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Week 7 Takeaways: Bengals Are For Real, Patriots' Plan Coming Together, Darnold's Stock Down

Plus, Tom Brady raises the bar (again), the Chiefs' Super Bowl hangover worsens, Sam Darnold's stock drops and Green Bay finally gets a red-zone stop.

I’m filling in for Gary Gramling on the Week 7 edition of the Sunday FreakOut. We’ll still react and overreact to everything that happened in the Sunday afternoon games, but including 50 percent less wit, with Gary out. For the full Sunday roundup podcast-style, be sure to subscribe to The MMQB Podcast, in your feed every Monday morning…

Things You Like to See

The Bengals show us they are for real. It was hard to know what to make of the Bengals earlier in the season. They got off to a 3–1 start, including an OT win against the Vikings, a loss to the Bears and a close win against Jacksonville. But since then, they’ve gone toe-to-toe with the Packers and handily beat the Ravens in Baltimore this week, 41-17, to earn their perch atop the AFC North. It was the team’s biggest win ever against Baltimore, and at the risk of putting too much import on a Week 7 game, also Cincinnati’s biggest win in a long while, especially in terms of where this young team is going with players like Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase.

Cardinals-Packers on the Week 8 schedule. The Cardinals are still undefeated after a Week 7 game against the Texans that we didn’t expect to be competitive. Arizona has already beaten the Rams; now, in four days, they’ll face off against another of the NFC’s top contenders.

NFL offenses go trick-or-treating. To kick off Week 7, Mac Jones tossed a swing pass to WR Kendrick Bourne, who tossed a (slightly wobbly!) pass to Nelson Agholor for a 25-yard TD. Shortly thereafter, Titans RB Derrick Henry took a direct snap and lofted a short TD pass to TE MyCole Pruitt. Later in the early window, Daniel Jones made a one-handed catch on a throw from receiver Dante Pettis, the third Giant to touch the football. How fun!

The beautiful partnership between Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams. In a random Week 7 game, it gives us moments like Rodgers’ fourth-and-3 pass when he rolled right and threw back across his body, as he was falling down, for a 17-yard TD to Adams. Or Adams’s drive-starting catch in which he was all tangled up with CB Kendall Fuller but somehow emerged with the catch. These two continue to be so good. How lucky we are to get to watch them work together.

Derrick Henry has an average rushing day by his standards, with 86 yards and no rushing TDs (but one TD pass!), and the Titans still dominate the Chiefs. The Titans defense stepped up in the 27-3 win, with three takeaways and four sacks, and Denico Autry, Bud Dupree and Harold Landry asserting their presence in the front seven.

Green Bay’s defense makes a red-zone stop. Four, in fact. This is newsworthy because of the remarkable statistic that, through the first six games of the season, Green Bay had zero red-zone stops. But in the 24-10 win against Washington, the Packers made stops on all four of the Football Team’s four red-zone possessions.

The Bengals and Falcons had good reasons for not going offensive line at the top of the draft. Because Ja’Marr Chase and Kyle Pitts simply couldn’t be passed up. Chase racked up a cool 201 receiving yards against the Ravens, including an 82-yard TD. Pitts amassed 163 receiving yards in Atlanta’s win in Miami, including a 28-yard catch while matched up man-to-man on top Miami corner Xavien Howard, which put his team in position for the game-winning field goal.

New England’s offensive plan is beginning to round into form. This was just the Jets, and there’s still a long way to go. But the 54-13 win against New York showed more of what the team had in mind in remaking itself with rookie QB Mac Jones and the team’s offseason spending spree. Here’s one example: Hunter Henry scored a TD in his fourth consecutive game, the first Pats TE to do that since Rob Gronkowski.

Kyle Dugger’s INT is a bit reminiscent of Julian Edelman’s gravity-defying catch in Super Bowl LI. Far lower stakes, of course, late in a blowout against the lowly Jets. But a remarkable effort nonetheless to keep the ball from skimming the turf.

A second win for Rich Bisaccia. Without Darren Waller, inactive with an ankle injury, and Josh Jacobs, who left early with a chest injury. And without Jon Gruden, who resigned two weeks ago after emails in which he used hate speech toward several groups of people were released publicly.

Dan Campbell, head coach of a winless team that rivals the Texans for the worst roster in the NFL, pulls out all the stops against the Rams. We’ve talked about how we like Campbell’s style, despite the results, and how he started this game against the Rams was yet another reason why. After opening the game with a 63-yard TD on a catch-and-run by D’Andre Swift, Campbell used an onside kick and a fake punt to score again right away and open a 10-0 lead. The best chance to beat Matthew Stafford and the Rams offense would be to minimize their opportunities. The Lions kept things interesting until Jared Goff threw a back-breaking goal-line INT to Jalen Ramsey while under pressure by Aaron Donald. You have to respect how Campbell opened the bag of tricks to give his team the best chance against a team they were mismatched with.

