Home Featured News This Week in Sports: The NFL gets underway while baseball winds down

This Week in Sports: The NFL gets underway while baseball winds down

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Boston Red Sox Brandon Phillips slides home safe past Atlanta Braves catcher Tyler Flowers to tie the game 7-7 on a 2-RBI single by Ian Kinsler during the 8th inning in a MLB baseball game on Wednesday, Sept 5, 2018, in Atlanta. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Welcome to another weekly roundup in the world of sports. This week, the NFL gets underway and had some surprising outcomes along with one amazing finish. The Houston Astros and New York Yankees are trying to catch the Boston Red Sox for the best record in baseball. See where these teams currently sit with just a few weeks left in the MLB season. The West Michigan Whitecaps got into the playoffs on the last day of the season. See how they fared against divisional playoff competition. NCAA Football is in full swing and with that comes upsets. See who won the biggest games of the weekend in college football and which team ended a 31-game losing streak.

National Football League

NFL Football is back! The season got underway with the raising of the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl banner on Thursday night. After the ceremony, the Eagles hosted the Atlanta Falcons in a matchup of the last two NFC champions. With Carson Wentz still not cleared by team doctors to play due to his knee injury, Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles got the start under center for the Eagles.

Neither offense could gain any momentum in the first half and at halftime, the Falcons led the Eagles 6-3 in a battle of field goals. Late in the third quarter, Jay Ajayi scored the first touchdown of the 2018 NFL season to give the Eagles a 10-6 lead. Midway through the fourth quarter, that score stood until Falcons’ running back Tevin Coleman ran one in to give the Falcons a 12-10 lead. The Falcons went for two but failed to convert.

Just before the two minute warning, Jay Ajayi struck again for the eagles and scored on an 11-yard touchdown run. The Eagles added a two-point conversion to take the lead 18-12. With the game on the line, Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan was looking for his go-to receiver Julio Jones. Ryan tried to find Jones on both third and fourth and goal. As the clock expired, Jones caught a pass on the side of the endzone but landed out of bounds giving the Eagles the 18-12 victory.

The Eagles won despite Foles having a bad game where he only threw for 117 yards on 19-of-34 passing. Foles also threw an interception but had one of the more exciting plays of the game that was shades of the Philly-Special from the Super Bowl. Nelson Agholor got the ball on a reverse and delivered a perfect pass to Foles who ran a wheel route after pitching the ball. The play was good for 15 yards and got the crowd on their feet where they stood the rest of the night.

The NFL has a lot more parody than college football. That being said, more times than not, there is a pretty clear favorite in most NFL matchups. Yesterday saw a few surprises that shocked many of the experts.

If you like offense, then you would’ve loved the game played between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints. The Saints are on a short list of favorites to win the Super Bowl. The Buccaneers were expected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL and that’s including when their starting quarterback Jameis Winston returns from his three-game suspension. Long time journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick got the start for the Buccaneers and put up career numbers.

The Buccaneers outscored the Saints 14-10 in the first quarter and 17-14 in the second quarter. Going into the third quarter, the Buccaneers continued to add on to their lead. They scored 10 in the third while shutting out Drew Brees and the Saints offense. They led 41-24 going into the fourth quarter. But the Saints didn’t shrink and they stepped up their play in a big way in the fourth quarter.

Brees led the Saints to 16 points in the fourth but the Buccaneers only needed one score to put the game out of reach. Fitzpatrick hit DeSean Jackson on a 36-yard touchdown pass at the beginning of the fourth quarter to put the game on ice. The Buccaneers got the 48-40 win over the Saints.

The numbers from this game were pretty incredible. Brees is expected to put up numbers but Fitzpatrick surprised a lot of people. He threw for 417 yards on 21-of-28 throwing and added four touchdowns. Brees also had a big game throwing for three touchdowns and 439 yards on 37-of-45 passing in the loss.

The Cleveland Browns haven’t won a game since week 16 of the 2016 season. After an 0-16 season last year, the Browns made moves in the off-season that sparked optimism from the lowly franchise and their fans. Their first game of the season was against their biggest rival in the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers had been dealing with off the field distractions of answering questions about their All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell. Bell didn’t report on Saturday meaning he would be ineligible to suit up and forfeited $850,000.

