Worst fantasy decision: The time was about 3:58 ET, but that’s just a rough estimate, although I remember the events that follow distinctly. Gagnon and I were in the midst of writing our insightful, inspiring, and compelling thoughts on the early games when Josh Ellis of DallasCowboys.com reported that Tashard Choice would start for the Cowboys over DeMarco Murray. This means nothing to most of you, unless you’re a Cowboys fan.
Murray is on my fantasy team, and I had planned on taking a chance on him with both BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Ahmad Bradshaw on their bye, which also means nothing to most of you. With urgent action needed and little time to research, I benched Murray in favor of James Starks. It was all a blur, a moment of fantasy intoxication.
A few hours later Murray had rushed for 253 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, with 91 of those yards coming on his first carry. He broke Emmitt Smith’s record and posted the highest single-game rushing total in Cowboys history, the ninth best single-game total in league history and the second-best by a rookie, and he came 45 yards shy of Adrian Peterson’s all-time record single-game mark. My decision to bench a record-setting performance may matter to some of you who wish to pelt the poor village idiot with fish sticks. If anyone can top that moment of reactionary idiocy, I’d love to hear it.
The reason I picked up Murray as a desperate fantasy bye week fill-in to begin with is the same reason why a Dallas rushing offense averaging only 84.8 yards per game was expected to break out today, no matter who received the carries. The over 160 yards the Rams were allowing on the ground prior to this week are every offenses’ magic tonic…
What’s difficult to tell though is if Murray was just that explosive, or if the Rams’ run defense is just that implosive. The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle, but what’s clear is that Felix Jones’ expected breakout year ended today, and Dallas’ injured regular starter didn’t play a second of football.
The NFL is kind of cruel like that. At the very least Murray has earned an even time share when Jones returns a few weeks from now, which is a very welcome problem for a Dallas offense that was searching for a consistent runner.
Best bargain: So yeah, I’d say the Cowboys are getting a pretty good deal for their minimal investment in Murray…
Most concerning injury: The Raiders use the run as a catalyst for everything else they do offensively, a strategy that will become embedded even further with Carson Palmer still working himself into game shape and essentially going through his personal training camp over the next few weeks. An injury to such a dynamic runner like Darren McFadden would clearly be concerning for any team, but it’s an especially painful punch to the gut now for a Raiders franchise still trying to pick itself up after Jason Campbell’s season-ending broken collarbone.
McFadden left today’s loss to Kansas City early in the first quarter with a sprained right foot and didn’t return. He’s had nagging foot injuries in the past and has already missed 10 games over his young, four-year career. Luckily his timing is good, and he now has the Raiders’ Week 8 bye to rest and receive treatment.
Michael Bush filled-in effectively last year when McFadden was injured and averaged 96 rushing yards over three starts. But if this is a long-term injury Bush’s presence as the primary back will be detrimental since he can’t match McFadden’s burst and acceleration.
Most efficient rookie debut: It would be easy to be critical of Christian Ponder’s debut as a starting quarterback, just like it was easy to poke holes in Tim Tebow’s first start of 2011. The difference between the Ponder we saw today and the Tebow we saw today is that we’ve seen that Tebow before. The sample size was small, but Tebow still had three starts last year, and therefore three games to become acclimated with the speed and strength of NFL football.
Yet even with that experience, Tebow was still drastically underwhelming for all but about five minutes of Denver’s win earlier today against a winless Miami team. Ponder’s numbers–219 passing yards, two interceptions and two touchdowns all while completing only 40 percent of his passes–were on par with what we should have expected from a rookie quarterback making his first career start against the pass rush of Clay Mathews and B.J. Raji, and the ball-hawking skills of Charles Woodson, who picked him off twice.
But what those surface numbers don’t show is Ponder’s ability to create space in a clutch situation. The Packers scored 20 unanswered points in the third quarter, re-asserting themselves as the dominant defending champions. There was no reason to believe the Vikings could stick around, but they did, and they did it largely because of Ponder’s ability to throw accurately on the run to convert four of his five third down attempts in the final quarter.
Three of those conversions came on a drive early in the quarter that ended with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins. Aside from the scoring play, the highlight of that drive was a 16-yard pass to Greg Camarillo that Ponder completed while off-balance and rolling to his right.
Ponder can run, scramble, and be creative with his feet, but that’s not his first instinct, which means he’s not Tebow. That’s a good thing.
He’s closer to being a much younger version of the man he just replaced in Minnesota. That’s good too, as long as Ponder doesn’t puke in the huddle.