BUFFALO BILLS 34, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 31
Ryan Fitzpatrick (27-40-369-2-2) matched Tom Brady shot for shot, directing a furious second-half rally that included 17 fourth-quarter points. Fred Jackson (12-74-1 rushing, 5-87 receiving) carried the brunt of the fourth-quarter load, scoring a minute into the final frame and setting up the game-winning field goal near the end of it. The usual receiving suspects—Stevie Johnson (8-94-1) and, yes, Scott Chandler (2-10-1)—found themselves on the business end of Fitzpatrick TD tosses.
This started as another step towards another MVP for Tom Brady (30-45-386-4-4), but when his fourth pick was brought back for a Bills touchdown he didn’t have an answer. He has plenty of support from Wes Welker (16-216-2) and Rob Gronkowski (7-109-2), but the rest of the receiving corps mustered just 61 yards and the ground game was sporadic at best.
FANTASY IMPACT: Chad Ochocinco (2-28) dropped a sure TD pass late in the game, but the four targets suggest he might be in line to pick up some of Aaron Hernandez’s slack. RBBC alert: Steven Ridley (7-44, 1-8 receiving) was the more productive back in his first extended action since preseason, outgaining both Danny Woodhead (6-21, 3-20 receiving) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (9-16). For those of you wondering, Deion Branch was not abducted by aliens; he just didn’t record a catch on any of his three targets. Slot receiver David Nelson (6-84) was the hot pickup this week, but Donald Jones (5-101) saw more targets and was more productive.
CAROLINA PANTHERS 16, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 10
So Cam Newton (18-34-158-1, 7-27 rushing) is human. So all the boats that floated with Newton’s sea of success—most notably Steve Smith (2-15)—were dry-docked in the Carolina monsoon. One thing did hold true, though: between Greg Olsen (7-57-1) and Jeremy Shockey (3-30), the tight end position accounted for the bulk of the Panthers’ passing game stats.
Not that we were expecting all that much from Blaine Gabbert (12-21-139-1-1), but he took a safety on his second NFL dropback and got a quarter of his yardage and is only touchdown on a Hail Mary pass just before halftime—a very well-conceived Hail Mary, essentially a wide receiver screen 40 yards down the field, but a desperation heave just the same.
FANTASY IMPACT: As expected, with a rookie at the helm the Jaguars’ offense leaned heavily on Maurice Jones Drew (24-122, 3-45), who handled the ball on 27 of 57 plays. Mike Thomas (4-55-1) was targeted more than any two other Jags, but the bulk of his yardage and his score came on the aforementioned Hail Mary. Surprising by his lack of involvement given the young QB was Marcedes Lewis (2-15). DeAngelo Williams (10-18, 2-17 receiving) got paid this offseason but it’s been Jonathan Stewart (10-59, 3-26 receiving) who’s been the far more productive back. And of course both are losing touches, particularly at the stripe, to Newton.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 13, CINCINNATI BENGALS 8
Yep, this was every bit as exciting as the scoreboard from the first 13-8 final in NFL history indicates; worse, it was 3-3 through three quarters. The only impact offensive player for the Niners was Vernon Davis (8-114), who accounted for more than half the team’s net offensive yardage. Of the remaining players, Kendall Hunter (9-26, 2-12 receiving) was the only player to account for more than 25 yards.
When the Bengals settled for a chip shot field goal to cap their 76-yard opening drive, you got the sense it wouldn’t much matter because they’d be back. Instead, Cincinnati got no closer than the 49ers’ 46-yard line on any of their next eight drives, and settling for another chippy in the fourth quarter ultimately cost them the game—well, that and two Andy Dalton (17-32-157-0-2) interceptions on the Bengals’ final two drives.
FANTASY IMPACT: Jerome Simpson (1-6) played, but his starting spot and targets were usurped by Andre Caldwell (6-53 on 12 targets). Jermaine Gresham (4-51 on eight targets) also saw more looks than usual. Cedric Benson (17-64) was underwhelming in his final game before talking suspension with the Commish, but the Bengals didn’t give us much of a preview of the next three weeks with either Bernard Scott (2-10) or Brian Leonard (1-7 receiving). Speaking of underwhelming, Frank Gore (17-42 rushing, two targets but no catches) was emphatically so. There are also reports he’s nursing a bum ankle, which would make Hunter a coveted pickup this week; he’d get carries, and he couldn’t be any worse.
