In case you were busy trying to prevent the refrain from Close Encounters of the Third Kind from morphing into the theme from The Sting in your mind, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
The Bruins overcame a 4-1 third-period deficit before completing the comeback with a Patrice Bergeron overtime winner as Boston eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs from the NHL playoffs in a heartbreaking Game 7. While congratulations are in order for Boston, it should also be noted that the devastating loss was taken well by the people of Toronto, who, luckily, are fairly agnostic toward the game of hockey and have a very limited history of suffering with the town's most popular team.
LeBron James and the Miami Heat dominated the Chicago Bulls on both ends of the court en route to an 88-65 win at United Center. Diminutive Bulls guard Nate Robinson, who had starred earlier in the series, was held without a field goal in the defeat, which he attributed after the game to being, "Yeah, shorter than everyone else. That's why. Guess after all these years that finally caught up to me. It wasn't at all because of Miami's defense combined with a little bit of fatigue. It's my genes. Thanks, Randy Newman."
In case you were busy preparing to confess your sins to Oprah for some reason, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Wisconsin notched their 11th straight win against Indiana, upsetting the no. 2 Hoosiers, 64-59, in Bloomington. After the game, Indiana head coach Tom Crean said, "Oh, those rascals got us again, but wait until next time when we deploy our secret weapon," gesturing at a large wooden crate labeled "Acme Explosive Basketballs." Crean then picked up one of the basketballs and started to cackle, only to have it explode in his hands, leaving his grimacing face covered in soot.
Despite missing Chris Paul for a second straight game, the Los Angeles Clippers continued their torrid play, beating the Houston Rockets on the road, 117-109. Though the Clippers' captain told the media "I'm really happy for those guys, and I'm glad they're able to get some W's without me" after the game, a visibly downtrodden Paul was seen making a Spotify playlist called "Better Off Without Me," featuring both "Stay" by Lisa Loeb and "Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia.
Kentucky avoided a second straight SEC defeat, notching a 75-65 home win against Tennessee. Kentucky head coach John Calipari remained upset with his team after the game, telling the media, "With what those guys get paid, avoiding losing streaks is not good enough." When asked to elaborate, Calipari declined, saying, "Nice try, but I'm not going to incriminate myself wait, what did I say just a second ago? Like right before this?" A particularly sweaty Calipari then proceeded to tell the gathered media that the entire press conference was off the record, and if they told anyone about it, he would totally deny everything.
The Lakers won their second straight game, topping Milwaukee, 104-88, at Staples Center with Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant scoring 31 points apiece. "Point brothers," Howard said after the game, slapping his teammate Bryant on the back. "Pretty neat, huh Kob-meister?" Bryant did not respond to Howard at the time, but was later seen disdainfully muttering "Kob-meister" as he watched the first half-hour of a bootlegged copy of Zero Dark Thirty on repeat.
The Chicago Bears took their head coaching search north, hiring Montreal Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman to replace Lovie Smith. Trestman, considered a quarterbacks guru, prepared Brandon Weeden, Brock Osweiler, Jason Campbell, Tim Tebow, and current Bears quarterback Jay Cutler for quarterbacking in the NFL. "Wait, are you serious?" said Bears General Manager Phil Emery after being shown the list. "Oh, no. I swear he only mentioned Jay. He didn't say anything about those other guys. I really should've done my due diligence on this one."
The San Diego Chargers introduced former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy as their new head coach. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers responded to the news by saying, "Oh, man, I never thought I'd escape being coached by Norv Turner. It's like I'm Fantine and this McCoy guy is Jean Valjean, you know? Here, I'll show you." Rivers then proceeded to sing a mournful rendition of Fantine's "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables, before laboriously drawing out the parallels between the lyrics of the song and his plight as a famous athlete playing for an underachieving team. A particularly hoarse Rivers then proceeded to tell the gathered media that the entire song was off the record, and if they told anyone he sang it, he would totally deny hitting that high E.
