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Running backs led the way Sunday. The winners of the Christian McCaffrey sweepstakes let the silver medalists know about it, capping another 49ers regular-season win over the Rams, while Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara and Tony Pollard led their teams to one-sided wins. Here are the Week 8 grades from around the NFL.
1 of 30
Bengals defense finally hits wall in Cleveland
Albert Cesare/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK
The Bengals entered Halloween’s appropriately cast NFL matchup, having not allowed a second-half touchdown all season. Lou Anarumo’s unit could not sustain its pace — in a game, the Browns had to have to keep faint contender hopes alive — and yielded three Monday. Amari Cooper dizzied Cincinnati’s cover men, and the Bengals (4-4) again could not hold down Nick Chubb. In five career shots against the Anarumo-era defense’s first-stringers, Chubb now has four 100-yard outings and six rushing TDs. This one-sided defeat muddles the AFC North, putting the Bengals effectively two games behind the Ravens, and sets a bad tone for Cincy’s Ja’Marr Chase-less stretch.
BENGALS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Panthers (Sun.)
2 of 30
Myles Garrett, Browns answer call in do-or-die spot
Albert Cesare/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK
Lesser offenses have humbled the Browns this season. Backup QBs (Joe Flacco, Bailey Zappe) and backup running backs (Atlanta’s stable) led Cleveland to the ropes. But Joe Woods’ defense stood up when it had to. Garrett (1.5 sacks, six pressures — one that forced Joe Burrow’s INT) and four others contributed to Cleveland’s five-sack night. Sione Takitaki’s blitz and strip-sack provided a harbinger of a rough Bengals second half, leading to Burrow dropping to 0-4 against the Browns. With Miami and Buffalo trips coming, this effort may not be enough to keep the Browns (3-5) in the race when Deshaun Watson re-emerges in Week 13. But it prevented a nationally televised de facto elimination.
BROWNS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Dolphins (Nov. 13)
3 of 30
Packers defense awakens too late
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports
Yes, the Packers are receiver-deficient. The folks that criticized them for not doing enough to replace Davante Adams were right. But Green Bay cannot keep seeing its first-rounder-laden defense underperform. Josh Allen did what he wanted in the first half, finding Stefon Diggs for chunk plays and leading the Bills to a 24-7 lead. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry has even more to work with than Mike Pettine did; Green Bay (3-5) has both drafted and spent to fortify this defense. The unit, which could not contain Daniel Jones or Taylor Heinicke late, left a shorthanded offense trying to use the run game to erase the deficit. After three straight 13-win seasons, the Packers have slunk to an inexcusable place.
PACKERS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: at Lions (Sun.)
4 of 30
Bills swat away toothless Packers aerial attack
JAMIE GERMANO / USA TODAY NETWORK
Aaron Jones continued to find open space, but the Packers running the ball repeatedly down two touchdowns was weird enough Von Miller was asking questions . The Bills (6-1) did not let Allen’s second-half slowdown affect a one-sided win. Their front seven created enough havoc to convince Matt LaFleur to keep turning to the run game. Greg Rousseau (five sacks) has already surpassed his rookie-year total, with Miller — whose bulldozing of Yosh Nijman led to a crucial fourth-down run stop — continuing to prove worth his latest big-ticket deal. Jordan Poyer’s injury concerns, with Micah Hyde already out of the picture. The Bills are on a rare level still; they need the playoffs to hurry up and begin.
BILLS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: at Jets (Sun.)
5 of 30
49ers’ trade prize dizzies other sweepstakes finalist
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The Rams offered nearly what the 49ers did for Christian McCaffrey; San Francisco did not let its top rival forget which team landed him. The 49ers (4-4) have both buried the Rams with and without McCaffrey this season, but Sunday showcased previously unseen capabilities. Turning CMC (149 scrimmage yards; it felt like 250) loose to a point, he became the fourth post-merger player to run, catch and pass for a touchdown in a game, the 49ers looked like a different team from the one that used a healthier defense to smother the Rams a month ago. While the McCaffrey injury risk hovered over his 26-touch day, his ensuring a 49ers rivalry sweep — in a Deebo Samuel-less game — makes them the NFC West’s scariest team.
