Derrick Henry Gets His Apology
NFL Week 8 - In this overstuffed NFL Week 8 edition of Walkthrough...
- The Seattle Seahawks force the New York Giants to fall back to earth first so they can land on top of them;
- The New England Patriots once again prove that no one really believes in the New York Jets, especially the New York Jets;
- Philadelphia Eagles receiver A.J. Brown turns the Pittsburgh Steelers into supporting actors in his one-man highlight reel;
and much more. But first...
An Open Letter to Derrick Henry
We're so sorry, Derrick Henry.
Walkthrough thought you were burnt toast in the offseason. We all but danced at your retirement dinner in a May column. When the Tennessee Titans suffered other defections and injuries—A.J. Brown, Harold Landry, Taylor Lewan, and this week Ryan Tannehill—we thought the team would drive you until your tires blew out and then abandon you under a railroad trestle.
Yet you led the Titans to a 17-10 victory over the Houston Texans with 32 carries for 219 yards and two touchdowns on a Sunday when Matt Vrabel rarely dared to allow rookie Malik Willis to throw the ball. You side-stepped some defenders, stiff-armed others into the end zone, and dragged the rest behind you for first downs.
You have kept the Titans in the playoff hunt for over a month. You rushed for 128 yards in a hard-fought victory over the Colts in Week 7. You churned out 102 yards and two touchdowns in a narrow win over the Commanders in Week 5. Before that: 114 yards and another touchdown in the first meeting with the Colts. And before that: 85 rushing yards, 58 receiving yards, and a touchdown in a 24-22 win over the Raiders.
Five victories, three 100-yard rushing games, one 200-yarder, and one 100-total-yarder, all from the one guy that everyone in the stadium knows is getting the ball early and often, the only Titans player the defense must seriously game-plan to stop. We're not sure what the Titans' record would be with an ordinary running back, but there is no way they would be 5-2.
Can you blame us for our preseason skepticism? You missed nine games with a foot injury last year! Running backs with your mileage are rarely the same after a foot injury, and it looked like you were leaking a little transmission fluid even before you got hurt. Then there's the whole Curse of 370 thing and all of those departures and injuries on offense.
Walkthrough assumed you would spend every Sunday slamming into an eight-man box without much blocking or support. And we were right! But you have run with such power, vision, and determination that it has not mattered, mixing in enough value as a receiver to make Titans' game plans slightly less predictable.
Listen, Derrick: your 2019 and 2020 seasons were downright historic, but your 2021 season looked like another illustration of just how fleeting most running back's peaks are. This year, you were destined to either trudge along at 3.6 yards per rush for a ready-to-rebuild Titans team or—and this was always a long shot—establish yourself as the type of once-per-generation running back who scoffs at the wear and tear which forces 95% of your peers to retire by around age 28.
It looks like you really are part of that rare breed, the Adrian Peterson/LaDainian Tomlinson/Eric Dickerson types who make slobberknocker football playoff-viable and, if this keeps up, end up in the Hall of Fame.
So thanks for keeping the Titans interesting, Derrick. Walkthrough is overjoyed to be wrong when it means that we get to watch you hammer out yardage and old-school victories week after week.
But if another running back suffers a setback after a few high-mileage seasons, we guarantee that we will be even more skeptical of him than we were of you.
Game Spotlight: Buffalo Bills 27, Green Bay Packers 17
What Happened: The Bills used all their cheat codes and power-ups simultaneously before halftime. Seriously, look at this and tell Walkthrough that it doesn't look like Isaiah McKenzie was wearing Cleats of Extra Juking and mashing button combos the Packers had never seen before:
Catch @_IsaiahMcKenzie if you can!
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) October 31, 2022
Ah, but the Packers had a plan for keeping things close in the second half: they began running the ball and slowing down the game while trailing by 17. Brilliant!
The Bills, meanwhile, were eager to put the game out of reach and began taking risks in the passing game. So the second half involved a team trailing by three scores munching the clock while the team leading by three scores threw interceptions. Weird stuff. Ultimately, however, all the Packers managed to do was slow the game down to the point that Aaron Rodgers' fourth-quarter touchdown bomb to Samori Toure proved irrelevant.
What it Means: The Bills exist on a higher plane of football consciousness. The only real weakness they demonstrated against the Packers was their run defense, and frankly, it looked as though they could have stopped the Packers running game any time if they chose to.
