In case you were busy finding a new locker room from which to ban stat sheets, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Kobe Bryant returned to action after rehabbing from last year's Achilles tear, but his Lakers suffered a rare home defeat to the Toronto Raptors 106-94. "It's OK that we lost," Bryant said after the game while sitting in the locker room. "Fear can be a very powerful motivator." Suddenly the lights in the locker room went out, and horrifying screams echoed through the facility. The lights flickered on briefly, and a young girl was standing with her back to Lakers guard Nick Young, singing, "Do you want to play with me?" in a sweet tone. Then the lights cut out again before quickly coming back on. The girl had turned around, and instead of a child's face, she had the face of Popeye Jones. "Do you want to play with me?" the little girl with Popeye Jones's face sang in a scratch baritone to a terrified Nick Young. The lights cut out again, before coming back on to reveal everything back to normal. As Nick Young curled into a ball on the locker-room floor, Bryant chuckled to himself by his locker, and said, "Yes, things will be all right. Fear is a very powerful motivator."
With Monday night’s shellacking in the books, we now have a rough sketch of the NFC playoff picture. The Seahawks need something biblical to derail them from home-field advantage, Detroit’s win over Green Bay (and the Bears’ loss to the Vikings) gives the Lions a clear path to the NFC North title, and Philadelphia’s win over Arizona gave the Eagles a leg up in the NFC East and the Cardinals a knock down the wild-card ladder. New Orleans and Carolina still play each other twice, and with the Panthers refusing to slow down, that division is still very much in question. But for the most part, we have a pretty defined idea of what our six or seven playoff teams/seeds will look like:
2. Carolina/New Orleans
5. New Orleans/Carolina
6. San Francisco
Of all those teams, San Francisco seems to be the one no one’s excited about. Detroit has Calvin Johnson; Philadelphia has Nick Foles. The Niners are just a team that a year ago seemed poised to annually challenge the Seahawks for NFC supremacy but instead have taken up residency among the conference’s also-rans. With Arizona dropping a game in Philadelphia, even a loss to Seattle would leave the Niners as the likely final team into the playoffs. But for a team one play from the Lombardi Trophy, that finish is nothing less than a disappointment.
In case you were busy trying to figure out if the Xbox One is a prequel to the original Xbox, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
LeBron James scored an extraordinarily efficient 35 points on 14 shots as the Miami Heat beat the Phoenix Suns 107-92. He did so despite a strange moment when James called over an official and yelled, "Xbox! Turn the difficulty up!" before realizing he was actually playing basketball and not a next-gen copy of NBA 2K14.
Colin Kaepernick and San Francisco's offense finally got rolling in the 49ers' 27-6 win over Washington. "They dared me to throw the ball," Kaepernick explained after the game. "And at first I was all like, 'Nuh-uh,' and they were all like, 'Double dare,' and I was all like, 'Nuh-uh,' and then they were all like, 'Double dog dare,' and I was all like, 'No way,' and they were all like, 'Triple dog dare,' and that was unorthodox 'cause they totally skipped triple dare, and also they start Josh Wilson in their secondary, so I don't know why they were daring me to throw at all."
Forrest Gump’s mother has clearly never played fantasy football, because the only way life is like a box of chocolates for a fantasy player is if that box exclusively contains torn ACLs and first-round busts. I mean, even the good chocolates eventually succumb to fractured ankles, or something. The fantasy pitfalls can sometimes seem endless, which is why you need a comprehensive blog post to steer your team through the dangers that lie ahead. Luckily, that's exactly what you happen to be reading!
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.
You're Going to Hear Them Roar
Chris Ryan What's the elevator pitch on the Chiefs? How do you sell someone who isn't already a fan on Alex Smith and Andy Reid? What's a signature win they've had this season you could talk about in detail? I'll wait … except no I won't, I'm getting off the elevator and I'm going to put together the new movie Star Wars vs. Jason Bourne because I make deals, and you are going back to the mailroom with Dexter McCluster on your fantasy team.
OK, the Broncos. You must be able to sell the Broncos. You must be able to sell such a mouth-watering offense as the Broncos, right? Ah, but it feels like a remake, right? We already knew this story going into the season; they are who we thought they were.
No, we've been patiently waiting for a breakout team this season. And on Sunday, we finally got one. We've been waiting for Cam Newton to stamp this breakout season with a signature win, and on Sunday he put one to his name — maybe not with numbers (169 yards in the air, one pick), but with "they will fear you" bullets to Steve Smith. He made the kind of throws only he could make, in San Francisco, on national television.
In case you were busy playing quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
In a Sunday-night battle of division leaders, the New Orleans Saints ran roughshod over the Dallas Cowboys in a 49-17 win. "It was always a tough matchup for us," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said with a deep sigh. "We lost Sean Lee, Austin is still out, Ware's at half speed, our GM and owner are the same crazy old man, and that's a good team we played." Garrett then paused, stared straight ahead unblinking, and added, "metaphorically speaking um, all of that was a metaphor."
Raise your hand if before the season you’d penciled in Panthers-49ers as the best, most significant game of Week 10. Now, everyone with his or her hand raised, take a long look in the mirror and ask what about your childhood was so terrible that you turned into a compulsive liar.
Really, though, this is where we are. This is real life, and the Panthers are traveling to San Francisco in early November for a game with massive playoff implications that should provide a real measure for where each team stands entering the stretch run.
