When a season gives you absolute craziness, you take comfort in the things that stay the same. We gave NFL fans in England another awful matchup. Derrick Henry continued to bulldoze the Texans. The Niners owned Sean McVay’s Rams. The Jets and Giants choked when faced with the slightest resistance. Cling to these constants, because insanity will return soon. The trade deadline is on Tuesday, so keep an eye on my trade grades page to track all the moves that are made. Here are my week 8 takeaways for the 2022 NFL season!
TNF: Ravens Close Out a Game (Against Inept Offense)
I promised last week that I wouldn’t come back to the Buccaneers until they started to play better. In my defense, I said that before I realized that they were playing on Thursday Night Football in week 8, and I usually talk about TNF. I keep my word, however, and Tampa didn’t look particularly good again, so I guess we’ll just have to talk about the Ravens! Except for one thing, but only because it’s funny!
During the first series of the game, TB forced a punt. Jaelon Darden went back to receive it and called a fair catch. CB Dee Delaney, a member of the return team, lost all awareness and crashed right into Darden. Making matters worse, facing the wrong way, Delaney failed to see the punt whack him in the back, giving an instant first and goal to Baltimore. This only led to 3 points, but it was hilarious. See for yourself.
Why Baltimore started moving the ball better AFTER TE Mark Andrews left the game with a shoulder injury is beyond me. You usually don’t play better without your best player. Worse still, WR Rashod Bateman was ruled out with a foot injury during the game. Without those two, you wouldn’t think that the Ravens would have a passing attack, but enter Isaiah Likely. The fourth-round rookie out of Coastal Carolina stepped into the #1 TE role after halftime and played great, consistently getting open for a team-leading 6 catches and 77 yards, plus a TD (and a great onside kick recovery!).
It was the trademark Ravens ground attack that put this game away though. For some reason, John Harbaugh barely ran the ball in the first half, with just 27 yards rushing. He must have remembered that he possessed Lamar Jackson and running backs in the second half, as the offense pounded the rock against an increasingly tired Buccaneers defense. It’s no coincidence that Baltimore finally won a game after taking a 10-point lead once their running game took over. As a team, the Ravens ran for 231 yards on 33 carries (including 2 kneel downs).
Despite normally taking first-half leads and squandering them, Baltimore flipped the script in this game, scoring just 3 first-half points (off the aforementioned punting debacle). The Ravens scored on each of their second-half possessions, turning a 10-3 deficit into a 17-10 lead in the blink of an eye. That would have been almost enough to win, as the much-maligned defense held Tampa to just 16 points before garbage. Encouragingly, they scored some more, winning 27-22 in a game that was not as close as the final score.
This is not a season-defining victory. Tampa is still off, and Baltimore hasn’t put together a complete game in a while. But with Cincinnati’s Ja’Marr Chase out for a few weeks, the Ravens can try to build a lead in the AFC North over the Bengals. Their schedule certainly sets them up well, with just 1 remaining opponent that currently possesses a winning record (those Bengals, who play Baltimore again in week 17).
London Calling: Is Trevor Lawrence Developing?
Coming out of Clemson, QB Trevor Lawrence was widely viewed as a generational prospect. Theoretically, you couldn’t miss on this pick. He has size, mobility, arm strength, leadership, and elite production. His game had no flaws. Lawrence going #1 overall surprised absolutely no one. Since then, the results have been…pretty darn bad. The Jaguars earned the #1 pick AGAIN in 2022, and they’re starting this season 2-6. They are currently on a 5-game losing streak.
I’m willing to give Lawrence a partial pass for his rookie year. QBs struggle as rookies, but the situation was exacerbated by the hiring of head coach Urban Meyer. Meyer had never coached at the NFL level, and owner Shad Khan took a major risk. It blew up right in his face. Meyer invited controversy both on and off the field, losing his job after just 13 games. His offense fit Lawrence terribly, leading to a poor rookie season. You saw flashes of promise, but overall, Lawrence completed just 59.8% of his passes for 12 TDs and 17 INTs. He also lost 3 fumbles.
The hiring of the QB-friendly Doug Pederson was supposed to be a shot in the arm for Lawrence. Through 3 games, it felt like things were turning around. The Jags shut out the Colts and blew out the Chargers in Los Angeles, starting out 2-1. Nothing has gone right since. They played the Eagles tough, even taking a halftime lead, but Lawrence blew the game with 5 turnovers, including 4 lost fumbles. Jacksonville lost 13-6 to the Texans in an ugly game, where Lawrence threw 2 INTs and no TDs. The team was more competitive against the Colts in their second meeting, but still lost late in the game.
The theme for Jacksonville the past few weeks has been their inability to finish close games. The Jaguars have lost their last 9 one-score games, including all 6 they’ve played this year. Last week against the Giants, Lawrence got the ball back with a minute left but couldn’t score. This week in London, he had just under 2 minutes with 2 timeouts to come back from 21-17 down against Denver. The time on the clock didn’t matter. Lawrence threw a TD on the very first play from scrimmage, losing the game.
The question the Jaguars need to answer is: is there hope for Lawrence, did Urban Meyer ruin him, or was he simply not the guy the entire football community thought he was? The talent is clearly there. Every now and then, you see him make a throw that says “wow, this guy’s the real deal.” Other times, you scratch your head and wonder what he’s doing. Given his pedigree and how much Jacksonville needs him to succeed, he’ll likely get 3 years to prove himself. That said, he needs to start showing real progress and SOON.
When Will the Philadelphia Eagles Lose a Game?
