Elias Says: September 18, 2017

A star is born in KC

Kareem Hunt, the Kansas City rookie who stole the show against the Patriots on opening night, did it again on Sunday, scoring two touchdowns, including a 53-yard run, in the Chiefs’ 27–20 win over the Eagles. Hunt, whose three TDs against New England included a 78-yard pass reception, has accomplished the following:

He is the fourth player in NFL history to score as many as five touchdowns in his first two games in the league. The others were Dutch Sternaman of the Decatur Staleys in 1920 (6 TDs in his first two games), Billy Sims of the Lions in 1980, and Jahvid Best of the Lions in 2010.

He is the fifth player to score a touchdown of 50 yards or longer in each of his first two games in the NFL. Three players did it in the 1950s: Dub Jones (Browns), Les Goble (Chicago Cardinals), and Alan Ameche (Baltimore Colts). David Johnson did it for the Cardinals in 2015.

Brady & Brees deliver in a first-of-its-type QB matchup

The Patriots’ 36–20 win at New Orleans produced the sort of passing excellence that you would expect from what was the first-ever NFL matchup of 10-time Pro Bowl quarterbacks. Tom Brady, who has been named to 12 Pro Bowls, passed for 447 yards, the highest total ever recorded by a player in his 40s. Although it was the 73rd time that Brady threw at least three touchdown passes in a game, Sunday’s was the first in which he did so in the first quarter.

Drew Brees, one of two players with more games with three touchdown passes than Brady, threw only two on Sunday. But Brees became the first NFC player to pass for at least 350 yards against Bill Belichick’s Patriots more than once. Brees threw five touchdown passes in a 371-yard performance against New England in 2009. The Saints won that game, 38–17.

A historic TD for Steelers’ 20-year-old

JuJu Smith-Schuster, the 20-year old Steelers rookie who is currently the youngest player in the NFL, caught a 4-yard touchdown pass in Pittsburgh’s 26–9 win over Minnesota. That made Smith-Schuster the youngest NFL player to score a TD since Andy Livingston of the Bears in 1964, and the second youngest to catch a TD pass in the history of the league. Smith-Schuster is 60 days older than Arnie Herber was when he caught a 15-yard TD pass from Red Dunn in 1930.

Zeke can’t get started in loss to Broncos

The Broncos posted an impressive 42–17 win over the Cowboys in which they literally stopped Ezekiel Elliott in his tracks, holding the NFL’s 2016 rushing leader to eight yards on nine carries. Over the last 40 years, only three other defending rushing champions had a game in which they averaged less than a yard per carry: Christian Okoye against New England in 1990 (11 carries, 5 yards); Chris Johnson against Houston in 2010 (7 carries, 5 yards); and DeMarco Murray against Dallas in 2015 (13 carries, 2 yards).

Head coaches dominate their former assistants

Five of Sunday’s games matched head coaches of which one is a former assistant of the other (listed as mentor vs. protégé): Andy Reid vs. Doug Pederson; Chuck Pagano vs. Bruce Arians; Ron Rivera vs. Sean McDermott; John Harbaugh vs. Hue Jackson; and Jay Gruden vs. Sean McVay. Prior to that, the most such NFL games on one week was four, and that happened only once, on the first week of the 1990 season: Ray Perkins (Buccaneers) vs. Wayne Fontes (Lions); Joe Gibbs (Redskins) vs. Joe Bugel (Cardinals); Chuck Noll (Steelers) vs. Bud Carson (Browns); and Sam Wyche (Bengals) vs. Bruce Coslet (Jets).

The only protégé to win against his mentor yesterday was Arians in the Cardinals’ overtime victory versus Pagano and the Colts. That follows recent form: In head-to-head matchups over the past six seasons (2011–16), head coaches won more than three times as many games as their former assistants (43–14–1, including 12–0–1 in 2016).

No early-season hangover for Falcons

The theory that Atlanta would suffer from a so-called Super Bowl hangover looks less likely in the wake of Sunday night’s 34–23 victory over the Packers. With that win, the Falcons joined a surprising small group of recent Super Bowl losers who started the next season with wins in their first two games. Since the 2000 season, the only other teams to do so were Seattle in 2006, New England in 2008, and Denver in 2014. (For the record, none of those reached the Super Bowl, and the Patriots even failed to qualify for the postseason.)

Panthers pitch another near-shutout

The Panthers, who opened the season with a 23–3 win at San Francisco last week, improved to 2–0 with a 9–3 victory over Buffalo. Carolina is the first team since the Bills in 1981 to hold each of its first two opponents in a season to three or fewer points. In fact, the only other teams to do that in the last 70 seasons were the Lions in 1970 and the Houston Oilers in 1976.

