There are many possible outcomes when an NFL quarterback puts the ball in the air, and Philip Rivers basically showed us the full range in Week 9. When he wasn't unforgivably bad, he was outrageously good. Or lucky. Or unlucky. Or absurd. Or ... well, whatever this is.
In an almost indescribable day filled with highlights, low-lights, batted passes and curious interference flags, Rivers managed to finish with 28 standard fantasy points. As of this writing, he's the week's second highest-scoring QB. Rivers completed 26 of 46 throws for 385 yards and four touchdowns. But if you want to give him credit for the interceptions and post-pick return yardage, too, then his day was truly special: 544 yards, six TDs.
Rivers tossed three picks in a game for the first time in his pro career — the first time since his freshman year at NC State, actually — and the Packers defense gained 159 yards on the returns, scoring twice. If a hypothetical quarterback would have finished his day with 159 passing yards and two TDs, he would have delivered 14 fantasy points, outscoring Matt Schaub, Mark Sanchez, Matt Cassel and several other starting QBs.
So Rivers was both good and bad, masterful and tragic. This is hardly a new twist on his year. Sunday's game actually fits perfectly within Rivers' schizophrenic season. He's essentially having a vintage George Blanda AFL campaign, without the kicking stats. Rivers is on pace for 22 touchdown passes and 28 interceptions through eight weeks. He's never thrown more than 15 picks in any prior season.
Various theories have been offered up to explain his poor year-to-date performance — he's either injured or he's distracted, depending on who you ask. It certainly can't help that he never practices with his full receiving corps, as Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd have all been dinged, as have running backs Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews. Gates is clearly not operating at full capacity right now, and Floyd was inactive on Sunday due to a hip issue. If Rivers himself is hurt, I don't really see clear evidence. He's never been a clinic in terms of mechanics, and obviously he hasn't missed time this year (or any other).
The bottom line here is that Rivers is still piling up stats, despite the messy half-season. After Sunday's scattershot effort, he's topped 300 passing yards in five of his eight games. At his current yardage pace, he'd finish with the third-highest passing total in NFL history (4,938). That's enough to win in the fake game, if not in reality. If you feel a need to sell, I'll buy.
• We should perhaps also mention that it's easy to find flaws in any quarterback's game when they oppose Aaron Rodgers. While Rivers was both erratic and useful on Sunday, Rodgers was nearly flawless, again. It's entirely possible that no one has ever played the position at the level he's reached. Rodgers entered the week with a passer-rating of 125.7, a ridiculous number, and he posted a 145.8 against the Chargers. The single-season NFL record is 121.1, established by Peyton Manning in 2004. The rapport that Rodgers has with his receivers at the moment is ... (searches for word that hasn't already been used) ... telepathic? Spooky? Impossible?
Whatever it is, it's not fair. He's placing the ball wherever he wants to, with whatever velocity is required. He threw four touchdown passes on Sunday and only five incompletions. It's not as if his receivers are separating from coverage by a mile, either. Rodgers will back-shoulder you to death and throw darts into incredibly small windows. As Brian Billick put it on Sunday, "Nobody is not open" when Rodgers is directing the offense.
• I suppose Tim Tebow will command the headlines following Denver's win, per his usual. But didn't we already know that he could complete half his throws (10-for-21), connect with the occasional wide-open receiver, produce huge rushing totals (12 carries, 118 yards), and put up huge fantasy numbers?
Of course we did. He was a fantasy asset on Sunday, just like he always is. The only risk entering the week was a benching. When he plays — even when he plays poorly — he delivers for his fantasy owners. The game-plan against the Raiders suited him as well as any could, with friendly throws and plenty of read-option.
For me, the surprise performance for the Broncos in Week 9 belonged to Willis McGahee. That guy had a metal plate and five pins inserted in his broken right hand less than two weeks ago, yet he rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries on Sunday. I won't doubt him again (this season). That's a tough dude. We all knew McGahee's match-up was solid, but few of us saw 28-point potential. And whose breakaway speed did McGahee borrow? Where did this nonsense come from? Tip of the fantasy cap, Willis. Wish I owned him somewhere. Of course it helps that a defense has to account for the possibility that his quarterback will run on every snap.
