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NFL Week 8 Recap and News: NFC playoff chase, Tua’s debut, Lamar Jackson, Belichick, and more

PFN’s Mike Tanier returns with his Week 8 NFL Recap, with news and notes on Tua’s debut, Lamar Jackson’s struggles, and more from Sunday.

NFL Week 8 Recap and News: Tua's debut, Lamar Jackson, Bill Belichick, and more
SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 01: Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates with teammate DK Metcalf #14 after a touchdown in the second quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at CenturyLink Field on November 01, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

This week, we were given our first taste of multiple bad weather games, watched some down to the wire finishes, and witnessed the continued dominance of some of the upper-tier teams in the NFL. NFL Week 8 Recap is here to bring you all the news and notes you need to get caught up on another action-packed slate of games. This week, we highlight the NFC playoff chase, hand out our Studs ‘n’ Duds awards, discuss the New England Patriots and their losing record, the debut of Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, and begin to dissect what is happening with Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens.

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NFL Recap Week 8: Saints, Seahawks, and Eagles gain ground in the NFC playoff chase

The Seattle Seahawks made short work of the San Francisco 49ers. The New Orleans Saints gutted out a tough overtime win against the Chicago Bears. The Philadelphia Eagles proved they are the best team in the NFC East in the worst possible way, while the Green Bay Packers were beaten by a familiar foe: themselves. Week 8’s action helped sort out the true contenders from the wannabes in the NFC, and NFL Recap is here to restack the conference and look down the road at what the upcoming schedule holds. 

The NFC Playoff Chase: Buccaneers and Seahawks lead the way

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2)

The Buccaneers enter Monday night very literally in the same position the New England Patriots held in the AFC for the last 20 years or so. And yes, it’s pretty annoying to everyone but lifelong Bucs fans. (And no, your brother-in-law wearing the Tom Brady jersey with the tags still on it does not qualify as a lifelong Bucs fan).

2. Seattle Seahawks (6-1)

MVP frontrunner Russell Wilson plus All-Time Underrated Team receiver Tyler Lockett plus mismatch nightmare DK Metcalf plus a scattering of still-dependable veteran defenders like Bobby Wagner equals a team capable of beating anyone in the NFL if they can produce more than two pass pressures per week.

Related | NFL Power Rankings, Week 9: New teams enter the top 15

The Seahawks face a string of middleweights over the next month (Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles) before their schedule suddenly gets Big Apple easy, and they should get safety Jamal Adams back soon. They have a very good chance of being around 11-3 entering the final stretch of the season.

3. New Orleans Saints (5-2)

It’s a good thing the Saints prevailed in overtime after what appeared to be a game-ending fumble by Bears TE Cole Kmet was negated due to forward progress; election week is going to be hard enough without having to hear Sean Payton whine about unfair officiating.

Payton has done a fine job manufacturing offense and overtime victories while Michael Thomas has been in his mystery timeout box, and the Taysom Hill package doesn’t look nearly as silly when the Saints are fresh out of wide receivers and need to do anything possible to keep opponents off-balance. Thomas could theoretically be back for next week’s rematch against the Buccaneers. Let’s see if the Saints can seize control of the NFC South and blow out the tires of the Tom Brady bandwagon.

4. Green Bay Packers (5-2) 

Yes, the run defense has all the stopping power of yellow caution tape. But the offense grounded to a halt after the first quarter for the second time in three games, Matt LaFleur mismanaged his timeouts late in the game while the Packers still had a chance, and his response to the 25 mph winds was all over the place (field goal attempts are bad, but deep shots on 4th-and-long are good?).

The Packers are starting to lose games in all-too-familiar ways: getting gouged on the ground, over-reliance on Davante Adams, etc. We’ve seen this story before, and it ends with a playoff loss.

5. Chicago Bears (5-3)

The Bears are a .500-caliber all-defense/no-offense team that has found its level in back-to-back losses to the Rams and Saints. There isn’t much to say about them that you did not already suspect. Next week’s matchup with the Tennessee Titans will expose one of the teams as utter pretenders with an inflated record. It probably won’t be the Titans.

6. Arizona Cardinals (5-2)

Good enough to beat anyone, bad enough to lose to anyone. 

7. Los Angeles Rams (5-3)

4-0 against the NFC East, 1-3 against everyone else. ‘Nuff said.