CLEVELAND BROWNS 17, MIAMI DOLPHINS 16
With Peyton Hillis out sick, Colt McCoy (19-39-210-2-1) put the Browns on his back and dinked and dunked his way to a win. He hit Josh Cribbs (3-49-1) early and Mohamed Massaquoi (2-26-1) late as the Browns overcame a 15-minute deficit in time of possession. Montario Hardesty (14-67, 3-19 receiving) was adequate, but Hillis shouldn’t fear for his job.
What did the Dolphins do with those extra 15 minutes of ball control? Worked Daniel Thomas (23-95, 3-27-1 receiving) while mixing a little unproductive Reggie Bush (11-24, 1-12 receiving) and threw a whole bunch at Davone Bess (5-52 on nine targets) and Brian Hartline (4-87 on four targets). Brandon Marshall (4-43) was also in the mix, but Joe Haden did a nice job of neutralizing him.
FANTASY IMPACT: Not only has Thomas surpassed Bush as the Dolphins’ primary ballcarrier, he also was targeted three more times and scored on a reception. At least the 11 carries suggest that Bush’s rumored groin injury is just a rumor. Tight ends were still a major factor in the Browns’ game plan, with 17 targets directed at the position—10 of them to Ben Watson (5-64), the team’s leading receiver.
DETROIT LIONS 26, MINNESOTA VIKINGS 23
At halftime Matthew Stafford had 64 passing yards, Calvin Johnson had one catch, and the Lions had zero points. After administering the Heimlich to the Vikings defense, those final numbers were 32-46-378-2 for Stafford and 7-108-2 for Megatron. Brandon Pettigrew worked the Pooh-soft underbelly of the Minnesota defense for 11-112; when he got tired, Titus Young (4-51) took over.
At halftime Adrian Peterson had 73 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Simple math would suggest a 24-146-2 day was in the offing; instead, the Lions and questionable play-calling limited Peterson to five yards on five carries for a 17-78-1 afternoon with another 4-19 receiving. The only other Vikings of fantasy note, Percy Harvin (2-41 rushing, 3-47 receiving) spent the second half on the sidelines puking—something he had in common with Vikings fans everywhere.
FANTASY IMPACT: Donovan McNabb (22-36-211-1) still has the short game working from time to time, targeting possession receiver Michael Jenkins (9-88) 11 times and tight ends Kyle Rudolph (3-39) and Visanthe Shiancoe (1-8-1) five more. But downfield target Bernard Berrian had four balls thrown his way; none connected. When Stafford wasn’t throwing the ball up for Megatron to snatch, he was working underneath to Jahvid Best (12-14 rushing, 5-74 receiving). Detroit’s ground game was virtually non-existent, but when you have Calvin Johnson you can cover a lot of blemishes.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 40, HOUSTON TEXANS 30
It took Drew Brees (31-44-370-3-2) a little while to get rolling, but once he did the Texans could not stop him as he threw three second-half touchdowns—two in the fourth quarter—and brought the Saints back from an early 10-point deficit to take the lead in the fourth quarter, then again after Houston had gone ahead with four minutes remaining. As per usual with Brees, everybody got involved; this time, however, nearly everybody had useful fantasy numbers, from Jimmy Graham (4-100-1) to Lance Moore (9-88-1) to Devery Henderson (3-62) to Robert Meachem (5-51-1).
Stalling out inside the 10-yard line on three of their first five drives did wonders for Neil Rackers (four field goals, three PATs) but ultimately cost the Texans the ballgame. With Arian Foster out, Ben Tate (19-82, 1-8 receiving) was solid, but the fast-break tempo of the game called for Matt Schaub to step up—and he did, with 22-39-373-3-1. Andre Johnson (7-126) was the primary target, but tight ends Owen Daniels (5-76-1) and James Casey (5-126-1 plus 1-11 rushing) were also heavily involved.
