A quick glance at the day's top scorers made me do a double-take and, in some cases, caused me to wonder aloud like "The Amazing Yen" in "Ocean's 11" – "Where the … have you been?"
Leaping off the page was the New York Jets QB-WR combo of Chad Pennington and Santana Moss. After a miserable performance last week against Pittsburgh, Pennington tossed three TD passes in Sunday's win. Moss was on the receiving end of two of them. He entered the game with a feeble season total of two touchdowns.
Among running backs, Curtis Martin and LaDainian Tomlinson continue to pace the position in '04. Tomlinson scored for the 11th straight game and has been shut out of the end zone in only one game. Martin scored in his eighth game of the season. They are joined at the top of the Week 15 leaderboard by Larry Johnson and Fred Taylor.
And lest I forget, the Lions' Roy Williams returned to the end zone after a six-game drought (seven if you count the one he missed). He touched pay dirt twice on Sunday.
It's been an exciting, scoring-filled weekend. Let's get to it.
Pittsburgh Steelers 33, New York Giants 30
The much-anticipated battle of the rookie quarterbacks gave football fans a treat on Saturday afternoon. Ben Roethlisberger and the balanced attack of the Pittsburgh Steelers fought off a game effort from Eli Manning and the New York Giants. Roethlisberger ran his record as a starter to 12-0 with 316 passing yards to go with one touchdown and two interceptions.
However, both rookies were upstaged by a third-year former QB who threw for one touchdown, added a second as a receiver and caught a huge pass from Roethlisberger to set up the winning score. Antwaan Randle El was the unquestioned star of this day, catching five passes for 149 yards and tossing a 10-yard TD pass to Verron Haynes.
The Steelers played without stars Duce Staley and Plaxico Burress, who both expect to return in Week 16. Jerome Bettis kept the line moving with a season-high 36-carry, 140-yard performance. He capped the scoring with a one-yard TD plunge.
Hines Ward also topped 100 yards (nine catches for 134 yards) for the victors. Verron Haynes caught three balls for 28 yards and added 21 on the ground.
Jeff Reed booted three field goals on top of four extra points for a big day.
Eli Manning turned in his best performance as a starter, completing 16-of-23 passes for 182 yards and two scores.
Tiki Barber ran for 76 yards on 18 carries with a fourth-quarter TD run. He also caught five balls for 38 yards.
Washington Redskins 26, San Francisco 49ers 16
The 49ers continue their woes against teams other than Arizona. On a clear day in the Bay Area, hometown boy Ken Dorsey led the 49ers against the second-ranked Washington defense.
Dorsey made a couple of solid throws but ultimately found himself overmatched on this day. He completed 20-of-38 for 206 yards and two scores, but he was intercepted four times.
Eric Johnson had his biggest performance in weeks with an eight-catch, 73-yard day. Second-year receiver Brandon Lloyd was on the receiving end of Dorsey's first TD toss and hauled in four balls for 51 yards.
The Redskins squandered several red zone opportunities, relying on the leg of recently signed kicker Jeff Chandler to take care of business. Chandler did his part, going 4-for-4 on field goal attempts.
Patrick Ramsey was efficient but unspectacular, completing two-thirds of his pass attempts for 214 yards and one score. The TD pass was caught by TE Robert Royal from 12 yards out and was his only catch of the day.
Clinton Portis rushed for 110 yards on 35 carries with one fumble lost.
Carolina Panthers 31, Atlanta Falcons 34
Michael Vick and Julius Peppers were the darlings of the Saturday night broadcast team, and much to their delight, both delivered big play after big play. The nationwide audience was treated to a thrilling overtime battle.
Vick threw for two touchdowns and added a third via the ground on a spectacular 12-yard scamper on which he defied gravity. Sure, he turned over the ball three times, but owners who gambled on the erratic but exciting young QB happily will take the three touchdowns.
