Jets 34, Patriots 31
The Jets ran the ball at New England with more success than any team not using the Wildcat, and Brett Favre didn’t turn the ball over. And it still almost wasn’t enough to pull off the win. Thomas Jones carried 30 times for 104 yards and a touchdown as the Jets held an 11-minute advantage in time of possession; of course, it helped that they won the toss and didn’t let the Patriots have the ball in overtime. Jerricho Cotchery was the bigger of the Jets’ wideouts, catching five balls for 87 yards and a touchdown while Laveranues Coles finished with 38 yards on his five catches. The real receiving hero was rookie tight end Dustin Keller who caught eight balls for 87 yards and contributed the key play late by spinning out of a tackle for an extra yard to pick up a first down and keep a drive alive. Leon Washington touched the ball just seven times from scrimmage but he picked up 35 yards and a score; he also returned a kickoff 92 yards for a score.
It may have been the quietest 400-yard, three-touchdown game in recorded history. Matt Cassel still can’t complete a deep ball to save his life, but he dinked and dunked his way to 30-of-51 passing and the aforementioned four bills, leaning primarily on Wes Welker (7 for 108), Ben Watson (8-88-1) and Jabar Gaffney (7-86-1). Watson and Gaffney were targeted deep almost as much as Randy Moss, who was looking at a two-catch, 10-yard evening until making a superlative grab on the final play of regulation to send the game into overtime. The Patriots tried four different backs for 17 carries but only mustered 63 yards; Cassel himself picked up 62 on eight scrambles.
Fantasy Impact: Maybe Moss’s TD grab will help remind the Patriots’ play-callers that he can be a red-zone threat as well. In fact, he had 15 red-zone touchdowns last season—11 of them from the 10 and in—so he doesn’t necessarily need deep balls to be an effective fantasy wideout. Favre has always had a fondness for tight ends, and his recent infatuation with Keller could turn the rookie into one of the more important players at his position down the stretch.
Broncos 24, Falcons 20
The Broncos had fewer yards and less time of possession than Atlanta. They were playing with a fullback and two retreads as their feature backs, didn’t get anything from their regular tight end, and started a rookie at fullback and middle linebacker; in fact, it was the same rookie, Spencer Larson. Nonetheless, thanks to a pair of Peyton Hillis touchdown runs the Broncos left Atlanta with a win. Jay Cutler’s numbers (19-27-216-1) were subdued considering Atlanta’s struggles defending the pass this year; Brandon Marshall (6-89) and Eddie Royal (4-34) were Cutler’s top two targets once again, but it was Daniel Graham scoring for the fourth time in five games.
Atlanta followed their recipe for success: Michael Turner carried 25 times and scored twice, though his 81 yards against a soft Browns run defense was somewhat surprising; Matt Ryan hooked up frequently with Roddy White, who finished with five catches for 102 yards, and got Michael Jenkins (5-55) involved once again as well. But Denver turned the Falcons’ only miscue—a Ryan interception—into a field goal and White was unable to come up with a potential touchdown toss from Ryan in the game’s final minute. Atlanta was also bitten by their inability to finish two early drives, both of which ended in field goals.
Fantasy Impact: Turner recorded his third two-touchdown game of the season, though the 124 yards from scrimmage he and Jerious Norwood combined for was much lower than anyone expected, given that the duo was averaging well over 200 yards from scrimmage at home against suspect run defenses. Just in case you thought losing four tailbacks to injury might put a crimp in Denver’s running game—or the need to run Bronco backs through your fantasy lineup—brace yourself: in addition to Hillis’ 10-44-2 (along with 26 receiving yards), Denver received 35 yards on four carries from P.J. Pope and 34 on seven carries from Tatum Bell(hop).
Panthers 31, Lions 22
Usually when your quarterback throws for less than 100 yards for the second straight game your team is in trouble. But instead of throwing picks, this week Jake Delhomme was relying on his running backs—to the tune of a club-record 264 rushing yards—and the fact that it was the Lions on the other side of the ball. DeAngleo Williams scored twice as part of his 14-carry, 120-yard outing, but statistically he was outperformed by rookie Jonathan Stewart’s 15-130-1; note that both backs averaged better than eight yards per carry. Steve Smith’s numbers were subdued for a second straight week; Delhomme’s fondness for handoffs led to just 59 yards for Smith, though he was on the receiving end of six of Delhomme’s 10 completions.