Australian Sam Stosur crashed out of the Australian Open, losing her second-round match to China's Zheng Jie, 6-4, 1-6, 7-5. "Lemme guess," said golfer Greg Norman when approached by a reporter on his way to his car Wednesday morning, "you want to know what I'd say to Samantha. I'd say, 'Get deeper in the tournament before you choke next time, so maybe The Shark won't be the Australian on call anytime one of his countrymen blows chunks under pressure.'" Sadly for Norman, the reporter had been there to profile his charity work, but after the unpleasant encounter, ran with the unexpected Norman-Stosur feud angle instead.
Former Yankees closer Rafael Soriano signed a two-year, $28 million contract with the Washington Nationals. "To all the Washington fans out there, I'm here to earn my contract, and not be another Jayson Werth," said Soriano upon his introduction. Werth, who was watching the press conference alone from his palatial estate, hung his head upon hearing Soriano's words. "I wasn't that bad last year when I played … eh, who am I kidding? No one wants to be another Jayson Werth. Not even me." A single tear then trickled down Werth's cheek, which a servant wiped off his face before Werth had a chance to launch into his own mournful rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream."
Black Monday delivered. The first morning of the offseason for 20 of the league's 32 teams brought a stunning wave of pink slips, as more than half of those 20 teams responded to their disappointing campaigns by firing at least one prominent member of their front offices or coaching staffs. Most handled it with class. Bud Adams of the Titans fired his COO, former general manager Mike Reinfeldt, by noting "I think we’d be better off without him," which is a total disregard for tact that you can only possess by being 90 years old and an NFL owner. It's like sending a telegram whose entire contents read "IDGAF." By the end of the day, seven head coaches and five general managers had hit the street, despite the continued employment of embattled candidates like Mike Munchak, Ron Rivera, and Jeff Ireland. Somehow, though, the only move that seemed truly surprising came out of Chicago, where Lovie Smith was sacrificed for the Bears' second-half collapse.
It's much easier to figure out which coaches and general managers are likely to be fired than fill those same holes with available candidates, so I'm going to avoid prognosticating here. My rule of thumb is that teams tend to notice their personnel's weaknesses as they fire them and replace them with personnel of the opposite persuasion. If they've just fired an offensive-minded leader with a reputation for being a player's coach, teams often look for a defensive coordinator with a disciplinarian streak. I don't know that the pattern I'm describing is necessarily what teams should follow, but I think it's a path that a fair amount of the league's teams do, in fact, take.
So, with that in mind, I want to examine why these 12 men didn't make it into 2013 with their jobs. Understanding what went wrong (or what was perceived to have gone wrong) should give us some insight into whether the moves made any sense and if the teams in question are actually going to improve by making a switch.
There's no clear-cut smoking gun in every case, but there is one factor that plays an obvious role in many of these firings: disappointing quarterback play. By my count, the only firings on Monday that weren't directly preceded by a failed season from the sacked employee's quarterbacks were with Smith in Chicago and the combination of A.J. Smith and Norv Turner in San Diego. You can make a case that Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers didn't quite meet expectations, but consider that each of the nine other candidates oversaw quarterbacks who will either lose their job or be in a battle for their previously secure starting job in 2013, and you have an idea of just how closely quarterback play and coach/GM job security are related.
Let's start with the most surprising firing of Black Monday and work our way down.
On any given Sunday (or Monday, or Thursday), your NFL Run & Shootaround crew will be gathered around multiple televisions, making inappropriate jokes and generally regressing to the mean. Catch up on all the NFL action right here.
Notes on the Horror of Rooting for Evil (a New York Giants Fan Tale)
They're always strange, those last few weeks of every NFL season when you see what it's like to be somebody else. I know how to speak the language of Giants fans (written on our particular Rosetta Stone are words like "Mike Cherry") but it's harder to make out foreign cadences. And anyway, trying to get inside the mind of a fan-of-another is like attempting to visualize your life with a different set of children. Why even go down that road? But sometimes it becomes briefly necessary to make exactly these projections, which is why I was reduced yesterday to becoming invested in the Detroit Lions for a short but serious while. The results weren't pretty. Every family has its own set of issues, and it's usually better if you stay quiet about your own and don't get too nosy with anyone else.
