BALTIMORE RAVENS 34, PITTSBURGH STEELERS 7
This time around there was no coughing up a 21-7 advantage; instead, after Ray Rice (19-107-1 on the ground, 4-42-1 receiving) staked the Ravens to the lead, Joe Flacco (17-29-224-3) twisted the dagger with an 18-yard scoring strike to tight end Ed Dickson (5-59-1). That was one of three TD tosses for Flacco in a balanced Baltimore attack that only slightly (31-29) favored the ground game. How thorough was the domination? The Ravens faked the PAT after their fourth touchdown for an “in your face” two-point conversion.
You knew it would be tough sledding for the Steelers, but seven turnovers did nothing to help their prospects. Ben Roethlisberger (22-41-280-1-3, 1-9 rushing) was a turnover machine with two fumbles and three picks, barely offset by a second-quarter touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders (2-20-1). Rashard Mendenhall (12-45 with a fumble) was limited by both the Baltimore defense and an early deficit that forced Pittsburgh to play from behind all game long.
FANTASY IMPACT: Mike Wallace (8-107) is still scoreless against the Ravens, but he caught as many balls as any two other Steelers combined. Preseason sensation Antonio Brown (2-14) caught as many Roethlisberger tosses as Ed Reed. Anquan Boldin (4-74-1) was Baltimore’s leading receiver, but Flacco spread the ball around and even took a couple shots at Lee Evans that didn’t show up in the boxscore. Also note seven catches by Ravens tight ends. Don’t sweat the size of Ricky Williams’ (12-63, 1-4 receiving) workload; that was garbage time as Baltimore ran out the clock.
CHICAGO BEARS 30, ATLANTA FALCONS 12
Matt Forte (16-68 rushing, 5-90-1 receiving) provided another serviceable Marshall Faulk imitation and Mike Martz’s offense received a boost—and a fumble return for a touchdown—from the Bears defense. Jay Cutler (22-32-312-2-1) not only stayed in the game, he directed four first-half scoring drives.
If you had told me the Falcons got 300 passing yards from Matt Ryan (31-47-319-0-1) and a 100-yard rushing effort from Michael Turner (10-100), I would have assumed they not only got in the end zone but probably left Soldier Field with a win. Instead, both Ryan and Turner lost fumbles and Atlanta’s only touchdown came on a fourth-quarter interception return.
FANTASY IMPACT: For all Atlanta’s talk about “explosive plays” and what it might mean for Roddy White (8-61) and rookie Julio Jones (5-71), it was Tony Gonzalez (5-72) who led the Falcons in receiving. Sadly, the Bears win did nothing to clarify the muddy receiver situation as Devin Hester (3-60), Johnny Knox (3-60), and Roy Williams (4-55) remain clustered. Making matters worse, backup tight end Matt Spaeth (2-7-1) caught a touchdown and only a hurried overthrow kept starting tight end Kellen Davis (2-23) from scoring another. yards.
CINCINNATI BENGALS 27, CLEVELAND BROWNS 17
The Bengals’ recipe wasn’t surprising: a whole bunch of Cedric Benson (25-121-1) and just enough Andy Dalton (10-15-81-1) to keep defenses honest. But when Dalton was knocked out of the game it was up to Bruce Gradkowski (5-12-92-1) to save the day. Fortunately for him the Browns’ defense opted to play a game of “Duck, Duck, Gray Duck” in the final two minutes, and while Joe Haden was chasing Dimitri Patterson A.J. Green (1-41-1) was running free down the right sideline for his first NFL catch—and first NFL touchdown.
After a solid exhibition slate, the Browns reverted to form for the regular season: Colt McCoy (19-40-213-2-1) couldn’t convert on third downs, the running game averaged just over three yards per carry, and tight ends Ben Watson (3-45-1) and Evan Moore (3-35-1) headlined the receiving corps. And we had such high hopes!
FANTASY IMPACT: Peyton Hillis (17-57, 6-30) picked up where he left off last year; that’s not necessarily a good thing, as he was mired in a slump over the season’s final month. However, Montario Hardesty (5-18) doesn’t look to be much of a threat to his touches. Benson’s TD (and 39 of his yards) came in the final minute as the Bengals were running out the clock, but they all still count the same. Typical of a West Coast offense, tight end Jermaine Gresham (6-58-1) was Cincy’s top pass-catcher.
