Issue XCVI

21 OCT 2016



Dallas Cowboys' Tony Romo, Dez Bryant drop ball against Green Bay, out of playoffs


Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and the Dallas Cowboys had the game, and an improbable upset, in their hands. But they dropped the ball, and now it's Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers who are one step closer to the Super Bowl.

An officiating call proved decisive in Green Bay's 26-21 win Sunday over Dallas.

Rodgers went 9 of 9 in the fourth quarter, including a laser-like 13-yard touchdown pass to Richard Rodgers for the go-ahead score with 9:10 left of the fourth quarter. The final period also featured the officials overturning what was initially a brilliant catch by Bryant.

The wide receiver jumped high for a 31-yard pass from a gimpy Romo, who took a first-quarter hit to his already weakened knee, at the Packers 1 over cornerback Sam Shields, who had solid coverage on fourth-and-2 with 4:42 left in the game. But the play was ruled incomplete on replay review after Packers coach Mike McCarthy challenged the call.

The NFL rule states the receiver must maintain control all the way to the ground. Replays showed Bryant bobbled the ball as he rolled into the end zone, with part of it touching the field.

"Some people think throwing the red flag is fun," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "It was such an impactful play, you had to challenge. It was a confident challenge. And a hopeful one, too."

Hours after the game, Bryant tweeted: "as I went to the ground I rolled over and I tipped the ball to gain better control. We lost and I accept it but please change that rule."

The Cowboys were stunned. After going 8-0 away from home in the regular season, Dallas' road winning streak came to a stunning end.

Romo was an efficient 15 of 19 for 191 yards and two touchdowns in his return to his home state. Romo grew up in Burlington in southeastern Wisconsin.

"The calls, they don't go your way sometimes," Romo said. "It's disappointing whenever it does not go the way that you want. We had a chance to win."

"This is really, seriously one of the more disappointing times I've had on a personal basis," owner Jerry Jones said.

All wasn't lost after the overturned call. The Cowboys could have seized another chance with the ball if their defense had stopped the Packers on two third-down plays with less than 3 minutes left.

The Packers (13-4) converted both times and the Cowboys (13-5) started their offseason.

While almost every Cowboys fan will remember this game for the reversed call, coach Jason...

Aaron Rodgers Amazes, But an Overturned Call Robs Us All


The Packers beat the Cowboys in a playoff thriller that could have been a classic

The beauty of football is its simplicity. You throw, you catch. You run, you hit. Tony Romo threw and Dez Bryant caught. Simple? Nope. For the second week in a row, an NFL playoff game came to a complicated conclusion, thanks to technicalities and rule books and loopholes.

This is not a game for geniuses, no matter what you think of Bill Belichick. But somewhere along the line, someone did too much thinking, and it ruined a great game on Sunday. Green Bay beat Dallas 26-21 to advance to the NFC championship game in Seattle next week. And I think if the refs hadn't screwed things up, the game probably would have come out the same way.

Just in case you weren't aware, here's what happened: With less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the Cowboys facing a 4th-and-2, Romo uncorked a bomb to Bryant, who leaped for an amazing catch, got control of the ball after defender Sam Shields knocked it loose, pinned it to his shoulder, took two steps, then tried to stretch for a touchdown as he fell to the ground. But the ball came loose when he landed. The officials ruled it a catch, Packers coach Mike McCarthy challenged and the call was overturned. Seems Bryant had never completed the catch because, as ref Gene Steratore explained, he "never had another act common to the game.''

Whatever the hell that means.

So Romo was robbed of a defining pass and Bryant was robbed of a defining catch. And we were robbed of a moment in history, because the Cowboys likely would have scored on the next play or two, and then Rodgers would have had about three minutes, on a blown-out left calf, to drive for a game-winning field goal.

Which he would have done. Of course, I'm only guessing. That's how we were robbed. If not for over-thinking, we could be talking for years about the end of this game. Now, people will talk about that one play, and overlook the fact that Rodgers had an incredibly, unbelievably, historically great game.

"I feel very honored to play with him,'' Packers center Corey Linsley told me in the locker room when it was all over.

He is the best quarterback in football, and one of the best ever. But with this win – and his gutty Week 17 performance to take the NFC North – Rodgers has added grit to his greatness. He battled a balky left calf all week, spending hours with a physical therapist and even receiving reams of unsolicited advice from strangers...


Rangers notes: Texas takes Delino DeShields in Rule 5 draft


The Texas Rangers selected outfielder Delino DeShields Thursday morning in the Rule 5 draft. DeShields, 22, has spent his entire career in the Houston Astros system.


The Texas Rangers were looking for another outfielder and the answer might have come in Thursday’s Rule 5 draft. The club drafted Delino DeShields Jr. with its No. 3 pick and will give him a chance to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster.

DeShields, 22, has spent his entire career in the Houston Astros system.

He was a first-round pick in 2010 and played last season at Double A Corpus Christi, hitting .236 with 11 home runs and 57 RBIs in 114 games. He played second base his first three seasons.