See, it all comes back to Tebow, always.
• While they weren't quite as useful as the Tebow-McGahee combo in Week 9, neither Michael Bush nor Carson Palmer disappointed fantasy owners. Bush finished with 129 scrimmage yards on 21 touches, inspiring me to make a dynasty league trade offer for him. (Buying high, I realize. But when that guy has a full-time gig, I'll be interested). Palmer tossed another three interceptions, but he also delivered 332 passing yards and three scores. His 18-yarder to Jacoby Ford in the third quarter required a terrific throw and an impressive toe-tap. Ford had an unexpectedly tremendous day for Oakland, catching five balls for 105 yards. Denarius Moore added four for 61 and Darrius Heyward-Bey had ... well, nothin'. One target, no catches. We apparently need to re-learn this receiving corps.
• Viewers caught a glimpse of the bad, reckless Eli Manning on Sunday, as well as the good. He lobbed an ugly pass into the end zone late in the third quarter, toward Mario Manningham, but picked easily by Kyle Arrington. That turnover seemed to flip momentum, as Tom Brady led a seven-play, 80-yard scoring drive. But Eli ultimately directed a game-winning series, finding tight end Jake Ballard for a 1-yard score with 0:15 remaining. New York faced a brutal injury situation in Week 9 — no Hakeem Nicks, no Ahmad Bradshaw — so this was no ordinary road win (and that was evident in the post-game celebration).
"I knew we would win," said Brandon Jacobs, who is a total lying liar. Jacobs finished with 72 yards and a score on 18 carries, plus four catches for 28. You had no right to expect more.
• Chris Johnson's season has been so miserable that his owners actually seem to be giddy over his 110-yard, zero-touchdown effort in Week 9. He certainly showed signs of life with two early 20-yard gains, and he forced Javon Ringer back into a supporting role, at least for a week. Johnson gets Carolina next week, a match-up in which an elite runner should dominate. You basically have to start CJ there and hope for a spark.
Nate Washington suffered a hip injury of as-yet-unknown severity in Tennessee's loss, which helps explain the unimpressive stat line (3-28-0). Damian Williams had a nice enough day, and he made a difficult back-of-end-zone catch for a first half score. Lavelle Hawkins had the best day of his four-year pro career, catching five passes for 63 yards and a TD.
• Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton impressed again, delivering his first three-TD game as a pro. He went 22-for-39 for 217 yards against a tough road opponent, generally looking like something more than a rookie. He connected with the hyper-talented AJ Green seven times for 83 yards, and threw touchdown passes to Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell and tight end Colin Cochart. I'll remind you that the Bengals' fantasy playoff schedule is outstanding (at STL, vs. Ari), so keep Dalton in your plans, at least as a reserve with potential.
• Larry Fitzgerald overcame the plague that is John Skelton (back-to-back safeties!), catching four passes for 43 yards and a late touchdown. When Kevin Kolb is healthy, he needs to be that team's quarterback, in spite of the flaws. Beanie Wells had a brutal day for Arizona, even though the match-up was friendly (10 carries, 20 yards). The knee remains an issue, plus he suffered a neck stinger. Also, this: Patrick Peterson is a dangerous man. The Cards deserved a win of that sor; they've lost enough tight games this year.
• Steven Jackson was a no-touchdown workhorse in the loss at Arizona (30 touches, 142 yards), which is kinda the story of his career, 2007-to-present. Sam Bradford wasn't great, but he was at least ambulatory. Slot receiver Greg Salas is done for the season after breaking his left fibula, so that's yet another blow to the Rams. Salas had emerged as a useful PPR option; he caught seven passes for 59 yards before exiting on Sunday. Boise State rookie Austin Pettis figures to fill Salas' role, which of course was originally Danny Amendola's role.
