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Sunday Scene: Bell Tolls

Have I mentioned before how illogical the NFL can be? I think it is a good weekend to reiterate that point. After Kevin Jones and Curtis Martin each scored two rushing touchdowns against two of the league's staunchest run defenses – Baltimore and Tampa Bay – I went back and checked how our Yahoo! partners, KFFL, RotoWire and Fantasy Guru had those players projected coming into Sunday.

Not surprisingly, neither Jones nor Martin was ranked above No. 25 among RBs for Week 5 by our partners. The fact is you'd have been hard pressed to find anyone who felt that these players were deserving of, say, even a top 15 ranking this week. But those owners who threw caution to the wind benefited from some pay dirt payoff.

Jones and Martin were two of Sunday's fantasy story makers. Here are some other developments that caught my attention as I scanned the action on Sunday:

  • Raise your hand if, like me, you own Tatum Bell on a team and you had to sit and watch his numbers lie wasted on your bench. In seemingly the blink of an eye, Bell made Mike Anderson obsolete. The moment came on Denver's opening drive against Washington. Bell took his first handoff of the game, a fourth-and-one situation, and broke loose for a 34-yard TD run. Bell would later add a 55-yard TD run in the third quarter, and he finished with 12 carries for 127 yards. Anderson, meanwhile, carried 11 times for just 34 yards. OK, so maybe my suggestion that Anderson is now obsolete is a little premature, but Bell has certainly passed Anderson in terms of projected fantasy value going forward. If head coach Mike Shanahan was waiting for Tatum Bell to step up and make a statement that he belongs atop the RB depth chart, like many suspected, this was the game that Bell did just that.
  • I won't sit here and try to waste a lot of time explaining Josh McCown's second straight near-400 yard passing day. I think it's as simple as this: he has two great receivers in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona struggles to run the football, and the team was allowing 27.5 points per game coming into Week 5. That is about the best recipe you can ask for harvesting fantasy points from a quarterback. McCown, in spite of his 394 yards and two TDs on Sunday, did throw three INTS in a Cardinals loss to Carolina. It will be interesting to see if he maintains his starting gig coming out of next week's bye. Whether it is McCown or Kurt Warner under center, either would be a good play against a suspect Tennessee secondary in Week 7.
  • Fantasy owners will take 86 rushing yards and a TD from Willis McGahee but, if they were watching the Buffalo/Miami game, they are probably muttering about what might have been. McGahee scored on a one-yard run in the first quarter, but he was stuffed twice from the one-yard line on a drive in the second quarter and had a fruitless carry from the three-yard line later in the same quarter. And, on Buffalo's final drive of the game, McGahee had a 54-yard run called back for holding on WR Josh Reed. To comment on McGahee's short yardage woes, he has not been very productive in short-yardage situations all year. He was encouraged by head coach Mike Mularkey earlier in the season to dance less and hit his spots with a full head of steam. On the plays that I saw him get shut down, he was upright and indecisive. That made him easy for the Miami defenders to bring down. It (short yardage) is a part of his game that still needs a lot of work. But, yet, he's still managing to bring home enough bacon to keep fantasy owners satisfied.
Tom Brady produced well beyond my expectations on Sunday at Atlanta. And a big reason why was TE Daniel Graham, who had the play of the day from my vantage point. Graham took a dump off pass from Brady and proceeded to stiff arm, hurdle and bulldoze his way 45 yards for a touchdown. Graham (5, 119, 1) outshined fellow TE Ben Watson in Week 5, but Watson's one catch was a 33-yard TD.
  • One fact that jumps out at me every week is how miserable Atlanta's defense is at stopping the run. The Falcons allowed Corey Dillon 119 yards from scrimmage on Sunday, 106 coming on the ground. It was Atlanta's third 100-yard rushing day allowed, and every featured back to face the Falcons has come away with at least 110 yards from scrimmage. Deuce McAllister, who topped 100 yards versus the Falcons twice last season, and Curtis Martin are the next two lucky featured backs to face this porous group.
Ahman Green owners dodged a bullet when Najeh Davenport was lost to a season-ending ankle injury in the second quarter on Sunday. In carrying 12 times for 54 yards and two TDs in his short stint filling in for an injured Green, Davenport looked better than Green has at any point this season. And after watching him plow through New Orleans on his two short-yardage TD plunges, you started to see the writing on the wall that Green was likely to start giving away goal-line carries upon his return. Now, Davenport is out for the season, and Green says he'll return after the Packers bye in Week 6, likely with his red zone duties still intact.
