Titans 13, Ravens 10
To the Titans’ credit, they didn’t abandon the run entirely despite getting just 48 yards combined from Chris Johnson and LenDale White (and the rookie picked up the lion’s share, with 44). And they didn’t let two early Kerry Collins interceptions dissuade them from throwing, as Collins went 7-for-12 for 72 yards while directing the Titans to 10 fourth-quarter points—helped, to be sure, by a ticky-tack roughing the passer call in a game that saw plenty of harder hits. Kerry’s throws were focused on the tight ends, as nine of his 17 completions went to Bo Scaife (7-72) and Alge Crumpler (2-15, including the game-winning touchdown). With Justin Gage out Brandon Jones was the favored downfield target, catching three balls for 54 yards and producing the Titans’ only play of more than 15 yards.
The Ravens did a lot of things necessary to win—shut down the Titans’ running game, held an edge in time of possession—but they faced an uphill field position battle; their first possession, which started at their own 34, was their only possession that began outside the 20s, and six of their 10 drives started at their own 20 or worse. The Ravens mixed in an expected dose of Joe Flacco—153 yards on 18-of-27 passing—but for the most part Baltimore ran the ball right at the Titans, 38 times for 132 yards. Willis McGahee shrugged off his array of injuries, carrying 22 times for 64 yards, while Le’Ron McClain took 11 carries 51 yards and scored the Ravens’ only touchdown. Todd Heap showed up in the game plan with a season-high four catches for 41 yards, but Flacco mixed in his receivers much better than his opponent as Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, and Demetrius Williams combined for 10 catches and 97 yards.
Fantasy Impact: Odds are you weren’t expecting much from this game fantasy-wise. If anything, we learned the Ravens will continue to use McClain to offset McGahee and protect their young quarterback—and with a touchdown and nearly five yards a carry against a stout Titans defense, McClain can be a fantasy helper in touchdown-heavy leagues the rest of the way.
Panthers 34, Chiefs 0
Who needs offensive tackles? With starters Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah down with injuries, the Panthers barely missed a beat. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart again split carries, but this time the productivity belonged almost exclusively to Williams. He turned 20 carries into 123 yards and two touchdowns and took his only reception 25 yards for a third score; by comparison, Stewart’s 19-72 and 1-8 were positively plodding. When the Panthers weren’t running all over the Chiefs (205 yards on the ground), Jake Delhomme was dissecting them downfield. Only 22 of Carolina’s 70 plays were passes, yet Delhomme threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns, turning both Steve Smith (6-96) and Muhsin Muhammad (3-71-1) into quality fantasy plays.
It was every bit as ugly as the goose egg on the scoreboard would indicate. The Chiefs abandon an ineffective ground game early, limiting Larry Johnson to two yards on seven carries and finishing with 35 rushing yards on 17 carries. Damon Huard gave way to Tyler Thigpen in the fourth quarter, but neither mustered anything of note in a passing game that produced 123 yards and two interceptions. Kansas City’s other two fantasy players of note, Dwayne Bowe and Tony Gonzalez, combined for eight catches and 74 yards, though Gonzo’s first grab did net him the NFL record for most receiving yards by a tight end.
Fantasy Impact: Williams continues to hold off Stewart, though the rookie still has more touchdowns on the year (the trifecta marked DeAngelo’s first visits to the end zone in 2008) and has three quality fantasy games to Williams’ one. As for LJ… what can you do? Twice Herm Edwards has completely abandon his beloved ground game, and it’s not as if you can expect KC’s quarterback play to dramatically improve over the next three months. At the risk of sitting him for a 26-carry, triple-digit yardage game he’s become a matchup play at best, because the seven-carry downside is a torpedo to your fantasy squad’s weekly hopes for success.
Bears 34, Lions 7
It wasn’t quite the monster game some thought Matt Forte might have, but his 61 yards from scrimmage included two touchdowns; that should be enough to salve most fantasy folks. The real star for the Bears was Kyle Orton, who completed 24 of 34 passes for 334 yards and two touchdowns against what passed for Rod Marinelli’s Cover-2. Everybody got a piece of the pie as eight different Bears caught passes, led by erstwhile return men Rasheid Davis (6-97) and Devin Hester (5-66 and a sweet spin move for a touchdown). Greg Olsen nearly went the distance with what ended up to be a 52-yard completion and finished with three catches for 87 yards, though he’s still sharing with Desmond Clark (2-17). Don’t worry about Forte sharing carries, though; seven of Kevin Jones’ touches and all eight of Garrett Wolfe’s came with the Bears sporting a 24-point lead or better.
