#DMD GAME DAY
Week 4


Sunday — September 30, 2018
Volume L — Issue 30

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers

8:20 PM EDT

Heinz Field
Pittsburgh

Spread: Steelers minus 3


ravens can set the tone tonight


A week four game in the NFL season rarely has the chance to do what this one in Pittsburgh could do for the Ravens tonight. But that's what Joe Flacco and Company face at Heinz Field when they take on the Steelers in the first of their two division encounters in 2018.

The winner tonight gets a leg-up on the division race, but it's the Ravens who would own the premium advantage with a victory because they'll get a visit from the Steelers later in the season.

This one is big tonight. Don't be foolish and think otherwise.

I think it's worth mentioning how much the scheduling of tonight's game benefits the Ravens. It's so much better to face them at Heinz Field in September rather than December. You're not as banged up, it's not cold, and the stakes aren't quite as high as they are when you're facing them in a "winner take all" game sometime around Christmas.

Can the Ravens keep Antonio Brown from being the difference tonight?

It's also a benefit to be facing them on the road first instead of at home. You get this one out of the way early, when you are (hopefully) healthy and you'll get the final game of the series in your stadium later in the season when the standings are more easy to evaluate and you know the circumstances better.

I'll quickly go through the recent history of the two teams, but you probably don't need me to do that. In 2016, it was the "stretch" touchdown from Antonio Brown in the game's waning seconds that kept the Ravens home for the playoffs and last December it was the late game drive engineered by Ben Roethlisberger that created the final Sunday "win and you're in" situation that the Ravens coughed up with a home loss to the Bengals.

When the game -- and season -- was on the line, both in '16 and '17, the Steelers came through and the Ravens crumbled. Sometimes the truth hurts.

There's no telling what's going to happen over the final 12 games following tonight's contest in Pittsburgh, but one thing is almost certain: The winner tonight has a leg up in the division title race. It's not over, for sure, but the team who comes out on top is in great position heading into October.

So what's the plan of attack for both the Ravens and Steelers this evening?

That can be a complicated series of thoughts to dissect, but we'll give it a crack here at #DMD.

THREE WAYS THE RAVENS CAN WIN --

Quiet the big play -- Not to bring up the last two visits to Pittsburgh again, but the Baltimore defense couldn't get off the field late in the game when the Steelers were pressing for the go-ahead score. Not only is it potentially important for the Ravens to change that -- if the occasion arises again -- but it's even more critical to do it throughout other three quarters as well.

The Ravens need to quiet the big play from Roethlisberger and the offense tonight. Sure, they'll get a handful of big gains from the QB and his plethora of quality pass catchers. But Wink Martindale needs to dial up a defensive scheme that squelches the big play moments by the Steelers. That might mean putting the heat on the Baltimore linebackers to handle the tight ends that Roethlisberger likes to use for the short throws across the middle, but if that's what it takes to limit Brown, Smith-Schuster and the others, so be it.

It's easy to say, "Just don't let Antonio Brown beat you", but that's really one of the bullet points the Ravens should focus on tonight. Don't let Brown get his 10 catches and 120 yards and you're on your way to winning.

Stay balanced on offense -- Keeping the Pittsburgh offense off the field helps limit their scoring chances. One way to do that is to run the ball on offense, effectively of course, and move up and down the field at a slower pace than usual, which helps keep the clock ticking. Running the ball can also help the Ravens create some much needed balance that will keep the Steelers off balance defensively.

Pittsburgh's defense is, in a word, vulnerable. They were awful in week one at home vs. Kansas City and nearly suffered a crushing fourth quarter meltdown last Monday in Tampa Bay. The Ravens can score points on them, for sure, but it's important to distribute the run and throw somewhat equally in order to limit the turnover possibilities and keep the Pittsburgh offense off the field as much as possible.

Marty Mornhinweg has a tendency to panic if the Ravens fall behind by a couple of touchdowns midway through the game. He immediately eschews the run and just starts throwing the ball on every play. Let's hope tonight doesn't yield that sort of decision making from the Ravens' offensive coordinator.

No dumb penalties -- In the flag happy NFL it's inevitable the yellow laundry will somehow impact tonight's game. Penalties are one thing. They're part of the game. "Dumb" penalties are another topic, though, and the Ravens have to make sure they don't pick them up at the worst times tonight. That means hitting the quarterback in the head, late hits out of bounds, and, of course, violating the silly new rules about tackling the quarterback.

Over the years, the Ravens have been pretty good in this department when facing the Steelers (except for Daren Stone in the 2009 AFC title game), but with the new rules involving the QB this season, John Harbaugh's team has to be especially careful tonight.


how drew sees tonight's game


I love the Ravens' chances tonight.

For the reasons I listed above (early game instead of playing there in December, not as much on the line tonight), I think things favor John Harbaugh's team this evening, even though Pittsburgh is a simple 3-point home favorite.

The game will come down to two things, basically: Can the Ravens keep Antonio Brown in check? And can Flacco and the wide receivers do enough damage to keep the "balanced" offensive scheme in play for Mornhinweg?

I don't think the Ravens can win the game if Flacco is going to throw the ball 48 times.

Here's how it plays out:

It starts the way we all figured it would, with each offense scoring in the first quarter. Roethlisberger to Jesse James for a Pittsburgh TD and Flacco to Crabtree for Baltimore's score.

It's 17-14 at the half, with the Ravens ahead thanks to a Justin Tucker field goal just before intermission.

The Steelers unlock Antonio Brown in the third quarter and he helps Pittsburgh build a 24-17 lead heading into the final 15 minutes. Brown has a TD catch and another big gainer that puts Pittsburgh in field goal position late in the quarter.

But the Ravens continue to keep it close. A Flacco to John Brown TD pass with ten minutes left ties the game at 24-24. On their next offensive series, the Ravens take the lead at 27-24 on a 48 yard Tucker field goal. After a Steelers turnover, the Ravens score again -- Collins with a short run -- to lead 34-24.

Pittsburgh gets a late field goal to make it a one score game at 34-27, but that's how it ends, as the Ravens improve to 3-1 with a huge win at Heinz Field.

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what happened to patrick reed?


I'll save the autopsy on the U.S. Ryder Cup team for Monday's edition of #DMD.

As I write this at shortly after 6 am on Sunday, Justin Thomas is making birdie at the first hole in his match with Rory McIlroy. The singles competition is off and running at Le National in Paris, where the Americans need a massive 8-4 win to keep their hold on the cup.

There's still a chance the U.S. could pull off a dramatic comeback, but it will take a lot of things to go right in order for it to happen. I'm not counting on it, that's for sure.

There are going to be a lot of questions about this year's Cup, some of which we'll look at tomorrow here at #DMD.

The U.S. pairings have been out-of-whack right from the start. That's one thing.

The captain's picks for the European team have performed admirably. The American picks...not so much. That's another significant issue.

And then there's Patrick Reed.

Look, the potential Ryder Cup loss in Paris isn't his fault or anything, but Reed's play and behavior have been a tone-setter -- unfortunately -- for the American side this week.

In short, he's been miserable. And his play, not much better.

Tiger Woods consoles Patrick Reed after the 2016 Ryder Cup hero stunk it up on Saturday morning at the Ryder Cup in Paris.

Reed is the enigmatic, self-titled "Captain America" figure who gained notoriety in 2016 for dismantling Rory McIlroy in the singles competition at Hazeltine.

When he's "on", Reed is both fun and aggravating at the same time. His energy is contagious and his play is inspiring. But his antics are so off-putting to the other side that he gives them motivation as well.

Much like the Americans probably say "anyone but Poulter", the Europeans likely have "anyone but Reed" posters up throughout their team room in Paris.

The truth of the matter is this: the Ryder Cup is a bad fit for Reed. He earned his way onto the team in 2018, based largely on his win at The Masters last April, but there's an argument that says the Americans might be better off without him.

One player does not a team make. That's for sure. But Reed's strange personality just doesn't lend itself to the "team room" that Ryder Cup players and captains talk so much about.

Reed is a loner. The stories of his life on the PGA Tour are well documented. He shows up alone, practices alone, eats alone and, well, you get the message. He doesn't really do anything with anyone.

He's a helluva player, mind you. But in the Ryder Cup, every guy in both locker rooms is a world class player.

Because four of the five sessions in Ryder Cup play involve creating a successful two-man partnership, it's critical to have the players be as interchangeable as possible.

To that end, Reed doesn't fit with anyone.

No one likes him.

He doesn't particularly care for anyone else, it seems.

And in a team event like the Ryder Cup, where your fate rests, in part, on the play and attitude of the other 11 guys on the team, that sort of individuality doesn't fit well.

Reed's play on Friday and Saturday was awful. He was the weak link in the Woods/Reed pairing for sure, a curious grouping by Furyk if there ever was one.

On Saturday morning in the better ball portion of the day's competition, Reed was rarely in the hole. He shot a generous 10-over par for 15 holes, made one birdie and one par that helped Tiger, and had an ugly, loud expletive on worldwide TV after badly missing a drive on the back nine.

To his credit, Woods back-rubbed the Masters champ throughout the morning, trying his best to coax some good golf out of his teammate, but Reed would have none of it. At one point, as Woods talks in his ear, Reed essentially pulls away and quickens his pace to get away from Tiger.

And Tiger wasn't playing great, either, by the way. He wasn't nearly as awful as Reed, but Woods brought his "B game" to Paris and nothing more. Instead of trying to hang in there, fight through his own lackluster play AND perhaps lend a hand to Woods -- struggling himself -- Reed just caved in and went through the motions on the incoming nine holes.

You can't win like that.

The U.S. won with Patrick Reed at Hazeltine in 2016, but that might have been more about the 11 other players on the team and a solid performance from Captain Davis Love III.

Reed, once thought to be the new American golf darling, has instead turned into a mercurial, odd and isolated player who doesn't fit well with the team concept that's required to perform well in events like the Ryder Cup.

He'll tee it up about one hour from now (as I write this) and, with a lot of great play from his teammates, Patrick Reed might have a chance to impact this year's event when he takes on Tyrrell Hatton in his singles match.

Don't be surprised if Reed takes down Hatton today. He doesn't have to talk with anyone, support anyone or conduct himself appropriately. He can just play golf and try to beat his guy head-to-head.

He can just be Patrick Reed. The guy no one really understands.

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Saturday
September 29
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it's gut check time


I got up at 2 am to watch the Ryder Cup this morning.

Too bad the American team didn't get up with me.

Yes, the golf course is a goofy, popcorn layout.

The biggest weakness of the American Ryder Cup team -- driving accuracy -- has been exploited in a big way by European captain Thomas Bjorn and his staff of assistants in the way they've set up Le National in Paris.

And, yes, the pairings created by captain Jim Furyk have been questioned from the very start of Friday's play, even though the American side got off to a 3-1 lead in the better ball portion of yesterday's 36-hole marathon.

But the golf course and pairings have nothing at all to do with heart, which the U.S. has showed none of in the last two sessions of the event, starting with yesterday's shellacking in the foursomes event and continuing earlier this morning when the Europeans extended their lead to 8-4 after a 3-1 drubbing, saved only by a win from Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas in the anchor match.

Patrick Reed, formerly known as Captain American, became Private Shank in the Saturday morning competition, authoring one of the worst performances in recent Ryder Cup memory. He posted something in the neighborhood of +10 for 15 holes of golf. He helped Tiger Woods on two holes, one of which was a birdie and the other a two-putt par.

Woods wasn't firing on all cylinders either, but it's hard to beat Franceso Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood by yourself.

And so, here's the scenario. The U.S. is laying one of the all-time great Ryder Cup eggs. It's gut check time, now.

The only pairing on the U.S. side to show any fight at all through three sessions; Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.

With the Europeans needing 14.5 points to win the event, the U.S. needs a mammoth resurgence this afternoon or tomorrow's 12 singles matches might wind up being nothing short of a formality.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. Not this year, anyway.

But the reality is the Europeans have outplayed the Americans in a big way since Friday morning's 3-1 U.S. triumph in the fourball format. The hosts faced "gut check" on Friday afternoon and responded with a 4-0 win in foursomes.

What will the U.S. do with their "gut check" opportunity this afternoon?

The answer might decide the Ryder Cup.

Not one player on the American side has played above his head over the last two days. Perhaps that's hard to do when you're already one of the top 20 players in the world. How much better can you play, really?

But while the likes of McIlroy, Fleetwood, Molinari, Garcia and Poulter were rolling in birdie after birdie on Saturday morning, the U.S. guys were laboring along like the pressure was too much for them.

Patrick Reed didn't hit a fairway on the front nine. Together, he and Tiger Woods -- you've heard of him, he's pretty good at golf -- made one birdie on the outgoing nine holes.

Tony Finau couldn't make a putt until late in the back nine. Brooks Koepka, his partner, was hardly ever discussed by the TV guys. Maybe that's because he rarely finished a hole.

Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler offered little resistance in their match.

You get the picture, I guess.

The Europeans have played great. The Americans...have not.

But why?

Is it just the "home course" advantage that makes it so hard to win on foreign soil?

That could be it, although Europe didn't mind coming to the U.S. and winning in 1995, 2004 and 2012.

What's more puzzling than "not winning" away from the U.S. is the fact that the Americans rarely play well when they go across the pond to compete in this bi-annual competition.

Something happens.

Our top 10 players become top 75 players instead. No putts fall in. Pairings and partnerships seem oddly configured.

And most importantly, people look tight. No one seems to be having all that much fun. Then again, when you're hitting your tee ball out of bounds, missing greens from 160 yards and failing to make a birdie for an hour, it's kind of hard to have any fun.

One thing for sure. It's gut check time for the Americans in the afternoon matches.

The putts better start going in.

Captain Furyk's pairings need to take hold.

And some smiles, back slaps and fist pumps would be good to see in the four alternate shot matches.

The U.S. needs a rally.

They need to play good golf. And they need to show some heart.

If not, they're coming home a loser on Monday morning.

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o's have tough sales job on their hands


By complete accident, I ran into a friend at last night's Calvert Hall-Curley soccer game who spends a considerable amount of money with the Orioles every year.

It's not his money, mind you, but the money of the company for which he works. But you get the picture.

We got into a discussion about the baseball franchise, the diminished attendance in 2018, and the prospects for a multi-year "downturn" while the on-field product gets stitched up and repaired.

"Are you concerned?" I asked him.

"That's putting it lightly," he replied. "We'll be involved still. We would never just completely pull out. But our spending will definitely decrease."

I've said this before and it's worth repeating here, now, since the dreadful 2018 campaign is over and "next season" is all there is to sell. I'm in. Meaning, I'll still buy my 13-game plan in 2019 even though I know going in the team is going to stink next season.

The sponsors, I'd say, are far more concerning to the Orioles.

The upper deck and lots of OPACY figure to be empty next season while the Orioles rebuild. Will corporate Baltimore stay along for the ride?

If Drew's 13-game plan goes away, what do they care? And I don't mean just "me", either. If a few hundred 13-game buyers don't renew, the O's stand to lose $6,000. If a $250,000 sponsor pulls out -- well, you can do the math.

And the question, of course, is this: "Why would you spend that kind of money with the Orioles next season?"

I'm not suggesting sponsors should stop supporting the Orioles. I'm merely asking what's in it for the corporate partners of the Orioles in 2019?

The team is going to be terrible next year.

Attendance will be down, for sure. How much? Who knows. But the numbers won't be great.

TV ratings will likely drop off to some degree, too. Less people interested in the team in general means less folks watching on TV.

Why spend $250,000 next year? Or $150,000? Or anything of substance?

Most corporate spenders do it, in part, because they want the community to know they're behind the organization. Some do it to sell stuff. Others just want to be connected with the team.

I have a friend who is in the real estate business. His company has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with the Orioles over the last decade. There's no chance -- none, zero, zilch -- that he has brought in more than he's spent as a direct result of his company's partnership with the Orioles.

If you're a business who spends $100,000 with the team, for example, and you can actually trace $200,000 of revenue from your sponsorship, then it's surely worth continuing the association.

But if you're spending $100,000 with no way of directly assessing whether you're getting a return on your investment...

The Orioles have their work cut out for them in 2019. And that's an understatement.

I'm rooting for them, mind you. As I've said, I'm "in". I'll buy my 13-game plan even though I know, right now, they're going 58-104 or something like that next season.

But can they draw 20,000 per-game next year? Seems pretty unlikely, I'd say.

And if they can't draw 20,000, what's that going to do to their marketing partnerships?

Sure, not every company is "dollar out, dollar in" when it comes to sports sponsorships, but at some point you have to decide if it's even remotely worth spending money based on the prospects of a lost season or two.

I know the Orioles haven't reached this all-time low on purpose. But now that we can see where they are and where they're going, they better come up with a game plan to stay afloat for a few years until the team is relevant again.

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Friday
September 28
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through it all, jones became mr. oriole


It will be a long, long time before anyone comes along and fills the shoes of Adam Jones.

I hope I'm around long enough to see the guy who does it.

Unless something really strange happens over the winter, Adam Jones will be an Oriole for three more days, starting with tonight's home game against Houston.

I assume you know this, but just in case you just flew in from Pluto and aren't up to date: Jones is a free agent at the end of this season. The Orioles are in a complete rebuild. They have a left fielder (Mancini) and centerfielder (Mullins) on the books for next season, and can easily have a cheap, versatile right field platoon with the likes of Rickard and Hays, plus some other minor league call-up.

In other words, the chances of Jones inheriting a starting job in Baltimore next season are remote. And, at age 33, he hardly seems content with playing the fourth outfielder role, getting 100 games and 400 at-bats, and essentially becoming a part-time player.

And who can blame him? He can still play the game at a high level. His defense isn't as good as it once was and his work at the plate is hot and cold, but there's no doubt he can still make an impact in the big leagues.

There, you're all caught up.

Unless the Orioles have a dramatic change of heart or direction, they'll have no use for Jones in 2019.

So that makes this weekend the final one of Jones' tenure in Baltimore.

We owe him a massive amount of appreciation for what he's done here over the last 11 years.

He's become -- without question -- Mr. Oriole.

When Jones showed up here in 2008 as part of the Erik Bedard trade, the Orioles were getting a player from the Mariners who had started for just one season and was a light-hitting, speedy shortstop-turned-outfielder.

He'll leave eleven seasons later as one of the most decorated players of the last 25 years, a future team Hall of Fame inductee, and one of our city's most treasured athletic keepsakes.

Jones arrived in the midst of a miserable 14 year losing skid, with a franchise headed nowhere, a manager du jour, and a disenfranchised fan base that was growing more irritated by the season.

Adam didn't singlehandedly turn the franchise around. But he was the biggest part of the team's resurgence that started in 2012 with a shocking playoff appearance and carried on to post-season activity in 2014 and 2016.

He was outspoken, brash and occasionally a little over the top. He once suggested -- playfully, or not -- that Orioles fans should punch Yankees fans in the face if they were tired of seeing them invade Camden Yards nine times a year.

There were other moments of "Adam being Adam", but the good contributions so far outweighed the suspect ones that there was no real reason to question his loyalty or love for the city.

Along the way, Baltimore finally got the baseball hero they deserved, the first guy since Cal Jr. retired that area fans could really connect with. Brian Roberts and Nick Markakis were good Orioles and well liked by the fans, but they couldn't hold a candle to Jones when it came to support and affection from the community at large.

Jones earned all of that by showing up for work every day, playing hard, leading people and never allowing Baltimore or the franchise to be slighted.

He won't be back next season because the Orioles don't want him back. Even though they've bungled his final month in uniform, Jones doesn't seem to angered by it. He had the chance to leave in late July and didn't. So he knows the deal...he made his bed, and for the last month, he's had to sleep in it.

When the final out is recorded on Sunday and Jones' career in Baltimore comes to an end, the hole he leaves will be enormous. It's not all that difficult to draw a comparison between Adam and Ray Lewis. Sure, Ray was a league icon and a Hall of Fame player and Jones doesn't quite measure up to those standards, but from the standpoint of the organization being unable to replace him right away, there's no doubt Jones and Lewis are cut from the same cloth.

