In the fantasy championships of Week 16, owners were rewarded for their belief in a crop of rookie receivers. Lee Evans, Michael Clayton and Larry Fitzgerald all turned in two-touchdown performances, shining brighter in the spotlight than established stars such as Hines Ward and Jimmy Smith.
Peyton Manning got his record, brother Eli remained winless and the Cowboys continued their dominance against Washington with a narrow victory at home. Does this mean that Vinny Testaverde will be the QB in 2005?
We watched fantasy mainstays Shaun Alexander and LaDainian Tomlinson pace the running backs alongside future stars Larry Johnson , Willis McGahee and Domanick Davis. Entering the Sunday night game, 12 running backs achieved double-digit points based on the Yahoo! default scoring system.
No doubt more than one matchup was sidetracked by the late scratch of a Fred Taylor or Matt Hasselbeck. And more than one owner that expected Willis McGahee to sit and left for the holidays with Shaud Williams as a starter were lucky that the Bills' dominance afforded him the opportunity to shine in the second half.
It was certainly a topsy-turvy, action-packed championship week. Let's go further inside the box scores …
Green Bay Packers 34, Minnesota Vikings 31
The extended holiday viewing of NFL action started with a classic matchup between the Packers and Vikings. Both teams had struggled in recent weeks, particularly on defense. As a result, Christmas Eve fireworks were surely in order. However, the score was knotted at 0-0 at the end of the first quarter. Fantasy owners everywhere were sweating.
Then, Daunte Culpepper started the shootout with a 12-yard TD toss to Randy Moss to start the second quarter. He would go on to complete 16-of-23 passes for 285, two touchdowns and zero turnovers. In his past four games against Green Bay, Culpepper has averaged 261 passing yards, with 12 passing touchdowns and zero interceptions during that period.
Moss caught two passes for 30 yards in the losing effort.
Nate Burleson continued his ascent on early 2005 rankings lists with two catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. He has averaged four catches per game on the season and needs a mere 43 yards in Week 17 to reach the coveted 1,000-yard mark.
Michael Bennett re-emerged as the top running back in the crowded Minnesota backfield. He had been splitting time with second-year back Onterrio Smith. However, Smith was inactive for the contest with an undisclosed illness. Bennett provided 159 yards from scrimmage (92 on the ground) and scored his second TD of the season on a scintillating 38-yard pass play.
Brett Favre spurred a fantastic comeback after throwing a fourth-quarter interception that was returned by Chris Claiborne for a score. He hit Donald Driver for a sprawling three-yard TD to tie the score with just more than three and a half minutes remaining to tie the score, and then led the winning drive that was capped off by a Ryan Longwell field goal. Favre threw for his second-highest yardage output of the season with 365 yards and three touchdowns.
Driver led all receivers with 11 catches for 162 yards.
Javon Walker continued his magical third season with 90 yards receiving and his 11th touchdown of the season, and Bubba Franks was the recipient of Favre's third TD toss. It was Franks' only reception of the day and came from 22 yards out.
Ahman Green scored on a one-yard plunge in the explosive second quarter, but was held to a paltry 64 yards on the ground.
All told, there were 868 yards of total offense and just seven punts in the contest.
Oakland Raiders 30, Kansas City Chiefs 31
Trent Green threw multiple touchdowns for the fourth straight week and led the Chiefs to a dramatic 31-30 victory over the visiting Raiders. Dante Hall came up with a huge return following a Sebastian Janikowski 46-yard field goal to allow Green a shot at the winning drive. Green connected with Tony Gonzalez twice for touchdowns and completed 32 of 45 attempts for 358 yards. Of course, it was Green's fumble deep in Raiders territory around the two-minute mark that gave the Raiders life.
Gonzalez led all receivers with 11 catches for 124 yards. Eddie Kennison added six catches for 79 yards to pace the victors.
Larry Johnson's string of 100-yard games ended at three, but the second-year pro tallied two touchdowns to go along with 79 yards on the ground. He also caught four balls for 43 yards.
Rookie Samie Parker doesn't stand out in the box score, but he made several nice snags to aid the cause. He finished with three catches for 35 yards, but his presence on the sidelines will make him a factor next season. Hang a start next to his name.
