Sun Dec 11 10:05am EST
The Packers-Raiders clash was as merciless as Death Star-vs.-Alderaan, and it ended just as quickly. Green Bay intercepted Carson Palmer on the game's opening possession, then Ryan Grant ran 47 yards for a score on his team's first offensive play.
By the end of the first quarter, the Packers led 14-0. At halftime, the score was 31-0. After three quarters, 43-7.
Green Bay remains undefeated with three games remaining in the regular season. If the team wins at Kansas City next Sunday, they'll have clinched everything worth clinching. The Packers have already earned a first-round playoff bye, and they're just one win away from securing home-field advantage against any NFC opponent. The question now facing the franchise is whether to pursue an undefeated season, putting Aaron Rodgers & Co. at risk in games that won't mean much, except to history ... and to fantasy owners.
The potential costs of chasing an unblemished record were made clear in the Oakland win, when Greg Jennings was carted to the locker room with a right knee injury. The early suspicion is an MCL tear, but Monday's MRI will reveal the extent of the damage. (James Jones becomes a priority fantasy add, with Jennings likely to miss a game or three. Donald Driver is back on the radar as well, along with Randall Cobb). Following Sunday's win, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy was predictably focused on nothing but the upcoming opponent:
"It's all about Kansas City. This is the target. This is the next mile marker. That's where my mind is. It's about the Chiefs."
He offered nothing concrete about his plans for subsequent weeks, though when asked about the potential for injuries in non-essential games, he reportedly said, "We don't play scared." So that seems promising.
After last Sunday's road victory against the Giants, McCarthy gave us this nugget:
"I clearly understand the 16-0 gig and the importance of it. ... We have other goals that are in front of us before we can even attain it. I hope we're in position to talk about it, but right now we really aren't."
Again, promising. You'll recall that this team won a Super Bowl last season with 15 players on IR, so perhaps they have a different perspective on injury risk.
• Dallas running back DeMarco Murray has been a revelation as a rookie, but his season now appears to be over following a brutal Week 14 injury. Murray reportedly suffered a high ankle sprain and a fracture on this impressive run. In relief, Felix Jones carried 16 times for 106 yards, adding five catches for 25. If Felix is on the waiver wire in your league, you know what to do. Spare no FAAB expense. Jones has a pair of excellent match-ups on deck in Weeks 15-16 (at TB, Phi).
If you needed to pull a big fantasy total from the Sunday night game at Dallas, you're most likely a winner. Every key skill player except Murray and Ahmad Bradshaw did something useful. (Bradshaw was benched early for a violation of team rules). Eli Manning and Tony Romo combined for 721 passing yards, and Miles Austin, Laurent Robinson and Dez Bryant all caught TDs, and four different Giants receivers topped 50 receiving yards. Manning was particularly brilliant, throwing for 400 yards and leading two touchdown drives in the final six minutes. The game ended just as you expected it to, with Dan Bailey missing a long field goal, following a successful attempt that didn't count. This time, the opposing coach did the icing.
• Just so there are no misunderstandings in this blurb, I'm telling you right here in the first sentence that I actively like Tim Tebow. There it is, without a qualifier. It's not a religion-based thing, nor is it a winning-based thing, nor is it exclusively about football (although he's been a terrific fantasy asset). It's mostly that Tebow has processed success and failure and scrutiny as well as anyone in sports, to a commendable extent. He publicly deflects praise, he owns his mistakes, he accepts criticism and, to the best of my knowledge, the displays of devotion aren't part of an elaborate con. Tebow appears to be a sincere dude, unafraid in big moments. He's just an easy guy to like — and you can appreciate him without believing that he's a magical creature. It's not his fault that he's surrounded by extremists.
With that said, Sunday's win didn't have nearly as much to do with Tebow as it did with the opponent. Chicago gave away a game that was very difficult to lose. The Bears defense offered little resistance in the biggest moments, and Marion Barber punctuated an otherwise outstanding performance with two stunningly bad plays. As a Bears fan, I don't really wish to revisit those disastrous MBIII events except to say that his clock-stopping run out-of-bounds was much more painful — and certainly more boneheaded — than the fumble in OT. If he merely remains in bounds, his team wins.
