NFL Week 7: Breakout Performance of the Week
By James Pike.
Week 7 of the NFL season was the best week of the season so far in 2020.
Thrilling finishes around the league
So many games came down to the wire, it was as though teams were trying to one up each other for who would have the most exciting contest of the week. The Detroit Lions looked dead to rights against the Atlanta Falcons, but with one minute remaining Matthew Stafford marched his team 75 yards down the field and connected with TJ Hockensen for the score, with old man Matt Prater kicking the walk off extra point in a wild contest. Another blown lead for the Falcons.
Elsewhere the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans waged war to remain the only undefeated team in the AFC. The Steelers took a commanding lead, but the Titans hung on and closed the gap to 27-24 in the fourth quarter. They managed a crucial takeaway of Big Ben in their own redzone with two minutes and change left on the clock. Ryan Tannehill put his team on his back and carried them into field goal range to tie it up, but Stephen Gostkowski missed from 45 yards out handing the Steelers the win.
Not to be outdone on Sunday Night; the Arizona Cardinals welcomed another undefeated team in the Seattle Seahawks for an NFC West showdown in the desert. Russell Wilson kept on cooking; torching the Cardinals for 388 yards and three scores, however the Cardinals’ underrated defence were able to keep their team in the game with three picks which gave Murray the opportunity to shine. The Cardinals forced overtime and in a back and forth struggle between the exhausted rivals, Zane Gonzales kicked the game winning field goal for a final of 37-34.
A breakout in a blowout
On a crazy day in the NFL with so many unbelievable games, it was another performance from one of the only blowout games which caught my eye in week 7 for this week's breakout performance of the week.
The San Francisco 49ers mauled the New England Patriots in Foxboro on Sunday night. In what was the second largest home defeat the Patriots have suffered in the Bill Belichick era; the 49ers were able to do whatever they wanted to do on both sides of the ball. San Fran's defence completely shutdown Cam Newton, who was mercifully pulled from the game after his third interception of the night. On the offensive side of the ball Jimmy Garoppolo didn't have a great night through the air. Instead dismantling the Patriots defence with a dominant ground game which has been a staple of San Francisco’s success for the past two seasons. The Patriots simply had no answer for one man who has been waiting in the wings for an opportunity for the past three seasons.
Jeff Wilson was unstoppable on Sunday night. Having started the year third on the depth chart behind star Raheem Mostert and the underrated Jerrick McKinnon; Wilson had to bide his time waiting for the chance to shine in 2020, however with injuries hampering Mostert and McKinnon so far in 2020 it was only a matter of time before the North Texas alumni got his chance to shine in Kyle Shanahan’s system. Sunday was that time.
An undrafted explosion
The third year undrafted back exploded for 112 yards on the ground from just 17 carries for an average of 6.6 yards per carry. The 6-foot, 211 pounder brushed off tackles left and right in a career best performance for the 24 year old. He also was able to nab three touchdowns against one of the best defensive units in the league so far in the 2020 season. Wilson simply could not be stopped.
Not only do the statistics show just how dominant Wilson was on the ground, it was also how he was able to secure his yardage and scores which also grabbed my attention. His first touchdown of the day was a real hustle play, as it looked like the Patriots were able to stack Wilson up at the goal line. However, he continued to drive his legs forward showing great determination and willed the ball into the endzone.
His downhill running style is perfect for a 49ers offense that has explosive speed all over the field, including in the backfield already with Mostert. The way in which Wilson hits the hole at full speed is a refreshing throwback to a time when Marshawn Lynch was running wild back in the day for the Seattle Seahawks, and it appears that New England had no answers.
His no nonsense running style was on full display all game long, and he crashed into the endzone on a 16 yard rush in the second quarter extending San Francisco's lead to 23-3, which was effectively the dagger in this one sided contest. It seemed as though throughout this game that whenever the Patriots seemed to get some momentum going the 49ers defense and subsequently Jeff Wilson were on hand to put them back in their place.
The exclamation point on his outstanding performance came in the third quarter; with the 49ers once again bulldozing their way into the redzone, setting up first and goal from the seven-yard line. Jimmy Garoppolo simply did what he had been doing for most of the game: hand the ball off and let Wilson do the rest.
Wilson was able to find the edge and eventually carried a hapless Patriots defender into the endzone, grabbing his third touchdown of the day. However, in what is now becoming typical 2020 fashion; Jeff stayed down for a long time after the play was over. It was later revealed that the standout performer likely suffered a high ankle sprain which will put him on the shelf for a significant amount of time.
A tough break after a battle for relevance
This is an unbelievably tough break for a player who has had to scratch and claw his way into relevance from the moment he entered the league. As mentioned earlier; Wilson went undrafted in the 2018 NFL draft, likely due to playing for the relatively small school of North Texas throughout his college career.
However, this didn’t stop the 49ers giving the raw prospect a shot when they signed him to their practice squad before the 2018 season. Since then Wilson has been slowly rising through the ranks in San Francisco despite oftentimes being the fourth man on the depth chart, as the 49ers have deployed a committee based ground attack for the past three seasons. This is a testament to the will and determination of Wilson, as well as the 49ers coaching staff for recognising his talent and rewarding his work ethic.
It is such a shame to see this happen to Wilson after having a career day against a team who just two seasons ago were representing the AFC in the Super Bowl. This injury could not have happened at a worse time for the third year player, as recent reports suggest that fellow running back Tevin Coleman is close to returning to an already crowded 49ers backfield which also has to find touches for Raheem Mostert once he is back to full speed and McKinnon who has also shined in limited opportunities so far this season.
Luckily for Wilson he has age on his side, and if performances like the one he had on Sunday start to become a more regular occurrence, then I have absolutely no doubt he will be able to fight his way into becoming a significant part of San Fran’s plans going forward.