BALTIMORE RAVENS 31, CINCINNATI BENGALS 24
The Ravens didn’t demonstrate any initial knowledge gained from last week’s debacle, as Ray Rice (20-104-2, 5-43 receiving) had only six carries at halftime. But they fed Rice after the break, leading to a 59-yard burst, and they also stretched the defense with Torrey Smith (6-165-1). There wasn’t much left in between, as no other Raven accounted for more than 35 yards of offense.
Another big-boy division test and another “almost” for the Bengals, who got off to a quick start with a touchdown on their second drive—then went five possessions before returning to Ravens territory and six before scoring. Andy Dalton (24-45-373-1-3 plus 4-32 rushing) was impressive in leading two fourth-quarter scoring drives—both of which started at his own 20—and marched the Bengals 74 yards before turning the ball over on downs in the final seconds. With A.J. Green out, Jerome Simpson (8-152) stepped up his game as Dalton directed 30 targets at his wideouts.
FANTASY IMPACT: Cedric Benson (15-41-2) was ordinary at 2.7 yards per carry, but he capped the Bengals’ first two scoring drives by punching in short runs against the Baltimore defense. Note that Bernard Scott (9-40) is seeing a bit more work each game; also, Brian Leonard (2-6 rushing, 5-57 receiving) may have emerged as a go-to third-down back. Joe Flacco (17-27-270-2-1) threw roughly half the passes he did last week, but he was efficient—especially with Anquan Boldin (1-35-1), who was targeted twice and caught one for a touchdown. He also hit Smith six times on seven targets, a percentage not likely to be replicated any time soon given the deep routes Smith runs and his propensity for drops.
CLEVELAND BROWNS 14, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 10
After a predictably slow start the Browns provided more offense than you would expect, though it didn’t necessarily translate to the scoreboard. Beginning with their first scoring drive midway through the second quarter the Browns took four of their final five drives at least 60 yards; the only exception was a one-play kneeldown prior to halftime. Colt McCoy (17-24-199-1-1) threw a pick to kill a 10-play drive in the third quarter, then bounced back to hit Josh Cribbs (3-20-1) to finish a 12-play march early in the fourth.
You knew Maurice Jones-Drew (21-87-1 plus 4-31 receiving) was going to get his, and you knew he couldn’t expect much help. Actually, Marcedes Lewis (7-64) stepped up for a change, though it took 11 targets from Blaine Gabbert (22-41-210) to get there. Gabbert was actually even less compatible with Mike Thomas (3-23), who was also targeted 11 times.
FANTASY IMPACT: It’s still a bit perplexing that Jones-Drew was the focus of just 27 of the Jaguars’ 70 plays. Jacksonville tried to spell him on occasion, but Deji Karim (4-1) was even less effective than usual. Conversely, the Browns finally got production from their ground game as Chris Ogbonnaya (21-115-1, 2-19 receiving) paced the offensive attack. The passing game attempted to run through Greg Little (5-59 on eight targets) once again, but once again it was Cribbs scoring the touchdown.
DETROIT LIONS 49, CAROLINA PANTHERS 35
The Lions shot themselves in the proverbial foot with turnovers on their first three drives; after they stopped with the miscues, they rattled off touchdowns on seven of their next nine drives. While Matthew Stafford (28-36-335-5-2) finished with great numbers, it was Kevin Smith doing much of the damage with 16-140-2 rushing and 4-61-1 receiving. Smith was one of five Lions to catch TD passes from Stafford; one who wasn’t was Calvin Johnson (5-89).
Carolina capitalized on turnovers to take an early lead, but settling for field goals on their first and last drives of the first half ultimately proved fatal as they couldn’t keep up with the Lions after halftime. Cam Newton (22-38-280-1-4 plus 7-37-2 rushing) kept both teams in the game with three touchdowns and four turnovers. For a change Newton got help from both of his backs, DeAngelo Williams (10-73 rushing plus 1-32 receiving) and Jonathan Stewart (8-22 rushing plus a team-high 6-87 receiving).
FANTASY IMPACT: Newton tried to get the ball to regulars Steve Smith (5-41 on a team-high 10 targets) and Greg Olsen (3-23 on nine looks), but had to settle for Brandon LaFell (3-51) and Legadu Naanee (3-41). Stafford also spread the ball around; while Megatron didn’t score, wideouts Nate Burleson (7-63-1) and Titus Young (2-14-1) and tight ends Brandon Pettigrew (4-37-1) and Tony Scheffler (2-24-1) did. In all, Stafford used nine different targets.
