Sunday might have been National Tight Ends Day, and no disrespect to Mark Andrews and his two touchdown catches, but in Baltimore it was the unveiling of a new and improved Lamar Jackson.
Jackson orchestrated a masterclass, both utilizing his electrifying mobility as a weapon to create opportunities downfield in the passing game as well as from the pocket, carving up the Lions' defense for 357 yards with three touchdown passes, while rushing for 36 yards and another score in a 38-6 blowout victory.
Sunday might be Jackson's Magnum Opus, but it should probably be viewed more accurately as validation that he is more than an electrifying talent as a runner. After all, Detroit entered Sunday afternoon holding opposing quarterbacks to only 5.7 yards per attempt. Jackson finished with 13.2 yards per throw.
"Lamar's always been a good passer," an AFC Scout told FanBuzz. "But, it's just hard to show it when you have six tight ends on the field, and the wide receivers can't catch."
Sunday was a departure from the passing offense funneling almost exclusively through Andrews, and the breakout performance many had been waiting for for a revamped receiving corps headlined by Odell Beckham's arrival, and the emergence of rookie Zay Flowers and Rashod Bateman as legitimate weapons.
Flowers led all Ravens receivers with 75 yards on four receptions, including breaking loose on a 46-yard gain that showed his uncanny ability to make something happen after the catch, Beckham caught five of seven targets for 49 yards, and Bateman added two catches for 36 yards.
As complete a weapon as Jackson looked throughout the game, this was a complete and abject demolition of one of the NFC's best teams, from top to bottom.
With 7:45 remaining in the first half, the Ravens had out-gained the Lions 325 yards to 13, were leading 28-10, and the Lions' versatile offense built on the back of a stout running game and big-play threats at wide receiver was completely stymied by Mike MacDonald's defense.
Jared Goff's run as the NFL's captain consistency at quarterback came careening back to earth as he was sacked five times, hit eight times, and threw his fourth interception of the season.
For the Lions, Sunday's game serves both as a wakeup call after weeks of being mentioned among the elite in the NFC and a warning sign of what might lie ahead as defensive coordinators across the league put MacDonald's game plan under a microscope in coming weeks.
But, the Ravens by contrast, showed they can simultaneously beat the NFL's best in a multitude of ways; playing punishing defense, getting efficient quarterback play from the pocket, and of course, unleashing Jackson's athleticism both on big gains on the ground and setting up opportunities to throw on the run.
Facing the NFL's fourth-toughest remaining strength of schedule, with a slate of opponents boasting a .586 winning percentage, Baltimore's going to need games like Sunday and performances like Jackson's against the Lions to become the norm.
First Down: Time to Worry About the Buffalo Bills?
There's plenty of season left to be played, but as Halloween looms, do the Buffalo Bills look like contenders right now?
Sean McDermott's team certainly hasn't the past three weeks.
Sunday might have been the low-water mark of Buffalo's midseason slump. After falling behind 10-0 early against the previously 1-5 New England Patriots, the Bills later allowed just Mac Jones' second career fourth-quarter comeback in a 29-25 defeat in Foxboro.
With McDermott calling the defensive signals for the Bills' defense, Jones orchestrated a 75-yard drive that culminated with tight end Mike Gesicki pulling down the game-winning touchdown to drop Buffalo to 3-2 on the season, raising questions about this team's ceiling in the process.
Since boarding the flight back to the states from a heartbreaking 25-20 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in London two weeks ago, the Bills had to survive a goal-line stand in the final seconds to beat the Giants in Week 6, 14-9, prior to Sunday's disastrous loss to the Patriots.
"They look like they're still trying to figure out who they are," a rival AFC personnel executive told FanBuzz.
Once among the most feared running quarterbacks in the game, Josh Allen has been a bit one dimensional over the past three weeks and reverted back to some of his turnover prone ways that have dogged him for much of his career.
Over the past three games, Allen has completed 66 percent of his passes for 793 yards with six touchdowns to three interceptions, but has averaged only 14 rushing yards over that span.
"It seems to me that they are trying to harness Josh a bit," former Buffalo Bills offensive lineman Jerry Ostroski told FanBuzz. "They are forcing him into a much more controlled system. He hardly runs the ball anymore whether called runs or just him taking off.