49ERS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: vs. Chargers (Nov. 13)
6 of 30
How much will Rams deadline addition move needle?
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
The Rams have lost eight straight to the 49ers — in the regular season, of course. The defending champions (3-4) remain unable to sustain non-Cooper Kupp-generated offense. Los Angeles’ McCaffrey push made more sense Sunday, with Sean McVay’s backfield combining for 45 rushing yards. A reconciliation with a post-Achilles-tear Cam Akers likely will not help much, and of the team’s O-line injuries, only left guard David Edwards can come back to assist. A perennially all-in team enduring a down year is untenable. The Lions own the Rams’ 2023 first-round pick, and Kupp will join Aaron Donald and Matthew Stafford in his 30s next season. Odell Beckham Jr.’s December timeline no longer works. Can trade-deadline artillery save the Rams?
RAMS GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: vs. Cardinals (Sun.)
7 of 30
Giants O-line unable to fend off improving Seahawks
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
While Richie James’ two punt-return fumbles prevented the Giants from performing their hang-around-and-strike routine, the Seahawks made chain movement tough throughout. The Giants (6-2) relied on offseason castoff Darius Slayton to come through. That and Tyler Lockett’s miscue near Seattle’s goal line powered a New York outfit that could not protect Daniel Jones. The Seahawks preyed on Giants backup right tackle Tyre Phillips during a five-sack outing — on a day in which Saquon Barkley (20 carries, 53 yards) averaged 2.7 yards per tote. Big Blue is down two O-line starters (left guard Ben Bredeson, right tackle Evan Neal); it showed. Still, the Giants are in excellent shape compared to preseason expectations.
GIANTS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Texans (Nov 13.)
8 of 30
Lockett bounce-back effort keeps Geno express rolling
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Can Geno Smith win Comeback Player of the Year if no prior quality seasons are on his resume? Tommy Maddox did so 20 years ago, putting it very much in play. Smith did not drop a monster statistical game (212 yards, two TD passes), but he stopped the Giants’ October surge by trusting Russell Wilson’s longtime go-to guy. Lockett both fumbled at his own 3-yard line and later dropped a surefire TD, but his double move on Adoree’ Jackson gave the Seahawks a fourth-quarter lead in what had been a defensive duel. While Lockett has never made a Pro Bowl as a receiver, he helped Wilson’s Hall of Fame-level ascent and is riding a streak of three straight 1,000-yard slates. On pace for a fourth, Lockett is a big piece of this stunning Smith season.
SEAHAWKS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: at Cardinals (Sun.)
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
On a day in which the Steelers did not match up with their in-state foes in just about any area, their secondary was particularly outclassed. Hurts’ four touchdown passes all beat the Steelers deep, with Next Gen Stats indicating no team has scored on as many go routes in a game in five years. A.J. Brown beat Ahkello Witherspoon for two of his three scores, but safety Terrell Edmunds being fooled on Zach Pascal’s easy TD looked worse. The Eagles and Bills exposed a Steelers secondary that features Minkah Fitzpatrick and a host of low-cost veterans. The Steelers have no ex-first- or second-round picks or a $5 million-per-year player at corner. It showed Sunday, rendering the prospect of a Hurts-Kenny Pickett duel impossible.
STEELERS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Saints (Sun.)
10 of 30
Titans’ iffy foresight creating Eagles monster
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
A.J. Brown did the most to ruin a competitive Pennsylvania matchup, notching his first three-touchdown game and his second 150-yard outing of the season. The Eagles’ Brown acquisition has enabled another Hurts leap, and it is still a tough look for the Titans, who have not come close to replacing him. Setting the extension market for the talented 2019 receiver class, the Eagles prying Brown from a Titans team squeamish about the new receiver going rate stopped Philly — after Jalen Reagor and JJ Arcega-Whiteside misses — from taking another big draft swing. Brown (658 yards) is on pace for by far his best season — on an Eagles team (7-0) without a glaring weakness.