GREEN BAY PACKERS 35, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 26
Aaron Rodgers only threw for 299 yards (on 23-34, with an uncharacteristic pick) and only tossed three touchdowns. What’s wrong? Ask Greg Jennings (2-6), who took the afternoon off while Jordy Nelson (6-123-2) torched the Bucs. The remaining Packer touchdowns went to unusual suspects: Tom Crabtree (2-5-1) instead of Jermichael Finley (1-30) and John Kuhn (1-2-1 plus 1 catch for -1 yards) and B.J. Raji (1-1-1) instead of James Starks (11-38 plus 6-53 receiving).
The Bucs dug themselves a hole, then made a valiant second-half attempt to climb out behind 210 second-half passing yards from Josh Freeman (28-38-342-2-2) and the rediscovery of favorite targets Kellen Winslow (9-132) and Mike Williams (7-83).
FANTASY IMPACT: The highlight of the first half for Tampa Bay was a 54-yard touchdown run from LeGarrette Blount (18-107-1 plus 1-6 receiving) in which he shook off seven Packer would-be tacklers. It’s the kind of running we saw more of last year and haven’t seen much of in 2011. The Packers’ offense is as frustrating for fantasy owners as it is prolific. Crabtree over Finley? Raji over Starks? Donald Driver (4-72) lapping Jennings?
MIAMI DOLPHINS 35, BUFFALO BILLS 8
The Dolphins fired up their juggernaut offense, scoring on their first three drives and then capitalizing on a pick just before halftime to take a 28-6 lead into the break. Only defenses and special teams scored in the second half, but why be greedy? If you got a touchdown from Reggie Bush (15-32 rushing, 4-34 receiving) or another hat trick from Matt Moore (14-20-160-3), you shouldn’t be asking for more.
Fred Jackson (7-17 rushing, 5-50 receiving) never got going, then left early with a calf injury. Ryan Fitzpatrick (20-39-209-0-2) couldn’t overcome losing another receiver as Donald Jones (one target, no catches) suffered an ankle injury and Steve Johnson (2-16 on 8 targets) was a mere shell of his former self.
FANTASY IMPACT: With Jackson out of the lineup, the only Bill to top 35 yards of offense was tight end Scott Chandler (5-71). It was that kind of awful day for the Buffalo offense. Miami actually ended up with fewer net yards, primarily because they shut down in the second half and only gained 51 yards and had three first downs; almost 70 percent of their offensive production came on their first three series.
OAKLAND RAIDERS 27, MINNESOTA VIKINGS 21
To be honest, we expected a little more from Carson Palmer (17-23-164-1) against such a decrepit secondary. But Minnesota took away the deep ball, limiting Denarius Moore to 1-14 and keeping the Raiders without a completion longer than 21 yards. No matter; Palmer ran in a touchdown to pad his fantasy stats and give Michael Bush (30-109-1 plus 2-20) an offensive assist as Oakland mustered just three second-half points (off a Vikings turnover) yet held on for the win.
Losing Adrian Peterson (6-26-1) to a sprained ankle in the first half took a big bite out of the Vikings’ game plan. It led to a 10-minute deficit in time of possession in the second half alone and forced Christian Ponder (19-33-211-2-3) to pick up the offense. He had a helping hand from Percy Harvin (5-21 rushing, 6-73-1 receiving plus another TD negated on a misguided holding call), but it was too big a loss for the Vikings to overcome.
FANTASY IMPACT: Ponder did throw a late TD to Kyle Rudolph (3-7-1) to pull the Vikings within a score, but they couldn’t convert a fourth-down in their own territory and a last-second desperation lateral play fell well short. Rudolph’s touchdown was set up by Minnesota’s other tight end, Visanthe Shiancoe (2-42); it’s a position Ponder clearly feels comfortable throwing to. With the deep ball taken away the Raiders also involved their underneath game, using Kevin Boss (5-37) and Brandon Myers (2-23) and even fullback Marcel Reece (6-45 rushing, 2-16 receiving). That’s not Raiders football!
