In an NFL season that has been as unpredictable as it has been tumultuous, every Sunday brings NFL surprises. Whether it's an unexpected breakout from a player like LeGarrette Blount or a shocking win by a moribund team like the Jacksonville Jaguars, each week brings drama and something unexpected.
What were the five biggest surprises of Week 8? Who is in trouble, and who looked better than advertised? Read on.
This one ranks low on the list because it should hardly be a surprise, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are taking the NFC by storm. The Arizona Cardinals were three-point favorites over Josh Freeman and company Sunday, but the Bucs outscored Arizona, 38-35 in a great shootout.
Tampa has the stats of a far less accomplished club, but now stand in good position to reach the playoffs and has a strong corps of young players who have broken out in style.
LeGarrette Blount's temper and some bad press almost cost him his pro football career, and that is a real shame, because he has proved over the past two weeks that he deserves a place in an NFL offense.
Blount famously punched an opposing player after his Oregon Ducks lost a heart-breaking early-season game last fall, and was suspended indefinitely. He got back onto the field before the end of the season but saw limited action, and went undrafted in April. Tennessee gave him a look as a would-be backup to Chris Johnson, but waived him in early September.
The Bucs claimed Blount on Sept. 6 and he has paid enormous dividends for them in four games this year. Sunday, though, was his true breakout: Blount has 120 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries, and his hurdle of Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes on what became a 43-yard dagger of a fourth-quarter rush will be replayed on ESPN all week.
After all the positive buzz that surrounded the arrivals of Donovan McNabb and Mike Shanahan this offseason, Redskins fans have to feel as though they are watching a pair of A-list actors perform the same second-rate production their town has been saddled with for the past five or 10 years.
In the fourth quarter of the team's embarrassing 35-27 loss to Detroit Sunday, Shanahan pulled his future Hall of Fame quarterback in favor of former Bears quarterback and disaster Rex Grossman. The decision turned out to be as stupid as it seemed when Grossman fumbled away the team's last chance to catch Detroit.
The real surprise, though, is the lack of any real connection between Shanahan and McNabb. Shanahan traded for McNabb himself, and drew comparisons between his new signal-caller and his most famous former pupil, John Elway. It seemed like a match made in heaven, but the early returns are hellish.
At the beginning of the season, it might have been a fair expectation to believe that the Green Bay Packers would beat the Jets by nine in this Halloween matchup. It would have been impossible to believe, though, that those nine points would be the only ones scored by either of these prolific offenses.
Given Green Bay's devastated state after a spate of costly injuries, though, the Jets ought to have really rolled in this one. The Packers continue to play without five defensive starters, but shut out the Jets in the New Meadowlands Stadium Sunday. For Green Bay, the win was hardly encouraging, and it may be that the biggest stunner in this matchup was just how poorly each team played. For the Jets, though, this loss really ought to set off some alarm bells.
A formerly stumped Maurice Jones-Drew figured things out Sunday inside the gargantuan airplane hanger where the Dallas Cowboys play their home games. David Garrard only threw four incomplete passes, while Cowboys passer Jon Kitna threw four interceptions. The final score read 35-17, Jacksonville, and it was not as close as it appeared.
Owner Jerry Jones apologized to Cowboys fans after the game, a rather pathetic and empty gesture that seems unlikely to help Dallas turn things around. Jacksonville should have been an easy win. Now the 'Boys must take on a Packers team that seems to be finding its feet a bit after a rough start of their own. In a game where they might have made a positive statement, the Cowboys laid an egg, and may be in some long-term trouble.
On the other side of the ball, Jacksonville did great things this week and may yet be on the fringe of an extraordinarily competitive AFC South race. They are the worst team in that division both on paper and the field, but somehow their record stands at 4-4 and they beat Indianapolis at home in Week 4. Their four picks in Sunday's win doubled their total for the season, which is crucial because the team has been awful in the turnover department this year.