Daunte Culpepper may not know the entire Lions playbook, but he know that throwing the ball in the general direction of Calvin Johnson is a good start. Johnson caught six balls for 65 yards and Daunte’s lone touchdown toss. Culpepper also celebrated his return to the site of his career-altering knee injury with a rushing score. Kevin Smith was another bright spot for the Lions, rushing 24 times for 112 yards against a pretty good Carolina run defense and contributing another 23 receiving yards.
Fantasy Impact: The Lions still blow chunks, but the emergence of Smith and the potential of Johnson give them building blocks, both down the stretch and for future years. The dominance of Carolina’s ground game is relegating Smith to the fantasy backburner, though he did account for almost two-thirds of Delhomme’s completions this week. It’s worth noting that the Panthers alternate creampuff and difficult running game matchups the rest of the way, with next week’s scrum at Atlanta falling onto the difficult side of the ledger.
Eagles 13, Bengals 13
From a yardage standpoint it wasn’t a bad day for Donovan McNabb, though it took him 58 tosses to complete 28 throws for 339 yards and a touchdown. However, his three interceptions and fumble have to be factored in when your team can’t knock off the lowly Bengals. McNabb spread the wealth, as he is wont to do; L.J. Smith scored as part of his three-catch, 15 yard aftronnon, while Philly’s top three receivers all topped 60 yards: Hank Baskett (2-74), DeSean Jackson (4-66), and Kevin Curtis (7-64). Conspicuous by his lack of production was Brian Westbrook, who had just 60 rushing yards against a bad run D and finished with only 71 combo yards when expectations had set the bar at almost twice that amount.
At this point we’ve learned not to trust any Bengals fantasy-wise, but T.J. Houshmandzadeh reminded us of how good this passing game used to be with 12 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown. That production accounted for well over a third of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 29 completions and well over half his 261 yards. Chad Johnson, who had caught all four of Fitzpatrick’s touchdowns to that point, played second fiddle to Housh with four grabs for 34 yards while Cedric Benson averaged less than two yards per carry on 23 totes (42 yards) and added 37 yards on six catches.
Fantasy Impact: Housh’s big game is bound to return him to the fantasy radar of many; however, upcoming dates with Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Indy, and Washington might chase that blip from the screen. Westbrook, on the other hand, has laid three straight clunkers—two of them (Seattle and Cincy) against defenses he should have pawned. It won’t get any easier, with dates against the Ravens, Cardinals, and Giants on the horizon.
Saints 30, Chiefs 20
No Reggie Bush? No problem for the Saints, who turned to Deuce McAllister (8-18-1) early and Pierre Thomas (16-88-1 on the ground and 4-56 via the air) late to get past a feisty Chiefs squad that was missing four defensive regulars. Drew Brees did what he does, though given the state of the Chiefs his 266 yards and one touchdown may have been a bit on the understated side. Lance Moore (8-102-1) was his top target, while Jeremy Shockey (6-39) and Marques Colston (3-30) were largely afterthoughts.
Tyler Thigpen’s first interception in 161 passes wasn’t really his fault; it was late in the game, his team was down by two scores, it was fourth down, and he had to at least try to make something happen. To that point he had been stellar, with 235 passing yards and a pair of scores as well as 45 rushing yards. Once again his attention was focused on Tony Gonzalez (five catches, 39 yards) and Dwayne Bowe (seven grabs, 53 yards, and a pair of jump ball touchdowns), who accounted for 12 of his 19 completions. Larry Johnson returned to the lineup with 19 carries for 67 yards as well as a 20-yard reception; the only other running back to touch the ball was Jamaal Charles, who had two carries for 12 yards.
Fantasy Impact: So much for easing Johnson back into the Chiefs’ new offense. About the only negative trend for LJ is that the plan at the stripe appears to be jump balls to Bowe instead of handoffs to LJ. It will be interesting to see if Bush is integrated as quickly to the Saints’ scheme once he returns from knee surgery—and at whose expense his touches come. McAllister barely contributed after halftime, with three carries for three yards, while Thomas’ splits were 6-29 and 10-59; that could mean either they are beginning to realize Deuce has little left in the tank, or just that they’re willing to ride the hot hand.