The NFC Fading Legends Trio of the Packers, Buccaneers, and Rams all lost again in Week 8, and waiting for them to find their level is becoming alarming. The Packers looked a little like they knew they were outclassed and gave up searching for answers at halftime. We may be back in 2018 again, when everyone checked out on each other, the team finished 6-9-1, and Mike McCarthy was fired. If that's the case, Rodgers is sure to let us know via subtly coded soundbites throughout the week.
What's Next: The Bills write another reality check for the Jets. The Packers work their frustration out on Dan Campbell's Extra Gritty Punching Bags.
Seattle Seahawks 27, New York Giants 13
(Otherwise known as the triumph of smoke over mirrors.)
What Happened: Two teams poised to crash back to earth instead crashed into each other. The Giants mustered just 46 yards and one first down in the first half. The Seahawks answered by fumbling at their own goal line to give the Giants a free touchdown and getting a little silly with the Geno Smith dink-dunkery.
A dreary punt-and-field goal fest—the sort of game we expected from these teams entering the season—broke open midway through the fourth quarter when Smith found Tyler Lockett for a 33-yard touchdown, followed by a fumble recovery after the next Seahawks punt to set up a Kenneth Walker touchdown. For the first time since Week 3, the Giants did not have any late-game magic in them.
What it Means: The Seahawks were clearly the better team on Sunday: dropped passes (one a sure touchdown for Lockett) and other miscues kept a Giants team that was clearly a step slower and a notch less physical on both sides of the ball in the game.
We're now getting a real sense of the Seahawks' capabilities: they are far better than the NFC bottom-feeders, well below the Eagles/Cowboys tier, and in roughly the same category as the Giants and Falcons, the adorable puppies of the conference. Whether or not they reach the playoffs may come down to how good (or bad) the Packers/Buccaneers/Rams Fading Legends Trio really is. Those teams will vacate one to three expected playoff spots, making room for some of the puppies. The Seahawks face the Bucs in two weeks and the Rams twice later in the season; based on current performance levels, the Seahawks will probably win two of those three games, which would likely make them a wild-card team.
The Giants are in a different situation: Sunday's loss looked like the prelude to a collapse, but it's hard to collapse when you have a bye, the Texans, and the Lions over the next three weeks. Unlike the Seahawks, the Giants had a loss to spare and still have a breezy path to a winning record.
What's Next: As noted, a Giants bye, followed by the Dan Campbell Cult and the Houston Cult Survivors. The Seahawks face a Cardinals team that they beat before and should beat again because they are not coached by a walking body spray commercial.
Game Spotlight: New England Patriots 22, New York Jets 17
(Otherwise known as "2021's young mirage quarterback versus 2022's young mirage quarterback.")
What Happened: The Jets took an early 10-3 lead, looking a lot like the 5-2 team their record said they were entering Week 8. Then Zach Wilson began running around in circles and tossing interceptions as if a toddler had dropped his PS5 controller down a flight of stairs.
Mac Jones was nearly as awful as Wilson for most of the game, but:
- Jones, unlike Wilson, is more likely to cover up and take a sack than act like Carson Wentz after three hard iced teas when the pocket collapses;
- A Jones pick-six moments after Wilson's first interception was nullified by a roughing the passer foul which registered about a 5.2 on the "tacky call" scale;
- The Patriots started the third quarter with a touchdown when the second-half kickoff dribbled to their 38-yard line and Rhamondre Stevenson glitched right through a would-be tackler for a 35-yard run; and
- Nick Folk nailed three second-half field goals while Greg Zeuerlein missed a third-quarter attempt which might have kept Wilson and the rest of the Jets out of "panicky puppy at a fireworks show" mode.
What it Means: Wilson is a liability that the Jets quietly concealed during their four-game winning streak. The sooner the Jets get real about Wilson, the better. Robert Saleh should be ready to pull the ripcord for Joe Flacco or Chris Streveler (not Mike White, we already did that) the next time Wilson starts doing whirlybirds in the pocket: better for the Jets to gain clarity about how to move forward with a very talented overall roster than talk themselves into Wilson as their future because they finish around 9-8.
The Patriots remain as likely as ever to reach the playoffs on mystique, a soft schedule, and a stout-if-sluggish defense: nothing else and in precisely that order.
What's Next: Interceptions may start flying out of all of Wilson's orifices as the Jets host the Bills in Week 9. The Patriots get a chance to beat yet another team thanks mostly to two decades of conditioning as they host Sam Ehlinger and the Colts.
