ATLANTA FALCONS 31, CAROLINA PANTHERS 17
The Falcons delivered body blows for three quarters, but they took their toll on Carolina and 17 fourth-quarter points proved the difference. Michael Turner scored the clincher to cap a 27-139-2 (plus 1-8 receiving) afternoon, while Matt Ryan (14-22-163-1 plus 3-7-1 rushing) salvaged a pedestrian passing performance by vulturing a rushing score from the one.
Cam Newton (21-35-237-0-3, plus 6-50-1 rushing) continues to be the Carolina offense, though he did actually hand off to Jonathan Stewart (7-48-1, 3-24 receiving) for a one-yard touchdown. The rest of Carolina’s contributions were of the mediocre variety, with Steve Smith (5-68) heading up the receivers and Greg Olsen (5-42) and Jeremy Shockey (4-60) splitting tight end looks again.
FANTASY IMPACT: Starting any Panther other than Newton, Smith, and Olsen feels like chasing points. Legedu Naanee (2-31) and Brandon LaFell (1-12) aren’t targeted enough to matter, and Stewart and DeAngelo Williams (12-44, 1-2 receiving) take turns seeing which one can play second fiddle to Newton on a weekly basis. It’s a guessing game not worth chasing—though it did allow the Panthers to run a veer-like triple-option play that saw Stewart bust up the middle and harkened back to the Oklahoma wishbone teams of the 70s and 80s. Life without Julio Jones didn’t result in much extra work for Roddy White (2-21 on five targets) or Tony Gonzalez (3-29 on three targets), and Harry Doughlas (2-57 on four targets) wasn’t particularly busy, either. Instead, the Falcons reverted to their run-heavy roots with Turner the focal point of 30 of Atlanta’s 57 plays. It’s worth noting that White was bumped in the end zone on a sure TD, setting up Turner for his first short score.
CINCINNATI BENGALS 27, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 17
A.J. Green (5-51-1) made a great catch in the end zone to put Cincy up early, then the Bengals kind of lulled everyone to sleep with 16-57-1 from Cedric Benson. However, it took a blocked field goal and a fumble return touchdown to keep the Bengals from giving Indy their first win. Andy Dalton (25-32-264-1) put up decent numbers, leaning on Green but also Jerome Simpson (6-101) for the bulk of the yardage.
Yawn. An underrated Cincy defense held the Colts in check, with no player outside of Curtis Painter (23-34-188-1-1) accounting for more than 60 yards of offense. Two bright spots: a one-handed touchdown grab by the previously invisible Dallas Clark (6-53-1); and an 18-yard sprint to the end zone by Donald Brown (5-35-1, 2-16 receiving).
FANTASY IMPACT: Brown was the more explosive runner, but with Joseph Addai out it was rookie Delone Carter (14-45) getting the bulk of the work. Brown may appear more effective, but he’s better suited for outside running and limited touches. Neither Reggie Wayne (5-58) nor Pierre Garçon (8-52) was particularly productive, and once again it was Garçon with 11 targets (to Wayne’s six) that had the bulk of Painter’s attention. Speaking of quarterback’s attention, it was just a couple weeks ago that we were bailing off the Jerome Simpson bandwagon like Spicoli and his friends falling out of the VW van in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. But Simpson was targeted and productive and seems to be ducking—for the moment, at least—any repercussions stemming from the shipment of pot that arrived at his house. Maybe he just has a severe case of glaucoma. While Benson once again did the heavy lifting in Cincy’s running game, Bernard Scott saw 11 carries for 29 yards and Brian Leonard (2-9 plus 2-38 receiving) was on the field late as well. Ced’s run as a 20-25 carry guy may be running out; you could sell high based on this week’s TD.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 25, DETROIT LIONS 19
Calling the Niners’ start “slow” would be an understatement: they fumbled on their first offensive play, then punted on five of their next six drives. A field goal just before halftime put them up top, but they needed a fourth-down miracle from Delanie Walker (2-11-1) to regain the lead and a final field goal to seal the upset. Alex Smith (17-32-125-1-1) came up big when the Niners needed it; prior to that it was Frank Gore (15-141-1, 2-5 receiving) carrying the offensive load.