I’ve called the Eagles the worst 5-0 team ever and the worst 6-0 team ever. Obviously, that makes them the worst 7-0 team ever now. They continue to win because of a generous schedule, but that begs the question: do they play anybody good enough to beat them? If so, when? The Texans, Commanders, and Colts (particularly without Matt Ryan) aren’t threats. We thought that Green Bay would be a contender, but that hasn’t happened. Therefore, the first real opportunity for an Eagles loss is December 4 against Tennessee, as the Titans have a ball-control offense that can match up well.
Realistically, the most likely teams to beat them are their non-Washington division rivals. Philly plays at the Giants on December 11, and as poor of a matchup as that seems on paper, NYG continues to overachieve. They shouldn’t beat Chicago in week 15. I think they definitely lose in week 16. Dallas nearly beat them a couple of weeks ago with Cooper Rush throwing 3 INTs. With a healthy and in-rhythm Dak Prescott, plus home field advantage, the Cowboys should take the Eagles down next time. In short, the Eagles WILL lose at some point, but the ’72 Dolphins might have to sweat for a while.
Falcons Move Into Solo First in NFC South After Awful CAR Penalty
The winner of this game was going to be in first place in the pitiful NFC South. Carolina would have done so in a 4-way tie, whereas Atlanta could lead the division alone. With that in mind, the offenses didn’t seem all that inspired in the first half. Marcus Mariota threw an INT on his first series, and Carolina couldn’t get much of anything going, leading to a 14-10 Falcons lead at halftime. The Panthers didn’t do a whole lot in the third quarter either, scoring 3 points for themselves and 7 for Atlanta on a PJ Walker pick six. Both teams woke up the 4th quarter.
D’Onta Foreman took over for Carolina, running for 118 yards and 3 TDs on 26 carries. With Christian McCaffrey gone and Chuba Hubbard injured, Foreman impressed as the feature back in this game. Walker minimized his mistakes and led a scoring drive to tie the game at 21. After an Atlanta field goal, Carolina marched down the field once more, taking a 28-24 lead. The Falcons answered with a TD of their own plus another FG to make the score 34-28. Since only 36 seconds remained, the game looked over. Then, Walker heaved a 62-yard bomb, and WR DJ Moore came down with it for a TD. What happened next was insane.
Moore was so excited that he took his helmet off in celebration, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The rule says that this is a penalty, but I’m not sure any referee other than Shawn Hochuli would’ve thrown the flag at that moment. Nobody else is that pedantic or willing to bog the game down. That made the PAT a 48-yard attempt, which Eddy Pineiro missed, sending us to OT. Atlanta got the ball first, but Mariota was picked off by CJ Henderson, who took the ball back to the 20. Pineiro missed again from 32 yards, but Younghoe Koo didn’t miss his from 41.
Atlanta won this same 37-34, but they’re clearly not contenders. At 4-4, they’re a full game up on both Tampa Bay and New Orleans (the latter looks like the division’s best team), and this is much better than most expected. Arthur Smith is coaching his team well, and Dean Pees is extracting the most out of a defense that doesn’t have much beyond Grady Jarrett and AJ Terrell. The running game is churning out yards whether Cordarrelle Patterson, Tyler Allgeier, or Caleb Huntley is carrying the ball. Mariota is part of that as well, but his passing needs work.
He did more good in this game, but he threw 2 ugly INTs and would have cost his team the game if not for Moore’s penalty. I honestly don’t know if Desmond Ridder has a higher ceiling, but as long as Atlanta is competing this well, Smith won’t make that switch. Carolina can take heart in the fact that they’ve been a much better team since Matt Rhule was fired, and PJ Walker has provided a bit of stability. He’s not the answer at QB, but everyone in Charlotte just wants to make it to the end of the season. That could happen with Sam Darnold, but it wasn’t happening with Baker Mayfield.
QBs Sam Ehlinger and Malik Willis Have Forgettable Starting Debuts
Two new QBs started this week for NFC South teams, only one of which was expected. Sam Ehlinger was named the starter for the rest of the season by the Colts, while Malik Willis got the nod for Tennessee after Ryan Tannehill was ruled out with an injury and an illness. Willis is a raw rookie, while Ehlinger is a second-year player with no regular season experience. You probably aren’t surprised that neither of these teams scored 20 points.
It was clear that Mike Vrabel’s goal was to minimize the impact that Willis had on the game, for better or worse. Against the Texans, I fully endorse that approach. Willis threw the ball just 10 times total, going 6/10 for 55 yards and an INT. He only ran the ball 5 times for 12 yards. Wisely, Vrabel chose to ride with Derrick Henry, whose dominance over the Texans has been noted. King Henry delivered yet again, carrying the ball 32 times for 219 yards and 2 TDs. Willis is not ready to play, which is partly why he fell to the 3rd round. Fortunately, nothing was needed from him to comfortably beat the Texans 17-10 (17-3 with 18 seconds left).
Ehlinger’s debut was a bit more complicated. He definitely played better than Willis, yet his team lost. Ehlinger was accurate and efficient for the most part, going 17/23 for 201 yards with no TDs or INTs. He did lose a fumble, however, which probably brought fans memories of Matt Ryan’s short tenure with the Colts. The sustained drives weren’t there, just as before, and although Ehlinger’s mobility was a welcome change, he only gained 15 yards on the ground. As I’ve noted, a QB change was never going to fix the Colts. Until the protection improves, this team is stuck in the mud. A 17-16 home loss to Taylor Heinicke proves it.