Notes on Various Quarterback Situations
Walkthrough keeps you abreast of all of the quarterback benchings, injuries, and controversies around the NFL!
Walkthrough takes back all of the bad things we said about Matt Ryan! Sam Ehlinger dinked, dunked, wide-receiver screened, ran a little read-option, and led one 24-yard touchdown drive after a Shaquille Leonard interception in a 17-16 loss to the Commanders, but he also lost a fumble in the red zone while scrambling, and the Colts offense is somehow more limited now than it was when they were trying to protect a tower of soup cans in the pocket. Frank Reich kept settling for short field goals in the red zone with Ehlinger under center, which is a fine way to lose a winnable game.
Ehlinger just discovered the difference between running around making plays in the fourth quarters of preseason games and trying to move an offense against starting-caliber competition. The solution to the Colts quarterback problem is, unfortunately, not on the roster. And the decision by Reich to forever-bench Ryan now appears certain to finally plunge the Colts into a rebuilding cycle.
Taylor Heinicke led an 89-yard touchdown drive in the final seconds to beat the Colts, and Carson Wentz crumbled to dust and blew away like a vampire at sunrise.
Malik Willis went 6-of-10 for 55 yards and one interception in relief of Ryan Tannehill, sidelined with an ankle injury and illness. Willis also rushed five times for 12 yards. His longest completion of the afternoon was a 16-yard side-armed wobbler while scrambling. One of his other "long" completions was a flat pass to Derrick Henry followed by 9 yards of stiff arms. Willis threw one pass in the entire second half.
Ultimately, we were spared the one 30-yard completion that rookie backups such as Willis inevitably throw in their debuts which spawn "THIS PROVES HE'S QB1 FOREVER" tweets and narratives about quarterback controversies. Willis isn't ready, and probably won't be at any time in 2022. We're better not pretending otherwise.
Steelers fans are no doubt building a mountain of intangibles around Kenny Pickett: he showed "poise" or "heart" or something in a 35-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in which the only Steelers touchdown was thrown by Chase Claypool on a trick play. Whatever. The Steelers offense is completely dysfunctional, making Pickett nearly impossible to evaluate: he has thrown almost nothing but screens, rollout tosses into the flat, 50-50 jump balls to George Pickens, and end-of-blowout nonsense against prevent defenses. There's a difference between "experience" and "useful experience."
The danger for the Steelers is that Pickett becomes a cross between Mac Jones' physical traits/organizational wishcasting and Trevor Lawrence's ingrained bad habits, and that Steelers fans (and coaches) will still be trying to talk themselves into him this time next year.
New Orleans Saints
Andy Dalton is now the Saints starter over Jameis Winston, Taysom Hill plays the Taysom Hill role, and Walkthrough did not see enough of the Saints' 24-0 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders to comment meaningfully about what happened. Just two stray thoughts:
- We love the idea of a Saints "Peasant's Revolt," where Rashid Shaheed and all the other interns and temps turn the team around while New Orleans' quarter-billion dollars in future cap liabilities watch from the sidelines or their living rooms; and
- The historic Raiders-Broncos rivalry may be expressing itself by each team trying to be more disappointing than the other.
P.J. Walker earned another start ahead of Baker Mayfield and…
WHAT A PLAY 🤯
Lorenzo Carter takes takes the crazy INT to the house!
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) October 30, 2022
Look, Walkthrough refuses to acknowledge that a 37-34 Panthers-Falcons overtime barnburner happened on Sunday; we don't cover Conference USA action in this space. Walker apparently threw for 317 yards against the Falcons' tutorial-mode defense, but his primary job skill remains making himself more popular and likeable in team headquarters than the likes of Baker Mayfield or gimpy, flighty, late-career Cam Newton. That's a really low bar.
That said, Walker may be the ideal quarterback for a team that wants a clear shot at the first overall pick.
Denver Broncos 21, Jacksonville Jaguars17
(Otherwise known as the AFC Relevancy Elimination Round.)
What Happened: It was business as usual for Russell Wilson and Nathaniel Hackett in the first half: Captain Cornflake threw an interception and was sacked out of field goal range, while Hackett punted on fourth-and-inches (fourth-and-6 after a delay-of-game penalty) and ordered a weird non-Hail Mary on the final play before halftime (more on this later). Only a Trevor Lawrence goal-line interception and an intentional grounding penalty to knock the Jaguars out of field goal range kept the Broncos competitive.
