Chris Wesseling

The Morning After

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Dealing in Dallas

Monday, November 14, 2011


It’s no coincidence that Tony Romo has gone consecutive games without an interception for the first time since 2009. Last week was his first game without a painkilling injection since mid-September, allowing him to stand in the pocket and take chances downfield rather than chucking the ball to protect his ribs at the first sign of pressure in the pocket.

Finally back to full health, Romo shredded the Bills secondary for an NFL season-high 99.3 Total QBR while setting a franchise record by completing 88.5 percent of his passes. Michael Vick, in a  memorable Monday night thrashing of the Redskins, is the only other quarterback over the past four seasons to throw three touchdown passes before his first incompletion. In the first half with the game still in question, Romo was 18-of-19 and a perfect 7-of-7 on third downs. Coming off his best game of the season, Romo’s prospects are on the rise with DeMarco Murray gashing defenses on the ground and Laurent Robinson book-ending playmaker Dez Bryant as a legitimate second fiddle.

Breaking tackles, making defenders miss, and showing excellent vision, Murray has cleared 130 rushing yards in three of four starts. Dallas has won three of those games in dominant fashion, outscoring opponents by a combined 101-27. Murray has averaged 170.5 scrimmage yards with Felix Jones on the shelf. While the Cowboys refuse to anoint Murray the starter, this decision falls into the category of “don’t over-think it.” Suddenly just a game back of the Giants, Dallas must realize its best chance to win is with Murray in the lineup. The 5-4 Cowboys are at Washington, versus Miami, and at Arizona while the 6-3 Giants host the Eagles and Packers and travel to New Orleans before a Week 14 showdown. The NFC East will likely be won over the next month.

Game Balls

Arian Foster - Thanks to a lingering hamstring injury, Foster totaled just 40 scrimmage yards through the end of September. In seven games since, he’s piled up 1,145 yards (164 per game) at just over a touchdown per week. Foster is the first running back to score on two pass plays of 75 yards or longer in the same season since Hall of Famer Gale Sayers' magical 1965 rookie campaign. Behind 186 yards and two touchdowns against an indifferent Bucs defense, Foster leap-frogged LeSean McCoy to take the No. 1 spot in fantasy points per week. One could hardly blame a Texans fan for believing his team boasts the league’s best running back in Foster as well as the league’s top backup in Ben Tate, on pace for nearly 1,100 rushing yards. A legitimate Super Bowl contender with Andre Johnson returning after the bye week, Houston leads the NFL in defense as well as defensive passer rating (63.1) after bringing up the rear in the latter last season.

Larry Fitzgerald - The Eagles have now blown five fourth-quarter leads while being outscored 74-27 in the final frame. A normally scattershot John Skelton channeled Johnny Unitas, going 9-of-16 for 166 yards with two touchdowns and a 105.7 rating in the Cardinals’ fourth-quarter comeback bid. The primary difference between Skelton and Kevin Kolb is the realization that the ball most go to Larry Fitzgerald regardless of coverage. Fitz has seen 12.5 targets per game with Skelton compared to just 6.28 with Kolb. Abusing the Eagles’ dream-team secondary, Fitzgerald hauled in two tipped passes, including one for a touchdown while also setting up the game-winning score with a beautiful over-the-shoulder diving grab described by an excitable color commentor as single coverage against the Japanese fighting fish.” He may have ended the day with three scores if coach Ken Whisenhunt had opted to challenge the spot on that play. At 28 years and 74 days old, Fitzgerald is the third-youngest receiver in NFL history with 70 touchdown catches, behind only Randy Moss and Jerry Rice. As an aside, the box score may not show it, but Beanie Wells’ knee looked substantially better this week. Big trouble soon come, though. Wells gets the 49ers’ shut-down defense in two of the next four games, starting with Week 11.

Tom Brady / Rob Gronkowski - Behind a nearly flawless second-half performance against the league’s top secondary, Brady and Bill Belichick passed Dan Marino and Don Shula for the most wins (117) by a QB-coach duo since the 1970 merger. Accomplishing the feat in 35 fewer games, Brady is well on his way to a ninth AFC East title in 10 years (discounting Brady’s missed 2008 season). With a dream schedule against the Chiefs, Eagles, Colts, Redskins, Broncos, Dolphins and Bills, Brady is locked in as a top-five fantasy QB the rest of the way.

Gronk not only burned the Jets for his fifth two-touchdown performance in 25 games, but also notched a career-high 113 yards. He now has at least seven receptions in four consecutive games while holding the touchdown lead among tight ends (18) since he entered the league. "He was outstanding,'' shutdown corner Revis said. "Him and Tom [Brady], they were connecting every chance they got.'' After nine games, Gronk is on pace for 92 catches and 1,260 yards, which would break Ben Coats’ 1994 franchise record of 1,174 for a tight end. "The kid makes a lot of plays,'' coach Rex Ryan said after the game. "He's a factor in the red zone. The young man did a nice job of catching the football.'' Gronkowski is now averaging more fantasy points per game than Jimmy Graham, who is entering his bye week.

A Word on Tebow

Over final two quarters of Week 9 and the first two quarters of Week 10, the Broncos went an unbelievable 35 consecutive offensive plays without a pass, harkening back to the days of the single wing. The Broncos became the first team to lead at halftime without a completion since 1994. In the past 25 years, the 2009 Browns were the only other team to win with one quarterback completing two or fewer completions (6-3 win over the Bills in the most unwatchable football game I’ve ever sat through). John Elway, who went 1-of-8 for 14 yards in a 1983 victory over the Steelers, should appreciate Tim Tebow’s Bobby Douglass impression while improving to 3-1 as a starter with 320 rushing yards and nine total touchdowns.


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Chris Wesseling is a senior football editor and Dynasty league analyst for Rotoworld.com. The 2011 NFL season marks his fifth year with Rotoworld and his third year contributing to NBCSports.com. He can be found on Twitter @ChrisWesseling.
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