Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III starred immediately upon entering the NFL, but the third quarterback taken in the 2012 draft, Ryan Tannehill, has come into his own this season. All his talents were on display in the Dolphins’ 37-0 drubbing of the Chargers on Sunday.
After the two teams traded possessions in the first quarter, Tannehill took over. He threw a touchdown pass late in the first to Charles Clay and led the team on an eight-play, 61-yard touchdown drive on his next possession. By the time he threw his second touchdown of the game early in the second half, the outcome was well in hand. All told, Tannehill threw for 288 yards, 8.47 yards per attempt and three touchdowns, while running for 47 yards on four carries.
Since being put on surprise notice by head coach Joe Philbin, Tannehill has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league. In his last five games, he has averaged 256.6 yards, two touchdowns and 45.4 rushing yards per contest. The Dolphins' schedule takes a turn in the coming weeks, with the Lions, Bills and Broncos all looming, but Tannehill looks like a guy who can be trusted more often than not in one-quarterback leagues.
On the other side, Philip Rivers had his worst game of the season. He threw for 138 yards and three interceptions as the Chargers lost their third consecutive game. He didn’t get much help from the running game, with Branden Oliver picking up 19 yards on 13 carries, but this was a dreadful performance from Rivers throughout.
Don’t hold this game too much against the 11-year veteran. This was his first true dud of the season, and just the third time all year he had less than 19 points in standard-scoring leagues. The Dolphins entered the game ranked third in pass rush and seventh in pass coverage according to Pro Football Focus, and they brought that to bear on Sunday.
With that, let’s get to the rest of the immediate reactions from all the Week 9 games.
• Sammy Watkins and Kelvin Benjamin have been getting most of the attention in this year’s great class of wide receivers, and rightfully so. They may have to make some room in the Offensive Rookie of the Year debate for Mike Evans. The Tampa Bay Buccaneer had his best game as a pro on Sunday, catching seven of his 11 targets for 124 yards and two touchdowns. In his three games since returning from a groin injury, the rookie out of Texas A&M has 15 catches for 257 yards and three scores. Vincent Jackson led the team with 12 targets and had a nice day, catching six balls for 86 yards. If anything, Sunday was more proof that Evans is capable of being a real-life No. 1 receiver. He looks like a fantasy WR2 for the rest of the season.
• Bobby Rainey ran for 87 yards on 19 carries and caught one pass for 34 yards. It was another strong performance from the nominal backup, but it remains to be seen what the Buccaneers will do with Charles Sims, who is expected to make his NFL debut next week. At 1-7, they’re out of playoff contention. Sims, the rookie out of West Virginia, is potentially capable of being a workhorse back, and there’s no doubt the Bucs want to see what they have in him. Chances are Sims and Rainey split duties in the backfield, pushing Doug Martin, who missed Sunday’s game with an ankle injury, aside.
• Ben Tate had another terrible game, running 10 times for a total of three yards. In three games without center Alex Mack, he has 65 yards on 41 carries. What’s more, Terrance West led the team with 15 carries. He got just 48 yards on those totes, but the fact that he got more carries in a game that was close throughout should tell you a lot about what the Cleveland coaches think about their backs. As we called earlier this week, Tate is an RB3, at best, for the rest of the year.
• Andrew Hawkins: great matchup, three catches, 34 yards. Sorry for the strong touting on him, but it goes to show that opportunity isn’t everything.
• Is Carson Palmer an MVP candidate? Realistically, he’s not going to win it, but the Cardinals are now 5-0 in games in which he has played after going into Dallas and coming out with a 28-17 victory. Palmer has obviously been a huge part of that success, and he has been an under-the-radar fantasy star this year. He put up 249 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, and is now averaging just short of 20 fantasy points per game. Coming into this week, only Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers and Drew Brees were putting up at least 20 points per game.
• DeMarco Murray’s 100-yard streak came to an end on Sunday with the Cardinals holding him to 79 yards on 19 carries. It was his first subpar fantasy game of the season, as he had nine points in standard-scoring leagues. The whole Cowboys offense predictably struggled in a tough matchup with Tony Romo out. Neither Dez Bryant nor Terrance Williams caught a pass until the fourth quarter, and they combined for four catches and 34 yards. The Cowboys head across the Atlantic to play the Jaguars next week. It’ll obviously be a solid matchup for all involved, but they need Romo to get back on the field as soon as possible. Romo plans to travel with the team, and the Cowboys are "optimistic" that he'll play.
• The Eagles could be looking to Mark Sanchez to lead them to the playoffs, which, if he does, would be just the latest joke on Jets fans to date. Nick Foles suffered an injury to his non-throwing shoulder that the team fears is a fractured clavicle. That injury forced Aaron Rodgers to miss eight games a year ago. If Foles ends up with the same prognosis, he would miss the remainder of the regular season. Sanchez played well when pressed into action on Sunday, throwing for 202 yards, 9.18 yards per attempt, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He’d still be a mid-tier QB2 if he ends up as the starter.