For the Raiders, Kerry Collins tried to match his high-flying antics of the past several games (save Week 14, when he laid an egg against Atlanta). He tossed for 217 yards and two touchdowns, hooking up with Jerry Porter (four catches, 57 yards) and Alvis Whitted (one catch, 32 yards) for scores. Collins continued his knack for spreading the ball around, connecting with eight different receivers.
The quartet of Oakland running backs combined to carry the ball 22 times for 100 yards. Power back Zack Crockett led the pack with 10 carries for 32 yards and a score.
Suffice to say, the Raiders will be looking hard at free agent running backs this off season (Rudi Johnson, anyone?)
Denver Broncos 37, Tennessee Titans 16
Faced with the prospect of tumbling from the AFC playoff race, Jake Plummer and the Broncos responded from a rough six-game stretch to take advantage of a mangled Tennessee defense and watched its defense destroy the pass-happy Tennessee offense. This game also proved painful for most owners faced with the choice of the committee situation in Denver.
Reuben Droughns battled through a pinched nerve and the emergence of Tatum Bell to score three touchdowns. He rushed for 91 yards on 22 carries and added 30 yards and a touchdown via the air.
Tatum Bell rushed 14 times for 44 yards for the victorious Broncos. Even Garrison Hearst got into the act, carrying the ball four times for 22 yards.
With the skeptics pulling out their poison pens on Plummer, he tossed for 303 yards and two touchdowns with the obligatory interception that gave the Panthers a momentary glimmer of hope.
The venerable Rod Smith caught six balls for 58 yards and a touchdown. Big-play threat Ashley Lelie led the Broncos with 88 receiving yards.
The Broncos defense finally solved the riddle of Billy Volek and Drew Bennett. If only every team had a Champ Bailey under contract, he'd been a mere mortal. Volek was limited to a feeble 8-of-20 for 111 yards and two interceptions before leaving with an injury. Doug Johnson completed the game in mop-up duty. Volek's performance netted Yahoo! fantasy owners a negative scored based on the default configuration.
Bennett managed just two catches for 26 yards. Tennessee was led by Derrick Mason, who contributed four catches for 65 yards.
Rookie Ben Troupe made several nice grabs and finished with 24 receiving yards. He'll likely take over as the starter next season.
With Chris Brown on the shelf, Antowain Smith shouldered the load for the Titans. He averaged 4.2 yards on 14 carries, scoring the Titans' lone TD.
Chicago Bears 13, Detroit Lions 19
If moral victories counted for anything, then the Bears could feel better about limiting the Lions to one touchdown and four field goals by Jason Hanson. But, as we know, the scoreboard is all that matters.
An apparent game-tying touchdown pass from Chad Hutchinson to rookie Bernard Berrian with 1:26 remaining was ruled incomplete on the field and a booth review failed to overturn it, preserving a victory for the Lions. That's two straight strange endings for the Lions.
The offense in this game was strictly limited to Kevin Jones on the ground and Jason Hanson's right foot. Jones rushed for 128 yards on 25 carries and scored a touchdown.
Joey Harrington was efficient but unspectacular for the Lions, completing 15-of-30 for 166 yards with one interception. That interception was returned 38 yards for the first Chicago score.
Reggie Swinton led Detroit receivers with two catches for 42 yards. Roy Williams added three catches for 33 yards.
Chicago's Thomas Jones did rush for 110 yards, but lost a fumble. At one point late in the game, Chad Hutchinson had 15 completions for 45 yards. He would later find backup RB Jason McKee (five catches, 21 yards) for a 15-yard TD pass.
Thomas Jones was also the Bears' leading receiver with four catches for 34 yards. Bobby Wade added four catches for 27 yards.
New York Giants 22, Cincinnati Bengals 23
Eli Manning put forth another solid, but losing effort. Jon Kitna, subbing again for the injured Carson Palmer, completed a comeback drive in the final two minutes to allow the Bengals to escape with a one-point victory. Kitna threw for 186 yards and two touchdowns on the day.
Kitna connected with top receiver Chad Johnson for both of his touchdown strikes. Johnson caught eight balls for 46 yards.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh led the Bengals with 64 receiving yards.