Detroit's Kevin Jones had two TDs, but he was very close to a third TD. In the third quarter, with Detroit driving, Baltimore's Terrell Suggs was flagged for roughing the passer on Joey Harrington on a second-and-goal from the Baltimore six-yard line. With the Lions looking at first-and-goal from the one-yard line, the team handed off to Jones twice, who was stuffed both times. Then the team attempted a pass that fell incomplete, but the Ravens were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Again with a first-and-goal, Detroit turned to Jones twice more, with each rushing attempt thwarted by the Ravens. On the second run, Jones appeared to get banged up and he pulled himself out of the game. Backup Artose Pinner then came on and took the next handoff in for a TD. Jones would not return to the game, and Detroit backups Pinner and Shawn Bryson would compile 96 rushing yards and one more rushing TD (a 77-yard run by Bryson) the rest of the way. Like McGahee, Jones had a nice outing that left some wanting for more.
When Jeff Garcia is ready to return from his broken leg in a few weeks, he is going to be Detroit's starting QB. If Joey Harrington isn't benched at that time, then let the speculation begin that Harrington has incriminating photos of head coach Steve Mariucci. Despite quarterbacking his team in a 35-17 victory on Sunday over Baltimore, it was the running game, the defense and the 21 penalties called on the Ravens that should get the majority of the credit, not Harrington. He was 10-for-23 for 97 yards, a TD pass and two INTs. He was consistently off the mark on his passes. He continued to be excitable in the pocket. And his receivers were constantly shaking their heads on their jogs back to the huddle after yet another inexplicably off the mark pass. Harrington apologists will say that he was without Charles Rogers and he lost Roy Williams to a left quad injury during the game, stripping him of valuable weapons. But I don't think having receivers named Moss and Owens at his disposal would have made a difference.
Jamal Lewis is looking healthier and healthier each week. Against the Lions, he was running with the shake-and-bake that we've seen from him in past years. He carried 19 times for 95 yards and also hauled in a 15-yard shuttle pass for a TD, in which he displayed good vision and awareness. Lewis looked good, but Chester Taylor was every bit as impressive in a backup role to Lewis. Taylor picked up 46 yards on nine carries – 5.1 yards per carry. Lewis owners should expect to see Taylor continue to receive somewhere close to the average of 10 carries a week that he's been awarded in the past two games.
If you own Curtis Martin, consider head coach Herman Edwards an ally. On the Jets' first drive in third quarter, they moved the ball down to the Buccaneers nine-yard line. On first down, Martin took a handoff and banged out seven yards. On second-and-goal from the two-yard line, Martin was stuffed for no gain. Martin then picked up just one yard on third-and-goal. Faced with a fourth down after his RB had just been stuffed twice, Edwards showed absolutely no hesitation in calling for his team to go for it. And he called Martin's number for the fourth straight play. Martin rewarded Edwards and his fantasy owners with his second TD of the game.
Drew Bledsoe had a great day – 24-for-35, 289 yards, three TDs – against Philly. The Eagles have been one of the toughest defenses to throw on, and they employ two of the top cornerbacks in the league in Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown. But Bledsoe and company attacked Philadelphia's secondary instead of shying away from it. Bledsoe is getting time to throw the ball and he has experienced weapons that he is comfortable with in Keyshawn Johnson, Jason Witten and, especially, Terry Glenn. The way Dallas came out of the gate firing, you can tell that this unit has extreme confidence in its ability to throw the ball. Dallas faces the New York Giants, Seattle and Arizona in the next three weeks and you'd have to come up with a pretty good reason not to start at least Bledsoe, Glenn and Witten during that stretch.
By the time Sunday rolled around, most leagues had clued into Joe Jurevicius getting the start in Seattle and had picked him up off waivers. He didn't disappoint those teams that decided to throw him into the starting lineup, catching nine passes for 137 yards and a TD. With word that WR Darrell Jackson could be out for several weeks with a knee injury, and Bobby Engram's status (ribs) still in question, Jurevicius is going to continue to be a factor in this offense. He has a home game with Houston next week, which makes for another advantageous starting opportunity.
It was heartening to see St. Louis head coach Mike Martz turn to Steven Jackson as the Rams attempted to come from behind against Seattle in the second half on Sunday. Normally, Martz would have abandoned the run altogether trailing 34-21 with a little over six minutes left in the third quarter. But on the ensuing drive, Jackson ran the ball three times for 23 yards and caught three passes for 24 yards, with the drive ending in Jackson four-yard TD run. Jackson would also figure prominently in the Rams' final two drives, despite trailing to the end. Also of note was the fact that Marshall Faulk did not carry the ball once and he was targeted on just one pass play (incomplete through his hands). For Jackson owners, it's a relief to see Jackson unthreatened by Faulk, and it's encouraging that Martz turned to him in a crucial part of the game. It certainly bodes well for the future.
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