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Sunday Scene: Fantasy Gods

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Ben Roethlisberger is a 24-year-old kid.

It's sometimes tough to remember stuff like that: a guy who has a ton of success early in his career is nevertheless still a kid, and subject to the pratfalls, both literal and figurative, that attend your average knuckleheaded kid. That said, this has been one whale of horrible year for your Super Bowl-winning QB. The motorcycle accident, the appendix, the concussion. When the Steelers got off the plane in Oakland this week, Big Ben probably would've been better off telling Bill Cowher his ears wouldn't pop.

As it was, Roethlisberger added to his nightmare season. He was intercepted on Pittsburgh's second series, then picked again (on a deflection) by Nnamdi Asomugha for a touchdown on the Steelers' third series. On the team's fourth series, Roethlisberger fumbled, though Pittsburgh recovered. On a key fourth-and-one in the fourth quarter, he threw another interception, his third of game. Then as Steelers drove to tie the game at 13, on a third-and-goal from Oakland's seven, he threw yet another interception, which was returned 100 yards by Chris Carr for a TD. Boy.

All told, Big Ben went 25-for-37 for 301 yards, one touchdown and four picks. Those numbers don't do his day justice; the final 49 of the passing yards came on a Hail Mary that Nate Washington caught at the Oakland four. Roethlisberger often looked discombobulated, made bad throws in key situations, and Pittsburgh is 2-5, and dead in the water. Fantasy-wise, Roethlisberger (unlike some clever wags, I'll resist the urge to call him "Toothlessberger") is really no longer a starter; he had a 74.5 QB rating headed into Sunday, and that's surely going down, plus he's thrown only six touchdowns to 12 interceptions. And remember, those 12 picks have come in five-and-a-half games. Charlie Batch has played quite a bit better than Roethlisberger in his game-and-a-half; I'm not so callow as to proclaim that Batch is a legitimate starter, or that the Steelers should bench their 24-year-old star. But the season has gone down in flames, and the biggest reason is Big Ben.

Let's take a look at Week 8's other highlights:

