NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 26, ATLANTA FALCONS 23 (OT)
So much for the Saints harking back to their Super Bowl season by trying to establish the running game. Pierre Thomas (6-29, 4-9 receiving), Mark Ingram (8-11, 1-3 receiving), and Darren Sproles (2-1, 4-2 receiving) combined for fewer yards than two Saints wideouts and tight end Jimmy Graham (7-82-1). Sproles’ absence from the game plan was particularly frustrating, though every time he touched the ball the Falcons were all over him. But Drew Brees has picked up a punchless ground game before and with 30-43-322-2 he did so again, remaining on pace to set the NFL passing yardage mark.
For the most part the Falcons did what they wanted to: ate up the clock (20-plus minutes of possession time in the first half alone), ran the ball (Michael Turner’s 22-96 was augmented by Jacquizz Rodgers’ 7-30), and kept the Saints within range (trailing by more than one score for only three minutes midway through the fourth quarter). But they couldn’t get a yard when they needed it—specifically, on fourth down in their own territory in overtime—and that proved to be the difference in the game.
FANTASY IMPACT: Julio Jones (2-9) aggravated his hamstring injury, clearing the way for Harry Douglas (8-133) to pace the Falcons in receiving. Tony Gonzalez (6-71-1) and Jason Snelling (2-25-1) did the scoring, leaving table scraps for Roddy White (4-62). Marques Colston (8-113) paced the receivers with nine targets; Lance Moore (1-28) and Devery Henderson (no catches) did little with their five targets, but Robert Meachem made the most of his two looks with 2-69-1.
TENNESSEE TITANS 30, CAROLINA PANTHERS 3
By the time the Titans took their first snap from scrimmage they were up a touchdown thanks to a Matt Mariani punt return. Six plays later they were up two touchdowns, one drive later they added a field goal, and the route was on. Good thing, too, because the next five Titans drives netted just 61 yards and they didn’t score again until late in the third quarter. Chris Johnson (27-130-1, 4-44 receiving) was close to his usual dynamic self, and Matt Hasselbeck (15-27-219-1-1 plus 1-21 rushing) went frequently to Damian Williams (5-107-1) to constitute almost the entirety of the Tennessee offense.
Only one of Carolina’s first six drives lasted more than three plays, and that one ended with a fumble. A field goal just before halftime could have kept the Panthers around, but Olindo Mare missed. As for offensive highlights, there really weren’t any.
FANTASY IMPACT: Cam Newton looked less like a Rookie of the Year front-runner and more like an ordinary rookie with 23-40-212-0-1 passing and 7-55 rushing. He got zero help, as Legadu Naanee (8-75) was the only other Panther with more than 45 yards of offense. Steve Smith (5-33) was virtually invisible. Williams and Johnson were Hasselbeck’s favorite targets as Nate Washington (3-40) may have been slowed by his sore hip. As for Jared Cook (1-18), his major role in the offense has yet to materialize.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS 24, CINCINNATI BENGALS 17
The Steelers set the tone early with eight- and nine-play touchdown drives to open the game. Ben Roethlisberger (21-33-245-1-1) handled the bulk of the workload and spread it around to nine different receivers, but Rashard Mendenhall (16-44, 1-26 receiving) salvaged an otherwise pedestrian fantasy afternoon with a pair of touchdowns despite not breaking a run longer than nine yards.
After digging themselves a two-TD hole the Bengals clawed back to a third-quarter tie with Andy Dalton (15-30-170-2-2) throwing touchdowns to A.J. Green (1-36-1) and Jermaine Gresham (4-23-1). However, just as Dalton gaveth he tooketh away with a pair of fourth-quarter INTs.
