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Sunday Scene: Coming up Short

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Sunday was a lot of things, but filled with successful NFL comebacks, it was not. It seemed like a dozen games were within a touchdown with five minutes left, but only Baltimore and Seattle closed the deal. The Ravens, led by prodigal son Steve McNair, topped Tennessee, 27-26 (of course, it also took a blocked field goal at the gun for the Ravens to win), while Seattle dominated special teams to stun the Rams yet again. Cincinnati, Detroit, Jacksonville, Minnesota, Kansas City, Buffalo, New England, New Orleans, Oakland and Atlanta all had the ball with chances to win or tie, but turned Urkel at the wrong time. For fantasy players, though, I'll bet thousands of games across the nation featured crazy comebacks. Late scoring will do that to you, and none more so than games featuring any number of Chargers and Bengals.

What a ridiculous game. Carson Palmer shakes off his footwork woes to post a 31-for-42 day for 440 yards and three touchdowns, two of which went for over 50 yards. Chad Johnson complains his way to 12 targets and 11 catches for (gulp) 260 yards, a 51-yard score and a 74-yard score (that ought to shut him up). Rudi Johnson (who didn't start the game because he "violated team rules") nevertheless had 85 yards and a score. LaDainian Tomlinson rushed it 22 times for 104 yards (to go with six catches for 54 yards) and (gulp) four touchdowns (he's set a league record by scoring 15 times in the last five weeks). Philip Rivers went 24-for-36 for 337 yards and three passing scores of his own. Friggin' Brandon Manumaleuna scored twice. Yes, indeed, there's nothing like 55 combined second-half points to inject a little fantasy heartburn into your day. Let's take a look at Week 10's other highlights:

Frank Gore logged a 61-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, 18 carries for 148 yards in the first half, and 22 carries for 159 yards for the game. The bad news was that the Niners did seem hell-bent on putting Michael Robinson in the game in the red zone; the good news is Robinson was stopped each time he tried to score. In the second half, Gore reportedly suffered a "minor concussion," and ceded nine carries to Maurice Hicks, but the little dude from The U. is back.
Who thinks Byron Leftwich's ankle started feeling better at about 4:30 p.m. Eastern on Sunday? Not all the interceptions David Garrard threw against Houston on Sunday were his fault, but neither were the ones Tom Brady threw against Indy last weekend, and that doesn't mean Brady escaped blame. Garrard was flat bad against the Texans: 15-for-34 for 214 yards and four interceptions. He did run it four times for 44 yards, but if Leftwich got himself benched for losing at Houston, what can Garrard expect?
I watched a couple of the early games on TiVo, so as to avoid John Cougar Mellencamp's patriotic menace, and got a call from Yahoo!'s own Brandon Funston. "What did you think of that call?" Funston breathlessly intoned. "What call?" I said. "I'm on an anti-commercial TiVo delay." Brandon told me that Brady had just thrown a pretty awful pick to Drew Coleman, but Victor Hobson was called for unnecessary roughness on Brady. I told Brandon I was currently on the Eagles/Redskins game, so I hadn't gotten to the play in question (but, as a Pats fan, I was sure it was a good call). "Oh, you're watching the Eagles? Then what did you think about Correll Buckhalter's immaculate reception?" Uh, yeah, I hadn't gotten that far in that game, either. For the record, it was a pretty lousy call on Hobson, and Buckhalter's accidental hook-and-lateral with Reggie Brown was a thing of insane beauty. Kind of like Alyssa Milano.
Willie Parker broke a 72-yarder and a 76-yarder for the Steelers in the second half, but anyone who thinks being a full-time back doesn't take it out of your legs needs to look at a tape of FWP's Super Bowl run, and compare it to the two bursts against the Saints. The part-time Fast Willie takes both of those to the house. ('Course, Parker did score shorties on both of Sunday's late drives.)
It's no fun owning any Redskins this year, but it's really no fun owning Clinton Portis. When he first left Sunday's game in Philly, I thought maybe it was because of a pretty aggressive 15-yard facemask that took him down. But Portis came back in, fell awkwardly on his left hand, and hit the locker room. Alas, his big sturdy paw is broken. Ladell Betts should officially be owned in all leagues, and you might also consider the forgotten man: T.J. Duckett; it remains to be seen how long Portis'll be out, but it's hard to imagine him back in the next couple games.
Yes, Terrell Owens scored a long one. But he drops more passes than Borat drops prepositions.
