Week 2 Fantasy Football Booms/Busts: Cowboys deliver late to shock Falcons

All along, we thought the keys to fantasy success were three-pronged: Hard work; attention to detail; escaping Adam Gase.

Those maxims still carry weight, but let’s add two more primary things for 2020: Stay healthy; and schedule the Atlanta Falcons.

The Falcons have been fantasy’s ultimate Carnival Act over the opening two weeks. Last Sunday’s 38-25 loss to Seattle almost feels tame in comparison to Sunday’s 40-39 stomach-punch loss at Dallas.

Atlanta seemed to have control of this game in the first half, building a 29-10 lead while Dallas suffered self-inflicted wounds (three lost fumbles). The Cowboys got their act together in the second half, but Atlanta kept scoring, too. When Younghoe Koo connected on a 32-yard field goal with 7:57 left, the Falcons had a 15-point lead. Put this one in the refrigerator.

But that’s when Rayne Dakota Prescott started to make it rain. Prescott threw a touchdown pass to tight end Dalton Schultz — doing a very handy impersonation of Blake Jarwin — and then added a rushing score, his third of the day, with 1:49 left. The Cowboys failed on their first two-point conversion try and still trailed by two points after the second score, but a miraculous onside kick recovery and a tidy last-minute drive set up Greg Zuerlein’s kick at the buzzer. Ballgame.

Be nice to your Atlanta friends this week. They’ve been through this sort of thing, obviously. Maybe they can take heart in the boxscore.

Prescott (four total touchdowns, 450 passing yards) was the No. 1 fantasy quarterback heading into the Sunday night game, while steady Matt Ryan (273 yards, four touchdowns) stood fourth. CeeDee Lamb (6-106-0) and Amari Cooper (6-100-0) both made good use of nine targets each, while Schultz (9-88-1) was shockingly useful as the new tight end. Michael Gallup (2-58-0, five targets) was the only primary receiving option who didn’t get in on the fun.

Ezekiel Elliott didn’t have the game of his life, but he made good use of 28 touches (89 rushing yards, 33 receiving yards, one score). You’ll forgive him the early fumble. Tony Pollard (three touches) isn’t cutting into Zeke’s workload, though Prescott’s resourcefulness at the goal line (three rushing touchdowns) is something to be mindful of. Prescott had 21 rushing touchdowns in his first four seasons.

Meet the new Falcons, same as the old Falcons. They’ve played two games, and they’ve yielded the QB1 in both weeks.

You can’t pin the loss on Ryan, who took just one sack and didn’t commit a turnover. Julio Jones was surprisingly quiet (2-24-0, four targets, including a potential touchdown drop), but the rest of the Falcons passing game did reasonable things. Calvin Ridley (7-109-2) continues to look like this year’s Chris Godwin — if we must insist on tagging players like that — and Russell Gage (6-46-1) was useful for the second straight game. Ryan and Hayden Hurst (5-72-1) continue to build rapport; Hurst should be about as productive as Austin Hooper was last year.

Chicago hosts the sagging Falcons defense next week, and then the Falcons play at Green Bay on Monday night. Dallas should get a challenge at Seattle next week, before returning for three straight home games — Browns, Giants, Cardinals.

Aaron Jones crushes against Detroit

Although it’s become trendy to bash the Packers for their puzzling draft back in the spring, let’s concede a few things. Aaron Rodgers was originally drafted as a wait-and-see guy. Aaron Jones took a while to develop, and wasn’t a full-fledged star until Year 3. Perhaps the early draft choices of quarterback Jordan Love and running back A.J. Dillon will look better in a few seasons.

That established, the rest of the NFC is probably glad Rodgers and Jones don’t have more immediate help on the roster, a few talented, instant starters on their inexpensive rookie deals. Rodgers put on a clinic in Week 1’s win over Minnesota, and then it was Jones who took over in Sunday’s 42-21 romp over Detroit.

A handful of fourth-year running backs were recently rewarded with juicy second contracts; the Packers have yet to do that with Jones. Green Bay, in fact, hasn’t given a second contract to a drafted running back since James Starks signed one in 2010. When Jones eventually gets back to the negotiating table, he’ll want to play the Week 2 tape: 168 rushing yards, 68 receiving yards, three touchdowns.

Jones showed the full package over three hours: The ability to run inside and out; the ability to hit home runs (one of his scores was a 75-yard jaunt); decisiveness; versatility. When the game got out of hand, Jamaal Williams (8-63-0) and Dillon (5-17-0) were able to get extra work. But make no mistake where Green Bay’s bread is buttered.

Green Bay Packers' Aaron Jones runs for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)
Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones had three touchdowns, including a 75-yarder, in a win over the Detroit Lions. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

The Packers passing game wasn’t sharp like the Minnesota opener; Davante Adams (3-36-0) dealt with an ankle and hamstring injury, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling made a couple of mental mistakes. Rodgers was efficient (240 passing yards, 107.6 rating) but didn’t go off, in part because Jones was breaking so many plays.

