jamaal charles pose2

Jamaal Charles is a running back. That’s his job title, and that’s what we call him. It feels neat and packaged and organized to put players into a certain drawer, even if there’s some cramming and wedging involved.

But what’s becoming apparent is that with the truly exceptional talents, they do more than just bust the framework we’ve devised for their position. They throw it at us. Hard, and then run away.

Far, far away.

We’ve seen this peculiar behavior from Jimmy Graham, who may have the body of a tight end, but that’s about it. While lining up split out wide and, well, just about everywhere, he has the speed and leaping ability to match many wide receivers.

With Charles this season, it’s his ability to be much more of a receiver than a pure running back that’s doing the mold busting. The moment Andy Reid came aboard in Kansas City now just over a year ago, we knew Charles would be featured far more as a pass catcher, just as LeSean McCoy was in Philadelphia. That thought filled us with great joy, as did reports throughout minicamps in the spring that he was lining up in every conceivable place.

Now? Now his 655 receiving yards leads all running backs, and it’s not close (Darren Sproles is second with 556). And here’s a really funny story: 195 of those yards and five of Charles’ 18 total touchdowns came Sunday.

It’s difficult to compute what happened yesterday afternoon in Oakland. What’s not at all surprising is the continued suck of the Raiders during a 56-31 dummying in which the Kansas City Chiefs clinched a playoff berth. But the Raiders are still an NFL team, and as such it’s a difficult and historic accomplishment to score five touchdowns in one game. That degree of difficulty is raised further when most of Charles’ touchdowns required lengthy runs deep into a sunny Sunday afternoon.

On his first snap, Charles caught a screen pass, and then ran untouched for 49 yards. That was neat, and so was his 39-yard touchdown on the next series that came in a similar fashion (screen, untouched…yawn), and by just the seven-minute mark of the first quarter Charles had already recorded 88 receiving yards on two touchdowns.

That would have been a nice day for most, and on this all-important fantasy semi-final week, a great stocking stuffer from Christmas present that gave Charles’ owners sweet, sweet monies. But no, his task was not yet complete.

He scored three more times, once on a 16-yard screen, and then came the mammoth, nearly career long catch and run for 71 yards. And with that, history: Charles became the first running to record four receiving touchdowns in one game, and the first Chiefs player at any position to do so in 49 years.

But it gets better, because of course it does. While his receiving numbers are certainly dazzling, dumbfounding, and several similar adjectives, forget about any separation between rushing touchdowns and receiving touchdowns, or any sort of touchdown for that matter. See, with that fifth touchdown (a one-yard goal-line plunge) Charles became one of only 11 players in league history to score five times in a game, coming one shy of tying Gale Sayers’ all-time single-game record.

The final tally for Charles was 215 total yards with five touchdowns, the third most single-game receiving yards by a running back since the AFL-NFL merger, and most importantly around these parts, 51.5 fantasy points in standard leagues. That ended in thousands of shattered hearts.

Oh and also, this great comedy…

Some Romo Ranting, and playoff prognosticating

Clarity isn’t fun in late December. No, we need utter madness every year, because otherwise we’re not entertained. So while Kansas City clinched a playoff berth, the rest Sunday was about jostling. And confusing, and upsetting the natural order of things.

A few stray-ish thoughts/observations:

  • The Seahawks clinching home-field advantage in the NFC seems inevitable, but after San Francisco pummeled Tampa they’ll have to wait one more week.
  • On the other side of the bracket, who the hell wants home-field advantage in the AFC? The top three teams (Denver, New England, and Cincinnati) all lost. The Patriots were dealt a swift gut shot when an 80-yard Tom Brady drive ended with a Mark Thomas interception, which in turn vaulted Miami to the sixth seed at 8-6, where the dogfight with he Ravens (7-6), and suddenly hot Chargers (7-7) continues.
  • Both the NFC North and NFC East are muddled messes. In the latter, the Eagles and Cowboys lost, leaving Philly still up by a game in a division that will likely come down to another Week 17 battle royale between the two teams. Meanwhile, the Packers win (more forthcoming) keeps them one game behind the Bears after Chicago beat the Browns with three fourth-quarter touchdowns. But if the Lions win tonight and hold the same 8-6 record as Chicago, they’ll move into first after sweeping the season series between the two teams. I’m dizzy and getting cold sweats.
  • There’s a very real chance that despite the swift improvement they’ve shown under Bruce Arians, the Cardinals could easily be the team at the bottom of the NFC that wins 10 games and then watches playoff football. They survived to beat Tennessee in overtime, but the 49ers, Panthers, and Saints are all one game ahead with two weeks left, and the Cards’ schedule is less than enjoyable: a trip to Seattle where winning doesn’t happen, and then a home date with the Niners. Winning out is, in a word, tough.

