What a weekend

Joel Blank: Sunday's Saints-Vikings game reminds us of why we love football

Case Keenum and the Vikings made football fun again. Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

For those of you old enough to remember ABC's Wide World of Sports, the voice of legendary sportscaster Jim McKay would echo in the head of every sports fan who has ever been on either end of a nail biter: "The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." It's never really that simple is it? There's always an explanation and a reason (or reasons) one team fell apart or the other team got on a roll. But it's a roller coaster ride no one minds enduring. We can pick a side, back our favorite team, bleed our team's colors and live and die with the results on a game by game basis -- and no matter what, we will keep coming back for more. The NFL games this weekend provided the latest evidence to back these clams and prove these points again and again.

The results of the NFL Divisional Round games Saturday and Sunday proved once again that nothing is a given, no slam dunk is ever a guarantee and after all is said and done, "that's why they play the game." The Jaguars taking it to the Steelers in Pittsburgh and winning in the cold, with Blake Bortles at the helm as a 7.5 point underdog, had to be the shock of the weekend -- or was it? Just when we thought we had witnessed the unthinkable and experienced the improbable, along comes the Saints and the Vikings and the whole weekend was turned on its ear one more time. In a game that was truly a tale of two halves, the Saints and Drew Brees were awful in the opening 30 minutes and looked dead to rights and done for the year. Then, in the second half, New Orleans played almost perfectly and turned the tide and flipped the script. After a field goal with less than a minute to play, the team looked to be advancing to the NFC Championship game in the second largest comeback in NFL playoff history. Next to the Falcons' collapse and the Patriots comeback in last year's Super Bowl, the Saints win would be the latest and greatest comeback in the history of the league. That is until Case Keenum, Stefon Diggs and the Vikings pulled victory from the jaws of defeat and shocked the football world for one heck of a finish and a walk off win for the ages in Minneapolis. Even if you weren't a fan of either team, you felt a pit in your stomach for the Saints and their fans and a bit euphoric for the Minnesota faithful and their beloved Vikes. When Diggs broke free after a last second, desperation heave from Keenum and after a missed tackle that allowed him to run to daylight and answer the prayers of Vikings fans everywhere, NFL fans around the world were left gasping for air, shaking their heads and muttering under their breath that they could not believe what they had just witnessed. For fans of the game and a league that has had to endure massive amounts of criticism and a drop off in TV ratings and attendance league wide, it was just what the doctor ordered and a great finish to another entertaining weekend of NFL playoff football. Did it save the season? No, at least not yet, but there are two more weeks to be played. Did it make us forget the anthem protests, controversy and negative publicity? Not even close. But what it did do is give the league a much needed shot in the arm as it reminded fans and critics that THIS is why we love NFL football and why it is the most popular sport in the country and some say the world. The drama, the stress, the emotions and the athleticism are just the start and when you throw in the sudden death of the playoffs and the story lines like the rags to riches tales of Keenum, Diggs and Adam Thielen, you have the recipe for another storybook finish and maybe even the next Cinderella story? The final chapters remain, but if this weekend is any indication of what lies ahead, I'm all in!  

For the Saints and Steelers -- and for that matter the Titans, Falcons and the rest of the league -- there's always next year. For the Vikings, Patriots, Eagles and Jags the dream is still alive and they live to fight another day. The teams that are still alive will prepare for their respective conference championship games next Sunday as we all recover from the emotions of the weekend that was and count the days with anticipation until we can do it all again,

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Houston can win series on Sunday

Timely hitting helps Astros edge out D-backs to even series

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Astros had two losses over the last 24 hours; one a game against the Diamondbacks in the series opener on Friday night, the other the news that their recovering ace, Justin Verlander, announced Saturday afternoon that he is opting to undergo Tommy John surgery. The decision and surgery will likely sideline Verlander through 2021 when his current contract with Houston ends.

With that, the Astros headwinds continued to increase, meaning a win to even the series with Arizona on Saturday would be a much-needed pick-me-up. Here's how they did:

Final Score: Astros 3, Diamondbacks 2.

Record: 26-26, second in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Enoli Paredes (3-2, 2.84 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Luke Weaver (1-8, 6.51 ERA).

D-backs score two on Javier who is pulled early

Kole Calhoun, who drove in four runs, including a home run in Friday's game, would start the scoring on Saturday with a solo home run off of Cristian Javier in the top of the second, giving Arizona an early 1-0 lead. Javier allowed another run in the top of the third, giving up a leadoff single that would move to third on a groundout then score on a sac fly, doubling the lead to 2-0.

Javier finished the third and tossed a 1-2-3 fourth, but whether it be due to a pre-determined pitch count or other situation, he would not go any further, ending his night there on just 77 pitches. His final line: 4.0 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K, 1 HR, 77 P.

Astros grab a lead in the sixth

The Astros were able to cut the lead in half in the bottom of the third, getting a leadoff single by Josh Reddick, who would move to third after a walk and fielder's choice before scoring on an RBI-groundout by Jose Altuve, making it 2-1. Enoli Paredes was first out of Houston's bullpen, taking over for Javier in the top of the fifth and retiring six straight batters for two perfect frames.

Houston would get to Luke Weaver in the bottom of the sixth, getting a leadoff single by George Springer, who would score from first on an RBI-double by Altuve to tie the game. Altuve would come around as the go-ahead run later in the inning on an RBI-single by Kyle Tucker, knocking Weaver out of the game as the Astros took their first lead of the game, 3-2.

Houston evens the series and moves back up to .500

Josh James was the next reliever for Houston in the top of the seventh, and despite getting into a jam by issuing a one-out walk and hitting the next batter, he was able to get out of it. It was thanks to a great play by Michael Brantley, who started a double play by catching a lineout and throwing a runner out at second to end the inning.

Brooks Raley had the eighth and erased a one-out walk by retiring the next two batters to maintain the one-run lead. After a scoreless bottom of the eighth, the Astros turned to closer Ryan Pressly to get another save and finish the one-run game. Pressly would do so, as Houston would move back up to .500 and even the series 1-1 heading into the rubber game on Sunday.

Up Next: The finale of this series between Houston and Arizona, and Houston's last regular-season home game of 2020, will get underway at 1:10 PM Central on Sunday. Madison Bumgarner (0-4, 8.53) ERA will be on the mound for the D-backs, while Jose Urquidy (1-1, 2.70 ERA) will start for the Astros.

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