Colts 31, Jaguars 24
Indy didn't run the ball at all and dug themselves a 14-0 hole; then they hopped on board Peyton Manning's back and let him carry them to 17 fourth-quarter points and a seventh consecutive playoff berth. Manning completed his first 17 passes and finished an impressive 29-for-34 for 364 yards and three touchdowns. With Marvin Harrison nursing a hamstring injury Peyton looked primarily at Reggie Wayne (7-108-1) and the red-hot Dallas Clark (8-105-1); Dominic Rhodes did little on the ground (14 carries, 27 yards) but caught six balls for 62 yards and a score. Anthony Gonzalez played the role of Rudolph in Indy's reindeer games, contributing just 38 yards on four catches.
David Garrard nearly matched Manning on the evening, throwing a touchdown pass early, then running one in to put the Jags up by 14. However, Despite 329 yards and the aforementioned scores it was his interception that Keiwan Ratliff returned for the game-winning touchdown and then his game-ending sack with the Jaguars driving for a tying touchdown that will likely linger in the minds of Jacksonville fans. Once again Dennis Northcutt stepped up as the team's go-to receiver, with eight grabs for 101 yards and a touchdown. Tight ends were heavily featured as well; Marcedes Lewis (6-55) paced a group that totaled 10 catches and 114 yards on the evening. Of course, the focal point of the Jacksonville attack was Maurice Jones-Drew, who rushed for 91 yards on 20 carries and added another 71 on seven receptions. However, his injury on the final drive cost the Jags a 10-second run-off, and the sack of Garrard ended Jacksonville's hopes of playing spoiler.
Fantasy Impact: This may be the fear of MoJo being the lead dog next year in Jacksonville: is 27 touches just too many opportunities for the smallish yet hard-playing Jones-Drew to absorb without suffering a Westbrook-like spate of injuries? It's certainly something for both the Jaguars and fantasy owners with MoJo in their top five to consider—and if it leads to Fred Taylor returning at a reduced rate or the Jags making a play for a 10-touch per game back to complement Jones-Drew, then we'll have our answer. Manning is showing no ill effects from his offseason knee surgery, to the point he's inserted himself into MVP consideration. While other buy-low Colts like Wayne and Joseph Addai have largely disappointed, Manning continues to churn out stats week after week after week. Tom Brady may have passed him last year and Drew Brees might go before him next year, but "settling" for Manning with an early pick rarely disappoints.
Ravens 33, Cowboys 24
Relying on the foot of Matt Stover, the Ravens hung around and hung around and hung around. Then they used a fake field goal to set up their first touchdown and a couple of long touchdown runs to send Texas Stadium out with a whimper. Joe Flacco (17-25-149-1) was solid once again, withstanding five Cowboy sacks and turning that special teams stunt into a touchdown with a TD toss to Derrick Mason. Mason (6-66-1) deserves special kudos for continuing to play despite his shoulder injury; playing essentially with one arm he made a key fumble recovery in addition to several important grabs. In the end the Ravens wore down Dallas and capitalized on shoddy tackling to spring first Willis MCGahee (8-108-1) and later Le'Ron McClain (22-139-1) on touchdown jaunts of 77 and 82 yards, respectively.
Maybe Ed Reed complained about Tony Romo not throwing to him enough, because Romo hit Reed twice as part of a day with a stat line salvaged by a big fourth quarter. Through three frames Romo was 11-for-22 for 72 yards, but two fourth-quarter scores and 180 final-stanza yards filled his scoresheet. Terrell Owens (5-63-1) and Jason Witten (5-87-1) had little to show for their first three quarters of work as well, with Tashard Choice contributing the only points thanks to a short field set up by a Flacco fumble. Choice once again sparkled in place of Marian Barber, rushing for 90 yards and a touchdown and adding seven catches for 25 yards as well. Barber played briefly, touching the ball three times and producing seven yards.
Fantasy Impact: The loss and garbage-time stats do little for Romo's reputation as a guy unable to win the big one; at least Witten and Owens produced similar numbers so we don't have to hear one or the other complaining. Choice's third straight strong effort against a top-flight defense is either evidence that fresh legs are key in December, or that the Cowboys are loaded at running back heading into 2009 and may have to make a move to get Choice, Barber, and Felix Jones the touches they need to thrive. The Ravens are in a similar boat, though they seem to have cast their fate with McClain as their go-to guy and McGahee as the back who spells him. Ray Rice could factor into the picture if the Ravens decide McGahee is too expensive and/or too much of a head case to keep as a 10-touch per game guy at the expense of touches Rice could be handling.
