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11 NFL players who impressed us Sunday — and 5 who really didn’t

We couldn’t stop watching these players in Week 9, for better or for Peterman.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The highlight of the week was supposed to be on Sunday Night Football, when Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers faced off for just the second time ever. Instead, it was a snoozy 31-17 win for the Patriots. Both quarterbacks were fine, but neither was at playing at his GOAT level.

It would have been the most boring game of Week 9, if not for a Jets-Dolphins matchup that apparently happened and we’ve all already forgotten.

Luckily, Week 9 provided us with the heroes we needed in the other games Sunday. These players wowed us for all the right reasons — and some for all the Peterman reasons.

The players who impressed in Week 9, surprisingly or not

We expected most of these players to ball out, though a few names surprised us. Either way, we want to show them the appreciation they deserve.

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs

The Chiefs’ prodigy quarterback threw for a whole bunch of yards and touchdowns. Who could’ve seen this coming?

Mahomes topped 300 yards passing for an eighth consecutive game with his 375-yard, three-touchdown showing against the Browns. If he makes it nine in a row by tearing up the Arizona Cardinals secondary in Week 10, he’ll tie the record for consecutive 300-yard games held by Drew Brees.

But that can wait until next week. For now, let’s marvel at Mahomes adding another ridiculous throw to his highlight reel with an absolute gem against the Browns:

Will the Cardinals be the ones to slow him down? Hmm ... don’t count on it.

James Conner, RB, Steelers

Who needs Le’Veon Bell anyway?

The Steelers still don’t have their two-time All-Pro running back, but they don’t seem to be missing a step with Conner serving as the replacement. He’s not just filling in admirably — he’s reaching heights Bell never has.

Against the Ravens, Conner finished with 107 yards on 24 carries, and 56 receiving yards on seven receptions.

Who knows how the Steelers will use Bell when he returns — if he does at all — but the team seems to be just fine with being the Conner show.

Travis Kelce, TE, Chiefs

Travis Kelce is arguably the best tight end in the NFL and he continued showing us why in the Chiefs’ 37-21 win over the Cleveland Browns. Kelce caught seven of his nine targets for 99 yards and two touchdowns, including a laser over the middle from Mahomes.

The second touchdown that Kelce caught was similar to his first, but Mahomes didn’t put as much heat on the ball.

Most tight ends just don’t move as gracefully as Kelce can. He’s a matchup nightmare for every player on defense and he cooked the Browns for a big day, and a win.

Michael Thomas, WR, Saints

The Saints’ 25-year-old receiver already has a Pro Bowl and two 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, but Sunday may have been his best day in the NFL. In a 45-35 win against the previously undefeated Rams, Thomas was unstoppable.

He finished with 12 receptions and a career-best and franchise-record 211 receiving yards. No other player in the 2018 season has topped 200 receiving yards, and Thomas put a cherry on top by torching the Rams’ secondary for a 72-yard touchdown to clinch the game, followed by a perfect Joe Horn tribute.

There was some unsurprising handwringing during and after the game about the celebration, but none of that can change the fact that Thomas was electric in the biggest game of the year for the Saints.

Demaryius Thomas, WR, Texans

After eight years in Denver, the Broncos traded away Demaryius Thomas earlier this week. But trading him to their upcoming opponent made for a unique opportunity for the Broncos and their fans to properly say goodbye to the receiver.

But the intrigue for everyone other than Broncos fans was how Thomas would fit in a Texans offense that just lost Will Fuller for the season. And the early returns were great. On the first drive of the game, Deshaun Watson connected with Thomas on back-to-back plays for gains of 31 and 18 yards.

By the end of the first quarter, he had three receptions for 61 yards. And that’s where his receiving stats stayed for the rest of the game. The Denver defense buckled down and held the Texans to just three points in the second half, but Houston still escaped with a 19-17 win. The receiving hero ended up being, like usual, DeAndre Hopkins, who had 10 receptions, 105 yards, and a touchdown.

But even though Thomas didn’t do anything in the last three quarters, his explosive first quarter was one hell of a way to introduce himself to the Texans.

Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints

Before Saints safety Kurt Coleman became a teammate of Kamara’s, he was a Panthers safety who had to deal with the challenge of tackling the running back. He perfectly described why Kamara is such a nightmare to bring down.

“He kind of goes limp to the side and the (defender) kind of shrugs off,” Coleman said in December 2017.

Kamara is still using that strategy to run through defenders in a way that almost looks comical. On his first touchdown of the day against the Rams, two defenders slid off of Kamara like he was greased.

Making things even more difficult is the fact that it’s hard to even get hands on Kamara in the first place. He’s about as polished of a route runner as running backs ever get, and that means he’s awfully good at finding separation.

Kamara finished with 82 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground, and another 34 receiving yards with a receiving touchdown. He doesn’t have the stats Todd Gurley does so far in 2018, but in the head-to-head matchup, it was Kamara who showed out.

Aaron Donald, DL, Rams

The Rams have been able to lean on Donald for most, if not all, of their defensive output for a couple weeks now. Not this week. Donald didn’t have a single sack, nobody on the Rams did.

But he did do this:

So, that’s pretty neat.

Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers

It really wasn’t even that great of a game for Rivers, not by the standards he’s set for himself this season. He only completed 50 percent of his passes, but two of those throws were touchdowns. None of them ended up in the hands of the Seahawks’ defense. For the season, Rivers has only thrown THREE interceptions.

If only the Chargers could claim kickers as reliable.

