The midway mark of the NFL season is the perfect time to look back and take stock of what went down during the first eight weeks. But we’ve already handed out awards to players and broken down bigger-picture story lines, though, so let’s focus on the season’s superlative moments: Here is a handful of the best, worst, and weirdest happenings during the first eight weeks.
Best game: Chiefs at Patriots, Week 6
The primetime slot on Sunday Night Football set the perfect stage for what was the game of the year thus far. This matchup featured the top two teams in the AFC, pitted one of the best young quarterbacks in the game (Patrick Mahomes II) against the greatest of all time (Tom Brady), and set one of the most innovative play-callers in the game (Andy Reid) against the most successful coach ever (Bill Belichick). There were a handful of excellent, game-swinging defensive plays, sure—New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower’s first-quarter pick set up a Patriots touchdown, and Kansas City defensive lineman Chris Jones’s forced fumble set up a Chiefs’ score—but a whole lot more offense: The two top-tier units swapped leads four times and combined for 946 yards and 83 points before the Patriots emerged victorious, 43-40.
The fourth quarter provided edge-of-your-seat drama: A Tyreek Hill touchdown at the 8:38 mark gave the Chiefs their first lead since the first quarter, 33-30, but it was followed up by a defiant counter by the Pats—a seven-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 4-yard touchdown run by Brady to make it 37-33 with 5:25 to go. New England stifled the Chiefs on the ensuing drive and extended their lead to 40-33 with a Stephen Gostkowski field goal with 3:15 to go, but K.C. stormed back with Mahomes hitting Hill for a 75-yard score on the next play from scrimmage.
But the Chiefs gave Brady too much time. Taking over with 3:03 to go, the future Hall of Famer calmly bled the clock and led the New England offense into chip-shot field goal range. This play, from just past midfield with 51 seconds left on the clock, was the game-sealer: Brady found Rob Gronkowski with an arching floater down the numbers, picking up 39 yards and setting up Gostkowski for the game-winner.
New England came away with the win in what could be a precursor to the AFC championship game. With the Chiefs on the inside track to the no. 1 seed in the conference, though, Kansas City could get its chance for revenge at home.
Honorable mention: Packers vs. Bears, Week 1
The first week of the season delivered an instant classic. Hounded by Khalil Mack and the Bears’ fearsome front, Aaron Rodgers was carted into the locker room midway through the second quarter after suffering what looked like a potential season-ending knee injury. With Chicago leading 17-0 at the half, Green Bay’s season hung in the balance as we all awaited news on the severity of the injury.
Much to the shock of everyone, Rodgers jogged onto the field to start the third quarter, kicking off what would end up being a comeback for the ages. The veteran quarterback put in a legend-building performance, throwing three fourth-quarter touchdowns to lead Green Bay to a 24-23 win on Sunday Night Football. Rodgers’s postgame interview, when he appeared to spontaneously develop a Southern accent, was pretty epic, too.
Worst game: Titans vs. Jaguars, Week 3
I’m not going to spend much time on this one. The Titans, playing with a banged-up Marcus Mariota and backup Blaine Gabbert in relief, somehow managed to beat the Jags in an ugly, touchdown-less 9-6 slog. The Titans “won” as the two teams combined for 12 punts and five field goals, and it was so forgettable in every way, it’s really not worth trying to remember what else happened.
Honorable mention: Ravens vs. Browns, Week 5
This game had 17 punts, three turnovers, and ended with the ugliest, most pathetic game-winning field goal in overtime that I’ve ever seen. Here’s the recap of the game: The Browns won, 12-9. The only reason it didn’t come out on top of this category is that someone actually scored a touchdown.
Weirdest game: Bills vs. Vikings, Week 3
This one is easy.
Through two weeks, the Bills were in shambles. They’d just been blown out by the Chargers to move to 0-2, but not before watching veteran corner Vontae Davis literally retire at halftime. He just left. In the middle of the game.
With rookie Josh Allen at quarterback, the offense was a mess and the defense was, at the time, 30th in defensive DVOA and tied for last in points allowed. Buffalo came into this game as 16.5-point underdogs to the powerful Vikings. Then, for some reason, the Bills absolutely dominated Minnesota in their own stadium on both sides of the ball and humiliated the Vikings in a 27-6 blowout. Even Allen played well for one inexplicable afternoon.
