Here we are, in the victory formation to end 2020, looking to run out the clock on a year you probably never want to see again.
But before we get to 2021, here’s a look back at some of the top sports stories of the year.
Steelers’ record start, sobering 2nd half
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Steelers’ James Conner and Chase Claypool celebrate with JuJu Smith-Shuster after Smith-Shuster’s game winning touchdown catch against the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 27, 2020 at Heinz Field.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season was unlike any recent one because of covid-19. But it was unlike many others because the team stayed perfect well into the season.
Led by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who returned from missing most of the 2019 season, the team broke the previous franchise record for the best start to a season when it defeated the Dallas Cowboys in Week 9 to improve to 8-0. That bested the 7-0 start of the 1978 squad, a team that went 14-2 and won the Super Bowl.
The winning ways continued into Week 12, when the Steelers notched another win against a covid-ravaged Baltimore Ravens team to make it 11-0. The Ravens lacked quarterback Lamar Jackson, among other players, in a game that was postponed from Thanksgiving night multiple times before being played the following Wednesday.
Many in Steelers Nation had thoughts of a possible 16-0 regular season and of a Lombardi Trophy come February, but that dream took a sobering hit after the Steelers lost in Week 13. The team’s first defeat came at the hands of a then 5-6 Washington Football Team in a game the Steelers led by 11 at halftime.
The team lost again and again after that.
Things went from bad to miserable with an unexpected 27-17 loss to a Cincinnati Bengals team that had won just twice all season and was starting a third-string quarterback.
After three straight losses, the Steelers bounced back with a second-half comeback win against the Indianapolis Colts, which also clinched the AFC North.
As the calendar comes to a close, many wonder whether the Steelers postseason trip will last beyond one week and whether Roethlisberger should be back for his 18th season.
Pirates’ historically bad season
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates manager Derek Shelton removes pitcher Joe Musgrove from a game against the Milwaukee Brewers on July 29, 2020, at PNC Park.
Death, taxes and the Pittsburgh Pirates losing are the only guarantees in life, at least for the majority of the last 30 seasons.
That was again the case in 2020. In a shortened 60-game season, the Pirates won fewer than 20 games, going 19-41 to claim the worst record in baseball and the fifth-worst winning percentage in franchise history (.317). To put into perspective the level of ineptitude, if the Pirates’ wins from the past two seasons were combined (19 wins in 2020 and 69 wins in 2019), the team still wouldn’t have had enough wins to qualify for the 2019 postseason.
With a new manager, general manager and president, the Pirates were likely going to be in for growing pains. And they were.
The Pirates suffered through stretches where they went 2-14 with a seven-game losing streak early in the season and later 1-13 with an eight-game losing streak.
Outfielder Starling Marte’s glove and bat were missed as he was traded prior to the season. Bats in the outfield took a hit in 2020, with Gregory Polanco batting .153 and Bryan Reynolds finishing at .189 after a stellar rookie season. First baseman Josh Bell posted a .226 average, his worst in the majors.
To add insult to an already-bad season, a squad of familiar faces made it to the World Series, as former Pirates pitchers Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow and outfielder Austin Meadows of the Tampa Bay Rays battled to baseball’s championship before losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games. The Rays brushed up against the New York Yankees on the way to the World Series, facing former Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole in two games of the best-of-five series.
Penguins exit playoffs early again as core grows older
Canadian Press via AP
Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87), center Evgeni Malkin (71) and defenseman Kris Letang (58) react after losing to the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup playoffs Aug. 7 in Toronto.
The Pittsburgh Penguins struggled again in the playoffs, the second time in as many years to exit in the first series.
The Montreal Canadiens defeated the Penguins, 3-1, in a best-of-five series from the Toronto bubble, a matchup many thought Pittsburgh would win. Entering the series after a stoppage forced by the coronavirus, the Canadiens had the 24th-best record in the NHL and 12th-best in the Eastern Conference, while the Penguins boasted the seventh-best in the league and fifth-best in the conference.
After collecting Stanley Cup titles in 2016 and ‘17, the Penguins have struggled in the postseason, failing to advance beyond the second round in each of the three past postseasons. They were knocked out by the Washington Capitals in the second round in 2018 and swept by the New York Islanders in the first round in 2019.
As the years pass, so grows older the Penguins’ core. Sidney Crosby is now 33, Evgeni Malkin is 34, and Kris Letang is 33. As they continue a quest for another Cup to add to their 2009, ‘16 and ‘17 titles, who knows what the window for another championship might be? Malkin and Letang are set to become become unrestricted free agents after the 2021-22 season, while Crosby is signed through the 2024-25 season.
