For those of you basking in the glow of a pennant race in your town or trying to squeeze out some last days of summer fun before the kids return to school, you might have missed the first full weekend of preseason football activity. You certainly missed a lot of bad play and penalties, but there were also some eyebrow-raising performances that put players back on the fantasy radar. Here's a quick hit on each matchup and what you need to know as you tinker with your rankings this week.
Chicago Bears 13, St. Louis Rams 10
Sloppy play belied this contest, with a whopping 240 penalty yards assessed to the combatants. The resurgent Thomas Jones was sharp for Chicago, busting off 53 yards on seven carries. Steven Jackson continues to impress and apply more pressure to Marshall Faulk. He gained 73 yards on 15 carries. One wide receiver for the Rams who figures to become a bigger part of the mix is second-year man Shaun McDonald. He's smallish at 5-foot 10, but makes plays. He had five catches for 78 yards, with a long of 40.
Fantasy owners fearing that Marc Bulger would be obliterated behind a make-shift line devoid of Orlando Pace and Kyle Turley can take only small solace in the two hits he took during his time on the field. In 2003, the Bears defensive line couldn't put pressure on anyone, so wait another week or two before passing final judgment.
Baltimore Ravens 24, Atlanta Falcons 0
Those awaiting big plays and excitement from Michael Vick missed his appearance if they stopped off at the fridge. After two nondescript running plays to Warrick Dunn, the Ravens sent a blitz that sent Vick rolling, literally. On came the punting team, and that was the last we got to see of Vick for the evening. On a positive note, rookie Matt Schaub made a number of nice throws in relief of Vick. Having run this style of offense at Virginia, he's far more serviceable than the backups forced into action in 2003.
Kyle Boller ran the Baltimore offense effectively during his stint on the field. He exudes a confidence that was lacking in 2003. He still lacks a top-flight receiver, but the addition of Kevin Johnson will create opportunities.
The trial for Baltimore Ravens' tailback Jamal Lewis will begin after games of Week 7. It is not known whether Lewis will miss significant playing time. Details will be shored up as the full trial schedule is released. Chester Taylor ran well in this preseason contest and Musa Smith picks up the tough yards between the tackles. They would likely split time if Lewis should miss any action.
New England Patriots 24, Philadelphia Eagles 6
Reno Mahe had a strong performance as he looks to become the third back in Andy Reid's offense (10 carries, 52 yards). Rookie Bruce Perry had been impressive in camp, but is now lost for the season to a shoulder injury.
For New England, Rohan Davey effectively ran the offense, completing over 50 percent of his passes for 70 yards and two scores. Mike Cloud (17 carries, 45 yards) and Patrick Pass (7 carries, 42 yards) are vying for the nod as top backup to Corey Dillon. Cloud will continue to serve as the short-yardage and goal-line back, while Pass offers a good receiving option out of the backfield.
New Orleans Saints 23, New York Jets 13
Brooks Bollinger looked much better than I had anticipated after watching a workout only a few days earlier. He was an efficient 6-for-11 for 85 yards. RB LaMont Jordan found the end zone in his short stint on the field as he openly welcomes trade talk. One receiver to move up your sleeper rankings is Jerricho Cotchery. He caught three balls for 50 yards and continues to impress in daily workouts.
For the Saints, J.T. O'Sullivan was impressive, tossing for 141 yards while completing 10 of 13 passes. Former Carolina Panthers star Lamar Smith is also working to establish himself as Deuce McAllister's backup.
New York Giants 34, Kansas City Chiefs 24
Only one story line matters from this game, the explosion of former Heisman winner Ron Dayne. He rumbled for two touchdowns and 118 yards on 11 carries, including a 67-yard TD on which he scampered untouched into the end zone. That's a good sign for the G-men.
Tight end Casey Fitzsimmons is emerging as a favorite target of Joey Harrington. Steve Mariucci is working on getting Harrington to include the tight end more. Charles Rogers looked strong in his first action since the season-ending injury of 03, hauling in 3 catches for 56 yards.