DALLAS COWBOYS 27, WASHINGTON REDSKINS 24 (OT)
Tony Romo (23-37-292-3) snapped a streak of five straight one- or zero-TD games against the Redskins, spreading the ball around to all his targets: Laurent Robinson (4-34-1 on 11 targets), Dez Bryant (3-68-1 on eight targets) and Jason Witten (3-85-1). With a boost from DeMarco Murray (25-73 rushing, 6-32 receiving) and five other Cowboys catching balls, Dallas alternately led, rallied, came back, and sealed the deal in overtime.
Clearly, Mike Shanahan needs a bigger roster. The Redskins had three running backs and two wide receivers carry the ball, though it was quarterback Rex Grossman (3-10-1 rushing, 25-38-289-2-1) who scored the team’s lone rushing TD. Ten different Redskins caught passes from Grossman, paced by Jabar Gaffney (7-115-1) with assists from Fred Davis (6-49) and Donte’ Stallworth (4-51-1).
FANTASY IMPACT: Roy Helu (8-35, 2-3) was the most effective Redskins’ running back; of course, that didn’t prevent Shanny from giving touches to Tashard Choice (6-7 rushing, 1-2 receiving) and Ryan Torain (5-4 rushing, 1-2 receiving. That’s correct: 13 touches for 15 yards, as opposed to 10-38 for Helu. Maybe the Skins can trade for Felix Jones (5-18, 1-4), who was more productive than Washington’s backups but has clearly lost his job to the rookie Murray.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 23, ARIZONA CARDINALS 7
David Akers missed three field goals in the first half; he also made three, as the Niners kept getting close but no cigar through the first two quarters. San Francisco used a 13-play drive and a turnover to set up touchdowns on their next two drives, dominating the time of possession by almost 30 minutes, outgaining the Cards by more than 200 yards, and generally outclassing Arizona in every facet of the game. Alex Smith (20-38-267-2-1) directed the show, with an assist from Frank Gore (24-88, 1-6 receiving) and a big game from Michael Crabtree (7-120).
Yes, it was every bit the disaster the score and stats would suggest. John Skelton (6-19-99-0-3) was benched for Richard Bartel (8-16-64-1), who at least had the decency to find Larry Fitzgerald (3-41-1).
FANTASY IMPACT: Chester Taylor (1-34) led the team in rushing despite just the one carry, giving you an indication of how productive Beanie Wells (8-33) was. While Fitzgerald was trying to salvage fantasy value Early Doucet (6-50) and Andre Roberts (3-51) were sharing 19 targets. Vernon Davis (5-67-1) was as targeted as Crabtree, a positive development for his fantasy prospects; also positive: Delanie Walker, no catches on five targets. Kendall Hunter (11-27, 1-15 receiving) is seeing the anticipated pickup in looks as the Niners move closer to clinching the division; an uptick in productivity shouldn’t be far behind.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 24, SAINT LOUIS RAMS 7
Tarvaris Jackson (14-24-148-1-2) got his interceptions out of the way early, then settled into a rhythm of handing the ball to Marshawn Lynch (27-88-1, 2-1 receiving) that held the impotent Rams at bay. Jackson targeted (and connected with) nine different receivers, including favorite Sidney Rice (3-35-1) and fellow wideouts Doug Baldwin (3-60), Mike Williams (2-62), Golden Tate (1-16), and Ben Obomanu (1-11).
The Rams picked off Jackson on Seattle’s first two drives, the latter setting up a Brandon Lloyd (5-67-1) touchdown; it was all downhill from there, with nine punts, two fumbles, and a pick rounding out the St. Louis offensive performance.
FANTASY IMPACT: Steven Jackson (15-42, 3-19 receiving) couldn’t get going against the stout Seattle run D, and aside from Lloyd there was no other offense on the St. Louis side of the ball. Lynch was similarly sluggish but received almost twice the carries of Jackson; however, the more productive Seattle runner on the afternoon was Justin Forsett (4-31-1, 1-2 receiving).
ATLANTA FALCONS 23, TENNESSEE TITANS 17
For the Falcons a mix of Tony Gonzalez (5-74-1) early, Michael Turner (21-100-1, 1-9 receiving) late, and lots of Matt Bryant and Roddy White (7-147 on 14 targets) in between was enough to hold off the Titans. Matt Ryan (22-32-316-1) directed an Atlanta attack that gobbled the clock (a 14-minute advantage in time of possession) but made things interesting with a late fumble as they were driving for a clinching score.
