Should be an exciting week ahead, with the trade deadline at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday and the season hitting its midpoint next weekend. So here’s what we’re taking away from Week 8 …
The Eagles are the only one-loss team left in the NFL—and they’ve earned their way to 7–1. In other words, they took the Commanders’ best shot and found a way to swing back harder.
“That’s expected when you come off a season like what we came off,” coach Nick Sirianni told me as he drove home Sunday night. “That’s probably how Kansas City feels each week. That’s a good thing. I always think that’s a good thing, that people want to get up to play you. That means you’re good. That means you’re respected, that they know they have to play their best game to beat you. All those things are positives.”
This week, the positive came to life in a 38–31 win over Washington—with Commanders’ brass still mulling over how they will handle Tuesday’s trade deadline while carrying a staff full of coaches fighting for their jobs. But it came alive only after the home team put to work the kind of emptying-the-barrel effort Sirianni referenced in pursuit of a major upset.
The Commanders jumped on the Eagles 14–3 early, with Sam Howell dealing and Philly struggling to cover Washington’s loaded receiver group. Jalen Hurts & Co. still hadn’t reached the end zone as the teams entered the final two minutes of the first half. And midway through the third quarter, Philly was still seeking its first lead.
This, of course, is why so many teams coming off Super Bowl seasons struggle out of the gate the next year. There’s also a reason why the Eagles haven’t.
“How we try to treat our season, you don’t look ahead to anything that’s in front of you,” Sirianni says. “You just take one step at a time. That’s what we call our dog mentality, and we’re just completely locked into the moment and nothing else. We have a dog’s focus, meaning if we’re hunting as a dog, not a lot of things can take our mind off hunting. Whether you’ve caught a ton of rabbits or you haven’t caught any, you’re still focused on that rabbit. That’s kind of our mentality. Our guys don’t blink. That’s easier said than done.”
In other words, there was no magic wand the Eagles waved at a Commanders’ team in desperation mode. Instead, they kept chipping away.
There was a two-minute drive before the half, with Hurts completing seven of seven passes for 65 yards, capped by a spectacular, one-handed grab by A.J. Brown (more on him in a minute) to cut the deficit to 14–10. There was a punt return setting up a shorter drive in the third quarter, with another amazing Brown score tying the game at 17. It was Hurts seeing a coverage bust to hit DeVonta Smith wide open for a 38-yard score, a Reed Blankenship pick setting up Julio Jones’s first Eagles touchdown and a strip sack from Haason Reddick.
It was how a deep, talented team kept coming and coming and coming, until a team primed to knock it off was forced to tap out. It was a team that boringly, singularly and maniacally is only worried about getting better, both individually and as a group.
“They hear it all the time—Super Bowl slump. All these different things,” Sirianni says. “The Eagles aren’t playing as good as they should be. Our guys just have blocked all that out. We have one loss that, it’s over, but we didn’t play a good game that game, and credit to the Jets for not letting us play a good game. I’m just excited for the team in the sense of, we don’t listen. We gotta hear it because we have to do media and all those different things. But it’s just been a daily grind. …
“I told the team this after the win today: One of the hardest things in the NFL with the length of the season, and the grind of the season is being the same person every day, regardless of it’s a walk-through in Week 1, a walk-through in Week 8, a walk-through in Week 9, a walk-through in Week 15, treating it all the same. Same thing with meetings. When you’re tired, that you have the attention to detail in meetings that you had when you were fresh.”
In combating it, Sirianni continued, his team has shown “this mental toughness of, I’m gonna be 1–0 today so we give ourselves a chance to be 1–0 this week.”
In seven of eight weeks, they’ve accomplished that. And that it’s happening with, well, everyone gunning for them only makes it that much more impressive.
While we’re here, I think it’s worth discussing the two receivers who should be in the MVP race. Brown very clearly would be one. The second-year Eagle (and fifth-year pro) is up to 939 yards and five touchdowns through eight games and has gone for more than 125 yards in a staggering six consecutive games.
Moreover, his biggest catches seem to land in the biggest moments—both his touchdowns Sunday came with the Eagles playing from behind and trying to scratch their way back into the ballgame.
“Think about it—teams are going to roll to him. They’re going to put different types of coverages on him,” Sirianni says. “One of his catches was in Cover 2. Jalen threw a great ball to him. One of them was into like a two-man, where A.J. just went out and out-physicaled the guy for the touchdown. It’s kind of incredible because people are paying attention to him. If I think about it on the other end of the spectrum, it would probably be like a guy having two or three sacks each game for six games. Maybe that’s a stretch.
