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The importance of backup QBs: Winners and losers from NFL Week Eight

By Stuart Dick

Published: 12:06, 3 November 2021

The last remaining undefeated team in the NFL was toppled this week, meaning the 1972 Miami Dolphins remain the only team to complete a perfect season – they went 17-0 on their way to winning Super Bowl VII.

The Arizona Cardinals fell to NFC rivals the Green Bay Packers on Thursday Night Football to start an enthralling Week Eight of NFL action.

Five of the 15 games were decided by a field goal or less, with four more decided by a touchdown, in one of the most entertaining weekends of action to date.

Several franchises took a crucial step towards securing play-off berths – the Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans and the aforementioned Packers all now have commanding leads in their respective divisions.

Here we run down the winners and losers for week eight:

Winners

Backup Quarterbacks

The backup quarterback position is often described as the most important position in football. If you don’t have a serviceable backup and your starter gets injured, the losses begin to pile up and a team’s season can go down the pan.

Week Eight showcased their importance as Seattle’s Geno Smith, New Orleans’ Trevor Siemian, New York Jets’ Mike White and Cooper Rush of Dallas all secured vital victories for their teams.

Smith led the Seahawks to a 31-7 victory over the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars, showcasing supreme accuracy and a calm head as he completed 20 of 24 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns.

Former Denver signal caller Siemian replaced the injured Jameis Winston – who suffered a torn ACL – to throw for 159 yards and a touchdown against the defending Super Bowl champions Tampa Bay in a 36-27 win for the Saints.

In New York, White topped the NFL passing yardage charts for the week with 405 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in a shock 34-31 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. White led his team to 17 points in the final quarter to complete a famous comeback.

On Sunday Night Football, Rush deputised for the injured Dak Prescott as Dallas moved to 6-1 on the season with a 20-16 win over the Minnesota Vikings. Rush threw for 325 yards, two touchdowns and a pick in the contest, throwing for a late score to Amari Cooper to secure the W.

The NFC Championship race

I can’t be the only one excited for the NFC Championship race after this weekend’s action, which started with the Thursday Night Football matchup between Arizona and Green Bay.

The Packers (7-1) earned victory in a slobber knocker of a contest, Arizona’s Kyler Murray throwing a last-minute interception in the endzone to condemn the Cardinals (7-1) to their first loss of the season.

You can also throw into the mix those Cowboys (6-1), whose only defeat of the season came on opening weekend against Tampa. Since then, they have dominated with an offensive arsenal which puts others to shame. They also have four games remaining against their putrid NFC East rivals.

The Los Angeles Rams are also 7-1 after a 38-22 rout of the Houston Texans on Sunday afternoon. Quarterback Matt Stafford has finally got the offensive weaponry to contend for a Vince Lombardi trophy and the defense has just added all-star pass rusher Von Miller to a unit which already includes Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey.

We haven’t even mentioned Tampa (6-2) who rule the roost in the NFC South despite that loss in New Orleans (5-2). The Saints themselves can’t be counted out either – they may be in the market for a quarterback ahead of the trade deadline after Winston’s injury.

Adrian Phillips

Every NFL player is keen to ‘ball out’ against their former employers and New England Patriots safety Adrian Phillips did just that as he helped his side to a 27-24 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.

An undrafted safety out of Texas, Phillips was picked up after the 2014 NFL Draft by the then San Diego-based Chargers, regularly waived and re-acquired by the franchise during his first two seasons in the league.

For the next few seasons, Phillips made his way up the depth chart becoming a starter for the Chargers before breaking his arm in Week Two of the 2019 season. He was then acquired in free agency by the Patriots in March 2020.

On Sunday, Phillips had an afternoon to remember. He recorded two interceptions of L.A. quarterback Justin Herbert, returning one for a touchdown to regain the lead for the AFC East contenders, a vital turnover against his former team.

Rookie Running Backs

A trio of first-year running backs announced themselves on the NFL stage in victories for the New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers and San Francisco 49ers in Week Eight.

Michael Carter, the Jets’ fourth-round pick in the 2021, lit up the stats sheet in his side’s 34-31 victory over Cincinnati, rushing for a career-high 77 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries. He added a further 95 yards on nine receptions, also a career-high number.

Elijah Mitchell, the 49ers sixth-round pick, also highlighted his skillset in a 33-22 triumph over the Chicago Bears. The former Louisiana Ragin’ Cajun rushed for 137 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, helping set up two further rushing touchdowns for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

A more recognisable name Najee Harris, who was taken #24 overall by the Steelers, helped his side overcome the Cleveland Browns 15-10 in a fiercely competitive AFC North contest. Harris rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, while also catching three balls for 39 yards through the air.

Lane Johnson and Calvin Ridley

Some things are bigger than football, and Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive lineman Lane Johnson and Atlanta Falcons’ wide receiver Calvin Ridley both highlighted the importance of mental health in the NFL.

Johnson, an All-Pro offensive tackle and one of the NFL’s best players at the position, earlier this year left the Eagles’ team facility on a gameday for ‘personal reasons’ before missing several weeks of the campaign.