Giants 30, Ravens 10
In their worst three-game stretch of the season the Ravens allowed a total of 209 rushing yards; Sunday the Giants nearly matched that total with 207 of their own. They did it early, with Brandon Jacobs banging home a pair of first-quarter scores, and they did it late with Ahmad Bradshaw nearly busting a long run and finishing with 96 yards on nine carries. Derrick Ward chipped in with 41 rushing yards and 54 via the air as Eli Manning (13-23-153-1-1) barely broke a sweat. Giants wideouts combined for eight catches and 98 catches—hardly worthy of a fantasy start as a collective, let alone individually.
The bright spots were few and far between for the visitors. Derrick Mason and his one good shoulder led the team’s offense with seven catches for 82 yards, while Joe Flacco pace the Ravens in rushing (6-57) as well as passing (20-33-164-1-2). Le’Ron McClain scored the team’s only touchdown well after the outcome had been decided, and no other Raven contributed anything of note.
Fantasy Impact: As if Baltimore’s backfield weren’t tough enough to read, Willis McGahee (9-18) and Ray Rice (8-19) essentially split carries this week while McClain scored (but on a reception, not a run), Flacco was the leading rusher, and wide receiver Mark Clayton nearly outgained Ray and Willis with his lone carry, a 17-yard end-around. The Giants backfield is equally fractured, though Jacobs continues to produce despite ceding significant touches to both Ward and Bradshaw.
Buccaneers 19, Vikings 13
Tampa Bay certainly didn’t overwhelm anyone offensively, but Jeff Garcia kept drives alive and the Bucs capitalized on multiple fourth-quarter miscues to generate just enough points. Garcia worked the mid-range for 255 yards, with tight end Jerramy Stevens (6-84) his primary target. Warrick Dunn contributed 53 yards on 20 carries after Earnest Graham aggravated his bum knee and also added 65 yards on four catches. Tampa Bay’s lone touchdown came from fullback B.J. Askew, who finished a drive extended by a Stevens catch to the one-yard line.
The Vikings played a solid half of football, with three scoring drives and plenty of Adrian Peterson. Then, the combination of costly fumbles and inept play-calling conspired to limit Minnesota to nine minutes of possession in the second half. The resulting three first downs and 64 total yards helped them turn a 13-6 half-time lead into a 19-13 loss. Peterson was solid with 85 yards on 19 carries but touched the ball just six times after halftime and didn’t receive a carry in the fourth quarter. Gus Frerotte was efficient (14-20-138-1), but if the Vikings are asking him to carry the offense and win games they’re in big trouble.
Fantasy Impact: Peterson not touching the ball in the fourth quarter is inexcusable. End of story. Those ready to anoint him the top overall fantasy pick in 2009 better hope the Vikings find a new play-caller in the offseason—or brace themselves for the same week-in, week-out frustration Purple fans have faced with Brad Childress and his staff at the helm. The loss of Graham, assuming his knee injury keeps him out for any extended period of time, may expedite the return to action of Carnell Williams. Cadillac was inactive on Sunday, but that might change going forward.
Dolphins 17, Raiders 15
As expected, the Dolphins met little resistance from the Raiders in running the football. But while Ronnie Brown (16-101) and Ricky Williams (13-49) did the heavy lifting, it was Ted Ginn scoring one touchdown on a 40-yard end-around and Patrick Cobbs vulturing the other on a 10-yard inside trap. Ginn also contributed 51 receiving yards, including a key grab on fourth down to keep the game-winning drive alive; rookie Davonne Bess added 50 yards on three catches. Chad Pennington was efficient when throwing, completing 16 of 22 tosses for 174 yards, but he also took a sack in the end zone to make this one closer than it should have been.
The Raiders have scored two offensive touchdowns in the past six games, but a 93-yard punt return by Johnnie Lee Higgins with under five minutes remaining nearly allowed Oakland to escape with the first East Coast win by a West Coast team this season. Offensively there was almost nothing to help any self-respecting fantasy squad; the Raiders totaled 186 yards of offense, with Ronald Curry (six catches, 73 yards) and Zach Miller (four grabs, 67 yards) the largest contributors.
