NFL Week 10: Breakout Performances of the Week
By James Pike.
The NFL season hasn’t quite reached the home stretch, but things are really starting to heat up in one of the most competitive seasons in many years.
Week 10 was a crucial one for many teams, as it was the opportunity to establish themselves as the top dog not just in their divisions, but in the conference as a whole. There were myriad exciting games this weekend, together with some absolutely heroic performances across the board.
Hail Mary Murray, 9-0 and the bounceback Bucs
What better place to start than Glendale, Arizona, as the Buffalo Bills took on the high flying Cardinals. The Bills were bullish after a commanding performance against Seattle the week before, and wanted to knock off another of the NFC West’s competitors on the road. Kyler Murray and his partner in crime Deandre Hopkins had other ideas, as the clock ticked down to 5 seconds remaining Murray dialled up the launch codes with a bomb to Hopkins on a Hail Mary with the clock expiring. Hopkins proceeded to make one of the most miraculous catches I have seen since David Tyree in Super Bowl XLII. Nuk was able to fight his way through triple coverage and come down with the ball to seal Arizona’s improbable win.
Elsewhere the Pittsburgh Steelers improved to 9-0 with a home win over the hapless Cincinnati Bengals. Big Ben torched them through the air for over 300 yards and 4 scores, adding more substance to his sneaky MVP calibre season.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers rebounded from a disastrous performance last week against the Saints to put away a competitive Carolina Panthers side who gave the Super Bowl Champion Chiefs all they could handle last week. Tom Brady lit up the stat sheet in a typical TB12 performance, and Ronald Jones made history with his record breaking 98-yard touchdown run. Write off Brady and the Bucs at your own peril.
The New York Giants continued their impressive streak of games with a home win over division rivals the Philadelphia Eagles. Giants quarterback Daniel Jones played mistake free football, as well as showing off his underrated athleticism once again with a 34-yard scamper for a score. Wayne Gallman added two more touchdowns in a game that was much more one sided than the scoreline would have you believe.
Sean McVay was also a winner this week, as his Los Angeles Rams hung the third loss of the season on Russell Wilson and co against Seattle. The Seahawks offense was completely out of sorts in a game where Wilson turned the ball over four times to help the Rams secure the victory. Seattle’s season is in danger of completely unravelling if they can’t find a way to fix their historically bad defense.
With so many important games this weekend, many of which had serious postseason implications; there were always going to be multiple opportunities for players to step up for their teams. And so, this week we have a first in our breakout performance of the week series. A tie!!
The Hoodie Hoodwinks Harbaugh
Is this a cop out? Maybe. Is this me using my influence as a writer to finally talk about the Patriots in a positive light? Not quite. As despite one of our two breakout players having a more direct impact on the box score, I felt it would be completely unfair to ignore just how much of an impact a member of the New England squad had on our biggest win of the season.
The New England Patriots season was on a knife edge going into week 10. This year was always expected to be a transitional one for this team, as you don’t just lose a first ballot hall of fame quarterback and continue your historic dominance. The Patriots however have looked like a shell of their former selves so far in 2020.
Mediocre performances have marred this team throughout the 2020 season, and it looked for all intent and purposes that the Patriots were dead to rights when they found themselves down against the winless Jets in the 4th quarter in week 9. Cam Newton prevailed however, and it felt like a win which meant so much more than it should have against an historically poor New York side. New England’s reward for their hard-fought victory? A matchup against the reigning MVP Lamar Jackson and a Ravens team looking to close the gap to the Steelers in the AFC North. This had all the makings of a blowout loss, Bill Belichick, however had other ideas.
New England was able to navigate the horrendous weather conditions in Foxboro’ on Sunday night to secure an improbable 23-17 victory against John Harbaugh’s crew. Cam Newton looked more like the version we saw of him earlier in the season, as although he didn’t exactly light up the stat sheet or the scoreboard he was able to lead his team down the field and protect the football in murky conditions.
He threw his first touchdown pass since week 3 in this game and also added one on the ground to extend the Patriots lead in the 3rd quarter. It was an unconventional night of football, which also saw a passing touchdown for emerging Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyes who continues to showcase his versatility as a rookie. Rex Burkhead did Rex Burkhead things, as he caught two touchdown passes for New England. In a game of unusual statistics on both sides of the ball, it was the performance of another emerging rookie which caught my eye the most in week 10.
