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Carson Wentz’s Quiet Reemergence and the Seven Plays That Explain NFL Week 8

The Eagles quarterback is playing well, and just carved up the Jaguars to keep Philly in the NFC East hunt. Plus: The Chiefs defense showed up, the Packers finally have their shutdown corner, and Adrian Peterson is carrying Washington.

Getty Images/AP Images/Ringer illustration

The NFL’s Week 8 Sunday slate was light on eye-catching matchups, but still managed to produce plenty of drama. The Bengals shrugged off a furious fourth-quarter comeback by the Ryan Fitzpatrick–led Buccaneers to win 37-34, Carson Wentz delivered a few clutch late-game plays to help the Eagles hold off the Jags 24-18, and the Colts scored 21 unanswered fourth-quarter points to run past the Raiders 42-28. Josh Rosen engineered a game-winning drive as the Cardinals beat the 49ers 18-15, the Chiefs held off the Broncos 30-23, the Redskins outlasted the Giants in a 20-13 win, the Rams prevailed in a back-and-forth slugfest with the Packers 29-27, and the Saints dismantled the Vikings 30-20 in a game that wasn’t as close as its final score.

Sunday’s action delivered plenty of excitement and late-game fun, but a few moments stood out as more pivotal or illuminating than the rest. Here’s a handful of the biggest game-changing plays, along with what they can tell us about both the teams involved and the season at large.

Carson Wentz’s Fourth-Quarter Touchdown Strike

The Eagles’ tenuous control of their matchup against the Jaguars had all but evaporated when the Wentz-led offense took possession at the 13:10 mark of the fourth quarter. Jacksonville had just scored nine straight unanswered to shrink Philly’s comfortable 11-point third-quarter lead and pull to within striking distance at 17-15. The Eagles badly needed a spark. They got it with a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that was capped with this Zach Ertz grab.

Aligned tight into the formation, Ertz widened out at the snap, faked an inside-breaking route, then cut to the outside—a juke that got rookie corner Tre Herndon to open his hips and create a sliver of space for Wentz to exploit. Wentz threw it up high for his trusty tight end and the off-balance Herndon couldn’t recover. That ended up being the back-breaking score, pushing Philly’s lead to 24-15 and its win probability to 90.8 percent. It also served as a reminder of just how dangerous this Eagles offense can be with a healthy Wentz under center.

The 25-year-old signal-caller shook off a first-quarter interception—his first in his past 202 passes—and the loss of both starting tackles for parts of the game (Lane Johnson left in the first quarter with a sprained MCL and Jason Peters missed time in the first half with a head injury) to finish 21-for-30 for 286 yards, three touchdowns, and a 119.6 passer rating. In the face of near-constant pressure (he was sacked four times and hit nine times), Wentz hung tough, distributed the football to his playmakers—nine Eagles had a catch—and made some plays with his legs, including a few Houdini-esque escapes and scrambles.

An MVP contender before tearing his ACL last year in Week 14, Wentz has returned to his elite, pre-injury form—he’s now thrown 13 touchdowns and just two picks with a 109.6 passer rating on the year—but has been overshadowed by other young standouts in Patrick Mahomes II and Jared Goff, as well as the team’s overall struggles. The Eagles have suffered from a litany of injuries, they’ve had difficulty defending the pass, and they’ve dropped a handful of winnable games en route to a 4-4 start. A now-healthy Wentz may be on the outside looking in for the MVP race this year, but he’s talented enough to give a less-balanced Philly squad a shot to catch the 5-2 Redskins in the NFC East.

Jaire Alexander Breaks Up End Zone Bomb

Ty Montgomery’s game-sealing kickoff-return fumble robbed Aaron Rodgers of the chance at a heroic two-minute drive, but the Packers can still come away from their 29-27 loss feeling encouraged by their surprisingly swarming defense. Green Bay’s front seven consistently harassed Rams quarterback Jared Goff, sacking him five times and adding eight quarterback hits. And on the back end, the Pack got a breakout performance from rookie cornerback Alexander. The former Louisville standout returned after missing the past two games with a groin injury and applied just the type of sticky coverage this unit desperately missed: He racked up five passes defensed—the most in a game for any player this year and tied for most ever by a rookie—and blanketed Brandin Cooks on a handful of deep shots, including this end zone hurl by Goff midway through the second quarter.