Following that Twilight Zone-esque tilt, Josh Allen and the Bills went back to being really bad and the Vikings went back to being good.
Honorable Mention: Dolphins vs. Titans, Week 1
This game kicked off among the league’s early 1:00 p.m. ET slate and didn’t get finished until Sunday Night Football was just getting underway, a full seven hours and eight minutes later. Miami came out on top, 27-20, but the game was defined by a pair of extended lighting delays that forced players into the locker rooms and fans into the concourses. Snacks ran low; patience was tested; and players had to figure out how to get themselves hyped back up to play some football after sitting around during two long, separate delays, each lasting around two hours.
Best play: Kareem Hunt rumbles, hurdles defender for a score
This was not an easy category. There were dozens of potential contenders for the crown here: Randall Cobb’s 75-yard game-winning touchdown in Week 1; the Ravens’ sneaky-ass play when they lined up a tight end at guard and threw a pass to him; DeAndre Hopkins’s amazing under-the-leg catch that didn’t count; Baker Mayfield’s Philly Philly recreation; or the sidearm fastball that Patrick Mahomes II threw to Tyreek Hill for a touchdown. A litany of Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley plays (Beckham to Saquon for the score; Beckham’s one-hander, or the best 9-yard run ever) come to mind, too. That’s just scratching the surface. In fact, another Hunt play—the one where he emerged from the pile of bodies before leaping over and bowling through players for big gain—could’ve taken away the honors.
But I gotta pick one, so I’m going with this beastly fourth-down run by Hunt.
The Chiefs’ slippery runner took a shovel pass up the middle, broke through one tackle, leapt over another tackle, and then put his head down to finish it off and score. Not too shabby.
Honorable mention: Tyrod Taylor throws a bomb to Antonio Callaway
The Browns found themselves in a do-or-die scenario late in their Week 2 matchup with the Saints. With 1:24 to go, Taylor took a snap on fourth-and-5 from the Saints’ 47-yard line and heaved a prayer up toward the back of the end zone, somehow connecting with rookie receiver Antonio Callaway on what should’ve been the game-winner.
You’ll note I said “should’ve.” Not only did kicker Zane Gonzalez miss the extra point, leaving the game tied at 18-18, but the Browns promptly gave up a 42-yard bomb from Drew Brees to Ted Ginn Jr., a play that set up Wil Lutz’s game-winning field goal with 26 seconds to go.
Worst play: Ty Montgomery fumbles away the kickoff return
It’s not often you see a play that’s so bad it actually compels a team to trade that player almost immediately, but that’s exactly what happened last Sunday.
When Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein booted a 34-yard field goal to give the Rams a slim 29-27 lead against the visiting Packers, it set up what could’ve been an instant classic finish. Two minutes and five seconds were on the clock, which was more than enough time for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to engineer yet another game-winning drive. High drama awaited. All Montgomery had to do was down the kick to set Green Bay up at the 25. He did something else.
With that fumble, Montgomery, who’d reportedly been given the order to not take the ball out, turned what should’ve been an exciting finish into something worse than anticlimactic. He was traded to the Ravens a few days later.
Honorable Mention: Back-to-back QB sneaks by Eli Manning
Going to a quarterback sneak from the 1-yard line generally isn’t a bad strategy, at least not by rule. However, in the Giants’ 23-20 loss to the Falcons, Manning’s back-to-back attempts were the two worst quarterback sneaks I’ve ever seen.
With no timeouts and trailing by two scores with 45 seconds to go, Manning’s sad, futile attempts to get into the end zone ate up 36 seconds of clock and killed any real shot the Giants had at a comeback.
Weirdest play: DeVante Parker’s ricochet catch
Despite finding himself on the trade block prior to the Dolphins’ Thursday night matchup with the Texans, injuries forced Parker into a prominent role in the team’s offense. He responded with a breakout performance and reeled in six catches for 134 yards, some of which were actually encouraging for his future not just with the team, but in the league at large. This one, though, was just a lot of luck.
Just like they drew it up!
Honorable Mention: “Big Balls Dickson” runs it out
Leading 28-14 and pinned deep in their own end with under four minutes remaining, the Seahawks decided they’d rather just take an intentional safety, lose two points, and then kick the ball back to the Lions with a little more breathing room behind them. Seattle punter Michael Dickson was told to waste some clock by running around for a bit before going out the back of the end zone, but when he saw the defense open up like the Red Sea in front of him, the Aussie took off running.