Miami Dolphins 16, Jacksonville Jaguars 5
Miami's Fred Russell emerged from the pack of running backs with an impressive nine carry, 101-yard performance. Ok, 88 of them came on one carry, but the Fins need a playmaker. Ronald Bellamy turned in a four-catch, 72-yard performance with a TD reception from Sage Rosenfels.
Not much went right for the Jacksonville offense in this contest. The top performer was George Wrighster, a second-year TE out of Oregon. He caught three balls for 52 yards in his bid to eclipse Kyle Brady as the starter.
Note: With a season-ending injury to second-year man Kendall Newson, the Dolphins have officially sunk into desperation mode. On Monday, the team inked a one-year deal with former Green Bay Packers star Antonio Freeman. Freeman had only 14 catches in 15 games with the Packers in 2003, and last contributed regularly on a fantasy basis in 2001. He'll be of some help to Chris Chambers if he's ready to play and will likely beat out JR Tolver and Sam Simmons to set up a one-on-one battle with Ronald Bellamy for the third receiver position.
Houston Texans 18, Dallas Cowboys 0
Everyone's favorite QB sleeper, David Carr, turned in an efficient effort. He completed seven of eight passes for 89 yards and a touchdown to Jabar Gaffney. Tony Hollings appears fully recovered from last season's injuries and will be a viable backup to Domanick Davis. If you drafted Davis, get yourself insurance by nabbing Hollings in the later rounds.
Looking for a silver lining for the Cowboys despite being shut out, Drew Henson did complete eight of 11 pass attempts. He also threw a pick, but that's alright.
Tennessee Titans 24, Cleveland Browns 3
Joe Nedney is back kicking for the Titans after missing virtually all of the 2003 season. He made his only FG attempt from 44 yards and booted all three PATs through the uprights. The Titans will score points, so a healthy Nedney is money for fantasy owners. Running back Vick King showed nice moves with his 10 carry, 42-yard performance. He's battling Jarrett Payton (7 carries, 37 yards) for the third spot to behind Chris Brown and Antowain Smith.
Neither Lee Suggs nor William Green did anything to fortify their position as the starter in this one, but they do have another nice option in James Jackson (7 carries, 46 yards). Receiver Andre King showed playmaker ability with two 28-yard receptions.
Carolina Panthers 23, Washington Redskins 20
Mark Brunell led the Redskins to 10 points in his time on the field, despite completing only six of 15 attempts. The big play was a 61-yard completion to the emerging Darnerian McCants. Brunell outplayed Patrick Ramsey, who was 4-11 with an interception.
Here's a blast from the past. Chris Weinke. Yes, former Heisman winner Chris Weinke threw two long touchdown passes to rookie Keary Colbert. Weinke is working to eclipse Rodney Peete as the No. 2 guy behind Jake Delhomme. Delhomme's a backup fantasy QB and Weinke should not be touched.
No, the story here is Colbert. The speedster from USC offers a home run threat that would further open the field for the running backs and take some pressure off of WR Steve Smith.
Minnesota Vikings 23, Arizona Cardinals 6
The injuries continue to mount for the Cardinals, with Larry Fitzgerald adding an ankle injury and Emmitt Smith adding a thigh contusion to the fray. Josh Scobey replaced Smith in the lineup and was ineffective. Larry Croom was given an extended look in the backfield as well, rushing eight times and catching four passes. When you add in Damien Anderson, this committee situation is a certified mess.
Mewelde Moore, the last man standing in the Minnesota backfield without an injury, ran well. He carried the ball three times for 52 yards and a score. With Moe Williams temporarily on the shelf and Onterrio Smith and Michael Bennett nursing injuries, Moore will get every opportunity to impress head coach Mike Tice.
