EMMITT SMITH once eloquently described the attitude that helped him lead the Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles and break the NFL’s all-time career rushing record.
“I may win and I may lose,” said the Pro Football Hall of Famer, “but I will never be defeated.”
As the NFL concludes October, NFL teams are utilizing similar approaches. Just look at the close games entering the fourth quarters in recent weeks.
Since Monday Night Football in Week 6, 24 of the last 29 NFL games have been within one score in the fourth quarter. And for the season, an impressive 69 percent of all games (73 of 106) are one-score games in the fourth quarter.
Last week, ATLANTA, CLEVELAND and NEW ENGLAND each scored game-winning points in the final 15 seconds. And including a win by JACKSONVILLE, for the first time since Week 6 of the 2022 season, three teams in a single week won with game-winning touchdowns in the final five minutes of regulation.
This week, those Jaguars travel to PITTSBURGH, which owns the league’s best record (4-0) in games within one score in the fourth quarter. Jacksonville, meanwhile, is 3-1 in that category.
Last year’s Super Bowl finalists, KANSAS CITY and PHILADELPHIA, have each played six games this season that were within one score in the fourth quarter. Both clubs are 5-1 in those games.
So prepare those candy bowls and costumes, and cue the ominous, scary music. Just don’t try to predict any of the endings. The NFL has a full slate of 16 games on tap this week, along with a full slate of unpredictability.
The Starting 11 entering Week 8…
- BENGALS, 49ERS LOOK TO REPEAT LAST SEASON’S STRETCH PERFORMANCES: Following their bye week last season, the Bengals won nine straight games, including the postseason, until narrowly losing a thriller at Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game. Over the balance of the last two seasons following bye weeks, the Bengals are a combined 17-5 (.773), including the postseason. This week, the first order of business off the 2023 bye for CINCINNATI (3-3) is a visit to Levi’s Stadium and the SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (5-2) on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, CBS). The 49ers also played well over the stretch run in 2022. Beginning with Week 8 last year, the 49ers won 12 straight games until a loss at Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game.
- Cincinnati wide receiver JA’MARR CHASE has 3,057 receiving yards in 35 career games since entering the NFL in 2021. He is the fifth player in NFL history to reach 3,000 in 35-or-fewer games, joining ODELL BECKHAM JR. (30 games), CHARLIE HENNIGAN (31), JUSTIN JEFFERSON (33) and Pro Football Hall of Famer LANCE ALWORTH (34). Chase also needs 125 receiving yards Sunday to become the fourth player ever to reach that mark in 10 games over his first three seasons, and would join Jefferson (14 games), Beckham (13) and Pro Football Hall of Famer RANDY MOSS (12).
- Last week, San Francisco running back CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY broke one impressive record. This week, he continues his quest for another. McCaffrey recorded a scrimmage touchdown in a 16th consecutive game to establish the longest streak in NFL history, including the postseason. With another touchdown this week, McCaffrey can join Pro Football Hall of Famer LENNY MOORE (17 consecutive games from 1963-64) as the only players all-time with a touchdown of any kind in 17-or-more straight games, including the postseason (Moore’s streak included a touchdown on a fumble recovery).
- NUMBER OF THE WEEK – 16: The league-leading number of takeaways by JACKSONVILLE (5-2) this season. The Jaguars are on pace for 39 over a full season. The last two teams with 39-or-more takeaways in a season – Carolina with 39 in 2015 and Seattle with 39 in 2013 – each reached the Super Bowl.
- This week at PITTSBURGH (4-2) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, CBS), the Jaguars have an opportunity to improve to 6-2 and match the franchise’s best start in 24 years, since the team opened 7-1 in 1999.
- Jacksonville running back TRAVIS ETIENNE has three straight games with two-or-more rushing touchdowns. Should he record two rushing touchdowns this week, he would join RICKY WILLIAMS (four straight games in 2002), PRIEST HOLMES (six straight games from 2003-04) and Pro Football Hall of Famer LADAINIAN TOMLINSON (eight straight games in 2006) as the only players with two rushing touchdowns in four-or-more consecutive games over the last 22 seasons.
