First Down/Fourth Down: A silver (and black) lining for the Raiders; more
When a team reaches November without putting a tally in the win column, it will take any silver lining it can get.
Or, silver-and-black lining, in this case.
The Raiders sit at 0-7, already have fired their coach and might threaten the 2008 Lions' 0-16 mark. On the plus side, they appear to have found their franchise QB in Derek Carr and they also have this fella named Khalil Mack.
The fifth-overall selection in this year's draft, Mack has impressed teammate and foe alike in 2014.
"[He] gained the respect of everybody on our team,” Cleveland QB Brian Hoyer said after the Browns 23-13 win over Oakland. "That guy is one of the best players we’ve gone against this year, and that’s a unanimous decision in that locker room."
Mack finished with six tackles Sunday, but his impact carried beyond the stats. On both run and pass plays, he consistently set the edge for Oakland's defense, winning one-on-one battles to disrupt Cleveland's plans.
The sacks have not come yet -- Mack is still stuck on zero after totaling 10.5 during his senior season at the University of Buffalo. They will, especially if Mack keeps showing improvement week to week, as he has throughout 2014. On an Oakland defense still very unsettled at several positions, Mack has emerged as a definite building block.
The same can be said of another rookie, Anthony Barr in Minnesota. Nabbed four picks after Mack, Barr sits second on the Vikings with 54 tackles. He also has three sacks on the year and Sunday produced a walk-off winner by stripping Tampa Bay's Austin Seferian-Jenkins for a touchdown return.
More on Week 8's action ...
First Down: The Steelers offense.
It was the Ben Roethlisberger show on Sunday, but a full cast of players supported his starring role.
"This was a timely [performance] and a much-needed one given the staggering statistics that Andrew Luck and their group was putting up," Mike Tomlin said. "It was necessary for our group to match their group from that standpoint and we challenged Ben and the offense all week to do it and they responded."
Did they ever. Leading the way for Roethlisberger's 522 yards passing was Antonio Brown, with 10 grabs for 133 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He has been arguably the best receiver in football through eight weeks, so nothing Sunday came as a huge surprise.
The same cannot necessarily be said for the two touchdown grabs for emerging rookie Martavis Bryant, who caught his first pass (and first TD) just last week. Struggling sophomore Markus Wheaton also found the end zone as part of his 56 yards. And how about a 16.0 yards-per-catch average for tight end Heath Miller?
Le'Veon Bell did his thing, too, chalking up 92 yards on the ground and another 56 through the air.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley has taken a lot of (deserved) heat over his Pittsburgh tenure. Whether it was fully his decision to unleash everything the Steelers' passing attack had on Sunday, the approach worked. Haley ought to keep rolling with it.
Fourth Down: Blake Bortles' knack for throwing pick-sixes.
Bortles now has thrown a league-leading 12 interceptions this season. Four have been returned for touchdowns.
The Dolphins were responsible for two Sunday: Louis Delmas opened the scoring with an 81-yard TD return, then Brent Grimes made it 17-3 with a 22-yarder. Bortles also coughed up a fumble in his latest rough outing. The memory of his impressive preseason is starting to fade.
First Down: Mark Ingram.
Remember Mark Ingram, Heisman Trophy winner? How about Mark Ingram, BCS title game MVP? That guy might finally have arrived in the NFL after slogging through three rather nondescript seasons in New Orleans' backfield.
Ingram tore through the Packers defense on Sunday night for 172 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, doing so with power between the tackles and a burst outside we've seen only rarely since he arrived as a Round 1 pick back in 2011.
A hand injury robbed Ingram of several weeks this season. Before he was hurt and since he's returned, he's proven himself as the Saints' clear top backfield option.
Fourth Down: Atlanta's immediate future.
What happens when a franchise with a "win-now" design ... you know ... doesn't do that? The Falcons thought they were on the brink of a Super Bowl breakthrough right around 2010, hence their all-in move to acquire Julio Jones in the '11 draft.