Fantasy Impact: Darren McFadden’s much-ballyhooed return generated 14 yards on five touches, paling in comparison to Justin Fargas’s workload (17-57). The Dolphins continue to get mystery contributors every week (this week Cobbs and Ginn handling the scoring), making it tougher and tougher to plug Brown into fantasy lineups with any degree of confidence.
Packers 37, Bears 3
Green Bay’s offense had its way with the Bears on Sunday; Ryan Grant damaged them on the ground with 145 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, while Aaron Rodgers completed 23 of 30 passes for 227 yards and a couple scores to further the rout. Greg Jennings got back in the scoring column with a TD as part of his five-catch, 64-yard afternoon, and Donald Lee led the Pack with six grabs while scoring a touchdown of his own. Green Bay’s final opportunity to play Todd Rungren’s enduring hit “Bang On The Drum All Day” came when the Pack recorded their seventh defensive TD of the season off a Kyle Orton fumble.
Um… Matt Forte had 104 yards from scrimmage. And neither Kyle Orton, in his return from an ankle injury, nor Rex Grossman, on in relief of the ineffective Orton, threw a pick. That’s about all the good the Bears offered up during the 22 minutes of game clock they had the football.
Fantasy Impact: Forte continues to get it done; with so few non-committee backfields in the NFL and no job-share partner on Forte’s horizon he could be playing himself into a top-five draft position for 2009. The Packers moved into a first-place tie in the NFC Mediocre, but if they continue to get big rushing days from Grant they will be one of the tougher outs in the conference. Even Brandon Jackson, with 50 yards on 10 carries, contributed—leading one to believe that an offensive line that was banged up earlier in the year is starting to put it all together for the home stretch.
Colts 33, Texans 27
Peyton Manning always kills the Texans, and this time around was no exception: 320 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions. Despite nearly all of his receivers battling dropsies in the first half, Manning made Reggie Wayne (7-90) and Marvin Harrison (9-77-1) both fantasy-relevant. Indy also received a big assist from Joseph Addai, who rushed 22 times for 105 yards and a touchdown and added 48 yards and a touchdown on four receptions. With all their big guns firing, how was this game even close? All three Indy forays inside the Houston 25-yard line in the first half resulted in field goals instead of touchdowns.
No Bob Sanders means you can run on the Colts, so Houston turned Steve Slaton loose to the tune of 156 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries. To ensure Slaton didn’t get tired (or pile up too many fantasy points), Ahman Green stole a couple touchdowns on nine carries, none of which covered more than five yards. Sage Rosenfels, perhaps the best 55-minute quarterback in the NFL, completed 13 of his 18 passes for 192 yards but failed to get Andre Johnson (4-55) in the end zone or over 100 yards. And, of course, with the outcome in the balance and a chance to lead his team to victory, Rosenfels turned into Ryan Leaf.
Fantasy Impact: Green’s pair of shorties has to be disconcerting to Slaton owners. Not that the rookie has to shoulder the entire load, but the use of Green as a full-time vulture knocks Slaton down a peg or two in the fantasy rankings. Addai’s resurgence—not to mention his helpful numbers despite 13 touches and 74 combo yards from Dominic Rhodes—comes at a welcome time for fantasy owners; not only is it playoff crunch time, but Addai’s upcoming slate after next week’s game with the Chargers features the Browns, Bengals, and Lions.
49ers 35, Rams 16
The honeymoon continues for Shaun Hill, who passed for 213 yards and two scores and ran for another as San Francisco raced to a 35-3 halftime lead and coasted home for the win. Frank Gore was hardly neglected, scoring twice and contributing 106 rushing yards to the effort. Vernon Davis continues his semi-resurgence under Mike Singletary, scoring on his only catch, while Bryant Johnson paced the Niners with four catches, 56 yards, and Hill’s other score.