The game was played in less than ideal conditions as rain fell the entire game. Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw three interceptions in the first half, but despite that fact, the Steelers went into halftime with a 7-0 lead on a James Conner rushing touchdown.

The Browns got the opening kickoff of the second half and marched down the field to score on a 20-yard rushing touchdown by their quarterback Tyrod Taylor to tie the game at seven. The Steelers answered quickly though and on their next possession, Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for a 22-yard touchdown pass. The Steelers forced a punt from the Browns and once again, marched down the field and scored a touchdown on a 22-yard run from Conner.

Going into the fourth quarter, the Browns trailed 21-7 and were staring at an 18th straight loss. The Steelers however had trouble with turnovers throughout the game and it cost them in the fourth quarter. Conner fumbled deep in Steelers’ territory and the Browns recovered and scored a touchdown a few plays later on a Carlos Hyde run.

The Steelers were looking to run the clock out and preserve a seven point lead but it was not to be. Roethlisberger was stripped of the ball on a sack and once again, the Browns recovered. That was the Steelers’ fifth turnover of the game. With just under two minutes left, Josh Gordon caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Taylor to tie the game at 21. Regulation would end tied and the game went into overtime.

The Browns possessed the ball first but went three-and-out and had to punt. The Steelers drove down the field and got into field goal range. Steelers’ Pro-Bowl kicker Chris Boswell lined up for a 42-yard field goal but missed wide left to keep the game going. With under two minutes to go in the extra quarter, the Steelers had the ball in their own territory. Roethlisberger was hit on a throw forcing his second fumble of the game. The Browns now had the ball in Steelers’ territory and could kick a field goal to win. The Browns ran the clock down and lined up for the game winning kick. Browns’ kicker Zane Gonzalez kicked it to win but the hand of TJ Watt blocked it leaving the game tied 21-21 for the final.

The Browns still haven’t won a game since 2016, but they also didn’t lose for the first time since 2016. The Steelers turned the ball over six times to the Browns’ one. The Browns will look for their first win next week when they visit the Saints.

The NFL’s best game of the weekend was the Chicago Bears visiting the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football. Mitch Trubisky, Khalil Mack and the Bears got off to a great start in the game. They held the Packers scoreless in the first half and scored 17 of their own points.

Down 17-0, Aaron Rodgers, who was playing in his first game since missing the last 11 games a season ago with an injury, went down with an apparent knee injury. Rodgers had to be carted to the locker room. The stadium fell silent already down 17-0 and now losing their star quarterback. Second year quarterback DeShone Kizer came on in relief for Rodgers and completed four passes for 55 yards before halftime.

When the teams came out of the tunnel for the third quarter, Rodgers walked on the field and was greeted by a roaring Lambeau Field crowd. Rodgers came in and led the Packers to a third quarter field goal. Entering the fourth quarter, a hobbled Rodgers and the Packers trailed 20-3.

Rodgers started the comeback with a 39-yard touchdown pass to Geronimo Allison just a minute into the quarter. The score brought the game to 20-10. Five minutes later, Rodgers was at it again. This time he hit Devante Adams for a 12-yard touchdown pass to bring the Packers within three. The Bears added a field goal with under three minutes to go making it 23-17. Just 36 seconds after the Bears field goal, Rodgers hit Randall Cobb for a 75-yard touchdown pass that ended up being the game winner. The Packers were down 20-0 at one point and came all the way back to win 24-23.

Rodgers ended the game throwing for three touchdowns and 286 yards on 20-of-30 passing. Trubisky had 171 yards through the air on 23-for-35 passing. Newly acquired Khalil Mack had an outstanding game for the Bears with a sack, interception, a forced fumble, a touchdown and three total tackles.

Tonight features a Monday Night Football doubleheader. The New York Jets visit the Detroit Lions at 7:10 p.m. on ESPN. The Lions are a six and a half point favorite in the game. The late game slates the Los Angeles Rams invading Oakland to take on the Raiders. The Rams are favored by four and a half points.

