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The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  College Football Bowl Game Results

(Friday, January 02)


Final Score: Houston 35, Pittsburgh 34

Greg Ward Jr.‘s third touchdown pass of the fourth quarter, a 25-yard strike to Deontay Greenberry with 59 seconds remaining, completed an unbelievable comeback that lifted Houston to a 35-34 victory over Pittsburgh in the Armed Forces Bowl. Greenberry was also on the other end of Ward’s successful 2-point conversion try that brought the Cougars all the way back from a 34-13 deficit with under four minutes left. Houston (8-5), which trailed 31-6 with 11 minutes to play, scored 29 fourth- quarter points and recovered a pair of onside kicks, the last leading to Greenberry’s second touchdown catch of the day. Ward finished 15-of-24 for 274 yards and added 92 on the ground. Greenberry finished with 85 yards on four receptions, while Kenneth Farrow put up 103 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries to help the Cougars prevail in this matchup of interim coaches. Houston fired Tony Levine on Dec. 8, with defensive coordinator David Gibbs leading the team for the bowl game. Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph directed Pittsburgh (6-7), which had head coach Paul Chryst depart for the same position at alma mater Wisconsin.


Final Score: Tennessee 45, Iowa 28

Joshua Dobbs accounted for 205 yards and the Tennessee Volunteers cruised past the Iowa Hawkeyes, 45-28, in the TaxSlayer Bowl on Friday. Dobbs threw for 129 yards with a touchdown and an interception, while rushing for 76 yards with two scores for the Vols (7-6), who won four of their last five to end the season. Jalen Hurd had a strong performance with 122 yards on the ground and added two touchdowns in the win. Jordan Canzeri paced the Hawkeyes (7-6) with 120 rushing yards on 12 carries, while Mark Weisman had two rushing touchdowns. Iowa used a pair of quarterbacks in C.J. Beathard and Jake Rudock throughout the day. Beathard finished with 145 passing yards with two touchdowns and an interception to go along with 82 rushing yards. Rudock threw for 32 yards and rushed for 22 in the loss.


Final Score: (14) UCLA 40, (11) Kansas State 35

Brett Hundley began to jump up and down with his arms raised in victory before Paul Perkins crossed midfield. Perkins ran for 194 yards and two touchdowns, including a backbreaking 67-yard scoring run late in the fourth quarter to seal No. 14 UCLA’s 40-35 victory over No. 11 Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl on Friday. Kansas State fought back from a 31-6 halftime deficit, cutting the margin to 34-28 after Jake Waters plunged in from a yard out with 4:54 remaining. UCLA (10-3), though, had an answer. Faced with a 2nd-and-13 at its own 33 following a false start penalty, Perkins burst through a huge hole off the left side of the line untouched and strolled the rest of the way for the score. The ensuing two-point conversion was unsuccessful. Waters hit Tyler Lockett for a 29-yard touchdown to claw Kansas State (9-4) within 40-35, but an onside kick was recovered by the Bruins. UCLA had a 331-31 advantage in rushing yards. Hundley, in what most likely was his last collegiate game, completed 12-of-24 passes for 136 yards with a touchdown and added 96 yards and two scores on the ground for the Bruins, who have won consecutive bowl games for the first time since winning eight in a row from 1983-1991.


Final Score: Oklahoma State 30, Washington 22

Mason Rudolph passed for 299 yards and two touchdowns in his third career start and Oklahoma State upended Washington 30-22 to win the Cactus Bowl. Rudolph took over at quarterback for Daxx Garman following a 28-7 loss against Texas on Nov. 15, OSU’s fourth loss during a five-game slide. Rudolph helped the Cowboys top rival Oklahoma in the last week of the regular season to become bowl eligible. The true freshman completed 17-of-26 passes, Desmond Roland gained 123 yards on 32 carries and Oklahoma State (7-6) improved to 6-3 in bowl games under coach Mike Gundy.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Steelers’ Bell sits out practice

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell sat out Thursday’s practice as he recovers from a right knee injury.

Bell hyperextended the knee in Sunday’s victory over the Cincinnati Bengals and has yet to participate in practice this week as the team prepares to host the Baltimore Ravens in a wild-card game Saturday night.

Finishing the season as the NFL’s second-leading rusher with 1,361 yards, Bell suffered the injury in the third quarter after taking a helmet to the knee from Cincinnati safety Reggie Nelson.

The Steelers brought in running back Ben Tate on Tuesday for insurance. Tate spent time with both Cleveland and Minnesota this season.

Linebacker James Harrison sat out practice with an illness, while quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and tight end Heath Miller returned to practice after getting Wednesday off.


►  Lions DT Fairley returns to practice

Detroit Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley returned to practice on Thursday for the first time since suffering a knee injury in late October.

Fairley suffered a MCL and PCL injury in his right knee in a Week 8 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in London.

He took part in limited fashion Thursday, participating in individual drills, and has still not been cleared for game action.

Earlier in the week, Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said it would be a “miracle” if Fairley were able to play in Sunday’s wild-card game at Dallas.

Guard Larry Warford sat out practice yet again on Thursday with a right knee injury he sustained against the Packers this past Sunday.

He hasn’t been ruled out, but if he is rookie Travis Swanson will get the start. Swanson made the first start of his career Sunday in place of veteran Dominic Raiola, who was suspended for the game due to a stomping incident in Week 16 against the Bears.


►  ‘Game of Thrones,‘ Philadelphia style

Chip Kelly is very sure of himself.

So when the Eagles coach turns up the smug-meter and starts running a little pompous and egotistical, it’s just par for the course.

That said, something caught my ear at Kelly’s season-ending press conference, a veiled shot at his general manager Howie Roseman.

Kelly said Roseman was good at handling the salary cap, on the surface a compliment to anyone who doesn’t understand the inner-workings of the Eagles.

To those who do, however, it was a clear shot at Roseman, a glorified money man who has risen through the ranks of the organization and now fashions himself as a football guy despite no prior experience as a player, coach or scout.

“For me to stand there and say, ‘I think paragraph five of his contract should mean this, instead of this.‘ That’s not my forte, not my strength,“ Kelly said when queried about his relationship with Roseman. “I’m not going to delve into that and say, ‘I think his signing bonus should be this, but let’s retroactive that and only make it for injury in the third and fourth year.‘ That’s not my strength. I understand it, but that’s really what (Roseman) does an outstanding job of that.

“I think since I’ve been here one of the attractive things about this job, there are not cap issues. You don’t look at it and go, ‘Oh, my God. We’re going to have to cut 12 players because we’re going to be $40 million over the cap.‘ (Roseman) does an outstanding job of that. That’s his training.“

To anyone who knows Roseman and what makes him tick, that’s as passive aggressive as it gets.

Kelly further aggravated his insecure GM when he called now-ousted vice president of player personnel Tom Gamble “an outstanding football man.“

Two different sources who know Roseman well said he was seething after Kelly’s statements, which marginalized him in the personnel aspect of the business.

Kelly is a lot like Jim Harbaugh, though. It’s football 24-7 for Chip and the ex-49ers coach and both underestimated the political savvy of their respective general managers.

Harbaugh is now at the University of Michigan because of his miscalculations with Trent Baalke and this dust-up in Philadelphia could signal the beginning of the end for Kelly with the Eagles.

Roseman is a shark that probably missed his calling in life, a take-no- prisoners operative in the mold of Rahm Emanuel. At 39, he’s the youngest GM in football but don’t let his boyish looks fool you, the list of executives who have lost power struggles with him is stunning: Joe Banner, Tom Heckert, Jason Licht, Ryan Grigson, Louis Riddick, and now Gamble.

When Kelly made his move, Roseman had his people quickly leak the fact that the New York Jets were looking to talk to him about their vacant general manager position, conveniently leaving out the fact that the Jets did indeed want to talk to Roseman but it was about Eagles pro personnel director Rick Meuller.

That little nugget certainly got to Philadelphia owner Jeffrey Lurie, who already considered Roseman his indispensable right-hand man on the football side of things, something that could have been “validated” by the feigned Jets’ interest.

Gamble, meanwhile, was Kelly’s most trusted advisor on the football side, a man with nearly 30 years of NFL experience who paid the price for the coach’s insolence by being fired on New Year’s Eve.

Described as a “mutual parting of the ways,“ Gamble was actually escorted from the NovaCare complex by security, a high-profile pawn in a game of inside baseball between Roseman and Kelly.

A game which Roseman won.

It was Gamble who had Kelly’s ear when it came to talent and the coach was given final say on the 53-man roster when he was hired in 2013, meaning Gamble had more say over who was playing for the Eagles this season than Roseman. And that wasn’t about to change because Kelly has little respect for Roseman when it comes to player evaluation.

Others have speculated that Roseman was also concerned that Kelly was so popular in the city that he could eventually flex his muscles to oust him and elevate Gamble to GM.

A December swoon and a poorly perceived 2014 draft hurt Kelly’s reputation a bit and Roseman pounced, using that, along with the coach’s own hubris, to fortify a power base that will only grow from here.


►  Panthers’ DeCoud doubtful for Wild Card game vs. Cardinals

Carolina Panthers safety Thomas DeCoud is listed as doubtful for Saturday’s NFC Wild Card game against the Arizona Cardinals.

DeCoud was held out of practice the past two days after hurting his hamstring on Wednesday.

The 29-year-old DeCoud had 50 tackles and one interception in 15 games (11 starts) this season.

Linebacker A.J. Klein (ankle) is questionable.


►  Rodgers, Watt headline All-Pro team

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been named the first-team quarterback on the 2014 Associated Press All-Pro squad, while Houston Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt earned recognition at two different positions in balloting released Friday.

Watt, favored to win his second NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award in the last three seasons, received 45 of a possible 50 votes to earn first team honors at defensive end. He also garnered five votes at defensive tackle to make the second team at that position.

Watt and New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski were the only unanimous selections.

Rodgers was tabbed as the top quarterback on the All-Pro team for the second time in his career, with the first coming during his MVP season of 2011. The Packers’ star was named atop 44 ballots, with Dallas’ Tony Romo taking in three votes to earn second-team distinction.

The Cowboys had a league-high four first team All-Pros in running back DeMarco Murray, wide receiver Dez Bryant, rookie guard Zach Martin and offensive tackle Tyron Smith.

Murray was joined by Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell in the first team backfield, with fellow Steeler Antonio Brown alongside Bryant at wide receiver. Brown was a near-unanimous choice, collecting 49 votes.

Co-headlining Watt on the first team defense was Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, who finished just shy of an NFL record with 22 sacks this season. The unit also included three members of the Seattle Seahawks in cornerback Richard Sherman, safety Earl Thomas and inside linebacker Bobby Wagner.

Sherman and Thomas were repeat selections, as were Watt, Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Carolina inside linebacker Luke Kuechly and Cleveland Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas.

Thomas received the fifth first team All-Pro nod of his career, while New England cornerback Darrelle Revis was chosen for the first time.

The remainder of the first team offense consists of Packers fullback John Kuhn, Baltimore guard Marshal Yanda, Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey, Indianapolis kicker Adam Vinatieri and Cincinnati’s Adam Jones, who was named as the top kick returner.

