Game balls – NFL Week 7

With three blocked field goals in the first hour, I had the feeling Week 7 was going to be a bit of a lame duck. But then non-quarterbacks started throwing TD passes and the Patriots stuck 54 points on the Jets, so it all came alive in the end.

There’s plenty to get our teeth into as we review the highs and lows of another packed weekend of NFL action so without further ado, here’s the roll call of our latest game ball winners.

Offensive player(s) of the week

Joe Burrow, QB / Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

Rob Carr – Getty Images

Despite what their names might suggest, the Rams saw off the Lions 28-19, thanks in part to Cooper Kupp’s continued hot streak. The WR snared 10 of 13 targets for 156 yards and two touchdowns, taking catches in the slot and deep downfield with equal aplomb. Kupp is now the first player in the Super Bowl era with 800+ receiving yards and nine+ receiving TDs in the first seven games of a season.

Then last night, in a somewhat underwhelming MNF match-up, the Saints squeaked past the Russell Wilson-less Seahawks 13-10, thanks largely to the efforts of Alvin Kamara. He rushed 20 times for 51 yards, and caught 10 of 11 targets for 128 receiving yards, as well as his team’s only TD. Other than Marquez Calloway, Jameis Winston doesn’t have a lot of weapons to aim for so thank goodness Kamara is a viable option through the air.

I’d also like to give props to those who made National Tight End Day (who thinks up this stuff?!) an NFL-wide celebration. Many of our favourites reached the end zone, among them Zach Ertz who scored his first TD in a Cardinals jersey as they trounced Houston 31-5. Tennessee’s MyCole Pruitt got on the end of a short TD lob from Derrick Henry of all people and Kyle Pitts’ 163 receiving yards are the second-most in a single game by a rookie tight end since the 1970 league merger.

But while I’m trying not to be a homer, it’s hard not to veer towards the career games that JOE BURROW and JA’MARR CHASE posted in Cincinnati’s 41-17 demolition of Baltimore. Burrow logged 416 yards from 23 completions and three more chunk-play TD passes: two of 55 and 32 yards to tight end CJ Uzomah and another eye-catching score for Chase. This time, the rookie receiver bagged his biggest yet: an 82-yarder where he made a catch under pressure in midfield, spun away from three defenders and ran half the length of the field with the Ravens left floundering in his wake.

After this statement win against their divisional rivals, the 5-2 Bengals are not only the AFC North leaders but also the #1 seed in the AFC Conference as things stand; that’s quite a shift for a team that’s logged just six wins in two years. After a slow start, Burrow was electric and Ja’Marr set more benchmarks: his 201 receiving yards on the day is a franchise rookie record and his total to date (754 yards) is the most by any player in their first seven NFL games.

Their joint highlight reel shows that the pair have picked up where they left off at LSU and it’s hard to separate two sides of the same coin so Burrow and Chase can share the game ball this week.

Defensive player of the week

Azeez Ojulari, OLB, New York Giants

Al Bello – Getty Images

There was another Bengals player in contention here, with DE Sam Hubbard grabbing 2.5 sacks of Lamar Jackson, but I have to share the love around. Therefore, I’m going with the star of the Big Blue defence that gave Sam Darnold the blues in a 25-3 winover Carolina.

On his return to MetLife Stadium, Darnold was eventually pulled in the fourth quarter by Matt Rhule after being hassled and harried by the swarming New York D, who collectively racked up six sacks. Defensive end Leonard Williams generated 1.5 sacks, three QB hits and seven QB pressures, while Dexter Lawrence and Jabrill Peppers also got involved in the sack race with one each. But rookie outside linebacker AZEEZ OJULARI was the pick of the bunch, compiling eight QB pressures, 4 QB hits, 5 tackles, 3 tackles for loss and a career-high 2.5 sacks, bull-rushing Darnold and dragging his replacement, PJ Walker, down from behind.

The second-round pick, who was a major factor in Darnold having an afternoon he’d rather forget, is having a fine debut season. The former Georgia Bulldog is currently the top-ranked rookie with 5.5 sacks and is on pace for 13, which would be the most by any Giant for a decade. Defensive Rookie of the Year honours are not out of the question if he keeps dishing out performances like this so keep Ojulari on your radar.

Coach of the week

Kevin Stefanski, HC, Cleveland Browns

Terrance Williams – AP

Plaudits go to Dan Campbell whose Lions threw everything they had at the Rams but eventually lost 28-19. Detroit shot out to a 10-0 lead, thanks to a 63-yard D’Andre Swift TD (144 total yards) and a recovered onside kick, and the feisty Campbell called not one but two successful fake punts. Fair play to him for giving it a right ol’ go at least.