• It was undoubtedly frustrating for LeSean McCoy owners to see Chris Polk get an eight-yard touchdown, but they should ultimately be happy after his performance in Week 9. In center Jason Kelce’s return from a sports hernia, McCoy ran for 117 yards on 23 carries. McCoy now has 349 yards on 68 carries in his last three games, good for 5.13 yards per carry. Things should only get better for him, too, with left guard Evan Mathis expected back from a knee injury soon, potentially as early as next week. McCoy will be an RB1 for the rest of the year, and could lead his owners to fantasy championships.
• Arian Foster suffered a groin injury in Sunday’s loss to the Eagles, and did not return after coming up lame. Foster has been one of the best fantasy players all season, but this is why Alfred Blue has been one of the few necessary handcuffs in the league. There’s still no word on the severity of Foster’s injury, but the Texans' Week 10 bye comes at a perfect time. They face the Browns and Bengals coming out of their bye, and that would make Blue an RB2 for the next few weeks if Foster has to miss time.
• Alex Smith threw one of the most bizarre touchdown passes you’ll ever see, with Anthony Fasano catching a deflected pass while lying on the ground, then lunging into the end zone for six points. Smith needed that fortuitous bounce to put up a decent fantasy day in what should have been a great matchup against the Jets. Smith threw for just 199 yards, 6.42 yards per attempt, and two scores in the Chiefs’ win. It’s proving hard to trust him as a fantasy option in one-quarterback leagues, even in the most beneficial matchups.
• Travis Kelce again did a lot with precious little opportunity. He got just five targets, catching four of them for 67 yards and a touchdown. Few tight ends bring to the table the big-play ability Kelce does. He averaged 13.4 yards per target on Sunday, and now has 9.98 yards per target on the season. Even if Andy Reid doesn’t get him more involved in the offense, he’s a top-10 tight end for the rest of the season.
• Chris Ivory got just eight carries on Sunday, with the Jets playing from behind for the entire afternoon. Chris Johnson, the team’s primary pass-catching back, got the bulk of the time in the backfield, carrying the ball 11 times for 69 yards and catching two passes for 32 yards. Still, this was a scenario driven entirely by game flow. Ivory remains the lead back for the Jets, though he’s no better than a mid-tier RB2 for the rest of the season.
• At 1-8, the Jets’ season is clearly over, but they may have just stolen themselves a great weapon for the future, especially since they’re clearly committed to using him. Percy Harvin caught 11 of his 13 targets for 129 yards on Sunday. All three were season-highs. With six more teams on bye next week, Harvin will be something like a low-end WR2 going up against the Steelers.
• Speaking of finding something for the future in the midst of a lost season, the Jaguars, too, have done just that. Denard Robinson ran for 94 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries in Jacksonville’s loss to Cincinnati in Week 9. In his three games as the starter, he has rushed 57 times for 329 yards and two scores, putting up an average of 15.63 fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues. He’ll have a tough matchup with the Cowboys next week followed by Jacksonville’s bye, but Robinson has to be considered an RB2 for the rest of the season.
• Jeremy Hill filled in for an injured Giovani Bernard on Sunday and had the best game of his rookie season, running for 154 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. He was already having a great day for those who started him, but made it a banner game by running for a 60-yard touchdown to ice the game for the Bengals. The Bengals visit the Saints next week, and Hill would be an RB2 if Bernard has to sit out again.
• A.J. Green made his return on Sunday after missing three games with a toe injury and caught three passes for 44 yards and a score. Mohamed Sanu once again led the receiving corps with four catches, eight targets, 95 yards and a touchdown of his own. As Green gets healthier and healthier, he’ll take over the No. 1 role in the passing attack, but both of these guys are fantasy weapons. Green deserves his usual WR1 status, while Sanu should be a WR2 for the rest of the season.
• Robert Griffin III had a decent performance in his first game back from a dislocated ankle, throwing for 251 yards, 8.96 yards per attempt, one touchdown and one interception. He ran seven times, including a few designed runs, so clearly he and the team are confident in his ankle. He took some extra time to collect himself after taking a hit late in the game, but he came out of the week fully healthy. He’ll get plenty of time to rest with Washington on bye next week, and is a strong play against the Buccaneers in Week 11.
• Alfred Morris got back on the good side of his fantasy owners this week, running for two touchdowns and 92 yards on 19 carries. The return of Griffin likely helped, but this is clearly a more effective offense when Morris is getting upward of 20 touches. He, too, will be a strong play against Tampa Bay in two weeks.
• As disappointing as Pierre Garcon has been this year, DeSean Jackson has been just as lethal. He had his league-leading fifth 100-yard game of the season in Week 9, catching four passes for 120 yards and a touchdown. He's racked up 784 yards and four touchdowns on the season, performing just like the WR1 he was with the Eagles a year ago.
• In Minnesota’s win over Washington, Matt Asiata posted big numbers, albeit a little misleading. Thanks to three goal-line scores, he put up 23.7 points while running for 26 yards. His value is entirely tied to short-yardage touchdowns, making him unplayable in anything but the deepest of fantasy leagues.
