One of the most annoying things about fantasy football – besides the inherent presumption that your team is remotely interesting to other human beings – is the way it promotes an unhealthy sense of statistical fixation.
In NFL circles, we're constantly assured by players, coaches and front-office executives that football is the ultimate team sport, with 53 men joining together in the collective pursuit of selfless triumph.
Yet the fantasy nation has the masses perpetually wondering how many yards C.J. Spiller(notes) will gain in garbage time and valuing Kyle Orton(notes) more than Matt Ryan(notes). With all due respect to your healthy obsession (and its residual benefit to my line of work), the whole thing kind of makes my head spin in a just-got-off-the-octopus-ride-at-the-carnival kind of way.
That's why I love an order-restoring game like Monday night's AFC East showdown at Sun Life Stadium between the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins, which ended with the Pats rolling to a 41-14 victory that moved them into a first-place tie with the New York Jets.
Tom Brady(notes), one of the two greatest passers of his era, was in the house. So was a dynamic duo of explosive wideouts, Randy Moss(notes) and Brandon Marshall(notes), and a slippery slot receiver, Wes Welker(notes), who has more receptions than any NFL player over the past three-plus seasons.
Neither one of these Patriots defenders is on your fantasy team, nor will they ever be. And unless you are in a 54-team league, there's a pretty good chance you got no benefit from the third-quarter touchdown reception by Danny Woodhead(notes), New England's newly acquired 5-foot-9 (yeah, with platform disco shoes, maybe) scatback.
This was a Monday night for the purists, a reminder that all the pregame hype in the world can't necessarily predict the outcome of a game played with 22 men moving at the same time and an oblong ball that takes funny bounces.
If you can find me the analyst who predicted that Ninkovich, a third-year linebacker from Purdue who came into Monday's matchup with zero game-changing plays on his career résumé, would catch two more passes than Moss, a man with more touchdowns than all but three players in NFL history, I'll send you a coffee-table book of Bill Belichick's best sideline grins.
Ninkovich, who'd never intercepted an NFL pass before Monday, picked off Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne(notes) twice in the first half. In the fourth quarter, Ninkovich registered his second career sack. By the end of the night, I expected Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Mike Vrabel(notes), who used to wear No. 50 for the Pats (and won three championships and went to a Pro Bowl while doing so), to show up on the sideline with his old jersey and ask Ninkovich to sign it.
Chung, a second-year safety from Oregon, had an even bigger impact. He blocked a Dolphins punt to set up a third-quarter touchdown, blocked a fourth-quarter field goal attempt that teammate Kyle Arrington(notes) returned for a score and intercepted a Henne pass and took it 51 yards to the house to close out the scoring.
Other than that, he really wasn't much of a factor.
So sit back and learn a little bit about Chung, a Chinese-Jamaican whose mother, Sophia George-Chung, was a reggae artist that brought us the 1985 hit "Girlie, Girlie." He showed up in Eugene, Ore., as a 16-year-old college freshman and started 51 games for the Ducks, more than any defensive player in school history. The Pats took him in the second round of the '09 draft, and as of Monday he's pretty much their biggest playmaker in the secondary since Rodney Harrison(notes) retired.
More important, learn that the Chungs, Ninkoviches and Woodheads of the world are often the guys who spell the difference between success and failure in professional football, even when their contributions are far more subtle. That knowledge may not help you win a fantasy championship, but it will help you enjoy watching a team like the Patriots compete for a fourth title in 10 seasons.
If New England pulls it off, as Brady would willingly attest, the rings they'll pass out to him, Moss and Ninkovich will be virtually identical.
IF I SLIPPED JON GRUDEN SOME TRUTH SERUM …
This is where I'll pay weekly homage to the former Bucs and Raiders coach and MNF analyst of whom I've long been an unabashed fan. The setup: After a dubious Henne incompletion early in the third quarter, Gruden said on the air, "They've gotta really be careful here, be very careful as these zone defenders read your eyes. That one could've easily been picked." Now, with truth serum on board: What the (expletive) is Chad (expletive) Henne thinking out there? This kid's got a great arm and a completely hollow head. If he was my quarterback and threw a ridiculous pass like that, I'd pull all those eighth-of-a-centimeter hairs out of his crew cut, one by one, and strangle him with my headset cord. Now why the (expletive) isn't Chad Pennington(notes) warming up already?
TUESDAY MORNING HAIKU
Little running back
Brady didn't know his name
Meet Mr. Woodhead
ONE E FOR FREE
Good for (A.J.) Smith!. All GMs should have the back bone not to give into these over paid thugs. If you sign a contract to play football for a certain period for so much money, you need to do just that. If [Vincent] Jackson sits the whole year, then next year we have the lockout, it will be two years he missed. LIFE WORKS WHEN PEOPLE KEEP COMMITMENTS.
That’s a really well-defined philosophy, in all its all-caps splendor, but there’s one slight problem with your logic surrounding Vincent Jackson’s(notes) absence: He's not under contract. It expired after the 2009 season. He merely declined to sign the offer tendered by the Chargers because, you know, it's a free country. Enjoy the lockout. Cheers.