Rivers, Murray highlight Week 9

BY foxsports • November 7, 2011

The first 13 games of Week 9 gave us a load of thrills, chills and roller coaster rides. Monday’s finale pits the Bears against the Eagles’ high-octane offense. Will the young Chicago safeties get lost in space against the speedy Philadelphia receivers? Will the pressure rattle Vick?

Let’s salute the top performers of Week 9. I’ll get started in San Diego with one of the more uneven performances you’ve ever seen from a quarterback.

Philip Rivers threw an early touchdown to Vincent Jackson and, it appeared, that the Rivers of old returned. Alas, that was short-lived when he tossed two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns (one was a terrible throw, the other a great play). Ultimately, Rivers amassed huge numbers in late comeback mode. San Diego fans are wringing their hands on Monday. Fantasy owners are cheering wildly following his 385 yards, four-touchdown performance. The three interceptions and sacks are just an annoying detail. It was Rivers’ first multi-touchdown performance since Week 2.

Vincent Jackson ended his three-game scoreless streak with a huge breakout game against Green Bay. He scored a touchdown early and then piled up points in the final quarter. Fantasy owners couldn’t have been happier with how this game worked out. Jackson caught seven passes for 141 yards and three touchdowns. He’d produced seven receptions and 88 yards in the previous three games combined.

Antonio Gates may not necessarily look like the Gates of old on tape, but Sunday’s box score read the same. Gates caught eight passes for 96 yards and scored his second touchdown of the year against the Packers. He’s averaged 5.7 receptions and 74.3 receiving yards in three games since returning to action.

Mike Tolbert returned to action and posted a fantastic day in support of trusting fantasy owners. Tolbert amassed 142 yards (83 rushing) on 23 touches, including a touchdown run. He added four receptions for 59 yards. Regardless of Ryan Mathews’ health, I expect to see a huge workload out of Tolbert on Thursday night.

Everybody plays. Everybody wins. Does it get boring at times for Aaron Rodgers? That’s the only question I’d have for him after witnessing the latest decimation of an opponent. Rodgers completed 21-of-26 attempts for 247 yards and threw four touchdown passes. He also ran for 52 yards.

Rodgers has now thrown 24 touchdowns against three interceptions while averaging 327.4 yards per game. His touchdown passes went to:

- Jermichael Finley caught five passes for 44 yards and rewarded trusting fantasy owners.

- Greg Jennings caught six passes for 46 yards. It was a smallish yardage output, but he delivered the reception that counted.

- Jordy Nelson led the Packers with 105 receiving yards on five receptions.

- James Jones caught a single pass for 21 yards.

That’s efficiency.

It’s fun when you’re running ahead of the herd, unless you get picked off by a lurking hyena. Anyway, preseason favorite Antonio Brown continued his run of strong play for the Steelers in Sunday night’s loss to Baltimore. Brown caught five of his 11 targets for 109 yards. Of course, he would have had a sixth reception, a touchdown, had teammate Mike Wallace not intercepted the ball. Brown is now tied for seventh in the NFL with 74 targets through nine games (21st in targets per game).

Ray Rice playfully Tweeted about Torrey Smith’s hold on the first play from scrimmage that wiped out a 76-yard touchdown run. Rice did score later in the Ravens’ huge road win and finished the game with 86 total yards on 23 touches. That’s a solid overall total, but I know Baltimore fans and scribes are wondering when the running game is going to click.

Torrey Smith made up for drops and the aforementioned holding call by pulling down the 26-yard game-winning touchdown pass from Joe Flacco. Smith caught five receptions for 71 yards on nine targets. Smith’s averaged 5.4 targets per game and has Flacco’s confidence downfield.

Tony Romo and the Cowboys failed to put the visiting Seahawks away, but he produced a strong effort overall. Romo completed 19-of-31 attempts for 279 yards with two touchdowns (he added 13 receiving yards). Most importantly, Romo didn’t turn the ball over.

Jason Witten caught four passes for 71 yards and a touchdown, his fourth in his past five games. Witten has caught four or more passes in every game this season (44 total) while averaging 68.5 receiving yards.

Laurent Robinson is the name to watch on the wire this week following Miles Austin’s early exit because of a hamstring injury. Robinson caught five passes for 32 yards against the Seahawks, including his second touchdown in as many games. Austin will reportedly miss up to a month of the season, thereby putting Robinson in a position to shine.

Demarco Murray is good. What else must I say? Murray ran over a Seattle defense that had fared well against opposing rushers entering Week 9. He carried the ball 22 times for 139 yards, adding four receptions for 47 yards to take him over the top. Murray has averaged 8.5 yards per carry in his three starts.

Desperate times make for strange bedfellows. Lynch has hardly been overwhelming, and his late scratch against the Browns remains fresh in the minds of fantasy owners. He was a lukewarm back-end RB2 play because of his expected workload and a date against a Dallas defense that had fared well against all backs not named McCoy. Trusting fantasy owners received a huge day from Lynch, who ran for 135 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.

