Friday, June 14

What we learned in NFL Week 8: Feed Tyreek Hill and A.J. Brown; Jets in playoff hunt?

Once 5-0 and looking utterly unbeatable, the San Francisco 49ers have suddenly dropped three in a row.

Once 1-3, looking dismal and disjointed, Joe Burrow and the Bengals suddenly look like … Joe Burrow and the Bengals.

“I don’t use that word unbelievable anymore,” Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor said after his quarterback’s three-touchdown day in a convincing 31-17 win in San Francisco.

“Because that’s what you come to expect.”

Just not in September, apparently.

The Green Bay Packers still can’t find a way to score in the first half — nine points combined in their last five — and have now lost four in a row.

“Myself, it’s too bumpy right now,” Jordan Love said. “I need to find consistency in my play.”

The Minnesota Vikings, winners of three in a row after Sunday’s win against Love and the Packers, fear they’ve lost Kirk Cousins for the season.

And for the first time since Peyton Manning was their quarterback — way back in 2015 — the Denver Broncos beat the Chiefs, snapping Kansas City’s 16-game streak in the series.

On a sloppy Sunday across the NFL that featured the likes of Brett Rypien, Tommy DeVito, Taylor Heinicke, Mitch Trubisky and Tyson Bagent stepping in at quarterback for their respective teams — spoiler: none left with a victory — Burrow’s statement in the Bay Area was the most resounding.

The calf injury? History.

Burrow? Back in MVP form.

The Bengals? Contenders once more.

Burrow finished with just four incompletions against the once-vaunted 49ers defense, a unit that’s allowed 852 combined yards in their last two losses, to the Vikings and Bengals. Burrow carved up San Francisco’s zone most of the afternoon, then when the 49ers switched into man, found his favorite target, Ja’Marr Chase, in the end zone for a decisive third-quarter touchdown. It was vintage Burrow and vintage Bengals — brutally efficient, always armed with an answer — and it unquestionably puts them back in the conversation in the AFC.

As for the 49ers, Brock Purdy threw two second-half interceptions and has now lost three straight after winning the first 10 regular-season starts of his career. His teammates had his back afterward.

“He’s the reason why we have a chance to win games,” linebacker Fred Warner said of Purdy, saying the defense was to blame for the team’s recent skid. Up next: a much-welcomed bye.

Here’s what else stood out from Week 8:

Give them the ball, see what happens

All this talk about how offenses are struggling this season, about how scoring has dipped, about how quarterbacks — with rare exception — haven’t been as prolific as recent years.

While plenty of that’s true, so is this: The league’s best wide receivers haven’t slowed down.

Not Sunday. Not for most of this season. In Miami, Tyreek Hill has already eclipsed 1,000 yards just eight games in, becoming the first player in NFL history to do so. The Dolphins completed a season sweep of the Patriots, winning 31-17 in Miami.

Hill has been unstoppable for most of his career, including his first six seasons in Kansas City. But by his own admission, he’s never looked this good.

“I am light years ahead of where I was then,” Hill said Sunday, when asked about his Chiefs days.

He’ll face his former team for the first time next week in Germany.

NFL receiving leaders

Receiver Gm. Catches Tgt. Yds/Rec TDs

8

61

87

1,014

8

8

60

83

939

5

8

61

89

795

2

8

64

90

748

6

7

60

85

656

4

In Washington, Philadelphia’s A.J. Brown became the first player in league history with 125 receiving yards in six consecutive games. The Eagles (a league-best 7-1) completed a season sweep of the Commanders with a 38-31 win.

And in Dallas, CeeDee Lamb erupted for nine catches, 122 yards and two touchdowns — all before halftime. “Give me the ball and see what happens,” Lamb said recently. The Rams found out Sunday what that looks like. Lamb was lethal. The Cowboys kept feeding him. And before the Rams could blink, the score was 33-3.

The Cowboys (5-2) finished it off 43-20, their fourth win by 20 or more points this season.

On a Sunday that saw a stunning number of backup QBs take the field, the league’s true cream-of-the-crop receivers reminded everyone of their worth.

Sometimes, there’s simply no answer for them.

Did the Titans just find their quarterback?

It’s always too soon, too impulsive, to make any sort of a bold proclamation after a single game.

But one start into Will Levis’ career in Tennessee, it’s hard not to think the Titans may have found their next quarterback.

For a 2-4 team floundering in a bit of a no man’s land this season — new general manager Ran Carthon had to tell Derrick Henry they weren’t trading him before Tuesday’s deadline, despite inquiries from other teams — the Titans needed to see something from either Levis or second-year QB Malik Willis, who struggled mightily last season as a rookie.

Put simply, with Ryan Tannehill out, they needed either Levis or Willis to grab ahold of the starting job.

On Sunday, Levis did.

The second-round pick, who famously tumbled in last spring’s draft, made his NFL debut against the Falcons, and all he did was throw for more touchdowns (four) than Tannehill, the Titans’ veteran starter, had all season (two). Levis strutted his monster arm, hitting DeAndre Hopkins for three scores, including one for 47 yards and another for 61.

“He plays the game like he’s been here before,” Hopkins said of his rookie quarterback.

