Week 8: Quarterbacks step to fore

Midseason is approaching, and the quarterbacks are taking control.

Ben Roethlisberger set franchise records with 522 passing yards and six touchdowns in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 51-34 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Earlier in the week, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had challenged Roethlisberger to outperform and outscore Andrew Luck, who entered Sunday as one of hottest quarterbacks in the league. Big Ben won.

Tom Brady was 30-of-35 for 354 yards and five touchdowns in the New England Patriots' 51-23 victory over the Chicago Bears. Matthew Stafford put up 22 unanswered points in the second half to beat the Atlanta Falcons 22-21. Russell Wilson led a critical fourth-quarter drive to beat the Carolina Panthers 13-9. Arizona Cardinals QB Carson Palmer outdueled Nick Foles in a 24-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

Five quarterbacks threw for more than 300 yards Sunday. Here is what we learned in Week 8:

1. Good to see interference calls go both ways: This won't go over well in Baltimore, but the officials got it right when they flagged wideout Steve Smith for offensive pass interference late in the Ravens' 27-24 loss to Cincinnati. The call voided a potential game-winning, 80-yard touchdown pass with 32 seconds left.

At the owners meetings in March, Dean Blandino, the NFL's vice president of officiating, countered the league's proposed emphasis to call more defensive interference, defensive holding and illegal contact penalties by saying it would closely watch offensive interference.

Although both Smith and Bengals safety George Iloka were making contact downfield, Smith made a grab with one hand and pushed with the other.

"I was getting ready to jump for the ball," Iloka said. "I'm 6-4, 220, so when I went on the ground, I looked over and saw the official running up ready to make the call. That was a great call, in my opinion."

Mike Pereira, the Fox officiating analyst, labeled it a gutsy call. Ravens coach John Harbaugh chased down officials from the sideline and was caught on camera calling it "embarrassing."

The call, and victory, saved the Bengals' season. Had they lost, they would have been 2½ games behind the Ravens in the AFC North. Now they are a half-game behind after a season sweep of Baltimore.

2. Harvin trade did nothing to help Jets: New York Jets general manager John Idzik, under fire by the New York media for not getting enough talent for coach Rex Ryan, thought he made a potential coup by acquiring Percy Harvin for a sixth-round pick on Oct. 17. What did he have to lose? Harvin would be an exciting weapon for QB Geno Smith.

Whoops. Smith threw three interceptions in the first quarter of a 43-23 loss to the Buffalo Bills and was benched. Harvin was a nonfactor for Smith and Michael Vick. He caught 3 of 9 targeted passes for 22 yards and had four runs for 28 yards. Harvin had told the Jets he wanted to be used more like a downfield receiver than an option out of the backfield on fly sweeps and bubble screens. Smith tried throwing deep to Harvin once, and it resulted in an interception. Harvin also didn't do the Jets many favors when he returned a kickoff deep in his end zone and brought it out to the 3-yard line.

At 1-7, the Jets are a mess. After the game, Ryan said he has no idea who will be his starting quarterback next week against Kansas City. The Jets appear ready to give up on Smith, and they had six turnovers and 10 penalties on Sunday.

"We're not a bad football team," wide receiver Eric Decker said. "We just do stupid things."

You wonder how Harvin will fit on a losing team with an unsettled quarterback position when he wasn't happy on a Super Bowl team with an elite quarterback.

3. Wilson-led Seahawks save season: Seattle's 13-9 victory over Carolina was ugly. Offensively, the Seahawks appeared to be as out of sync as they were before they unloaded Harvin. In the end, though, Wilson and a rejuvenated defense regrouped. Wilson led a championship-caliber, 80-yard touchdown drive in the final four minutes, capped by a 23-yard touchdown pass to Luke Willson. The defense sacked Cam Newton twice toward the end of the game to clinch the victory.

"That's what championship teams do," Wilson said. "And I still believe we're a championship team."

The defending champs had their season on the brink of disaster. They had lost two in a row, and the national media picked apart the carcasses of those losses. One writer reported a division in the locker room involving Wilson. Marshawn Lynch trade rumors surfaced, too.

After the game, it was Wilson who stepped forward. He took the blame for the mistakes and blunders earlier in the game. But more importantly, he took control of the game in the second half. During the final drive, Wilson was 4-for-4 for 53 yards. He ran twice for 20 yards. And he was helped by an offensive line that stepped up and provided him a pocket.

At 4-3, the Seahawks have winnable games ahead against the Oakland Raiders and New York Giants. The key for the season is to be 7-3 in non-divisional games because the NFC West winner likely will have 10 or 11 wins. The Seahawks are 4-2 in non-division games thanks to Sunday's save.

4. 'Finesse' division falls short again: Earlier in the week, the Ravens' Smith, who used to play for the Panthers, called the NFC South a "finesse" division. Sure enough, that showed again Sunday. In London, the Falcons blew a 21-point lead and lost their fifth straight game.

"You're up 21-0," Falcons owner Arthur Blank said. "There's no way you lose that game -- just no way. There's nothing else I can say."

At 2-6, coach Mike Smith is on the hot seat, as this season is turning into another disaster. An inability to run the ball with a 21-point lead was the main issue Sunday. The Falcons gained 27 yards on 10 carries in the second half as they lost the battle at the line of scrimmage.

The Panthers and Buccaneers also lost Sunday, putting the NFC South at 5-16-1 in non-divisional games.

5. Arians clinches coach of the year in first half: It's been a magical ride for Cardinals coach Bruce Arians. When Chuck Pagano was getting cancer treatment in 2012, Arians became interim coach and pushed the Colts to the playoffs. Last year he took over the Cardinals and turned them into a 10-win team. Now the Cardinals are 6-1 and trying to be the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Sunday's win over Philadelphia illustrated why Arians is so good: He is willing to roll the dice. Trailing by three with 1:39 left, Arians went deep. Carson Palmer gave John Brown a signal, and Brown went deep. Brown split two Eagles defenders and caught a 75-yard touchdown pass.

"When you have a chance for a touchdown, never pass it up," Arians said. "Play smart, not scared."

That's Arians' style. Some of the offensive scheme didn't work, but it was a great win for the Cardinals.

"We didn't have the right game plan for what we thought we'd get, but we made enough big plays," Arians said.


The Jaguars might have given rookie QB Blake Bortles the starting job too soon. He now has four interceptions returned for touchdowns and 12 interceptions on the season. He threw two in a 27-13 loss to Miami. ... The Lions have two concerns with a potential serious knee injury to defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Over the weekend the Lions suspended his backup, C.J. Mosley, two games for conduct detrimental to the team, so they could come off their Week 9 bye with a third-team defensive tackle. ... Gronk is back. The only thing that stopped Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was dehydration. Tom Brady targeted Gronk nine times and hit him for nine completions, 149 yards and three touchdowns. ... After the release of Ray Rice, the Ravens wanted Bernard Pierce to be their starting running back. He was a healthy inactive Sunday. The job belongs to Justin Forsett and younger backs. ... Because of knee injuries to Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, the Rams used two rookie corners -- E.J. Gaines and Marcus Roberson. Chiefs QB Alex Smith was 24-of-28 for 226 yards. After the game, the Rams feared the loss of left tackle Jake Long to an ACL injury.