By Kenn Ruby
He's baaack. Adrian Peterson looked like his old self against the Lions, gaining 116 yards on just 15 carries and hitting paydirt twice. Thanks to a 25-point halftime lead, Peterson sat out most of the second half. Chester Taylor added 70 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, but now that Peterson looks healthy, it's doubtful Taylor will see that many carries in any game the rest of the season. Regardless of who carries the ball, Minnesota has the best running game in the NFL.
Cedric Benson had season-ending surgery on his ankle last week, opening a spot for "the other" Adrian Peterson. There were rumblings that Garrett Wolfe might eat into Peterson's time, but Wolfe's only contributions were on special teams. Peterson finished with 67 yards rushing and 82 yards receiving and no other running back touched the ball. The job is his.
Shaun Alexander marked his return with his first touchdown since September, finishing with 20 carries for 65 yards. While it would have been nice to see more yards per rush, the 20 carries is a good sign. Maurice Morris went back to a reserve role, but gained 64 yards on five carries, including a 45-yard touchdown.
Brandon Jacobs sat out again, but the Giants didn't need him. Derrick Ward, who missed a month with groin and ankle injuries, carried 24 times for a career-high 154 yards. Unfortunately, he left late in the game with a broken leg, and Reuben Droughns ran in the game-winning touchdown. Droughns won't have to worry about Ward stealing his carries again this week, but Jacobs could possibly return.
Even though Selvin Young started Sunday, Travis Henry had more than twice as many carries and scored twice. Young has been outstanding during Henry's numerous absences this year, and he's in line for more starts if Henry gets suspended as expected. However, as long as both are healthy, Henry will see more action. The previous week's starter Andre Hall, missed the game with an ankle injury.
DeAngelo Williams saw his first extended action in months Sunday, finishing with 17 rushes for 82 yards and one reception for 46 yards. Although most of his touches came during garbage time, it's important to note that DeShaun Foster had only 58 yards rushing on 21 carries. Carolina is only one game out of the playoff hunt, so it's doubtful it will suddenly change the strategy that has gotten it this far. On the other hand, that strategy has only netted the Panthers five wins and 17 points per game, so it could be time for a change. Stay tuned.
LenDale White left Sunday's game with a broken finger, allowing Chris Brown to step in and play his best game in months. Brown finished with 46 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, but White's injury is not considered serious. Brown should go back to the backup role this week, patiently waiting for White's next injury.
Kolby Smith followed his monster game with a respectable 83 yards on 21 carries. The return date of Larry Johnson is still unknown, and there's a possibility he'll miss the rest of the season. In the meantime, Smith will get the majority of carries and seems up to the task.
One of the strangest careers in NFL history took another wacky turn last week as Ricky Williams - nearly two years removed from his last meaningful carry - returned to action. Six carries later, a torn chest muscle ended his season. Undisputed starter Jesse Chatman aggravated his sprained ankle in the third quarter and did not return. Backups Lorenzo Booker, Samkon Gado and Reagan Mauia combined for just four carries, so it's anyone's guess as to who might start this week if Chatman can't go. Booker led the Dolphins with six catches for 63 yards, but Gado has the most experience.
Leon Washington had 103 yards from scrimmage and added two touchdowns. He nearly had a third, but he set up Thomas Jones' first touchdown as a Jet after taking a shovel pass to the 1. Jones is still the starter, but the Jets appear to finally be making good on their commitment to get Washington more touches.
Kevin Jones had a mere three carries for one yard Sunday and has just 38 carries for 115 yards in the last four weeks. T.J. Duckett also had three carries last week, and Jones hasn't lost his job. However, with the Cowboys coming up this week, Detroit could find itself abandoning the run once again.
That collective gasp you heard in Wisconsin last week was due to Brett Favre getting knocked out of the Dallas game with a bruised right elbow and a separated left shoulder. Favre wasn't playing well before the injuries, but Aaron Rodgers, in the first extended action of his career, nearly brought the Packers back with his feet and arm. Favre should be healthy enough to return this week, but with Green Bay nearly locked into the No. 2 seed in the NFC, it would not be a surprise to see Favre rest a little down the stretch, especially if Rodgers continues to impress.
With Donovan McNabb still out with various injuries, A.J. Feeley started and threw four picks Sunday. Coach Andy Reid had to answer questions about a potential quarterback controversy last week, but Feeley's inability to protect the football has put those questions to rest. McNabb should be healthy enough to play this weekend, and the starting job will definitely be waiting for him.