Broncos rookie tight end Greg Dulcich, who looks like what folks who have never watched 1970s porn think 1970s porn stars looked like, set up a third-quarter touchdown with 22- and 38-yard catches drive to give the Broncos a 14-10 lead. The Jaguars answered in between sputtering drives, and the Broncos re-answered, but neither team looked all that impressive doing so. Eventually, a Wilson-to-KJ Hamler bomb set up a Latavius Murray touchdown to give the Broncos the lead just after the two-minute warning, and Lawrence threw behind Christian Kirk for K'Waun Williams' game-clinching interception.
What it Means: Sunday's win saved Hackett's job for a few weeks but answered zero questions about the Broncos. Defensive stops and turnovers, isolated Wilson highlights, and weak opponents are a recipe for third place in the AFC West, and reports of Wilson's in-flight flightiness en route to London will do nothing to change the atmosphere around the franchise. Wilson, Hackett, and the Broncos need emphatic statements, not narrow escapes.
The Jaguars' two-week late-September period of relevance is long gone and best forgotten. The Jaguars lack talent on their back seven, their receiver corps is full of WR3-types, and Lawrence is proving to be a liability as a decision-maker in high-leverage situations. (A rookie season full of virtual self-coaching has consequences.) They're one more loss from TankWatch territory.
What's Next: A pair of byes, during which we can briefly, blissfully forget that both of these teams even exist.
Notes on Important Games Walkthrough Didn't Watch
It's impossible to watch every game on Sunday, but that doesn't stop a veteran take-slinger like Walkthrough!
San Francisco 49ers 31, Los Angeles Rams 14
With Deebo Samuel unavailable, Christian McCaffrey racked up 149 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns on 26 touches, plus one touchdown pass on a trick play.
Walkthrough hated the McCaffrey trade for the 49ers and still isn't all that thrilled about it, but the 49ers probably don't beat the Rams without McCaffrey to offset the loss of Deebo: despite the 31-14 final, the game was close until the fourth quarter, and few other players can do what McCaffrey did on Sunday.
If CMC's presence leads directly to an NFC West title which would have been in doubt without him, he's worth the hefty investment. And sweeping the Rams gives the 49ers a smooth inside track toward that division crown.
The Rams left Cooper Kupp in the game late in the fourth quarter, and Kupp suffered what appeared at press time to be a minor ankle injury. The Rams without Kupp are essentially the Matt Ryan-era Colts, so this situation bears watching. Sean McVay said he was "kicking himself" for keeping Kupp in the game and not just running out the clock when all hope was lost. McVay should hire someone else to kick him. Like, maybe Justin Tucker on his right and Jean-Claude Van Damme on his left.
Minnesota Vikings 34, Arizona Cardinals 26
Isaiah Simmons strip-sacked Kirk Cousins late in the third quarter, giving the Cardinals the ball at the Vikings 24-yard line trailing by five points. A noodling Cardinals drive ended with a botched snap (the Cardinals' 2,398th of the last two seasons) and a field goal. The Cardinals then forced the Vikings to punt, but Greg Dortch muffed the return, setting up a Vikings touchdown to make the score 34-26. The Cardinals had three opportunities to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, resulting in an interception and two fourth-down stops, with the Cardinals never venturing past the Vikings' 37-yard line.
Think about how much big-name talent the Cardinals have collected at the skill positions and try to reconcile it with that fourth quarter. For the record, Robbie Anderson was targeted three times without a catch, A.J. Green once without a catch.
The Vikings are the worst good team in the NFL. Or maybe the best bad team by far. Either way, they excel at getting other bantamweights to beat themselves.
Week 8 Awards
Time to hand out the most prestigious awards on the Internet.
Defender of the Week
Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty intercepted Zach Wilson twice in the second half. And that took some doing, because Wilson's throws were so random and off-target that only a 13th-year pro had any chance of guessing where the ball was headed. A supercomputer analyzing seven trillion possibilities could not have predicted some of the things Wilson did on Sunday. Seriously: most defenders would have dropped the ball out of sheer surprise if they saw an actual NFL quarterback attempt this:
Devin McCourty with his 2nd pick of the day!
