If you're an NFL quarterback and your name isn't Peyton Manning, you didn't go crazy in Week 4.
The past three weeks, we've seen a passel of signal-callers post huge fantasy days. In Week 1, 10 QBs scored 20-plus standard-league fantasy points. Then we saw eight QBs score 20-plus in Week 2 and nine do it in Week 3. But this Sunday? Only five men reached that mark: Manning, Philip Rivers, Alex Smith, Matt Ryan and Tom Brady. (Hopefully, you used Rivers or Smith as a replacement for the resting Aaron Rodgers or Cam Newton.) And unlike the three previous weeks, no QB reached 30 fantasy points, whereas five QBs had done it in the season's first three games.
What does this mean? Maybe nothing. But it may also mean that some order was restored to the universe, as a few of the game's great running backs finally produced days that made us remember why we drafted them in the first round. The fact is that when Manning scores 29 fantasy points in a week, it's really satisfying, but it's "only" roughly a 13-point advantage over the replacement-level QB. When Adrian Peterson scores 26 fantasy points, it's about a 20-point advantage over the replacement-level RB. That's why, in a vacuum, having the best RBs play like the best RBs is the best-case scenario for your fantasy team.
Of course, if Manning is going to average nearly 30 fantasy points per week and never score fewer than 20, well, that's something. Certainly, we haven't seen any RB give you that kind of consistency yet this year. But it usually does happen eventually, and I'm still counting on the majority of the first-round RBs to do what Peterson and Arian Foster did this week: bounce back. And perhaps Week 4 was the beginning of some sanity restoration amid the QB ranks.
Remember: Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @CHarrisESPN for more analysis during the week. For now, let's look at Sunday's other top storylines:
• None of this is to say that some running backs can't frustrate the heck out of you. After beginning Sunday's game with two nice runs, Darren McFadden reaffirmed his essential Darren McFadden-ness by apparently injuring a hamstring on the Oakland Raiders' second series and sitting out the rest of the game. Rashad Jennings will be a popular add this week, especially since Marcel Reece also suffered an injury. Alfred Morris managed 71 yards on 16 rugged carries, but suffered a rib injury and couldn't return; Roy Helu would probably be the Washington Redskins' best option if Morris misses time after the team's Week 5 bye. Maurice Jones-Drew continued a disastrous first month with 28 yards on 14 touches. We can blame the Jacksonville Jaguars' terrible overall play all we want, but the fact is that MJD isn't making anything happen, either; the only thing that might rescue him in Week 5 is a matchup against the horrible St. Louis Rams run defense. Chris Johnson produced 21 yards on 15 carries against the rugged New York Jets run defense, and didn't get any goal-line carries. And finally, C.J. Spiller racked up 25 yards on five carries on the Buffalo Bills' first possession, but managed only 52 yards on his next 18 carries and lost a touchdown to Fred Jackson. Much worse, Spiller suffered an ankle injury that forced him out of the game in the third quarter. Jackson is obviously owned in all leagues, but it's worth noting that the Bills play the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night, so Jackson (who also suffered a knee injury Sunday but was able to return to the game) may be the starter. Spiller told reporters it might be difficult for him to play in four days.
• It wasn't all bad news for RBs. Le'Veon Bell didn't look like any sort of sublime talent in his first game running for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the team's other backfield options are so lousy, Bell immediately becomes a no-doubt feature back after his 57 yards on 16 carries and four catches for 27 yards. Most importantly, Bell got every red zone look and converted two of them. His first TD showed some nice quickness in space, allowing him to get to the outside. His second was a straightforward plunge. Is Bell anything more than a Rashard Mendenhall redux? The coming weeks will tell. But heck, in his Pittsburgh heyday, Mendy was a consistent No. 2 RB.
• Reggie Bush was incredible in his return, with 22 touches, 173 yards and an acrobatic 37-yard TD run. He did this against a Chicago Bears defense that contained Adrian Peterson just two weeks ago, making Bush's afternoon all the more impressive. Joique Bell got some overflow work, to the tune of 11 touches and 42 yards, but it's clear that when Bush is right, Bell isn't going to be a strong standard-league option. By the same token, if you want to bet that Bush won't get injured and miss time again in '13, feel free. I, myself, will not.
• Arian Foster also chose a surprising week to make a fantasy statement. In a loss made unforgivable by a horrendous late pick-six by Matt Schaub, Foster was persistent and took advantage of creases in the impressive Seattle Seahawks defense. It added up to 102 yards on 27 carries, coupled with six catches for 69 yards and a TD. For some reason, there's a tendency right now in the fantasy community to be disappointed with Foster, but his fantasy point total is healthy, and most importantly his tape is basically exactly the same as previous seasons. And as I've been saying for weeks, Ben Tate is no threat to Foster's workload.