A pair of Buffalo Bills, Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus, comprised the defensive line along with Watt and Suh. Baltimore outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, San Diego safety Eric Weddle and Indianapolis punter Pat McAfee rounded out the first team defense.


►  Steelers’ Bell ruled out of playoff game vs. Ravens

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be without running back Le’Veon Bell for Saturday night’s AFC Wild Card game against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Steelers officially ruled out their team MVP on Friday.

Bell hyperextended his right knee in last week’s AFC North-clinching victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Although Bell suffered no ligament damage, he was unable to practice this week.

The 22-year-old Bell was the second-leading rusher in the NFL this season, running for 1,361 yards and eight touchdowns. The Michigan State product also caught 83 passes for 854 yards and three scores.

The Steelers will try to replace Bell’s production with rookies Josh Harris and Dri Archer. Pittsburgh also signed veteran Ben Tate earlier this week.


►  Bengals term Green doubtful for WC game

The Cincinnati Bengals have listed A.J. Green as doubtful for Sunday’s AFC Wild Card game against Indianapolis as the star wide receiver continues to remain in the NFL’s concussion protocol.

Green sat out Friday’s practice while still awaiting medical clearance for his head injury, which occurred during the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s 27-17 loss at Pittsburgh.

The Bengals’ official site did report that Green does have a meeting with a neurologist scheduled for Saturday, with the hope the four-time Pro Bowl selection will receive the go-ahead to participate in Sunday’s matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Green led Cincinnati with 69 receptions, 1,041 receiving yards and six touchdown catches during the regular season. He also missed the Bengals’ meeting with the Colts back in Week 7 due to a toe injury, with Cincinnati being dealt a 27-0 defeat without its top wideout available.

Tight end Jermaine Gresham is considered questionable for Sunday’s game with a back issue, but did participate in Friday’s practice after missing the previous two days’ sessions.


►  Ravens rule out Monroe, Jernigan; activate Ngata

The Baltimore Ravens ruled out left offensive tackle Eugene Monroe and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan for Saturday night’s AFC Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Ravens also placed reserve linebacker Arthur Brown on season-ending injured reserve and activated defensive lineman Haloti Ngata from the reserve/suspension list.

Jernigan (foot/ankle) will be replaced in the starting lineup by Ngata, who missed the final four games of the regular season for testing positive for Adderall.

Monroe is dealing with an ankle injury that kept him out of last week’s game against the Browns. James Hurst will start in his place for the second consecutive game.

Defensive end Chris Canty (thigh/ankle) is probable after missing the regular- season finale.


►  Cowboys’ Free doubtful against Lions

Dallas Cowboys right tackle Doug Free is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s Wild Card game against the Detroit Lions.

Free is still bothered by an ankle injury he sustained in the Cowboys’ December 14 win against the Philadelphia Eagles. He has not practiced at all since the injury, and veteran Jermey Parnell is expected to start in his absence.

Defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford did not practice Friday with an illness, and he’s questionable for the postseason tilt.

Rookie linebacker Anthony Hitchens sprained his ankle in the season finale at Washington last week, and he is also listed as questionable after not participating in practice all week.


►  Lions G Warford out for Sunday

Detroit Lions guard Larry Warford has been ruled out for Sunday’s NFC Wild Card Playoff in Dallas.

Warford missed practice all week with a right knee injury he suffered last Sunday in Green Bay. Rookie Travis Swanson will start in his place.

Swanson made his first career start at center last week in place of veteran Dominic Raiola, who was suspended for the game due to a stomping incident in Week 16 against the Bears.

Defensive tackle Nick Fairley is listed as doubtful after taking limited participation on Thursday and Friday. It was the first time he was on the practice field since suffering a MCL and PCL injury in his right knee in a Week 8 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in London.

listed as probable for Detroit are defensive ends Ziggy Ansah (toe) and Darryl Tapp (not injury related) and wide receiver Calvin Johnson (ankle).


►  Eagles owner Lurie announces new roles for Roseman, Kelly

Philadelphia Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie announced changes in titles for Howie Roseman and head coach Chip Kelly on Friday.

Roseman, the Eagles’ general manager since 2010, has been elevated to the role of executive vice president of football operations. He will continue to direct contract negotiations, salary cap management and NFL strategic matters.

Kelly, who has led the Eagles to 10 wins in each of his first two seasons, will now oversee the player personnel department in addition to his coaching duties and will lead efforts to hire a new personnel executive. The team parted ways with vice president of player personnel Tom Gamble on Wednesday.

“We are a good football team and we believe these steps will help make us a great team,“ Lurie said in a statement. “That step - from good to great - is the most difficult one for any organization to make. To do that, sometimes you have to step back and really look hard at where you are today and what you want to become.“



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Wild Card Weekend fantasy options

The NFL regular season is over and with it, most of the fantasy leagues, but not all of them.

For those that want to continue for a few more weekends, there is fantasy football still available.

For the most part there are two kinds of playoff fantasy football. One is to redraft every weekend and the other is a one-time draft that lasts through the Super Bowl.

We’re going to concentrate on the weekly format and give you our selections for Wild Card Weekend. That means you won’t see any names from the four bye teams - New England, Denver, Seattle or Green Bay.

That takes away a lot of players from the talent pool, but that’s how they got to where they are, getting a week to rest and heal their banged up bodies.

So here we go with our thoughts for each position.


Quarterback -

There are eight starting quarterbacks this weekend, and you can probably win with seven of the eight. Now that Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton has been ruled out, Ryan Lindley will start for Arizona on the road in Carolina. That’s not a situation for fantasy owners.

The top-two quarterbacks this week should be Tony Romo and Ben Roethlisberger.

Romo has been nearly perfect for the past four games, throwing 12 touchdown passes against just one interception. He helped his Cowboys average 41.2 ppg over that span. Despite the Lions defense being ranked top-three in points (17.6 ppg), they are stronger against the run than the pass.

Roethlisberger is going to have to throw early and often as he will more than likely be without his top rushing weapon - Le’Veon Bell. Unfortunately, Bell is also very good as a receiver, so expect Big Ben to target Health Miller more often. Miller is a clutch guy and should come up big along with Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. Remember, the last time Roethlisberger faced this defense he toasted them for six touchdowns and 340 yards.


Running Back

If Bell (hyperextended knee) is in a Steelers uniform, he’s a top pick. Unfortunately, we don’t think that’s going to happen.

So our top choice is Cincinnati rookie Jeremy Hill. He gets the nod over DeMarco Murray who faces the No. 1 rush defense - Detroit.

Hill has rushed for 395 yards and three touchdowns over the past three weekends and earned the 100-yard bonus on all three occasions.

Don’t forget Baltimore running back Justin Forsett. The Ravens will want to control the ball and time of possession and he rushed for 1,266 yards along with eight touchdowns this season despite not being the starter for every game.

Want someone to stay away from? It’s Jonathan Stewart. Although he was good down the stretch, DeAngelo Williams is expected to return, the coaches like Mike Tolbert near the goal line and quarterback Cam Newton is as likely as any running back on the Panthers roster to run it in from close range.


Wide Receiver

There are a lot of high-quality receivers available this weekend, but none better than Mr. Consistency, Antonio Brown. He led the league in receptions (129), yards (1,698) and his 13 touchdown receptions were second only to Dez Bryant. Almost as impressive is the fact he’s caught at least five passes in every game for the past two seasons. He caught a touchdown pass in nine of 16 games and tossed a touchdown pass in a 10th contest. He’s going to produce a solid fantasy total.

Dez Bryant is the obvious No. 2 choice (88-1,320, 16 TDs), but don’t forget T.Y. Hilton. Hilton has been injured the past few games, but should be ready and will be Andrew Luck’s favorite target.

He’s a great player, but we’re ready to let someone else take the risk from Bengals receiver A.J. Green. He’s missed practice this week due to a concussion and still has the biceps issue from a couple of weeks ago. Since his big game against Pittsburgh in Week 14, he’s done very little.


Tight Ends

There are five tight ends worthy of consideration this weekend. Greg Olsen, Jason Witten, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener have all flashed their talents at various times this season. None are Rob Gronkowski, but they all get you consistent points.

However, I’m leaning toward Miller of Pittsburgh as the surprise top choice, if and only if, Bell doesn’t play. And you should be able to get him very cheaply off a mediocre season.


Kicker

In the cold and possibly bad weather that comes with the first weekend of January, it’s always best to go with a kicker playing in perfect climate- controlled conditions.

That puts Dallas’ Dan Bailey and Adam Vinatieri at the top of our list.

Bailey gets the top spot because his coach doesn’t shy away from sending him out there over 50 yards. He’s 5-of-7 from that range. He’ll be at home against Detroit.

Vinatieri made 80-of-81 kicks this season. He went 50-of-50 on extra points and 30-of-31 on field goal attempts. He’s also indoors at Lucas Oil Stadium.

We would avoid Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro. Yes, he was 29-of-33 this season, but he’s a rookie and has never been in this type of pressure situation. He also doesn’t figure to get a lot of opportunities with Lindley under center for Arizona.


Defense/Special Teams

Carolina defense abused Matt Ryan and the Falcons last weekend to get into the playoffs and has another chance to be good against Lindley and the Cardinals. The Panthers are our top choice.

Based on past history, going against Andy Dalton in the playoffs is a pretty good idea too. The Bengals quarterback is 0-3 in the playoffs with one touchdown pass versus six interceptions and a 56.2 quarterback rating.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Area High Schools Boys Basketball Game Results

(Friday, January 02)

Shady Spring 53     Lewis County 46

Williamstown 77     Tyler Consolidated 39

#2 Notre Dame 97     #6 Clay-Battelle 42

Wahama 56     Doddridge County 53

Poca 79     Nicholas County 32


►  Area High Schools Girls Basketball Game Results

(Friday, January 02)

#9 Gilmer County 75     South Harrison 21

Roane County 50     Braxton County 42

#2 St. Marys 67     Tygarts Valley 46

Buckhannon-Upshur 45     Spring Mills 42

Nicholas County 57     Westside 37

Parkersburg South 72     Parkersburg 40

St. Marys 67     Tygarts Valley 46

Williamstown 69     Parkersburg Catholic 57



<The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top-25 College Basketball Game Results

(Friday, January 02)


Final Score: (10) Utah 79, USC 55

Jordan Loveridge scored 14 points with six rebounds as No. 10 Utah thumped USC, 79-55, in the Pac-12 opener for both schools. Delon Wright had 11 points and 10 assists and Brandon Taylor gave 11 points and five boards for the Utes (11-2, 1-0 Pac-12), who have won four straight. Nikola Jovanovic and Malik Martin each scored 14 points with six rebounds for the Trojans (8-5, 0-1), who had a two-game winning streak snapped.