Tebow deserves full credit for dissecting a zombified version of the Cover-2 in the fourth quarter, connecting with Demaryius Thomas for a late score. (Until the closing minutes, Thomas had been notably bad). Matt Prater was terrific, drilling a 57-yard field goal at the end of regulation and a 51-yarder in overtime. He also executed a perfect onside kick that his team failed to recover. For the fourth time in five games, Denver's defense held an opponent to less than 14 points. The Broncos, as a team, played well enough to win, while Chicago collapsed in an epic, improbable way. That's your story. To me, this does not seem like the right week to fawn over Tebow. But apparently it is, so prepare for the onslaught. (Note that he has a friendly home match-up with New England in Week 15, so he may deservedly be our top fantasy story next Sunday).
• Kevin Kolb exited early against San Francisco, dealing with concussion symptoms. In his absence, John Skelton earned another win, passing for 282 yards and three scores. Larry Fitzgerald had his usual big day with Skelton at the controls, catching seven balls for 149 yards and one TD. Fitz's best play on Sunday may have actually been the crushing downfield block on Early Doucet's 60-yard TD. Frank Gore ended his five-game touchdown drought, though he only carried 10 times in the loss, gaining 72 yards.
• On the day that Antonio Gates lost the single-season record for receiving TDs by a tight end (see below), he still managed to visit the end zone twice. Gates finished with seven catches for 68 yards and two scores as the Chargers demolished Buffalo, 37-10. Ryan Mathews dominated the carries and the rushing yards for San Diego (20 for 114), but Mike Tolbert poached a short-yardage score. Philip Rivers finished with 240 passing yards, three TDs, and one hysterical fumble that became a defensive touchdown. Stevie Johnson accounted for 116 of Ryan Fitzpatrick's 176 passing yards. CJ Spiller didn't lead anyone to fantasy glory, finishing with 56 scrimmage yards on 15 touches.
• As of this writing, Rex Grossman is the week's 18th highest-scoring fantasy quarterback. He delivered 15.08 points in standard leagues, finishing with 252 yards, two touchdowns and two turnovers. He was outscored by three quarterbacks who didn't actually start for their respective teams. And for that, he earns a bronze medal, I get called out, and Brad takes a victory lap. Kids, you cannot win when the Honey Badger makes the rules.
Early waiver plays for Week 15...
QB Andy Dalton at STL
QB Jake Locker at Ind
QB TJ Yates vs. Car
RB Felix Jones at TB
RB Ryan Grant at KC
RB LaDainian Tomlinson at Phi
RB Montario Hardesty at Ari
RB Keiland Williams at Oak
WR James Jones at KC
WR Demaryius Thomas vs. NE
WR Kevin Walter vs. Car
WR Kyle Williams vs. Pit
WR Donald Driver at KC
WR Jabar Gaffney at NYG
-posted at 1:40 am ET
Maurice Jones-Drew was an unstoppable menace on Sunday, facing the Bucs' user-friendly defense. He rushed for 85 yards, caught six passes for 51, and he crossed the goal line four times. Jacksonville somehow piled up 41 points against Tampa — not bad for a team that hadn't scored 41 points in any three-game stretch all season. Each of MJD's four TDs was a punishing short-range score, and each left a mark on some Bucs defender.
If you're facing a Jones-Drew led team this week in the playoffs ... well, you'll be getting a participation ribbon at the year-end banquet. Thanks for playing. Better luck in fantasy hoops.
• The Panthers' followed their usual late-game script in Week 14, giving away a contest they'd controlled in the first half. Cam Newton had a pair of turnovers, there were critical defensive breakdowns, and, naturally, an Olindo Mare missed field goal late in the final minutes. Newton finished with 276 passing yards, two TDs and two picks, but he was plainly outplayed by Matt Ryan (320 yards, 4 TDs). In Ryan's last six games following the bye, he's thrown 14 touchdown passes and just four picks, exceeding 250 passing yards each week.
Julio Jones had a few near misses in the first half for Atlanta, then the rookie exploded after the break. Jones hauled in a 17-yard go-ahead score early in the fourth quarter, then he torched Carolina's secondary on a skinny post not long after Mare's whiff.
