Last Week's Best: The Top-Five Games (9/1-9/8)

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Last Week's Best: The Top-Five Games (9/1-9/8)

 

This week’s edition of the top-five games was pushed back a day to accommodate the rainy U.S. Open and a larger-than-usual Monday Night Football schedule.

It is the most eclectic list yet, including games from three different sports and four different leagues; only the NFL has more than one game represented. But, of course, it is the NFL that claims the top spot—as is likely to happen during many of the next 16 weeks.

 

5. MLB: White Sox 7, Angels 6 (Sept. 6)

This past week contained many tight baseball games, but this fifteen-inning affair between two likely playoff teams was as good as it got.

The game was more important for the White Sox, and luckily for them it was star power-hitter Jim Thome who came through in the clutch, belting a walk-off homer to right field to pass the legendary Mickey Mantle on the all-time home run list while giving his team an important victory.

Chicago’s win was big in the ever-tightening American League Central race. The White Sox now lead Minnesota by 2.5 games. It is unlikely that the second-place team will make the playoffs, as the Boston Red Sox currently lead the Twins by seven games in the Wild Card race.

If Thome keeps up his hot hitting, the White Sox might just be able to stave off the pesky Twins after all.

 

4. NFL: Jets 20, Dolphins 14 (Sept. 7)

Brett Favre’s green and white debut (bear with me on the color scheme…) had its ups and its downs, but in the end he did just enough to give his new team a road victory against a division opponent, as the Jets withstood a late Miami charge, Darrelle Revis’ red zone interception preserving the final margin.

Favre, still learning the ins and outs of his new playbook, showed flashes of brilliance in the first half, hooking up with new favorite receiver Jerricho Cotchery for a 56-yard touchdown pass and then finding Chansi Stuckey for an improbable 22-yard touchdown on fourth-and-13.

The Jets’ offense was slightly less effective in the second half, with a Favre fumble in Miami territory proving rather costly, but the defense held former New York quarterback Chad Pennington in check throughout.

Tom Brady’s season-ending injury has opened the door for the Jets to make an unexpected push for the AFC East crown. At the very least, the strong early showings of the Jets and of the Buffalo Bills have made what was expected to be a New England waltz a three-team race.  

 

3. Tennis, U.S. Open: Roger Federer Defeats Andy Murray in Three Sets (Sept. 8)

This final was anything but climactic—just the way it should be.

Federer looked like the dominant force of old, controlling point after point and never allowing his less experienced opponent to feel completely comfortable on the court. He assaulted Murray’s second serve throughout the match, thundering forehand winner after forehand winner.

And when Murray finally did compete, working his way back to five-all in the second set, Federer displayed that ability to raise his game in the big moment that all sports fans know so well. He played a perfect game on Murray’s serve, breaking him at love to win the set, 7-5.

Throughout this year, especially after Wimbledon, it felt like Federer couldn’t be done just yet. I remember writing after his loss to Nadal that “the reports of his demise are premature.”

But what does this mean for next year? Given the continued emergence of Novak Djokovic and Murray, there is probably no clear favorite—aside from Nadal at the French, of course—for any of the four tennis Grand Slams. Simply put, 2009 could end up being one of the most exciting years in the history of men’s tennis.

 

2. NCAA Football: BYU 28, Washington 27 (Sept. 6)

While this game certainly had a dramatic ending, it probably would not have made the list if not for the controversy surrounding it.

As I’m sure most people know by now, BYU won this game by one point after blocking a 35-yard Washington extra point attempt after time had expired. The attempt was 35 yards instead of the usual 20 yards because of an excessive celebration penalty called against Washington quarterback Jake Locker after he scored the would-have-been game-tying touchdown.

The only problem is, Locker didn’t celebrate excessively. In fact, he hardly celebrated at all, tossing the ball up in the air quickly before jumping on his teammates. But he was penalized nonetheless, as new NCAA guidelines for the excessive celebration rule stipulate that throwing the ball in the air is automatic grounds for a yellow flag.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, as practically every major sports columnist has weighed in with an opinion similar to my own—that is, that the call was ridiculous. I did, however, want to highlight ESPN analyst Pat Forde’s assessment of the call.

Forde noted that there is plenty of precedent for referees straying from rigid guidelines in important game situations, citing the college basketball “coaches’ box” rule as an example. He is absolutely right—rule books are books, and referees are humans. Books can’t adequately adapt to take external factors into account; people can. It is unacceptable for referees to simply hide behind the rules when it is their job to interpret them.

And with that, I encourage all mainstream media members to join me in stepping off this particular soapbox. Hopefully somebody who works for the NCAA was listening.

 

1. NFL: Panthers 26, Chargers 24 (Sept. 7)

The most exciting game of the first NFL Sunday also produced its biggest upset, as Jake Delhomme’s touchdown pass to Dante Rosario as time expired gave Carolina a shocking road victory over one of the league’s best teams.

Carolina’s winning drive nullified and excellent fourth quarter from San Diego quarterback Phillip Rivers, who threw two touchdown passes in the game’s final seven minutes to bring his team back from a 19-10 deficit.

Rivers had an excellent day, finishing with 217 passing yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions, but it was not enough to stop Rosario—whose 96 receiving yards were only 12 less than he had in all of 2007—and the Panthers.

The Panthers were able to get this big road win without star receiver Steve Smith, who was suspended from the team’s first two games after punching a teammate in practice. Suddenly, Carolina looks every bit like a player in the wide-open NFC South.

 

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