When Calvin Johnson's first catch went for 87 yards, it was easy to feel a big day coming for the league's best receiver. No one, however, could have predicted just what lied ahead.
Through one quarter, Johnson had 89 yards and a touchdown. At the end of the first half, he was up to 156 yards. Shockingly, the second half would be even better. He had two more catches for 39 yards in the third quarter, then exploded for 134 yards in the fourth quarter, making two huge catches on Detroit's game-winning drive. At the end of the day he had 14 receptions for 329 yards and a touchdown. It was the second most receiving yards in a game in NFL history, trailing only record holder Flipper Anderson, who went for 336 yards in a game in 1989.
It was a truly remarkable performance. The Cowboys devoted two defensive backs to Johnson on seemingly every play. That didn't matter. Matthew Stafford launched pass after pass to him whether he appeared to be open or not. That didn't matter, either. There was a lot of talk about whether he or Dez Bryant was the better receiver heading into this game. While Bryant had a fine game in his own right, we've all seen Megatron and we all know Megatron. Bryant is no Megatron.
Let's get to the rest of the Week 8 news.
Last week, we talked about Andy Dalton as a solid matchup play and very good fantasy backup. After a monster game against a Jets defense that had surrendered the seventh fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks heading into the week, it might be time to bump his stock even higher. Dalton eviscerated the Jets, throwing for 325 yards, 10.8 yards per attempt and five touchdowns. Four of those touchdowns went to Marvin Jones. Dalton should be a top-12 quarterback the rest of the way. He has a tough matchup with the Dolphins on Thursday night, but he just proved that he can beat even the strongest of pass defenses. He faces the Colts, Steelers and Vikings in the fantasy playoff weeks.
Michael Vick was a full practice participant all week, giving the fantasy community confidence that he was over his hamstring injury. He also had a great matchup Sunday, as the Giants had allowed the sixth most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks heading into Week 8. Vick was my No. 6 quarterback for the week, and it was with good reason. I was paying closer attention to a few of the other early games right off the bat, but you can imagine my surprise when I saw on Twitter, not 15 minutes after kickoff, that Vick was riding a stationary bike and Matt Barkley was warming up. It was the start of a terrible day for the Eagles.
Vick indeed sat the rest of the game, and the Eagles were blanked on offense; their only touchdown was a two-yard fumble return by Najee Goode. LeSean McCoy had just 65 yards from scrimmage and DeSean Jackson was held to 63 yards on eight receptions, an average of 7.9 yards per catch. This may be more than just a one-week problem, as well. Given that Vick reinjured the same hamstring, it's hard to imagine him suiting up against the Raiders next week. Nick Foles was inactive this week because of a head injury and if he cannot go next week, Barkley will make his first career start. I wouldn't recommend benching McCoy or Jackson if that scenario plays out, but they'd both be ranked much lower than they would be with either Vick or Foles at the helm. I wouldn't recommend Barkley, Foles or Vick as a bye-week replacement, given how each has performed in their most recent outing.
Week 8 marked the first time all season that Tom Brady had both Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola at his disposal. The matchup with Miami was a tough one, but you could still excuse Brady owners for thinking he'd finally turn his season around on Sunday. Unfortunately for them, that did not happen.
Brady had just 116 yards for 5.3 yards per attempt, one touchdown and one interception. Coming into the game, Brady had 5.99 YPA on the season. After it, he is down to 5.94 YPA. Simply put, Brady does not look like the same guy this year, no matter which receivers he has on the field with him. He should not be trusted as a weekly starter. In fact, he's outside my top-15 quarterbacks for the rest of the season. I'd only start him in the most beneficial of matchups. Next week's game with the Steelers does not fit that bill.
Week 8 observations
• Matthew Stafford, of course, was on the other end of Megatron's historic day. However, it wasn't until his game-winning touchdown leap that he broke 25 fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues. He finished the game with 488 yards, 10.2 YPA, one touchdown apiece through the air and on the ground, and two interceptions. Stafford is up to 2,617 passing yards through eight games, putting him on pace to break the 5,000-yard mark for the second time in his career. The other season he did it, 2011, the Lions made the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Detroit has its bye next week, but returns Week 10 with a great matchup against the Bears. You'll want Stafford active for that one. He faces Philadelphia, Baltimore and the New York Giants in the fantasy playoffs.
• Like many in the industry, I doubted that Jason Campbell could have any success against Kansas City. The Chiefs have been a nightmare against quarterbacks this year, and Arrowhead Stadium is one of the toughest stadiums for an opposing team to communicate. As a result, I also felt that Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron would be held in check. Campbell proved all the doubters wrong, throwing for 293 yards, 8.1 YPA, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He hooked up with Gordon five times for 132 yards and a touchdown. If he can do that in Kansas City, he can be a factor in deep or two-QB leagues. If you play in either of those formats, I'd try to add him this week. With two weapons like Gordon and Cameron, he's always going to have enough firepower to produce. Cleveland hosts Baltimore, which has allowed the 12th fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, next week.