Vick had a multi-TD passing game without the aid of Alge Crumpler (three catches, 38 yards and a fumble lost). Brian Finneran caught his first TD pass of the season early in the first quarter. He would finish with just 19 yards receiving on three receptions. Dez White (three catches, 71 yards) caught a 12-yard laser from Vick for his second TD grab of the season.
Jake Delhomme completed 24-of-35 attempts for 340 yards and two TD strikes. He also turned over the ball three times, with one pick and two fumbles lost.
TE Kris Mangum contributed four catches for 53 yards and a score.
Nick Goings' four-game streak of 100-yard rushing games came to an end against an attacking Falcons front. He finished the game with 61 yards on 24 carries with a score.
Let's get back to Julius Peppers for a second. He one-handed a floating ball that was fumbled by Michael Vick and returned it 61 yards for a touchdown. Catch the highlight of that one, as it was mighty impressive.
David Carr broke a streak of three road games without a TD pass by finding Corey Bradford for a 37-yard scoring strike. It was Bradford's third TD reception of the season and first since Week 8. He finished the game with three catches for 58 yards. Carr passed for 220 yards, completing 13-of-27.
Jabar Gaffney led all receivers with four grabs for 110 yards.
Domanick Davis rushed for 96 yards and a score. Davis has scored in six of the last seven games for the Texans.
Thomas Jones was limited to 31 yards on 18 carries and added 36 via the air on seven receptions.
David Terrell was the leading receiver for Chicago with 40 yards on three receptions.
Buffalo Bills 33, Cincinnati Bengals 17
Willis McGahee was finally contained (14 carries, 25 yards), much to the chagrin of fantasy owners who had ridden the second-year back down the stretch. McGahee also left the game with a knee injury in the fourth quarter. His status will be updated in my Tuesday column (Inside Week 15).
Drew Bledsoe threw for an uninspiring 181 yards and a score. He did finish the game without a turnover, but that's of small consolation.
Lee Evans led the Bills with five catches for 101 yards and a touchdown. This marks the fourth straight game that the rookie receiver has scored.
The Buffalo defense contributed two touchdowns, one on the return of a blocked punt and a second on an interception return. Former Bengal Takeo Spikes rumbled 62 yards to the house and saw some long-lost friends in the end zone in Cincinnati.
Otherwise, it was the Rian Lindell show for the Bills. He was perfect on the day with four field goals and three PATs.
Rudi Johnson was the lone bright spot for the Bengals offense on the day, rushing for 130 yards on 31 carries. He scored one touchdown and lost a fumble.
Top target Chad Johnson caught just two balls for 10 yards.
Minnesota Vikings 28, Detroit Lions 27
My kingdom for an extra point! The Lions sideline watched in horror when, after driving for a TD in the closing seconds of the game, the PAT snap was low and mishandled, leaving Jason Hanson without an attempt.
Roy Williams caught both of Harrington's TD strikes and finished the game with seven catches for 104 yards. Battling health issues and the inconsistency of the Lions' offense, Williams hadn't seen the painted grass since Week 7.
The victorious Vikings enjoyed a big performance from Daunte Culpepper, who tossed three touchdown passes and racked up 403 yards via the air.
His top target was second-year receiver Nate Burleson, who snagged five catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns.
Randy Moss topped the century mark for the second straight week and contributed an 82-yard TD reception to the victory.
Moe Williams scored the final TD for the Vikings with a bruising 11-yard TD run.
San Diego Chargers 21, Cleveland Browns 0
Well, at least the Browns broke triple-digit yardage numbers this week, even if they failed to put points on the board. Lee Suggs returned to the lineup after a three-game injury hiatus and rushed for 105 yards on 21 carries. Unfortunately, that meant a lean day for William Green, who carried the ball a mere five times for 16 yards.
The Chargers' win yielded an improbable AFC West title for the team everyone expected to finish last.
LaDainian Tomlinson ruled the day for the Chargers, carrying the ball 26 times for 111 yards and two TD runs.
The shutout pitched by the Chargers defense was just the third recorded this season (Seattle vs. San Francisco in Week 3, Tampa Bay vs. Atlanta in Week 13).
