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Sunday Game Recaps - Week 15
John Tuvey
December 15, 2008
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Bears 27, Saints 24

The Bears certainly acted like they didn’t want this one, from a fumbled snap at their own one to some shaky clock management on the game-tying drive at the end of regulation. The numbers weren’t pretty, either; Matt Forte received just 16 touches wrapped around a trip to the locker room for toe X-rays early in the proceedings; he produced 63 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown despite the limited workload. Kyle Orton didn’t throw a touchdown, though he did run one in, and he leaned heavily on Devin Hester (4-46), Greg Olsen (8-45), and whomever Jason David was interfering with to pick up yardage.

New Orleans’ playoff hopes are on the ropes, just as Marques Colston is reemerging as Drew Brees’ go-to guy. Colston caught six balls for 84 yards and the go-ahead touchdown, the only Saint outside of Pierre Thomas to produce much offensively. Reggie Bush stuck around for just eight touches before a sprained knee sidelined him for the second half. That left the workload to Thomas, who carried 22 times for 87 yards and a touchdown and caught another seven balls for 59 yards and a score. On the evening Brees completed 24 of 43 passes for 232 yards, two TDs, and two picks; however, after directing the go-ahead drive he didn’t even get back on the field for the final 3:05 of regulation or any of overtime.

Fantasy Impact: Deuce McAllister wasn’t suspended for this one, but he didn’t play—and Saints fans who love Deuce may have to get used to that. Thomas seems to have taken over the rushing portion of the Saints’ backfield duties, and he’s also demonstrated he’s more than capable of picking up the slack in the passing game when Bush suffers one of his frequent boo-boos. Hester continues to develop as a wide receiver, and Danieal Manning’s opening kickoff return for a touchdown suggests the Chicago special teams unit will be just fine if Devin focuses on his from-scrimmage work.

Falcons 13, Buccaneers 10

Atlanta continued the successful run of NFC South home teams, but they had to work overtime to do so. Matt Ryan’s best shot at a touchdown pass was stripped from Jason Rader at the one-yard line and recovered by the Bucs. Ryan also tossed a pair of picks, though he did hit Roddy White (4-61) and Michael Jenkins (3-55) for nearly half of his 15 completions. With the passing game underwhelming the Falcons gave Michael Turner a career-high 32 carries, which he turned into 152 yards and a touchdown against a Tampa Bay run defense still reeling from the whuppin’ they absorbed at the hands of the Panthers last week. Turner came up especially large on the drive that produced the game-winning kick, carrying six times for 34 yards.

With Jeff Garcia nursing a calf injury, Jon Gruden turned to veteran Brian Griese over Luke McCown, who had taken most of the first-team snaps during the week. While Griese completed 26 of 37 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown there was certainly some rust, which contributed to a pick, four sacks, and just three conversions on 14 third-down opportunities. Eleven penalties didn’t help, either. Like Garcia last week Griese locked in on Antonio Bryant, who led the Bucs with eight grabs for 108 yards and a score. Warrick Dunn chipped in with 50 receiving yards and 40 on the ground, while Carnell Williams continued to work his way back into the mix with 14 carries for 59 yards.

Fantasy Impact: With Joey Galloway a healthy scratch, the transition to Bryant as Tampa Bay’s go-to wideout is complete. The volatile wideout appears to have found a home with Gruden in Tampa; who’ll be throwing to him next season, however, remains to be seen. Enthusiasm over Turner’s production against a once-proud Tampa D has to be tempered by what we saw last week in Carolina as well as the absence of both of the Bucs’ starting defensive tackles. That said, he’s making a very compelling case to rival Adrian Peterson for the first overall pick in next year’s fantasy drafts.