FANTASY IMPACT: You got the expected 3.8 yards per carry from Cedric Benson (15-57, 1-5 receiving), but the Bengals also seemed willing to throw a few more carries at Bernard Scott (7-38) to liven things up. Losing Green to a hyperextended knee following his touchdown grab might have prompted the move, as Jerome Simpson (four targets, no catches) and Andre Caldwell (3-28 on eight targets) weren’t accomplishing much. Despite a team-high 10 targets, Mike Wallace (6-54) seemed to be no better than third on Big Ben’s hit list. Antonio Brown (5-86) looks comfortable in his expanded role, while Jerricho Cotchery (2-29-1) scored once and had another wiped out by a penalty. Cotchery seems to have usurped Hines Ward (1-10); it will get even more crowded when Emmanuel Sanders returns from knee surgery.
SAINT LOUIS RAMS 13, CLEVELAND BROWNS 12
The Rams scored the game’s only touchdown, capitalized on excellent field position for a pair of field goals… and that was about it. Steven Jackson (27-128 plus 3-23 receiving) continued his resurgence, and it was his hard running that set up Brandon Lloyd (4-48-1) for the score.
The bright spots (this won’t take long): a 74% completion rate for Colt McCoy (20-27-218). Triple-digit combo yards from fill-in Chris Ogbonnaya (19-90 rushing, 2-19 receiving). And Phil Dawson hit a field goal every other drive, right up until the bounced snap and the failed potential game-winner.
FANTASY IMPACT: Despite Ogbonnaya’s decent numbers the Browns are still looking for a ground game jump start; they gave carries to wide receivers Josh Cribbs (3-21 rushing, 3-32 receiving) and Greg Little (1-10 rushing, 6-84 receiving) and tried to hand off to tight end Alex Smith with predictably disastrous results. The Rams didn’t even pretend to spread the ball around: of 58 offensive snaps, 30 involved Jackson and nine more were directed at Lloyd. Sam Bradford (15-26-155-1-1) was responsible for four carries and six more incompletes; no other Ram was a key factor in more than four offensive plays.
DALLAS COWBOYS 44, BUFFALO BILLS 7
The Cowboys weren’t messing around, scoring touchdowns on their first four drives as Tony Romo (23-26-270-3) completed his first 13 passes, including touchdowns to Dez Bryant (6-74-1) and Laurent Robinson (3-73-2). Then Dallas turned the ball over to DeMarco Murray (20-135-1, 6-36 receiving), a bunch of field goals, and a final defensive touchdown to close out the fun.
The lone highlight for the visiting Bills was the David Nelson (4-31-1) touchdown, after which he promptly presented the ball to his girlfriend—a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. Awwwww…
FANTASY IMPACT: It was a bittersweet homecoming for Fred Jackson (13-114, 4-1 receiving), who lived in an apartment building razed to make room for the Cowboys’ new stadium. He didn’t get much offensive help, as the 20-31-148-1-3 from Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t spread very far. The Cowboys front-loaded their numbers; the only other performance of note was a 5-37 effort from Jason Witten. Phillip Tanner (11-29) was less impressive in relief of Murray this time around.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 17, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 3
As you might expect from this epic clash, the game started out with the teams swapping interceptions, then punts, then field goals, then more punts. Jacksonville ruled the second half with a pair of touchdowns, the closer by Maurice Jones-Drew (25-114-1, 3-23), the only player in this game—including quarterbacks—to produce more than 120 yards of offense.
Um… yeah. Jacob Tamme (6-75) picked up where he left off last year as an injury replacement for Dallas Clark and Donald Brown (14-53, 4-12) consolidated most of the backfield work under one roof. But there wasn’t a fantasy starter to be found on the Indy side of the field.
FANTASY IMPACT: Curtis Painter (13-19-94-0-2) gave way to Dan Orlovsky (7-10-67) again; at this point it doesn’t really matter, since not even Pierre Garçon (3-30) and Reggie Wayne (3-13) are startable. Same goes for Jacksonville wideouts as Blaine Gabbert (14-21-116-1-1) couldn’t get a single pass catcher more than three balls or more than 39 yards. At least MoJo got his.
