Leading the Jets by five points with 5:36 remaining in the third quarter on Sunday, Indianapolis chose to remove Peyton Manning(notes) from the game, along with various other starters. The decision clearly put the Colts' unblemished record at risk.
Painter dropped back to pass on first down from the 20-yard line and was pressured by New York linebacker Calvin Pace(notes). He lost the football as soon as Pace invaded his personal space. Video here. Indianapolis tight end Tom Santi(notes) (Dallas Clark's(notes) replacement) had an opportunity to recover, but the ball slipped through his fingers. Jets defensive end Marques Douglas(notes) eventually collected the fumble in the end zone, giving New York a lead they would never relinquish.
Manning seemed disgusted on the sideline, but he stuck to the approved script following the loss:
“It was the plan, the organizational philosophy that we were going with,” Manning said, “and, as players, we support that.”
Colts fans do not necessarily support the plan. They put on a booing clinic after the Painter fumble, expressing obvious displeasure with an organizational philosophy that eschews perfection.
It's easy to understand why a team would prioritize end-of-season health above all else, especially when they've already clinched every possible playoff advantage. But the Colts don't rest Manning in the fourth quarter of mid-season games they lead by multiple scores, like this one and this one. It seems awfully strange for them to bench him with a slim lead late in the year, facing a top-tier defense.
There was very little chance that Painter, making his first regular season NFL appearance, could possibly guide Indianapolis to a win against New York. And, of course, he didn't. And as players, his teammates support that.
As fantasy owners, we knew the risks that were attached to Colts in Week 16. If you were forced to roll with Manning, Clark or Reggie Wayne(notes), please register your complaint in comments. All of these messages will be printed and sent to Bill Polian, so please thank him for your second place finish and wish him the best of luck against the Chargers.
• There's a decent chance that I'll lose by the slimmest of margins in at least one league because Alex Smith elected not to get his uniform dirty on this Vernon Davis TD. If he dives for the pylon, he's in. Smith looked a lot like a fantasy owner who needed the score from Vernon.
• The Eagles beat the Broncos by three points in a game that really shouldn't have been so close. That's not the first time Philly has turned a solid halftime lead into a near-collapse. Donovan McNabb(notes) has thrown 16 first half TD passes this year, but just six after the intermission.
• We should probably apologize to Denver quarterback Kyle Orton(notes) for making fun of his one-receiver tendencies (see below). He threw three touchdown passes against Philadelphia and none of them were caught by Brandon Marshall(notes). Jabar Gaffney(notes) had two, and Knowshon Moreno(notes) saved his fantasy day with a third quarter score.
• For an unnervingly long time, it seemed that Beanie Wells(notes) wasn't going to cross the goal line against the Rams. But the rookie handled most of the fourth quarter work in Arizona's three-touchdown win, gaining 57 total yards in the final 15 minutes and breaking the plane with just 2:44 remaining.
• Iowa legend Shonn Greene(notes) delivered an impressive line against the Colts, carrying 16 times for 95 yards. The Jets went with a 19-to-44 pass/run ratio on Sunday, so there were plenty of carries available to satisfy everyone. Thomas Jones(notes) rushed for 105 yards and a TD.
• You have to appreciate referee Mike Carey's honesty, if not his speed. This was one of my favorite official explanations of the year: "There is no delay of game [penalty]. We were a little slow getting the ball spotted."
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Donovan McNabb is off to a great start for the Eagles, completing 15 of 19 passes for 242 yards and two TDs. Celek and DeSean Jackson(notes) have the touchdowns; credit Renaldo Hill(notes) with an assist on the Celek score. Brian Westbrook(notes) has looked quick and decisive in his first action since Week 10. He had seven touches for 28 yards in the first half.
• Larry Fitzgerald(notes) probably isn't at full strength following the knee tweaking in Week 14, but he's nonetheless found the end zone in each of the past two games. Fitz was completely abandoned on his 10-yard second quarter score against St. Louis. Highlight here. Can't wait to see how the DBs are graded in Monday's Rams Report Card, our favorite weekly feature in the Post-Dispatch.