Thanks to Levis and Hopkins, the Titans moved to 3-4 with a 28-23 victory against Atlanta. Levis shared snaps with Willis, but Willis never attempted a pass, used only in rushing situations. And thanks to Levis’ sterling debut — he finished 19-for-29 for 238 yards, four TDs and a 130.5 passer rating — there’s little question which of the two QBs the Titans will turn to moving forward.

If Levis continues on this trajectory, and Anthony Richardson returns to the form he flashed early this season in Indianapolis, the AFC South figures to be a lot of fun in the coming years. All four teams, including Jacksonville (Trevor Lawrence) and Houston (C.J. Stroud), look like they have capable franchise quarterbacks in place for years to come.

Hope, in Carolina.

Fleeting as it might be, it’s something.

And this franchise needed it.

After six consecutive losses to open the year, questions about their decision at the top of last spring’s draft and a sudden switch in offensive play-caller — coach Frank Reich passing duties off to his offensive coordinator, Thomas Brown — the Panthers needed something to go right. Anything, really.

Enough did Sunday.


Thanks to a winning drive led by Bryce Young on Sunday, the NFL will have no winless teams this season. (Bob Donnan / USA Today)

In a game featuring the top three picks from the most recent draft — the first time that’s ever happened in NFL history — Bryce Young earned his first win as an NFL starter, helping the Panthers to a 15-13 win against Stroud, Will Anderson Jr. and the Texans. It avoided a 0-7 start for Carolina, which would have been the franchise’s worst dating back to 1998.

Young led a 15-play, 58-yard drive across the game’s final 6:17 to set up Eddy Pineiro’s 22-yard, game-winning field goal. And with that, every team in the NFL has at least one win this season.

“Down one, go out and try to take the game, what else would you hope for?” Young said later.

The Panthers remain thin on talent, especially at the offensive skill positions, but no team wants to enter November without a victory.

Are the Jets really in the early AFC playoff race? (Yes)

“They don’t ask you how, they ask how many,” Jets coach Robert Saleh said after this one, aptly summing up the offensively challenged battle of New York his team somehow eked out in overtime.

Saleh’s right. Forget the details. Toss out the box score. When your star quarterback, who also happens to be a Hall-of-Famer-in-waiting, is lost four snaps into the season, you don’t apologize for the wins that follow.

Four in their first seven, including three in a row?

Doesn’t matter how you get them. Doesn’t matter what they look like. Doesn’t matter if the game featured just four third-down conversions (in 34 attempts) and 24 punts.

Now, the Jets remain a flawed team, Zach Wilson a flawed quarterback, but there’s something to be said for a group that keeps scraping out ugly victories despite stunningly long stretches of offensive inadequacy. (Breece Hall’s 50-yard catch-and-run score in the first quarter Sunday was the Jets’ first first-quarter touchdown of the season.)

After losing three in a row after Aaron Rodgers went down, the Jets (4-3) have ripped off three in a row and are — surprise — very much in the AFC playoff hunt as the calendar flips to November.

Honestly, who had the Jets above .500 at any point after Halloween?

“I don’t even know what happened,” cornerback Sauce Gardner said after the win, admitting that he thought the game was lost. But Giants kicker Graham Gano missed two field goals, including a 35-yarder with 28 seconds left that would have clinched the win. Two 29-yard completions from Wilson were enough to get the Jets in field-goal range.

It’s also pretty impressive the Giants nearly won a game throwing for a grand total of minus-9 passing yards. After Tyrod Taylor exited the game in the first half, DeVito, a New Jersey native, took his place but ended up attempting just seven passes, finishing with minus-1 passing yard.

Jaguars are heating up

The Jaguars have quietly become one of the hottest teams in football. While Jacksonville certainly entered the season with heightened expectations after last season’s playoff run, it stumbled early this year, falling to 1-2 after a humiliating 37-17 Week 3 loss at home to the Texans.

Then the Jags went to London for two weeks and found something.

The results since: five consecutive wins, leaving them at 6-2 heading into the bye week with a juicy matchup when they return, at home versus the 49ers. On Sunday, the Jags stopped the Steelers’ win streak, beating Pittsburgh 20-10 behind 292 passing yards from Lawrence and 149 all-purpose yards from Travis Etienne, whose 56-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the third quarter was the longest play of the day for either side.

Dating back to last year’s late-season run, the Jags have won 11 of their last 13 regular-season games.

Ramsey returns, and the Dolphins keep rolling

Ninety-four days after Jalen Ramsey injured his meniscus — this was the second day of training camp, and initial reports suggested he might be out until December — the six-time Pro Bowl cornerback made his Dolphins debut two days shy of Halloween.

He made his presence felt immediately, baiting Patriots quarterback Mac Jones into an interception just before the half that Ramsey returned 49 yards. It led to a field goal in the Dolphins’ win, their sixth in seven tries against their division rival.

“He totally disappointed me,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel joked postgame. “He told me he was going to come back and have a pick six, not a pick field goal.”

“The hype is real when it comes to someone like Jalen Ramsey,” Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa said.

With the win, the Dolphins completed a season sweep of the Patriots and improved to 6-2, their best start to a season since 2001.

(Top photo of A.J. Brown: Patrick Smith / Getty Images)