• Are Baltimore Ravens fans pining for the days of Cam Cameron as their offensive coordinator? Well, probably not. But the Ravens' play calling Sunday was curious to say the least. They just came out slinging, and pretty much ignored Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. In the first half, Joe Flacco was 9-of-23 for 101 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs, while Rice had three carries for 8 yards and Pierce had four carries for 7. And then in the second half, with the score still competitive, the Ravens didn't call a single run play until five minutes were left in the fourth quarter; in the interim, Flacco threw another 27 passes. All this added up to a huge day for Torrey Smith, who caught his first pass with a minute to go in the first half but wound up with five grabs for 166 yards and a score. But Flacco won't usually succeed with that kind of workload. (Despite his 50 attempts, he scored only 11 standard-league fantasy points, thanks in part to five interceptions.) It's particularly confusing that only two of Flacco's attempts went to running backs. Baltimore has to figure some stuff out in advance of next week's contest against the Miami Dolphins. The only silver lining here is that Rice played a vast majority of downs, so his hip must be feeling OK.
• My go-to line about Josh Freeman's benching last week was: "Well, Mike Glennon couldn't play any worse." I may have to amend that contention. Glennon's only TD-scoring drive came on a short field in the first quarter after an Arizona Cardinals fumble. He was gawkily brutal thereafter. Showing minimal pocket presence, losing a fumble on a botched handoff, and throwing an unforgivable interception deep in his own territory while leading 10-3 with four minutes left in the game, Glennon doesn't look like an NFL player. He tried to get the ball to Vincent Jackson, but Big Vince couldn't corral nine of the 11 targets he saw Sunday. Even worse, Doug Martin saw safeties pushing toward the line of scrimmage all day and wound up with 45 yards on 27 carries. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on bye in Week 5, and it couldn't come at a better time after a brutal loss.
• Who's starting to wonder whether the Cincinnati Bengals might be a better team if they swapped quarterbacks with the Cleveland Browns? For the second straight week, Brian Hoyer scored 18 fantasy points, but he was steadier Sunday, completing 25-of-38 passes for 269 yards and two TDs. But the larger point is that where Brandon Weeden looks shaky in the pocket and refuses to take shots, Hoyer smartly feeds his two playmakers -- Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon -- while hanging tough in the pocket and usually eschewing the Browns' typical "3-yard pass on third-and-7." Gordon made a crazy athletic 33-yard grab early Sunday and wound up with 71 yards on four grabs, while Cameron scored his fifth TD of the year. Meanwhile, A.J. Green found the sledding tough against Joe Haden, and Andy Dalton continued his checkdown, skittish ways.
• Matt Cassel is an arm-strength upgrade over Christian Ponder, even if Cassel didn't necessarily show it in Sunday's win in London. Cassel's yardage total (248) looks fine, but much of that damage was done on short passes with long runs by Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson. (To be fair, Simpson did catch a couple deeper balls later in the game.) But for one week, anyway, the Minnesota Vikings were a competent passing offense, with a QB who delivered balls on time and in stride. I don't want to oversell Cassel, but if he keeps the gig, there's hope for Jennings, who scored two TDs.
• A week after both men shocked the fantasy world with big days, Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill both left the New York Jets' blowout loss Sunday with injuries. Hill suffered a likely concussion on Geno Smith's first throw (an interception), while Holmes reportedly suffered a hamstring injury. Smith was awful in Week 4, illustrating why you shouldn't have been buying after last week's fluky result.
• Who'd have believed the world could miss Terrelle Pryor in an NFL game this much? Matt Flynn cleared up any lingering question about why he's been unable to keep a starting job, looking hesitant and confused in the pocket whenever he couldn't throw on time to his first receiver. A Washington Redskins defense that had produced eight sacks in three games registered seven sacks of Flynn on Sunday. Hurry back, Terrelle.
• If you've been a complaining Dwayne Bowe owner over the past month, you're not allowed to feel satisfied now. Bowe had three catches for 24 yards (and a pass interference call drawn and an interception allowed) before the Kansas City Chiefs' final meaningless drive, whereupon he rumbled for a 34-yard score through a desultory New York Giants defense. You officially have my permission to peddle Bowe at what could be the peak of his 2013 value. Alex Smith just isn't going to force the ball down the field to him.
• There hadn't been all that much difference between the way Tom Brady had used Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson heading into Sunday night, but the two rookie WRs took diverging paths in Atlanta. Despite two more horrendous drops (and another bobbling catch), Thompkins took a big step forward, with 11 targets, six catches, 127 yards and a lovely diving TD grab. Dobson had only one grab but probably should've scored on a third-quarter red zone throw, save a blatant and uncalled defensive holding; to add injury to insult, on the same play, Dobson took a shot to his head that wrenched around his neck, and he had to leave the game. Both Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola could return in Week 5 (where have we heard that before?), which would certainly mess with Thompkins' stock. But he's definitely emerging as a legit weapon.
• Last week, I wrote a piece asking whether there was anything wrong with Tony Gonzalez. I concluded there wasn't. Good conclusion. Gonzo lit up the New England Patriots on Sunday night with a career-high 149 receiving yards on 12 grabs, two of which went for touchdowns. The Atlanta Falcons keep running a hobbled Roddy White out there, which frankly makes it too easy for opposing defenses to defend the pass, unless Gonzalez pulls a nutty. He did that in Week 4, and almost single-handedly rescued the team's bacon.