Bengals 14, Browns 0
The Bengals got all the points they needed when Leon Hall returned a pick of Ken Dorsey 50 yards for a score, but Cincy added an offensive score in the second quarter when Ryan Fitzpatrick connected with Chris Henry on a 20-yard touchdown. On the day Fitzpatrick attempted just nine passes and scrambled five times; the rest of the workload went to Cedric Benson, who carried 38 times for 171 yards against a Browns defense that found it difficult to lick the stamp and make a tackle at the same time.
This won't take long. Ken Dorsey was picked three times (all by Leon Hall) before giving way to Bruce Gradkowski, who was picked once. The duo combined for just 76 passing yards, with 10 of their dozen completions going to Braylon Edwards (4-35) and Jason Wright (6-33). Jamal Lewis mercifully kept the clock moving with 76 rushing yards on 16 carries, which may have been the closest thing to a bright spot for an offense that hasn't scored a touchdown in 20 quarters.
Fantasy Impact: There wasn't one for the Browns, unles Lewis inching his way into the 10,000 yard club earned you a bonus point. Benson's audition for a starting gig went quite well; if he returns as the Bengals' feature back, you can bet he'll circle the home-and-home dates with Cleveland on his calendar. Speaking of auditions, Henry's catch, coupled with Chad Johnson's deactivation and T.J. Houshmandzadeh's zero-catch outing, suggest he may be in line for a starting job next year as well. If Carson Palmer returns to health and to the helm, Henry makes an intriguing fantasy sleeper.
Saints 42, Lions 7
Complete and utter domination. Four different Saints scored rushing touchdowns (much to the chagrin of those banking on a big day from Pierre Thomas and had to settle for 103 combo yards and a score), including a one-legged Deuce McAllister, a wide receiver (Robert Meachem) who touched the ball for just the second time in two months, and a fullback (Mike Bell) who had been out of football since being cut by the Texans in the preseason. Nine different Saints caught passes, led by Marques Colston (9-99-2) and Devery Henderson (2-96). Drew Brees completed 30 of 40 passes for 351 yards as New Orleans scored twice in each of the first three quarters before calling off the dogs.
Hey, how about that Kevin Smith? While the rest of the Lions' offense was laying eggs, the rookie carried 24 times for 111 yards and the Lions' only touchdown. Dan Orlovsky completed a touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson, but the play was erased by a Gosder Cherilus illegal procedure penalty. Johnson finished with four catches for 64 yards, the only pass-catcher of note for the Lions unless you're a big John Standeford (3-46) fan.
Fantasy Impact: Don't write off Smith; assuming the Lions draft better under whatever new regime is implemented than they did under Matt Millen, Smith and Johnson will be the focal points of a retooled offense; if they get a quarterback in place, you could be looking at an indigent man's Michael Turner and Roddy White sort of combo. Brees has an outside shot at Dan Marino's record, needing 402 yards next week to match. Fantasy folks holding Brees for next season, or looking to scoop him up early, might prefer he remain hungry; note how the likes of Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and even Marino himself have followed up record-setting seasons.
Patriots 47, Cardinals 7
New England established the run early, using Sammy Morris to move the ball up and down the field and LaMont Jordan to punch it in. Then, with a comfortable lead they unleashed Matt Cassel, who threw for 345 yards and three touchdowns in the same inclement weather that derailed Arizona's passing game. Cassel received plenty of help, as two of his three TDs were mostly YAC and Morris himself contributed in that category with two catches for 45 yards. Randy Moss went 76 yards for a score with a short toss, and Kevin Faulk capitalized on Arizona's ongoing inability to prevent running backs from catching touchdowns with a score of his own. Wes Welker (7-68-1) was flagged for his snow angel touchdown dance, solidifying the NFL's status as the No Fun League.
