NFL Sunday started early in Week 7. And so did the surprises.
Before the 1 p.m. games even started, we got a curveball from abroad. The Titans and Chargers finally gave London fans a little bit (emphasis on little) of excitement when the Titans scored a touchdown on fourth-and-1 with 30 seconds left. Rather than go for the tie, Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel decided to go for 2. The aggressiveness was admirable, the play call was not. Marcus Mariota’s throw fell incomplete and the Chargers got to head back home jet-lagged and sitting at 5-2.
Then prior to the Eagles and Panthers kicking off, things away from the playing field took a more serious tone. Eric Reid and Malcolm Jenkins had a heated confrontation that reverberated throughout the day.
The NFL is still predictable in other ways, though. Jason Garrett’s conservative coaching cost the Cowboys a chance at a win, and the day ended exactly how you would expect it to: Patrick Mahomes was an offensive machine, while Marvin Lewis’ team was humiliated in primetime.
Here’s what else everyone will be talking about Monday:
1. Drew Brees finally beat the Ravens ... thanks to Justin Tucker missing an extra point
Coming into Sunday, Drew Brees was 0-4 against the Ravens. They were the only team he had yet to beat in his illustrious career — and that included his own Saints, a team he handed a 43-17 loss to almost 14 years ago when he was with the Chargers.
It was already a milestone day for Brees, who became the fourth quarterback ever to throw 500 career touchdowns. Then late in the second half, it looked like Brees had wrapped up that elusive win in Baltimore.
But the Ravens came roaring back. Joe Flacco’s touchdown strike to John Brown with 14 seconds left on the clock appeared destined to send the No. 1 scoring offense vs. No. 1 defense battle to overtime. Brown’s catch made it 24-23, putting a game-tying extra point on the trusted shoulders of the most accurate kicker in NFL history. Justin Tucker had never missed an extra point or any field goal from 33 yards or less — a span of 300 professional kicks.
It turns out 300 was a natural stopping point for the All-Pro’s streak. Tucker’s kick sliced wide right, effectively dooming his team to a one-point loss at home.
Everyone was surprised — but none more so than Tucker himself.
And just like that, Brees joined Peyton Manning and Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks to ever beat all 32 NFL teams.
Now that we think about it, though, maybe this was another conspiracy ...
2. Old man Adrian Peterson tripled up Ezekiel Elliott’s rushing total
There were plenty of weird stories coursing through the NFC East showdown between Washington and Dallas. Dak Prescott got smashed to bits and returned moments later to absolutely dust the Washington secondary with an absolute bomb to a wide-open Michael Gallup:
"Dak Prescott can't throw deep" pic.twitter.com/OJx18nHMjy— Blogging The Boys (@BloggingTheBoys) October 21, 2018
Brett Maher saw a game-tying 47-yard field goal attempt turn into a 52-yarder thanks to a rarely called penalty on his long snapper, then watched in horror as a kick that would have been good from 47 clanged off the left upright as it came in hot from 52.
But the most surprising development from Sunday’s game may have been Adrian Peterson using his old man strength to triple Ezekiel Elliott’s rushing output. The veteran tailback proved he’s still an upper-tier runner, even at age 33, after cutting up the Dallas defense for 99 yards on 24 carries. Elliott, on the other hand, came in to Week 7 averaging nearly 98 yards per contest but ran the ball 15 times for just 33 yards.
3. The Bucs DON’T fall victim to their kicker curse
Kickers cost two different teams a chance at a win Sunday. Shockingly, the Bucs were not one of them — barely.
With 45 seconds left in regulation, the Buccaneers took their foot off the gas against the Browns. Instead of trying to drive the last 24 yards for a game-winning touchdown — or at least a closer field goal — Tampa Bay did a run play for 3 yards and set up a 40-yard field goal to break a 23-23 tie.
That painfully conservative approach might’ve been a safe, smart finish for most teams, but this is the Buccaneers. They’ve been cursed at the kicker position for years. So, of course, Chandler Catanzaro missed it and the game went to overtime.
What was so surprising about the way the game finished was that the Buccaneers actually got a successful field goal to win it. And from 59 yards too!
The Buccaneers’ kicking woes may not be gone altogether, but they disappeared long enough for Tampa Bay to escape with a win against the Browns.
4. Jalen Ramsey was on the other side of some well-earned trash talk
Ramsey is an All-Pro cornerback, so when he talks trash, he’s usually right. One wide receiver who has typically escaped his scorn is Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins. He showed us all why on Sunday.
Hopkins, paired off against Ramsey much of the afternoon, only had three receptions on eight targets, but the balls he did catch were tailor-made to frustrate the Jaguars. One was a morale-draining touchdown grab that gave the Texans a 20-0 lead in the third quarter. Before that, a one-handed catch on a deep ball down the sideline left Ramsey visibly annoyed.
But Hopkins’ burns weren’t limited to the playing field.
DeAndre Hopkins was asked about his rivalry with Jalen Ramsey.— Aaron Reiss (@aaronjreiss) October 21, 2018
He replied: How can that be a rivalry? What’s the Texans’ record vs the Jags with Ramsey on the team?
As he left the room he said: “7-2”
The Texans are actually only 3-2 against Jacksonville when Ramsey is on the field, but still. Ouch.
And now, after starting 0-3, the Texans lead the AFC South — somehow.
5. The Jaguars actually benched Blake Bortles
It finally happened. The Jaguars finally said “enough” to the Bortles era — at least for an afternoon.
Jacksonville benched its embattled starter following a third-quarter fumble against the Texans, instead turning to Cody Kessler — a passer who couldn’t even crack the Browns starting QB lineup during their 0-16 2017 campaign. It wasn’t hard to see why Doug Marrone made the call; Bortles had led the Jaguars to just 21 points in his last 10 quarters. He had scored zero points in the first half of three straight games for the first time in franchise history and was 6-of-12 for 61 yards and zero touchdowns when he got yanked from the lineup.