Bengals 20, Redskins 13

If Cedric Benson and Ryan Fitzpatrick were auditioning for starting jobs in 2009—in Cincinnati or elsewhere—both made compelling cases. Benson carried 21 times for 73 yards and added 88 yards on three catches, leading the Bengals in both categories. Fitzpatrick was merely okay throwing the ball, completing 16 of 29 passes for 209 yards and a score, but he mixed in 29 rushing yards on 11 carries, including a beautiful naked bootleg for a touchdown. Chad Johnson (3-33) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (3-19) were barely noticeable; Chris Henry (4-54-1) was rewarded for his downfield blocking effort on Benson’s 79-yard reception by being targeted on a fade for Fitzpatrick’s lone TD toss.

While the Redskins are enjoying their down time this offseason, they might look back and wonder why they didn’t give Clinton Portis a carry on first-and-goal from the one. Mike Sellers had a TD correctly reversed on his second-down carry, and the Skins went back to him on third down only to have him make the ill-advised decision to stick the ball out in an attempt to cross the goal line—only not get it there. The ball was stripped, the Bengals recovered for a touchback, and Washington’s best shot at keeping their playoff hopes alive was out the window. Jason Campbell couldn’t direct the comeback, dinking and dunking his way to 17-for-28 passing for 167 yards and a score. Santana Moss (7-72-1) and Chris Cooley (6-51) were the only Skins with more than one catch, though Cooley coughed up his first catch after taking a wicked helmet-to-helmet shot, leading to the Bengals’ first score.

Fantasy Impact: The Redskins offense, which had appeared to regroup after struggling in the preseason and on Kickoff Weekend, has regressed mightily. Injuries along the offensive line haven’t helped, but… dude, they lost to the Bengals. Cincinnati fans may have seen the last of their big-time wideout tandem; with Housh a free agent after the season and Ocho Cinco looking for ways to punch his ticket out of town, Carson Palmer should start getting to know Henry and Andre Caldwell.

Texans 13, Titans 12

That the Texans produced a 200-yard receiver isn’t surprising, even against the Titans; Andre Johnson accounted for 11 of Matt Schaub’s 23 completions and 207 of his 284 yards as well as the only touchdown of the game. But Houston controlled the ball for 13 minutes longer than the Titans and, thanks to a key 34-yard burst as the Texans attempted to run out the clock, got Steve Slaton to the 100-yard mark as well. That was about all Houston needed offensively as their defense held the Titans to only field goals.

Whomever showed up wearing the white uniforms on Sunday, it certainly wasn’t the Titans we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. Tennessee’s Smash and Dash backfield combined for just 21 carries and 91 yards while Kerry Collins threw 33 passes. Only once did a Titans drive last more than three minutes, and three trips into the red zone netted only field goals. And yet, with Tennessee trailing by a point and two minutes remaining, Jeff Fisher took the ball off Rob Bironas’ foot, eschewing a 49-yard field goal attempt and instead of handing off to either Chris Johnson or LenDale White on fourth-and-three going deep with Collins. Incomplete, and Tennessee’s defense couldn’t contain Steve Slaton and get the ball back.

Fantasy Impact: The biggest impact may be the knee injury suffered by Albert Haynesworth late in this game. Tennessee’s run defense is a different animal entirely without Haynesworth in the middle. Of course, if they’re turning the offense over to Collins the rest of the team will be joining Albert in street clothes in the very near future. Schaub-to-Johnson continues to produce fantasy gold, but the real find might be Slaton. Viewed as a third-down back coming out of college, it will be an upset with Slaton isn’t implemented as a 20-carry-per-game guy by Gary Kubiak next season.

Jaguars 20, Packers 16

Those of you who thought Dennis Northcutt had retired a few years ago, you’ll be surprised to learn he’s alive and doing well in Jacksonville. With Matt Jones suspended David Garrard turned to Northcutt as his go-to guy and the veteran responded with five grabs for 127 yards and a touchdown. Garrard had little difficulty with a Packers secondary that still hasn’t recovered from being dissected by Drew Brees; when he wasn’t completing 21 of 33 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns Garrard simply tucked it under and ran, picking up 31 yards on five carries. Maurice Jones-Drew’s numbers weren’t gaudy—48 rushing yards and another 22 via the air—but he scored once by ground and once on a reception.