Harris pops off to break committee
Damien Harris had a monster game against the Ravens. Belichick decided to trust the 3rd round pick from the 2019 NFL Draft to be the lead back against one of the most dominant defensive teams in all of football.
Harris’ numbers were eye popping in a variety of ways. He ended the game with 121 yards on the ground, which is as impressive a performance you will ever expect to see against a team which before Sunday’s game were a top 10 team against the run. Harris also averaged 5.5 yards per carry, as he continued to show off his consistency as a runner who will fight for yardage after contact and hits the hole with conviction on every single opportunity he gets.
This wasn’t the first time this season that the former Alabama star has flashed his potential in 2020, as when Harris has been healthy and more importantly, given the opportunity, he has taken every chance he’s had. Against the Chiefs in his first game this season, he ran for exactly 100 yards in a preview as to what was to come for the second-year pro.
Against the Buffalo Bills he found the endzone after another triple digit yardage game on the ground. So, what made this performance more important for Derrick Henry’s former deputy?
The answer lies with his head coach. Bill Belichick for the most part has never really relied on one weapon at the running back position. If you look up “running back committee” in the dictionary, then you might just see a picture of the Patriots staring back at you. For the longest time this team has been able to smash holes through opposing defences with a three or four-pronged attack out of the back field. However, that might all change very soon if Harris continues to be productive.
His 22 carries is a testament to how much faith Belichick has in the former ‘Bama star. He has fought his way up the depth chart to find himself ahead of seasoned veterans Rex Burkhead and James White. Two players who have earned “The Hoodie’s” trust over a number of productive seasons.
Damien Harris appears to have earned that trust earlier than anyone would have expected. If Harris can continue his rich vein of form for the remainder of the season then he should absolutely cement himself as a building block for the resurgent Patriots, in addition to helping this team win games going forward.
Swift stars as Lions stay alive
Our second breakout star in the NFL this week is also a running back, together with our first standout from week 10 he also plays for a team who have been underperforming so far in the 2020 season. Now though appears to be his time, as he gives his team the best chance to win on any given Sunday.
When D’Andre Swift was taken with the 35th overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft, many thought that he was an absolute steal for the Lions. The Georgia Bulldogs stud clearly had the talent to be a first-round pick coming out of college, and Detroit wasted little time in making him their second player selected last April.
Yet this wasn’t exactly seen as a perfect fit for Swift when he entered the league. The Lions already had a young running back on the roster who had flashed the potential of being the team’s lead back in Kerryon Johnson. To make matters worse; former Vikings legend Adrian Peterson was signed right before the season opener to turn the Lions backfield into a convoluted mess.
At the start of the season it appeared as though old man Adrian was the first option, as he was seeing the majority of snaps in the Lions offense. Although Swift was still being given opportunities to shine, he was being held back by having to split time with Peterson and Johnson in a crowded backfield. Many knew that it was going to be tough for Swift to showcase his diverse skill set while not being the featured option out of the backfield. He was knocking on the door patiently waiting for his chance.
In week 10; he decided to kick down the damn door!
Swift razed the Washington defence for 149 yards from scrimmage, as he was featured as both on the ground and through the air on Sunday. Whichever way the Lions needed him to get the job done, D’Andre delivered. He showed great burst and speed when taking the ball to the outside, as well as his vision on an impressive 24-yard catch and run in the second quarter. He showed off his ability after the catch once again to turn a simple check down later on the same drive into a 16-yard touchdown extending the Lions lead.
This may finally be the type of performance that establishes the former Georgia man as the lead ball carrier in the Detroit backfield, and if I were head coach Matt Patricia and I valued my job security going forward I would roll with the 21 year old rookie going forward.
Despite the Lions poor start to the season, they are still firmly in the mix for a trip to the postseason. As shocking as that might sound to those who have watched this team misfire on so many occasions this season. After Sunday’s win over Washington, Detroit finds themselves with a 4-5 record, just one game back from .500. With 7 games remaining on the year and some crucial divisional matchups to come in the second half of the year anything could happen.
The Green Bay Packers have looked vulnerable at times this season and didn’t exactly bounce back from the Vikings drubbing with much conviction as they stumbled to a win against the rebuilding Jaguars this week.
Their other divisional rivals the Bears and the Vikings have their own issues, as Chicago cannot put points on the board and Minnesota can’t stop teams from scoring. The NFC North is a division which will come down to the wire in the 2020 season, and if D’Andre Swift can continue his emergence going into the home stretch then the Lions could put themselves firmly in the hunt to end their 29 year playoff drought.