The Final Word: Lamar Jackson needs ‘big stage’ win, Chargers suffer more heartbreak

Week Eight in the NFL was filled with the kind of drama and intrigue that we have come to expect and it was headlined by the heavyweight clash that saw the Pittsburgh Steelers record a 28-24 win over the Baltimore Ravens.

And that’s where I begin my look back at the latest round of NFL games…

Five Major Takeaways from Week Eight

1) Lamar Jackson needs a ‘big stage’ win

I definitely came away from this game impressed by the physicality and resilience of the Steelers. They dug deep to wipe away a poor first half and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was calm in the face of adversity, throwing the winning touchdown pass to Chase Claypool late in the final period.

The same cannot be said for the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player Lamar Jackson, and that is my biggest takeaway from this game. On a big stage, Lamar came up short, and not for the first time. He was poor in a playoff loss to the Chargers at the end of the 2019 campaign and it was the same again at home to Tennessee in last year’s playoff defeat. Earlier this season, Jackson was sub-par in a loss to the Chiefs.

Jackson went into Sunday’s game with two interceptions on the season. He threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles. The two picks led directly to 14 Pittsburgh points, while the two fumbles took away a potential 14 points for the Ravens. Those are costly mistakes in a close game. With the standards being so high and Super Bowl victory being the only acceptable goal in Baltimore, Jackson has to start upping his game in these big showdowns.

2) Under-pressure quarterbacks

Jimmy Garoppolo limped out of San Francisco’s 37-27 loss to Seattle in a game that was only made closer than it really was by a late Nick Mullens rally against a prevent defence. But I still wondered as I watched Mullens in action… “Will the 49ers be tempted to make a move at QB?”

Well, they have to now because Garoppolo is out for a month with a high ankle sprain, the latest in a catalogue of season-wrecking injuries for the Niners. I have to wonder if Jimmy G will limp out of San Francisco all together. I don’t think he is the answer.

And he is not alone at feeling the pressure. Sam Darnold is fighting for his job with the New York Jets and is playing with one hand tied behind his back due to poor coaching and woeful talent; Cam Newton is enduring the worst statistical season of his career and I also worry about the long-term future of Kirk Cousins in Minnesota – he was asked to throw just 14 times in Sunday’s win at Green Bay.

3) More heartbreak for the Chargers

There are just some NFL teams who continue to break the hearts of their fans year after year and the Chargers are one of them. Now, you could argue that they don’t have many supporters left after their controversial move from San Diego a few years back, but that is another matter.

Sunday evening marked the latest in a long, long line of disappointments for the Chargers in close games. They led the Denver Broncos 24-3 in Week Eight and ended up losing 31-30 as Drew Lock threw a touchdown pass to K.J. Hamler as time ran out.

Since Justin Herbert took charge at quarterback, the Chargers have excited and frustrated in equal measure. They have lost five games in six weeks by a grand total of 19 points. This season has seen the Chargers blow leads of 17 (twice), 11 and 21, and that puts pressure on head coach Anthony Lynn. A couple of key aspects of coaching are excelling in key moments and inspiring belief in your team. Lynn seems to be coming up short on both counts.

4) Colts keep rolling

The Colts have crept to a very quiet and unassuming 5-2 record and they’re well-set for a second-half-of-the-season playoff charge in the AFC.

All eyes are, of course, on quarterback Philip Rivers, and he is playing much better with six touchdown passes in his last two games. But this has been a complete team performance in Indy and physicality on both sides of the ball has been the key.

The Colts’ defence held Detroit to just 29 rushing yards on 13 carries in Sunday’s 41-21 win in the Motor City. D’Andre Swift carried six times for one yard, while Adrian Peterson rushed five times for seven yards. Darius Leonard continues to play like a beast at linebacker; the next big challenge comes on Sunday as the Colts face a Baltimore attack that rushed for 265 yards on Sunday.

5) Expect the unexpected

There were a few surprises around the NFL on Sunday as Cincinnati knocked off Tennessee, Miami bullied the Rams and Minnesota got the win in Green Bay. But I did not expect Monday night’s game between the Giants and Buccaneers to be close in any way. In fact, I was questioning why the NFL would obsess over the Giants in primetime so much, even with them playing in such a massive media market.

I should have known better. The NFL always serves up shocks and even the lowliest of teams can knock off contenders. That didn’t happen in the end as the Bucs held on for a 25-23 win but, boy, did the Giants give them everything they could handle.

The Giants jumped out to a 14-3 lead and they threatened to tie the game inside the final minute before the officials waved off a pass interference penalty in the endzone on a two-point conversion attempt pass from the streaky Daniel Jones. Tom Brady and the Bucs are on course for the playoffs after starting 6-2 for the first time since 2002, but Monday night reminded us that plain sailing for even the very best clubs is a mere fantasy.

Player of the Week: Dalvin Cook

I want to give a nod here to Steelers linebacker Robert Spillane, who recorded 11 tackles, recovered a fumble, and scored on a pick six during the win over Baltimore. But I cannot ignore the speed, toughness and big-play ability shown by Dalvin Cook during Minnesota’s surprise win over Green Bay at Lambeau Field. Cook carried 30 times for 163 yards and added 63 receiving yards for a total of 226 yards on 32 touches. Cook scored four times in a 28-22 win that perhaps showed Minnesota a way out of their current fog.

Play of the Week

This is a make-up call because I totally overlooked D.K. Metcalf’s rundown of Budda Baker last week. But Metcalf gets the nod this week for his 46-yard catch and run score against San Francisco. And if that catch and run doesn’t float your boat, how about his slant touchdown grab which looked for all the world like it was going to be knocked down by the defender draped all over his back? Metcalf reminded us during his 12-catch, 161-yard day that he is becoming virtually impossible to defend. He is simply too big, too strong, and too fast. A new NFL superstar has been born.

Coach of the Week: Brian Flores

There was much excitement about the Rams’ offence heading into Super Bowl LIII against the Patriots at the end of the 2018 season. It was a free-scoring attack masterminded by head coach Sean McVay and operated by Jared Goff. But Goff and the Rams were bullied by a defensive scheme pulled together by then-Patriots coordinator Brian Flores.

It was more of the same on Sunday night as Miami recorded a 28-17 win over the Rams. The Dolphins forced four first-half turnovers and scored on a fumble return and a punt return. This game was effectively over by half-time and the yardage totals of 471 yards to the Rams and 145 to the Dolphins were misleading in the extreme. The Dolphins deserved this big win and Flores was a major reason why it came about.

On my Radar

This is not yet a full-on problem but that is the whole point of this segment – to highlight niggling concerns that could become a real worry. Josh Allen is not playing like he did in the season’s first month when he was the toast of the NFL at quarterback for the Bills.

In the first four games of 2020, Allen was averaging 331.5 passing yards per game and threw 12 touchdowns to one interception. That was good for a quarterback rating of 122.7, which would lead the NFL now.

Over the past four games, Allen has averaged 211.5 yards per game and has four touchdowns and four interceptions. That is a rating mark of 79.2. If he can find that early-season form – which is no easy thing in Buffalo as winter approaches – these Bills can win the AFC East for the first time since 1995. But there is no doubt he is in a slump right now.

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