Aaron Rodgers came up just short yet again, though until his final pass was intercepted he wasn’t having a bad afternoon; he finished 20-for-32 for 278 yards and a touchdown. Greg Jennings was an afterthought much of the afternoon with just three catches for 22 yards, but he did score a touchdown. Rodgers did find a matchup he liked down the field, hitting James Jones four times for 132 yards, and Donald Driver added five catches for 65 yards. The running game offered little help, however, with Ryan Grant carrying 21 times for just 56 yards.

Fantasy Impact: The Packers have been losing offensive linemen at a rate that nearly matches the Jaguars, putting Rodgers’ mobility into play while handcuffing the running game. Now that they’re merely playing out the string, it will be interesting to see if Jones and Jordy Nelson put on a display that will make them worthy of consideration next August. The Jaguars don’t seem in any rush to replace Fred Taylor’s carries with anyone other than Jones-Drew; the suddenly ubiquitous Northcutt carried once on an end-around and Chauncy Washington received a first-quarter tote, but other than that it was all MoJo—who will certainly have something to hold over Packers linebacker and fellow UCLA alum Brandon Chillar at the next alumni function after carrying him into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

Dolphins 14, 49ers 9

Good luck finding a standout offensive performance on the Dolphins’ side of the ledger. Chad Pennington was accurate but only threw 19 times, completing a dozen for 156 yards and a pair of touchdowns; unfortunately both went to tight ends not named Anthony Fasano, so unless you’re related to David Martin or Joey Haynos odds are those scores did nothing for your fantasy squad. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams combined for just 17 carries as Miami held the ball for only 21:47 on the afternoon despite that duo averaging better than five yards per rush.

DeShaun Foster (18-76 on the ground, another 5-25 in the air) wasn’t bad filling in for Frank Gore, but the Niners simply couldn’t finish against the Fins. Shaun Hill directed four drives of 10 plays or more, yet all they had to show for it were three field goals. The key was field position; San Francisco’s average start position was its own 19-yard-line, and they didn’t begin a drive beyond their own 21 until the fourth quarter. Hill completed 30 of 46 tosses for 233 yards, again leaning heavily on the veteran Isaac Bruce (7-71) and continuing to work Bryant Johnson (5-41) into the mix as well. Foster, fellow back Michael Robinson (4-33), and tight end Vernon Davis (5-31) also saw their share of balls.

Fantasy Impact: Any team would have trouble if you asked them to go 80 yards for a touchdown every time they had the ball, and when you factor in the Niners’ best offensive player was in street clothes… well, Hill’s case for the starting job next year becomes more compelling each week. As for the Dolphins, aside from Pennington and his pinpoint accuracy they get so many different parties involved in their offense there simply isn’t a fantasy entity you can trust.

Seahawks 23, Rams 20

Not that the Seahawks brought much fantasy bang into this one, but if you were looking for Julius Jones to recreate what he did the last time these teams tangled his four carries likely upset you. Maurice Morris handled the bulk of the work with 15 carries for 86 yards, but it was T.J. Duckett stealing the touchdown run. Seneca Wallace looked competent for the second consecutive week, completing 15 of 25 passes for 226 yards, but no touchdowns. Rookie tight end John Carlson (5-76) continues to thrive in Mike Holmgren’s tight end friendly offense, while Deion Branch (also 5-76) is making a late-season run at respectability—or at least relevancy in larger PPR leagues.

The Rams actually got something from their big guns, with Steven Jackson rushing for 91 yards and a score and adding 36 more as a receiver while Torry Holt flashed a little of the old skills in making four grabs for 64 yards and a touchdown. Even Donnie Avery (6-61) showed up to help Marc Bulger reach the 200-yard mark. By this point in the year, however, Jackson was likely the only Ram any fantasy team still playing was paying attention to.