"I noticed recently they have brought him under center more than usual as well. The issue to me is this is not what Josh truly is. He's a huge athlete with elite arm talent. Trying to put him into a controlled offense that's worried about protecting him takes his strengths away."
Buffalo may need to rethink the offensive philosophy after falling to the Patriots one week after needing to cling for dear life in the waning moments against the Giants, who were 1-4 at the time.
Those aren't the kinds of games that Super Bowl contenders struggle in ... let alone lose.
"What is missing is the offense is not going through Josh," Ostroski believes. "He's not a distributor or system guy. He needs to be able to force himself into the game with big plays. Whether it's with his arm or physically changing the game with his feet. When Josh is at his best he is playing free. He's making big plays off schedule and is punishing defenders down field on called QB runs and scramble situations."
Buffalo pulled off a signature victory over the Miami Dolphins earlier in the season, but lost All-Pro cornerback Tre'Davious White for the season to a torn Achilles tendon. White's injury combined losing linebacker Matt Milano for the season seems to have removed some of the teeth of a previously menacing Bills defense.
Meanwhile, the Bills' offense has been wildly inconsistent over the past month just as the defense has seen injuries mount. As a result Buffalo is currently struggling against competition they routinely dispatched with ease over the past three seasons, when they were rightfully considered among the AFC's best.
Asking Buffalo to climb back to the top of the AFC's gauntlet, after watching what the Ravens did to the Lions on Sunday, what the Chiefs are back to doing on a weekly basis, and how the Bengals seem to be charging as Joe Burrow returns to form, may prove a daunting task.
Buffalo has a grueling remaining schedule that features games against the Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles, the rematch with the Dolphins, a clash with Burrow's Bengals, the Dallas Cowboys, and a suddenly tougher than expected showdown against the division rival Jets among the games standing between the Bills and the postseason.
In the AFC crucible, every victory matters, the margin for error seemingly slimming each week, which makes Sunday's collapse against the lowly Patriots all the more worrisome.
Even amid recent struggles, Ostroski believes the Bills have the talent and pedigree to weather the storm.
"The Bills schedule is a 17 round heavy weight title fight," he said. "I believe it's the toughest in the league and there are no easy games. With that being said the Bills have no time to worry about anyone else. We have seen already this season when they play at their best they can beat anyone in the league. They did it to Miami earlier in the season. To me the only team that the Bills need to worry about are themselves."
Second Down: Giants' Defense Wreaking Havoc
Sporting throwback uniforms on Sunday resembling those worn by legendary Big Blue teams that won a pair of Super Bowls, Don "Wink" Martindale's unit put forth a performance harkening back to the dominance of Lawrence Taylor, Harry Carson, and those legendary defenses.
Against Washington, the Giants' defense resembled the group that powered last season's run to the NFL Playoffs and a postseason victory over the Minnesota Vikings, paving the way to a 14-7 victory over the division rival.
Sunday afternoon, Commanders quarterback Sam Howell was under relentless and consistent pressure as Martindale dialed up some of his trademark exotic blitzes, and New York's secondary completely neutralized the likes of Jahan Dotson and Terry McLaurin.
According to ESPN stats and information, Martindale blitzed Howell on 57 percent of his dropbacks, producing five sacks on those plays.
Not only was Howell sacked six times, but the Giants baited him into some reckless mistakes, such as a woefully under-thrown pass intended for Dotson that rookie cornerback Deonte Banks pulled down for his first career interception. Later, Howell was nearly sacked for a safety rolling out in his own end zone.
Dexter Lawrence was a one-man wrecking crew, finishing with two sacks, four quarterback hits, with one tackle for loss, Bobby Okereke was always around the football with 11 tackles and one pass breakup, as Kayvon Thibodeaux and Leonard Williams combined for 2.5 sacks.
"I think that's the defense we're turning into," Thibodeaux told reporters following the game. "Being able to start off hot, start off fast, and carry that momentum. So, last year was about bringing them to the deep end and hits year it's about hitting them in the mouth first."
Sunday's beat down of the Commanders followed a gritty and determined showing against the Buffalo Bills that saw the defense hold Josh Allen and Co. to under 300 yards of total offense, force two turnovers, and put the offense in a position to steal an upset victory. Despite falling to the Bills 14-9, Week 6 felt like a turning point for linebackers Bobby Okereke, Micah McFadden, and a defense that's seeming to pick up confidence as the season's gone on.
