What a disaster that was! This team will never contend as long as Jerry Jones keeps himself as GM and Tony Romo is the quarterback. Oh, and Jason Garrett needs to go, too. There's nothing true about the Cowboys today that wasn't true before the season. They're not built to make this season's playoffs, the roster still needs work and it's not time to fire anybody. Everybody has bad games.
I am so sick of losing to the Eagles! Now we're 0-2 in the division and fighting from behind. Why does this team always have to make everything so difficult? No team handles adversity better than the Giants, and they have time to overcome that 0-2. A bigger concern is if injuries to key players continue to mount and linger.
First place, baby! Who cares if the three wins are by a combined four points and we've been outscored by 17? There are no style points in the NFL. This is all actually true, and the Eagles did not turn the ball over one time Sunday night. If Michael Vick is going to stay healthy and keep improving, the Eagles are lethal.
Bring back Graham Gano and LaRon Landry! It's great that we won, but Billy Cundiff's shanks and Brandon Meriweather's klutziness nearly did us in. You didn't like Gano or Landry either, and it's not as though the latter was the picture of health. The Redskins have serious issues on defense, but RG3 is a blast to watch.
NFC WEST by Mike Sando
Arizona was lucky to beat the Dolphins and could be headed for a slide. Improving on a perfect record isn't an option. Arizona has played three of four at home. The schedule gets tougher and the Cardinals' record will reflect that eventually.
Colin Kaepernick showed against the Jets why he'll be the 49ers' starter before long -- perhaps even this season. Kaepernick's attempted just one pass (it was incomplete). The 49ers' staff values Alex Smith's decision making before the snap and command of the playbook.
Pete Carroll made a huge mistake going with Russell Wilson over Matt Flynn. The decision could wind up costing him his job. Carroll took a risk, no question, but the season remains young. A total collapse appears unlikely given Seattle's strengths in the run game and on defense.
Beating the Seahawks shows the Rams can contend in the NFC West this season, not just eventually. The Rams should be able to win five of their home games this season. Stealing a few victories on the road will be difficult this season, however.
NFC NORTH by Kevin Seifert
The Bears finally got their new offense rolling Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys' top-ranked defense. Look out. What might have been more impressive was a five-interception performance from the Bears' defense. It is once again proving age is only a number.
The Lions spent the offseason maintaining their nucleus, not adding to it, and have proved the adage about moving backward if you're not moving forward. There is some validity to that. Opponents have taken a different and much more effective approach this season to stopping their passing game.
The Packers are back after scoring 28 points against the New Orleans Saints. The Saints' defense is among the NFL's worst. But the Packers appear to be growing more comfortable with a mid-range passing game and a steady diet of running back Cedric Benson.
The Vikings can't keep winning with an offense that averages 0.5 yards per play. (Slight hyperbole there.) Lost in the Vikings' 3-1 start has been a really aggressive defense and a special teams that must be considered among the most impactful in the league. If it were up to the offense alone, the Vikings would not be 3-1.
NFC SOUTH by Pat Yaskinskas
Atlanta's offensive line is falling apart again after giving up seven sacks to Carolina. It wasn't pretty, but Charles Johnson had a dominant game. The Falcons aren't going to face a pass-rusher of Johnson's caliber every week. This line is better than it was a year ago.
Quarterback Cam Newton needs to stop sulking and be a better leader. Maybe Newton needs to wear his emotions on his sleeve less. But there's an easy cure that will make him happy -- go out and win some games.
The Saints handcuffed themselves from signing defensive help when they made Drew Brees the highest-paid player in the NFL. There certainly is some truth in that. But consider the alternative; without Brees, the Saints wouldn't be scoring points.
LeGarrette Blount should be starting in place of rookie Doug Martin at running back. No, he should not. Martin's a better all-around back, but Blount needs to be used in a rotation because he brings some diversity to the backfield.
The playoffs don't officially start until Friday. But Tuesday sure had a postseason feel.
