January 16, 2021

NFL Week 8 Recap and News: Tua’s debut, Lamar Jackson struggles, and more

8 min read
This week, we were given our first taste of multiple bad weather games, watched some...

This week, we were given our first taste of multiple bad weather games, watched some down to the wire finishes, and witnessed the continued dominance of some of the upper-tier teams in the NFL. NFL Week 8 Recap is here to bring you all the news and notes you need to get caught up on another action-packed slate of games. We start with the long-awaited start of Tua Tagovailoa in Miami and continue with our questions surrounding Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens.

Note: Continue to check back throughout Sunday evening and Monday morning for more additions to our NFL Week 8 Recap and News.

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NFL Recap Week 8: Dolphins rally around Tua Tagovailoa in his NFL debut

Sometimes, a rookie quarterback looks tremendous in his NFL debut. Often, he looks lost and unprepared. And occasionally, as Tua Tagovailoa did in a 28-17 Miami Dolphins victory over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 8, he just hands off a lot while the opposing quarterback commits a bajillion turnovers. Tua threw for just 93 yards and one touchdown on 12-of-22 passing, but while Sunday’s win only taught NFL Recap a little about the Dolphins’ (probable) quarterback of the future, it revealed much more about the Dolphins themselves.

Week 8 Dolphins vs. Rams Game Recap

Tagovailoa’s first NFL dropback ended in a strip-sack by Aaron Donald. And if you tweeted, “Welcome to the NFL, rookie!” immediately after it happened, great for you, because you are the only one who thought of that!

Tagovailoa continued to struggle on his next few drives, misfiring on a deep shot to Preston Williams and leading DeVante Parker too far upfield on what should have been a routine receiver screen. His best throw of the afternoon landed in TE Mike Gesicki’s hands along the left sideline, but defender Darious Williams broke up the play. 

Fortunately for the Dolphins, Jared Goff picked Sunday’s game to be Mister Bumbles. A Christian Wilkins interception gave the Dolphins the ball at the Rams 33 yard line at the end of the first quarter, and Tua connected with Durham Smythe and Jakeem Grant on short passes before finding a sliding Parker in the middle of the end zone for his first NFL touchdown pass.

Then, things got silly. Goff got strip-sacked by Emmanuel Ogbah to set up a 78-yard recovery touchdown by someone named Andrew Van Ginkel, who may have been Brian Wilson’s songwriting collaborator on Smile. Grant returned a punt 88-yards for another touchdown. Another strip-sack (by Shaq Lawson) and return (by Kyle Van Noy) set up a Myles Gaskin touchdown to give the Dolphins a 28-7 lead before halftime. 

After that, Tagovailoa had little to do but hand off the ball, dump a few passes into the flat, scratch his head when the Dolphins tried a few Wildcat wrinkles, and watch the Rams fail to come back.

What does the Dolphins’ victory over the Rams mean?

Remember how the NFL news and rumblings around how the Dolphins were allegedly divided by the decision to bench Ryan Fitzpatrick for Tagovailoa? Divided teams don’t force four turnovers (it could easily have been six) and return punts for touchdowns against opponents with 5-2 records, folks. So send that narrative where it belongs (you may have to flush twice). Sunday’s win was a lot like the Dolphins’ turnover-happy Week 5 victory over the San Francisco 49ers; if they keep manufacturing wins by making opposing quarterbacks look silly, we’ll have to stop writing off each case as an isolated incident.

As for Tagovailoa, he whiffed badly on some routine passes, and a pair of doomed Wildcat misadventures (a stuffed 3rd-and-1 direct snap to Gaskin, some over-engineered malarky involving seventh-round pick and former Navy option QB Malcolm Perry) revealed that Tua might not be working with a wide-open playbook just yet. But if you want to make a young quarterback comfortable, give him good field position and the lead. That’s just what the Dolphins did. 

As Benjamin Allbright reported for Pro Football Network last week, the rumblings and news around the NFL were that Tua may be getting early starts so the Dolphins can determine whether they need to use the first-round pick they received from the Houston Texans in the Laremy Tunsil trade on another quarterback. If Sunday’s debut was indeed a kind of hedged bet, then it worked out in the Dolphins favor: They got a chance to evaluate Tua against a tough opponent without shattering his confidence and came away with a win. 

NFL News and Week 8 Recap: What’s next for Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins?