Ray Lewis hasn't played since 2013. In the five years since his departure, the team has made the playoffs just one time.

Without Adam Jones, the Orioles have no leader in 2019. They know that. Jones knows it too, I'd think. It's hard to replace those guys. The Birds will find that out next season and beyond, watch and see.

Leaders don't grow on trees.

We'll miss Adam Jones.

We'll miss him sharpie'd into the lineup every day.

We'll miss his passion for the team and the city.

We'll miss his work in the community.

We'll miss Mr. Oriole.

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u.s. storms out to early 3-1 ryder cup lead


Not even a back-nine collapse from Tiger Woods and Patrick Reed could spoil an otherwise superb round of morning matches for the United States in the Ryder Cup which started earlier this morning in Paris.

The U.S. won three of the four matches, punctuated by a late rally from the opening pairing of Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau, who came back to beat Justin Rose and Jon Rahm, thought by many to be one of Europe's stalwart duos. There was good fortune involved in that one, as Finau, who clearly didn't have his "A game", bounced a shot off a bulkhead surrounding the 16th green and saw his ball fly up and onto the green to within 3 feet of the flag. That ensuing birdie was all the U.S. needed to sew up the win.

Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler -- well, mostly Johnson -- beat Rory McIlroy and Thorbjorn Olesen, 4&2. Somehow, McIlroy went an entire 16 holes without making a birdie on what is a reasonably short, half-tricked-up golf course. Fowler was either IN the hole or OUT of the hole throughout the match. Johnson was in virtually every hole, hit his wedges tight, and made a handful of key putts when needed.

A handful of outstanding iron shots and putts from Dustin Johnson helped the U.S. to a 3-1 morning lead in the Ryder Cup on Friday, September 28.

In the third match, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas started strong, sputtered, looked like they'd lose, then somehow got it together to pull out a 1-up win over Tyrell Hatton and Paul Casey. It wasn't easy, though. Thomas hit a scorcher of a horrible shot into the 18th green, sending his approach shot 40 yards right of the green into the pond that borders the putting surface. After Hatton missed a match-tying birdie putt from 25 feet, Spieth coaxed in a 4-foot par putt to give the U.S. the win.

The final match didn't contain much "complete" golf from either side, although Woods was credited with five front nine birdies (2 short concessions). But in the end, the Europeans got two late birdie putts from Tommy Fleetwood at 15 and 16 to push ahead of Woods and Reed, holding on for a 3&1 victory after Tiger missed another fairway and Reed couldn't hit the green from 160 yards away.

Both Tiger and Reed are sitting out the afternoon alternate shot matches. Neither looked sharp on Friday morning. Woods looked to be laboring from the moment he approached the first tee. He forced smiles during the introductions and took a short, lazy swing at his opening tee ball. Throughout the round, he missed several fairways to the left and looked out of sorts from tee-to-green. Noted Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee picked up on it right away, as did many on social media. "Tiger doesn't look right," was the general summation.

Reed surely didn't play well either. He missed numerous greens from prime positions in the fairway, including a dumpy water ball from 132 yards at the 15th hole that gave the Europeans the lead after Fleetwod rammed in an unlikely 20-foot birdie. Reed then hit his tee ball in the water at #16, but Woods safely found the green, only to have Fleetwood again make another birdie from long distance.

But no matter who won and lost, the 3-1 U.S. lead is huge. The Americans need just 14 points to retain the cup and three are in the books.

In the afternoon, the pairings are as follows:

Match 1: Rose/Stenson vs. Fowler/Johnson

Match 2: McIlroy/Poulter vs. Simpson/Watson

Match 3: Garcia/Noren vs. Mickelson/DeChambeau

Match 4: Fleetwood/Molinari vs. Spieth/Thomas

The Simpson/Watson pairing looks a bit like a throwaway, but they got a favorable draw with McIlroy (not playing well) and Poulter, one might think. The big match of the four comes at the end with Spieth and Thomas tangling with Fleetwood and Molinari. If the U.S. can split the four afternoon points that are at stake, they'll be in great position.

With Tiger sitting out the Friday afternoon portion, it seems logical that he'll also ONLY play once on Saturday. Asking him -- or Mickelson, five years older than Tiger -- to play 36 holes on Saturday and then singles again on Sunday doesn't make much sense.

So with Woods and Phil -- the two most experienced U.S. players -- seemingly only playing two of the four "team" events, that really puts the pressure on the likes of Simpson, Watson and DeChambeau to come through when they're called upon.

And the heat will also be firmly on Reed's back tomorrow as well. His "Captain America" routine didn't gather much momentum with his subpar play on Friday morning and he'll need to rally Saturday to help the American efforts.

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Thursday
September 27
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what do we owe fallen athletes?


If you haven't read the Sports Illustrated article on Chris Davis yet, set aside 20 minutes today and dig in.

I'd link it here for you, but those creeps have never linked #DMD to any of their stuff. I'm kidding, of course. I mean about them being creeps. I'm not kidding about the fact they've never linked a #DMD article. So if you want to read it -- and I really think you should -- go ahead and do what everyone else in the world does when they want to find something on the internet. Go to Google and type in: Chris Davis, Sports Illustrated.

When you get there, you'll find a fascinating story. If I can take a brief second to summarize it, it goes like this: Davis is miserable. Admittedly so. He has no idea what he's doing at the plate. He says that, in his own words. His faith and belief that this whole season-long fiasco is part of God's plan for him is probably the most compelling part of the article. That's my opinion, of course.

There's even a note in there that Buck Showalter went to him a few weeks back and essentially offered Davis the chance to sit out a bunch of September games so he wouldn't accumulate enough statistics to make this 2018 campaign the worst EVER by a full-time major leaguer and Davis turned down that opportunity, essentially saying, "I have no problem owning this."

The hair stood up on the back of my neck when I read that. He could have quit, taken the easy way out, picked up his last check and bid everyone farewell until they caught up with one another in Sarasota next February.

The Orioles could have -- wait for it -- created a fake injury for Davis to really help him save face. But he wouldn't go for that, apparently.

Davis has been ridiculed endlessly this season. And last, too, if I remember correctly. Let's face it, not much has gone right for him on the field since he signed that $161 million deal in January of 2016.

I've most certainly poked fun at him for his strikeouts. And while I've never hinted that he's jaking it or just going through the motions, the theme of almost any criticism gets back to money earned vs. production provided. That's how it's almost always absorbed. Who cares if the guy making $1.2 million strikes out three times? But if the guy making $22 million strikes out three times, that's worth extra criticism.

So, yes, I've been a critic of Davis and his subpar play.

"Is this going to be a 'bury-Chris' story?" Buck Showalter asked a reporter earlier this month. "Because I don't want any part of that."

He has remained, though, a remarkable "citizen" off the field, if that means anything to anyone. He and his wife have been terrific ambassadors for the team and the city over the last six years.

I realize he's paid to play baseball. And be productive while doing so. I've had more than one person say to me, "I don't care if he and his wife stay inside and never do anything good in the community if he'll hit .275 with 40 homers and 110 RBI."

Yep. That's the way it goes when you make $22 million a year. I get it.

Earlier this week, someone posted a comment below that essentially challenged Tiger Woods fans -- of which I'm one, without question -- to justify their support for him given the myriad of "issues" he's had in his life over the last decade.

I bring Woods up today because of the connection to Davis and what the two of them have done -- or not done -- in recent years.

Both have fallen on hard times. The reasons and excuses for how it happened to each are endless, extraordinarily complicated and, in some cases, potentially more fiction than fact.

Davis was suspended for a violation of the league's drug and alcohol policy a couple of years back. There are plenty of people who assume his Adderall suspension was only part of the story. I'd be fibbing if I didn't admit I'm one of those people.

The truth, of course, is that I have no idea. Like a lot of people, I put 1+1 together and come up with 2. Sometimes that's the right math, sometimes it's wrong.

Woods had a famous falling out with his wife in 2008, was the source of an enormous smear campaign with countless stories leaked to the press, and essentially had his life crumble within a six month period. He created that situation, of course. The media and the women involved took advantage of it, for sure, but he certainly created it. The reality was that particular "story" was none of our business in the same way if you and your wife are having problems in your marriage that it's no one's business at your place of employment or elsewhere.

But when you're the greatest golfer on the planet and you help promote and peddle shoes, watches, sports drinks, cell phone service and golf equipment, you're fair game. In this country, sex sells. You either use it to sell or it's used against you to sell. Just look at the carnival down in D.C. over the last two weeks for proof of that.

Tiger then had the pain-killer addiction and DUI offense in May of 2017 that generated even more disdain for him. His fault, again. This time, unlike back in 2008 when he wasn't involving himself in a crime, he operated a motor vehicle when he shouldn't have been doing so. Now, it IS our business. Or at least it's your business if you live in Florida and you were on the road that night.

So here we are now.

Davis has suffered through a "down" season (2016), a "bad season" (2017) and a "historically inept" season (2018), each year bringing more raised eyebrows, more ridicule, and more contempt for him.

The only thing that will stop the jeering and digs from fans and media members is, of course, somehow getting his production to match his paycheck.

Woods, ironically, is going the other way. He played little to no golf in 2016 or 2017, then miraculously stormed back in 2018 and went from 1100th in the world to 13th in the world in nine months, winning one of the biggest events of the year last Sunday.

But Tiger is still ridiculed, still doubted and still tarnished.

So I now go back to the headline of this story and ask the question.

What do we owe fallen athletes?

This could be anyone, by the way. Put Josh Gordon in there. Heck, you want one close to home? How about Michael Phelps? He had two different DUI run-ins. Not one...two.

What about Jimmy Smith of the Ravens? Arrested, failed drug tests, domestic violence, suspended. Do we feel good for him if he returns next week and helps lead the Ravens to the playoffs this season or is he now on the forever-shunned list because of his litany of misdeeds ove the last few years?

I'm only using Woods and Davis because they're both "this week's examples".

Hang around for a month and two more big names will likely pop up.

So...what do we owe fallen athletes? Better yet...what do we owe fallen people in general?

I don't have your answer. But I do have mine.

What I owe them is the effort to identify the "good" in them.

That's my decision.

I owe that to Chris Davis. He's not trying to stink on purpose. If I thought he was jaking it, I'd say that. I saw Manny Machado not run out ground balls this year. I thought he had some give-up in him. I said as much.

I don't see that in Davis. If he was eager to pack it in, he would have taken Buck up on his offer about September playing time.

I'm not trying to put a lot of emphasis on Davis and his Christianity, but I admire that he has faith in God and believes that Jesus died on the cross for all of us. That's important to me. It doesn't have to be important to you. But when I look at Davis, I warm to him knowing that he's a believer in God and Jesus.

I need to do a better job of seeing the good in Chris Davis. I might not have done it before, but I need to do it now.

That Sports Illustrated article illuminated a lot of the good in Davis. He's a man struggling with, well, something. Or a lot of things, perhaps. I'll focus more on what I perceive to be his qualities and less about the failures.

Sometimes it takes people a while to figure it all out. What's important? What's meaningful? What matters and what doesn't?

Because Tiger's struggles have carried on for much longer, there's more ammunition there. There's a lot more to consider. And a lot more "dirt", if you will.

There's a lesson to be learned in all of it. Just because Tiger was driving a vehicle under the influence, do we now all shun him forever? Do we cast that stone -- to use a biblical reference -- even though we ourselves might have engaged in similar actions in our life, arrested or not?

I seek to find the good in Tiger Woods. I found it in 2018 when he didn't give up. I don't like what he was doing in 2008. I certainly didn't like seeing his mug shot in 2017. Someone here reference him as "deplorable". We all have a catalog of words we use and connect with. I get that. "Deplorable" -- in my world -- is saved for the guy who shot up the Capital Gazette building over the summmer. Or the kid who gunned down a bunch of people in that South Carolina church a few years ago.

The lessons Tiger Woods gave us in 2008 were ones for us NOT to follow. The same for 2017. The lessons he gave us in 2018 were ones we SHOULD follow. I choose to focus on the good lessons because those are the character traits we all should strive to possess.

I have several conservative friends who dislike Bruce Springsteen, not for his music, but for his political views and alignments. They've all said to me, at some point, "How can you like that liberal prick?"

I tell them the same thing. "I don't care about his political views. I don't agree with most of them, granted, but I don't care what he thinks about politics. I just want to hear him sing "Badlands" or "The Promised Land" or "New York City Serenade."

The good about Springsteen that I seek -- music, lyrics, performance -- is more than enough for me. I don't need to counter it with negativity about what he thinks about our government.

I admire Tiger Woods for the reasons I wrote about here on Tuesday. He could have quit, but he didn't. He trudged on. He put himself in the arena, got bloodied, and carried on with virtue.

Sure, I know some of the bad things he did were bad...really bad. I don't approve of those or condone them. And I, personally, don't have to "forgive" him. That's between Woods and God.

What I can do for him, though, is seek out the good things he does. That's how I balance it out.

That could be a character flaw of mine, by the way. I get it. Overlooking bad things and only focusing on good things might actually be considered "out of balance". I'll own that.

I recently had someone try to engage me about my former boss at the radio station. He got one sentence in to what I thought was going to be a 10-minute hit-and-run session and I said, almost rudely, unfortunately, "Let me stop you there. I have no interest in bashing him or hearing you bash him. So, let's change the subject."

It definitely might be an age thing. I don't have the energy to "dislike" anymore, unless you play for the Flyers. (But even then, I actually welcomed Justin Williams to the Caps after he once played for those rat finks up there in Philadelphia.)

I see the good in people like Biff Poggi. Do I agree with everything that St. Frances said and did in the summer when the story broke about the fall football schedule? Not at all. But I try to see the good in what Poggi has done for those kids...and he has done lots of good for them.

I want Tiger Woods to have success. I think he deserves it. I think Chris Davis does, too. Have they made mistakes? Both have, for sure. But when I have the chance to support them, it's my nature to do so.

If that's a "bad take" in your mind, so be it. We can still be friends. I'll just go listen to some Springsteen and soothe myself over his Born To Run album.

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“I enjoyed playing the Ryder Cup, but I couldn’t tell you who I played or who I lost to, what my record was or anything else. I have no clue. I can tell you what it is in the Masters or the U.S. Open, that’s sort of the way I looked at it. And I think most of the guys who are there are that way.” – Jack Nicklaus

"The Ryder Cup is unusual in that, during the lead-up and while you're in it, it's the most important thing in the world. And when it's over—and I'm talking two days later—it's kind of forgotten. It's like, We won. Yay. When the moment's over, you move on." – Paul Azinger

The only reason the Ryder Cup is any good is because it’s different.

Jack Nicklaus is almost 40 years removed from his last Ryder Cup as a player. Paul Azinger is 10 years removed from his stint as the American team captain. Despite the time gap, both are still right.

Like Nicklaus said, the Ryder Cup is fun, and certainly an honor. But most of today’s guys are exactly like him. Folks are still talking about Patrick Reed’s Ryder Cup match with Rory McIlroy two years ago, but do you really think Reed will remember that in the same way he’ll remember his Masters victory in 2018?

Meanwhile, Azinger is here to remind us that the Ryder Cup players are touring professional golfers whose main goal is individual success. There’s no golf competition in the world from which it’s easier to “move on” than the Ryder Cup.

Two years later. Remembered or forgotten?

So, just ask the players, and the captains. The Ryder Cup isn’t good because it’s important. It’s good because it’s different.

For two days, you ask people with (understandably) big egos about their own golf games to pair with each other as teammates. Different. For two sessions, you ask people with (understandable) preferences about golf balls and strategy based on their own golf games to put aside their own opinions. Different.

On the third day, during the singles matches, there’s usually a good bit of drama. That doesn’t come from the golf itself as much as the fact that one player’s match is about more than just a personal win or loss.

At the end of it all, one team has more points than the other. One group of 12 guys celebrates on the 18th green. Wives and girlfriends come out of the woodwork, everyone gets dressed up for the closing ceremonies. Different, for sure.

But what does it prove, really?

If the U.S. team wins the 2018 Ryder Cup, does that mean that American players are better than English players and Spanish players and Italian players?

When Tiger Woods won the Tour Championship, that proved something: he was good enough to win a tournament again. When Francesco Molinari outdueled Woods and others to win the Open Championship, that proved something: his top form was the kind that could win a major.

If Woods’ team beats Molinari’s, or the other way around, it proves nothing. The competition may be stirring, or not, and the golf may be stellar, or not, but you can’t really take anything away from it for the future.

Maybe that’s why the fans like it so much.

It can’t just be overt nationalism; I mean, how many of these guys from Europe spend most of the year living in the United States, living in the same country club developments as so many other PGA Tour players of all nationalities?

Maybe, like Azinger said, the secret to the Ryder Cup is that it’s in the moment. It doesn’t matter before this week, and it won’t matter after this week. That’s different: the fans feel like they can act differently, the players display different emotions, one team gets to set up the course the way it would like. For three days, it’s a kind of golf escapism.

Different, though, doesn’t necessarily mean better.

Victory celebration. Meaningful or routine?

Golf fans and golf media still fondly bring up the Ryder Cup gamesmanship of the late Severiano Ballesteros, and the merciless needling by American fans of the somewhat paunchy Colin Montgomerie. These are celebrated as if they’re great moments in golf history when they’re honestly quite forgettable.

Then again, there are a few too many affronts taken at the Ryder Cup as well. The American side celebrated exuberantly on the 17th green when Justin Leonard made an impossibly-long putt in 1999 at Brookline, and Jose Maria Olazabal is still annoyed almost 20 years later.

Plus, here’s a short list of players who’ve never played in the Ryder Cup, in no particular order: Ernie Els, Adam Scott, Angel Cabrera, Vijay Singh, Jason Day, Greg Norman, and Nick Price. One of golf’s “Big Three,” Gary Player, a global ambassador for the game like no other pro, never participated.

These players won majors, reached No. 1 in the world, or both, yet had the gall to be born in Australia, Africa, South America or an island in the Pacific. No dice for them.

Gamesmanship. Unfortunate fan behavior. Grudges. Great champions left out. The golf itself can make up for all that, I suppose, but it fades away shortly after it’s over. On Tuesday, it’ll be time to start thinking about the Masters.

As for the thinking about this weekend’s match, the Ryder Cup analysis has simply gone off the rails.

Captain Jim Furyk put his team out in practice “pods” of four this week, and it led to breathless speculation about the pairings for the matches. Reed was out with Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau, and the questions started. Will Reed not be playing with Jordan Spieth this year? Would Captain Furyk really play Woods and Mickelson together?

Honestly, does it really matter?

Sure, you’d always like to play with someone you like, but you’re on a team for the week; I thought you’re supposed to like everybody. Is Woods going to make a 20-foot birdie putt on the first hole playing with Mickelson, but not make that same putt if he’s playing with DeChambeau?

Every player at the Ryder Cup, whether they play in every session or just in the singles, whether they are rookie or a veteran, must stand over the ball and hit shots. All 24 of them are capable of blitzing even the most difficult golf courses with tons of birdies.

When a Ryder Cup player is in the bunker trying to get up and down or standing on the tee hoping to stripe one in the fairway, his teammate and his opponent make no difference. If he hits a good one, it’s not because the captain made the right move.

If Captain Bjorn puts out a pairing that wins four times, he’s not brilliant. He’s not a master strategist and motivator. He put out two guys that happened to play well at the same time, or maybe one of their opponents couldn’t find it on the range that morning. There’s no way of knowing beforehand.

The back-and-forth about the pairings, the praise and the criticism, surely make the Ryder Cup different. But they don’t make it better.

In a Ryder Cup year, there’s nothing else like it in golf. There’s no other place in golf where fans, players and the media can cheer, react and analyze like they will over the next three days. Add in the rah-rah stuff, and there’s a lot there.

