By James Quintong
January 20, 2005

Many fantasy owners aren't necessarily celebrating Peyton Manning breaking Dan Marino's single-season TD record, but wondering what took him so long. After putting up 44 touchdown passes through Week 13 (including a stretch of five straight games with at least three TDs), he had just two against the Texans, one against the Ravens and two Sunday against the Chargers. Those last three weeks coincided with many fantasy playoff weeks. In many leagues, this week is the fantasy Super Bowl.

Thankfully for Manning, he still put up decent yards in those games, including a nice 383 on Sunday to rally the Colts from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit. He struggled at times but picked it up when it mattered most in the fourth quarter and overtime. (If anything, his Week 16 performance this week far exceeded last year's Week 16 when he had no touchdowns and just 146 passing yards against the Broncos.)

Hopefully for your team, you weren't completely relying on Manning to carry your fantasy squad. You need other guys to step up as well if you are to win the league title. As much as Manning has been the fantasy stud, it's a team effort, whether on the field or in fantasy. And he definitely helped fantasy teams much more than late-season wonder Billy Volek, who barely cracked 100 passing yards.

On the other hand, if you rolled the dice on guys like Lee Evans, Willis McGahee, Muhsin Muhammad and Nick Goings, you may be on your way to a fantasy championship, especially if you couple them with No. 18.

1. Shaun Alexander, RB, Seahawks (30 carries, 154 yards, 3 TDs): With Matt Hasselbeck a very late scratch, Seattle relied heavily on Alexander, who came through with his fifth multi-touchdown game of the season. This is the type of performance you want from a stud running back when it matters most. (For those wondering, one of his scores was a recovery of his own fumble in the end zone, so that could affect some leagues.)

2. Reuben Droughns, RB, Broncos (22 carries, 91 yards, 2 TDs; 2 catches, 30 yards, 1 TD): Tatum Bell may be the running back of the future in Denver, but Droughns is the guy for right now. And this time, he did many owners well by scoring three touchdowns.

3. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, Chargers (21 carries, 81 yards, 1 TD; 5 catches, 95 yards, 1 TD): He and Drew Brees tried to steal Manning's thunder by chewing up the Colts' defense early. Tomlinson was most impressive on a nice catch and long run that was his first TD of the game. Tomlinson has now scored a rushing TD in 12 straight games, an NFL record for a single season, and a stat that makes fantasy owners very happy.

4. Brett Favre, QB, Packers (30-43, 365 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT): Favre usually struggles in the Metrodome, but in front of a national TV audience and with the NFC North title on the line, he came up with a big game just in time for many fantasy owners.

5. Daunte Culpepper, QB, Vikings (16-23, 285 yards, 3 TDs; 3 carries, 21 yards): Lost in the Manning hoopla is the fact that Culpepper is finding his touch again, even with Randy Moss not necessarily at full strength. Culpepper has 37 TD passes this season, which would've made news if not for Manning.

6. Tony Gonzalez, TE, Chiefs (11 catches, 124 yards, 2 TDs): Gonzo isn't giving up title of best fantasy tight end without a fight. He was huge in the first half against a depleted Raiders defense and also made some key plays down the stretch for Kansas City.

7. Jake Delhomme, QB, Panthers (19-24, 214 yards, 4 TDs; 1 carry, 12 yards): With Carolina still clinging for its playoff life, Delhomme came up big against a supposedly tough Tampa Bay defense. He's clicked nicely with Muhsin Muhammad, and both would be great pickups in playoff leagues should they make it to the postseason.

8. Larry Johnson, RB, Chiefs (25 carries, 79 yards, 2 TDs; 4 catches, 43 yards): His run of consecutive 100-yard games ended, but he still did fantasy owners proud by scoring two touchdowns, although those who had Priest Holmes wonder what might've been.

9. Domanick Davis, RB, Texans (30 carries, 150 yards, 1 TD; 5 catches, 39 yards): He just keeps on scoring touchdowns and getting plenty of touches to keep fantasy owners happy. After a slow start and some injuries, Davis became one clutch fantasy back when it mattered the most.

