By SAM SPEIGELMAN
Week 8 in the NFL is just about over with, so with most of the action already in the rear-view mirror, we take a few minutes to digest what we just saw.
Teams facing must-win situations, rookies making game-winning plays, and the teams falling further out of the division races headline the Week 8 observations. Here's a look at the five takeaways from Week 8 in the NFL.
Rookies steal the show
It was quite a day for the 2014 rookie class, especially among wide receivers.
In what amounts to a must-win game for the Saints, rookie Brandin Cookshad his coming out party. Cooks hauled in six receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown, and added a four-yard rushing score on a jet-sweep, sparking the Saints' offense and pushing the team that much closer in the NFC South standings.
There was great, then there was this: Bills' wideout Sammy Watkins had a tremendous statistical day in the box score. Watkins finished with three catches for 157 yards and a touchdown, but probably should've had two touchdowns.
Kelvin Benjamin continued his impressive first season with a four-catch, 94-yard effort against the vaunted Legion of Boom. The wideout made a tremendous 51-yard grab late in the fourth quarter to put the Panthers offense at midfield, but also dropped a would-be touchdown. A typical up and down afternoon for a rookie receiver.
Another rookie wideout from Clemson, Martavis Bryant, had his best game to date in the Steelers' offensive showcase game against the Colts. Bryant, who started his second game in as many weeks after being inactive through the first six weeks of the season, had five catches for 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns. All of a sudden, with Bryant and Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh's passing game looks as sharp as ever.
Then there was John Brown. The No. 3 wideout behind Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald wound up being the game's star, hauling in the game-winning 75-yard touchdown from Carson Palmer with 81 seconds in the game. Brown finished with five catches for 119 yards, none more significant than the go-ahead score.
Those receivers made big-time catches, but another rookie - a linebacker - propelled his team to victory. Anthony Barr found the perfect time to score his first NFL touchdown. Barr forced and recovered a fumble, then took it 27 yards to pay dirt in overtime to lift the Vikings over the Buccaneers.
For a time, it got pretty confusing which year it was. You know, since the likes of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger were among the best quarterbacks of the week.
On Thursday Manning threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns to move the Broncos to 6-1 on the season. Brady channeled his 2007 form, throwing five touchdowns and just five incompletions as New England routed the Bears. Brees helped New Orleans drop 28 points over the final two quarters, throwing for 311 yards and three scores as the Saints ended the Packers' win streak. And Big Ben put up a video game-esque 522 yards and six touchdowns as Pittsburgh raced past Indianapolis.
Geno benched ... for good?
The first quarter wasn't over before Rex Ryan had to bench Geno Smith in favor of Michael Vick. Smith had three interceptions on three straight possessions, forcing the head coach to make a switch at quarterback. Smith's final stat line: 2-of-8 for 5 yards.
Vick didn't fare much better in the turnover department. Vick also had three turnovers - a pick and two fumbles - not taking advantage of the opportunity to draw the next start.
The Jets have now lost seven in a row since their season-opener against the winless Raiders. Smith underwent X-rays during the game, but Ryan did not provide a status update or announce a starter for the team's Week 9 game at Kansas City.
Saints, Seahawks come through in 'must-wins'
The defending champs had lost two in a row entering Sunday's showdown in Carolina, and through 3.5 quarters it looked as if the Seahawks-Panthers game was heading for overtime. But with 47 seconds remaining, Russell Wilson found Luke Willson for a 23-yard touchdown to give Seattle a 13-9 lead and eventually the win, snapping the short losing skid and keeping the team afloat in the NFC West standings.
New Orleans was coming off a horrendous late-game collapse against the Lions in Week 7, and at 2-4 needed a win to stay in the mix of the mediocre NFC South. Brees and Co. showed up in a big way, dropping a 44-spot on the red-hot Packers while holding Aaron Rodgers to seven points in the final two quarters. It was impressive for both the Saints' offense and defense, and perhaps a season-changing win.
Patriots win big; time to stick a fork in Chicago?
Brady didn't just put up a phenomenal game statistically speaking. The offense and defense both played lights out in the 51-23 romping of Chicago. The Patriots were up 31 points by halftime before they rolled to their fourth win in a row.
With the Colts' win streak over, the Patriots are the AFC's hottest team. Offensively, Rob Gronkowski's health doesn't appear to be a factor at this point in the season, and on defense, the loss of Chandler Jones didn't stop the Pats D from stymieing the normally potent Bears offense.
New England now hosts Denver for a late-afternoon affair in Foxborough, and we'll see how the AFC's top two teams fare against one another.
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