Three games helped salvage a ho-hum fantasy Sunday as the Packers-Chargers, Giants-Patriots and Ravens-Steelers all took the sting out of some inexplicably low scoring teams. Rams, Cardinals, 49ers, Chiefs, Bills -- I'm looking at you.
1. Best Starring Role in a Shootout: Aaron Rodgers. Get ready to add to the sentence where we discuss his 2011 in greatest fantasy seasons by a QB ever. Rodgers is on pace for 40 touchdown passes with 20 through eight games. He is 10 back from his career-high in '09 of 30, and on his way to shattering that mark. A fall-back default pick at the end of fantasy draft first rounds everywhere, Rodgers will eclipse all but a handful of preseason top-10 running backs in scoring when it's all said and done.
2. The Cautiously Optimistic Award: Chris Johnson. It wasn't a vintage performance, but by gaining 100 all-purpose yards, it was at least something. This season has been a nightmare for CJ2K owners, with 64 rushing yards yesterday representing his second-best output of the year. Sure, he's on his way to little more than 600 yards, and probably the biggest (non-injury) bust of the year. But with games left against the Panthers, Bills, Bucs, Colts and Saints (all rush defenses ranked 20th or lower), at least the light at the end of the tunnel probably isn't a train.
3. The Patience is a Virtue Award: Anyone who says they stuck it out with Philip Rivers this season either is lying or finally got a reward for their suffering In Week 9. Before Rivers' four-TD breakthrough, fantasy owners had endured only three touchdown passes in the last five games. Shockingly, he's on pace for 14 scoring passes, less than half of his 30 from a year ago, with 11 interceptions -- just two away from last year's 13 mark. Not having Antonio Gates for most of the year has taken a toll, but it's hard to make excuses when last season's cast of receivers was so plagued with injuries there was an open casting call every week (Patrick Crayton, Legedu Naanee, much?). Either this was the start of a recovery or just a blip on the radar.
3A: Vincent Jackson. As part of the collateral damage from San Diego's broken passing game this season, it's been no picnic for Jackson owners either. In the previous three weeks not only has V-Jax gone scoreless, he's averaged 33 yards a game. Sunday saw Jackson breakout for three TD catches and 141 yards. If the Chargers passing game picks up in the coming weeks, Jackson will be a huge beneficiary.
4. The Who Needs Roddy White Award: A little harsh, yes. But fantasy owners who started Julio Jones, take a bow. After years of seeing him get what seemed like three targets every game at Alabama, it was nice to see Jones turned loose. Sure, it was the Colts, but his first scoring catch was a highlight-reel grab, and on the second he ran away from everyone so easily it looked like the tape was on fast forward. The only downside of yesterday was pondering what might become of White. He's already had a slow season, ceding targets to Jones and an at-times rejuvenated Tony Gonzalez. What might happen once Jones begins to figure things out? Will they be co-No. 1s next year or will White slowly become the Robin to Jones' Batman?
5. The Welcome Back Award: To the Cowboys offense. Dallas may have been a bit of a mess when it came to finishing drives Sunday, but it was nice to see the passing game click with Dez Bryant getting back on the radar. And it didn't hurt that DeMarco Murray got the carries the coaching staff denied him a week before. The only negative was Miles Austin's hamstring injury. It's time to cut bait on Austin, who's been nearly useless. Injuries have slowed him, but it's no excuse for a four-game scoreless streak in which he has yet to hit 80 yards.
6. Mr. Turn Back The Clock: Willis McGahee, where has this been? For the fourth time this season he went over the 100-yard mark. Sunday's 163 yards was the most yardage since his 167-yard performance in Week 17 of '09 with Baltimore, also against the Raiders. His four 100-yard games has already matched how many he had in the '08, '09 and '10 seasons combined. With Knowshon Moreno's ineffectiveness and durability issues, which always seem to crop up, John Fox looks like he's found his running back. McGahee looks like a great flex play the rest of the season or perhaps a low-end RB2. Just remember the Tim Tebow red zone vulture probability.
8. The Anti-Yardage Award: Santonio Holmes is living proof that it's not always good when "all you do is catch touchdowns." The good news was that Holmes caught his third touchdown in four weeks Sunday. On the flip side, if Holmes doesn't score there's no hope he'll cobble together a decent yardage effort to offset it. In those last four games, he's averaged 44 yards a game and he's on pace for 600 yards this season.
9. The Bagel Award: Darrius Heyward-Bey. Despite leading the Raiders in catches and yards this season, Heyward-Bey didn't even start Sunday and got blanked in the box score. On top of that, Carson Palmer targeted him once the entire game, despite the fact that Heyward-Bey had averaged over five catches and 96 yards in the last four games. Hopefully, Palmer can develop some chemistry with him instead of derailing the progress he's made this season as a fantasy sleeper coming into his own.
10. The Almost Hat-Trick Award: Ray Rice owners should have helped themselves to a trio of touchdowns last night. Rice's game-opening touchdown scamper came back on Torrey Smith's holding call and later the Ravens decided to kick a field goal from around the one-inch line. Rice got on the board later, but very easily should have had two other scores by then.
Tonight's Eagles-Bears tilt includes a couple streaks that are on the line. LeSean McCoy has scored in all seven games this season, while Michael Vick has yet to get a rushing touchdown. I have a feeling one of the two is going to end.