Fantasy Impact: Holt has joined Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in falling off the fantasy radar, and at his age it’s tough to see him bouncing back to anything other than spot start status in 2009—especially if Avery can continue to improve his game. Branch is also making a case not to be left behind, but the real interesting Seahawk is Carlson; will Holmgren’s departure put an end to the tight end friendliness of Seattle’s offense, or will the former Golden Domer continue to be a favored target for Wallace and/or Hasselbeck?

Jets 31, Bills 27

The Jets started this game en fuego, with Brett Favre running and passing Gang Green down the field to a pair of first-quarter touchdowns. Then Favre was picked on a ball Laveranues Coles tipped up into the air with his feet and suddenly the Bills were back in business. Even another game-breaking play from Leon Washington, this time a 47-yard run, just before the half wasn’t enough to distance the Jets from their in-state rivals. So, despite 207 yards and a score from Favre, despite Coles showing up with five catches for 82 yards, despite Thomas Jones carrying 20 times for 78 yards and scoring a club-record 15th rushing touchdown Gang Green still needed a strip-sack-return to pull their bacon out of the fire.

Clearly the Bills did not see the Indy/Houston game from earlier this season; otherwise there’s no way they would have asked their backup quarterback to roll out while protecting a lead late in the game. Buffalo hung around thanks to 127 rushing yards from Marshawn Lynch, though he was vultured in the red zone by both J.P. Losman and Fred Jackson. Losman completed 24 of 39 passes but only totaled 148 yards, as no completion stretched longer than 14 yards. Rookie Steve Johnson caught a touchdown that likely would have gone to fellow first-year player James Hardy had not Hardy left the game with an injury midway through the first quarter—seeing as Johnson and Hardy are the tallest members of Buffalo’s Smurf-like receiving corps.

Fantasy Impact: Lynch has started to show some late flashes of what we expected all season long, but he continues to lose goal-line looks to Jackson—a troubling development if you’re banking on Lynch as your fantasy RB1. Washington needed just two touches to produce a touchdown; he’s like a pinch-hitter who comes off the bench, goes yard, and then sits down for the rest of the game. It sure would be nice to see him get some consistent touches so you can feel more comfortable plugging him into your fantasy lineup.

Chargers 22, Chiefs 21

The Bolts barely showed up for the first half, squeezing a field goal in just before the break, and found themselves down 21-3 before stoking the fires. With LaDainian Tomlinson rushing for just 39 yards and a touchdown, with no gain longer than seven yards, the onus fell to Philip Rivers—and he didn’t disappoint. Chris Chambers (2-28) was the only member of the receiving corps who didn’t join in the reindeer games as Vincent Jackson (6-89 and the game-winning touchdown), Malcolm Floyd (5-67-1) and Antonio Gates (7-78) helped boost Rivers to 346 yards on the afternoon. Even Tomlinson kicked in a little with 35 yards on six catches.

Kansas City did everything except finish this week. Tyler Thigpen added a rushing score to 171 passing yards and a TD through the air, Dwayne Bowe (6-44-1) and Tony Gonzalez (6-62-1) were once again the focal points of the passing game, and Larry Johnson produced 55 yards on the ground and threw a TD to Gonzo. Alas, the Chiefs were out of tricks by the time the fourth quarter rolled around as they managed just 45 yards in the frame and missed a would-be game-winning field goal as time expired.

Fantasy Impact: The Chiefs continue to work on their balancing act between LJ in the ground game and Thigpen in the air. Should Tyler return as KC’s quarterback, it would be surprising if they’re excited about him running 10 times a game like he did this week. When the end comes for running backs it comes in a big hurry, and while LT did manage to score this week it’s difficult to see him anywhere near the lofty perch he’s enjoyed for the past half-decade or so. Yes, much of his struggle can be attributed to a banged-up San Diego offensive line, but he’s been laying consistent goose eggs down the stretch despite a pretty favorable schedule. Spurned fantasy owners won’t forget.

