Sunday Scene, Week 7: Making sense of DeMarco Murray’s historic day

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When a player establishes a new Dallas Cowboys rushing yardage record — whether it's for a game, a quarter or a carry — then you know he's put up a big number. This franchise's all-time leading rusher is Emmitt Smith, who also happens to be the NFL's all-time leading rusher. The guy in second place team history, Tony Dorsett, ranks eighth all-time.

Basically, if you're a running back who's looking to rewrite his team's record book, you would be well advised to pick a different team.

Yet on Sunday, rookie DeMarco Murray did something that neither Smith nor Dorsett had ever accomplished: He rushed for 253 yards on 25 carries, setting the single-game team rushing mark. The old record of 237 yards had belonged to Emmitt, established back in 1993.

I'd like to tell you that Murray's huge stat line had as much to do with the opposing defense as it did with DeMarco himself — the Rams entered the day ranked last in the NFL at stopping the run, and they'll leave it looking much, much worse. When you watch Murray's highlight reel, you'll note that many of the running lanes were absurdly wide and easily exploited. He went untouched and unbothered on his first carry, a 91-yard touchdown run; the St. Louis defense was fooled by that same delay hand-off more than once. Murray could have actually had a bigger day if he didn't fall to the turf without contact at the end of this 43-yard run, apparently too exhausted to travel the final 30 yards.

So let there be no mistake: The Rams are very bad. In fantasy, you should continue to start any ambulatory running back who gets to face that team. Here's a link to St. Louis' schedule so you can begin planning.

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But I'd hate to simply write off Murray's record-setting performance as a pure match-up fluke. His rushing total was the ninth best in NFL history, and the eight names ahead of him on the all-time list are pretty solid: Adrian Peterson (296), Jamal Lewis (295), Jerome Harrison (286), Corey Dillon (278), Walter Payton (275), OJ Simpson (273), Shaun Alexander (266), Jamaal Charles (259).

That's an impressive collection of Hall of Fame players and Pro-Bowlers right there (plus Harrison). If you wanted to make an argument that a 250-yard rushing game is an event with signature significance — a small-sample occurrence that's so exceptional, it cannot be accomplished by ordinary athletes — then I might be willing to listen.

What we know for sure is that Murray just had a tremendous day, the season's biggest individual rushing performance. There's really no way he'll return to a simple cameo role, even when Felix Jones is back to full strength. Murray has another friendly match-up ahead in Week 8 against the Eagles, a defense that's allowed 4.8 yards per carry and 123.8 per game.

Tashard Choice suffered a shoulder injury against the Rams (and he was useless: two carries, eight yards, fumble), so undrafted rookie Phillip Tanner should be second on the depth chart for the Philly game. It's perfectly clear which first-year back is now at the top of the Dallas hierarchy. I was wrong to ever doubt him. Or maybe I was wrong to doubt St. Louis.

Fourth Quarter

Were it not for Murray's historic performance, the story of the day would have been the staggering number of injuries to key fantasy assets. Here are the big ones, in a single frightening blurb: Darren McFadden (foot sprain), Beanie Wells (knee, coach unsure if it's short-term or long-term), Willis McGahee (fractured hand), Tim Hightower (knee, possible ACL), Earnest Graham (Achilles), Mike Tolbert (hamstring), Marshawn Lynch (back), Santana Moss (broken hand), Percy Harvin (ribs), Matthew Stafford (knee and ankle, in a boot, MRI on Monday), Benjamin Watson (concussion).

On one of my teams, I started four of those players this week. I'm sure a few of you are similarly impacted. Brutal day ... and we always learn about a few more dings and tweaks on Monday, so this nightmare isn't over. Can't help but notice that quite a few players who carry the injury-prone label were injured in Week 7.

Without question, my favorite announce quote of the day was this from John Lynch: "If you're looking for positives for the Rams today, the hard-count has been very effective." He said this very late in 27-point loss, after AJ Feeley drew a Cowboys lineman offside. Well played, sir.