As sporting events go, the Ryder Cup is a winner. It’s a golf escape, and maybe a chance to root for the home team. It’s different, and we can celebrate that.

As for me, I’m looking forward to seeing if Tiger can win the Masters again in about seven months.

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going down to the wire


I'm biting the hook.

I think the days of the European team blitzing the U.S. and winning the Ryder Cup by eight lengths on a 6-furlong track are over. Done with.

For starters, I'll admit I've been running my mouth about this very moment for a couple of years now. "Just wait until 2018 in France when all these American young guns go over there and stomp them," I wrote way back in the spring of 2017. Even back then, I was crowing about Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau. Yes, I remember, I threw Harris English in there as well. Please don't remind me...

But here we are now, on the eve of the Ryder Cup, and it's suddenly looking like it might be a dogfight. Our young guns are awfully solid, yes, but so, too, are the ones the Europeans are bringing to the fight.

We'll put up Brooks Koepka and they'll put up Tommy Fleetwood. Even steven, perhaps.

We have Patrick Reed and they have Jon Rahm. Another coin-flip.

How much better is Patrick Reed after winning a major championship last April than he was in 2016 when he became the Ryder Cup's "Captain America"?

Jordan Spieth on our side. Francesco Molinari on their side. Tight.

I could go on, but you get the picture. We'll throw Tiger at them and they'll say, "let me introduce you to Justin Rose". All the sudden, we're not running away with it so much.

We all like to play armchair Ryder Cup captain. I do, anyway. And despite what our outstanding columnist David Rosenfeld said in his piece above, the pairings do matter, particularly in the alternate shot format where one guy might favor a certain ball flight on left to right holes or it might be prudent to let the better ball striker play the holes where irons are in play off the tee, which could include the par 3's.

So with that, if I'm making the pairings for tomorrow's first round, here's who I send out.

Friday morning, better ball (means all players play their own ball and each team takes the lowest score of their two players as the "team score" for that hole).

Pairing #1 -- Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler (Two best drivers of the ball on the team. They'll almost always both be on the green for birdie. Dynamic combination in this format.)

Pairing #2 -- Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau (Tiger is 2-7-0 in this format when he plays in the #4 spot. Get him out early. DeChambeau will be amped up. Tiger will be a calming influence. Two best players in September going out to get a point. I like it.)

Pairing #3 -- Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed (Yep, we're breaking up the potent Reed-Spieth duo right away. These two guys will grind it out and fistfight anyone who tries to beat them. I love this pairing).

Pairing #4 -- Brooks Koepka and Tony Finau (What's the Cup record for most birdies in 18 holes? These two might break it. Both are wildly talented and always around the hole.)

Sitting out in the morning:

Spieth (sorry, you haven't played all that well in the last eight months)

Mickelson (you weren't going to play all the matches anyway)

Simpson (tough to leave out but alternate shot is his forte anyway)

Watson (bothered by a cold all week, not feeling great, easy choice)

Friday afternoon, foursomes (Better known as "alternate shot", each player rotates hitting off the tee on every hole and they alternate from there.)

It's fair to note that if any pairing has a massive, impressive win on Friday morning that you're inclined to run them back out there in the afternoon. I'm creating these pairings sort of assuming that no team is a dead-cinch lock to play together in both Friday sessions.

Pairing #1 -- Phil Mickelson and Webb Simpson (A calming partner for Webb and a guy who can counter Phil's occasionally balky driver).

Pairing #2 -- Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau (They both play the same golf ball, which is a definite advantage in this format. If they get clobbered in the AM, you might have to re-think this one, but they're the only repeat pairing on my card).

Pairing #3 -- Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth (Together again. Jordan's on a short leash given his unsteady play of late, but he and Reed are a rock-star-duo together.

Pairing #4 -- Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka (The Bash Brothers get their chance to show off a little bit. I love this pairing in alternate shot).

Sitting out in the afternoon:

Watson (he'll play on Saturday for sure)

Thomas (bothered by a sore wrist recently, he doesn't need to push it)

Finau (can't play all the matches as a rookie, sorry)

Fowler (save your energy...you'll play twice on Saturday)

Drew's prediction --

Friday AM better-ball: USA wins 2.5-1.5

Friday PM foursomes: Halved, 2-2

Saturday AM better-ball: USA wins 3-1

Saturday PM foursomes: Europe wins 3-1

Sunday singles: USA wins 7-5.

I see this going down to the wire. Tiger, Dustin, Koepka and Thomas get positioned in the 6-7-8-9 spots to try and get the thing over with semi-early but it comes down to the guys at 10-11-12. Those three will be Fowler, Spieth and Bubba. Spieth winds up making the crucial putts down the stretch to win it for the U.S.

U.S. wins 15.5-12.5

Leading U.S. point getters: Koepka, Tiger, Reed

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three weeks in, here's what i see


Brian Billick used to have a saying that I thought made sense. "We peek our head out every four weeks and see where we are..."

In other words, the NFL season gets broken down into four, four-week segments. It's nice and neat that way, and you can typically look ahead to the short term, schedule wise, and see not only who you play, but the rest of the schedules of your closest competitor(s).

I'm a week ahead, as you'll see. I'm poking my head out after three weeks to make a handful of assessments. Feel free to agree or disagree.

The most puzzling team thus far has to be the New England Patriots. It's not that they're 1-2, but it's how they're 1-2. A home win over Houston...OK, that was entirely predictable, but then two losses on the road in Jacksonville and Detroit, where they combined for "only" 30 points. But it's been the defense, not the offense, that looks most suspect. We all know Brady doesn't need an All-Pro entourage to figure out a way to win. He'll beat you with JV call-ups. New England's defense gave up 30 to a Jacksonville offense that just 6 against Tennessee and then allowed the Lions to put up 26 on Sunday night. I'm sure Josh Gordon will help, but he doesn't play on the defensive line the last time I looked.

Khalil Mack has nearly changed the fortunes of the Chicago Bears all on his own. If not for a dumb play-call by his rookie head coach late in the season opening loss at Green Bay, Mack and the Bears would be 3-0. I don't see them winning more than eight games with Mitchell Trubisky at the helm -- not this season, anyway -- but Chicago looks like a team on the rise in the NFC North. It's amazing what the arrival of one guy -- Mack, in this case -- can do to a team. I guess this is what might have happened if Ray Lewis would have skipped town in 2006 or so and signed with the Cowboys or Packers.

Does Drew Brees have one more Super Bowl run left in his Hall of Fame career?

The NFL is the king of market correction, as we saw last Sunday in Minnesota where the Vikings lost to the Buffalo Bills. For starters, it's very obvious the Vikings failed to take the Bills seriously. That's a definite. And, at some point, Buffalo was going to play something close to representative football, despite getting shellacked in their first two games. When those two factors collide, anything can happen, and it did. Market correction also met up with the Broncos in Baltimore and the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay in week #3. Something had to give. Gambling on the NFL is completely an imperfect science, but one thing for sure: You can win some wagers just looking for the "market correction" game of the week.

As the 49'ers found out with the loss of Garropolo last Sunday, an injury to your quarterback can end your season. That said, if the Rams keep Goff healthy and the Chiefs keep Mahomes healthy, those two teams seem destined for big things in the future. The Rams might be ready this year, in fact, it what appears to be a wide-open NFC, while the Chiefs might need to spend some off-season money on a handful of defensive players in order to make their run in the AFC. But both of those kids like the real deal at QB, which is definitely a good starting point in the NFL.

The Dolphins aren't really any good, are they? I think they've been the benefactor of a very soft schedule thus far, but I know the old adage: you can only play who they put in front of you every week. Let's see what they do this Sunday in New England, where -- here's that word again -- market correction should come into play for both the Patriots and 'Fins. One thing for sure, though. If Miami goes up there and wins and moves to 4-0, they have a really good shot at making the playoffs.

All four of the hotshot college quarterbacks who were taken early in last spring's draft will be playing this weekend. I realize some coaches still haven't made it official, but you know it's coming. Darnold starts for the Jets, Rosen gets the nod in Arizona, Allen goes in Buffalo and Mayfield will start for the Browns, proud owners of a 1-game winning streak, in case you didn't hear. None of those teams figure to be playoff threats this season, but the Browns will wind up with the most wins out of any of those four teams because they can actually play some defense up there in Cleveland.

The NFC South is one crazy division, especially when it comes to divisional play. Already this year, two teams have won divisional road games (New Orleans in Atlanta and Tampa Bay in New Orleans) with more to come, I'm sure. There's a chance all four teams could finish above .500 in the South, although the Bucs looked very average on Monday night and the Panthers don't have the firepower that both Atlanta and New Orleans own. If New Orleans can get their defense to stand up and be counted each week, they could wind up making a deep playoff run.

And finally, the Ravens have done just about what I figured they would do through three weeks of the 2018 campaign. This Sunday night in Pittsburgh is a critical game for John Harbaugh's team, particularly given that a loss by the Steelers would mean the best Pittsburgh could do in the division this season would be 4-1-1. And they still have two games with Cincy and a road trip to Baltimore remaining, along with a Cleveland visit to Heinz Field. It's not "must win" by any means -- for either team -- on Sunday night, but someone is going to get a leg-up in the division race. I'll go into it a lot more later in the week, but I have to think the Ravens are licking their chops after seeing that Steelers' defense on Monday night in Tampa Bay.


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from the desk of
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BRIEN JACKSON's work at #DMD promises to provide some of Baltimore's best sports insight and commentary, brought to you by SECU, the official credit-union of Drew's Morning Dish. Brien has done sports-media work with ESPN, CBS, and NPR. His contributions to #DMD will focus on the Orioles, the Ravens, and national sports stories.



Thursday night letdown? What Thursday night let down?

After another disappointing performance in Cincinnati, the Ravens returned to Baltimore and secured what may well end up being a crucial victory over the Denver Broncos, and in convincing fashion no less. The Ravens got behind the 8-ball a bit early, but over the final three quarters they thoroughly outplayed the Broncos in every aspect and ultimately cruised to a 27-14 victory that made it easy to write off a Thursday night road loss.

The game didn't just represent a bounce back for the Ravens, but a statement that they just might be one of the AFC's best teams.

- The offensive line was awful in Cincinnati and had their moments against Buffalo as well, but they were the stars of the show in Week 3.

Marshal Yanda and the Ravens' offensive line had their best game of the season last Sunday against the Broncos.

Virtually no one expected them to be able to contain Von Miller and the rest of Denver's front, and I certainly didn't have much faith in them myself. But after an early sack set up a blocked punt and easy touchdown for Denver, that's exactly what they did. Miller was a non-factor for virtually the entire game, Joe Flacco got clean pockets and plenty of time to throw, and they even opened up running lanes at crucial times.

This group is full of guys who have played well in the past, but in the case of James Hurst and Matt Skura at different positions. But the performance they gave against perhaps the best pass rushing team in the entire league is a great reason to be very excited about this team's potential. Any game where this unit plays like that is a game the Ravens are going to win.

- The Ravens' receiving group is also hitting on all cylinders now, and doing so with depth rather than game breakers.

No one player topped 100 yards on Sunday, but 5 players caught at least 3 passes and a sixth, Mark Andrews, added an explosive catch and run early on. Buck Allen tallied the lone passing touchdown on the day. The Ravens might not have one top tier guy to throw to, but they're doing an excellent job of using everyone on the field, and someone is getting open on nearly every play.

- As a bonus the Ravens also turned around their biggest problem on defense from the Bengals game as well, the pass rush.

I wouldn't say that Case Keenum was under constant harassment or anything, and he did manage to convert a few 3rd downs far too easily, but the Ravens were able to get pressure on him from multiple looks, which is a lot more than they could say in Week 2. If they can keep Zadarius Smith and Tim Williams active as pure rushers they might be on to something.

On the whole the defense played even better than the final score would indicate: They gave up a touchdown on a very short field and blew their assignments on a reverse....and that was basically it. Beyond those two plays Denver mounted less than 250 total offensive yards.

One thing to watch in Pittsburgh though: Brandon Carr struggled in coverage late. The Ravens can't let him get isolated on Antonio Brown or Ju-Ju this Sunday.

- If there was a weak point it was on special teams where the Ravens managed the rare occurrence of having a punt and a field goal blocked in the same game.

However, both were somewhat flukey as opposed to representing massive failings. The blocked punt came when Sam Koch was pinned deep and thus had less room to work, and the field goal saw a Denver player leap over the line on a play that was very nearly illegal (for leaping over the snapper). The lack of production in the return game wasn't great, but at least there weren't any drops or fumbles.

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heat is definitely on u.s. squad in paris


It's been a long, long time since a United States Ryder Cup team prospered on foreign soil.

In fact -- here's some personal trivia that might interest you -- I was there, in person, the last time it happened. The year was 1993, and the U.S. defeated Europe at The Belfry just outside of Birmingham, England. I don't know how many fellow Americans were there on the premises that day, but I remember we were awfully loud and raucous when Davis Love III made par on the 18th hole to win his match and sew up the victory for Tom Watson's team.

Since then, though, it's been one butt-kicking after another, with nearly all of the matches played in Europe turning into blowouts by late Sunday afternoon.

This year's event, which starts on Friday, figured to be the American side's best chance for a win since that '93 triumph. The "young guns" have all come together at the right time, the mix of experience, power and style putting the U.S. team in the rare position of being favored away from home.

But now, as the event draws near, things have evened out. The European team is loaded with high quality players, major champions and a golf course tailored specifically to disarm the U.S. and their best weapon.

It's going to be a dogfight, for sure.

Here's a look at the current "power rankings" of the 12 players from each team as they enter the bi-annual event.

We'll look at pairings and make a prediction on the outcome in tomorrow's edition of #DMD.

United States

1. Tiger Woods -- Strength: Experience and ability to close. Weakness: Hasn't putted well over the years in the Ryder Cup, record doesn't compliment his career achievements.

2. Bryson DeChambeau -- Strength: Complete player, should make a great partner for someone. Weakness: Lack of Ryder Cup experience, occasionally balky driver.

3. Webb Simpson -- Strength: Putted great in 2018, keeps things simple tee-to-green. Weakness: Short game has occasionally held him back.

A win at the Ryder Cup would top off a remarkable 2018 campaign for reigning U.S. Open and PGA Champion Brooks Koepka.

4. Justin Thomas -- Strength: Long off the tee, no fear. Weakness: September wrist injury could impact him.

5. Brooks Koepka -- Strength: Great driver of the ball, underrated around the green and with the putter. Weakness: Might not get fired up enough, believe it or not.

6. Tony Finau -- Strength: Drives it far, makes gobs of birdies. Weakness: No Ryder Cup experience is his only drawback.

7. Dustin Johnson -- Strength: Best driver of the golf ball on the planet. Weakness: Erratic around the greens and so-so putter.

8. Bubba Watson -- Strength: Can hit every shot in the book. Weakness: Short game, putting, temperament.

9. Patrick Reed -- Strength: Would rather eat a nail than lose to the European team. Nasty competitor, underrated putter. Weakness: Not a great driver of the golf ball, enigmatic personality might make him tough to pair with.

10. Rickie Fowler -- Strength: Experience, solid tee-to green. Weakness: Like the two guys below him, hasn't done much of anything since the spring.

11. Phil Mickelson -- Strength: Has done this Ryder Cup thing more than anyone on the team. Still as good as anyone around the green. Weakness: Putting has slipped over the last couple of years.

12. Jordan Spieth -- Strength: Great iron play if he can get it in the fairway off the tee. Goes through patches where every putt he hits has a chance of going in. Weakness: Hasn't played worth a hoot all season. No part of his game has been extraordinarily sharp in 2018.


Europe

1. Justin Rose -- As good as anyone in the world.

2. Francesco Molinari -- Dream summer sparked by putting resurgence.

3. Tommy Fleetwood -- Could be Europe's best player in this event.

4. Jon Rahm -- Cooled off in the summer but enjoyed a solid 2018.

A captain's pick this time around, Ian Poulter's career legacy as a Ryder Cup stalwart could be heightened even further this weekend.

5. Ian Poulter -- If you don't dislike him yet, wait a few days. He'll make every putt he looks at this weekend.

6. Rory McIlroy -- Maybe now that he's not in the spotlight he'll play up to his world class standards.

7. Alex Noren -- Looked destined to win early in 2018 but cooled off considerably over the summer.

8. Tyrrell Hatton -- Questionable temper could be a factor, but he could also be a catalyst if he gets the right partner.

9. Henrik Stenson -- Bothered by wrist and elbow injuries for the last year. When he's on form, he's very dangerous.

10. Paul Casey -- Very solid tee to green. Gritty competitor.

11. Sergio Garcia -- Questionable pick by Captain Bjorn but he brings an intangible to the table that could be a major factor come Sunday.

12. Thorbjorn Olesen -- Not much is known about him, but a couple of years ago he looked like Europe's next star.

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Wednesday
September 26
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issue 26
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thank you, tiger


As any of my former and current Calvert Hall golfers will tell you, I preach a lot.

No, not that kind of preaching, although we do have a pre-match team prayer and several times a season I'll stress the importance of staying connected to one's faith.

I preach a lot about the possibilities that exist within golf. Perhaps my most often-used saying occurs when one of my players hits an off-line shot, whether it be from the tee, the fairway or rough.

"You can still make par from there," I've said, oh, I don't know, about 1,000 times in the last six years.

And it's true, of course. If it's a par four, you're always capable of making par until you've hit your fifth shot. I've made a lot of crazy, never-thought-that-would-happen pars in my 30 years of competitive golf. More than I can remember.

I stand firm on the thought that anything is possible in golf. If you're four shots behind with three holes to play, you can still win. If you're three down with four to play in a match play event, you can still win. You can always "still win" until the match is over and you haven't.

Likewise, it works in reverse, too. That's why golf is the greatest of all the sports. You can be four shots ahead with three holes left, but if you suddenly ease up and try to cruise in, the possibilities of how you might wind up losing are endless.

There was a time when PGA Tour players admitted they knew they were playing for second place when Tiger entered the same tournament they were competing in.

You see, you can't freeze the kicker in golf, you can't intentionally walk someone on the other team you'd prefer not to face in golf and you can't foul the other team's worst foul-shooter in the final minute in golf...the only way you "win" in golf is by getting the ball in the hole in less shots than the other player(s).

In tennis, you can have 20 unforced errors in four sets and still win. If you have 20 unforced errors in golf over 36 holes, you're going home for the weekend with nothing to show for your work except "MC" next to your name on the scoreboard.

In golf, you have to play your unforced errors.

But for all of those nuances above that makes golf appealing, there's nothing more vitally important than these three words: anything is possible.

You have to believe in it, for starters, then execute it to the best of your ability.

Well, I now have a new example of "anything is possible" to share with my players, which thrills me to no end. I'm always looking for fresh material.

For years and years, when people told me Tiger Woods was washed up, finished, done, kaput, I would always say the same thing. "He can win again...if he can ever get AND stay healthy."

To me, that was always the issue. It was nothing more than health.

None of those "kids" were better than him. Not even close. At his zenith, and at their top form (some might not have reached it yet, admittedly), Woods would have dusted the likes of Rory, Spieth, Fowler, DJ, Koepka and so on.

But it looked for a while like he'd never be healthy again. And without health, Woods couldn't be considered a factor any longer.

What he did on Sunday in Atlanta was a win for the ages. The argument(s) about the value of the win as it relates to his comeback can be made by other people who enjoy that sort of debate.

Greatest comeback in sports history? Greatest comeback in golf history?

I don't know. And I don't know. I have no idea how we weigh everything and compare it. My head hurts just thinking about the methods people would use to compute it all.

But I know this: What happened on Sunday is a remarkable story. And it's worth its weight in gold to people like me who spend time trying to convince young golfers to never quit.

Each spring, after our season ends at Calvert Hall, I meet with the team to go over our program's "summer rules". I only have two. The first is that you report any tournament score to me, via text or e-mail. Good, bad, ugly, it doesn't matter. All scores get reported to me.

