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Minnesota Sports

Falcons respond to Quinn firing with 40-23 win vs. Vikings

By DAVE CAMPBELL AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — With a fresh start and little to lose, the Atlanta Falcons played like it from start to finish.
The Minnesota Vikings made a big mistake on their very first play and simply never recovered.
Julio Jones returned from injury to catch two of Matt Ryan’s four touchdown passes, as the Falcons beat the Vikings 40-23 on Sunday for their first victory of the season — one week after the firing of head coach Dan Quinn.
The Falcons (1-5) turned three interceptions into 17 points and built a 20-0 lead at the break that proved to be solid enough for even this falter-prone bunch. The ever-popular Quinn might have found himself wondering just why this team hadn’t played like this yet this year.
“I can’t worry about where it’s been. I’ve just got to worry about where it’s going,” said interim coach Raheem Morris, who was given the game ball afterward.
Kirk Cousins was picked off three times in the first half for the first time in his career, and the depleted Vikings (1-5) surrendered 40-plus points for the second time this year after going five straight seasons without any such games. Two of Minnesota’s last three games were one-point losses to still-undefeated teams, lending confidence for a turnaround.
“It’s hard for me to figure out how we can continue to get better and play like we did a week ago and then play as poorly as we did this week,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “We didn’t do very many things right, and we’ve got to get it fixed.”
After another injury left the Vikings with only rookies available at cornerback for more than half of the game, Ryan completed 30 of 40 passes for 371 yards to rebound from a three-week stretch during which he only found the end zone once.
“It shows what we’re capable of doing. We just need to find a way to be at that level week in and week out,” Ryan said.
Jones, who missed all but one half of the previous three games with hamstring trouble, had eight receptions for 137 yards. Calvin Ridley and Hayden Hurst each chipped in a touchdown catch and Younghoe Koo kicked four field goals for the Falcons, who held leads of 15 points over Dallas and 16 points on Chicago past the midpoint of the fourth quarter earlier this season and lost both. There are still several players remaining from the Super Bowl less than four years ago, when they blew a 28-3 advantage and lost to New England.
“We’re a real tough team. We always have been. No matter what, we just don’t fold,” said linebacker Deion Jones, who picked off a dangerous into-a-crowd pass by Cousins for Justin Jefferson on Minnesota’s first play from scrimmage.
A.J. Terrell later snagged his first career interception, also intended for Jefferson. Foyesade Oluokun got one, too, in Atlanta’s first first-half shutout in 12 games since Nov. 17, 2019, at Carolina. From the opening kickoff in Minnesota’s empty stadium, the Falcons played with an obvious energy embodying the upbeat Morris.
Linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich was promoted to fill his defensive coordinator role, after Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff were dismissed. The strategy was superb for a group that entered the game in the bottom five in the league in most of the major statistical categories.
“The guys really did a good job of dictating terms and showing disguise and coming out and really confusing them a little bit to get themselves in position to make great plays,” Morris said.
PICKED OFF
Cousins became the first Minnesota quarterback with three first-half interceptions since Daunte Culpepper on Dec. 1, 2002, also against Atlanta. The
“The first one was the worst one, if you will,” said Cousins, who finished 24 for 36 for 343 yards and three touchdowns. He added: “That’s a mistake I may have made in year one.”
Jefferson had nine receptions for 166 yards and two touchdowns, the lone bright spot for the Vikings while the NFL’s leading rusher, Dalvin Cook, sat out with a groin injury. The Vikings netted only 32 rushing yards after racking up 201 rushing yards at Seattle the week before. Trailing 10-0 early in the second quarter, Mike Boone was stopped on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
INJURY REPORT
Falcons: DE Takk McKinley (groin) was sidelined for the third time in four games. He played only five snaps last week.
Vikings: CB Mike Hughes (neck) departed in the second quarter with the injury that kept him out of two recent games, leaving the Vikings with only three available players at CB: rookie starters Jeff Gladney and Cameron Dantzler and backup Harrison Hand. CB Holton Hill (foot) was inactive for the second straight game.
UP NEXT
Falcons: Host Detroit on Oct. 25.
Vikings: Visit Green Bay on Nov. 1, after their bye week.
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More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Minnesota Sports

Houston salvages 2-2 tie with Minnesota United

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Niko Hansen’s goal in the 83rd minute helped rally the Houston Dynamo to a 2-2 tie with Minnesota United on Sunday night.
The Dynamo’s (4-7-8) Memo Rodríguez scored in the 59th minute, cutting the their deficit to 2-1.
Minnesota United (6-5-6) failed to capitalize on a fast start that included two goals in a 19-minute span in the first half by Ethan Finley. It was Finley’s second multiple-goal game of the season.
Finley scored at 11 minutes on a well-timed run off a throw-in from midfield. Kei Kamara and Robin Lod worked to set up Finley, who found the back of the net.
At 30 minutes, Finley started a run and took a feed from Jacori Hayes past a defender, beating the keeper.
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Minnesota Sports