Matt Ryan did much of his damage early in this game, and owners who didn’t trust Julio Jones’ health were haunted by visions of his 80-yard sprint to daylight. Ryan finished the game with just 14 completions for 275 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. This was Ryan’s first game with multiple passing touchdowns since Week 2 (he’d rushed for touchdowns in Weeks 6 and 7 to complement his single passing score).

Julio Jones exploded out of the gate with two early touchdowns before the Falcons put the offense on cruise control. Jones caught three passes for 131 yards, including the aforementioned 80-yard touchdown sprint.

Tony Gonzalez receives a ceremonial nod for continuing his march to Canton. Gonzalez caught four passes for 36 yards, including Ryan’s third touchdown strike.

The Texans followed a familiar formula in its blowout win over Cleveland. Run the ball.

Arian Foster earned his third consecutive 100-yard game with 124 yards on 19 carries, including a touchdown. He went into bonus time for owners in PPR leagues with five receptions for 26 yards. Despite his early injury issues, Foster ranks eighth in the NFL with 656 rushing yards.

Teammate Ben Tate, who shone in Foster’s absence early in 2011, also flourished on Sunday. Tate ran for 115 yards on 12 carries, including an early touchdown sprint. He ranks ninth in the NFL with 623 rushing yards.

Frank Gore rushed 19 times for 107 yards, his fifth consecutive 100-yard effort. His scoring streak ended at four games, but he gets an “Attaboy!” here.

Roy Helu became “The New Guy” for Mike Shanahan against the 49ers. He ran for 41 yards on 10 carries with a lost fumble. Helu absolutely dominated in PPR leagues with his 14 receptions for 105 yards. Go grab him on the waiver wire and hold your breath.

Is John Beck the new “Captain Checkdown” after this performance?

Drew Brees completed 75% of his pass attempts against the Buccaneers with 258 yard, two touchdowns and an interception. He offset the interception with 20 rushing yards. His touchdown passes were caught by:

- Lance Moore: three receptions for 20 yards

- Darren Sproles: five receptions for 57 yards with four carries for 42 yards, including a 35-yard sprint.

Pierre Thomas carried the ball eight times for 66 yards with a touchdown and a 33-yard run. Thomas added 25 receiving yards on four receptions.

Kellen Winslow’s yardage totals are still frustrating, but he continues to pile up receptions. He logged another four receptions against the Saints and scored for the second straight game.

Steve Breaston was rated as a late-WR3 or early-WR4 for the saliva-inducing matchup against the Dolphins. He didn’t score, but his seven-reception, 115-yard effort delivered for trusting fantasy owners. Breaston was the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal day for Kansas City.

Andy Dalton passed another road test in Week 9 with a strong comeback effort against the Titans. Dalton passed for 217 yards with three touchdowns, his fourth multi-touchdown game of this charmed rookie season. He threw touchdown passes to Jerome Simpson (three receptions for 43 yards), Andre Caldwell (five receptions for 22 yards) and Colin Cochart (two receptions for seven yards). Pittsburgh is next on the schedule. Matt Hasselbeck rated as a difficult mid-QB2 play against the Bengals in Week 9. Hasselbeck nearly delivered a win with 272 passing yards and two touchdowns, his fourth multi-touchdown effort of the season. He’s yet to be shut out in 2011.

“Ninja” pick Damian Williams delivered a touchdown reception against the Bengals, a bullet in the back of the end zone (watch the highlight for foot technique). Williams caught four passes for 34 yards. The second-year receiver out of USC has caught four or more passes in three of the past four weeks.

Lavelle Hawkins posted season-high marks of five receptions, 63 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s loss to Cincinnati. Hawkins has caught multiple passes in seven consecutive games.

I must acknowledge Chris Johnson’s total of 110 yards on 18 touches (14 carries for 64 yards and four receptions for 46 yards). It’s not world-beating, but I’m going down that “positive reinforcement” road to try and coax bigger second-half numbers.

Tim Tebow led the Broncos to a big road win against the Raiders on Sunday. Tebow completed only 10-of-21 attempts for 124 yards, but he tossed two touchdown passes and ran for 118 yards. Tebow did not commit a turnover and was sacked only twice.

Eric Decker scored for the second straight game. He didn’t log a high reception count, but you’ll take your three receptions for 47 yards if he finds the end zone. Decker was targeted five times in the win.

Eddie Royal caught two passes for 25 yards with a touchdown, later adding a punt return to eviscerate the Raiders faithful.

Willis McGahee, the one-hand man in Denver, gutted the Oakland run defense in Sunday’s win. McGahee carries the ball 20 times for 163 yards with two touchdowns, including sprints of 60 and 24 yards to daylight. His 60-yard run was his longest since the final game of the 2009 season. I still wish he’d have been available in Week 8 against Detroit out of sheer curiosity.

