I hate it when this happens, but the main takeaway for this week is definitely injuries. In particular, QB injuries ravaged the league this week. The trend was so dominant that we don’t even have space to talk about Dolphins CB Jalen Ramsey earning an INT in his team debut after returning from injury! One team’s season is likely over due to their lost QB, while others weren’t going anywhere in the first place. We’ll focus on QBs this week, but as a reminder, 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 2023 NFL season!
TNF: Buccaneers Come Up Short Again vs. Bills
For the second straight week, Tampa Bay was in a game they had no business being in late. And for the second straight week, the Bucs couldn’t complete their comeback. Tampa’s first 3 drives were horrific: punt, missed FG (blocked), punt. During that time, Buffalo took a quick 10-0 lead. QB Josh Allen (31/40, 324 yards, 2 TDs, INT) ran on the final 2 plays of their TD drive (7/41/1 on the ground). However, on one of those runs, he seemed to injure his shoulder. That sent him to the medical tent while Kyle Allen warmed up. Josh wouldn’t miss a snap, but his very next play was a batted ball that got picked off.
Tampa Bay managed to tie the score at 10 but then fell dormant for almost 2 full quarters. Down 24-10 and following a sequence of 6 straight punts between the two teams, TB righted the ship. QB Baker Mayfield (25/42, 237 yards, 2 TDs), still without a competent running game, led a 17-play, 92-yard TD drive in the 4th quarter, adding a 2-point conversion to make the game 24-18. That drive was aided by two Buffalo penalties on 4th downs, but it also ate 7:21 of clock. The Bills burnt most of the remaining 2:44. Mayfield got one shot at a Hail Mary, which weirdly touched nobody despite reaching the center of the end zone.
Tampa’s 2-0 start felt like a mirage when it happened, and nothing has changed my opinion. At 3-4 after losing their 3rd straight game, the Bucs would be fading into obscurity if their division wasn’t so lackluster. Buffalo is in the more interesting spot. They’re 5-3 and have alternated between looking like a juggernaut and a pretender. This week was somewhere in between. The Bills won without force-feeding the ball to WR Stefon Diggs (9/70), and rookie TE Dalton Kincaid (5/65/1) is becoming a real weapon. The defense has been hit with several injuries though, and Josh Allen scares me with his inconsistency. This is a playoff team, but likely not a true contender.
Giants Melt Down Without QBs, Lose to Jets in OT
People probably weren’t expecting a shootout in the Battle for NY with two backup QBs playing. I bet even those people weren’t expecting this level of offensive ineptitude. Starting Tyrod Taylor for the injured Daniel Jones, NYG had a distinct advantage at QB over the Jets’ Zach Wilson. As they’ve done all year long, the Jets made Taylor (4/7, 8 yards) look weak before knocking him out with a rib injury. Taylor was taken to the hospital, leading to UDFA and practice squad call-up Tommy DeVito coming in. The rookie did about as well as you might’ve expected, going 2/7 for -1 yard somehow. However, he scored a rushing TD.
That TD was big because the Jets couldn’t score much either. The score after the first drive of the 3rd quarter was 10-7 NYG, and it stayed that way until under a minute remained. NYJ did nothing other than a 50-yard catch-and-run TD by RB Breece Hall. Wilson was scattershot all afternoon, and he took 4 sacks (3 from Kayvon Thibodeaux). The last sack came on 4th and 10 with 1:33 remaining. The game looked over, and the Giants just ran the ball to burn clock. Facing a 4th and 1 in the rain, I would have run the ball, but HC Brian Daboll opted to give reliable K Graham Gano a 35-yard attempt. He missed it.
