It had to happen. Every fantasy football season, a weekend comes along that detonates everything. Days like Sunday are the reason why the team that goes 10-0 in your league doesn't always win it all, and why squads that have muddled through most of the regular season sometimes wreck everything by defying odds and winning a fantasy championship. As Jim Mora Sr. once said, "You think you know, but you don't know and you never will."
Donovan McNabb? Out for the season with a torn right ACL. Marques Colston? Carted off the Superdome field with what looked like an ankle injury; he didn't return. Brett Favre? Bashed in the elbow and wrist, came out of his team's embarrassing home loss to New England, and didn't return. Kevin Jones? Left the first quarter of Detroit's game in Arizona with an apparent sprained ankle, was carted from the sideline to the locker room, and couldn't come back. LaMont Jordan? Torn MCL, out for the year. DeShaun Foster? Hyperextended his elbow on the third play of the second half, and had to leave.
McNabb, Colston, Favre, Kevin Jones … those are names that are on many a first-place fantasy team – Jordan and Foster? Well, maybe not so much. Suddenly, there'll be a feeding frenzy on guys like Justin Fargas, DeAngelo Williams, Devery Henderson, and maybe, dare I say, Arlen Harris? Jeff Garcia? Aaron Bleepin' Rodgers? Brutal – Though I do have to say that if Colston misses time, I can probably expect an abatement of Colston-isn't-a-tight-end complaint emails. Let's take a look at the other big stories of Week 11:
Chad Johnson is officially back. He scored on a 41-yard bomb from Carson Palmer in the first quarter, a 60-yard broken-play bomb in the fourth quarter, and another four-yarder soon thereafter. That's five scores and 450 yards receiving in the last two games for Seven-11 – I've always preferred that moniker to the ill-translated "Ocho Cinco." Johnson did look as though he strained a hammy on his second score, but the fact that he was still out there late indicates he's just fine.
The first quarter of the Indianapolis/Dallas game was the hardest-hitting, nastiest bit of NFL football I've seen all season. Peyton Manning got absolutely smoked by Demarcus Ware and fumbled, but the Colts recovered. The very next play, Ben Utecht got knocked out of the game by Roy Williams. Three plays later, Jeremiah Ratliff hammered Manning and forced another fumble, which the Cowboys grabbed. On a subsequent possession, Kelvin Hayden hit Terrence Newman so hard on a punt return, Newman was still woozy when Reggie Wayne ran by him for a late-first-half TD. Man. There were four turnovers in the first quarter, two per team. Brutal stuff.
And boy, Tony Dungy probably should've challenged that Kevin Burnett interception for a touchdown, huh? In the end, it's probably a good thing for Indy they lost. This is not a 16-0 team; they don't need that added pressure.
The esteemed producer of the Boston radio station on which I appear each Sunday, Andrew Brooks, made a point of speaking to me after my a.m. segment. He wanted a little last-minute advice for his fantasy squad. He plays in a league with a flex position, and couldn't decide between Lee Evans and Reggie Bush. If you're a regular reader, you know I don't really rank flex players, but rather stick to positional ratings. With the Houston defense improving, and Bush scoring from scrimmage last week, I told Drew he should start Bush. Doh. Sorry, man. Evans broke the record for most yards receiving accumulated in one quarter – he did it in the first; for the day, he scored on twin 83-yard touchdown receptions, and logged 265 yards. For his part, Bush had 13 carries for 51 yards, and eight catches for 58 yards. Which, um, isn't as good.
The Seahawks got back one half of their Injury Duo on Sunday: Shaun Alexander essentially played a full game, and didn't look limited. Well, okay, he looked limited, but by a general malaise likely associated with his two-month layoff, not by a broken tootsie. Alexander ended the first half of Seattle's loss to San Francisco with nine carries for 11 yards, and ended the game with 17 carries for 37 yards. Meanwhile, Matt Hasselbeck's gimpy knee wasn't strong enough to play; he was listed as Seattle's third emergency quarterback.
Chester Taylor killed the Vikings with a big fumble that Renaldo Hill recovered and returned for a massive touchdown – The Miami defense got a second score when Jason Taylor returned an interception all the way. However, Taylor also scored the ultimate garbage-time touchdown, with his team losing 24-13 from the Miami one-yard-line with :01 left in the game. It was the Chesternator's second score of the day which, combined with his 80 yards rushing, likely won a lot of fantasy games.
Also in Miami, the Dolphins had minus-13 yards rushing in the first half, and minus-three yards rushing for the entire game. Ronnie Brown managed two yards on 12 carries. Nice. Kevin Williams and Pat Williams are officially the best defensive tackles in football.