HOUSTON TEXANS 34, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 7
Arian Who? Ben Tate (24-116-1) and Derrick Ward (11-39-1 before exiting with an injury) more than picked up the slack as the Texans served notice in the AFC South. Of course, Houston’s offense featured plenty of Andre Johnson (7-95-1), but after Matt Schaub (17-24-220-1-2) threw a pick on the opening drive the Texans realized they didn’t need to be fancy to handle this iteration of the Colts.
So… um, when’s Peyton Manning coming back? Indy was in grave danger (is there any other kind?) of being blanked before Kerry Collins (16-31-197-1) went back to the Reggie Wayne (7-106-1) well for a fourth-quarter touchdown. No other Colt accounted for more than 52 yards of offense.
FANTASY IMPACT: If the question was, “How will these Colts look sans Manning,” the answer was a resounding, “Ugly.” Wayne appears as if he’ll hold his value, and it’s too soon to bail on Dallas Clark (4-37). But after that… well, how deep is your free agent pool? While Ward scored the Texans’ first TD it came on the heels of a nice run by Tate. And when Ward went down, Tate averaged a solid 4.8 yards per carry (to Ward’s 3.5). If Foster remains down, Tate remains the slightly better fantasy handcuff. yards.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 16, TENNESSEE TITANS 14
When you go to the bullpen for your quarterback just a couple days before the start of the season, it’s obvious the game plan will be run-heavy. Maurice Jones-Drew (24-97-1) scored early, but the Jags also gave Deji Karim (14-33 plus 3-39 receiving) plenty of work as well as the Titans didn’t even get onto the scoreboard until the final minute of the third quarter. Marcedes Lewis (2-28) missed much of the second half with cramps, leaving the bulk of the passing game to Mike Thomas (8-55).
If not for Kenny Britt (5-136-2), the Titans might still be scoreless. Chris Johnson’s (9-24, 6-25 receiving) debut was underwhelming to say the least, as the Titans rushed for just 43 yards and non-Britts accounted for 125 yards in the passing game.
FANTASY IMPACT: Tennessee played from behind the entire game, which took the ball out of Johnson’s hands to some degree. However, his six catches salvaged some value in PPR leagues. Trendy tight end Jared Cook (1-7) was nearly invisible. The Jags aren’t likely to find may opportunities to run the ball 42 times, so Karim’s carries are a bit of an aberration. What was troubling, though, was Jones-Drew getting stuffed twice at the goal line as the Jaguars were forced to settle for a third-quarter field goal.
BUFFALO BILLS 41, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 7
One team was supposed to run the ball at will and blow out the opposition—and it wasn’t supposed to be the Bills. Of course, tight end Scott Chandler (5-63-2 and owned in 0.1% of ESPN leagues) wasn’t supposed be that involved in the game plan, either. But Ryan Fitzpatrick (17-25-208-4) hit Chandler and Steve Johnson (4-66-1) and Fred Jackson (20-112) did the heavy lifting on the ground as the Bills embarrassed the Chiefs in Arrowhead.
If this is what we get with Bill Muir calling the plays, we want Todd Haley back on the headset. The league’s top running game from a year ago was limited to 18 carries, headed by Jamaal Charles (10-56, 5-9-1 receiving), who also provided the Chiefs’ only score—and lost a fumble.
FANTASY IMPACT: Matt Cassel (22-36-119-1-1) couldn’t rally the Chiefs in no small part because he couldn’t find Dwayne Bowe (2-17). In fact, he had trouble finding anyone down the field as Charles and Dexter McCluster (4-42 rushing, 5-25 receiving) headed a pass-catching corps that completed just six passes to wideouts. C.J. Spiller (5-16-1, 1-5 receiving) got on the scoreboard, but it was a garbage time touchdown; Jackson is still this team’s bell cow.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 31, SAINT LOUIS RAMS 13
It wasn’t just the Michael Vick (14-32-187-2, plus 10-98 rushing) show on Sunday; in fact, LeSean McCoy (15-122-1, 2-15-1) and DeSean Jackson (6-102-1) were the brighter stars on the day. Those three had a hand in all but 17 yards of Philly’s offense.
Steven Jackson (2-56-1) spotted the Rams an early lead but injured his quad on a 47-yard touchdown run; Carnell Williams (19-91, 5-49) was solid in relief but couldn't get St. Louis back in the end zone. As if dealing with copious drops all afternoon wasn’t enough, Sam Bradford (17-30-188) exited the game prematurely with a finger injury. X-rays were negative, which is positive, but there’s talk of nerve damage, which is most definitely negative.