• If you're an Antonio Brown owner who's now losing because Mike Wallace stole your TD, let's hear about it in comments. You're allowed to rage just a little. Brown still finished with 109 yards on five catches, but he clearly could have had another 25 yards and six points. I'd like to see Wallace disciplined here somehow, but I suppose that's not gonna happen.
• Indianapolis took a commanding lead in the Andrew Luck derby on Sunday, so I guess there's an argument to be made for the Colts as the week's big winners. Congrats on your loss, Indy. Well earned. And yeah, that's really the definition of sports hell, rooting for draft position. Sorry about this predicament.
Early waiver adds for Week 10...
QB Carson Palmer at SD (29 percent owned)
QB Christian Ponder at GB (16 percent)
QB Matt Cassel vs. Den (46 percent)
RB Roy Helu at Mia (28 percent)
RB LaDainian Tomlinson vs. NE (53 percent)
RB Joe McKnight vs. NE (4 percent)
RB Jacquizz Rodgers vs. NO (2 percent)
WR Laurent Robinson vs. Buf (10 percent)
WR Jacoby Ford at SD (18 percent)
WR Jonathan Baldwin vs. Den (38 percent)
WR David Nelson at Dal (39 percent)
WR Damian Williams at Car (2 percent)
WR Denarius Moore at SD (28 percent)
WR Austin Pettis at CLE (0 percent)
TE Jake Ballard at SF (32 percent)
-posted at 11:25 pm ET
• Just so there's no doubt: DeMarco Murray is a serious talent, a legit starting-quality NFL back likely to finish the season as a must-start fantasy commodity. Whenever Felix Jones returns, there's no reason for him to have more than a supporting role. Of course I don't write the game-plans for Dallas, but I can't imagine they'd want to reduce the rookie's role.
Murray was beast against the Seahawks on Sunday, overcoming a difficult match-up. Seattle's defense entered the week allowing just 3.2 yards per carry, but Murray gained 6.3. He carried 22 times for 139 yards and hauled in four passes for 47. Along the way, DeMarco gave us highlight runs like this, as well as the 22-yarder linked below. Murray made terrific decisions on Sunday, demonstrated excellent vision, speed, power ... the whole package, basically.
Dallas's rest-of-season schedule seems running back-friendly — vs. Buf, at Was, vs. Mia, at Ari, vs. NYG, at TB, vs. Phi — so keep Murray active, enjoy the numbers.
• Ben Tate and Arian Foster each topped 100 yards in Houston's home win over Cleveland, and both backs found the end zone. You'll note that Tate's production wasn't limited to garbage time, as he scored the game's first touchdown. Tate has received nine carries or more in three of the Texans' last four games and he's reached triple-digit yardage twice. Keep him in your flex plans, even when Arian Foster is at full strength. That team can run against any opponent.
• Well, so much for Kansas City's mid-season surge. The Chiefs completely flatlined at Miami, losing by 28 points to a previously winless opponent. Yikes. Matt Cassel gave us an empty 253 yards in the lopsided loss. My guy Jonathan Baldwin saw a few targets in the end zone, but couldn't catch 'em. On one of the touchdown chances, Matt Cassel lobbed a back-shoulder throw into double coverage, but the rookie clearly wasn't ready to improvise as the throw sailed behind him. Baldwin's next TD opportunity arrived in the fourth quarter, on an inside-breaking route where the DB swatted the throw to the ground. I don't advise you to give up on Baldwin yet, despite this week's dud. Maybe read a scouting report on the rookie before dropping him.
• Daniel Thomas was active for the Dolphins on Sunday, but Reggie Bush did all the heavy lifting again. Reggie carried 13 times for 92 yards and a touchdown, adding three catches for 50. That's just a solid day ... and you should now toss him on the trade block, before he breaks and/or Thomas reclaims his share of the carries. As impressive as Bush has been recently, he's still tied to an offense that's only reached 20 points twice this season. (And yeah, I realize that Matt Moore is currently the week's highest scoring fantasy QB, so I'm picking an odd time to criticize the Dolphins. It's just business, that's all. Nothing personal).
