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 now trails in the fall classic

Astros fall in World Series Game 1 as Braves come out swinging

Framber Valdez had a forgettable start in World Series Game 1 as the Braves tagged him with five runs. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a dominant end to win the ALCS and American League pennant, the Houston Astros welcomed in the National League champion Atlanta Braves for World Series Game 1 at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday. With Houston favored to win not just this game but the entire series, the Braves shook up those expectations by finding early success at the plate to build a lead they would hold to take a 1-0 series lead.

Final Score: Braves 6, Astros 2

World Series (Best of Seven): Atlanta leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: A.J. Minter

Losing Pitcher: Framber Valdez

Valdez unable to replicate ALCS Game 5 success as Braves mount early lead

For the optimist, not having home-field advantage in an MLB postseason series affords you a benefit: you can score first and take captive momentum first in the series. The Braves did that against Framber Valdez, as Jorge Soler became the first player in league history to hit a homer in the first plate appearance of a World Series, putting Atlanta out to an immediate 1-0 lead. They would get another in the first frame, getting a one-out infield single by Ozzie Albies, who would steal second to get in position for an RBI double by Austin Riley.

Houston had the chance to respond in their first inning against former teammate Charlie Morton, getting a single and two walks to load the bases with no outs. They'd strand all three runners, though, as Morton made it through unscathed but having used 26 pitches. Atlanta kept putting stress on Valdez, extending their lead to three runs with back-to-back singles to start the second before later getting an RBI groundout.

Valdez gave up two more in the top of the third, once again allowing a leadoff single, this one setting up a two-run homer to make it a 5-0 Braves lead and forcing Houston's starter out of the game early. Yimi Garcia entered and was able to retire the three batters he faced to end the frame.

Braves lose Morton to injury as both bullpens begin long night

After stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the first to keep the Astros off the board, Morton followed it up with a 1-2-3 second. He started the bottom of the third by retiring his fifth batter in a row, getting a strikeout of Jose Altuve. He would immediately call trainers to get him out of the game, though, as he would later be diagnosed with a fractured fibula, presumably from a ball that ricocheted off his leg in the prior inning, ending his season in a disappointing turn of events for the Braves.

That set up a long night for both bullpens, and next up for Houston was Jake Odorizzi. He started with a scoreless fourth, working around a two-out error to keep it a five-run game. The Astros began a rally in the bottom of the fourth, getting runners on the corners with one out on a Kyle Tucker double and Yuli Gurriel single. Chas McCormick brought in the first run of the board for Houston, but that's all they would get as Atlanta's lead remained four runs.

Astros drop Game 1

Odorizzi kept going on the mound, tossing a 1-2-3 fifth, then getting one out before a one-out single in the top of the sixth would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Phil Maton, who finished the inning. Maton returned in the top of the seventh, getting a strikeout before a double and a walk would result in the call to bring in Ryne Stanek.

A double play against his first batter allowed Stanek to finish the seventh, and then he returned in the eighth. He faced three batters that frame, getting one out before a walk and a single would put runners on the corners as Houston moved on to Brooks Raley. A sac fly by Freddie Freeman off of Raley made it a five-run lead again, but a leadoff triple by Yordan Alvarez in the bottom of the inning would set up Carlos Correa for an RBI, a groundout to make it 6-2.

Atlanta's bullpen continued to do well, though, limiting the damage to that one run in the eighth, then returning to hold on to the four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to give the Braves the upset win to start the series. The loss extends their home losing streak in the World Series to five games (having lost all four at home in the 2019 World Series against the Nationals) and puts them down 0-1 and in need of a win in Game 2 to try and reset the series into a best-of-five.

Up Next: World Series Game 2 will be another 7:09 PM Central scheduled start time on Wednesday from Minute Maid Park. The expected pitching matchup is Max Fried, who is 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three postseason starts, for the Braves, and Jose Urquidy, who went just 1.2 innings while allowing six runs (five earned) in his start in the ALCS.

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