In case you were busy really thinking about Michael Jordan's trademark celebration; he was just sticking his tongue out, right? How did he make that cool? That's kinda just gross, yes? Yeah, anyway, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Despite being held to three second-half points, the New Orleans Saints did enough to beat the Atlanta Falcons, 17-13, to keep in pace in the race for the top seed in the NFC. "I almost wish we'd let them win that, but the damn Seahawks " Saints quarterback Drew Brees said while shaking his head. When asked why he would possibly want to lose a divisional battle in the heat of the playoff race, Brees suddenly clammed up, but the wind whispered, "Clowney," as a shudder ran down his spine.
A late 3-point barrage from guard Nate Robinson and forward Jordan Hamilton was the difference as the Denver Nuggets pulled away from the Chicago Bulls in a 97-87 home victory. "Hamilton and Nate, you say?" said Robinson after the game, as he arched an eyebrow. "That sounds like a great idea for a buddy cop drama starring me, Nate Robinson. I call it Nate and Hamilton. I'm a young bad boy, and Hamilton's a grizzled veteran. And he's all like, 'Gimme your badge, Nate,' and I'm all like, 'Gimme one more chance, Hamilton,' and he's all like, 'You're a loose cannon, Nate,' and I'm all like, 'This whole city's a loose cannon, Hamilton.'" Hamilton then piped up to ask who would play Hamilton, because it sounded like a juicy part, and he wondered if Robinson had anyone in mind. Robinson considered for a second, before pointing at Hamilton and saying, "Carl Weathers."
Every season, Thanksgiving is about when we start figuring things out, and this year is no exception. Several teams made their playoff case last week, with the Saints, Panthers, Colts, and Eagles all gaining ground in either a division or wild-card race. But it’s also the time of year when teams finally come to the sad realization that it’s time to close up shop. Last week, with losses to a one-win Bucs team and a Matt McGloin–led Raiders team, respectively, those teams were the Falcons and Texans — two teams that came into this season with back-to-back trips to the playoffs.
Including Atlanta and Houston, there are currently eight teams down at least two games in the loss column for a playoff spot, and we know that for those fans, the holidays can be a cold, lonely stretch. So with Black Friday just around the corner, we wanted to give those teams a little something to keep them warm by putting together a holiday wish list for that one gift each needs as it looks forward to next year.
As we near the halfway point of the 2013 NFL season, the teams and lineups we expected to see trotted out on the field this season are now shells of their former selves. The Falcons are already down seven starters from the guys they would have expected to be in the starting 22 in July. Of the 32 quarterbacks who were expected to start on the opening day of training camp, 12 have been benched or suffered an injury that has caused them or will cause them to miss time. If you can start the same guys who you were expecting to suit up over the summer, you're the exception, not the rule.
Every team has some veterans that they can plug in as competent backups, but every team also has a few spots where they're absolutely, positively screwed if their starter was to go down with an injury or suffer a dramatic decline in his performance. Others have found a diamond in the rough who has come out of nowhere to emerge as a viable starter at their position. In either scenario, there are now players on virtually every team who have risen out of professional obscurity to get meaningful NFL reps.
In case you were busy stridently fighting off accusations of having brought the weather with you, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Adam Wainwright guided the Cardinals into the NLCS, throwing a complete game as St. Louis eliminated the Pittsburgh Pirates with a 6-1 win, because of course he did. David Freese hit a clutch home run in an elimination game, because of course he did. Yadier Molina was a rock both behind the plate and in the lineup all series long, because of course he was. Two of St. Louis's three Matts — Holliday and Adams — picked up the third, a slumping Carpenter, because of course they did. And the St. Louis Cardinals will now move on to the NLCS, where they will have home-field advantage against the Los Angeles Dodgers, because of course they will. In the NLCS the Cardinals will play a hard-fought, professional series, where win or lose the players will be able to leave with their heads held high, because the St. Louis Cardinals are the St. Louis Cardinals and will always be the St. Louis Cardinals.
The St. Louis Blues, meanwhile, continue to back up their preseason hype, getting a goal from Alexander Steen with 21 seconds left in regulation to edge the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, 3-2, and maintain their perfect start to the NHL season. Looking forward, the Blues will somehow contrive to both win their division by 12 points and get swept out of the Western Conference finals by inferior opposition, leaving them unable to hold their heads up high, because the St. Louis Blues are the St. Louis Blues and will always be the St. Louis Blues.
In case you were busy faking injuries to run down the clock at your office, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
The Boston Red Sox are in the ALCS after holding off the Tampa Bay Rays, who set a postseason record with nine pitchers in their 3-1 loss. Rays manager Joe Maddon was unable to hide his disappointment after the game, saying, "This one's on me boys. The pitching was fine; I kept going out there meaning to bring in better hitters. But my timing was a mess." Maddon then signaled to the press corps, replacing himself in the press conference with the team's pitching coach Jim Hickey, who shook his head and said, "He meant to bring in [hitting coach] Derek Shelton. Joe's going to be ruing this loss all offseason."