An actual positive takeaway for the Rams was the performance of newly acquired Brandon Lloyd, who caught six passes for 74 yards in his St. Louis debut. (And yeah, I had to check to make sure the well-traveled Lloyd was actually playing his first game with Rams, in either LA or St. Louis). When Sam Bradford returns from his ankle injury, he'll have a legit No. 1 receiver. Lloyd has a level of familiarity with the offense that you wouldn't normally expect in a mid-season add, so there's reason to be moderately hopeful. Also: The Rams are awesome at hard-counts.

Christian Ponder was better on Sunday than anyone could have reasonably expected, throwing for 219 yards and two TDs, adding another 31 yards on the ground. His completion percentage was terrible (40.6) and he was picked off twice by Charles Woodson, but he kept his team competitive until its final punt. He's mobile, very aware, plenty of arm, and best of all he's not Donovan McNabb. If you were worried about Adrian Peterson's rest-of-season potential with a rookie directing the offense, don't fret. Peterson ripped off 175 rushing yards against the Pack. If it weren't for the typically masterful play of Aaron Rodgers (335 yards, three TDs), the Vikings might have had a win.

Resolved: Peter Brown and I plan to open Kyle Boller Quarterback Camp next summer, assuming such a thing does not already exist. Details here, via Yahoo! Sports Radio. It's actually more of a camp for aspiring defensive backs, but whatever. We're still working out the schedule, hiring counselors, developing a fee structure. Lots of planning to do.

Honestly, there's not much that needs to be said about the quality of the quarterback play in Oakland on Sunday, except that it was tragic. Boller and Carson Palmer combined for six interceptions and just 15 completions in 35 attempts — and two of the picks were returned for TDs, so that's not good. Darrius Heyward-Bey still managed to post a respectable fantasy line despite the challenging context (5-89-0), so his owners can feel OK.

I might have liked to see where the post-game discussion between Todd Haley and Hue Jackson was headed, but KC's head coach wouldn't stick around. Shame.

Chris Johnson drew a fair number of boos from the home fans on Sunday — understandable, since he ran for just 18 yards — and he was the subject of some interesting post-game comments by Houston linebacker Brian Cushing:

"I don't know whether it is a change in the offensive coordinator, missing camp or whatever," Cushing said. "I just think he hasn't gotten in his groove yet. You look at the way he runs, and the capabilities he has and his speed. He is one of those guys who is a home run hitter. If you hit him early, I think it kind of deters him a little bit."

That's really not something you want on the scouting report: "Hit him early, it deters him." If you're a CJ owner, read the full piece that we linked above. Many issues are limiting Johnson at the moment.

Does anyone in the NFL have more near-touchdowns than Antonio Brown? He had an excellent afternoon against the Cards, hauling in seven passes for 102 yards. He just missed on a potential deep strike down the sideline, too. It's been a season of near-misses for Brown, but Sunday's effort was his best. The Pats are up next, and that defense is giving up over 320 passing yards per week.

OK, skip ahead to the 4:00 mark in this video and watch Matt Prater's game-winning 52-yard kick. That thing hit the top of the net. Probably would have been good from 75. Unreal. He's basically like Gus, and that game wasn't even played at altitude.

As I write this blurb, Drew Brees has more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four), and Dan Orlovsky — yes, this Dan Orlovsky — is quarterbacking for the Colts. So it's probably time to wrap up this week's Scene.

Early waiver options for Week 8...