8. San Francisco 49ers (4-4)

Remember last week, when it appeared that the 49ers were getting healthy and turning the corner? Those were simpler times.

9. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4-1)

The Eagles are the 49ers (a zillion injuries, a quarterback with more ups and downs than a baby goat on a trampoline), but with a far easier schedule and a coach who refuses to adjust for the fact that he no longer has Super Bowl talent to work with. The Eagles should have won 42-3 instead of 23-9 against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday, but Doug Pederson refuses to scale back his offense to emphasize the run, and Carson Wentz keeps trying to score three touchdowns on one play and throwing interceptions (or fumbling) as a result.

That said, the Eagles may get some key contributors back after their bye, and a 7-8-1 final record should be good enough to win the NFC East outright. And then maybe they will unleash Jalen Hurts for a little Foles Playoff Magic. That makes just as much sense as the concept of Foles Playoff Magic.

10. Detroit Lions (3-4)

Sunday was the Lions’ annual Super Bowl: The game where they are 3-3 or 3-3-1 and can finally prove they are legitimate contenders! They have lost their little Super Bowl in every season since 2017. Feel free to ignore the Lions until Thanksgiving, and then ignore them again until Matt Patricia is fired.

NFL Recap Sportsbook: The strange case of Week 8’s suddenly shifting spreads

NFL Week 8 Recap and News: Tua's debut, Lamar Jackson, Bill Belichick, and more

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI – NOVEMBER 01: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates with Demarcus Robinson #11 after a 26-yard touchdown against the New York Jets during their NFL game at Arrowhead Stadium on November 01, 2020 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

The Tennessee Titans went from slight favorites to heavy favorites, then got stunned in an upset at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals. The New England Patriots slid from slight underdogs to serious underdogs before losing to the Buffalo Bills. The Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles spread fell off a table; then the Eagles lost their minds.

NFL Week 8 saw some wild swings in the point spreads of many games, and NFL Recap just cannot resist getting in on the (100% legal in our jurisdiction) action when lines start boogying up and down. Here are the results, some insights into the lines and the games, and a few lessons learned from another rough week of trying to beat the house.

San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks

  • Opening Spread: Seahawks -6.5
  • Final Spread: Seahawks -1

Reasons for the shift: The line dropped from -6.5 to the -3.5 range early in the week, soon after the public began reacting to the Seahawks’ wild Sunday night loss. It then dipped suddenly in the horse before kickoff, probably because of some late sharp action on the 49ers. 

NFL Recap’s play: We jumped on the Seahawks once we saw the line drop safely beneath “oh we goofed off all game and needed a last-second field goal to win” range. This wasn’t our first Seahawks rodeo, folks. 

Final Score: Jimmy Garoppolo played poorly before exiting with an ankle injury while Russell Wilson delivered another MVP-caliber performance in a 37-27 Seahawks rout.

Lessons Learned: 1) Never trust Garoppolo in a big game; 2) the only time the Seahawks can be counted upon to have a normal Sunday is when you put money on them having an abnormal Sunday. 

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills

  • Opening Spread: Bills -3
  • Final Spread: Bills -4.5

Reasons for the shift: Stephon Gilmore’s injuries; Bill Belichick’s late-week talk-radio pity-party may also have been a cue for a few wagerers.

NFL Recap’s play: Sensing that the Bills would get a case of the yips, we were seduced by a +188 Patriots money line instead of the spread. 

Final Score: The Patriots covered in a 24-21 loss but missed an opportunity to win outright when Cam Newton fumbled in the red zone in the final seconds (see this game’s own Recap segment).

Lessons Learned: 1) Never get seduced by a money line when you can get 4.5 points, and 2) these are not the Patriots we’ve watched for a generation, and we all need to stop thinking of them as such. 

Tennessee Titans at Cincinnati Bengals

  • Opening Spread: -3.5
  • Final Spread: -7

Reasons for the shift: The Bengals starting offensive line was hobbled for most of the practice week with various injuries. 

NFL Recap’s play: We grabbed the Titans -6.5, eliminating the possibility of a push. Seriously, if a tie is like kissing your sister, a push in a Titans-Bengals game is like a hug from a spinster aunt or something.

Final Score: The Bengals capitalized on an early Titans interception and a missed field goal, plus general flatness, to get the ball rolling on a 31-20 upset.

