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.
In case you were busy putting in place overly ambitious field-wiping plans, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Despite coughing up another double-digit lead, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took advantage of a distracted Miami team, beating the Dolphins 22-19 to record their first win of the season. "Hee-hee! Yippee!" exclaimed head coach Greg Schiano to his team after the game, "we did it for realsies, friends! We got that first win, just like I wished we would. Now I promised you a special surprise when we won, and I'm not one to let my best friends down! So here it is!" Schiano then threw open the locker-room door, revealing an entire fun forest waiting for his team in the bowels of Raymond James Stadium. "It's all there!" Schiano said with a giggle, "a petting zoo, ice cream cake, clowns, face painting! I want you guys to just go nuts! You earned it!" Schiano then dove headfirst into a bouncy castle as the party DJ he hired started blasting Miley Cyrus's Party in the U.S.A.
In a battle of talented, young Western Conference teams, the Clippers withstood a late Timberwolves flurry to top Minnesota 109-107. "Man, I felt like Liam Neeson out there," said Clippers forward Blake Griffin after the game, "you know, when he's facing down those wolves. In the wolf movie. What's that called?" Clippers guard Chris Paul replied, "Dude, that's The Grey," but Griffin was unconvinced, saying, "Nah, I think it's got 'Wolf' in the title. Wolf Day Afternoon?" Paul shook his head, and said, "No, that's Pacino, and it's 'Dog,' not 'Wolf.' I'm sure you're thinking of The Grey," but Griffin was insistent, saying, "Nah, dude, duh, we're both wrong. It's not Wolf Day Afternoon or whatever made-up thing you said. It's Star Wolf: Episode 2, Attack of the Wolves." Paul then walked away as a pleased Griffin explained, "This game was like that movie. Lots of wolves."
A sterling combined effort from a trio of rookie pitchers led the St. Louis Cardinals to a 4-2 win over the Boston Red Sox, evening up the World Series at a game apiece. The game hinged on the Cardinals' aggressive baserunning and a clutch hit from veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran, once again proving that the same things that won big games in the mid-'60s will still win them today.
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 investing heavily in Kyle Field grass futures, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Justin Verlander threw a gem and Miguel Cabrera broke out of his slump with a two-run home run as the Detroit Tigers advanced to the ALCS with a 3-0 win over the Oakland Athletics. Earlier in the day things were not looking good. On a cartoon baseball field on a faraway planet, Mike Trout and a team of misfits made up of one male bunny, one attractive female bunny, a duck, a devil, a skunk, a hunter, a chicken, a pig, a cat, and Dan Aykroyd were down to their last at-bat in a baseball game with the fate of the world at stake. Their alien opponents, led by Pog, who had stolen Miguel Cabrera's essence, had surged to an early 66-run lead in the game. However, the plucky toons had battled back behind Trout's 16-for-16 game with 16 grand slams, along with an Aykroyd solo home run. The score was 66-65 with Trout at the plate, the bases loaded, Pog on the mound, a full count, and two outs. Trout called his shot to Pog, yelling, "I'm swinging for the fences," which caused the fences to briefly have cartoonishly bulging eyes. Pog smiled at Trout and reared back to throw; it was a looping breaking ball, exactly the pitch Trout had been sitting on. Trout winked and swung, but Pog had deviously thrown a spitball and it drooled all over his bat making him miss. "Strike three!" yelled the ump. Trout was crushed, the game was over, and Earth and Cabrera were doomed … Or were they?
Eli Manning's poor season continued as the quarterback threw three more interceptions and his New York Giants fell to 0-6 with a 27-21 loss to the Chicago Bears. "I don't ever lose confidence," Manning said after the game as his cell phone blared out "Rocky Top." "Sorry," he said as he muted it. "Someone's trying to get a hold of me. Asshole. Anyway, as I was saying, I don't ever lose confidence as—" but Manning was interrupted as his cell phone began to ring out "Rocky Top" again. "I'm so sorry guys," Manning said. "Some jerk set a personal ring on this phone, and I don't know how to change it." Manning then turned from the podium and saw a new incoming text message: "should I let the jags win? then you guys can be the best at being bad. pick up ur phone and let me kno brah. ciao, pey2kpounds."