EAGLES GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: at Texans (Thu.)
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
With New England’s offense far from where it needs to be to aim for a playoff spot, Belichick’s defense took aim at one of the conference’s other wild-card contenders. The Patriots (4-4) performed their usual tricks against the Jets, this one purportedly a superior iteration compared to other Jet squads during the Pats’ 13-game rivalry win streak. The longest-tenured Belichick defender — Devin McCourty — intercepted Zach Wilson twice. This process did not play out as the NFL hoped, with Belichick passing Halas against the Jets and not the Chicago icon’s team, but the game flow reminded me of so many Belichick games against his former employer. The ex-Browns coach and Jets DC’s 325 wins are 22 away from Don Shula’s record. That will likely be a mid-2020s storyline.
PATRIOTS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: vs. Colts (Sun.)
12 of 30
Predictable Zach Wilson outing leaves Jets in crisis
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
The Jets (5-3) sacked Mac Jones six times and held the Patriots to one touchdown, but after Zach Wilson’s alarming Denver outing, expecting too much from the erratic quarterback against Belichick was foolish. Depending on your standards, the former No. 2 overall pick threw either two or three terrible INTs. No. 3, a fling into traffic that ended in McCourty’s arms, was particularly concerning. The Jets’ four-game win streak came without much from Wilson (and, inexcusably, without green pants or green jerseys ; we clearly have two crises engulfing this team). Wilson is still developing, but the Jets’ other roster improvements put Robert Saleh to a decision. The second-year QB is holding the team back.
JETS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Bills (Sun.)
13 of 30
DJ Moore erred, but rule still cost Panthers too much
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
When the NFL implemented the rule that Sunday proved costly for the Panthers (2-6), post-touchdown infractions did not create 48-yard PATs. NFL kickers obviously can make such kicks, but insisting such a try take place because one player removed his helmet in celebration is overkill. Moore’s gaffe — which came shortly after his drive-killing drop — did not directly lead to a loss, a la Dwayne Rudd in 2002 , but the punishment did not fit the crime. Enforce this on the kickoff. The penalty marred the end to a shootout and led to P.J. Walker’s heave — 67.6 air yards, the longest in the Next Gen Stats era — joining the 2003 Saints’ “River City Relay” play (also minimized by a PAT miss) in what-if NFL lore.
PANTHERS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: at Bengals (Sun.)
14 of 30
Speed helps Falcons glide to unexpected perch
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Denied a chance to take the NFC South lead in Tampa, the Falcons zoomed back to this spot thanks to Moore and Eddy Pineiro, yes. But some minimum-salary playmakers lifted Atlanta (4-4) as well. The Falcons have something in Caleb Huntley, an undrafted Ball State product recently on the practice squad, and journeyman Damiere Byrd delivered perhaps his signature NFL sequence Sunday. The explosive Huntley reached 91 rushing yards, while Byrd’s 47-yard catch-and-run TD certainly showed why teams keep buying low on the seventh-year wideout. The Falcons made no secret of their rebuild plan, with Matt Ryan and Deion Jones accounting for most of the team’s NFL-high $78 million in dead money. But do they need to circle around to being buyers at the trade deadline?
FALCONS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: vs. Chargers (Sun.)
15 of 30
Terry McLaurin’s homecoming keeps Commanders
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
At this rate, Carson Wentz is not reclaiming his job. McLaurin, who has seen an injury force a Taylor Heinicke pairing for a second straight year, is helping change the equation for the Commanders. Playing in his hometown Indianapolis for the first time as a pro, McLaurin led a rescue effort that finished off a two-score comeback in the final five minutes. McLaurin’s 113-yard game included a 42-yard catch-and-run past ace Colts slot man Kenny Moore and a 50-50 grab over former Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore. Heinicke leading an 89-yard march to KO, the Colts moved the Commanders to 4-4 and back in the mix in a jumbled NFC.