Lessons Learned: No idea. But the Bengals are now 6-2 against the spread in 2020, while the Titans are 2-5. 

Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos

  • Opening Spread: Pick ‘em
  • Final Spread: Chargers -3.5

Reasons for the shift: The opening lines were posted as early as 7 PM Eastern last Sunday when the Chargers were still in a nip-and-tuck battle with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the snowflakes had not yet settled on the Kansas City Chiefs blowout of the Broncos. 

NFL Recap’s play: We felt like the Chargers were a little undervalued. We also wagered this game purely for the purposes of this article.

Final Score: The Chargers took another big lead — 24-3 midway through the third quarter in this case — before losing 31-30 on a Drew Lock touchdown pass to rookie KJ Hamler on the final play of the game. 

Lessons Learned: The Chargers have now blown double-digit leads against the New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Broncos, and they also let the Jacksonville Jaguars get back in the game against them after taking a 16-0 lead in Week 7. The Chargers are basically the Falcons with a slower fuse; adjust your wagers accordingly. 

Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens

  • Opening Spread: Ravens -6.5
  • Final Spread: Ravens -3.5

Reasons for the shift: CBs Marlon Humphrey (illness) and Jimmy Smith (Achilles) appeared on the Ravens mid-week injury report; both ended up playing. But the line dipped rapidly after opening, mostly because it was out-of-whack in the first place. 

NFL Recap’s play: An undefeated team, plus more than a field goal, in a divisional battle on a blustery day? Yes, please. 

Final Score: Steelers 28, Ravens 24. See the separate Recap segment on this game below.

Lessons learned: Don’t overthink a gift of a spread.

Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles

  • Opening Spread: Eagles -3
  • Final Spread: Eagles -11

Reasons for the shift: Andy Dalton (concussion) was ruled out on Friday, forcing the Cowboys to start a quarterback most East Coast bettors assumed was some kid they found making calzones on the boardwalk in Ocean City, New Jersey. 

NFL Recap’s play: Oh no, we weren’t touching this madness.

Final Score: Carson Wentz and the Eagles played like they took part in a pregame salvia ritual, but Cowboys third-string quarterback Ben DiNucci only appeared to know about five plays and only two of them were downfield passes. The Eagles slowly bumbled their way to a 23-9 victory.

Lessons Learned: There’s an old adage about betting on a team whose quarterback is making his first NFL start because the public overreacts in the other direction, causing unwarranted 11-point spreads. That adage does not impact third-stringers coached by Mike McCarthy.

New York Jets at Kansas City Chiefs

  • Opening Spread: -21
  • Final Spread: -20

Reasons for the shift: There wasn’t much of a shift, but how can NFL Week 8 Recap not talk about a 20-point spread in an article about spreads?

Recap’s play: Say what you will about the Jets, but on most weeks, they appear perfectly capable of backdoor-covering a 20-point spread with a meaningless late touchdown or two.

Final Score: The Chiefs futzed around and allowed the score to stay close in the first half, then piled on a pair of second-half touchdowns to force a 35-9 Jets surrender.

Lessons Learned: OK, so Chad Henne replaced Patrick Mahomes with 10:58 left to play. That’s the ideal recipe for a backdoor cover, right? So guess what Adam Gase did? He handed off and just let the clock run on two (2) Jets possessions. Sure, Gase doesn’t care about the spread. But pride? Dignity? Effort? ARRRGH!!!!!

(It’s one thing for Gase to be an awful coach, but it’s another to cost NFL Recap money. We’re gonna remember this, Mister Googly Eyes.)

NFL Recap Week 8: Dalvin Cook, Bobby Wagner highlight Week 8’s Duds ‘n’ Studs

NFL Week 8 Recap and News: Tua's debut, Lamar Jackson, Bill Belichick, and more

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN – NOVEMBER 01: Dalvin Cook #33 of the Minnesota Vikings runs the ball during the second quarter of the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field on November 01, 2020 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Dalvin Cook and the Minnesota Vikings offensive line made the Green Bay Packers defense look like a pile of pillows. Bobby Wagner turned into a one-man Legion of Boom. And a Chicago Bears receiver proved that if football doesn’t pan out for him, he’ll never have a career in boxing. All that, plus the Indy Not-So-Special, in the Week 8 edition of NFL Recap’s Studs ‘n’ Duds.