• The New England-Washington game was, as expected, an all-you-can-eat fantasy buffet. Those teams combined for 61 points and 894 total net yards. The outcome wasn't decided until the final seconds, when a bobbled pass intended for Santana moss was picked by Jerod Mayo. Rob Gronkowski finished with 160 receiving yards and two scores — that's 15 TDs on the year, an NFL record for a tight end (see below) — and Wes Welker caught seven balls for 86 yards and one touchdown. Welker probably should have had a second score, but he missed a ball that was thrown just behind him at the goal line on the Pats' final drive. Then, on the game's next play, Tom Brady threw a rare end zone INT ... and then he and OC Bill O'Brien exchanged a few strong words on the sideline.
We should note that Roy Helu had another big day for the 'Skins, gaining 126 yards on 27 carries. That's three straight 100-yard efforts for the rookie; he's playing his way into an early draft position in 2012. Remember the Tim Hightower buzz last August? Well, that was nothin'. Helu will be much, much buzzier next year.
• Jake Locker directed another not-quite comeback effort against an NFC South power in Week 14, coming up just five yards short against the Saints. Locker replaced an injured Matt Hasselbeck in the first half, passing for 282 yards against New Orleans and connecting with Nate Washington on a late 40-yard TD. The rookie QB also led the Titans in rushing, gaining 36 yards on six carries and breaking the plane in the third quarter. If Hasselbeck can't return next week, Locker will be a reasonable deep league start next week at Indianapolis. Still can't believe he didn't lob the ball into the end zone on the final snap this week, though.
Marques Colston caught two touchdown passes in the second half, we should note, en route to a 105-yard day. The defense apparently forgot to cover him on the first score, and the second was made possible by an obscenely good throw from his quarterback. Look at this thing. Can't place it much better than that. Drew Brees finished 36-for-47 with 337 passing yards.
• With all due respect to Toby Gerhart and Percy Harvin, Joe Webb might just be the best rushing option on the Vikings' roster while Adrian Peterson is sidelined. Webb replaced an injured, turnover-prone Christian Ponder on Sunday, and he almost immediately broke off a 65-yard touchdown run. Webb isn't exactly a clinic in the pocket, but he was a fun watch in the second half. He ultimately led the Vikings in rushing yards (109, TD), he was 12-for-23 passing for 84, and he came up just one yard short of a comeback win. But sometimes that final yard is the hardest. The game-ending play at Detroit included multiple fumbles, a missed facemask infraction, and a massive loss of yardage.
• Dan Orlovsky gave us yet another garbage time score in Week 14, his specialty, but it seems doubtful that anyone could have been helped by a Jacob Tamme TD. Baltimore ran out to an early lead at home and never really gave the Colts a chance. Ray Rice had the big day everyone expected, gaining 149 scrimmage yards on 32 touches (six catches), crossing the goal line once. Joe Flacco had a productive-if-unspectacular day, going 23-for-31 for 227 yards and two TDs.
• Houston rookie quarterback TJ Yates led an 80-yard scoring drive in the final two-and-a-half minutes at Cincinnati, clinching his team's first-ever playoff berth with this six-yard touchdown to Kevin Walter, with just two ticks on the clock. Yates accounted for every yard on the drive, either through the air or on the ground, and he finished with an even 300 passing yards. The Bengals did a nice job limiting Arian Foster and Ben Tate, holding the pair to 108 yards on 23 carries, forcing two fumbles, keeping them out of the end zone. But in the end, Yates made all the key plays on the most important drive in Texans history.
If you're a long-suffering Houston fan, you're excused for the rest of the day. Head on over to Bud Plaza, celebrate a division crown. Well earned.
-posted at 6:20 pm ET
That's Rob Gronkowski pictured over on the right, establishing a new single-season record for touchdown catches by a tight end. That was No. 14, with three and a half games remaining for an offense that averages 326.3 passing yards per game. When you erase Antonio Gates' name from the record book, you know you've accomplished something.
Gronkowski set himself up for the score with this insane refuse-to-go-down 49-yard gain. At halftime, in a shootout of a game, Gronk had four catches for 118 yards.
As impressive as the clip above is, it's not even that game's best highlight. Check out this bit of misdirection from the 'Skins, resulting in a long TD for Santana Moss, via wide receiver Brandon Banks. When Rex is your quarterback, there's no real harm in giving someone else a pass attempt from time to time.
• Detroit's defense is without Nick Fairley (foot), Louis Delmas (knee) and Ndamukong Suh (anger management) this week, but that group is nonetheless having a big fantasy day, thanks to a pair of TDs. Stephen Tulloch has a fumble recovery touchdown, and Alphonso Smith has a pick-six. Between the defensive scores and Matthew Stafford's impressive half (131 yards, 2 TDs), the Lions are cruising, up 31-17 at the break.
