The NFL season's third month ended with an onslaught. It turns out playing running back is pretty hard on a fellow.
Week 12 saw several high-profile RBs go down. As of this writing, there was no official word on every one of these guys, but each of them figures to be a significant story heading into the money portion of your fantasy season:
Zac Stacy: Left the St. Louis Rams' win with a concussion. Before his injury, Stacy had 97 total yards and a TD on 13 touches. It's unknown whether he'll pass the NFL's concussion protocol before Week 13's matchup against the San Francisco 49ers. If he doesn't, fellow rookie Benny Cunningham (13 carries for 109 yards and a TD, mostly after Stacy's injury) will probably get the start, potentially with Isaiah Pead as his backup.
Knowshon Moreno: Injured his right foot during a Herculean effort Sunday night, and was able to return to a game in which he had 37 carries for 224 yards, but reportedly was seen in a walking boot and on crutches after the contest. Because he was able to return, I'm assuming he'll be OK for next week's showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs, but that's not guaranteed. Montee Ball fumbled again Sunday night, and C.J. Anderson took over the backup job thereafter.
Ryan Mathews: Left the San Diego Chargers' stirring comeback after re-aggravating a hamstring problem. Before leaving, Mathews had 16 touches for 65 yards and a goal-line TD. Knowing Mathews' history, you'd have to consider him questionable for next week against the Cincinnati Bengals. Ronnie Brown got some run in Mathews' place Sunday, but Danny Woodhead would be the obvious prime beneficiary.
Daniel Thomas: Left the final play of the third quarter of the Miami Dolphins' loss with an ankle injury, carted off after touching the ball five times for 10 yards. While Thomas was in there, Lamar Miller had 10 touches, perpetuating a frustrating platoon. If Thomas has to miss significant time, perhaps we'll finally go back to Miller dominating the backfield workload, though next week versus the New York Jets figures to be a bad day regardless.
Chris Ivory: Didn't actually leave the game because of his injured ankle, but was reportedly headed for an MRI after the contest. His performance (nine carries for 35 yards) was possibly limited by his team's offensive ineptitude and its preference to use Bilal Powell when trailing, but probably also involved his health. It would be a shame if he misses a good matchup Week 13 against the Dolphins.
Matt Forte: Left the Chicago Bears' loss with what looked like a wrenched knee and missed some time, but was able to return. One wonders, however, if the Bears' stubborn insistence on giving the incompetent Michael Bush touch after touch on the goal line might have been related to this injury.
Eddie Lacy: Left the Green Bay Packers' tie in overtime, meaning James Starks took over during the extra stanza. Fortunately, Lacy was dealing with an asthma attack, which shouldn't linger. He should be OK for Thanksgiving.
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:
• Bobby Rainey's glass slipper fell off in Week 12. He had 18 carries for 35 yards in a tough matchup against a solid Detroit Lions run defense, to go with zero catches on one target. The good news? For the moment, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have settled on Rainey as their lead guy, as Brian Leonard had only two offensive touches despite kind of a run-and-gun second half. The bad news? Rainey isn't a true feature back, and gets the Carolina Panthers next week.
• Maurice Jones-Drew had 144 total yards on 20 touches and a one-yard TD, including a 44-yard scamper. I thought Cecil Shorts might've gotten jobbed in favor of MJD's score, but the Jacksonville Jaguars didn't challenge, yet either way that's a great stat line for Jones-Drew, his best of the season. I look forward to digging into the tape and seeing if there's some unexpected speed here that I didn't see previously from MJD. But it's great for Jones-Drew's owners: Thanks to some short scores, he's got double-digit fantasy points in three of his past five contests. We'll take 'em! MJD gets the Cleveland Browns in Week 13.
• As for the Ray Rice resurgence? Not so much. Rice produced 27 yards on 17 touches against the vicious Jets defense, and it was as if Week 11 versus the Bears never happened. Rice was stuffed in the backfield time and again, finding no lanes and failing to make many tacklers miss any time he found himself in the open. The Baltimore Ravens actually lined up Tyrod Taylor under center several times and tried to inject life via some option looks (with Joe Flacco comically lining up out wide), but that pretty much failed. I think last week proved that Rice still has something left in the tank, even if he might not fully be himself (either for health or usage reasons). And that implies this is an all-around problem involving the O-line. You can't feel good about starting him most weeks.
• Somebody get Stevan Ridley a shovel. Ridley had 14 yards on four carries on Sunday night's first drive, and then the unthinkable happened: He fumbled again. It was his fourth lost fumble of the season, tops among all NFL RBs, and it earned Ridley a place on the bench. It wasn't as if Shane Vereen was particularly sure-handed, dropping passes left and right, but at least he has the excuse of a cast on his wrist. LeGarrette Blount played momentarily but then fumbled himself (and also looked like he was knocked out on the play), leaving Brandon Bolden to split the early-down work with Vereen. Frankly, it's impossible to know how this is going to shake out. Will the New England Patriots ever trust Ridley again? Will Bolden become the early-down starter? Will Vereen make notions of "early-down starter" outdated? I have no clue. Nobody does.