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
For a few minutes there I thought we had time-warped back to 2003 or 2004, with the Red Sox and Yankees playing a big game in October, Yankee Stadium shaking with noise, Derek Jeter watching intensely from the top step of the dugout.
Then I saw Bobby Valentine trot out to the mound to make a pitching change and was snapped back to reality.
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The playoffs don't officially start until Friday, but it has certainly felt like playoff atmospheres all over ballparks these past few days, from Monday night's raucous affair in Oakland, to the tense 1-0 duel between James Shields and Miguel Gonzalez in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, to the game in the Bronx between the Yankees and hapless Red Sox.
The Orioles had already defeated the Rays despite a superlative effort from Shields, maybe the most dominant pitching performance I saw all year in terms of command and stuff. The Orioles had no chance as Shields struck out 15, allowed two hits and walked nobody. But he made one mistake: Chris Davis crushed a 1-1 changeup to Pensacola in the fourth inning. As Jason Collette tweeted, there have been just 28 performances since 1918 when a pitcher threw a complete game with at least 15 K's and two or fewer hits. Shields joined Floyd Youmans and Jim Maloney as the only three to lose such a game.
The win kept the Orioles in the hunt for the American League East title, and as the Red Sox took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth, it appeared the O's and Yankees would head into Game 162 tied for first place -- exactly the dream scenario baseball envisioned with the creation of the wild-card game. No more coasting into the playoffs, not caring whether you won the division title or finished second and won the wild card. Facing the prospect of that do-or-die wild-card game that every team wants to avoid, the Yankees had to go all-out, and the fans cheered like it was a playoff game.
Let's just say nothing Valentine did this year quite worked out the way he intended. Lefty Craig Breslow breezed through a 13-pitch eighth, but even with Curtis Granderson and Ichiro Suzuki due up in the ninth, Valentine went to closer Andrew Bailey and his 6.00 ERA. Granderson lined a single to right field, Raul Ibanez lined a pinch-hit home run to right-center and you knew the Yankees would eventually win the game.
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
The Yankees celebrated a dramatic 12th-inning win over the Red Sox to keep a one-game lead over the Orioles with one game to play.
Which they did, after Joe Girardi used closer Rafael Soriano for two innings and 38 pitches (the horror!), Ibanez rolling a soft grounder through the left side of the infield in the 12th to score Francisco Cervelli, who had walked with two outs in his first at-bat of the season. It was the Yankees’ first win all season when trailing entering the ninth inning. Now 1-58; they had been the only team in the majors without such a comeback win. By the time they scored the winner, Yankee Stadium was half-empty on a chilly, wet night, but the fans celebrated and the Yankees acted like ... well, like they'd just won a playoff game.
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Unfortunately, that win ruined the possibility that the Yankees, Orioles, Rangers and A's would all enter the final day of the season with the same record, with everything from the No. 1 seed to the No. 5 seed on the line. Talk about playoff atmosphere.
We can still get a tie in the East, of course, but at this point you have to like the Yankees' chances of beating Daisuke Matsuzaka and his 7.68 ERA. The Yankees start Hiroki Kuroda. In St. Petersburg, the Orioles will send Chris Tillman against Jeremy Hellickson. You can watch both those games Wednesday night at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN (Boston-New York) and ESPN2 (Baltimore-Tampa Bay), respectively.
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Back to Oakland, scene of Monday night's fun. The A's weren't done. Needing two more victories to somehow catch the Rangers and win the West, Travis Blackley pitched six solid innings and then that lights-out bullpen trio of Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Grant Balfour did the job again. A's 3, Rangers 1. How in the name of baseball is this happening?
Bob Melvin certainly managed that game like a playoff game. Balfour pitched for the fourth consecutive day for the first time all season. Cook pitched for the fourth day in a row for the first time. They can smell the division title now and so can their fans. The A's drew 30,000 fans on Tuesday -- a large crowd for them that included 12,000 walk-ups. And those fans were loud. Balfour pumped his first and stalked off the mound after a dominant 10-pitch ninth inning like the A's had clinched the division.