Longtime Minnesota sports columnist Sid Hartman dies at 100

By JEFF BAENEN Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota sports columnist and radio personality Sid Hartman, an old-school home team booster who once ran the NBA’s Minneapolis Lakers and achieved nearly as much celebrity as some of the athletes he covered, died Sunday. He was 100.
Hartman, whose first newspaper column was published in 1945, died surrounded by his family, Star Tribune sports editor Chris Carr said.
“It’s a sad day,” Carr told The Associated Press. “He is the Star Tribune in many ways, at least in the sports department. It speaks to his amazing life that even at 100 and a half years old, he passes away and we still can’t believe it.”
He kept up his age-defying pace even after his 100th birthday party on March 15 was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Hartman continued to write three columns per week for the Star Tribune as a centenarian, four during football season, and served as co-host of a Sunday morning radio show on WCCO-AM in Minneapolis.
“I have followed the advice that if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life,” Hartman wrote in his column published on his 100th birthday. “Even at 100, I can say I still love what I do.”
Hartman grew up poor on Minneapolis’ tough north side, the son of a Russian immigrant father and Latvian mother who at age 9 began selling newspapers on downtown street corners. He dropped out of high school in the 10th grade for a news run, picking up papers and leaving them in drop boxes.
In 1944, the circulation manager recommended Hartman for an internship on the sports desk at the old Minneapolis Times. A year later, he was in print with a roundup of news and notes, a style he continued throughout his career. Hartman always called himself a reporter, not a writer. After the Times folded in 1948, Hartman went to work at the Minneapolis Tribune covering his beloved University of Minnesota.
Former Minnesota Vikings coach Bud Grant recalled attending the university after World War II and running into Hartman on Hartman’s first day as a beat writer. Grant and his wife became friends with Hartman, and when Grant announced his first retirement as Vikings coach in 1984, he shared the scoop only with Hartman.
“They’d say ‘off-the-record,’ and to Sid that was off-the-record. He never broke a confidence, with anybody I ever knew,” Grant once said.
Hartman was an unapologetic throwback to the days when the wall between sportswriters and the teams and players they covered was not as defined. Colleagues referred to “Sid’s Rules,” which applied to Hartman and no one else. “It was kind of the Wild West, and Sid was the top gunfighter,” said Dave Mona, Hartman’s “Sports Huddle” co-host since the WCCO-AM radio program debuted in 1981.
Often because of the favorable coverage he gave to local sports teams, Hartman was granted unparalleled behind-the-scenes access to players, coaches and executives. He was given free rein to roam where he wanted, when he wanted.
Hartman was instrumental in helping lure pro teams to Minnesota. In his autobiography “Sid!” (co-written with fellow Star Tribune sports columnist Patrick Reusse), Hartman wrote that in 1947 he offered $15,000 to the owner of the Detroit Gems of the National Basketball League for the franchise, then went to Detroit to deliver the check. The team became the Minneapolis Lakers, and Hartman was the de facto general manager. Led by big man George Mikan, the Lakers won the NBL championship in their first season and five NBA championships. Hartman left the Lakers operation in 1957, and the team moved to Los Angeles in 1960.
He did all that while continuing his newspaper work, a blatant conflict-of-interest by today’s standards but an accepted practice in those days.
Yet he always tried to outwork other reporters for scoops. He was a familiar sight at most games and news conferences, lugging a large, clunky, outdated tape recorder and a thick, black book stuffed with pages of phone numbers. From George Steinbrenner to Bob Knight to Pete Carroll, Hartman’s rolodex has long been a who’s-who of the sports world.
“Sid Hartman was a singular figure of the Minnesota sports scene throughout the entire history of the Twins franchise, and a friend to so many throughout our National Pastime,” Baseball Commissioner Robert Manfred said in a statement. “Appropriately, he was member No. 1 one for the Baseball Writers’ Association of America at the time of his passing, as well as the organization’s longest tenured member. ”
Hartman’s distinctive gruff, slurred speech and malaprops made him a favorite of listeners, media colleagues and the players and coaches he covered to imitate. On the radio, Hartman would sometime hang up on or chastise callers — “geniuses,” as Hartman called them — who voiced opinions he disagreed with. Despite his reputation as a curmudgeon, Hartman was routinely approached by fans for autographs and always obliged them.
In 2010, to mark his 90th birthday, a statute showing Hartman holding a radio microphone, carrying an oversized tape recorder and with a Star Tribune tucked under his arm was unveiled on a corner outside Target Center, the home of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves.
“Part of my job was to bring him into the ’80s. Sometimes he came fairly easily and sometimes he didn’t,” said former Star Tribune editor Tim McGuire. “He always was too much of a booster, and he loved his Gophers. But he was always a newsman.”
Hartman also was a frequent critic of women’s athletics, which he thought cut into expenditures for men’s sports at the University of Minnesota. “It’s archaic,” former Star Tribune sports editor Glen Crevier said of Hartman’s attitude in 2009, “but at least he doesn’t write negatively about them anymore. He just avoids them.”
Hartman’s son, Chad, followed his father into sports reporting, as play-by-play announcer for the Timberwolves and a local talk show host.
When his 100th birthday column was published, the Star Tribune put his career byline count at 21,149.
___
Baenen retired from the AP in September after a 42-year career with the company. Associated Press writers Dave Campbell in Minneapolis and Dave Kolpack in Bismarck, N.D., contributed to this report.