Matthew Stafford (28-50-293-2) and Calvin Johnson (7-113) did what they do, with an assist from Jahvid Best (12-37 rushing, 6-73 receiving). However, there wasn’t much help beyond that, as Detroit receivers—and the officials—continued to struggle with the interpretation of what does and doesn’t constitute a touchdown catch. Brandon Pettigrew (8-42-1) took a TD catch to the ground but didn’t keep it and the refs took it away; they tried to take one away from Nate Burleson (4-34-1) as well, on a play that looked almost identical to Megatron’s non-TD from Week 1 last year, only to reverse the call on replay..
FANTASY IMPACT: Not only did Megatron fail to score, he was only the third-most-targeted Lion (9) after Pettigrew (14, housing all the TE looks with Tony Scheffler out) and Burleson (10). Best (8 targets) had almost as many looks in the passing game as he did rushes, with considerably more success as well. Quietly carrying the 49ers passing game was Michael Crabtree (9-77), who had more catches and yardage than the rest of the team combined. Smith went to him 15 times on the afternoon; with Josh Morgan out and Braylon Edwards not yet healthy, that’s likely to continue.
GREEN BAY PACKERS 24, SAINT LOUIS RAMS 3
Green Bay scored on four of their first five drives, then set the cruise control and gained just 128 yards the rest of the way en route to the win. Aaron Rodgers (17-28-310-3-1) was the architect, though he only spread the ball around to seven receivers this week with Greg Jennings (6-82) seeing twice as many targets as any other pass-catcher.
Playing from behind from the coin flip, Sam Bradford (28-44-321-0-1) was able to pile up yardage on sheer volume; Danario Alexander (6-91), Brandon Gibson (4-43), and slot guy Greg Salas (8-77) were all targeted 10 times each. Steven Jackson quietly contributed 18-96 on the ground and another 4-29 as a receiver as the Rams took nine of their 11 drives into Packers territory but only came away with three points.
FANTASY IMPACT: Positives for the Rams coming out of the bye: they only gave up three sacks (for them, against Green Bay, with 47 dropbacks, that’s a good number), and the downfield targets to wide receivers suggest that Bradford is becoming more comfortable with Josh McDaniels’ offense. The Pack had this game in hand early, yet they were unable and/or unwilling to get any sort of clock-eating production from the ground game tandem of James Starks (13-49, 2-17 receiving) and Ryan Grant (9-25, 2-17 receiving). And while Jordy Nelson (2-104-1, the bulk coming on a 93-yard TD) and James Jones (1-35-1) were scoring, Jermichael Finley (1-20) was once again quiet. Does he get thrown back into the “start ‘em but don’t trust ‘em” hopper of all Green Bay wideouts not named Greg Jennings?
NEW YORK GIANTS 27, BUFFALO BILLS 24
The Giants were more than willing to trade scores with the Bills; after all, they had touchdown machine Ahmad Bradshaw (26-104-3, 2-26 receiving) at their disposal. Not that he did it on his own; Eli Manning (21-32-292) had the passing game working, with Hakeem Nicks (4-96) leading the way.
With two long touchdowns in the first quarter—an 80-yard run by Fred Jackson (16-121-1, 5-47 receiving) and a 60-yard TD catch by Naaman Roosevelt (his only catch of the day)—this was well on its way to being the shootout everyone expected. But the Bills didn’t reach the red zone again until the fourth quarter, when Ryan Fitzpatrick (21-30-244-2-2) hit Steve Johnson (5-39-1) to tie the game.