FANTASY IMPACT: Preseason sensation Lance Kendricks (1-18) led the Rams' drop parade with at least three muffs; Brandon Gibson (3-50) whiffed a couple as well. Danny Amendola (5-45) was the go-to guy before leaving the game with a dislocated elbow. Ronnie Brown (4-7) made an early red-zone appearance but never threatened; he’s strictly insurance and no threat to McCoy’s workload.
DETROIT LIONS 27, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 20
The Lions and in particular Matthew Stafford (24-33-305-3-1) carried over their sterling preseason into Week 1. Didn’t hurt that Calvin Johnson (6-88-2) was dominant, even when blanketed by Aqib Talib. Stafford also spread the ball around, getting Nate Burleson (5-60) and Brandon Pettigrew (4-57, numbers that would have been better if not for at least two drops) involved as well.
Through three quarters the only touchdown Tampa Bay had to show for their efforts was a Talib pick six. An utterly ineffective ground game put the burden on Josh Freeman (28-43-259-1-1) who leaned heavily on Kellen Winslow (6-66), Mike Williams (4-50-1), and, surprisingly, Earnest Graham (6-13 rushing, 8-58 receiving).
FANTASY IMPACT: Paging LeGarrette Blount (5-15); your fantasy owners would like a little notice if you intend to take a week off. Ndamukong Suh is good, but this big an egg-laying is unacceptable. Worse, Graham’s success as a third down back is going to bite into Blount’s touches. Speaking of touches, Jahvid Best (21-72, 4-42) survived 25 of them relatively intact. That seems like an aggressive and optimistic workload, so note that Jerome Harrison (8-27) was the primary backup, with Maurice Morris (2-4 rushing, 2-25 receiving) also in the mix.
ARIZONA CARDINALS 28, CAROLINA PANTHERS 21
Arizona’s offseason investment in Kevin Kolb (18-27-309-2) paid immediate dividends; returns on Larry Fitzgerald’s (3-62) gaudy contract were less obvious, though all the attention devoted to Fitz certainly opened things up for the likes of Early Doucet (3-105-1) and tight end Jeff King (2-61-1). Even Beanie Wells (18-90-1, 4-12 receiving) looked legit… for a week, at least.
The expectation that Carolina would lean heavily on their well-paid ground game was apparently misguided; the Panthers drafted Cam Newton (24-37-422-2-1) to air things out. While demolishing two records (Peyton Manning’s mark for a rookie in Week 1, Otto Graham’s record for any opening weekend) and tying Matthew Stafford’s rookie yardage record, Newton made Steve Smith (6-176-2) relevant once again; he also propped up the fantasy value of both Greg Olsen (4-78) and Jeremy Shockey (3-51).
FANTASY IMPACT: DeAngelo Williams (12-30, 1-6 receiving) was a major disappointment, especially given his new contract; Jonathan Stewart (7-26, 2-14) was only a minor disappointment because he was expected to see a diminished role. Fitz’s diminished role in Arizona’s offensive fireworks was unexpected, but not nearly as much as Doucet leapfrogging Andre Roberts (2-21) in the Cardinals’ passing game pecking order. Like many of the surprising developments in this game, don’t get used to it.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 24, MINNESOTA VIKINGS 17
The Chargers lost their kicker on the first play of the game and trailed for most of the contest before a third touchdown from Mike Tolbert (12-35-1, 9-58-2) completed the comeback. Philip Rivers (33-48-335-2-2) had to rely on the short game—specifically Tolbert and Antonio Gates (8-74)—because he wasn’t making the love connection with wideouts Malcolm Floyd (3-45) and Vincent Jackson (2-31).
Offensive highlights were few and far between for the Vikings. Percy Harvin (4-15 rushing, 2-7 receiving) opened the game with a 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and Michael Jenkins (3-26-1) accounted for Minnesota’s only offensive touchdown and two-thirds of their passing yards. Adrian Peterson (16-98, 2-6 receiving) was underused, especially considering he had 74 yards (at better than 8 yards per carry) at the half; worse, down a touchdown and at their own 22, Peterson’s final carry of the day was a two-yard loss that knocked him below the century mark.
FANTASY IMPACT: Would you believe Donovan McNabb (7-15-39-1-1 plus 3-32 rushing) has had less productive days? Sad but true. This offense needs to find its direction and soon, because they can’t give up a 15-minute time of possession advantage and expect to win. Here’s a hint, Vikings: you just gave him a $100 million contract. San Diego’s first-round back, Ryan Mathews (12-45, 3-73) may have a larger role if the knee injury Tolbert suffered is significant. Even with Tolbert’s hat trick Mathews carved out some nice yardage—just don’t expect him to be The Man as long as Tolbert is in the mix.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 33, SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 17
San Fran’s offense rolled early—well, if “rolled” means “settled for three red zone field goals”. The Niners’ lone offensive touchdown came from Alex Smith (15-20-124, 7-22-1 rushing) as these two inept attacks mustered barely 400 yards between them. In the end, back-to-back return touchdowns from Ted Ginn (1-0 rushing) made San Francisco mistakenly look like they fielded a legitimate offense.