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Minnesota Sports

Twins beat Reds 7-3, clinch home field in 1st round

By MIKE COOK Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — There was no excited reaction Saturday night after the Minnesota Twins guaranteed they’ll be at home when the postseason begins Tuesday.
Instead, they took a casual postgame stroll out of the dugout toward the middle of the infield and congratulated each other as though it was a midseason win.
Sunday could bring a much bigger celebration — as division champions.
“I look at that 2019 banner a lot up there at the stadium, so it’d be nice to put another one up there,” reliever Taylor Rogers said.
Luis Arraez matched career highs with four hits and three RBIs in his return to the lineup, and the Twins clinched home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a 7-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.
Minnesota maintained its one-game lead in the AL Central over the Chicago White Sox, who beat the crosstown Cubs 9-5. The Twins can wrap up their second consecutive division crown — and the No. 2 seed in the American League — with another win Sunday against Cincinnati or a White Sox loss at home to the Cubs.
If the teams finish tied, Chicago wins the division because it holds the tiebreaker over the Twins.
“You never know what’s going to happen, but if you said that to me before the season started or on opening day, I would probably look right at you very honestly and say, ‘I would not be surprised if this season came down to the very last game.’ And that’s what we get,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Arraez had three of Minnesota’s season-high eight doubles as the Twins made sure there will be postseason baseball at Target Field.
Because Cleveland lost to Pittsburgh, Minnesota is guaranteed to play its best-of-three wild-card series at home, where the Twins are a major league-best 24-6. Minnesota took control of the No. 2 seed in the AL because Oakland was swept by Seattle in a doubleheader.
Tyler Clippard (2-1), the first of four relievers, pitched one perfect inning for the win. It’s his fourth straight outing covering 3 2/3 innings without allowing a runner on base.
Joey Votto had an RBI double for Cincinnati. In the playoffs for the first time since 2013, the Reds can finish as high as fifth in the National League field.
Manager David Bell didn’t see any letdown after the Reds secured a postseason berth Friday.
“I think we still understand the importance of these games. We definitely competed. Both teams still have something to play for. It’s better like that. We need to keep playing that way tomorrow as well. It could affect a lot,” Bell said.
Arraez was activated before the game after missing 13 games with left knee tendinitis.
In his first two at-bats since Sept. 8, Arraez doubled and scored in the first and added an RBI double in the third as part of three straight two-baggers by Minnesota hitters. It was Arraez’s first career multi-double game with hits to left field, left-center and right-center.
“That’s me. That’s Luis Arraez. I like to spray the ball all over the field,” he said through a translator. “I’m grateful that I’m healthy and back in the lineup with my teammates.”
Marwin Gonzalez doubled in the fourth and scored on a wild pitch by Luis Castillo (4-6) for a 4-2 lead. Castillo allowed four earned runs in four innings.
Arraez had an RBI double in the fifth and an RBI single in the seventh.
Cincinnati scored twice against Michael Pineda in the first inning, including an RBI double by Votto, but the big right-hander, Minnesota’s potential Game 3 postseason starter, scattered just three more hits and was done after tossing 80 pitches in four innings.
“I don’t have any particular team that I want to face but whatever team that I have to face, Big Mike wants to be ready,” he said.
With a light rain falling, pinch-hitter Nick Castellanos hit an RBI single in the seventh to get the Reds to 5-3. But with the bases loaded, Votto struck out and Eugenio Suarez grounded out.
TRAINER’S ROOM
Twins: Two players who left Friday’s game — 3B Josh Donaldson (right calf cramp) and CF Byron Buxton (hit in the helmet by a pitch) — did not play. Donaldson, who missed 30 games this season with a strain of the same calf, feels better and received treatment. Buxton arrived at the ballpark with a few mild concussion symptoms and will be reassessed daily. “I’m hopeful Buck will be ready to go Tuesday,” Baldelli said.
UP NEXT
Cincinnati RHP Sonny Gray (5-3, 3.73 ERA) is scheduled to face Minnesota LHP Rich Hill (2-2, 3.27) in Sunday’s finale.
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Minnesota Sports