- Since Thanksgiving last season (Week 12), the Jaguars are 11-3 (.786), tied with Philadelphia (also 11-3, .786) for the third-best winning percentage in the league over that time. Only Kansas City and San Francisco (both 12-2, .857) have better records in that span. Pittsburgh during that stretch is 10-3 (.769), tied for the league’s fifth-best mark with Buffalo (10-3, .769).
- Steelers linebacker T.J. WATT last week joined Pro Football Hall of Famer LAWRENCE TAYLOR as the only players to reach 70 sacks and seven interceptions over their first seven NFL seasons since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic.
- Pittsburgh quarterback KENNY PICKETT is expected to make his 35th combined college or pro start at Acrisure Stadium. The 20th overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, Pickett went 18-7 (.720) in 25 home starts with the Pitt Panthers; he’s also won six of his first nine NFL starts at the stadium.
- IT’S THE FINAL COUNTDOWN: This week, 20 teams kick off the final 10 games of their 2023 seasons. Since the NFL expanded regular-season schedules to 17 games in 2021, the Chiefs have been the standard-bearers for excellence over the final 10 games. Kansas City has closed each of the last two seasons 9-1, and in that span owns an NFL-best 18-2 record over the final 10 games.
- Quarterback PATRICK MAHOMES returns to Empower Field at Mile High, site of his first career start on Dec. 31, 2017. Including that game, a 27-24 victory, Mahomes has won his first 12 NFL starts against the Broncos. If he can lead KANSAS CITY (6-1) to another win at DENVER (2-5) on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, CBS), he would establish the longest stretch of wins by a starting quarterback against a single opponent to begin an NFL career since at least 1950. With the Chiefs’ win two weeks ago over Denver, Mahomes tied Pro Football Hall of Famer OTTO GRAHAM, who led the Cleveland Browns to wins in each of his first 12 NFL starts against the Chicago Cardinals from 1950-55, for the longest streak against an opponent in that span. Also with a win on Sunday, Mahomes would match TOM BRADY (13 straight wins over Buffalo) and Pro Football Hall of Famer STEVE YOUNG (13 straight wins over the Rams) for the second-longest streak by a starting quarterback over a single opponent at any point in a career during the Super Bowl era (1966-present). Only Pro Football Hall of Famer BOB GRIESE (17 straight wins over Buffalo) has a longer streak.
- Last week, Mahomes registered his 17th career game with at least four touchdown passes and surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer DAN MARINO (16) for the most such games ever by a player in his first seven seasons. Mahomes has 10 career games with 400 passing yards, and 26 career games with 300 passing yards and three touchdown passes, both tied with Marino for the most such games ever by a player in his first seven seasons.
- Chiefs tight end TRAVIS KELCE posted 12 receptions for 179 yards and one touchdown in last week’s win. With another touchdown reception this week, Kelce would tie JASON WITTEN (74) for the fifth-most by a tight end in NFL history. Kelce also would become the fourth tight end ever to reach five touchdown catches in seven consecutive seasons, joining ANTONIO GATES (nine from 2004-12), Pro Football Hall of Famer TONY GONZALEZ (eight from 2006-13) and GREG OLSEN (eight from 2008-15). Kelce has five career games with 150 receiving yards and joined Pro Football Hall of Famer SHANNON SHARPE (six games) as the only tight ends ever with five career 150-yard receiving games.
- SPOTLIGHT – INDIVIDUAL MATCHUP: Rams defensive tackle AARON DONALD (13th overall choice) and Cowboys guard ZACK MARTIN (16th) were both first-round selections in the 2014 NFL Draft. They’ll meet for the seventh time on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX), including the postseason. Their teams have split their first six meetings since drafting those players. Donald and Martin have combined for 17 Pro Bowl invitations and 13 All-Pro selections.