Final Score: California 81, (21) Washington 75

Jordan Mathews’ career-high 31 points helped California overcome the worst shooting game of the season from Tyrone Wallace to top No. 21 Washington 81-75 in the Pac-12 opener for both teams. Mathews only needed 14 shots to net his 31, finishing 5-for-8 from behind the arc and 10-for-12 from the foul line. Wallace, California’s undisputed leader and one of the nation’s most complete players during non-conference play, had eight rebounds, four assists and four steals but only shot 4-for-20 from the floor. He finished with 19 points thanks in large part to free throws down the stretch. David Kravish added 21 points and 10 rebounds for Cal (11-3, 1-0 Pac-12), which had lost two straight games heading into conference play. Nigel Williams-Goss stuffed the stat sheet with 19 points, eight rebounds and nine assists for Washington (11-2, 0-1), losers in two in a row following an 11-0 start to the season. Robert Upshaw’s bid for Pac-12 sixth man of the year continued with another impressive performance, albeit in the loss. The 7-foot transfer from Fresno State had 16 points, eight boards and five blocked shots.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NBA Game Results

(Friday, January 02)


Final Score: Cleveland 91, Charlotte 87

Kevin Love scored 27 points to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 91-87 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Friday. Love and Kyrie Irving, who supplied 23 points, carried the bulk of the scoring load after the Cavaliers announced Thursday that LeBron James will miss the next two weeks with a left knee strain and a lower back strain. Cleveland snapped its three-game losing streak. Dion Waiters had 17 points off the bench and Tristan Thompson deposited 14 points with 14 rebounds in the win. Gerald Henderson paced the Hornets with 14 points, Michael Kidd-Glichrist tallied 12 points with 10 rebounds and Gary Neal added 11 off the bench. Charlotte has dropped five straight.


Final Score: Brooklyn 100, Orlando 98

Late in the third quarter, the Brooklyn Nets led by as many as 26, but they had to survive a furious fourth-quarter comeback in their 100-98 win over the Orlando Magic on Friday. Orlando outscored Brooklyn 37-14 in the final period and cut its deficit down to one possession, but it could not hit a tying or go-ahead shot in the game’s final minute. Mason Plumlee led the Nets with 18 points and nine rebounds, and it was his reverse layup with 2:21 remaining that ended Orlando’s 16-0 run to get back in the game. Brooklyn also got 16 points each from Brook Lopez and Deron Williams off the bench in its sixth win in seven games. Joe Johnson added 14 points, including two clutch free throws in the closing seconds. Victor Oladipo led the Magic with 17 points despite not taking a shot in the final quarter. Elfrid Payton scored 16 points, handed out 10 assists and pulled down nine boards.


Final Score: Dallas 119, Boston 101

Rajon Rondo didn’t have to wait long to go up against his former team. Two weeks after making his Dallas Mavericks debut, Rondo put up a season-high 29 points to help his new to team in a 119-101 win over the Boston Celtics. Rondo cemented his legacy as one of the great point guards in Celtics history during his nine-plus seasons there. He played a key role in Boston’s NBA Championship in 2008 and finished fourth in franchise history in assists and third in steals after being dealt to Dallas in a four-player swap on Dec. 18. In between the first and second quarters, a montage shown on the video board at TD Garden was followed by a prolonged standing ovation that nearly brought the four-time All-Star to tears.


Final Score: Detroit 97, New York 81

Brandon Jennings had 16 of his 29 points in the third quarter and the Detroit Pistons routed the New York Knicks 97-81 on Friday night. Andre Drummond ripped down 20 rebounds, Greg Monroe posted 12 points and 10 boards and Jodie Meeks netted 15 points off the bench for the Pistons, who have won four in a row on the heels of a four-game losing streak. J.R. Smith tallied 22 points, while Cole Aldrich added 11 points and 14 rebounds for New York, which has dropped 10 consecutive games and 20 of its last 21.


Final Score: New Orleans 111, Houston 83

The New Orleans Pelicans led wire-to- wire in a 111-83 win over the Houston Rockets on Friday. The Pelicans got points from 11 players, led by Ryan Anderson’s 22 off the bench. Tyreke Evans contributed 21 points, five assists and four rebounds, and Omer Asik scored nine and pulled in a game-high 11 rebounds in New Orleans’ second win in its last three games. Dwight Howard and Corey Brewer led the Rockets with 12 points each in their third loss in four games. NBA scoring leader James Harden had just 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting. Houston led the league in 3-pointers made coming into the game but shot just 6-of-29 from long distance.


Final Score: Oklahoma City 109, Washington 102

Kevin Durant posted 34 points with eight rebounds and the Oklahoma City Thunder claimed a hard-fought 109-102 victory over the Washington Wizards on Friday. Russell Westbrook checked in with 22 points and six assists, while Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison added 13 and 10 points, respectively. Oklahoma City has won two straight and four of five overall. Bradley Beal led the Wizards with 21 points to go along with 10 rebounds and John Wall registered 14 points with 12 assists in the setback, Washington’s second straight defeat on the heels of a three-game winning streak.


Final Score: Indiana 94, Milwaukee 91

C.J. Miles buried six 3-pointers for 22 points off the bench and the Indiana Pacers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 94-91 on Friday night. Roy Hibbert added 18 points and Luis Scola scored 14 for the Pacers, who have won two in a row and five of their last seven. Brandon Knight had 20 points for the Bucks, who had a two-game winning streak stopped. Zaza Pachulia contributed 12 points and 14 rebounds in the loss and John Henson scored 14 with 10 boards. The Bucks snapped a six-game losing streak in the series with an 87-81 win in Indianapolis on November 04.


Final Score: Phoenix 112, Philadelphia 96

Markieff Morris and Gerald Green both scored 21 points and the Phoenix Suns overcame a halftime deficit to rally past the Philadelphia 76ers, 112-96, on Friday. Eric Bledsoe tallied 17 points and eight assists and Goran Dragic had 10 points and a season-high 10 boards for Phoenix, which returned home following a four-game road trip that ended with a 137-134 overtime loss in Oklahoma City on New Year’s Eve. The Suns have swept the season series with Philly each of the past two seasons, winning the four games by a combined 67 points. Tony Wroten fell three points shy of his career high with 28 off the bench for Philadelphia, losers in four straight following a pair of wins to kick off a seven-game road trip. Michael Carter-Williams posted 17 points, seven rebounds and five assists.


Final Score: Atlanta 98, Utah 92

Jeff Teague finished with a game-high 26 points and eight assists as the Atlanta Hawks held off the Utah Jazz, 98-92, on Friday. Paul Millsap had 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Al Horford and DeMarre Carroll chipped in 13 and 10 points, respectively, for the Hawks, who have won three straight and 17 of their last 19 games. Gordon Hayward paced the Jazz with 18 points, Dante Exum netted a career-high 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting and Rudy Gobert supplied 11 points, seven boards and four blocks in the loss. The Hawks have won eight straight games against Utah.


Final Score: Golden State 126, Toronto 105

Stephen Curry had 32 points and 12 assists as the Golden State Warriors defeated the Toronto Raptors 126-105 on Friday night. Toronto trailed by as many as 23 in the second half, but pulled within 110-101 after Lou Williams knocked down a pair of jumpers with five minutes remaining. Golden State, though, answered with 14 straight points to put the game away. Curry, who had 10 points during the surge, capped it with consecutive 3-pointers for a 124-101 advantage with 1:38 to go. Draymond Green posted his first career triple-double with 16 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds, Marreese Speights tallied 26 points and eight rebounds and Klay Thompson netted 20 points for Golden State, which has won three in a row. Greivis Vasquez supplied 25 points, seven assists and five boards off the bench, Kyle Lowry provided 22 points, eight assists and five rebounds and Amir Johnson recorded 12 points and 10 boards for the Raptors, who have dropped three of their last five games.


Final Score: Memphis 109, LA Lakers 106

Mike Conley scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half and the Memphis Grizzlies held on down the stretch for a 109-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night. Kobe Bryant scored his only points of the fourth quarter on a 3 that got the Lakers within 106-105 with 24.2 seconds left. He then nearly sent the game to overtime after getting off an on-target 3 from the left sideline with just 0.6 ticks remaining, but the ball hit off the far side of the rim as time expired. Marc Gasol added 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Grizzlies, who have won three in a row on the heels of a season-long four-game losing streak. Beno Udrih scored 16 off the bench and Conley had nine as



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NHL Game Results

(Friday, January 02)


Final Score: Florida 2, Buffalo 0

Roberto Luongo continued his dominance of the Buffalo Sabres with his second shutout of the season, lifting the Florida Panthers to a 2-0 victory on Friday. Luongo turned aside all 30 shots fired his way to improve to 5-0-0 with four shutouts against the Sabres over the past two seasons. The veteran netminder also moved into sole possession of the 13th place all-time with 68 shutouts, surpassing Roy Worters. Brad Boyes and Nick Bjugstad each scored for Florida, which improved to 3-0-1 against Buffalo this season. Michal Neuvirth gave up both goals on 33 shots for the Sabres, who have dropped three straight and seven of eight.


Final Score: Montreal 4, New Jersey 2

Carey Price made 22 saves and picked up his 200th win in his 400th NHL game as the Montreal Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils 4-2 at Prudential Center. Michael Bournival scored his first two goals of the season and Max Pacioretty added a power-play goal for the Canadiens, who have won five straight and eight of their last nine games. Michael Ryder and Mike Cammalleri had third-period goals for New Jersey, which nearly erased a 3-0 deficit. Keith Kinkaid stopped 22 shots in the Devils’ fifth loss in six games.


Final Score: Pittsburgh 6, Tampa Bay 3

Sidney Crosby had four assists and the Pittsburgh Penguins extended their home winning streak over the Tampa Bay Lightning to nine games with a 6-3 victory on Friday night. Steve Downie returned to score twice for Pittsburgh after missing the last five games because of the mumps and Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, Andrew Ebbett and Christian Ehrhoff also found the net in the team’s second consecutive win after four straight losses. Thomas Greiss also played for the first time since contracting the mumps last month and made 32 saves. Brian Boyle, Victor Hedman and Alex Killorn scored for Tampa Bay, which had a four-game winning streak snapped. Pittsburgh moved ahead of Tampa Bay for first place in the Eastern Conference with 53 points. Montreal tied the Lightning for first place in the Atlantic with a win over New Jersey on Friday.


Final Score: Carolina 2, Philadelphia 1

Cam Ward made 23 saves to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday. Brad Malone and Eric Staal each scored a goal for the Hurricanes, who snapped a three-game slide. The Flyers lost their fourth straight game on this eight-game road trip, and have appeared to survive a scare after captain Claude Giroux went down with a left leg injury. Early in the third period, Giroux was chasing a puck down in the right corner of the Carolina end and got tangled up with Justin Faulk. As Faulk was putting hit left leg down, his skate caught the back of Giroux’s left ankle, and it appeared that Giroux was bleeding through his equipment. Giroux was tended to on the ice by a trainer and eventually taken into the locker room. After the game, though, the team announced that the cut wasn’t bad, and Giroux is probable for Saturday’s game in New Jersey.