• Drew Brees is a master, and his performance on Sunday proved it again. With Jimmy Graham banged up and certain to be at less than 100 percent, if he could even go at all, Brees said that getting Lance Moore back would be huge for the Saints. He then followed through on that right away, hitting Moore for a 15-yard touchdown, the Saints' first score of the game. Graham played but was clearly limited by his foot injury. Still, Brees made him a weapon in the end zone, connecting with the big tight end on touchdown passes of 15 and 13 yards. Finally, he made a star, for this week at least, out of rookie Kenny Stills, who caught three passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns. This is what Brees does with regularity, and it is why he remains one of the best at the position today. He gets Carolina, St. Louis and Carolina again in the playoffs.
• We all know that the 49ers got their groove back over the last six weeks, primarily by getting back to their running ways. While Frank Gore has been a huge part of that from the start, Colin Kaepernick has joined in on the fun each of the last two weeks. He ran for 54 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries against the Jaguars, giving him 122 yards and three scores on the ground over the past two games. This dynamism is what made Kaepernick a fantasy star last year and a prized target during draft season. It has also gotten him back into the top 10 at the position each of the last two weeks. The 49ers have a bye next week and return with a tough matchup against the Panthers Week 10. They face Seattle, Tampa Bay and Atlanta in Weeks 14-16.
• Terrelle Pryor set an NFL record for the longest run by a quarterback with his 93-yard touchdown scamper on the game's first play from scrimmage, but that was legitimately the only positive thing he did all game. He finished with 87 yards passing and two interceptions, and ran for just 13 more yards on an additional eight carries against Pittsburgh. He's an exciting player, but he cannot be trusted in fantasy leagues right now.
• After finally looking like himself last week, Robert Griffin III had a terrible game against the Broncos. He threw for just 132 yards, 4.4 YPA, one touchdown and two interceptions. No team in the league had surrendered more 20-yard pass plays than the Broncos heading into Week 8. The Redskins totaled exactly zero such plays. Griffin looked lost, holding onto the ball too long and missing open receivers with regularity. He'll likely be outside my top-10 when Washington hosts San Diego next week. If he holds up, he'll face Kansas City, Atlanta and Dallas in the fantasy playoffs.
MORE WEEK 9 FANTASY FOOTBALL CONTENT:
GONOS: Start 'Em, Sit 'Em -- Tough it out for one more big week of byes
SI STAFF: Player Rankings -- The best replacements for Manning, Stafford
BELLER: Player Stat Projections -- What will Dalton do this week?
• Well hello, Andre Ellington. Getting his first start with Rashard Mendenhall out because of a toe injury, Ellington racked up 154 yards and a score on 15 carries. He flashed his home-run ability on his touchdown when he bounced it outside and beat the Atlanta defense up the sideline for 80 yards. He showed he could hold up with a larger role in the offense, and now that the Cardinals finally got a little something out of their run game, it's hard to envision a world in which Ellington isn't the lead back. Mendenhall will still have a role in the offense when he returns, but you can bet on Ellington getting somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 touches per game the rest of the way. The Cardinals have a bye next week.
• DeAngelo Williams gave his owners a productive day thanks to a 12-yard touchdown run, but it was an otherwise maddening performance. He finished with 43 yards on just eight carries and caught only one pass. Meanwhile, Cam Newton carried the ball 11 times, while Mike Tolbert had seven totes of his own. On top of that, Jonathan Stewart could be returning in the next few weeks. Add it all up and Williams' value is dwindling. Now might be the time to see if you can flip him for another asset, especially since he just scored his first touchdown of the season. Play up his role in the offense and try to pawn him off on an unsuspecting rival owner.
• It was hard to get a gauge of Mike James with the Buccaneers digging a deep hole and abandoning the run early, but I liked what I saw, especially since he proved to be a threat as a pass catcher. All told, he had 64 yards from scrimmage on 14 touches against one of the best defenses in the league in Carolina. Doug Martin was given a bizarre 2-8 week timetable to return from his torn labrum, so that means we should get at least a few more weeks with James as the feature back. Unfortunately, he has a terrible matchup against the Seahawks next week. There are six more teams on bye, so you might be in a position where you have to start him, but I'd do what I could to find another option.
• The Cowboys clearly missed DeMarco Murray on Sunday. With a three-point lead late in the game and needing a first down to clinch it, the Cowboys called three consecutive runs. Joseph Randle lost three yards on the first and Philip Tanner gave up a yard on the second. Randle picked up nine yards on third down, and even that play had a holding penalty that the Lions declined so that they could get the ball back. We all know what happened next. As a team, Dallas ran for just 62 yards on 25 carries, an average of 2.4 yards per carry. Given that Murray was almost able to go on Sunday, I have to believe he'll be back in there when the Cowboys host the Vikings next week.