“We like the combination of the now and the future. He’s got a chance to earn a role on this team,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. “He’s another center field option and a really unique speed tool with instincts to use it. It’s a good fit for our roster right now. Long term, we’ll see, but he has the ability to develop into more than that.”

One knock against him in the Astros organization has been his worth ethic.

“We’re certainly aware of that,” Daniels said. “But he’s got a unique opportunity here. We’ll sit down and talk to him about our expectations. The opportunity to play in the big leagues and all that comes with that … it’s got to be earned but it’s also a unique motivator.”

DeShields has at least 50 stolen bases the past three seasons, including 101 steals in 2012. He became the first player in minor league history with 10 or more home runs and 100 or more steals in a season.

“I’m excited that I got selected and everything. It’s like bittersweet. I grew up in the organization that I wanted to be a part of, and I’m glad for the opportunities and all that, but I guess it’s time to try to move on and get a new start somewhere else,” DeShields said.

DeShields was hit by a pitch during a Triple A game from Phil Klein last season, which fractured his cheek bone and caused massive swelling to his right cheek. He returned to play two weeks later.

DeShields gives the Rangers 39 players on their 40-man roster. He’ll have a strong chance to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster.

“That’s all I ever wanted was just get an opportunity to show guys that I belong and I could play in the big leagues,” he said. “It’s what I’ve lived for, for my whole life.”

The Rangers lost prospect Odubel Herrera, who was selected by the Phillies with the ninth...

Rule 5 Draft: Astros lose DeShields


Today saw MLB’s Rule 5 draft take place.  The draft is the less well known of the two drafts which take place each year, so for those of you less familiar with it, MLB has supplied a handy Q&A link here.

What the 2014 Rule 5 draft has in common with the 2014 version of the better known First-Year Player Draft is that the Astros managed to grab the headlines for undesirable reasons.

Despite Jeff Luhnow’s confidence, two days ago, that Delino DeShields would not be taken in the Rule 5 draft, the outfield prospect was duly selected by the Texas Rangers with the third pick in the draft, as reported by Evan Drellich in the Chronicle.

The Astros used their fourth pick to select Jason Garcia from the Red Sox only to trade him to the Orioles for cash or, that most tantalizing of trades, a player to be named later.  We, of course, have a relatively full roster after the arrival of Luke Gregersonand Pat Neshek.

Jason Burke posted this recap of the draft a short while ago.

It is of course DeShields departure that catches the eye.  Perhaps best known outside of the Astros fan base as the guy who caught a 90 mph fastball to the face back in April, DeShields spent the year with the Astros AA affiliate, the Corpus Christi Hooks.

DeShields had a down year at Corpus Christi, only hitting .236 with an on-base percentage of .346 and eleven home runs.  These numbers were almost identical to his first season in Lancaster, where he hit .237 with an OBP of /336, and he enjoyed significant improvement in his second year with the Jethawks (.317 and .405 respectively).  As Jose de Jesus Ortiz tweeted, in response to the draft, DeShields was pulled from the Hooks game against San Antonio at Minute Maid Park for a lack of hustle and the unavoidable fact remains that he is still very much a prospect rather than a sure thing, but rated him as their #66 prospect.  The Astros are still very much a team of prospects and to lose one of their more hyped young players is a blow, especially with so little seeming to come back in return, not to mention the lack of marquee free agents arriving so far this off-season.

By way of some consolation, named Carlos Correa, recovering from a fractured fibula sustained back in June, as their #2 prospect and Mark Appel as their #41 prospect.  Domingo Santana is ranked #50 and Mike Foltynewicz is #57....


Philadelphia 76ers lose even when they win


When you’re as bad as the Sixers are, don’t you want to be historically bad, like never-before-seen bad?

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

The Philadelphia 76ers won Wednesday night, beating the Minnesota Timberwolves85-77 and that in itself is noteworthy. The Sixers are now an astonishing 1-17 on the season but the win meant they couldn’t even tie or snap the record for the worst start to an NBA season. That mark still belongs to the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets, who got off to an 0-18 start.

When you’re as bad as the Sixers are, don’t you want to be historically bad, like never-before-seen bad? After all, if you lose 17 in a row you may as well lose 19 in a row and get your name in the record books, no?

It shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise, though.

This group of Sixers has proven incapable of being historically bad for two seasons, unable to etch their names in the history book.

Last year’s group lost a shocking 26 games in a row but won the 27th, failing to set an all-time league record for consecutive losses by one game.

Bad, yes. Record-setting bad? Not quite.

And not too many people are going to remember the second-worst start to a season in NBA history.

The Sixers, understandably, didn’t see the bigger picture and were pretty happy with the triumph.

“For me personally, I think it’s a big relief off my chest,” said Sixers guard Michael Carter-Williams said. “And the same is for the rest of the guys now that we got a win.”