They haven't done that just yet, but the fact that Game 162 matters is a small miracle. "We're still shocking people," designated hitter Jonny Gomes said after the game.
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The critics might point out with those four teams all bunched together, we'd still have the same level of excitement even if one wild card existed. That's not quite true; with one wild card, the Yankees wouldn't have much at stake on Wednesday. With 94 wins, they'd be guaranteed a playoff spot since the Rangers and A's can't both finish with 94 wins. They'd be in, they'd start Freddy Garcia, they'd rest their bullpen and Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and get ready for the postseason.
Now they have to win. Will Soriano be available? How quick of a hook do you have with Kuroda? The Rangers have to win. They throw Ryan Dempster against A.J. Griffin. The A's have to win. Will Melvin use Cook and Balfour for a fifth consecutive day? The Orioles know they have to win, just to have hope.
The playoffs have definitely started.
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Meanwhile, the Detroit Tigers can sit back and relax and watch these other four teams -- all with better records -- scramble and burn out their bullpens and rotations.
ST. LOUIS -- One loss in the NFL isn't normally a cause for major concern. The Arizona Cardinals might be thinking differently after their 17-3 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night.
The Cardinals came into that game as the league's hottest feel-good story, an undefeated team riding a wave of unforeseeable momentum. They left with all sorts of questions, the most pressing being how they'll protect their quarterback going forward.
The Rams didn't just beat up Kevin Kolb on Thursday. They swarmed him every chance they got. They pounced on him nearly every time he dropped back. The final statistics said St. Louis defenders sacked the Cardinals quarterback nine times in this Arizona defeat. If not for some nifty footwork by Kolb, that number easily would've stretched deep into the double-digits.
This wasn't the same Arizona team that surprised the Patriots in New England and stormed through the Philadelphia Eagles a week later. These Cardinals looked woefully unprepared to deal with everything the revived Rams threw at them.
As Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said afterward, "We became one-dimensional. We fought, but it was tough."
It was no secret that the Cardinals didn't have the best offensive line coming into this season. Remember, Kolb was sacked eight times in that win over Miami. The scary thing for Arizona is that there doesn't appear to be an easy fix for this obvious flaw. It can talk about tweaking its schemes all it wants, but it's not like opposing defenses aren't going to be coming after Kolb with a similar fury.
Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb has been sacked 17 times in Arizona's past two games.
What Arizona needs is running back Beanie Wells, who went on injured reserve with a toe injury last month. He gave the Cardinals a physical banger, a runner who could at least keep opponents honest with his presence. There was no threat of a running game for Arizona on Thursday. The Cardinals managed a measly 45 yards on 17 carries while Kolb attempted 50 passes on the night.
Arizona clearly hoped to control tempo with that short-passing game. Their problem was they couldn't connect on potential big plays when opportunities arose and they couldn't stop the Rams from smelling blood. The longer this game went on, the more St. Louis increased its pressure.
"We got into a situation where they could pin their ears back and come after us," Kolb said. "It's obvious that we need to get our running game going."
That would be an easy thing to say if the Cardinals weren't reaching the hardest part of their schedule. In the next five weeks, they will face Buffalo, Minnesota, San Francisco, Green Bay and Atlanta. The games against the Vikings, Packers and Falcons will all be on the road. That means more hostile, deafening crowds like the ones the Cardinals found in St. Louis. It also means more encounters with some seriously dangerous pass-rushers.
It's not like the Rams were causing problems with Jared Allen or Clay Matthews out there. As improved as St. Louis is on defense, the Rams aren't as strong on that side of the ball as the 49ers. The Cardinals thrived in their first four games because they had their own staunch, opportunistic defense and a fairly efficient offense. It's hard to see them getting back to that winning formula now that more teams are succeeding in pounding their quarterback.