Matt Hasselbeck completed 22-of-30 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns before leaving with a shoulder injury. Trent Dilfer stepped in for him to close the game. I'll update Hasselbeck's status on Tuesday, as well.
Shaun Alexander turned in a 77-yard performance on the ground, but it was his fumble at the goal line that left fantasy owners seething.
One week after his monster performance, Darrell Jackson was limited to 45 yards receiving on four catches.
Jerramy Stevens caught a six-yard TD pass from Hasselbeck, his lone reception of the day.
Chad Pennington rebounded from a subpar performance in Week 14 to post a strong 253-yard, three-TD performance – all three touchdowns were caught by starting receivers!
Santana Moss has frustrated owners all year, but those faithful among you were rewarded with a 79-yard, two-touchdown game.
Justin McCareins complemented Moss' efforts with three catches for 40 yards and a score.
Jerald Sowell has worked his way back into the mix after early fumble problems. He caught five passes for 83 yards.
Dallas Cowboys 7, Philadelphia Eagles 12
The Eagles got the "W" but lost one of their brightest stars in the process. Terrell Owens left the game with what is being called an ankle sprain (though he was clearly clutching his knee) and is expected to miss next week's game. Owens had caught two balls for 24 yards before leaving the contest. An MRI is scheduled for Monday to determine the extent of the damage, but it is believed that he will be unavailable in Week 16 against St. Louis.
Donovan McNabb was limited without his top target, finishing the game with 223 passing yards, one TD and two interceptions.
Chad Lewis snagged the lone TD pass of the day for the Eagles. He caught two passes from McNabb for 20 yards.
The Eagles' run defense continues to improve as the season wears on; it held breakout star Julius Jones to 80 yards on 25 carries. And because the running game didn't get on track, Vinny Testaverde threw for only 176 yards, one score and two picks.
He continues to find favorite target Keyshawn Johnson, though. Johnson caught five balls for 61 yards and a score. It was Johnson's sixth TD on the season, giving him his highest season total since the eight he scored in 2000.
Jason Witten led the Cowboys with six catches for 66 yards.
Denver Broncos 17, Kansas City Chiefs 45
A week after flipping the bird to fans, fantasy owners are returning the favor to Jake Plummer after a weak performance against the dismal Chiefs defense. Plummer threw for 292 yards but added just one TD to go along with two interceptions.
And these same fantasy owners are cursing the name of Denver head coach Mike Shanahan to boot. Not only was Tatum Bell (nine carries, 50 yards) a threat to Reuben Droughns, but now Garrison Hearst emerges to steal a TD carry. This leaves the Denver RB situation a miserable mess heading into the final two weeks.
Rod Smith caught six balls for 75 yards and the lone TD strike from Plummer.
Eight other receivers caught passes from Plummer, led by Triandos Luke with five catches for 40 yards.
Trent Green enjoyed a big day against the normally stout Denver defense. He completed 16-of-19 passes for 224 yards and three scores. He hooked up for two scoring strikes with second-half wonder Eddie Kennison. Kennison caught seven balls for 101 yards. Rookie Samie Parker from Oregon was on the receiving end of the third Green TD pass. He caught three balls for 84 yards.
Second-year back Larry Johnson shouldered the load this week, racing to 151 yards on 30 carries with two touchdown runs. Priest Holmes says he'll be back in 2005, so this ought to be an interesting situation.
St. Louis Rams 7, Arizona Cardinals 31
The Christmas wish list for Rams fans and Torry Holt/Isaac Bruce owners includes a healthy Marc Bulger and a coaching change. Chris Chandler started out miserably and left after six attempts and, of course, another interception. Jamie Martin stepped in for Chandler and played solid ball. He completed 16-of-32 passes for 188 yards.
Torry Holt led the Rams with six catches for 95 yards. Isaac Bruce added four catches for 37 yards.
With an anemic passing game in tow, Marshall Faulk was limited to 22 yards on 10 carries in his return to the lineup.