As for the Lions, what can be said? Matt Patricia doesn’t have a healthy defense at the moment — does anyone? — but he sure looks overmatched as a head coach. Matthew Stafford took four sacks and threw a pick, though he also cobbled 244 passing yards and two scores. Things aren’t as much fun when Kenny Golladay can’t play.

T.J. Hockenson (4-62-0) caught all of his targets and is pushing for an expanded role. Marvin Jones got into the end zone, but a 4-23-1 line on six targets goes down as a disappointment; he hasn’t stepped up in the absence of Golladay. The game situation kept the running game under wraps; three backs split carries, and no one got past 41 yards rushing.

Detroit will be a heavy underdog at Arizona next week. Green Bay heads down to New Orleans for a Sunday night showcase.

Speed Round

• With all the talented young wideouts in the league right now, drafting back-nine veterans like A.J. Green and T.Y. Hilton never seemed logical to me. Joe Burrow had a steady second start, but most of his off moments came on targets to Green. Hilton has been a limited player in both Colts games, though he dropped a long touchdown Sunday.

• Things couldn’t have fallen better for Jonathan Taylor. Marlon Mack, who was likely to play a lot, got hurt in Week 1 — after a strong opening quarter. Nyheim Hines was engaged in the opener, but had just one touch Sunday — while Taylor had 28. And the Colts might have the best offensive line in the league.

• We’ll find out how good Adam Thielen really is, because every Minnesota opponent will be targeting him from the moment the Vikings get off the bus. Kirk Cousins has struggled mightily through two weeks — aside from some Week 1 garbage time. Thielen drew eight targets Sunday but they went for just 31 yards. Cousins, known for his ability to avoid negative plays, threw three interceptions and absorbed three sacks, all on a day he only passed 26 times.

• Jordan Howard is on pace for a 16-touchdown season, the worst in fantasy history. Miles Gaskin has outplayed Howard and Matt Breida in two straight weeks, and deserves more run as the team explores his upside.

• Tevin Coleman was one of the least elusive backs in the league last year — per Radar360 broken-tackle metrics — and he couldn’t get going at the Jets (14 carries, 12 yards). Obviously the absence of George Kittle hurts, but Coleman looks bad when his backfield mates are hitting some home runs.

• James Conner had a big day (121 total yards, touchdown) when he desperately needed one. Benny Snell was limited to three meaningless runs and one catch for minus yardage. Conner’s breakthrough becomes even more impressive when you consider how injury-riddled the Pittsburgh offensive line is.

• Gardner Minshew didn’t play a perfect game at Tennessee, but he put 30 points on the board and scared the heck out of the Titans. If Minshew had been a first -or second-round pick, he’d be one of the buzziest names in the league. I’ll keep using him in Superflex and DFS formats until he gives me a good reason not to. He connected with eight different receivers Sunday, and 10 last week.

• Dion Lewis looked old and slow after Saquon Barkley got hurt. Can Wayne Gallman get into this mix next week? Or maybe the Giants have to junk any pretense of running the ball.

• The Bears won in spite of Mitch Trubisky, who tried to give the game away in the second half. I still expect at least two months of Nick Foles.

• I couldn’t have been more wrong on DeAndre Hopkins; he didn’t need much adjustment time in Arizona. I basically conceded the loss last week, but Hopkins further underscored the point with a clinical dissection of Washington’s secondary.

• It’s scary to think of how good Terry McLaurin has been in his brief career, despite his team’s spotty quarterback play. He’s already a polished route guy, uber-competitive, and capable of winning even when he’s essentially covered. I wish I had him on all of my teams.

• We knew Tyler Higbee would be one of the early-reveal players of 2020, after last year’s shocking December. Higbee was solid if unspectacular in the opener, but after a three-touchdown smash Sunday, there are no further questions. Sean McVay needed time to figure out Higbee, but the genie is out of the bottle now.

• I like Anthony Lynn as a person, but if he’s serious about keeping Justin Herbert on the bench after Sunday’s impressive debut, he’s going to set his franchise back a full season. The moment wasn’t too big for Herbert, and that’s saying something — he was thrown into a start minutes before the game, with the best team in the world on the other sideline. The fact that Herbert could handle the stress of the day; that speaks volumes about his potential. Let him play, learn, make mistakes, and develop.

• Even with Herbert’s inexperience, his appointment would likely be better news for Austin Ekeler. Four catches is not a big day for Ekeler, but at least it’s a step forward from the paltry one he had at Cincinnati. The Chargers are leaving yards on the field with their most dynamic talent.

• On a week where 13 tight ends (several of them fantasy-playable) scored touchdowns, Rob Gronkowski drew just one target (an overthrow, intercepted). Tampa Bay still has big plans for Gronkowski the blocker, but he’s looking every bit like someone who didn’t play last year — and was a compromised player when we last saw him in 2018. Gravity always wins.

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