The right tackle returned last week with an announcement that he’d been suffering with ‘anxiety and depression’ for a large part of his life. A sit-down interview with ESPN’s Jay Glazer opened the conversation amongst professionals about mental wellbeing, and the struggles Johnson had faced since college.

Then, on Sunday, Falcons wideout Calvin Ridley announced on Twitter that he was taking time away from the sport to focus on his mental wellbeing. Hopefully, this is the start of more emphasis being placed on the subject in the NFL.


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Losers

Detroit Lions

Is this rock bottom for the Detroit Lions? The NFC North side were mauled by a struggling Philadelphia Eagles outfit as they continued their unwanted journey towards a winless season, dropping to 0-8.

The defensive statistics make grim reading – the Lions gave up 236 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns, 27 first downs and forced their opposition to punt just once. They only gave up 114 yards through the air, but the Eagles only called 16 passing plays due to their dominance on the ground.

Offensively, Jared Goff and the Lions offense looked abject – the run game mustered a mere 57 yards, Goff himself was sacked on six occasions and a late Jermar Jefferson touchdown – the first of his NFL career – was the only highlight on a bleak Halloween afternoon.

Dan Campbell, a first-year head coach, has had the Lions playing hard in a number of games this season – narrow defeats by the 7-1 LA Rams and the 5-2 Baltimore Ravens showcase the fighting spirit in the camp – but a catastrophic performance against the 3-5 Eagles takes Campbell back to square one.

AFC South

It was an afternoon to forget for the AFC South quartet as all four sides suffered big losses – three on the field and one in the blue tent.

The Jacksonville Jaguars – fresh off their first win of the season in London two weeks ago – took a huge backward step as they lost 31-7 to the Geno Smith-led Seattle Seahawks. #1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence attempted over 50 passes in the defeat, not a recipe for victory for Urban Meyer.

Elsewhere, the Houston Texans fell into a 38-0 hole against the L.A. Rams before fighting back in the fourth quarter to score 22 unanswered points. Like the Jaguars, the Texans have just one win on their 2021 resume and are in contention for #1 overall pick – with the Detroit Lions and Miami Dolphins also in the mix.

In the battle at the top of the division, Tennessee overcame Indianapolis 34-31 in overtime as Colts quarterback Carson Wentz threw two crucial interceptions late in the day – one a ridiculous left-handed throw to avoid a safety, the second an attempt to force a ball into triple coverage in OT.

The Colts have a lot invested in Wentz – if he plays 70% of snaps this season, they lose their first-round draft pick in 2022. In fairness he has performed admirably in 2021, showcasing some of the form which put him in the MVP conversation in 2017.

And….

Fantasy Owners of Derrick Henry

Despite winning that AFC South showdown with Indianapolis, the Tennessee Titans perhaps suffered the biggest loss of them all. All-star running back Derrick Henry suffered a foot injury which will require surgery, likely ending the 2020 Offensive Player of the Year’s season.

Not only does it harm the Titans’ playoff hopes – although they still have a considerable lead in the division – fantasy football owners across the land will be drowning their sorrows having invested early draft capital in the 2019 and 2020 rushing leader.

Obviously, we could have titled this section Tennessee Titans fandom, or Derrick Henry himself, but many fantasy football gurus who will have paid a considerable entry fee to partake in their leagues will now be searching the waiver wire or trade block for a potential replacement.

They could look in the direction of future Hall Of Fame running back Adrian Peterson, who the Titans signed from free agency within 24 hours of the injury to Henry.

A.J. Green

Another likely future Hall Of Famer, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver A.J. Green, had a moment to forget in his team’s 24-21 defeat by Green Bay.

Green was the target of quarterback Kyler Murray’s endzone throw with just 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter as the Cards looked to maintain their unbeaten record.

The former Cincinnati Bengal seemed to be expecting a run play though as he approached Green Bay cornerback Rasul Douglas to initiate a block. With his back turned to Murray, the ball ricocheted off Green’s helmet and into the hands of Douglas – costing Arizona a shot at victory.

The win could prove crucial in the long run as Green Bay now hold the tie-breaker over Arizona in the NFC play-off race. With only one team securing a first-round bye in the end-of-season tournament, that could come back to hurt Arizona’s Super Bowl hopes.

Rams Draft Capital

As we mentioned earlier, the Los Angeles Rams have traded for Denver Broncos pass rusher Von Miller, spending 2022 second and third-round picks on the All-Pro linebacker.

That means the L.A. Rams, who are in the hunt for an NFC Championship this season, have just four picks in the upcoming draft – a compensatory third-round pick, a fifth-round pick and two seventh-round picks.

Their first-round selection belongs to the Detroit Lions thanks to the trade which secured quarterback Matthew Stafford. Their fourth-round pick belongs to Houston after the trade for wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

The Rams also traded a sixth-round pick for running back Sony Michel from the New England Patriots. The L.A. front office has gone with a win now approach at the expense of draft capital, let’s see how it pays off.

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