Maybe it wasn’t all Matt Millen’s fault. In honor of their deposed president the Lions took the weekend off, barely mustering the energy for 185 yards of offense and possessing the ball for a mere 21 minutes of game time. Roy Williams, playing for a ticket out of Motown, was the lone bright spot with 96 yards on seven catches; Williams even had a hand in a Bears’ touchdown, as the pick Charles Tillman returned for a touchdown bounced off his mitts. M eanwhile, Calvin Johnson caught two balls for just 16 yards. Rudi Johnson’s grasp on the starting gig lasted five carries and 23 yards before Kevin Smith returned and produced Detroit’s only touchdown—part of his 56 yards from scrimmage.
Fantasy Impact: Is Orton in danger of becoming (gasp) a viable fantasy quarterback? He’s had two and a half good games the past three weeks with a revolving cast of receivers, and the matchups haven’t all been layups like the Lions. Jon Kitna was removed from this game, reportedly because of back spasms (as opposed to ineffectiveness), with Dan Orlovsky finishing up. Note that Williams was targeted 11 times by Orlovsky, while CJ saw just two balls from the backup. If there’s a changing of the guard, ol’ Roy just might have an opportunity to increase his offseason bargaining power.
Falcons 27, Packers 24
Despite the 927-mile road trip the Falcons made Green Bay feel like Atlanta North, scoring their first road touchdowns en route to the upset. Not surprisingly, they loaded up Michael Turner with 26 carries against a run defense that has struggled and was down a defensive tackle this week; MTO responded with 121 yards and a late touchdown. The 36-carry, 176-yard ground game took the pressure off Matt Ryan, who picked his spots and completed 16 of 26 tosses for 194 yards and two scores. Roddy White was once again his go-to guy, producing 132 yards and a touchdown—all in the first half, and against a secondary that was missing three regulars. In the second half the Falcons threw just eight times in 25 offensive snaps.
Looks like Green Bay fans still don’t have to worry about their quarterback playing hurt. Despite a shoulder that is somewhere between sprained and separated, Aaron Rodgers threw for 313 yards and three scores in almost leading the Pack back just like some other guy they used to have. Pessimistic Pack fans will focus, however, on Rodgers’ INT late in the fourth quarter which the Falcons turned into a touchdown. Greg Jennings (4-87-1) continued to get his, and Donald Driver (3-68-1) turned a deep throw into double coverage into just his second touchdown in the past 16 games. In all eight different Packers caught passes, including Donald Lee (his first touchdown of the year) and Tory Humphrey, another tight end who finished with 67 yards on the afternoon.
Fantasy Impact: Welcome back, Ryan Grant! Though the Packers played most of this game from behind and Rodgers threw 37 passes, Grant produced his best game in a month with 83 yards on 18 carries. He’s still looking for his first touchdown of the season, but after laying four straight eggs and fumbling in each of the past two contests it’s somewhat reassuring to see him remain in the team’s game plan.
Colts 31, Texans 27
The Colts bookended some utterly ordinary football with strong first and fourth quarters. Indy’s first two drives resulted in 10 points, and the rout looked to be on. However, the Colts could muster just 102 yards of offense over the next two frames and by the time they got the ball in the fourth quarter they were down 27-10. Then it was Peyton Manning to the rescue, as he fired a pair of scoring strikes to salvage both an Indy win and decent fantasy days for much of his club. Manning finished with 247 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including one on an acrobatic catch by Reggie Wayne. Wayne’s 7-97-1 led Colts receivers across the board; Dallas Clark had a solid 5-81 day but lost a touchdown to rookie Tom Santi; Marvin Harrison was ordinary with four grabs for 32 yards; and Anthony Gonzalez was an afterthought with one catch. Joseph Addai didn’t have nearly as much success as anticipated against a Texans defense whose quick linebackers shot through cutback lanes and limited him to 71 yards and a touchdown.