10. Peyton Manning, QB, Colts (27-44, 383 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT): His TD production has slowed in recent weeks, but he still broke Dan Marino's record and did so in very dramatic fashion. Manning has been the fantasy stud this season, so it's nice to see him have a big game when it mattered the most for fantasy owners.

Other top performers: Brian Griese, QB, Buccaneers (30-41, 321 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs; 2 carries, 3 yards); Drew Brees, QB, Chargers (21-31, 290 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT; 6 carries, 12 yards); Muhsin Muhammad, WR, Panthers (8 catches, 115 yards, 2 TDs); Willis McGahee, RB, Bills (15 carries, 102 yards, 2 TDs; 1 catch, 14 yards); Lee Evans, WR, Bills (8 catches, 92 yards, 2 TDs; 1 carry, 21 yards); Trent Green, QB, Chiefs (32-45, 358 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 2 carries, 12 yards, 1 lost fumble); Donald Driver, WR, Packers (11 catches, 162 yards, 1 TD); Michael Bennett, RB, Vikings (17 carries, 92 yards; 3 catches, 67 yards, 1 TD); Jake Plummer, QB, Broncos (21-26, 303 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 7 carries, 28 yards); Nate Burleson, WR, Vikings (2 catches, 110 yards, 1 TD); Brandon Stokley, WR, Colts (7 catches, 123 yards, 1 TD); Kevin Jones, RB, Lions (25 carries, 123 yards, 1 TD; 1 catch, 8 yards); Chad Johnson, WR, Bengals (8 catches, 46 yards, 2 TDs); Warrick Dunn, RB, Falcons (18 carries, 52 yards, 1 TD; 6 catches, 87 yards); Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers (14-19, 221 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 2 carries, 11 yards); Tom Brady, QB, Patriots (21-32, 264 yards, 2 TDs); Michael Clayton, WR, Buccaneers (4 catches, 66 yards, 2 TDs); Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals (4 catches, 70 yards, 2 TDs; 2 carries, 10 yards).

Billy Volek, QB, Titans (8-20, 111 yards, 2 INTs): We all knew he couldn't keep up his recent pace, but I don't think anyone expected such a dud of a performance when it counted most. He may have carried many teams to the fantasy Super Bowl, but he may have also lost a bunch as well.

Drew Bennett, WR, Titans (2 catches, 26 yards): Like Volek, you knew the good fortune was going to stop, but not in this way.

Hines Ward, WR, Steelers (3 catches, 21 yards; 1 carry, -5 yards): Plaxico Burress (4 catches, 97 yards, 1 TD) came back, so Ben Roethlisberger was happy to get his favorite target back at the expense of the Pro Bowler Ward.

Byron Leftwich, QB, Jaguars (6-14, 35 yards, 1 INT; 4 carries, 19 yards): In a big game for both fantasy owners and Jacksonville, Leftwich was a huge bust. It didn't help that Fred Taylor was a late scratch with a knee injury, but you'd think he'd pick up the slack in his place. It also didn't help that Leftwich suffered a concussion and was replaced by David Garrard. Neither amounted to much Sunday.

Jimmy Smith, WR, Jaguars (2 catches, 17 yards): The unfortunate victim of Jacksonville's struggles throwing the ball.

Clinton Portis, RB, Redskins (10 carries, 32 yards): A shoulder injury did knock him out for most of the second half, but after some strong running late in the season, he picked a bad time to slump again.

Curtis Martin, RB, Jets (13 carries, 33 yards; 5 catches, 44 yards): The receiving yards helped him slightly, but the Pats did a good job of bottling up Martin this week at the most inopportune time for fantasy owners.

Greg Jones, RB, Jaguars (9 carries, 38 yards): He didn't get a whole lot of work in place of the injured Fred Taylor, but he did get the start. Jacksonville hurt its playoff hopes with the loss, so Jones may get even more looks next week.