• Fred Jackson owners had an injury scare in the second half of the Jets-Bills game, as the centerpiece of Buffalo's offense appeared to be shaken up following a fumble. But we've dodged a bullet, it appears. Jackson returned to the game, finishing with 21 touches and 120 total yards.
• If you started Roy Helu in a PPR league in Week 9, feel free to take a (very) premature victory lap in comments. Helu hauled in a ridiculous 14 passes against the Niners, gaining 105 yards through the air and another 41 yards on the ground. He didn't cross the goal line, because no running back ever does against San Francisco's defense. If Helu happens to be on the wire in your league, he's an obvious claim, worth a pile of FAAB dollars. He's just a much livelier ball-carrier than Ryan Torain, and a solid fit for that (awful) offense.
• Shonn Greene deserved to finish with a bigger Week 9 fantasy line, as he ran much better than the final numbers suggest — and the final numbers really weren't terrible (19 carries, 76 yards). Unfortunately, Greene suffered a late head injury — hopefully not a concussion, but that's the fear — and LaDainian Tomlinson and John Conner each poached 1-yard TDs. If Greene is forced to miss time, clearly LT and Joe McKnight would benefit.
• David Nelson caught a garbage-time TD against the Jets, saving both his fantasy day and Ryan Fitzpatrick's. He was targeted twice at the goal line before the score, too. At 6-foot-5, he's a chain-mover and an appealing red zone target. Keep him on the radar.
• Tarvaris Jackson regressed all the way back to 2007 on Sunday, getting picked off three times in 30 attempts. The final INT seemed like a simultaneous-possession situation where Doug Baldwin should have been awarded the catch, but whatever. Tarvaris was bad. Multiple under-thrown passes, ugly throws. Marshawn Lynch was unexpectedly useful, rushing for 135 yards, including a 4-yard score. I wouldn't have started that guy anywhere this week, except as an absolute emergency play. Congrats if you used him. The Dallas defense has now been abused by running backs in consecutive weeks, so we shouldn't consider them such a tricky match-up going forward.
• Santonio Holmes gave us a touchdown on Sunday, but had an otherwise quiet day in the box score (three catches, 29 yards). He provided approximately a mile in non-fantasy yardage, however, thanks to multiple pass interference flags. I really need a league that awards, say, half-a-point per 10 yards of PI.
• Moose Johnston called Leonard Hankerson's obvious end zone push-off a "veteran-type move," which I suppose it was. But it also seemed like an illegal-type move. Shades of Michael Irvin right there.
• Joshua Cribbs had this week's Browns touchdown. Hope you had him in the pool.
• Darren Sproles owners, Robert Meachem cost you a late touchdown. An unnecessary hold negated what would have been Sproles' second TD. But I suppose you shouldn't be too greedy, since you've already turned a huge profit on Darren.
-posted at 5:20 pm ET
• The first touchdown catch of Julio Jones' NFL career (pictured right) was as difficult as any you'll see all season. Just look at this thing. It was originally ruled incomplete on the field, presumably because no one believed the grab was even possible. Three players surrounding him, and one was shielding his view of the ball. Just ... well, whoa.
The rookie's second career TD catch wasn't so bad, either. He took a quick slant 80 yards for a score, outracing the Colts secondary to the end zone. Welcome back to the circle of trust, Julio.
• In DeMarco Murray's breakout 253-yard game two weeks ago, it was actually tough to get a complete scouting read, because the running lanes were ridiculously wide. But he's put some impressive runs on tape since that effort. His 22-yard carry at the 11:41 mark in the second quarter against the Seahawks was absolutely of the highest quality. The run was designed to go left, but Murray cut it back quickly, accelerated, shook would-be tacklers and delivered a pair of stiff-arms. Not too shabby. It's tough to imagine that Murray won't still get most of the early down work when Felix Jones returns.
• Matt Schaub has rushed for touchdowns in back-to-back weeks, probably for the first time since his Pop Warner days (definitely for the first time in his pro career). Schaub's 2-yard TD against the Browns was a designed draw on third down. Ben Tate poached an earlier rushing score with a brilliant 27-yard run. Tate had four carries for 66 yards in the first half, while Arian Foster has 10 for 64 and a TD. The blocking on Tate's touchdown was basically a clinic; Jacoby Jones buried Joe Haden downfield, clearing a path.