MICHAEL DICKSON CAN DO EVERYTHING pic.twitter.com/OThjsdbQwi— Seattle Times Sports (@SeaTimesSports) October 28, 2018
He was technically disobeying coach’s orders, but Dickson picked up a first down, sealed the Seahawks win, and earned himself a new nickname (whether he wanted one or not).
Best coaching decision: Mike Vrabel goes for the win
Trailing 23-20 with 1:17 to go in overtime and facing fourth-and-2 from the Eagles’ 32-yard line, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel had an important decision to make. Should he kick the field goal to tie the game up and give his team a chance to finish with a draw? (Ties, while not exactly satisfying, are indeed better than losses when it comes to playoff seeding.) Or should he just go for gusto and play for the win?
Vrabel chose the latter. Mariota hit running back Dion Lewis with a short pass to the right, picking up 17 yards and a first down, and three plays later, the Titans’ quarterback found Corey Davis on a jump ball into the end zone. As they say in Latin, “qui audet adipiscitur”―who dares, wins. Tennessee prevailed in the Week 4 matchup, 26-23.
Honorable mention: Rams go for it on fourth down
Holding a slim 33-31 lead against the Seahawks with 1:52 to go, the Rams found themselves facing a fourth-and-1 from their own 42-yard line. After a brief pause for an official measurement, head coach Sean McVay sent Johnny Hekker out onto the field to punt the ball back to Seattle. It was a tense moment; the Rams had the edge, but giving the ball back to Russell Wilson with that much time left on the clock was a gambit in itself. So, when Seattle called timeout to stop the clock and give themselves as much time to mount a game-winning drive, McVay had a change of heart. He sent his offense back out onto the field, ran a sneak, and got it.
Worst coaching decision: Jason Garrett punts on fourth-and-1
The Cowboys have spent an absurd amount of draft capital and cash on building an offensive scheme centered around the run game, and poured assets into an elite running back and smashmouth offensive line. Dallas’s desired identity is that of a punch-you-in-the-mouth run team capable of controlling the line of scrimmage and imposing its will on a defense.
So, naturally, when faced with a fourth-and-1 from Houston’s 42-yard line with 5:06 left in a tied overtime tilt with the Texans, head coach Jason Garrett decided to punt the ball. Houston, with the help of a 49-yard reception by DeAndre Hopkins, took the ball back down the field and won.
Honorable mention: Taking David Johnson off the field for a coachable moment
Trailing the Bears 16-14 with two minutes to go, Arizona needed to convert a third-and-2 from their own 42-yard line to move the chains moving and keep their hopes alive. But instead of handing the ball to superstar running back David Johnson, the former All-Pro was on the sideline talking to running backs coach Kirby Wilson about a missed blitz pickup on the play before. In his stead, backup running back Chase Edmonds took the handoff and promptly lost 3 yards.
Weirdest coaching decision: Benching Chris Carson because he was “gassed”
Chris Carson has emerged as the engine of Seattle’s surprisingly dominant ground game. He consistently slips through tackles and breaks off big gains in the open field. But despite an effective first half (six carries for 24 yards) in the team’s Week 2 matchup with the Bears, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll benched his lead back during the second half, turning to rookie Rashaad Penny, who failed to get much going and finished the game with 30 yards on 10 carries. Carroll explained afterwards that he thought Carson looked “gassed” from all his work on special teams, but that explanation didn’t add up: Carson played on just two special teams snaps all game.
With Carson on the sideline, Seattle abandoned the run, the offense sputtered, and Chicago built a commanding 24-10 fourth-quarter lead. That loss was a turning point of the Seahawks’ season. Seattle regrouped, reassessed, and decided to dedicate themselves to running the ball with authority. It’s worked; Carson has gone for more than 100 yards in three out of his four games since, and Seattle’s offense has turned the corner. Why they went away from Carson in Week 2, we’ll never know (Carroll later explained that he misread the situation on the sideline), but it might’ve cost the Seahawks that game.
Honorable mention: Starting Nathan Peterman in Week 1
The Bills traded up to draft Josh Allen and named second-year pro Nathan Peterman the Week 1 starter. But when Peterman completed just five of his 18 passes and threw two picks, the Bills threw Allen in there anyway.
Why even start with Peterman? Why?