For about 55 minutes Sage Rosenfels was looking like a hero—and potentially the Texans’ starting quarterback next week. Then it all fell apart as Rosenfels fumbled twice on rollouts as Houston was trying to run out the clock; one was returned for a touchdown, the other set up Indy’s game-winning score. Those gaffes will overshadow a solid 246-yard, one-TD effort against a pass defense that hadn’t given up much of anything yet this season. Rosenfels, filling in for (very) late scratch Matt Schaub, leaned heavily on Andre Johnson; in danger of forfeiting his “every week starter” card, Johnson caught nine balls for 131 yards and a touchdown and showed none of the sloppy glovework or lack of effort that had marred his previous couple of games. Owen Daniels saw some looks and finished 5-47, but no other Houston receiver did anything of note. Ahman Green returned to swipe a dozen carries from Steve Slaton, costing him a 100-yard game; however, the diminutive rookie was the man at the stripe, scoring twice as part of a 16-carry, 93-yard day. Going forward you have to assume that Kubiak, being a Mike Shanahan disciple, will continue to use both backs—but Green averaged less than four yards a carry against the softest run defense the Texans will see while Slaton averaged almost six and saw both money balls.
Fantasy Impact: We’re starting to see a pecking order shake out amongst Indy’s receivers. Wayne is unquestionably Numero Uno. Harrison is not only No. 2, he’s also become a possession receiver bankable only for 40-50 yards a week; moreover, his yards-per-catch is under 10 and ranks behind Wayne, Clark, and Gonzalez. In the slot, meanwhile, there can be only one. In the two games Clark has been healthy he has nine catches for 128 yards while Gonzo has three for 40; in the two prior tilts, when Clark was knocked from the game with an injury or held out completely, Gonzo had 14-185. So long as Clark (and Marv) are healthy, Gonzo appears to be the odd man out.
Dolphins 17, Chargers 10
How quickly they forget; evidently tapes of Miami’s single-wing success failed to reach San Diego as the Fins once again put Ronnie Brown behind center and let him run wild. His 125 and one wasn’t quite as jaw-dropping as his pre-bye dismantling of the Patriots, but he’s unquestionably returned himself to every-week fantasy starter status. Chad Pennington also got a few snaps at quarterback and was his typical efficient self, completing 22 of 29 throws for 228 yards and a touchdown to Greg Camarillo. The passing game was spread thin enough that Camarillo’s TD made him the only fantasy factor, and Brown so dominated the backfield that all Ricky Williams could muster was 39 yards on 13 carries.
For a team with so many offensive weapons, the Chargers were definitely firing blanks on Sunday. LaDainian Tomlinson looked—pick one: old, hobbled, ordinary—on 12 carries and five receptions, mustering just 57 yards from scrimmage. One more yard—specifically, on fourth-and-goal from the one—could have salvaged both his fantasy day and the Chargers’ hopes. Philip Rivers did nothing to pick LT up, completing 13 of 28 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown, but Chris Chambers’ revenge score was the only item of note amongst San Diego receivers as Vincent Jackson led the charge with just two catches for 56 yards and Antonio Gates managed but one grab on the afternoon.
Fantasy Impact: Can the single wing be stopped? In two games against last year’s AFC finalists Brown has taken 16 direct snaps, resulting in 158 rushing yards and four scores as well as one passing touchdown. Taking handoffs over that same span Brown has carried 26 times for 80 yards and a score. While the direct snap may be causing headaches in leagues using Team QB, it’s absolutely resuscitated Brown’s fantasy value much sooner than one would have thought barely a year removed from ACL surgery.
Giants 44, Seahawks 6
Plaxico Who? Sans their suspended receiver, the Giants turned to Domenik Hixon (102 and 1) and Sinorice Moss (45 and 2) as Eli Manning’s 267 passing yards sparked the defending Super Bowl champs to a fourth straight victory. Eli got help from Brandon Jacobs, who battered the Seahawks for 136 yards and a pair of scores as the Giants held the ball for more than 36 minutes. Even David Carr got in on the action, throwing a touchdown pass in relief of Manning. Don’t let the box score fool you, though; Derrick Ward was the change of pace back to Jacobs as all 11 of Ahmad Bradshaw’s carries came in garbage time.
