Monday Brunch: Chad Pennington's Miami miracle

Sundays are all about collecting stories and stats, angles and observations. Mondays are about clearing the notebook. Here are some themes and images that had my attention during Week 8 of the elegant violence.

Let's check a few things at the door before we start this one. While I've always liked and respected Chad Pennington, I thought he was pretty much done entering 2008. Nice backup for someone, sure, or maybe a good starter on a defense-first club. Fantasy difference-maker? No way, Jose.

Nothing humbles a man like trying to predict the NFL, and Pennington's served me a heaping plate of humble pie over the course of the season. His latest gem Sunday (22-for-30, 314 yards, one touchdown) dispatched of the Bills, and he's now got 893 yards over the last three weeks. This run hasn't been just about making smart decisions and throwing to tight ends in-between the hashes; Pennington is also making some intermediate and deep throws, getting his wideouts involved. Miami's offense isn't a juggernaut by any means, but it's a group you need to take seriously.

And here's where it really gets interesting - Miami's got some cookies remaining on the schedule. Take a look: Denver, Seattle, Oakland, New England St. Louis, Buffalo, San Francisco, Kansas City through Week 16. See any monsters in there? These are not Cam Cameron's Miami Dolphins; it's high time (sorry Ricky) we re-evaluated these guys.

I realize Leon Washington isn't built for 18 or 20 touches from scrimmage every game, but why can't the Jets find 8-12 for this guy? I didn't understand it last year, I don't understand it now, and I won't understand it tomorrow. Both of Washington's TDs Sunday came in the first half, and yet he had just three touches from scrimmage in the second half. With Thomas Jones plodding around at 3.9 a pop, why not mix it up a bit?

Eli Manning didn't win any fantasy games for us in Week 8, but I gotta tip my cap to a guy who marches into Heinz Field and leaves playing an error-free game (no turnovers, no sacks) along with a fourth-quarter comeback. I know, 6.2 YPA, let's not throw a parade. But there's no doubt in my mind that Manning's growth over the last year or so is very real, and keep in mind he had about six passes dropped on him at Pittsburgh.

The Cardinals junked the running game in Carolina and it was fun to watch Kurt Warner zip it around, but you can't play like that every week. If Arizona doesn't find some offensive balance over the next few weeks, Warner won't have a chance against the Giants and Eagles in late November.

It's a shame Frank Gore doesn't have a better football team around him, because with even an average supporting cast he might be the best runner in the league. Gore offers the full package; enough power to run inside, enough speed to run outside, a second gear and the potential to score from anywhere on the field, soft hands. He's quick to the hole, decisive. I just hope there's something left in the tank when he's finally on a legitimate offense.

I think we've all been waiting for Ronnie Brown to completely take over in the Miami backfield, and for Jonathan Stewart to pass DeAngelo Williams like a parked car. I'm finally reading the memo, accepting what's happening, and shifting gears; Ricky isn't losing that number, and Williams is playing well enough to hold off the rookie.

Andy Behrens nailed it when he discussed the two Leonard Weaver touchdowns - embarrassing defense, not exciting offense. Toss it in the fluke file and be done with it.

My idea of hell is Jeff Garcia on every channel. Okay, he moves well in the pocket. Okay, he's normally good at avoiding negative plays. But watching him run that dink-and-dunk passing game is mind-numbing, especially when it's late in a ballgame and the Bucs are behind. Keep in mind this offense scored just three touchdowns against a trio of struggling defenses (Denver, Seattle, Dallas). I can't imagine Tampa goes deep into the playoffs, not without some intermediate and deep passing at some juncture.

Derek Anderson had another uneven day but the Browns can't bench him when the team is on a 3-1 stretch. Good luck against the Ravens defense next week, son. (Clip and save, I'm guessing Brady Quinn will be named the starter before the Houston game in Week 12. By then the Browns will probably be something like 4-6 and it will be worth it to see what the kid can do.

Yep, LaDainian Tomlinson looked great, and yep, that upcoming schedule is softer than a marshmallow. But with the Week 9 bye on the way and a big stat day fresh in everyone's mind, I'd still suggest this is a good time to sell high (implied there is getting a lot; I'm not asking you to move him for Kevin Faulk and Derrick Mason).

It's unfair to pick on Terrell Owens while Brad Johnson is steering the offense, but facts are facts - Owens hasn't topped 100 yards in 12 games, and he turns 35 at the end of the year. I'm sure better days are ahead with Tony Romo two weeks away, but I can't put Owens in the top tier of receivers any longer.

Mike Singletary won me over at the post-game press conference (Vernon Davis had him coming to him). The Niners probably won't turn things around this year, but they'll be interesting. I was impressed with Shaun Hill in the second half against Seattle, and while you don't want to read too much into a short sample, J.T. O'Sullivan has played himself to the bench. The Niners probably have to make a change when they get back on the field in Week 10.

Zach Miller is an absolute magician for coaxing 254 yards out of the last four weeks (JaMarcus Russell's passes are not terribly accurate or catchable). I like his chances against the Falcons and Panthers the next two weeks.

Roddy White starred last year with three scrubby quarterbacks, and he's accelerated the progress of rookie QB Matt Ryan - in a sneaky way, this underscores just how lost Michael Vick was as a thrower in the NFL. Vick's public tumble last year torpedoed the Falcons but eventually was a good thing for the organization, the sooner you move forward, the better. (It's kind of funny to me that White still shows up on "underrated" lists - hasn't the word been out on this guy for a while now?).

Marshawn Lynch's fantasy value comes from volume and set-up, not necessarily from any great reservoir of talent, so the Fred Jackson touch situation (23 the last two weeks) is a significant concern. Look for a Lynch tumble when the re-ranks come out on Wednesday.

It's been a blast watching the Houston carnival pile up the yards and points and there's been plenty of goodies to go around. But the schedule forward is more of a hit-and-miss proposition, with Baltimore, Tennessee, and the Indy rematch waiting. I'm not stepping off the Texans bandwagon, mind you, just pointing out that it's not that hard to light up the scoreboard against the Bengals and Lions. Next week's date in Minnesota should provide a good litmus test.

I was stunned Tyler Thigpen played as well as he did in New York, and it wasn't like the Jets were passive - they came after him. To those that didn't panic on Tony Gonzalez and Dwayne Bowe (the Behrens Youth), I tip my cap. You were rewarded in Week 8. We're not asking for Thigpen to be great, mind you, just good enough to not sink the rest of the offense. Sunday was a tremendous step forward.