The second rule is that you don't withdraw from a golf tournament, ever, unless you're legitimately injured and can no longer compete. There are no WD's. No matter what you shoot, you stick with it and complete the tournament.

I had a good player on my team shoot 84 in the first round of a tournament this summer. He shot me a quick text and started explaining how it happened: "Bad drive at #3, hit it in the hazard at #10, fried-egg lie in the bunker at #17." I quickly replied with something simple. "Go back there tomorrow and par those three holes. They beat you today, you go beat them tomorrow."

The next day, he sent me this: "Par, par, birdie. I beat those holes today, Coach!"

The message I try to pass along is simple: You can't give up. And even though that 84 put him out of the tournament from the standpoint of a high finish or winning, he "won" the next day when he shot 74 and played those three holes in 1-under...the same three he played in 7-over just 24 hours earlier.

It's entirely possible to play those three holes in par, par, birdie, even when you played them in double, triple, double the day before. Anything is possible.

But you can't give up...

Which brings me to Sunday and why what we saw was a great lesson for all of us, sport lover or not. Tiger Woods never, ever gave up.

It was ugly for a while. I'm not really talking about the personal drama that started back in 2008. I don't pretend to have any interest in that stuff. There are lessons to be learned from those misdeeds for sure, but I'm far more worried about keeping myself in line with God than I am focused on someone else's failings. What was "ugly" was Tiger's health, his golf game and his apparent career downturn.

He went from perennial favorite, circa 2012, to a laughingstock -- in roughly four years.

I've written this before, in 2018, even, but it didn't come full circle until he tapped that five inch putt home on the 72nd hole at East Lake on Sunday.

Throughout 2016 and early 2017, Tiger's body continued to break down with every swing of the club.

After everything he'd been through, Tiger could have taken his $850 million and just packed it in. Back surgeries, prescription pain-killer addiction, troubled personal life, golf game gone missing. There's more. Lots more. It would have been easy to check out, make another $50 million hawking watches and energy drinks and designing a golf course every few years, and say, simply, "I don't need this famous life anymore."

In reality, stripped down to the core, that would have been "quitting".

At least one national sports reporter -- Jemele Hill of (then) ESPN -- went on record suggesting Woods should do just that. In 2017 she said, "The next press release Tiger Woods issues should say, 'I'm retiring'."

"Retire", "quit", "step away from the game". Call it whatever you like, but the prevailing thought from most people was that Woods should have called it a career in 2017 when he embarrassed himself in a couple of February tournaments that rendered him a punch line.

He battled the chipping yips, a shell of his former self when he was ten yards off the green. Brandel Chamblee of The Golf Channel proclaimed Woods' career over. "No one has ever come back from the chipping yips, it saddens me to say," Chamblee said to the masses in 2016.

He couldn't hit a driver straight for 18 holes to save his life. He'd be good one day, awful the next. He looked like Tiger Woods, dressed like Tiger Woods and sounded like Tiger Woods. But he no longer played like Tiger Woods.

Sometime in 2017, when everything unraveled and he could no longer beat the demons that harassed him both on and off the course, Woods hit rock bottom. On the operating table, on the police blotter and on the list of washed up champions -- all within five months of one another.

Those 150 days would have finished off most athletes.

I admire Woods for a lot of things. Not quitting, though, is the thing I admire most about him.

And he's pretty good at golf, too.

The polarizing nature of his position in the sport has probably changed a lot over the last 24 hours. Sure, there are still lots of anti-Tiger folks out there. Morrissey, the former lead singer of The Smiths said it best in one of his songs: "We hate it when our friends become successful."

Whether it's jealousy, envy, or any other form of personal dislike, there are people out there with an opinion on Woods that is less than favorable. That won't ever change.

But what might change, and maybe already has, is the appreciation level from those of us who have been supporters of his over his decade of troubled times.

The victory at East Lake, to me, was as important as anything Woods has authored in golf since he won the 1997 Masters.

In a lot of ways, what he did on Sunday was more improbable than winning the Masters in 1997. He was always going to win at Augusta, multiple times most people thought. Whether it was '97, '98 or at some point thereafter, Woods was going to don a green jacket.

In August of 2017, Tiger couldn't hit a pitching wedge 60 yards in his backyard.

In September of 2018, over four days, he beat the best 29 players on the best professional golf circuit in the world.

80 wins is great. Can he get to 83 and beat Snead's record? That seems very possible.

14 majors and counting. Will he won more of those? Anything's possible, although you only get four chances at those every 365 days.

Back to #1 in the world? He started 2018 ranked near #1100 in the world and today he sits at #13. Odds are he'll spend some time at #1 again, someday down the road.

Anything's possible.

It's especially possible when you don't quit.

Whether it's this hole, this round, this tournament or this career, giving up isn't the answer. It never has been, in fact.

The greatest accomplishment of Tiger's career is that he never quit.

The wins and titles and money are meaningful, but the biggest lesson of them all is embedded in the post-script of Sunday's win at the Tour Championship.

You always have a chance to win if you're willing to put yourself in the arena and risk the scrutiny, adversity and humbling that goes along with it all.

Anything is possible.

End of sermon.

And thank you, Tiger, for a valuable lesson that I'll be sure to pass along to my team.

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#dmd's "tpv chart" has chiefs on top


In case you missed it a few weeks back, local college students Chris and Leo offered to provide #DMD with a performance chart they aptly named "Team Performance Value" for the 2018 NFL season.

We're not big on compiling stats here at #DMD, so we took them up on their offer. Each week, the two of them evaluate the overall performance of all 32 NFL teams and place them in a top-to-bottom chart.

"We continue to tweak a thing or two as we go," Chris says. "We're putting a little more value on road wins, especially within the division, and a little more value on defensive performances on the road, since we think the hardest thing to do in the league is to keep the other team from scoring in their own stadium."

To remind you, the ranking system tops out at 100 per-game. No team can get higher than 100 for any given game. "Tennessee's win in Jacksonville Sunday was an 84 point value," Chris explains. The only other 84 point value-win this season was Tampa Bay winning in New Orleans in the season opener."

So far this season, 51 points is the lowest value a team has earned. "Even though we weigh Thursday night games a little less than others, the Jets were a 51-point value-loss in Cleveland last week," says Chris.

"It's interesting to see how the numbers come out and where teams rank, because often times so far this season there have been teams that we probably would have manually placed higher," Leo states. "We have Kansas City at #1, for example, but my eyes tell me the Rams are better than the Chiefs overall."

Kansas City has 83-82-75 in their wins so far, Leo says. "Their value number for Sunday's game dipped a little bit because it came at home against a NFC team with a 1-1 record. But when we put all the data in, it comes out with the Chiefs at #1 in the league."

What would the Ravens do if they win on Sunday night in Pittsburgh? "They'll be top five or six after next weekend I'd guess," says Leo, "but it also depends a little bit on how they win the game. If they hold that Pittsburgh offense to, say, 17 or 20 points, that would definitely help their cause."

Here's the #DMD TPV Chart after week #3.

1. Kansas City Chiefs -- (240)

2. Los Angeles Rams -- (230)

3. Miami Dolphins -- (228)

4. Cincinnati Bengals -- (226)

With 13 TD's and 0 INT's, Patrick Mahomes has the Chiefs at 3-0 and on top of #DMD's TPV Chart.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- (225)

6. Philadelphia Eagles -- (221)

7. Washington Redskins -- (220)

8. Jacksonville Jaguars -- (219)

8. Chicago Bears -- (219)

10. BALTIMORE RAVENS -- (218)

10. New Orleans Saints -- (218)

12. Cleveland Browns -- (217)

13. Carolina Panthers -- (216)

14. Green Bay Packers -- (215)

14. Pittsburgh Steelers -- (215)

16. Tennessee Titans -- (214)

17. Denver Broncos -- (210)

18. Los Angeles Chargers -- (206)

19. Atlanta Falcons -- (204)

20. Seattle Seahawks -- (203)

20. New York Giants -- (203)

20. Indianapolis -- (203)

23. Minnesota Vikings -- (202)

24. San Francisco 49'ers -- (201)

25. New England Patriots -- (199)

26. New York Jets -- (198)

27. Detroit Lions -- (197)

28. Buffalo Bills -- (193)

29. Dallas Cowboys -- (192)

30. Houston Texans -- (188)

31. Arizona Cardinals -- (183)

32. Oakland Raiders -- (172)

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what is this thing?


When I first saw the picture below circulating on social media yesterday, I thought for sure it was a photo of "Miss October" on the Philadelphia Flyers "Cheerleader Calendar" for 2019.

It sure looks a lot like a Flyers cheerleader. (Note: It's not that far removed from looking like an Old Mill High School cheerleader, either, but the team colors aren't the same.)

Anyway, come to find out that hideous looking creature is the Flyers' new mascot. Something called "Gritty".

Look, I have no idea what a "Flyer" is, really. I never have figured it out. So, I realize there's not a lot you can do with the whole concept, as far as mascots go, that is.

But that thing is awful looking.

The online feedback was so over-the-top, I have to wonder if the organization is going to consider shelving it and starting over again. Seriously, 18 of 20 comments on social media were something like, "That's the worst thing I've ever seen..."

The shame of it all is -- gulp -- the Flyers might actually be pretty good this season. As in, they could definitely be a deep-playoff-run kind of threat. So with all of that going for them, why slow things down with this horrendous new mascot?

I'm thrilled, of course. Any chance we get to poke fun at those goofs up there makes my day.

By the way, if you're a Flyers fan and you don't have anything going on next Wednesday night, you might want to check out the Caps-Boston game. They're doing something kind of cool down in D.C. that night. They're raising the championship banner the Caps won last June.

I know how unfamiliar you Philly hockey fans are with that concept since it's been over 40 years since you've seen it in your own building. Come on down and watch it live if you'd like.

But please keep "Gritty" up in Philadelphia that night.

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Monday
September 24
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issue 24
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for one day at least, flacco and tiger serve up a big helping


Is humble pie served hot or cold?

I'm asking for a friend.

I have no idea if it comes out of the oven and is then served immediately thereafter or whether you refrigerate and dish it out chilled.

Either way, Joe Flacco and Tiger Woods have the serving spoon today and they're happy to give you a taste if you're one of the folks who doubted them along the way.

Flacco, naturally, has to be careful with how much humble pie he makes his critics eat. He has thirteen weeks of football remaining and seven road games left to navigate in the regular season.

Yesterday's performance in Baltimore was superb, as Flacco went 25-40 for 277 yards as the Ravens overcame a couple of special teams blunders to beat the Broncos, 27-13.

If you're keeping score at home, that's 2-for-2 in home games thus far for the former Super Bowl MVP. He was also outstanding on September 9 when the Ravens dismantled the Bills, 47-3.

That he wasn't as sharp in Cincinnati in the Thursday night loss is also part of the early-season narrative for Joe. Like most NFL quarterbacks (see Tom Brady last night as Exhibit A), Flacco tends to play better at home than he does on the road. Ben Roethlisberger is probably the best example of that formula these days and it's been going on for a few years now. Ben is terrific at home and awful on the road.

It's OK. Have seconds. We have plenty.

It's not quite to the point where we can categorize Joe as a "homer", but the heat will be on him next Sunday night in Pittsburgh to prove that he isn't becoming one.

Still, for one day at least, Flacco served up a big heaping of humble pie to his critics with another solid performance.

Note: We could throw Marty Mornhinweg in there as well. He had a terrific day on Sunday in establishing a well-balanced game-plan that kept the Broncos off balance most of the afternoon. But Mornhinweg's had too many blunders over the last few years. His humble pie serving opportunity will have to wait.

Flacco haters are very loud when Joe's playing poorly and eerily silent when he plays well. Thus, we haven't heard a whole lot from them this season.

They're always lurking though, waiting for just the right opportunity to pounce on a pick, a back-foot throw, or a scramble that leads to a fumble and a turnover. It's just that Flacco hasn't given them much material through three games to date.

With the Steelers in Tampa Bay tonight to face a 2-0 Bucs team, there's a chance Flacco and Company could go into Heinz Field next Sunday night with the ability to put Pittsburgh in an 0-4 hole to start the campaign. While you never perform an autopsy on the Steelers until they're officially eliminated, coming back from 0-4 would be nearly impossible.

Next Sunday night will be Flacco's game to win. In case you haven't seen the Steelers this season, their offense, as usual, is high-powered. Their defense, as usual, stinks. Flacco and the Ravens aren't winning a grind-it-out 16-13 nailbiter up there. In order to win, the Ravens will likely need at least 35 points.

If Flacco can engineer a victory next Sunday night, the haters will be so full of humble pie they might need to go on the Keto diet the following morning.

Speaking of humble pie and full stomachs...

The Tiger haters around the country can hardly move this morning. They put on 10 pounds yesterday as Woods came through with his first win in over five years, beating all of those supposed tough young guns over four days at East Lake GC in Atlanta to win the TOUR Championship.

Woods actually came oh-so-close to winning the FedEx Cup and the $10 million first prize, but Justin Rose made birdie at the 72nd hole to sew up first place in that season-long campaign.

But winning the golf tournament was more than enough for Tiger, who now has 80 career victories, just two shy of the all-time leader, Sam Snead.

The video below -- which surfaced early Sunday evening -- is actually not completely accurate. While those that you see doubting or closing the door on Tiger's career actually did say those things about Woods, the backdrop of the video, where Tiger is seen nodding and occasionally smiling, was of people wishing him well and saying complimentary things about him during the early part of the 2017 season.

It's crafty, if nothing else, as it makes it appear as if Tiger is watching the clips of those doubters, which he wasn't.

But the genesis of the video is what's important.

Brandel Chamblee crushed Woods on more than one occasion.

Greg Norman said he'd never be the same.

Jemele Hill said he should retire.

Stephen A. Smith, Shannon Sharpe and the others all basically said the same thing. "Woods is done".

There's no telling how much of that stuff resonated with Tiger and drove him to try and come back from a fourth back surgery. Maybe none of it mattered. Maybe he watched those videos and read the press clippings every morning at breakfast.

Either way, Tiger's win yesterday will -- finally, finally, finally -- shut up a bunch of folks who ran their mouth about Woods for the last five years.

They'd offer some kind of response today, but they're probably napping after over-indulging on that humble pie yesterday...



#DMD HD-TV


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show me the money comes through like flacco


Three weeks in and three straight winning Sunday efforts in "Show Me The Money".

I'd put my feet up on the table and laugh a little bit, but I know how fickle the NFL betting game can be.

We went 4-1 on Sunday and nailed the Best Bet of the Day, and also hit on the Ravens-Broncos game.

Our winners yesterday: The Dolphins, Chiefs, Cardinals and Seahawks (Best Bet). Our only loser was the Bengals in Charlotte.

For the season, we're now 10-5, and 2-1 in "Best Bet". And we're 3-0 in calling Ravens games, too.

Joe Flacco or #DMD. Who is off to the better start?

We're not officially picking tonight's game in Tampa Bay, but if we were, we'd take the Steelers (+1.0). They're bound to do something good soon, and the Bucs can't keep doing this all season.

If this hot streak keeps up, we might have to invest in a 1-800 number. If you're going to get rich, I should have a small piece of the action, right?

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"The Keen Eye" of David Rosenfeld

DAVID ROSENFELD is a former sports publicist who still keeps his eye on the game. Looking at the game, the news or the players on an in-depth level is what he likes to do. Follow his work here at #DMD every Monday & Thursday, brought to you by Glory Days Grill.


Things That Make Me Go Hmmm? Edition

Who?

Chris Davis

After Saturday’s 0-for-5, three-strikeout “performance” in the Bronx, Chris Davis had just one hit in his last 39 at-bats. In a season that, as Davis said, has been “one disaster after another,” the current stretch may be his worst disaster, which is hard to believe.

Now that we’ve entered the season’s last week (finally), it’s time to take stock in this season for Davis. Sure, everybody knows how terrible he’s been, but let’s take a look at the numbers.

"I'm just trying to get to the finish line," Chris Davis told reporters on Saturday in New York.

We’ll start old school, for all you old schoolers. Davis has a batting average of .168. At no point this season was his batting average higher than .180.

Davis had 84 walks in 2015 and 88 walks in 2016, somewhat making up for his high strikeout numbers. This season, he has 41 walks.

Of Davis’s 79 (!) hits his season, 51 are singles. Back in 2013, 96 of his 167 hits were for extra bases.

Seriously, though, what is the new manager of the Orioles in 2019 going to do with Chris Davis? Is he just going to hope that Davis comes back next year and is magically a decent player again?

To remind you, when this season mercifully ends, Davis is owed four more years and $92 million on the contract he signed before the 2016 season.

The question of when the Orioles will once again be a competitive team is one for discussion; it probably depends on the exact strategy the team takes to make it happen. I have a hard time believing it’s going to happen while Davis is under contract with the team.


What?

New FedEx Cup format

I like math. Math is important. When I saw the PGA Tour had consulted an “MIT expert” to help develop its new FedEx Cup format for next year, however, I wondered whether said expert should be spending his time doing more important calculations.

If you haven’t read about it, the points leader before the 2019 Tour Championship will start that tournament at 10-under-par, with second place at 8-under and a sliding scale down to players 26-30, who’ll start at even.

It’s a unique idea, I guess. In some ways, it will feel like more of a legitimate “chase” than trying to figure out 23 scenarios for winning, as happens now. On a different level, the new format will make it more likely that the winner of the Tour Championship is also the winner of the FedEx Cup.

Here’s the thing, though: golf just isn’t a playoff sport.

No matter how the Tour decides to determine a year-long champion, there’s something artificial about it. In this case, it’s giving a player a score before the tournament begins. By doing so, it’s almost creating a handicap event, as opposed to an actual 72-hole stroke play event. That’s weird.

In some ways, I wish we could just go back to the money list. If you’re up near the top in that, then it’s likely you’ve won at least one major and done really well in a lot of other tournaments in which you’ve played. If the Tour is looking to make it easy for fans and players, everybody understands cold, hard cash.


Where?

Pittsburgh

Perhaps the Pittsburgh Steelers will roll into Tampa on Monday night and put a beatdown on Ryan Fitzpatrick and the 2-0 Buccaneers. FitzMagic can’t last forever, as has been proven for all the other teams for which he’s played.

The heat is starting to get turned up on Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh.

Still, there’s something seriously wrong up there at Heinz Field, isn’t there? There’s real turmoil, not stuff you can easily blow off.

The Steelers not only have a guy who hasn’t shown up at all, Le’Veon Bell, they have a guy who didn’t show up at the team facility last Monday, Antonio Brown.

Brown’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said that Brown’s absence from work on Monday was for a personal matter and had nothing to do with Sunday’s game, any sideline outbursts, or any tweets he might have sent. So, we have to believe that if his agent said it, right? Rosenhaus has, most certainly, never lied or massaged an answer on behalf of one of his clients!

Meanwhile, a bunch of offensive linemen are hurt and the defense is a bit of a sieve. When was the last time a quarterback went into Heinz Field and performed as Patrick Mahomes did for the Chiefs in their victory on the road last weekend?

Also, the fans seem to really want Mike Tomlin fired. Sure, they’ve intimated it before, but this time is for real. He can’t control this team, and for a defensive guy his defense stinks.

All it will take for the Steelers is one win, of course. The hope would be that win is tonight in Tampa as opposed to Sunday night back in Pittsburgh.


When?

All the time

In other Ravens’ news this week, the team was fined $200,000 by the NFL for violations of the “Coach-to-Player Communications Policy” during 2018 preseason games.

Only one player on the field for each team can have a helmet with communication ability. According to the Ravens themselves, the equipment staff didn’t realize this rule also applied in the preseason. Also according to the team, the coaching staff was unaware that more than one player had one of those helmets while on the field at the same time.

Stop right there, so we can talk about two things.

One, it sounds pretty tacky to me that the team—whether it came from the front office, the owner or the coaching staff—decided to basically throw its equipment staff under the bus publicly. I would have rather they simply said that the team—the entire team—made a mistake, and they’ve learned the lesson now.