Here’s a thought: Seattle could save the cost of flying the whole team to the East Coast and just use a stamp, because for the second straight road trip they absolutely mailed it in. Matt Hasselbeck enjoyed having Bobby Engram (8-61) and Deion Branch (3-31) back in the lineup, at least right up until he was pulled as either a mercy play or as a result of a hyperextended knee, which Hass suffered in the first series but played through. Either way, his 105-yard outing was painful. Julius Jones took the bulk of the carries as Maurice Morris remained out of the mix, but his 17-carry, 61-yard day was nothing special. Note that the Seahawks have two more trips to the Eastern Time Zone on their schedule, in Weeks 7 (Tampa) and 10 (Miami).
Fantasy Impact: Assuming you reach a point where you feel like you can trust your Seahawks again, it’s worth noting that 10 of Hasselbeck’s 11 completions went to Engram and Branch. John Carlson, his former fave, didn’t even get a look.
Redskins 23, Eagles 17
Philly’s game plan was to take Santana Moss away from Jason Campbell and see how he responded. The answer was to turn and hand the ball to Clinton Portis, who carried 29 times for 145 yards and a touchdowns to pace a Redskins ground game that finished with 203 yards. Campbell’s efficiency was down a bit with Moss blanketed (reduced to two targets and zero catches), but he leaned heavily on Chris Cooley—hitting him on seven of nine targets for 91 yards. Cooley was also on the business end of an Antwan Randle El toss, taking him over the century mark and netting him his first touchdown of the year.
The Eagles looked like they would salt this one away early, with Brian Westbrook scoring on the opening drive and DeSean Jackson taking a punt back 68 yards for a 14-0 first quarter lead. But Westbrook left with sore ribs (he missed the end of one offensive series before returning) and the Philly offense failed to recapture the success of that first drive. Westbrook produced 84 yards from scrimmage on 18 touches, but only 33 of those came on the ground and the Eagles found themselves on the short end of the time of possession hourglass because of their lack of success moving the chains; after a first down early in the second quarter Philly went three-and-out on four consecutive series—accumulating just 19 yards of total offense—before driving 86 yards for a field goal on their final possession. Reggie Brown continued to work his way back into Donovan McNabb’s wheelhouse, catching four balls for 84 yards to pace the Eagles. On the day, however, The Don delivered a disappointing 196 yards and zero touchdowns.
Fantasy Impact: This is most definitely not the same Redskins offense that looked borderline inept on Kickoff Weekend. Take away Moss and Cooley steps up; take away the pass and Portis beats you on the ground. And after surviving the first round of killer NFC East matchups the Redskins won’t see another divisional foe until Week 11; moreover, all three of Washington’s remaining division games will be played in DC (okay, Landover, Maryland, but you get the idea). As an added bonus, their next three opponents are the Rams, Browns, and Lions.
Broncos 16, Buccaneers 13
For the second straight week the formerly high-flying Denver offense failed to reach the 20-point mark. This time, however, their defense showed up to help bail them out. Tampa’s Cover-2 took Brandon Marshall out of the mix, limiting him to three catches for 25 yards; Brandon Stokley (6-52-1) and Tony Scheffler (4-65) picked up the slack as Jay Cutler threw for 227 yards and a score, completing 23 of 34 pass attempts. Denver’s three-headed running back attack carried 26 times for 106 yards, but again no back topped 11 carries; Michael Pittman’s 39 yards on six carries were the most productive and three of them produced first downs.
Only twice did the Bucs start with field position beyond their own 20, and the uphill task proved to be too much. Drives of 65 and 67 yards netted them a total of six points, and they had to drive 90 yards to score their lone touchdown. The offense did most of its work underneath, with Warrick Dunn’s 38 yard the only Tampa Bay play more than 17 yards. The ground game was again effective but again split, with Dunn’s 11-74 joined by Earnest Graham’s 10-59. That’s a better than six yard per carry average, but fantasy-wise the shared carries are a killer. Antonio Bryant again stepped up in Joey Galloway’s absence, catching seven balls for 58 yards, and Ike Hilliard added a touchdown grab but the receiving game pie was divided nine ways and only Bryant managed more than 29 yards. The Bucs even split their quarterback production, as Brian Griese suffered an elbow injury in the third quarter and left with 88 yards; Jeff Garcia came on and threw for 93 and a touch.