How about we get the fantasy gods out of the way early? Yeah, yeah, yeah: LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson. Larry Johnson and LaDainian Tomlinson. Two-thirds of the consensus-top-pick triumvirate is having the kind of ridiculous fantasy season we expected; this week, LDT rushed it 25 times for 183 yards, two rushing scores and a receiving score, while LJ rushed 39 times for 155 yards, three rushing TDs and a receiving score. Tomlinson, by the way, has scored 90 career touchdowns in 86 games, which ties Emmitt Smith for the second-fastest in league history (Jim Brown did it in 81 games). Now the burden falls on Shaun Alexander to hold up his end of the bargain. It looks like he'll be back next week.
Funny how the abusive emails calling me a "Vick-lover" have ebbed. Once again, for the record, I'm not actually a Vick-lover. He's not going to play this way every game for the remainder of the season, but he's still an elite fantasy option because of his legs. For the second straight week, however, Vick was excellent via the air: 20-of-28 for 291 yards and three passing scores, in addition to nine rushes for 55 yards. Let's put this in perspective: Vick had never thrown for more than two touchdowns before his four-TD effort last week. Now he's done it twice in two games.
News of Fred Taylor's fantasy demise has been greatly exaggerated. After fumbling at a huge moment in Houston last weekend, Taylor was excellent for two-and-a-half quarters on Sunday. For the day, he rushed it 15 times for 103 yards and, more importantly, ran with what Eric Cartman might call "authori-tye." He also had a 60-some-odd-yard touchdown run called back because of a holding call. However, Taylor fell on the football in the third quarter, and thereafter carried it only two more times. In his stead, Maurice Jones-Drew also played very well, despite an early lost fumble. For the day, he turned 21 carries into 77 tough yards, and caught three passes for 20 yards. What's impressive about Jones-Drew (also known as "Drew") is the fact that he's simultaneously a third-down back and a goal-line back. It's become clear that the Jag-wires are pleased to use him in both rolls. He converted a huge fourth-and-1 deep in Philly territory late, and will score several more touchdowns before the season's out. He's a young Joe Morris.
Literally the freakiest moment of my season so far this year: I'm watching the Jacksonville/Philadelphia game. Jacksonville has the ball on Philly's 15. I happen to have NFL.com's live update web page open (I usually keep both NFL.com and Yahoo! open during games), and it says, "Fred Taylor, 15-yard rush for TD." I look at my TV screen. The Jags are still in the huddle. I watch the play. Taylor rushes 15 yards for a TD. I blink. I blink some more. Then I realize that there's a tremendous money-making opportunity here: I'd have made a million dollars if I could've been sitting at a window in Vegas with my laptop at just that moment. What? Too complicated?
How about those San Francisco 49ers really putting up a respectable fight. Here's how things went early in Chicago: Maurice Hicks fumbles the kickoff after the Bears score a field goal on their first possession; Thomas Jones gets seven-yard TD run (10-0, Bears). Alex Smith throws interception to Brian Urlacher deep in his own territory; Grossman throws a five-yard TD to Muhsin Muhammad (17-0). Alex Smith scrambles for 10 yards, fumbles, Chicago recovers; Cedric Benson logs a one-yard TD (24-0, end of first quarter). The Niners punt, and Devin Hester returns it 42 yards, setting up a Grossman one-yard TD pass (on fourth down) to Desmond Clark (31-0). Just for good measure, Grossman completes another touchdown pass to Clark, a 27-yarder, at the end of the second quarter, to make the halftime score 41-0. Or is that 410-0?
Oh, by the way, John Cougar Mellencamp wants you to know that this is our country.
The backups were passable in Kansas City. (Get it? "Passable"? Ha!) Seneca Wallace did more good than harm, throwing it 30 times and connecting on 15 for 198 yards, three touchdowns and two picks. He ran four times for 18 yards. Damon Huard, who may or may not have received a shot to the groin (I mean an injection on his sore groin), did wind up playing, meaning the Brodie Croyle Era will mercifully have to wait; Huard went 17-for-25 for 312 yards and a TD as LJ's caddie.
Speaking of Caddy: When we first see Caddy Compson in William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, we see "the muddy bottom of a little doomed girl climbing a blooming pear tree in April to look in the window at her grandfather's funeral." And when we first saw Caddy Williams this weekend, we saw the muddy bottom of a little doomed running back rushing headlong into some blue-suited giants. Er, Giants. Carnell Williams could get nothing done against New York; he carried it eight times for 20 yards and caught five for 34, but was never in danger of doing anything fantasy-worthy. I went on video last week and said Bruce Gradkowski might be a viable fill-in QB this week if he could get a little bit of time from his offensive line. Ah, but therein lies the rub. The Giants have been ferocious up front the past few games, covering up for their weak corners. Even with Osi Umenyiora out this week, Gradkowski rarely had enough time to really set up and go downfield. On third-and-longs, the Giants often rushed four, and still got great pressure on the quarterback. With the arm-challenged Gradkowski at the helm, it's going to be a long season for Cadillac owners.
Really bad day for Reggie Bush, huh? The numbers read: five carries for 16 yards (hey, Deuce McAllister had five carries for 11 yards), and four catches for five yards. He also fumbled on a botched exchange with Drew Brees, and tried a halfback-option pass deep in Baltimore territory but threw a pick to Chris McAlister and Ray Lewis. To add injury to insult, Bush twisted his ankle late in the game, and limped off, albeit under his own power.
By the way, Marques Colston is doing his level best to turn my Yahoo! employment into an ordeal. As you probably know, Colston is eligible in Yahoo! leagues as a tight end, and I've received literally hundreds of outraged emails about this fact – Please. No more. That ship has sailed. And it's not going to change. Against the Ravens, Colston caught six passes for 163 yards and two very long garbage-time scores. I'll just tell you right now: I can't do anything about it. I've been pushing pins into my Colston voodoo doll. More importantly, I've been pushing pins into the voodoo dolls I've created to represent Yahoo!'s eligibility police. Nothing seems to work. Don't email me. You. You over there. I can see you getting ready to email me. Stop.