Alexander’s emergence as a potential shutdown corner could be crucial for the team’s playoff hopes. Green Bay draws Tom Brady and the Patriots’ high-flying pass offense next, then has a handful of potential postseason-swinging matchups against quality quarterbacks down the stretch, including a Week 11 matchup with Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, a Week 12 tilt against Kirk Cousins and the Vikings, a Week 14 matchup with Matt Ryan and the Falcons, then a possibly crucial game against Matt Stafford and the Lions in Week 17.

The corner position has been the Achilles’ heel for this coverage-deficient Packers squad for the past few seasons. The way Alexander played Sunday could signal the turning of the tide at that spot and change the dynamic of the team’s entire pass defense.

Dee Ford’s Fourth-Quarter Strip-Sack

After falling into a 30-14 third-quarter deficit against the Chiefs, the Broncos showed signs of life early in the final frame, pulling to within 10 when Case Keenum hit tight end Jeff Heuerman for a fourth-down touchdown strike. Denver looked primed to make things even more interesting when safety Justin Simmons picked off Mahomes at the Kansas City 36-yard line two plays later, giving Keenum and Co. the opportunity to cut the lead to one score.

But that’s when the Chiefs’ much-maligned defense stepped up to give the offense something it’d rarely gotten over the first six weeks of the season: a little bit of support. Rushing off the right edge, outside linebacker Ford burst past left tackle Garett Bolles, turned the corner, and swiped at Keenum, jarring the ball loose for a Kansas City turnover.

That morale-killing takeaway snuffed out any semblance of momentum the Broncos offense may have felt at that point and boosted the Chiefs’ win probability to over 95 percent. Kansas City coasted from there despite punting on its final four possessions: Cornerback Kendall Fuller picked off Keenum on the Broncos’ next drive, and all the Denver offense could muster against the Chiefs’ typically sieve-like defense over the final eight minutes of the game was a Brandon McManus field goal.

For the second straight week, Kansas City’s defense carried some of its own weight. This unit isn’t in danger of becoming anything close to elite—hell, it may never even be average—but when the offense stalled, the defense picked up the slack. The superpowered offense doesn’t need much more than that from the defense to claim the no. 1 seed in the AFC.

David Moore Tips the Ball to Himself for a Touchdown

If your first reaction to that header is “who?”... you’re probably not alone. When the Seahawks took Moore in the seventh round of the 2017 draft, I remember thinking there was no way he wasn’t a Madden-generated player from a fake college (I still don’t believe there is an actual place called East Central Oklahoma). The scouting report I saw didn’t even include a real picture. Except, the second-year pro is, in fact, a real person, and apparently all he does is score touchdowns.

Capitalizing on a kickoff-return fumble by Detroit’s Ameer Abdullah, Wilson dialed up an iso-fade to Moore, who drew one-on-one coverage on the outside by Lions cornerback Teez Tabor. Moore muscled for position, tipped the ball to himself, twice, and caught this touchdown that put the Seahawks up 14-7 over the Lions.

That was Moore’s ninth catch on the year, four of which have ended up in the end zone. He’s now turned 13 career targets into 11 catches for 221 yards and four touchdowns. That’s pretty efficient. It also doesn’t feel like a fluke: Moore’s not going to sustain his absurd catch and touchdown rates, but he’s a physical pass catcher with excellent body control and the ability to catch passes in traffic. The Seattle pass offense is relatively low volume—in fact, Wilson threw the ball only 17 times in the Seahawks’ 28-14 win—but Moore’s quickly establishing himself as the team’s big-play threat on the outside. He’s on track to join the Seahawks’ other generic-sounding seventh-rounder from the 2017 draft as a household name. That guy, Chris Carson, came off the bye fresh, racking up 105 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries—his third 100-yard game in his past four outings.

