In fantasy, you live and die by lineup decisions. On Sunday morning, I made an 11th-hour call to move Kevin Curtis out of my starting lineup and replace him with Chris Chambers. Karma has never been so good to me. As I begin my weekly spin around the fantasy gridiron, let's start with my personal hero from Sunday, Mr. Chris Chambers:
Chambers is one of those talents that I often wish was in a place where his skills could be more exploited. Perhaps, all he needed was Sage Rosenfels behind center. A sack in the third quarter on Sunday left starter Gus Frerotte unable to continue against Buffalo. Rosenfels entered the game with four minutes left in the period. In the final 19 minutes of the game, Rosenfels threw at Chambers 13 times, completing 10 passes for 171 yards and the game-winning TD as time expired. Before that, Frerotte had thrown Chambers' way 13 times (four catches, 62 yards); meaning Chambers was targeted an unbelievable 26 times. Meanwhile, Curtis finished with two catches for six yards. For the record, Chambers has hauled in 70 percent (255) of Rosenfels' 363 passing yards this season, and two of his three TD passes.
Who would have guessed the biggest fantasy stories of the week would come from the Miami/Buffalo game. Every bit as noteworthy as the Chambers' performance was the three touchdowns posted by Buffalo's Lee Evans (five catches, 117 yards). Here's the interesting thing about Evans. He now has six of the past nine TDs that the Bills have scored, all coming in the past six weeks. And four of those TDs have been from 29-plus yards. Mr. December is an appropriate nickname for the sophomore wideout. With his trifecta on Sunday, Evans now has nine TDs in five career December games, scoring in all of them.
As annoying as the Miami backfield platoon can be, at least both Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown have been viable fantasy options of late. On Sunday, both players scored for the second consecutive week. And both backs are clocking out with 75-100 yards from scrimmage for the past few weeks. This is about as equitable of a platoon as you can get, and the two backs seem to have found a comfort zone with it.
Forget about feel-good story, it's time to start talking about Samkon Gado as a legitimate featured-back quality NFL runner. Against a nasty Bears defense on Sunday, Gado put up 75 yards on 20 carries (decent), and scored the first rushing TD this season by an opponent at Soldier Field. But he was even more impressive than the stats indicate. Patience is one of Gado's biggest virtues. He is able to move towards the line of scrimmage while waiting for his holes to open. And his ability to see the right opening is uncanny. Then there's the power/speed combination that defenses have to contend with once he's picked his spot. Running back is one of the easiest positions step into in the NFL because it's a lot about physical ability and instinct. And Gado's got that. If he's not a featured back come next season, I'm not going to be one of the guy's saying he shouldn't be.
With 108 yards on Sunday, Eddie Kennison has four consecutive 100-yard games against Denver. And the game before this streak, he hung 83 yards and a TD on the Broncos. This is a history card worth filing away for next season.
Football poetry in motion was exemplified on Sunday on Peyton Manning's 27-yard TD pass to Reggie Wayne in the Colts' 35-3 romp over Tennessee. There wasn't a wasted motion by Manning or Wayne, and the perfectly thrown pass couldn't have hit Wayne in a better stride. A Bizarro world example would be Brett Favre's late fourth quarter INT that Chicago DB Nathan Vasher returned the distance (if this guy isn't a shoe-in for the Pro Bowl, I don't know who is). Favre spent all afternoon backpedaling and throwing (in traffic) off his back foot. And on this game-clinching play for the Bears, Favre floated the pass behind Donald Driver on a quick out and Vasher gladly accepted his gift-wrapped offering. I hate to say it, but it's really sad to watch Favre like this. At this stage in his career, his skills have diminished and he doesn't have the surrounding talent to get away with bad mechanics and poor decision-making. And I saw a lot of both on Sunday.
