From Comcast SportsNetATLANTA (AP) -- Chipper Jones didn't want to go out this way.The Atlanta Braves third baseman made a crucial throwing error and never hit a ball out of the infield Friday, his brilliant career ending with a 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in a wild-card game that turned messy when fans littered the field after a disputed call by the umpires.Don't blame the umps, Jones said."I'm the one to blame."In the fourth inning, with the Braves leading 2-0 on David Ross' homer, Carlos Beltran blooped a single to right for the first hit of the game off Kris Medlen. But the Braves got what they needed from Matt Holliday, a hard-hit grounder to third base that Jones fielded with a nifty backhanded grab."A tailor-made double play" he called it.Only one problem. Jones' throw to second base sailed over the head of Dan Uggla, rolling out into right field. The Cardinals wound up scoring three runs and led the rest of the way.Turns out, that was only ball Jones got out of the infield all night. He went 1 for 5 at the plate, getting a generous call from the official scorer on his final at-bat -- a grounder to second baseman Daniel Descalso, whose leaping throw to first pulled Allen Craig off the bag. He couldn't get hit foot on the bag ahead of the 40-year-old Jones, hustling until the end.He lumbered around to third on Freddie Freeman's ground-rule double, but that was where his career ended.Uggla grounded out to end the Braves' season -- and a big league career that started in 1993. Jones spent it all with the Braves, wining a World Series title in '95, an MVP award in '99, and an NL batting crown four years ago. He'll go down as one of the greatest-switch hitters in baseball history, finishing with 468 homers and a .303 average.Jones was just crossing home plate as the Cardinals began their celebration. He kept right on running toward the dugout.It was over."I wanted to come out here and play well," Jones said. "My heart is broken not for me. My heard is broken for my teammates and my coaching staff, and all these fans that have been so great to us this year."Jones drove to Turner Field for the final time as a player with his mother, father and two of his young sons.He was amazed how calm he felt."I turned around and told my dad, This is why I know I'm ready to go. I'm not even nervous,'" Jones said before the game, with 8-year-old Shea and 7-year-old Tristan standing nearby, both wearing red Braves jerseys.But Jones sure looked shaky on that throw, which ruined what should have been another scoreless inning for Medlen.Jones, who announced his retirement in spring training, had envisioned plenty of ways his career might end."This is not one of them, I can assure you that," he said. "It's just one of those things that happens from time to time. You have a game defensively where you don't make plays that you should. You give good teams extra outs and it ends up biting you."The Braves made two more throwing errors in the seventh, handing the Cardinals three runs and a 6-2 lead without getting a ball out of the infield.Atlanta attempted to rally in the eighth, putting two runners aboard with one out. Andrelton Simmons appeared to load the bases when his pop fly to short left field dropped on a mix-up between two fielders, but the umpires called him out on the infield fly rule. That enraged the crowd of 52,631, which littered the field with debris and caused a 19-minute delay.Jones watched the ugly display from the safety of the Braves dugout."Momma didn't raise no fool," he quipped. "You never want to see something get violent like that. I know one thing for sure -- you won't be able to say that Braves fans don't care."Batting cleanup, Jones had a forgettable night at the plate. He struck out in the first. He grounded out with a runner aboard to end the third. He led off the sixth with a popup. He grounded out with runners at second and third to end the seventh, squandering a chance to pull the Braves within a run.Finally, he came up in the ninth with two outs and no one aboard.Before stepping into the box, Jones pulled off his helmet and used it to salute the crowd, most of whom hung around to see his last swing."Chipper! Chipper! Chipper!" they roared.When it was done, a small batch of fans remained behind the Braves dugout, keeping up the chant in hopes Jones might come out for one last curtain call.He never did.It was over."I'll be OK," Jones said. "When you walk out of here knowing that you brought it every day, it makes walking away on the final day a little bit easier."
The good news for the 2016 Redskins was that they didn’t collapse after winning the division the previous season as has been their pattern in the past. The bad news was that they didn’t take the next step and improve from a franchise that can compete to make the playoffs into one that is playing multiple postseason games year in and year out.
That work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players. In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Rich Tandler and JP Finlay will examine the biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.
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Can the Redskins trust Dustin Hopkins at kicker?
Finlay: Nick Novak. Graham Gano. Shaun Suisham. That's just a recent list of kickers the Redskins gave up on too early.
Dustin Hopkins missed a couple of important kicks in 2016, especially after a very strong start to the year, but with a powerful leg and a sharp mindset he should absolutely be the 'Skins kicker in 2017. In two seasons with Washington, Hopkins has made 84 percent of his field goals and 95 percent of his extra points. Don't forget he routinely puts kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks too.
Yes, Hopkins missed a game winner against the Bengals and other important kicks later in the year. That happened. Missed kicks are a part of life in the NFL. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point in the Super Bowl.
At 6-foot-2 and just 26 years old, Hopkins is young and athletic. Of 70 career field goal attempts, Hopkins has missed 11 times. Of the misses, six of them came from 50+ yards. In 31 games, Jay Gruden has proven he trusts Hopkins to attempt long kicks. The 'Skins would be well served to stick with the young kicker.
Finding a quarterback may be the most difficult, least scientific task that NFL organizations must undertake. Deciding when to let go of a struggling kicker is second.
There are plenty of strong legs out there spending hours every day kicking on high school fields in hopes of getting an NFL tryout. But being successful as a kicker is as much about what is above the shoulders as it is what’s below the waist. It appears Hopkins had a mental slump last year but he came back to finish strong.
Hopkins started the year making 14 of his first 15 field goal attempts, with the miss coming in the wind in Baltimore. But then in the dome in Detroit he just missed a 45-yard try and that set off a slump where he missed five of 15 field goal tries. He pulled it back together and missed just two of his final nine kicks, one of them a “why not” 57-yard try at the end of the first half against the Giants.
So, it was more of a slump than a bad year for Hopkins. He continued to pound the ball into the end zone, finishing tied for fourth in touchback percentage. I would understand if they brought in some competition for him during training camp but it will be a major upset if he is not the Week 1 kicker.
More offseason questions:
Want more Redskins? Check out @JPFinlayCSN and @Rich_TandlerCSN for live updates or click here for the #RedskinsTalk Podcast on iTunes, here for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!
The Caps are in New York for the quick turnaround against the New York Rangers on Saturday (12:30 p.m., NBC). Here are three bold predictions for the game.
1. The Rangers will score on an odd-man rush in the first period
New York is a team that plays with speed and they haven't had a game since Thursday. That’s not good for a Capitals team trying to get their legs back after a bye week and that played in a game that started less than 24 hours ago.
2. Both teams will combine for over 15 penalty minutes
Saturday’s game in Detroit was a contentious affair. Add a quick turnaround and a rivalry game and I’m expecting a physical, nasty matchup on Sunday.
3. Washington will score a power play goal
The Caps went 0-for-5 on the power play Saturday. Given how many penalties I expect both teams will take on Sunday, I see the Caps breaking through on Sunday on the man advantage.
1. Detroit will lead after the first period - Correct
2. Andreas Athanasiou will score - Wrong
3. Nicklas Backstrom will earn two points - Wrong
2017 Results: The Caps came back from the bye a little rusty. I picked up right where I left off with two wrong predictions.
MORE CAPITALS: Caps succumb to bye week rust, fall to last-place Detroit