Stewart, Bird help Storm sweep Lynx, advance to WNBA Finals

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) — Breanna Stewart put forth a career effort to get the Seattle Storm back to the WNBA Finals.
Stewart scored a career playoff-high 31 points — tying Seattle’s franchise playoff record — and Sue Bird had 16 points and nine assists, and the Storm beat Minnesota 92-71 on Sunday to sweep the Lynx and advance to the championship round for the second time in three seasons. The Storm won the title in 2018.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be back,” Stewart said. “Be back with Seattle and be back in the finals and I can’t wait for Game 1 Friday.”
Stewart, who missed all of last season while recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon added six rebounds, seven assists, three steals and two blocks. Mercedes Russell tied her season high with 10 points for the No. 2 seed Storm.
The Storm will play either top-seeded Las Vegas or No. 7 seed Connecticut in the Finals, which begin Friday. Seattle lost both regular season matchups with the Aces — including an 86-84 loss in the regular season finale — and won its two regular season games against the Sun by an average of 18 points.
Bird and Stewart combined to score or assist on 13 points during a 17-0 run that gave Seattle a 24-8 lead when Sami Whitcomb made a layup with 54.2 seconds left in the first quarter. Stewart made a short jumper to push the Storm’s lead to 18 points with 1:05 left in the first half but Minnesota scored 16 of the next 21 points, including six by Crystal Dangerfield and two 3-pointers by Odyssey Sims, to make it 48-41 about three minutes into the third quarter.
Stewart answered with back-to-back layups and, after Jewell Loyd made another layup, Stewart converted a three-point play and then hit a 3 in a 12-0 run that made it 60-41 about four minutes later and Minnesota trailed by double figures the rest of the way.
The fourth-seeded Lynx, who came in averaging a playoff-low 11.0 turnovers per game, committed 19 on Sunday. They made 27 of 59 from 3-point range in the first two games of the series but hit just 7 of 22 (31.8%) on Sunday.
“This was a special season with a special group,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. “No one thought we’d get past the Seattle Storm. We believed we could be competitive. We were confident. Today’s game was disappointing in so many ways. Didn’t see that coming.”
Napheesa Collier led Minnesota with 22 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks. Damiris Dantas and Dangerfield — the 2020 WNBA rookie of the year — scored 16 points apiece and Sims added 10 points.