Shaud Williams, RB, Bills (17 carries, 93 yards, 1 TD; 1 catch, -1 yards): He was expected to start for Buffalo, but Willis McGahee was healthy enough to go and put up huge stats. However, there were still plenty of touches to go around, especially after Buffalo put up a huge lead, giving Williams a chance to make an impact.

Eric Parker, WR, Chargers (7 catches, 103 yards, 1 TD): With Keenan McCardell out, someone other than Antonio Gates had to catch some passes, so in comes Parker, who had his way with the Colts' spotty defense.

Jon Kitna, QB, Bengals (20-32, 186 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 2 carries, 14 yards): He played decently enough in place of the injured Carson Palmer, just as many expected.

Late inactives: Fred Taylor, Marcus Pollard, Alge Crumpler, Michael Vick, Keenan McCardell, Duce Staley.

A knee injury prematurely ended Billy Volek's dismal Christmas day performances. Doug Johnson stepped in for him in the fourth quarter.

Ben Roethlisberger suffered a bruised sternum on a Terrell Suggs hit after throwing a TD pass. Tommy Maddox relieved him in the fourth quarter. Strangely enough, Maddox was replaced in the lineup by Roethlisberger after he got hurt during the Steelers' last matchup with the Ravens in Week 2. Given that the Steelers clinched home field throughout the playoffs, there is no rush to get Big Ben out there.

Clinton Portis missed most of the second half with a bruised shoulder. Ladell Betts replaced him.

Packers 34, Vikings 31: It was a tough call with a bunch of high-scoring games, but with Favre and Culpepper doing their thing, plus nice games from a bunch of supporting characters, the Christmas Eve shootout gets the nod.

A bunch of records were set in the Colts-Chargers game besides Manning's TD mark. Antonio Gates set the record for most touchdown catches by a tight end. The Colts became the fourth team ever with three 1,000-yard receivers in the same season. LaDainian Tomlinson scored a rushing TD in his 12th consecutive game.

What took Michael Bennett so long to finally put up a huge game, other than the Packers' struggles with their tackling? The revolving door in Minnesota among running backs was a bit aggravating for many fantasy owners.

Speaking of frustrating fantasy owners, Willis McGahee didn't seem likely to play most of the week but then was a game-time decision. And then he turns in yet another huge game. Meanwhile, Matt Hasselbeck seemed iffy but likely to play on Sunday. Instead, he was a late benching in favor of Trent Dilfer. What's probably most aggravating about these developments is that both played the late afternoon game, which makes it tougher to switch players in and out of the lineup.

Also frustrating for fantasy owners, but a bit more expected, is the benchings of key players from teams who have already clinched playoff berths. The Falcons did it Sunday with Michael Vick and Alge Crumpler, and there's a chance that the Eagles could give Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook limited action on Monday night. This is the reason why many fantasy leagues stop after Week 16 instead of 17, but it's hard to stop if a team has locked up its playoff fortunes early on.

Speaking of the Falcons taking things easy, Matt Schaub struggled in his first NFL start (17-41, 188 yards, 2 INTs). But for those you playing in Week 17, Michael Vick is expected to play. Also in Falcons news, Peerless Price set a season high with six receptions but had just 49 yards.

The Giants may have lost eight straight, but Tiki Barber continues to put up solid fantasy stats, breaking the 100-yard barrier and scoring a touchdown on Sunday. On the other hand, Eli Manning struggled again. Just as brother Peyton was setting the single-season TD record, Eli threw a pick that would seal the game.

Despite missing a good part of the season with injuries, Kevin Jones broke the 1,000-yard mark. That's a good sign for next year. It also shows that many 1,000-yard seasons aren't alike.

Will Duce Staley ever return to the lineup? I suppose it will be in the playoffs, where it will only help those in playoff leagues. Otherwise, the Bus just continues to keep rolling.

Sometimes, my charts of 100-yard rushers and receivers can be a bit misleading in determining this week's studs if only because some of the top performances came from guys with multiple touchdowns, but just under the century mark in yards.

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