With 24 seconds left, Wilson hit a pass to WR Garrett Wilson (7/100) for 29 yards. Instead of the clock running though, Thibodeaux had jumped offside, giving NYJ a free timeout. Wilson then found Allen Lazard for another big gain and managed to spike the ball with 1 second left. K Greg Zuerlein hit the 35-yard FG to force OT. NYG won the toss but punted. Wilson then used two PI penalties to set up a 33-yard Zuerlein attempt, who won the game 13-10. This was embarrassing for NYG and should end their season. The Jets escaped again and are doing alright at 4-3. However, if Wilson (17/36, 240 yards) plays this way against better teams, NYJ is going nowhere.
Titans QBs Will Levis and Malik Willis Aren’t on the Same Plane
When Titans coach Mike Vrabel signaled his intention to platoon backups Malik Willis and Will Levis in place of injured QB Ryan Tannehill, I was skeptical. How would either one get into a rhythm? I guess Vrabel figured out his error, because Willis had two runs for 4 yards and 0 pass attempts. He also dropped a snap to lose a fumble. However, Willis’ absence for most of the game was less about him and more about what Levis did. Making his regular season debut, Levis looked incredibly comfortable. Maybe that’s from playing in a pro-style offense at Kentucky, but he had himself a day to remember.
Whereas Tannehill had thrown 2 TDs all season, Levis threw 4 TDs in this game against a strong Falcons defense. Three of those went to elite WR DeAndre Hopkins (4/128), who had not scored as a Titan. Aside from PATs, Levis accounted for every point in Tennessee’s 28-23 win over Atlanta, finishing 19/29 for 238 yards and the 4 scores (must have been those throwbacks). His deep ball was on point, demonstrating his strong arm. He also took snaps from under center, which some veterans can’t do. For a guy who missed most of the offseason program with an injury, he seemed to really understand the offense. Being able to sit and learn has done wonders for him.
I will caution you about making sweeping judgments about Levis from this one game. After all, the last player to throw 4 TDs in his debut was another Titan: Marcus Mariota. He didn’t become a franchise QB, and Levis might not either, but this was a fantastic start. Fans of the Titans probably don’t want to go back to a milquetoast Tannehill-led offense, even if the QB wasn’t fully to blame. They want to see the team’s future, and that is Levis or someone not on the roster. The one person it’s not is Willis. Always a project, Willis can’t adapt to the NFL game as a passer. Levis clearly can, so let’s put the 2-QB system aside for good.
Injuries and a Coach’s Decision Lead to Multiple QB Changes
In addition to Jones and Tannehill mentioned above, we already knew that Cleveland’s Deshaun Watson, Arizona’s Kyler Murray, and Chicago’s Justin Fields would be out and that backups would take their place. What we didn’t know was that many other starters wouldn’t finish their games. Three QBs were injured during Sunday’s games, while another was replaced due to ineffectiveness. We’ll go through each of these cases and discuss what they mean for the affected teams.
Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett was trying to lead a scoring drive to end the half against Jacksonville when he was tackled by Adam Gotsis. Pickett stayed down and was ruled out rather quickly with a rib injury. Though he wasn’t having an amazing day (10/16, 73 yards), backup Mitch Trubisky fared much worse, tossing 2 INTs that ruined any chance of a comeback. As the Steelers play on Thursday night, Pickett has little time to recover and might miss the game. Trubisky occasionally has good stretches of play, but the poor turnovers that marred his time in Chicago usually reappear at some point.
In a loss against Dallas, Rams QB Matthew Stafford (13/22, 164 yards, TD, pick six) hurt his thumb on an epic catch during a 2-point play (a Philly Special!). He tried to return to the game, but he couldn’t continue for long. Already on the losing end of a blowout, Brett Rypien replaced Stafford on the next series late in the 3rd quarter. On 4 drives, Rypien (5/10, 42 yards) only mustered a field goal. It goes without saying that the Rams are toast if Stafford is out for very long. We know this because he missed much of last season, and LA finished 5-12. Even in a weakened NFC east, the Rams need their QB1.