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Things You Are Not Likely to See Again

A 44-year-old QB throws his 600th regular-season TD pass. In some ways, it was emblematic of both Tom Brady’s Patriots and Bucs tenures: A quick strike on a third-down slant (a very Patriots play) to the incredibly talented and big-bodied Mike Evans (why he went to Tampa). The next active player is Aaron Rodgers, with 427, a full 173 TD passes behind Brady, who of course is still adding to his total.

Things You Don’t Like to See

The Chiefs’ rough day goes beyond the scoreboard. Patrick Mahomes had to be helped to the sideline after taking a knee to the head by Jeffery Simmons, though he told reporters afterward he had cleared concussion protocol. Per Andy Reid, the two cornerstones of the defense also sustained injuries: Chris Jones strained his groin, and Tyrann Mathieu hurt his ribs.

A knee injury could halt Zach Wilson’s learning curve. Wilson will undergo further tests tomorrow, but he told reporters that the initial indication is that he has a PCL injury. The Patriots had already built a 17-0 lead before Wilson left the game, following hits from Lawrence Guy and Matthew Judon, the latest in what has been a bumpy rookie season for Wilson. But his development has been the main purpose of this Jets’ season, and this injury would put a hold on his progression.

As it turns out, Matt Rhule may not actually have “bought in” on Sam Darnold. Those were the Panthers head coach’s words earlier this week, but the QB was benched early in the fourth quarter of Carolina’s 25-3 loss to the Giants. Rhule said the move was because the team needed a spark, and that Darnold will start next week. But the early-season optimism about both the Panthers and Darnold has waned, in large part because of the return of a familiar issue: Darnold’s decision-making and ball security. Darnold gave the Giants a safety with an end-zone intentional grounding penalty, and he threw his seventh interception in the last four games.

Three blocked field goals in the first hour of Week 7 Sunday action. The Falcons knocked away a 49-yard attempt by Miami, and Green Bay and Washington each blocked an attempt by the other in the second quarter of their game.

Justin Fields has the look on his face you hope not to see from a rookie QB. After his fifth turnover of the game, this one an interception, the CBS cameras showed Fields slumped on the bench, his face betraying defeat and frustration. While the Jets once instituted a body-language fine system for a young Mark Sanchez, Fields’s emotions were understandable. Yes, Matt Nagy had wanted to wait to play Fields, certainly in part because the conditions around him weren’t ideal, and a big loss against Tom Brady and the defending champion Bucs is probably the least-flattering sample size. But there are serious questions for both the coaching staff and the front office about why they haven’t created a more favorable environment for their first-round QB to enter. The one thing you don’t want to happen is for Fields’s experience this season to hurt him physically or mentally.

Mike Evans gives Brady’s 600th TD ball away to a fan in the stands. He clearly did not realize this until after the fact, based on his reaction on the TV broadcast. Of course, a Bucs staffer was to negotiate to get it back, per CBS’ Tracy Wolfson, for the very low price of another ball and a signed jersey.

Things We Are Left Wondering

Where do the Chiefs go from here? Now at 3-4, it’s not just the AFC West title that seems in peril, it’s also the team’s playoff viability. After two seasons when everything seemed so easy for Patrick Mahomes and Co., they ran into a wall in Super Bowl LV and haven’t been able to break through yet. There are still plenty of games left, and I agree with Gary that at some point their onslaught of turnovers has to regress toward the mean. But the question is what fixes can the Chiefs make in-season, and can they make them quickly enough to save their season?

How did the Titans lose to the Jets in Week 4? The Oct. 3 dud is a distant memory after Tennessee has in back-to-back weeks offed the two teams who competed in last year’s AFC Championship Game. Ryan Tannehill’s Air Jordan celebration on his rushing TD, which gave his team a 24-0 first-half lead, showed how much confidence the team is playing with now.

Has Bill Belichick changed his paper selection? The Patriots coach has always taken notes on the sideline, with the pencil he tucks behind his ear. But I always recalled him using a small pocket-size piece of paper. On Sunday’s game, however, he appeared to be using a thick packet of full 8.5 X 11 sheets. What is behind this change?

Who is the best team in the NFL? Before you say, duh, it’s the Cardinals, I refer you back to Gary’s excellent note in this morning’s Football Things: This time last year, there were three unbeaten teams left. The Titans, Steelers and Seahawks would go on to win exactly zero postseason games. We could have a very healthy debate about which team is the strongest contender, but I do feel confident that team is in the NFC, which has four teams with six wins or more (plus the five-win Cowboys, who were on bye this week).

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