Tom Brady needs to get himself traded to the NFC North. His last decent game, a month ago, came in Minnesota, when he exploded for four passing touchdowns. He followed that effort up with two puke-fests against Indy and the Jets, but went out onto the Globally-Warmed Tundra of Lambeau Field and tossed another four scores. The good news for Brady owners is the Pats' next two games are against more NFC North squads. The bad news is next week's foe is Chicago. By the way, how about that near-TD by Mike Vrabel (which would've given Brady a career-high five)? Man, that guy's a linebacker? Unbelievable effort.
Corey Dillon is just heartbreakingly sluggish. For the day in Green Bay, he slow-motion-carried it 12 times for 31 yards. He'll still hit you, and he scored a one-yarder, so he's clearly the red-zone guy, and thus is as valuable as, if not more valuable than, Laurence Maroney (19 carries, 82 yards and a receiving TD). But the end is nigh for Corey.
Ho hum, Larry Johnson, 31 carries, 154 yards, two short rushing scores. On the Chiefs' first drive, Johnson carried it nine times (out of 11 plays) for 53 yards.
Speaking of dominant rushing performances, how about that Thomas Jones? Last week, when Larry Beil asked me on Yahoo!'s SportStream what running back I'd target in a fantasy trade, I said Jones. He's already had an underrated season, and in your fantasy playoffs, he'll face the Rams, Bucs and Lions. This week, Jones touched the ball eight times on Chicago's first nine offensive plays, then carried it on the first seven plays of the second half, and ended the day with 23 totes for 121 yards. Sure, Cedric Benson carried it 10 times for 51 yards, but I'm not worried for T.J.
I've got a dilemma; maybe you can help me. I can't decide which quarterback has best earned the nickname "Mr. Checkdown." Is it Chad Pennington, who squirms and squirts at the offensive line like Peyton Manning these days, but 98 percent of the time simply can't bring himself to throw the ball downfield. The Jets should've led at the half on Sunday, but Pennington threw a bad interception to Brian Urlacher in the end zone, and after that seemed to dump it off endlessly. Or should Brad Johnson be "Mr. Checkdown?" He threw about 300 passes to Travis Taylor approximately three inches from the line of scrimmage, which led to Taylor's career-high for receptions (nine), but despite throwing 44 times, Johnson managed just one passing gain for more than 20 yards before a garbage series. Each guy is talented, but each is extremely frustrating to watch.
Frank Gore was great again on Sunday, rushing for a franchise-record 212 yards on 24 carries, but boy, he and Joe Nedney did their best to mess up that win over the Seahawks at the end, didn't they? One play after the Niners made a dramatic stop of Alexander with a 20-14 lead, Gore was hit by Lofa Tatupu and lost a fumble to Grant Wistrom. Fortunately for San Francisco, on the next play, Seneca Wallace threw a pick to Walt Harris. Then, on the subsequent drive, Nedney blew a 27-yard field goal wide right. But Wallace had no magic left, and tossed his third pick to end the game. Can you believe the Niners are 5-5, and just one game back of 6-4 Seattle, tiebreaker in hand?
I rag on Pacman Jones a lot, but man, that was some punt return, huh?
A few readers hazed me for claiming last week that Michael Jenkins is now every bit the red-zone threat Alge Crumpler is. This week I say: see? Jenkins scored again, a 13-yarder, which is his fifth touchdown of the season. Crumpler, meanwhile, was clearly limited by his sore ankle, and caught two balls for 16 yards.
Mark Clayton owners continue to be thrilled by Brian Billick's willingness to throw the ball downfield. Clayton has taken over from Derrick Mason as the WR1 in Baltimore, and should be started every week. He caught five balls for 89 yards (Mason had three for 28).
Coming into Sunday's game, Jamal Lewis had scored twice all year. Against the decimated Atlanta D, he scored three times on Sunday. Eesh. It wasn't as though Lewis looked all that great; he's still hesitant, still tippy-toeing too often, but after a 58-yard punt return by B.J. Sams (who had 212 yards' worth of returns Sunday), Lewis pounded it in, and also managed TD runs of 16 and five yards. It was the first time in 35 games Lewis scored multiple TDs.