The Rams created so much pressure on Kolb that even the smallest mistakes did the Cardinals in on Thursday. Rookie Michael Floyd dropped a key pass that could've kept an impressive drive alive. Kolb missed a couple of receivers on plays that should've led to touchdowns. Kicker Jay Feely hooked an easy 40-yard field goal wide left when Arizona was down 10-3 in the second quarter.
"We had the ball for 20 minutes in the first half and got three points," Whisenhunt said. "You can't do that."
The Rams obviously deserve plenty of credit for this. This wasn't merely a case of a good team having a bad day. St. Louis proved why the hiring of head coach Jeff Fisher was such a critical offseason move for this franchise. This team plays with the same edge and passion Fisher cultivated during his 17 seasons with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans. At 3-2, the Rams are over .500 for the first time since the 2006 season.
The Cardinals know plenty about what that kind of success does for an organization. They had won 11 of their past 13 games before Thursday night. They had proven that they could make do with middling quarterbacks such as Kolb and John Skelton and that their chemistry was greater than people realized. Even when people questioned them after their fast start this season, they had a resolve that was only strengthened by continually being underestimated.
Arizona had better call on that inner strength once again because the doubters will be lining up en masse. All the good vibes that came with their 4-0 start just vanished amidst an embarrassing defeat. That doesn't mean the Cardinals don't have the ability to rebound from this. It does mean their jobs just became that much harder.
The Cardinals should know better than anybody that fast starts don't determine what a team will be by season's end. They opened last year 1-6 before turning their fortunes around in impressive fashion. The Arizona players who were involved in that resurrection would be wise to recall how they pulled off the feat.
Now that the word is clearly out on their offensive line, it won't be nearly as easy to be excited about where this season is heading.
On October 23, 1993, Toronto Blue Jay Joe Carter does what every kid dreams of—he wins the World Series for his team by whacking a ninth-inning home run over the SkyDome’s left-field wall. It was the first time the World Series had ended with a home run since Pittsburgh’s Bill Mazeroski homered to break a 9-9 tie with the Yankees in the seventh game of the 1960 series, and it was the first time in baseball history that a team won the championship with a come-from-behind home run.
The Blue Jays were leading the series three games to two, but thanks to a five-run seventh inning (punctuated by a three-run blast from outfielder Lenny Dykstra), the Philadelphia Phillies were ahead 6-5 in the ninth. It looked like the Phils would tie the series and force a seventh game—but then they brought reliever Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams out of the bullpen. Though Williams had saved an impressive 45 games that season, he’d earned his nickname by throwing wild pitches when his team was in a tight spot, and he’d already blown a 14-9 lead for the Phillies in Game 4.
Williams did just what the Blue Jays were hoping he’d do. First he walked leadoff batter Rickey Henderson in four straight pitches. Then, after Devon White finally popped out to left field after nine pitches, Williams gave up a single to Series MVP Paul Molitor. With Henderson on second and Molitor on first, Joe Carter stepped up to the plate.
Carter took two balls, then two strikes. Then he cracked a low slider hard toward the left-field pole. "Ninety-nine times out of a hundred," he said later, "I hook that pitch way foul." But this time, he didn’t. The ball swerved right and disappeared over the wall.
"It was the ultimate sports fantasy," Carter said. His memorable homer won the game and the series, the highest-scoring in history (81 runs in all) and the Blue Jays’ second championship in a row. And it put Carter alongside celebrated hitters like Bobby Thomson, whose immortal "Shot Heard ‘Round the World" won the 1951 National League pennant for the New York Giants.
On that same day the next year, the French sailor Isabelle Autissier set a record in the first phase of the famous BOC round-the-world yacht race: She made it to Cape Town from Charleston in 35 days, 8 hours and 52 minutes. The second-place yacht was 1,200 miles behind her. Later in the race, a huge wave overturned Autissier’s yacht when she was nearly 1,000 miles off the coast of Australia. She was stranded in the ocean for four days until an Australian Navy helicopter rescued her from the deck of her damaged ship.