But the game with playoff implications and the most calamity was in Dallas, where the Cowboys Cowboys’ed the hell of the second half against the Packers, allowing those cheese heads to stay alive.

Everything started swimmingly and in its natural order against the Packers. Oh sure, a drive or four stalled and Dan Bailey needed to kick four field goals, but whatever man. Dallas had a 23-point lead at halftime, meaning to win the game a Green Bay offense led by Matt Flynn needed to score at least four times. They did that, and more.

In truth, they were powered far more by Eddie Lacy, and his 171 total yards from scrimmage, 60 of which came on a long early third quarter run which set up a touchdown (his longest run of the season). And that’s a rather damning thing now looking back on a game that ended with the scoreboard reading 37-36, and yet the team that trailed by those four scores kept running. Meanwhile, the team that had the lead did little of that, with DeMarco Murray given only five carries in the second half, even though he was trucking (134 rushing yards at a pace of 7.4 per carry).

That made little sense, but so does assigning the blame for only the second loss in franchise history after leading by 23 points solely to Romo. That kind of thought hurts my mind, because personally, my brain likes logic.

Romo threw two interceptions at the end of the game over the final 2:58, and both were crushing. We can debate specially who was at fault (Jason Garrett said the first interception was a packaged play in which Romo read the defense and chose pass, then on the second pick there was a miscommunication with Cole Beasley, and most importantly, both picks required incredibly athletic play defenders), but that matters little. The interceptions happened, and they shouldn’t have happened.

If you’re a fan of keeping it simple, there you go. I will not be releasing Romo of his responsibility for those picks. They happened.

But here’s what’s also been happening…

Romo was on the sideline when Lacy chugged for all those yards, and when Matt Flynn — he of the two touchdown passes over his three starts prior to Sunday, including Week 4 with the Raiders — threw four TDs with a passer rating of 113.1. An offense that had scored 32 points over the last two weeks posted 34 in one half.

Romo was on the sideline when that happened, and then after his lead had evaporated he had to throw 48 times during a game his offense had commanded by 23 points.

It is my sincere hope that the kind programming directors at ESPN and the like would spend a few minutes of honest thought on those numbers — and the FIVE touchdowns allowed in one half — and then tell me again how this loss is entirely on the quarterback. Yes, picking apart Skip Bayless and his ilk is the easiest sort of barrel shooting, to the point that it’s become clichéd. But those shows are a real problem, because slowly they’re killing intelligent football conversation and rational thought.

They rely and lean on the simplest narratives. Well here, I have a simple thought: regardless of any reason or explanations, those interceptions shouldn’t have happened. But a defense also shouldn’t give up 35 points in one half. Those two factors combined to fuel a historic collapse.

It wasn’t exclusively one of the other. It was both, and we can have both.

