There is no force like LaDainian Tomlinson.
We thought we knew what fantasy dominance looked like in 2005, when Shaun Alexander, pre-Curse, scored 28 touchdowns. We knew nothing.
Tomlinson scored two garbage-time TDs against the Broncos Sunday, giving him three for the day and 29 for the season. Wow. I had one intrepid emailer ask me this week if I've ever seen a single player that was more an automatic part of fantasy winners than LDT this year. And I said: um, no. Do we realize the Chargers still have three games left? And that Tomlinson could pretty easily top, say, 35 scores for a season (if he's not rested)? That's flat-out ridiculous.
There's probably never been a player in any fantasy sport who's locked his owners into fantasy titles like Tomlinson's doing in '06. I mean, is the Tomlinson owner in your league not still alive? You could have Bonnie Hunt, Norman Mailer, Benny Profane, Kaiser Soze, Anne Frank, Leo Buscaglia and Clara Peller in your starting lineup, and still win with LDT. Michael Jordan in his prime wasn't this kind of a dominant fantasy force. I didn't play fantasy hockey in the Wayne Gretzky Era, but it's hard to imagine he carried this kind of weight. Heck, I had Mussolini in my Fantasy Fascists League, and even he couldn't make the trains run on time like Tomlinson.
The LDT owner in your league has fast become the New York Yankees: someone to root against savagely. "One slip-up in the next couple of weeks," we all think. "One off game for Tomlinson, and it could all come apart. That would teach his owners. That would be such sweet justice." Let's face it, though: ain't gonna happen.
Oh, and Chargers fans? Before you get visions of Lombardi Trophies dancing in your collective head, remember: your coach is still Marty Schottenheimer.
Let's take a look at the highlights from an eventful fantasy playoff week:
There's a team in my primary league who's got Larry Johnson, Carson Palmer, Antonio Gates, Javon Walker and Roy Williams. Quite a squad, and this is a 16-team league, though this owner did mortgage some of his 2007 health to make a playoff run this year. Anyway, the guiding hope my league-mates had all year has been the fact that the squad in question has often been shaky at its RB2 spot. So get this: last week, this team reached into its bag of iffy backs and dusted off Reggie Bush, in time for his ludicrous four-TD performance. This week, they benched Bush against the Cowboys, and instead started one Maurice Jones-Drew, the-little-bowling-ball-that-could, who treated the Indianapolis Colts like vodka treats Charlie Sheen. Drew accounted for an asinine 303 all-purpose yards (a Jaguars record), rushing for scores of 18 and 48 yards, and then taking the second-half opening kickoff 93 yards for his third score of the day. Some people call him the Gangster of Love.
All told, the Jaguars rushed for 375 yards against the Colts, who have lost three out of four, and are the favorites for this year's Super Bowl the same way I'm the favorite for the Boston Red Sox closer's position. Fred Taylor carried it nine times for 131 yards and a 21-yard score (before leaving the game with a sore hamstring), and the immortal Alvin Pearman turned 13 garbage-time totes into 71 yards and his own TD. That 8.9 yards-per-carry average which the Colts allowed Sunday makes Indy fans thirst for the good old days, when the team's league-worst ypc allowed was "only" 5.1 (which it was entering Week 14). The Jags had 14 carries of 10 yards or more, 12 of which came in the game's first 35 minutes.
Hey, the Bengals won their eighth game. And have had eight guys arrested this year. What symmetry.
Please don't be fooled by Chris Weinke's 423 passing yards. He had 61 pass attempts Sunday, and tossed three interceptions. Overall, Weinke was pretty bad. The truth is, though, that things didn't start really going downhill for the Heisman winner until after his receiving corps let him down in a big way. On Weinke's first toss, a beautiful bomb Drew Carter's way, Carter flat-out dropped the pass. Steve Smith did wind up catching five passes for 67 yards, but he blew an early easy first-down catch, and in the third quarter popped up a ball he should've caught, leading to the first of Gibril Wilson's interceptions. Kris Mangum took a catchable Weinke pass off his helmet. Now, the later picks were mostly Weinke's doing, and he didn't throw it Smith's way enough. But Carter posted three catches for 83 yards in the first half, and eight catches for 144 yards overall, including a 36-yard TD. Still, Jake Delhomme never looked so good.