Final Score: Minnesota 3, Toronto 1

Jared Spurgeon and Mikko Koivu scored 1:55 apart in the third period to lift the Minnesota Wild to a 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kyle Brodziak had a second-period goal and Darcy Kuemper made 34 saves for the Wild, who snapped a four-game losing streak at home and picked up just their second win in their last eight games overall. Jonathan Bernier stopped 26 shots for Toronto, which fell to 2-4-0 on its seven-game trip.


Final Score: Colorado 2, Edmonton 1 (SO)

Matt Duchene and Alex Tanguay scored in the shootout as the Colorado Avalanche edged the Edmonton Oilers 2-1 on Friday night. Semyon Varlamov made 27 saves before stopping both Edmonton attempts in the shootout, helping Colorado win its second straight game. Duchene used a deke and scored on his forehand to open the second round of the tiebreaker. Ben Scrivens then bit on a deke by Tanguay, who hung on to the puck before firing it over the Oilers netminder. Scrivens finished with 27 saves in Edmonton’s 12th consecutive road loss.


Final Score: NY Islanders 2, Calgary 1

Jaroslav Halak turned aside 22 shots to lead the New York Islanders in a 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames on Friday. John Tavares scored both goals with Kyle Okposo providing two assists for the Islanders, who have won their last three games. Johnny Gaudreau scored the only goal of the game for the Flames, who had a four-game winning streak snapped. Jonas Hiller allowed both goals on 24 shots in the loss.


Final Score: Anaheim 4, St. Louis 3

Matt Beleskey scored the game-winning goal with 9:05 remaining to lift the Anaheim Ducks to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Friday. Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Getzlaf and Kyle Palmieri each scored and Sami Vatanen tallied two assists for the Ducks, who bounced back from a 3-0 loss to San Jose on Wednesday. Frederik Andersen made 39 saves in the win. Alexander Steen and Kevin Shattenkirk both finished with a goal and an assist. T.J. Oshie also lit the lamp and Martin Brodeur stopped 29 shots for the Blues, who are 0-4-1 in their past five road games. St. Louis has now lost nine straight games to the Ducks at Honda Center, a streak which began on January 07, 2010.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


SATURDAY, JANUARY 03, 2015
National Football League - Playoffs
Arizona at Carolina, 4:35 PM - ESPN
Baltimore at Pittsburgh, 8:15 PM - NBC
National Basketball Association
Charlotte at Orlando, 7:00 PM - SportSouth, FS-Florida, DSS
Boston at Chicago, 8:00 PM - CSN-New England, WGN, DSS
Miami at Houston, 8:00 PM - SunSports, ROOT-Southwest, DSS
Utah at Minnesota, 8:00 PM - ROOT-Northwest, FS-North+, DSS
Washington at San Antonio, 8:30 PM - CSN-DC, FS-Southwest, DSS
Memphis at Denver, 9:00 PM - SportSouth, Altitude, DSS
Atlanta at Portland, 10:00 PM - SportSouth, CSN-Northwest, DSS
Philadelphia at LA Clippers, 10:30 PM - CSN-Philadelphia, FS-Prime Ticket, DSS
National Hockey League
Ottawa at Boston, 1:00 PM - RDS, TSN5, NESN, DSS
Nashville at Los Angeles, 4:00 PM - SportSouth, FS-West, DSS
Toronto at Winnipeg, 7:00 PM - CBC, NHL Network, DSS
Philadelphia at New Jersey, 7:00 PM - CSN-Philadelphia, MSG+, NHL Network, DSS
Montreal at Pittsburgh, 7:00 PM - TVA, ROOT-Pittsburgh, DSS
Buffalo at NY Rangers, 7:00 PM - MSG-Buffalo, MSG, DSS
Minnesota at Dallas, 8:00 PM - FS-North, Southwest, DSS
Columbus at Arizona, 8:00 PM - FS-Ohio, Arizona, DSS
Detroit at Vancouver, 10:00 PM - FS-Detroit, CBC, DSS
St. Louis at San Jose, 10:30 PM - FS-Midwest, CSN-California, DSS
College Basketball
SMU at Cincinnati, 11:00 AM - ESPN 2
Villanova at Seton Hall, 12:00 PM - FS1
Syracuse at Virginia Tech, 12:00 PM - RSN, MSG, FS-South, SunSports, San Diego
Kansas State at Oklahoma State, 12:00 PM - ESPN U
Minnesota at Maryland, 12:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Pittsburgh at NC State, 12:00 PM - ACC Network, ESPN3.com
Holy Cross at American Univ, 1:00 PM - Patriot League Network
North Alabama at Auburn, 1:00 PM - SEC Network
Florida A&M at Stetson, 1:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Lehigh at Boston Univ, 1:00 PM - Patriot League Network
Duquesne at Dayton, 1:00 PM - NBCSN
Utah State at Boise State, 2:00 PM - ROOT-Rocky Mountain
Bucknell at Colgate, 2:00 PM - Patriot League Network
Army at Loyola-Maryland, 2:00 PM - Patriot League Network
Coll of Charleston at William & Mary, 2:00 PM - CSN-Mid-Atlantic, New England
Yale at Vanderbilt, 2:00 PM - SEC Network+
Austin Peay at Ole Miss, 2:00 PM - SEC Network+
Connecticut at Florida, 2:00 PM - CBS
Gardner-Webb at UNC-Asheville, 2:00 PM - Big South Network
Providence at Marquette, 2:00 PM - FS-Wisc, Southwest, Fla, Ohio, MASN2, MSG
Xavier at DePaul, 2:00 PM - FS1
George Washington at Saint Josephs, 2:00 PM - CBSSN
Texas at Texas Tech, 2:00 PM - ESPN U
Thomas (GA) at Kennesaw St, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Norfolk State at Georgia, 2:00 PM - FS-South, SunSports, ESPN3.com
Navy at Lafayette, 2:00 PM - RCN-TV
Michigan at Purdue, 2:15 PM - Big Ten Network
Georgia Tech at Notre Dame, 2:30 PM - ACC Network, ESPN3.com
Cornell at Buffalo, 3:00 PM - ESPN3.com
UMKC at Miami-Ohio, 3:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Rhode Island at Saint Louis, 3:00 PM - NBCSN
Wofford at Samford, 3:00 PM - American Sports Network
Illinois at Ohio State, 3:30 PM - ESPN 2
Drake at Missouri State, 4:00 PM - FS-Midwest, ESPN3.com
Hampton at USC Upstate, 4:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Toledo at Northern Kentucky, 4:00 PM - ESPN3.com
St Marys-CA at Loyola Marymount, 4:00 PM - Time Warner
Boston College at Duke, 4:00 PM - NESN, RSN, MSG, FS-South, SunSports
Butler at St Johns, 4:00 PM - CBSSN
Baylor at Oklahoma, 4:00 PM - ESPN U
West Virginia at TCU, 4:00 PM - FS-Southwest, MSG+, SportSouth
St Bonaventure at Massachusetts, 4:00 PM - MASN, American Sports Net, Altitude
Creighton at Georgetown, 4:30 PM - FS1
Lipscomb at Missouri, 5:00 PM - SEC Network
Hartford at Texas A&M, 5:00 PM - SEC Network+
Radford at Longwood, 5:00 PM - Big South Network
Richmond at Davidson, 5:00 PM - NBCSN
Virginia at Miami-Florida, 5:30 PM - ESPN 2
Tulane at Memphis, 6:00 PM - ESPN U
South Carolina at Iowa State, 6:00 PM - CBSSN
East Carolina at South Florida, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Presbyterian at Liberty, 7:00 PM - MASN, ESPN3.com
Savannah State at LSU, 7:00 PM - SEC Network
Penn State at Rutgers, 7:30 PM - ESPN 2
Tenn Tech at SIU Edwardsville, 7:30 PM - FS-Midwest
Oregon State at Oregon, 8:00 PM - ESPN U
Colorado State at New Mexico, 8:00 PM - CBSSN
Southern Ill at Bradley, 8:00 PM - CSN-Chicago, ESPN3.com
North Carolina at Clemson, 8:15 PM - ESPN
UC Irvine at New Mexico State, 9:00 PM - FS-Arizona+
Gonzaga at Portland, 9:30 PM - ESPN 2
San Diego at Santa Clara, 10:00 PM - ESPN U
BYU at San Francisco, 11:00 PM - CSN-Bay
Women’s College Basketball
Oklahoma State at Baylor, 12:00 PM - FS-Florida, Ohio, Southwest, SportSouth
Albany at Maine, 12:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Wright State at Northern Kentucky, 1:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Norfolk State at USC Upstate, 1:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Ohio at Buffalo, 1:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Temple at Cincinnati, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Davenport at Green Bay, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Eastern Michigan at Northern Illinois, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Washington State at Arizona, 2:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Stetson at Valparaiso, 2:30 PM - ESPN3.com
Houston at SMU, 3:00 PM - American Sports Network
Washington at Arizona State, 3:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Maryland at Nebraska, 4:00 PM - CBS
High Point at Liberty, 4:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Oregon at USC, 6:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Utah at California, 6:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Kansas at Texas, 8:00 PM - Longhorn Network
Oregon State at UCLA, 8:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Colorado at Stanford, 10:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
College Football
East Carolina vs. Florida (Birmingham Bowl), 12:00 PM - ESPN
College Hockey
Union at Boston University, 7:00 PM - NBCSN
Colorado College at Providence, 7:00 PM - OSN
Michigan Tech at Wisconsin, 8:00 PM - Big Ten Network
NBDL
Iowa at Westchester, 1:00 PM - MSG+
National Lacrosse League
Edmonton at Buffalo, 7:30 PM - TSN.ca, NLL Live
Toronto at Rochester, 7:30 PM - TSN.ca, NLL Live
Colorado at Minnesota, 8:00 PM - TSN.ca, UniversalSports.com
Vancouver at Calgary, 9:00 PM - ESPN3.com, TSN1
International Soccer
Club Atletico de Madrid vs. Levante UD, 9:55 AM - beIN Sport
Tranmere vs. Swansea, 10:00 AM - FS1
Sevilla FC vs. Celta Vigo, 11:55 AM - beIN Sport
Elche CF vs. Villarreal CF, 1:55 PM - beIN Sport
Deportivo La Coruna vs. Athletic Club, 3:55 PM - beIN Sport

Sports News   150102

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  College Football Bowl Game Results

(Thursday, January 01)


Final Score: (5) Ohio State 42, (1) Alabama 35

Ezekiel Elliott’s career game helped Ohio State continue its dream season and earn a spot in the national title game. Elliott ran for a career-high and Sugar Bowl-record 230 yards and scored two touchdowns in the Buckeyes’ thrilling 42-35 semifinal win over top-ranked Alabama at the Superdome on Thursday night. Ohio State, ranked fifth in the Associated Press poll, faced doubts about its worthiness after being picked fourth in the College Football Playoff rankings ahead of TCU and Baylor. It silenced the critics on Thursday night. The Buckeyes (13-1) will now face Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks in the first College Football Playoff final on Jan. 12. Ohio State’s run to the title game came after Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller was lost to a shoulder injury in the preseason. It picked up steam after backup quarterback J.T. Barrett suffered a fractured ankle in the regular-season finale against Michigan. In stepped third-stringer Cardale Jones, who led a 59-0 rout of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game, then took down the vaunted Crimson Tide (12-2). Jones threw for 243 yards with one touchdown and an interception, while also rushing for 43 yards in the win.