FANTASY IMPACT: The Bills used a little more of the Wildcat package with Brad Smith (4-26 rushing); it’s the only running game besides Jackson the Bills have, because right now C.J. Spiller (5-39) is only contributing as a receiver. Roosevelt stepped into the role created by Donald Jones' injury and had the big play, but David Nelson (4-62) remains heavily involved as well. “Involved” was something Victor Cruz (2-12) was not, as Mario Manningham (5-56) swiped his looks; Manningham also had a touchdown overturned, as he was ruled down at the one to set up Bradshaw’s third TD. Meanwhile, tight end Jake Ballard (5-81) continues to carve out a role in this passing game; he, too, took a play down to the goal line only to cede the score to Bradshaw.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS 17, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 13
So much for Rashard Mendenhall (23-146-1) losing carries--or even being bothered by the hamstring injury that kept him out of last week's game. He capped the Steelers' first drive with a touchdown then, after a Mike Wallace (2-76-1) touchdown, set up a second-quarter field goal with a 68-yard rumble. Pittsburgh missed a field goal on its next drive, then crossed into Jacksonville territory just once the remainder of the game.
Jacksonville punted on five of its first six drives, including four three-and-outs. But after a total of 68 first-half yards the Jags carved out an 80-yard touchdown drive capped by a Jason Hill (2-29-1) touchdown. However, they mustered just 66 yards of offense the rest of the game. Not surprisingly, Maurice Jones-Drew (12-96 rushing, 2-8 receiving) was the only Jag whose yardage amounted to anything.
FANTASY IMPACT: Aside from MoJo there was nothing on the Jacksonville side to get worked up about--at least in a positive fashion. You have to wonder how much Jack Del Rio likes his job when Deji Karim (5-21) is on the field at crunch time, cutting into Jones-Drew's workload. That's the opposite of Pittsburgh's situation, where Mendenhall is doing the taking. Last week, when he was out, Ben Roethlisberger (12-23-200-1) carried the offense; Mendy back, Big Ben back to lousy fantasy numbers.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 20, WASHINGTON REDSKINS 13
It wasn't quite as impressive as last year's showing against the Redskins, but Michael Vick (18-31-237-1, 7-54 rushing) still got the job done. Leaning heavily on LeSean McCoy (28-126-1 rushing, 2-13 receiving), Vick was even able to overcome a brief injury absence, one in which Vince Young came on for one play and promptly through an interception.
Bad Rex is back! Rex Grossman went 9-22 for 143 yards and four picks before getting the hook. John Beck (8-15-117) was marginally better, boosting his stats by calling his own number on a two-yard touchdown run. Between the two poor quarterbacking efforts, Fred Davis (6-95) was the only receiver of note.
FANTASY IMPACT: Oh, Mike Shanahan, where do we begin? Not only are you screwing with fantasy owners, you managed to have three different major media outlets reporting three different backfield scenarios: NFL Network had Tim Hightower starting, FOX said Hightower was starting only to see how he would hold up, and ESPN weighed in just before kickoff with news that Ryan Torain would get the nod. Ultimately, it didn't matter as Torain's 10-22--against the league's most fantasy friendly defense for running backs--was the backfield's top showing. Hightower didn't touch the ball, and playing from behind meant Roy Helu (2-6 rushing, 2-11 receiving) saw time as well. Thanks, Mike; thanks for everything. For Philly, this was Jeremy Maclin's week to shine; he caught five balls for 101 yards, outdistancing DeSean Jackson (3-46) despite both receiving seven targets. The most targeted Eagle on the afternoon? Surprisingly, it was tight end Brent Celek (4-42-1) with nine, including a touchdown on a well-designed screen play. Speaking of touchdowns, McCoy's touchdown came after a Dion Lewis (2-10) score was overturned on review.
BALTIMORE RAVENS 29, HOUSTON TEXANS 14
You can forgive Joe Flacco for stealing Ray Rice's touchdown; while Rice had another fantastic outing with 23-101 rushing and 5-60 receiving, Flacco posted a rare 300-yard outing with 20-33-305-0-1 in addition to his one-yard touchdown plunge. That and five field goals from Billy Cundiff was more than enough to topple the Texans.