• Indianapolis continues to roll with Peyton Manning well into the third quarter against the Jets. Donald Brown(notes) and Joseph Addai(notes) have handled most of the scoring, however. Brown is getting his first action since November; he could be a strong play in Week 17 against Buffalo, the NFL's worst run defense. But that is not to be considered an endorsement of 17-week fantasy schedules.
• Early in Sunday's matchup with Philadelphia, Brandon Stokley(notes) was ejected for making contact with an official during an animated complaint about a non-call. His dismissal left the Broncos with only three wideouts. It's probably not an issue, though, since Denver typically only uses one receiver.
Still, Odd ejection. Stokley has always seemed like one of the NFL's smartest players. You'll recall that he was the guy who ran parallel to the goal line in Week 1, taking seconds off the clock in the win against Cincinnati. He also once talked Brandon Marshall out of an excessive celebration penalty.
• As a general rule, we do not approve of receivers who make exaggerated first down signals when their teams are trailing by multiple scores. But we're willing to make exceptions in cases like this, when the reception is of the highest quality. Davone Bess(notes) can play a little.
• For the first time in three weeks, the Cardinals are splitting the carries evenly between Tim Hightower(notes) and Beanie Wells, at least through three quarters. Hightower has the short-yardage score, per his usual.
• We'd like to officially acknowledge Jerome Harrison's(notes) final line: 39 carries, 148 yards, TD. He lost a fumble in the red zone, you can't reasonably complain about a small deduction if you just got an 18.8-point fantasy day from a Browns running back.
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• Jacksonville's defense entered the week dead-last in the NFL in sacks and 27th overall against the pass, so it wasn't difficult to anticipate a big week from Tom Brady(notes). Still, take a moment to appreciate Brady's near-flawless performance: 23-for-26, 267 yards, four TDs.
New England's receivers divided the work in the usual manner, with Wes Welker(notes) collecting all the receptions and yards (13 for 138) and Randy Moss(notes) handling all the scoring (three TDs). The Pats clinched a division title with the 35-7 win. Predictably, Laurence Maroney(notes) didn't record another touch after his first quarter turnover on the goal line. Sammy Morris(notes) rushed for 95 yards and a score in relief; Fred Taylor(notes) returned from an 11-week absence, carrying 11 times for 35 yards.
• Whatever else they're doing lately, the Saints certainly aren't peaking. They held a 14-point lead at halftime over Tampa Bay, yet they found themselves in overtime after allowing a late 77-yard punt return TD to Michael Spurlock. (Shannon Sharpe beat me to the Super Size Me joke. Tip of the cap, sir). New Orleans had a chance to win at the end of regulation, but Garrett Hartley(notes) – my kicker in five leagues – missed a 37-yard field goal. Josh Freeman(notes) was characteristically sloppy (two INTs), but the Saints couldn't stop Carnell Williams(notes). Caddy finished with 129 yards and one TD on 24 carries. Incredibly, the Vikings still have a shot at home field advantage in the NFC.
• If you're a Jonathan Stewart(notes) owner, let's hope you didn't sweat the matchup against the Giants. Carolina annihilated New York, 41-9, and Stewart delivered an obscene line: 28 carries, 206 yards, TD. That's 315 rushing yards in two games against brand-name defenses (MIN, NYG).
The Panthers' Steve Smith had one of the day's more impressive touchdowns, taking a huge shot from safety Michael Johnson on a 27-yard reception, but continuing into the end zone. Highlight here. That might be the final play of Smith's season, however, as he reportedly broke his left arm on the hit.
• Facing the league's top run defense, Ray Rice(notes) delivered a Bensonian line: 30 carries, 141 yards. Rice was a relatively tough sit/start call this week, given the matchup against Pittsburgh, but he delivered.
His team, however, did not. The Ravens lost to the Steelers, 23-20. When they assign blame, they'll need to look to the lengthy, mistake-filled drive that ended the third quarter. Willis McGahee(notes) had a long touchdown run negated by a Kelley Washington(notes) holding penalty, and he would have likely scored without the illegal assistance. Two plays later, Derrick Mason(notes) dropped a TD pass when the ball hit him in the face. The six-minute drive eventually ended in a punt.