Final Score: (3) Oregon 59, (2) Florida State 20

Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks will play for the national championship. Mariota combined for 400 yards and three touchdowns and the Ducks scored 34 points off five Florida State turnovers in the second half on the way to a 59-20 win in Thursday’s Rose Bowl. The Ducks, seeded No. 2 in the College Football Playoff rankings, will take on the winner of Thursday’s Sugar Bowl between Alabama and Ohio State in the national championship game on Jan. 12. Mariota was named the offensive MVP in the first national semifinal game in college football history after passing for 338 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 62 yards and another score in a little over three quarters.


Final Score: (7) Michigan State 42, (4) Baylor 41

Trailing 41-21 entering the fourth quarter, No. 7 Michigan State scored three consecutive touchdowns to complete an improbable comeback and beat No. 4 Baylor, 42-41, in the 2015 Cotton Bowl. Despite throwing two interceptions, including a crucial one in the final quarter, Connor Cook led Michigan State’s comeback with 314 yards and two touchdown passes, both in the fourth quarter, on 24-of-42 passing. Trailing 41-35 with just over a minute remaining in the game, the Spartans (11-2) blocked a field goal to give their offense one more shot. Cook connected with Tony Lippett on a 17-yard pass to convert a fourth down with the game on the line, and his 3rd-and-goal pass was caught for the winning touchdown by Keith Mumphery, who led MSU with 87 receiving yards. Michigan State ran the ball very effectively, getting 162 yards and three touchdowns on 27 carries from Jeremy Langford. The two teams combined for Cotton Bowl records in points scored and total yards with 1,135. Bryce Petty set a Cotton Bowl record with 550 yards passing for the Bears (11-2). He completed 36-of-51 passes for three touchdowns and an interception as the clock ran down to end the game. Baylor was unable to run the ball which made it difficult to wear down the clock. The Bears finished with minus-20 rushing yards as a team, and Shock Linwood only totaled 26 yards on 11 carries. KD Cannon grabbed eight passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns, and Corey Coleman added 150 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions.


Final Score: (16) Missouri 33, Minnesota 17

Maty Mauk rebounded from two early interceptions to lead the 16th-ranked Missouri Tigers over the Minnesota Golden Gophers, 33-17, in the Citrus Bowl. Mauk completed 12-of-19 passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns for the Tigers (11-3), who recorded 11 wins for the fourth time in program history. He also carried the ball 11 times for 38 yards and a score. Marcus Murphy carried the ball 12 times for 157 yards for Missouri, which has won its last three bowl games. Russell Hansbrough rushed for 114 yards and a score on 15 carries. Bud Sasser caught seven passes for 68 yards and two touchdowns in the victory. Mitch Leidner completed 21-of-31 passes for 258 yards and one touchdown for the Gophers (8-5), who have dropped their last seven bowl games. Maxx Williams caught seven passes for 98 yards and a score for Minnesota, which played in a New Year’s Day bowl for the first time since 1962. David Cobb rushed for 81 yards on 21 carries.


Final Score: (17) Wisconsin 34, (19) Auburn 31 (OT)

Rafael Gaglianone made a 29-yard field goal to tie the game with seven seconds left in the fourth quarter, then won the Outback Bowl for Wisconsin with a 25-yarder in overtime. Heisman Trophy runner-up Melvin Gordon led the way once again for the 17th-ranked Badgers, rushing for 251 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries in a 34-31 victory over the 19th-ranked Auburn Tigers. Corey Clement carried the ball 15 times for 105 yards and also caught a touchdown pass for the Badgers (11-3), who set an Outback Bowl record with 400 yards on the ground.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Cardinals sign OT Bradfield to future contract

The Arizona Cardinals have signed offensive tackle Cameron Bradfield to a future contract for 2015.

Bradfield, a four-year NFL veteran, spent 2014 with Jacksonville and Atlanta. He was released by the Jaguars after two games and signed with the Falcons in late September, but did not appear in a game for Atlanta before being released in late November.

The Grand Valley State product started 27 of the 41 games he played for the Jaguars. He made 12 starts in 2012 and started 11 games in 2013.


►  Lions and Cowboys finish off Wild Card Weekend

Playoff football is back in Big D.

The Dallas Cowboys knew it would happen before the season began by boldly sending out postseason packages to their season-ticket holders last summer.

It’s unknown if Nostradamus had something to do with Dallas’ audacious prediction to reach the postseason, but the Cowboys know they will have their hands full with the Detroit Lions Sunday in an NFC Wild Card Game.

Dallas captured the NFC East title and the third seed in the conference with a 12-4 record and are in the playoffs for the first time since winning the division in 2009. Cowboys quarterback and MVP candidate Tony Romo has only one playoff victory under his belt and looks to build on that.

“I’m playing at a level I’m proud of and hope to get better,“ said Romo, who passed for 299 yards and two touchdowns with an interception in a 44-17 drubbing of Washington in the season finale. “I’m just excited about the progression of improvement and want to keep this going in our next game.“

Romo passed for 3,705 yards, 34 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He is 1-3 as a starter in the playoffs, completing 80-of-1,235 passes for 832 yards, four TDs and two INTs. Now that the running game has hit full stride, Romo won’t have to carry the offensive load. In four starts against the Lions, Romo is 1-3 with 1,160 yards, 10 TDs and four picks.

In seven home games this season, Romo passed for 1,772 yards, 14 touchdowns and was picked off seven times. He dealt with a lingering back issue all season, but has received treatment prior to the last few games to deaden the pain. Romo has built a strong rapport with leading receiver Dez Bryant, who led the team with 88 catches for 1,320 yards and a franchise-best 16 TDs.

Bryant had six touchdown receptions over the last three games for the Cowboys, who ripped off four straight wins after an embarrassing loss at home to the Philadelphia Eagles. Bryant is the only player in the NFL with 12 or more receiving touchdowns in each of the past three seasons, and has five touchdown catches in three meetings with Detroit.

“Dez is really a remarkable player,“ Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. “As a teammate, as a leader, as a veteran guy, you take a lot of pride in seeing the growth of Dez and (running back) DeMarco (Murray) mature as players. Dez is a unbelievable player, he’s a dynamic player, and it’s great to see his growth.“

The Lions are in the playoffs for only the second time in the past 15 years and ended a two-year drought with an 11-5 record in the first year of head coach Jim Caldwell. The Lions just missed out on an NFC North title and the Green Bay Packers claimed it with a 12-4 mark.

Detroit was hoping to close the regular season with five straight wins, but dropped a 30-20 decision to the Packers Sunday at Lambeau Field. Matthew Stafford passed for 217 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for the Lions, whose 11 wins are the most since a 12-4 record back in 1991.

Stafford threw for 4,257 yards with 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, and has eclipsed the 4,000-yard passing mark for a fourth straight season. He is 2-0 in his career versus Dallas and lost his only playoff appearance to New Orleans in 2011, throwing for 380 yards, three TDs and two INTs in a 45-28 setback in the Big Easy.

Wide receiver Calvin Johnson is Stafford’s main target and he had 211 yards and two scores on 12 receptions against the Saints.

Stafford is focused on winning his first playoff game.

“I think, obviously, you watch every game and find ways that you can get better, win, lose or draw,“ Stafford said. “We’re a battle-tested team and have won 11 football games this year. We found ways to win a lot of them and we’ll continue to do that. We just have to move forward.“

Golden Tate, not Johnson, led Detroit with 99 receptions for 1,331 yards in his first year with the team, while Megatron grabbed a team-high eight touchdown receptions. Johnson missed three games because of injury.

Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh almost missed this playoff game against the Cowboys after he stepped on the legs of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers while he was down on the grass. Suh was originally suspended for the game for violating playing rules prohibiting unnecessary roughness, but the penalty was reduced on appeal to a $70,000 fine.

Suh paced the Lions with 8 1/2 sacks and is a vital piece to the stout run defense, which finished first in rushing yards allowed (69.3). The Lions were second in total defense and held opponents to 100 rushing yards or fewer in 14 of 16 games, including five games with 50 rushing yards or fewer.

Murray led the NFL in rushing with a team-record 1,845 yards and 12 100-yard games. Murray was tied for the league lead in rushing scores with 13 and opened the season with eight straight 100-yard games for Dallas, which was second overall with 147.1 rushing yards per game.

“Controlling the line of scrimmage is important,“ Caldwell said. “Our defense has been really strong in that area throughout the year.“

The Lions defeated the Cowboys, 31-30, on October 27, 2013 and were aided by Stafford’s 488 passing yards. Johnson caught 14 passes for a franchise-record 329 yards and a score in that one for Detroit, which has won two in a row in this series after losing five of the previous six encounters.

Detroit and Dallas have split two playoff matchups, while the Cowboys lead the overall series by a 13-12 margin.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Sunday’s game features two great quarterbacks and two outstanding wide receivers. The Romo-to-Bryant connection has been on point the last few weeks and cannot afford to have a Thanksgiving flop. Romo threw for 199 yards and two interceptions, and was sacked twice in that Big D debacle

Bryant had 73 yards on six catches with no TDs. He has made great strides since that loss, however.

“We’re just getting started and we’re excited about the opportunity in front of us,“ Romo said about the postseason.

Romo led the NFL with a club-record 113.2 passer rating. He has to be aware of Detroit defenders Suh, Ezekiel Ansah, George Johnson and DeAndre Levy. Levy led the Lions with 151 tackles, while Glover Quin snatched an NFL-best seven interceptions.

Detroit had 20 INTs this season, second most in NFC. It will try to produce a few more turnovers and contain the likes of Bryant and Witten.

The Lions hope right guard Larry Warford will be available after he was carted off the field Sunday with a knee injury. Warford is day-to-day and hopes to be ready for the Cowboys.

“They haven’t really told me what to say,“ Warford said. “Can’t say anything about the injury right now, but hopefully I’ll be back soon.“

Lions rookie center Travis Swanson made his first start in Green Bay and replaced suspended veteran Dominic Raiola.

Dallas had four players with 70 or tackles in Barry Church (97), Rolando McClain (81), Anthony Hitchens (75) and J.J. Wilcox (74). Bruce Carter recorded five interceptions and Wilcox had three.

Church and Wilcox will have to help over the top with corners Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick lining up against Johnson and Tate.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Lions have it tough facing the Packers two times a season and were able to split the NFC North series with each team winning at home. The Cowboys are just as talented, and the Lions will have to enter Dallas’ den in hopes of keeping the season alive.

The Cowboys were a perfect 8-0 on the road in the regular season and 4-4 at AT&T Stadium. The house that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones built will be electric this weekend, and getting Murray going early is priority No. 1. As difficult as that will be for Detroit to stop, there’s Romo and Bryant to worry about.

