It's too late for Chad Henne to save Jacksonville's season, but it's not too late for him to save yours — at least in a neighborhood play sort of way.
Many observers promptly tossed Henne's Week 11 breakout at Houston into the fluke file, and you can't blame them. That crazy 43-37 game might go down as the strangest result of the entire season, and Henne has earned his journeyman tag for a reason. But Henne's strong play against Tennessee on Sunday (17-for-26, 261 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) is something to build on, something to be optimistic about.
And optimism is the key word if you have a piece of the Jacksonville passing game. Cecil Shorts, come on down. Justin Blackmon, all is forgiven. Heck, Marcedes Lewis is looking viable of late, too. You're no longer stuck in the clutches of Blaine Gabbert.
I rewatched all of Jacksonville's offensive snaps Monday and came away impressed with Henne's play — more impressed than I expected to be. His accuracy and ball location were very good throughout; he threw a catchable pass, and gave his teammates a chance to make yards after the grab. A couple of his connections were terrific throws to receivers in the tightest of windows; consider the beautiful seam throw to Lewis in the first quarter, or the strike to a blanketed Jordan Shipley in the second quarter (the play drew a defensive PI call, that illustrates the degree of difficulty).
Perhaps Henne's most impressive throw of the day came early in the fourth quarter, a 23-yard hookup with Shorts. The Titans sent a corner blitz on the play and the rusher broke in clean; Henne barely had a second to consider and make the hot throw, all while a defender busted in to knock his block off. Henne delivered a dart to Shorts on the slant (allowing a sizable chunk of YAC), and then absorbed the hit — a late hit, as it were. The Jags scored the game-deciding touchdown five snaps later.
The naysayers will point to the seven Tennessee sacks, though they were mostly reflective of Jacksonville's spotty pass blocking. One of the sacks came on a busted screen and two others I graded as partial responsibility, shared blame between Henne and the blocking. Henne did take one sack from a poor decision in a muddy pocket, but I put the other three sacks on the offensive line. And to Mike Mularkey's credit, the pass protection was better after the first extended drive (three sacks).
Most of the Henne throws and decisions were clean and smart. The first-quarter pick was a fluke off a batted pass; he later telegraphed one throw that could have been intercepted. Otherwise, there wasn't much to criticize in this performance. A 108.0 rating and 10.0 YPA make a statement, and the 17-for-26 line would have been even better had the Jags not dropped three passes.
While Henne isn't good enough to be a viable starter in one-quarterback leagues, his presence allows us to start the Jacksonville wideouts with confidence going forward. Shorts now has a ridiculous six touchdowns and 20.8 YPC on a modest 36 receptions; he was even producing during the Gabbert days. He's a solid Top 25 wideout on my clipboard going forward.
Blackmon is more of a possession receiver (no matter what the Week 11 result suggests), but he's shown good chemistry with Henne. The rookie wideout secured five of six targets Sunday, good for 62 yards and a score. He'll be a few slots after Shorts on the next receiver Shuffle Up, but he looms as a solid WR3. I guess this is growing up, rookie.
Lewis is a tight-end afterthought in most leagues, but he's been solid over the last month (14 catches on 20 targets, 173 yards, two scores). Henne has always liked to throw to big targets inside the numbers, and he's shown good rapport with his veteran tight end. If you're in a very deep league or in a fix for a second tight end, Lewis may be of interest to you.
The schedule plays nicely for Jacksonville's fantasy potential down the stretch. Buffalo, Miami and New England present plus matchups in the passing game, and only the Jets (Week 14) look like a potential killjoy. Let's have some fun with this one. For the first time in a while, the Jaguars passing game is here to help.
• The Giants needed a win like plasma and Eli Manning was certainly up to the task, delivering a sharp performance (16-for-30, 249 yards, three TDs) in a 28-point beatdown of the Packers on Sunday night. The bye week seemed to help Manning and his offensive mates here, but more than anything a healthy Hakeem Nicks moved the needle.
Mind you, Nicks didn't blow up the record book Sunday night: he only caught five of his 13 targets, and he's still working on his timing with Manning. A 77-yard night with a touchdown is welcome, if unremarkable; production was certainly left on the table. But the mere presence of Nicks on the field makes the Giants much harder to defend, and it pushes Manning back into the Top 10 at the quarterback position. And the upcoming schedule looks like fun: Big Blue takes aim at Washington and New Orleans over the next two weeks.
Manning's red-zone and goal-line play will be extra critical in upcoming weeks now that Andre Brown is lost for the season. Brown collected five short touchdown runs over the last five games, a decisive and powerful shot of power off tackle. Ahmad Bradshaw is a talented back but the Giants don't like to overwork him at the goal. Rookie David Wilson is slowly working back into the mix after an extended stint in the Coughlin Dog House, but at 205 pounds, Wilson isn't an ideal fit for the power game.
• Let's give another round of cheers for Oakland running back Marcel Reece. Even in a complete blowout of a game, he still came through with 103 total yards and 4.9 YPC. It's like he's oblivious to the stench all around him. Good for you, Huskie.
I'd hate to see Darren McFadden's eventual return (and it could be as soon as Week 13) push Reece to the bench. Reece is a better inside runner than McFadden — despite having limited experience at the position -— and although I can't prove this, I suspect Reece is more durable, too. Hold onto your Reece shares, no matter where the DMC story goes. I still think No. 45 is going to help us in the fantasy playoffs.
• Although Sunday night was a messy night for the Packers, Mike McCarthy did two things fantasy owners can respect. First off, he took Aaron Rodgers out of the game for Green Bay's final series. While it might sting for someone needing a little extra in Week 12, there's no legitimate reason to risk Rodgers in the late stages of a 38-10 blowout. Keep your meal ticket healthy, and live to fight another day. The Packers mostly stayed on the ground for that series, essentially looking to end the game as quickly as possible. In that position, it's a wise move.
In the post-game press conference, McCarthy offered a clear and specific update on receiver Greg Jennings. The gist of the comment is this: Jennings looks like a very strong bet to play in Week 13 against Minnesota, and should be ready for a full practice on Wednesday. In a world of coaches who shroud injury disclosures with the utmost of secrecy, it's nice to have someone shooting from the hip once in a while.