Nineteen-year-old San Jose rookie Tomas Hertl scored four goals, including a through-his-legs goal-of-the-year candidate, as his Sharks decimated the New York Rangers in a 9-2 win. Hertl, who pulled off the feat in his third NHL game, said afterward, "Well I hope this'll show the San Jose organization that I'm ready for a call-up to the big show. No rush, but I think this proves I have the skills to make it at the top." When told he was already at the top level of professional hockey, Hertl responded, "No. No. Please. Enough with the pranking of youngsters. There's no way the team we were up against was a top-tier team tonight. You're yanking me and it's rude."
"Hey, basketball's back. The Hawks played tonight."
A friend said this to me, but I didn't look up to see who it was. I was sitting on the floor of a bar, hat partially over face, watching texts from lifelong friends fly in, most echoing the same sentiment: "What did we do to deserve this?" It's the only thing left to think at this point. It can't just be the athletes who are at fault. Somehow, the real fans — the diehards who are sprinkled about throughout the transplant-riddled Southern metropolis — have begun to believe this is simply our fate. The "selling our soul for the '96 Olympics" theory? That's one. There are others. But ultimately, no one knows.
Still on the floor, I searched for the Hawks score just to look for something positive and found the answer that I expected.
The good news for Atlanta sports fans is that there's nothing left to pin your hopes on for a while. It's been a gruesome 24-hour period: The Braves were knocked out of the National League playoffs on late-game heroics by the Dodgers, the Falcons were shockingly upset at home on a last-second field goal by the Jets, and today, Jay Glazer reported that star Falcons wideout Julio Jones will miss the rest of the season with a foot injury. Jones is off for a second opinion, but it seems exceedingly likely that he will miss significant time.
In a way, the Falcons were already in rough shape. At 1-4, they were four games behind New Orleans in the NFC South, so chances were that their season wasn't going to amount to much. The Jones injury just seems to confirm that. Looking at the bigger picture, though, there are questions to be raised about the decision to acquire Jones and the overall plan of general manager Thomas Dimitroff.
In case you were busy representing the University of Southern California in its quest to replace Lane Kiffin, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Juan Uribe hit the go-ahead home run and Brian Wilson earned the win as the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched a spot in the NLCS with a 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves. "I called those guys before the game to wish them well," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy of Uribe and Wilson, with whom he won the 2010 World Series. "And then I said, 'The queen strikes at midnight.'" When asked why, Bochy said, "Well as it turned out, nothing happened. Which is very frustrating given the massive cash outlay our team made on those two before they left." Bochy then cocked his head to the side and appeared to enter a strange trance before adding robotically, "That said, I can't recommend hiring Tom the Hypnotist enough. Did you know he can be reached at 1-866-HYPNOTOM for all your hypnosis needs?"
Jets quarterback Geno Smith led his team on a game-winning drive and sent the Atlanta Falcons to their third straight loss, 30-28, at the Georgia Dome. The Jets now sit at 3-2 while the Falcons are 1-4, proving that gambling on NFL football before the season is a good idea because it's easy to predict what will happen.
The biggest decision made by a coach during Week 4 was covered in the Monday football recap, but there are still plenty of coaching decisions to cover in today's Thank You for Not Coaching. As always, let's start with the bright side of the ledger
The Best Decisions of Week 4
3. Marc Trestman goes for two down 40-22. It's heartening to see a coach properly execute one of the obvious go-for-two scenarios, even as Brian Billick talked over the decision as one that "isn't on the chart." It should be if it isn't. Trestman's decision even took the Lions by surprise, which forced them to burn a timeout to get the right defenders on the field. And, as it turned out, making the correct decision actually did open up a slim window for the Bears that wouldn't have otherwise existed; the Bears made the two-pointer here to make it 40-24, then made it again on the next touchdown drive to produce a 40-32 score, which gave them an opportunity to recover an expected onside kick in an attempt to get one final drive to tie the game. Had they kicked an extra point here, they couldn't have been within one score after that second touchdown and wouldn't have had even an opportunity to tie.
In case you were busy arguing that Lane Kiffin really hasn't gotten a fair chance to prove himself as a head coach with a particularly stubborn stop sign, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Tom Brady finally synced up with his young receiving corps, as the New England Patriots built an early lead and held on late, beating the Atlanta Falcons 30-23. "It's tough to beat them when Brady is back on track, but we gave it our all, and I'm impressed with my team," said a gray-haired man claiming to be Atlanta's head coach. "Wait, seriously, I'm Mike Smith," the man said, giving a clearly fake name, before adding, "You've heard of Dan Reeves? Well, I'm the most successful coach this franchise has ever had. We were in the NFC title game last year." The man, likely a deluded extra who wandered off the set of Boardwalk Empire, then added, "No, I'm not the mayor from Boardwalk Empire. For chrissake, come on, are you messing with me?"