Here's why owning Anthony Thomas, at least for the moment, is a very good thing. First and goal on the Indy 10: Thomas loses three yards. Second and goal on the Indy 13: Thomas gets two yards. Third and goal on the Indy 11: Thomas gets seven yards. Field goal. Because, y'know, Buffalo plans on being down in the Indy red zone dozens of times today, so they might as well play it safe, right? In the fourth quarter, down a scant few points, the Bills have a third and four on the Indy 45, Thomas gets two … and the Bills punt. Then third and 21 from the Colts' 33, down 17-13 … Thomas again. Dick Jauron knows and trusts Anthony Thomas from their Chicago days, and is slightly more conservative than John Birch on stilts. Twenty-eight carries for 109 yards is okay (remember, this is the Colts), and Willis McGahee owners will recognize the lack of touchdowns. Still, there are a lot of carries in Mr. Thomas's near future.
During the Saints' final drive, Drew Brees threw a five-yard out to Reggie Bush, but Bush wasn't looking, and didn't come back to get the ball. You could see Brees give him a look, like, "Rookie, you dope." While Bush did score his first career touchdown from scrimmage on a double-reverse, that was some look he got from his leader.
Omigod, omigod! Luke and Laura from General Hospital are getting married again! Twenty-five years later! Okay, shut up. You know Tony Siragusa will be watching.
Corey Dillon had 11 carries for 98 yards; Laurence Maroney had 12 for 37. Dillon unleashed a 50-yard scamper in the first half of New England's loss (with a mean stiff-arm on Andre Dyson along the way), which was the first 50-plus yard rush of the Bill Belichick Era in Foxborough. It's hard to know which guy will be better each week, but I think Dillon's my guy in Green Bay next Sunday.
I'm officially bored with the halfback option pass. Sure, it used to be a thrill, like cable modems and Cracklin' Oat Bran, but too much of a good thing makes a guy jaded, y'know? I didn't see every minute of every game, so I'm probably missing at least one, but for sure Arnaz Battle launched one off a reverse, Antwaan Randle El launched one into the end zone, and Ronnie Brown flipped one Chris Chambers' way. None were successful. Incidentally, Chambers did catch a 46-yard flea flicker from Joey Harrington and fell out of bounds at the one.
Here's hoping Billy McMullen has a brother, so we can have a fun week of referring to him as "Brother McMullen." With Marcus Robinson out (surprise!) and Troy Williamson catchlessly ineffective (surprise!), McMullen was Minnesota's offensive star, catching a wide-open 40-yard touchdown, and then recovering Chester Taylor's goal-line fumble in the end zone for another score. However, given that Brad Johnson is still at the helm in the Metrodome, I wouldn't rush out and pick up McMullen.
Good line from the Nextel Cup race on Sunday afternoon. Jamie McMurray, driver of the No. 26 Irwin Tools Ford, had just been wrecked by Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Chevy, and said, "Guess I'll buy my Irwin Tools at Lowe's from now on." Okay, shut up. I thought it was funny.
Donte' Stallworth picked up right where he left off pre-hamstring, catching an 84-yard TD pass, and absolutely destroying Sean Taylor on a double-move down the middle of the field in the process. I gave a lot of people the advice to wait and see if Stallworth is back before playing him. To them, I say: oops. If it's any consolation, I'm a Stallworth owner, too. And, well, yeah, he's back.
Boy, the Colts could've lost. Dare I say they're the worst 9-0 team in league history? (Yes, evidently, I dare.) With Indy in field-goal range, Ben Utecht fumbled away their two-minute drill at end of first half, and Terrence McGee did just about the only thing he can do on defense, which is pick up a ball and pretend it's a kickoff return: 68 yards, touchdown, score tied. Then McGee returned his first kickoff of the second half 88 yards, and was tackled at the Indy 12, which led to a field goal. Finally, Dominic Rhodes maybe hammered the final nail in his fantasy coffin by "pulling a Utecht" midway through fourth quarter: up one point, he fumbled around midfield, giving Buffalo great field position.
However, these are the Bills. On consecutive drives (once at 17-13, once at 17-16), J.P. Losman took sacks (a 12- and five-yarder, respectively) he had no business taking. And thank you very much, Rian Lindell, for missing a 41-yarder to take the lead with six minutes left. Could Peyton Manning have led another game-winning drive? Yeah, probably. Still, how Bills-esque.
Philadelphia's Sheldon Brown produced a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter, ending Washington's day. Last week, Joe Gibbs said he wouldn't pull Mark Brunell in favor of Jason Campbell until the Redskins were out of the playoff chase. Is it time, Joe? I remember all the angry emails I got in the preseason for not giving enough respect to the Redskins' offensive players, and the fact that they were going to have Al Saunders as their offensive coordinator. Haven't heard too much from those folks lately. Seems as though Larry Johnson may have been an important component of Saunders' success in KC, eh?
