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Neil Reynolds' Week 8 Wrap Up

The San Francisco 49ers have enjoyed great success with outside-the-first-round draft picks. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel was a second-round choice in 2019, star linebacker Dre Greenlaw went in the fifth round of the same draft and tight end George Kittle was a fifth-rounder in 2017.

It's worth putting that into context when you think that the 49ers gave up second, third and fourth-round picks in 2023 and a fifth-rounder in 2024 to land Christian McCaffrey from the Carolina Panthers. So, they were happy to run the risk of missing out on a future Samuel, Greenlaw or Kittle for McCaffrey, the star running back who can do it all.

As head coach Kyle Shanahan pointed out, though, you can miss on those mid-to-late-round choices more often than not. And in McCaffrey, the 49ers felt comfortable with the proven commodity who rushed for more than 1,000 yards and caught passes for another 1,000-plus in 2019.

McCaffrey showed exactly why Shanahan and general manager John Lynch went after him so aggressively a fortnight ago. During Sunday's 31-14 win over the Los Angeles Rams, McCaffrey racked up 149 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns on 18 runs and eight catches. He also touched the ball on another key play as he took a lateral pass from Jimmy Garoppolo and threw downfield to Brandon Aiyuk for a 34-yard touchdown.

McCaffrey is the perfect fit for Shanahan's attack and he is motivated, placing a big chip on his shoulder after being traded away by Carolina. He can talk all he wants about the motivation that comes from feeling disrespected, but McCaffrey must be absolutely delighted with how things have worked out.

With McCaffrey at the heart of everything San Francisco did and with the Rams firmly on their heels, Garoppolo was free to play one of his best games of the season as he completed 21 of 25 throws for 235 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

The 49ers also took over the second half of this contest on defense as the Rams fell to a very disappointing loss in front of their own fans. Wait, not their fans. In front of a stadium in Los Angeles that was bejewelled in red as the Niners faithful took over SoFi Stadium. What do the Rams have to do to win over the locals in LA? They've already packed their roster with stars and won a Super Bowl and it has made little difference.

Showings like Sunday's won't help. The Rams led 14-10 at the break and never scored again. They are devoid of difference-makers on offense beyond Cooper Kupp. They have a lot of problems to fix and no wonder they were also at the negotiating table bidding for the services of McCaffrey.

Given his success on Sunday night, will more teams be encouraged to be bold and trade for someone who can get them over the hump? Look for some serious contenders to be busy in the next couple of days.

Who's Hot…

Tony Pollard… The Dallas Cowboys have already been drifting towards a job share in their backfield and there could now be a groundswell for Tony Pollard to receive even more carries after Sunday's 49-29 win over the Chicago Bears? With Ezekiel Elliott out injured, Pollard looked every inch the starting running back as he carried 14 times for 131 yards and three touchdowns. There are now plenty of calls for Pollard to be the full-time starter. There is no need to go that far when Zeke returns, in my opinion. I don't mind seeing Pollard steal a few more carries along the way, but I also think the job share is going to work out just fine for the Dallas Cowboys the rest of this year.

Miami's passing attack… Tua Tagovailoa is well on his way to silencing his doubters this season. Being surrounded by better talent and being better coached has allowed Tua to return to the form that made him a college star at Alabama. He and his receivers were sensational in Sunday's 31-27 win over the Detroit Lions. Tua hit on 29 of 36 throws for 382 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. Tyreek Hill (12 for 188) and Jaylen Waddle (eight for 106 and two scores) combined for 20 receptions for 294 yards and two touchdowns. We've not seen this kind of passing attack in Miami since the prolific 1980s with Dan Marino firing lasers to The Marks Brothers, Duper and Clayton.

A.J. Brown… The Philadelphia Eagles now have a true number one receiver in their ranks and what a difference A.J. Brown has made to their offense and the development of young quarterback, Jalen Hurts. The former Tennessee Titan caught six passes for 156 yards and three touchdowns, destroying double coverage to find the end zone time and again in Sunday's 35-13 thrashing of the Pittsburgh Steelers. On his three first half touchdown catches, the completion percentage chances – according to NextGen Stats – were 25.2, 31.3 and 24.0 percent. Brown threw those odds out of the window and just went and found the football. He is on fire, the Eagles are undefeated and Jalen Hurts has now won 10 regular season games in a row – a franchise record.

Who's Not…

Zach Wilson… After a bright start against the New England Patriots on Sunday, Zach Wilson fell off a cliff and it certainly looked like the stage was too big for him during a 22-17 defeat at the hands of Bill Belichick's side. With injuries beginning to bite in New York, the Jets are going to need to lean on Wilson the rest of the way. But the second-year passer failed to rise to the task on Sunday. He made some questionable decisions with the football and was picked off three times. It has to be better at the quarterback position because the Jets have a good team in most other departments. This was a big opportunity for Wilson to shine and he let himself and his team down.

The Las Vegas Raiders… I was starting to think the Raiders might be figuring things out. They started 0-3 but then won two of three, with the loss coming by a point to the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. And then they go and lay an egg during Sunday's 24-0 loss to the New Orleans Saints. The numbers tell a depressing story. Derek Carr threw for 101 yards and one interception, Davante Adams was held to just one catch and a previously-prolific ground attack was limited to 38 rushing yards. The Raiders had zero drives that went past midfield and were shut out for the first time since 2014. It's early but could Josh McDaniels be on the rocks in his second act as an NFL head coach?