Josh McCown played well again for the Cardinals, completing 22-of-34 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns. He did not turn the ball over in the game and rushed for two touchdowns. I wonder if Dennis Green regrets benching him earlier in the season, considering the miserable state of the NFC playoff picture and all.
Both of McCown's TD passes were snagged by rookie Larry Fitzgerald, who had 37 yards on four catches.
Emmitt Smith played through an injury to post 71 yards on 19 carries.
St. Louis scored only on defense, when Leonard Little returned a Josh McCown fumble to the house.
New Orleans Saints 21, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 17
New Orleans scored on the opening kickoff, then went silent for 55 minutes before finishing with a flurry. Aaron Stecker returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a score.
Aaron Brooks tossed two touchdown passes in the final four minutes of the game to put the Saints on the perimeter of the NFC playoff picture. He finished with 169 passing yards and two touchdowns without a turnover. This interception-free game breaks a six-game streak.
Deuce McAllister ran for 89 yards on 25 carries for the victors.
Joey Galloway (two catches, 18 yards) provided the offense for the Buccaneers with a TD catch and a punt return for a score. Brian Griese threw for a paltry 118 yards, one interception and the scoring strike to Galloway.
Rookie Michael Clayton hauled in four passes for 53 yards. He eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark with his performance.
Michael Pittman raced for 131 rushing yards with one fumble lost.
Jacksonville Jaguars 28, Green Bay Packers 25
The comeback attempt by Brett Favre and the Packers fell just short. For a moment, it appeared that a late onside kick had rolled away from Jimmy Smith and would allow the Packers a last-gasp attempt. Alas, it was not to be, and the Packers dropped their fourth game at Lambeau Field.
Brett Favre threw for 366 yards and two touchdowns, but three interceptions spelled doom for the home team. The third pick looked for a moment as though Donald Driver would make a spectacular catch in traffic, but he had the ball wrestled away by Jacksonville's Deon Grant.
Ahman Green rushed for 95 yards on 17 carries but lost an early fumble in the red zone.
Robert Ferguson added two catches for 42 yards. He left the game with a neck injury after being clotheslined by Donovan Darius. More on his status as it develops.
The victorious Jaguars were led by Byron Leftwich, who completed 9-of-20 attempts for 121 yards and two touchdowns, both to veteran receiver Jimmy Smith.
Smith finished the day with four catches for 87 yards.
Fred Taylor ran for a season-high 165 yards on 22 carries, including a 37-yard scamper for his second rushing TD of the season (third overall).
The Green Bay defense scored on a fumble recovery by Darren Sharper from 15 yards out.
Tennessee Titans 35, Oakland Raiders 40
Where to begin in this one? I guess the summary line is that the last team with the ball wins. Kerry Collins and Billy Volek combined for 10 touchdowns in this contest. A dubious fake FG call ended up biting the trickster Jeff Fisher and allowed the Raiders to successfully defend the home turf.
Kerry Collins recovered from a poor performance against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 14 with a five-TD, 372-yard outburst against a disintegrating Tennessee defense.
Jerry Porter dominated the Titans' secondary, scorching them for eight catches, 147 yards and three touchdowns.
Four Oakland backs combined for 47 rushing yards.
For the Titans, Billy Volek threw for 491 yards and four touchdowns. He also carried one in from one yard out.
Drew Bennett continued his magic, hauling in 13 balls for 160 yards and two more touchdowns. That gives him eight touchdowns in the past three weeks.
Derrick Mason doesn't get the same accolades as his QB and his tag-team partner Bennett, but 121 yards on nine catches with a score is none too shabby.
Rookie TE Ben Troupe added six catches for 75 yards and a touchdown.
Can you possibly trust Jake Plummer against the Titans in Week 16 with a title on the line? No doubt, the temptation will be strong.
I'll be back on Tuesday with the updated injury report and the Looks and Touches lists for this all-important playoff stretch.
Here's hoping you were on the upside of the offensive outbursts this weekend.