• It's not possible to throw the end zone fade route any better than Drew Brees did on this beautiful 3-yarder to Lance Moore. That pair made the play look easy, but that's hardly a layup. There are a few quarterbacks starting today who can't complete that throw, except by accident.
• The Jets' opening drive was plenty impressive, until the final play. New York ran 15 plays, consuming 10 minutes of clock time, marching 87 yards ... and then Mark Sanchez made a brutal decision, targeting a well-covered Dustin Keller over the middle. Easy pick for Jairus Byrd. At half, the Bills and Jets had combined for more turnovers (four) than points (three).
• Washington needed a 59-yard field goal from Graham Gano to avoid a sixth consecutive scoreless quarter. Nothing has really gone well for the 'Skins, but Gano's kick established a new franchise record for distance. So that's something. Roy Helu leads the team in both rushing and receiving at half, carrying nine times for 40 yards and catching six balls for 41. Helu got the start on Sunday ahead of Ryan Torain, who can be safely dropped in most leagues.
• In the first quarter at Houston, Chris Ogbonnaya played like an embedded double-agent, perhaps still employed by the Texans. He carried four times for just five yards and fumbled on his first touch. Not exactly the way to seize an opportunity. But it's still early. There are going to be a few garbage-time stats available in Houston.
• Dez Bryant caught four passes for 76 yards in the first half for the Cowboys, but he lost a fumble just inches from the goal line when he was leveled by Seattle corner Richard Sherman. Great hit. Makes my teeth hurt to watch it. Jason Garrett threw the challenge flag on the play, but Dez knew what was up...
Never a doubt.
Important injury note from Dallas: Miles Austin has another hamstring issue, and his return seems unlikely. Give Laurent Robinson some consideration this week if he's available.
• Matt Moore tossed a pair of first-half touchdowns for Miami, both to tight end Anthony Fasano. If bye-week circumstances forced you to start Fasano this week, congrats. This is like a lottery win.
• Darren Sproles appears to move at a different speed, relative to every other player in the league. He's just an unfair weapon for New Orleans. Sproles has 77 scrimmage yards at half, with a 21-yard TD catch included. LeGarrette Blount is running hard in his return from injury, carrying tacklers for extra yards. But if the Bucs can't keep the game close, Blount won't have much of a role. He's not an asset in the passing game.
• Malcolm Floyd and Ryan Mathews are both reportedly inactive this week. Take evasive action. Mike Tolbert should receive all the work he can handle in Week 9, at home against the Pack. Elsewhere, Sam Bradford is active, but Kevin Kolb is not.
-posted at 2:50 pm ET
We turned back the clocks an hour last night, gamers, as daylight savings time ended. All your injured players have had an extra 60 minutes to recover. Let's hope the bonus rest was enough. I can pretty much guarantee that li'l Oakland fan pictured above is stoked about the return of Sea Bass.
If you need last-minute fantasy advice this week, we've got you covered. You can find the Yahoo! position ranks right here (updated Saturday afternoon), a stunningly comprehensive injury sweep here, and a list of a dozen potential fantasy adds here. And if that's not enough content for you, then please join us for Fantasy Football Live at noon ET. We'll have the usual injury updates, sit/start recommendations and vigorous debate, plus 18 callers from New Jersey. Not sure how those guys always seem to get through, but they do.
We're now entering the second-half of the fantasy season, you'll note, and there's only one more round of byes after Week 9. Roster depth gets a bit less important each day. When the final weeks arrive you'll want the best possible starting lineup, with no wasted resources. So think about some trade possibilities today, while enjoying your preferred game-day beverage. And please check back with Sunday Scene for in-game observations and fantasy spin.
Now let's all go get a victory, then talk smack to a bunch of anonymous online creeps in comments...
Photos via AP Images (Jones) and US Presswire (DeMarco, Helu, Raiders fan)