You wouldn't have expected a 2-5 Bears team and a 2-6 Chargers team to combine to put together any semblance of an interesting game, but that's what happened on Monday Night Football. Chicago overcame a rough start to mount a second-half comeback in San Diego, grabbing their first lead with 3:19 left in the game before finishing off Philip Rivers and the Chargers.
The Chargers' had looked like they'd roll the Bears at home after they jumped out to a quick 13-0 lead, by way of a Danny Woodhead 13-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers and a Jason Verrett pick-six of Jay Cutler. But, credit to the Bears, who stopped the bleeding and tightened up on defense. They got themselves back into it with the help of a 1-yard touchdown pass from Cutler to Martellus Bennett mid 2nd quarter, then limited San Diego to a field goal as the half closed out to head into the locker room within striking distance, 16-7.
A 1-yard touchdown run by rookie running back Jeremy Langford with 14:22 to go in the 4th quarter closed the gap, and a key illegal man downfield penalty on the Chargers' subsequent drive nullified a touchdown pass from Rivers to Antonio Gates, so San Diego had to settle for a field goal. That would end up being a huge play in the game as it pushed the Chargers' lead to 19-14, because the Bears would storm right back and score a touchdown of their own. It came on a beautiful, diving touchdown grab by Zach Miller from Cutler.
The story of the game was probably the Bears' stingy defense, which held the high-flying Chargers at bay for much of the second half following San Diego's quick start. The Chargers weathered a whole new round of injuries as well -- Malcom Floyd went out with an injured shoulder, Jason Verrett aggravated a groin injury, and Patrick Robinson left with a neck injury. Alshon Jeffrey and Jay Cutler took advantage of San Diego's injury troubles and connected for 10 passes for 151 yards, and rookie running back Jeremy Langford played well in Matt Forte's stead, racking up 72 yards on the ground while adding another 70 through the air.
The win was a big one for Chicago, who keep their hopes alive in the NFC playoff picture. They're still a longshot for the wild-card, of course, but if they can continue to get solid performances from their defense and some explosive plays out of their offense, they're not out of this thing yet.
Oh, and Jay Cutler surpassed Sid Luckman on the Bears' all time passing touchdowns list, moving into the top spot in the storied franchise's history. Cutler also owns the franchise records in Chicago for passing yards, pass completions, and pass completion percentage. Cutler may be a pretty divisive character among Bears fandom, but he's statistically the best quarterback the team has ever had.
As for the Chargers, things look bleak despite what's been a historically prolific season for Philip Rivers. San Diego falls to 2-7, tied with the Lions and Browns for most losses in the NFL, and you have to start wondering if Mike McCoy's on the hot seat there.
The Patriots and Panthers join the Bengals as the last three undefeated teams in the NFL, but it is chaos everywhere else. The Week 9 Sunday slate of NFL games provided five Vegas upsets and a bevy of wild finishes, with seven of the 10 afternoon games going down to the wire and ending up within one score.
In probably the biggest game of the week, the Panthers held off a furious comeback by the Packers to improve to 8-0. Green Bay rallied back after falling behind by 23 points and threatened to tie the game with two minutes remaining, but Thomas Davis put an end to that with an interception of Aaron Rodgers at the Carolina 3-yard line on fourth-and-goal. That sealed the deal for Carolina, giving the Panthers their 12th straight regular season win, a streak that goes back to Nov. 30, 2014. The win moves Carolina two games ahead of everyone else in the NFC for that elusive No. 1 playoff seed (a de facto three-game lead over the Packers because of the head-to-head tiebreaker). Right now, it's looking like the path to the Super Bowl will end up going through Charlotte.
It shouldn't be a surprise anymore -- this is an excellent top-tier defense with depth and talent at every spot. Surprisingly, the offense has held its own all year, as well, even after losing Kelvin Benjamin to an ACL tear prior to the season. Greg Olsen caught another touchdown on Sunday to become the only tight end in the league with at least five touchdown catches in each of the past eight seasons.
Meanwhile, three games went to overtime, as the Vikings beat the Rams. The Titans finished off the Saints in the extra frame and the Eagles beat the Cowboys in prime time. Minnesota improved to 6-2 and into a tie for first place in the NFC North even without starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater for the final 13:36 of the game. Teddy took a vicious elbow from Lamarcus Joyner as he slid to the ground, and left the game while being evaluated for a concussion. Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer didn't pull any punches afterwords, calling the play dirty while chiding both Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams (mostly Williams) for the way they run things.