As many experts guessed, Chester Taylor was inactive for the Vikings. As no one in the ever-luvin' universe projected, the primary beneficiary of Taylor's absence was Artose Pinner. The 'Tuse, an ex-Lion, took out some Motor City frustration on his old mates, with 29 carries for 125 yards and th-th-th-th-three short touchdowns ( Marcel Shipp, anyone?). Ciatrick Fason, the guy who benefited most from Taylor's absence in Week 13, had six carries for 28 yards. Mewelde Moore had three for 11. Oof.
Carson Palmer managed to turn what should've been a glorious fantasy day into something less-than-wonderful, thanks to three interceptions. And if the Bengals hadn't been playing the Raiders, it really might've cost 'em. Palmer threw a first-quarter pick to Nnamdi Asomugha, but Alvis Whitted fumbled it back to Cincy the very next play. Late in the second quarter, Palmer tossed another interception Asomugha's way, which directly led to Oakland's only three points of the first half. And in the fourth quarter, Palmer tossed a pick in the Raider end zone, to Fabian Washington. For the day, he was 20-for-28 for 297 yards and two red-zone scores (one to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, one to Chris Henry), but it should've been better.
I'm not clear on the strategy behind the new ad campaign for Combos. The new slogan? "Combos: What your mom would feed you, if your mom were a man." Wh-wh-wh-wha- whaaaa? Now don't get me wrong: seeing some fat dude in drag pretending to be some younger dude's mom is always going to be a hoot. But it's that tagline. Am I the only viewer with visions of hermaphroditic protests in the nation's media centers? Line up behind the Geico cavemen, gentlemen. Er, ladies.
As several of you protested last week, the Miami Dolphins defense clearly didn't deserve my No. 2 ranking among all Week 14 fantasy defense. No, in fact, they probably should've been No. 1. Jason Taylor is absolutely making a case for Defensive Player of the Year, and Zach Taylor finished Sunday's shutout of New England with seven more tackles, each of which seemed more bone-jarring than the last. With no Ronnie Brown, Miami is an offensive black hole, and Joey Harrington looked as bad as a quarterback can look failing to turn a ball over, and throwing a 32-yard TD to Marty Booker (Booker's fourth score in his last three games). But with that defense, the Dolphins are one heck of a tough out from here on in.
Ladell Betts followed up his 28-carry, 155-yard rushing day last week against Atlanta with 171 yards on 33 carries this week against the Eagles. Philly kept him out of the end zone, but Betts's performance in the absence of Clinton Portis makes the fact that he just signed a five-year contract extension (for $11 million) pretty curious. A bevy of teams (the Jets, Texans, Browns and Packers come to mind) may need a starting back in '07, so why would Betts take (decent) backup money from Dan Snyder before ever testing free agency? Would someone please get this guy Scott Boras's number?
Jeff Garcia has eight touchdown passes and zero interceptions since taking over for Donovan McNabb in the Tennessee game one month ago. He's probably not going to post fantastic yardage totals every week, but he was in control of that game in Washington from beginning to end.
An orange balloon tiptoed across the field on New England's first offensive series Sunday, right between Tom Brady and Dan Koppen while the Patriots lined up in shotgun formation. Refs actually had to stop the game for a moment. Yep, that was the problem with Brady (12-for-25, 78 yards and a fumble). Distracted by a floaty thing. No question.
Some big-time defensive plays returned for long touchdowns this week. Philadelphia's Michael Lewis caught one on his own 16 (from Jason Campbell), and returned it 84 yards for a touch. Nate Clements of the Bills collected a deflected pass and returned it for a 59-yard score. Jamar Fletcher scored on an 88-yard pick for the Lions against Brad Johnson. And Atlanta's Demorrio Williams picked up a Bruce Gradkowski fumble after a John Abraham sack, and returned it 54 yards for the score that finally turned around the Falcons' day.
How can you tell Kevin Spacey's career isn't on fire? Those Honda Accord voiceovers are a good hint. Hey, Space? At least Michael Douglas did Lexus.
Tony Scheffler scored the first two touchdowns of his career in San Diego, one nice, one lucky (he tipped a questionable Jay Cutler pass over Terrence "Kool-Aid" Kiel and caught it himself in the end zone). As a fellow rookie with Cutler (the quarterback was the first-round pick this year; the tight end was the second-rounder), Scheffler has found himself targeted far more frequently the past two weeks than most of the rest of the season.
Aaron Schobel had 3.5 sacks against the Jets Sunday. Great IDP, he.