With eyes turned toward next season, the Penguins are now with without goalie Matt Murray, winger Patric Hornqvist and top-six defenseman Justin Schultz, all of whom were a part of the ‘16 and ‘17 Cup runs. New assistant coaches will be behind the bench as well next season, with former Penguins players having been relieved of their duties.
Ben Roethlisberger’s return, future
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines after having his pass deflected and intercepted against Washington Football Team on Dec. 7, 2020, at Heinz Field.
A story that starts in September 2019 is one that took center stage in 2020 and might end in 2021. Or maybe not.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s injury in Week 2 of the 2019 season became the biggest story for the team going into this season. His elbow and subsequent surgery brought questions as to how he would play when or if he came back following an injury that put him out for more than four games for the first time in his NFL career.
Come training camp, Roethlisberger’s teammates saw him in action. And the reviews were good.
When the season opened with a road matchup at the New York Giants, Roethlisberger showed up and shook off the rust. As the season progressed, he threw for 10 touchdowns and a lone interception in the Steelers’ first four games.
Roethlisberger led the Black and Gold to wins over the Cleveland Browns, Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens in a three-week span, all of which were undefeated or had one loss at the time.
As the season progressed, the Steelers remained undefeated, but the recognition for Roethlisberger wasn’t necessarily there, at least nationally.
After a shaky win against a covid-stricken Ravens team, the Steelers finally lost, dropping two straight. Following their loss to the Buffalo Bills, Roethlisberger dropped a quote that opened eyes and dropped some jaws: “If I don’t play good enough football, then I need to hang it up.” He had his worst completion percentage of the season (56.8%) to that point and threw for only 187 yards on 37 attempts. Two interceptions also left an unfavorable mark on his game stat line.
He followed with one of the worst performances of his career in a 27-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. But in the next week’s game vs. the Indianapolis Colts, Roethlisberger about doubled his passing yards from the previous week and led his team to a victory, the first in four games.
While Roethlisberger said he wanted to return in 2021, fading performances down the stretch from the franchise quarterback may leave the Steelers with many questions at quarterback entering next season as they were in 2020.
Josh Bell traded, latest star dealt by Pirates
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates designated hitter Josh Bell reacts after being called out on strikes during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sept. 19 at PNC Park.
On Christmas Eve, the news of the latest notable Pirate being traded came to those naughty and nice. This time, it was former All-Star Josh Bell.
Bell, 28, batted .288 with 86 home runs and 309 RBI over five seasons with the Pirates, the most recent of which was shortened to 60 games because of covid-19. He was named an All-Star in the 2019 season, the lone Pirate that year.
The now-Nationals player joins the likes of Gerrit Cole, Andrew McCutchen, Tyler Glasnow, Starling Marte and Austin Meadows as bigger-name Pirates players traded since 2018, with three of those players (Cole, Glasnow and Meadows) reaching the World Series with new teams.
Pitt, Penn State start differently, end similarly
AP / Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi (left) and Penn State coach James Franklin
Pitt and Penn State started their seasons in very different manners, from first game to first win, but wound up in similar places at season’s end.
The Panthers got their first win in Week 1 on Sept. 12. The Nittany Lions had to wait until their sixth game, on Nov. 28, before securing their first win. The Panthers started 3-0, their best start since 2014. The Nittany Lions went 0-5, their worst start in program history.
But they ended up having similar results. Pitt finished its season with a win over Georgia Tech, ending with a 6-5 record. Penn State defeated Illinois in its final game to finish on a four-game win streak and a 4-5 record. Both teams decided against playing in a bowl game.
Former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant speaks during a halftime ceremony retiring both of his jersey’s during an NBA game in Los Angeles on Dec. 18, 2017.
Here were some of the biggest national sports stories of the year:
• Kobe Bryant dies: The former Los Angeles Lakers great and his daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash Jan. 26. Bryant, 41, was an 18-time NBA All-Star and won five championships with the Lakers.
• Brady becomes a Buc: The former New England Patriots quarterback shocked some when he left the franchise to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in March. Brady, 43, played 20 years as a Patriot, winning six Super Bowls, four Super Bowl MVP awards and three NFL MVPs while in New England.
• NCAA tournaments canceled: The NCAA men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments were canceled because of covid-19. The men’s tournament had been played every year since 1939.
• Titletown, Los Angeles: L.A. saw two championships brought back to the city. The Lakers beat the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, while the Dodgers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series. Both series were won in six games.
• Astros punishment: Following the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, the hammer came down on the organization. The team, then-manager AJ Hinch, general manager Jeff Luhnow and former bench coach Alex Cora were all disciplined.
Zach Brendza is a Tribune-Review digital producer. You can contact Zach at 724-850-1288, email@example.com or via Twitter .
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Tags: 2020 in Review