COMMANDERS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: vs. Vikings (Sun.)
Jenna Watson/IndyStar-USA TODAY Sports
Armed with a franchise QB and an elite draft class, the 2018 Colts far exceeded expectations. They looked like a perennial contender in the making. Three years after Luck’s seminal retirement, that Pro Bowler-fueled nucleus is at a crossroads. Frank Reich’s team has trotted out higher-profile QBs compared to Washington’s post-Alex Smith lot, but the alternate reality in which an early-30s Luck leads the Colts (3-4-1) has tormented Reich and GM Chris Ballard’s tenures. Sam Ehlinger offered a bit more than Matt Ryan, as a Wentz-Ryan matchup (the presumed reason this game received a late-afternoon slot) became Heinicke-Ehlinger. But the first-time starter also lost a fumble. It is starting to look like Luck’s decision will be impossible for the Ballard-Reich regime to overcome.
COLTS GRADE: D | NEXT: at Patriots (Sun.)
17 of 30
Raiders no-show Superdome tilt
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
The Raiders’ 1-4 start prevents them from submitting efforts like this. The AFC has produced some disappointments, which kept the intriguing Raiders a potential late-blooming playoff team. Josh McDaniels’ squad may have cut off access to that path Sunday. In their first shutout loss since 2014, the Raiders (2-5) saw an offense that had gouged three straight opponents — including the Chiefs — faceplant. The Saints stalled Josh Jacobs’ contract-year climb, held Davante Adams to three receiving yards — despite missing Marshon Lattimore again — and bullied an overachieving Raiders O-line. Yeah, the much-hyped AFC West is looking similar to the fields Patrick Mahomes previously conquered.
RAIDERS GRADE: F | NEXT: at Jaguars (Sun.)
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Although running back is one of the NFL’s more replaceable positions, the Saints do not have much to bank on beyond Kamara. And his latest dominant performance has New Orleans (3-5) in the thick of an uninspiring NFC South race. Totaling 156 scrimmage yards and three TDs — two of them through the air, reminding of why Kamara matters more than most backs — the five-time Pro Bowler carried a Saints offense that has changed QBs and is still missing Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry. The Saints have veterans flooding both lines and the secondary. Moving Kamara — whom the Bills called about — during his age-27 season would make less sense than a younger Panthers team dealing McCaffrey.
SAINTS GRADE: A-plus | NEXT: vs. Ravens (Mon.)
19 of 30
Bears lay out red (orange?) carpet for Cowboys
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Becoming a quick savior for “over” bettors, the Bears’ defense could not contain Dak Prescott or Tony Pollard. Chicago (3-5) allowed Dallas to convert third downs (9-for-11) at an 82% clip — its worst mark in more than 30 years — and it hit Prescott just twice. After an inspired effort delayed Bill Belichick’s pursuit of George Halas, the Bears were right to trade Robert Quinn. They are not a contender. But the Cowboys running this wild was still unexpected. Hopefully, the all-oranges going 0-2 this season does not send them permanently into the closet.
BEARS GRADE: D-minus | NEXT: vs. Dolphins (Sun.)
20 of 30
Tony Pollard in on big NFL running back day
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
As Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Derrick Henry, and D’Onta Foreman ran wild, the Cowboys saw their backup easily mow down the Bears. Ezekiel Elliott’s backup has been a flashier option for much of his time in Dallas, and the fourth-year back’s 131-yard rushing day (9.4 per handoff) both showcased the value the Cowboys receive from a former fourth-round pick and present a looming decision. Jerry Jones doubled down on Elliott’s value postgame, but Pollard is set to join a stacked free agency running back contingent. The Cowboys (6-2) will be wise to lock down their 1-B back, but unless they move on from Elliott — an expensive 2023 task — authorizing another big backfield deal will be challenging.