The box score makes it look as if Tarvaris Jackson (21-37-197-2-1, 4-13 rushing) was borderline competent; look a little deeper and you’ll note the five sacks he took or his three fumbles (two lost). And the 55-yard touchdown to Doug Baldwin (4-83-1) was the result of a blown coverage, so even those numbers are inflated. Bottom line, Seattle’s offense was just short of horrific.
FANTASY IMPACT: It wasn’t just that the Seahawks trailed much of the game that forced them to rely on Jackson’s throwing; the ground game led by Marshawn Lynch (13-33, 2-14 receiving) mustered just 64 yards at an ugly 2.9 yards per carry. By comparison to their opponent, the 49ers’ offense looked almost decent. Frank Gore (22-59, 3-19 receiving) accounted for the biggest chunk of the team’s yardage; Vernon Davis (5-47) was the only other player factoring into more than 27 of the Niners’ yards.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS 28, NEW YORK GIANTS 14
That’s back-to-back 300-yard, multiple-touchdown games for Rex Grossman (21-34-305-2), if you’re keeping track—both of them against the Giants. In typical Redskins fashion he leaned heavily on the tight ends, with Chris Cooley’s (2-21) bum knee opening the door for Fred Davis (5-105) to have a big day. Santana Moss (6-76) got his, and Grossman reconnected with college chum Jabar Gaffney (3-54-1) as well.
It’s tough to pinpoint exactly where things went wrong for the Giants. Maybe it was throwing 32 times while Ahmad Bradshaw (13-44-1, 1-10 receiving) and Brandon Jacobs (6-29) combined for just 19 carries. That put the ball in the hands of Eli Manning (18-32-268-0-1, 1-2-1 rushing) maybe a little too much, as his interception resulted in the Redskins’ go-ahead score. Other by-products: a decidedly un-Giant-like five minute deficit in time of possession and a pathetic 1-for-10 on third downs.
FANTASY IMPACT: Hakeem Nicks (7-122) was clearly the go-to guy, and while Mario Manningham (4-49) was also in the mix so too was tight end Jake Ballard (2-59). And with a short-yardage/goal line guy like Jacobs on the roster, seeing Manning and Bradshaw rush for touchdowns was a bit disconcerting. Tim Hightower (25-72-1, 3-25) also rushed for a touchdown, but what was more notable was the lack of another involved back; only Roy Helu (1-2) also carried the ball, and no other back caught a pass. yards.
NEW YORK JETS 27, DALLAS COWBOYS 24
The most any of Rex Ryan’s Jets squads had thrown the ball is 62% of their snaps… prior to Sunday night. An early deficit had something to do with it, but Gang Green never gave Shonn Greene (10-28) a chance to get started, throwing the ball on almost three-fourths of their plays. Sheer volume sparked Mark Sanchez (26-44-335-2-1, 1-3 rushing) to big numbers, but the throws were underneath to LaDainian Tomlinson (5-16 rushing, 6-73 receiving) and Dustin Keller (5-61-1, the touchdown snapping a 15-game scoreless streak) as much as Santonio Holmes (6-70) and Plaxico Burress (4-72-1).
Tony Romo (23-36-342-2-1, 3-9 rushing) gaveth, with Jason Witten (6-110), Miles Austin (5-90-1), and Dez Bryant (3-71-1) doing the receiving. Then, after sprinting to a 14-point fourth-quarter lead, Romo tooketh away: a reversal of an apparent Witten touchdown turned into a Romo fumble, then a Romo pick helped complete the Jets’ comeback by setting up a Nick Folk field goal.
FANTASY IMPACT: Felix Jones (17-44-1, 3-22 receiving) dented the Jets’ run defense, and he may see an uptick in workload if it means keeping the ball out of the mistake-prone Romo’s hands at crunch time. Bryant and Austin both spent time on Revis Island, though Bryant rose above Revis for a magnificent catch that demonstrates if he can stay out of his own way he’s virtually unstoppable. The Jets required a blocked punt and multiple Dallas miscues to pull this one out; don’t look for Sanchez to have many more 44-attempt games if Rex Ryan can help it.