After allowing an average 30.6 points per game through the first five weeks, including a 40-0 opening night shellacking at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys, Martindale's Giants defense held the Bills and Commanders to 21 points combined the past two games with neither team surpassing 300 yards of total offense.
There might not be a fifth Lombardi added to the trophy case in East Rutherford four months from now. After all, The Giants are just 2-4, in the NFC East basement. But, spirited defensive efforts like Sunday are exactly the kind that can power a resurgence or at least play a starring role in the Giants playing spoiler as the season goes along.
Third Down: Chiefs' Complementary Football Revealing Championship Character
It's only fitting that on National Tight Ends Day that Travis Kelce and Patrick Mahomes would reach a milestone.
When Mahomes hit Kelce on a nifty little one-yard touchdown pass, the play didn't just give the Kansas City a 24-17 lead in a pivotal AFC West clash against the Los Angeles Chargers, but it was the Chiefs duo's 50th career touchdown connection.
Kelce and Mahomes moved into fourth all-time in touchdowns for a quarterback-tight end pair, now trailing Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham by just one score on the all-time list.
More importantly, Sunday afternoon in a game that gave the Chiefs the chance to drive an early nail in the coffin of a division rival and create even more separation in the otherwise woeful AFC West, the Chiefs did exactly that.
Thanks to a brand of complementary football that hasn't always been a hallmark of the Chiefs, Kansas City looks every bit the Super Bowl favorite they have been for about the past half decade in the AFC.
Against Justin Herbert and the desperate Chargers, Mahomes may have been the star of the show, passing for 424 yards with four touchdowns, one interception, and adding 29 rushing yards but it was Kansas City's defense that whitewashed any chance Los Angeles had of a second-half comeback.
Herbert passed for 259 yards in the game, but 159 of those yards and all 17 of the Chargers' points came in the first half.
After the break, Kansas City's defense sacked Herbert once and held the Chargers to six first downs, and most importantly off the scoreboard.
The defensive dominance buttressed Mahomes' fifth career outing with 400-plus passing yards, in the kind of victory that re-establishes the Chiefs as the team to beat in the AFC — if there were ever a doubt.
"The Chiefs are the same great team they have been," an NFC scout told FanBuzz. "And what makes them so dangerous is they have an exceptional quarterback."
Fourth Down: Steelers Get Back to Basics, Rediscover Identity
Mike Tomlin might not want to discuss his team's identity, but Pittsburgh's performance Sunday was reminiscent of the tried and true hallmarks of Steelers' football; punishing defense, an effective running game, and efficient if not prolific quarterback play.
Those were the driving forces behind the Steelers' various Super Bowl runs across the decades, and while this team is still building and quarterback Kenny Pickett is still developing, some of those trademarked traits are beginning to rise to the surface.
Sunday in Los Angeles — or more aptly, based on the terrible towels in the stands, Pittsburgh West — the Steelers improved to 4-2 with a 24-17 win over the Rams.
While Pickett's numbers won't overwhelm, completing just 17-of-25 passes for 230 yards, the second-year quarterback methodically managed the game and was a catalyst for Pittsburgh's win rather than a hindrance to the cause.
"The biggest difference is they aren't turning the football over," former Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch told FanBuzz. "They've only turned it over once versus the four they have created the past two games, and the defense is giving them at least one short field er game."
That defense, while not yet offering much resemblance to the Steel Curtain, sacked Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford twice on Sunday and it was rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr.'s interception in the end zone two weeks ago off Lamar Jackson that sparked Pickett's game-winning drive that built some confidence in the Iron City entering the bye week.
Offensively, the running game is slowly picking up some steam, as well.
Against the Rams, while Pittsburgh only rushed for 86 yards, Najee Harris rattled off a couple of explosive runs while rushing for 53 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Jaylen Warren averaged 5.3 yards per carry with one rushing touchdown, and Pickett added a rushing score on a quarterback sneak.
"They're running when they have to convert," Batch explained. "They rushed for 87 yards last game and 86 this week. I wouldn't say they figured it out just yet. But, the next three weeks will determine their season."
If nothing else, Tomlin's team is showing the world who they are, and seem to be building some momentum in the process.
