back/wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. There’s also this reality: No one Atlanta could bring in would offer the skill set Ridley does at this point. But the team clearly needs to add someone to the receiving corps because without Ridley, the offense looked fairly lifeless against Carolina. — Rothstein
Rothstein’s confidence rating (0-10): 4, down from 5.1. A combination of an offensive meltdown, an ineffective run defense (204) and Ridley’s uncertain return leave many questions about Atlanta’s current state heading into New Orleans.
Next game: at Saints (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: No letdowns. Coming off back-to-back division matchups, the Rams entered a three-game stretch against the struggling New York Giants, Detroit Lions and Houston Texans, three teams with a combined record of 3-20 after Sunday’s early action. Perhaps it would have been easy to lose focus somewhere through a three-week slog that included two road games, and although they did not earn many style points along the way, the Rams did not suffer any egregious lapses as they improved to 7-1. — Lindsey Thiry
What’s the situation with the once-crowded receivers room? Until a few days ago, the receivers room featured a stacked group. There’s no doubt that Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Van Jefferson can lead this team to a Super Bowl, but recent developments have led to some depth concerns. Veteran receiver DeSean Jackson was inactive Sunday after requesting a trade earlier this week (and it’s extremely unlikely he’ll suit up for Los Angeles again), rookie Tutu Atwell suffered a shoulder injury against the Texans when returning a punt, and after catching a 68-yard pass, Jefferson limped off the field. He later returned — but it was concerning, to say the least. Rookie Ben Skowronek was inserted and fared well, but the Rams should be looking for reinforcements. — Thiry
Thiry’s confidence rating (0-10): 8.3, up from 8.2. It’s a slight uptick for the Rams, who dominated the Texans on the road. But let’s be real: The Texans are bad. Really, really bad. So Sunday’s game hardly provided an accurate gauge of how good the Rams are, and therefore how confident we should feel. But the Rams will have a chance next Sunday in prime time against the Tennessee Titans to show whether they can return to playing at the high level we saw in a Week 3 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or if some of their recent ugly wins turn into ugly losses.
Next game: vs. Titans (8:20 p.m. ET, Sunday)
Darrell Henderson finds the end zone for his second touchdown of the game, putting the Rams up by three scores.
What to know: Tyrod Taylor‘s return from a left hamstring injury might not make a difference for this team. The Texans have not won any of rookie quarterback Davis Mills‘ six starts this season, but the offense as a whole has struggled. Without Mark Ingram, who was leading the Texans in rushing before being traded to the New Orleans Saints last week, Houston ran for 44 yards on 14 carries. Will having Taylor back salvage the offense? — Sarah Barshop
Who will still be on the team after the Nov. 2 trade deadline? Even if quarterback Deshaun Watson is not traded before Tuesday, there may be other moves made by the team. While wide receiver Brandin Cooks and left tackle Laremy Tunsil are not expected to be moved, sources say, linebacker Zach Cunningham or safety Justin Reid could draw interest. The Texans are slowly adding to their draft capital but seem a long way from competing. — Barshop
Barshop’s confidence rating (0-10): 0.6, down from 0.8. Again, this number has continued to drop since the Texans won the first game of the season. How low will it get by the end of the year?
Next game: at Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: This team might have the “it” factor. There’s no way to measure that, but given how it has held together despite a rash of injuries, there seems to be something potentially special in play. You get the sense quarterback Aaron Rodgers might think so, too, after he said this: “You never know how the team’s going to come together and the chemistry and the relationships and the guys stepping up and dealing with injuries and all the adversity. But we have a good group of guys. There’s a different feeling to the team than even the last couple years. I’m not sure how it’s going to finish up, but I like the energy that we have in the locker room.” Rodgers didn’t have to be Superman for the Packers to win, either. They ran the ball 34 times (a season high) for 151 yards (78 after contact for their second-most such yards of the season) and controlled the clock. — Rob Demovsky
Who needs Stephon Gilmore? Packers fans were upset the team didn’t make a bigger play for the veteran cornerback, who was traded from the Patriots to the Panthers on Oct. 6. That’s the same day the Packers signed cornerback Rasul Douglas off the Cardinals’ practice squad. Who knows whether Gilmore could have had the game-saving interception Douglas made in the end with 12 seconds left? But chances are he wouldn’t have, considering that he had yet to play a game for the Panthers entering Week 8. For Douglas, that was his first interception since Week 17 of the 2018 season. He had played 1,450 defensive snaps since the start of the 2019 season, the fifth most by a defensive back without an interception in that span, according to ESPN Stats & Info. — Demovsky
Demovsky’s confidence rating (0-10): 8, up from 7.5. No one would have blamed the Packers if they lost this one as 6.5-point underdogs on a short week with a bunch of guys injured. But in some ways, it shouldn’t have even come down to Douglas’ end zone interception. They could have sealed the game earlier. Coach Matt LaFleur was kicking himself for some of his playcalls in the goal-to-go situations. “I told the group in there, ‘I tried to screw it up for you guys but you wouldn’t allow it.’ That’s a credit to everybody in that locker room,” he said.
Next game: at Chiefs (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)
What to know: The Cardinals are mortal. They suffered their first loss of the season after injuries and COVID-19 decimated their defensive front and passing game. However, they were still in position to win with 15 seconds left, a sign that, no matter what is thrown this team’s way, they can still give themselves a chance behind quarterback Kyler Murray. — Josh Weinfuss
Will this loss snowball into a larger midseason problem for the Cardinals? We saw this movie last season: Arizona gets off to a hot start, then Kyler Murray gets injured and the bottom falls out. Arizona is 7-1 and Murray was seen leaving the stadium in a walking boot on his left leg. However, as long as the Cardinals’ get their defensive injuries figured out soon, that side of the ball can help prevent a repeat of a similar tailspin while Murray gets right. Murray could be back as soon as next week against the 49ers or in a week or two. But this year’s Cardinals are built differently than last year’s, both from a personnel and emotional standpoint, which will likely prevent another meltdown. — Weinfuss
Weinfuss’ confidence rating (0-10): 8.2, down from 9.5. Having a chance to win with 15 seconds left should show everything anyone needs to know about Kyler Murray, but if the injuries keep up, then a rough stretch may be coming up.
Next game: at 49ers (4:25 p.m. ET, Sunday)