Week 8 Booms and Busts: Drew Brees and Eli Manning play a mean pinball

Scott Pianowski
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) passes in the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) passes in the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Giants in New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

Points were certainly on the Superdome menu for Week 8. The Saints and Giants matchup had an over/under of 51.5, the highest total of the week. If you were holding passing options from this game, you were sitting pretty.

That is, if you had the nerve to pull the trigger.

First, let’s salute the biggest quarterback bonanza in NFL history. Drew Brees and the Saints outlasted Eli Manning and the Giants in an absurd track meet Sunday, 52-49.

Ironically, the game was decided on a last-second field goal, but really it was pinball on the carpet for three hours. Brees erupted for 511 passing yards and seven touchdowns, tying the league TD record, while Manning had to settle for 350 yards and six touchdowns.

It’s the fourth time in NFL history someone threw six touchdowns and lost, and the 101 total points were the third-most in NFL history. The 13 combined touchdown passes set a new league record.

If you use the fantasy scoring on Pro Football Reference, Brees just had the fourth-best fantasy game in QB history, while Manning tied for 25th. Collectively, it’s the most fake-football points we’ve ever seen.

Normally this would be one big World Happiness Dance for fantasy owners, but keep in mind, Brees and Manning haven’t been fantasy overlords through the first couple of months. Brees was merely 69-percent started in Yahoo leagues this week, while Manning was 58-percent utilized. Consider that Brees was merely the 17th-best fantasy quarterback into this week (in Yahoo basic scoring; points per week) while Manning was lagging at 23rd.

That’s the price of being mediocre for two months. Brees didn’t have a three-touchdown game in his first six starts (he only had eight TD passes, total, over that span), while Manning was dreadful in his last two games. That’s not what we expected back in August, when Brees was the fourth quarterback off the board in Yahoo leagues, and Manning the tenth.

Did the defensive matchups portend this crazy shoutout? Yes and no. The Saints defense entered Week 8 as the biggest giveaway to opposing QBs, which set Manning up for a big potential day. The Giants were sitting in the middle of the pack, 18th.

A huge part of Manning getting on track was the health of Odell Beckham. The super sophomore had an eight-catch, 130-yard stroll through the New Orleans secondary, scoring three touchdowns. Only one of his targets fell incomplete. Dwayne Harris added two scores on a modest three-catch day, and Shane Vereen also scored.

Brees spread the fantasy goodness around, as he’s wont to do. Ben Watson (9-147-1) continued to party like it’s the mid-200os — oh wait a second, he was never quite this good. Marques Colston (8-114-1) came back from the dead; maybe it’s a New Orleans-Halloween thing. Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead both caught a couple of touchdowns. Heck, even C.J. Spiller found the end zone.

The Saints play three ordinary teams (Tennessee, Washington, Houston) in the remainder of the month, along with a Week 11 bye. The Giants should score well at Tampa Bay next week, but then it’s New England, Washington and the Jets to close out the month. Can you sell these quarterbacks after Sunday’s explosion? I’d at least take a diligence lap around the league.

• While the Saints and Giants were lighting up the scoreboard, your phone was probably lighting up with text alerts and injury notifications. Every NFL Sunday shows us plenty of cruel injury carnage, but this week in particular was off the hook

Steve Smith’s season is over after a torn Achilles. We’ll see how bad the knee injury is with Le’Veon Bell. Keenan Allen suffered a back injury. Ryan Fitzpatrick tore ligaments in his thumb. Reggie Bush tore his ACL (blame that on the moronic configuration around the playing field in St. Louis, a surface that's just begging for injuries). Matt Forte has a knee injury of unknown severity. Ladarius Green dinged his ankle. 

And on and on it goes. 

While many (if not most) NFL injuries will come down to back luck and unfortunate timing, here are two general takeaways to apply in the future. 

— Smith was always a good sell-high candidate, at age 36 and dealing with other physical issues. No one wants to see a warrior like him get hurt, but you want to stay realistic, too. (And I suspect there was a market, because every time I suggested a sell-Smith ticket in recent weeks, I was met with plenty of opposition.) 

Look at your roster. Do you see other 30-something stars, perhaps playing through dings of their own? The NFL is largely a young man’s game. Keep that in mind as you consider your second-half roster construction. 

— I am adamantly against handcuffing in the summer and early weeks, but now that the season has definition — and bye weeks are almost over — it’s a more reasonable strategy. In most cases we are now certain who the backups are, and we have a sense of what systems are lucrative and what systems are unlikely to bloom into anything. 

• Okay, maybe we can’t always do much about players who get hurt out of nowhere. But we can certainly be smarter about players we know are currently hurt, or returning from injuries. Week 8 reminded us, emphatically, of how risky those plays can be. 

Ben Roethlisberger looked very rusty during Pittsburgh’s loss to Cincinnati, just like a player should be after missing more than a month of action. Dez Bryant was held back by the expected elements: a lack of sharpness; Richard Sherman; the abysmal Matt Cassel; a snap count. Bryant finished the day with two piddly catches. 

John Brown (hamstrings) was in uniform for Arizona but they didn’t use him. Antonio Gates had a nifty 31-yard catch for the Chargers and three shorter ones; he didn’t look close to 100 percent. In all of these cases, if you were prudent and cautious with expectations, you probably made out better on the fantasy sheet. 

• The latest game from London was delightful (if you had the rampaging Chiefs) or depressing (if you needed anything from the Lions). Kansas City parceled its touchdowns to six different players, and any logical fantasy angle found the end zone. Enjoy it; we rarely see a game that fruitful, especially from an Andy Reid offense.

I’m not going to flip out too much about the Lions laying an egg in the first game of the Jim Bob Cooter Era. Although I supported the club firing overmatched OC Joe Lombardi, asking Cooter — or anyone — to overhaul this offense on the same week as a London road trip was patently unfair. Let’s see how the Lions come out after their bye, in Week 10. I’m not tossing this entire offense in the garbage just yet. 

• Bruce Arians talked up Andre Ellington before the Sunday game at Cleveland, but when push came to shove, it was The Chris Johnson Show again. Johnson finished with 30 carries for 109 yards, and while that’s nothing special on the efficiency scale, it towers over the piddly three touches Ellington was afforded. Keep in mind head coaches have no incentive to tell us the truth about usage patterns and roster decisions, and even if they’re speaking the truth, their preferences often get swung quickly when the game is in motion. 

• Remember Derek Carr’s horrible season opener against Cincinnati? It feels like a year or two ago. He’s thrown for 15 touchdowns against just three picks since then, and he was a surgeon in Sunday’s beatdown of the Jets defense (23-for-36, 333 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INT). If you can make it against the Jets, you’re a strong start against pretty much anyone. Pittsburgh and Minnesota aren’t easy draws the next two weeks, but I’m done underestimating the classiest quarterback of last year’s draft. 

Carr didn’t get much going with Amari Cooper on Sunday (5-46-0, on nine targets), but otherwise he was brilliant, using nine receivers in all. Michael Crabtree’s comeback (7-102-1 Sunday) remains an underreported story.

• I'm not going to flip out over Geno Smith's messy appearance at Oakland. The Jets obviously couldn't have prepared for him to play, and sometimes these surprise relief appearances turn into a mess. Smith had his ups and downs last year — he had a zero rating in a Buffalo start, and a perfect rating at Miami  but he also wasn’t surrounded by this much consistent help on offense. 

Even if you don’t need Smith in your two-quarterback or superflex leagues, I don’t think he’ll single-handedly torpedo the value of Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Chris Ivory. Of course, the New York triplets need to stay healthy, but we’ll worry about that tomorrow.