Arian Foster (15-49 rushing, 6-52 receiving) had to work to get to triple-digit combo yards; it didn't help that Gary Kubiak channeled his former boss Mike Shanahan and felt it necessary to work Ben Tate (9-41) into the rotation as well. Tate very nearly had a touchdown as well, fumbling into the end zone where Texans guard Wade Smith recovered it for the score.
FANTASY IMPACT: Matt Schaub (21-37-220-1) misses Andre Johnson, but at least this week Jacoby Jones (4-76-1) stepped up his production. Kevin Walter (6-52) was also involved, and new guy Derrick Mason (3-27) took from everybody's plate--but perhaps none more than that of tight end Owen Daniels (2-13). In addition to Flacco stealing a Rice touchdown, Ricky Williams (2-8-1) vultured one as well, coming on after Rice busted a 27-yard run inside the five-yard line. Baltimore's other offensive star, Anquan Boldin (8-132) was also held out of the end zone
OAKLAND RAIDERS 24, CLEVELAND BROWNS 17
Special teams saved Al Davis Day for the Raiders, with Jacoby Ford (3-43) flashing the speed Al so dearly loved on a 101-yard kickoff return touchdown. Oakland's final score came on a perfectly executed fake field goal, with holder Shane Lechler hitting Kevin Boss for his only catch of the game, a 35-yard touchdown. The Raiders did play a little bit of offense, with Darren McFadden (20-91-1 rushing, 1-2 receiving) leading the way.
The Browns took just one of their first nine drives across midfield, capping it with a touchdown pass from Colt McCoy (21-45-215-2) to third tight end Alex Smith (2-14-1). The fourth quarter was a different story, as Cleveland moved the ball into scoring position twice to pull within a touchdown before falling flat on a final drive after recovering an onside kick.
FANTASY IMPACT: So much for giving Peyton Hillis (6-14) more work. After the game it was reported that Hillis had a hamstring injury that held him out of action, though his agent could not be reached for comment. Monterio Hardesty (11-35 rushing, 2-18 receiving) filled in, though the Browns' attempts to make him a third-down back are laughable given that he's dropped more passes than any other back in the league and ranks near the top of the overall leaderboard as well. Note that the Smith touchdown came after Greg Little (6-72) fell down at the one-yard line and was unable to crawl into the end zone. While Little was targeted a dozen times, it was Mohamed Massaquoi (3-30-1) who scored the Browns' final touchdown. Another player forever tied to Davis, Darius Heyward-Bey posted a third straight fantasy helper with six catches for 82 yards. The dilemma going forward will be who is throwing to him, as Jason Campbell (6-9-52 plus 2-16 rushing) suffered a broken collarbone and will miss the rest of the season. Kyle Boller (8-14-100) is the short term solution, but rumors are already swirling regarding the likes of Carson Palmer, Kyle Orton, and David Garrard.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 20, DALLAS COWBOYS 16
While the score fell well short of the Vegas O/U total, don't blame Tom Brady (27-41-289-2-2)--except, of course, for the two turnovers. Brady got all the usual suspects involved, with Wes Welker (6-45-1) and Aaron Hernandez (8-68-1) finding the end zone while Rob Gronkowski (7-74) and Deion Branch (3-69) chipped in yardage.
Like their Patriot counterparts, the Cowboys put up passing yards but were a little light on the points. Tony Romo (247-41-317-1-1) opened the game with an interception, then settled in for a solid statistical afternoon. He had Miles Austin (7-74) and Dez Bryant (4-78) back at his disposal, though Bryant was shut out after halftime. And security blanket Jason Witten (4-48-1) was there as well, as always.