Hyde is a bright spot in Niners’ loss at Seattle

Seattle defeated San Francisco, 12–9. But the most impressive individual offensive performance belonged to Carlos Hyde of the 49ers, who gained 124 yards on 15 carries. Hyde, who had a 103-yard performance against the Seahawks last season, is the first visiting player with 100-yard rushing games at Seattle in consecutive seasons since Priest Holmes did it 15 years ago (the 2001 and 2002 seasons).

Carr is passing like the Snake

Derek Carr threw three touchdown passes to Michael Crabtree in the Raiders’ 45–20 win over the Jets. It was Carr’s third straight game in which he threw multiple touchdown passes without an interception, tying the longest such streak in team history. The only other Raiders quarterback to record a three-game streak of that type was Ken Stabler in 1974.

Crabtree, who had three touchdown receptions against Baltimore last season, is only the second Raiders player to catch three or more TDs in a game in consecutive seasons. Warren Wells did it in 1969 and 1970.

Brissett’s first INT proves costly

The NFL’s first overtime game with the shortened extra period ended quickly when Jacoby Brissett’s interception on the first play of the extra session set up a short game-winning field goal by Phil Dawson. After falling behind 10–0 early, the Cardinals escaped Indianapolis with a 16–13 win. The aforementioned interception was Brissett’s first on his 95th pass in the NFL. The only active quarterbacks who started their NFL career with a longer streak of passes without an INT than Brissett were Dak Prescott (167), Tom Brady (162), Carson Wentz (134), and Case Keenum (105).

Ravens open the season with long scoring run

Baltimore opened a 14–0 lead in the first half and cruised to a 24–10 victory over the Browns. The Ravens, who routed the Bengals, 20–0, last week, became the first team to open an NFL season by scoring 34 unanswered points since Houston did so six years ago.

The Ravens forced five turnovers by both the Bengals and the Browns. Over the last 25 seasons, the only other team with at least five takeaways in each of its first two games was the Jets in 2015.

Former star rookie reemerges with Dolphins

Cody Parkey kicked three field goals in the final 18 minutes, including a 54-yarder with 70 seconds remaining, to turn the Chargers’ 17–10 lead into a 19–17 Dolphins victory. With that win, Miami picked up where it left off in 2016, when the Dolphins won five games in which they trailed in the fourth quarter. That was one short of the team record set in 1992.

Three years ago, Parkey set an NFL record for rookies by scoring 150 points. That season, he kicked a 36-yard game-winning field goal for the Eagles as time expired on Week 2. But until Sunday, that was the only fourth-quarter game-winner of Parkey’s NFL career.

Bucs dominate the Bears

The Buccaneers defeated the Bears, 29–7, and it wasn’t as close as it sounds. Tampa Bay led, 26–0, at the intermission; it was the Bucs’ largest halftime lead since 2001, when they outscored the Saints, 30–0, in the first half of a 48–21 victory. Before Chicago scored the final points in Sunday’s game, Tampa Bay held its largest lead at any point in any game since 2013, when the Bucs led the Falcons, 38–6, in an eventual 41–28 victory.

Kluber in Cy Young form as Indians’ clinch

The Indians defeated the Royals 3–2, clinching the American League Central. Corey Kluber was fittingly the hero, pitching 7 scoreless innings in which he allowed 3 hits and no walks, striking out 9. Kluber improved to 17–4, lowered his ERA to 2.35, and reached 252 strikeouts on the season. Kluber struck out 269 in 2014, and is now the third pitcher in Indians’ history with multiple 250+ strikeouts seasons, joining Sam McDowell, who had four such seasons (1965, 1968, 1969, 1970), and Bob Feller, who three (1940, 1941, 1946). It is certainly worth noting that Feller could have had more 250+ strikeout seasons had he not missed 1942–1944 and most of 1945, serving in the Navy during World War II.

Indians are 24–1 in last 25 games

After a loss against the Royals on Friday ended the Indians’ American-League best 22 game winning streak, the Tribe has bounced back to win two straight, making it 24 wins in 25 games. Since the Giants’ 26 straight wins in 1916, a major-league record, the only other team to go 24–1 over 25 games was the 1977 Royals, who had a 24–1 stretch in August and September of that season. The Indians have allowed 47 runs in the 24–1 stretch. Since the mound was lowered in 1969, that is the second-fewest runs allowed over 25 games in a season. The 1969 Mets allowed 46 runs in a 21–4 stretch in September of that season during their “miracle” run to a World Championship.