The Dolphins face the Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos, and New York Jets over the next four weeks. So the defenses grow progressively weaker (give or take) as the month goes on. That should give Tagovailoa an opportunity to show steady improvement. It should also give the Dolphins lots of chances to build their Wild Card portfolio.

NFL Week 8 Recap: It’s time for some straight talk about Lamar Jackson

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – NOVEMBER 01: Defensive end Isaiah Buggs #96 of the Pittsburgh Steelers tackles quarterback Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens on fourth down late in the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium on November 01, 2020 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Lamar Jackson nearly engineered a late Baltimore Ravens comeback victory on a soggy Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium. But the fact remains that Jackson was a big reason why the Ravens lost 28-24 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8 and are now both stuck in second place in the AFC North and losing ground in the battle for a top playoff seeding. With a tough slate of opponents on the upcoming schedule, it’s time for some straight talk about Jackson’s erratic, inconsistent, and sometimes troubling follow-up to his 2019 Most Valuable Player campaign.

NFL Week 8 Recap: Breaking down the Ravens vs. Steelers matchup

Lamar Jackson threw a wobbly pick-6 to Steelers LB Robert Spillane on the third play from scrimmage. He then led a drive full of crisp throws (and one roughing penalty at the end of a short scramble) to tie the game on a pinpoint pass to Miles Boykin. The rest of the afternoon progressed more-or-less in the same manner, with Jackson looking like an MVP again on one drive but like the guy your father-in-law swears is going to be run out of the league in three years on the next.

Jackson finished the game with two interceptions which led directly to Steelers touchdowns (his second pick gave them the ball on the Ravens 18-yard line, setting up a Ben Roethlisberger touchdown to Eric Ebron), a third would-be interception that Joe Haden couldn’t quite haul in after jumping a route before halftime, and two lost fumbles deep in Steelers territory, one of them when trying to convert on 4th-and-3 at the 2:00 warning.

Jackson also threw for 208 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 65 yards, and he drove the Ravens to the Steelers 23-yard line in the waning seconds. His performance was not a disaster by any means. It just wasn’t nearly enough against the still-undefeated Steelers. 

What Lamar Jackson’s erratic performance means for the Ravens

NFL Week 8 Recap doesn’t like suggesting that Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense has been “figured out” because we don’t want to end up on the same side of any debate as the sort of people who protest tattoo parlor mask mandates. But this is what “figured out” looks like in the NFL.

No, Jackson hasn’t been turned into Tim Tebow, and he probably never will be. But opponents aren’t getting taffy-pulled by all the option fakes on first down as often as they did last season. Once the Ravens are in unfavorable down-and-distance situations, opponents are sitting back and waiting for Jackson to dump the ball over the short middle of the field. 

Jackson, for his part, is throwing more wobbly non-spirals than he did last year, messing up the timing and accuracy of his passes and making life tougher for his receivers. His deep accuracy has also been spotty. Jackson ranked 23rd in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ passing DYAR metric entering Sunday and is probably going to go down a few spots once the Week 8 numbers are done brewing. Instead of expanding his passing repertoire with the additions of new receivers and the development of Boykin and Marquise Brown, Jackson has taken a step back.

None of this is a problem when the Ravens are facing an opponent like the Cincinnati Bengals or Washington Football Team: Jackson still provides plenty of big plays, and the Ravens roster is too top-to-bottom talented to be threatened by lower-tier opponents. But this season’s losses to the Steelers and Chiefs find them once again thumping their heads against a Super Bowl ceiling.

The Ravens will crush an opponent if a game goes according to script, but they’re in trouble if the opponent has lots of speed and talent on defense, builds a substantial early lead on offense, or otherwise forces the Ravens to do things they aren’t great at.

Throw in the likely long-term loss of left tackle Ronnie Stanley (leg) just days after NFL news broke of him signing a reported $98.75-million extension, and the Ravens have one more reason to be concerned that Jackson and their offense, while certainly good enough to coast into the playoffs, are not up to Super Bowl snuff. 

NFL Week 8 Recap and News: What’s next for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens?

The Ravens visit the Colts in Week 9, then visit the New England Patriots, host the Tennessee Titans and visit the Steelers. That’s three tough opponents plus the Patriots, who still have A) a fine defense and B) Foxboro juju. 

Jackson and the Ravens won’t have any weaklings to push around or breaks to figure things out for a month. This is the point at which players who are destined to be all-time greats take a step forward and define who they really are. Jackson could very well do that. But he has a lot of work to do to make that happen. 

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