Coming into the season, the Seahawks roster looked, well, bad. In fact, there were plenty that would’ve put this team into the “full rebuild” category. But Seattle is getting quality play from its young cadre of talent, like receiver Tyler Lockett, pass rusher Frank Clark, cornerbacks Shaquill Griffin, Tre Flowers, and Justin Coleman, safety Bradley McDougald, defensive end Quinton Jefferson, and defensive tackle Jarran Reed. Even the team’s much-maligned offensive line has performed well. There might not be a lot of star power left on this roster after the team’s offseason purge, but Seattle’s been more competitive than most of us thought it’d be because of the play it’s gotten from so many relative no-namers. The win over the Lions puts the Seahawks squarely in the playoff hunt too.

Donte Jackson Knocks Down Deep Pass

Last year, Carolina’s secondary lacked the personnel to match up with faster opponents on the outside; starting corner Daryl Worley had enough physicality, but for a player who ran a 4.64 40-yard dash at the combine, the league’s speediest deep threats could provide plenty of problems. So the Panthers traded Worley to the Eagles and drafted a former track star who ran a 4.32 at the combine to replace him. As head coach Ron Rivera put it last week, “With Donte, we have the complete opposite [of Worley].” That blazing speed came in handy Sunday as the Panthers looked to stop the Ravens’ speedy deep threat, John Brown. And this pass breakup from early in the third quarter is a good example of how that matchup went.

Jackson stymied the veteran pass catcher, helping to hold Brown to just three catches for 28 yards. With the downfield element of their offense all but eliminated, Joe Flacco reverted to an ineffective dink-and-dunk approach in a 36-21 loss. The Panthers were happy to drop back, keep everything in front of them, then run and tackle as 17 of Flacco’s 22 completions came within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Jackson has quietly been making plays all year, and brings a speed dynamic to the team’s secondary that it’d sorely been missing. They’re going to need that top-tier athleticism down the stretch: Carolina’s set to face DeSean Jackson and the Buccaneers’ deep-passing onslaught twice, the Saints twice, and must find ways to match up with the deep passing attacks of the Steelers, Lions, Seahawks, and Falcons.

Jack Doyle Leaps for the Touchdown

Taking possession of the football with 9:20 to go and the game tied 28-28, quarterback Andrew Luck executed a masterful eight-play, 57-yard drive that boosted the team’s win probability over Oakland by almost 25 points, peaking at 87.4 percent. Luck leaned hard on Doyle (who returned to the lineup after missing the previous five weeks with a hip injury) on the drive, connecting with the big tight end on passes of 14, 11, and 17 yards before finishing it off this quick 10-yard catch-and-run.

That integral possession was a perfect representation of how the Colts have transformed their offense over the past few weeks. On the back of a retooled offensive line, new head coach and play-caller Frank Reich has put together a simple formula for protecting his quarterback. Luck, who missed all of last year with a shoulder injury, has not been sacked in 15 quarters and 156 straight passes attempts. The team’s relied on the quick passing game, and Luck’s looked to the tight end position to get rid of the ball before pressure arrives. The veteran passer connected with Doyle, Eric Ebron, and Mo Alie-Cox for scores Sunday to help make the Colts the first team in NFL history with three tight ends to catch a touchdown in the same game. Luck’s also been boosted by Indy’s renaissance in the run game. Led by Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines, the Colts eclipsed 200-plus yards rushing for the second straight game—the first time in 33 years that the team’s done that—and scored twice on the ground.

The Colts aren’t going to face a porous defense like that of the Raiders every week, but this team seems to have found a nice balance between the run, the quick passing game, and the occasional deep bomb that not only keeps Luck upright, but makes 3-5 Indy a potential contender in the AFC South.

Adrian Peterson’s Breakaway Touchdown to Seal the Game

With the Redskins leading the Giants 13-6 at the 3:16 mark of the fourth quarter, Peterson took this run 64 yards to the house.

That play made up for an earlier fumble, and sealed the victory as it pushed Washington’s win probability to upward of 99 percent. At age 33, Peterson’s still running with explosiveness, elusiveness, and creativity—and with that run, he joined the great Jim Thorpe as one of the two oldest players to run for a 60-plus-yard touchdown. Peterson, who didn’t look like he was going to land an NFL job until rookie Derrius Guice tore his ACL in preseason action, has fully entrenched himself as the engine that powers the Washington offense. That clearly wasn’t the team’s offseason plan, but when Guice went down, Washington called an audible. After the win pushed the team’s record to 5-2, it seems to be working.