“We have a great defense, they’ve held us in games a lot of times,“ Johnson said of Detroit’s stop unit. “Like they say, ‘defense wins championships’, so if we just step our game up on offense we’ll be alright.“

Detroit is facing a fine collection of talent and will need a complete effort to pull off the victory. It won’t happen this year, unfortunately, as Romo and the ‘Boys ride off into the NFC divisional round of the playoffs.


►  Bengals seek to end lengthy playoff drought, visit Colts

It’s been nearly a quarter century since the Cincinnati Bengals last won a playoff game and they will be back for a fourth straight year to try again, this time in Indianapolis on Sunday.

The legendary comedian W.C. Fields once said “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,“ before deadpanning: “Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.“

Whether they admit it or not Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and his quarterback Andy Dalton have probably thought about that.

Lewis has been the head man in Cincinnati since the 2003 season and has won 100 career games but he’s 0-5 in the postseason, losing to Pittsburgh after the 2005 season, as well as the New York Jets (‘09), Houston Texans (‘11 and ‘12) and San Diego (‘13). Dalton has been there for the last three of those setbacks since taking over the team in ‘11 as a second-round pick out of TCU.

The franchise itself hasn’t won in January since 1991.

“We have to wait until Sunday to answer it again,“ Lewis said of the criticism surrounding him and his team.

“Regardless of what’s gone on in the past, this is a new team,“ Dalton added. “We’re here again. We were able to earn our way back here. We’ve got to take advantage of that. We understand that.“

A glass-is-half-full person might point to the fact that this is a franchise- record fourth straight postseason appearance for the Bengals while a glass-is- half-empty type wants results when they get there.

And those results will need to come against an emerging superstar in Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.

The Bengals finished the regular season at 10-5-1, winning five of their last seven games but they came up short in the winner-take-all battle for the AFC North in Pittsburgh last Sunday night when Antonio Brown scored two touchdowns—one on a punt return and one the conventional way—as the Steelers captured their first division crown since 2010 with a 27-17 victory over Cincinnati.

Dalton completed 27-of-38 passes for 244 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the setback. Jeremy Hill carried the ball 23 times for 100 yards.

On the other side winning AFC South titles has been a way of life for the Colts over the last decade plus as Indianapolis has taken nine of the past 12 division crowns and will now be looking to build a deep playoff run off of that.

“It’s one-and-done now,“ said Colts head coach Chuck Pagano. “We all know the stakes get higher and it’s single elimination. Whatever we have to do to win a game, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do whatever it takes.“

Indianapolis warmed up for this in Week 17 when Luck threw a pair of touchdown passes in only one half of action, leading the Colts to a 27-10 win over the moribund Tennessee Titans.

Luck finished 10-of-16 for 160 yards and set the franchise single-season passing yardage mark with 4,761 yards, surpassing Peyton Manning’s previous mark of 4,700 in 2010. Matt Hasselbeck also threw a touchdown pass in the second half for the Colts, who finished 11-5.

Indianapolis bounced back from a dreadful performance at Dallas in Week 16 and completed a sweep of the AFC South for a second straight year. The Colts, who managed only 229 yards against the Cowboys in a 42-7 loss, totaled 378 on Sunday en route to their 13th straight divisional win.

“We needed to come out and win,“ said Luck. “To get a victory after last week was huge.“

Indianapolis leads its all-time series with the Bengals by a 17-10 margin and won the only prior postseason matchup. a 17-0 whitewash in a divisional playoff back in 1970.

Back in Week 7, Luck, who led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes this season, threw two scores as the Colts handed Cincinnati its worst loss of the year, a 27-0 shutout, the Bengals’ first in five years.

Indy limited Cincinnati to 135 total yards in that one and sacked Dalton three times while forcing Kevin Huber to punt it a franchise record-tying 11 times.

“Man, there were a lot of problems,“ Bengals safety Reggie Nelson admitted when talking about that game. “We got beat and they got the best of us, so it’s always good going back to a stadium, back to the scene of the crime.“

In the postseason the Colts are 20-22 all-time while the Bengals are only 5-12.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The offenses here are polar opposites with the Colts having nary a running game while placing everything on the shoulders of Luck, and Cincinnati becoming more of a run-based, play-action club with the emergence of Hill, who led all NFL rookies in rushing yards (1,124) and rushing TDs (nine).

In his past nine games, Hill has been dominant at times, averaging 103.2 yards on the ground per contest and becoming just the third NFL rookie with four 140-plus yard games.

Hill’s presence forces the opposing linebackers to honor the run fake and that creates better throwing lanes for Dalton, who, despite all the criticism, is 40-23-1 as the Bengals’ starter, the highest winning percentage in franchise history.

“Winning in general is how quarterbacks are judged,“ Dalton said. “If you win a lot in the regular season but you haven’t won a lot in the postseason, then they’re going to say that you couldn’t do something.“

On the outside A.J. Green is currently dealing with a concussion but is always a threat as evidenced by his 1,041 receiving yards, his fourth straight year over 1k. Green’s running mate, Mohamed Sanu recorded career-highs in catches (56), receiving yards (790) and TD catches (five) but struggles with drops at times.

“A.J. is doing fine,“ Lewis said on Wednesday. “He’s doing the concussion protocol.“

The Colts defense, meanwhile, has lacked consistency, especially on the pass rush where they the club has missed Robert Mathis, who sat the entire season, first on a suspension and then with an Achilles’ injury.

Veteran linebacker D’Qwell Jackson is the leader of the group in his first season since coming over from Cleveland, pacing the AFC with 140 total tackles. Jackson has rubbed well on rookie LB Jonathan Newsome, who comes in off a two-sack game last week.

The defensive backfield is highlighted by Vontae Davis, one of football’s best man-to-man coverage corners as well as veteran safety Mike Adams, who led the team with a career-high five INTs this season.

The Indy offense remains the team’s strength, though, and finished third in the NFL with 406.6 ypg but was No. 1 overall in passing with 305.9 of those yards coming through the air thanks to Luck, who is just the eighth QB in NFL history to toss 40 TD in a season. The Stanford product has 12,957 passing yards since entering the league in 2012, the most of any player in their first three seasons.

Luck has got a plethora of weapons starting with the speedy T.Y. Hilton, who amassed a career-high 1,345 receiving yards with 1,159 of them coming after the first month. Meanwhile tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener each had eight TD receptions.

“Suppressing Andrew Luck is going to be kind of hard,“ Nelson admitted. “He always starts off kind of slow and the scary thing is, he can always get his team going.“

What Luck doesn’t have, though, is a running game although the disappointing Trent Richardson has always played pretty well against the Bengals, averaging 101.3 scrimmage yards per game in four career meeting against Cincinnati.

Defensively the Bengals will need a big day from their top pass rusher, Carlos Dunlap, who lead the team with eight sacks. Luck will also take chances at times so when the opportunities are there to make a play, a talented defensive backfield has to pounce. Nelson led Cincinnati with four picks.

“We have a lot of respect for what they do,“ Luck said. “They do a lot and they do it well. These guys do everything and do it with confidence and competence. It’s a fun team to play.“

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Geico Insurance has introduced a new generation of NFL fans to Ickey Woods and his famed “Ickey Shuffle” with a cute little marketing campaign showing Ickey celebrating getting some cold cuts with the shuffle.

Fans in Cincinnati, however, understand the Bengals haven’t won in the postseason since Boomer Esiason was handing it to Ickey. In their minds it’s time to celebrate something far more important than cold cuts.

“At the end of the day, there are only so many teams that get this opportunity,“ said Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth. “It doesn’t matter what your record is anymore. It doesn’t matter where you’re seeded. All that matters is if you win.“

And winning here is going to take some “Luck.“

“Do we want to take the next step? Yes,“ Pagano said. “Do we want to reach the Super Bowl that’s going to be played in Arizona? Yes. We’re glad to be in (the playoffs), but (we’re) never satisfied until we hoist (the Lombardi Trophy).“


►  Ravens, Steelers rivalry takes a new twist

The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers have always made a name for themselves through dominating defenses, but this season it was record-breaking offensive showings that helped get the rivals to the playoffs.

Quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco will again lead the charge on Saturday night when the Ravens visit Heinz Field looking for their first postseason victory over the Steelers.

Joe Greene, James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are just a few names that come to mind when discussions about the Steelers and Ravens take place, but both teams set franchise records this season in points and yards.

Behind an excellent effort from Roethlisberger, which included him becoming the first player in NFL history to throw six touchdown passes in back-to-back weeks, the Steelers set new marks in 2014 with 436 points and 6,577 yards. They ranked second in the league with 411.1 yards per game and seventh with 27.3 points per game.

The Ravens were right behind with 25.6 points per game and ranked 12th with 364.9 yards per game. In all, Baltimore set new club records with 409 points and 5,838 yards.

Baltimore won three of its final four games of the regular season to earn a wild card spot, yielding 13 points or fewer in each victory to finish at 10-6. The Ravens were fourth against the run and eighth in total defense while allowing 18.9 points per game to rank sixth in the NFL.

Still, the Ravens needed a little help to make the postseason for the sixth time in seven seasons as they needed to couple last Sunday’s 20-10 win over Cleveland with Kansas City’s 19-7 triumph over San Diego. That put Baltimore back in the playoffs after sitting out in 2013.

“It feels good. I remember sitting at home last year, a week from now, and it didn’t feel very good,“ said Flacco. “So, that at least won’t be happening this year, and it feels very good. It’s a great locker room right now, and we’ve just got to do all we can to go get ready, have fun this week and get ready for another challenge.“

It’s a big challenge for the Ravens, who are 0-3 versus the Steelers in the playoffs. All three setbacks have come in Pittsburgh.

“It is just going to be another one of those great moments in the Ravens- Steelers rivalry that we are looking forward to,“ said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “It’s another playoff game there. We’d like to win one of those one of these days in their place, and we’re going to do our darndest to try to pull that off Saturday night.“

Baltimore has split 14 meetings with Pittsburgh in the regular season since Harbaugh took over as coach in 2008 and 10 of the those meetings have been decided by three points or fewer.

That was not the case when the Ravens last visited the Steelers, a 43-23 win for Pittsburgh in which Roethlisberger threw six touchdown passes and 340 yards without getting picked for a 136.6 passer rating.

Pittsburgh comes into this meeting having captured the AFC North for the first time since 2010, doing so thanks to a 27-17 win over second-place Cincinnati last weekend.

Pittsburgh went 11-5 and brings a four-game winning streak into its first playoff meeting with Baltimore since a 31-24 victory in the 2010 divisional playoffs.

“It’s typical AFC North ball. We take a lot of pride in being from the North. I look forward to it. It’s going to be typical Steelers-Ravens.“ said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who has guided Pittsburgh to a pair of wins over Baltimore in the playoffs.“

Pittsburgh is back in the postseason for the first time in three years following a pair of 8-8 seasons and won the AFC North for the fourth time in Tomlin’s eight seasons as coach.

The Steelers have won nine of their last 12 postseason games, but could be without running back Le’Veon Bell for this game after he suffered a right knee injury in the third quarter against the Bengals.

