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NFL Week 8 winners and losers: It was a big day for backup QBs. Vikings absolutely abysmal on offense.

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Week 8 in the NFL was the week of the backup quarterback.

In several wildly unexpected outcomes, the Seahawks, Jets, Cowboys and Saints all won their games with their backups or third-stringers playing quarterback because of injuries to their starters. In one case, the third-stringer was Saints passer Trevor Siemian, and he outplayed the greatest passer to ever play the game in Tom Brady.

Meanwhile, the AFC saw another huge shakeup as the Bengals lost (to the Jets and backup passer Mike White) and fell out of the No. 1 seed in the conference, paving the way for the Titans to claim the spot after they beat the Colts.

MORE: 32 things we learned from Week 8

Here are the Week 8 winners and losers.


Patriots' playoff hopes

They may not be the most exciting team to watch, but the New England Patriots are steadily improving and secured their first statement victory of the season when they outlasted the Chargers, 27-24. Though the defense isn't nearly as talented as it was when Bill Belichick won his first Super Bowls in New England with Tom Brady as quarterback, this Patriots team (4-4) is built in a similar fashion. The offense will be deliberate, harp on fundamentals and control the clock; the Patriots possessed the ball for 35:24 compared to L.A.'s 24:36. They will look to protect the ball and keep penalties low. On defense, they be fine to give up the occasional big play, but will pick its spots to be aggressive; they forced Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert into two costly interceptions, one close to the end of the first half and the other a pick-six in the fourth quarter.

New England still has a lot to fix. Rookie Mac Jones started slow and the Patriots had a Damien Harris 28-yard rushing score nullified because of a holding penalty. But the offensive line controlled what is a talented Chargers pass rush to just one sack and four QB hurries. Don't look now, but after a 1-3 start, New England has won three of its last four and is in position to contend for a wild-card spot, with the league's fourth-easiest remaining strength of schedule (.460).

Backup QBs

Not only did backup passers fill in for their starters, they shined and beat some of the NFL's best teams. Geno Smith (Seahawks over the Jaguars), Mike White (Jets over the Bengals), Cooper Rush (Cowboys over the Vikings) and Trevor Siemian (Saints over the Buccaneers) all won their games, though Siemian was the lone player who had to come in off the bench after Jameis Winston suffered a knee injury in the second quarter.

Those players combined to throw for 1,084 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions on Sunday. Jets coach Robert Saleh even said "anything's possible" when asked about White's future with the team. A great deal of credit also has to go to the coaching staffs of each of these teams, which focused on the backups' strengths and created game plans that highlighted those parts of their skill sets.

A mobile Justin Fields

The Bears defense allowed seven consecutive scoring drives and Chicago lost to the 49ers, 33-22, to fall to 3-5, but we saw just how much better this offense can be when the coaching staff designs plays that get Fields out in open space. Now, it's not sustainable to ask Fields to get 103 rushing yards every game, but when offensive coordinator Bill Lazor dialed up designed rushes and rollouts, it opened up the rest of the offense. 

Fields' 22-yard touchdown rush in the fourth quarter that gave the Bears a lead was one of the highlights of the day and shows just how much he can create when things break down. He had four rushes of at least 15 yards. Fields' mobility is especially helpful because of how poor the Chicago offensive line is this season. He'll need to work on improving his rapport with receivers and getting rid of the ball quickly. And the Bears need to put more firepower around him on offense. But it's clear Chicago's best chance to win some games this season is to scheme — in both passing and rushing plays — Fields in space.


Minnesota Vikings

This was a team that was facing a backup quarterback, Cooper Rush, who was making his first career start and who hadn't thrown a regular season pass since 2017. Yet, the Vikings inexplicably lost to the Cowboys, 20-16, after an absolutely abysmal offensive showing. 

