Installment #2: An Awful, Terrible, Sports Weekend
It was a very bad sports weekend last weekend, one of the worst since I became a sports fan twenty-seven years ago. I mean, all of my favorite teams lost. The Carolina Panthers and the North Carolina Tar Heels both lost football games that they had chances to win at the end. The Atlanta Braves, after being up three games to one on the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series last Thursday, lost three consecutive games in as many days and the Dodgers walked away with the NL pennant. On top of those heartbreaking losses, the icing and sour cherry on the cake, the Charlotte 49ers, the football team from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, my alma matter, did not play their game against the Florida International Panthers because some of the FIU players tested positive for the coronavirus. So, I was as they say in my old neighborhood, "sick." Not literally, but emotionally.
On Saturday night in a prime-time game, the then #5-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels traveled to Tallahassee, Florida to take on the Florida State Seminoles. Though FSU used to be a power house in college football every year, the last two seasons have been hard on the school. Coming into last weekend's game, the Noles were 0-3 and the Tar Heels (at 4-0) were two touchdown favorites to win.
But it was clear from the beginning that this game would not be a picnic or a walk-in-the-park for the team from Chapel Hill. By the second quarter, Florida State had jumped out to a 24-0 lead, thanks to a twenty-three-yard touchdown run from FSU quarterback Jordan Travis and a few outstanding defensive plays by the Seminoles. North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell was intercepted for a touchdown, a fourth-down play and a two-point conversion were stopped, and the Heels had a punt blocked on special teams. North Carolina trailed Florida State 24-7 at the half.
In the second half, the Seminoles were marred by missed field goals and the North Carolina Tar Heels just kept chipping away at what had ballooned to a 31-7 Florida State advantage. With 2:37 left in the game, the Tar Heels got the football back with a chance to tie or take the lead. But three straight drops by Tar Heel receivers stalled the drive and sealed a 31-28 victory for Florida State. FSU gets their first win of the year. North Carolina, who dropped to a 4-1 record and to #14 in the standings will host a red-hot NC State Wolf Pack team on Saturday afternoon. We'll see how they do.
The Carolina Panthers, who were riding high off a three-game winning streak and looking for their second win at home in three tries, got off to a rough start in Sunday afternoon's game against the Chicago Bears. Panthers back-up running back Mike Davis was stuffed at the line of scrimmage on the contest's first play. Then, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sacked inside the one-yard line and a deflected pass resulted in an interception by Bears safety Tashaun Gipson, Sr. Bears quarterback Nick Foles connected with rookie tight end Cole Kmet on third-down, giving the Bears the early 7-0 lead.
On their second drive, the Panthers were able to move the ball, thanks to a couple of good rushes by Bridgewater and some big receptions by wide receiver DJ Moore. But the Panthers have had some trouble punching the ball into the end zone when they get into the red zone this season, settling for field goals instead of touchdowns on many of these drives. On this drive, they were forced to settle for a 21-yard field goal by kicker Joey Slye, making the score 7-3.
The red zone woes would continue on subsequent drives and the Panthers trailed the Bears 10-6 after a 20-yard Joey Slye field goal with just over two minutes left in the first half. The young Panthers defense was able to hold the Bears to just a field goal on their last drive of the half, and the score was 13-6 Chicago at the intermission.
Just like the first half began with a Panthers turnover, the second half would start the same way. Mike Davis fumbled the football while running and it was recovered by Bears safety Eddie Jackson. Fortunately for the Panthers, a Nick Foles pass was intercepted by Panthers rookie safety Jeremy Chinn on the very next play, giving the Panthers the ball back. The offense would come up empty though because Slye missed a 54-yard field goal and the Bears once again had excellent field position. Foles and company would take advantage of the great field placement, and the drive culminated in a quarterback sneak for a touchdown. Now, things start to look bleak because Carolina was down 20-6 almost midway through the third quarter.
In my opinion, the Panthers had too many penalties, turnovers, and missed opportunities. In the NFL, too many of these kinds of infractions usually means you lose and you lose by a lot. Yet the resilient Panthers were still able to put themselves in a great endgame position.
For instance, after Mike Davis ran in his second touchdown of the season, the Bears, then the Panthers both tacked on field goals. The score was 23-16 Bears late in the fourth quarter. The Panthers had two chances at the end to tie the game or win. One chance was squandered when DJ Moore caught and then dropped a pass. It was a pass that, according to the guys on the Panthers radio network, if caught could have gained some large yardage or possibly a touchdown because he would have been able to get separation from this amazing Bears defense. But the dart from Bridgewater fell incomplete on fourth-down and the Bears recovered the football.
