NFL Skinny: Fantastic Finishes

Brandon Funston
Running Back Radar
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS RED HOT
1st Chair: Earnest Graham
2nd Chair: Kenneth Darby, Mewelde Moore?
Skinny: Graham is the last man standing in the Bucs' backfield after Michael Pittman was lost in Week 5 to a sprained ankle (he's out 6-8 weeks). Speculation is that Tampa Bay will look to trade for additional running back help, with Moore's name prominently tossed around. Until a move is made, the recently-signed Darby is Graham's backup.
GREEN BAY PACKERS RED HOT
1st Chair: DeShawn Wynn
2nd Chair: Brandon Jackson, Vernand Morency
Skinny: The picture cleared up ever-so-slightly in the Packers backfield in Week 5. Wynn looks like he's good for at least a split workload going forward after rushing 13 times for 78 yards and a touchdown on Sunday. Morency handled nine carries for 43 yards, his most extensive action since returning from a knee injury a couple weeks ago. It remains to be seen how the carries are distributed with Jackson healthy and back in the mix with Morency and Wynn, but I'd gamble on Wynn being the most viable fantasy back of the bunch.
OAKLAND RAIDERS HOT
1st Chair: LaMont Jordan
2nd Chair: Dominic Rhodes, Justin Fargas
Skinny: Watch Jordan closely this week. He's coming off a bye week in which he was nursing a back injury that has lingered for a few weeks and was exacerbated during a Week 4 win against Miami. Fargas stepped up in Jordan's place in Week 4 and rolled for 179 rushing yards, firmly planting his name into the backfield mix. In addition, Rhodes is now back from a four-game suspension. With the likelihood that Jordan's back injury could continue to flare up, his workload might be distributed around to include more of Fargas and Rhodes. It seems unlikely that Jordan will top 20 carries more than a couple times the rest of the way.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS HOT
1st Chair: Laurence Maroney (injured)
2nd Chair: Sammy Morris
Skinny: Same story as last week in the New England backfield. Maroney (groin) missed the Week 5 contest against Cleveland, allowing Morris to handle the full load for the second straight game, and Morris once again topped 100 rushing yards (102). When Maroney does return, expect about a 60-40 split in favor of Maroney. Morris has proven himself too valuable for anything less. And Maroney, clearly, hasn't established himself as a durable featured back.
DETROIT LIONS HOT
1st Chair: Tatum Bell
2nd Chair: Kevin Jones
Skinny: Jones says he's healthy enough to handle a larger load, and expect that to come to fruition after Detroit's Week 6 bye. Jones carried 11 times for 48 yards on Sunday, while Bell garnered just four carries for 15 yards. While rumors have mentioned that Bell is now a candidate to be traded, don't read too much into it. Detroit lacks adequate insurance should Jones get injured again, so Bell is likely to remain a Lion.
DENVER BRONCOS HOT
1st Chair: Travis Henry
2nd Chair: Selvin Young, Mike Bell, Andre Hall
Skinny: Facing a possible one-year suspension for failing an NFL drug test, Henry is trying desperately to clear his name, offering to submit hair samples and agreeing to a polygraph test. If he can't wiggle out of a looming suspension with hair samples and a polygraph test, it's possible he could stay his suspension by appealing the decision, which could buy him another month or so of football. If/when Henry does get suspended, Young looks to be the heir apparent in the Broncos backfield, although there is talk that Bell and Hall would figure into the mix as well. For now, Young is the obvious waiver wire grab, while Bell and Hall are for only the deepest leagues at this time.
NEW YORK GIANTS WARM
1st Chair: Brandon Jacobs
2nd Chair: Derrick Ward
Skinny: It was a truly happy return for Jacobs, who chipped away 100 rushing yards on 20 carries against the Jets in his first action since suffering a sprained MCL in Week 1. Jacobs scored a touchdown, as did Ward, who has been superb in Jacobs' absence. Ward has been battling a sore ankle, but he's played well enough to retain roughly a 10-carry load going forward.
NEW YORK JETS LUKEWARM
1st Chair: Thomas Jones
2nd Chair: Leon Washington
Skinny: After carrying the ball just 13 times on Sunday (36 yards), Jones complained about his workload. "Most feature backs in this league get the ball 20 to 25 times a game. You can get a feel for what the defense is doing and you can get a feel for how the offensive line is blocking. Unfortunately, we haven't been able to do that the past couple of weeks," said Jones. Washington stole nine carries against the Giants, but managed just 13 yards. Don't be surprised if the Jets heed Jones' wishes and try to get him 20 carries this week against Philadelphia.