Two, the Ravens, and John Harbaugh, keep getting penalized for rules violations. Maybe it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme, and maybe the Ravens aren’t cheating, but there’s a carelessness that’s bothersome there. I have no doubt Steve Bisciotti isn’t fond of the on-the-field image that creates.

The best part is Harbaugh’s defensiveness, which he showed when asked about the fine this week. Whenever he finishes coaching, he’d be a great White House press secretary for an administration in either party. Just throw the questions right back at the reporter, as if he or she is in the wrong for asking them.


Why?

The weather

God, or whomever you believe controls the weather, hasn’t smiled upon the Ravens in their last three games at M&T Bank Stadium.

Last year’s Cincinnati debacle on New Year’s Eve was played in temperatures near 15 degrees, by far the coldest game in stadium history.

In the season’s opening week in Baltimore, you expect summer. Sadly, the Buffalo game was played in pouring rain and temperatures near 60 degrees. In the season’s third week in Baltimore, you expect a slightly-less warm version of summer. Sadly, the Denver game was again played in the rain.

None of this stuff matters in retrospect, I suppose, or if you’re watching the game on television as opposed to the stadium. Still, the Ravens are experiencing attendance problems in ways they never have before, and bad weather doesn’t help.

I try to attend one game a year, and I have certain things I look for when I choose that game. Night games are pretty much out, and I’d rather not take a chance on a 15-degree day late in the year. This year I settled on yesterday’s game.

Tough luck, I guess. You can’t control the weather.

The Ravens aren’t home again until Week 7, a 4:05 kickoff against Drew Brees and the Saints. By then, maybe we can hope for a chilly mid-autumn evening with a little wind to throw off Brees, who spends most of his time playing in a dome. More likely, it’ll be the nicest day for a game so far this year, which won’t be saying much.

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NOTES & COMMENT
George McDowell


George McDowell is #DMD's foreign correspondent. His international reports are filed from a hardened outpost just across the U.S. / North Carolina border. He writes on sports topics that interest him that he feels might also interest some segment of the wildly esoteric #DMD readership. George has been a big fan of DF and his various enterprises since the last century, and for several seasons appeared as a weekly guest on his Monday evening radio show, Maryland Golf Live, delivering commentary as The Eccentric Starter. George also donates his time and talents to the less fortunate, and currently volunteers as secretary of the Rickie Fowler Fan Club.

1. Maryland’s own Denny McCarthy, who once shot six-under at Mt. Pleasant, won the Web.com Tour Championship by four shots on Sunday. He beat Lucas Glover, a Clemson grad and U.S. Open champion, by four shots, shooting 23-under at the Atlantic Beach Country Club in Florida. This sews up his PGA Tour card for 2019.

2. If you couldn't translate the scream of anguish from a man identified by police and rescue workers as “Rick” in DelRay Beach, and the sounds of another man beating his head against a wall, identified as “Herman,” on Florida’s left coast, Tiger Woods won the Tour Championship in dominating fashion.


TigerMania; the Sequel

Woods won the tournament by shooting a one-over 71 to finish a handful of strokes ahead of a handful of guys who shot lights out when there was no pressure on them on Sunday.

When the pressure was on, the Tiger domination reared its head and roared. In the first round, when paired with Woods, Tommy Fleetwood fired a respectable 69. He lost to Woods by four shots.

Career journeyman Rickie Fowler, winless in 2018 but who stumbled his way to East Lake with a couple of runner-ups and some Top Ten finishes through the season, was paired with Woods in Round Two. Score: Tiger – 68; Rickie – 72.

In the third round and paired with Woods, Justin Rose shot 67. Woods answered with a 65 to take a two-shot lead over Rory McIlroy and Rose into Sunday’s final round.

There’s an old saying: “Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it.” McIlroy remarked, for publication, back in the era when he was winning major championships, that it would be fun to play with Tiger in a final group. The lack of fun Rory had on Sunday playing with Tiger may knock some sense and humility* into his young and figuratively over-large head. Tiger made him look like a 15-handicapper. McIlroy’s four-over 74 dropped him back into a four-way tie for seventh place.

* For those younger readers in #DMD’s audience, humility is a character trait whose possessors have a measured and accurate sense of their true worth in the world and are loathe to make statements recognized by all but themselves as humblebrag.

In sum, Tiger handily defeated the top 29 players on the PGA Tour over the four days of the tournament. In doing so, he individually beat down the poor schmos with whom he was paired each day — three top-tier players who could win any week they tee it up and their friend Rickie Fowler — by a staggering total of 13 strokes!

3. The FedEx Cup finally found a home for 2019 in the Justin Rose household. Rose was the last man standing in this weekend's Battle of the Morons, shooting a three-over 73 to "capture" the Cup.

4. Drew asked me to opine on the playoff format for next year's FedEx Cup for a #DMD piece. We're doing our research on that and the article is forthcoming. In the meantime, it's my initial view that – in a system of four tournaments that determine a champion, and in which a player could win the first three events by 15 strokes each week and lose the fourth week in a five-hole playoff, and NOT win the championship – that the system must be changed. We have become conditioned by TV to immediate gratification, and like bulls in a ring, are distracted by and immediately attracted to the latest colorful clown that runs in front of us.

5. Xander Schauffele finished ahead of Tony Finau in the final two FedEx events after Captain Furyk disregarded the Ryder Cup Qualification Points order and went deep down into the list to select Mr. Finau. We commend last year's Rookie of the Year and Tour Champion for not voicing his displeasure and for letting his clubs do the talking. Perhaps the stature Tony achieves in the world spotlight will give him the hardening he needs to capture his first real PGA Tour victory next season. That victory and one more will raise him up to Schauffele's level.

#DMD GAME DAY
Week 3


Sunday — September 23, 2018
Volume L — Issue 23

Denver Broncos vs. Baltimore Ravens

1:00 PM EDT

M&T Bank Stadium
Baltimore

Spread: Ravens minus 5½


ravens need this one


I'll say this three or four other times this season, at least, so why not say it today, too? This game vs. the Broncos is not a "must-win" affair for the Ravens this afternoon. There's just no way the third game in a 16-game season is "must-win" -- not for the Ravens, not for the Steelers, not for any team.

But it sure is one that the Ravens "need" to win, if for no other reason that it will give them two of the ten they'll likely need to return to the post-season for the first time since 2014.

Winning today will also get the stink of that loss in Cincinnati out of their mouths. And it will set up John Harbaugh's team nicely for a Sunday night showdown in Pittsburgh seven days from now, which could go a long way in keeping Pittsburgh out of the playoff picture, depending on what the Steelers do in Tampa Bay tomorrow night.

Denver has had it easy thus far in 2018.

They started the campaign with two home wins, beating Seattle by a field goal back on September 9 and then scratching out a very fortunate 20-19 win over Oakland last Sunday. While it's true that "a win is a win" and all that jazz, neither victory was particularly impressive.

But the Broncos can do some impressive things on both sides of the ball. That's where the Ravens have to show some concern this afternoon.

Can Joe Flacco continue his solid play at home and lead the Ravens to a win over the Broncos today?

While Baltimore's running game is ranked 23rd in the league, Denver comes to town with the 6th best run defense in the NFL. Through two games, the Broncos have allowed an average of just 78 yards per-game on the ground.

Those of us who regularly watch the Ravens know that running-game statistic is a bit of a misnomer, since Marty Mornhinweg loves to forget about the run midway through most games. If I'm Denver, I'm not overlooking the Ravens' ability to run the ball.

Case Keenum isn't off to the greatest of starts (3 TDs, 4 INTs) through two games, but Denver has a handful of pass catching threats that could be a factor today. I'm sure the Broncos saw the Thursday night game and, in particular, the first half from Cincinnati where Andy Dalton lit up the Baltimore linebackers and secondary en-route to a 28-7 second quarter lead.

The Broncos, like the Bengals, have a number of receiving options for their quarterback, including former Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders (231 yards on 14 catches), Demaryius Thomas (81/11) and rookie Courtland Sutton, whom many Ravens fans wanted to see in Baltimore last April but the Broncos snagged him with the 40th overall pick in the draft.

Denver's running game is good, too. They've rushed for 316 yards in two games, but it's fair to remember one of those two came against Oakland. One would think, though, the game -- from Denver's standpoint -- will come down to how well Keenum handles himself and the Broncos' ability to quiet Joe Flacco and the Baltimore passing game.

That's where the Ravens have to be careful today. The Broncos' pass rush is likely a major concern for Harbaugh and Mornhinweg.

While the Denver offensive line has allowed just two sacks on Keenum this season, the defense has recorded seven in two games, led, naturally, by Von Miller, who has four sacks thus far. He's already forced two fumbles in two games as well.

Miller could be a serious problem today, particularly if left tackle Ronnie Stanley isn't 100%. Even at full-strength, Stanley will have his hands full. If he plays today like he did ten days ago in Cincinnati, the game could favor Denver.

The Ravens' game-plan on offense should be simple. While they eschewed the run on a rainy, yucky opening day back on September 9, today's the day to feed Alex Collins and Buck Allen and run the ball with effectiveness. The more the Ravens run, the less impact Miller figures to have on the outcome.

Of course, the Ravens could trick us up and do what they did against the Bills, which was mostly turn Flacco loose and let him air it out, but that seems a bit more risky today than it did when the Bills were in town.

If the game follows a normal pattern (i.e., Ravens don't fall behind by two or three scores and are forced to throw more than run), the Ravens offense should feature more running than passing. 35 carries and 30 throws seems about right.

It's fair -- and smart -- to remember that every time Flacco steps back to throw, you're inviting Von Miller to get involved in the game. That doesn't mean the Ravens should run scared. It just means they have to balance their offensive scheme accordingly, double up on Miller when at all possible, and do their very best not to let him put his stamp on the game. Easier said than done, I know.

Keenum had a bit of a fairy tale season in Minnesota in 2017. There's definitely still a question about his legitimacy as a bonafide #1 quarterback, but he was the best option Denver could get in the off-season. If he goes to Baltimore (or Kansas City, Pittsburgh, New England) and wins a game, I'll be impressed. Until then, I don't see him as a guy who is beating a quality team in their building.


show me the money


"Show Me The Money" is in audio form today, so hustle over to the Juice podcast (upper right corner) to check out my five picks for today.

I'm 6-4 on the season to date and 1-1 in my "Best Bets" category.

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three keys for the ravens and broncos


Look for these three elements to play out today if the Ravens wind up on top.

1. Get to Keenum early -- The Ravens need a first quarter turnover to rattle Keenum right from the start. Whether it's an interception or a ball knocked out of Keenum's hands, the Ravens need to get him on edge in the first quarter.

2. 65 yards of rushing in the first half -- The Ravens need 125 yards of rushing on the ground today. Getting half of that in the opening thirty minutes is critical, as it will force Denver to make some halftime adjustments. The Ravens need to run the ball effectively in the first two quarters.

3. Get off the field on 3rd down -- This has been a bugaboo for the Ravens over the last few years, particulary in the fourth quarter of tight games. It's supremely important for the Ravens to start building some confidence on 3rd down, particularly with next Sunday's game looming in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers always find a way to keep drives alive on third and long. This task today will fall mainly on the Baltimore pass rush on "3rd and throwing" distances. The Ravens have to get off the field on third down.


And for Denver...

1. Keep it close at the half -- The Ravens are generally very good at home and usually follow along with the same formula. They jump out to a quick lead, build on it in the second quarter, and typically own a seven or ten point advantage at intermission. The Broncos need to keep this one close for two quarters. Ahead, tied or down by no more than three points should be the gameplan for the Broncos. It's tough to come back on the Ravens in Baltimore when you trail 17-6 or 14-3 at the half.

2. Cover 2 frustrates Flacco -- If Denver has the ability to keep their two safeties deep without conflicting with their overall defensive scheme, they should definitely consider doing it. Some of Flacco's worst games have come against the traditional "cover 2", where both safeties (free/strong) are responsible for the deep halves of the field and fill the “alley” (between cornerback and edge of formation) versus the run game. The safeties read the release of the No. 1 wide receiver for their run/pass key while overlapping any throw to the deep middle of the field. For whatever reason, Flacco has had difficulty with that defensive set-up in recent years.

3. Stop the run in order to maximize Miller's presence -- To get the most out of Von Miller today, the Broncos need to force Baltimore into throwing situations. The easiest way to do that is to negate the Baltimore run and force the Ravens to throw. If the Broncos can hold the Ravens to under 70 yards on the ground, that should bolster their chances of having Miller impact the game.

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here's how drew sees today's game


This one won't be the blowout we saw back on September 9 when the Bills embarrassed themselves in Charm City.

The Ravens make quick work of things, scoring a TD on their opening drive thanks to a Flacco-to-Crabtree red zone throw.

Expect to see as many Royal Farm coffee ads (3) during today's game as Justin Tucker field goals (3).

Denver bounces back to tie the game at 7-7 in the second quarter, but a pair of Justin Tucker field goals give the Ravens a 13-7 halftime lead.

At intermission, Baltimore has 58 yards of rushing on the ground and Flacco has 121 yards of passing yardage to his credit.

The Broncos kick an early third quarter field goal to make it 13-10, but a Flacco to Nick Boyle TD throw gives the Ravens a 20-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Denver cuts it to 20-17 midway through the final period, but a field goal from Justin Tucker with five minutes left gives the Ravens a 23-17 lead.

The Broncos get to the red zone late in the game before the Baltimore defense holds up its end of the bargain and Denver turns it over on downs to give John Harbaugh's team a 23-17 win.

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duquette apparently stays


The architect of this remarkable 2018 Orioles team has evidently done enough to warrant a contract extension.

Dan Duquette is staying put.

That's what veteran baseball reporter Bob Nightengale of USA Today reported on Friday afternoon, just a few hours before the Birds recorded their franchise worst 109th loss of the season, 10-8, to the Yankees.

Nightengale reports the Orioles plan on keeping Duquette but bidding manager Buck Showalter farewell at season's end. Those sorts of departures are tricky when the person in question doesn't have a contract for the following season anyway. The Orioles won't actually fire Buck, since he technically doesn't have a gig for next season at this point. But they won't be continuing his employment either, which, to most people with a brain, means you've been fired.

So maybe the O's can do a "Celebrate Buck and Adam Day" next weekend when the Astros come to down for the final four games of the regular season. Or perhaps, in traditional Orioles fashion, they'll let those four games go by without saying a word about either of those two men.

If Nightengale's report is accurate -- and his track record is pretty solid -- there will, of course, be a prevailing thought that Duquette won the tug-of-war with Showalter. Reports surfaced throughtout the last few years that the two didn't exactly get along, and it was thought for a while that Buck might someday move upstairs to the front office and Duquette would shuffle off to his next stop.

Instead, it's Duquette who is staying and Buck who is leaving.

It's not a surprise that Showalter won't be back in 2019. While he's left an indelible mark on the Orioles during his tenure in Charm City, the argument against hiring him in the first place is part of what's leading to his departure. Folks close to baseball hinted way back in 2010 that Buck's the kind of guy who endears himself to you at the outset, then wears you out after four or five years.

More than that, though, it's simply hard to bring back a manager who in part helped author a 110-plus loss season. I'm not sure how you explain that one to your ticket buyers.

But what the Orioles are going to have to explain to their fans is this: The guy who orchestrated the 2018 team is returning in 2019, with a new contract no less. The man who wanted to jump ship and go to Toronto in the winter of 2014-2015 is not only still here, but getting a new deal once the dust settles on this horrible 2018 campaign.

The deadline deals at the end of July apparently sealed it for Duquette. The organization trusted him enough to put those trades together, so it makes sense, from their standpoint, to give him the reins for another few years.

Personally, I'd rather have Showalter than Duquette, but I can see where Buck grates on people after a while. And there's still discontent in the air within the Orioles locker room over "BrittonGate" from the 2016 wild card playoff game in Toronto.

But if you asked me to pick one to stay and one to go, I'd keep Buck and bid Duquette farewell.

Most of us thought all along Showalter and Duquette would be gone at season's end. How do you keep two guys around who engineered a campaign in which you won't win at least 50 games in a 162 game season?

Somehow, the Orioles are doing it.

Well, one of them is staying, at least. And as a result, I'm sure you're thinking right now about how many 13-game mini-plan packages you're going to buy for next season.

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woods in good form, others not so much


Golf is a weird game, so it's probably not a good idea to overreact when you look at the bottom of the leaderboard at the TOUR Championshp and see three American Ryder Cup players at the very bottom.

T27 - Patrick Reed (+6)

T27 - Bryson DeChambeau (+6)

30 - Brooks Koepka (+7)

Oh, and Bubba Watson (T21, +2) and Phil Mickelson (T25, +5) aren't exactly lighting it up, either.

Five of the U.S.A.'s twelve Ryder Cup players are over par at East Lake GC in Atlanta. This time next week, they'll be facing off against Europe in the bi-annual event in Paris, France. In other words, there's not a lot of time left to get things straightened out.

Tiger's 18th hole birdie on Friday gave him a 7-under par total for two days, tying him with Justin Rose at the top of the leaderboard.

The good news?

Tiger Woods appears ready to take on the world. Woods is tied for the lead with Justin Rose at 7-under par, the first time he's led or co-led an event after 36 holes since 2015.

Woods actually had a two shot lead late in the round on Friday before a double bogey at the 16th hole dumped him from 8 under to 6 under. Until that fiasco, Tiger was hitting on all cylinders -- again -- and looking a lot like the Tiger Woods of old.

Justin Thomas (-4) and Rickie Fowler (-3) are hanging around the leaderboard as well. Those two will be playing next weekend in France as well.

For what it's worth, good golf from week-to-week is not automatic even for PGA Tour players. The game comes and goes faster than David Lee Roth's last reunion with Van Halen. One week you have it, the next week you don't. Heck, there are occasions when you "find it" for nine holes and then immediately lose it for the next nine holes.

But at the highest level, there's no disputing you'd rather be playing well going into a major event than not playing well. DeChambeau, for example, has to be sick about frittering away the $10 million first-place check for the FedEx Cup playoffs, but he needs to get himself in gear and be ready for next weekend in France.

Mickelson has two career goals remaining on the table. Win a U.S. Open. And win a Ryder Cup on foreign soil. While it won't be a career-crusher if he goes to Paris next week and lays an egg, he most certainly doesn't want to go there and stink it up as a captain's pick. You've let everyone down at that point, including the guy who went out on a limb and selected you.

Koepka's last place standing at the halfway point isn't very surprising. He doesn't actually like golf all that much. Or that's at least what he's said on numerous occasions over the last few years. When he's playing well, he stays engaged. When he isn't, he slides off the map.

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hooray for cleveland


This historically bad season of Orioles baseball has done something I previously thought was impossible.

It has -- wait for it -- made me feel good for Cleveland.

Actually, I'm not really anti-Cleveland, truth be known. I have a lot of great memories of Cleveland from my days in the soccer business. The Blast and Force had a fierce rivalry in the 1980's, followed by the Spirit and Crunch in the '90's.

I always looked at Cleveland a bit like I saw Pittsburgh. There's more of Baltimore in those two cities than we care to admit here in our neck of the woods.

But I've always followed along with the crowd when it came to not liking Cleveland in the years after the Ravens moved here. Understandably, the folks out there said some pretty nasty things about us when we stole the Browns. So it was just always easy to make Cleveland jokes and snicker at their bad football team when the occasion was appropriate.

Full disclosure though: I never really disliked Cleveland all that much.

Who needs Josh Gordon, especially when you're playing the Jets?

So, last night when the clock hit 00:00 and the Browns won a football game, I actually smiled. I felt good for players. I felt really good for Hue Jackson, who was always professional and nice to me when he was in Baltimore and I was on the radio covering the Ravens.

Most of all, though, I felt good for the fans.

For going on three years now, they've been paying major league prices and watching minor league football in Northeast Ohio.