DENVER BRONCOS 17, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 10
The Broncos didn’t complete their first pass of the game until the final four minutes of the third quarter and lost starting running back Willis McGahee (4-17) on the first series and backup Knowshon Moreno (4-52) later in the first quarter. But Tim Tebow (2-8-69-1 plus 9-43-1 rushing) found a way to pull off the win, aided by 30-96 from Lance Ball, a 56-yard TD grab by Eric Decker, and (take your pick) a strong defensive performance/an inept Chiefs offense.
In a bye week efforts like 93 combo yards from Dexter McCluster (8-45 rushing, 6-48 receiving) might make a little fantasy noise. But it was an all-play week, only the KC offense didn’t get the memo. Matt Cassel (13-28-93-1, 2-16 rushing) stuck around until late despite a hand injury that might knock him out for next week, and his stat line did no favors for Dwayne Bowe (2-17) or Steve Breaston (4-33).
FANTASY IMPACT: Jackie Battle (9-61) was effective but underused. Jon Baldwin (1-15) had only one catch officially; a beautiful grab he pinned to the back of Brian Dawkins while falling to the ground was waved off by a penalty. Tyler Palko (5-6-47) came on in relief of Cassel and may be under center next week. The Broncos were already speed-dialing available running backs, indicating McGahee and Moreno might not be available for Week 11’s Thursday night game against the Jets. All Tebow, all the time?
MIAMI DOLPHINS 20, WASHINGTON REDSKINS 9
Matt Moore (20-29-209-0-1 plus 2-14 rushing) threw a pick early and fumbled late, but in between he was reasonably competent—and helped by the resurgent Reggie Bush (14-47-2 plus 4-4 receiving) and a workmanlike 17-42 from Daniel Thomas. Moore was wise enough to focus his attention on Brandon Marshall (7-98), who accounted for a third of his completions and nearly half his yardage.
With Rex Grossman (21-32-215-0-2) at the helm the Redskins went backwards on their first drive, then took seven of their next eight possessions into Miami territory. However, all they had to show for it were three field goals, two missed field goals, and two picks. Grossman did demonstrate an affinity for Leonard Hankerson (8-106) but couldn’t develop a connection with any of the remaining receivers for anything more than three catches or 37 yards.
FANTASY IMPACT: And you thought Mike Shanahan had nothing else up his sleeve. First he pulled the quarterback switcheroo, then rewarded Roy Helu (6-41 plus 3-13 receiving) for his strong game last week by starting Ryan Torain (11-20, 1-4) before his ineffectiveness wore down even the dark overlord of fantasy football. Going forward, you can put more faith in the Greek economy than in any Redskins’ fantasy football prospects. The Dolphins continue to get ground game production from Bush, and a healthy Thomas should allow Miami to limit his carries so that he isn’t overworked. The passing game starts and ends with Marshall, though Anthony Fasano (3-60) is making a push for relevance and might be usable next week with Jimmy Graham, Owen Daniels, and Heath Miller on the bye.
ARIZONA CARDINALS 21, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 17
John Skelton… fantasy stud? The numbers (21-40-315-3-2) certainly suggest it. The key was knowing where to find Larry Fitzgerald (7-146-2), who was targeted 13 times and came within inches of a three-TD afternoon. The rest of Arizona’s passing game was spread amongst six other receivers, with none topping 55 yards—though Early Doucet (2-24-1) scored the game-winning touchdown.
Well, this certainly wasn’t the “effort” we expected from Philly. LeSean McCoy (14-81-1, 3-12) kept his touchdown streak alive, but Michael Vick (16-34-128-0-2 plus 8-79 rushing) was, in a word, awful. Didn’t help to have DeSean Jackson sleep through a meeting and earn himself a benching, or to lose Jeremy Maclin (2-6) to injury early on. Brent Celek (4-53) stepped up and Steve Smith (5-47) capitalized on his opportunity, though it took him 10 targets to do so; however, Jason Avant (1-2), who started in Jackson’s place, was a hugh disappointment.
FANTASY IMPACT: That’s two stinkers in a row for Vick, who is still without a rushing score. With no reliable receivers, maybe the Eagles need to take a page out of the Broncos’ playbook; they’re certainly getting nowhere fast with the current gameplan. The Arizona running game was about what we’ve come to expect from Beanie Wells: 62 yards on 23 carries for a sterling 2.7 yards per carry average and multiple stops at the goal line. But hey, if Skelton is the solution who needs Weanie?
