By David McDonnell
Yesterday held our Gridiron souls captivated for 15 hours of frighteningly good football action with much wizardry stirred into the cauldron that made up NFL Halloween weekend.
There were many magical plays throughout and a few spine-tingling finishes.
You just know this is Scott Hanson’s favourite weekend of the season and when he welcomed us to ‘Witching Hour,’ he did so with over-exuberant gusto, just like the puntastic presenter of Redzone does every single week of the regular season.
So we will follow his lead and add some fright as we put the Week 8 of the NFL over the coals.
49ers v Rams
The 49ers needed to win this game and they did. Had they lost, they would have gone two games behind the Rams and three behind the Seahawks in the NFC West thus jeopardising their play-off ambitions. Without a full deck of players they did what was required and more as they pulled out their best performance of the season on the road against their bitter rivals.
After his big trade 10 days ago and with the unavailability of Deebo Samuel, it was obvious that Christian McCaffery would be at the centre of proceedings and he duly stepped up and delivered one of the best days of his career. He finished the match with 184 yards from scrimmage from all the three phases of attack and was directly involved in three touchdowns.
The 49ers were also the first team into the spirit of the holiday and they played trick or treat with the Rams defence when CMC caught everyone by surprise by throwing to Brandon Aiyuk for the opening touchdown.
The addition of McCaffery is a wonderful outlet for Jimmy Garoppolo who looked more comfortable at quarterback than he has in a long time as the star running-back is so dynamic after the catch. He is also a threat in the passing game and in the third quarter, Jimmy G found his new weapon, who high-pointed the ball for a touchdown to retake the lead.
CMC was soon in the endzone when he finished off a drive from one-yard out to complete a trifecta of having a passing, receiving and rushing touchdown in the same game. They say three, it’s a magic number. He is only the 10th player ever to achieve this feat in the National Football League and the first since LaDainian Tomlinson in the noughties.
With the 49ers now heading into a much needed bye-week, things are looking much brighter all of a sudden. The break will give the roster a chance to get healthier and I expect to see a Superbowl contender in the Bay Area with the level of talent they possess on both sides of the ball. Also having McCaffery and Deebo as a combo should be so exciting to watch and should give many defensive coordinators a scare at bedtime over the coming weeks.
Magical Fairy-tale or Nightmare Endings?
Panthers v Falcons
This was a battle where the victor would finish the day atop of the NFC South and it was certainly a day to remember for Panthers receiver DJ Moore and kicker Eddie Piniero as Carolina grasped defeat from the jaws of victory. For a moment it seemed they had the miracle dreamland finish but it turned into a nightmare with a horror show ending to the contest for both players.
Let me set the scene.
The teams were level at the start of the fourth quarter and when D’onte Foreman scored his third TD of the contest, it saw Carolina into a four-point lead with only three minutes remaining.
By the time the two minute warning arrived, the Falcons had already taken back the lead after Marcus Mariota found Damiere Byrd and the receiver weaved a spell as he ran untouched around a number of defenders for a terrific score.
It left three points between the sides, which soon became six when Younghoe Koo kicked a field goal with 36 seconds left. Carolina needed some wizardry and with 12 seconds left, PJ Walker saw that his favourite receiver DJ Moore had ghosted behind the Falcons’s defence and he found him with a 62-yard throw to level the scores at 34-34 apiece.
In the wild carelessness of celebrating, Moore was flagged for taking off his helmet and the routine PAT was moved back 15 yards and Eddy Pineiro missed his game winning kick which sent the game into overtime.
Pineiro had a chance to redeem himself with a chip shot from 24-yards to win the game but this time he shanked it badly wide as head coach Steve Wilks could barely believe his eyes at the chilling way his team were bottling a victory well within their grasp. These mistakes were punished when Koo took his chance from 41 yards.
Commanders v Colts
There was another sensational finish to this game for two teams that started with recently promoted quarterbacks.
Deep in the fourth quarter the Colts QB Sam Ehlinger was beginning to find his groove on his first NFL start when he led the Colts down the field and Nyheim Hines ran in from five yards for a nine-point fourth-quarter lead against an impressive Washington defence.
With two minutes remaining, there were six points separating the sides when Commanders QB Taylor Heineke went for it on fourth down and found Curtis Samuel after scrambling around in the pocket. He then picked up the next first down with his legs and brought play past midfield with only 22 seconds left.
Then came the play of the game.
Heineke threw to his super-star receiver Terry McLaurin with a bomb down the field and Scary Terry mossed Stefon Gilmore for a first down from the one-yard line.