Also See:Sunday Scene | Injury Rundown

What a Monday Night Football game. Dallas, needing a two-point conversion to tie Buffalo in the waning seconds of the game, comes up empty-handed when a lob pass to Terrell Owens in the back of the end zone is stripped out of his hands. On the ensuing kickoff, the Cowboys execute a perfect onside kick, recovering the ball near midfield with just 18 seconds left. The first play from scrimmage results in a Tony Romo incomplete pass to TO, although it was initially ruled a catch and then overturned upon further review. With 13 seconds remaining, the Cowboys run a quick four-yard dump pass to Marion Barber III that kills the clock with seven seconds, but leaves them just outside Tom Dempsey field goal range. With time for one more quick hitter, Romo hits Patrick Crayton on an 8-yard out route that kills the clock with one second left, leaving a 52-yard field goal attempt for the win. Kicker Nick Folk comes on and, with Rich Stadium going ballistic, he proceeds to nail the kick right between the uprights for a one-point Cowboys victory … but, wait! Buffalo pulled the recently rampant icing tactic, calling a timeout just as Dallas was about to snap the ball. The kick is discounted and the Cowboys have to tee it up one more time. But, Folk had ice in his veins, and on the second go-round, he put the ball in exactly the same spot as the first – right down the middle. The Cowboys pulled out the improbable victory. And in the subconscious of my mind, I heard the familiar music of my childhood Monday nights, and the velvety tones of voice-over legend Harry Kalas, "Alcoa presents … Fantastic Finishes …" Only one of my 12 leagues was affected by Folk's last-second dagger – my opponent got his five points needed to tie the score, my first tie of the year – but I can imagine with the thousands and thousands of leagues on Yahoo!, the final play of Week 5 dramatically impacted many leagues. Lets take a look at what else weighed heavy on the Week 5 box scores:

The Good: Maurice Jones-Drew sighting. MoJo finally emerged from his tortoise shell on Sunday, cannon-balling his way to 82 rushing yards on nine carries and an additional 30 yards through the air on three catches. It was a performance reminiscent of so many from his rookie season a year ago. And his second-quarter 52-yard scoring romp was a zigzagging reminder of why we fell in love with him last season.

The Bad: Fatly-contracted running backs. Last season, Shaun Alexander got paid – an eight-year contract worth $62 million (over $15 million guaranteed). This August, Larry Johnson landed a six-year, $45 million deal ($19 million guaranteed). The way both are going, neither will see the end of those deals. Maligned for their effort and lackluster production over the first five weeks of the season, Alexander and Johnson both sit outside the top 16 running backs in fantasy to date. They combined for 37 rushing yards on Sunday (Alexander 25, Johnson 12) and no touchdowns. For Alexander, he's failed to find pay dirt three straight games for the first time since his rookie season. Johnson, who had amassed 51 touchdowns in his previous 38 regular season games, has failed to breach the goal line in '07. In Kansas City, there's talk of letting the "90 percent" rehabilitated Priest Holmes get back into the backfield mix – he hopes to be cleared for action by Week 7. And Seattle head coach Mike Holmgren has mentioned getting backup running back Maurice Morris more involved this week in an effort to kick-start the ground game. Personally, I've seen plenty of both of these star running backs this season, and I'm disgusted with the effort I've seen. Clearly they've lost an edge that, perhaps, a little internal competition might be able to remedy. Let's hope …

The Ugly: Baltimore and San Francisco passing. It's bad enough trying to watch Steve McNair or Trent Dilfer throw the ball downfield, but it's unpalatable to try to sit through a game in which they are pitted against each other. With no DirectTV (too many trees around my house), I was forced to watch the Baltimore/San Francisco Sunday afternoon contest (the Pacific Northwest regional game) as Seattle had already played at Pittsburgh earlier in the day. One of the announcers had jokingly mentioned that the first team to 10 points wins, and it was a fairly prophetic statement as the Ravens pulled out a 9-7 victory. McNair and Dilfer combined for 340 passing yards and one touchdown pass (Dilfer to Arnaz Battle). Because McNair can't reliably throw beyond 10-15 yards, receiver Derrick Mason has been a stud in Points Per Receptions league because he's adept at handling the quick-hitter routes and McNair leans on that safety-net option all day long. But I'm harboring hopes and a roster spot for physical specimen Demetrius Williams. Unfortunately, he's a wasted talent in a McNair-led offense. I never thought I'd be pining for a return of Kyle Boller but, his ample shortcomings aside, at least he can throw a deep ball and better utilize Williams. As for San Francisco, the passing game is beyond a lost cause. Darrell Jackson, Arnaz Battle and Vernon Davis are virtually worthless. I'm hanging on to Davis because I'd like to see Dilfer get his shot with him. I'm not expecting much, but maybe he'll be a welcome safe haven for Dilfer, who has worked well with his tight ends in the past.