Donte' Stallworth's sure knows how to talk smack, doesn't he? Caught a three-yard score from Garcia (after a 60-yard pass to Reggie Brown), then turned to the enemy crowd and really let them have it by … stretching his hamstrings? While I hesitate to imagine that the Redskins were terribly put off by the "Hammy Dance," you have to admit, considering Stallworth's injury history, there was an element of truth-in-advertising in the celebration.
- Nothing like consistency from Green Bay, huh? Donald Driver's pretty much the main dude, fantasy-wise; he scored on a great big 68-yard reception, and went for 160 yards receiving. Ahman Green scored. Brett Favre didn't turn the ball over. Why, heck, this is a fantasy juggernaut, right? Yeah, uh, go ahead and plan on that next week, and see how far it gets you.
- Hey, Patriots fans. Stop kidding yourself. That team isn't doing anything in the playoffs.
When Lee Evans scores, he scores big. Remember those back-to-back 80-plus-yard TDs a couple weeks back? He tossed in a 77-yarder in the Meadowlands on Sunday, ending the day with two catches for 91 yards. Willis McGahee added to Buffalo's big-play day with a 57-yard first-half score. Have to say, J.P. Losman looked pretty dang good against a supposedly stiffening Jets defense this week, going 10-for-15 for 157 yards, two scores and no turnovers. Yup, that's the key with J.P.: throw 15 times a game. Works like a charm.
Weirdest thing I heard from an actual game all day? The San Diego fans applaud an awful lot. You hear it after almost every single play: tons and tons of clapping. How … polite.
Carolina's primary problem on Sunday wasn't Weinke … it was the secondary. Chris Gamble couldn't go, and no one's quite sure if the Panthers want Ken Lucas to go (in truth, he's hurt, but he wasn't playing a ton even before his injury). Christian Morton limped off the field early, and rookie Dion Byrum was forced into action alongside rookie Richard Marshall (who, granted, has played a lot this year). Plaxico Burress burned Byrum mercilessly in the first half on a 45-yarder at the end of the first quarter, and then torched Marshall on a 28-yard score in the second. Byrum also got away with an obvious pass interference penalty he committed against Tim Carter, which could've led to even more Giants points. Eli Manning was far too comfortable going 17-of-33 with three scores and basically very few (for him) mistakes.
Roy Williams predicted a touchdown for himself in the first quarter, but instead caught a nine-yarder and promptly fumbled, whereupon it was recovered by Cedric Griffin. But Williams later told his teammates he was this close to scoring seven touchdowns on that very play.
Joseph Addai had 11 carries for 22 yards, and Dominic Rhodes had eight carries for 11 yards (and a score). Each guy had three plays that actually went for negative yardage. It's easy to understand why the team would only have 34 total yards rushing; that's what happens in a blowout. But man, that was a pretty piss-poor effort all round by Indy's offense, huh?
DeShaun Foster started for Carolina, but how much more evidence does John Fox need that his future lies with DeAngelo Williams? Granted, neither guy covered himself in glory in the running game: Foster had eight carries for 23 yards, while Williams had two carries for one yard. At least in the passing game, though, Williams had four catches for 45 yards; Foster had two catches for three yards and a couple drops. And he just looks worse. Considering Carolina's 6-7, can anyone come up with a convincing argument that Foster should still be the guy? I mean, other than, "He's in my starting fantasy lineup."
Brandon Jacobs? Meet Ron Dayne. Ron Dayne? Meet Brandon Jacobs. There was some "Freaky Friday" stuff going on between Charlotte and Houston this weekend, as Dayne temporarily metamorphosed into a hard-nosed ball carrier who turned 21 carries into 87 yards and two short touchdowns. Meanwhile, Jacobs channeled a certain former Heisman winner by turning just about every meaningful short-yardage situation the Giants had into a loss. Dayne's backfield-mates, Wali Lundy (five carries) and Samkon Gado (zero carries) are suddenly utter non-factors. Jacobs's much-ballyhooed jackhammering abilities? Similarly, non-factors. He was stuffed twice in (what at the time seemed to be) key situations, and fumbled one of them. Would the team really be that much worse off with Tiki Barber trying at the goal line?
Speaking of the Giants, Manning was shaken up momentarily in the second half of New York's win, giving Jared Lorenzen some face time on TV, as he frantically warmed up (he wouldn't enter the game). Man, how fat is that dude?
Three games had a score of 6-0 at the half. Weird.