Colts 31, Lions 21

You got the feeling Tony Dungy was reluctant to run up the score on his former staffmate Rod Marinelli; it was the Chad Simpson touchdown midway through the second quarter that gave it away. But when the Lions made things interesting in the fourth quarter, Peyton Manning turned the juice back on. A late completion to Reggie Wayne set up Dominic Rhodes for his second touchdown, and later Manning directed a field goal drive to put the game out of reach. Dallas Clark (12-142-1) was Manning’s favorite target on the afternoon, though Wayne (7-104-1) was hardly omitted. Manning finished with a “quiet” 28-for-37 for 316 yards and a score.

Kudos to the Lions for sticking around in this one, and they did it relying on the tandem they hope can drag them out of their doldrums as early as next season. Despite having Dan Orlovsky (23-34-233-1) as his quarterback, Calvin Johnson caught nine balls for 110 yards and a touchdown. And when he wasn’t catching the ball Kevin Smith was running with it, to the tune of 88 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. Smith added 31 receiving yards on six grabs as Johnson and Smith combined for 229 of the Lions’ 323 total yards of offense.

Fantasy Impact: Seriously, Detroit fans, the pieces are there. And the good news for fantasy owners is that we’ve seen that just about any quarterback with a pulse is capable of throwing the ball up near Johnson. Those who tabbed Joseph Addai as a buy-low candidate a month or so ago based on Indy’s favorable stretch schedule have to feel steamrolled—steam-Rhodesed?—as he sat this game out with a shoulder injury while Rhodes continued to produce. As for those able to plug Rhodes into their fantasy lineup this week, don’t be greedy and rue Simpson’s touchdown; it’s unbecoming of you.

Vikings 35, Cardinals 14

Minnesota used a Bernard Berrian punt return to get up top early, then dazzled the Cardinals with… the passing of Tarvaris Jackson? Filling in for the injured Gus Frerotte, Jackson threw just 17 times—but he completed 11 of them, and four went for touchdowns including a 41-yarder to Berrian and a 59-yarder to Bobby Wade. Comfortably ahead 28-0 before the half, the Vikings took the air out of the ball with Adrian Peterson (28 carries, 165 yards) and Chester Taylor (10-66 plus 37 receiving yards and a touchdown grab). The only downer all day for the Vikings was a blocked field goal the Cardinals returned for a touchdown.

You’d think the Cards were perfectly designed for playing catch-up, but a couple turnovers put them behind the eight-ball early and Kurt Warner never recovered. He threw 45 times, completing 29 for 270 yards and a touchdown (and a pick), but most came with the outcome decided. Warner couldn’t make the deep ball work, aside from a 50-yard TD to Jerheme Urban in the Cards’ opening drive of the second half. Larry Fitzgerald (5-52), Anquan Boldin (6-34) and Steve Breaston (4-46) were forced to pick up their yardage in small chunks, and neither of the two sustained drives of 10 or more plays the Cardinals could string together resulted in points. Arizona flirted with the NFL record for fewest rushing attempts in a game, finishing with seven (one more than the record).

Fantasy Impact: The Cardinals looked a little, shall we say, self-satisfied, having already wrapped up the division title. However, a potential third seed was on the line and Arizona’s high-powered offense showed little indication it’s ready to step its game up to playoff levels. Worse, with nothing left to play for the Cards may shut down their bigger guns over the next couple of weeks. Peterson again capitalized on defenses stretched by the vertical passing game—precisely the reason the Vikings acquired Berrian in the offseason. Jackson’s ability to helm that attack suggests he may not be done in Minnesota after all.

Steelers 13, Ravens 9

It should come as no surprise that this battle of the league’s two best defenses included only one touchdown—and a disputed one at that. The Steelers mounted only three drives of note on the afternoon, two for field goals and the final 12-play, 92-yarder that resulted in Ben Roethlisberger connecting with Santonio Holmes at the goal line—or across it, depending on whether you’re wearing purple or black. The grab was Holmes’ (3-21-1) only contribution on the day, as Hines Ward (8-107, 36 on the final drive) and Nate Washington (5-76, 49 on the final drive) did the heavy lifting in the Pittsburgh passing game. Roethlisberger finished 22 of 40 for 246 yards and the one touchdown, bailing out a ground game that got 47 yards from Willie Parker and 16 from Mewelde Moore.

