NFL Week 7 winners, losers: Seahawks squander opportunities in first loss

We're rapidly approaching the midway point of the NFL season, when some narratives about where teams stand start to clarify.

The Pittsburgh Steelers toppled the only other undefeated team in the AFC and very much look like they have pieces to take a deep playoff run. The Kansas City Chiefs can win relying on units other than their offense. The Green Bay Packers can bounce back. 

Some teams, however, are tougher to read. 

But there are clearly concerning signs coming out of Foxborough, where the New England Patriots offense has totally stagnated and quarterback Cam Newton has two touchdowns against seven interceptions on the season. And for the Dallas Cowboys, things got even worse.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) huddles with teammates against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half at State Farm Stadium. (Photo: Joe Camporeale, Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)

Here are the NFL Week 7 winners and losers.

WINNERS

Pittsburgh Steelers

Even with linebacker Devin Bush out for the season, Pittsburgh's defense showed it can still slow down one of the league's top offenses. In their 27-24 victory against the previously undefeated Tennessee Titans, the Steelers (6-0) became the only undefeated team in the AFC — and, by the end of the night, the NFL — and showed they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

In a game in which Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw three interceptions, including one late in the fourth quarter that gave Tennessee a chance to tie or win the game in the final drive, Pittsburgh still led throughout. It was because of that defense, one that limited the Titans to five of 13 conversions on third downs and 292 total yards, that the Steelers could hang on. And credit the front seven for both generating enough of a pass rush to get in Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill's face and for bottling up running back Derrick Henry to 75 yards on 20 carries.

The Tom Brady-Rob Gronkowski connection

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers easily dispatched the Las Vegas Raiders, 45-20, and they're looking more and more like they could be a problem in the second half of the season in the NFC. One reason why is because the connection between Brady and Gronkowski looks similar to what it was when both were in New England.

Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have now connected on 92 career touchdowns (including playoffs), tied for 2nd-most in NFL History with Steve Young and Jerry Rice

They trail only Peyton Manning & Marvin Harrison (114 touchdowns)

In the first five games of the year, Gronkowski caught just 12 passes for 140 yards. In the two games since, Gronkowski has matched that yardage total with 10 catches and two touchdowns. Having Gronkowski as a consistent option in the passing game opens things up for other Tampa weapons, including Scotty Miller, who had six catches for a game-high 109 yards and one score. Brady now has an 18:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and the Bucs (5-2) are making their claim as one of the NFC's toughest teams.

Kansas City Chiefs

This was a game in which Kansas City's offense did not convert any of eight third-down tries. It was outgained 411-286 and scored touchdowns on just three of its six trips inside the red zone. Star quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for just 200 yards and one score. This was a game, however, that Kansas City won, 43-16.

The Chiefs (6-1) showed they can get contributions from their defense – safety Daniel Sorensen had a 50-yard pick six – and special teams – receiver Byron Pringle returned a kick 102 yards for a score. Even kicker Harrison Butker chipped in 13 points. And if Kansas City can consistently beat opponents when its offense is slowed, that spells danger for the entire AFC, because when the offense is on, this team is such a challenge to begin with.

Fans of frantic finishes in the early window of games

If you were a football fan with no rooting interest in any of the Steelers-Titans, Detroit Lions-Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns-Cincinnati Bengals, and to a lesser extent, the Carolina Panthers-NeSaints games, you were treated to wild finishes. It may have been the best half-hour stretch of NFL football so far this season.

Pittsburgh looked like it would cruise to a comfortable victory before Roethlisberger threw the interception in the end zone. The Titans marched down the field and set up a potentially game-tying, 45-yard field goal that Stephen Gostkowski missed wide right. The Falcons were set to try a chip shot field goal that would have won them the game, but running back Todd Gurley inadvertently scored a touchdown that gave Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford the ball back with 1:04 left in the game. Stafford engineered a game-winning score on the game's final play, an 11-yard touchdown to tight end T.J. Hockenson. And in the Browns' victory, there were 34 total points in the fourth quarter via five touchdown passes that resulted in lead changes, the last being a strike from Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield to receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones with 11 seconds left to go.