Has the Jake Locker (9-19-140-2) era begun? The rookie came on in relief of Matt Hasselbeck (13-25-124-0-1) after Hass injured his elbow, then directed two late scoring drives to make things interesting. Nate Washington (9-115-2) was the primary beneficiary, catching all nine balls thrown his way. Damian Williams (1-16), on the other hand, was targeted 11 times with just the one catch.
FANTASY IMPACT: The bad Chris Johnson (12-13, 3-15 receiving) was back. How bad? Hasselbeck (1-17) outrushed him and Locker (1-11) wasn’t far behind. He’s back to untrustworthy again. Conversely, the Falcons’ big three are back to delivering on a consistent basis, and you can toss in Gonzo for good measure. The closest any auxiliary player came to horning in on their action was 4-51 from Harry Douglas in place of the injured Julio Jones.
CHICAGO BEARS 31, SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 20
The Bears used an atypical formula for their fifth straight win. For starters, they didn’t rely solely on Matt Forte (21-59, 4-26 receiving); Marion Barber (6-23) vultured one rushing score and Jay Cutler (18-31-286-2-1, 5-11-1 rushing) swiped the other. The passing game featured Roy Williams (5-62) and Johnny Knox (3-97-1) in addition to Earl Bennett (3-75), and tight end Kellen Davis (1-4-1) found the end zone. It wasn’t the usual recipe, but it bought the Bears an edge in yardage, time of possession, and most importantly on the scoreboard.
On the bright side, Vincent Jackson (7-165-1) showed up this week; unfortunately for him, the majority of his teammates did not. Philip Rivers (21-31-280-2-2) threw two fourth-quarter picks that cost the Chargers any shot at a comeback, while the ground game turned to Ryan Mathews (13-37, 2-14 receiving) and was sorely disappointed.
FANTASY IMPACT: Antonio Gates (4-63-1) admitted earlier in the week that the foot isn’t completely healthy, but as the score and stats prove a partial Gates is better than the majority of other tight ends. Mike Tolbert (3-14, 5-24 receiving) appears to have lost his share of the carries, but he was targeted more than any receiver other than Jackson so he’s got that going for him. The big news in Chicago, obviously, is Cutler’s busted thumb. The only other Bear to throw a pass against San Diego was punter Adam Podlesh, who misfired on a fake; that’s likely to change with Cutler reportedly headed for surgery and a six-week convalescence.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 17, NEW YORK GIANTS 10
No Michael Vick? Vince Young (23-36-258-2-3) overcame three picks to lead a late touchdown drive. No Jeremy Maclin? DeSean Jackson (6-88) stepped up his game, though the stat line would have been more impressive had he not wiped out a 60-yard gain with a taunting penalty or stepped out of bounds on a long punt return. Riley Cooper (5-75-1) and Steve Smith (1-14-1) helped pick up the passing game slack. In the ground game, LeSean McCoy (23-113, 3-2 receiving) needed no such help, though it took a late 60-yard gallop to salvage fantasy value after he failed to score a touchdown for the first time this season.
After three quarters of ineptitude—nine punts, a pick, and a 47-yard field goal—Eli Manning (18-35-264-1-1) led the Giants to one fourth-quarter touchdown and seemed well on his way to directing a second before a strip-sack ended the comeback hopes. Manning received plenty of help from Victor Cruz (6-128-1) and Hakeem Nicks (3-69), but Mario Manningham (1-4) was MIA and the running game was, to quote Tom Coughlin, “pathetic”.
FANTASY IMPACT: With Ahmad Bradshaw sidelined again, Brandon Jacobs had a chance to gash a Philly run defense that ranked near the bottom of the league. Instead, he carried 12 times for 21 yards (with a long gain of nine) and caught three passes for another 11. Da’Rel Scott (2-11, 1-9) and D.J. Ware (3 carries, -3 yards and 2-17 receiving) fared no better. Young’s version of the Philly offense continues to include Brent Celek, who caught all six balls thrown his way for 60 yards. It will be interesting to see where Maclin fits into this game plan when he returns, or if Vick will beat him back to the lineup.