QB Andy Dalton, at Sea
QB Christian Ponder, at Car
QB Alex Smith, vs. Cle
RB Knowshon Moreno, vs. Det
RB Michael Bush, bye
RB Roy Helu, at Buf
RB CJ Spiller, vs. Was
RB Montario Hardesty, at SF
RB Phillip Tanner, at Phi
RB Kregg Lumpkin, bye
RB Alfonso Smith, at BAL
WR Antonio Brown, vs. NE
WR Early Doucet, at BAL
WR Jabar Gaffney, at Buf
WR Steve Breaston, vs. SD
WR Greg Little, at SF
WR Demaryius Thomas, vs. Det
TE Evan Moore, at SF

-updated at 11:30 pm ET

Third Quarter

Tim Tebow didn't quite complete 50 percent of his passes on Sunday, but fantasy owners don't care much about his accuracy of efficiency, not when he's doing ridiculous stuff like this.

Tebow rushed for 65 yards on Sunday, he broke the plane on a two-point conversion, and he passed for 161 with a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns. No Denver receiver had more than three catches — hardly surprising, since Tebow completed just 13 passes. Denver pulled out a miraculous win in Week 7 (insofar as any victory over Miami can be considered a miracle), overcoming a 15-0 fourth quarter deficit. Defense was a big part of the story for the Broncos, and they needed a late onside recovery, too, but the post-game spin will likely be all about the quarterback. Nine of Tebow's 13 completions occurred on the final two drives of regulation, both of which ended in touchdowns.

A fun game, all things considered, even if it wasn't so well played. The Dolphins definitely deserved the loss. The only people watching that game who didn't know Tebow intended to run for the late two-pointer were in Miami uniforms. Spread out the defense, pick your gap. Simple stuff, well executed.

When we say the Rams run defense is bad, this is what we're talking about. Goodness. DeMarco Murray went 91 yards untouched after the delayed hand-off, running a straight line for 20 yards before he needed to make a cut. That was just way too easy. Tashard Choice took the game's first carry, but Murray has taken pretty much everything else. Choice is getting snaps, impeding blitzers, but he's not getting touches. Dez Bryant is getting plenty of red zone looks, unlike last week, but he hasn't hauled in any of them. Bryant had a brutal drop on a short slant in the final minute of the half, a play that should have resulted in a score.

Darren McFadden suffered a foot sprain early against the Chiefs, and Michael Bush is having a nice day in his absence (12 carries, 82 yards). McFadden is still in uniform on the sideline, so this injury apparently isn't a worst-case scenario. The Raiders still haven't put any points on the board, because Kyle Boller has been spectacularly bad. Boller's first pass was picked off, as was his third, and later his tenth. Carson Palmer, it's your turn.

Dexter McCluster, not Jackie Battle, led the Chiefs in carries and rushing yards in the first half, and Le'Ron McClain poached a 1-yard rushing score. No Kansas City back has been all that impressive, but Battle has punished a few tacklers.

Another key injury: Beanie Wells checked out of Sunday's game after rushing for 42 yards on 12 carries. He's suffered a right knee sprain, and we obviously never expect this player to rebound quickly. Bad news here. Alfonso Smith is getting touches for the Cards, and he rushed for a 1-yard TD in the second quarter. LaRod Stephens-Howling caught a 73-yard score early in the third.

And yet another injury: Matthew Stafford reportedly needed ankle and knee maintenance after getting dragged to the turf late in the loss to Atlanta. The initial reports aren't scary, but this is clearly a situation we'll be tracking for a few days.

Yup, another injury: Willis McGahee fractured his hand in the win over the Dolphins. In his absence, Knowshon Moreno and Lance Ball received the carries. And no one ran as well as Tebow.

One more injury update, because why should this blurb be different from any other? Santana Moss joins McGahee in the broken hand club, which is of course terrible news for a weak receiving corps.

Christian Ponder has been entirely competent in the first half against Green Bay, completing eight of 14 throws for 126 yards and a short TD. He connected with Michael Jenkins on an early 72-yarder that nearly went for a score. Donovan McNabb, you are not yet missed. Adrian Peterson had 69 yards on the ground in the first half, plus a 1-yard TD.

