The story goes that every person on Earth is just six steps away from meeting somebody else, as told by the old six degrees of separation paradox. Every week, Six Yards of Separation compiles the NFL action on Sunday and connects one player to another unsuspected player through four other players by way of statistics, facts and idiosyncrasies.
There wasn't much to speak of in Week 8 outside of Ford Field.
Calvin Johnson had more receiving yards in one game than Dwayne Bowe has had for the Chiefs all season, yet the Chiefs are the team that remains the only undefeated team in the NFL, and it took Matthew Stafford trickery to give the Lions a 5-2 record.
If only Calvin Johnson could connect with Aaron Rodgers on a football field rather than only in Six Yards.
Calvin Johnson, wide receiver and mutant, Detroit Lions
At this point, it feels like a disservice to only refer to Calvin Johnson as Megatron. Calling Johnson an android genetically perfected and sent to the Lions from the future seems more fitting. He could be the fifth Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, except there is no doubt that Johnson is anything but adolescent.
That said: Calling Johnson the greatest wide receiver of all time is ambitious—for the time being.
By now, the entire stratosphere knows that Johnson went off for 329 receiving yards and a touchdown on 14 receptions in Detroit’s 31-30 win over Dallas at Ford Field on Sunday, That’s good for the second-most receiving yards in a game in NFL history. Inevitably, hyperbole is to ensue about where Johnson fits in the all-time wide receiver discussion.
Johnson’s teammate Reggie Bush tweeted his two cents after the game:
"Calvin Johnson is the greatest receiver in the history of the NFL! #dropsthemic" - @ReggieBush
For now, Jerry Rice is still the greatest wide receiver of all time, but Johnson still has years left to surpass him. In the subjective eyes of many, he already has.
Another wide receiver without quite the pedigree of Johnson had a record day on Sunday.
Marvin Jones Jr., wide receiver, Cincinnati Bengals
Please, stop me if you had heard of Marvin Jones Jr. before Sunday. Because I assume you hadn’t, I’ll keep writing.
Jones Jr. caught four—four—of Cincinnati’s five offensive touchdowns on Sunday in the Bengals' dominant 49-9 win over the Jets. Jones Jr.’s four touchdowns notches him among many other wide receivers sharing the record as second-most receiving touchdowns in a single game in NFL history.
The broader picture here, though, isn’t the four touchdowns by Jones Jr. It’s the fact that Andy Dalton threw those four touchdowns, plus another one to tight end Jermaine Gresham, which proves that A.J. Green can be a stripe in the Bengal offense rather than having to be the entire offense for Cincinnati to succeed. The truth of the matter is that if Dalton can continue to play anywhere near the level he played at against New York, the Bengals pose as large of a threat as anyone in the AFC.
The AFC team that the Bengals may meet later in the playoffs included a player who always accounted for four of his team’s offensive touchdowns on Sunday.
Peyton Manning, quarterback, Denver Broncos
It took until the fourth quarter for the Denver Broncos to wake up and torch Washington 45-21.
Three of Peyton Manning’s four touchdowns came in that fourth quarter to overshadow his uncharacteristic three interceptions—one of which resulted in a DeAngelo Hall pick-six.
So Denver won again and scored more than 40 points: another week, the same narrative. That’s true for the most part, but ignoring clear gaffs in Denver’s eventual win would be a mistake.
Washington very clearly disrupted the Broncos’ coveted passing attack for the majority of the game. Denver’s leading receiver was Knowshon Moreno with 89 yards, which isn’t that big of a deal considering that Wes Welker fell marginally behind with 81 yards and Demaryius Thomas was right behind Welker with 75 yards. The big deal, though, is indicated in the number of targets per receiver.
Moreno caught all six balls Manning threw to him, whereas Welker, Thomas and Eric Decker combined for 11 missed receptions thrown in their direction. And responsibility for that can be linked to the physicality elicited by Washington corners off the line. Clearly, it didn’t have a marked effect on the Broncos as they still cruised to a 24-point victory, but it will be something to watch when those Denver receivers are bumping up against the Kansas City Chiefs' vaunted secondary in Week 11.
In addition, Robert Griffin III also participated in this game, but apparently it’s not cool to talk about him anymore.
Four held a much more negative connotation for another quarterback on Sunday, and nobody is talking about him or his team this season.
Matt Ryan, quarterback, Atlanta Falcons
Halfway through last season, the Atlanta Falcons were undefeated and passive-aggressively coaxing the nation to pay attention to them. Halfway through this season, the Falcons are an ugly 2-5 and forcing everyone to shield their retinas.
Quarterback Matt Ryan’s aerial entourage has been put on ice, as wide receiver Julio Jones is out for the remainder of the year and Roddy White missed Sunday’s game due to hamstring and knee injuries. It’s safe to say that could have contributed to Ryan’s four interceptions en route to Atlanta losing 27-13 against Arizona.
Cut Ryan a teensy bit of slack. That Cardinals defense is something fierce. Cardinals rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu nabbed the first interception of his career, proving that the Honey Badger does care about playing well in the NFL. It’s the Falcons’ motivations that will come under scrutiny.
Two interesting trade storylines were present in this game. On one hand, the Utopian wish of every Kansas City Chiefs fan on the planet wants the Falcons to toss in the white flag and ship tight end Tony Gonzalez back to them. While that more than likely will not happen, the prospect of Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald finding a new nest in the coming offseason is gaining slight steam.
As for the rest of this season, though, the Cardinals find themselves one game back from a playoff spot and look to face sub-.500 teams—Houston, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, St. Louis—in four of their next five games after their bye week in Week 9.
While the Cardinals soared by the Falcons in Week 8, there’s another quarterback in the NFC South that Arizona does not want to face.
Drew Brees, quarterback, New Orleans Saints
Drew Brees has a knack for breaking records. On Sunday against the Bills, Brees tossed five touchdowns in a game for the eighth time in his career, and those five touchdowns pushed him above Fran Tarkenton for fourth-most touchdown passes in NFL history (343).
He’s pretty good. And so are the Saints, who sit at 6-1 atop the NFC South after beating the Bills 35-17 on Sunday.
It was expected before the season began that New Orleans and Atlanta would be intertwined in a season-long battle for the NFC South. That's evidently not going to happen. It seems that the only battle the Saints will have throughout the remainder of the season will be to somehow sneakily wrap tight end Jimmy Graham in bubble wrap before every game to keep him healthy.
And the only battle for Brees, as usual, will be against the record books.
Another quarterback in the NFC has had five touchdowns recently, but it took him two games to get them.
Aaron Rodgers, quarterback, Green Bay Packers
If there’s any argument out there that Aaron Rodgers isn’t currently the best quarterback in the NFL, don’t listen to it.
Rodgers threw two touchdowns on Sunday Night Football—both to wide receiver Jordy Nelson—in the Packers' demoralization of the Vikings, 44-31. Although, some people may think he threw more after watching the replays over and over again due to how beautiful Rodgers’ passes were.
I’m not opposed to Green Bay making a move to pair Rodgers with Megatron, though. After all, the trade deadline isn’t for another 24 hours.