Since losing a heartbreaker to the 49ers in the 2012 NFC Championship Game, however, it's been all downhill. Atlanta finished 4-12 last season and, even in the downtrodden NFC South, has one foot in the grave after a 2-6 start this year. It's all pointing toward the end of the line for head coach Mike Smith.
Would a coaching change be enough to spark a turnaround? Or are the Falcons semi-permanently stuck in their current rut?
First Down: Seattle's resilience.
Over the course of four minutes and 37 seconds Sunday, the Seahawks might have turned around their season. Trailing Carolina 9-6 late in the fourth quarter, they mustered an 80-yard touchdown drive and then a dominant defensive stop.
The resulting 13-9 win quieted, for now, rumors regarding a lack of unity within the Seattle locker room.
"They’re fine. Our locker room is solid, they’re together, they’re really determined," Pete Carroll said Monday. "I don’t think you can get any other thought than that. They’re as surprised as we are as coaches that you guys have these questions about us."
Fourth Down: The Cowboys' vaunted O-line.
To be fair, the breakdowns in front of Tony Romo (and, to a far lesser extent, Brandon Weeden) were as much on Dallas' extra blockers -- the running backs and tight ends -- as on the offensive line. The reality of it all, though, is that the Cowboys were unable to adjust to Washington's blitzing attack, leaving Romo subject to numerous big hits.
Romo was sacked five times in all, often feeling the heat from a linebacker or safety left unmarked. A rare tough night for a line that had been on a roll.
First Down: Kickers.
About as close to a perfect week for the league's kickers as you are going to see. Of the 53 field goals attempted in Week 8, 49 sailed through the uprights (counting Matt Prater's game-winner for Detroit after a delay of game bailed him out of a brutal miss).
Eighteen kickers finished either 2-for-2 or 3-for-3 on field goals. Another four made their lone attempt. All in all, pretty solid work across the board.
Fourth Down: St. Louis' backfield rotation.
Rookie Tre Mason was integral in the Rams' Week 7 upset of Seattle, rushing for 85 yards and a touchdown. How was he rewarded in Week 8? By being tossed back into a jumbled mess at running back by St. Louis offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer.
Mason again led the Rams' rushing attack in a Week 8 loss to the Chiefs, but he did so with all of seven carries for 32 yards. Zac Stacy chipped in five more rushing attempts (and three receptions), Benny Cunningham had four and WR Tavon Austin two. Not surprisingly, the Rams struggled to establish enough of a ground game to free up QB Austin Davis.
When Orton replaced EJ Manuel as the Bills' starting QB, Watkins talked up Orton's superior ability to read defenses and get the ball out quickly. Buffalo's rookie receiver is reaping the benefits over the past few weeks. Sunday, Watkins caught three balls for 157 yards and a touchdown -- his second consecutive game topping the century mark and his third TD in two games.
Manuel and Orton each have made four starts this season. Watkins' yards-per-game average during the Manuel regime sat at 49.25; it's at 98.25 with Orton.
Some of that can be attributed to Watkins simply becoming more comfortable at this level and/or in the Bills' increased trust in his game. A lot of it has to do with Orton going out of his way to find him.
Fourth Down: Pass interference.
Another week, another healthy dose of complaints over how NFL officials are calling contact downfield. There was the crucial offensive pass interference penalty on Steve Smith, which wiped out a potential game-winning catch for the Baltimore receiver. There was an absolutely absurd PI call on the Packers' Davon House on a deep ball, presumably for impeding the route of Brandin Cooks, even though House was in sensational position the whole way.
And more than anything, there was the usual confusion over seeming inconsistencies in when the flags actually flew.
The NFL made illegal contact a point of emphasis this season, and those penalties have risen exponentially, in turn boosting passing numbers around the league. The rules committee will have to take another look at all this in the offseason, however, because there remains far too much variance from crew to crew.