The Cardinals really should have just stayed home. Kurt Warner like a guy who'd spent his entire career in a dome or the desert, completing just six of 18 attempts for 30 yards before letting Matt Leinart absorb some of the beating. Leinart's big play was a 76-yard bomb to Larry Fitzgerald, accounting for almost half of Arizona's 186 net yards and all of their scoring. The Cards tried to lean on their running game but could get just 36 yards on 14 carries from Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower.
Fantasy Impact: Warner has now laid consecutive eggs with Arizona having already wrapped up the division. Unless you're confident he has an "on" switch that can be flipped in January, you're playing with fire expecting the Cardinals' offense to do much in the postseason. Cassel, on the other hand, seemed unfazed by the elements—though it certainly helped having a double-digit lead and a running game that was producing five yards a pop. Morris appeared to be in line for a big day, right up until Bill Belichick remembered he had Jordan on the bench and hated every fantasy owner who had Morris in their lineup.
Titans 31, Steelers 14
A 31-14 win might not scream "defense", but that's how Tennessee won this game. They forced four turnovers, one as the Steelers were going in for a touchdown and taking another back all the way for six of their own, and received 3.5 sacks from Albert Haynesworth's understudy, rookie Jason Jones. While the running game of Chris Johnson (16-69-1) and LenDale White (15-46-1) was effective enough, you have to credit Kerry Collins (20-29-216-1) for making big plays and avoiding bad ones; he didn't throw a pick, was sacked just once, and completed 11 passes for 159 yards and a TD to his wide receivers. Justin Gage (5-104-1) led the downfield charge, though tight ends Alge Crumpler and Bo Scaife combined for seven grabls and 56 yards of their own.
Last year without Haynesworth the Titans were like Santa Claus: soft in the middle. The Steelers did not find Tennessee's run defense to be quite so merry, as Willie Parker produced just 29 yards on 18 carries and the team rushed for 71 yards altogether. That put the onus on Ben Roethlisberger and the passing game, and Big Ben responded with 331 yards and two touchdowns. Santonio Holmes (5-93-1) made a great diving catch for a touchdown late in the first half, then Hines Ward hauled in a score midway through the third quarter to give Pittsburgh a 14-10 lead. The Steelers managed just 83 yards of offense the rest of the way, however, and failed to get inside the Titans' 40 the rest of the game.
Fantasy Impact: The Steelers were supposed to be the team bringing the pass rush, but Tennessee used its sucess stopping the Steeler ground game to produce five sacks and force Roethlisberger to throw a pair of picks and put the ball on the ground four times. In fantasy leagues that might not take a bite out of Big Ben's stat line, but in the real world it was the difference in the game. The Titans still aren't throwing the ball to Johnson like they did earlier in the year, but the fourth-down play call that Johnson turned into a touchdown—a quick pitch Johnson took off tackle for the score—was almost as effective. Mike Heimerdinger should recognize the benefits of getting Johnson isolated on a defender in space; maybe he already does and he's not tipping his hand until the playoffs. He certainly won't do so next week, as the Titans have wrapped up home field throughout the playoffs and will likely mail it in against a Colts team locked into the fifth seed and already hinting they'll use mostly backups in Week 17.
49ers 17, Rams 16
You certainly couldn't tell the Niners won this one by looking at the stats. They were outgained by 70 yards, turned the ball over four times, and were almost doubled up in time of possession. Shaun Hill threw three picks and was on the verge of being benched before coming to life midway through the fourth quarter. Hill finished with 216 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a three-yarder to Isaac Bruce that was also the veteran's 1,000th career catch and brought a well-deserved chorus of "Bruuuuuce" from the classy St. Louis crowd. Hill's second score was a fortunate hookup with Josh Morgan; two Niners and three Rams were in the vicinity, but Morgan stayed focused on the ball and snared the 48-yard toss for the go-ahead touchdown. With Frank Gore sidelined DeShaun Foster was slated to see the bulk of the work; however, he was ineffective on his dozen carries and his 36 yards trailed Hill's output on eight fewer totes.
Steven Jackson was the workhorse, with 108 yards on 32 carries, and Kenneth Darby chipped in five catches for 57 yards as the third down back as the Rams dominated the time of possession 38:38 to 21:22. However, three of their four drives inside the 25 ended with field goals instead of touchdowns and as a result the Rams fell to 2-13. Marc Bulger's 19-36-227-1-1 stat line has become the norm, but while Torry Holt (4-55) and Donnie Avery (6-56) were mildly productive their touchdown was stolen by Keenan Burton on his one catch of the day.