Stud: Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings

Cook returned from a groin injury to go 30-163-3 as a rusher and 2-63-1 as a receiver. To be fair, however, backup Alexander Mattison would probably have also racked up 200 total yards against a Packers run defense so soft that you could use it to tuck in a toddler.

Dud: Javon Wims, WR, Chicago Bears

Here’s everything wrong with Wims’ attempt to play Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! against New Orleans Saints cornerback C.J. Gardner-Johnson in the Bears’ 26-23 overtime loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday:

  • Fighting in football is stupid;
  • Especially when you are fighting about something which happened several plays ago, so you have to cross the field to pick the fight;
  • Extra-especially when you are a no-name rando with 26 receptions in three years who could be cut in a heartbeat and instantly forgotten;
  • Sucker-punching someone in the helmet is only slightly smarter than punching a concrete wall.
  • Wims’ subsequent palm strike to Gardner-Johnson’s face looks like something you would see from the tiny tiger’s yellow belt class at your local dojo.
  • When you punch your opponent twice in the face, and he is still just staring at you in confused annoyance, the fight is over, whether you realize it or not.

Enjoy your suspension, pal. Maybe we will see you when it’s over. But probably not.

Stud: Frank Reich, Head Coach, Indianapolis Colts

The best thing about Reich’s attempt to recreate the Philly Special against the Detroit Lions (whose head coach, Matt Patricia, was the Patriots defensive coordinator who got snookered by the play in Super Bowl LII) is that Reich didn’t really try to recreate the Philly Special. Trey Burton, who threw that legendary Super Bowl touchdown to Nick Foles, just took a direct snap and swept left for a two-yard touchdown to punctuate a 41-21 Colts victory. Sure, Philip Rivers was lined up as a wide receiver, and there was some end-around action, but the rest took place in the theater of Patricia’s mind as his Lions’ defenders got fooled by fakes that didn’t really happen.

Dud: Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams

Goff threw two interceptions and was strip-sacked twice. He also threw three passes, which should have been intercepted: Eric Rowe was so busy planning the touchdown celebration after jumping one route in the third quarter that he could not quite secure the catch, sparing Goff further humiliation in a 28-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Jimmy Garoppolo’s ugly performance on Sunday will get more attention in the NFL news circles, but Goff played worse, against a weaker opponent, with fewer injuries to his surrounding cast.

Thud: Ronnie Stanley, Baltimore Ravens

The latest NFL news from ESPN’s Adam Schefter: Stanley is lost for the year with an ankle injury he suffered in Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, just days after signing a $98.75 million contract extension. Stanley is one of the best offensive linemen in the league, and his loss will impact the AFC balance of power.

And now for the NFL Week 8 Recap Awards…

Defensive Player of the Week

The Seattle Seahawks have been desperate for some pass rush in recent weeks, so veteran Pro Bowl linebacker Bobby Wagner came through with two sacks (one of them after blowing up two blockers), three tackles for a loss, and four hits on the San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks in a 37-27 victory. All the Seahawks need to do now is get some pass rush from actual pass rushers.

Offensive Line of the Week

Multiple injuries forced the Cincinnati Bengals to patch together an offensive line of sixth-round pick Hakeem Adeniji, waiver pickup Shaq Calhoun, benched former starter Billy Price, actual starter Alex Redmond, and backup-to-Bobby-Hart (so you know he ain’t exactly Orlando Pace) Fred Johnson. This group of utter unknowns helped the Bengals rush for 118 yards without Joe Mixon and held the Tennessee Titans sackless in a stunning 31-20 upset victory. Imagine how good Joe Burrow will be when he is no longer getting his blockers from the same temp agency that supplies Carson Wentz with his receivers.

Special Teamer of the Week

Let’s give two awards this week: One to Seahawks kick gunner Cody Barton who walloped 49ers return man Dante Pettis to force the fumble which turned that game into a laugher, and another to Dolphins mighty mite return man Jakeem Grant for the 88-yard punt return that put the Rams in crisis mode in their upset loss.

