Carson Palmer couldn't lead his Cincinnati squad back to victory on Sunday, but his 72 passing yards on the team's final drive against Indianapolis was just what I needed to earn a crucial one-point win in my most important fantasy league. There is no doubt the Colts/Bengals game played a major role in a lot of fantasy wins and losses in Week 11. The teams combined for 82 points and more than 900 yards of offense.
In total, seven teams scored 30 or more points on Sunday. With scoreboards lighting up like Christmas trees, here's what caught my attention:
For many, the big news of Week 11 was Carnell Williams' slump-breaking 116-yard rushing performance that included a nine-yard TD run. As a Williams owner, I was happy to see him end his streak of four consecutive games with less than 30 rushing yards. But I'm not ready to completely green-light Williams going forward. Cadillac looked good, not great, against an Atlanta defense that has allowed five 100-yard rushers this season. Last week in this column, I mentioned that Williams was a good play in Week 11 as the Falcons had just finished allowing Samkon Gado three TDs and 100-plus yards. Detroit's Kevin Jones gets to face Atlanta in Week 12. Jones had just 29 rushing yards on Sunday, but he found pay dirt on a spirited goal line run. I'd be more inclined to start Jones next Sunday against the Falcons than I would to start Williams versus the vaunted Chicago defense.
I guess it's all or nothing for Joey Galloway. The receiver came into Sunday having produced at least 87 receiving yards and/or a TD in every game save a Week 2 loss to Buffalo in which he didn't record a single catch. Galloway was shutout for the second time in Week 11, failing to catch any of QB Chris Simms' five passes thrown his way. Fellow WR Michael Clayton failed to capitalize on Galloway's rare off day, catching just three balls for 48 yards – he saw just three passes from the arm of Simms.
I had predicted very bad things for Michael Vick against Tampa Bay, and I couldn't have been more wrong. Vick looked great in all facets of the game on Sunday, completing 21-of-38 passes for 306 yards and two TDs. The 38 attempts was easily Vick's highest total this season, and he has now thrown at least 30 times in three straight games after not reaching that total in any of his first six contests. Vick clearly appears to be evolving as a passer, and he looked good both throwing on the run and in the pocket against the Buccaneers. That said, if you are hoping to ride Vick to a fantasy championship, you might want to have a backup plan in place. Consider Vick's final three games: at Chicago, at Tampa Bay and home to Carolina. That's a pretty tough road to hoe.
Julius Jones was stuffed three times from the one-yard line in Week 11. He also lost a fumble. Other than that, he had a solid game, rushing 21 times for 92 yards. But Marion Barber ran for two TDs among his 15 carries, making it clear that the platoon is on in Dallas. This looks every bit like the Ronnie Brown/ Ricky Williams situation in Miami. For fantasy owners, it's going to be really hard to gauge when to plug Jones or Barber into the active lineup. Jones started against Detroit and garnered a slight majority of carries. He has the edge in this platoon, but not by much. My guess is that if Jones continues to run well, and doesn't make mistakes, he'll slowly start to distance himself from Barber.
Detroit's Roy Williams was scoreless in his encore performance after scoring three times in Week 10. But it wasn't for lack of trying that kept Williams out of the end zone. The receiver was thrown to 10 times, catching five balls for 72 yards. Joey Harrington connected with Williams on a 30-yard pass in a second quarter that left Williams just two yards short of the end zone. Kevin Jones followed that play with the two-yard TD run. That turned out to be the Lions' only possession in the red zone.
If you are an owner relying on Drew Bledsoe, you should be a little concerned right now. The Cowboys' QB had just 110 passing yards and failed to throw a TD pass against Detroit. It was the third time in his past four games that he's finished below the 200-yard mark, and he has one TD pass or less in five straight games. More importantly, Bledsoe just didn't look good on Sunday. He never looked set in the pocket, and his passes tended to fall short of the intended target. And forget about it if Bledsoe is ever forced to throw the ball while on the move. He's as statuesque as it gets behind center. The Lions sacked Bledsoe just once, so this was a game that Bledsoe should have been able to settle into the pocket and find a rhythm.
For the fifth consecutive week, Reuben Droughns treated fantasy owners right. He was second to Larry Johnson among rushers on Sunday with 166 yards on 30 carries, and he added a TD. In his past five games, he's averaged 138 yards from scrimmage and has scored two TDs. Essentially, he is the Cleveland offense. He's a bruising, strong back that can take a pounding, and he's carried the ball 15-plus times in nine consecutive games. At this point, you'd really have to come up with a good excuse not to start him.