• Jamaal Charles' streak is no more. He became the first back since O.J. Simpson to pile up at least 100 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in his first seven games of the season. While he did eclipse the century mark against the Browns, running for 74 yards while catching five passes for 46, he did not find the end zone for the first time this season. I suppose we can give him a pass. He's still the top-ranked running back in standard-scoring leagues.
• Perhaps one of these days, we'll all figure out why Bill Belichick does what he does with his running backs. Stevan Ridley didn't get a carry in the first quarter. Over the next three quarters, he ran for 79 yards and a score on 14 carries. The backfield remains crowded. Brandon Bolden got eight carries, LeGarrette Blount had 11, and Shane Vereen participated in practice last week, signaling that his return is not that far away. Still, Belichick has to keep Ridley in a significant role. In his last four games, he has 278 yards on 56 carries, just shy of 5.0 YPC, and four touchdowns. He's the only consistent element of the New England offense right now. The Patriots host the Steelers next week. You'll want Ridley in your lineup.
• Joe Philbin continues to do his best Belichick impression, driving fantasy owners crazy with his usage of Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. This situation is a little easier to deal with, largely because we've been able to ignore Miami's dreadful run game. However, both backs performed well Sunday. Miller got 18 carries, his most of the season, and picked up 89 yards. Thomas, meanwhile, ran for 47 yards on nine carries.
First, it must be noted that the Patriots' run defense has not been the same since Vince Wilfork went down for the year with a torn Achilles' tendon. Heading into Sunday's game with the Dolphins, the Patriots had played three games without their star nose tackle. They allowed a combined 129 yards on 32 carries by Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, 104 yards on 18 carries by Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson, and 104 yards on 34 carries by Chris Ivory. For me, Thomas remains persona non grata, and Miller is no more than a matchup play. The Bengals, whom the Dolphins host on Thursday night, are a terrible matchup.
• I'm not about to sound the alarm for LeSean McCoy. However, if I owned him I might start making phone calls to gauge interest. The Philadelphia offense fell apart once Michael Vick left Sunday's game after tweaking his hamstring, and McCoy was not immune to the struggles. He ran for just 48 yards on 15 carries and caught four passes for 17 yards. After starting the season as one of the hottest backs in the league, he has topped 100 total yards just once in his last five games, and has only one touchdown in that stretch. If Vick and Nick Foles are both out next week, the immortal Matt Barkley will likely make his first career start. That would be terrible news for McCoy.
• Le'Veon Bell struggled mightily on Sunday, running for just 24 yards on 13 carries, though he did save his day with a late touchdown. Oakland has been decent against running backs this year, allowing 16.9 fantasy points per game heading into the week, which ranked 17th in the league. Also, this game got out of whack from the Steelers right from the start. They were down 14-0 halfway through the first quarter, and couldn't generate anything offensively the entire first half. While Bell was a disappointment, I'd chalk this up to poor overall performance by the entire offense. Pittsburgh visits New England next week, and we already talked about its troubles against the run since losing Wilfork. Bell should be started in most leagues.
• Terrance Williams is just like Cris Carter. All he does is catch touchdowns. He had just two catches against the Lions, but one went for a 60-yard score. So long as he remains the No. 2 receiver in this offense, he'll be worth starting in fantasy leagues. The Cowboys have a great matchup with the Vikings next week. You'll want Williams in your lineup.
• If you've been reading these columns this season, you'll know that I place a lot of value on targets, regardless of quarterback or receiver. You'll also know that because of that, I am higher on Stevie Johnson than most. He got 11 more targets Sunday, catching seven of them for 72 yards and a touchdown. In seven games this year, he has 61 targets, and that includes the tilt with the Browns that he left early with an injury. A lot of times, all a receiver needs is opportunity. Johnson gets that every single week. He has a very tough matchup with the Chiefs next week, but the good news is Thad Lewis may have to throw the ball 50 times. I'd likely play Johnson.
• Yet another target beast that I love is Antonio Brown. He does a great job of illustrating how targets are a receiver's best friend. Pittsburgh's passing offense has not been good this year. Ben Roethlisberger is getting a decent 7.5 YPA, but he has thrown for more than 300 yards just twice this season, and he has only eight touchdowns in seven games. Still, Brown has 630 yards on the season, and it's largely because of his 73 targets. He only has two touchdowns, and both of those came in Pittsburgh's Week 3 loss to Chicago, but he also has double-digit targets in four games this year. With all the attention he gets in the offense, he's an easy WR2 and a PPR stud.