The Giants run defense did a tremendous job in containing Rudi Johnson. Though he scored on a one-yard run, Johnson was held to 31 rushing yards.
Steve Christie was the star of the day for the Giants, booting five field goals.
Manning threw for 201 yards, but was held without a TD throw for the fourth time in six career starts.
Tiki Barber topped the 100-yard mark on the ground for the ninth time this season and first time in four weeks.
Jeremy Shockey led Giants receivers with six catches for 64 yards. Starting receivers Ike Hilliard and Amani Toomer combined to catch seven balls for 81 yards.
San Diego Chargers 31, Indianapolis Colts 34
Undoubtedly, this was the game everyone wanted to see, and the time spent in front of the tube was surely worth it. Records were broken all over the place, with the most heralded of them falling in dramatic fashion.
Peyton Manning tossed for two touchdowns, the second of which was a 21-yard strike to Brandon Stokley on a beautiful double move with just one minute remaining in the game. Manning struggled for most of the day, particularly in the red zone, but caught fire down the stretch to stun the visiting Chargers. He finished with 382 yards and one pick to go with his two touchdowns.
All three Indianapolis backs would figure into the victory. James Mungro caught the tying touchdown, a shovel pass from three yards out that smacked of tremendous irony. Edgerrin James rushed for 88 yards and caught five passes for 41 more. Reserve RB Dominic Rhodes answered a LaDainian Tomlinson TD scamper with an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Stokley contributed seven catches for 123 yards. His TD grab was his 10th of the season, breaking another record by giving the Colts three receivers with 10 TD receptions in one season.
Marvin Harrison added six catches for 112 yards, and Reggie Wayne shook off a silent opening three quarters to catch three balls for 61 yards down the stretch.
Tight ends Dallas Clark and Ben Hartsock each finished with 21 receiving yards.
Drew Brees continued his huge season with a magnificent outing, save that late interception. Brees threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns, including a shovel pass to Antonio Gates which set a single-season record for TE touchdown receptions (13).
Gates caught seven balls for 49 yards. Eric Parker added seven catches for 103 yards. The shootout started with a catch and run of 74 yards by LaDainian Tomlinson out of the backfield. Tomlinson caught five passes for 95 yards. He also rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown.
Mike Vanderjagt booted four field goals for the Colts, atoning for an earlier miss with the game-winner in overtime.
Houston Texans 21, Jacksonville Jaguars 0
Fighting for the AFC playoffs and a bevy of fantasy owners, the Jaguars offense failed to generate anything against a Texans defense that had allowed 22.6 points per game entering this contest. The Jaguars became just the fourth team to be shut out in 2004.
Domanick Davis carried the ball 30 times for 150 yards and a touchdown, punishing the Jaguars defense that spent virtually the entire game on the field. Davis added 39 yards via the air on five receptions.
David Carr completed 14-of-20 passes for a pedestrian 139 yards, one TD and two interceptions. He connected with All-Pro wideout Andre Johnson four times for 46 yards and a touchdown.
Jabar Gaffney added three catches for 39 yards.
The Jaguars played without Fred Taylor, and they sorely missed him. Greg Jones averaged a respectable 4.2 yards on nine carries, but teammates Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala and LaBrandon Toefield failed to sustain the effort.
Byron Leftwich completed six-of-14 attempts for 35 yards and one interception. He was injured during the game, forcing David Garrard (four-of-seven for 20 yards) into action.
Veteran receiver Jimmy Smith caught two passes for 17 yards, his lowest total of the season.
Troy Edwards snagged three balls for 24 yards, but added to the woes with a lost fumble.
Aaron Brooks threw for one touchdown and rushed for a second in pacing the Saints to a 13-point win and keeping them mathematically alive in the NFC. Brooks completed 12-of-24 pass attempts for 227 yards and two interceptions.
Donte' Stallworth (two catches, 62 yards) was on the receiving end of Brooks' TD pass, a 39-yard strike. Joe Horn contributed five catches for 76 yards. Third wideout Jerome Pathon finished with three catches for 49 yards.