OK, I'll take whatever beating I'm due for encouraging you to stick with Philip Rivers this week. If I'm going to swing and miss, at least I'm whiffing on elite players. I'm losing somewhere with Rivers in one of my lineups, so at least you know I'm paying for my overconfidence. Rivers had an unusually poor day, and the match-up obviously didn't help. He missed Vincent Jackson on a deep ball, when V-Jax had a step on the coverage. He also tossed a pair of picks, one of which bounced off his intended receiver. Rivers was particularly bad in the final minute, wasting clock time, completing short throws over the middle, and sailing his final throw out of bounds. Ugly. I'll take abuse on his behalf. I know my role.

I regret almost every moment I spent watching that Seattle-Cleveland game, but we should mention Montario Hardesty's huge workload: 33 carries, 95 yards, two catches for 27. Colt McCoy averaged 5.1 yards per pass attempt and Charlie Whitehurst averaged 3.2. This is what bad football was like in the '30s. Hope you didn't suffer through too much of it.

-updated at 6:20 pm ET

Second Quarter

We're filing this update early, just to give you a heads-up in advance of the late games: Tashard Choice will reportedly start at running back for Dallas, not rookie DeMarco Murray. The usual starter, Felix Jones, is sidelined for 3-4 weeks with a high ankle sprain.

Choice and Murray are still expected to share the workload, so this news doesn't mean you have to take evasive action if you were starting Demarco. It just bumps Choice into the discussion. Neither back has really shown us much to this point in the season; if you're playing either, you're simply trusting the match-up.

Just minutes after I posted the Tim Hightower propaganda below, the 'Skins featured back checked out with a left knee injury. He was carted to the locker room, which of course is never a good sign. Hightower's official status was questionable to return, but the injury seemed potentially severe. Ryan Torain entered in relief, doing nothing of note.

Houston absolutely walloped the Titans on Sunday, behind the unstoppable Arian Foster. Let's hope you weren't facing Foster in any fantasy leagues this week, because that could not have gone well. At the halfway point in the fourth quarter, Arian had already topped 100 yards rushing and 100 receiving, and he'd visited the end zone three times. Monster afternoon. Jake Locker eventually made an appearance in relief of an overwhelmed Matt Hasselbeck (104 yards, TD, two INTs).

Shonn Greene has delivered his best rushing effort of the season in the match-up with San Diego, escaping tackles, running with power. He was dinged in the fourth quarter, suffering a leg injury yet remaining in the game. Joe McKnight could get interesting if Greene's issue is at all serious. Plaxico Burress has three — yup, three — touchdown catches for the Jets, functioning as the red zone weapon we knew he could be.

Tim Tebow had some brutal misfires in the second-half, including an overthrow to Eric Decker on a play that could have gone for a long score. He managed to connect with Demaryius Thomas on a late TD, however (and replay upheld a questionable catch). And as I write this, the Broncos just recovered an onside kick, setting the stage for a possible Tebow-led comeback. Sure. Of course.

I kinda hate all these college-style plays the Panthers are running, the read-option stuff that shouldn't fool a pro defense. When those plays don't pop, they sure look awful ... and yet they seem to work fairly often for Carolina, so these things will continue in spite of my objections. Cam Newton has had his usual great fantasy day, passing for over 250 yards and a score, rushing for 59 with another TD. That's his seventh rushing score of the year, which is of course insane.

It's a small miracle that Matt Ryan was able to re-enter the game against the Lions, after twisting his left foot/ankle badly. One of Ryan's linemen stepped on his foot, and it bent rather unnaturally. But he's back. Bullet dodged.

-updated at 3:55 pm ET

First Quarter

Ryan Torain owners, you've just been Shanahan'd. If this is your first time, welcome to the club. It happens to us all eventually.

Tim Hightower got the start at Carolina, taking his first carry 10 yards for a first-down. On the game's next snap he wiped out a blitzer, enabling a 16-yard completion to Santana Moss. Hightower then rushed right for six yards, then carried again for seven. By the end of the first quarter, he had eight carries for 67 yards. Roy Helu had just one touch, losing a yard. Torain had no carries for nothin'.