Thank goodness for garbage time or the Rams wouldn’t have had a thing this week. And since the Rams have fallen behind 75-3 over the past two first halves there’s been a trash barge full of garbage time. Antonio Pittman, filling in for the injured Steven Jackson, was solid with 95 yards on 14 carries. But, obviously, St. Louis couldn’t stick to the run so his stat line stagnated. Marc Bulger threw 53 times, completing 34 for 295 yards and a touchdown, along with two picks. You’d think with that much going on in the air Torry Holt could have managed more than 60 yards on five catches, but he’s pure afterthought in this offense. Donnie Avery led all Ram receivers with nine catches for 93 yards, while third down back Kenneth Darby caught eight for 83. Dane Looker scored the Rams’ only touchdown, which probably says all you need to know about this game.
Fantasy Impact: If Jackson remains out it appears as though Pittman might not be a bad plug-in play. Of course, if and when the Rams are forced into catch-up mode the stats will start piling up on Darby’s plate. Certainly the big lead had something to do with it, but the Niners seem to be swinging towards Singletary’s wish for a more run-oriented attack; in addition to Gore’s 18 carries DeShaun Foster received 10 and Michael Robinson three. How long before opposing defenses gets the same read on Hill they got on J.T. O’Sullivan?
Cardinals 26, Seahawks 20
There aren’t any superlatives left in the book to describe the Arizona passing game. Kurt Warner throws for 395 but fails to get at least two touchdowns for just the second time this season. The top two receivers in football, both of whom happen to play for the Cardinals, shared 23 catches and 337 yards; Anquan Boldin claimed 13 for 186, while Larry Fitzgerald settled for 10 for 151. But the scoring… J.J. Arrington? J.J. Freaking Arrington? Are you serious? Boldin and Fitz can’t score, Tim Hightower and Edgerrin James don’t score, but J.J. Mickey Frickin’ Arrington steals a goal line carry and houses a goal-line reception as well?
The return of Matt Hasselbeck featured plenty of rust, 170 yards, three interceptions, and aside from 54 yards from Deion Branch very little of note. Maurice Morris caught Hasselbeck’s lone scoring strike but received six mostly ineffective touches to Julius Jones’ 11 thoroughly ineffective touches. And just in case you didn’t feel bad enough about having to start either of those slugs on your fantasy squad, T.J. Duckett and his five yards on five carries kicked you in the crotch, swiping not one but two short-yardage scores.
Fantasy Impact: Maybe eventually Hass’s return will kick-start the Seahawk offense, but with precious little time left in the fantasy regular season it’ll be tough to trust that kick-start happens soon enough to warrant any Seattle players earning a spot in a self-respecting fantasy lineup. Arizona, meanwhile, has turned Hightower from a goal-line guy into a pseudo-full-time back on a pass-first team—which has actually hurt his fantasy value. How does that make sense?
Titans 24, Jaguars 14
Teams are going to force Kerry Collins to beat them, and for the second straight week (well, ninth actually, but the last two weeks in particular) Collins was up to the challenge. He did get some help on the ground, with Chris Johnson contributing 64 rushing yards and another 24 in the air and LenDale White pounding inside for 52 of his own. But the offensive hero of Tennessee’s come-from-behind victory was Justin Gage. Perhaps upset that Brandon Jones scored earlier in the game to end Gage’s monopoly on Titan wide receiver touchdowns (he had the team’s only two heading into this game), Gage scored first on a 56-yard completion down the left sideline to put the Titans ahead; then he hauled in another Collins bomb in essentially the same spot from 38 yards out to put the wraps on a career-best 147-yard outing. So the short answer is, yes, the Titans can throw if need be.
Credit the Jaguars for not abandoning the run. Of course, it helps when you stake yourselves to a 14-3 halftime lead thanks to a pair of short Maurice Jones-Drew touchdown runs. The MoJo-Fred Taylor tandem actually outproduced their Tennessee counterparts on the afternoon with 124 yards and two scores in 29 carries. However, unlike the Titans Jacksonville received nothing from their passing game. David Garrard was under constant duress and completed just 13 of 30 passes for 135 yards. No Jaguar managed more than 28 receiving yards as the team struggled to find a go-to pass catcher in Matt Jones’ absence.
