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What We Learned from Week 8 of the NFL Season

A Packers home loss to lowly Minnesota. Pittsburgh toppling the Ravens in Baltimore to stay undefeated. The Dolphins and the Bengals pulling off wild upsets behind rookie quarterbacks. The theme of Week 8 was to expect the unexpected, though the Jets proved to be a stabilizing force by losing to Kansas City in as ugly a fashion as predicted.

Here’s what we learned:

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  • The Vikings may be rebuilding, but they’re all set at running back. Minnesota has taken its share of abuse during a rough start to the season. But General Manager Rick Spielman has repeatedly rejected the idea that the Vikings are rebuilding, regardless of the team’s defensive woes, because no team with a running back as good as Dalvin Cook is rebuilding. Cook proved Spielman’s point — emphatically — in a 28-22 upset victory at Green Bay. Cook ran for 163 yards, picked up another 63 through the air and scored four touchdowns. Minnesota’s defense came out of nowhere to fluster Aaron Rodgers down the stretch, and while the Vikings’ record improved to only 2-5, the team earned some N.F.C. North bragging rights.

  • The Steelers are for real. Despite being the last undefeated team in the N.F.L., the Steelers had faced some lingering questions about how good they really were. Those questions will probably fade after the Steelers held on for a thrilling 28-24 win on the road in Baltimore. The Steelers conceded 265 yards rushing to the Ravens, but forced Lamar Jackson into several mistakes. Jackson, the reigning N.F.L. most valuable player, was intercepted twice and lost two fumbles. Baltimore still had a chance to win in the final seconds, getting all the way to Pittsburgh’s 23-yard line while trailing by 4 points, but Jackson’s final pass fell incomplete as time expired.

    The Steelers have now matched their 1978 squad for the best start in franchise history, and the team would undoubtedly like it noted that it won the Super Bowl that season.

ImageAt 5 feet 7 inches, Jakeem Grant of the Dolphins is one of the N.F.L.’s shortest players, but size was not an issue on an 88-yard punt return for a touchdown that helped Miami build an insurmountable lead.
Credit…Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press
  • Tua Tagovailoa didn’t win as much as Jared Goff lost. On the second play of his first start, Tagovailoa of the Dolphins was welcomed to the N.F.L. by the Rams’ Aaron Donald, who ripped the ball out for a strip-sack turnover. Los Angeles capitalized with a touchdown on the ensuing drive, but then Goff self-destructed. He threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles, which allowed the Dolphins to reel off 28 consecutive points in a 28-17 victory. As the wheels fell off for Los Angeles, Miami rose up as a team. The Dolphins scored on a 78-yard fumble recovery and an 88-yard punt return in addition to a pair of touchdowns from the team’s offense. Tagovailoa completed just 12 of 22 passes for 93 yards, but his career record is 1-0 just the same.

  • Joe Burrow is going to be special. He’d had good statistics in several games this season, but Burrow showed just how great he could be in the Bengals’ 31-20 win over the favored Titans. He outplayed Ryan Tannehill and put up enough points that a 112-yard game from Tennessee running back Derrick Henry didn’t matter. A pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes were exactly what Cincinnati needed to secure its second win of the season, but Burrow will be on highlight reels for a meaningless third-down play (above) in the third quarter that went for just 7 yards. Under intense pressure, he spun his way through two would-be sacks and escaped to get positive yardage on a play that looked as if it would lose as many as 10. Cincinnati punted on the next down, but the play will stay in the heads of opposing pass-rushers.

Credit…Carlos Osorio/Associated Press
  • Darius Leonard has great timing. The superstar linebacker for the Colts had been out with a groin injury since Week 4, but returned just in time. Indianapolis was clinging to a 20-14 lead in the fourth quarter and Detroit had reached the Colts’ 25-yard line. Leonard then burst into the backfield, knocking the ball out of Matthew Stafford’s hands for a fumble that was recovered by the Colts’ Justin Houston. The stomach punch to the Lions’ morale was extreme and the Colts were able to dominate the rest of the way in a 41-21 win that improved the team’s record to 5-2.

  • The Jets cannot be underestimated. Gang Green came into the day as 19.5-point underdogs, and the team proved that it could do even worse than that in a 26-point loss to Kansas City. Patrick Mahomes threw for 416 yards and five touchdowns — which seemed a bit excessive — and the Jets fell to 0-8 for just the second time in franchise history. The futility matched the 1996 Jets, who finally won in Week 9. A “Monday Night Football” matchup against the reeling Patriots is theoretically the best bet for a win for this year’s Jets as well. It’s not a good chance, mind you, but it is probably the best one the Jets will have if they want to avoid going 0-16.

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