“I don’t know if that’s a perfect comparison, but what happens when a guy has a sack? There’s more attention paid to him. There’s more attention paid to A.J. That’s what’s impressive. I would say that in the game plan for the defense, it’s How do we stop A.J. Brown? You could say he’s done it better than anybody’s ever done it for six games in a row. That’s pretty impressive, and I’m honored to be a part of that with him.”
One fun anecdote Sirianni gave me on Brown that illustrates how he’s gotten to this point—the play on which he hauled in the one-handed touchdown over Benjamin St-Juste may have looked even better in practice Friday than it did Sunday. The coach recalled gasping and viscerally reacting with a Whoa, that was unbelievable at that workout.
“It was almost identical,” Sirianni says. “I would be willing to say that the ball he caught in practice might have been even prettier than the one he caught in the game. The one he caught in the game counted for seven, and the one he caught in practice gave us confidence to call it in the game and Jalen confidence to throw it to him. Those guys have a special connection. They went out and made a play. I thought it was a phenomenal throw, too. “
So could a receiver really be league MVP? I still think it’s far-fetched. But such a campaign would start a lot like Brown’s 2023. Or—and we didn’t forget him, Tyreek Hill’s season. The second-year Dolphin, another 2022 trade piece, is already at 1,014 yards and eight touchdowns for the year, and his eight scores are of 35, 4, 2, 54, 69, 41, 27 and 42 yards (he’s had catches of at least 40 yards in five of eight games).
Now, both guys have some advantages, to be sure. Sirianni did mention how the presence of Smith and Dallas Goedert makes it much harder for defenses to overcommit to Brown, and the same goes for Hill, with Jaylen Waddle taking some of the heat off him in Miami.
Still, these guys are really good. Hill’s on pace to become the league’s first 2,000-yard receiver, and Brown’s not far off (1,995 yards). And in both cases, the impact on games and defense and those around them is immense on every snap. So, as I see it, those two are worth at least being a part of that discussion.
The Seahawks are a lot better than you think. And now that they’re all alone in first in the NFC West, at 5–2, it’s probably worth listening to what guys such as Geno Smith, one of the captains of that ship, are (and have been) saying.
They might even be elite.
“If you look at our roster, player for player, I mean, I think we could match up with anybody,” Smith told me Sunday after Seattle edged the Browns. “Obviously, it’s a work in progress. I wouldn’t quite say we’re there yet. But we’re getting there. There’s a lot of things we got to do better and execute at, and it starts directly with me. So, yeah, if I go out there and play up to my standard, up to my capabilities, then we are one of the best teams in football. We got the defense, we got the coaching, we got the offensive playmakers and we got to the line to do it, and our special teams are great.
“Just all across the board, man, we play great football.”
On Sunday against Cleveland, it manifested in an interesting way.
It wasn’t in the Seahawks’ excellence, though that was there, too. It was also in their resilience.
Seattle jumped out to an early 14–0 lead. But the Browns battled back while Seattle struggled offensively. Its six possessions in the middle two quarters: punt, punt, interception, punt, interception and punt. Five of those six ended without the Seahawks picking up a first down. Then, when they finally did get things moving early in the fourth quarter, another drive was sabotaged by a Myles Garrett sack.
“We’re resilient, and we got the right coaches,” Smith says. “We got the right guys in the locker room. We got the right amount of leadership. We got everything we need to be successful, and, when the game is not going our way, nobody panics. Like I said, it’s a roller coaster. My job is not to ride that roller coaster.”
The Seattle offense got off the roller coaster for good after Julian Love picked off PJ Walker just before the two-minute warning. After that, Smith connected with Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf and Noah Fant to move the ball 43 yards to the 14. A penalty on the Browns put Smith and Seattle in second-and-5 from the Browns’ 9.
At that point, after Lockett had already called for patience in the huddle earlier in the drive, veteran tackle Jason Peters said to his teammates, This is what we prepared for all week. And that proved prophetic when Smith had to change the play to set up the game winner.
“We’re going to run the ball coming out, and then I think they went to a zero coverage—it looked like zero—but I know they blitzed off the slot,” Smith says. “And [a receiver screen is] one of our options. If they blitz off the slot, they bring an extra defender into the box. We can just get it out there to our playmaker. I thought, at that moment, you’re just trying to kind of get through the down, see what happens. If he makes a guy miss, that’s great.”
Rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba shook safety Juan Thornhill at the line, then ran around a devastating block from Metcalf to score and give the Seahawks sole possession of the NFC West eight weeks into the season. And in doing so, he helped to show, again, what this Seattle team is made of.
“Those are things that you don’t expect happening,” Smith says. “But in this league, man, there’s so many talented guys, so many athletic guys. … We just got to do a better job at avoiding that. But, overall, nothing really changed.”
Which is to say the Seahawks have become exactly what they thought they’d be.
Bryce Young got his wings in Charlotte on Sunday. As Carolina’s Frank Reich explained it to me, after notching his first win with the franchise since he was a player, this one a 15–13 win over the Texans, the first-year Panthers coach wanted to give out two game balls and get everyone home. He gave one to Eddy Pineiro, who kicked the game-winning field goal. The other went to OC Thomas Brown, who called his first NFL game Sunday.
But after that was done, and as Reich was gathering the team up to dismiss them for the night, linebacker Frankie Luvu had other ideas. And he had plenty of support for those ideas, too.
“[Luvu] initiated it,” Reich told me, driving home Sunday night. “We were done. Then Frankie said, Hold on, Coach, we’ve got one more game ball. They gave it to Bryce [Young]. I think that’s a big deal.”
It was because he, and the rest of the Panthers, endured an 0–6 start to get here. It was because he posted a 103.6 passer rating, throwing for 235 yards and a touchdown while completing 22 of 31 throws. It was, mostly, because he was at his very best when the Panthers needed him most—which, again, proved why belief in Young never wavered, even as people on the outside raved about all the other rookie quarterbacks.
All that is why for Luvu, and then the rest of the team, recognizing Young on his own was pretty significant to Reich. It said, “He’s our guy. We’re glad he’s our guy. We’re going to follow him, and he’s going to lead us to where we want to go.”
And, again, the best example came when Carolina needed him most.
With 5:09 left, Young took a sack, which put the Panthers in second-and-19 at their own 36. At that point, Reich said to Young and Brown, “Just get it to fourth-and-5 or less, and we’re going for it. Just figure out how to get us there.”
On second down, Young scrambled for seven yards. Then, on third-and-12, Young saw the Texans showing pressure and quickly checked to a screen for Adam Thielen.
“That was 100% him,” Reich says. “We weren’t anticipating them blitzing on that. He saw it and checked. Then, on the fourth-down play, made the play. It wasn’t clean. I haven’t seen the film yet, but it didn’t come out totally clean. He just found a way to get a completion to Thielen and get the yardage we needed.”
And eight plays later, Piniero was winning the game with a kick, with it feeling like their young quarterback won more than just that.
“He has all the talent and all the ability. He just continues to get better, embracing the whole position of franchise quarterback and what that means,” Reich says. “That is not just about being the quarterback on the team. It’s about being the franchise quarterback. There’s a difference. When you’re the franchise quarterback, you gotta embrace that.”
Which is why all the innuendo over the past week on who Reich really wanted in April’s draft has driven Reich a little nuts. “I liked them all,” he says, “but I always liked Bryce the best.”
And it’s fair to say on Sunday, with the top two picks on the field, he was justified in that feeling.
The Bengals’ win in San Francisco is more proof that declarative statements before Columbus Day are really dumb. Remember when people suggested the Bengals could be in position to draft Brock Bowers in the top 10 and reset a suddenly murky future after a down year?
Just weeks after they were eulogized, the Bengals are a game back of the AFC’s top spot in the loss column, with a showdown looming Sunday night at home against the Bills. And even as the bandwagon emptied a bit as Joe Burrow struggled with his calf injury, the quarterback himself would tell you that he had an idea of what was coming.
“Yeah, I said going into this season it’s the deepest team that we’ve had,” Burrow told me after the Bengals dispatched the Niners. “I’m excited about the team we have.”
He should be—we have more coming on them in the MMQB lead this morning—and he’s not the only one. The Jaguars, once 1–2 and having suffered a blowout loss to the Texans, are 6–2 and in position to repeat as AFC South champs. The Cowboys have emphatically bounced back from a Sunday night blowout loss to the Niners. And a Ravens team that lost two of three at the September-October turn is now 6–2.
So what does this mean? To me, it’s that because of the cutbacks in practice time and contact through the spring and summer, it takes longer for teams to reveal themselves once the season starts. Which is not great for the quality of play in the sport or for people looking to take strong stands on a weekly basis. But it is, with a longer regular season, probably now here to stay.