Fantasy Impact: Pay attention to the Jags’ passing game struggles sans Jones, as that three-game suspension still looms. Maybe the solution will be to run more, since sandwiched between Minnesota next week and the Ravens in week 17 are a month of cupcake run defenses. Despite the Titans’ ability to pass when defenses take away their ground game, it’s tough to trust Collins with a fantasy start. About the time you do so, he’ll turn and hand off to Smash and Dash 35 times for 250 yards and only throw a dozen passes. Like the Jags, Tennessee has three softies packed between tough run Ds next week (Jets) and in Week 16 (Steelers). Maybe those are the weeks you go to Collins and the Titans’ passing game.
Steelers 11, Chargers 10
The Steelers rolled up 410 yards in offense. They held the ball for 13 minutes more than the Chargers. Ben Roethlisberger had 308 yards on 31-of-41 passing. Hines Ward caught 11 balls for 124 yards, while both Santonio Holmes (five for 63) and Matt Spaeth (six for 55) topped the half-century mark. Willie Parker rushed 25 times for 115 yards. And yet the Steelers still could not manage a touchdown. They came close, but late in the first quarter Mewelde Moore was stuffed on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line. However, the Steelers defense bailed out the decision to eschew a field goal by forcing a safety three plays later.
LaDainian Tomlinson scored his first rushing touchdown since Week 4 and contributed 97 yards from scrimmage to the Chargers’ efforts. However, an interception just before halftime turned into a six-point swing and Pittsburgh’s ball-control offense limited San Diego’s second-half chances. Philip Rivers was held to 159 yards, with no receiver outside of LT topping 30 yards, and he tossed a pair of picks. A missed field goal on their only drive of the third quarter also proved costly, and after the teams traded time-consuming field goal drives in the fourth quarter all the Bolts had left was 11 seconds to pull off a miracle.
Fantasy Impact: Signs of life from LT, though his 21 touches may have been necessitated by Pittsburgh weather that wasn’t conducive to throwing—at least for Rivers; Big Ben didn’t seem to have any issues. An illegal forward pass call on the final play of the game—one of those multi-lateral affairs—negated a Steelers defensive touchdown as Troy Polamalu hopped on the final pitch and returned it for an apparent touchdown. Upon further review (by me, not the officials) I couldn’t tell if the lateral in question was a forward one or not, but you have to believe there are folks SPREAD across the country who would have liked to see the refs COVER all their bases and take another look at the play. And I’m not talking about those of us who were kind of counting on that Steeler defensive touchdown, either. Maybe I'm being too subtle.
Cowboys 14, Redskins 10
Funny how it takes the return of Tony Romo for the Cowboys to figure out that their most important offensive weapon is… Marion Barber. Sure, Romo’s presence may have opened up some running lanes that Brad Johnson and Brooks Bollinger couldn’t. But nonetheless it was Barber’s 114 rushing yards, 39 receiving yards, one touchdown and numerous critical conversions on third and fourth downs late in the game that sealed the win for Dallas. Romo was adequate in his first game back, completing 19 of 27 for 198 yards and a touchdown to backup tight end Martellus Bennett; early on, however, he was a little off and was picked twice on a pair of passes he put behind Terrell Owens. For the game no Cowboy receiver topped 40 yards, but four—MB3, TO, Roy Williams and Jason Witten—finished above 30. Hey, it’s his first game back from a busted pinky; cut him a little slack.
Clinton Portis wasn’t inactive, and he wasn’t even limited. In fact, he contributed 68 yards on 15 carries and very nearly got into the end zone on the Redskins’ opening drive. After that, however, the lone offensive bright spot for the home team came just before halftime when Washington turned a nice kickoff return by Rock Cartwright into a field goal. Chris Cooley caught seven balls for 47 yards but ceded the red zone touchdown (again) to Mike Sellers. Santana Moss very nearly made it a fourth straight game of killing the Cowboys, but a late long potential touchdown pass bounced off his mitts. And with Jason Campbell throwing for just 162 yards, there was little else to go around.
Fantasy Impact: Cooley continues to kill in PPR leagues, but despite his role in the offense he’s just not finding the end zone. Of course, defenses are making sure to find him in the red zone, leaving other options—like Sellers, in this case—open. Barber has a couple more favorable matchups before that killer stretch run of Steelers/Giants/Ravens. Perhaps by that time Romo’s pinky (and Witten’s ribs) will have healed and the Cowboys’ offense will be operating at the levels we saw prior to the injury.