Fantasy Impact: Jackson should see an upgrade in his supporting cast and appears capable of holding onto most of his fantasy value heading into 2009; he may not be a top-five back, but his workload and productivity definitely warrant first-round consideration. The same can no longer be said for Holt, and Avery may be a year (and a quarterback and maybe even some offensive linemen) or two away from consideration as an every-week fantasy starter. Bruce and Bryant Johnson continue to pace San Francisco's receivers, but Morgan's big play suggests that if he can stay healthy he's capable of taking over Bruce's duties. And given Bruce's advancing age, that day is coming sooner rather than later.
Dolphins 38, Chiefs 31
Miami's rushing numbers are inflated by a couple of end-arounds that comprised 75 of their 168 rushing yards. Ricky Williams stole Ronnie Brown's touchdown and actually outcarried him 12-8, but Miami's offensive success is directly attributable to Chad Pennington. His 26-34-235-3-1 came in single-degree temperatures with sub-zero wind chills; tight ends accounted for all three touchdowns despite catching just four of his 26 completions. Anthony Fasano scored twice and was one of four Miami receivers with at least 40 yards.
Tyler Thigpen stepped up at home against a tough opponent and, aside from the three picks—one of which came early and resulted in a Miami field goal, another came on a desperation heave at the end of the game—he played a solid game. You'd like a little better completion percentage than 20-for-41, but considering the Dolphins took primary target Dwayne Bowe (3-28) largely out of the game and forced Thiggy to rely on the likes of Devard Darling (3-69-1) and Jamaal Charles (3-102-0) it's tough to quibble. Tony Gonzalez (7-64-1) became the first tight end to score on the Dolphins. And Larry Johnson produced 108 yards and a touchdown on just 12 carries, with Thigpen accounting for another 57 yards and a score on the ground as well.
Fantasy Impact: What will the Chiefs do with LJ? Midseason it appeared the bridges had been set ablaze, but his consistent production in the Thigpen-led offense despite reduced touches suggests there might yet be a role for him in Kansas City. The Dolphins continue to frustrate fantasy followers by getting production from multiple sources with no one entity consistently stepping to the fore—save for Pennington, who is proving quite adept at helming this ship.
Chargers 41, Buccaneers 24
Clinging to their playoff hopes, the Chargers finally received across-the-board production from all the talented components of their offense. In fact, the most disappointing effort may have come from LaDainian Tomlinson, who failed to score while rushing for 90 yards on 21 carries and adding another 20 yards on two catches. Philip Rivers tossed four touchdowns, two of them to Antonio Gates—both after lengthy scrambles to keep the play alive—and Vincent Jackson paced all Charger receivers with seven catches for 111 yards. It added up to 287 yards for Rivers, who also threw touchdowns to Darren Sproles and Brandon Manumaleuna.
Jeff Garcia led the Bucs in rushing with 45 yards and a touchdown; considering his two fourth-quarter interceptions prevented Tampa Bay from quelling a 21-point rally by the Bolts, maybe he would have been better served keeping the ball on the ground. When Garcia did throw, he was locked in on Antonio Bryant: six catches, 127 yards, and a touchdown. The rest of Tampa Bay's receiving corps combined for 15 catches but just 105 yards and no score. And Garcia had to run because Carnell Williams (8-27) and Warrick Dunn (9-20) couldn't.
Fantasy Impact: Bryant is being championed in many circles for Comeback Player of the Year honors, but there's never been a question about his talent; it's his attitude that has prevented him from living up to the hype. Maybe Jon Gruden has found a leash that will work for the volatile Bryant; if he's able to find a quarterack in 2009 that can continue to feed him, Bryant will at minimum crack the top 24 wideouts and angle for every-week starter status. You can blame as much of LT's struggles on the Chargers' banged-up and underachieving offensive line as you want to, but the fact remains: in running back years, Tomlinson is rapidly approaching his "best if used by" date. That leaves Rivers to carry the offensive load, and this season he's certainly looked capable. Yet just like his Pro Bowl snub, you don't hear Rivers mentioned amongst the elite; go ahead and use that to your advantage on draft day 2009.