Fantasy Impact: Two solid running games, both of them rendered impotent for fantasy purposes because of the job share. In fact, in this entire game the only entity responsible for more than 100 yards was Cutler. Thanks, Coaches Shanahan and Gruden!
Cardinals 41, Bills 17
Who says you can’t go home again? The Cardinals returned from an East Coast swing to host a banged-up yet undefeated Bills team and took it to them early, scoring on their first four possessions and seven of their first eight. Kurt Warner set the pace with 250 yards and two scores, making up for the absence of Anquan Boldin by hitting Larry Fitzgerald for two scores and bringing Steve Breaston (7-77) and Early Doucet (6-42) in on the fun as well. While both of Fitzy’s touchdowns were from in close, the Cards didn’t abandon the ground game with three red zone rushing scores as well. Tim Hightower added a 17-yard romp to his two-yard score while Edgerrin James horned in on Hightower’s gig with a one-yard TD as part of a typical 21-carry, 57-yard effort.
Hard to say if the Bills could have hung with the Cardinals had Trent Edwards not been knocked from the game, as it happened just three plays in. Didn’t help, though, that two plays later J.P. Losman and Marshawn Lynch misfired on a handoff—thanks to an unblocked Antonio Smith staring them in the face—and six plays after that the Cards were in the end zone. Losman added another fumble Arizona turned into points later on, though his 15-21-220-1-1 line (with a rushing touchdown as well) wasn’t bad in a fill-in capacity. Lee Evans continued to find the big play, scoring on an 87-yard strike and finishing with 100 yards on two catches, but he was the only Bills fantasy starter to pay dividends as Lynch turned in a disappointing 13-55 on the ground and added three catches for 10 yards.
Fantasy Impact: On the one hand you have enough red zone looks for Edge to augment his mediocre rushing numbers and Hightower to actually be a fantasy factor—and still throw two two-yard-scores to Fitzgerald. On the other you have Lynch handling the ball on five of the seven plays to set Buffalo up at the two, only to see a backup quarterback call his own number for the score. Lynch consistently dominates the Bills’ side of the box score, but he’s now gone two weeks without a touchdown and has yet to reach the century mark this season.
Cowboys 31, Bengals 22
There was no eight-carry limit for Marion Barber this week, and the Cowboys made sure Felix Jones touched the ball as well. The results? Barber carried 23 times for 84 yards against a surprisingly stubborn Bengals interior, while Jones burned Cincy to the outside with his first tote—a 33-yard touchdown sprint on fourth-and-short—and finished with 96 yards on nine carries. In all the Cowboys finished with 198 rushing yards, part of the reason Tony Romo only threw 23 times and compiled 176 yards—though his three scores were salve enough for most fantasy owners. Terrell Owens carried once and caught two, taking one 57 yards for a touchdown; think we’ll hear about that this week? Jason Witten accounted for eight of Romo’s 14 completions, totaling 79 yards and a score. Romo’s third TD went through Miles Austin’s hands—right to Patrick Crayton in the end zone.
Carson Palmer played and played well, teaming up with T.J. Houshmandzadeh for a pair of scores as Housh accounted for 85 of Palmer’s 217 yards. Antonio Chatman was Cincy’s second target, matching Housh’s seven catches and finishing with 55 yards. Chad Johnson? Three catches, 43 yards, and the closest he got to the Star was during the postgame handshake. On the ground the Bengals were all but forced to turn to Cedric Benson after Chris Perry fumbled for the fifth time on the season. Neither back impressed, but at least Benson (10-30) averaged 3.0 yards per carry and held on to the football—feats Perry (13-31) could not match.
Fantasy Impact: Jones is a tough start given his limited touches; in a way he’s like Devin Hester or Lee Evans in that he may only get his hands on the ball five times a game—but any of those five could go the distance. Speaking of hands on the ball, don’t be at all surprised to see Benson stealing more carries from Perry. It’s not as if the Bengals have anything to lose, and if they see signs of life from Benson maybe they don’t have to take a running back with the first overall selection in the upcoming draft.
