Sunday Scene: Thrill of Victory

Brandon Funston

Congratulations to those that are still reading this column, as I can only assume that means you are still alive in your quest for a fantasy league title. Feels good, doesn't it? I dodged some bullets to advance this week, as well. I have to admit, winning is the perfect compliment to the holiday season. So as the audience of this column dwindles by the week, let's hold our beer bottles up and toast to our good fortune. And while you're savoring the sweet taste of victory, take a look at what caught my eye on Sunday:

I'm still standing in my highest-priority fantasy league, thanks in large part to Arizona third-string QB John Navarre, who remembered Larry Fitzgerald when none of the other Cardinals QBs did. Navarre threw Fitzgerald's way 11 times in the second half on Sunday in a loss to Houston, after Kurt Warner (injured) and Josh McCown (left with flu-like symptoms) threw to him just once (incomplete) in the first half. Fitzgerald closed with 85 yards and a TD, helping guarantee that my Christmas weekend won't be blue.

Philadelphia rookie Ryan Moats picked up just 19 yards on 11 of his 12 carries on Sunday. But the other carry netted 59 yards and a TD, giving Moats 78 rushing yards and his third TD in his two starts since Brian Westbrook was lost to injury. Interestingly, Moats' scoring jaunt came on his first carry of the game. In Week 14, he took the first carry of the game 40 yards for a score. It is the suddenness of Moats that makes him an attractive fantasy play. If a back with his quickness is going to get a dozen carries or more a week, he's going to stand a decent shot to bust loose a long run. Backups Lamar Gordon and Reno Mahe did little to justify stealing more of Moats' workload in the final couple weeks, so Moats looks like a legitimate starting candidate for fantasy owners next week as he takes on an Arizona Cardinals defense that let Houston backup Jonathan Wells beat them up to the tune of 87 rushing yards and two TDs.

Steven Jackson sure is a frustrating player to own. He has all the tools to be a fantasy monster, but obstacles seem to keep getting in his way. Jackson carried 12 times for 85 yards in the first half against Philly, including 62 yards on the game's opening drive. But a minor hip pointer limited him to just four fruitless second-half carries (-3 yards). Jackson has now been held scoreless in five of his past six games. This follows a streak in which he had scored seven TDs in five October games. Whether it is the refusal of head coach Joe Vitt (and Mike Martz before him) to commit heavily to his featured back, or whether it is something like a minor hip pointer limiting his opportunities, Jackson has become a huge question mark at the worst time for his fantasy owners.

Looking for a sleeper wide receiver next week? Shaun McDonald isn't a bad bet. St. Louis rookie QB Ryan Fitzpatrick was benched in the fourth quarter on Sunday and veteran Jamie Martin re-assumed control of the offense for the team's final two drives. Martin completed 8-of-11 passes for 58 yards. Three of those passes and half of those yards (29) went to McDonald, who was targeted by Martin five times. Come to think of it, with San Francisco on the schedule for next week, and Martin back behind center, none of the Rams are really terrible bets.

Randy Moss' season has been swirling around in the toilet for several weeks, but it was officially flushed on Sunday. Sure, he had a touchdown, which may have at least satisfied those who started him, but it was still an ugly afternoon for the All-Pro. He was thrown to just five times by Kerry Collins, catching only the 28-yard scoring strike. Moss was also flagged for two false starts. And it seemed that every time the TV crew ran a replay of him, he was shown putting minimal effort into his route. This guy is the definition of someone that is going through the motions until the season comes to an end.

Cleveland's Reuben Droughns was stuffed four times by Oakland inside the Raiders' five-yard line in the first quarter on Sunday. It robbed him of his only scoring opportunities on the day, and means that he is now scoreless in his past four games. In those games, he's averaging just 3.3 yards per carry and hasn't had a run longer than 17 yards. Given the troubles that his knee has been giving him, and considering he never really found a groove on Sunday, I suspected that I might see Lee Suggs be given a shot. But Suggs was afforded just one carry (six yards). Perhaps we'll see a little more of Suggs in the next week or two, but with Pittsburgh and Baltimore remaining on the schedule, Droughns is not looking like a guy who is going to help bring fantasy owners a league championship. For those owners, other options need to be seriously explored.

Miami rookie Ronnie Brown banged up his knee against the New York Jets on Sunday, and Ricky Williams' fantasy prospects will obviously benefit greatly if Brown is limited, or doesn't play, in Week 16. Williams looked solid against the Jets, picking up 70 rushing yards, including a crucial 23-yard fourth quarter scoring run. Williams has now scored in three of his past four games and, as mentioned, should be considered strongly next week against Tennessee at home if Brown's role is expected to be reduced because of the knee injury.

For the first time since Week 5, Drew Bennett produced some noteworthy fantasy numbers. Bennett found a rhythm with QB Steve McNair, who threw Bennett's way 14 times. Bennett caught two TD passes, and had a couple more Looks around the goal line. The entire Tennessee passing game looked real sharp. With Seattle trying to blitz and find anyway to get at McNair, the Titans used a controlled, short passing game to reel off 24 unanswered points after Seattle opened with a 14-0 lead. The way McNair was clicking with Bennett (eight catches, 93 yards) and TE Ben Troupe (six catches, 116 yards), these guys have to be considered for fantasy starting assignments in the final two weeks. What made the passing game even more impressive was the fact that RB Chris Brown did nothing to turn the Seahawks' attention away from the passing game. Brown didn't have a run longer than nine yards. In fact, he hasn't had a run longer than 13 yards in his past five games. He's been an easy mark in the running game, and only his abilities as a receiver have salvaged any kind of fantasy success. But on Sunday, not even that would bail him out, as he failed to catch a pass.

LaDainian Tomlinson bruised his ribs on Sunday, giving way to Michael "The Burner" Turner late in San Diego's upset of Indianapolis. Turner served notice that he is required insurance for all Tomlinson owners by exploding for a game-clinching 83-yard TD run late in the fourth quarter. Tomlinson is likely going to be fine for Week 16, but those who would potentially be playing a Week 17 championship game should check into the availability of Turner in case Tomlinson suffers further setbacks next week.

Just a quick observation about new New Orleans starting QB Todd Bouman. His fantasy line on Sunday was nasty – four INTs, one fumble – but I haven't seen very many QBs throw a better looking spiral.

I know it happened on Saturday, but I just have to throw out a bouquet (as my old high school coach would say) to Tiki Barber. His two TD runs in the Giants' victory over Kansas City were things of pure beauty. He overcomes the fantasy handicap of having to give away goal line carries to Brandon Jacobs by simply accruing so many yards that the lack of point-blank scores becomes a moot point. He now has five consecutive 100-yard rushing games, and the game before this streak, he had a 100-yard receiving game. His fantasy owners are in his debt for delivering for them at the most important time of the year.

Good luck to everyone fighting it out in Week 16. And happy holidays to all of the '05 Yahoo! fantasy football community.