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Minnesota Sports

Titans top winless Vikes 31-30; Gostkowski has 6 FGs

By DAVE CAMPBELL AP Pro Football Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee Titans have had little reason to sweat these tight finishes.
That shaky start with his new team now a distant memory, Stephen Gostkowski had this late-game part down a long time ago.
Gostkowski made his career-high sixth field goal of the game, a 55-yarder with 1:44 left that lifted undefeated Tennessee to a 31-30 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday after Tannehill directed another comeback.
“Every phase of our team has to improve and get better, but there’s no panic,” said coach Mike Vrabel, who took the Titans to the AFC championship game last season.
Derrick Henry rushed 26 times for 119 yards and two third-quarter touchdowns for the Titans, who improved to 3-0 for the first time since 2008 after trailing for a total of 32:07 in the game including a 12-point deficit until late in the third quarter.
Tannehill passed for 321 yards, guiding the Titans on a go-ahead drive in the fourth quarter or overtime for the sixth time in 16 games since becoming the starter. The Titans are 12-4 behind Tannehill, including the playoffs, and they’re 15-0 when Henry — the NFL rushing leader last year — hits the 100-yard mark.
“We just kept chipping away chipping away, believing in each other,” said Tannehill, whose streak of nine straight games — the fourth-longest in NFL history — with two or more touchdown passes and one or fewer interceptions ended.
Tannehill, who was picked off in the end zone by Harrison Smith in the second quarter, hit Kalif Raymond three times for a career-high 118 yards and connected with seven different receivers in the absence of star A.J. Brown for the second straight game to a knee injury.
“There was no hesitation by anyone in the huddle, a lot of confidence we were going to get it done,” said Tannehill, the 2019 comeback player of the year.
Gostkowski, the four-time Pro Bowl pick and three-time Super Bowl champion with New England Patriots who signed with Tennessee just 10 days before the regular season began, missed three field goals in the 40 to 49-yard range and two extra points over his first two performances with the Titans. The 15-year veteran has three game-winning kicks with less than two minutes left in three games, though. The Titans have a net scoring margin of just six points.
“I had my back up against the wall, just kind of the emotions and feelings I never had before,” Gostkowski said. “To just keep my head down and grind and have some good results the last two weeks definitely means a lot.”
Dalvin Cook rushed for a career-high 181 yards and a score and rookie Justin Jefferson had seven catches for 175 yards and a touchdown for the Vikings, who are 0-3 for the first time since 2013, the year before coach Mike Zimmer was hired.
“We just came up a play or two short,” said Kirk Cousins, who threw for 251 yards and three scores.
Cousins hit Kyle Rudolph for a one-handed, toe-tapping grab in the back of the end zone for a 30-25 lead with 10:17 left, but the depleted Vikings defense didn’t do enough to hold it. Tannehill and Henry helped move the Titans just close enough for Gostkowski, whose three second-half makes were all from 50-plus yards.
“The thing I have to figure out right now is to how to keep this team to understand what’s causing them to lose,” Zimmer said.
The Vikings, who were outscored 37-13 in the first half over their first two games, had 464 yards by an offense that finally got going. Cousins was hit late by Jeffery Simmons for a roughing-the-passer penalty that gave Minnesota the ball at its 40-yard line with 1:41 remaining, but the Titans toughened up after that. Amani Hooker picked off a desperation fourth-down heave by Cousins, who has already matched his 2019 interception total with six.
“The last possession, when you’ve got a chance to go down and win the game with a field goal, is a complete disaster,” Zimmer said.
During this NFL season that’s been drastically altered by the coronavirus outbreak, resilience might be even more of a vital ingredient in the recipe for success than usual and style points will be even more irrelevant. The Titans can sure attest.
“It’s not something that we want to rely on, but it’s something that we want to continue to build on and be excited and appreciative,” Vrabel said.
INJURY REPORT
Titans: LT Taylor Lewan hurt his shoulder late in the first quarter and did not return, replaced by Ty Sambrailo. … LB Vic Beasley Jr. played sparingly in his Titans debut after missing the first two games with a knee injury.
Vikings: With DE Danielle Hunter (neck) and LB Anthony Barr (pectoral) on injured reserve and CB Mike Hughes (neck) and CB Cameron Dantzler (rib) on the inactive list, the Vikings were missing four starters from their first-choice lineup.
UP NEXT
Titans: Host Pittsburgh (3-0) on Oct. 4.
Vikings: Play at Houston (0-3) on Oct. 4.
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Minnesota Sports

Jefferson’s breakout not enough, as Vikings falter at finish

By DAVE CAMPBELL AP Pro Football Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Justin Jefferson blew by the closest man in coverage to make a wide-open catch, sprinted parallel to the sideline and broke through two tackle attempts around the 20-yard line before veering toward the end zone.
The last part of Jefferson’s first NFL touchdown was so easy he took the opportunity to slow down and tap dance across the goal line, giving the Minnesota Vikings a 12-point lead over Tennessee midway through the third quarter.
If only Jefferson and the Vikings found the end of the game so trouble-free.
Stephen Gostkowski made his career-high sixth field goal of game, a 55-yarder with 1:44 left that lifted the undefeated Titans to a 31-30 victory over the winless Vikings on Sunday.
“It doesn’t really matter how many yards or catches or touchdowns I had, we still lost,” said Jefferson, who had seven receptions for 175 yards. “We still have some things to fix.”
Only two Vikings rookies have had more receiving yards in a game: Sammy White (210) against Detroit on Nov. 7, 1976, and Hall of Famer Randy Moss (190) on Oct. 5, 1998.
The Vikings, who were outscored 37-13 in the first half over their first two games, produced six drives of 50-plus yards and led for 32:07, including 30-25 with 10:17 remaining when Kirk Cousins hit Kyle Rudolph for a one-handed, toe-tapping touchdown.
The Titans responded with a field goal, and then all that good work by the offense over the first 55 minutes of the game was negated by an unraveling that left coach Mike Zimmer quite upset.
Tight end Irv Smith was called for an illegal block in the back penalty during a run by Dalvin Cook for no gain, pushing the ball back to the 29-yard line. Rookie cornerback Kristian Fulton delivered a sack on the next play, and the Vikings had to punt.
“Things like that that the good teams don’t do,” said Zimmer, who is 0-3 for the first time since he was hired in 2014.
After Gostkowski’s last kick of the game put them behind, the Vikings caught a break when Cousins was hit late by Jeffery Simmons for a roughing-the-passer penalty that pushed the ball to their own 40-yard line with 1:41 remaining.
The Titans cranked up the pressure after that, though.
After a hurried Cousins threw incomplete to Cook, who had a career-high 182 rushing yards and a score, a wayward snap by center Garrett Bradbury when Cousins wasn’t ready for it led to a 14-yard loss on the fumble. After another incompletion intended for Cook, Cousins had his desperation fourth-down heave picked off by Amani Hooker for Minnesota’s third turnover. Cook lost a fumble in the first quarter, and Cousins was intercepted in the third quarter. Cousins has already matched his 2019 interception total with six.
“Those guys are all veteran guys, and I want them to take charge in those moments when we have the opportunity to go down and win the football game,” Zimmer said. “Instead, it was chaos. We’re going to have to get that squared away.”
Said Cousins, who went 16 for 27 for 251 yards and three touchdowns: “You’d have to ask coach specifically what he meant, but we’ll have to work on what didn’t go well there.”
Jefferson, the 22nd overall pick in the draft, ought to at least give the Vikings a spark to build off.
“He had a great game today. Really proud of the way he played,” said Cousins, who threw only one pass to Jefferson that wasn’t a completed, a well-placed throw into the end zone in the second quarter that cornerback Malcolm Butler broke up at the last second.
Chosen with the selection acquired in the trade that sent Stefon Diggs to Buffalo, Jefferson came with especially high expectations that he has not hidden from. Cousins and the Vikings will need him to continue producing like this, to take the attention away from star Adam Thielen in a season that’s already on the brink.
“It boosted my confidence a lot, coming out here and having a game like that on a high level,” Jefferson said. “More to come.”
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Minnesota Sports