When the quarterback dived in for a touchdown to tie the game, kicker Joey Slye added the game-winning point as Washington’s late piece of magic won the day as the legend of Taylor Heineke continues to grow.
Giants v Seahawks
A well-matched contest between two teams with winning records saw the Giants travel to Seattle in what turned out to be a hugely entertaining contest. A zombie-like scoreless first quarter came to life and the story within the story was the matchup between Giants corner-back Adoree Jackson and Seahawks’ wide-out Tyler Lockett.
They had themselves a battle for the ages.
It was first blood to Jackson when he made this TD-saving play in the second quarter.
Soon after Geno Smith threw a dart to DK Metcalf at the back of the endzone and later in the second quarter Jackson was being adored by G-men after he ripped the ball from Lockett’s grasp just inside the Seahawks own five-yard line.
Sequon Barkley continued his recent scoring spree and added the six-pointer. Late in the third quarter Lockett then had the chance to score a walk-in touchdown but he dropped his first pass of the season much to the horror of the home fans.
Lockett found redemption in the final quarter with the most important score of the game when he burned Jackson with his route and Geno found him for a lead they never relinquished. Afterwards Lockett stated: “It’s amazing what we can accomplish when no one cares who gets the credit.” Was he dropping shade at the departed Russell Wilson? I really don’t know.
Daniel Jones had to chase the game. which he is not noted for and he took his fifth sack on the day as hopes of a comeback vanished. There was still time for rookie Seahawks running-back sensation Kenneth Walker to pull some Thriller dance moves in the endzone after he scored his fourth touchdown in four weeks.
The highest scoring game of the day was a roller-coaster in Motor City on a day when Miami speedster receivers Tyreek Hill and Jalen Waddle had 188 and 106 receiving yards respectively. The duo now have almost 1700 receiving yards, which is an NFL record after eight weeks of the season. In the first half, the Lions went into a 0-14 lead before Waddle reduced the arrears to seven points and did his penguin dance.
It was a score-fest as neither defence could stop the punishment and it wasn’t long until Tua Tagovailoa found Waddle to again close the gap to seven points. Late in the third quarter Tua found tight-end Mike Gesicke for his third passing touchdown to take a lead that they held onto.
In the late kickoff, the Buffalo Bills lived up to their billing as Superbowl favourites with a sensational display. Coming off their bye week, they had a number of players freshly returned from injury and on their first three drives they scored three touchdowns with Josh Allen in terrific form.
It was a game that smoldered at times without ever catching fire. What I thought was notable was the fine play from Aaron Rodgers throughout against an excellent Bills defence. Rodgers’ body language was a lot better than it has been in recent weeks. In particular he linked up with his rookie receivers Romeo Doubs and Samori Toure for touchdowns. Although it’s now a four-game losing streak for the Packers, there were more positives than negatives from the night.
Three is a magic number
Derek Henry was back to his very best when he crowned a dominant performance with 219 rushing yards on 32 carries and three rushing touchdowns. The best of his scores was in the first quarter on a day when he got the 74th, 75th and 76th touchdowns of his NFL Hall of Fame worthy career.
Tony Pollard got to be the bell cow back for the day as Zeke pulled out late with an injury and Pollard showed what a player he has become by rushing for 131 yards and three touchdowns. Afterwards, he was asked how heavily the Cowboys should use him and he answered memorably: “If they call it, I’ll haul it.”
Alvin Kamara was the star in the Superdome as he also scored a hat-trick of touchdowns as the Saints beat a disappointing Raiders 0-24.
The Steelers showed that they had prepped some trick plays for Halloween when Chase Claypool found Derek Watt in the endzone.
However, AJ Brown showed why he was a great acquisition catching for 156 yards and three touchdowns as the Eagles went 7-0 on the season in a dominant performance after their return from their bye week. Surely it’s too early to start thinking about a perfect season?
The Patriots extended their 13 wins-in-a-row dominance over the New York Jets for a 22-17 victory that was a lot more comfortable than the scoreline suggests. On the day Zach Wilson threw for 355 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Vikings extended their record to 6-1 and took a three-game lead in the NFC North with a routine win over the Cardinals. The best play of the game was a magical catch by DeAndre Hopkins.
Russell Wilson made the difference as the Broncos staged a second-half comeback to win in Wembley, London. Read our report from the contest here: https://tinyurl.com/mvxpnmuw
Later tonight we will have a preview as the Bengals have a local Ohio derby against the hometown Cleveland Browns on Monday Night Football.