In case you were busy fumbling your way to victory in Iowa, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Your newest NFL juggernaut is the Cleveland Browns, who have now won three straight after defeating the Buffalo Bills, 37-24, behind the play of reserve quarterback Brandon Weeden. "No! What happened to Brian Hoyer?" yelled world's saddest man Gary Pittson as he checked his fantasy team at 2 a.m. while finishing up an unpaid overtime shift of data entry at Telecommunications Systems Inc. Pittson then scanned the waiver wire looking for Weeden and moaned, "Poor Hoyer, he was all I had left in this world well, him, this job, and the hope of finding Brandon Weeden. Where is he? He has to be here!" Unfortunately for Pittson, longtime rival and world-class bassist Teddy Jackson's wife Sandra Carmone had already picked Weeden up because she thought he had a funny name. Also, he had been noticed by floor supervisor Whit Rickenbauer, who added a demerit for unauthorized Internet use to Pittson's permanent file with the company, putting his employment status in serious jeopardy.
Despite having less than his best command, Clayton Kershaw allowed only three hits, collected 12 strikeouts, and secured his first postseason win as the Los Angeles Dodgers easily defeated the Atlanta Braves, 6-1, to take the first game of their National League Division Series. Despite the loss, the Braves have to consider themselves lucky. Had Kershaw had his best stuff, he would have likely allowed no hits while getting two himself, collected 29 strikeouts, and secured three wins in the game, instantly eliminating Atlanta from the postseason, and advancing his Dodgers directly to the World Series where they would have played themselves reflected in a giant mirror.
Well, that certainly didn't take long. The Buccaneers officially benched Josh Freeman for rookie Mike Glennon on Wednesday, ending his five-year reign as the team's starting quarterback just four weeks into the 2013 season. Of course, it's a move that many have seen coming for a while: The Buccaneers refused to commit to Freeman over the offseason in terms of his role with the team or on a new contract, and after three disappointing starts to begin the season, the 0-3 Bucs made a change.
For Freeman, this news is catastrophic. I wrote before the season that nobody had more to gain from playing well in 2013 than Josh Freeman; with Freeman approaching unrestricted free agency, the difference between his next contract following an above-average season and following a horrific one was likely $30 million or so in guaranteed money. That's all clear. There are a whole bunch of other questions worth asking about the logic behind this move and what the Bucs are thinking, which I'm going to try to answer.
In case you were busy getting taken aback by the presence of hockey news in your Twitter feed, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Max Scherzer got his 21st win and the Detroit Tigers clinched the AL Central with a 1-0 win over the Minnesota Twins. "Fine, fine," said every sabermetrician in the world in unison. "We get it. Scherzer is the Cy Young winner, fine, fine. Fine," before adding a passive-aggressive "it's not the worst decision you guys have made — he is leading in fWAR, which you probably haven't even heard of" while throwing their arms up in the air all at once. Then every sabermetrician muttered under their breaths, "He might not even be the best pitcher on the Tigers, but hey, who are we to know things," adding a derisive "as far as you know, we're in our mothers' basements" in one harmonic voice.
"Eliminated," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, lying flat on his back, after New York's 8-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. "I am no more. The Yankees are no more." Cashman let his mind think back on the odyssey he had taken this season to arrive at this moment: the Jeter injury, the Rodriguez suspension, the retirement of Rivera, the consistent presence of Jayson Nix in his lineup, until of course Nix got hurt. Everyone had gotten hurt. Cashman balled his fists and yelled at his ceiling, "Who am I?" Suddenly, a great shaking took hold of his office, and the ceiling split before him, as the hand of God itself reached down to grab the balding, drunken GM. "You are the Cash-Man," God intoned with a surprisingly feminine voice, as he was lifted into the air. "You are my Cash-Man. And to prove it—" Suddenly, God threw Cashman in the air, a flash of lightning showed Cashman he was falling back to his office floor amid a rain of American currency, and for just a second Cashman glimpsed the face of God. "Mrs. Steinbrenner?" A clap of thunder sounded, and all went black.
The Thank You for Not Coaching docket was pretty much all booked up by the time the 1 p.m. games were over on Sunday. Bouncers weren't letting any silly timeouts or fourth-down blunders into the column unless they had showed up for the early session. Plays that would normally be locks couldn't find a table unless they slipped somebody a 20. Pete Carroll calling for a spot challenge against the Jaguars? Nope. Mike McCoy's pair of fourth-and-1 punts inside Titans territory? Not this week. Rex Ryan's pair of spot challenges on consecutive plays? Believe it or not, we're all full up. It's a full #TYFNC slate for Week 3.
Let's start, though, with some of the better decisions from last week's action before working our way down to the three worst calls.