The worst injury by far was that suffered by Vikings QB Kirk Cousins in the 4th quarter against Green Bay. There’s no waiting to see what the damage is: Cousins’ right Achilles is torn. I feared this outcome when I saw him hop to the sideline, unable to put any weight on his right leg. This is devastating for the Vikings. Cousins (23/31, 274 yards, 2 TDs) had been great this year, willing an injured Minnesota team to 4-4 and back into the playoff race. His replacement, 5th-round rookie Jaren Hall, immediately lost a fumble on a strip sack. Luckily, the Packers were so incompetent that the score at the time, 24-10, held until the end.
I think the Vikings are done in 2023. I don’t foresee them trading for another QB, and Hall probably isn’t ready to meaningfully contribute. He won’t even have injured WR Justin Jefferson with him for a few more weeks. As wide open as the NFC is, this was a likely playoff team that now will probably be left out. I also hate this situation for Cousins himself, whose contract voids at season’s end. Based on his track record of strong play, I expect his market to remain robust. The Vikings should retain him because as they’ll soon learn firsthand, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
One QB was thought to have an injury but was simply replaced by his coach. That’s Atlanta’s Desmond Ridder, whose benching I gently suggested just two weeks ago. After a terrible first half in which he went 8/12 for 71 yards but took 5 sacks, lost a fumble, and scored only 3 points, Ridder remained on the sideline at the start of the 3rd quarter. Apparently, he was checked for a concussion but had already been cleared by the doctors. Taylor Heinicke played the rest of the game, going 12/21 for 175 yards and a TD while putting 20 points on the board. Atlanta lost by 5, but Heinicke had a good 4th-down pass dropped to end the game.
Without question, Heinicke moved the offense much better than Ridder. I don’t like to make too much of a lone relief appearance, as the opponent did not prepare for a backup QB in their game plan. However, I suspect that HC Arthur Smith (who weakly stated that Ridder was kept out for his own protection) has seen enough of the 2022 3rd-round pick. Heinicke doesn’t offer any upside, but he’s a better win-now option for a team that thinks they can…well…win now! The NFC South is ripe for the taking, and the defense/playmakers are solid. Atlanta should probably do the best they can with Heinicke and look to the 2023 draft for a long-term solution under center.
Panthers Earn 1st Win of Season in Battle Between #1 and #2 Picks
It took 8 grueling weeks, but Carolina is finally in the win column. This isn’t the start anyone wanted or thought would happen with a new coach (Frank Reich) and a new QB picked #1 overall (Bryce Young). Week 8 was going to be hyped regardless because it pitted Young against the QB chosen right after him, CJ Stroud of the Texans. Up to this point, Stroud has looked like the far better player despite their different situations. Many have openly questioned if Carolina erred in their choice. Neither QB did a ton in this game (though neither erred either), but Young got the better of his counterpart in this game.
This battle wasn’t pretty for either offense. No points were scored in the first quarter, but Stroud (16/24, 140 yards, rush TD) led a 17-play, 92-yard drive in the second frame. Young (22/31, 235 yards, TD) answered later in the frame, but the PAT was botched. Each team added 6 points in the second half, giving Houston a 13-12 lead. Then, Young put together his best drive. Starting at his own 9, he methodically marched down the field in just over 6 minutes, setting up a 38-yard FG. After 3 consecutive (and hilarious) penalties on Tavierre Thomas, K Eddy Pineiro knocked a 23-yard FG through as time expired to earn a 15-13 win.
Although Young took 6 sacks in this game, a lot of that falls on the offensive line. He had a more prolific passing day than Stroud, even though the latter has experienced much more team success this season. Picking up a win has to mean a lot to the Panthers, especially since it’s the first of Young’s career. Carolina hopes many more are to come, but I suspect they won’t be plentiful this year. A few winnable games (e.g., against GB, CHI, and their division rivals) remain, but that’s not how progress will be measured this year. Young’s development is the only goal right now, and if he shows growth, the 18-game record won’t matter.