Bills 30, Broncos 23
You think Trent Edwards doesn't make a difference? Sure, his stat line was rather pedestrian, 17-for-25 for 193 yards and a touchdown, but unlike J.P. Losman the past couple of weeks Edwards didn't turn the ball over. He also got some help from the Buffalo running game, which was expected to gash the Broncos but had to settle for matching touchdowns from Marshawn Lynch (11-34-1) and Fred Jackson (10-43-1). Jackson also contributed in the passing game, with three catches for 70 yards; the help was much appreciated, with Lee Evans limited to 19 yards on two catches. Josh Reed's 9-79 led all Buffalo receivers—in fact, Reed had more catches than the rest of the team combined—and rookie Steve Johnson scored for the second time in as many weeks.
Add Jay Cutler into the mix for carries in Denver. While P.J. Pope was reasonably effective with 44 yards, he was limited to just six touches. Tatum Bell (5-20) and Selvin Young (7-16) didn't bring much to the table, so the Broncos used wide receiver Eddie Royal on a 71-yard end around and also got two rushing scores from Cutler. Seeing as Jay didn't throw any touchdowns the rushing TDs were a boon to his fantasy stat line, which also featured 359 passing yards on the afternoon. Brandon Marshall (10-129) was the most popular target, with Royal (5-57) seeing his share as well and the tight end tandem of Tony Scheffler (2-56) and Daniel Graham (3-52) making it four Broncos above 50 yards on the day.
Fantasy Impact: Bell and Young combined for three yards a carry, while Pope produced better than seven; of course it would make sense to go with the hotter hand... but when has Mike Shanahan's backfield distribution ever made sense? After two failed opportunities to clinch the division, Denver now travels to San Diego for a winner-take-all skirmish—and no running game to rely on. Buffalo, on the other hand, has Lynch but continues to give Jackson touches. This week Marshawn's bum shoulder may have had something to do with it, but at the end of the season Lynch owners will look back at the 10 touches and 50 yards per game Jackson pulled from Marshawn's stat line and wonder. More wonder in Buffalo: if fellow rookie James Hardy were healthy, would he be the bigger receiver being targeted in the red zone rather than Johnson—who at 6-2 and 200 points is larger than the rest of Buffalo's Smurfs but still four inches shy of the athletic Hardy?
Seahawks 13, Jets 3
Which is more surprising: the Seahawks ignoring big-ticket free agent signing Julius Jones again and giving Maurice Morris 29 carries; Morris turning those carries into 116 yards; or the fact that those 116 yards came against a Jets defense that not too long ago was considered one of the top run-stuffing units in the league? Seattle's first four possessions produced two punts and two fumbles, but just before halftime they came alive, with Seneca Wallace (18-25-175-1) capping the drive with a touchdown toss to—who else?—rookie tight end John Carlson. Unless Bobby Engram's six catches for 65 yards or Olindo Mare's two field goals do something for you, that was the extent of the offense for Seattle; then again, that was all they needed.
Maybe the old man is tired; over his past four games Brett Favre has thrown six interceptions and just one touchdown while the Jets' playoff hopes swirl the drain. In a snowstorm in Seattle against his former mentor Mike Holmgren you may have been expecting a lot more than 187 yards and two picks; you didn't get it from the Gunslinger. Worse, you didn't get much from a ground game that had been chewing up opponents; Thomas Jones couldn't bust a carry longer than seven yards in carving out 67 yards on 17 totes, and Leon Washington broke only hearts instead of big plays. Jerricho Cotchery (6-81) and Laveranues Coles (5-60) had decent games, but Coles couldn't come up with Favre's last gasp toss and now the Jets need help to make the postseason.
Fantasy Impact: Snow and a 3-11 Seattle squad should have meant dominance for the Jets' highly paid offensive line; instead, Gang Green passed more than they ran and allowed Favre to be sacked four times. In Seattle, the continued use of Morris as the lone feature back seems to be an admission that the big money spent on Jones in the offseason was a mistake. Whether or not that mistake will be kicked to the curb this winter and MoMo handed the gif fulltime remains to be seen.