That could be a major loss for the Steelers as Bell amassed over 2,000 yards from scrimmage this season while accounting for 11 total touchdowns.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Injuries always play a key part in postseason football and the Steelers face a big one with the potential loss of Bell, who led the AFC with a club-record 2,215 yards from scrimmage. He ran for 1,361 yards and his 564 receiving yards were the most by a Pittsburgh running back in team annals.

In fact, Bell joined Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk as the only players in NFL history with at least 1,300 yards rushing and 850 yards receiving.

If Bell can’t go, Roethlisberger may be forced to air it out even more without his top safety target as Bell was second on the club with 83 receptions.

“It’s the playoffs. You always have to take more. There’s a sense of urgency from all of us. We’re not going to rule anybody out yet. I’m not a doctor but we’ll see what happens,“ said Roethlisberger, who is 10-4 all-time as a starting quarterback in the playoffs.

Roethlisberger had an excellent season, setting new club records with 408 completions, 4,952 passing yards and a 67.1 completion percentage. His passing yards tied Drew Brees of New Orleans for the NFL lead and Roethlisberger matched his own club record with 32 touchdown passes set in 2007.

Wide receiver Antonio Brown played a big part in Roethlisberger’s season, leading the NFL with 129 catches and 1,698 receiving yards. Both of those also set club records as did Brown’s 13 touchdown receptions.

Consistency is a big part of Brown’s game as he has at least five catches and 50 receiving yards in an NFL-record 32 straight games. He had a late 63-yard TD reception from Roethlisberger last weekend and also added a 71-yard punt return for a score.

“Antonio Brown is gifted. He runs all the routes; he’s not just a deep threat, he’s a route runner; reverses; as a punt returner, as we saw in the Cincinnati game last week. He’s a multi-dimensional guy that can score at any point in time,“ noted Harbaugh.

The Ravens may be able to zero in closer on the QB-WR duo should Bell be unable to play. That would likely leave the bulk of the carries for undrafted rookie Josh Harris. Dri Archer could also see touches and the Steelers this week signed Ben Tate, but Tomlin admitted it may take more than one guy to help fill Bell’s production.

“Le’Veon contributes in a lot of ways. When you’re talking about replacing an impact guy like him it’s not a one-man job. It never is. It’s a multiple-man job and it might be a multiple-man job across positions,“ said Tomlin.

The Ravens were excellent against the run this season, but lost Jimmy Smith and Asa Jackson to injury among others and allowed 248.7 yards per game through the air. That ranked 24th in the NFL, but Baltimore also tied for second with 49 sacks.

No NFL duo had more quarterback takedowns this season than Ravens linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs. Dumervil produced a club-record 17 sacks and Suggs finished with 12.

Suggs has 12 career playoff sacks, tied with Hall of Famer Reggie White for third all-time.

Baltimore rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan has his status for the game in doubt due to a foot injury, but the Ravens do catch a break as talented defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is eligible to return from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance enhancing drug policy.

The 30-year-old had 31 tackles in 12 games with two sacks and a pair of interceptions.

“I just feel like I owe these guys,“ said Ngata of his teammates. “So, I’m just going to do whatever I can to help the team, and I’m definitely just ready to get back out there again.“

Said Roethlisberger of Ngata, “He’s tough. He can the run. He can rush the passer. You don’t usually get that from an interior guy. Usually that’s the outside guys. Just the physical presence that he is, is what makes him so good.“

As Baltimore yielded just 19 sacks on the season, Flacco was able to set career highs with 3,987 passing yards and 27 touchdown passes. Wide receiver Torrey Smith was on the receiving end of 11 of those, ranking second in team history behind Michael Jackson’s 14 in 1996, while first-year Raven Steve Smith led the team with 79 receptions and 1,065 yards.

Running back Justin Forsett had a career-high 1,266 rushing yards for the Ravens and his 5.4 average yard per carry led the NFL. However, he had been held to just 67 yards rushing the previous two games before ripping off 119 versus the Browns.

“We have to be a good running team, because that’s who we think we are,“ declared Harbaugh.

Like the Ravens, the Steelers were solid against the run (100.3 YPG to rank sixth in the NFL) but yielded 253.1 passing yards per game and 23.0 points per contest.

Still, linebacker Lawrence Timmons is coming off a Pro Bowl season with a club-high 132 tackles, defensive end Cam Heyward tied for the team lead with a career-best 7 1/2 sacks and cornerback William Gay returned all three of his interceptions for touchdowns.

Pittsburgh has a pair of solid veteran defenders it can lean on in Harrison and Polamalu. Harrison has 6 1/2 sacks in 13 career playoff games along with a 100-yard pick six versus Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII, while Polamalu has three career postseason interceptions. Among those is a 40-yard pick-six versus Baltimore on January 18, 2009.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The only thing better than playoff football is playoff football between division rivals and the Steelers and Ravens should put forth an epic battle regardless of whatever struggles they had this season.

“It’s a great challenge,“ said Harbaugh. We love this rivalry. We love being a part of it. We’ve said that many times before, and I believe they feel the same way about it.“

“This is probably what the NFL wanted more than anything to see these two AFC North teams go at it. I like to think we’re different. I like to think we’re still moving up but I’m sure they’ll say the same thing about themselves,“ said Roethlisberger.

This game becomes a little less cut-and-dry with the potential absence of Bell, but home-field advantage should be huge for the Steelers. After all, there is a reason that the Ravens are 0-3 in the Steel City during the postseason.

The Steelers have won four straight home playoff games at Heinz Field, going 7-3 all-time there in the postseason since it opened in 2001. Given Pittsburgh is the more consistent offensive threat, it should be able to improve on that record this Saturday.


►  Panthers are ready to prove they belong

The Carolina Panthers didn’t win a football game for over eight weeks at one point this season and now they are set to host a wild- card playoff game as the favorite.

Such is life in the war of attrition that is the NFL.

The NFC South champions will open up the NFL postseason on Saturday against an 11-win Arizona team that will likely be relying on its third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley.

Despite ping-ponging from Carson Palmer to Drew Stanton back to Palmer and back to Stanton before Lindley due to injuries the Cardinals tied a franchise record with the 11 victories and have won 21 total games in their first two seasons under the likely NFL Coach of the Year, Bruce Arians.

Arizona has also won four of its past six postseason games, including a 33-13 win at Carolina on January 10, 2009 in the divisional round, the only prior matchup between these teams in the playoffs.

“It’s a whole new season now,“ Arians said. “We’re all 0-0 and we’re in the tournament. We’re going to get ready for this playoff game. We’re not planning on being one-and-done.“

Few ever plan to be one-and-done but the Cardinals have an uphill battle in trying to avoid that fate.

Arizona comes in having lost two in a row, including a 20-17 Week 17 loss at the 49ers in what turned out to be Jim Harbaugh’s final game as San Francisco’s head coach.

Lindley did throw his first two career touchdown passes to Michael Floyd in the setback and completed 23-of-39 passes for a career-high 316 yards but he also was picked off three times. Floyd, meanwhile, made eight catches for 153 yards and Kerwynn Williams ran it 17 times for 67 yards.

“It’s a loss and no one wants to lose in the NFL, but I think we gained some confidence,“ said Lindley. “We ran the ball a lot better this week. We did a great job of pass protection ... Floyd had a great day.“

Despite their less-than-stellar record, the Panthers enter the tournament red hot, having won four straight while outscoring opponents 111-43 over that span.

Under head coach Ron Rivera, Carolina became the first team to win back-to- back NFC South division titles after a dominating 34-3 winner-take-all road win at Atlanta last weekend.

In the month of December, the Panthers formula for turning things around was running the football coupled with stingy defense, ranking second in the NFL in both rushing offense (199.3 yards per game) and points allowed (10.8 points per game) during the month.

“We put ourselves in this position by playing the way we did in December,“ Rivera said. “We’ve won the NFC South two years in a row and that’s something to build on as we move forward as a football team.“

Against the Falcons, Carolina returned two Matt Ryan interceptions for touchdowns and scored a total of 21 points off three turnovers.

The Panthers’ defense harassed Ryan all day, piling up six sacks and hurrying the veteran QB into uncharacteristic mistakes, resulting in an overthrown pass that was returned 31 yards for a touchdown by Roman Harper in the second quarter. Later in the third quarter, an underthrown pass was picked by Tre Boston and returned 84 yards to put the game out of reach.

“They played the way you need to play in these types of situations,“ said Ryan. “They executed at a high level and we did not, across the board.“

Cam Newton didn’t have to do much against the Falcons, and finished with 114 yards passing and a touchdown while adding 51 yards on the ground, including a 4-yard touchdown scramble after an Atlanta fumble in the first half.

“This game meant so much to, not only myself, but my teammates,“ said Newton. “We were playing for so much. We did a lot that a lot of people didn’t expect us to do.“

Jonathan Stewart carried the ball 13 times for 49 yards while starting again in place of DeAngelo Williams, who sat for the fourth straight game with a broken hand.

Carolina leads its all-time series with the Cards by an 8-5 margin, including the prior postseason loss. In the playoffs as a whole the Panthers are 6-5 all-time while the Cardinals are under water at 6-7.

The winner this week will advance to face either top-seeded Seattle or No. 2 Green Bay in the divisional round. If Dallas beats Detroit on Sunday, the winner will play at the Seahawks. If Detroit wins, the winner travels to Green Bay.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

If you are wondering why Arians is the odds on favorite to win his second Coach of the Year award, consider this: Injuries have been an issue for Arizona dating all the way back to training camp when star defensive tackle Darnell Dockett was lost for the season to a knee injury. When you add it all up, the Cards have been without 21 different players at some point this season and that group has missed a collective 109 games. Add in suspended star linebacker Daryl Washington and those numbers jump to 22 and 125.

The health at the quarterback position has been particularly troubling. Palmer has missed 10 games, first with a nerve issue in his shoulder before a season-ending ACL tear. His backup, Stanton, then went down with a knee injury of his own, which has been complicated by an infection.

Palmer won all six of his starts this season and 13 of 15 dating back to 2013 so this is a completely different club with him under center, one that was on its way to earning the top seed in the conference.

Without Palmer or Stanton, Arizona’s big-play defense will have to carry the day if the team hopes to leave the Tar Heel State with a win. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is getting a lot of bites as a head-coaching candidate because he has cobbled together a solid unit despite the absence of stalwarts like Washington, Dockett and John Abraham (concussion issues.)

The group isn’t that great on paper, ranked 24th in the NFL by allowing 368.2 yards per game, but it does force the issue as evidenced by the team’s plus-8 turnover ratio, which is third in the NFC.

Talented cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie are prone to taking chances but can shift momentum at any time with their impressive man- to-man coverage skills. The Cardinals’ defense had 18 total interceptions in the regular season with four players snaring three-or-more, safety Rashad Johnson (four) and Cromartie, Peterson and fellow corner Jerraus Powers with three apiece.

The Panthers’ offense is the definition of mediocre, 16th in a 32-team league at 346.7 ypg but they have some real threats in rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin as well as star tight end Greg Olsen, who both finished with over 1,000 receiving yards.