Patriots-Texans looked like Monday Night Football's most mouthwatering tilt for about 19 minutes of game time last night. By the time New England finished its third drive, the Pats had a 21-0 lead that the Texans never came close to challenging the rest of the way. Houston fans could argue that they were unlucky — who knows what happens if the Texans recover a Stevan Ridley fumble inside their own 5-yard line and Matt Schaub avoids a killer interception in the end zone on the ensuing series — but on the whole, they were outplayed by the Patriots and were clearly the second-best team on the field. (Also, the Texans had recovered 66.7 percent of fumbles in their games this year, the league's second-best rate, so they've been lucky there.)
By the time that Ryan Mallett was throwing interceptions and Mike Tirico was rooting for the over to come in, it was safe to say that we had learned a fair amount about how these two teams might interact if they meet again in the AFC playoffs. We learned that the Texans aren't quite the same offensively if they can't force teams to honor their run-action on play fakes, but that they can still probably throw the ball on anybody by creating mismatches with Owen Daniels on drag routes. We learned that Tom Brady is still comfortable throwing to anybody on any down, even if it's Donte' Stallworth, and that he's still going to get inappropriately excited about running for a first down up three scores at the end of the third quarter. But do we know, definitively, that the Texans aren't ready to compete at the highest level?
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
No. 13 Stanford stymied no. 2 Oregon's vaunted offense and all but ended the Ducks' national title hopes with a 17-14 overtime upset. In what can only be called a copycat crime, an enraged Oregon fan used pesticide in an attempt to poison the famous Stanford tree, and was undeterred when the tree kept yelling "I'm a person! I'm a mascot!"
You may have noticed that we at Grantland take bad quarterback play very seriously. While Grantland's finest in the Los Angeles office take part in the BQBL each season, my basis for bad quarterback knowledge dates back to a childhood during which the starting quarterbacks for my favorite team were universally terrible. You try suffering through Dave Brown, Kent Graham, and Danny Kanell for a five-year stretch and see how much you enjoy it. Those mid-'90s Giants teams even gave away Tommy Maddox, who would eventually become a starter in Pittsburgh after winning an XFL Championship, but he delivered one of the worst backup performances in a single year I've ever seen: 6-for-23 for 49 yards with three interceptions and a fumble is probably deserving of professional excommunication.
With my esteemed qualifications, then, I was skeptical this Sunday when people started referring to Philip Rivers's bizarre pick-six against the Buccaneers as the worst pass of the year. Sure, it essentially turned a game that was about to be tied in the fourth quarter into one where the Chargers had an 11 percent chance of winning, but swings like that happen every day. A truly bad pass is more than just an ill-timed poor decision. It has to have panache. It needs to make you rewind with equal parts disgust and confusion. If possible, the cheery ex-quarterback doing color commentary should audibly groan or say something like "Oh no" as the pass is traveling in the air. It shouldn't look anything like a normal football play. Those are the truly terrible passes. And after I watched Rivers's pass, I realized that it did truly deserve to be in the running for worst pass of the year.
Peyton Manning's return to the NFL has not exactly been a fairy tale. His team sits at 3-3, they've routinely fallen behind early in games, they average a paltry 93.8 rushing yards per game, and Manning's top receiving targets include young but inconsistent players like Demaryius Thomas and the ageless but hardly explosive Brandon Stokley. It’s not just those around Manning who have come in for criticism. Manning is still recovering from his neck injury, and there have been whispers — some quieter than others — that his arm strength isn't, and will never be, what it once was.
Maybe so. Yet, for those still craving some of that old Manning magic, those moments when Peyton shows us all what quarterbacking is all about, Monday was proof that the 36-year-old can still deliver.
