2017-18 NFL playoff picture decided in last minute

The only real drama of teams getting into the playoffs in the NFC was between the Seahawks and Falcons. Seattle needed to win their game against the Cardinals, then needed the Falcons to lose their game against the Panthers to get in. All Atlanta had to do to clinch a playoff spot, and kick Seattle out was beat the Panthers. Seattle lost to Arizona 26-24 and Atlanta beat Carolina 22-10. Falcons in, Seahawks out.

The AFC was a different story. In that conference, there were three teams competing for the two wildcard spots, the Titans, Bills, and Ravens. For the Titans, it was simple. Win and you’re in. They won. The Ravens had the same scenario as the Titans. If the Ravens didn’t win the Bills were in the playoffs for the first time in 17 years. Both games, Bills at Dolphins, and Ravens at home against the Bengals were decided by one score. The Bills won 22-16 and the Ravens’ fate was decided in the last 60 seconds of their game. Baltimore had scored a touchdown with 8:48 left in the fourth to put them ahead 27-24. The Ravens were standing 49 yards away from their own end zone with 44 seconds remaining when Andy Dalton dropped back to pass. The one thing that couldn’t happen was a long pass. But Dalton found receiver Tyler Boyd wide open on fourth and 12, and he ran it into the end zone. The final score was 34-27. Bills in, Ravens out.

NFC

Seeds:

  1. Philadelphia Eagles
  2. Minnesota Vikings
  3. Los Angeles Rams
  4. New Orleans Saints
  5. Carolina Panthers (Wildcard)
  6. Atlanta Falcons (Wildcard)

AFC

Seeds:

  1. New England Patriots
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars
  4. Kansas City Chiefs
  5. Tennessee Titans (Wildcard)
  6. Buffalo Bills (Wildcard)

With 2017 season over, Bears can finally focus on next year

The 2017 season went wrong for the Bears in so many different ways, it was almost comical.

First, before the players even went to training camp, Chicago signed career backup quarterback, Mike Glennon, to a contract for 3 years worth 45 million dollars. A closer look at that deal reveals that the Bears will pay Glennon 15 million per year and 937,500 dollars per game. If Trubisky does not miss any time in the two more years Glennon has on his contract, Glennon will have started only four games and will get 30 million dollars for sitting on the bench for the next two seasons.

Next, two starting wide receivers, Cameron Meredith and Kevin White both went down with season-ending injuries, Meredith in training camp and White in the first contest of the regular season, a 23-17 loss at home to the Falcons. Meredith tore the ACL in his right knee while White fractured his left shoulder blade, on a catch, fittingly, for no gain.

The injuries to the receivers forced in Pittsburgh Steelers reject Markus Wheaton when he was healthy, which wasn’t often. The Bears also signed Dontrelle Inman from the Chargers, who actually worked out well. Tre McBride III was brought up from the practice squad and really only had one good game against the Saints. The only steady receiver this year was Kendall Wright whom the Bears acquired from the Titans in the offseason. Wright tallied 54 receptions, 585 yards, but only one touchdown for the season. 

The offensive line, although not as severely as the receiving core, was banged up as well. And the worst injury was not only one but multiple that star Kyle Long suffered. He was finally put on injured reserve after hurting his neck during the week 13 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers. Long underwent surgery on December 20, 2017. No timetable has been set for his return.

With no injuries to report in the offensive backfield, it’s time for me to move to the defensive side of the ball.

Let’s start with the linebackers. The three opening day starters Willie Young, Danny Trevathan, and  Leonard Floyd, with Jerrell Freeman ending his season in training camp due to an injury, all missed significant time this season. Two of them, Young and Floyd sustained season-ending injuries at different points in the year. Young suffered a torn triceps muscle in week four against the Packers and rookie Leonard Floyd sprained both the PCL and MCL in his right knee in week 11 against the Lions. Trevathan missed four weeks with various injuries.

The only injury on the defensive line was Mitch Unrein being placed on IR after the 49ers game when he reaggravated an ongoing knee injury.

The defensive backfield was also riddled with injuries this season. Kyle Fuller was injured prior to the first game of the season, and as for opening day starters, Quintin Demps was put on IR after week 4, Prince Amukamara missed 2 games, Adrian Amos missed 3 games, Marcus Cooper Sr. wasn’t as good as the Bears thought he was, and Eddie Jackson stayed healthy all year.

Even though the Bears had a very poor record of 5-11, it wasn’t all bad for them this year.

On the offensive side of the ball, we saw the emergence of Jordan Howard, the start to a bright career for Mitch Trubisky, and flashes of the athletic ability that Tarik Cohen possesses.

