Maybe it’s not too late for Lamar Jackson to get into the MVP conversation.
He played the hero in Baltimore’s overtime victory over Minnesota, while several other contenders were stuck in neutral — or moving backward.
Tom Brady, of course, is on his bye week. Aaron Rodgers and Kyler Murray were not available to play Week 9. Josh Allen — the heavy MVP favorite at the halfway point — and Dak Prescott both played very poorly, likely the worst games either will have all year. Matthew Stafford scuffled in the night game.
And so much for Survivor pools lasting all year — the Bills and Cowboys wiped out tons of players on this cruel, unusual Sunday. Let's try to make some sense of it.
Lamar Jackson shines in a week when so few did
Jackson didn’t have his best stuff early in the Minnesota game, but he made enough plays late — and in overtime — to steer the 34-31 victory. It added up to 266 passing yards and three touchdowns, and another 120 yards on the ground (on a whopping 21 carries). Jackson ended the early wave as the No. 1 fantasy quarterback of the week, stepping over Matt Ryan (of course) and Josh Jackson (of course).
A mobile quarterback, hammer of the fantasy gods.
Jackson focused on his main receivers to move the sticks, as 19-of-27 completions went to the Big 3 of Marquise Brown (9-116), Rashod Bateman (5-52) and Mark Andrews (5-44). Bateman also drew a critical pass interference flag late in the first half, setting up Baltimore’s first touchdown. But Jackson’s three touchdown passes went to a lottery group; fullback Patrick Ricard, depth receiver Devin Duvernay, and legacy back Devonta Freeman. Score one for the touchdown trolls.
Freeman (13-79-0) and Le’Veon Bell (11-48-1) both ripped off quality rushing gains in the overtime, as Minnesota’s defense wore down from Baltimore’s 86 scrimmage snaps. Meanwhile, Latavius Murray was an injury scratch, and Ty’Son Williams scarcely played again. It’s funny that Bell wears No. 17 — 2017 was his last great NFL season.
This offense figures to keep humming along, with a date at Miami coming in Week 10. It feels like 100 years ago since the Ravens were embarrassed against Cincinnati. Baltimore once again wears the yellow jersey in the AFC North.
If you have Minnesota Vikings fans in your orbit, be sensitive and patient with them. Minnesota’s 3-5 season has been one gut punch after another. The Vikings have two overtime losses, another loss when Greg Joseph couldn’t make a 37-yard field goal, and a loss to a Cowboys team without Dak Prescott. Sunday’s defeat at Baltimore included the Vikings blowing a pair of 14-point leads. Minnesota has held a seven-point lead in every game this year, and yet still holds that lousy record.
Kirk Cousins was under 200 yards for the second straight week (17-for-28, 187 yards, two scores). Other than a 50-yard touchdown to a wide-open Justin Jefferson, little came easily for this offense. Adam Thielen was invisible until a short touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Dalvin Cook parlayed two long runs into 110 yards, but his success rate was not high. Minnesota collected just 13 first downs and went 5-for-14 on third down.
Mike Zimmer needs to right this ship if he’s going to stay in Minnesota. The schedule doesn’t get easier, with the Chargers and Packers the next two weeks.
Dallas does nothing right in blowout loss
Don’t be fooled by the final score, Denver’s 30-16 win at Dallas was more lopsided than the tally suggests. The Cowboys put up two garbage-time touchdowns in the final five minutes. The Dallas offensive line was a mess, Dak Prescott struggled with accuracy, and the receivers dropped a handful of passes.
So much for Dallas being perfect against the spread. The Broncos (+10) were the right side all day.
Courtland Sutton was quiet (one catch, two targets), but most of the other Broncos came through for fantasy. Javonte Williams rumbled for 111 yards on 17 carries, while Melvin Gordon totaled 95 total yards and a score. Tim Patrick (4-85-1) was a handy fill-in, and Jerry Jeudy (6-69-0, eight targets) is close to his opening-day form. Teddy Bridgewater only had one scoring pass, but he did average 8.9 yards per attempt.
Maybe the Broncos can become a fantasy treat for the balance of the month. The Eagles and Chargers come to Denver the next two weeks.
Jaguars shock Bills, upset of the year
I used to wonder how Buffalo lost to Pittsburgh in Week 1, but now there’s a bigger Bills question. How do we possibly explain the Jaguars beating the Bills? Jacksonville stole a 9-6 victory, coming through as a 15-point underdog.