Deuce McAllister topped the 100-yard mark for the fifth time this season, finishing with 128 yards on 29 carries.
Matt Schaub started in place of Vick and completed 17-of-41 attempts for 187 yards. He also threw two interceptions.
Peerless Price tripled his normal output, snagging six balls for 49 yards. Brian Finneran added three catches for 38 yards and a fumble.
Playing without the "Thunder" part of the backfield combination, Warrick Dunn carried the ball 18 times for 53 yards. He also caught six balls out of the backfield for 86 yards.
The Saints defense recorded a rare safety to begin the scoring and then were treated to a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from Michael Lewis.
Baltimore Ravens 7, Pittsburgh Steelers 20
The Steelers sought both a perfect home record and to avenge their only loss of the season with their visit from Baltimore. Ben Roethlisberger welcomed back receiver Plaxico Burress with a 36-yard TD strike early in the first quarter.
Roethlisberger later threw a two-yard TD pass to Jerame Tuman and was injured on the play. He would complete two more passes on the Steelers' next series, but was then replaced by Tommy Maddox. Roethlisberger finished the day 221 passing yards, two touchdowns and a pick.
The Steelers played without Duce Staley again, but "The Bus" has become used to the workload. Jerome Bettis carried the ball 27 times for 117 yards and was held without a score. Bettis needs 59 yards in the season finale to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
Verron Haynes offered a change of pace out of the Steelers backfield and rushed for 61 yards on eight carries.
Burress caught three balls for 97 yards in his return. Antwaan Randle El slid back into the slot role and added three catches for 55 yards. Hines Ward was held to three catches for 21 yards.
Jeff Reed kicked two field goals to cap the scoring. It marked the sixth time this season that the Ravens surrendered 20 or more points.
The Pittsburgh run defense continued its dominance, limited Jamal Lewis to a meager 26 yards on 14 carries. He did score the Ravens' lone TD in the first quarter on a five-yard run.
Kyle Boller completed 18-of-32 for 177 yards and an interception. His leading receiver was Randy Hymes with four catches for 55 yards.
Todd Heap caught three balls for 34 yards.
New England Patriots 23, New York Jets 7
The Super Bowl champs rebounded nicely from a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Dolphins last Monday night. The defense terrorized Chad Pennington and kept Curtis Martin in check.
Pennington threw for 250 yards, two interceptions and a score that served only to prevent a shutout and to provide fantasy owners at least a little something from the Jets. Pennington also lost a fumble.
Santana Moss was the receiver on Pennington's fourth-quarter TD toss. He was limited to two catches for 32 yards. Justin McCareins led all Jets receivers with 75 yards on five catches.
As for Martin, he lost ground in the battle for the NFL rushing title, gaining only 33 yards on 13 carries.
Adam Vinatieri booted three field goals for the Patriots and converted two PAT's.
Tom Brady returned to his normally reliable and efficient self, completing 21-of-32 attempts for 264 yards and two TD strikes. For the second straight week, he connected with TE Daniel Graham for a score. Graham had two catches for 30 yards.
Deion Branch re-established himself as Brady's favorite target, hauling in seven balls for 82 yards and the other receiving TD. David Givens was the only other wide receiver to catch a pass on the day. He caught two for 64 yards.
Corey Dillon rushed 29 times for 89 yards against the normally stout Jets rushing defense.
Washington Redskins 10, Dallas Cowboys 13
This one was a snoozer for about 59 minutes, with only Billy Cundiff and Jeff Chandler giving fantasy owners anything of meaning in a 13-10 slugfest. Sure, the Patrick Ramsey pass to Robert Royal gave the crowd at Texas Stadium something to groan about, and the sight of LaVar Arrington and company chasing 41-year old Vinny Testaverde around brought to mind images of "National Geographic" shows past, but this one just wasn't solid television viewing.
Clinton Portis left the game with a bruised shoulder early in the second half. He had carried the ball 10 times for 32 yards. Ladell Betts finished the game, rushing 13 times for 43 yards.
Ramsey completed 19-of-29 attempts for 158 yards and two interceptions.
Laveranues Coles led the Redskins with seven catches for 53 yards. Rod Gardner added five catches for 31 yards. As for Royal, his TD catch was his lone reception of the day.
