Thursday nights have a funny way of keeping fantasy footballers on their toes. After a Week 2 snoozer between Cincinnati and Houston, Week 3 kicked off with an eye-roll inducing matchup between Jared Goff and Brian Hoyer that unexpectedly pumped out 80 total points and 839 yards of offense. Fast forward to Week 5, and fantasy folks were licking their chops as Tom Brady and Jameis Winston were set to do battle in a matchup between the NFL’s two worst pass defenses through four weeks. Right on cue, the Bucs and Patriots produced three total touchdowns in four quarters on their way to an uninspiring 19-14 New England win.
The odds of a shootout in this game took a major hit well before the teams took the field at Raymond James Stadium, as ESPN’s Adam Schefter blindsided Rob Gronkowski owners, declaring that the Patriots’ touchdown machine would be inactive on Thursday night due to a thigh injury. Gronk would now be left to watch from the sidelines, while smirking league mates watched fellow fake footballers convince themselves to replace a player with 70 career touchdowns with the likes of Dwayne Allen or Tyler Kroft. Although Gronk’s Thursday night absence was discouraging, Schefter did report that Tom Brady’s trusty target is expected to return in Week 6. Unfortunately, the Patriots players that did see the field weren’t able to stack fantasy points as many hoped with additional targets available in an enticing matchup.
Tom Brady was solid in the New England win, completing 30 of 40 passes for 303 yards and one touchdown. Brady did turn the ball over twice and wasn’t able to pick apart a hurting Bucs' defense, but his performance certainly didn’t sink fantasy matchups early in the week. Brady’s favorite weapon on the night was Chris Hogan, who saw 11 targets. Hogan hauled in eight of those looks for 74 yards and his fifth touchdown of the young season. Hogan has now scored in four consecutive games and has blossomed into a reliable red zone target for Brady, which puts him firmly in the upper tiers of fantasy wide receivers. Brandin Cooks (five catches, 85 yards) and Danny Amendola (eight catches, 77 yards) both saw eight targets on the evening and turned in respectable efforts while running back James White was targeted nine times, catching seven passes for 57 yards. It was truly a team effort from the New England pass catchers in Gronk’s absence.
Tampa Bay was able to keep the game close despite kicker Nick Folk spraying kicks like a 25-handicap golfer on the tee box after a dozen adult beverages. Folk bricked a trio of kicks and has now made just two of seven field goal attempts in a five day span. Fresh off the Roberto Aguayo debacle, look for the Bucs to begin searching for a replacement kicker this week. The highlight of the Tampa Bay offense was Doug Martin in his return to action after serving a suspension to begin the season. Martin looked terrific in this game, rumbling for 74 yards and a score on 13 carries and 26 snaps. Jacquizz Rodgers saw just 13 snaps and can be safely dumped to the waiver wire while Doug Martin will snuggle into back-end RB1 status moving forward. Jameis Winston looked off all night, although he was able to stack up 334 passing yards as the Bucs tried to chase down the Patriots late. Winston settled for check down passes for most of the game and only connected with stud wideout Mike Evans five times for 49 yards. It was a frustrating effort for the Winston/Evans duo in a prime matchup with a secondary that had been roasted for four weeks. Cameron Brate caught Winston’s lone touchdown pass on the night, salvaging a decent stat line as a Gronk replacement in many leagues. Veteran speedster DeSean Jackson also had a nice game, flashing his signature wheels on the way to 106 yards on five grabs.
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Patriots at Bucs Quick Slants
New England running backs combined for 5.1 yards per carry against Tampa Bay. Dion Lewis looked shifty as usual and led the group with 53 yards on seven chances. Mike Gillislee failed to find the end zone again but did tally 52 yards on 12 carries, while James White led the group with 35 snaps. Rex Burkhead is expected to return in Week 6, so this backfield won’t get prettier any time soon. … Dwayne Allen stepped in for Gronk and failed to see a single target on a whopping 50 snaps. We now have positive confirmation that Allen should remain on fantasy waiver wires, collecting moss until the offseason begins. … Charles Sims caught five of seven targets for 31 yards and appears to be back in his role of third down back with Martin returning. Sims actually led the Bucs' backfield in snaps with Tampa Bay in catch up mode. Jacquizz Rodgers handled just four touches. … Rookie tight end O.J. Howard was targeted only once, and that target was the game’s final pass as Jameis Winston curiously chucked the potential game-winning touchdown pass into the ground at the goal line with Howard facing the goal posts. Howard isn’t start-worthy at this early point in his career.
In Other News…
Two quarterbacks have left fantasy owners scrambling for potential replacement as Week 5 draws closer, with Derek Carr (back) and Marcus Mariota (hamstring) dealing with injuries. Mariota was limited on Thursday but reportedly did “a little more” than he did at Wednesday’s practice. Mariota hasn’t graduated to anything beyond “stationary throws” while preparing for the Dolphins in Week 5, indicating that the Matt Cassel Show will return to televisions around the country on Sunday. Hopefully Mariota will be able to return in Week 6 when the Titans host Indianapolis on Monday Night Football.
Derek Carr was initially given a precise 2-6 week window to return from a back injury, but was labeled “very ahead of schedule” by his left tackle on Thursday and some feel that the Oakland quarterback could potentially return in Week 6 when the Raiders host the pride of Los Angeles, the Chargers. E.J. Manuel will be under center for Oakland in Week 5, but rumors of a possibly short absence for Carr are encouraging, especially for Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper owners.
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Injury News And Notes
Doug Baldwin (groin) and Jimmy Graham (ankle) both practiced for Seattle on Thursday while C.J. Prosise (ankle) sat out. … Michael Crabtree (chest) practiced in full and should be returning this weekend after missing Week 4. … Packers WR Davante Adams (concussion) was limited at practice on Thursday and should be monitored as Sunday approaches. … Jamaal Williams (knee) practiced fully, but Ty Montgomery (ribs) was limited on Thursday. Williams and Aaron Jones will likely head the Packers backfield this week. … Paul Perkins (ribs) missed practice, likely leaving the Giants backfield to rookie Wayne Gallman this week. … Tyler Eifert (back) missed another practice and his highly unlikely to play in Week 5. … Wendell Smallwood (knee) missed practice on Thursday. Corey Clement will see time alongside LeGarrette Blount this week if Smallwood sits out.