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers… There has been much made of the fact that Tom Brady does not look himself for the Bucs, who have now lost five of their last six after a 2-0 start. And that is true. He is a sitting duck behind a porous offensive line and he is not helped by a running game that gained just 44 yards on the ground in Thursday's 27-22 home defeat to the Baltimore Ravens. But the problems are not solely on offense. Baltimore rushed for 231 yards during the victory and the Bucs have more worries now that Shaq Barrett is gone for the year with an Achilles injury. With that unit struggling, Brady has to produce something special and it doesn't appear he is up to that particular task.

The Fast Five…

  • Derrick Henry has now rushed for more than 200 yards in four straight games against the Houston Texans. He was the driving force behind Tennessee's 17-10 win in which Mike Vrabel's men went back to the days of leather helmets and fat footballs. Henry carried 32 times for 219 yards and two touchdowns, while rookie Malik Willis attempted just 10 passes, completing six for 55 yards and an interception. Robert Woods was Tennessee's leading receiver with two catches. No one cares about the lack of a passing attack – the Titans have won five in a row.
  • Bill Belichick loves talking about NFL history, unless you're asking him about his place in it. New England's head coach overtook the legendary George Halas for the second-most NFL wins on Sunday. Belichick now stands alone in second place with 325 victories including the playoffs. Only the great Don Shula is in front of him with 347 wins. And his latest victory was a Belichick classic, putting the slow squeeze on yet another young quarterback.
  • I have some sympathy for Carolina Panthers wide receiver D.J. Moore, who was flagged for removing his helmet after catching a 62-yard Hail Mary from P.J. Walker in the dying seconds of a wild game against the Atlanta Falcons. The penalty meant a 48-yard extra point attempt instead of a 33-yarder to win the game. Eddie Piniero missed that kick to send the contest into overtime, missed a 33-yard effort in the extra period and Atlanta went on to win 37-34. Moore is culpable, but he was bound to get excited in that moment and should be forgiven for losing his head. Piniero missed two makeable kicks.
  • The Packers showed some signs of life against Buffalo, specifically by rushing for more than 200 yards. But they couldn't keep up with their high-powered foes and fell 27-17 – it was Green Bay's fourth straight loss. Aaron Rodgers suggested afterwards that the Packers need one win to gather some momentum. Cool, but they face Dallas (6-2), Tennessee (5-2) and Philadelphia (7-0) in three of their next four weeks.
  • The Minnesota Vikings improved to 6-1 on the season with Sunday's 34-26 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. It was a familiar tale. The Vikings started fast, hit the skids and held on for dear life! They have now won five straight with each of those games being decided by one score. And in today's topsy-turvy NFL, you would most definitely take that kind of start to the season.

Fact of the Week

Teams from the NFC East went 3-1 in Week 8 (Philadelphia, Dallas and Washington won). The combined record of teams in the NFC East is now 23-8 – that is the most wins by any division through Week 8 since the realignment of divisions in 2002. Teams in the NFC East have won 74.2 percent of their games, making it the most successful of any division in the NFL ahead of the AFC East (62.5 percent).

Finish That Sentence

Each week in this spot I ask readers - via Twitter - to randomly send me the start of a sentence and, as we so often did on our NFL UK Live stage show tours, I will finish the sentence with the first thought that comes into my head. Here we go…

From Sam Lambie (@Slambie92) Tyreek Hill's receiving yards for the season will be… north of 2,000 yards if he carries on at his current pace. He is on course for 2,042 receiving yards and Miami's passing attack shows no signs of slowing down. It is not only Hill's blazing speed that is causing problems for opposing defenses. He is being schemed open brilliantly by head coach Mike McDaniel. Dolphins receivers are running free all over the field.

From Gazza (@GoonerInThePub) If not Heinicke then… I will be wondering what Commanders head coach Ron Rivera is thinking in Washington. Taylor Heinicke gives Washington some fire in their bellies and that can be as important as anything else at the quarterback position. As I watched Washington catch fire late and beat the Indianapolis Colts, I couldn't help but imagine the voices in Carson Wentz's head, saying: "It's happening again, mate. We're going to be on the move again soon."

From Taylor Gurney (@TaylorGurney7) The journey of Geno Smith is… one of the more remarkable stories in recent NFL history. He is a genuine league-wide star now in his first full-time starting role in eight years. Seattle have won four of their last five to move to 5-3 on the season and I genuinely think they have upgraded by moving from Russell Wilson to Geno Smith, who flamed out in spectacular fashion with the New York Jets. Geno is dropping dimes all over the field. I'm off to Germany in a couple of weeks to see the Seahawks take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Who would have thought I would be more excited about seeing Geno than Tom Brady? What a weird and wonderful NFL world.

Final Thought…

It was great to see the NFL back at Wembley Stadium for the first time since 2019 on Sunday as the Denver Broncos recorded a 21-17 victory over the 'hometown' Jacksonville Jaguars. This game was significant as it was the first in which an NFL team has arranged everything on their own from start to finish. Wembley looked resplendent in the surprising sunshine and the hard work of many was rewarded with a crowd of 86,215 on hand – the largest ever for a regular season game in London. On the field, Trevor Lawrence threw a painful interception in the first half that I think really hurt his team. The Jags did take a late lead but couldn't make it stand up and they have now lost five in a row. All six of their losses this season have come by one score. But Sunday was about more than just the result on the field. It was a celebration of how committed the Jags have become to the UK market and long may it continue.