In case you were busy regretting your attempt to introduce that exchange student living in your home to the joyful simplicity of America's pastime, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
A weird weekend in the World Series left the Cardinals and Red Sox knotted at two games apiece, after Saturday's game ended on an obstruction call that handed St. Louis a 5-4 victory, and Sunday's game closed with a Koji Uehara pickoff in Boston's 4-2 win. "What a weekend!" declared MLB rules aficionado Peter Greggsman. "The only way it could have been better is if one of these stadiums had been a dome, so we could get some catwalk interference in there." Greggsman's demeanor then darkened, before he added, "The real tragedy though is that the World Series can't end on an infield fly call. No game can." Greggsman then pounded his fist on his Hardball Times Baseball Annual and cried to the heavens, "Oh founders of baseball, you've cursed us with the possibility of perfection, yet made it as impossible to witness as a local game without digital cable! Damn you apocryphal Abner Doubleday! Damn you straight to the fictional hell you belong in!"
Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson amassed 329 receiving yards, the second-most in NFL history behind former Rams receiver Flipper Anderson, as Detroit came from behind late to stun the Dallas Cowboys 31-30. Meanwhile, back at his New Jersey home, Anderson cracked a bottle of champagne as the game ended. Not because his record was preserved; that would be incredibly tacky. Who would do that? No, he popped a bottle of champagne because it pairs well with the panko-crusted halibut he whipped up for his wife as a special Sunday treat.
So, this is happening. It doesn’t get much better than the NFL’s best defensive lineman against the NFL’s best offensive line. I’m putting this game right up there with Gravity in terms of making me think about the vastness of the universe and mankind’s place within it.
The Niners’ line played its best game of the season last week against St. Louis as San Francisco seemed intent on committing to its running game. Frank Gore’s were the most he’s had in a game since Week 14 of the 2009 season, and his 7.65 yards per carry was the 10th best mark of his career.
Watt will spend most of the day dealing with guards Mike Iupati and Alex Boone, both of whom were Pro Bowl–level players a year ago (Iupati went; Boone did not). Boone was one of the better run blockers in the entire league last season. He’s a massive 6-foot-8 mauler, but he occasionally struggles in pass protection. Watt doesn't struggle with anything.
In case you were busy being harassed by Brian McCann and the party police, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
The Detroit Red Wings made an early two-goal lead stand up in their first game as an Eastern Conference team, taking their season opener against the Buffalo Sabres 2-1. "It's tough," said Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg after the game. "We had to get rid of all our board shorts and flip-flops, invest in some blazers and khakis." Zetterberg then looked down at himself, attired nattily by Brooks Brothers, and sighed, before saying, "The Eastern Conference sucks. I feel like I sold out, man."
The Tampa Bay Rays will be playing more postseason baseball after surviving their second consecutive elimination game, with a 4-0 win over the Cleveland Indians in the AL wild-card game. When asked how his team dealt with the pressure of back-to-back one-and-done situations, Rays manager Joe Maddon said, "Terribly. Everyone in the clubhouse is a wreck. Lots of shaking and crying. We were this close to just forfeiting." When asked if he was worried about facing the Boston Red Sox, who had the AL's best record this season, Maddon screamed, "Ahhhh! We get the Red Sox? Why?" before vomiting on himself.
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 spending your EA settlement money as quickly as possible, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Led by running back Frank Gore, the San Francisco 49ers rebounded from two consecutive heavy defeats in style, beating the St. Louis Rams, 35-11. "We couldn't run the ball," said Rams coach Jeff Fisher after the loss. "And they could run the ball." Fisher, a longtime member of the league's competition committee, then added, "That's not fair. At some point it's like, let's at least swap some linemen so that it's a good game. What happened to sportsmanship?"
Mariano Rivera played his final game at Yankee Stadium, throwing 1⅓ perfect innings in New York's 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Rivera, who has spent the season being given gifts on a de facto nationwide farewell tour, was approached by manager Joe Girardi after the game. "I bet you noticed we hadn't given you anything," Girardi told Rivera. "I had, but I don't mind; this organization has given me everything," Rivera said. Girardi smiled, and told his longtime closer, "I saved that third wish for a reason," before yelling, "I wish for Mariano to be free!" Suddenly, a swirl of blue light came from the ground, and the lamp that Rivera had quietly carried with him for his entire Yankees career shattered as if made out of glass. "Now run. No more saving us," Girardi whispered in Rivera's ear. "Now you can save yourself." Rivera then thanked Girardi before awkwardly reminding him that he was still contracted to play the final series of the season at Houston.
The Niners have been outscored 56-10 in the past two weeks. They stuck their best defensive player (Aldon Smith) in rehab after an ugly DUI incident over the weekend, which somehow didn't stop them from letting him play last Sunday (and taking a deserved media flogging). Two more of their best guys (Vernon Davis and Patrick Willis) are listed as questionable tonight. Their QB spent the summer posing for magazine covers and threw for 1,235 yards and 19 TDs in Week 1; 16 ghastly days later, he's suddenly struggling and reading his Twitter replies for motivation. And now, the seemingly embattled Niners travel to St. Louis to play the Rams — a team that took them to overtime twice last year — for one of those ugly/disjointed/sloppy Thursday-night games.