Howard finished with 1,122 yards and 9 touchdowns, averaging 4.1 yards per rush. His best game came in the week 14 win over the Bengals when he ran for 147 yds and 2 TD on 23 carries.

Trubisky tallied 2,193 yds, seven TD, and seven INT in 12 games this year.

Cohen, although not the featured back, was the return man for both kickoffs and punts for most of the season. He ended the year with 370 yds on the ground, two rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown. Cohen also threw a touchdown and returned a punt for a score.

The best individual performance of the season came from rookie safety Eddie Jackson. In week six against the Panthers, he returned a fumble for a touchdown. But he wasn’t done. Later he returned an interception for 76 yards and his second touchdown of the game.

Now that the season has come to a close, the Bears will most likely be looking for a new coach, and that will bring a total reboot offensively for them. Hopefully, change is good for the Bears in 2018.

In likely Fox’s last game, Bears lose 23-10 to Vikings

Sunday’s season finale for the Bears served as a microcosm of their year. The Vikings marched down the field on their opening drive of the first quarter for a touchdown, when running back Latavius Murray punched it in from the one. The Bears defense, solid all season despite multiple injuries to key pieces, then locked in allowing only 14 more points. This statistic may not seem so impressive, but given the fact that the Bears offense couldn’t move the ball until the fourth quarter, thanks, Dowell Loggains, and the Vikings kept getting the ball around midfield for the first three quarters, it was a pretty good day on the defensive side of the ball.

One thing that wasn’t so typical of the Bears was that they couldn’t run the ball all game. In fact, Jordan Howard, who came into the game as the NFL’s fifth-leading rusher, had all of nine yards for the entire game. NINE YARDS.

One of the two bright spots for Chicago, the other being a 55 yard Mike Nugent field goal, came on a punt return with 5:50 left in the second quarter where Bryce Callahan, who had previously committed two huge pass interference penalties, stood barely in bounds on the opposite side of the field from regular return man Tarik Cohen, and Minnesota punter, Ryan Quigley, wanting to kick away from the dangerous Cohen, did so without spotting Callahan, who was still almost out of bounds. As Quigley got the kick away, the Bear’s blockers ran to Cohen to make it seem as though the ball was coming his way. All of the Minnesota players followed suit. As a result, Callahan caught the ball on the other side of the field as he raced to the end zone untouched.

The score was 16-7 at halftime as the Vikings had added another touchdown and were awarded a safety after Mitch Trubisky (20-36, 178 yds.) was called for intentional grounding while he was in the end zone.

The Vikings added to their lead at the end of the third with another touchdown to make it 23-7 heading to the fourth.

In the fourth quarter, the Bears opened it up and began to move the ball down the field. But just when you thought they might be back in the game, Loggains reared his ugly head once more. With a total of 12 plays from inside the five-yard line, the Bears failed to get it in the end zone as the Vikings showed that they, statistically, are the best defense in football. The game ended 23-10.

With the win, the Vikings secured a first-round bye in the playoffs and will play in an NFC Divisional matchup in two weeks.

The next move for the Bears will be finding a new head coach to take over for John Fox, who in his three seasons, went a combined 14-34 for a winning percentage of .292. The Bears also should explore the option of getting rid of offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, whose play calling was horrible all season and was, for the most part, predictable all year long.

Star Performers:

Bears: CB Bryce Callahan 59 return yds, TD WR Dontrelle Inman 5 rec. 94 yds.

Vikings: RB Latavius Murray 111 rush yds. 2 TD. QB Case Keenum 189 yds. TD

Northwestern wins big over Brown, McIntosh injured

Just a day after Northwestern’s standout quarterback, Clayton Thorson went down with a knee injury, the same happened to their star point guard Bryant McIntosh.

On a tipped pass, McIntosh fought for the ball and got his foot caught under a Brown player and his left knee twisted awkwardly. Although McIntosh did not need to be carted off the court, he did not return to the sideline for the rest of the game.

As for the game itself, Northwestern came out hot scoring 24 points in the first 10 minutes but then cooled way down. They found themselves only up 42-37 at the break.

Brown came out firing in the second half, up by a seven-point margin, 55-48 with 15:30 left in the game. Northwestern clawed their way back and after Brown’s shooting came back down to earth Northwestern rolled the rest of the way. The final tally: 95-73.

The Wildcats finish the non-conference season going 9-4 with a 1-1 record in a two-game Big Ten stint. They will begin conference play again this Tuesday against Nebraska at Allstate Arena at 8pm.

Star Performers:

NU: Dererk Pardon 18 pts. 8 reb. Scottie Lindsay 14 pts.