COWBOYS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Packers (Nov. 13)
21 of 30
Cardinals offense reminds of unreliability in Minnesota
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
While DeAndre Hopkins filled up the box score in his second game back, the Cardinals could not replicate their best offensive outing a week after their All-Pro receiver’s debut. More disorganization, leading to burned timeouts, plagued the slow-starting Cards (3-5). And Arizona’s comeback attempt epitomized the debris-filled roads this team keeps traveling. Kyler Murray INTs sandwiched Greg Dortch’s punt-return blunder in a three-turnover second half, and a Cardinals game-tying drive attempt — only in play because of Greg Joseph’s PAT miss — saw two sacks derail it from becoming a threat. Average teams flood the NFC, making it too early to write the Cards off. But they are often a tough watch.
CARDINALS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Seahawks (Sun.)
22 of 30
Attention scarce, but Vikings must be taken seriously
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
While the 2015 Falcons would like a say in this debate, the Vikings are in contention for the least-discussed 6-1 team in modern NFL history. Kirk Cousins has not been statistically dominant, and he bombed in another national TV showcase. But the Vikes have stabilized their operation since the Philly letdown. Still smarting from his Arizona departure, Patrick Peterson came through with three pass breakups — including an end zone swat — and Za’Darius Smith’s three sacks upped his season total to 8.5 (tied with Matt Judon atop the league). Top 10 in neither total offense nor defense, the Vikings do not ooze Super Bowl appeal. But they are likely winning the NFC North. It might be time to start paying attention.
VIKINGS GRADE: B-plus | NEXT: at Commanders (Sun.)
23 of 30
Henry’s Texans dominance renders QB change irrelevant
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Tannehill’s unavailability forced the Titans to start a passer the Texans soon knew could not hurt them downfield. Malik Willis confirmed his raw prospect profile, throwing for 55 yards and an INT in Houston. Derrick Henry put aerial concerns on the back burner, carrying the Titans (5-2) with 219 rushing yards on 32 totes. He now has an NFL-record six 200-yard, two-TD games. Henry’s four such showings against the Texans alone would rank second all-time alongside Jim Brown. The Titans are extracting everything they can from Henry, whose workload (NFL-high 166 carries) warns of trouble ahead. But A.J. Brown’s exit and injuries to current cogs are limiting their passing game. Tennessee will need Tannehill next week.
TITANS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Chiefs (Sun.)
24 of 30
Texans biding time until April
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
As Deshaun Watson’s suspension continues to tank the Browns’ record, the Texans are poised to be in strong position in the 2023 draft. They may end up with two top-10 picks. One of them will definitely be their own selection. Houston stacked the box but could not compete with a Henry-dependent Titans team. And, after Davis Mills nearly spoiled the 2021 Titans’ No. 1 seed hopes in Week 18 last season, the Texans amassed 51 yards in their first 11 drives. There is not much worth saying about the Texans (1-5-1) at this point. With Mills looking likely to give way to a better QB prospect next year, this is set up to be one of the longest-running rebuilds in recent history.
TEXANS GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Eagles (Thu.)
25 of 30
Tyreek Hill reshaping Dolphins’ passing attack
David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports
Although Mike McDaniel’s offense has made an impact in Tua Tagovailoa progressing from a passer whose long-range chops generated immense skepticism to the player the Dolphins are unleashing, Hill is the on-field variable. The historically talented deep threat’s 188-yard day — his fourth 160-yard outing as a Dolphin — increased his NFL receiving lead (961 — 197 more than anyone else). Hill’s final two catches also kept the Lions from a go-ahead drive. Jaylen Waddle’s emergence as a downfield target (9.8 yards per catch in 2021; 17.3 in ’22) was certainly Hill-assisted as well. Hill and Waddle totaled more than 200 yards on Tua passes that traveled at least 10 yards through the air, per Next Gen Stats.
DOLPHINS GRADE: B | NEXT: at Bears (Sun.)