• By now, Shonn Greene's owners are accustomed to watching other Jets steal goal line touches, but it's still a painful sight. Mark Sanchez ran untouched into the end zone off a bootleg for New York's first score, while Greene plowed into the line as a diversion. No points for you, Shonn owner. Early in the second quarter, Greene stepped out of bounds at the 1-yard line, at the end of a 36-yard catch. Naturally, the touchdown went to someone else (Santonio Holmes). Greene is still delivering a terrific fantasy line (125 scrimmage yards, TD), but he's thisclose to posting a second straight back-to-back three-score afternoon.
• Darren Sproles had a brilliant 80-plus yard punt return TD negated by penalty, which hurt me pretty much everywhere (not that you're expected to care). Jimmy Graham is battling back spasms, but he's active, still trying to assist the fantasy community. He's hauled in four passes for 49 yards. The Kasays led the Bironases 6-3 after two quarters.
• The Eagles apparently waited until Week 14 to unveil the unstoppable offense they were supposed to feature all year. Better late than never, Philly. They gained 182 net yards in the first half at Miami, finding the end zone three times. LeSean McCoy had two early rushing scores and DeSean Jackson caught a 34-yard score late in the second quarter. (D-Jax is doing what he can late in the year to recoup a few of the millions he's given away this season). Michael Vick is 11-for-19 for 167 yards and one TD, though he's been sacked four times. Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore has had a rough afternoon (4 sacks, INT, fumble), but he made at least one nice throw, finding Brandon Marshall in the corner of the end zone for an early score.
• Maurice Jones-Drew is the only respectable play-maker in a low-yield offense, which isn't necessarily the ideal fantasy setup. But he's made it work all season, and he found the end zone twice in the first half against Tampa Bay, gaining 75 total yards.
• Someday, the NFL will simply rename the strip-sack in Rex Grossman's honor. Early in the first quarter against the Pats, while standing deep in the end zone in a collapsing pocket, Rex displayed his usual pass rush awareness. Andre Carter dropped him, recording his tenth sack of the year, and Rex put the ball on the ground. Vince Wilfork recovered for New England, giving his team an early 7-0 lead.
• Matt Hasselbeck suffered a non-contact injury to his left calf in the first half at Tennessee, hopping/limping off the field following an incompletion. Jake Locker has replaced the vet. Locker is plenty mobile, his arm strength certainly isn't an issue, and he was plenty impressive earlier in the season when called upon at Atlanta (9-for-19, 140 yards, 2 TDs). The Titans face the Colts next week, so we can't rule out a big day from whoever starts for Tennessee.
• There's basically no way to defend throws like this from Cam Newton. You have to honor the run, because the rookie already owns the single-season rushing TD record for QBs. If he's going to pull up and make a near-perfect touch throw ... well, that's unfair. Newton threw two first-half touchdown passes, finding both of his tight ends. Greg Olsen had a 44-yard score late in the second quarter, a yards-after-catch event. Nice to see Olsen return to relevance in time for the playoffs.
-posted at 3:05 pm ET
Pre-FFL update: Adrian Peterson is reportedly OUT this week, expected to be inactive. Take evasive action, quickly. Toby Gerhart is a reasonable play against a weakened Lions defense (no Suh, Fairley, Delmas). Christian Ponder will apparently start for Minnesota; Detroit will be without the services of Kevin Smith. Also, the early reports suggest that Jeremy Maclin will play for Philly and Josh Freeman will start for the Bucs.
-posted at 11:35 am ET
Playoffs, friends ... playoffs. They're upon us, finally.
If you've made it this far, good for you. But we still have plenty of work ahead. Set a good lineup, survive and advance. Updated Week 14 position ranks can be found right here, and post-practice injury notes are over here. If you're in need of last-minute advice, you know where to find us. Pick up the phone or join the chat beginning an hour before kickoff. Also, please check back with Sunday Scene later in the day for NFL observations, fantasy spin, and an early look at waiver plays for Week 15.
Go get a win, gamers, then deliver your usual fiery post-game address.
Photo via Getty Images (Bengals fans), US Presswire (Gronkowski, MJD, Barber) and AP Images (Jennings)