For a list of the NFL matchups, game day finals, stats and standings, click here.

Major League Baseball

The Atlanta Braves continue to hold a lead in the National League East. The Philadelphia Phillies had closed the gap to two and a half games, but over the weekend, the Braves won two-in-row while the Phillies lost two straight. The Braves are .500 in their last 10 games while the Phillies have lost six of their last 10 games. The Phillies still trail the Braves by four and a half games in the division with 20 games remaining. Philadelphia is also chasing down a Wild Card spot as insurance if they can’t win the division.

The Chicago Cubs’ lead in the NL Central has shrunk to just two games. The Milwaukee Brewers have won eight of their last 10 games including three straight. The Cubs on the other hand, have lost two straight and dropped five of their last 10 games. The St. Louis Cardinals are still hanging around in the division as well. They’re only four and a half games behind the Cubs and two and a half games behind Milwaukee. The Brewers and Cardinals currently hold the two Wild Card spots in the NL.

The NL West continues to be the most exciting and competitive division in baseball. The Colorado Rockies are in first place right now, but the Los Angeles Dodgers are only a half game behind them. The Arizona Diamondbacks’ struggles have continued recently. They’ve lost seven of their last 10 games and have fallen to two and a half games out of first place in the division. Whichever two teams don’t win the division will be fighting for a Wild Card spot. Both the Dodgers and Diamondbacks are within three games of a Wild Card spot.

(**GB=Games Back)

NL Division Leaders

East — Atlanta Braves (79-64)                           

Central — Chicago Cubs (83-59)                            

West — Colorado Rockies (78-64)

NL Wild Card

Milwaukee Brewers (82-62) +2.5

St. Louis Cardinals (79-64) —

____________________________

Los Angeles Dodgers (78-65) 1 GB

Arizona Diamondbacks (76-67) 3 GB

Philadelphia Phillies (74-68) 4.5 GB

The Boston Red Sox have had the best record in baseball virtually the entire season. They recently experienced some woes in their play but have since figured things out, though they lost two-in-a-row over the weekend to the Houston Astros before taking the rubber match last night. The New York Yankees are playing .500 ball in their last 10 games and are still eight and a half games behind the Red Sox in the American League East. They have the second best record in baseball but will likely have to host a one-game game, winner take all playoff game in the Wild Card round.

Not much can be said about the AL Central that hasn’t already been said. The Tigers, White Sox, and Royals have already been eliminated from playoff contention. The only team remaining who still has a very slim chance is the Minnesota Twins. The Twins are 15.5 games back of the division leading Cleveland Indians. The Twins have lost seven of their last 10 games and their elimination number sits at five games right now. Basically, the Indians would have to have the worst end of season collapse in baseball history to not make the playoffs.

Out West in the AL, it’s become a two team race. The once serging Seattle Mariners have fallen off and now trail the division leading Astros by 10 games. The Astros have been the hottest team in baseball as of late winning seven of their last 10 including a seven-game winning streak with two straight wins against the Red Sox that ended last night with a loss to Boston. The Oakland A’s refuse to be intimidated by that fact though. They have won four straight and seven of their last 10 games. Houston’s lead in the division over Oakland is a slim two and a half games as it stands.

(**GB=Games Back)

AL Division Leaders

East — Boston Red Sox (98-46)

Central — Cleveland Indians (81-62)

West — Houston Astros (89-54)

AL Wild Card

New York Yankees (89-54) +2.5

Oakland A’s (87-57) —

_____________________________

Seattle Mariners (79-64) 7.5 GB

Tampa Bay Rays (78-64) 8 GB

ESPN’s top five power rankings

  1. Boston Red Sox (98-46)
  2. Houston Astros (89-54)
  3. New York Yankees (89-54)
  4. Chicago Cubs (83-59)
  5. Oakland A’s (87-57)

The Collegiate’s top five power rankings

  1. Boston Red Sox (98-46)
  2. Houston Astros (89-54)
  3. New York Yankees (89-54)
  4. Chicago Cubs (83-59)
  5. Oakland A’s (87-57)

West Michigan Whitecaps

Last Monday, Sep. 3, the West Michigan Whitecaps hosted the Fort Wayne Tincaps at Fifth Third Ballpark for the season finale. The two teams were tied for the final playoffs spot and whoever won the game clinched that spot.