LOSERS

Mike McCarthy

Let's get this out of the way. The Cowboys have faced some significant adversity that would be difficult for any team to manage. But after Dallas dropped a 25-3 game against a Washington Football Team that entered Sunday with only one victory, it's time to call McCarthy's performance in his first season with the Cowboys what it has been: a total embarrassment.

To be clear, this goes back to before Dak Prescott suffered his compound ankle fracture and dislocation two weeks ago and before backup Andy Dalton left the Washington game with a concussion after a cheap-shot hit. Dallas has many of the ingredients of a poorly coached team. They have serious ball security issues, with running back Ezekiel Elliott being one of the primary culprits. Their effort on tackling is among the worst in the NFL. They suffer debilitating mental lapses with coverage breakdowns in the secondary. Their offensive line allowed Washington to notch six sacks. And after Washington linebacker Jon Bostic lunged at Dalton and lowered his head on that cheap shot, no Dallas players went to back up their teammate.

Mike McCarthy on no Cowboys players getting in Jon Bostic’s face after his dirty hit on Andy Dalton: “We speak all the time about playing for one another, protecting one another. It definitely was not the response you would expect.”

The New England Patriots' hold on the AFC East

Since he took a hit in last week's loss against the Broncos, Newton has struggled to throw passes, often driving them into the turf, short of his targets. His struggles also coincide with his positive test for COVID-19 earlier this month. That was very much on display in New England's 33-6 loss against the visiting 49ers. 

Cam Newton is the 1st Patriots player with 0 touchdown passes and multiple interceptions in back-to-back games since Drew Bledsoe in 1995.

He is the 1st Patriots player with 0 touchdown passes, at least 3 Int and under 100 Pass yards since Steve Grogan in 1983 pic.twitter.com/CscjRSnGeB

Newton completed just nine of 15 passes for  98 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. His throws also lacked zip and were just generally off-target. He was benched early in the fourth quarter. It's not all on Newton (wide receiver, tight end and the offensive line have all been problems), but the Patriots offense looked completely lifeless. They fell to 2-4 and have lost three in a row for the first time since 2002. The 27-point loss was the worst at home in coach Bill Belichick's tenure with the team. And New England does not look like a team that can compete for a playoff spot right now.

Atlanta Falcons

Holding onto leads, again, was an issue. The Falcons pretty much had this game won, as the Lions let Gurley score late in the game. Gurley just needed to stop short of the end zone and let Atlanta milk the clock before kicking what would have been an easy game-winning field goal. Instead, Gurley accidentally rolled into the end zone to give the Falcons a six-point lead. 

[email protected] crosses the goal line to give the @AtlantaFalcons the lead!

📺: #DETvsATL on FOX
📱: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app: https://t.co/MIIkbfUwYkpic.twitter.com/X1UPU3RXGH

Instead, Stafford exploited breakdowns in Atlanta's secondary and completed passes of 13, 22 and 29 yards before throwing the game-winning score to Hockenson on the game's final play. The Lions won, 23-22. And Atlanta, again, blew a game in which it held a late lead and a promising chance to win, extending a systemic issue that has plagued this team for years.

Seattle Seahawks

They're a solid team, one of the best in the NFL. But in a 37-34 overtime loss against the Arizona Cardinals, the Seahawks let a chance to create even more separation in the NFC West slip through their hands. From an Arizona field goal that ended the first half until the game-winning field goal in overtime, the Seahawks were outscored 23-7.

The Seahawks were even gifted a golden opportunity when Cardinals kicker Zane Gonzalez missed a 41-yarder earlier in overtime, just minutes before the game winner. But quarterback Russell Wilson had some costly mistakes, throwing three interceptions, including the one to linebacker Isaiah Simmons that set up the game-winning kick. Seattle wasted a stellar performance from receiver Tyler Lockett (15 catches on 20 targets for 200 yards and three touchdowns) and an exceptional effort play from receiver DK Metcalf. This was Seattle's first loss of the season. It should still be poised for a playoff run. But Wilson ceded ground in the MVP race, and the Seahawks will now have to work a little harder to win the division, as the 49ers and Cardinals are improving as the season wears on.

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