Carolina's undoing could end up being its over-reliance on Steve Smith in the passing game, but Smith's fantasy owners certainly hope the trend continues. Smith was thrown to a ridiculous 22 times on Sunday, catching 14 passes for 169 yards. Still, Chicago managed to keep Carolina, and Smith, out of the end zone.
Chicago's Muhsin Muhammad got a crack at his former team, the Carolina Panthers, on Sunday. He managed to score the game's first TD, but his day – six catches, 49 yards – could have been so much better had he not dropped several other passes, including another potential TD that he pulled his arms back from in the end zone out of fear of getting hit by an oncoming defender. All in all, Muhammad was targeted 12 times.
Carolina had absolutely no success running the ball against Chicago, and the team basically abandoned the run all together after halftime, rushing just five times in the final two quarters. Once the team resigned itself to the pass, DeShaun Foster became the primary fixture in the backfield because of his pass-catching skills. Stephen Davis came into the game with 12 TDs, but he was held scoreless, finishing with six yards on four carries. Davis shouldn't feel bad, though. Only Kevin Jones and Aaron Brooks have crossed the goal line via the ground against a Bears defense that is tops in fantasy at shutting down opposing running backs.
Brian Billick might still protest that Jamal Lewis is his guy, but the stats in Week 11 tell a story that Chester Taylor finally was granted equal standing with Lewis. In fact, Taylor carried 19 times to Lewis' 13 in the Ravens' overtime victory against Pittsburgh. Neither back was particularly effective, but Taylor (59 rushing yards) was much more so than Lewis (28 yards). Taylor is a good pickup in leagues where he can still be had on the waiver wire. Lewis is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry and has not scored a TD in his past six games. Taylor is averaging 4.8 yards per carry during the same time frame. Taylor should start to see his carries push double figures consistently from here on out.
Randy Moss had a TD called back when he was called for pass interference for pushing off. The replay showed he did give the defender a slight nudge, but receivers get away with that degree of an infraction all the time. In fact, I saw at least two plays on Sunday where the push off by the receiver in the end zone was more egregious, but the receiver was not flagged. Moss tends to draw a little closer scrutiny than most. Unfortunately for his fantasy owners, that extra attention from the referees cost them six points.
Drew Bennett was targeted eight times – six catches, 55 yards – in his first game back from a broken thumb. Now that he has returned and played a central role in his team's passing game on Sunday, fantasy owners will want to have him at the ready for active duty in the next few weeks. Bennett has soft home dates on the schedule next week (San Francisco) and in Week 14 (Houston).
It should be pointed out that Jacksonville rookie Matt Jones has scored in four of the past five games, including Sunday. Ernest Wilford also scored in Week 11, giving him three TDs in his past four games despite dealing with a sore shoulder since Week 9. Both have factored heavily into Byron Leftwich's emergence as a quality fantasy quarterback. Leftwich, who had three TD passes on Sunday, has at least 200 yards and a TD pass in four straight games. And with a two-yard TD run, the Jags' QB also has two ground TDs in the past three weeks.
I've been speculating for weeks that J.J. Arrington would ultimately unseat Marcel Shipp in the Arizona backfield. Sure enough, Arrington loosened Shipp's hold on the top job on Sunday, rushing 11 times for 45 yards and a rare Arizona rushing TD. It remains to be seen whether this performance means that Arrington will be on the field before Shipp next week, but things are certainly trending towards Shipp taking a clear backseat role here soon.
Arizona figured that St. Louis was going to have success throwing the ball regardless, so the team focused all its resources on stuffing Steven Jackson in the running game. Mission accomplished, as Jackson managed six yards on 12 carries. Sure enough, St. Louis QBs Marc Bulger (left in the third quarter with a shoulder injury) and Jamie Martin combined for 300-plus yards and three TDs, but Arizona matched the Rams in the passing game and managed to move the ball on the ground enough to help secure a surprising road win against the Rams.
Plaxico Burress made a nice juke on his defender to score from 61 yards out in the fourth quarter on Sunday. He's still Eli Manning's go-to guy. But Amani Toomer continues to throw his name into the mix. Toomer was targeted 10 times on Sunday, catching six passes for 56 yards and a TD. It was the fourth time he's found pay dirt in his past seven games. He was shutout of the end zone the entire '04 season, but has become a comfortable option for Manning in the red zone this year. In fact, Brandon Jacobs was stuffed at one-yard line on three straight plays in the second quarter. Faced with a fourth-and-goal, Manning used play action and threw to Toomer in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Not only does Toomer warrant a fantasy roster spot, he's in the mix enough for the Giants to be a viable No. 3 fantasy receiver.