The Tincaps got on the board first with a first inning run. The score stayed 1-0 until the bottom of the seventh inning when the Whitecaps tied it up. With the season on the line, the two teams went to extra innings on the last day of the season. The Tincaps immediately put the pressure on the Whitecaps in the extra frame scoring a run in the top of the 10th inning.

With their backs against the wall, the Whitecaps came through in the clutch. Colby Bortles singled on a line drive past the second baseman that scored John Valente and moved Brady Policelli to third base. With the game now tied, Anthony Pereira came to the plate with a chance to be a hero. It wasn’t the most sexy way of doing it, but Pereira came through with a deep sacrifice fly to right field. Policelli scored and the Whitecaps moved on to the playoffs.

On Wednesday, the Whitecaps welcomed the Great Lakes Loons to town for the opening game of the 2018 playoffs. This series was a best out of three and the second two games were set to be played in the Loons’ home stadium. The Whitecaps dominated in the series opener shutting out the Loons 6-0.

The next night, it was a tighter battle but same result. The Loons had to win game two in order to have a game three. The Whitecaps once again shut down the Loons’ bats winning the game 2-1 and winning the short series 2-0. After the series win, the Whitecaps moved on to play the Bowling Green Hot Rods.

The Hot Rods finished first in the division during the season and welcomed the Whitecaps’ challenge Saturday night. Once again, the Whitecaps opened at home in the best of three series, but this time, the Whitecaps couldn’t treat the hometown fans to a West Michigan win. The Hot Rods took game one of the series 6-5 in a closely contested meeting. The Whitecaps had four errors in the game that they had to overcome but were unable to do it.

Last night, the Whitecaps once again had their backs against the wall. Down 1-0 in the series, they needed a win to keep their season alive and force a game three. The Hot Rods’ pitching staff was too much to handle for the Whitecaps’ bat. Bowling Green picked up the win 3-1 ending the Whitecaps’ season. Despite making the playoffs and winning a series, the Whitecaps will need to regroup this offseason and work on improving from their sub .500 regular season record from 2018. The Hot Rods move on to face the Peoria Chiefs in the Midwest Championship Series on Wednesday.

NCAA Football

The 19th ranked Michigan Wolverines were looking to bounce back on Saturday after losing to Notre Dame the previous week. Michigan welcomed the Broncos of Western Michigan University to the Big House for a week two matchup.

Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson did very little in this game but it was enough for a blowout win. Patterson was 12-for-17 throwing the ball with three touchdowns for 125 yards. The star of the game for Michigan was running back Karan Higdon who ran all over the Broncos for a total of 156 yards on 13 carries. Chris Evans added 86 yards and two touchdowns for Michigan.

Western Michigan quarterback Jon Wassink had a forgettable game for the Broncos. On 34 attempts, he completed only 16 passes for 85 yards and was also picked off in the game. The Broncos could only manage one score in the game and it was only a field goal. Michigan ended up winning the game 49-3 to get their first win of the season. They’re now 1-1 while Western Michigan has yet to win this season and moved to 0-2.

On Saturday night, the 15th Michigan State Spartans traveled to Arizona to take on the Sun Devils of Arizona State in a game that saw 100-degree heat throughout. This game was a defensive struggle that saw the offenses succeed sometimes but not consistently. Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke had a solid performance for the Spartans. He was 27 of 39 for 314 yards. He had a touchdown and was intercepted.

Lewerke needed to have a good game to keep the Spartans in it because their running game was non-existent. The team only rushed for 65 yards total in the game. Despite that, Michigan State had 3-0 lead at halftime. In the second half, the Spartans got things figured out momentarily and jumped out to a 13-3 lead going into the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for the Spartans though, Arizona State and their quarterback Manny Wilkins figured things out in the fourth quarter. Wilkins was 30-for-48 for 380 yards and touchdown. Arizona State’s running game was even worse than the Spartans’ with only 57 yards rushing. The Sun Devils scored 13 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to take down the Spartans 16-13. Michigan State is now 1-1 on the season and will likely drop out of the top 25 or at least to the very bottom of the rankings. Arizona State moved to 2-0 with the win.