Pandemic playoffs: Brewers, Astros in despite losing records

By BEN WALKER AP Baseball Writer
Christian Yelich and the Milwaukee Brewers got off to a ragged start this year. They never got above .500. And they dropped their last game to finish with a losing record.
Guess what? They’re going to the playoffs.
“Weird. I guess that’s the only way to describe it. It’s fitting for 2020,” Yelich said Sunday.
A pandemic-altered, 60-game regular season that many believed would never get completed and saw games postponed because of virus outbreaks, racial injustice protests and a hurricane went into the final day without a single playoff matchup set.
Then, in a flurry and fury, the entire, expanded 16-team postseason field was full.
Not a bad way to start, either: Gerrit Cole vs. Shane Bieber in a mega-watt duel as the New York Yankees face the Cleveland Indians in the best-of-three wild-card round Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the NL gets going. That’s when the Brewers, at 29-31, open their series against Los Angeles ace Walker Buehler at Dodger Stadium.
In a win-and-you’re-in game, St. Louis clinched by beating Milwaukee 5-2. But the Brewers also made it when San Francisco lost 5-4 to San Diego for the last wild-card spot.
Yelich, the former MVP who hit .205 this year after winning the last two NL batting titles, and the Brewers happily posed for a team picture in their playoff-clinch T-shirts on the Busch Stadium field.
The Astros and first-year manager Dusty Baker also are in at 29-31. Houston got its spot by finishing second in the AL West, drawing an automatic berth.
The only other team in major league history to reach the playoffs with a losing record was the 1981 Kansas City Royals — at 50-53 overall, they made it by winning the second half in a strike-split season.
“It’s a celebration. We’re in. We’re in the playoffs. That’s how you see it,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “There’s no reason to apologize for getting into the playoffs.”
“The record’s kind of irrelevant in my opinion,” he said.
The other AL pairings: Top-seeded Tampa Bay-No. 8 Toronto, No. 2 Oakland-No. 7 Chicago White Sox and No. 3 Minnesota-No. 6 Houston, with all openers Tuesday.
In the NL, it’s No. 1 Dodgers-No. 8 Brewers, No. 2 Atlanta-No. 7 Cincinnati, No. 3 Chicago Cubs-No. 6 Miami and No. 4 San Diego-No. 5 St. Louis on Wednesday.
Yadier Molina and the Cardinals claimed their spot despite missing 2 1/2 weeks into August after the club was hit by a virus outbreak. St. Louis played a total of 58 games — it was prepared for a doubleheader in Detroit on Monday if needed to settle the playoff picture.
“You had to throw some of the expectations out the window not knowing what to expect after taking those couple weeks off and all those doubleheaders and so many new guys,” Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt said. “It was very different, very fulfilling to make the playoffs.”
All matchups are best-of-three, with every game hosted by the top seed in ballparks without fans. With no days off, pitching strategies will be paramount, particularly how managers use their bullpens. Following the wild-card rounds, the remaining clubs will move to neutral site bubbles in Texas and Southern California to crown a champion.
The biggest losers Sunday were Philadelphia and the Giants. As it turned out, either team would’ve gotten in with a win.
“It’s tough sitting here and not thinking (about the playoffs),” Phillies slugger Bryce Harper said after a 5-0 loss at Tampa Bay. “We had opportunities to win games and we just didn’t get it done.”
October on deck means the end of seven-inning games and no more automatic runners at second base to begin the 10th, but other new rules implemented this season apply: designated hitters in the National League and relievers must face three batters or end the inning.
Nothing else kooky in this 16-team tournament, though. Like, no penalty at-bats to decide extra long games.
“It’s going to be wild, everything about it,” Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier said as the playoffs approached.
“Anything can happen, we all know that, and that’s why I think it’s going to be must-see TV throughout both leagues. It is. I think there’s going to be a lot of surprises, American League, National League, just with the three-game format for the first round,” he said.
Nothing scheduled for Monday, but the day after the season is typically busy, too, especially for managers on shaky ground. The Red Sox said Sunday that Ron Roenicke won’t be back next year, and the Angels fired general manager Billy Eppler.
Every team, meanwhile, hopes to be healthy.
Star outfielders Mookie Betts of the Dodgers and Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Braves are ailing, Marlins outfielder Starling Marte and pitcher José Ureña left Sunday’s game with injuries.
“Kind of your biggest fear on a day like today,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said after a 5-0 win at Yankee Stadium. “You hate to be playing your guys almost.”
Dodgers newcomer David Price, Cardinals reliever Jordan Hicks and White Sox pitcher Michael Kopech are among the players who opted out before the season began and will be absent in the playoffs. Atlanta outfielder Nick Markakis chose not to play, then returned in early August.
NL batting champion Juan Soto and the World Series champion Washington Nationals missed the playoffs, as did three-time AL MVP Mike Trout. The most dynamic player of his generation, Trout has reached the postseason just once in a 10-year career, getting swept in his lone appearance.
“It could have been a different story if we’d have a full season,” the 29-year-old Angels star offered.
Said with 20-20 hindsight, of course.
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Minnesota Sports