The Major League Baseball regular season ended, but there's yet more to be decided as the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers finished the season tied for the second AL wild-card slot, and will play a one-game playoff. That game will determine which team will face the Cleveland Indians in another one-game playoff, which will determine who will be the AL wild-card representative in the postseason. This will be followed by a series of three-inning "mini-games" to determine home-field advantage in each round, which will be followed by a series of three-out home run derbies to determine which manager will be forced to turn in his lineup card first. Then, naturally, will come the dizzy bat competition, which will be just for fun, followed by a three-legged race, which will supplant this year's World Series, and for which, naturally, the Boston Red Sox are the favorites to win what with their flashy red socks likely to be advantageous for maintaining a three-legged race rhythm.
I found out about the Trent Richardson trade as I was driving home last week, and I responded the same way I think a lot of people did: “Holy shit.” That’s exactly what I said, loudly, happy to be in the privacy of my own car. The news triggered a series of texts and tweets that no NFL news has in a long time, and through it all, it was clear that as popular as football is, moves like that one are just too rare. We love trades, and we want more of them.
There’s a reason, though, that NFL trades never happen. Well, there are several. One is that NFL GMs seem to love their draft picks as much or more than they love their children. The draft is the cheapest, most efficient way to improve, and mortgaging that opportunity is a risk — one that rarely works out. Another hurdle is that football is not baseball, or even basketball. The difference in schemes, terminology, and even the subtlest difference between positions means that sticking with in-house players feels like the safer choice. There’s also the issue of parity. The league’s deadline is still too early for teams to know if they have a shot at the playoffs, and too many times turnarounds come in just a couple years. The 2-14 Chiefs were probably right in not having a fire sale last season.
Welcome to your new Thank You for Not Coaching Day. After finishing off the Monday-morning columns each week with TYFNC, it became popular enough that I'm moving it to Tuesdays and giving it some space to stretch out. Hopefully, that will mean more opportunities for insight and some examination of coaching strategies that actually worked. Thank You for Coaching, even. Thanks to those of you who sent in TYFNC scenarios this week, which you can do by tweeting at me with the hashtag #TYFNC.
So, last night was pretty cool, huh? I'll have a lot more to say about the Chip Kelly experience tomorrow, but let's start with that Eagles game and one of the many ways that Kelly put his offense in a position to succeed.
The NFL is king. Any Grantland reader knows that. But in Las Vegas, the National Football League’s dominance requires an even stronger description. According to Jimmy Vaccaro of William Hill sportsbooks, NFL Futures betting is 20 times bigger than college football action. For every $1 bet on the BCS title winner, $20 is bet on the Super Bowl winner.
NFL Futures odds are an unmatched indicator of what the average fan thinks — and, based upon the "Wisdom of Crowds" concept, an unmatched predictor of the future.
In case you were busy enjoying the satisfaction of ripping the perforated sides off of dot matrix printer paper, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Despite blowing a four-run ninth-inning lead, Washington beat the Pittsburgh Pirates as Bryce Harper hit his first walk-off home run in the Nationals' 9-7 win. "These are the situations you dream of as a kid," Harper said after the game. "Two outs, bottom of the ninth, tie ballgame, you're on the Nationals, up against the Pirates, everything's on the line. Just you, a corner outfielder for the Nationals, and the Pirates' closer facing each other down with the whole nation watching. A mano a mano battle at Nationals Park, the house that Walter Johnson Didn't Really Build. The history, the tradition, the pressure, the rivalry: One nation, against Pirates, with liberty and justice for me."
Reds starter Mat Latos was sharp into the eighth inning as Cincinnati topped the Dodgers, 5-2, stopping Los Angeles's winning streak at six. The game was also Vin Scully bobblehead night, honoring the broadcaster for his 64th year with the Dodgers organization. Now as you know, we here at About Last Night are all about debate, but I think the Vin Scully issue is a clear one: It's time to call games for another team. Am I saying that Scully's career is suspect if he doesn't join up with the Red Sox or Yankees? Yes. Sure he used to call World Series games, but until a broadcaster has handled the heat of an entire AL East season, can we really call them the greatest of all time? In a career that has been so improbable, is it impossible to suggest that Scully hasn't joined up with the Yankees because he can't handle the New York heat? Go east young man, fulfill your destiny, and for once in your otherwise unblemished career, try working out of New York City, Vin. Then, maybe, when you're calling the greatest city in the world, we'll call you the greatest announcer in the world.