Fun with numbers

  • 768 points were scored on Sunday, an NFL record for one day. That comes exactly a week after the NFL’s various offensive juggernauts combined to set a record for the most touchdowns scored during one day of play. Offense!
  • So just how bad is the Eagles’ secondary? Matt Cassel entered Sunday averaging 187.0 passing yards per game over his six game appearances. Midway through just the first quarter after only two drives he had already accumulated 127 yards. Worse, much of that came in two rather large chunks (completions for 57 and 26 yards).
  • Of Eli Manning’s five interceptions during the Giants’ loss to Seattle, three were thrown in the first half. So in said half the Giants had more interceptions than first downs. For an even grander achievement(?), Manning passed Charlie Conerly for the most interceptions in Giants history (168).
  • For fun, let’s compare Manning’s league leading 25 interceptions this year to a quarterback of a similar vintage who also owns Super Bowl rings, but he sn’t terrible. When we do that, we arrive at this: over his last nearly three complete seasons including this year, Tom Brady has thrown 30 interceptions.
  • There’s only been two shutouts in the NFL this season, and the Giants have been on the wrong end for both of them.
  • I suppose there’s no real fancy stat here, just one with a lot of comedy. Early in the second quarter of the Falcons-Redskins game that was watched only for ‘Skins dysfunction amusement, there was a fumble on three straight plays, with possession changing hands on each. This is the sort of thing that happens in a game between two teams with a combined record of 6-20.
  • Midway through the third quarter of the Browns-Bears game that Chicago won to maintain their lead atop the still muddled NFC North, Gary Barnidge — he of the 10 receptions all season prior to Week 15 — had more receiving yards than Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron combined, and he had only 17 yards. That dire situation eventually corrected itself (Gordon finished with 67 yards on three catches, salvaging his day with a 43-yard touchdown catch), but the fact it happened at all showed how wayward Cleveland’s offensive priorities were. There’s no comprehensible way that a receiver who has 774 yards (808 in total counting a 34-yard end-around) should be targeted just twice in any half.
  • Drew Brees had gone 122 pass attempts since his last interception in Week 11 against the 49ers. Yesterday, he threw two over just his first six attempts, including one on his very first throw of the day. Brees killed many a fantasy dream in Week 15, though 393 passing yards with a touchdown for a total of 21.9 fantasy points is a mighty fine “off” day during the Saints’ 27-16 loss to St. Louis.

Robert Griffin III is just the latest institution in Washington to be shut down

During his first game as the most highly-touted third-string quarterback in league history, Robert Griffin III stood on the sideline watching the Redskins’ latest tease in which they showed equal doses of promise (more on the Kirk Cousins experience below) and self mutilation, eventually losing to Atlanta 27-26.

Griffin actually led the pre-game huddle, which was odd in so many ways.

Before we get on with the other major fantasy contributors of the day that won and lost matchups, you need some comic relief after thinking about the depression that is Redskins football. Well, I’ll just leave this here then

The saddest Bucs GIF on Twitpic

Alright, so about the rest of the awesomeness from anyone not named Jamaal Charles or Eddie Lacy.

Zac Stacy exposed the Saints

Taking advantage of a matchup against a Saints defense that’s now allowed 13 carries for 20 yards or more, Zac Stacy had large chunks of 40 and 29 yards. Along with Lacy and Murray, Stacy is one of three running backs thus far in Week 15 to finish with over 130 rushing yards.

Kirk Cousins looked pretty alright

While pleasing those who were brave enough to stream him during semi-final week with a decent though less than spectacular 13 fantasy points, Kirk Cousins made some athletic and pinpoint throws on the run while also navigating the Redskins’ glowing dumpster fire. He was one of five quarterbacks Sunday to top 380 passing yards, though Cousins did it while also forcing some passes that led to costly turnovers.

Despite the burning toxic mess in Washington, it’s important to remember that Cousins started only his second career game Sunday.

Kendall Wright is keeper material

I mean that both for you, and for the Titans.

For you kids in keeper leagues, having a young wide receiver around is a very good thing, especially when he’s averaging a fine 72.8 yards per game over half the season, and especially if he’s been doing that with Ryan Fitzpatrick delivering the ball.

If a wide receiver can finish with 150 yards in any game quarterbacked by Fitzpatrick and his pasta arm, he’s quite skilled.

Dez Bryant also has skills

Dez Bryant is an acrobatic individual, and he demonstrated that again yesterday with a reaching grab at the back of the end zone which briefly restored a two-score lead.

Bryant did his part as a marquee fantasy receiver, with season highs in receptions (11), and yards (153).

Nick Foles is your favorite garbage man

Much of it came during garbage time when the Vikings scored 21 points even without Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, but you cared so very little about that. Foles continued his strategy of “I throw high so you go deep OK good”, doing that with DeSean Jackson. Of Foles’ 428 passing yards, Jackson was on the other end for 195 of them, including deep ballin’ for 51 and 30 yards.

