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Four Downs: Donald Brown breaks out

12/20/2010

Most fantasy owners expected a running back in the Jacksonville Jaguars-Indianapolis Colts Week 15 matchup to go off. It was supposed to be reliable Maurice Jones-Drew, who was rolling with six consecutive 100-yard performances. It was surprising indeed to see Donald Brown deliver the big-time outing, breaking off multiple long runs and scoring a touchdown in producing the best fantasy game of his young career.

Brown has been an interesting case for fantasy patience this season. Because he plays with Peyton Manning in the high-powered Colts offense, fantasy owners view him differently than if he were on another squad. Heck, I admit I do, as I have with other Colts this season. I didn't need much convincing that tight end Jacob Tamme would be immediately relevant -- like top-10 tight end relevant -- when Dallas Clark was injured for the season. When I know Austin Collie will be in action, I buy in, even though he unfortunately seems to attract concussions. Blair White wouldn't be noticed if he were on the Detroit Lions. But with Brown, I had pretty much given up hope that the former UConn star would matter because he had done so little in the two months since Joseph Addai left the lineup. Javarris James figured to keep getting the goal-line touches, and he was the Colts running back to use -- and only if you were desperate.

On Sunday, Brown rushed for 129 yards on 14 carries and produced 18 fantasy points; the past three weeks combined, Brown had rushed 30 times for 66 yards and totaled 11 fantasy points, getting there only with helpful receiving work. Good for the Colts for sticking with Brown, and for the few fantasy owners who went against the grain and started him in Week 15. Brown was active in only 9 percent of ESPN standard leagues. Based on his recent performances, even that number was generous. I would have played James, fresh off scoring three touchdowns in Weeks 13 and 14. Of course, the Colts gave him only one stinkin' carry Sunday, opting for Dominic Rhodes as Brown's helper instead. Ah, fantasy football seldom makes sense.

The Colts control their AFC South destiny, and although I wouldn't call Brown a safe flex option moving ahead, I will call him Indy's top running back, and that clearly matters a bit more than with most teams. At least now the Colts, the league's worst rushing team, can threaten an opposing defense with the ground game. People ask me when I expect Addai and his battered shoulder to return, and the answer is I'll believe he'll be back only when I see it. It's like the season when Marvin Harrison and his bum knee were week to week for literally three months. After seeing Brown run well Sunday, it's possible the Colts don't need Addai back at all.

Second down: Reason No. 2,145 why head-to-head, one-and-done fantasy playoffs can break anyone's heart was seeing Arian Foster leave the Houston Texans game and finding out later he had a "muscle spasm in his glute." That has to hurt ... fantasy owners, I mean. I'm sure Foster is hurting, as well, but 11 carries for 15 yards for the league's leading rusher and top fantasy scorer is quite the drag. Foster scored five fantasy points -- four on the receiving end -- but the result is the same: utter disappointment. There's no solution to this issue that plagues fantasy owners annually; when it happens in Week 17, fantasy championships get moved up. What can you do, make your title round in Week 14? Things happen. Players get shut down. Jones-Drew and Foster did, as well as Reggie Wayne (three points), Fred Jackson (three) and Terrell Owens (zero). As for Foster, the early word is he'll be fine, so let's not all hit the free-agent wire for Derrick Ward at once. But if Foster is out, expect the unexpected with Ward, and block your Week 16 opponent from getting him even if you aren't interested in Ward.

Third down: Two of fantasy's three most added players in the past week are Arizona Cardinals: the defense and running back Tim Hightower. I admit these options looked attractive facing the Carolina Panthers, even on the road, even knowing how tough it is for West Coast teams to go east and play early-Sunday games. The Arizona defense does, after all, lead all defenses with eight touchdowns. Hightower did, after all, produce 24 fantasy points in Week 14, and Beanie Wells is irrelevant. Lesson learned (again). Shame on me for thinking the perplexing Hightower (6 carries, 16 yards) was legit. The defense, though, does still interest me against the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers in the final fortnight.

Fourth down: I don't discuss kickers much, but what happened to those owners who trusted Miami Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter does seem a bit unfair. Carpenter missed all four of his field goal attempts Sunday, each worth minus-1 point in ESPN standard formats. In some leagues the misses were more costly. He did succeed on a pair of extra points, but ultimately his minus-2 outing is going to cost many owners their matchups -- at the worst possible time. I'm already seeing the e-mails/tweets/postings. Carpenter, the No. 5 owned and activated kicker in Week 15, entered the weekend tied for second in kicker scoring this season. I would have played him. I might have lost. The fine print on the minus-2 is the kicks missed were from 48, 48, 61 and 53 yards, hardly chip shots. Doesn't seem entirely fair, does it? Blame Chad Henne for not moving the offense close enough. Consider it reason No. 4,683 why kickers shouldn't be factored into fantasy football.