FANTASY IMPACT: Houston unveiled a new weapon in this game, targeting the athletic Casey seven times. Part fullback, part tight end, it will be curious to see if this was fluky or if the Texans intend to feature him in some role. He wasn’t as targeted as Johnson (12) or Daniels (9), but saw more balls than Kevin Walter (3-20-1) and Jacoby Jones (1-0) combined. The Saints’ ground game looks to be a three-way split now, with Darren Sproles (2-35-1, 6-50 receiving) playing the Reggie Bush role better than Reggie ever did. Mark Ingram (9-38-1, 2-(-3) receiving) got into the end zone, while Pierre Thomas (7-28, 1-15) picked up the scraps.
NEW YORK GIANTS 29, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 16
Remember a couple years back when Victor Cruz had that big preseason and then was never heard from again? Well, he’s back. With Mario Manningham out and Eli Manning (16-23-254-4) desperately looking for a reliable target, Cruz turned three catches into 110 yards and two touchdowns in sparking the Giants to victory. Cruz was Manning’s only downfield success, as 95 more yards and the other two touchdowns went to running backs Brandon Jacobs (7-19, 2-42-1) and Ahmad Bradshaw (15-86, 5-53-1).
Michael Vick (16-23-176-0-1, 7-31 rushing) was shut out and knocked out with a busted right (non-throwing) hand. More importantly, the Eagles were kept out of the end zone twice inside the five-yard line, having to settle for field goals. LeSean McCoy (24-128-1, 3-13 receiving) carried the offensive load both before and after Vick’s exit, but he was stopped twice on Philly’s first stunted goal-line foray and didn’t even see the ball the next time the Eagles returned to the stripe.
FANTASY IMPACT: Jeremy Maclin (5-69) was the lone bright spot in Vick’s receiving corps, but he suffered a hamstring injury and is iffy for Week 4. Seven other Eagles caught passes, none of them topping 33 yards. New York’s receivers were similarly spotty after Cruz; Hakeem Nicks (3-25) was quiet, and the three other completions were equally split amongst tight ends Jake Ballard (1-15) and Travis Beckum (1-2) and slot guy Brandon Stokley (1-7).
TENNESSEE TITANS 17, DENVER BRONCOS 14
This wasn’t exactly how the Titans drew it up, what with a combined 93 yards from Chris Johnson (13-21, 4-54 receiving) and Kenny Britt (3-18 before exiting with a potential season-ending knee injury). But Matt Hasselbeck (27-36-311-2) hit Nate Washington (8-92-1) often and Daniel Graham (1-4) once, and that was enough against the Broncos.
The Broncos didn’t generate much offense, and in particular with four shots from the two-yard line early in the fourth quarter; Willis McGahee (22-52, 3-2-1 receiving) took three unsuccessful shots from in close as Denver eschewed the field goal. But that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, seeing as McGahee was the only Bronco to generate more than 50 yards of offense on the afternoon.
FANTASY IMPACT: Kyle Orton (24-39-173-2-2) had Brandon Lloyd (4-38) back but targeted Eric Decker (7-48) almost twice as frequently, and it was Matt Willis (2-16-1) who caught Orton’s other TD toss. With Britt likely done for the year, Washington will have to step into the WR1 role. That leaves the likes of Damien Williams (1-19) and Lavelle Hawkins (2-16) will have to step up—or Hasselbeck could throw more to tight ends like Craig Stevens (1-58), Jared Cook (2-12), or Graham. Or maybe Johnson will start earning his new paycheck.
OAKLAND RAIDERS 34, NEW YORK JETS 24
Darren McFadden (19-171-2, 3-7 receiving) fired the opening salvo with a two-yard TD run, then broke the Jets' will with a 70-yard romp that launched 24 unanswered Oakland points and re-set the tone of the game. The Raiders also got rushing scores from Michael Bush (8-22-1, 2-35) and wideout Denarius Moore (1-23-1, 4-34 receiving), bludgeoning the Jets with 234 rushing yards.
Weren't the Jets supposed to be the powerhouse rushing team? Didn't work that way on Sunday, as Shonn Greene (15-59, 7-47 receiving) led a soft Gang Green ground game and Mark Sanchez (27-43-369-2-1) was forced to do the heavy lifting via the air. However, most of that work was done underneath to Greene, LaDainian Tomlinson (6-36 rushing,56-116-1 receiving), and tight end Dustin Keller (5-87).