You think it's bad to pay $120 to watch the Ravens while spending another $40 on parking and at least another $40 on food and drinks in the stadium? Try doing that when you know walking into the place that the home team is going to lose.

At least if you spend $200 this Sunday you have a pretty decent chance of seeing the Ravens beat the Broncos.

Those people showed up in Cleveland eight times a year and knew from jump street they were likely going to see a loss. The Browns won one game in 2016 and zero games in 2017. Try putting yourself through that kind of football season here in Baltimore. It's not for the faint of heart.

On a side note, I'm often confused when it comes to "feint of heart" and "faint of heart". Since faint of heart implies timidity, we're using "faint" today.

So having spent most of the last six months watching the Orioles play the worst baseball in franchise history, with little expectation that it's going to drastically improve in 2019 or 2020, I connected with those folks in Cleveland last night as the final whistle blew and the Baker-Mayfield-led 21-17 win was in the books.

They deserved to be ecstatic.

They deserved to be proud of the their team, the one that hadn't won a football game since December 24, 2016.

Heck, they even deserved free beer, which a lot of people got in Cleveland last night thanks to smart promotion by a local beer distributor.

I see a lot of Baltimore when I go to Cleveland.

Last night, I couldn't help but think that someday soon, we'll react to an Orioles win the same way those people reacted to their football team winning.

It might be a long, long time before the Orioles win a significant game again. When they do, we all have permission to go crazy like they did last night in Cleveland.

It's been a long time coming. They deserve it.

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from the desk of
brien jackson

BRIEN JACKSON's work at #DMD promises to provide some of Baltimore's best sports insight and commentary, brought to you by SECU, the official credit-union of Drew's Morning Dish. Brien has done sports-media work with ESPN, CBS, and NPR. His contributions to #DMD will focus on the Orioles, the Ravens, and national sports stories.



The Orioles have already set a franchise record for losses in a season, so it'd be understandable if you have checked out on the baseball season altogether.

If you haven't been paying attention, however, there's a lot of reasons to start paying attention again as the season winds to a close and we barrel towards the playoffs. Here are some general observations and passing thoughts as we play out the stretch an impatiently waiting for October.

-The National League Central is the most interesting division in baseball. The Cubs have the best record in the NL, and might end up as the senior circuit's only 90 win team, but as is popular to say, they sure don't feel like it. Meanwhile the Brewers have hung around all season after their off-season upgrades and the Cardinals are suddenly back in the mix after firing Mike Matheny, though they're too far back to have a realistic chance at winning the division. If you like old fashioned pennant races, that's what you want to watch.

-If that's not crazy enough, when you throw in the Dodgers and Rockies it's possible that the season will end with four teams all tied. In that case the Dodgers and Rockies would face off to determine the NL West championship, and BOTH wild card spots would be in flux. All before the actual postseason officially kicks off. Yes please.

Mike Trout of the Angels is having yet another outstanding season despite his team floundering around .500 for most of the campaign.

-The American League by contrast just needs Cleveland to finish the season 6-5 to have all 5 postseason teams boast 90 or more wins. That's impressive and yet so very boring by comparison.

-Speaking of the Indians, at 85-67 they're the AL's weakest division leader, worse than the two wild card teams, and even with the Rays. And yet boo other team in that divisions will finish above .500 and three of them have already lost 90 games. You know what's even more incredible? If the Indians can get everyone healthy they might be the strongest team in all of baseball in the postseason format. October is awesome!

-Want another reason why fans should want younger players to get paid more? If they were, you might actually get to watch Jacob deGrom pitch in the playoffs to cap off one of the greatest seasons a pitcher has had in recent history. The woeful Mets tried to shop him but, of course, contenders who needed starting pitching didn't want to give up prospects who are virtually certain to never be as good as deGrom. Why not? Because they'll be cheap for the majority of the next decade. That's an absolutely terrible reality for an industry that's supposed to be in the entertainment business.

-Mike Trout is so good at baseball it's going to be decades before we fully comprehend it. Watch him play as much as you can because you'll probably never see anyone else that good in your lifetime.

-How about one more reason that young players should get paid more? The Yankees are paying less than $12 million to Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, Didi Gregorious, Gary Sanchez, and Miguel Andujar *combined* this year. And Gregorious is making over $8 million of that figure.

-Speaking of the Yankees, my money is on them losing in the playoffs because Aaron Boone does something stupid, but good on Boone for turning a team that went to the ALCS last season and his working relationship with the media into a weirdly widespread view that he's done a good job of managing this season. Meanwhile with the Cardinals job gone, Joe Girardi's future is suddenly one of the more interesting off-season stories in a market loaded with stars.

-And finally if you haven't looked recently, Kevin Gausman is now 5-2 with a 2.80 ERA in 54.2 IP for the Braves. Weirdly enough his strikeout rate is down markedly and his walk rate is virtually identical to what it was in Baltimore. His hit rate is way down though, suggesting he was being hurt by the Orioles awful defense, and even more importantly he's cut his home run rate in half. And you can't just pin the turnaround on moving to the National League either. Using ERA+, which adjusts for park and league effects, Gausman was 4% worse than the average AL pitcher in Baltimore. In Atlanta he's 55% better than the average NL pitcher. That puts him on par with Colorado's Kyle Freeland, who's likely to finish 4th in Cy Young voting.

Gausman joins Jake Arrieta as a pitcher who went on to perform at a very high level after leaving Baltimore, as well as others who improved but didn't reach quite such a high standard. Maybe Dylan Bundy will be next. There's going to be a lot of arguments over Buck Showalter's future in Baltimore soon, but to me this should be the primary consideration in deciding whether or not he comes back.

Too many other staffs are fixing issues with these young pitcher's that Buck and his staff can't, and haven't been able to since he got here. That's been a huge drag on the team since 2012, really, and doesn't argue that Showalter's is the ideal candidate to lead a total rebuild going forward.

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watch and be amazed


Truth serum: I had never watched one episode of America's Got Talent until this season when I knew magician Shin Lim was scheduled to be on the show and I wanted to see how far along he could get.

I'm just not a TV show junkie anymore, so AGT wasn't on my radar until this season's edition.

But I love card tricks and magic, and Lim entered the season as America's #1 magician. He's even "defeated" Penn & Teller -- twice -- in a special show they do called "Fool Us!"

I assumed there was no way Lim would win the $1 million first place check for being the leading vote getter on AGT, but as the weeks wore on and he stayed alive -- and the tricks got better, which is almost impossible -- I started to think he might have a chance.

On Wednesday night, Lim won the one million dollars. Of all the singers, dancers, comics and anyone else who dared to appear on the show, it was a card-trick professional from Boston via Vancouver who got the most votes from the viewing audience.

Too bad we can't hire Lim to make 50 of the Orioles 108 losses disappear, huh?

The trick you'll see below was actually from Wednesday's final show, so it didn't factor in the voting at all. The votes were cast on Tuesday night and then all of the ten finalists returned for the announcement of the winner on Wednesday night.

I've watched the replay of this trick at least a dozen times and I can't for the life of me figure it out. That kid is truly performing "magic" right in front of us!



#DMD HD-TV


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lol at eric dickerson


In case you haven't heard, a contingent of NFL Hall of Fame members are threatening to boycott the very place where they're annually recognized for their football achievements.

Led by Eric Dickerson, the former players are demanding they receive lifetime health insurance and a yearly salary in exchange for showing up at the August Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and allowing the NFL and the Hall of Fame to use their name and likeness in marketing opportunities and events.

Yep. They're threatening to boycott the festivities every August if their demands aren't met. Pretty professional, huh?

Dickerson said on Wednesday that $300,000 per-player "seems about right" in terms of a yearly salary for the Hall of Fame members.

Talk about living on another planet...

For starters, all NFL players with more than three years qualify for the NFL's pension plan, which currently provides close to $80,000 in annual benefits. If a player is fortunate to accrue ten years of service, he receives an additional bonus that's delivered as an annuity in addition to his pension amount.

Dickerson thinks Hall of Fame members deserve more money and better benefits or he and those who signed an official letter to the NFL earlier this week say they won't show up in Canton next August.

Let 'em stay home, I say.

Former NFL running back Eric Dickerson is spearheading an effort to get NFL Hall of Fame members both lifetime health insurance and a yearly salary in exchange for participating in Hall of Fame events each August.

Dickerson and the HOF'ers fall back, of course, on the easiest claim of all. "The NFL makes more than enough money these days. They should give it to the guys who helped make all of this possible."

The slippery slope that Dickerson fails to realize is the obvious one: Every player who steps on the field is part of "paving the way" for the success of future players. It's not just about Hall of Fame football players.

And while it's true that the Hall of Fame has prospered financially off of all of their inductees, the reality is this: 90% of the business the Hall does each year stems from new members being inducted. It might even be more like 95%.

In other words, if the induction ceremony was privately held in, say, June, and then the Hall of Fame had a "celebration weekend" in August where all the players showed up in their gold jackets and meandered around a bunch of banquet halls meeting and greeting football fans, no fans would bother going.

When's the last time you went to the internet to see how you could meet Joe Namath, John Elway or Michael Irvin?

But you'll consider going next year to see Ed Reed get inducted.

The Hall of Fame is only an attraction now, as in, when your team has a former player who is getting inducted.

If you're a Ravens fan, are you going to spend $1,500 to go see Ben Roethlisberger get inducted in 2025? Of course not.

No one cares all that much about Eric Dickerson, Carl Eller, Jerry Rice or any of those others who signed off on the letter this week. If you went to a Hall of Fame event back in August when Ray Lewis was inducted and Eric Dickerson wasn't there, would you care at all? No, you wouldn't.

There's something to be said for players having some sort of access to league-provided health insurance, but it certainly shouldn't be extended to them free of charge for the rest of their life.

Name a business that provides former employees with a lifetime health insurance package at no cost to them.

I'll wait...

The NFL has a lot of money. That is true. But the players also have to realize they're not the only ones who helped fill the coffers. There have been some extraordinarily talented marketing and sales people who have cut a number of mammoth media and promotional deals over the last 20 years that have helped get the owners to the point where they can afford a salary cap of $170 million a year.

Sure, the players are the show.

But they're just a piece of the puzzle.

And there's no way Hall of Fame players deserve a bigger slice of the money pie -- now -- just because at one point years ago they happened to be among the best to ever play the game.

Oh, here's the real message to pass along to Dickerson and those who signed the letter with him: If they do boycott the 2019 ceremony, the show will still go on and no one will care at all about their absence.

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it's dechambeau's $10 million to lose


The final event of the 2017-2018 PGA Tour season kicks off today in Atlanta, where 30 players battle for a $10 million FedEx Cup Playoffs check in addition to the $1.6 million first-place money.

One tournament...$11.6 million at stake. Sounds like a good four days of work to me.

Bryson DeChambeau is the points leader heading into this week's final PGA Tour event of the season at East Lake GC in Atlanta.

Bryson DeChambeau leads the point standings and has a variety of ways he can bring home the $10 million for winning the season long FedEx Cup. He's most certainly in the driver's seat. Everyone else looking to win the big money needs help. Some guys, like Patton Kizzire, who comes in at #30, need lots and lots of crazy things to happen in order to win the big prize.

Tiger Woods comes into the event looking for his first win of the season. Woods is currently 20th on the points list, so it would take a long list of things to happen for Tiger to capture the FedEx Cup and the $10 million, but it has happened before. Bill Haas was at #25 on the points list when he showed up at East Lake GC in Atlanta back in 2011, but his victory and a slew of others above him played poorly enough that Haas was able to win the $10 million prize with a victory in the Tour Championship.

I think Woods has a great chance to win the event this week but I don't see any way he climbs past 19 others to win the $10 million.

For kicks and giggles, I'd wager on DeChambeau to come out on top. He's won two of the three playoff events thus far and is in great form heading into this week's season finale.

After this week's tournament, the American team playing in the Ryder Cup hops on a plane and heads to Paris for next week's big clash against the European side. While there's no prize money at stake next week, the golf played in France will yield far more from a historical perspective than anything we'll see in Atlanta.

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"The Keen Eye" of David Rosenfeld

DAVID ROSENFELD is a former sports publicist who still keeps his eye on the game. Looking at the game, the news or the players on an in-depth level is what he likes to do. Follow his work here at #DMD every Monday & Thursday, brought to you by Glory Days Grill.


I don’t remember wanting to be anything when I grew up—firefighter, race car driver, astronaut, doctor, President. None of that.

Except for one thing. I wanted to be a placekicker.

Obsessions weren’t my thing, then or now, but I came close with kicking. Remember the black one-inch kicking block for extra points and field goals, outlawed in NCAA football in 1989? I had one of those. Of course, I had the two-inch orange kickoff tee that’s still ubiquitous today.

I practiced all the time, using the goalposts at the schoolyard or in my backyard, with a huge oak tree serving as the goalposts. On a visit to the last training camp of the Baltimore Colts, at Goucher College in 1983, I spent the whole time next to one of the side fields watching Raul Allegre, the kicker, and Rohn Stark, the punter.

There was only one problem — I just wasn’t very good at it. I didn’t have the strength. I never played soccer, where I might have developed my skills at—you know—kicking a ball. In retrospect, the idea that I might have been calm with 11 bigger guys rushing at me is sort of comical.

In the world of real kickers, a lot has changed since the days of Allegre. These guys aren’t just specialists; they’re special talents. They’re strong, incredibly accurate and possess technique groomed by years of instruction and repetition.

So much is expected of NFL kickers, in fact, that they can’t have more than a couple slip-ups or they’re gone.

The Ravens' Justin Tucker is currently the most accurate kicker in NFL history.

We’ve already lost two of them after the first two weeks of the year: the Vikings’ Daniel Carlson, who missed one field goal in regulation and two in overtime against the Packers, and the Browns’ Zane Gonzalez, who missed both an extra point and a field goal late in regulation against the Saints and had a potential overtime game-winner against Pittsburgh blocked.

It makes sense, I suppose. It’s a kicker-eat-kicker world out there. Still — and maybe it’s the old (wannabe) kicker in me — it’s painful how little respect these guys get.

Yes, it’s ok to be mad at the kicker. No, it’s not really ok to treat the kicker as if he’s incompetent when you’d never do the same for any other player on the team.

The Vikings’ head coach, Mike Zimmer, had the following exchange with a reporter earlier this week. In part due to Carlson’s misses last Sunday, Minnesota and Green Bay played to a 29-29 tie.

Q: What went into the decision to let Carlson go?

A: Did you see the game?

Q: Was it an easy decision?

A: Yep, it was pretty easy.

Fine, Zimmer got right to the point, I guess. Next question. On to Buffalo. Still, would a coach have talked about any other player in that way?

The opposing tight end runs free for the game-winning score. “We missed an assignment there. Gotta look at the film and clean that up.”

The stud rush end swim moves the left tackle and strips the quarterback; they can kneel on it after you were driving for the game-winning score. “Great play by him. That’s why he’s a Pro Bowler. You just hope that doesn’t happen in that situation.”

The so-so quarterback makes bad play after bad play, one misread after another. Sure, I get it — quarterbacks just don’t get released immediately. Still, I can hear the coach. “I like our quarterback room. Our guys are excited to play with whomever our starter is.”

When the kicker misses an uncertain number of times, in certain situations, it’s his fault and he’s on thin ice. In those other situations, that’s everyone’s fault. Or it’s nobody’s fault, just a play that somebody made or didn’t make.

Even in 2018, kickers get no respect. They get no benefit of the doubt. Rookie or inexperienced kickers get no time to get more comfortable in their roles. Some of that is the nature of their jobs, but some of it is the fact that nobody thinks their job is worthy of respect to begin with.

The Vikings traded two draft picks to move up to the fifth round to pick Carlson, from Auburn. Sure, fifth-round guys are no guarantees to make rosters, but I have no doubt that Mike Zimmer had no interest in his team making that pick. I mean, did you see the game?

We have analytics staffs, nutritional coordinators, and more quality control coaches than should be humanly possible, but nothing’s changed with the kicker. He’s not treated as a football player.

The Ravens, of course, have the most accurate kicker in NFL history on their roster. Justin Tucker is currently the only kicker in NFL history to have made more than 90 percent of his field goal attempts. Since 2014, inside 50 yards, Tucker has missed three times in 116 attempts. He’s never missed an extra point. In 2016, he made all 10 of his attempts from outside 50 yards.

When Tucker was still kicking in college at Texas, the Ravens had a kicking problem. After serving as the team’s long-range kicker and kickoff specialist the year before, Steven Hauschka took over the full-time duties in 2009.

Hauschka, unfortunately, didn’t make it through the entire 2009 season in Baltimore. He was released in November, the day after he missed an extra point in a win at Cleveland. A few weeks earlier, in Minnesota, his 44-yard miss on the final play let the Vikings escape with a 33-31 win, a game in which the Ravens had come back from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit.

Why does Steven Hauschka in 2009 matter? Because in 2018, Steven Hauschka is still playing, unfortunately (for him) in Buffalo.

In Seattle, where he spent most of his career, they started calling him “Hausch Money.” On that list of career leaders that Tucker heads, you don’t have to look too far down the list to find Hauschka. He’s fourth, with a success rate of better than 87%.

Interestingly, Ozzie Newsome predicted Hauschka’s eventual professional success. On the day he was released, Newsome said in a statement that “while we need better right now, we do believe Steve will kick successfully in the league eventually.”

Maybe Newsome said that because he meant it. Maybe he said it because, unlike Carlson, Hauschka wasn’t a draft pick, just a former Division III kicker picked up off the waiver wire.

What Newsome couldn’t have known? Two years later, almost to the day, Hauschka would make all five of his field goal attempts for the Seahawks in an upset win over the Ravens.

It’s possible that neither Zane Gonzalez nor Daniel Carlson will become successful kickers in the NFL. It’s probable that, as young as they are with the college pedigrees they have, they’ll both get chances with other teams. The question for them, and others like them, is if they’ll ever be judged by anything but the plays they didn’t make.

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mullins and "nothing"


You're a tough group, I'll say that.

Wednesday's #DMD poll asked you to choose "the best thing about the Orioles 2018 season".

The Orioles appear to be in good hands next season with Cedric Mullins in centerfield.

I know...that's a loaded question. They are, after last night's win, 44-108 with 10 games remaining. There's not much good that can come out of that.

In fact, 38% of selected "Nothing" as your answer to the question. That answer turned out to be the leading vote-getter.

"The arrival and play of Cedric Mullins" was the second place finisher with 33% of the vote. While Mullins hasn't in any way eased the pain of this terrible season, he at least gives you comfort that the centerfield spot won't be up for grabs next spring in Sarasota.

"Jonathan Villar", acquired from the Brewers at the deadline, came in at 12%.

"The second half emergence of Alex Cobb" garnered 9%.

And the "deadline deals for minor league prospects" was an 8% vote getter.

Seems about right to me. I voted for Jonathan Villar, if you want to know, but I definitely understand the voting results. There's not much to get excited about from the 2018 campaign.

Wednesday
September 19
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issue 19
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the worst...ever


Right around the same time magician Shin Lim was making a handful of playing cards disappear before our eyes on the TV show America's Got Talent last night, the Orioles were making an early four-run lead vanish at Camden Yards en-route to a 6-4 loss to the Blue Jays.

For his efforts, Lin might wind up winning a one million dollar prize. With that loss, the 2018 Orioles are now, officially, the worst team in franchise history.

Inevitable met reality last night in Baltimore.

We've known this was going to be the Orioles' fate since the All-Star break. It would have taken a mammoth change in fortune and performance for this Orioles team to not lose at least 108 games and surpass the 1988 edition that went 55-107.

But it still stung to see that final out last night -- a Corban Joseph groundout for those who care about such historical facts -- and know that the 2018 version of the Orioles is the worst team the organization has ever put on the field.

No one likes to lose. No one likes to endure a long, losing season. But this, in 2018, is historical in nature. It's the first time since the team originated back in 1954 that they've lost this much.