Kessler wasn’t much better, but at least he found the end zone. His third-quarter scramble-and-strike to T.J. Yeldon served as his team’s only points of the afternoon in a game we should all agree to never speak about again.
6. The Bears’ last-ditch comeback effort landed 1 yard short of amazing, unlikely redemption
Mitchell Trubisky had trouble dealing with the Patriots’ dialed-up pass rush Sunday — at least with his arm — coughing up a 17-7 first half lead and eventually trailing Bill Belichick’s team 38-24 with six minutes to play. But the second-year quarterback rose to the challenge, engineering a 63-yard drive that put his Bears within seven points and then getting the ball back at his own 20 with 24 seconds to play.
Trubisky took advantage of New England’s stretched defense to drive Chicago to its own 45-yard line with a single second left on the clock, then uncorked a Hail Mary that traveled 54 yards through the air and into the waiting hands of Kevin White ...
... who was then stopped at the New England 1-yard line.
7. Cordarrelle Patterson was the template for the Patriots’ ability to fix their own mistakes
Patterson has provided value for the Patriots as a unique wide receiver for a shallow depth chart, but with Josh Gordon and Julian Edelman now on the active roster his best opportunity to impact a game with New England comes on special teams. And he impacted the hell out of Sunday’s Patriots-Bears game, on both sides of the ball.
Patterson’s first kickoff return of the day saw him fumble a ball so cleanly to Chicago’s DeAndre Houston-Carson that it looked like a planned lateral. Five plays later, Mitchell Trubisky’s 72-yard, 8-yard touchdown run gave the Bears their first lead of the game.
But the dynamic returner got back to even two kickoffs later, dusting Chicago’s kick coverage so thoroughly that he was able to high-five his teammates before dancing his way into the end zone without a single Bear within 30 yards.
dusting a team's kickoff coverage so thoroughly that you can high-five a teammate at the 5 and low-kick into the end zone is a power move pic.twitter.com/Y8uDLaca6z— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) October 21, 2018
It was Patterson’s sixth career kickoff return touchdown — three times as many as any other player in the league has since his debut in 2013.
More importantly, it set the tone for the Patriots, who spent much of Week 7 cleaning up their own mistakes. New England gave up 24+ points for the fifth time in seven games this fall, but big plays from the offense and special teams — Kyle Van Noy added a blocked punt return for a touchdown — prevented those problems from becoming fatal.
Of course, those corrections didn’t apply to Bill Belichick’s sartorial decisions.
Bill Belichick doesn't care about your "the logo is upside down". pic.twitter.com/8Nk8c2WsZP— Pats Pulpit (@patspulpit) October 21, 2018
8. The Panthers and Eagles swapped bodies in the fourth quarter
For most of the afternoon, the Eagles were comfortably ahead. They weren’t lighting up the Panthers, but they had found a nice rhythm and Carson Wentz looked sharp.
The Panthers, meanwhile, had put together some drives that ended in a lot of punting, a disappointing follow up to their loss last week to Washington.
Then the fourth quarter happened. The Panthers offense came alive, once again, late in the game. Unlike last week, this time it wasn’t too little, too late. Instead, Cam Newton led three straight touchdown drives, going 16 of 22 for 201 yards in the fourth quarter. No play mattered more than on fourth-and-10 right before the two-minute warning, when he juuuuust managed to get the ball out of his hands to find Torrey Smith for a first down:
Absurd throw and catch from Cam Newton and Torrey Smith. Carolina is somehow still alive pic.twitter.com/H5P2QjJWyA— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) October 21, 2018
Three plays later, he hooked up with Greg Olsen for the touchdown — and it turned out to be the game winner.
It’s not the first time the Panthers have come back. It’s not the first time the Eagles have blown a big lead. But after last week, when the Panthers couldn’t pull things together at the end of the game and the Eagles looked like they were finally cooking in a big win over the Giants, this came as a surprise.
It especially leaves the defending champs with some questions. They’re just 3-4, and should be better than that.
9. The Lions’ running game is for real
We had hope that Kerryon Johnson could be the answer to the Lions’ long-suffering running back woes when he became their first player to rush for 100 yards in a game since 2013. But in the two games after that, Johnson was held under 100 yards both times.
Then he exploded Sunday against the Dolphins for 158 yards, the most by a Lions running back since Jahvid Best racked up 163 on the ground in 2011.
Between Johnson, LeGarrette Blount, and cameos from Golden Tate, Matthew Stafford, and Ameer Abdullah, Detroit ended up with 248 rushing yards. That was the most for the team since Nov. 23, 1997, when they beat a Colts team led by quarterback Jim Harbaugh.
The Lions rushed for 248 yards today, the most by Detroit in a single game since Barry Sanders retired.— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) October 22, 2018
The Lions even finished with more rushing yards than passing (217) in their 32-21 win over Miami.
10. Aaron Donald had how many sacks now?
There’s not much Aaron Donald can do that would surprise us. But we admit, we kinda tuned out what was an easy win for the Rams over the 49ers. So this was our reaction at the end of the LA’s 39-10 beatdown:
Wait 4 sacks for Donald today?!— Stephen White (@sgw94) October 21, 2018
That’s the most ever in a game for Donald, and the most by any player in a game this year. Also worth a reminder that Donald, who currently leads the NFL with eight sacks this season, is a defensive tackle who now has 47 career sacks.
That’s not all either, Donald also had nine tackles, six tackles for loss, five quarterback hits, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery against the 49ers. Poor C.J. Beathard. But good thing for the Rams that they made sure Donald is rich.