Carson Palmer ran the gamut of good, bad and ugly in Sunday’s loss to Denver. Palmer completed 19-of-35 attempts with another three interceptions. Two of those interceptions came in the Raiders’ final five drives. Still, he backed me up on that No. 12 QB for Week 9 with 332 yards and three touchdowns. Palmer squares off with Philip Rivers and the Chargers on Thursday night.

Jacoby Ford caught five passes for 105 yards and a touchdown to the lead the Raiders. Fantasy owners anxiously await leaks of the Darrius Heyward-Bey situation before heading to the waiver wire this week.

Michael Bush filled in admirably for the injured Darren McFadden, generating 96 rushing yards on 19 attempts. Bush earned his spot on the “Heroes” list with his touchdown reception (he finished with two receptions for 33 yards). McFadden is expected to return for Thursday’s game against the Chargers.

For much of the day, fantasy owners shook their collective fist against Tom Brady and Eli Manning. Ultimately, both quarterbacks elevated their games down the stretch to satiate most demanding owners.

Brady finished Sunday’s loss with 340 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and a lost fumble. He’s thrown multiple touchdown passes in seven of his eight starts this season. Brady needs to average 287.1 passing yards per game in the second half of the season to reach 5,000.

Wes Welker was on the injury list because of a neck injury. As expected, he played and delivered strong numbers against the Giants. Welker caught nine of his 10 targets for 136 receiving yards. He stands 40 yards shy of 1,000 through eight games.

Rob Gronkowski caught eight passes for 101 yards and made up for an earlier drop with a touchdown reception late. It was Gronkowski’s fourth game with at least seven receptions (third straight) and fifth game with at least 86 receiving yards.

Aaron Hernandez has taken a backseat to Gronkowski in the reception and yardage columns in 2011, but he’s eaten into Gronk’s red zone opportunities. Hernandez scored for the third straight game, producing four receptions for 35 yards.

Let’s flip to the other side of the coin.

Eli Manning completed only 20-of-39 attempts against the Patriots, but he came up with several big throws late, including two fantastic throws to Jake Ballard (that catch down the middle might have been better than “The Helmet”). Manning finished Sunday’s thrilling win with 250 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and 11 rushing yards. He’s thrown multiple touchdown passes in six of his past seven starts. Three of his six interceptions and four of his eight turnovers came in that curious Week 5 home loss to Seattle.

Mario Manningham caught the first of Manning’s two touchdown passes, his second straight game with a touchdown reception. Manningham caught three of his seven targets for 33 yards. He hasn’t had the big breakout game that owners have been anxiously awaiting, but Manningham has become a consistent target for Manning in recent weeks with 19 receptions in the past four weeks.

What is the appropriate tag for Jake Ballard’s catch over the middle on that final drive? Jake Ballard caught four passes for 67 yards, including the game-winning touchdown. He’s logged three or more receptions in five consecutive games, producing a reception of at least 21 yards in each contest with three touchdowns.

Brandon Jacobs bulldozed his way to a big day in the absence of Ahmad Bradshaw. Jacobs capitalized on a Tom Brady turnover with his touchdowns run and rumbled to 72 rushing yards on 18 carries. He also produced four receptions for 28 yards.

Steven Jackson delivered his second consecutive 100-yard game for the Rams, logging a season-high 29 carries for 130 yards in the overtime loss to Arizona. Jackson caught a single pass for 12 yards. He’ll achieve the hat trick in Week 10 against the horrid Cleveland run defense. Since the Rams’ Week 5 Bye, Jackson has averaged 22.5 carries and 113.8 rushing yards per game.

Finally, I would be remiss if I failed to circle back and congratulate the Dolphins on their resounding victory in Miami. Matt Moore played efficient football and took his appropriate shots downfield. Moore completed 17-of-23 attempts for 244 yards with three touchdowns. He’d thrown a single touchdown in his first four appearances of 2011, a run that spanned 115 pass attempts.

Anthony Fasano made the most of his opportunities, catching two passes for 38 yards with two touchdowns, including a beautiful 35-yard over the shoulder reception. He’d caught 10 passes through the first seven games.

Brandon Marshall earned his third 100-yard game of the season against the Chiefs. He caught eight passes for 106 yards and scored his first touchdown since Week 2. For all of the drops, missed opportunities and overall misery in Miami, Marshall still piles up targets (he’s tied for third in the NFL). He’s caught four or more passes in every game this season.

Finally, Reggie Bush was pushed down into the RB3 range because of Daniel Thomas’ return to action. Bush responded with one of his best games of the season. He rushed 13 times for 92 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown sprint. Bush also added three receptions for 50 yards. That makes two straight fantasy-worthy performances for Bush (120 total yards in Week 8). Can he earn the hat trick in Week 10 against Washington?

Taken further, is the national pizza ad boosting his confidence?

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