Dylan Bundy became the first Orioles starter to reach the 7th inning since August 25th last night, but it all fell apart in that inning as the Blue Jays won, 6-4.

To put this year's record into its proper perspective, remember this: The 1988 Orioles started the season 0-21. They went 55-86 thereafter which, while not all that good, was a far better winning percentage than what the O's will produce in all of 2018.

This year's team now sits at 43-108. They have eleven games remaining, with only one obvious goal left in front of them. They need to figure out a way to win at least seven more games and not end the season with 40-something wins.

The Birds finish up the campaign with one more home game tonight against Toronto, then three road games in Boston and New York, and a four-game home series with Houston.

They have to go 7-4 in those 11 games to finish at 50-112. I'm thinking the same thing you're thinking, presumably. "Ain't gonna happen..."

Over the last two nights, a couple of thousand hearty souls braved warm, damp conditions to go down to Camden Yards and watch the Orioles lose. To their credit, the organization did those folks a solid by allowing them to move down to the lower deck and watch the torture up close and personal.

Maybe they should have stayed in the upper deck...it wouldn't have looked so awful from up there.

To dissect what's happened to this year's team would take a week's worth of #DMD. Yes, they essentially threw in the towel in late July when they shipped off Machado, Gausman, Schoop and Brach, but the team wasn't going anywhere before those deadline deals were made. Without those trades would the team currently be 43-108? Probably not. But they wouldn't be a whole lot better, either.

There are some in the organization who think the derailment began way back in October of 2016 when the O's lost that playoff heartbreaker to the Blue Jays. More than one player has whispered that the locker room lost faith in Buck Showalter that night after he bungled the Zach Britton game-entry decision. Others cite the team's refusal to make long-term offers to the likes of Machado and Schoop as indicators that the front office had no real direction.

Believe it or not, there's even a story circulating about Mark Trumbo demanding the front office make Adam Jones stop his post-game "pie in the face" ritual late last season. Some players have even pointed to that moment -- when Jones was told by a front office exec to stop doing it -- as the start of the team's downfall, saying Trumbo violated an important locker room rule by going above the players and the manager.

Oh, and the talent on the field wasn't very good to start the 2018 campaign. They brought three Rule 5 players with them to Baltimore to start the season. Pedro Alvarez, a journeyman with almost no value league-wide, was the team's opening day left-handed power bat. At Manny Machado's insistence, Tim Beckham became a third baseman. Or tried to become one, I should say. That experiment was a complete flop. Not only was Machado merely good-but-not-great at shortstop, but Beckham was terrible at third base.

Schoop, Trumbo and Davis all stunk it up in the first three months of the season. The Oriole catchers couldn't hit for squat, no matter who was back there on any given day. And the two critical off-season additions -- Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner -- both labored through April, May and June.

That about sums it up, although there's much more detail to it all that can't be covered in just one recap.

Nothing went right. Nothing.

Someone asked me on Tuesday what I thought the most positive thing about the Orioles has been in 2018.

I consider myself as ardent a fan of the team as anyone. And I couldn't come up with an answer for that.

With a little more time to consider that question, I suppose I might say that Jonathan Villar looks like a keeper at second base and Cedric Mullins, in a very brief amount of time, has displayed some promising talent both at the plate and in centerfield.

Oh, and Trey Mancini turned around a fairly pedestrian first half of the season to actually put up pretty decent overall numbers in 2018.

But overall, there hasn't been a whole lot of "promise" this season.

If all of those trade deadline deals yield the quality we hope they do, maybe we'll see the fruits of this "labor" in 2020, 2021 and so on. I heard well-known Orioles fan Roy Firestone say this week he thinks the team might be seven or eight years away from competing for a playoff spot. I sure hope it doesn't take that long, but nothing would surprise me.

The first order of business in a few weeks will be for the Orioles to disclose what most of us already know. Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette will not be returning in 2019. Once those dominoes fall, the rebuilding plan can start taking shape.

Who's going to manage this outfit next year? That's anyone's guess.

Who will run the club's baseball operation? We assume it's going to be Brady Anderson, but remember, this is the Orioles we're talking about. There's no telling what they're thinking.

I'll leave you with some good news. Remember you heard it here first. There's no way next year's team will have a worse record than this year's team. I mean, they could. But they won't. Things will, slowly, slowly, slowly, start to get better.

We'll give you a chance to answer that same question I was confronted with yesterday. Good luck...


 Drew's Morning Dish

#DMD Poll

Question: What should the Ravens do about their suspect running attack?
Trade for LeSean McCoy
Trade for any running back but McCoy
Involve Buck Allen more
Involve Alex Collins more
Just throw the ball 50 times a game
Name
Email address

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and the biggest "pretender" is...


#DMD apparently believes in the Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals.

But not the Miami Dolphins.

The Dolphins -- with wins over Tennessee and the Jets thus far -- were the run-away winners in our reader's poll yesterday. We asked you to pick the biggest "pretender" out of the following 2-0 teams: Cincinnati, Miami, Kansas City, Denver and Tampa Bay.

Miami was the easy pick.

The Dolphins received 56% of the vote.

Tampa Bay received 22%.

Denver received 20%.

Cincinnati received 2%.

Not one person out there voted for Kansas City. Their road wins over the L.A. Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers must have convinced everyone they're not a pretender.

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from the desk of
brien jackson

BRIEN JACKSON's work at #DMD promises to provide some of Baltimore's best sports insight and commentary, brought to you by SECU, the official credit-union of Drew's Morning Dish. Brien has done sports-media work with ESPN, CBS, and NPR. His contributions to #DMD will focus on the Orioles, the Ravens, and national sports stories.



The Cleveland Indians entered play Tuesday night at 83-66 and just this week clinched their third straight AL Central title. They're the first team to do that this season, and as of this writing only the 103 win Red Sox have a magic number of less than 6 to claim their division crown.

The Tampa Bay Rays were also 83-66 when they took the field on Tuesday, but they're not even really in the playoff picture.

Despite having as many wins as 3 division leading teams and the National League's current second wild card leader, the Rays are nowhere near the Red Sox and Yankees, and also sit 7 wins behind Oakland for a wild card berth.

There is perhaps something to be said about the fairness of divisional play in that fact, but for now I simply want to focus on what an achievement that is in its own right. To be 17 games above.500 in September is always an achievement in it's own right but it's extra impressive for Tampa Bay because, to employ a cliche, no one expected them to be anywhere near this good.

Not only were they expected to lose more games than they won, they were held up as a poster child of the scourge that is tanking. Yes, a whole bunch of experts thought the Rays were deliberately trying to lose as many games as possible to get the number one pick, and increase the owner's profits in the process.

So how did the Rays do the unexpected? Well they've got players who were better than a lot of us realized in March, obviously. More notably they've deployed every on field strategic advantage they can find. That includes the controversial practice of "bullpenning" or using an "opener," in which the Rays use a reliever at the beginning of the game to exploit matchups and then either work through a planned bullpygame or bring in the guy who is supposed to be the traditional starting pitcher after the first inning.

The odds-on favorite to win the A.L. Cy Young award, Blake Snell is a big reason why the Tampa Bay Rays are on the upswing.

The opener debuted when the Rays had Sergio Romo start a game against the Angels, then brought the scheduled starter in in the second inning. By doing that they let the "starter" get his innings in without having to face the dangerous right-handed batters at the top of the Angels' order three times, and made sure that the righty specialist Romo faced that segment of hitters in one turn through the lineup.

The Rays aren't doing this in every game by any means, and they're still using their good starters in traditional fashion. Cy Young candidate Blake Snell, for example, hasn't entered a single one of his 28 games in relief. Neither did Chris Archer before he was traded to Pittsburgh, nor Tyler Glasnow, who the Ray's got in return for Archer and actually converted into a regular starter. After pitching 34 games in relief for the Pirates Glasnow has thrown 44.1 innings over 9 starts for Tampa Bay.

But they have been using it to help out their weaker starting options, and it has been quite successful. It's also been quite controversial. There are A LOT of people who openly don't like what the Rays are doing, no matter how well it's working, for a variety of reasons.

Perhaps the most honest of the bunch is NBC's Craig Calcaterra, who just flat out admits that he dislikes it from an asthetic standpoint and doesn't find bullpenning to be entertaining baseball.

I don't agree with that.

I think it's absolutely fascinating that after over a century of playing the game, a team can be so much better than expected in large part because they used a strategy no one ever thought of before, and that that makes a 162 game season played by 30 teams far more entertaining. But I respect Calcaterra's stance, and wouldn't argue that it's wrong. If something doesn't entertain you, then it doesn't entertain you!

I can't say the same for Calcaterra's NBC colleague Bill Baer, who dislikes bullpenning because of its labor implications.

Baer isn't the only one who has floated this theory, which posits that because starting pitcher's make more money than relievers in arbitration, by having starters enter a game in "relief," the Rays are suppressing their arbitration salaries. Not to put too fine of a point on it: This is the silliest thing I've ever read about labor issues from someone taking the pro-player side.

Arbitration isn't a computer program you plug factors into and have a number spit out, if you have a hearing then the player's agent argues his case in front of human decision makers. If the union can't ensure that their arbitrators are buffaloed by such an absurd argument, then the players deserve to lose money over it.

But silly as it might be, it's part of a line of silly arguments that a lot of baseball writers who think of themselves as pro-labor have been making since the off-season. Tanking was one, and that hasn't really worked out so well. In addition to the Rays, the Pirates are just above.500 after they were supposed y losing on purpose and, as previously mentioned, they acquired Archer at the trade deadline in an attempt to make the postseason.

Meanwhile the worst team in baseball is the one who signed two of the top free agent starting pitchers. Speaking of free agents, remember when we were casually throwing around accusations of collusion because someone like Alex Cobb suddenly couldn't get a $100 million contract? Well don't look now but it's almost October and nearly all of the guys who were inexplicably not getting offers havent been all that good this year.

What a mystery!

Then there's the idea that a team's interest in winning isn't served by delaying the free agency of a player like Vlad Guerrero Jr. and the only reason to hold him down is lower payroll costs.

The problem is that, in addition to being wrong (and wrong headed) all of these ideas flow from one dangerously incorrect premise: That the Major League Baseball Players Association bears no responsibility for any of this, and can't be expected to have to do anything to fix it or otherwise show agency in any way.

And I do mean that this is a dangerous viewpoint to adopt. There are a lot of problems here that need to be addressed for the betterment of the game and to the best interests of everyone, fans included. Fans want to see great young players in the big leagues, not Triple-A, and the union should care about that too and THEY should be taking a leading role in changing the rules to disincentivize keeping top prospects in the minor leagues for longer than necessary.

But to do that, they need to understand their own role in creating the same problems in the first place!

It's far from clear that Tony Clark or anyone around him understands that, and it's not even clear that they care about it. The union is still dominated by veterans, and as such they're still entirely focused on free agent salaries.

If you actually care about changing the landscape in baseball for the better, you need to call the union out for that and demand they do a better job!

Constantly making excuses for them, denying the ways in which their own eagerness to screw over young players, especially top prospects, has helped to create the current problems, and acting as though they have no agency to fix anything isn't making anything better and isn't helpful to anyone.

Least of all the players themselves.

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Tuesday
September 18
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issue 18
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suspend this goof


Last Friday night in Atlanta, a scene took place that needs to be handled immediately by Major League Baseball.

They likely won't do anything, of course, but that's par for the course when it comes to umpire protection.

Laz Diaz, a veteran major league ump, got into a spat with Bryce Harper of the Nationals. Harper wasn't pleased with a strike call early in Friday's game and the two had an on-going battle of sorts through the first few innings.

Then, in the 5th inning, with Harper some 80 yards away out in centerfield, Diaz continued their beef by stopping the game and admonishing Harper because the Nationals star was "making gestures and acting out" after calls Diaz was making at home plate.

"Making gestures and acting out", Diaz said afterwards, as if that was his biggest concern calling balls and strikes. Really? That's where you're mind is when you're behind the plate umpiring in a major league game, one that had possible playoff implications for at least one of the teams?

Baseball umpires have to be the biggest babies in all of sports.

They apparently can never be wrong, never be challenged and never even be a smidgen out of line with their overreactions to bad or missed calls.

Here's the video of what happened on Friday night in Atlanta.



#DMD HD-TV


Kudos to Nationals' manager Dave Martinez for calling it exactly right. "The game's right here," Martinez said and gestured to Diaz, telling him, essentially, to pay attention to what's going on at his station...home plate.

These thin-skinned umpires are dopes.

It's important to keep in mind that most of them do a terrific job night in and night out on what might be one of the hardest professional officiating circuits in the country. Even Diaz is a well-liked umpire, although he definitely needs a class in how to handle criticism.

But they're far from perfect. And the players, too, are far from perfect. Given those two spectrums, both parties need to understand that mistakes are made and the other should have a little wiggle room when it comes to showing their frustration.

Players get none of that wiggle room. If they as much as look the wrong way after a close call, they get yelled at for "showing me up", a favorite term of officials everywhere.

Diaz should be suspended by major league baseball, if for no other reason than to remind others in his profession that the game is at their station, not 80 yards away in centerfield because someone looks like they might be making gestures and acting out after you miss another call.

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pretenders and contenders


Let's jump to a bunch of conclusions after just two weeks of the NFL season.

That's always fun, right?

We'll do this every few weeks and see if anyone's status changes from one to the other.

Dallas Cowboys -- PRETENDER. They can't finish .500. But they might not finish last in the NFC East.

Washington Redskins -- CONTENDER. I thought the Redskins were going to be terrible. I might be wrong on that. Alex Smith makes them a little bit legit.

NY Giants -- PRETENDER. Have to be better than Dallas, although they weren't on Sunday night.

Philadelphia Eagles -- CONTENDER. They'll be there when the dust settles in late December.

Green Bay Packers -- CONTENDER. Could be 2-0, could be 0-2. Instead, they're 1-0-1, which is probably fair.

Minnesota Vikings -- CONTENDER. I picked them to win the Super Bowl, so I'm partial to them, of course. But they're definitely for real.

Detroit Lions -- PRETENDER. It's looking like a tough year in Detroit.

Are Pat Mahomes and the 2-0 Chiefs a contender or pretender?

Chicago Bears -- CONTENDER. Maybe Khalil Mack does make that much difference, huh?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- PRETENDER. I'm not buying it yet. Sorry. Two nice wins, yes, but they'll be .500 by mid-season.

Atlanta Falcons -- PRETENDER. I thought they were going to be really good. I'm not so sure anymore.

New Orleans Saints -- CONTENDER. They're off to a sluggish start, but they'll figure it out.

Los Angeles Rams -- CONTENDER. Might be the best team in the NFC this season. Easy schedule so far, but they're crushing people.

San Francisco 49'ers -- PRETENDER. I thought these guys were going to be good. I'm not so sure now.

Arizona Cardinals -- PRETENDER. Can't win five games.

Seattle Seahawks -- PRETENDER. I know it's two road losses to start the season, but they don't look right.

New England Patriots -- CONTENDER. Don't let the Jacksonville loss fool you. They're still the team to beat in the AFC.

New York Jets -- PRETENDER. Last Monday in Detroit was an aberration. They're no good.

Miami Dolphins -- CONTENDER. They "only" beat Tennessee and the Jets, yes, but there's something about them that seems impressive.

Buffalo Bills -- PRETENDER. Might not win a game.

Kansas City Chiefs -- CONTENDER. I can't see them winning big games in January with that defense but between now and then they are going to score a lot of points if nothing else.

Denver Broncos -- PRETENDER. Let's see what happens this Sunday when they play in Baltimore. Two home wins doesn't automatically mean they're a contender, in my mind.

Oakland Raiders -- PRETENDER. They're probably better than they've looked thus far, but it's going to be a long four months in Oakland.

Los Angeles Chargers -- CONTENDER. Getting thumped by KC in their home opener might have been just the tonic they needed.

Tennessee Titans -- PRETENDER. Can't duplicate last year's success, unfortunately. Hard pressed to win eight games.

Houston Texans -- CONTENDER. I'll buy stock in the Texans even though they didn't look very good in the loss to Tennessee on Sunday. I could be wrong on this one. But something tells me they'll turn it around.

Indianapolis Colts -- CONTENDER. Their division is fairly soft. If something happens to the Jaguars, the Colts can finish 9-7 and host a home playoff game in January.

Jacksonville Jaguars -- CONTENDER. Only a significant injury or two can keep them from winning the division. Might be a 12-win team.

Cincinnati Bengals -- CONTENDER. If Joe Mixon is able to come back and he's healthy for the rest of the season, Cincy has a real chance to win the division.

Pittsburgh Steelers -- PRETENDER. Too much turmoil, a flimsy defense, and just time for a role reversal for our friends up in Pittsburgh. Welcome to 8-7-1. Or 7-8-1.

Cleveland Browns -- PRETENDER. Better than they were a year ago, but they almost had to be, right? They'll beat some teams this season.

Baltimore Ravens -- CONTENDER. That first win against Buffalo gave everyone a false sense of security, but the Ravens aren't going to give up 21 points in the first quarter again in 2018. They'll be there in late December fighting for the division title.


 Drew's Morning Dish

#DMD Poll

Question: What should the Ravens do about their suspect running attack?
Trade for LeSean McCoy
Trade for any running back but McCoy
Involve Buck Allen more
Involve Alex Collins more
Just throw the ball 50 times a game
Name
Email address

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still nothing from the o's


As far as I can tell, the Orioles haven't developed any sort of Adam Jones-specific event for the final home series against Houston the weekend of September 28-29-30.

The clock is ticking.

I wrote about this a few weeks ago, then followed up early last week, saying the same thing on both occasions: "We're not hearing anything yet..."

They're finishing up a 9-game homestand tonight and tomorrow...wouldn't it have been smart to announce a Jones-related appreciation game before that homestand so they could promote it over the last week and a half?

Maybe they aren't promoting it because the idea doesn't exist.

There are lots of rumors and whispers floating around about the current status of the relationship between Jones and the team.

Are the Orioles really going to let the Baltimore career of Adam Jones expire wtihout a proper "Apprecation Game"?

It might be -- to borrow a well-known term these days -- fake news or it might be legit, but there's a thought that perhaps the Orioles are "sticking" it to Jones as a payback-of-sorts for his refusal to accept a trade deadline deal to Philadelphia.

I personally don't believe that, but I'll at least admit the way the Orioles have handled Jones' playing time over the last six weeks is puzzling.

But they're the Orioles -- they have a master's degree in puzzling.

We're still back to the original issue though, and it's not going away in the next ten days. The Orioles need to have some sort of special night of appreciation for Jones when the Astros are in town for the season's final series.

I'll qualify that by saying the same thing I've said over the last few weeks anytime I've brought the subject up here at #DMD. If the Orioles asked Jones if he'd be OK with "Adam Jones Appreciation Day/Night" and he said "no", then I can understand if it doesn't happen.

But other than that, the Orioles better honor Jones in a big way during that final series.

Maybe they're already planning something for that final weekend and they just haven't announced it yet. Fair enough...but people have to get their schedules together, you know? It would be good to hear something from the Orioles about their plans to celebrate the Orioles career of Adam Jones.

He deserves it.

Sure, at some point down the road he'll be an Orioles Hall of Fame member and might have some other form of recognition in/around the ballpark, but that shouldn't be considered right now, in 2018, when the organization is trying to determine if they should recognize him next weekend.

The fans need the opportunity to come out to the ballpark and show Jones the gratitude they have for him.

I get nervous any time the Orioles are asked to do the right thing, because their track record in that department isn't spectacular.

Honoring Adam Jones falls under the category of "the right thing".

I sure hope the Orioles don't foul this up.

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Monday
September 17
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issue 17
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two weeks in...and it's already crazy


The NFL has its warts but one thing is certain: It's the most unpredictable sports league there is, by ten lengths.

Some of that is by design, I suppose, and some of it comes from the rules and the calls that we see every week. But the only thing consistent about the league is the inconsistency. You can't figure out the NFL.

