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Gridiron 11: Clutch performers

Gridiron 11: Crunch-Time Performers

The season is over for nearly two-thirds of all owners and oh, what a season it was. We saw the climb of some previously unknowns to superstar status as well as the rapid decline of some of the greatest fantasy stars ever. But like any sport, heroes rise in crunch time. With that in mind, let's take a look at the players who finished the season on the strongest notes, the most valuable from the ninth week on.

For more insights, follow SI's fantasy expert David Sabino on Twitter at SI_DavidSabino.

1<a href=Tom Brady, QB, Patriots" title="Tom Brady, QB, Patriots"/>
In his last six games Tom Terrific has gone over the 300-yard mark in four of the six, threw at least two touchdowns in each (including four twice), has completed 68.5 percent of his throws and hasn't been picked off since Week 6 against the Ravens, all while leading the Pats to the best record in the league. By contrast, over the same stretch Peyton Manning has thrown for 48 more yards but six fewer touchdowns and 13 more interceptions.
2<a href=Michael Vick, QB, Eagles" title="Michael Vick, QB, Eagles"/>
Since returning from a rib injury suffered against the Redskins, the NFL's runaway Comeback Player of the Year has been responsible for at least 285 yards (passing plus rushing) and at least one touchdown in all six games. In five of those contests he's accounted for multiple touchdowns, throwing and running for at least one in four. The highlight of the fantasy season and possibly the finest performance of the fantasy era, was when Vick threw for 333 yards on 20-for-28 passing, four touchdowns and no interceptions while running for another 80 with two more scores, all while posting an astronomical QB rating of 150.1.
3<a href=Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars" title="Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars"/>
The source of much fantasy consternation early in the season when his contributions were little, MoJo caught fire on Halloween and hasn't looked back, racking up a streak of six-straight 100-yard games. He's also scored four of his five touchdowns for the season over the last five games, when he led the league with an average of 126.6 yards per game.
4<a href=Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs" title="Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs"/>
Nobody was more dominant through the middle of the season than Bowe, who paid a visit to the end zone in seven straight games from Oct. 17 through Nov. 28 to take him to the top of the league's overall touchdown list with 14. In fact, his yardage output in November alone (528 yards) nearly matched his entire 2009 total (589 yards) while doubling his four TDs from last November.
5<a href=Arian Foster, RB, Texans" title="Arian Foster, RB, Texans"/>
The most consistent player this season, Foster has not missed a beat since starting off the year with the only 200-yard rushing performance of the year. For the first seven games of the season he averaged 140.3 yards from scrimmage and scored eight touchdowns. In the last six contests his average climbed to 142.0 yards with seven touchdowns, or, in other words, he's been a fantasy owner's dream.
6<a href=Peyton Hillis, RB, Browns" title="Peyton Hillis, RB, Browns"/>
The Lake Erie Express has gone full speed ahead ever since seizing the starting job from the now-departed Jerome Harrison in September. The former fullback is considered one of the toughest inside runners in the game but is also one of the most deceptively effective receivers out of the backfield, placing third in the league in receptions and receiving yards for running backs in the second half of the season.
7Michael Turner, RB, <a href=Falcons" title="Michael Turner, RB, Falcons"/>
Michael Turner, RB, Falcons
Inconsistent throughout the early part of the season, Turner has come on strong late, scoring six touchdowns in his last four games while going over 100 yards in five of his last seven.
8<a href=Greg Jennings, WR, Packers" title="Greg Jennings, WR, Packers"/>
After failing to reach 100 yards in any of his first five games of the season, he and Aaron Rodgers teamed up for at least five catches in every game from Oct. 17 to Dec. 5, with four 100-yard totals and eight of his 11 scores for the season. However, though his value takes a huge hit with the concussion suffered by Rodgers, Jennings is still a must-start late in the season.
9<a href=Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs" title="Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs"/>
Before being sidelined by an appendectomy, Tom Brady's longtime understudy did his best Brady impersonation late in the year, achieving a 13-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio over his last five weeks, with much of that production going to Dwayne Bowe. Cassel averaged 260.2 yards per game, with a large chunk of the damage coming in Denver on Nov. 14 when he threw for 469 yards -- the third highest output of the season for any quarterback.
10<a href=Knowshon Moreno, RB, Broncos" title="Knowshon Moreno, RB, Broncos"/>
Through the first two months of the year the Broncos had the worst rushing attack in the NFL, averaging just 67.3 yards per contest, 13 yards fewer than any team in the league. But since the first of November, Moreno, finally healthy after suffering through a nagging hamstring injury through most of the early part of the season, has taken off, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, 92.4 yards per game to contribute to 125.6 team rushing yards per contest, good for ninth in the league.
11<a href=DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles" title="DeSean Jackson, WR, Eagles"/>
Coinciding with Michael Vick's emergence, Jackson went from one of the better young receivers in the league to its most dangerous deep threat. The two have combined for six pass plays of at least 50 yards -- two more than any other quarterback-receiver duo. His tour de force came against the Cowboys in Week 14, when he racked up 210 yards on just four catches.

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