Yankees having trouble handling the Britts

Zach Britton shut the door with a four-out save in the Orioles’ 6–4 win over the Yankees, enabling the Orioles to escape a four-game sweep in the Bronx. In the ninth inning, after intentionally walking Aaron Judge with Jacoby Ellsbury on third base, Britton struck out Gary Sanchez to save the game. Britton has now thrown 24⅓ consecutive scoreless innings vs. the Yankees, the longest current streak vs. New York and the longest since Britt Burns of the White Sox had a 31 inning streak against the Bombers spanning 1981 and 1982. The Yankees last scored a run off Britton over three years ago, on August 13, 2014.

It was a euphonious weekend in the Bronx

Didi Gregorius homered in the loss, making Yankee fans “euphorious” for the third straight game to reach 24 homers on the season. All of Didi’s homers have come as a shortstop, tying Derek Jeter in 1999 for the Yankees record for homers in a season at short. Gregorius has the second-most homers at shortstop this season, trailing Francisco Lindor (30).

Verlander dressing up as Randy Johnson again (He came for the lobster)

The Astros clinched the A.L. West by completing a three-game sweep with a 7–1 win against the Mariners. Justin Verlander pitched seven brilliant innings, allowing 1 run on 3 hits and 1 walk, striking out 10. Verlander is now 3–0 with a 0.86 ERA since joining Houston. Three other pitchers in the last 20 seasons (since 1998) have gone 3–0 with a sub-1.00 ERA in their first three starts with a team in a season after previously having played for another big-league club that season. In 1998, Randy Johnson went 3–0 with a 0.72 ERA in his first three Astros starts after having played for the Mariners. In 2000, Andy Ashby went 3–0 with a 0.78 ERA in his first three Braves starts after having played for the Phillies; and in 2016 Rich Hill went 3–0 with a 0.00 ERA in his first three Dodgers starts after having played for the A’s.

Verlander has a 2.04 ERA since the All-Star break, third-lowest among pitcher with at least 10 starts since the Midsummer Classic, trailing Corey Kluber (1.92) and Jake Arrieta (1.98).

Anderson spoils Boyd’s no-hit bid at the meanest moment

Tim Anderson broke up Matthew Boyd’s no-hit bid with a 2-out ninth inning double. Boyd induced a Yoan Moncada groundout to record the first complete game of his career, in 53 starts, in the Tigers’ 12–0 win. Four other pitchers in the last three seasons (since 2015) have taken a no-hitter through at least 8⅔ innings but were unable to finish the bid: the Braves’ Shelby Miller in 2015 (5/17, at MIA), the Indians’ Carlos Carrasco in 2015 (7/1, at TB), the Giants’ Matt Moore in 2016 (8/25, at LAD), and the Dodgers’ Rich Hill this season (8/23, at PIT). All of the above bids also lasted 8⅔ innings, except for Hill’s, which lasted nine full innings.

The last time a Tigers’ pitcher took a no hitter through 8⅔ innings only to have it broken up was on June 2, 2010, when Armando Galarraga took a perfect game through 8⅔ innings, only to have it broken up on an infield single by the Indians’ Jason Donald, that replay showed clearly should have been called an out.

Martinez hits 40th home run of season as Snakes fall in San Fran

J.D. Martinez hit his 40th of the season and 24th with the Diamondbacks in 7–2 loss in San Francisco, with the Giants salvaging the last game of the 3-game series there. Martinez is the fifth player in major-league history to have a 40 homer season playing for multiple teams, joining Greg Vaughn in 1996 (Brewers/Padres), Mark McGwire in 1997 (A’s/Cardinals), David Justice in 2000 (Indians/Yankees), and Adam Dunn in 2008 (Reds/D-Backs).

Strasburg, Gonzalez, and Scherzer are one tough trio

Stephen Strasburg improved to 14–4, allowed 1 run on 3 hits and 3 walks in 6 innings in the Nationals’ 7–1 win against the Dodgers, striking out 8. Logan Forsythe hit a second-inning RBI double for the only run against Strasburg, whose scoreless innings streak ended at 35. The streak was the longest in Nationals/Expos history and the longest for any player since the 2015 season. Zack Greinke had a streak of 45.2 and Clayton Kershaw had a streak of 37 in that season. Strasburg’s ERA now stands at 2.60, third-lowest in the National League, trailing Kershaw (2.12) and teammate Max Scherzer (2.59). Teammate Gio Gonzalez owns the next-lowest (2.68). You have to back 50 years to find the last time that three teammates finished among the top four in their league in ERA: Back in 1967, Joe Horlen of the White Sox led the American League with a 2.06 ERA; teammate Gary Peters finished second at 2.28, and another teammate, Tommy John, stood fourth at 2.48.

