Change happens quickly in the NFL. After rushing for nearly 1,000 yards as a rookie in 2008, Kevin Smith’s career was waylaid by a rash of knee, shoulder and thumb injuries. The Lions used first-and second-round picks on running back replacements in back-to-back years, not even bothering to tender Smith an offer as a restricted free agent last March.
The entire summer and nine weeks of the regular season went by without Smith’s phone ringing until the desperate Lions brought him in along with 24 other players for a bye-week workout. Smith got Rotoworld’s attention when coach Jim Schwartz made it clear that the team had no plans to sign him, only doing so because he looked too good to pass up. That didn’t happen by over-night accident. Smith describes his routine the past few months as "Wake up at 7 o'clock in the morning, train 'til 12, go home and play with my son, go to sleep, wake up at 7 o'clock in the morning, train 'til 12, go home and play with my son." Personal trainer Pete Bommarito, who labeled Sunday’s 201-yard, three-touchdown breakout game his own personal Super Bowl, noted that Smith recently turned in a 4.48 forty-yard dash -- faster than his Combine time before the 2008 NFL draft.
Against eight Panthers in the box, Smith proved definitively that he wasn’t washed up, showing impressive acceleration, change-of-direction, lateral agility, and three-down skills on his way to a career-high 140 rushing yards and three scores. The obvious caveat is that Carolina’s rookie defensive tackles and injury-ravaged linebacker corps made even Chris Johnson look passable a week ago. Anyone who watched Smith, however, couldn’t help coming away with the impression that he’s as healthy, fresh, and explosive as he’s ever been. Hall of Famer Barry Sanders is the only other Lions back since 1960 with a higher single-game average than Smith's 8.8 yards per carry. Earning the feature-back role for as long as Jahvid Best is out, Smith has carved out a substantial role in a high-scoring offense.
"There’s a lot of great stories in the NFL, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a better story than Kevin Smith,” Schwartz said after the game. “Obviously he has a lot of talent. He was set back earlier in his career with a lot of major injuries. With the lockout this year and short training camps and stuff like that it was a difficult situation for him to come back.”
Smith’s emergence as a viable running threat was just the elixir Matthew Stafford needed to end his malaise. After throwing picks on his first two possessions, Stafford caught fire over the final three quarters, becoming the first quarterback of the Super Bowl era with two games of least five touchdown passes through his first 23 career starts. The Lions outscored Carolina 35-8 in the second half, increasing their season total to 191-74 after haltime on the season while becoming the first team in NFL history to win three games in which it trailed by 17+ points.
“We got hot,” Schwartz said. “In the second half, on offense, we went touchdown, touchdown, punt, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown. I mean, are you serious? When we were on defense, they went eight yards and punt, six yards and punt, interception, four yards and punt, touchdown, interception, interception. That’s hot right there – that’s the definition of hot.”
Jordy Nelson - The only Packers receiver producing early in the game, Nelson entered halftime with five catches for 83 yards and one touchdown before Aaron Rodgers found him in stride for a 40-yard score in the fourth quarter. Now that he’s passed Greg Jennings as fantasy’s No. 3 wide receiver, opponents may no longer underestimate him due to his skin color. Nelson is on pace for 64 receptions, 1,210 yards, and 14 touchdowns in a breakout season, proving that his Super Bowl performance was no fluke.
Rodgers is now the first quarterback in NFL history with a passer rating over 100 in 10 consecutive games in a single season. He’s just the third QB in history to throw for at least 30 touchdowns total through 10 games and the fifth ever to throw at least two touchdowns per in each of team's first 10 games of season. The Packers are the third defending Super Bowl champions to start the season 10-0, joining the 1998 Broncos and the 1990 49ers. It’s the third time in franchise history (1929, 1962) that Green Bay has reached the 10-0 mark, and they won NFL championship in both of those seasons.
Matt Moore - Chad Henne’s replacement has two of the five highest-rated games of the season, according to ESPN’s Total QBR metric. The Sporting News’ Russ Lande, who ranked Moore as the No. 1 free agent QB last offseason, can afford to do a little gloating this week. Over the last three weeks, Miami has outscored opponents 86-20 while “the new Kyle Orton” has completed 51-of-73 passes (69.8 percent) for 613 yards (8.39 YPA) with a 6:1 TD-to-INT ratio. Moore is making a case to start under center next season, but he’s still just a mediocre QB2 option in the Dolphins’ conservative offense.
Vincent Jackson - Bears CB Charles Tillman spent the week as the subject of accolades and Pro Bowl mentions after his best game of the season against Calvin Johnson and the Lions. Peanut had no answer for V-Jax one-on-one on the outside, as the Chargers deep threat pulled down four throws of over 20 yards. A one-man gang at Chicago, Jackson accounted for more than half of Philip Rivers’ 280 passing yards. Though inconsistent, V-Jax is now sixth in fantasy points at wide receiver.
Roddy White - It’s not like he’s Chris Johnson, but White was one of the biggest disappointments in the league at the half-season mark, dropping passes while being outplayed by Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez. White hauled in seven of 14 targets Sunday, taking advantage of Jones’ absence for a season-high 147 yards. It was his 25th career game with 100 yards receiving, the most in Falcons history.
Torrey Smith / Ray Rice - "He's done nothing but get better and better and better," Joe Flacco said of the rookie vertical threat. "It's really cool to see." Showing a penchant for taking the top off of defenses, Smith sits 14th among fantasy receivers despite riding the bench for the first two weeks of the season. He would have even more had Pacman Jones not yanked him down by the dreadlocks to prevent a run-away touchdown.
Ravens OC Cam Cameron made it clear that Rice would be the focal point of the offense going forward after under-utilizing his best player the previous two weeks. Now fantasy’s No. 2 back, Rice responded with his third 100-yard rushing game and and third multiple touchdown game of the season against the Bengals. "I know if Ray Rice is touching the ball, I know we have a chance to win,'' safety Ed Reed said. "You've got to run the ball to win."