Matt Ryan has never carried his teams, but he’s also never sunk them. He’s overseen four playoff berths in seven years, and known how to get Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones the ball. Although he long ago proved he wouldn’t be joining Peyton Manning and Tom Brady at the top, he’s not stuck in the middle with Matthew Stafford.
But after another “Bad Stafford” kind of day on Sunday, Ryan got something that’s rarely been necessary: A vote of confidence. "He's absolutely the competitor that I want,” coach Dan Quinn said when asked if he still had faith in his starting quarterback. “Absolutely,” echoed owner Arthur Blank. “He’s demonstrated his abilities over eight years. He’ll be fine. He’ll be good.”
They’re innocuous, boilerplate quotes, and anything but shocking. Even the most ardent of Matt Ryan truthers would have to acknowledge that he gives the Falcons their best chance to win. But the fact that Quinn and Blank both had to trot out their best clichés in defense of their quarterback shows just how far things have fallen. Ryan has 10 touchdowns compared to 11 turnovers over his past seven games, a span in which the Falcons have gone 2-5.
Sunday, Ryan’s first of two interceptions came in the end zone, giving him a league-worst four red zone picks on the year. He’s turned the ball over five times in two games, getting out-dueled by Teddy Bridgewater and Matt Hasselbeck in the process. Ryan has gone from caretaker to mistake maker, and it’s costing the Falcons their shot at an eminently winnable Wild Card spot.
It’s hard to see Ryan catching fire down the stretch. He gets the improved Bucs on the road in Week 13 before having to deal with the undefeated Panthers two times in three weeks. In between are plus matchups with the Jaguars and Saints, but Ryan has already failed to deliver in previously plum spots with New Orleans and Washington.
Ryan doesn’t have to be Brady or Manning, but he at least has to be Ryan Fitzpatrick. If Ryan treads a similar path in 2016, he could end up facing the unthinkable: Questions about his future in Atlanta.
Five Week 12 Negatives
Rob Gronkowski’s injury. Actually, this could be considered a positive since Gronk’s right knee issue is said to be “not as bad as it looked.” Gronk was walking around under his own power following the game, even bending over in front of his locker. Gronk’s MRI looms large, but a serious injury appears to be the least likely scenario. Even with that being the case, Gronk should be considered doubtful for Week 13. With the playoffs looming, the Pats are likely to decide they won’t need Gronk to beat the packed-in Eagles.
Jimmy Graham’s torn patellar tendon. Gronk’s football life partner wasn’t as lucky. Graham suffered arguably the most serious injury a football player can endure, and will be highly questionable for 2016. A torn patellar tendon is what’s wrecked Victor Cruz’s career. Cruz turned 29 earlier this month, the same age Graham turned last Monday. Graham has done things on a football field tight ends had never done before, but coming back as his old self would qualify as his most amazing feat yet. Dynasty league owners should consider Graham damaged goods, while re-draft players in deeper leagues should try to scoop up Luke Willson as a replacement. Slowly but surely, Willson has developed some nice chemistry with Russell Wilson.
Chris Johnson’s knee injury. Turning back the clock this season, Johnson is now in danger of doing something he’s never done: Miss a game with injury. Johnson is remarkably durable, but it’s hard to survive a helmet right to the knee. Even if testing reveals only a day-to-day type injury, Johnson will likely be rested for Week 13. The Cardinals are thinking Super Bowl, and will have a much harder time getting there if all they have at running back is Andre Ellington and David Johnson. With Ellington (toe) also ailing, Johnson is shaping up as one of this week’s top waiver adds.
DeAndre Hopkins busting in a dream matchup. The Saints entered Week 12 as one of the worst defenses of all time, but Hopkins could get them for just five catches and 36 scoreless yards. This is despite the fact that Hopkins avoided impressive rookie Delvin Breaux’s shadow, and frequently found himself lined up with statue-turned-cornerback Brandon Browner. The low point came when Hopkins let Browner break up a score in the end zone. It was an immensely frustrating day, but a one off in a campaign where Hopkins has dominated all comers. He’ll be a top-three option against the Bills in Week 13.
T.J. Yeldon’s quiet day in a great spot. Squaring off with a defense allowing the most fantasy points to running backs, Yeldon rushed nine times for only 36 yards, and again found himself coming off the field in the red zone. It was a baffling day, one Yeldon could have trouble shaking off against the Titans’ above-average run defense in Week 13. Yeldon has only two touchdowns through 187 rookie touches.