Matt Schaub can add "shoulder" to the long list of his body parts that have suffered injuries this season. Schaub was knocked out of the game in the first quarter after dislocating his left shoulder, and it's getting close to the point that Houston should consider shutting him down for the season. Sage Rosenfels, who threw for 185 yards and a touchdown, will start this week.
Tampa Bay decided early in the week that if Jeff Garcia couldn't play because of his sore back that Luke McCown - rather than Bruce Gradkowksi - would get the start against the Saints. Good decision. With Garcia watching from the sidelines, McCown threw for 313 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner with 17 seconds left. McCown did have a pick six in the third quarter and was sacked for a safety in the fourth quarter, but otherwise played well. Garcia should be back soon, but until then, the job is McCown's.
Marc Bulger, who missed Sunday's game with concussion symptoms, will be evaluated early this week. Gus Frerotte, despite two interceptions, looked comfortable running the St. Louis offense in his stead, throwing for 311 yards and three touchdowns. Frerotte hurt his shoulder Sunday, so it's possible that Brock Berlin could see some action this weekend. The Rams face the Bengals this week, so whoever starts could put up nice numbers now that most of the St. Louis offensive weapons are healthy.
Joey Harrington got another start but was once again ineffective Sunday, paving the way for Chris Redman to nearly bring the Falcons all the way back. Redman, facing a 21-3 fourth-quarter deficit when he entered, threw for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Despite a late interception with the game still in doubt, Redman showed more talent in one quarter than either Harrington or Bryon Leftwich have shown all season. He could start this week.
Vinny Testaverde and his back made it through a week of practice unscathed, so he started. Although Testaverde didn't do much, he was good enough to win. David Carr was healthy but listed as the third quarterback, meaning Matt Moore has passed him on the depth chart. Unless catastrophe strikes, Carr won't get another shot to start again this season.
The long-awaited debut of top draft pick JaMarcus Russell finally occurred Sunday, as the Raiders let him play two meaningless series in the second quarter. Josh McCown started and finished the game, throwing for 141 yards and three scores. Daunte Culpepper missed the game with a sore quad, but with McCown playing well and Russell's feet now wet, Culpepper could be the odd man out when he gets healthy.
Damon Huard, starting because Brodie Croyle has a deep bruise in his back, left Sunday's game with a minor elbow injury. Suddenly the only healthy quarterback on the Kansas City roster is rookie Tyler Thigpen. Both Croyle and Huard should be healthy enough to play this week, so the Chiefs fortunately won't have to go with the raw Thigpen behind center.
Trent Dilfer continues to start, and Alex Smith will have his shoulder examined early this week. If he hasn't shown any improvement - and he's hardly been able to lift his arm over his head - he'll probably have season-ending surgery. The Panthers picked off Dilfer four times, so there's a possibility Shaun Hill could see some action if Dilfer doesn't do a better job of protecting the football.
Kyle Boller started his third game in a row Monday, but the big news out of Baltimore was the decision to put Steve McNair on Injured Reserve. McNair will undergo surgery on his shoulder and might have to call it a career. Troy Smith will continue to back up Boller.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
Arizona won Sunday despite getting very little from its two superstar receivers. Larry Fitzgerald missed the game with a sore groin and Anquan Boldin dislocated his toe in the second quarter. Although Fitzgerald should return this week, Boldin will almost certainly miss at least one game. Bryant Johnson, who started in Fitzgerald's place, led Arizona with six catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. Sean Morey and Steve Breaston each caught a pair of passes, and should see increased playing time this weekend.
Roy Williams caught five passes for 85 yards before leaving Sunday's game with a knee injury, possibly ending his season. The reeling Lions have plenty of wide receiver options - namely Mike Furrey, Calvin Johnson and Shaun McDonald - to replace Williams, but considering Detroit's complete abandonment of the run Sunday, all the Detroit receivers might make good plays.
Jerricho Cotchery had season-ending surgery on his broken right index finger, once again giving Brad Smith and Justin McCareins an opportunity to step up. They each caught only one pass (though McCareins' was for 51 yards and Smith's was a 19-yard touchdown). Meanwhile, Laveranues Coles returned from a one-game absence with five receptions for 69 yards. Smith will probably start again this week, but he hasn't made the most of his opportunities this season.
After missing the Thanksgiving game with a bum ankle, Patrick Crayton returned to action against Green Bay last week and caught two touchdown passes. Sam Hurd not only went back to a reserve role, but he was not even targeted once.
Veteran Keenan McCardell started Sunday in place of Antwaan Randle El, who was nursing a hamstring injury. McCardell only caught two passes for 14 yards, so he's not expected to make any more of a contribution than Randle-El has.