Buffalo’s offensive line was shockingly dominated by the Jacksonville defensive front. Josh Allen was hounded into two picks and four sacks, usually forced to settle for short or horizontal throws. Consider that Allen connected 15 times with Devin Singletary and Cole Beasley, but they went for just 76 yards.
Allen did some damage as a runner (50 yards), but otherwise the Bills couldn’t run the ball (nine carries, 22 yards). Zack Moss was limited to five touches before suffering a concussion.
The silver lining for the Bills — the schedule is still wafer-thin. Buffalo visits the Jets in Week 10. Somebody is going to pay for this.
• On a day where so much play was ugly, maybe we should be praising the Titans, who have now beaten the Chiefs, Bills, Colts, and Rams in a row. The ultimate junkyard dogs. Mike Vrabel is front-runner for coach of the year.
The Titans could have left Adrian Peterson on the couch. D’Onta Foreman is more interesting (not to mention 11 years younger), and Jeremy McNichols can play on passing downs.
• The Rams stubbed their toe and posted what could go down as their worst offensive game of the year, but at least the tree remains narrow. Matthew Stafford skimmed 40-of-47 targets at the main four guys, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Tyler Higbee, and Van Jefferson. Kupp’s weekly target totals remain unfair — 10, 11, 12, 13, 10, 12, 9, 13. He’s the obvious No. 1 pick for any league that theoretically redrafted today.
• Bill Belichick has to be in his glory, with an efficient (if slightly boring) Patriots team that doesn’t beat itself. Belichick would be the first to tell you, games are lost far more often than they’re won; the team that makes the fewest mistakes generally wins.
Damien Harris lost some fantasy juice after a 15-30 rushing day, though he did sneak in a touchdown. Both Rhamondre Stevenson (10-62-0) and Brandon Bolden (8-54-0) did more with their opportunities. Hunter Henry never seems to go off with yardage, but he has a touchdown in five of six games.
• The Panthers waited too long to get Christian McCaffrey going in the passing game — that’s the best way to attack the New England defense, pass-catching runners from the backfield. Otherwise, it was a good if not spectacular game from CMC: 18 touches, 106 yards. Sam Darnold has been lost for about a month, and he’s taking down all the Carolina receivers with him.
• The Browns painted Kevin Stefanski’s favorite picture, a big win through the defense and the rushing game. Baker Mayfield only had 19 catchable throws and yet he still targeted eight players; the Browns passing game is always phone-book thick. Good luck getting any fantasy consistency through the air in Cleveland.
• The Giants were another team that enjoyed the lead and therefore kept its passing game under wraps; Daniel Jones attempted just 20 passes and averaged a scant 5.5 YPA. The Giants don’t mind, given that he didn’t turn the ball over or make any critical mistakes. Backup tight end Kyle Rudolph absorbed 25 percent of the targets, which tells you all you need to know about the no-show from New York’s receiver corps.
• He did nothing on the ground, but Cordarrelle Patterson was perfect in the passing game (6-126-0), securing every target. What a world we live in, where Patterson is just about the most consistent fantasy asset there is. The Falcons somehow controlled the Saints for three hours despite a running game that went absolutely nowhere (25-34-1, a long of five yards). Matt Ryan punched in a sneaky touchdown run, just the 12th of his 14-year career.
• It was fun and reassuring watching Justin Herbert play like Justin Herbert again, even if short passes to Keenan Allen (12-104-0, 13 targets) were the most common result. I’d love to see what No. 2 tight end Donald Parham could do with a slight uptick in targets.
• The Eagles leaned on the run for the second straight week — 39 carries against just 17 Jalen Hurts passes. It’s probably the right thing to do, given Hurts’s limitations. DeVonta Smith is the featured man in the passing game, but this is a very small pie that they're slicing up.
• The Kansas City offense looked broken again, and Kansas City probably would have lost had Aaron Rodgers been available to play. Patrick Mahomes averaged just 4.5 YPA for his 37 passes, and Tyreek Hill was contained (4-37-0, 11 targets). This passing game desperately needs a third pitch to complement Hill and Travis Kelce.
• I wanted to see a show-me game from George Kittle and was careful with his ranking, which sounds silly in hindsight. Kittle had his best game in over a year, racking up 101 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Aiyuk also had his best game of the season.
Of course most of this came in garbage time, as the Cardinals raced out to a 31-7 lead on the back of James Conner (an absurd 173 total yards and three touchdowns). Perhaps most of us have underestimated Kliff Kingsbury, who had Colt McCoy (9.6 YPA) ready to play. We also need to have a Kyle Shanahan discussion. Somehow, the 49ers have lost eight straight home games.