Best Supporting Actor in Someone Else’s Highlight

The Vikings offensive line didn’t quite earn Offensive Line of the Week, but let’s honor Garrett Bradbury, Dakota Dozier, and Brian O’Neill for their work on Dalvin Cook’s 50-yard screen pass touchdown. All three linemen just sort of dive in the general direction of Packers defenders, who then explode on contact and disappear. But there’s no reason to waste any serious collisions on Packers defenders when they are always so eager to hit the deck. 

NFL Recap Week 8: Bill Belichick goes from GOAT to Emperor Excuse Maker

NFL Recap Week 8: Bill Belichick goes from GOAT to Emperor Excuse Maker

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 25: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on during a game against the San Francisco 49ers on October 25, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

The Buffalo Bills tried their best to lose to the New England Patriots on Sunday. But the Patriots just stink too darn badly. And with Sunday’s muddy 24-21 Bills victory coming on the heels of Bill Belichick’s revelatory talk-radio comments entering Week 8, NFL Recap senses a crisis of character in Foxboro: The “Patriots Way” has lost its way, and the greatest coach of all time has suddenly become part of the problem.

NFL Week 8: Patriots vs. Bills News & Recap

Heavy rain and 17-25 mph winds at Bills Stadium made passing difficult, though passing is difficult for the Patriots every week nowadays. While the Patriots mixed handoffs, zone-reads, and some pop-gun passing as they always do in 2020, the Bills also took an arch-conservative approach on offense, with Josh Allen attempting just 18 passes for 11 completions, 154 yards, and an ugly interception to J.C. Jackson.

The interception and the jittery game plan (what’s the point of having a quarterback who can throw a football across a zip code if a little rain turns you into a 1950s college team?) were only two telltale signs that the Bills were playing scared against their nemesis. There were others, including the fact that the Bills defense made Damien Harris (16-102-1 rushing) look like Walter Payton in the second half, allowed a Rex Burkhead rushing first down on 3rd-and-10 at one point, and had trouble stopping the mighty Cam Newton-Jakobi Meyers pitch-and-catch combination. But Allen and the Bills running game kept converting in the red zone to pull ahead each time the Patriots managed to tie the game.

When Newton fumbled at the Bills 19-yard line with 37 seconds to play, it created a convenient narrative for Patriots fans looking for a predictable scapegoat: The team played hard all day despite the absences of Stephon Gilmore, Julian Edelman, and others, but that selfish, preening, [insert the worst thing you heard in a political commercial this weekend here] Newton ruined it for Belichick’s gutsy backups and no names.

NFL Recap wants nothing to do with that noise. Anyone looking to point fingers for the Patriots 2-5 start needs to start by pointing to the guy in the hoodie.

What the Patriots 2-5 start means

ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss transcribed Bill Belichick’s comments about the team’s slow start on a Sirius radio interview on Saturday with former Patriots assistant Charlie Weis, and you won’t read a more comprehensive litany of excuses this side of Adam Gase’s burn book. As far as pity parties to the media go, Belichick’s complaints about how the Patriots were hamstrung by cap constraints, opt-outs, and injuries registered 9.5 kilokarens on the Ryan Fitzpatrick Woe-is-Me scale.

Some of Belichick’s lamentations are valid, of course. But the Patriots didn’t enter the 2020 season in particularly bad cap space, and teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers don’t want to hear anyone crying rivers over a few injuries. 

But the most revelatory thing about Belichick’s remarks is the lack of accountability. The Patriots stink this year because Jarrett Stidham was a bad draft pick that the team pretended was a good one, they haven’t developed a decent receiver since Edelman, and they’ve spent several recent drafts playing four-dimensional chess instead of grabbing the best available players. The Patriots are bad because Belichick and his staff made multiple mistakes while basking in  “unassailable genius we aren’t worthy to criticize” accolades, then hoped Newton could spackle over the issues the way Tom Brady did. 

Belichick’s message after every loss should be about how he needs to do his job (to paraphrase a favorite Patriots slogan), not about cap constraints. It’s troubling that he went from decades of grunting and grimacing at the media to airing his grievances the moment the Patriots started really losing. 

NFL Recap has no patience for any Brady-vs.-Belichick debates. Nothing that happens this season changes the fact that Belichick is a Mount Rushmore NFL coach. It’s just time for him to start talking and acting like it when things aren’t going the Patriots’ way.

What’s next for the New England Patriots?

The Patriots can’t possibly lose to the New York Jets, can they? Probably not. But the fact that we have to pause and think about it for a moment speaks volumes about how far they have fallen.