HOUSTON TEXANS 37, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 9
No Andre Johnson (again)? No problem. Matt Schaub (11-15-242-2) went up top on the game’s first day from scrimmage, connecting with Jacoby Jones (2-87-1) for an 80-yard touchdown, and the Texans never looked back. Arian Foster (17-84-1 rushing, 4-102-1 receiving) got his, but he was kind enough to leave scraps for both Ben Tate (13-63-1) and even Derrick Ward (11-36-1).
By the time the Bucs eschewed a field goal on fourth and goal from the Houston five they were already down 16 points; they failed to convert, and it didn’t get any better with only 65 yards of offense after halftime. The Bucs were kind enough to consolidate 61 of them into their lone touchdown drive, capped by a touchdown pass from Josh Freeman (15-35-170-1-3) to Preston Parker (2-17-1).
FANTASY IMPACT: Aside from Freeman, the only Buc to muster as much as 50 yards of offense was Kregg Lumpkin (4-31 rushing, 5-30 receiving). Mike Williams (2-43) remained invisible, Arrelious Benn (2-47) remained uninvolved, and Kellen Winslow (3-33) has fallen off the radar. Not that his Houston counterpart, Owen Daniels (3-31) did that much more, but at least he had an excuse as the Texans ran the ball 75 percent of the time. With Andre Johnson likely to return after the bye—two months’ absence is long enough, don’t you think?—Daniels may have to get used to the reduced role.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 22, BALTIMORE RAVENS 17
The early touchdown by Marshawn Lynch (32-109-1 plus 5-58 receiving) seemed almost accidental, and the 3.4 yards per carry was anything but impressive. But after five field goals on six possessions, Lynch sealed the upset with six carries for 32 yards on Seattle’s final drive. With Baltimore self-destructing offensively, that’s really all the Seahawks needed.
Ray Rice (5-27 rushing, 8-54 receiving) carried five times; Joe Flacco (29-52-255-1-1) threw 52 passes. Baltimore was playing from behind, yes, but that’s not Ravens football. It’s not as if Flacco was working down the field; despite 17 targets between them wideouts Torrey Smith (3-28) and Anquan Boldin (2-22) were largely ineffective
FANTASY IMPACT: So who did the heavy lifting in the Baltimore passing game? Ed Dickson (10-79-2) separated from Dennis Pitta (4-49) to take the bulk of the tight end looks; in fact, Dickson was targeted 14 times to Pitta’s seven. At least Flacco was connecting on the underneath stuff, as the 29% completion rate to his wideouts was brutal. Neither was Tarvaris Jackson (17-27-217), as Lynch was his top receiver and tight ends Zach Miller (3-24) and Anthony McCoy (2-15) were next in line. Sidney Rice (2-14) and Doug Baldwin (1-50) were out-caught by Golden Tate (3-46).
CHICAGO BEARS 37, DETROIT LIONS 13
The score suggests an offensive outburst, but what Chicago got was typical Bears football: great defense (two pick sixes), standout special teams play (another Devin Hester return touchdown), and just enough offense to get by. Matt Forte (18-64-1 rushing, 1-3 receiving) did the brunt of the damage and scored the team's only offensive touchdown, while Jay Cutler (9-19-123) favorite Earl Bennett (6-81) constituted the vast majority of the passing game.
It was gritty and gutty, but it wasn't necessarily pretty: Matthew Stafford (33-63-329-1-4) played through a fractured finger and chucked it a club-record 63 times. His throwing two touchdowns to the other team and only one garbage-time score to Tony Scheffler (3-37-1) didn't help. Calvin Johnson (7-81) was unable to shake Peanut Tillman most of the afternoon; through sheer volume Nate Burleson (8-83), Titus Young (7-74) and tight end Brandon Pettigrew (5-38) carved out decent numbers as well.
