The hazards of being a fantasy football coach

No doubt, the expression on Norv Turner's face said it all after the Oakland Raiders lost to the Kansas City Chiefs, 27-23, on Larry Johnson's touchdown plunge as time expired on Sunday.

I've seen enough of these games to understand how difficult it was for Kansas City's Dick Vermeil to decide to go for the game-winning touchdown from 1 yard out instead of playing it safe and kicking a tying field goal to send the game into overtime. At the same time, I can sympathize with how Turner felt after a loss like that.

Obviously, I don't put in anywhere near the time preparing for games that Turner, Vermeil, or any other coach makes. But, hey, life as an NFL fantasy coach definitely can have its hazards, too.

A fantasy coach tries to make good decisions that will result in wins. But, like the real coaches, you know that sometimes things happen that are completely beyond your control. Things like injuries. Or even the strange bounces a ball can take sometimes. In my case, both of those jumped up and bit my fantasy team on Sunday.

First, the injury came late in the week when running back Dominic Davis of the Houston Texans was downgraded from probable to questionable late in the week due to swelling on his knee. Looking at the NFL injury reports helps - a player listed as probable is given a 75 percent chance of seeing action, questionable is 50 percent and doubtful is 25 percent - but being on the outside looking in is always difficult. In this case, my guess was that Houston, at 1-6, wouldn't risk a franchise player like Davis on the game at Jacksonville - so I deactivated him.

That done, the difficult decision is to try and find the best aquisition. Looking at the "free agents" from the Tribune Fantasy League I participate in, the list included Mewelde Moore, who plays for Minnesota. A fourth-round draft pick in 2004 out of Tulane, where he put up some impressive stats, Moore has emerged as a starter who surpassed 100 yards in rushing/receiving and scored two TDs in four of the five previous games for the Vikings. The St. Paul Pioneer Press had already printed that he was likely to start the rest of the season, with talented backup Michael Bennett somewhere at the end of the bench.

That sounded good enough to me. Despite all of their difficulties this season, I figured the Vikings would be a good play at home against the Lions and that they would play well with Brad Johnson, a quality quarterback, stepping in to replace the injured Daunte Culpepper. I was convinced - Moore was a man who would be productive both running and receiving out of the backfield - so I picked him up.

Watching the gametracker Sunday, Moore runs for 13 yards around right end on Minnesota's first play. So far, so good! However ... six plays later, from the Detroit 34, Bennett is on the field and runs 9 yards around right end. Then, it's Bennett for 2 yards and a first down. On Minnesota's next series, Bennett breaks a 31-yarder up the middle. So much for my pick-up.

Moore finished with 49 rushing yards and 26 receiving yards before leaving the game with a sprained wrist in the second half. The stats I thought he would get were taken instead by Bennett, who finished with 106 yards on 18 carries - his first 100-yard game since late in the 2003 season - and one TD reception.

Oh, well. Such is the life of a fantasy coach. But that wasn't the worst of it.

Even after that - thanks largely to Troy Polamalu's 77-yard fumble return for a Pittsburgh TD - I had a 5-point lead in my game, though the opposing team still had quarterback Mark Brunell and the Indianapolis defense left to play.

There was no chance I could win, I figured. But then, Brunell scores no points in the Sunday night game. Hey, maybe I had a chance after all! I figured there was a very good chance the Colts defense wouldn't score many points against Tom Brady and the Patriots - in my league, defense scores 20 points for a shutout, 10 points for a TD (15 from beyond midfield), three points for a turnover and one point for a sack.

Well, the Colts did come up with a fumble recovery and one sack, which meant I had a 1-point lead when the Patriots got the ball back one last time at the end of the game - with Doug Flutie at quarterback. For one, I was rooting for the 43-year-old Flutie to drive the Patriots for a touchdown. As a fantasy coach, I just hoped the Patriots wouldn't turn the ball over.

Lucky? No way! With the final three seconds ticking away, the Patriots hurry to try one last play. Flutie rolls left, he's sacked, the ball squirts away, directly to an Indianapolis defender, who recovers the ball.

Just like the Raiders, I lose with no time remaining on the clock. Oh, the humanity.

But, you know, the sun came up again the next morning and nobody fired me from my position as fantasy coach. Ah, fantasy football.

n Contact Dave Price at or 881-1220


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