The Steelers’ defense made Joe Flacco look like a rookie, though they do that to a lot of quarterbacks. Flacco completed just 11 of 28 passes for 115 yards and was picked twice, though one came on a desperation heave at the end of the game. No Ravens receiver managed more than three catches or 38 yards (Mark Clayton’s numbers on the day), and what little momentum the Ravens generated came from Le’Ron McClain’s 87 yards on 23 carries. Ultimately the Ravens’ downfall was turning three drives that started in Steeler territory into just two field goals and stringing together only one drive of more than nine plays, only to see that drive end inside the Pittsburgh 10 with three points instead of seven.

Fantasy Impact: McClain continues to see the largest share of the Baltimore running game workload; with Ray Rice a guy handpicked by the John Harbaugh administration and Willis McGahee a guy whom they not only inherited but have also had difficulties with in getting to show up for, among other things, offseason workouts… well, you have to wonder which Ravens runner will be the more valuable fantasy entity in 2009. Let’s hope we won’t be treated to more of Harbaugh’s frustrating committee tactics. The Steelers’ ground game isn’t any less fractured, with Moore capitalizing on his success subbing for Parker to take a third of the touches off Fast Willie’s plate. It will be interesting to see how Rashard Mendenhall, who had his shoulder shattered and season ended by Ray Lewis in the last Ravens/Steelers matchup, fits into Pittsburgh’s 2009 picture.

Patriots 49, Raiders 26

New England took it to the Raiders early, scoring on their first four drives before the teams swapped kickoff return touchdowns. Matt Cassel, playing after missing practice time during the week due to the passing of his father, completed 18 of 30 passes for 218 yards and four touchdowns. The damage was equally shared by Wes Welker (6-69-1), Randy Moss (5-67-2), and Kevin Faulk (6-66-1); only one other Patriot even caught a pass. The ground game was working as well, with Sammy Morris (14-117-1) and ex-Raider LaMont Jordan (12-97-1) both having their way with the Silver and Black while Faulk kicked in another 45 on the ground to take his total yards from scrimmage into triple digits.

Oakland trailed by double-digits for 53 of the 60 minutes in this game, so you could say that virtually all of the stats they compiled were garbage time. JaMarcus Russell (17-31-242-2-1) took advantage of a porous New England secondary to post his first 200-yard game since before Halloween and his first multiple-touchdown outing since Kickoff Weekend. Russell still relied heavily on his backs and tight ends, who combined for 11 catches, but it was wideouts Johnnie Lee Higgins (3-66-1) and Ronald Curry (2-19-1) who found the end zone. Justin Fargas offered up another unspectacular 15-carry, 70-yard effort but once again lost a touchdown to Darren McFadden, whose 114 yards from scrimmage was his biggest day since Week Two.

Fantasy Impact: McFadden’s touchdown with less than two minutes remaining—his first in the Black Hole—offers a bit of a tease towards 2009. Oakland has plenty of work to do offensively, but if fantasy owners can count on triple-digit combo yardage and a score from Run DMC—garbage time or no—he may actually live up to where he was being drafted this year. New England used just about every weapon at their disposal to dispatch of the Raiders, which was good news if you had a Patriot going in your fantasy playoffs. And it’s unlikely the blue print will change much the rest of the way: Cassell leaning on his wideouts, and a running game with a split workload. And after witnessing what the Vikings did to Arizona in Week 15, the Patriots may have just as much success next week as they did in Oakland.