Regardless, it was a big win for the Vikings -- the Rams had been playing good football and have a very tough, fast defense -- and the victory puts them in a great position to make a run at this thing over the next two months.
The same can't be said about the Saints, who dropped to 4-5 because, well, their defense is terrible. Drew Brees picked up where he left off last week -- when he threw seven touchdown passes -- with three more, adding a goal line sneak for another score. Right now, New Orleans is a horribly one-dimensional team that desperately needs to get more from their defense.
In Sunday Night Football action, the Eagles beat the reeling Cowboys in overtime, 33-27, strengthening their position in the NFC East while handing Dallas its sixth straight loss (the Cowboys longest since 1989, Troy Aikman's rookie year), more or less putting them out of the race for the playoffs. The Eagles face off against the Dolphins, Bucs and Lions the next three weeks.
Elsewhere, the Jets held off the Jaguars to win 28-23, improving to 5-3 to strengthen their position in the AFC Wild Card picture. The Steelers did the same as they won a wild one 38-35 over the Raiders, but it was a Pyrrhic victory of sorts after losing Ben Roethlisberger to a foot injury, which should keep him out of action for a few weeks.
The Niners, behind a surprisingly solid game from new starter Blaine Gabbert, beat the stumbling Falcons at home. Gabbert, who replaced Colin Kaepernick, threw two touchdown passes to Garrett Celek, the de facto replacement for the now-traded Vernon Davis. Interesting, to say the least.
Along those same lines, the Colts, fresh off the firing of Pep Hamilton, looked re-born as they rolled the Broncos and their league-best defense. Indy held on to win 27-24 behind a strong performance by Andrew Luck, and did so by possessing the football for the final six minutes of the game.
Elsewhere, the Giants beat the Buccaneers 32-18 in what was a closer game than the score would indicate, the Patriots easily dispatched Washington and the Bills improved to 4-4 with a convincing victory over the Dolphins.
Win the water cooler
Arm yourself with a few interesting tidbits from Sunday's action so you can impress your coworkers around the water cooler.
The consistency of the Patriots
It's almost getting trite to mention that the Patriots won again easily this week, but anyway, they dominated Washington all the way through to improve to 8-0 on the year, pushing their net points total to an NFL-best +133. New England has churned along like an unstoppable asphalt flattener, steadily rolling over teams week-in and week-out. In fact, the Patriots have scored at least one point in 31 straight quarters, which ties the NFL record (with the 1999-2000 Rams and 2005 Colts). Put another way, New England has scored in every quarter of every game this season except the first quarter of the first game.
The Raiders dropped the ball on defense
Oakland's defense gave up 597 yards to the Steelers, which set a franchise record for the most yards allowed in a game ending in regulation. In it, they surrendered 284 yards to Antonio Brown but weren't much better on the ground, giving up 170 yards rushing to DeAngelo Williams.
Oakland is still a good candidate for the Wild Card in the AFC, but they'll need to get better performances out of their defense this year to lock up that berth.
The interim wins again
Turns out that sometimes firing a head coach during the middle of the season can be a good thing. It worked for the Dolphins ... for two weeks. That honeymoon is over, of course, but in Tennessee, things are looking rosy thus far, and the Titans got a big win in Mike Mularkey's first game as interim head coach.
Mularkey, who played tight end for the Steelers and Vikings before getting his first NFL job as a tight end coach, made tight ends heavily featured in his first game as head coach. Delanie Walker led the team with seven catches for 95 yards and two touchdowns. Mularkey fittingly dialed up a brilliant play call to tight end Anthony Fasano in overtime to give the Titans the win. He rolled Marcus Mariota out to the right before having him throw it back across the field to the left for the winning score.
The Colin Kaepernick benching didn't totally backfire
Color me surprised: Blaine Gabbert actually looked like an NFL quarterback, sort of. Or, to put it better, he wasn't completely awful, which was what I had expected. Gabbert finished 15-of-25 passing for 185 yards with two touchdowns and two picks, but more importantly, helped lead the Niners to a much-needed win over the recently flaccid Falcons. Gabbert had lost in his previous 10 starts, throwing six touchdowns to 13 interception in those games. While his stat line was anything but impressive, consider that the last time Gabbert threw more than one touchdown in a game was back on Nov. 4, 2012. Progress?