• You could almost feel the Marvin Jones breakout coming. He had three catches for 71 yards and a touchdown against the Bills two weeks ago and four catches for 57 yards and a score last week. However, even the most bullish Jones supporter couldn't have predicted he'd find the end zone four times on Sunday. That's exactly what he did, though, as he had eight receptions for 122 yards and four scores. Andy Dalton has what it takes to be a top-10 fantasy quarterback, but he'll need a second reliable receiver opposite A.J. Green. Jones looks like he can be that guy. Go ahead and do what you need to this week to get him on your roster. He can be a huge asset for the rest of the season.
• I think it's safe to say we've found the one winner from the Julio Jones/Roddy White fallout in Atlanta. Harry Douglas had another huge game Sunday, catching 12 passes for 121 yards. He also racked up 18 targets, giving him 25 in the last two weeks. In Atlanta's two games without Jones and White, Douglas has 19 catches for 270 yards and a TD. He's safely a weekly starter for the rest of the season, and could easily crack the top 20 at the position for the second half of the year. The Falcons have a tough matchup in Carolina next week, but I'd still play Douglas.
• Despite finishing the game with 45 points, the Broncos had a choppy offensive performance. That might owe in part to Julius Thomas leaving the game with an ankle injury. We do not yet know the severity of the injury, but he was not able to return after heading to the locker room. Backup tight end Joel Dreessen caught a touchdown pass in his absence, though neither he nor Jacob Tamme would be an every-snap player the way Thomas is. If Thomas does have to sit out because of the ankle injury, Tamme and Dreeseen could be decent options in very deep leagues with six teams on bye next week. Good luck figuring out which one to trust.
• In a year that has introduced a number of new tight ends to the fantasy community, the best may just be breaking out over these last two weeks. Jordan Reed had eight more catches for 90 yards this week, giving him 17 and 224 in his last two games. The rookie out of Florida has become one of the most dangerous weapons in the Washington passing game, and is getting plenty of love from Robert Griffin III, as he leads the team with 23 targets the last two weeks. Reed is a matchup-proof tight end. Get him in your lineup every week.
• Rob Gronkowski had a great 2013 debut but was a relative no-show on Sunday, catching just two passes for 27 yards. I wouldn't let this affect your outlook on Gronkowski too much. What is troubling, however, is the total lack of explosion for the New England passing game. We discussed Brady earlier, but it warrants repeating that he is getting just 5.94 YPA this year and has nine touchdowns against six interceptions in eight games. If you own Gronk, you are starting him every week.
• Jason Witten has fewer than seven fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues in six of his eight games this year. He has fewer than three in three of those games. One of those was Sunday, when he had two receptions for just 15 yards. Witten may eventually be in Canton one day, but he has been a huge bust this season. He can start his turnaround next week when the Cowboys take on the Vikings. Minnesota has allowed the fifth most fantasy points per game to tight ends.
• Tony Gonzalez was supposed to reward his fantasy owners when both Julio Jones and Roddy White went down with injuries. Teams have been throwing constant double teams at him, and that has shown up in his stats. In the two games without Jones and White, Gonzalez has just five catches for 56 yards. The good news for his owners is that Harry Douglas and Drew Davis had decent games and will likely start drawing some attention away from Gonzalez. I'd still trot him out there as usual when the Falcons take on the Panthers next week.
• Jimmy Graham played despite a foot injury and generally did Jimmy Graham things. The league's best tight end caught two touchdown passes, one from 15 yards out and the other from 13 yards. With another week to recuperate, he should be even stronger next week.
• Cincinnati had the best day of any defense this week, racking up four sacks, two takeaways, two touchdown and allowing just nine points to the Jets. If you streamed them this week, keep them around. They have a great defense, and next week's matchup with the Dolphins is a solid one. The Dolphins have allowed the most sacks this year. They gave up six more to the Patriots on Sunday.
• Matt Barkley threw an interception, lost one of his three fumbles and took three sacks after entering Sunday's game for an injured Michael Vick. If he gets the start next week, the Eagles will likely be in trouble. That means the Raiders defense would be worth streaming. They had five sacks and two takeaways against the Steelers on Sunday.
• The Broncos would not have been an advisable stream play this week, but they ended up having a huge day against the Redskins. They forced five turnovers, sacked Robert Griffin III three times and had one touchdown late in the fourth quarter. That made them the second highest scoring defense for the week, behind the Bengals.
MORE WEEK 9 FANTASY FOOTBALL CONTENT:
SI STAFF: Weekly Roundtable -- Who's the fantasy MVP of the first half?
FLOOD: Waiver Wire -- Desperate for starters? Look at Brazill, Campbell
McQUADE: Risers & Sliders -- Dalton put on a performance for the ages
BELLER: Early Week 9 Advice -- Brady should not be trusted as a starter