• When is a great performance not quite a great performance? Mike Wallace had five catches for 127 yards and a 53-yard TD on a bomb. But it could've been so much better. On that long score, Ryan Tannehill badly underthrew Wallace, but Mr. Sixty Minutes made a terrific adjustment. Later in the first half, Wallace caught a 57-yarder on another bomb, but it was another terribly underthrown pass that would've been another TD had Tannehill led Wallace. And it happened again in the second half, where Wallace got behind the Carolina Panthers defense but the ball was way underthrown and incomplete. This is just a weird situation. Tannehill has all the wing you want, but just doesn't seem to be able to make deep throws. I'm glad for the nice statistical day. But these QB problems still linger.
• So much for Haden Island. Folks worried that Antonio Brown, the NFL's receptions leader, wouldn't produce against the Browns because he'd be matched up with Joe Haden were given sweet relief. Brown scored on a 41-yard deep strike from Ben Roethlisberger in the second quarter, and at that point had five catches on seven targets for 83 yards. Thereafter, Haden clamped down and Brown had only one more grab for nine more yards, but he'd done enough. Haden is tremendous. But Brown belongs to the echelon of unbenchable stars.
• In that same game, Josh Gordon set a Cleveland Browns single-game franchise record with 237 receiving yards, and even scored a garbage-time TD. It's true that 111 of Gordon's yards came after the Pittsburgh Steelers led 27-3, but who cares? Gordon is a massive part of the game plan, no matter whether it's Jason Campbell or Brandon Weeden under center. Campbell took an unpenalized left cross to his head Sunday and had to leave the game, so it's unclear who'll start at QB in Week 13.
• Turns out maybe Ben Tate isn't the perfect Arian Foster handcuff. A desperate Gary Kubiak decided he didn't like what he saw from Tate in the first quarter Sunday, as Tate had 6 yards on four carries to go with two catches for 11 yards. So he gave Dennis Johnson two of three series in the second quarter and Johnson performed better. Thus in the second half, Tate was the receiving back (three more grabs for 15 yards) while Johnson carried the mail (overall: 15 touches for 87 yards). I'll dig into the tape soon and see what I can see, but realize that Johnson is small, as in, Jacquizz Rodgers small. I'm not yet sold that the woeful Houston Texans would make a switch for Week 13, but I'll keep an open mind.
• Jason Witten is forgiven for accumulating only 37 yards on four catches, but scoring two red zone TDs. After all, the story of his career has pretty much been the opposite of that: racking up big yards but rarely finding the end zone. This man who has scored five TDs or fewer in four of his past five seasons while posting at least 942 yards receiving in all those seasons? He's at six and counting for '13.
• Carson Palmer has looked like a downright legit NFL QB over his past two games. After beginning the year with at least one interception in his first nine contests and at least two picks in five of those games, Palmer has gone back-to-back weeks without throwing one to the opposing defense while scoring 24 and 20 fantasy points, not coincidentally his two highest outputs of the season. Is it time to trust the Arizona Cardinals passing game? I'm not there yet. I hate to fall back on matchups, especially because the Jags (Week 11's opponent) really have played better on D lately. But while I don't fear Palmer's matchup next week against the Philadelphia Eagles, things are tougher after that: STL, @TEN, @SEA, SF. Those figure to be four straight minus matchups.
• Wonder why I don't advocate you trading for fantasy defenses? Hello, Chiefs D/ST. It's fair to offer the excuse that both Tamba Hali and Justin Houston had to leave Sunday's loss to the Chargers, leaving the Chiefs with a great-googly-moogly of a pass rush. But that doesn't explain why K.C. has two sacks in its past four games combined. I've been talking about how much I fear the poor quality of this secondary for weeks, and it obviously shows when the team can't get to the quarterback. In those past four contests, they've allowed an average of 307 passing yards, including three games of 283 passing yards or more. (Philip Rivers mustered 392 Sunday.) Bench them next weekend against the Denver Broncos.
• It's not that Alex Smith can't throw it deep. Week 12 is proof. Smith took multiple shots to Donnie Avery on Sunday; they hooked up for a deep 32-yard first-quarter TD and a 36-yard gain in the second quarter, Avery drew an end-zone interference call in the third quarter, and then later in the game Avery was open on a third-and-long deep in the Chiefs' territory and Smith took the shot, but overthrew him horribly and was picked. Smith ended the day with an impressive 21 fantasy points, an astounding fifth time in 11 games that he has finished over the 20-point mark. He's an incredibly maddening player. But it was actually kind of awesome how much of a bomber he allowed himself to be in Week 12. I'd just love to see that continue, but don't trust that it will.
• The Green Bay Packers officially saw enough of Scott Tolzien, whom they benched in the third quarter Sunday. Tolzien did offer up a twirling TD run from inside the Minnesota Vikings' 5, but was suboptimal with his throwing and decision-making. Matt Flynn saved the Pack's bacon thereafter, rallying for a kiss-your-sister tie, and assuming Aaron Rodgers doesn't play on Thanksgiving (and for the moment, that's my assumption), Flynn will almost certainly be under center.
• I still love Tavon Austin's open-field ability. I still wouldn't touch him in my fantasy playoffs. Austin scored on a 50-yard run on the St. Louis Rams' first drive. He also got a target in the general vicinity of the end zone later in the game. But two catches for 39 yards is two catches for 39 yards. The Rams want to play super-run-heavy these days, making none of their wide receivers attractive in fantasy. (Kellen Clemens had 10 completions Sunday. Bleh.)
• Geno Smith has one TD and 10 INTs in his past six games, and 18 INTs overall, which puts him on pace for 26. That would tie Jay Cutler's '09 season for second-most since '01, behind only Brett Favre's 29 in '05. Which isn't good at all.