FANTASY IMPACT: Greene continues to struggle, which means he continues to get less than 20 carries, which means he continues to struggle. LT was supposed to step aside for Greene, but with 175 combo yards (to Greene's106 on twice the touches) he's a backup in name only. The Jets had no downfield game to speak of; Santonio Holmes (1-19) was targeted just twice, while possession guys Plaxico Burress (3-55-1) and Derrick Mason (6-45) were thrown to 16 times. The Raiders didn't need to throw, and it showed in the numbers of Jason Campbell (18-27-156) and a cache of receivers, none of whom topped 40 yards.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 20, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 17
This wasn't nearly the point orgy fantasy owners expected from the Chargers. Philip Rivers (24-36-266-0-2) failed to throw a touchdown, and he couldn't even get a 70-yard receiver out of the mix; Vincent Jackson (5-63) paced the Gates-less crew. That left the backfield to do the heavy lifting, and Ryan Mathews (21-98-2, 4-51 receiving) was clearly the lead dog with Mike Tolbert (4-19, 3-24) picking up the scraps.
The first game sans Jamaal Charles wasn't much different than the first two with him: Thomas Jones (14-31, 1-2 receiving) averaged barely two yards a touch while Dexter McCluster (9-45, 5-17) was twice as productive. Dwayne Bowe (4-67-1) made a fantastic tiptoe catch to salvage an otherwise forgettable day.
FANTASY IMPACT: Matt Cassel (17-24-176-2-1) may have maxed out with those numbers, as it took outstanding catches from Bowe and Steve Breaston (3-55) just to push his numbers near serviceable. It's going to be a long year for the Chiefs. San Diego's backfield picture has flipped 180 degrees from Tolbert's three-TD Week 1; now it's Mathews who looks better and who is getting the opportunities. It's tough to chase the points, but right now it's apparent Mathews is the chair of this committee.
BALTIMORE RAVENS 37, SAINT LOUS RAMS 7
The Ravens traded for Lee Evans because they wanted a field-stretching speed receiver; it's the same reason they drafted Torrey Smith, but they were worried the lockout might prevent him from making an immediate impact. How's three touchdowns--of 74, 41, and 18 yards--on his first three catches for an immediate impact? Smith finished with 5-152-3 before cramping up later in the game--likely the same fate that befell the scoreboard operator. Smith didn't do it alone, of course; Joe Flacco (27-48-289-3) did the pitching and Ray Rice (8-79 rushing, 5-83 receiving) did everything else.
This is not how the Rams pictured the season going, especially last season's Rookie of the Year Sam Bradford, whose 16-32-166-1-1 line is utterly ordinary. The receiving corps sported no real helpers; only a great 34-yard TD grab salvaged Brandon Gibson's otherwise mediocre 5-55-1 stat line.
FANTASY IMPACT: Steven Jackson (4-23) tried to play through his quad injury, but ultimately the Rams gave more carries to Carnell Williams (18-75, 1-4 receiving). Not that much was expected from either against the Ravens. Baltimore was up so quickly in this one that it's difficult to glean anything from the numbers. Ricky Williams (5-42, 1-11) saw garbage-time work and shouldn't be viewed as a threat to Rice's touches. Smith's big day will stretch defenses and help both Rice and Anquan Boldin (7-74) by opening up the field, but his fantasy contributions are likely to be as consistent as Evans' historically have been; worse, if/when Evans gets healthy, the Ravens will have two speed guys fighting over deep looks.
GREEN BAY PACKERS 27, CHICAGO BEARS 17
On the bright side, Aaron Rodgers (28-38-297-3-1) consolidated his passing stats with Greg Jennings (9-119) and Jermichael Finley (7-85-3) while the likes of Jordy Nelson (3-40) and James Jones (4-24) fought over table scraps. However, there's backfield confusion again as Ryan Grant (17-92) looked reasonably competent while James Starks (11-5, 3-9 receiving) struggled and, worse, fumbled.
Jay Cutler (21-37-302-2-2) stuck around for the entire game and was only sacked three times while putting up reasonable fantasy numbers, but he had almost no help at all. Cutler was also the team's leading rusher at 3-11 as Matt Forte mustered just two rushing yards on nine carries. Almost prophetically fulfilling the Start/Bench List comment that Forte wouldn't need to take a handoff to have fantasy value, Poor Man's Faulk caught seven balls for 80 yards to sate frustrated owners.