Indianapolis Colts 21, San Diego Chargers 17
What QB controversy in San Diego? Drew Brees was strong in this preseason opener, completing 11 of 14 passes for 156 yards and a score. Fantasy pundits all over, including yours truly, were happy to see the first TD of the game go to Antonio Gates. If you're unaware, he's the former basketball standout turned this year's TE sleeper. With a lack of big-time receivers, he stands to be a big part of the offense.
Aaron Morehead turned in the play of the day with a behind the back catch. He hauled in five balls for 121 yards and a touchdown, including the 80-yard TD from backup Cory Sauter. Sauter and Joe Hamilton are in a fierce battle to back up Peyton Manning. The pair combined to complete 68 percent of their pass attempts for 328 yards and two touchdowns.
Buffalo Bills 16, Denver Broncos 6
Garrison Hearst vaulted back into the Denver RB sweepstakes with a strong nine carry, 46-yard performance. Jake Plummer struggled against the Bills defense, completing only three of 11 attempts with two interceptions.
Willis McGahee continues to be the story for the Bills. He carried the ball 13 times for 58 yards and a touchdown. Travis Henry has been emphatic about his desire to be traded should McGahee be named the starter. This will continue to be one of the best stories of the preseason.
J.P. Losman is also developing nicely in his quest to secure the backup QB role behind Drew Bledsoe. He was perfect on five attempts and rushed for another 37 yards. He offers the ability to roll out and take off, skills lacking from the statuesque Bledsoe.
Oakland Raiders 33, San Francisco 49ers 30
Rich Gannon was efficient in his time and remains the starter in Oakland. His backup, Kerry Collins, was efficient and showed off his arm strength in directing an 80-yard TD drive. Doug Gabriel capped that drive with a 34-yard TD reception. He's established himself as the No. 3 receiver and the reason that Tim Brown was released. Gabriel makes for a good late-round selection.
Maurice Hicks, Jamal Robertson and Jason Wright are in a three-way scuffle to back up Kevan Barlow. None of the three gained a clear advantage in the first outing of the preseason. Ken Dorsey was an efficient 8-12 for 94 yards before giving way to Cody Pickett. The rookie out of Washington played well, completing five of seven passes for 89 yards and a touchdown.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 6
Carson Palmer had a solid but unspectacular first outing as the starter with Cincinnati. He completed three of eight passes for 74 yards with one interception. The offense moved the ball well and left coaches, players and attentive fantasy owners encouraged.
Cincinnati rookie Chris Perry fumbled his first carry that ultimately led to a touchdown by Earnest Graham of Tampa Bay. Graham scored twice in the game, as he tries to work his way into a crowded Buccaneers backfield.
Chris Simms seemed to gain an upper hand on Brian Griese for the backup role to Brad Johnson with a solid 12-for-15 outing. Rookie Michael Clayton was impressive with three catches for 39 yards and former Green Bay star Bill Schroeder hauled in two catches for 41 yards. Schroeder has a chance to establish himself as a top target for Johnson given all of the injuries and issues in the Bucs' wideout corps.
Seattle Seahawks 21, Green Bay Packers 3
Tim Couch was positively brutal in his Packers debut, consistently under-throwing receivers and bouncing tosses to the sidelines. Doug Pederson was better, but that's not saying much. As the leading receiver had only two catches, there's not a lot to talk about for the Green Bay offense. We'll see more later this week against New Orleans.
For Seattle, Seneca Wallace is working to displace Brock Huard as the No. 3 quarterback. He was outstanding on this night, completing 14 of 26 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown. TE Jerramy Stevens, who has battled problems off of the field, played well on Monday with three catches for 32 yards. He was a highly regarded prospect and looks to reshape his career and unseat Itula Mili as the top TE receiver in this set. Stevens has the phsyical tools to put up big numbers from the TE position if he can stay on the field.
There's more action on tap beginning on Thursday with the Giants and Panthers. We'll be keeping tabs on the activity and the ever-growing injury list.