NFL Recap Week 8: Dolphins rally around Tua Tagovailoa in his NFL debut

Tua Tagovailoa debuts as Dolphins starting quarterback

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – NOVEMBER 01: Tua Tagovailoa #1 of the Miami Dolphins celebrates his first NFL touchdown on a three-yard pass to DeVante Parker #11 against the Los Angeles Rams during their game at Hard Rock Stadium on November 01, 2020 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)

Sometimes, a rookie quarterback looks tremendous in his NFL debut. Often, he looks lost and unprepared. And occasionally, as Tua Tagovailoa did in a 28-17 Miami Dolphins victory over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 8, he just hands off a lot while the opposing quarterback commits a bajillion turnovers. Tua threw for just 93 yards and one touchdown on 12-of-22 passing, but while Sunday’s win only taught NFL Recap a little about the Dolphins’ (probable) quarterback of the future, it revealed much more about the Dolphins themselves.

Week 8 Dolphins vs. Rams Game Recap

Tagovailoa’s first NFL dropback ended in a strip-sack by Aaron Donald. And if you tweeted, “Welcome to the NFL, rookie!” immediately after it happened, great for you, because you are the only one who thought of that!

Tagovailoa continued to struggle on his next few drives, misfiring on a deep shot to Preston Williams and leading DeVante Parker too far upfield on what should have been a routine receiver screen. His best throw of the afternoon landed in TE Mike Gesicki’s hands along the left sideline, but defender Darious Williams broke up the play. 

Fortunately for the Dolphins, Jared Goff picked Sunday’s game to be Mister Bumbles. A Christian Wilkins interception gave the Dolphins the ball at the Rams 33 yard line at the end of the first quarter, and Tua connected with Durham Smythe and Jakeem Grant on short passes before finding a sliding Parker in the middle of the end zone for his first NFL touchdown pass.

Then, things got silly. Goff got strip-sacked by Emmanuel Ogbah to set up a 78-yard recovery touchdown by someone named Andrew Van Ginkel, who may have been Brian Wilson’s songwriting collaborator on Smile. Grant returned a punt 88-yards for another touchdown. Another strip-sack (by Shaq Lawson) and return (by Kyle Van Noy) set up a Myles Gaskin touchdown to give the Dolphins a 28-7 lead before halftime. 

After that, Tagovailoa had little to do but hand off the ball, dump a few passes into the flat, scratch his head when the Dolphins tried a few Wildcat wrinkles, and watch the Rams fail to come back.

What does the Dolphins’ victory over the Rams mean?

Remember how the NFL news and rumblings around how the Dolphins were allegedly divided by the decision to bench Ryan Fitzpatrick for Tagovailoa? Divided teams don’t force four turnovers (it could easily have been six) and return punts for touchdowns against opponents with 5-2 records, folks. So send that narrative where it belongs (you may have to flush twice). Sunday’s win was a lot like the Dolphins’ turnover-happy Week 5 victory over the San Francisco 49ers; if they keep manufacturing wins by making opposing quarterbacks look silly, we’ll have to stop writing off each case as an isolated incident.

As for Tagovailoa, he whiffed badly on some routine passes, and a pair of doomed Wildcat misadventures (a stuffed 3rd-and-1 direct snap to Gaskin, some over-engineered malarky involving seventh-round pick and former Navy option QB Malcolm Perry) revealed that Tua might not be working with a wide-open playbook just yet. But if you want to make a young quarterback comfortable, give him good field position and the lead. That’s just what the Dolphins did. 

As Benjamin Allbright reported for Pro Football Network last week, the rumblings and news around the NFL were that Tua may be getting early starts so the Dolphins can determine whether they need to use the first-round pick they received from the Houston Texans in the Laremy Tunsil trade on another quarterback. If Sunday’s debut was indeed a kind of hedged bet, then it worked out in the Dolphins favor: They got a chance to evaluate Tua against a tough opponent without shattering his confidence and came away with a win. 

NFL News and Week 8 Recap: What’s next for Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins?

The Dolphins face the Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos, and New York Jets over the next four weeks. So the defenses grow progressively weaker (give or take) as the month goes on. That should give Tagovailoa an opportunity to show steady improvement. It should also give the Dolphins lots of chances to build their Wild Card portfolio.