Reds beat Twins 5-3 in 10; Minnesota wins AL Central

By BRIAN HALL Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Tucker Barnhart and Eugenio Suárez had RBI singles during a three-run 10th inning, and the Cincinnati Reds beat the Minnesota Twins 5-3 Sunday in a regular-season finale that determined postseason matchups.
Cincinnati (31-29) became the National League’s seventh seed and will play No. 2 seed Atlanta in the first round starting Wednesday.
“Everyone contributed. It was a fun game,” Reds manager David Bell said. “Maybe it wouldn’t have changed anything where we’re headed to Atlanta, but it sure was nice to see everybody play well, finish the regular season really feeling good about themselves and feeling good about our team.”
Despite the defeat, Minnesota (36-24) clinched its second straight AL Central title when the Chicago White Sox lost to the Cubs. The third-seeded Twins host No. 6 seed Houston in the first round starting Tuesday.
“We were not focused on who we might be playing,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said. “There was a lot going on in that game today. It’s impossible to deny. … Normally you just worry about winning the game. Normally you just go out and say, ‘We’re going to focus on winning. That’s the only thing that matters.’ And that’s the way it is probably 99% of the time you take the field.”
Raisel Iglesias (4-3) pitched 1 1/3 innings, allowing Marwin Gonzalez’s RBI single in the bottom of the 10th.
Caleb Thielbar (2-1) started the 10th and got one out, then was replaced by Sergio Romo, who allowed the run-scoring hits and a bases-loaded walk to Joey Votto while failing to get any outs.
Cincinnati had high expectations after adding Nicholas Castellanos, Mike Moustakas and Shogo Akiyama in the offseason and having Trevor Bauer from the start.
The Reds were 15-21 after losing 16-2 to St. Louis on Sept. 1. They went 16-8 to finish the regular season and earn a playoff spot for the first time since 2013.
“We started this thing probably two weeks ago where it was, hey, these games matter,” Cincinnati starter Sonny Gray said. “These games have mattered for us for a long time and that’s the good part about it — we took the challenge face on, we took it head on. We’ve been playing meaningful baseball for a while now.”
Cincinnati finished 75-87 last season, fourth in the NL Central and 16 games behind division-winning St. Louis.
HOME COOKING
Hosting Houston could be important for the Twins, a major league-best 24-7 at home this season. Minnesota went 101-61 last year and won the AL Central by eight games, then was swept by the New York Yankees in the Division Series.
As of the 10th inning, Minnesota still could have finished second, third or fourth in the seeding.
“With all the new rules, we can’t really watch the game any more on the TVs out there, so pretty much all we had to do was watch the scoreboard,” reliever Tyler Duffey said. “We knew who we needed to win and who needed to do what. … Obviously, we would have loved to have won and taken it in our own hands, but a win’s a win ultimately. You’ve got a day to get ready for our next series.”
FOR STARTERS
Gray, in his final tune-up before a potential postseason start, allowed two runs, two hits and four walks in 5 1/3 innings. Minnesota lefty Rich Hill gave up one run, two hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings.
Gray balked home the first run in the fifth, rushing a throw home when Jake Cave took off from third.
Cincinnati tied the score in the sixth when Suárez had an RBI double, but Eddie Rosario’s sacrifice fly gave the Twins a 2-1 lead in the bottom half. Freddy Galvis’ run-scoring single retied the score in the seventh.
TRAINER’S ROOM
Twins: 3B Josh Donaldson (right calf cramp) and CF Byron Buxton (hit on the helmet by a pitch Friday) each missed his second straight game. Baldelli said Buxton has mild concussion symptoms and is improving. Baldelli is hopeful Buxton will be ready for the first game of the playoffs. Donaldson has a history of calf ailments and missed 30 games earlier this season with a strain of the same calf.
UP NEXT
Reds: Bauer (5-4, 1.73 ERA) starts Wednesday. He has allowed five earned runs in his last five starts and 35 innings. Luis Castillo (4-6, 3.21) will start the second game and Gray a potential Game 3.
Twins: Kenta Maeda (6-1, 2.70) starts Tuesday and is to be followed by José Berríos (5-4, 4.00) and Michael Pineda (2-0, 3.38).
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Minnesota Sports