For the victorious Cowboys, Vinny Testaverde connected with rookie Patrick Crayton for a game-winning 39-yard TD with 37 ticks on the clock. The chorus of boos and calls for backup Tony Romo gave way to standing ovations and chants of "Vinny! Vinny!" Testaverde completed 23-of-39 passes for 234 yards, the aforementioned TD to Crayton and one interception.
Keyshawn Johnson led the Cowboys with nine catches for 84 yards. Crayton snagged two balls for 54 yards, the touchdown grab and a pivotal catch to extend the winning drive.
Pro Bowl-bound Jason Witten caught six balls for 50 yards.
The third-ranked Redskins rushing defense limited Julius Jones to 57 yards on 22 carries. He also lost a fumble.
Muhsin Muhammad continued his dominance of opposing defensive backs, hauling in eight balls for 115 yards and two scores.
Keary Colbert caught only one pass for four yards, but it was a beautiful four-yard toss from Delhomme for a score. It was Colbert's fifth TD on the season and third against the Buccaneers. TE Mark Seidman was the recipient of the fourth TD pass from Delhomme. He finished with two catches for 16 yards.
Nick Goings rushed for 100 yards for the fifth time this season (127). He also added 39 yards via the air on four receptions.
Brian Griese turned in a huge day for the Buccaneers, at least in fantasy, where those two interceptions don't loom quite as large. Griese threw for 321 yards and three scores, finding Joey Galloway and Michael Clayton (twice) for scores. The second INT was returned for a touchdown to cap the scoring.
Michael Pittman was stifled by the Panthers run defense. He was limited to a meager 41 yards on 10 carries. Of course, the running game was all but abandoned with a 24-7 deficit. Pittman, normally a fixture in the passing game, accumulated just 13 yards on three receptions.
Joey Galloway led the Buccaneers with 98 receiving yards on nine receptions. The rookie Clayton contributed 66 receiving yards and two scores in the losing effort. Clayton has six touchdowns and 1,100 receiving yards in this explosive rookie campaign.
Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks:
Shaun Alexander had one of those … well, Shaun Alexander days. The bruising Seattle tailback rushed for 154 yards and three touchdowns in taking down the Cardinals.
Trent Dilfer played in place of an injured Matt Hasselbeck and assumed the role of caretaker in this game. He completed just 10-for-26 passes with one interception and 128 yards.
Darrell Jackson racked up 101 of those 128 passing yards. Neither Koren Robinson nor Jerry Rice recorded a catch in this game.
Josh McCown turned in a solid performance, throwing for 248 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Second-year wideout Anquan Boldin led the Cardinals with 107 receiving yards on seven receptions, while rookie Larry Fitzgerald hauled in two 29-yard scoring strikes. Fitzgerald finished with four receptions for 70 yards.
Emmitt Smith lined up in the backfield and rolled off 65 yards on 23 carries for a 2.8 yards per carry average.
Buffalo Bills 41, San Francisco 49ers 7
Willis McGahee was listed as questionable. And the Bills were still listed as heavy favorites on the road against the hapless 49ers, who come to play only when the Cardinals are on the docket.
McGahee not only played, he dominated. He racked up 105 yards on 15 carries with two touchdowns. His backup, Shaud Williams, added 93 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown.
Drew Bledsoe threw for 172 yards and a touchdown before giving way to Shane Matthews. Yeah, that's right, Shane Matthews. He threw for 44 yards and a touchdown and then just let Williams do the rest in the second half.
Rookie Lee Evans was the target of both TD passes. He caught eight passes for 92 yards. Veteran Eric Moulds contributed eight catches for 81 yards to the winning effort.
Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett combined for a feeble 109 yards passing with three interceptions.
Kevan Barlow took the bulk of the carries, gaining 72 yards on 15 carries and recording his seventh TD of the season.
Brandon Lloyd led 49ers receivers with two catches for 25 yards.
Here's hoping that you had a great holiday weekend and a successful final stand in your leagues. If not, there's only about another 200 days until the fantasy drafts of 2005.
I'll be back on Tuesday with a look inside Week 16 and some injury updates for those playing on in Week 17.