But it was a weird one. For some reason, the teams lined up going the wrong way — shooting at the incorrect basket — to start the game and the first 14 seconds had to be replayed when officials finally noticed it.

And Minnesota played a large role, shooting just 35.7 per cent with 19 turnovers. Meanwhile the Sixers scored only nine points in the second quarter and shot just 39 per cent.

“That’s what makes it bad,” Wolves forward Corey Brewer said. “They play that bad and we still lose? We have to look at ourselves, man. It’s tough. We can’t lose that game, period.”

Sixers' first win deserves to be savored


I’m going to admit this upfront.

As the Sixers careened from loss to loss through October, November and early December, I really was worried they’d end the season 0-82.

As bad as they looked, I realize now that almost certainly wasn’t going to happen, given all the variables involved — key injuries to their opponents, the Sixers playing over their heads on a given night, teams taking them too lightly.

The 76ers actually did come close several times in their first 17 games to pulling one out. The last-second 91-89 loss to a mediocre Orlando club was particularly frustrating.

But with three of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ starters out with injuries, including guards Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin, the stars were aligned Wednesday night for Philly to finally come out on top.

Though there’s still a good chance the 2014-15 Sixers team will end up with the worst NBA season record in history, I’m intend to enjoy this feeling for at least a little while.

Of course, it also helped that the Wolves, with only three more wins than the Sixers, aren’t very good to begin with. (Poor Thaddeus Young. He finally gets traded out of Philly, and lands with a franchise that isn’t much better.)

But I’m certainly not complaining about the quality of the victory. A Sixers win against anyone is sweet.


Committee Turning on Florida State?


A team that has not lost a football game since November 2012—almost two full-calendar years—was leapfrogged by a program with one loss on Tuesday night.

Florida State, still without a blemish to speak of in 2014, at 9-0, is no longer the nation’s No. 2 team, according to the updated College Football Playoff Top 25. That honor belongs to Oregon (9-1), which has done enough since its Oct. 2 home loss to Arizona to warrant movement upward, at least according to the committee.

When one looks at the bigger picture, it becomes apparent the rise is significant. This situation never would have occurred if the BCS computers were still running the show. The percentage gap between Florida State and Oregon might have closed some, although that would have been the extent of it. We would have gone about our business to the next weekend, waiting for an actual loss to truly shake up the pecking order.

The fact that the committee is willing to make these decisions is a story. But for Florida State—and Oregon, for that matter—the headline-generating shakeup carries very little significance. The colors of the jerseys in their semifinal matchup would have changed because the home team would've swapped at the neutral-site game; that’s about it. 

The No. 2 and No. 3 teams will still play one another in the postseason. If this switch came during the last week of the season, no one would have batted an eye. The fact that the selection committee decided to make the change now—a few days after the Seminoles won in relatively common fashion against Virginia—simply means it's seeing exactly what you’ve seen. Florida State doesn't look impressive.

Still, with that considered, nothing has changed logistically for the Noles.

Regardless of the committee’s public demotion, this is far more sizzle than steak. If the Seminoles win out, they’re in the playoff. That’s the reality, and it was always a reality. Everything else at this point is for entertainment purposes only.

And Florida State fans: Are you not entertained?

Enraged, maybe? OK; let's call it enraged.

Here are some other observations from the selection committee's latest rankings.


The Selection Committee Sends Alabama a Message

This is a convenient week to leave Alabama on the cusp of cracking the playoff, and any attempt to draw something from the Tide’s current No. 5 ranking is a wasted...

Florida State only has itself to blame for Oregon's playoff ranking


Florida State is college football’s undefeated defending national champion. What does that really mean?

It means the Seminoles have deftly navigated college football’s 55th hardest schedule, and managed to beat teams like the UVA, Wake Forest, and the Citadel. There’s also a 31-27 victory over No. 18 Notre Dame, and nervy wins over No. 22 Clemson and No. 25 Louisville sprinkled into Florida State’s schedule.

Florida State has beaten every team its played, and as such, it remains in the College Football Playoff.

However, the committee made clear that there is little value in the path paved by the Seminoles. A loss would all but guarantee they find themselves on the outside looking in.

Instead, teams like Oregon and TCU are being rewarded for undertaking far more daunting schedules (Oregon’s strength of schedule is 22, and TCU’s is 23). The clear message from the beginning has been that a team’s wins will always be valued above its losses.

The Seminoles’ wins are all but worthless.

When discussing the power of wins, one could argue that Alabama’s wins are equally impressive to those of Oregon and TCU, but the Crimson Tide are left out in the cold. The rebuttal would be that Alabama will face No. 1 Mississippi State this weekend with the opportunity to wipe away any doubts that committee might have.

That’s the true success of the playoff rankings to date. Each choice has been made in a way that empowers teams, giving them complete and total control of their destiny. It’s what fans, coaches, players, and everyone else wanted from the beginning.

Oregon and TCU earned their ranking, just as much Florida State earned theirs.