Five Week 12 Positives
C.J. Anderson’s big night against the Patriots. Brock Osweiler will get the headlines, but he wasn’t the reason the Broncos handed the Patriots their first loss. It was Anderson, who both found the edge and ran with power as he took the rock 15 times for 113 yards and two scores, the second of which sealed things in overtime. Anderson had only one more carry than Ronnie Hillman, but managed 54 more yards. Averaging 5.9 yards per carry over his past four games, Anderson has proven his early-season struggles were the result of injury. The Broncos’ backfield has been a soap opera, but it’s Anderson who should have No. 1 status for next week’s mouthwatering matchup with the Chargers.
Matt Hasselbeck’s latest relief victory. Hasselbeck is now 4-0 in place of Andrew Luck, and has more #QBWinz than Philip Rivers and Joe Flacco, among others. He’s overseen twice as many victories as Luck. Hasselbeck is hardly lighting up the stat sheet, but has thrown for only two interceptions, and managed multiple scores in 3-of-4 outings. He could be a sneaky Week 13 streamer against a Steelers defense that just got dismantled by Russell Wilson.
Blaine Gabbert’s latest good start against a tough opponent. These Gabbert-ings are no longer isolated incidents, but a trend. Sunday, it was NFC goliath Arizona that nearly fell to the Jaguars castoff. Gabbert is showing far more poise than he ever did in Jacksonville, and making throws both on the move and from the pocket. It’s still quite possible we’re staring at a mirage, but Gabbert has five more games to work his way into the 49ers’ 2016 plans. A proposition that would have seemed laughable a month ago is now a very real possibility.
Ben Roethlisberger’s 456-yard day against the Legion of Boom. Big Ben treated the league’s former best pass defense like a swinging gate, ripping off chunk gains whenever he felt like it. Roethlisberger involved all his weapons, including Markus Wheaton, backup tight ends and the fullback. There was a scary moment late when Roethlisberger pulled himself for a concussion evaluation, but he passed all tests. Roethlisberger has been the league’s most explosive quarterback whenever he’s taken the field this season. The Colts don’t have a shot at slowing him down in Week 13. Big Ben will be in the conversation for QB1 overall status.
Markus Wheaton’s return from the dead. Wheaton caught nine passes for 201 yards and a touchdown, turning in what was probably the best ever receiving effort against the Legion of Boom since it became a going consideration in 2012. With Pete Carroll focused on slowing Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, Wheaton found all the holes in his defense. It was a ridiculous day, but one fantasy owners obviously shouldn’t expect to even be approximated down the stretch, let alone repeated. Wheaton entered Week 12 the owner of a 16/273/1 line. He'll be a stretch even as a WR4 against the Colts in Week 13.
1. Seahawks secondary figure out a new nickname yet?
2. Can you please help Mike Carey remember where he parked his car?
3. If confused fans “Heathhhhhhhhhhh” another burly white tight end, does it make a sound?
Early Waiver Look (Players owned in less than 50 percent of Yahoo leagues)
Stats of the Week
The Saints failed to score a touchdown for the first time in 155 games, ending the second longest scoring streak in NFL history.
16.7. That’s how many yards Raiders second-year UDFA Seth Roberts is averaging through 21 catches. Roberts stung the Titans for 6/113/2, making a truly ridiculous grab on Score No. 1. With Michael Crabtree an impending free agent, Roberts should be 100 percent owned in Dynasty leagues.
113. That’s how many yards Doug Baldwin is averaging since the Seahawks’ Week 9 bye. This, after he averaged 43 in Weeks 1-8. He should split the difference down the stretch, but is now firmly on the WR3 radar.
DeVante Parker’s four catches and 80 yards were both new season highs, while his touchdown was the first of his career. Parker’s numbers only happened because of garbage time, but with the Dolphins firing OC Bill Lazor, there will likely be a movement to find out what the rookie has down the stretch.
Theo Riddick would lead 14 teams in receptions.
Teddy Bridgewater is on pace for 12 touchdowns.
The 6-5 Chiefs have the third best point differential in the AFC.
Philosophical Question of the Week, from ESPN’s Mike Sando: If #Rams' O could have the ball from now on with an unlimited number of downs, how many days would it take to overcome this 24-7 deficit?
Life Imitates Art Award of the Week, from @JWyattSports: That double reverse was a disaster for #Titans.