And if you want to look at the reason why Minnesota (3-4) embarrassed themselves in primetime, just check out their situational play calling on third downs. The Vikings constantly threw short of the sticks or were stuffed at the line on short rushes when looking to move the chains. Minnesota converted just one of its 13 third-down attempts, many of which were actually from a manageable distance. Taking out one that was a third-and-23 late in the game, the average distance to gain on the other 12 third downs was 6.9 yards. Dak Prescott not playing in a game-time decision was a gift for Minnesota to give it a chance to beat one of the NFC's best teams. Instead, this was a failure in play calling, and execution by quarterback Kirk Cousins.

The Browns as AFC contenders

For the Browns to make many preseason predictions come true, they will have some serious work to do. Cleveland fell to the Steelers, 15-10, and also into last place in the AFC North. Cleveland may have the worst injury luck this year in the entire NFL, but its offense has struggled to find consistency. Against the Steelers, the Browns gained 20 yards or more on only three of their 58 offensive plays. Their first play of at least 20 yards came just minutes after the third quarter started. Their longest play of the day went 24 yards. 

For the first time since Week 7 of last season, one year and six days before Sunday's game, the Browns had Mayfield and receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. on the field at the same time. It didn't make a difference. Mayfield has struggled to create explosive plays this year and Beckham has become a non-factor in this offense; against the Steelers, Beckham caught his only target for six yards. Landry had a costly fumble in the fourth quarter and a couple of drops. The good news is that the division is compressed; the first-place Ravens (5-2) have only one more victory than Cleveland, so ground can be made up. But fixing red zone issues on both sides — where the Browns are tied for 24th on offense and tied for 26th on defense — should be the priority.

Colts' shot at the AFC South

Just one week after he led his team to a soggy, road upset against the 49ers, Carson Wentz's mistakes weren't the sole reason the Colts lost a pivotal division matchup against the Titans, 34-31. But they certainly set Tennessee up to win. Wentz had entered Week 8 having thrown just one interception. Against the Titans, Wentz threw two — both of them costly — including a pick-six that may have been the worst decision a passer has made in a game in recent history.

Though Wentz helped engineer a game-tying touchdown drive to force overtime, he tossed another interception, this one into triple coverage that set up Titans kicker Randy Bullock's 48-yard game-winning field goal. Making matters worse, the loss gave the Titans (6-2) a commanding lead in the AFC South. Indianapolis (3-5) is a full three games back of Tennessee and has already lost twice this year to the Titans. So, essentially, the Colts will need to hope for a Titans collapse down the stretch to have a shot at the division.

The top-seeded Bengals

One week after the Bengals stunned the Ravens to claim the AFC's No. 1 seed, they lost to the previously one-win Jets, who were starting backup quarterback Mike White, 34-31. And a defense that had been one of the NFL's biggest surprises in 2021 let Cincinnati down in a historic way. White's 37 completions were most in NFL history for a player making his first career start.

Officials did gift the Jets with a dubious personal foul penalty called against the Bengals late in the game that erased a third-down stop and effectively ended the game, but the Bengals shouldn't have been in the position of needing a score late in the game to begin with. This is still a young team, though, so losses like these are almost to be expected, as bad as they look on paper. The most important thing for the Bengals is to bounce back, and next week's battle against the Browns, who are just one game back in the AFC North, suddenly becomes pivotal.

The sans-Jameis New Orleans Saints

Yes, they won. And, yes, they beat the defending-champion Buccaneers, 36-27. But this may be a victory that costs the Saints dearly. Starting quarterback Jameis Winston, even though he was spotted dancing in the postgame locker room in crutches, may be lost indefinitely to a "significant" knee injury he suffered in the second quarter. 

Now, coach Sean Payton typically gets the most out of his passers, so the Saints could feasibly weather the injury and not have too much of a drop off. After all, even when now-retired passer Drew Brees was forced out of the lineup in recent seasons, Payton has kept the Saints more than competitive. New Orleans is 12-3 in such games without Brees going back to the start of the 2018 season. Third-stringer Trevor Siemian even outdueled Brady late in this victory as backup Taysom Hill missed his second consecutive game with a concussion. But, no matter which player the Saints turn to now, even if they bring in a veteran free agent, that player won't be as capable as Winston. And as the Saints (5-2) try to keep pace in a fiercely top-heavy NFC, the margin for error will be slim.