NFL Week 8 Recap: It’s time for some straight talk about Lamar Jackson

It's time for some straight talk about Lamar Jackson

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – NOVEMBER 01: Defensive end Isaiah Buggs #96 of the Pittsburgh Steelers tackles quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens on fourth down late in the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on November 01, 2020 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Lamar Jackson nearly engineered a late Baltimore Ravens comeback victory on a soggy Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium. But the fact remains that Jackson was a big reason why the Ravens lost 28-24 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8 and are now both stuck in second place in the AFC North and losing ground in the battle for a top playoff seeding. With a tough slate of opponents on the upcoming schedule, it’s time for some straight talk about Jackson’s erratic, inconsistent, and sometimes troubling follow-up to his 2019 Most Valuable Player campaign.

NFL Week 8 Recap: Breaking down the Ravens vs. Steelers matchup

Lamar Jackson threw a wobbly pick-6 to Steelers LB Robert Spillane on the third play from scrimmage. He then led a drive full of crisp throws (and one roughing penalty at the end of a short scramble) to tie the game on a pinpoint pass to Miles Boykin. The rest of the afternoon progressed more-or-less in the same manner, with Jackson looking like an MVP again on one drive, but like the guy your father-in-law swears is going to be run out of the league in three years on the next.

Jackson finished the game with two interceptions which led directly to Steelers touchdowns (his second pick gave them the ball on the Ravens 18-yard line, setting up a Ben Roethlisberger touchdown to Eric Ebron), a third would-be interception that Joe Haden couldn’t quite haul in after jumping a route before halftime, and two lost fumbles deep in Steelers territory, one of them when trying to convert on 4th-and-3 at the 2:00 warning.

Jackson also threw for 208 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 65 yards, and he drove the Ravens to the Steelers 23-yard line in the waning seconds. His performance was not a disaster by any means. It just wasn’t nearly enough against the still-undefeated Steelers. 

What Lamar Jackson’s erratic performance means for the Ravens

NFL Week 8 Recap doesn’t like suggesting that Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense has been “figured out” because we don’t want to end up on the same side of any debate as the sort of people who protest tattoo parlor mask mandates. But this is what “figured out” looks like in the NFL.

No, Jackson hasn’t been turned into Tim Tebow, and he probably never will be. But opponents aren’t getting taffy-pulled by all the option fakes on first down as often as they did last season. Once the Ravens are in unfavorable down-and-distance situations, opponents are sitting back and waiting for Jackson to dump the ball over the short middle of the field. 

Jackson, for his part, is throwing more wobbly non-spirals than he did last year, messing up the timing and accuracy of his passes and making life tougher for his receivers. His deep accuracy has also been spotty. Jackson ranked 23rd in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ passing DYAR metric entering Sunday and is probably going to go down a few spots once the Week 8 numbers are done brewing. Instead of expanding his passing repertoire with the additions of new receivers and the development of Boykin and Marquise Brown, Jackson has taken a step back.

None of this is a problem when the Ravens are facing an opponent like the Cincinnati Bengals or Washington Football Team: Jackson still provides plenty of big plays, and the Ravens roster is too top-to-bottom talented to be threatened by lower-tier opponents. But this season’s losses to the Steelers and Chiefs find them once again thumping their heads against a Super Bowl ceiling.

The Ravens will crush an opponent if a game goes according to script, but they’re in trouble if the opponent has lots of speed and talent on defense, builds a substantial early lead on offense, or otherwise forces the Ravens to do things they aren’t great at.

Throw in the likely long-term loss of left tackle Ronnie Stanley (leg) just days after NFL news broke of him signing a reported $98.75-million extension, and the Ravens have one more reason to be concerned that Jackson and their offense, while certainly good enough to coast into the playoffs, are not up to Super Bowl snuff. 

NFL Week 8 Recap and News: What’s next for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens?

The Ravens visit the Colts in Week 9, then visit the New England Patriots, host the Tennessee Titans and visit the Steelers. That’s three tough opponents plus the Patriots, who still have A) a fine defense and B) Foxboro juju. 

Jackson and the Ravens won’t have any weaklings to push around or breaks to figure things out for a month. This is the point at which players who are destined to be all-time greats take a step forward and define who they really are. Jackson could very well do that. But he has a lot of work to do to make that happen. 

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