FANTASY IMPACT: You may recall the last time the Bears and Lions met the outcome was dramatically different, primarily because Jahvid Best ran wild. This time around Maurice Morris (10-44, 1-6 receiving) and Kevin Smith (4-19, 2-10 receiving) were unable to establish any sort of ground game, and the Lions' offense suffered because of it. As noted above, the Chicago offense didn't need to do much. Forte and Bennett, the only two Bears who should receive regular fantasy attention, did their respective parts. And with the game out of hand Marion Barber (13-27) got in some work as well, though he's only a fantasy factor at the goal line.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 27, NEW YORK GIANTS 20
For the better part of three quarters the Niners and Giants did their best LSU/Alabama impression. Then, in the fourth quarter, San Francisco answered a Giants touchdown with two of their own, holding on for the win. Alex Smith (19-30-242-1-1) posted one of his better games, spreading the ball among eight receivers, half of them with at least three catches. Tight ends Delanie Walker (6-69) and Vernon Davis (3-40-1) topped the list, and while Michael Crabtree (1-21) trailed both Braylon Edwards (3-47) and Ted Ginn (3-39) in both yardage and catches it was Crabtree whom the Niners went to for a key two-point conversion in the fourth quarter.
Eli Manning (26-40-311-2-2) mixed in just enough Bad Eli to burn all the good will he'd been amassing up to this point. His banged-up receiving corps came through, paced by Victor Cruz (6-84), Mario Manningham (6-77), and Hakeem Nicks (2-41-1). And even sans Ahmad Bradshaw the ground game had a modicum of success against a very good 49ers run defense led by Brandon Jacobs (18-55 plsu 2-17 receiving).
FANTASY IMPACT: The targets tell the story for the Giants, as Cruz and Manningham were thrown to 21 times--more than half of Eli's attempts. The other curious grouping came at tight end, where Jake Ballard (3-35) ceded some looks to Bear Pascoe (2-23) as the duo shared seven targets. Frank Gore (6-0 rushing, 1-8 receiving) was ineffective before leaving with a knee injury to go along with his bum ankle. Kendall Hunter (6-40-1, 1-4 receiving) replaced him and scored, and while the Niners are saying Gore will be ready to go in Week 11 this is the precise opening JUMbotron has been referencing. It's inconceivable to think Hunter won't see more carries going forward as the Niners chug towards a bye and a home playoff game.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 37, NEW YORK JETS 16
You can't stop Tom Brady (26-39-329-3), and Sunday night the Jets could barely contain him. They did get to him early on for a safety, but once he started locking in on Rob Gronkowski (8-113-2) he was unstoppable. Not that Brady ignored the rest of his receivers--Deion Branch (5-58-1) scored, Wes Welker (6-46) fought off Revis Island, and even Chad Ochocinco (2-65) took advantage of a befuddled secondary to make a play--but he clearly favored Gronkowski at just about every stage of the game but especially the red zone.
Ground and pound quickly turned into chuck and duck as Mark Sanchez (20-39-306-1-2) spent the second half playing catch-up. All three wideouts saw eight targets each, with Santonio Holmes (6-93) doing the most damage and Plaxico Burress (3-39-1) scoring the touchdown. Rookie Jeremy Kerley (4-79) also continues to be involved, but tight end Dustin Keller (2-37) was targeted four times and seems like an afterthought.
FANTASY IMPACT: Though lightly used the Jets' running game was reasonably effective. Shonn Greene (13-61, 2-14 receiving) averaged 4.7 yards a carry while LaDainian Tomlinson (7-38, 2-22 receiving) topped five yards a tote. That would seem to be a good tool to use to prevent the game from falling on Sanchez's shoulders. The Patriots had no ground game to speak of. They opened and closed with BenJarvus Green-Ellis (8-8), but didn't give him any opportunity to get into a rhythm or replicate his productive previous outing against the Jets as they rotated Kevin Faulk (5-8), Stevan Ridley (5-4), and Danny Woodhead (7-38 rushing, 1-6 receiving) in and out of the mix.