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NFL storylines: Undefeated Patriots preparing for Jackson’s run-pass power play

Lamar Jackson

(Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

On Fridays during each week of the NFL season, will take a look at what we believe to be the five most interesting storylines for that weekend’s games.

It could be about a player, a team, maybe a trend that’s developed over time that might impact a matchup. In other words, we’ll be fluid, reacting to what has happened in the league and what might be coming next.

Action Jackson poised to pierce the Pats

After moving flawlessly – and undefeated – through the first eight weeks of the season, the Patriots are moving into the most difficult part of their schedule.

The turbulence begins to kick up on Sunday night when they travel to Baltimore where their league-leading defense will be challenged by the multi-dimensional whirlwind, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson

“I’ve never seen a player like this at the quarterback position,” Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty told reporters Wednesday. “I think, obviously, his speed. The way he’s able to throw the ball down the field. You watch some games where he’s moving around the pocket, he’s close to running, and he sees a guy downfield, and it’s like he flicks his wrist and it’s 50 yards down the field easily. So, I think it’s his ability to throw the ball down the field. But also, they come out there in empty and if it’s not there, if he doesn’t like what he sees, he’s able to make three guys miss in the backfield. Now, it’s 45-50 yards later before anybody gets next to him. I think it’s a combination of everything.”

McCourty is not just being nice. He is stating fact. Jackson has thrown for 235.7 yards per game, with a quarterback rating of 94.1. He also has 11 touchdown passes and just five interceptions in seven (5-2) games.

Of course, what makes those numbers stand out even more is Jackson’s running ability. He’s gained over 100 yards rushing three times this season, including the last two games. Jackson is the only quarterback in NFL history to have at least 500 yards rushing and 1,600 passing through the first seven games of a season.

Keep in mind that no defense Bill Belichick has coached in New England has allowed a quarterback 100 yards rushing. New England (8-0) is the only team since the 1970 merger to lead the NFL in points allowed, takeaways and sacks through heading into Week 9.

Frank Gore

(Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

Mt. Rushmore of rushers

When the Redskins meet the Bills on Sunday, most of the attention will be placed on Buffalo’s efforts to get back on track after last week’s lopsided loss to the Eagles.

However, those with a sense of nostalgia and history might focus on the matchup of two of the greatest running backs in league history, Buffalo’s Frank Gore and Washington’s Adrian Peterson. Both come into the game ranked in the top-six all-time rushers in league history.

“Two future Hall of Famers, no doubt,” Redskins interim coach Bill Callahan said via a team transcript. “[I have] a lot of respect for Frank Gore and what he has done and accomplished throughout his career. I feel great about [Peterson] meeting that challenge. There’s going to be a game within a game, let’s face it. Those are two prideful, professional athletes that want to do really well and I know they’ve got a lot of respect for one another.”

Gore, who leads the Bills in rushing this season, has 15,170 yards and needs just 100 to pass Barry Sanders for third all-time. Peterson, the Redskins top ground gainer, is sixth all-time with 13,701 yards, 400 yards behind No. 5 Curtis Martin.

“That mental toughness is the reason why we’re able to play for an extended period of time,” said Peterson earlier this week.

Matthew Stafford

(Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Stafford’s toughness underrated

When the conversation shifts to the most durable quarterbacks in league history, guys like Eli Manning and Brett Favre are usually mentioned. Both had an uncanny ability to stay healthy and play every week.

This week, the attention turns to another quarterback who has always been there for his team – the Lions’ Matthew Stafford.

Stafford has not been feeling well since last week’s win over the Giants. Reports from Lions camp say his voice has been raspy, as if he’s been suffering from a serious cold or sore throat.

But you can forget if it you think that will keep Stafford away from this week’s game against the Raiders.

“I started feeling not so good before the game [against the Giants] and I’ve just been kind of hanging on, but it should be good by next Sunday,” said Stafford this week. “Don’t worry about it.”

The Oakland game will mark Stafford’s 136th consecutive start in the regular season, which is sixth all-time among quarterbacks. Only Philip Rivers (216) has more than Stafford among active quarterbacks after Matt Ryan’s run of 154 ended last weekend.

“I mean it means a lot obviously, I just want to be out there for the guys,” Stafford said of the streak. “It doesn’t mean anything other than just wanting to be available for those guys. … It’s like I say, sometimes you just have to get a little bit lucky, something you can play through. I was able – I have been able to be lucky in that regard.”

Stafford recently passed the 40,000 passing yardage milestone in his 147th game, the fastest in league history. He was also the quickest to 15,000, 20,000, 25,000 and 30,000.

Cam Newton

(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The Panthers yearning for Newton’s return

After winning four straight games with Kyle Allen at quarterback, the Panthers surge was rudely interrupted last week when the 49ers blasted them 51-13.

Previous to the loss, debate was raging whether the team would keep Allen under center when Cam Newton was finally ready to play again. After the debacle in San Francisco, there seemed to be renewed interest in getting Newton back as soon as possible.

The fact Newton was even in San Francisco was a clear indicator he’s feeling better after re-injuring his right foot in Week 2. Previously, team trainers have advised he stay behind to rest his foot.

The Panthers are home to the Titans this week and all eyes will be on Allen – and head coach Ron Rivera. If Allen struggles again, there might be a chance Newton will be back in the coach’s sightline, even though Newton, according to ESPN, was heading to Green Bay to see a foot specialist.

Rivera seems tired answering the Newton question. He was a little irritable this week. “I’ll tell you guys where he is (status-wise) on Monday. I’ll tell you where he is on Wednesday,” said Rivera. “You don’t need to ask after that, to be honest with you.”

The Niners had seven sacks against Allen, including six in the first half, and Allen threw his first interceptions of the season. His longest completion was 24 yards and he ended with a 28.9 passer rating. Rivera said he will start against the Titans.

“I think he tried a little bit more than he needed to,” Rivera said. “The thing that young players have to understand is there’s no 24-point play. You’ve got to make them one play at a time, one score at a time and take what they’re giving you.”

Kirk Cousins

(Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

Cousins hot streak the Chief concern

One month ago, a Vikings fan might have look ahead to Sunday’s meeting with the Chiefs thinking their team would be badly outclassed at quarterback. That’s how badly Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins was playing.

Circumstances have greatly impacted the point of view about this suddenly captivating matchup. The Chiefs are going to be without the injured Pat Mahomes for the second straight week. And Cousins was the best quarterback in the league in October. The Vikings are favored by 2 ½ points.

In his four October games, Cousins completed 78.4 percent for 1,262 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception. He had a 137.1 passer rating. And because if it, the Vikings are back in the postseason picture, although surpassing the Packers in the NFC North might be difficult.

As you know, Mahomes dislocated his knee cap on a quarterback sneak in Denver on Oct. 17 and was limited again at practice this week.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid said the organization would bring Mahomes along incrementally and Matt Moore would continue to start after throwing for 267 yards in last week’s loss to Green Bay.