Raiders 27, Texans 16
Maybe JaMarcus Russell can play. Facing a .500 Texans team Russell was solid, completing 18 of 25 passes for 236 yards and two scores without a pick. Zach Miller (4-70) was still his top target, but Chaz Schilens (3-52-1) and Johnnie Lee Higgins (3-56-1) made contributions as well. Higgins also added his third punt return touchdown of the season, giving him a second opportunity to dazzle us with some of the strangest touchdown dance moves this side of the Worm or the Icky Shuffle. Justin Fargas continues to get the bulk of the carries and do just enough with them to warrant more work; this week it was 93 yards on 22 totes. That means we didn't get the Darren McFadden 2009 audition we were hoping for, instead settling for 12-46 on the ground and 5-41 as a receiver.
Andre Johnson, meet Nnamdi Asomugha. Actually, Chris Johnson spent a lot of time shadowing Andre was well, but whomever Oakland was using it worked: coming off a 200-yard outing Andre was targeted just once through the first three quarters and finished with 19 yards on two catches. That left plenty of room for Owen Daniels (7-111), but not having his big ticket item flummoxed Matt Schaub; he finished with 19 completions in 36 attempts for 255 yards and one pick but no scores. Steve Slaton produced 102 yards on 23 touches, including 66 rushing yards that helped him set the franchise single-season rushing record.
Fantasy Impact: Slaton has been a real find for the Texans this season and should enter 2009 as the feature back regardless of Ahman Green's health. However, Houston would like to find a complementary back to take 10 touches or so per game off his plate to keep him fresh. The Raiders may be auditioning wideouts, with Higgins adding a Devin Hester element to the mix and Schilens emerging as well. Neither will be household names heading into 2009, but if the Raiders improve their offensive line—and if former O-line coach Tom Cable remains at the helm, you can expect him to lobby Al Davis for exactly that—Russell may have a chance to use that big arm in Davis' favored vertical passing game.
Falcons 24, Vikings 17
Atlanta used its opening drive to make a statement, marching down the field with an efficient run/pass mix and capping the drive with a Michael Turner (19-70-1) touchdown plunge. Then all the Falcons had to do was sit back and let the Vikings make mistake after mistake after mistake. Matt Ryan completed 13 of 24 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown on a shovel pass to Jerious Norwood; he nearly had a rushing score as well but fumbled on the one-yard line going in—setting up guard Justin Blalock for the recovery and a touchdown. Working with the lead and watching Minnesota self-destruct, the Falcons didn't take many chances; that meant reduced numbers for Roddy White (3-24), as Michael Jenkins (4-61) led Atlanta receivers and produced the only Falcons play of more than 15 yards. Still, when the other team puts the ball on the ground six times, you don't need explosive.
Tarvaris Jackson and Adrian Peterson combined for 152 rushing yards; they also combined for five fumbles, three of which were lost. Between the fumbles and a Falcons lead that hovered in double-digits for most of the game, Peterson was essentially taken out of the game; odd to say that about a guy who received 22 carries, 11 of them in the second half, but of the Vikings' final 34 offensive snaps only six went to the NFL's leading rusher. Visanthe Shiancoe was Jackson's favorite target (other than the turf three to five yards in front of his intended receiver), catching seven balls for 136 yards and two touchdowns—one of which should have been ruled down at the one, but Mike Smith opted not to challenge. Jackson was forced to throw 36 times, completing 22 for 233 yards and the two scores, but he proved incapable of carrying the team when required and lent strong credence to the theory that Minnesota's 2009 quarterback is not on their current roster.
Fanasy Impact: Shiancoe was successful because he's an easy read down the middle of the field; Minnesota's only other passing plays appear to be flat out patterns and throw-it-up-and-pray-for-an-interference-call tosses—neither of which is effective in the consistent third-and-long situations the Vikings found themselves in. Peterson's ongoing fumble troubles didn't lead to much more Chester Taylor than usual this week, but down the road if he can't learn to hold onto the ball he'll be hard to keep on the field. Atlanta didn't look like a road team with a rookie quarterback, exploiting the hole in the middle of the Vikings' run defense and using Turner and Ryan to move the chains. They might not get four gifts from their playoff opponent, but offensively at least they proved capable of imposing their tempo on the road and that could make them a tough out in the postseason.