The Panthers defense was able to stop the Bears on the next drive and they would again receive the ball on their own 20-yard line with just over a minute and a half left in the game. Another chance. But on the next play, a Teddy Bridgewater ball thrown into coverage was picked off by safety DeAndre Houston-Carson, effectively ending the game and completing the 23-16 victory for the Chicago Bears. The Bears, who improve to 5-1 will play the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night. The 3-3 Carolina Panthers will travel to New Orleans to face a tough opponent and NFC South rival New Orleans Saints.
Things started out so good for the Atlanta Braves and their quest to get to the World Series for the first time in twenty-one years. They beat the Cincinnati Reds in a marathon 13-inning Game 1 of the National League Wild Card Series. This was their first Game 1 victory in the post season since 2001. They went on to sweep the Reds in the two-game series. Then they swept the Miami Marlins in three games of the National League Divisional Series.
After they defeated the Dodgers in the first game of the National League Championship Series, all of a sudden they have shattered some long standing post season woes. Not only did they win their first playoff game in nineteen seasons, they also won their first playoff series and were thus far undefeated in games after the 2020 regular season. They held off a furious L.A. comeback to win Game 2 of the NLCS, 8-7. Seven post season wins in a row!
Many of us in the sports world and in Braves Nation wondered if the offensive explosion that the Dodgers displayed in the ninth inning of Game 2 would carry over to the next. It did. The Dodgers blasted the Braves 15-3 in Game 3, going up 11-0 in the top of the first inning before the Braves even came up to bat. But the Braves bounced back with a 10-2 victory in Game 4 behind a stellar pitching night by Bryse Wilson. They had now grabbed a commanding three games to one lead in the series and were one win away from their first trip to the fall classic since they lost to the Yankees in 1999. Me, I was on cloud nine. Felt like it just might be some fun times in Braves country.
But very few series leads are safe in October baseball, especially for the Atlanta Braves who at times in the post season seem to be a cursed franchise. The Dodgers would take Game 5 7-2 behind some great defense by right fielder Mookie Betts. One play that stood out to me was when he picked the ball off of his shoe strings before the batter could get safely on base. More awesome defense by Betts, especially when he picked the ball off the top of the wall to rob first baseman Freddie Freeman of a home run, opportunistic at-bats by Betts and Corey Seager, and a little bit of bad luck prompted a 3-1 Dodgers victory in Game 6. Now, the Braves and Dodgers would have to play Game 7 to decide the series. This is always a scary scenario.
The place was Globe Life Field, Arlington, Texas. The date was Sunday October 18, 2020. This was the setting for the dramatic and decisive game. The Braves had grabbed a 2-0 lead by the second inning after an RBI single by center fielder Marcell Ozuna in the top of the first, then a solo home run by shortstop Dansby Swanson in the top of the second. Then in the bottom of the third, twenty-five-year-old Dodgers catcher Will Smith had a base hit, scoring Justin Turner and Max Muncie and tying the score at two runs apiece. In the top of the fourth, the Braves went up 3-2 after an Austin Riley single scored Ozzie Albies. There was one out with two men on base but the Braves could get no more runs across. Momentum now seemed to be shifting back to the team from L.A.
Mookie Betts would rob Freddie Freeman of another home run in the top of the fifth and in the bottom of the sixth, second baseman Kike Hernandez hit a home run off Braves lefthanded pitcher A.J. Minter, tying the game at 3-3. In the bottom of the seventh, first baseman Cody Bellinger crushed a home run off Braves relief pitcher Chris Martin, giving the Dodgers their first lead at 4-3. That solo shot by Bellinger would prove to be the game-winner. Julio Urias would come on to pitch a scoreless eighth. In the top of the ninth with two outs, Urias' first pitch to third baseman Austin Riley was hit but was caught by Cody Bellinger. Ball game. The Dodgers will play for their third World Series title in four years and the Atlanta Braves 2020 season comes to a screeching halt.
It hurts. I mean, it really, really hurts to see another lost opportunity by my favorite baseball team that was this year a good to great team. But the Los Angeles Dodgers are a great baseball team too. In fact record-wise, they were 43-17 after sixty games of a COVID-shortened MLB season. That was the best record in all of Major League Baseball and they were the #1 seed in the National League.
The Braves were #2 which is why it was such a classic series. But great teams will take advantage of mistakes and even though they were down, they'll show you that they're not out. Too many mistakes and missed opportunities, stranded base runners, guys getting caught trying to steal bases, and at times questionable pitching, lost the Braves the series. And at the end of the day, you had three shots to win one game and couldn't do it. Not a recipe for a chance at a championship.
So like I said, it was a bad sports weekend. Matter of fact, it was an awful, terrible sports weekend. But sports, like life, goes on. The Dodgers are playing the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series and currently have a two games to one lead. My three college and pro football teams get the chance to redeem themselves today and tomorrow. So I'll look forward for another chance of good news from them. As for my Atlanta Braves, there is always next year. Right?