MARKET MOVERS: Charting player values

Kurt Warner, Ari, QB – This is an arrow up nod for Warner and pass recipients Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin. Warner will take the reins at QB now that Matt Leinart is out 6-8 weeks with a broken collarbone. If given enough time to throw, Warner has proven to have a strong, laser-accurate arm. Last season, Leinart took over because the statuesque Warner couldn't avoid the pass rush – 14 sacks in 168 pass attempts. This season, however, pass protection has not been an issue – Warner has been sacked just once in 69 pass attempts. A pocket-protected Warner should help Boldin's and Fitzgerald's stock soar.

Matt Schaub, Hou, QB – Schaub failed to throw a TD pass for the first time this season on Sunday, but he put up a healthy 294 passing yards, this following a 317-yard effort in Week 4. Despite the loss of Andre Johnson, Schaub just keeps plugging away. He's positioned himself as the preeminent fantasy backup QB, a player that you should feel comfortable plugging into the starting lineup whenever the need arises.

Owen Daniels, Hou, TE – Daniels has benefited statistically from the extra attention he's received from the loss of Andre Johnson. He's caught at least five passes for 56-plus yards in each of the past four games, including a six-catch, 96-yard effort in Week 5.

Dwayne Bowe, KC, WR – Even in a brutal matchup against Jacksonville (the Jaguars hadn't allowed a TD to a WR in their previous eight regular-season games), the rookie Bowe still managed a healthy 70 receiving yards on Sunday. It's clear that he's on his way to being a special player in the NFL, and with Brodie Croyle taking over for the injured Damon Huard at QB, Bowe should be able to flash his deep-ball skills even more.

Benjamin Watson, NE, TE – With two touchdowns on Sunday, Watson has now scored in four of five games and is tied with Dallas Clark for the TD lead among tight ends.

Reggie Bush, NO, RB – While he didn't post eye-popping numbers in Week 5, his workload took the dynamic leap that was expected when Deuce McAllister was lost for the season (ACL). Bush touched the ball 30 times on Sunday (21 carries, nine catches) for a combined 119 rushing/receiving yards.

Brian Leonard, StL, RB – The Rams rookie flashed his multi-dimensional skills on Sunday, rushing 18 times for 102 yards against Arizona, a defensive unit that had previously held Frank Gore, Shaun Alexander, Willis McGahee and Willie Parker under the 100-yard mark. Leonard also handled five passes for 33 yards.

Jason Campbell, Was, QB – Campbell has thrown just one INT in his past three games compared to four touchdown passes. On Sunday, he finished with 248 passing yards and two touchdowns without an interception.

Patrick Crayton, Dal, WR – After disappearing for the first three games of the season, Crayton has exploded the past two weeks, combining for 13 catches, 257 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

Vincent Jackson, SD, WR – Sure, Jackson caught a break when DBs Champ Bailey and Dre' Bly were injured in-game on Sunday, but Jackson still posted his fourth straight game with 50-plus receiving yards, and he found pay dirt for the second time in the past three weeks.

Greg Jennings, GB, WR – Jennings went for 83 receiving yards and a touchdown in Week 5. Since returning from a hamstring injury, Jennings has scored in each of the three games he has played.

Chad Pennington, NYJ, QB – Pennington's weak arm is coming under intense scrutiny in New York, and the three interceptions he threw on Sunday will do him no favors. Head coach Eric Mangini did say after the Week 5 loss to the Giants that Pennington is still the starter, but he's likely to be on a very short leash. Kellen Clemens is a decent speculative add in deeper leagues.

Chris Chambers, Mia, WR – Suddenly, Chambers is back to square one. After a hot start under new quarterback Trent Green, Chambers have taken on a decidedly '06 look the past two games – a combined four catches for 40 yards and no touchdowns. To make matters worse, Green is out several weeks with a concussion suffered on Sunday.

Steve Smith, Car, WR – Smith managed to find the end zone in Week 5, but news that QB Jake Delhomme will miss the season with an elbow injury is devastating for Smith owners. Smith was nearly shut out completely on Sunday before salvaging a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Backup QB David Carr can't come close to replicating the fantastic working relationship that Delhomme and Smith enjoyed. If you can still get a pretty penny for Smith, I'd advise you to do just that.

Frank Gore, SF, RB – The 49ers' lack of a passing game continues to haunt Gore, who has faced overstuffed lines of scrimmage geared towards shooting every gap in an effort to block all running lanes and/or force the quarterback into hasty passing decisions. With 52 rushing yards against Baltimore on Sunday, Gore has averaged just 57 rushing yards and has failed to find the end zone in his past three games.