The rushing lanes have been so wide for Washington that it's tough to even evaluate Hightower, except to say that he's looking healthy and decisive. Lots of backs would be piling up yards in this one, considering the quality of the opponent. The bottom line here is that Hightower is clearly back atop this hierarchy ... for now.

Matt Forte gave us a strong early candidate for play of the day on this 32-yard touchdown run. The first two yards can be credited to blocking, but the next 30 all belonged to Forte. Impressive vision right there. Forte needed just a half to reach triple-digit yardage. He's getting a bit more expensive each week, Chicago.

If you're wondering why Marshawn Lynch hasn't given you the usual eight carries for 24 yards, it's because he suffered a back injury during warm-ups. Lynch is a no-go at Cleveland, where the Dawsons lead the Hauschkas at halftime, 3-0.

One more note from a dog of a game: This has been a day full of questionable roughing penalties, none sketchier than the flag on Kam Chancellor for sacking Colt McCoy a little too well. I'm all for preserving quarterbacks, but, well ... wow.

Lately, the best offensive plays for the Falcons have been pass interference penalties in the end zone. Roddy White drew two such flags last week, and Tony Gonzalez had a pair on the same drive in Week 7, setting up Matt Ryan's 1-yard plunge. Near the end of the first half, White made a beautiful 18-yard catch in the corner of the end zone, getting two steps on the coverage and snagging the back half of the football. Tough to demonstrate control on a catch like that, but he did it. Nifty play.

Earnest Graham suffered an early non-contact leg injury while attempting to make a cut, after a short toss from Josh Freeman. Graham limped to the locker room and likely won't return. Bad news for a team that's already without LeGarrette Blount. Kregg Lumpkin, the workload belongs to you.

You put a little pressure on Tim Tebow when he's in the pocket and he hits the A button, spinning in place. Bizarre. It's tough to complete passes when you repeatedly turn your back to your receivers. But we knew entering the week that we'd never get a passing clinic from Tebow. When that guy runs the ball, however, he's a blast. He passed for just 24 yards in the first two quarters, but rushed five times for 44.

Santonio Holmes had a brilliant first quarter TD catch negated by a holding penalty, so you might never see the highlight. Just believe me when I tell you it was an exceptional catch — shame you don't get any fantasy points for the effort. Antonio Gates caught a short touchdown for the Chargers in his return to the starting lineup; he might never again be fully healthy, but he clearly remains a tough cover.

Arian Foster is well on his way to an obscene fantasy line, with 190 scrimmage yards at half. He found the end zone on a 78-yard reception late in the second quarter, contributing to a big half for Matt Schaub (240 pass yards, two TDs). Chris Johnson has basically been the anti-Foster, with his first 15 touches yielding only 40 total yards. So much for Tennessee fixing the running game during the bye.

-updated at 2:50 pm ET


It's London Week, gamers, so we'll probably have hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of international visitors to today's edition of Sunday Scene — curious Europeans getting their first taste of American fantasy content. Let's make them feel welcome in comments. If they ask to see your flex position, please show them. We're building bridges today.

If you've simply come here for the usual NFL notes and game-day observations, we'll have those, too. Check back throughout the afternoon. As always, we'll finish the day with an early look at waiver options for Week 8. If you have a sit/start dilemma, please join us at noon ET for Fantasy Football Live, where an affable cast of gurus will answer your questions (and/or further confuse you). The essential post-practice injury notes can be found right here.

This is a brutal bye-week — no Eagles, Pats, Giants, Bills, Bengals, Niners — so your league's final fantasy scores might look a little sloppy. Just go get a win, even if it's an 82-80 mess.


Photos via Getty Images (ticket booth, Hightower) and US Presswire (Shanahan, Felix/Choice, Tebow, Murray)

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