Patriots 30, 49ers 21
The Patriots must have studied up on the long ball over the bye, because fantasy owners were thrilled to welcome Randy Moss back into the mix when Matt Cassel hit him on a 66-yard bomb for New England’s first score. Moss added four more grabs for another 45 yards, giving hope to Moss owners everywhere. Wes Welker continued to work the underneath with eight catches for 73 yards as Cassel posted his most prolific (by 96 yards) passing day as a pro. The Patriots also worked the running game, which generated 144 yards; of course, the trouble with the New England running game from a fantasy perspective is that would-be goal line guy Sammy Morris led the team in attempts (16) and yards (63) while third-down back Kevin Faulk scored twice on short runs and former first-round pick Laurence Maroney (10-26) settled for table scraps.
For just a moment it looked as if the 48 the Dolphins hung on New England wasn’t an aberration, as the Niners scored 14 first-quarter points and jumped to an early lead. The next five drives, however, resulted in three punts and an interception as the 49ers could muster just 18 total yards through the second and third quarters. By the time J.T. O’Sullivan found Isaac Bruce in the end zone for a second time, it was too little too late. Bruce continued to flourish in the Mike Martz system, pacing the Niners with 49 yards and two scores. Frank Gore’s overall numbers were down a bit, just 78 yards on 16 touches, but he did catch one of JTO’s three scoring strikes.
Fantasy Impact: Is Moss back? Cassel went back to the deep ball to Moss later in the game and was picked by Nate Clements; the rest of Moss’s grabs were of the shorter variety (the longest resulted in 18 yards), while Cassel did try one more time downfield to Ben Watson without success. The key will be to keep Randy interested with that deep ball early; otherwise he may check out and spend the rest of the game deciding whether this is one of those games where he wants to play… or not.
Steelers 26, Jaguars 21
The Steelers held the ball for 21 minutes in the first half; actually, “held” is probably a poor word choice since Ben Roethlisberger threw 29 passes for 239 yards in the first 30 minutes alone. Sans most of their running backs due to injury, Big Ben took the offensive load upon his sore shoulder and weathered blitz after Jacksonville blitz to move the Steelers down the field—in the first half at least; then Pittsburgh’s O took a little siesta in the third quarter with a pair of three-and-outs while the Jaguars worked their way back into the game. Roethlisberger recovered to direct an 80-yard fourth-quarter drive that ended with the game-winning score to Hines Ward. Ward’s 7-90-1 line was bested by Nate Washington’s career day of 6-94-1 as Big Ben totaled 309 yards and three scores. Heath Miller finally got involved, with five catches for 45 yards and a touchdown. Yes, there was still enough to go around for Santonio Holmes to chip in 65 yards on four receptions (or catches or grabs or something like that). Mewelde Moore, the last man standing in the Steeler backfield, produced 99 rushing yards and another 17 via the air, with Gary Russell (6-25) and Najeh Davenport (1-3) offering little in relief duty.
Used to be the Jaguars could run the football, but an injury-ravaged offensive line and a brutal schedule has held that facet of their game in check. That was certainly the case Sunday night; Maurice Jones-Drew managed seven yards and a touchdown on five carries and was far more effective as a receiver (six for 23), while Fred Taylor carried 10 times for 19 yards. In fact, Rashean Mathis covered more ground about halfway through his 72-yard interception return than the entire Jacksonville running game did all evening. That left it up to David Garrard, who threw for his typical 200 and a touch—but not, surprisingly, to Matt Jones. No, this week it was the immortal Mike Walker, who matched his career-to-date total of six catches and rolled up 107 yards. He’s sure to be appearing on a transaction log near you.
Fantasy Impact: Washington continues to be targeted, and you have to wonder if his 13 catches, 168 yards, and a touchdown over the past three weeks might have been part of the numbers Santonio Holmes owners have been expecting. Nate’s numbers show no sign of abating, especially if the Steelers’ plan to combat a lack of running backs is to have Roethlisberger throw 40 times a game. And while increased opportunities can only help Big Ben’s fantasy numbers, you have to wonder: can he hold up to that many dropbacks behind that offensive line for another 12 games?