FANTASY IMPACT: Once again the Dallas running game failed to achieve liftoff, and for the immediate future they'll be without Felix Jones (8-14 rushing, 2-19 receiving), who suffered a high ankle sprain. DeMarco Murray (10-32 rushing, 1-7 receiving) looks to be the primary beneficiary, and with Tashard Choice (5-14 rushing, 3-16 receiving) rumored to be on the trading block Phillip Tanner may see touches as well. New England's running game was also largely ineffective, though BenJarvus Green-Ellis (14-58 rushing, 1-11 receiving) seemed fine after missing practice time with a toe injury. Stevan Ridley (3-19) and Danny Woodhead (4-7 rushing, 2-22 receiving) dined on table scraps.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 26, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 20
With LeGarrette Blount sidelined, the expectation was that the Tampa Bay passing game would have to come to life, or maybe that Earnest Graham would be a serviceable fill-in. Instead, the Bucs got both: Graham contributed 17-109 on the ground and 2-22 as a receiver, while Josh Freeman (23-41-303-2) directed a balanced attack that saw four receivers top 40 yards. Arrelious Benn (3-83-1) paced the group, bolstered by a 65-yard touchdown grab.
It felt like the Saints were sleepwalking through the early going, and by the time they woke up they were trailining 20-3. Drew Brees (29-45-383-1-3) helmed an attack that sprung both Jimmy Graham (7-124) and Marques Colston (7-118-1) for triple digit yardage. Despite a gorgeous touchdown run from Mark Ingram (9-22-1), Brees got almost zero help from the running game in general. At least Darren Sproles (1-16, 8-46) contributed as a receiver.
FANTASY IMPACT: Graham's fourth straight 100-yard game still doesn't do justice to his importance in this passing game. When Brees threw an interception in the end zone with a chance to take the lead, he was throwing to a covered Graham--ignoring at least two other open Saints. Graham and Sproles make consistent contributions; Ingram and Colston are somewhat bankable, but the remainder are risky fantasy plays--and when the Saints are held to 20 points, there isn't enough there to make them usable. With the semi-resurgence of the Tampa Bay passing game, we would have liked to have seen more from Mike Williams (6-59). Instead, Benn got the long touchdown and Preston Parker (2-32-1) the short one, with Dezmon Briscoe (2-49) also dipping in a trough that's just not full enough to make everyone a fantasy entity.
CHICAGO BEARS 39, MINNESOTA VIKINGS 10
It took all of three plays for Jay Cutler (21-31-267-2) to pick up where he left off against Minnesota, and while he didn't extend his string of three-TD games against them his stat line looked just fine. Devin Hester (5-91-1) caught that first TD, then added a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown after the Vikings threatened to climb off the canvas and back into the game. Mix in a somewhat subdued contribution from Matt Forte (17-87 rushing, 6-36 receiving) and the Bears were well on their way to a rout.
Despite running into nine-man fronts most of the night, Adrian Peterson (12-39-1) managed to tally the Vikings' only touchdown. He also caught the first NFL completion from Christian Ponder (9-17-99, 1-8 rushing), who came on after Donovan McNabb (19-24-177) couldn't ignite the offense. And that was the extent of Minnesota's offensive highlights.
FANTASY IMPACT: No decision yet on who'll be at quarterback for the Vikings next week, but there was at least some giddyup to the offense when Ponder was in the game. He hit Percy Harvin (7-78) a couple times, in stride even so Harvin could run after the catch, and his mobility saved at least two sacks behind a banged-up Vikings offensive line. Ponder may not be ready for prime time, but he could salvage Harvin's fantasy value--and he certainly wouldn't be afraid to hand off to Peterson. Hester and Johnny Knox (2-41) capitalized on Minnesota cornerbacks who couldn't match their speed, while Roy Williams (3-50) found room in front of perhaps the worst safeties in the league. Even Dane Sanzenbacher (1-13-1) made a contribution; he was actually targeted at the stripe later in the game as well. Mike Furrey Jr.'s fantasy value may have run its course, however, as Earl Bennett is getting healthy and would return to take that job.