Some other kooky numbers from Sunday: When Tim Dwight took an end-around 28 yards on the Jets' first drive, it was their longest run of the season … If Cleveland had held on against Pittsburgh, it would've marked their first back-to-back wins since 2003 (p.s. - they didn't) … The St. Louis Rams, who've lost five in a row, had 38 total yards at the half; it was also the first time they were shut out since 1998 … The Packers had five pass completions and punted six times in first half … The Colts went 155 snaps without getting a play from scrimmage longer than 25 yards until Manning connected with Marvin Harrison late. On a different play, Harrison lost a fumble for the first time in 226 receptions … The Bears had minus-one yards passing with 4:24 left in third quarter.
Jason Campbell's first career start garnered mixed reviews. He has a massive arm, but, hmm, what's the polite way to put this? He couldn't hit the broad side of Delta Burke. His stats: 19-for-34 for 196 yards and two scores. Wide receivers only caught seven of his throws.
Jason Wright started in place of injured Reuben Droughns. Wright had some early success, and wound up with 74 yards on 18 carries. Rookie Jerome Harrison carried it only four times for five yards. By the way, Braylon Edwards must've set some kind of record or something: he barely missed catching Hail Mary passes at the end of the first half and the end of the game. All told, Edwards was probably about an inch, combined, from two scores.
Just when we thought the Raiders had boosted Randal Williams to their TE1 spot, Courtney Anderson caught Oakland's only touchdown of the day. – Williams did lasso 41 yards' worth of receptions. Incidentally, Randy Moss? Zero catches, three targets. He also gave what can only be termed a desultory effort in the end zone when Aaron Brooks tried to toss him the winning touchdown with only a minute left. Jarrad Page picked off the pass, and Oakland lost. Again. Gee, you think the losing Randy's been complaining about has anything to do with Randy himself?
Ben Roethlisberger was, by and large, dreadful in Cleveland. For the day, he went 25-for-44 for 272 yards, two scores and three picks – To be fair, two of the interceptions were deflected. But when push came to shove, Big Ben made a couple of plays only he makes: scrambly, silly throws with defensive linemen hanging off him. The game-winner, a four-yard flick to Willie Parker, was improvisational brilliance. By the way, anyone still hanging onto thoughts that Fast Willie needs Jerome Bettis, Parker's two scores Sunday gave him 12 in 11 games, and at least a TD in four straight.
Doug Gabriel owners, it may be time to give up. At the very least, it's time to get the ex-Raider out of your lineup. Since losing a costly fumble against the Jets last week, Gabriel has exactly zero catches, and didn't see the field in Green Bay. Oh, well, I guess he saw the field; I mean, he was standing with his uniform on, right there on the New England sideline. But one imagines that it'll be a cold day in Foxborough before D.G. lights it up again for the Pats.
Albert Haynesworth was back from his cha-cha-induced siesta for the first time, made a single tackle, deflected a pass, and stomped no one. See that? Anger management works. Thanks, Adam Sandler.
Drew Brees became just the ninth quarterback in league history to exceed 500 passing yards in a game, which is great, but the two interceptions he threw in the end zone killed the Saints.
Just because I feel I should say something about the Arizona/Detroit debacle: Bryant Johnson was huge in the first half, leading the team by catching 57 yards' worth of passes and scoring on a two-yarder. Larry Fitzgerald, meanwhile, only had five targets and two catches, so it's safe to assume his hammy is limiting him. And remember, Lions fans: Arlen Harris.
To start second half, the Jets tried a surprise onsides kick, of the ilk Andy Reid used to favor when the Eagles were up-and-coming. It was the first strategy play of the Eric Mangini Administration that I think you could openly question, but then again, it's one of those deals where if it works, it's genius. Anyway, the real reason I mention this play? Why, the extremely alert Bear who recovered the kick, thereby giving Chicago fantastic field position in a 0-0 game, was none other than my doppelganger, Chris Harris. Rock on, brutha!
Let's bring this thing full circle, back to Jim Mora Sr. Nothing like throwing your kid under the bus, huh, Mr. "Playoffs?" During his radio gig last week, Mora-the-elder flat-out referred to Michael Vick as a "coach-killer." Meow. First of all, I don't think it's true; Vick didn't play great Sunday, but the Falcons continue to have the most stone-handed receivers in football – did someone actually believe Ashley Lelie would improve the team in this area? – and Vick rushed for another 54 yards without turning the ball over. Second of all, Jimbo, saying Vick's a coach-killer makes it sound like you've got some kind of inside information, like maybe your son told you that's the way he feels. How's Vick supposed to react to such a thing? Coach and player will all say the right things, but you can bet Jim Mora Jr. is typing "Daddy Muzzle" into Yahoo! Shopping as we speak.