The Jets’ Aaron Rodgers dream is alive. I have no idea whether Rodgers can actually pull off what he’s trying to and play in the same year in which he tore his Achilles—something that would’ve been unthinkable a few years ago (and may still be even now). But I saw the video of him pregame, moving around and throwing, like everyone else did.
I can also say that the Jets people I’ve talked to are uniformly keeping the light on for him. No one’s scoffing at the possibility that he could be back before season’s end. Instead, when you ask privately, you get a chorus of I don’t knows from people who believe the window is certainly cracked. But they don’t want to put any more pressure on Rodgers (some of it, of course, is self-inflicted, with Rodgers’s openness on The Pat McAfee Show leading to that).
The unspoken part of it? The Jets will need to win a bunch with Zach Wilson at quarterback to make that happen.
What we know now is the Jets are fighting like hell to make that happen.
And their 13–10 overtime win over the Giants showed that.
The Jets had 177 yards and eight first downs when they got possession of the ball with 24 seconds left in the game, trailing 10–7. After that, in two possessions, they rolled up 74 yards, and another 30 in drawing a pass interference, to force OT on a Greg Zuerlein field goal and then won it on another field goal in the extra session. Which wasn’t all that dissimilar from how they rallied to beat the Broncos and Eagles in the two games before their bye, and it lends credibility to the idea this group might have a little magic to it.
“Absolutely,” new-old QB Wilson told me postgame after making a bunch of big throws. “I mean, all that matters is getting the win, as ugly as it was. It was very important. So, we had a lot of guys that stepped up in critical situations. Lineups getting bounced around and all that, and, so, all I can say is, it doesn’t matter how you win. If you just … if you can pull out the win, that’s all that matters.”
We’ll have more on the site Monday on Wilson’s big bounceback. That, too, of course, was a little ugly at times and definitely gritty. And suddenly reflective of the team he’s improbably the starter for again.
Will Levis’s performance got my attention. And it might make sense for the Titans to give him some runway here. First, let’s look at the performance this very comfortable rookie put together—in showing poise belying the rep he had for being awkward, staged and a little over the top in his predraft interviews.
He wound up completing 19 of 29 throws for 238 yards, four scores and a 130.5 rating.
He was impressive enough for Mike Vrabel and OC Tim Kelly to shorten a planned QB rotation between Levis and second-year man Malik Willis, with Ryan Tannehill out with a high ankle sprain. He hit DeAndre Hopkins for go balls down the left and right sidelines for touchdowns, and another on a catch-and-run over the middle. And his fourth touchdown throw to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine might’ve been his most impressive—he rolled right, then threw across his body to the opposite corner of the end zone for the score.
When it was over and the Titans had a 28–23 win over the Falcons, Levis called the experience “a lot of fun” while adding that Tennessee made it “a little harder than we needed to.”
I’d say, in this case, it sure didn’t look that hard for Levis, and that’s at least one reason, if you’re Tennessee, you’d want to give the kid a longer look. This, obviously, isn’t going to be the Titans’ year. That they’ve taken on dead money, traded away Kevin Byard and are sellers ahead of tomorrow’s deadline implicitly sends that message to everyone. And Tannehill, by the way, is one of those who could be dealt along with other free-agents-to-be on the roster.
So it makes sense to find out what you have at quarterback going into 2024. Maybe it will work out. Maybe it won’t. But at least then you’ve taken your swing at it. And the more of those you can get, the better.
The Vikings, in my humble opinion, should be sellers, and Denver, too. The trouble is that the reality sitting out there for all potential sellers is that teams haven’t yet gotten aggressive with offers for veteran players. But my feeling is we’ll see more of that starting as early as Monday morning, as teams started to get a little more honest with themselves on needs after Week 8.
And so there’ll be trade opportunities for these two teams—both of which won Sunday, which keeps each at least on the periphery of the playoff race—to move vets for much-needed draft capital.
In the case of the Vikings, Danielle Hunter remains the focal point. The now 29-year-old (his birthday was Sunday) already has 10 sacks on the year and is owed the prorated remainder of his $10 million base (about $5.56 million) for the rest of the year. And the Vikings need to consider with him, and others, the chance that he’ll be gone in 2024, anyway.
Now, that’s not to say what he can do for a 4–4 team today isn’t valuable, which is why just a high Day 3 pick wouldn’t get a deal done for me. But move that pick into the top half of Day 2 (second round), and I think something would get done.