• You’re not going to win very many games when your quarterback throws for 105 yards, 4.38 yards per attempt, one touchdown and two interceptions, and your leading rusher picks up 65 yards on 19 carries. But that’s exactly what the Rams did on Sunday when they defeated the 49ers, 13-10. Getting eight sacks certainly helps, and that’s how many times the Rams brought down Colin Kaepernick. What’s most remarkable about that number is that they had just six sacks all season entering Week 9.
• From a fantasy perspective, the biggest takeaway on the Rams’ side of the ball was in the backfield. St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher hinted earlier in the week that things might become a bit clearer this week and he followed through. Tre Mason had 20 touches and was the team’s leading rusher. Benny Cunningham had four carries and three targets, while Zac Stacy didn’t touch the ball once. Mason is the man in St. Louis, but that doesn’t make him more than a low-end RB2 for the rest of the season.
• Everything was truly ugly on the San Francisco side of the ball. Kaepernick got sacked eight times and fumbled while going into the end zone with two seconds left for what would have been a game-winning touchdown. Frank Gore got 14 carries for just 49 yards. Vernon Davis caught two of three targets, and is essentially worthless in fantasy leagues. Michael Crabtree disappointed again, catching five passes for 40 yards. Only Anquan Boldin came through for his owners, hauling in six balls for 93 yards and a score.
• This was against a Rams team that had allowed the sixth-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks and seventh most to receivers heading into Week 9. They did just play each other three weeks ago so it’s possible the Rams were able to use what they learned in that game to hold the 49ers offense in check on Sunday, but this was an abysmal performance from Kaepernick. There isn’t very much to like in San Francisco.
• If the Rams and 49ers gave us a mess of a box score, the Raiders and Seahawks only tried to match them. Seattle managed to score 30 points despite Russell Wilson completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes for 179 yards and 5.11 yards per attempt, while Marshawn Lynch had just 67 yards on 21 carries. Lynch had a great fantasy day thanks to his pair of touchdowns and a 39-yard reception, but it was an otherwise pedestrian afternoon for him on the ground. Meanwhile, Wilson’s fantasy value has gone in the tank in recent weeks. This team totally lacks speed on the outside, and it is showing up in Wilson’s stat line. Lynch is the only player in Seattle that fantasy owners can trust with any regularity, while Wilson is a borderline starter, at best, from week to week.
• Chalk up another one for Tom Brady and the Patriots in their long rivalry with Peyton Manning. Brady had another big game, throwing for 333 yards and four touchdowns. He’s now on a five-game run in which he has 1,601 yards, 18 touchdowns and one interception. Brady spread his touchdowns around, with four different receivers hauling in one score apiece. Rob Gronkowski is, of course, a fantasy stud, and with his fifth touchdown in six games, Brandon LaFell has proven himself a consistent weapon for Brady. However, Julian Edelman finally got back on track this week, catching nine of his 10 targets for 89 yards and a touchdown. With this offense clicking, it’s hard to sit anyone with a significant role in New England.
• From a purely statistical standpoint, which is mostly all we care about in the fantasy world, the Broncos had another strong game. Peyton Manning threw for 438 yards, 7.68 yards per attempt, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Ronnie Hillman found the end zone twice, but went for a modest 63 total yards. Emmanuel Sanders racked up 151 yards, Demaryius Thomas went for 127, and Julius Thomas did what he does, putting up a paltry 33 yards but hitting paydirt. Even when this team plays a bad real-life game overall, it delivers for fantasy owners. That’s the kind of consistency that leads to fantasy titles.
• Ben Roethlisberger kicked off the Fast Forward a week ago after throwing for six touchdowns. He wraps it up this week after throwing for six more. Roethlisberger set an NFL record by throwing for 12 touchdowns in a two-game span, with his second six leading the Steelers to a 43-23 win over the Ravens. Roethlisberger didn’t throw for 522 yards this week, but his owners will likely settle for the 340 he did roll up on Baltimore. Antonio Brown caught 11 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown, and set a record of his own on Sunday night, as he now has had at least 80 yards in 11 straight games. As good as the Aaron Rodgers-Jordy Nelson and Peyton Manning-Demaryius Thomas combos are, there’s no better quarterback-receiver duo in the league right now than Roethlisberger and Brown.
• Martavis Bryant has played a total of three games in his NFL career. He already has five touchdowns. We talked last week about the impact he can have on the Pittsburgh offense, and that again showed up against the Ravens. He caught just three passes, but found the end zone twice and again vertically stretched the defense. Given the way this offense is playing, Bryant has to be considered a WR3 for the rest of the year.
• Owen Daniels returned this week after missing the Ravens’ Week 8 loss to the Bengals with a knee injury. He caught six of nine targets for 53 yards and appeared to be fully recovered. He’s safe to roll out as a low-end TE1 for the rest of the year.
• After a goose egg last week, Torrey Smith caught four of seven targets for 63 yards and a touchdown. He has had double-digit fantasy points in three of his last four games and four of his last six. Even though he had a grand total of 8.5 fantasy points in his first three games of the year, he is averaging 7.46 points per game this season. He’ll continue to be a boom-or-bust WR3 for the remainder of the season.