Although he threw a pick, Foles’ touchdown-to-interception ratio is still highly favorable at 23:2, and his yards per attempt has been above 8.0 in six of his eight starts.

Matt Cassel…seriously

We live in a world where Matt Cassel was one of the top fantasy quarterbacks during a week when that title really, really matters.

His 382 passing yards with three touchdowns and one INT, in addition to 19 rushing yards and a score on the ground, ended in 30 fantasy points.

Alshon Jeffery hasn’t seen a pass he doesn’t like

In fairness, this should have been intercepted. But in even more fairness: damn

Alshon-Jeffrey-is-just-too-good-for-Cleveland-b

That 45-yard touchdown catch was Jeffery’s fourth over the last three weeks.

Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman sucks back targets

We’ve seen the Patriots offense without Rob Gronkowski earlier this year, so we sort of knew what to expect this time around. But not really, because this time there’s the added awfulness of Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins still being sidelined too, leaving Tom Brady without a true deep option.

So he adjusted his crosshairs to a much shorter distance, targeting Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman a combined 33 times for 270 yards, with Edelman averaging only 10.7 yards per catch. This will be the Patriots’ passing offense for the foreseeable future, at least until Thompkins or Dobson return.

Who the hell is Matt Asiata?

While the Eagles’ secondary is an insult to the history of defense, their front seven is pretty good, or at least sort of OK after allowing only eight rushing touchdowns over 13 games prior to yesterday.

So of course the third-string guy filling in for Peterson and Gerhart scored three times in one game, despite averaging a pretty horrifying 1.7 yards per carry.

The Jaguars’ playoff scenarios (seriously)

This is all meaningless now after the Jaguars lost to Buffalo, not that it had much meaning to begin with. But prior to kickoff some intern in a cold dark room brought us this…

Quote of the week

Mike Shanahan knows how to see the sunshine through the rain.

The art of agony

It’s not quite the poetic beauty of the butt fumble, and it definitely doesn’t match the majesty that is “Man Getting Hit By Football“. But the face fumble is still art.

The 2nd angle on Dolphins holder DOINK is fabulous.  on Twitpic

Elsewhere in embarrassment, Steven Jackson did a truck imitation, and Brandon Meriweather forgot to take his knees out.

Ouch

  • The most significant injury of the day came when Victor Cruz‘s head slammed into the turf/concrete after he elevated to make a catch. He also sprained his knee, and although there’s been nothing said publicly yet, with the Giants now long removed from playoff contention there’s no motivation whatsoever to rush him back. That obviously stings for fantasy purposes, but this is a reality we all deal with in late December. This sort of situation is also the reason why any self-respecting fantasy football league ends in Week 16, because often outside of a handful of important games, that week turns into preseason in December.
  • The other major injury that will lead to fantasy tears in Week 16 is Larry Fitzgerald’s concussion. He was reportedly “not OK” after getting knocked sometime during the Cardinals’ nervous win over Tennessee, and that’s not at all promising. Get those Andre Roberts claims ready.
  • Cam Newton is just fine after throwing for 273 yards with a touchdown during Carolina’s win over the Jets, their 10th of the year to remain in contention for the NFC South crown. But it was at least mildly concerning when he left early for halftime to get an apparent injury looked at after Sheldon Richardson rolled over his leg. Because, you see, legs are important for quarterbacks who run a lot.
  • Joe Haden, arguably (barely) the best cornerback in the league, left with a hip pointer which will now lead to an uncertain status for Week 16. I suppose that’s pleasant news for anyone in a two-quarterback league who’s starting Geno Smith during championship week. Godspeed with that.
  • It seems a hip pointer was a trendy injury Sunday, as Colts running back Donald Brown didn’t return after suffering one of his own.
  • LaMarr Woodley left the Sunday nighter with a calf injury. He’s already missed three games this season, and another absence leaves a major pass rush hole as the Steelers continue a playoff push.
  • In the same game, James Harrison left with a concussion.