Panthers 30, Broncos 10

The Broncos probably figured Carolina would come out and run the ball down their throats. Eventually they would, but on the first drive they opted to toss it down their throats using Steve Smith. Smith was responsible for 66 of the 74 yards on the drive, catching three balls including the capper which he took to the house. Smith finished with 165 yards and the touchdown on nine catches, seemingly having his way with the Denver secondary. With the Broncos occupied, the Panthers then turned the ball over to Jonathan Stewart (16-52-1) and got another big run from DeAngelo Williams (12-68-1) as they scored 23 unanswered points to put the game out of reach. Jake Delhomme’s 253 yards owe much to Smith, but Muhsin Muhammad kicked in 70 on four catches as well.

Add P.J. Pope to the list of Broncos backs you’ll need to draft next year to ensure you cover all of Mike Shanahan’s bases. Yet another injury fill-in, Pope turned 10 touches into 75 yards and a touchdown, separating himself from Tatum Bell (nine touches, 50 yards) and Selvin Young (six carries for 19 yards and a costly fumble just before the half). Jay Cutler struggled to find room in the Carolina secondary, completing 21 of 33 passes for 172 yards and the lone TD to Pope. Brandon Marshall (5-48) and Eddie Royal (6-48) led the receiving corps, but neither set of numbers was particularly impressive.

Fantasy Impact: That the Broncos failed to clinch the AFC West on the road against a tough Carolina defense wasn’t surprising, nor was their equally divided ground game—though the 20-113 totals among Denver running backs was likely on the high end of most estimates. However, the fact that Cutler could get nothing going down the field—failing to complete a pass of more than 20 yards on the day—strikes at the notion that this offense is a big-play threat to be reckoned with come playoff time. Carolina, on the other hand, continued to lay down its blueprint with 28 carries for its own version of Smash and Dash and a passing game that leaned heavily on Smith. The Panthers aren’t trying to fool anyone, but of late no one has been able to stop them despite knowing exactly what they’re trying to do.

Cowboys 20, Giants 8

To the surprise of no one, on the Cowboys’ first series Tony Romo tried to get the ball to both Jason Witten and Terrell Owens. Maybe he should have focused on getting the ball to Tashard Choice, who produced 91 rushing yards and a score and added 52 receiving yards on four catches to pace the Cowboys in both categories. And yes, Marion Barber was active, though his 10 touches resulted in just 26 yards. Neither Witten (5-44) nor Owens (3-38) put up big numbers, with bit players Patrick Crayton (2-29-1) and Deon Anderson (1-1-1) stealing their thunder. Despite being sacked four times, including once for a safety, Romo stayed upright long enough to complete 20 of 30 passes for 244 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

If you thought Romo had a tough day, you didn’t see what was happening on the other side of the ball. Derrick Ward’s 64 yards on 14 carries was an adequate fill-in for the injured Brandon Jacobs, but the Cowboys certainly didn’t respect the Giants running game as they went all out after Eli Manning. The reigning Super Bowl MVP was sacked eight times and threw two picks, completing just 18 of 35 balls for 191 yards and leading the Giants into the red zone just once on the day. Dominek Hixon led the receiving corps with six grabs for 60 yards but couldn’t corral a tough one-hander down the left sideline that might have breathed life back into the G-Men; Steve Smith wasn’t far behind with five grabs for 59 yards.

Fantasy Impact: If the Giants got a look at life without Jacobs, whose rookie contract expires after this season, they may want to open negotiations as soon as possible. Not that Ward wasn’t, well, adequate; it’s just that the Cowboys clearly weren’t threatened by New York’s running game, which allowed them to come after Manning aggressively and force him into mistakes. Obviously, not having a “throw-it-up-and-let-him-make-a-play” guy like Plaxico Burress didn’t help Eli, either. Speaking of backfields in flux, what will the Cowboys do with Choice once Felix Jones and MB3 are both healthy entering 2009? That’s a whole lot of depth, a luxury Dallas can likely afford—but after sinking $45 million into a seven-year deal for Barber, will Choice be forced to bide his time a la Michael Turner before being unleashed upon the league?

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