Vic Beasley Jr. healthy, set for Titans debut vs. Vikings

By TERESA M. WALKER AP Pro Football Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Outside linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. appears ready for his long-awaited debut with the Tennessee Titans.
The man who led the NFL with 15 1/2 sacks in 2016 spent all of this year’s preseason on the non-football injury list with a knee injury. Beasley finally passed his physical Sept. 5 but didn’t practice for a full week until this week. He is expected to play his first game for the Titans (2-0) on Sunday at Minnesota (0-2).
Beasley talked with reporters Friday for the first time since agreeing to a one-year, $9.5 million contract in March and said he wants to make a great first impression.
“This is an opportunity for me to put myself back in that category of one of the elite pass rushers, and I think this is a new start,” Beasley said. “It’s a new start for me, and I’m more than excited about it. I know the coaches are excited about it, and there’s only one way to find out what I can do, and that’s by playing.”
Beasley had been a bit of a mystery the past few months. The Atlanta Falcons, who took him with the No. 8 pick overall out of Clemson in 2014, let him leave in free agency. Beasley led the NFL in sacks in 2016 when he also forced six fumbles, and he had eight sacks last season.
He signed with the Titans, then missed the first 10 days of training camp. That made him subject to a $50,000 fine for each day missed for what the general manager called an “unexcused” absence. Once he reported, the Titans put him on the non-football injury list.
Beasley stayed there until he passed his physical Sept. 5.
The Titans also signed outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney on Sept. 7. Clowney has played both of the first two games, helping Tennessee start 2-0 for the first time since 2008.
Asked why he reported late for camp, Beasley said he had some things to work out with a “little disagreement here and there.” Asked if the disagreement was between himself and the Titans or his representatives, Beasley declined to go into detail.
“We settled our differences, and we’re both understanding of the situation,” Beasley said. “So it’s all good. It’s all smiles on both ends, and we’re happy to work.”
Beasley also said the knee issue that put him on the non-football injury list is something that he’s been dealing with since college. He praised the Titans’ training staff and said his knee has gotten better since being in Tennessee.
He feels the Titans welcomed him when he reported for camp. He says the Titans allow a player to be himself, which also helps coming to a new team.
“I had some areas that I worked on myself as a human being, and I’ve got that under control and now we’re on the right path and we’re headed towards being one of the best teams in the NFL,” Beasley said.
The big attraction in coming to Tennessee was the chance to work with coach Mike Vrabel, who had 57 sacks in his 14 seasons as an NFL linebacker.
“I feel like that can only benefit me in a number of ways because I feel like he understands like my mindset in a way because he’s played the position before,” Beasley said. “He has plenty of experience in that area so I’m excited.”
Having Beasley available will help a pass rush that needs a boost. The Titans have only two sacks, and one came from safety Kenny Vaccaro. Beasley sounds eager to play again, saying he knows there’s been questions about whether or not he loves playing football.
“If I didn’t love playing ball, I would tell the coaches to go look for somebody else that may be a better fit for the organization,” Beasley said. “But I’m not going to give nobody no halfhearted effort. I want to give them the best of what I got, and that’s by making sure I’m mentally prepared and physically prepared.”
NOTES: The Titans declared WR A.J. Brown (knee) out for a second straight week. Rookie CB Chris Jackson (hamstring) is out, and OLB Derick Roberson (illness) will miss his third straight game.
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Follow Teresa M. Walker at https://twitter.com/TeresaMWalker
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