Cam Newton doing it all
There has been a lot of talk on Cam Newton's somewhat tepid season-long stat line in reference to his MVP contention, but it's clear he doesn't play the position in a prototypical fashion. Here's a stat that illustrates this: After throwing for three touchdowns and rushing for another on Sunday against the Packers, he became just the third quarterback in NFL history with 15 games with two or more passing touchdowns and one or more rushing scores. He joins two Hall of Famers in this select club -- Steve Young and Fran Tarkenton.
Vikings are in good shape
Minnesota beat the Rams at home in the highly touted battle pitting Adrian Peterson and Todd Gurley against each other. Gurley is maybe the best young running back in the NFL, but was bested in this one by Peterson, who rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries, moving into 12th place for career touchdowns. That tied Peterson with the player that many have compared Gurley to in Eric Dickerson.
More importantly though, the Vikings are 6-2 for the first time since the 2009 season, and have a real shot at challenging the Packers for the NFC North division title.
I will not be the one to tell you that DeAngelo Williams is as good as Le'Veon Bell or that the Steelers aren't missing their star running back, but Williams' play has helped the Steelers ease the pain of going on without Bell. Williams rushed for 170 yards on Sunday and recorded his 20th career 100-yard game. Williams is now rushing for 5.3 yards per carry on 90 rushes this year and it's safe to say he may be one of the best backup running backs in the NFL.
Buffalo has running back depth
Speaking of backup running backs, the Bills were definitely happy to get Karlos Williams back from an extended absence due to concussion symptoms. Williams rushed for 110 yards on just nine carries, getting into the end zone twice while he was at it. With the scores, he became just the fourth player since 1960 to score a touchdown in each of his first five games. Not a bad start for the fifth-round pick.
As long as we're on the Bills, they may have gotten together and decided to listen to the gripes that Sammy Watkins had with regards to his low amount of targets. Tyrod Taylor looked to him eight times, converting each one into a catch for a total of 168 yards and a touchdown.
Allen Hurns is quietly thriving
The Jaguars are struggling through another tough season but with anything, there are a few silver linings. One would be the play of second-year wideout Allen Hurns, who caught a touchdown in his sixth straight game, the longest active streak in the league. Hurns, whose name is usually mentioned only behind other young offensive weapons in Allen Robinson and T.J. Yeldon, is now on pace for 72 catches, 1,270 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Final Scores for Week 8:
Bengals 31, Browns 10 (Thursday)
New England Patriots 27, Washington 10
Buffalo Bills 33, Miami Dolphins 17
Carolina Panthers 37, Green Bay Packers 29
Minnesota Vikings 21, St. Louis Rams 18 (OT)
Tennessee Titans 34, New Orleans Saints 28 (OT)
New York Jets 28, Jacksonville Jaguars 23
Pittsburgh Steelers 38, Oakland Raiders 35
San Francisco 49ers 17, Atlanta Falcons 16
New York Giants 32, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 18
Indianapolis Colts 27, Denver Broncos 24
Philadelphia Eagles 33, Dallas Cowboys 27
Ryan Tannehill's now-weekly botched snap turned into a safety.
Tom Brady's form leaves a lot to be desired, but at least he made the tackle after a rare interception.
Delanie Walker turned a failed Saints pick into a wacky Titans touchdown.
Cam Newton likes to give the football to kids after he scores a touchdown, but Julius Peppers was NOT having it.
Todd Gurley was out of bounds by a hair -- literally.
Ndamukong Suh should have been credited for a sack, so he told the refs that next time he'd "slam the f*** out" of the quarterback.
One play earned the Titans THREE personal foul penalties.
The Packers started fighting themselves.
The Vikings' respect for the wind helped them get the win in OT.
Jason Pierre-Paul is back and he's wearing an oven mitt.
SB Nation presents: Tom Brady somehow prevents a touchdown against Washington
Patriots running back Dion Lewis left the game against Washington with a left knee injury and did not return.
Teddy Bridgewater took a huge hit to his head against the Rams and left the game to get evaluated for a concussion.
LeSean McCoy exited late against the Dolphins with a shoulder injury.
Ben Roethlisberger was carted to the locker room with a left foot injury against the Raiders.