THE THREE NIFTIEST DECISIONS FROM WEEK 3
3. The Packers go for it on fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter.
How can a play that quite possibly cost Green Bay the game be a good choice? Well, because you have to evaluate the decision based upon the process that went into the call without evaluating it based upon its one outcome. And, in this case, the Packers were right to attempt a fourth-and-1 conversion: They were up 30-27 with 4:01 left and had the ball on Cincinnati's 30-yard line. They had been very effective running the ball in the second half with Johnathan Franklin, in for an injured James Starks, and had a chance to possibly seal the game by not handing the football back over to the Bengals.
In case you were busy building something with your hands, ensconced in the majesty of nature, allowing the last rays of summer sun to shine down upon your shirtless back, like a nerd, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
In a Sunday night NFC East battle, the Dallas Cowboys forced six turnovers en route to a 36-31 win over the New York Giants. Eli Manning was dejected after the game, saying, "I haven't had that many turnovers since Peyton was like, 'Eli, eat all of mom's turnovers before Archie gets back from work. He'll think it's so funny.'" Eli shook his head, and added sadly, "He didn't. Old man didn't even notice. No one ever notices Eli. No one'll ever care about Eli."
In the last scheduled meeting between two longtime rivals, Michigan outlasted the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, 41-30, in Ann Arbor. "I mean, I never like losing, but it's not like they're really our rival," said Notre Dame fan Ashley O'Connell through a tightly clenched jaw. "I mean it's not like USC, or, um, Stanford; how are the Wolverines possibly our rival?" O'Connell went on to ask as she unconsciously gnawed on her already mangled thumbnail. "Really though, we have no rivals, so any loss is meaningless." O'Connell, satisfied with this line of reasoning, allowed herself a smile for the first time in 24 hours, as blood streamed out of both her ears.
In case you were busy being ready for some football, some Wednesday-night football, Wednesday-night football that is never going to come, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers corner back Darrelle Revis has said he's "happy to spill the beans," in advance of the Bucs' matchup with his former team, the New York Jets. "It was a nice offer," said Bucs head coach Greg Schiano, "but it's just beans." When asked to clarify Schiano added, "Seriously, their whole playbook is just a box of supposedly magic beans. Apparently they traded their old defensive playbook, which was quite good, with some sort of evil space wizard wearing a sleeveless hooded cloak, and ended up with a box of beans." Schiano, a New Jersey native shrugged and said, "I wouldn't believe it, but, you know Jets."
An all-Italian quarterfinal at the U.S. Open yielded the day's biggest upset as Flavia Pennetta beat out no. 10 seed Roberta Vinci, 6-4, 6-1. Vinci was sanguine despite her loss, saying, "I have no regrets, I came, I saw, I Vinci." Meanwhile, despite advancing to her first career Grand Slam singles semifinal, Pennetta was less pleased with her tournament experience, saying, "I have many regrets; I came, I saw, I was detained at LaGuardia Airport after an idiotic mix-up involving former CIA director Leon Panetta. I did not conquer."
The All-22 All-Star Team is an attempt to provide some insight on the NFL's 22 most underappreciated players. Some will be All-Pros who haven't fully gotten their due; some will be names few casual fans have ever heard. All will, for one reason or another, have been overlooked.
When Michael Bennett arrived as a newcomer to Seahawks practice this offseason, he was doing so for the second time. Four summers ago, Bennett was an undrafted free agent from Texas A&M, and that first training camp was spent clawing through two practices a day for a roster spot. “When you first come in, and you’re undrafted, every day is a game for you,” Bennett says. This year, Bennett returned to Seattle, and this time as a bigger deal.
When Barnwell and I decided to start this project — going team by team for our NFL preview — we knew there would be a few spots that got a little rough. This might be hard to believe, but neither of us is too high on the Raiders. But among all 32 NFL teams, I don’t think there’s one that we’re collectively higher on than the Bucs. From the return of last year’s pair of injured star guards (18:54), my never-ending love for the Tampa Bay run defense (22:50), and our joint love for the Darrelle Revis trade (26:00), it's safe to say we like the 2013 Bucs.
Before we get there, though, we spend the first 15 minutes or so on the Saints, touching on everything from their historically bad pass defense (1:47), Sean Payton’s actual value (3:00), the switch to a 3-4 defense (3:57), the terribleness of Mark Ingram (6:54), and Drew Brees’s effect on the team’s (well-developed) offensive line (8:58).