Trent Green had two interceptions and a lost fumble in the first half. While he didn't turn it over thereafter, it was enough. By the way, when are 23 carries for 120 yards disappointing? When your name is Larry Johnson, and Dante Hall poaches your only potential score. LJ actually hurt his wrist in the Chiefs' loss against Baltimore, which sent many fantasy hearts into many fantasy throats, but Johnson did return late in the game, so one assumes he's not injured badly.
Speaking of injured stars … um, would Randy Moss fit that description? Moss hurt his ankle in the second quarter in Cincinnati, and didn't return, after hauling in two catches for 28 yards. And if you're still starting Randy Moss, I'm very, very surprised you're in the playoffs.
Less humorously, Brandon Stokley had a terrible-looking injury, trying to get off the line of scrimmage all by himself. Looked like an Achilles. Argh.
Justin Griffith scores the Falcons' 21-yard touchdown rush in the third quarter, for Atlanta's only offensive score. That collective scream you heard right around 3 p.m. Eastern was the owners of Michael Vick, Warrick Dunn, Jerious Norwood, Alge Crumpler and Michael Jenkins. Dunn and Norwood, by the way, both left Sunday's game with injury and couldn't return; Dunn hurt his calf, while Norwood hurt a knee.
Welcome to the NFL, Vernon Davis. Sure, it came during junk time, but his 52-yard fourth-quarter score for the Niners was a nice li'l surprise for anyone who had the stones to start him. There's more to come.
Kevin Jones did wind up getting a receiving score for the Lions against the vicious Vikes' rush defense, but for the day was limited to nine carries for minus-three yards. He did have six catches for 67 yards in the Marshall Faulk role in Mike Martz's offense, but his day had a hellish end: as Detroit tried a futile late comeback and had the ball down at the Minny one down by ten points, Jones got stuffed on the goal line, and had the pile land on his foot. He had to leave the game, Arlen Harris got stuffed on third-and-inches, and Jon Kitna was sacked on fourth down to end all hope. Oh, yeah, and Detroit turned the ball over five times. Fire Millen.
By the way, the Vikings had six runs that went for negative yardage in the second half. Way to put a game away, guys.
Travis Henry got the fantasy stats (20 carries, 88 yards, two scores), but Vince Young gets the love. Third week in a row in this column, actually. First he led a great late-game drive to give Tennessee a 17-14 lead, including a 39-yarder to Drew Bennett (who wound up with six catches for 113 yards). Then Young took a 39-yard overtime scamper to the house, the kind of run that's going to make this kid famous. Whatever "it" is, Young has it. He's ugly as sin out there sometimes: he threw a gnarly pick to Demarcus Faggins, some of his throws look like the aforementioned ghost of Mrs. Peller threw them … but when push comes to shove, he wins. He wins, he wins, he wins, he wins.
That Tatum Bell guy is fast. In an otherwise disappointing day for any Bronco not named "Scheffler," Bell carried it 17 times for 116 yards, including a 51-yard run that was almost a 75-yard touchdown, except Bell barely stepped out of bounds. The speed that guy has when he turns the corner really is otherworldly.
Bryant Johnson caught a 56-yard touchdown on Arizona's first play from scrimmage, and while Matt Leinart tried hard to keep Seattle ahead (I refer to his interception on the Seahawks' 11 to Julian Peterson), Shaun Alexander's generosity was even greater, as he fumbled the ball right back to the Cardinals, whose Edgerrin James took advantage with a seven-yard score, his first since Week 8. Matt Hasselbeck was hassled (ha!) to the tune of three sacks and a lost fumble, and while he did toss TD passes to Darrell Jackson, D.J. Hackett and the forgotten Nate Burleson, his late attempt at a game-winning drive fell just short when Deion Branch couldn't quite get a first down deep in Arizona territory.
The following kickers missed kicks, and thus left fantasy points on the table: Neil Rackers (53 yards), Sebastian Janikowski (who else? 51), Matt Bryant (51), Lawrence Tynes (32) and Josh Scobee (48). Shayne Graham also missed a PAT.
Do you realize Tomlinson probably could've scored three more times on Sunday? As if to show the fantasy world mercy, the Chargers threw two shortish scores to Antonio Gates, and allowed fullback Lorenzo Neal to score on a four-yard run using the "Bummerooski" play, in which Philip Rivers snuck the ball between Neal's legs, whereupon Rivers and LDT ran one way, and Neal ran the other for the touch. Why does San Diego bother with such non-LDT trickeration? Heck, give it to Tomlinson every play. You'd win every game 67-13, apparently.