Zach Wilson is 13/28 with 3 INTs 😬pic.twitter.com/jd5FGFjkYE
— Football Outsiders (@fboutsiders) October 30, 2022
Honorable mention goes to Za'Darius Smith for three sacks of Kyler Murray in the Vikings' victory over the Cardinals.
Offensive Line of the Week
The Titans line is usually pretty terrible, but they helped Derrick Henry rush for 219 yards, so let's hear it for Dennis Daley, Aaron Brewer, Ben Jones, Nate Davis, and the baby brother of the bunch, rookie Nicholas Petit-Frere. Right, Derrick?
#Titans RB Derrick Henry: "They (offensive line) were the ones that made it happen, without them I wouldn't have that success. We stick together through any adversity."
— Kayla Anderson (@KaylaAndersonTV) October 31, 2022
Special Teamer of the Week
Travis Homer knocked the ball loose from Richie James. Will Dissly fell on it. And the Seahawks had the field position they needed to punch in the touchdown that delivered a knockout blow to the Giants.
Honorable mention goes to Younghoe Koo for three field goals, including an overtime game-winner against the Panthers, and to Nick Folk for five field goals to lift the Patriots over the Jets.
Burn This Play
Let's marvel at what the Bears dialed up on third-and-15 trailing 21-7:
— Mitchell Schwartz (@MitchSchwartz71) October 30, 2022
Conceptually, there's something to work with here: it looks like the Bears are conceding with that screen to Dante Pettis, backside defenders might well either race across the field or just get caught napping, and David Montgomery could theoretically rumble for a first down after the cross-court pass.
But Pettis takes sooooo long to throw the ball. Then he throws it like he's a 75-year-old senator throwing out the first pitch in a World Series game. Traveling about 75 yards sideways and using a career WR5 as the lynchpin of your trick play doesn't seem like the optimal method of converting a third down.
In summary, Justin Fields' chance of developing into a franchise quarterback drops two percentage points every time the the Bears decide "let's scheme something up for PETTIS."
Honorable mention goes to the Broncos for Russell Wilson's Hail Maybe, a throw to nowhere designed to tick three seconds off the clock before halftime:
What was that? The "hail mary" by Russell Wilson at the end of the half. Only one Broncos receiver on the left side of the field. pic.twitter.com/P68kTV1U2q
— René Bugner (@RNBWCV) October 30, 2022
Hey, Nathaniel, we don't want to suggest that you have no idea what you are doing, heaven forbid, but Wilson is famous for completing miraculous bombs. Really! That's been his thing for, like, a decade! So maybe send at least one receiver out to see if he can catch a bomb up the sideline or draw pass interference for a field goal if this situation ever comes up again in your five or six remaining games as an NFL head coach.
Best Supporting Actor in Someone Else's Highlight
This week's BSASEH celebrates A.J. Brown's three touchdown catches with the comic stylings of Steelers defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick!
Fitzpatrick appears certain that he's about to intercept Jalen Hurts in the end zone on the first one. Then Brown appears to snatch the ball away, leaving Minkah with nothing to do but pound dirt.
HURTS. AJ BROWN. @Eagles pick up where they left off.
— NFL (@NFL) October 30, 2022
Fitzpatrick figures his buddy Ahkello Witherspoon has Brown covered up the sideline later in second quarter. But Witherspoon flails, leaving Minkah to execute the "disheartened turn 'n' shrug" maneuver that Steelers fans have been executing all season long.
— NFL (@NFL) October 30, 2022
And finally, here's the Fitzpatrick-Witherspoon 7-10 split, with Brown drawing a taunting penalty for … OK, that's practically the textbook definition of "taunting," but Minkah and Witherspoon had it coming after three first-half touchdowns:
AJ BROWN. THREE FIRST HALF TOUCHDOWNS.
— NFL (@NFL) October 30, 2022
Rando of the Week
Who is Fat Batman? And what is his relationship to the mysterious onlooker in the bucket hat?
Chiefs TE Travis Kelce in attendance for Eagles vs. Steelers to support his brother, C Jason Kelce. pic.twitter.com/6ZmuEB17uc
— Farzin Vousoughian (@Farzin21) October 30, 2022
Are they somehow connected? Are they planning a meeting in Arizona in February? Will either of them be seen chugging beers at a World Series game on Monday or Tuesday night?
Probably not on that last one—they both have work to do next week—but Philly is full of Batmen these days. And folks in Walkthrough's neighborhood are feeling mighty super as a result.