Greg Jennings did play Sunday, but was limited, mustering two catches for 26 yards. Meanwhile, Donald Driver took a skinny post in Green Bay's end-of-half two-minute drill and took it 82 yards to the house. For the day, he caught seven for 173, and Brett Favre looked for him constantly.
Larry Fitzgerald, on the other hand, looked very well for the bulk of Sunday's game, but after he made a gorgeous leaping grab for 38 yards in the fourth quarter against Dallas, he limped off the field. It remains to be seen if it was his hamstring, and if it'll linger. For the day, Fitz caught six passes for 80 yards.
Reche Caldwell isn't going to make anyone forget, um, just about any starting wideout in the NFL. But he was all over Andre Dyson's stuff. Again and again, Brady and Caldwell tried to find Dyson, and worked him mercilessly. For the day, Caldwell had nine catches for 90 yards and a score. He's still not a great fantasy option except maybe in deep PPR leagues, unless the league allows him to play Dyson each week.
Travis Henry turned in one of the least-expected big days in the fantasy world against the brutal Ravens' rush defense: 27 times for 107 yards and a score. Of course, he had 11 carries for 21 yards in the second half, and seven carries for 11 yards in the fourth quarter. Still, LenDale White's time is still a ways away.
Boy, what a great signing that Nate Burleson was, eh, 'Hawks fans? Nate the Not-So-Great returned a fourth-quarter punt 90 yards for a go-ahead score, but presumably you are not starting him on your fantasy team any longer. And let's also give a shout-out to Josh Scobey, the other Josh Scobey, who returned the game's final kickoff to the 50, setting up Seattle's winning kick.
One of the radio hosts with whom I do a Sunday morning segment in Philadelphia called Mike Shanahan the "Saddam Hussein of fantasy football." (That's harsh, Pat.) Shanahan didn't even dress Mike Bell, presumably because Tatum Bell's toes were feeling better, and Shanny also neglected to bring Cedric Cobbs with him. It was all Tatum, all the time against the Raiders, with Damien Nash as his backup. Neither guy did much against Oakland (Bell: 14 carries, 37 yards; Nash: four carries, 14 yards). The larger point is it's well nigh impossible to guess what'll happen next week. I, for one, am glad not to have invested in any of these players.
Vince Young showed why he'll be a super-valuable fantasy commodity sooner rather than later. Was he particularly good throwing the ball? 13-for-25 for 211 yards and a pick says, "No." But Young scrambled eight times for 39 yards and the third rushing touchdown of his NFL career. Expect a lot more.
Can we put away the "Greatest Show On Turf" comparisons in Detroit? Not that Jon Kitna, Kevin Jones and Roy Williams aren't having excellent fantasy seasons. And yes, I know San Francisco has played very good defense against the Vikings and the Lions the last two weeks. Still, it's hard to imagine the 2000 Rams scoring 13 points against a 3-5 team, and/or being shut out in the first half. Granted, Detroit still should've won this game; Kitna tossed a pick on the Niners' two-yard-line with 2:31 left in the game. But three fumbles lost (one each by the players I just mentioned) and that pick, to go along with 251 total net offensive yards, translates to: ugly. Give this group time, but don't set crazy, Mike-Martz-Ram-like expectations.
Don't look now, but McNair and the Ravens' passing attack really has come alive under Brian Billick. McNair struggled through a pretty crummy first half, but ended up 29-for-47 for 373 yards, three scores and two picks. Mark Clayton caught seven passes for 125 yards, including a 65-yard bomb for a TD. And Derrick Mason caught eight for 64 and a score. Put it this way: for as much ink as the "Running Game Resurgence" got last week, where would you rather put your money? Jamal "Tippytoe" Lewis, or Clayton and Mason?
Hate to see Marlon McCree headhunting for T.J. Houshmandzadeh late in the Chargers' win. He smashed Housh in the head a full second before Palmer's pass arrived. A fine is forthcoming.
Jake Plummer was good enough, I suppose. Two TD passes, including still another long one to Javon Walker, who I've been pimping hard the past month. Of course, the Snake threw three more picks, which gives him 10 scores and 10 INTs on the year. Ick. Oakland's defense, by the way, is really quite good. Get Warren Sapp out of there, and plug the middle with a younger guy more interested in playing every down, and you'd really have something. (Please tell me you're not fooled by Sapp's six sacks … most have come as a result of great coverage and ol' Warren being too fat to get faked out of the middle of the field.) Given the fact that Plummer is probably leaving Denver at the end of this season, could Jake the Snake be headed to the East Bay?
Orlando Pace left the Seahawks/Rams game and didn't return, and early word indicated he'd torn his biceps. If that's the case, it's a pretty big blow to Steven Jackson and Marc Bulger.
I say again: Matt Leinart ain't ready.

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