That reaction alone has us saluting Rivers. Luckily for Caleb Sturgis, the Chargers still won, improving to 6-2.

Duke Johnson, RB, Browns

Browns fill-in offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens said he wanted to get Johnson more involved in the offense, and he did. Johnson caught all nine of the passes thrown his way for 78 yards and a pair of touchdowns, his first scores of the season:

Maybe there really is something to be hopeful for in Cleveland. Maybe?

Curtis Samuel, WR, Panthers

The Panthers’ 22-year-old wide receiver had a drop early against the Bucs so cringeworthy that he looked destined for the losers section of this post. Then he did this:

It’s a little unfair that only showed up in the box score as a 33-yard rushing touchdown considering just how much ground Samuel covered:

We mean this in the most chaste way, but hubba hubba.

Samuel later caught another touchdown and it came right when the Panthers needed it. The Bucs were storming back thanks to a sprinkling FitzMagic, and had scored 21 unanswered points to cut Carolina’s lead to seven in the fourth quarter. Then Samuel reached up to snag a Cam Newton pass in the end zone to get it back to a two-score game, the Panthers’ winning margin.

That was just the 14th career game for Samuel, who missed almost half of his rookie year due to injury and the first part of this season after surgery for an irregular heartbeat. He’s come on strong lately, and between him and Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers’ second-year players are showing just how electric they can be for this offense.

Joshua Dobbs, QB, Steelers

Right before the season, the Steelers chose rocket scientist Joshua Dobbs over longtime backup Landry Jones to be Ben Roethlisberger’s No. 2.

Usually, the backup quarterback in Pittsburgh plays about twice a year: the one game that should be six that Roethlisberger misses due to injury, and the Week 17 game that Mike Tomlin sits all the starters so they can rest for the playoffs.

Roethlisberger, at age 36, has been mostly healthy this season, besides a broken finger, which is nothing to him. But then he was tackled from behind by Za’Darius Smith in a close game against the Ravens. Roethlisberger hit the turf hard, landing on his right shoulder. Things did not look good:

Dobbs then entered the game for his first real NFL action, other than a couple of kneel downs. The Steelers were at their own five-yard line, facing second-and-20 and clinging to a seven-point lead.

And Dobbs came through on his first ever throw for a crucial first down:

That miraculously revived Roethlisberger, who returned on the next play. The Steelers got a field goal on the drive on their way to a 23-16 win.

And the players who stood out for the wrong reasons in Week 9

A few of these guys have seen better days; others are Nathan Peterman. But the one thing they have in common is they all had a rough Sunday.

Nathan Peterman, QB, Bills

The Bills’ third-string quarterback was forced to start the fourth game of his career, and for the first time — he actually finished it. The good news pretty much ends there, because it’s just painfully clear at this point that he’s ill-equipped for the job of NFL quarterback.

What’s especially cruel is the universe seems to be out to get him too. He threw the third pick-six of his career on a pass that ricocheted off a receiver straight into the arms of Bears linebacker Leonard Floyd:

Was it a good throw? Nope. But that takes some seriously bad luck to wind up as a pick-six.

Peterman finished the game with 31 completions on 49 attempts for 189 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. Even that awful day was enough to raise his career passer rating from 31.4 to 32.5. Hooray?

Dante Fowler Jr., DE, Rams

The Rams tried to improve their defense before the trade deadline by sending a 2019 third-round pick and 2020 first-round pick to the Jaguars for pass rusher Dante Fowler. The immediate returns of the deal did not look promising Sunday.

Fowler had a nice tackle for loss in the second half, but for most of the day he didn’t come close to sacking Drew Brees. He was run over on the Saints’ first two touchdowns of the day, and one of his most notable moments of the game was getting tossed like a sack of potatoes by Saints running back Mark Ingram:

Fowler became a member of the Rams five days before his Week 9 debut, so it wouldn’t be fair at all to call it a failed trade yet. He’ll have more time to integrate into the Los Angeles defense in the latter half of the year.

But he’s also set to become a free agent in 2019 and the Rams don’t have much cap space to bring players back. Fowler better start proving his worth soon or his upcoming free agency isn’t going to be very lucrative.

Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions

Matthew Stafford has consistently been a quarterback who can make things happen in crunch time, but that was not at all the case against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Without Golden Tate, who was traded just before the NFL deadline, Stafford looked lost out there.

Not only that, but his offensive line was particularly bad, though not as bad as the 10 sacks allowed — a Vikings’ franchise record — would lead you to believe.

That’s because Stafford looked so uncomfortable in the pocket that he started making really bad decisions. He completed 25 of 36 passes for just 199 yards, and that’s largely due to him dumping off the ball in a panic to his underneath options.

Stafford didn’t throw any interceptions, but he did toss a lateral right into the face of an unaware running back, which resulted in a fumble returned for a Vikings’ defensive touchdown.

The Stafford who takes a blown play and turns it into a big one was not there on Sunday, and he certainly accounted for a few of the sacks Minnesota earned.

Of course, if you ask Sheldon Richardson, the Vikings left “three or four” sacks on the field in the 24-9 Vikings win.

Josh Norman, CB, Washington

Grabbing a receiver’s neck from behind is never a good thing. It might also be Josh Norman’s only hope of stopping Julio Jones.

It didn’t work, either. Jones ended up with seven catches for 121 yards and his FIRST touchdown in almost a year.

Sam Martin, P, Lions

We knew exactly where this game was headed for the Lions as soon as their kickoff went like this:

Is that better or worse than Nebraska’s against Ohio State? You be the judge. All we know is we can’t stop watching either one of them.