26 of 30
Lions defense caves in again
Junfu Han-USA TODAY Sports
Able to competely outgun the Dolphins’ Hill-Waddle machine in the first half, the Lions did not see the ball much in the second. Detroit (1-6) only logged three second-half possessions for 67 yards. Its long-embattled defense could not contain Miami’s speedsters to continue the game’s early shootout pace, representing a letdown after the unit kept the Lions in it against the Cowboys throughout. Despite housing two top-three draftees (Jeff Okudah, Aidan Hutchinson), Aaron Glenn’s troops rank last in points and yards allowed. After Dan Campbell canned his offensive coordinator ( Anthony Lynn) after one season, it appears Glenn will be a two-and-done in Detroit. Six-year contract aside, will Campbell?
LIONS GRADE: C-plus | NEXT: vs. Packers (Sun.)
27 of 30
Russell Wilson, Broncos pause rampant scrutiny
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The pitchforks coming for Wilson have not presented NFL social media in the best light, with much of the attacks being aimed at the former NFL Man of the Year’s persona (as opposed to strictly performance-based digs). Wilson is a long way from quieting the noise, but he came through amid the scrutiny by leading two scoring drives — one a 98-yarder, the other a game-winning march including a 47-yard strike to K.J. Hamler — to down the Jaguars. The Broncos deviated from their hapless second-half routine, and their injury-plagued QB’s aerial work and willingness to run again keyed it. The Broncos (3-5) are still retooling for 2023, with another seller trade (Bradley Chubb) likely in the cards. But they at least paused their turmoil-filled season.
BRONCOS GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Titans (Nov. 13)
28 of 30
Lawrence mistakes interrupt Etienne’s breakout
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jacksonville’s James Robinson trade fully gave the backfield reins to Travis Etienne, and the ex-Clemson dynamo delivered in London. The Broncos could not contain Lawrence’s college teammate, who smoked the top-tier defense for 156 rushing yards. But the Jags could not overcome the Broncos (and their borderline-offensive uniform choice). Denver’s offense gave its defense some rare breathing room, but Lawrence’s two INTs — the second a K’Waun Williams pick ending a potential game-winning drive early — were the difference. The Jags (2-6) are still seeing too many mistakes from their prized QB prospect.
JAGUARS GRADE: C | NEXT: vs. Raiders (Sun.)
29 of 30
Lamar makes do with midlevel investments
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Without Rashod Bateman for a chunk of this season and without Mark Andrews for most of Thursday night, Lamar Jackson made it work. Fourth-round rookie Isaiah Likely justified the preseason hype he generated, displaying plus athleticism and leading the Ravens in receiving. With DeSean Jackson still ramping up, Devin Duvernay (Round 3, 2020) worked as Jackson’s lead wideout in Tampa. The Ravens (5-3) have not done enough to give Jackson a well-rounded aerial cast, but they have seen Duvernay make a third-year leap and identified a potential long-term Andrews sidekick in Likely. These two helping Jackson snap a mini-slump may be key in the long run.
RAVENS GRADE: A-minus | NEXT: at Saints (Mon.)
30 of 30
Last-place run game among Buccaneers’ many issues
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
The Buccaneers are reeling in a way no Tom Brady-led team has in 20 years. While Brady is at the epicenter, leading an offense that should be better than it is, he is not receiving much help on the ground. The Bucs (3-5) are barely putting forth an effort to run, ranking last in attempts and yards. They cannot justify Leonard Fournette’s three-year, $21 million ($9M fully guaranteed) contract by operating this way. Fournette finished Week 8 with 24 yards, after a 19-yard Week 7, and is averaging 3.4 per carry. The Bucs lost multiple interior linemen, but they still have Shaq Mason healthy. Other teams are dealing with worse injury issues. Still, this division is bad enough Tampa Bay can recover.
BUCCANEERS GRADE: C-minus | NEXT: vs. Rams (Sun.)