The Browns coulda, shoulda, woulda be 2-0, with wins over Pittsburgh and New Orleans that, instead, turned into a tie and a loss. OK, so some things do remain the same in the NFL. The Browns can't beat anyone. Not yet, anyway.

Kansas City has surrendered 65 points in two games thus far. But they're 2-0 and looking like a team to reckon with in the AFC West if they can just figure out a way to stop the other team from scoring. Pat Mahomes threw six touchdowns against the Steelers yesterday, giving him 10 in two weeks of action, the most anyone has ever thrown after just a pair of games.

Indianapolis lost at home in week one, then won on the road in week two. They beat a team, the Redskins, who won on the road in week one, then came home and lost seven days later.

The same formula sticks to the Jets, who beat the Lions in Detroit on Monday night, then laid an egg at home against the Dolphins yesterday.

Despite putting up 37 points vs. Kansas City on Sunday, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers dropped their home opener to the Chiefs, 42-37.

Tampa Bay is 2-0 with a road win at New Orleans and a home victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles yesterday. And Ryan Fitzpatrick is the MVP of the 2018 season thus far.

Can I stop now?

The league is completely nuts.

But there's more to it than just the games.

Green Bay had a win stolen from them yesterday because of a horrible roughing-the-passer call late in the 4th quarter. The same thing happened to Clay Matthews last Sunday night, too, except his late hit on Chicago QB Mitch Trubisky was actually a good call. Yesterday's call was awful.

Maybe Matthews is targeted by the league because of his reckless style of play, but that call on the interception that sealed the game (momentarily) for the Packers was one that makes the NFL look bad.

They are getting some things, right by the way. For the second straight week, a player was rightfully ejected for a hit to the helmet. But for every correct call they make, along comes another awful call that impacts the outcome of a game.

And fans continue to show their apathy for the NFL product by staying away. Empty seats galore were seen in Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, and Washington, where the Redskins drew just 57,000 to their home opener. Remember when the Redskins had a 30-year waiting list for tickets and you had to marry into a D.C. family just to have a chance at a seat? Well.....those days are long gone. The team was advertising on Twitter last week looking for ticket buyers to Sunday's game with Indianapolis.

There might still be a smidgen of push-back from last year's kneeling debate, but I don't see or feel much of that any longer. Oh, sure, it's always a bubbling issue that can boil over on any given Sunday if a handful of grandstanders decide to push their agenda again, but for the most part I think people aren't holding that grudge this season.

There's just a general malaise concerning the NFL that seems to have blanketed the country. Yes, I know all about the TV ratings and how they're still "really good". They're also "really down", too. Whether it's the kneeling, the officiating, the rules or the occasionally lackluster level of play, less people appear glued into the NFL like they were, say, five years ago.

I love sports. I'd say I really like the NFL. I watched the first series of last night's Cowboys-Giants game. I was football'd out by 8:30 pm. But that's just me. You might have locked into that one until the final whistle from Dallas.

I did watch bits and pieces of the Pittsburgh-K.C. game and the Minnesota-Green Bay game. There were lots of points scored and plenty of drama, which made for interesting viewing. But in both games, the referees were involved in potentially impacting the outcome, although it wound up not hurting the Chiefs in the end.

I have a friend who is convinced the NFL is orchestrated. He's not a newcomer to the party, either. He's been saying that for three or four years now. He believes the referees are assigned to games with cause and reason and believes it's their job to make sure "certain things happen" during the game.

I constantly laugh at him when he brings up this subject. I tell him he's nuts.

He sent me a text after the Green Bay-Minnesota game that said: "You can tell the league wants Minnesota to win this year."

I didn't know what to say to that one, but for once, just once, I caved in a little bit: "Maybe you're not as crazy as I think you are!" I texted back.

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you could be $2,000 ahead right now!


Just think, if you would have wagered $1,000 per-game on my ten picks so far this season, you'd be ahead $2,000! Yes, yes, I know, there's the 10% juice and all...just keep it simple and take your $2,000.

Thanks to a late collapse by the 49'ers, I "only" went 3-2 yesterday, matching my record from week #1 in "Show Me The Money".

But a win is a win is a win and I'm now 6-4 to start the season, although the Jets did ruin my perfect record in "Best Bet of The Day" when they lost at home to the Dolphins.

I won on the Chiefs (+6.5), the Rams (-13.0) and the Raiders (+6.0) and lost on the Jets and 49er's.

I'm also 2-0 thus far on the Ravens, as I had them covering against Buffalo in week #1 and failing to cover in week #2 at Cincy. And did I see that right last night...the Ravens are 5.5 point favorites over the Broncos on Sunday? Wow. They're dying for you to take Denver, huh?

Just for kicks, although not official, here's a freebie for tonight's Monday Night thriller. Take the Seahawks (+4.5), although I see Chicago winning a squeaker, 24-21.

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"The Keen Eye" of David Rosenfeld

DAVID ROSENFELD is a former sports publicist who still keeps his eye on the game. Looking at the game, the news or the players on an in-depth level is what he likes to do. Follow his work here at #DMD every Monday & Thursday, brought to you by Glory Days Grill.


afc north edition


Who?

A.J. Green

The Bengals’ wide receiver, who just turned 30, is a seven-time Pro Bowler. Much has been said about his performances against the Ravens, and how they’ve gone a long way toward those Pro Bowl appearances. Is that really true, though? Has Green truly been that much of a thorn in Baltimore’s side?

Green has played in 11 games against the Ravens. Of those, only four would truly qualify as big-time performances, and Thursday’s game does only because three of his five catches were for scores. I get it. Three touchdowns is a big deal. But...

In the last four games between the two teams, Green has caught a total of 16 passes, for an average of about 12 yards per reception. Whether it’s been injury, attention paid by the Ravens or something else, he hasn’t been as dynamic recently against Baltimore.

Green has played in 13 games against the Steelers. Like he has against the Ravens, he’s recorded three games with more than 100 receiving yards, one of which was for more than 200 receiving yards. His yards per catch against Pittsburgh is slightly lower, though he’s been targeted more in games against the Steelers.

The big difference? As usual, it comes down to wins and losses.

Cincinnati has won seven of those 11 games against the Ravens and won just three of the 13 games against the Steelers.

A.J. Green is a stud, and both the Ravens and the Steelers would have been better off if he’d never put on a Cincinnati uniform.


What?

Ties

One week after a stunning home win over Chicago, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers had a stunning home tie with the Vikings, as both team's kickers missed game-winning field goal attempts.

So the Browns and Steelers played to a tie in Week 1 and yesterday Green Bay and Minnesota ended up in a 29-29 deadlock.

Ties in the NFL are quite uncommon, of course, despite one in each of the first two weeks this year. Since 1974, when the league instituted sudden-death overtime, there have been only 24 tie games.

In case you forgot, by the way, the overtime rules that began in 2012 were further modified before last season, with the overtime period shortened to 10 minutes instead of 15. With no tie games last season, the Pittsburgh-Cleveland game was the first to end in a tie with the shorter period.

Also, in case you weren’t paying attention, both teams missed field goals that would have won the game in the final two minutes of the 10-minute OT. Chris Boswell missed a 42-yarder wide left just after the two-minute warning, while Zane Gonzalez had his 43-yard attempt blocked with 13 seconds on the clock.

The play-by-play of the overtime reads like a game involving the Browns. Cleveland went three-and-out on its first three possessions, going essentially nowhere each time before punting. Then, given a gift by their defense, the Browns ran one play and then spiked the ball only to miss the field goal.

The Browns, of course, ended a 17-game losing streak with the tie, so they’ve got that going for them.

In other random minutiae, the game was the first tie in the season’s opening week in the 45 years of sudden-death overtime. The Ravens, meanwhile, have played one tie game in 23 seasons, a 10-10 tie against the Eagles on a chilly day at Memorial Stadium in November 1997.


Where?

M&T Bank Stadium

10-plus years into his career, with the 2018 Ravens having played one game at home and one on the road, Joe Flacco has now started 78 games at home and 78 games away from home.

The performance differences for Flacco are pretty stark, in a way that’s more like college basketball home-court (dis)advantage than the more antiseptic road NFL experience.

Flacco’s record is 59-19 at home. He has more than twice as many touchdowns as interceptions, and his home passer rating of 90.6 would rank among the top 15 all-time if it encompassed his entire career.

On the road, Flacco’s record is 34-44. He’s thrown 80 interceptions, which simple math would tell you adds up to about one per game. He’s been sacked a lot, and his road passer rating of 78.3 would rank behind Matt Cassel if it encompassed his entire career.

Anecdotally, it seems like some of Flacco’s struggles on the road can be attributed to his team falling behind early, whether that was his fault or not. This past Thursday’s game is just the latest example.

Whomever the offensive coordinator, he has to abandon the run and put every play in the quarterback’s hands. In the same number of games, Flacco has thrown 178 more passes on the road than he has at home.

After next Sunday, the Ravens play three straight road games, the first two of which are divisional games. That’s not necessarily the schedule that will keep Flacco off and running like he’s been early.


When?

2013

We know that, since the NFL divisional realignment in 2002, there are 12 intra-divisional games (per division) every season. More recently, ten of those games get spread out over the season’s first 16 weeks, with every game in Week 17 now a divisional game.

Obviously, every team plays four more games against teams from outside its division than it does within the division. If you slip up inside, there’s certainly opportunity to make up for it outside. A win is a win, before you get to tiebreakers anyway.

And yet, in the AFC North, only once in 16 seasons has the team with the best divisional record not won the division outright or won the tiebreaker. That was Cincinnati, five years ago.

The Bengals didn’t just win the division with a 3-3 record against the Browns, Ravens and Steelers, they won it by a comfortable three-game margin. Pittsburgh had the best divisional record, 4-2, but finished tied with the Ravens at 8-8 and missed the playoffs.

So, it’s possible to do what the Bengals did, but not probable.

Another way of looking at it…it’s very unlikely that a team will win the division with more than two divisional losses. Right now, the Ravens are the only team in the AFC North that has one.

Without sounding overly obvious, a team that finishes 6-0 or 5-1 in its division is probably just a really good team. 4-2 is a playoff team, and after that all bets are off. Most of the time, anyway.


Why?

It’s a QB League

Ben Roethlisberger, age 36, has been slinging the ball and his body around the field for the Steelers since 2004.

Joe Flacco, age 33, has been a stoic presence, if not always an all-star one, for the Ravens since 2008.

Andy Dalton, who’ll be 31 at the end of October, is in his eighth year already in Cincinnati. The second-round draft pick started his career there in 2011.

I guess what that means is…regardless of the results of any individual game…you kinda know what you’re gonna get, right?

There’s only one other division that can match that quarterback consistency, and that’s the NFC South. Drew Brees, now 39, has been the starter in New Orleans since 2006. 33-year-old Matt Ryan of Atlanta was taken well before Flacco in 2008, while Cam Newton has, at only 29, been in a Panthers uniform since 2011.

Who wins there? At first glance, maybe you’d pick the NFC South. Brees and Big Ben are both certain Hall-of-Famers, but Ryan beats Flacco statistically and in the eyes of most fans. Newton is a more exciting player than Dalton (or almost anyone), but their career records as starters are nearly identical.

So, maybe it’s kind of a wash, on second thought.

As has been noted here before, the Ravens have had very little trouble against those three NFC South teams and those quarterbacks. The only loss was a Thursday night game in Atlanta in 2010, the one where Ryan threw a long TD pass to Roddy White with less than 30 seconds left to win the game for the Falcons.

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Sunday
September 16
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issue 16
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to gordon or not to gordon?


There's a funny scene in the movie Friday where Craig, played by rapper Ice Cube, admits to his friend Smokey (Chris Tucker) that he was called into his place of employment on his day off and terminated for stealing boxes.

"You got fired on your day off?" Smokey asks him. "How the heck do you get fired on your day off?"

I thought of that scene yesterday when Josh Gordon's friends started reaching out to him after the news broke that the Cleveland Browns were parting company with him.

"You're getting cut by the Browns? You can't even stick with them? They haven't won a game since President Obama was in office."

Gordon's nine lives finally ended in Cleveland yesterday when the Browns announced they are parting ways with the talented but unreliable wide receiver.

The Browns will now seek a trade partner for Gordon, who has been up and down more than Eminen's career during his six year tenure in Cleveland.

If they don't find a willing trade companion, the Browns say they'll release Gordon, which means he'd immediately become a free agent based on his years of service in the NFL.

Should the Ravens try and cut a deal for Gordon?

Cleveland plans to trade or cut wide receiver Josh Gordon by Monday.

As is always the case anytime you're making a trade in the NFL, the salary cap comes into consideration. And in the Ravens case, there's a lot more on the table than just the team's salary cap position.

Is it worth bringing in the talented but mercurial Gordon? Don't the Ravens already have a new receiving corps that has handled themselves fairly well through the first two games of the season? Would Gordon's suspension history be a distraction in Baltimore?

There's no telling what the answers might be to those three questions, but the reality of the situation is this: Gordon is very talented. He's also very unreliable.

Case in point is what just happened to him in Cleveland. According to reports, Gordon somehow injured himself on Friday during a promotional photo shoot that the club knew nothing about. He then showed up at practice on Saturday in some sort of "odd condition" and complained of the injury.

That, apparently, was the final red flag in Cleveland. After six years of sticking with Gordon through thick, thin and multiple drug-related suspensions, the Browns finally got wise and kicked him to the curb.

But his departure in Cleveland doesn't necessarily mean Gordon can't go on and help another NFL team this season. He certainly has the skill set to make a difference on any given Sunday. There's no doubting his talent.

But there is reason to doubt his brain. And there is reason to doubt his ability to stay dedicated to his employer. And, sadly, there is more than enough evidence in place to suggest Gordon is never going to come full circle and conduct himself in a professional manner.

Someone asked me last night: "Should the Ravens take Gordon and try and turn him around?"

My response was complicated: "He's never going to change. There's no sense in trying to turn him around. That's not happening. If you think you can somehow squeeze 14 good games out of him in 2018, go ahead and consider him. But understand this: He's never going to change. You're kidding yourself if you think Josh Gordon is going to come to Baltimore and suddenly become a model citizen."

breakfast bytes

NLCS: Puig's 3-run homer lifts Dodgers to Game 7 win at Milwaukee, 5-1; Bellinger named series MVP.

College football: #2 Ohio State (7-1) gets crushed at Purdue, 49-20; #1 Alabama rolls on with 58-21 win at Tennessee.

Maryland (4-3) falls at #19 Iowa, 23-0; Towson (6-1) stays atop the CAA with 56-28 win at Albany.

PGA Tour: Koepka (-21) pulls away on the back nine to win C.J. Cup in South Korea, earns his 5th PGA Tour victory.

And that's it in a nutshell, really. If you're willing to put up with the aggravation that's sure to follow him wherever he goes next, then Josh Gordon might be a good fit for your team. But you enter your relationship with Gordon knowing without question that he's going to foul-up at some point, probably sooner rather than later, and leave you regretting your decision to join forces with him.

There will be lots of people around the country, and perhaps a handful of NFL teams, even, who think all Gordon needs is a change of scenery. They'll suggest maybe he was merely poisoned by the Browns. Those folks will just assume a move from Cleveland to elsewhere will be the tonic Gordon needs to become a successful, contributing member of a new team.

Here's the truth. It's harsh, but it's the truth: Josh Gordon is incorrigible. That doesn't mean he wouldn't make a bunch of nice catches at some point this season and haul in a big touchdown or two. He very well might do that. But when the dust settles, Gordon will be a problem wherever he goes. He's been that way for a decade. Nothing about his history says that's due to change.

I don't think the Ravens need Josh Gordon. Could he help them? Maybe. But he's not a must-have guy, that's for sure. If they were desperate for a wide receiver, the Ravens might be forced to take a look. But they're far from desperate.

And at some point, Gordon's going to flame out and cause trouble again. You can bet on that happening with the same comfort level you'd wager that Chris Davis will strike out at least once today when the Orioles play the White Sox.

So I'll go back to what I told my friend yesterday: "If you think you can somehow squeeze 14 good games out of him in 2018, go ahead and consider him." But it's caveat emptor, for certain.

And even if you do check the goods for quality and suitability, you know at the time of purchase you're likely going to want to return the item and get your money back.

There's no getting around it with Josh Gordon. He's a talented player who can't stay out of trouble.

One final piece of advice to the new team that takes a chance on him: Make sure you keep the receipt.

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show me the money, week #2


After a 3-2 start in week #1 and a win on Thursday night (Bengals +1.5), "Show Me The Money" is off to a decent start.

The early part of the season is always tough to predict. Take today's Chargers-Bills game in Buffalo. There's very little about the Bills that suggests they can cover 7.5 points today against Los Angeles. But it's the NFL...

The league is so crazy and so unpredictable that Buffalo could win 20-10 today and I wouldn't be at all surprised. Likewise, the Chargers could win 38-13 and I wouldn't be shocked at all.

Are the Bucs for real? What about the Jets? They sure looked good on Monday night winning at Detroit.

But our job here is to help you get an early start towards that extra Christmas shopping money you need this December.

Let the winning continue.

DOLPHINS AT JETS (-2.5) -- This could be a mistake, buying stock in the Jets after only one season opening win, but maybe they'll be one of those teams that gets off to a 4-0 start before falling back to earth in October and November. Either way, we love the Jets today, to the tune of 23-20.

RAIDERS AT BRONCOS (-6.5) -- That number (-6.5) seems pretty high for a Denver team that doesn't figure to have much in the way of offense this season. Sure, Oakland's defense is pretty shabby, but shouldn't they be able to put some points up themselves? In a low scoring game of sorts, we like Oakland to cover but the Broncos to pull out a 22-17 victory.

Can Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers hold off the high-flying Chiefs today in Pittsburgh?

CARDINALS AT RAMS (-13.0) -- Based on week one, this should be a blowout, right? Arizona was hapless at home vs. the Redskins and the Rams went to Oakland and blew out the Raiders. We're doing the double dipsy-doo with this one. It smells like a blow out which means it's more likely than not that Arizona keeps it close. But we're going with the original thought and sticking with the Rams to win easily, 30-13.

CHIEFS AT STEELERS (-6.0) -- It feels like the betting total in this one should be 69.5 or something like that. Neither of these teams has any idea how to play defense. In a game of "he with the ball last wins", we'll take the Chiefs and the six points as the Steelers steal a win with a late drive and field goal, 36-34.

LIONS AT 49'ERS (-6.0) -- Can Detroit's defense be as bad as it looked on Monday night? Maybe. Either way, the 49'ers have a decided edge in this one, playing at home with an extra day of rest. We like the 49'ers in a big way here, as Detroit falls to 0-2 after San Fran clobbers them 33-17.

BEST BET OF THE DAY -- We'll buy some early stock on the Jets and go with New York (-2.5) at home over the Dolphins.

YEAR TO DATE RECORD: 3-2

LAST WEEK: 3-2

RAVENS ATS: 2-0

BEST BET OF THE DAY: 1-0

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"SHOW ME THE MONEY!" for October 21. Drew makes his week 7 NFL picks right here.





O's SCOREBOARD
Sunday, September 30
Orioles
4

Astros
0
WP: P. Fry (1-2)

LP: B. Peacock (3-5)

HR: none

RECORD/PLACE: 47-115, 5th (of course)

breakfast bytes

NLCS: Puig's 3-run homer lifts Dodgers to Game 7 win at Milwaukee, 5-1; Bellinger named series MVP.

College football: #2 Ohio State (7-1) gets crushed at Purdue, 49-20; #1 Alabama rolls on with 58-21 win at Tennessee.

Maryland (4-3) falls at #19 Iowa, 23-0; Towson (6-1) stays atop the CAA with 56-28 win at Albany.

PGA Tour: Koepka (-21) pulls away on the back nine to win C.J. Cup in South Korea, earns his 5th PGA Tour victory.