MVP of Week 7: Myles Garrett, EDGE, Cleveland Browns
In the standings, the Cleveland Browns beat the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, but it was Myles Garrett who won the game.
After the Browns lost quarterback Deshaun Watson to a head injury, Cleveland's All-Pro edge had a first half for the ages. Garrett strip-sacked Gardner Minshew, and five plays later Kareem Hunt took a direct snap into the end zone for a touchdown. Later, Garrett hurdled the middle of the Colts' line to block a field goal attempt with 10:30 remaining in the second quarter that the Browns converted into a field goal of their own.
But, Garrett's biggest play of all was a second strip-sack of Minshew that Tony Fields recovered for a touchdown with 1:50 remaining in the half.
There are game-wreckers, and then there are one-man wrecking crews, which Garret was against the Colts.
By game's end, Garrett logged two sacks, two quarterback hits, nine total tackles, one tackle for loss, one pass breakup, two forced fumbles, and the blocked field goal.
Garrett was responsible — directly or indirectly — for 17 of the Browns' 39 points in Sunday's wild 39-38 victory amid one of the more dominant individual defensive performances you'll see.
Week 7 Team of The Week: Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles turned the clock back Sunday night, donning the Kelly green uniforms that defined over three generations of fandom in Philadelphia. But, more importantly, Nick Sirianni's team regained its swagger with a signature victory over one of 2023's most dominant teams.
By manhandling the Dolphins in all three phases, and withstanding multiple flurries that are inevitable with all of the explosive speed Miami's defense possesses, the Eagles resembled the 2022 team that ran roughshod to the Super Bowl more so than this year's squad that had previously struggled to find its identity.
The Dolphins arrived in Philadelphia averaging 505.7 yards per game, but the Eagles held Tua Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill, and Co. to 244 and handed Miami a humbling 31-17 defeat.
When Miami was threatening to break through, Darius Slay intercepted Tagovailoa deep in Eagles territory.
Meanwhile, A.J. Brown came alive with 10 catches for 137 yards and a touchdown, as for the first time all season Jalen Hurts played at an MVP caliber level, in the Eagles' biggest test to date.
Never was the Eagles' championship character more evident than the 13-play, 78-yard methodical march down the field that was capped by a three-yard Kenneth Gainwell touchdown plunge that came 4:50 after Slay's interception, and broke the Dolphins' spirit.
Whoever emerged victorious Sunday night could lay legitimate claim to being the best team in the league through seven weeks. At minimum, the Eagles aced their biggest test of the season and gained some serious credibility as the most daunting stretch of their schedule begins.
Breakout Star of Week 7: Jake Bobo, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Rookie wide receiver Jake Bobo pulled down the most impressive touchdown catch of the season, but his performance Sunday afternoon was merely the crescendo of the former undrafted free agent's ascent in the Seahawks' passing game.
With 4:41 remaining in the second quarter Sunday, Bobo made a leaping reception in the corner of the end zone while being pushed out of bounds by Cardinals defensive back Sterling Thomas, and somehow managed to get parts of both feet down in bounds while maintaining possession of the 18-yard score.
"First off, it was a great throw by Geno," Bobo told FanBuzz on Sunday evening. "He put it where only I could get it, and luckily I was able to make a play. But yeah, I knew I had my toe down, so i was confident it was going to get overturned. That's something we practice, and I'm just happy i was able to execute and help the team win when it mattered"
— Seattle Seahawks (@Seahawks) October 22, 2023
How impressive was Bobo's catch? NextGen Stats revealed that the play had the lowest catch probability of any reception this season, with just a 15.9 percent chance that Bobo would actually pull down the catch.
While Bobo's touchdown catch was the unlikeliest reception of the NFL season, his meteoric rise from undrafted rookie out of Duke to a reliable target in Geno Smith's supremely talented target hierarchy that includes the likes of Tyler Lockett, D.K. Metcalf, and fellow rookie Jaxon Smith-Njigba feels equally improbable.
Yet, that's where we are, after Bobo has caught 8 of 11 targets for 112 yards and two touchdowns through his first five games.
The Seahawks, on the backs of steady contributions from the past three rookie classes have built a young core that's among the most exciting in the league, and Bobo continues to defy the odds proving he's squarely in that mix.
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