Brown: Desmond Cambridge 22 pts. Brandon Anderson 26 pts.

Bulls win third straight over Pacers

On a night where Indiana’s star Victor Olidipo was out with a sore right knee, the Bulls didn’t miss their chance against the shorthanded Pacers, breezing past them by a score of 119-107.

It wasn’t all great for the Bulls either on the injury front, Kris Dunn sat out the game with left patella tendinitis. He should be back soon.

The Bulls got out to an early 11-2 lead and never looked back. The lead for Chicago never dipped below seven points in the entire second half. The Pacers’ defense was a cause for concern all night as different players from the Bulls carried the load offensively at different points in the contest. Center Robin Lopez scored 10 of his 12 points in the first quarter, Nikola Mirotic poured in eight of his 28 in the first half of the second quarter.

The Bulls defense was mediocre at best, giving up 107 points to a team without its superstar. They allowed veteran point guard Darren Collison to score 30 points, tying his season high in that category.

But the real star of the game came from the Bulls and it was the rookie, Lauri Markkanen. He scored a season and career-best 32 points which included a highlight putback dunk over Pacers forward, Bojan Bogdanovic, which you can see Here .Markkanen shot 11-17 from the field and 5-9 from three. He also converted all five of his opportunities from the free throw line. Markkanen grabbed seven rebounds too.

The Bulls were on fire all night from beyond the arc as they poured in 18 triples, tying a franchise record. They shot 46 percent from downtown.

The Bulls are back at it tomorrow when they face the Wizards on the road at 2:30 pm, in search of their fourth straight victory.

Star Performers:

Bulls: Lauri Markkanen 32 pts. 7 reb. Nikola Mirotic 28 pts.

Pacers: Darren Collison 30 pts. 5 ast. Lance Stephenson 18 pts. 9 reb.

Northwestern wins weird Music City Bowl in wild finish

It seemed that Clayton Thorson had done it all this season, throwing for 2774 yards and 15 touchdowns, but there was one thing he hadn’t done: catch a pass.

His opportunity came in the second quarter when backup running back, Jeremy Larkin threw a great pass to the junior QB on a very well designed trick play. The Cats picked up 24 yards on the play but the gain was the last thing on everyone’s mind when Thorson grabbed at his right knee immediately after being tackled. Thorson remained on the ground for some time, then had to be carted off the field. He did not return. The good news is, he did not have to go straight to the hospital and he was back out, on crutches, on the sidelines in the second half. He will have an MRI tomorrow.

The Thorson injury was only one of the strange occurrences in Friday’s game at Nissan  Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. The unusual happenings continued when Kentucky’s star running back, Benny Snell Jr. was ejected for making contact with an official when he merely pushed the referee’s hands away after being tackled.

Then later, Northwestern’s leading tackler, redshirt freshman Paddy Fisher was ejected on what seemed like a phantom targeting call near the end of the first half.

Northwestern tight end Bennett Skowronek also left the game in the first half to go into concussion protocol. He did not return.

Just like that Thorson, Fisher, Skowronek, and Snell Jr. all out of the game with a half still left to play.

Through all of the mayhem, Northwestern had grabbed a 17-7 lead on a field goal by Charlie Kuhbander, and 2 rushing touchdowns from Justin Jackson who finished the game with 157 yards on 32 carries and those two touchdowns.

Kentucky scored its only first-half points on a 3-yard touchdown run by the aforementioned Snell Jr.

In the second half, things calmed down somewhat but Kentucky’s QB Stephen also felt the aftermath of multiple big hits from the defensive line of Northwestern and he was in and out during half number two. For periods of time, it was the two backup quarterbacks going head-to-head, senior Matt Alviti for Northwestern and junior Drew Barker for Kentucky. Alviti, a Maine South alum, finished with 54 yards on the ground and 50 through the air on 4-11 passing. He did not turn the ball over. Barker had 16 yards passing on 2-3 and no turnovers.

The only scoring in the third quarter came from Kentucky on an option play which resulted in Stephen Johnson running it in from three yards out.

The teams traded punts until, on their own 26-yard line, Johnson dropped back to pass and was hit right as he released the ball. The throw was not nearly hard enough and Northwestern safety Kyle Queiro stepped in front of the pass and tiptoed down the sideline for a pick-six to put Northwestern up 24-14.

About three and a half minutes later, after a Northwestern drive stalled, Kentucky kicker, Austin MacGinnis converted an impressive 48-yard field goal.