If nothing else, Carson Palmer's three TD passes and Rudi Johnson's 98 rushing yards and two TDs at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field on Sunday further validates the notion that you can't sit your top Bengals against anyone. I listened to those who offered reasons for benching Palmer this week, especially since I own him in a few leagues. But conventional wisdom says you don't sit your top-tier stars. And Palmer is in a QB top tier that has only Peyton Manning as company. I have yet to sit Palmer this year, and I won't in the final weeks, if I'm fortunate enough to still be competing. This Cincy team, like Indy, is good enough offensively to dictate the pace of the game. And when it makes mistakes, like when Pittsburgh held them to 13 points in a home loss earlier, its good enough to learn from the mistakes and adjust. On Sunday, Palmer had good protection and came out throwing out of the gate. His confidence was infectious, and Rudi Johnson capitalized on the Steelers' awareness of the passing game. Johnson can't be sat either. He has yet to finish with less than 65 yards rushing in a game, an accomplishment that is only matched by Edgerrin James among the league's backs.
Stephen Davis may have started for Carolina on Sunday, but DeShaun Foster left no doubt that he's now the team's featured back. For the third consecutive week, Foster outcarried Davis, and this time Foster really made it clear that head coach John Fox was right to award him the extra work. Going against an Atlanta defense that has struggled on the edges of the defensive line all season against the run, Foster rolled to a season-high 131 yards (the team's first 100-yard game of the year) on 24 carries. He scored on the ground and through the air, hauling an 18-yard scoring pass from QB Jake Delhomme in the first quarter and rushing in from six-yards out in the final period.
Another Sunday truth further revealed: Give Warrick Dunn 15-plus carries and he's going to give you 80-plus rushing yards, no matter who the defense might be. He carried 16 times for 80 yards in Week 13 against the toughest team in the league to run against, Carolina. And he did it on the Panthers' soil. It was the 10th time that Dunn has reached 80 rushing yards this season.
Julius Jones owners can stop worrying about Marion Barber. While Jones gained just 74 yards on 23 carries (3.2 ypc) in a loss to the Giants on Sunday, it marked the third consecutive game that Jones has topped 20 carries. That's the definition of a featured role in my book. And if Jones failed to impress with his running (he actually looked pretty good), he added a career-high 88 receiving yards on nine receptions. Nine receptions? Yep, that's what happens when Drew Bledsoe faces a firing squad like what the Giants defensive line threw at him. Bledsoe was sacked four times and was forced to make quick throws, which worked out well for Jones in the stats column.
Charlie Frye looked good against a strong Jacksonville secondary on Sunday. A big part of his success involved him getting out of pass-rush pressure and making throws on the run. He was still sacked five times, but he made some nice plays. Admittedly, his first TD toss to Braylon Edwards from 34 yards out was a prayer that Edwards answered amidst three defenders in the end zone. But the second scoring strike to Edwards, from 17 yards out, was more conventional. After Edwards' second score, I began thinking to myself that this Frye/Edwards rookie combo could make some noise in the coming weeks, as the chemistry was apparent. But then Edwards hobbled off the field early in the fourth quarter after a long pass attempt. Edwards came up holding his knee, and there is a possibility that the injury is severe, potentially season-ending. Too bad. I was looking forward to seeing these guys work together a little more.
Fantasy owners should figure out a way to get Greg Jones in the lineup any time he's going to start. He's a big, young battering ram, and he ran for his second 100-yard game on Sunday. In addition, he's scored three times in his past four games.
Anyone surprised at how ugly that Houston/Baltimore game turned out to be? I didn't think so. The script played out as five Kris Brown field goals for the losing Texans, and a defensive TD, a Kyle Boller scramble for a TD and a Matt Stover game-winning field goal for the victor Ravens. That's right in line with expectations for what is likely to be one of the most unpalatable matchups of the year. The only real story here is that Jamal Lewis, who rushed for 100 yards last week, is once again a miserable excuse for a fantasy roster spot. Against Houston's league-worst rush defense, Lewis carried eight times for a mere 17 yards. He's making a strong late run for fantasy's biggest bust honors.