Twins blessed by Rosario

The Twins defeated the Blue Jays 13–7 to salvage a split of a 4-game home series. Eddie Rosario hit two homers, number 25 and 26 of the season. Rosario now has hit 15 home runs in his last 40 games, since August 6. Since they moved to Target Field in 2010, only three other Twins players have hit 15+ homers over 40 games: Trevor Plouffe in 2012, whose best span was 18 homers in 40 games, Josh Willingham in 2012, whose best span was 16 in 40 games, and Brian Dozier last season, whose best span was 22 homers in 40 games. (Dozier also had a span that overlapped the 2016 and 2017 seasons with 15 homers over 40 games.)

Donaldson: 30 smashes in three straight seasons

The Blue Jays got out to a 5–0 lead in the loss, with help from two Josh Donaldson solo homers in the first and second innings off Kyle Gibson. Donaldson now has 30 homers in 2017 after hitting 37 in 2016 and 41 in 2015. Five other major-leaguers have current streaks of 30-or-more homers in three straight seasons: Edwin Encarnacion (6, 2012–2017), Anthony Rizzo (4), Nelson Cruz (4), Manny Machado (3), and Nolan Arenado (3).

Brew Crew puts up third 8-run inning this month

The Brewers and Marlins entered the fourth inning scoreless, when the Brew Crew exploded for eight runs in the top of the fourth inning, going on to win 10–3 and taking the three game series 2–1, a series they played as the visiting team at Miller Park due to the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Manny Piña drove in the first and last runs of the eight-run fourth, with RBI singles in each at bat. Piña is the first Brewers player to drive in runs in two separate plate appearances in an inning since Ryan Braun did it in the top of the ninth inning at Wrigley Field on August 27, 2012. The Brewers now have three innings of 8-or-more runs this month: on September 9, they scored eight in the top of the third at Wrigley Field, and on Friday, they had an eight-run eighth against the Marlins. Only two other teams in the expansion era (since 1961) have had a month with 3-or-more 8-run innings: the 1969 Astros, in July (3), and the 2006 Tigers, in September (3).

Pen perfect in Cubs’ sweep of Cards

The Cubs’ bullpen pitched 3⅓ scoreless innings in their 4–3 win against the Cardinals, completing a 3-game sweep against their rivals in red at Wrigley Field. In the series, the Cubs’ pen threw nine scoreless innings. The Cubs’ pen had not thrown as many shutout innings in a sweep of St. Louis since April 2006, when they swept St. Louis in three games at Wrigley, with their bullpen throwing 10⅓ innings of scoreless baseball. Wade Davis earned his 31st save of the season, his 37th consecutive save without blowing one. Four other active major-leaguers have had a streak as long as Davis’s: Zach Britton (60, 2015–2017), Jeurys Familia (52, 2015–2016), Brad Ziegler (43, 2015–2016), and Craig Kimbrel (37, 2013).

Gallo ends long drought with blast

Joey Gallo hit a massive second-inning home run off Garrett Richards in the Rangers 4–2 win at Angel Stadium. Entering the at-bat, Gallo had gone 48 straight at-bats without a home run, his longest home run drought of 2017 and second-longest of his career. Gallo had gone 49 straight at-bats without a homer in his 2015 rookie season.

Sucre hits game-winning homer and Colome saves 45th in Rays’ win

Jesus Sucre hit a solo homer to break a 2–2 tie in the bottom of the sixth inning off Eduardo Rodriguez of the Red Sox, providing the games’ winning run and final scoring. It was Sucre’s eighth major-league home run and his first that provided the game-winning RBI in the sixth inning-or-later. Alex Colome secured his major-league high 45th save of the season. Colome became the third Rays pitcher to notch a 45-save season: Rafael Soriano saved 45 in 2010 and Fernando Rodney saved 48 in 2012. Since 1998, the Rays first season, no other franchise has had three-or-more pitchers with 45+ saves in a season.

Padres win in late comeback at Coors

After being down 3–0 entering the sixth inning at Coors Field, the Padres scored one in the sixth, two in the eighth, and one in the ninth on a safety squeeze and error to win the game. It was the first home game this season that the Rockies have lost in which they led by at least three runs in the sixth inning or later. Over the previous three seasons, the Rockies have had nine such home losses: 4 in 2014, 2 in 2015, and 3 last season. The Padres bullpen threw 4⅔ scoreless innings, their most scoreless innings thrown at a game at Coors Field since they tossed 4⅔ in a win there on May 14, 2011.

They should save Gsellman for SunTrust Park

Mets starter Robert Gsellman beat Julio Teheran and the Braves in Atlanta on Sunday. Gsellman has three wins in his three games this season at SunTrust Park, which is the same number of wins as Teheran (3–10) has in his 16 games at the Braves’ new home stadium. Gsellman is 3–0 with a 2.41 ERA and .169 opponents batting average in his three games at SunTrust Park this season (starts on May 1 and June 10) and 0–4 with a 9.36 ERA and .359 opponents batting average in his seven other road games for the Mets this year.