Despite Zac Taylor masterminding an amazing win over the Ravens, I can’t give another game ball to a Bengal, even though he has a strong case. Despite Lamar Jackson’s best efforts, the Bengals D held up well again (17 points conceded, 5 sacks) and the offence finally went off, racking up 41 points and 520 total yards. ZT’s best game yet as a HC for sure.

I’d also give a nod to Mike Vrabel, whose Titans team have picked themselves up after that strange Week 4 loss to the Jets, seeing off the Bills and now the Chiefs. Their dominant 27-3 win over KC on Sunday was mightily impressive, not least because it wasn’t the Derrick Henry show for a change (although he did throw one more TD pass than Patrick Mahomes!). All five of their first-half drives put points on the board, and their D had the Kansas City offence under the cosh all game.

But I’m going to give Cleveland’s KEVIN STEFANSKI a game ball for piecing together a solid game plan against the Broncos on TNF. Impressively, they stuck to their trusted ground game, even though they were missing their top two running backs, Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. The Browns’ offensive line was banged too up yet they opened up the lanes, allowing stand-in RB1 D’Ernest Johnson to plough through time and again. On his first NFL start, he finished with a career-high 146 rushing yards and a TD on 22 carries, as well as a couple of catches for another 22 yards (putting him in the mix for offensive player of the week). His figures set a new franchise benchmark for a first-time starter since 1970, and make the Browns the only team in the league with three different receivers with 100-yard rushing games. That’s the Importance of Being D’Ernest!

Even with their starting QB (Baker Mayfield, obvs) also out injured and Case Keenum under centre, somehow everything carried on as normal. There was barely a wrinkle as Stefanski played his limited hand to perfection, leaving Denver reeling from their fourth consecutive loss (17-14) and giving the Browns a valuable win in the competitive AFC North.

Play of the week

Kendrick Bourne, WR, New England Patriots

NBC Sports

I was in two minds to give this week’s play of the week to a one-handed catch, as we had several to chose from. In the TNF win over Cleveland, Denver’s Courtland Sutton made a 31-yard gain with an amazing one-handed catch down the sideline. Atlanta TE Kyle Pitts also made another one-handed catch on a 39-yard play as the Falcons squeaked past the Dolphins, and Hunter Henry juggled a TD catch with one hand for New England. All very impressive.

I’ve already mentioned Derrick Henry’s lobbed pass to his TE MyCole Pruitt for the Titans’ opening TD and after a switcheroo in the backfield, Giants wide receiver Dante Pettis threw a rainbow for his QB Daniel Jones to make a lunging catch down the right-hand sideline.

But the game ball for play of the week is going to another bit of non-QB touchdown trickery. In the first of seven(!) touchdowns in a 54-13 rout of the New York Jets, with the game still scoreless, the Pats faced a 1st-and-10 on the Jets’ 25-yard line. Mac Jones took the snap, and lateralled it to KENDRICK BOURNE. The wideout launched it down the sideline for Nelson Aghalor to catch in stride as he ran in to the end zone unchallenged. Apparently, Bourne has been practising the play a lot in training so he’d have been pleased that his first-ever pass attempt went for a tuddy – you can judge for yourself here. Practice makes perfect!

Gaffe of the week

Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs Wire

It would be a bit harsh to hone in the misery of the Panthers QBs Sam Darnold (16 of 25, 111 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT) who was benched, and his replacement PJ Walker, who only connected on three of 13 attempts for a further 33 yards. Also, poor ol’ Patrick Mahomes had another stinker punctuated by turnovers, sacks and a nasty-looking knee to the head that took him out of the game. So I’m not going to dwell on such matters.

Instead, I’m going to keep things light and give my game ball to Tampa Bay receiver MIKE EVANS for more of a faux-pas than a mistake. As the Bucs steamrollered the Bears 38-3, Tom Brady’s second of four TDs on the day – a 9-yard score late in the first quarter – was his 600th career touchdown: an NFL first.

Alas, the recipient, Mike Evans, wasn’t aware of the significance of the play and handed the history-making ball to a delighted fan in the crowd at Raymond James Stadium. Apparently, the team had to negotiate to get it back to TB12, apparently swapping it for another ball and the promise of a signed jersey. Brady himself admitted afterwards that “I don’t keep too many things but in that circumstance, I thought it might be a good one to keep.”

STOP PRESS: This has proved to be a costlier gaffe than first thought. A deal with the fan who gave back the ball has now been struck, and they have agreed to receive 2 signed jerseys and a helmet from Tom Brady, a Mike Evans signed jersey and his game-day cleats, $1,000 to spend in the Bucs store, and a pair of season tickets for the remainder of this season and next. Ker-ching!

Keep your eyes peeled for our Twitter polls and check out the NFL review pod to see if the guys concur with my selections. 

Feature image: Getty Images

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