- Rams wide receiver PUKA NACUA, who leads the NFL with 58 catches, is the first rookie with at least a share of the NFL lead in receptions through seven weeks since Philadelphia tight end KEITH JACKSON was tied atop that column with 42 catches in 1988. Nacua needs once catch on Sunday to surpass SAQUON BARKLEY (58 in 2018) for the most receptions by a player in his first eight NFL games all-time. Nacua has 752 receiving yards this season and joined JA’MARR CHASE (754 in 2021) as the only players with 700 receiving yards in their first seven career games in NFL history.
- The Cowboys have won 10 consecutive home games, the NFL’s longest active streak.
- SPOTLIGHT – TEAM MATCHUP: Since the beginning of 2020, the Seahawks own the NFC’s best record against AFC teams, 9-6 (.600). Also since 2020 against the AFC, Seattle has a share of its conference’s best home record (5-2, .714). This week, when SEATTLE (4-2) hosts CLEVELAND (4-2) on Sunday (4:05 PM ET, FOX), the Seahawks get a Browns club that owns an 11-4 record (.733) since 2020 against the NFC – the AFC’s fourth-best interconference mark in that span.
- In last week’s win, Cleveland defensive end MYLES GARRETT became the first player this century to record two-or-more sacks, two-or-more forced fumbles and a field-goal block in a game. Garrett, who has 82 career sacks and turns 28 years old later this season, also surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer REGGIE WHITE (80 sacks) for the most NFL sacks by a player prior to his 28th birthday since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic. Garrett has at least one sack in 55 of his first 90 career games, tied with VON MILLER (55) for the most games with at least one sack in a player’s first 90 NFL contests since 1982.
- Also last week, Browns kicker DUSTIN HOPKINS converted three 50-yard field goals (54, 54 and 58) in the Browns’ 39-38 win. In the process, he became the first kicker in NFL history to convert a 50-yard field goal in five consecutive games in a season.
- Including last week, Seattle running back KENNETH WALKER has six career 100-yard rushing games. The Seahawks are 5-1 in those contests.
- Since becoming Seattle’s starting quarterback prior to the 2022 season, GENO SMITH owns the league’s highest completion percentage, 69.5.
- STREAK SPEAK: Philadelphia wide receiver A.J. BROWN has reached 125 receiving yards in each of the past five games, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer CALVIN JOHNSON (2012) and PAT STUDSTILL (1966) for the longest such streak in NFL history. Brown, who ranks second with 809 receiving yards and fourth with 52 receptions this season, also has three touchdown receptions. He can become the fifth player in NFL history with 50 receptions, 850 receiving yards and five touchdown receptions in each of his first five career seasons, joining GARY CLARK, A.J. GREEN, T.Y. HILTON and Pro Football Hall of Famer RANDY MOSS.
- Eagles quarterback JALEN HURTS has led the Eagles to wins in 23 of his last 25 regular-season starts. Against Washington, Hurts is 1-1 in his last two starts, including a Week 4 overtime win earlier this month.
- DID YOU KNOW?: MINNESOTA (3-4) owns the NFC’s longest active winning streak – two games – as the Vikings make the 278-mile journey to GREEN BAY (2-4) for Sunday’s game at Lambeau Field (1:00 PM ET, FOX). The NFC North rivals have split their season series each of the last three years.
- Last week, Vikings quarterback KIRK COUSINS completed 35 of 45 attempts (77.8 percent) for 378 yards and two touchdowns. Cousins, who leads the NFL with 16 touchdown passes in 2023, became the fifth player in league annals with 50 career 300-yard passing games in his first 12 seasons, joining DREW BREES, MATT RYAN and Pro Football Hall of Famers PEYTON MANNING and KURT WARNER.
- UNDER-THE-RADAR STORYLINE: Bears quarterback TYSON BAGENT, whose father is a 17-time world champion in the sport of professional arm wrestling, can make his own history this week. When CHICAGO (2-5) meets the LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (2-4) on Sunday Night Football (8:20 PM ET, NBC), Bagent could become only the second undrafted rookie quarterback to win each of his first two starts. Only DEVLIN HODGES in 2019 holds that distinction. In his first NFL start last week, Bagent completed 21 of 29 attempts (72.4 percent) with one touchdown and no interceptions for a 97.2 rating. A product of Division II Shepherd University, Bagent recorded the third-highest completion percentage by an undrafted rookie quarterback making his first NFL start in the common-draft era, trailing SAM WYCHE (80.0 percent, 20 of 25; Nov. 3, 1968; with Cincinnati against the Houston Oilers) and DEVLIN HODGES (75.0 percent, 15 of 20; Oct. 13, 2019; with Pittsburgh against the Los Angeles Chargers).
