Week 15 surprises: Morris, Harrison unlikely RB stars

BY foxsports • December 21, 2009

The fantasy playoffs kicked into high-gear starting with the kickoff of the Indianapolis-Jacksonville game on Thursday night. Unlike the previous week’s debacle (Pittsburgh-Cleveland), fantasy owners received huge games from their heroes, with Peyton Manning, Maurice Jones-Drew and several others posting big days. The feel-good attitude rolled into “The Big Easy” on Saturday, but the Cowboys had an answer for Drew Brees and the high-octane New Orleans offense. Did Brees’ relatively smallish day start you on a path to ruination?

For the second time this year, the Cleveland Browns engaged in a most fascinating game. Those who didn’t get to see it had to be puzzled by the frequent text alerts about score after score. In all, the Browns put up 41 points and vanquished the Chiefs in a high-scoring, high-energy affair. The paying customers in Kansas City certainly got their money worth. Josh Cribbs astounded us with two 100-yard kickoff returns. Alas, those returns probably didn’t have an impact in your fantasy league.

Jerome Harrison reclaimed the lead role in the Cleveland backfield and obliterated the Kansas City defense. Harrison carried the ball 34 times to yield a mind-boggling total of 286 rushing yards and three touchdowns. It was his second big effort in the past three weeks (two receiving touchdowns in Week 13). Harrison contributed only 12 receiving yards this time around, but I don’t think gutsy (or desperate) owners who slotted him in a Flex mind much.

The talk in Baltimore was about weather. Snow, snow and more snow kept the Bears from getting out of Chicago and into the “Charmed City” until late Saturday. This was a time where everyone wishes that they’d missed the plane. The Chicago defense was absolutely torched by Joe Flacco, who suddenly rediscovered his early-season magic. Flacco connected with Todd Heap (five catches for 56 yards) on two early touchdown passes and finished the day with 234 passing yards and four touchdowns ( Derrick Mason and Demetrius Williams).

Rookie Josh Freeman had been a veritable turnover machine in the past several weeks. He rallied the Buccaneers to a huge road victory against the Seahawks. Freeman passed for 205 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. His two touchdown passes were thrown to Derrick Ward and Carnell “Cadillac” Williams (88 total yards, including his 22-yard touchdown).

Fantasy owners watched longtime star after star come up short on Sunday afternoon. On Sunday night, the nation watched the Panthers run roughshod on the Vikings defense. Matt Moore had a career night for the Panthers, completing 21-of-33 attempts for 299 yards and three touchdowns. Moore had thrown only one touchdown pass in his previous two starts.

Moore connected frequently with Steve Smith, who saved his best game of the year for the fantasy playoffs. Smith caught nine passes for 157 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown reception.

DeAngelo Williams was sidelined because of an ankle injury, thrusting Jonathan Stewart into the top slot. Stewart not only shone brightly. He snapped a 36-game streak in which the Vikings had kept opposing rushers from reaching the 100-yard mark. Stewart carried the ball 25 times for 109 yard and scored a tremendous rushing touchdown on which he spun away from a would-be tackler at the goal line. Stewart also added two receptions for 14 yards, including a two-yard touchdown to cap the scoring.

I believed that Ben Roethlisberger would have some success downfield against the Green Bay secondary. I couldn’t have expected Roethlisberger to turn in big play after big play en route to a ridiculous 503-yard, three-touchdown day. He turned the ball over once (fumble) and absorbed five sacks, but Roethlisberger’s individual effort was nothing short of amazing in Sunday’s first-ever 37-36 NFL game.

Rookie Mike Wallace made a picture-perfect catch of Roethlisberger’s 19-yard dart to win the game as time expired. Wallace caught two passes for 79 yards in the game, both touchdowns from Roethlisberger.

The 49ers didn’t mount much offense against the Eagles, but Josh Morgan found the mark while Philadelphia shut down Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. Morgan caught seven passes for 61 yards in the defeat, including Alex Smith’s lone touchdown pass.

LeSean McCoy didn’t post a huge effort against the 49ers, but he did get the call near the goal line to score a touchdown, even with bulldozer Leonard Weaver ready and available. McCoy finished the game with nine carries for 48 yards, adding three receptions for eight yards.

The Seahawks posted an absolutely dreadful effort against the Buccaneers in front of the home crowd on Sunday. However, tight end John Carlson appeared on the fantasy radar for the second straight week. He finished as Seattle’s leading receiver with seven receptions for 86 yards and scored for the second consecutive game.

The Bengals were unable to secure a victory in their first game following Chris Henry’s death, but his fellow receivers stepped up to give the Chargers fits. Chad Ochocinco found the end zone again on a big 49-yard pass play from Carson Palmer. That wasn’t the surprise. It came in the form of Laveranues Coles’ touchdown reception, just his fourth of the season and first since Week 7. Coles caught four passes for 48 yards.

On the other side, Vincent Jackson would receive an “exceeded expectations” on his report card. Jackson racked up five receptions for 108 yards against the strong Cincinnati secondary, including two touchdown receptions.

I would be remiss if I failed to give a nod to JaMarcus Russell for leading the game-winning drive against the Broncos. He completed 5-of-11 pass attempts for 47 yards and hooked up with Chaz Schilens for the game-winner. That was among the plays of the day, as Russell left would-be detractors without a word to say in Week 15. The televised call of the play would rank among the worst moments of the week (year?), as the name of Johnny Unitas was invoked to compare Russell’s entry to the game and his game-winning drive. I quote one of my former colleagues by labeling this call as “asinine.”

Running back Michael Bush of the Raiders overpowered a normally stout Denver run defense. Bush carried the ball 18 times for 133 yards and scored a touchdown. It would appear that he owns the lead role in the Oakland backfield, with Darren McFadden playing a hybrid role as runner/receiver.

The Lions lost Kevin Smith for the season in Week 14 because of a knee injury. Veteran tailback Maurice Morris assumed the lead role and posted a huge effort against the Cardinals in a near-upset. Morris scored on a 64-yard touchdown run and finished the game with 126 yards on 17 carries. He also tied for the team lead with 35 receiving yards on five receptions.

Steven Jackson gets a nod here for playing and posting his normal numbers for the Rams. Jackson had been a game-time decision because of the flu and a bad back. He still amassed 24 touches (20 carries and four receptions) and 123 total yards (82 rushing and 41 receiving).

Finally, I pay homage to Tennessee quarterback Vince Young. V.Y. posted a career day and rewarded trusting fantasy owners. He passed for 236 yards in his first career three-touchdown day with one interception and 24 rushing yards.

Two of his touchdown passes were caught by Justin Gage, who had been unavailable to the team for much of the year because of a knee injury. Gage finished with 43 receiving yards, and his touchdown receptions were his only catches of the day.