Vince Young was solid and thoroughly unspectacular against hometown Houston: 7-of-15 for 87 yards and one TD, as well as a 20-yard rushing TD, the second of his career. Don't get any funny ideas about using him in Jacksonville next week, though.
Shouldn't Donovan McNabb, like, work out or something? I've never seen a quarterback so consistently winded in a huddle.
By the way, Ed Hochuli was working the chilly, windy Philly/Jags game as head referee, and, thanks to his omnipresent short-sleeved referee's shirt, his guns were blazing. They don't call him "Ed Hercules" for nothing.
Fantasy's love affair with Matt Leinart is going to have to wait. Leinart missed on his first six passes in Green Bay, and in the first half went 6-for-15 for 61 yards. Eep. All told, he went 14-of-35 for 157, a score and a pick. The Cardinals committed the ultimate sin of making a woeful Packers pass defense look good.
John Cougar Mellencamp needs to be stopped.
I called Reuben Droughns. Which doesn't mean that I have the Big Sandwich's cell phone number. It means I thought he had a great match-up this week. And he did, to the tune of 33 carries for 125 yards and a score. Trust me: this is all about the Jets' rush defense – By the way, that non-catch or catch by Chris Baker at the end of that game really should have been reviewed, shouldn't it?
This just in from my buddy Bill: Sign number 1,253 that the "THE Ohio State University" thing has gone too far: Dude introducing himself as being from "THE University of Southern Mississippi." Uh, whatever.
Jamal Lewis was actually pretty good after losing a fumble on the second play of the game. He rushed 31 burly times for 109 yards on a not-very-good Saints rush defense (allowing 4.9 yards per carry before Sunday), which is right in line with Lewis's own not-very-good 3.6 yards per carry. Still, 100 yards makes for an encouraging day.
Apparently John Cougar Mellencamp can stand beside ideals he thinks are right.
Chad Johnson's Mohawk lives! Ocho-cinco caught six passes for 78 yards, and scored on a 12-yarder from Carson Palmer. 7/11's deal with the media was he'd shave his head if he didn't break his TD schneid.
The Philly offense got its first first down with 8:57 to go in the second quarter. McNabb didn't exceed 100 yards passing until 8:40 was left in fourth quarter. The Eagles also haven't led a game at the half since Week 3 at San Francisco.
Tiki Barber got one red-zone carry, almost got in, but didn't, and Brandon Jacobs subsequently got his fourth TD of the year. The retiring (but not so shy) Barber still has zero.
Joey Galloway had two horrendous drops on two bombs where he was wide open on the same drive in the second quarter.
So much for the David Carr Experience. Carr was on a lot of starting fantasy teams this week in Tennessee, but he fumbled twice (one was returned for a touchdown), threw one pick, and missed a whole bunch of open receivers. Carr was evidently not injured when Gary Kubiak replaced him with Sage ("Brush") Rosenfels, who promptly went 18-of-25 for 186 yards and three scores (two to emerging fantasy tight end Owen Daniels). Kubiak claims Carr will definitely start Week 9 at the Giants. Joy.
Remember that great song by Harvey Danger? "Flagpole Spitta?" (I know, I know, it was "Flagpole Sitta." But I needed a way to get to Pacman Jones.) Jones, the spitting first-round cornerback for the Titans (for the uninitiated, Jones allegedly spat on a young woman in a club last week), had a huge game, though some have questioned whether he should've been allowed to play. He had a big pick, and also a 53-yard punt return for a touchdown. One wonders what he'll hock up for an encore.
The Porters are back. Joey Porter of the Steelers returned from injury, and his first big play was an unnecessary roughness penalty on Andrew Walter, though much later, in the fourth quarter, Porter made a huge interception to give Pittsburgh one last chance to tie. Meanwhile, Jerry Porter kissed and made up with (and evidently did not spit on) Art Shell, and thus was allowed to start. Jerry caught one pass for 19 yards.
Leon Washington looks an awful lot like Jones-Drew. Say, are the Jets and Jags sharing a player?
Kellen Winslow not only caught a 30-yard TD, he was targeted in the end zone on two other drives.
LaMont Jordan wasn't declared inactive, and did play against Pittsburgh, to the tune of seven carries for 21 yards. Argh. Justin Fargas was the hero for the Raiders: 18 carries for 55 yards against a Pittsburgh defense that didn't give up a touchdown. Just to confuse things further, Zack Crockett got the team's first two rushes of the day.
Jake Plummer actually played very well against Indy. He was only 13-for-21 for 174 yards and a beautiful 15-yard fade to Javon Walker for a score, but he snuck for another TD himself, and had the naked bootleg going like crazy. Clearly, the Snake is more comfortable throwing on the run.
The really big news on the Denver offense, though, was Mike Bell. We may have seen a passing of the torch, because Mike was powerful and devastating (albeit against a terrible Colts' rush defense): 15 carries for 136 yards (the first 100-yard game of his career) and two scores. One had the sense that if Denver had had another two minutes, Bell the Younger probably could've scampered back down to the Indy end zone again. By contrast, Tatum Bell looked terrible (13 carries, 27 yards). It seemed that after every one of Mike's big plays, Tatum would come in to give Mike a blow, and get no blocking, or accidentally fall down for negative yardage. Very interesting.
Peyton Manning can be one ruthless bastard. He went 10-for-10 in the first half, and 32-for-39 for the game, with three scores, all to Reggie Wayne. In fact, Wayne caught 10 passes for 139 yards and those three scores (as well as a two-point conversion), because Darrent Williams, Champ Bailey's opposite number, absolutely couldn't stay with Wayne. And Manning knew this. He pretty much looked at Wayne on every single pass play of the second half, never even moved his head away from Wayne, pump-faked a couple times, and Williams was just dust. Over and over. It was extremely effective. And extremely, extremely ruthless and (for Williams) embarrassing.