- TREND TIME: The BALTIMORE RAVENS (5-2) are 16-1 against the NFC with LAMAR JACKSON as their starting quarterback. This week, the Ravens head west to battle the ARIZONA CARDINALS (1-6) on Sunday (4:25 PM ET, CBS).
- In last week’s win, Jackson passed for 357 yards and three touchdowns with a 155.8 rating and added a rushing touchdown. Jackson recorded his 50th regular-season win in his 68th career regular-season start, the fifth-fewest starts by a quarterback to reach 50 victories in the Super Bowl era (1966-present). Only Pro Football Hall of Famer KEN STABLER (62 starts), PATRICK MAHOMES (63), TOM BRADY (65) and Pro Football Hall of Famer ROGER STAUBACH (67) reached the mark in fewer starts since 1966.
- Jackson also became the fourth player in NFL history to record 350 passing yards, three touchdown passes, one rushing touchdown and a passer rating of 150-or-higher in a game, joining DREW BREES (Dec. 29, 2013), RYAN FITZPATRICK (Sept. 9, 2018) and AARON RODGERS (Oct. 20, 2019).
- NEXT GEN STAT OF THE WEEK: In last week’s win, Philadelphia linebacker HAASON REDDICK recorded six quarterback pressures. According to Next Gen Stats, three of the six were quick pressures (under 2.5 seconds), increasing his season total in that category to 18, tied for third in the NFL entering Week 8.
- AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST: For only the fifth time in the common-draft era, rookie starting quarterbacks selected first and second overall are expected to start in the same game when HOUSTON (3-3) meets CAROLINA (0-6) on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, FOX).
- While No. 1 overall selection BRYCE YOUNG and No. 2 pick C.J. STROUD never played in college, they did face off in the eighth grade. Friends since before they could drive, both grew up in Southern California. A quarterback for the Pomona Steelers, Young threw several touchdown passes to defeat Stroud, who played both quarterback and cornerback for the Inland Empire Ducks.
- In the NFL’s four prior meetings between the top overall selections, the No. 1-drafted quarterback has defeated the No. 2 twice (TREVOR LAWRENCE topped ZACH WILSON in 2021 and Pro Football Hall of Famer PEYTON MANNING topped RYAN LEAF in 1998). The No. 2 choice has also defeated the No. 1 selection on two occasions (RICK MIRER over DREW BLEDSOE in 1993 and MARCUS MARIOTA over JAMEIS WINSTON in 2015).
- Stroud passed for 199 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the Texans’ Week 6 win. This season, Stroud recorded 191 attempts prior to his first interception, the longest streak to begin a career in NFL history. The streak also was the second-longest by a rookie at any point all-time, trailing only KYLER MURRAY (211 attempts in 2019).
- Including Texans defensive end WILL ANDERSON, the No. 3 overall selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, Sunday’s game is expected to be the first in the common-draft era in which the top three choices from the most recent draft see playing time. The last time the top three selections from any draft played in the same game was Sept. 15, 2013, when JAKE LONG, CHRIS LONG and MATT RYAN – the first three overall choices in the 2008 NFL Draft – met in Atlanta’s 31-24 win over the Rams in St. Louis.
- Carolina wide receiver ADAM THIELEN had 11 receptions for 115 yards and one touchdown in Week 6. Thielen has 24 career 100-yard receiving games and surpassed GARY GARRISON (23) for the third-most such games by an undrafted player in the common-draft era. Only ROD SMITH (30) and WES WELKER (28) have more. Thielen has eight career games with at least 10 receptions, tied with J.T. SMITH (eight games) for the second-most such games by an undrafted player in the common-draft era. Only WES WELKER (18) has more.