Redskins 10, Eagles 3
A game that features 16 punts, eight on each side, isn't bound to produce much in the way of fantasy help. Clinton Portis was the only member of either team to find the end zone, adding a touchdown to his 22-carry, 70-yard effort; unfortunately, his injury status heading into the game may have landed him on many a fantasy bench during championship week. Ladell Betts saw a slight uptick in his touches, carrying seven times for 23 yards and leading the Redskins in receiving with five grabs for 43 yards. And that was pretty much all the Skins had to offer. Consistent contributor Chris Cooley was held to 28 yards on four catches while Washington wideouts combined for seven catches and 56 yards—the bulk of it (5-28) by Santana Moss.
You can't say the Eagles didn't have their chances. DeSean Jackson (2-14) dropped a would-be game-tying touchdown Donovan McNabb laid in his arms. Earlier, Brian Westbrook was caught from behind on a 47-yard completion and the Eagles had to settle for a field goal. And on the final play of the game McNabb hit Reggie Brown (4-47) at the goal line but he couldn't shake the tackle and time expired before Philly could run another play. McNabb was largely forced to work underneath, and Westy's lengthy catch-and-run was the only Eagle play of more than 17 yards. Westbrook produced 136 yards from scrimmage on just 19 touches, limited primarily by the Eagles holding the ball for six-plus minutes less than the Redskins.
Fantasy Impact: The Eagles continue to look for a helper for Westbrook. Jackson's drop certainly didn't help, and it forced McNabb to dink and dunk his way into scoring position leaning heavily on L.J. Smith (7-49) and the nondescript cast of wideouts. Remember the year they actually had a go-to guy in Terrell Owens and they went to the Super Bowl? Maybe they can find another go-to target, only this time one who's not quite so willing to throw McNabb under the bus. The Skins' passing game isn't much better; Jason Campbell's only consistent target is Cooley, which truly limits what the offense can do. Washington had hoped that issue was addressed in the 2008 draft, but thus far Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly have contributed very little to the mix.
Giants 34, Panthers 28
In a battle of two similarly-styled teams the Giants were more able to impose their will on Carolina thanks to 301 rushing yards. That led to a 13-minute time-of-possession advantage and took the onus off Eli Manning and the passing game. Brandon Jacobs softened the Panthers with 87 yards on 24 carries, and for his efforts he was rewarded with three touchdowns. Derrick Ward capitalized on the softened defense to produce 215 yards on 15 carries, though he was unable to find the end zone. With the running game working Eli threw just 27 passes, completing 17 for 181 yards and a touchdown to tight end Kevin Boss. Dominek Hixon (4-71) led the Giants' trio of receivers, who totaled 122 yards on nine catches.
Offensively the Panthers did pretty much exactly what they needed to do to go into New York and win. The ground game bordered on dominant, with DeAngelo Williams carrying 24 times for 108 yards and four touchdowns and Jonathan Stewart adding another 29 yards on nine totes. Even Steve Smith got in on the action, carrying twice for 21 yards in addition to catching three balls for 47 yards. Smith and Muhsin Muhammad (4-80) both made big plays down the field, helping Jake Delhomme compile an efficient 11-19-185 line. However, a missed field goal at the end of the game opened the door for the Giants, and Carolina's defense was unable to shut that door quickly enough.
Fantasy Impact: Williams' hot streak to end the season has likely landed him a spot in the top five on Draft Day 2009, but Stewart still looms. Will John Fox continue to use Stewart as a 10-carry complement to Williams, or will this backfield shake down more like the Titans' Smash and Dash next year? It may be enough to scare some off of Williams as a top-five pick... or just force them to use another early selection on Stewart as insurance or more. Ward continues to excel in a complementary role of his own, but last week against the Cowboys he wasn't nearly as effective as the only show in town. This offseason Ward should have options: return to New York in a similar role or look for a feature gig elsewhere. He's unlikely to find a line like the Giants to run behind; will a big fat paycheck be enough to convince him to overlook such a sniggling detail? Or will the Giants make that decision for him and elevate him to go-to guy over the oft-injured Jacobs? Regardless of where the Super Bowl champs end up in defense of their title, it should be an interesting offseason in Gotham fantasy-wise.