When I was in first grade, there was a kid named Thomas who couldn’t go more than a couple weeks without peeing his pants. Every day he’d come to school dressed in a collared shirt and a nice pair of slacks, and every day you’d think, “Will Thomas pee his pants today?” It wasn’t a question of if. It was a question of when. Our teacher knew he had a problem and tried to cure him of it. She tried having Thomas go to the bathroom every hour on the hour. It failed. She sat him in the seat closest to the exit and gave him the green light to head out at the first sign of trouble. That failed, too. Time and time again, they’d try something new, proclaim how things were different now, how Thomas was doing so much better ... and then Thomas would pee his pants again.
I was reminded of this story last night as I watched my San Diego Chargers blow a 24-point half-time lead.
This week, Fourth-and-Short travels around the league to touch on three notable news bits, beginning with Denver's stunning comeback victory over the Chargers last night.
I Can't Believe I'm Going to Defend Norv Turner, But
As you might suspect, 24-point comebacks don't happen frequently. Only once in the history of Monday Night Football has a team trailed by 24 points at halftime and come back to win. Ironically, that occurred 24 years ago to John Elway's Broncos, who also blew a 24-0 halftime lead by getting outscored 27-3 in the second half before losing in overtime. And only once in post-merger league history has a team playing in a regular-season contest on Sunday overcome a bigger halftime margin; that game saw the 1980 Saints blow a 35-7 halftime lead to the Niners before losing in overtime themselves. This time, Elway's Broncos were on the right side of the equation, riding a wave of turnovers and big plays to win by a comfortable margin in regulation.
With 20 quarters in the books for 26 of the league's 32 teams, now seems like a good time to take a quick look back at the first five weeks of the year and start seeing which clubs have been enjoying notably good or bad times in those hidden factors that help determine success. Some of the statistics and concepts I'll mention are mostly random and subject to dramatic regression toward the mean over the course of a larger sample, while others might be harbingers of impending success over the remainder of the season. I'll try to make that clear as we go along. Let's start with one of the more beguiling and meaningful measures of success out there: fumble recovery rates!
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Andy Murray won his first career Grand Slam, outlasting Novak Djokovic in a five-set marathon to take the U.S. Open title. The Scottish Murray credited his win to watching the inspirational parts from Braveheart before the match, while Djokovic blamed his loss on watching scenes from the depressing Serbian silent art house film A Lifetime of Sidewalks.
Never Trust a Body Armor Salesman Who Talks Like Gandalf
As a Philadelphia Eagles fan, can I just briefly take a break from recording my solo album, The Anthology of American Foles Music, to say that very few things matter to me more than the safety, comfort, and protection of Michael Vick's general ribsectional-chestal area (Chris Ryan, Harvard Med, Class of 1930). With that on the record, let me also say that something rubs me the wrong way about Vick's flak jacket provider.
For most of his time in San Diego, Philip Rivers hasn’t exactly been flush with weapons. This year — with Vincent Jackson’s bolt to Tampa Bay, one more year removed from losing Darren Sproles, and Ryan Mathews’s perpetual spot on the injury report — it seemed Rivers might have as tough a time as ever. And that was before the Chargers lost Vincent Brown. The second-year wide receiver broke his ankle on a touchdown catch against the Cowboys on Sunday, brutal news for a player whom one Chargers veteran described as “our best receiver.”
Originally thought to be lost for the season, reports are now saying that Brown could be back in as little as eight weeks, and the Chargers plan to keep him on the roster. Still, this leaves Rivers with one less target on the outside, and although the word out of Chargers training camp is that Antonio Gates looks as good as he has in years, there’s no doubt that this was a break San Diego could ill afford.
In today’s NFL, there's a feeling of impermanence surrounding even the best running backs. The value of the position has diminished to the point that teams that draft backs too high or dole out massive contracts are questioned for it, and the thing is, those questions have some merit. The New York Giants won a Super Bowl in February with the league’s worst rushing offense. Two of the league’s best five backs will be coming back from torn ACLs this season. Another took home $30 million guaranteed last offseason before falling off the face of the earth. With every 5,000-yard passer and every running back by committee, there’s an increased fragility in the lifespan of truly dominant backs. That’s why today, as LaDainian Tomlinson ends an unbelievable 11-year career, it feels like an era is ending with it.