• Ricky Williams(notes) suffered a third quarter shoulder injury against Houston and wasn't a factor thereafter in the Dolphins' loss. Lex Hilliard(notes) scored a pair of touchdowns in Ricky's absence, finishing with a team-high nine receptions for 74 yards. If you're a Williams owner, please know that I'm right there with you, devastated.
• The Chiefs finally held an opponent to fewer than 200 rushing yards, but Cedric Benson(notes) still managed to pick up 133 on 29 carries. Larry Johnson(notes) was barely a rumor in his revenge game against KC, carrying just four times for 11 yards. The Bengals made everything look hard in their 17-10 win, but they managed to secure a division crown. Congrats, Cincinnati.
• If you started Brandon Jackson(notes) today for some reason, congratulations. That was the clutch fantasy play of the year. Please gloat in comments. Running backs accounted for every touchdown scored by the Packers in their 48-10 mauling of the Seahawks. Jackson had three TDs, Ryan Grant(notes) had two, Ahman Green(notes) had one, Dorsey Levens(notes) had two, Edgar Bennett had one, Eddie Lee Ivery had two…
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• For the second time in three weeks, Houston has simply destroyed an opponent in the first half. Matt Schaub(notes) has already passed for 247 yards and two touchdowns against Miami, and the Texans lead 27-3. Schaub's first TD was a 10-yarder to Andre Johnson(notes) on fourth-and-1, setting the tone. After two quarters, Johnson has four receptions for 57 yards and one score. This is not setting up well for those of us who need a respectable fantasy line from Ricky Williams.
• As expected, New Orleans jumped out to an early double-digit lead at home against Tampa Bay. The Saints need a win or tie to clinch home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Pierre Thomas ran for a touchdown in the first quarter – his first rushing score since Week 9 – and Robert Meachem(notes) caught a 30-yard TD on New Orleans' second possession. The throw from Drew Brees(notes) was a dart. In fact, it looked a lot like these. (If you click just one link in this post, that's the one).
• It didn't take long for Charlie Frye(notes) to announce his presence with…well, with no authority whatsoever. Frye's first pass attempt was intercepted by linebacker David Bowens(notes), and the throw never had a chance. Horrid decision. Two plays later, Jerome Harrison found himself in the end zone for the fourth time in two weeks.
• New England's opening drive ended (as others have this year) with a Laurence Maroney goal line fumble. Sammy Morris took over on the next series; he has 83 rushing yards and one TD at halftime. For Maroney, that was the fourth lost fumble this season. The Patriots are rolling against Jacksonville, leading 28-0, but Maroney might not visit the stat buffet again.
• It's no great surprise to see that Jonathan Stewart is off to a strong start, but his 29-yard second quarter TD was a bit too easy. The Giants defense offered little resistance as Stewart went untouched up the middle.
• OK, Brandon Jackson, you're dismissed. The former second-rounder has poached an annoying number of touches. Jackson caught the first touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers(notes) on Sunday, a textbook screen that went for 13 yards. There will be more TDs for Green Bay. Remain patient.
• Baltimore tight end Todd Heap(notes) made an excellent adjustment to the ball on his 30-yard score in the second quarter, but he was clearly down before breaking the plane. Pittsburgh didn't challenge, presumably because the Ravens would've had a first-and-goal inside the 1-yard line. Tough break for anyone who started Willis McGahee, or for anyone facing either Heap or Joe Flacco(notes).
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Championship Week, gamers. Let's focus. Set your lineups responsibly; fight for every imaginary inch. Here's some inspiration. Woof.
Links for those who need 'em: Week 16 Ranks, Friday injury/practice notes, NFL Skinny, Flames/Lames, Fantasy Football Live. Please check back with Sunday Scene throughout the day for updates on players who are involved in my matchups.
Now c'mon, let's go get a ring.
Photos via US Presswire (Saints fan, Celek) and AP Images (Manning, Schaub, Brady)