Similarly, the Broncos could convince themselves they’re still in position to make a run this year. But if they’re being real, they still need picks to replace what was lost in the Sean Payton and Russell Wilson trades. So it’s worth considering moving some combination of Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Garett Bolles, Josey Jewell and Justin Simmons (but not Patrick Surtain II, barring a Godfather offer) to replenish that depleted well of picks.
Either way, where these two teams decide to go will play a big role on how everything plays out between now and the 4 p.m. ET deadline on Halloween.
Name to remember for down the line in the NFC race: Dallas CB DaRon Bland. The Cowboys’ 2022 fifth-round pick fought his way onto the field as a rookie and wound up with five picks in 17 games (six of them starts) as an outside corner.
This year, with Stephon Gilmore coming in, Dallas DC Dan Quinn shifted Bland into slot corner between Gilmore and Trevon Diggs. Then Diggs got hurt, and Bland had to go back outside. All the while, as many on the outside freaked out over Diggs’s absence, Bland just picked up where he left off—he already has four interceptions this year and the full attention of a locker room that may previously have worried over losing Diggs.
“He’s that guy,” quarterback Dak Prescott said. “Not a lot of guys being able to move positions like that and make the impact that he’s been able to make. Obviously, when you lose a guy like Trevon, people wonder. Then when a guy like that steps in and he says, Hey, I’m here and I’m ready to play, that’s important.”
Clearly, Bland’s been ready to play for a while, and that means probably time to stop looking at the Dallas secondary as a liability post-Diggs.
It’s the end of the weekend, and we’ll wrap it up like we always do, with our quick-hitting takeaways. Let’s roll …
• Tua Tagovailoa was outstanding against the Patriots (again) Sunday and deserves credit for becoming the first quarterback to beat Bill Belichick six times over Belichick’s 29 seasons as an NFL head coach. You saw the difference between Miami and New England, and Tagovailoa and Mac Jones on Sunday. One big one difference? How Tagovailoa plays on third-and-long.
• The number of quarterback injuries Sunday was pretty staggering. Kenny Pickett’s rib injury will be one in sharp focus in the coming days, with the Steelers set to take on the Titans on Thursday night.
• As for the team that faced the Steelers this week, the Jaguars are getting better by the week and seemed steeled by the ironmen stretch (two London games, a home game and a road Thursday-nighter in 18 days) they just went through as a group. I’d also look at them as a buyer tomorrow, with the focus perhaps on a pass rusher (Jacksonville almost had a deal for Hunter done over the summer).
• The Cardinals aren’t winning, but they’re fighting, and I’d feel better about Jonathan Gannon now than I did three months ago if I were an Arizona fan. They have good young players (rookie Paris Johnson Jr. is a monster), a lot of picks with a strong GM (Monti Ossenfort), and a roster that’s engaged and helping lay a foundation.
• The biggest surprise to come from the weekend—a Denver defense that allowed 70 points to Miami a month ago somehow held Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs to nine points. DC Vance Joseph deserves a little credit for that.
• Kyle Shanahan’s take on the trade deadline: “I do believe we have the answers in our building.” While I agree with Shanahan that the Niners don’t necessarily need to go outside for help, I’d think if somehow a tackle becomes available, they’d do well to think about acquiring one. Without Trent Williams the past two weeks, it’s clear how indispensable the future Hall of Famer really is.
• The Dolphins going to the futuristic fish uniforms a decade ago might’ve been one of the worst decisions in NFL history. And days such as Sunday, when they put the throwbacks on, only highlight that.
• I’ll dig more today, but I’d think the Commanders will move either Chase Young or Montez Sweat by Tuesday. Both are in contract years. And there’s only one franchise tag.
• On the flip side, the Panthers—whose negotiations with Brian Burns have gone nowhere—still have the franchise tag to use on their pass rusher, which gives Reich and Carolina GM Scott Fitterer another crack at trading him in March.
• Best to the friends and family of former Jets PR ace Brooks Thomas, who passed away Sunday at the age of 60. The news was passed along to me by an old friend of his, and, suffice it to say, Thomas had quite a run. Thomas worked in a Jets department that once counted commissioner Roger Goodell and Dawn Aponte (the highest-ranking woman in the league office and a former Dolphins exec) in its ranks, before moving on to work with guys such as Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier with the NHL’s Rangers. RIP, Brooks.