Kelly Bryant and the Clemson Tigers had a close call on Saturday when they faced the Texas A&M Aggies. Bryant led the Tigers to a 28-13 lead going into the fourth quarter on 12-for-17 passing for 205 yards and a touchdown. It wasn’t Bryant’s best game and the same could be said for their normally stout defense. In the fourth quarter, Clemson had a 15-point lead before watching the Aggies march down the field twice and score.

Kellen Mond quarterbacked a strong game for Texas A&M throwing for 430 yards and three touchdowns in the game. Mond and A&M’s comeback would fall just short though. The Aggies scored a touchdown to bring the score to 28-26. They needed a two-point conversion to tie the game but the attempt fell short leaving the score at 28-26 and giving the second ranked Clemson Tigers their second win of the season. The Aggies fell to 1-1 with the loss.

Fresh off their win over Michigan, the eighth ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish welcomed the Ball State Cardinals to South Bend, Indiana. This is a game that most expected Notre Dame to win easily, but Ball State had other plans. Both teams’ quarterbacks played subpar and gave the other team plenty of chances to win. Riley Neal of the Cardinals threw for 180 yards and two interceptions completing less than 50 percent of his passes. Not to be outdone, Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush threw three picks but did manage to throw for 297 yards in the game.

Much like the Clemson, Texas A&M game, Notre Dame carried a lead into the fourth quarter and seemed to let off the gas. The Irish led 24-6 and then allowed the Cardinals to score 10 unanswered points to close the gap to a one-score game. Down 24-16, Ball State had one last shot and needed to score a touchdown and add a two-point conversion. The comeback was not to be as the Irish stopped the Cardinals on four straight downs to preserve the win. Notre Dame is now 2-0 while the Cardinals fell to 1-1.

The big matchup of the college weekend was the ninth ranked Stanford Cardinals hosting the number 22 Southern California Trojans. What many were expecting to be a shootout, turned into one of the lowest scoring games of the weekend. USC’s JT Daniels was stepping into some big shoes as he took over for Sam Darnold who left for the NFL. Daniels had a hard time filling those shoes and struggled throughout. He threw for 215 yards and two interceptions with an under 50 percent completion percentage.

KJ Costello did a good job of managing the game for Stanford at quarterback. He didn’t light it up, but played mistake free football. Costello was 16-for-27 for 183 yards and a touchdown. Stanford had a 14-0 lead at halftime but could only manage to score on a field goal in the second half. That wouldn’t be an issue though due to USC only scoring three points in the game. USC never figured their offense out and the 17-3 final score showed it. Stanford moved 2-0 with the win while also picking up their first Pac-12 win of the season. USC is now 1-1 and 0-1 in Pac-12 conference play.

One last notable game from the weekend was the Kentucky Wildcats taking on the Florida Gators. The reason this was a notable game wasn’t because of the two team’s national prowess, Kentucky was unranked and Florida was ranked 25th, but because of the streak this series was on. Kentucky hadn’t beaten Florida since 1986, and they play every year. Kentucky was on a 31-game losing streak against the Gators and looking to change that.

Kentucky’s ground game was dominant and too much for Florida to handle. The Wildcats rushed for 303 yards and outgained the Gators by 94 total yards in the game. Other than that, the game was evenly matched. Both teams had two turnovers, Kentucky had three more minutes of ball possession in the game and both teams had 13 third down attempts (Florida converted seven while Kentucky converted nine). Despite all the stats, Kentucky seemed to want the game more and were riding high coming off their dismantling of Central Michigan last week. Kentucky picked up a 27-16 win to finally put their Gator demons to rest. Kentucky is now 2-0 and the Gators are 1-1 and will surely drop out of the top 25.

For all other games, scores, news and rankings, click here.

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