Northwestern got the ball back and a nice return from Jeremy Larkin brought the ball out to the Northwestern 30-yard line. After covering 9 yards on the first three plays of the series, coach Pat Fitzgerald had a tough decision to make: go for it on fourth and one and quite possibly put the game away, or punt it and give Kentucky the ball back. With roughly 2:30 left on the clock, Fitzgerald decided to roll the dice and go for it.

On a quarterback sneak where Alviti, at first glance, did not make the line to gain, and the call on the field stood upon review, Northwestern had given Kentucky the ball on their 39-yard line. Fitzgerald later said that he “got a little bowl game aggressive” with the call. Kentucky took advantage of the short field and Johnson again rushed in for a touchdown, this time from nine yards away with 37 seconds remaining.

This made the score 24-23 for Northwestern. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops decided to go for the two-point conversion and the win. From the three-yard line, Johnson dropped back and fired one into the end zone for receiver Tavin Richardson. The throw was a bit behind Richardson and he got his hands on the ball but could not pull it in. The score remained 24-23. In a last-ditch effort, Kentucky attempted an onside kick but Northwestern recovered and ran out the remainder of the clock.

The game capped another 10-win season for Northwestern as well as a season-ending 8-game winning streak.

Star Performers: 

NU: RB Justin Jackson 157 yds. 2 TD S Kyle Queiro INT TD

Kentucky: QB Stephen Johnson 19-36 257 yds 2 INT 2 rush TD K Austin MacGinnis 48 yd FG.

 

Cubs closer Wade Davis signs with Rockies

Cubs closer Wade Davis found a new home today, reportedly agreeing to a three-year deal worth 52 million dollars with the Colorado Rockies.

Davis, who was a free agent this offseason, and, a Cub for only one year, was coming off a near-perfect season where he blew only one save in 33 tries. It was the best season of his career out of the bullpen. after making the switch from starting role at the start of the 2014 season.

Bulls sneak past Knicks 92-87

In the second game of a back to back for the Bulls, they started out sluggish, down 11 after the first quarter. But good defense, along with subpar shooting from the Knicks allowed Chicago to come away with a 92-87 victory.

The Bulls, now 12-22, are winners of their last two games as well as nine of 11. The Knicks, meanwhile, drop to .500 for the season at 17-17 and out of the number eight spot in the Eastern Conference.

On a night where the Knicks led for most of the game, the Bulls always found a way to answer when the Knicks threatened to blow it open.

Both teams shot miserably, both an identical 41 percent from the field. The Knicks also had a horrid night from beyond the arc shooting at a 17 percent clip. The Bulls finished at 35 percent from three.

Down 52-49 at the half, the Bulls clamped down defensively after the break, only allowing 35 points the rest of the game.

The Bulls scratched and clawed their way back into the game and eventually took their first lead since 11-10 early on, with an emphatic two-handed slam from Lauri Markkanen to put them up 88-86 at just under 40 seconds left.

Down 90-87, the last chance for New York came on a wide open three at the top of the key from forward Enes Kanter, who almost air-balled the shot. The Bulls hit two more free throws and the buzzer sounded.

Star Performers:

Bulls: Kris Dunn 17 pts. 5 reb. 5 ast. Justin Holiday 11 pts. 9 reb.

Knicks: Kristaps Porzingis 23 pts. 6 reb. Courtney Lee 17 pts.

 

 

Bulls beat Giannis, Bucks 115-106

On Tuesday night, the streaking Bulls, winners of eight of their last 10, defeated the, now 17-15, Bucks 115-106.

Up by nine points early, the Bucks seemed to have the game under control. But the Bulls bench, noticeably better in the last 10 games due to the return of forward, Nikola Mirotic, pulled them back into the game.

Up 56-53 at the half, the Bulls again used their bench in the second half to come away with the victory, the Bulls bench outscored the Milwaukee reserves 54-25.

The narrative was the same down the stretch for the Bulls as it has been in recent wins, Mirotic hitting big shots and Kris Dunn being able to get to the rim and finish in crucial moments.

One thing that the Bulls need to clean up quickly if they want to beat the top teams in the league is free throw shooting. Although most trips to the line came when the Bulls were up double digits in the fourth quarter, so they were not do-or-die, the Bulls shot an underwhelming 15-25 from the line.

With the return of Zach LaVine looming, things are only looking better right now for basketball in Chicago. The bulls travel back home Wednesday for a 7pm tipoff with the New York Knicks.

Star Performers:

Bulls: Nikola Mirotic 24 pts. 8 reb. Kris Dunn 20 pts. 12 ast.

Bucks: Giannis Anetokounmbo 28 pts. 7 reb. Eric Bledsoe 22pts. 6 ast.