FANTASY IMPACT: The Bears were without Earl Bennett, so his numbers were picked up by Dane Sanzebacher (5-27-1). Roy Williams returned but had no catches on four targets, including one drop at the goal line. Johnny Knox (4-84) and Devin Hester (3-62) split the deep ball numbers. The latest development in Green Bay's backfield is disconcerting, to say the least. While there was no breakaway threat--Grant's longest run was 14 yards--he was solid enough that what we were ready to call Stark's job to lose is now completely up for grabs again.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 13, ARIZONA CARDINALS 10
It was another typical Tarvaris Jackson (18-31-171-0-1, 4-20-1 rushing) game: lousy passing, with the bulk of his productivity consisting of jump balls to old teammate Sidney Rice (8-109), and a rushing touchdown to salvage a little fantasy value. And credit where credit is due, as Marshawn Lynch (19-73) wasn't awful at home against a lousy run defense.
Beanie Wells bailed prior to the game, leaving Kevin Kolb (25-39-252-1-2) little choice but to throw the ball up near Larry Fitzgerald (5-64-1); that plan worked once, but there wasn't enough help from Fitz's supporting cast—led by Todd Heap (6-61) and Early Doucet (5-50)—to muster another touchdown.
FANTASY IMPACT: Sans Beanie the Cards turned to Alfonso Smith (17-54, 3-21 receiving) and Chester Taylor (8-20, 1-12), with predictable results. Assuming he's healthy, Wells should get his job back just in time to face a three-month stretch of unfriendly fantasy matchups. It won't be pretty, but it looks as if the Jackson-to-Rice combo could be a low-level fantasy helper. One-third of Jackson's pass attempts were directed at Rice, more than any three other Seahawks combined.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 16, ATLANTA FALCONS 13
It certainly wasn't pretty, but the Bucs used LeGarrett Blount (24-81, 1-13 receiving) to bludgeon the Falcons. Josh Freeman (22-32-180-0-2, 10-35-1 rushing) used his feet as much as his arm to help Tampa Bay cling to their early lead. The low-end receiving numbers were led by Mike Williams' 5-43.
Atlanta couldn't get the ground game going--Michael Turner (11-20) averaged less than two yards a carry--so the Falcons turned to Matt Ryan (26-47-330-1-1) to carry the offense. Ryan led Atlanta into Buccaneers territory in each of the team's last five drives--and into the red zone on the last three--but a turnover on downs inside the 10 at the start of the fourth quarter ultimately proved costly.
FANTASY IMPACT: You knew Roddy White (9-140) would come up large, even with Aqib Talib draped on him, but White had a couple costly drops that won't show up in his stat line. What was nice to see was Julio Jones (6-115) have an impact for the first time in his NFL career. Tony Gonzalez (2-18-1) found the end zone for the third time in two weeks. Earnest Graham (2-(-1) rushing, 7-37 receiving) is still cutting into Blount's playing time; in fact, he had an apparent touchdown overturned on review, a touchdown that Freeman cashed in on the very next play.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS 23, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 20
It wasn't supposed to be this hard, but Rashard Mendenhall (18-37, 3-9 receiving) couldn't get the Steelers' running game started. That left Ben Roethlisberger (25-37-364-1-1, 5-15 rushing) to carry the offense, and he had Mike Wallace (5-144-1) to lean on. Wallace topped the century mark for a sixth straight game.
With Peyton Manning in the booth, the Colts had to turn to other members of the supporting cast to keep this one close. Joseph Addai impressed with 17-86-1 on the ground and 1-2 receiving, and when Curtis Painter (5-11-60) came on following a Kerry Collins (13-29-93) concussion he located Pierre Garçon (6-82) with surprising regularity.
FANTASY IMPACT: Manning's old standbys are struggling. Reggie Wayne (3-24) was targeted 13 times but missed often; Dallas Clark was also targeted six times but had at least three drops and finished with just two catches for 12 yards. It doesn't look to get any better for anyone (other than Garçon) if Painter takes over at quarterback. The Steelers were so depleted along the offensive line that they had to bring back players injured earlier in the game just to field a full line. That certainly didn't help Mendenhall, though the bigger-than-usual numbers from Roethlisberger helped Heath Miller (5-71) and Antonio Brown (4-75) carve out fantasy value.