Carolina could also get a boost in the backfield with the potential return of Williams from the broken hand. The veteran was actually probable last week but was deactivated because he was deemed a liability in pass protection. Stewart, meanwhile, has been solid in his absence, rushing for 486 yards since Williams was forced to the sideline.

“(Williams is a) part of why we are where we are today,“ Rivera said. “When he’s healthy and ready to go he’ll get his opportunities to get on the field.“

Arians, meanwhile, is very concerned with the dual threat Newton brings to the table, calling him tougher to defend than other QBs who have a similar skill set like Seattle’s Russell Wilson and the Niners’ Colin Kaepernick.

“He presents different problems than Colin and Russell,“ Arians said. “He’s more of a combination of both those guys. He can really throw the football extremely well from the pocket. It presents a multitude of problems for us.“

The Panthers won’t be having those same problems. There is no other way to say it than other than Arizona is behind the 8-ball on offense with Lindley, who simply isn’t a competent starter at this level.

Conversely the Panthers’ defense has been hitting its stride lately and finished the season 10th overall (339.8 ypg) after the strong December.

Without the exiled Greg Hardy, linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are the unquestioned difference makers. The All-Pro Kuechly led NFL with 153 tackles and also leads with 473 stops since entering the league in 2012. His running mate, Davis, is almost as productive, finishing second on the club in tackles with 100.

In Hardy’s absence. Charles Johnson has taken over as the unit’s best pass rusher with 8 1/2 sacks, his fifth consecutive season with eight-or-more QB takedowns. The consistent Johnson is the only NFC player with 50-or-more sacks (52 1/2) and 13-or-more forced fumbled (13) since 2010. The defensive backfield is headlined by Harper, who led the team with a career-high four interceptions, but really took off when rookies Boston, Harper’s running mate at safety, and cornerback Bene Benwikere entered the lineup.

“We were trying to find answers as a coaching staff, the right combination of guys—and we found it,“ Rivera said when discussing his rookies.

With all three levels hitting on all cylinders in December the group has limited opposing quarterbacks to a 64.6 passer rating—second only to the Seahawks’ dominant defense.

Lindley, meanwhile, is 1-5 as a starter as a professional and had thrown an NFL-record 229 pass attempts without a touchdown before finding Floyd on a gimmick flea-flicker play last week.

“It was good to get the monkey off my back a little bit,“ Lindley said.

The real hope, though, is that Stanton could make the miracle recovery and be under center by Saturday.

“He’s progressing and nothing’s really changed,“ Arians admitted when asked about Stanton. “We’ve got our fingers crossed that possibly he could go later in the week.“

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Since 1936, no team has scored fewer points than Arizona over the final six games and still made the playoffs.

The Cardinals have continually called Stanton’s knee injury a sprain. In reality, though, it was a partially torn ACL and a Grade 2 MCL sprain further exacerbated by an infection which had to be drained. He’s not walking through that door at Bank of America Stadium on Saturday to save Arizona.

Carolina, though, is bringing what has been the second best defense in football over the past month.

“It tells you that no matter what you do during the regular season, it just doesn’t matter,“ Stewart said of his team’s renewed optimism. “Things amp up to a whole different notch in the playoffs.“



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Can Andy Dalton produce in the postseason?

I think it is rather easy to predict Cincinnati Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton’s New Year’s resolution.

It would be to help get the Bengals a playoff victory.

Cincinnati has now made the postseason for the fourth-consecutive season, yet have zero wins to show for, and a big reason why is a result of the poor play of Dalton.

Fantasy owners who compete in playoff leagues most likely have the Bengals signal-caller off of their radar, and rightfully so. Through three-career playoff games, Dalton has averaged only 239.3 passing yards, while throwing a total of one touchdown and six interceptions.

On top of that, Dalton’s upcoming opponent, the Indianapolis Colts have played pretty well against opposing quarterbacks this season.

According to Yahoo, the Colts gave up just 16.6 points per game to quarterbacks. The Seattle Seahawks gave up the least amount of points to opposing signal-callers (12.0 ppg), showing that Indianapolis was not far off.

There are simply not many numbers to support Dalton for Wild-Card Weekend.

He threw for only 19 scores in 2014, and had 17 interceptions to go along with his low touchdown-total. Dalton also did not throw for more than three touchdowns in any game this season, and only was able to do that just once (Week 11 vs. New Orleans).

Dalton finished the season as the 18th-ranked fantasy quarterback, with 241.6 points. With the exception of Arizona Cardinals signal-caller Ryan Lindley, all of the other starting quarterbacks who will be playing this weekend, outscored Dalton by at least 19 points in 2014.

Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton was the closest, with 260.9 points, yet he missed two games due to injury.

Fantasy owners who are currently constructing their rosters for the opening round of the playoffs need to leave Dalton out. Yes, he could finally come through for the Bengals after three seasons of misery, however there just is not enough statistics to back up any potential “gut feelings.“

There are six quarterbacks that need to utilized before considering Dalton (Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton), and whatever type of league fantasy owners will be competing in this weekend, they should be able to have the opportunity to stay away from the Bengals’ signal-caller.



<The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top-25 College Basketball Game Results

(Thursday, January 01)


Final Score: Evansville 52, (23) Northern Iowa 49

D.J. Balentine scored 17 points to lead Evansville to a 52-49 win over No. 23 Northern Iowa on Thursday. Egidijus Mockevicius supplied 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Purple Aces (11-2, 1-0 MVC), who won their fourth straight game in their Missouri Valley Conference opener. Seth Tuttle had 18 points to lead the Panthers (11-2, 0-1) and Wes Washpun added 11 off the bench in the loss.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NBA Game Results

(Thursday, January 01)


Final Score: Chicago 106, Denver 101

Jimmy Butler scored 26 points and the Chicago Bulls had a franchise-record 18 blocked shots in a 106-101 win over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night. Pau Gasol added 17 points, a career-high nine blocks and nine rebounds for the Bulls, who have won 11 of their last 13. Derrick Rose scored 17 points on 25 shots and Aaron Brooks had 12 points off the bench. Wilson Chandler had 22 points and Ty Lawson scored 20 to lead the Nuggets, who have lost three in a row and 12 of their last 16. Denver’s road losing streak reached seven games since a win against Utah on Dec. 1.


Final Score: Sacramento 110, Minnesota 107

Darren Collison and Rudy Gay each scored 21 points to lead the Sacramento Kings to a 110-107 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Thursday. DeMarcus Cousins had 19 points with seven rebounds before fouling out, and Derrick Williams added 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting in the win. Sacramento snapped a six-game losing skid on the road. Andrew Wiggins tallied 27 points with nine rebounds for Minnesota, which dropped its 10th straight game. Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad each chipped in 15 points, with Dieng adding 10 rebounds.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NHL Game Results

(Thursday, January 01)


Final Score: Washington 3, Chicago 2

Troy Brouwer scored the game-winning goal with just 12.9 seconds to play and the Washington Capitals nabbed a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Winter Classic from Nationals Park. The game appeared headed to overtime, but a penalty to Jonathan Toews at 18:47 gave the Capitals a power play, and just under a minute later a mid-ice faceoff was won by the Capitals that saw Alex Ovechkin bring it into the Chicago end. Ovechkin had his stick broken at the left circle and lost control of the puck, but Brouwer was there for a turnaround shot that beat Corey Crawford for the lead. Braden Holtby then sealed the victory with a tough save on a Patrick Kane shot just before time expired to give the Capitals their second victory in the New Year’s Day event. Washington had won a 3-1 decision over the Penguins at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh in 2011, and is now the first team to win two games at this annual event. Ovechkin finished the game with a goal and an assist, while Eric Fehr also lit the lamp for the Capitals, who had come into the game having lost two of their last three games. Holtby finished the game with 33 stops. Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad scored for the Blackhawks, who have lost both of their Winter Classic appearances as the team dropped a 6-4 decision to Detroit at Wrigley Field in 2009. Crawford made 32 saves.


Final Score: Los Angeles 3, Vancouver 2

The Los Angeles Kings peppered Ryan Miller with shot after shot. Eventually they started going in. Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll scored in a 53-second span late in the third period and the Kings rallied to top the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 on Thursday. The Canucks trailed 2-0 after two periods despite giving up just 10 shots but scored three unanswered goals to end a five-game road losing streak. Dwight King’s goal in the second period pulled them within 2-1 and Williams scored on a power play late in the third to tie it. Stoll netted the winner with 1:14 remaining. Jonathan Quick faced just 16 shots in net for the Kings, who won for just the fourth time in their last 10 (4-3-3). They had been 0-3-2 in their last five on the road after losing in Calgary and Edmonton this week. Alexandre Burrows and Radim Vrbata scored for Vancouver, which had a four-game point streak snapped (3-0-1). Miller made 37 saves.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


FRIDAY, JANUARY 02, 2015
National Basketball Association
Cleveland at Charlotte, 7:00 PM - FS-Ohio, SportSouth, DSS
Brooklyn at Orlando, 7:00 PM - YES, FS-Florida, NBA TV, DSS
Dallas at Boston, 7:30 PM - FS-Southwest, CSN-New England, DSS
Detroit at New York, 7:30 PM - FS-Detroit, MSG, DSS
Houston at New Orleans, 8:00 PM - ROOT-Southwest, FS-New Orleans, DSS
Washington at Oklahoma City, 8:00 PM - CSN-DC, FS-Oklahoma, DSS
Indiana at Milwaukee, 8:30 PM - FS-Indiana, Wisconsin, DSS
Philadelphia at Phoenix, 9:00 PM - TCN-Philadelphia, FS-Arizona, DSS
Atlanta at Utah, 9:00 PM - ROOT-Northwest, DSS
Toronto at Golden State, 10:30 PM - SNET, CSN-Bay, DSS
Memphis at LA Lakers, 10:30 PM - SportSouth, Time Warner, DSS
National Hockey League
Tampa Bay at Pittsburgh, 7:00 PM - SunSports, ROOT-Pittsburgh, DSS
Montreal at New Jersey, 7:00 PM - RDS, MSG+, DSS
Florida at Buffalo, 7:00 PM - FS-Florida, MSG-Buffalo, DSS
Philadelphia at Carolina, 7:00 PM - CSN-Philadelphia, FS-Carolina, DSS
Toronto at Minnesota, 8:00 PM - SNET-Ontario, FS-North, DSS
Edmonton at Colorado, 9:00 PM - SNET-West, Altitude, DSS
NY Islanders at Calgary, 9:00 PM - MSG+2, SNET-1, DSS
St. Louis at Anaheim, 10:00 PM - FS-Midwest, Prime Ticket, DSS
College Basketball
Washington State at Stanford, 3:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Youngstown State at Ill-Chicago, 4:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Milwaukee at Cleveland State, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Siena at Fairfield, 7:00 PM - SNY, ESPN3.com
Ave Maria at Florida Gulf Coast, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
North Florida at Alabama, 7:00 PM - SEC Network+
Manhattan at Niagara, 7:00 PM - Time Warner
Valparaiso at Oakland, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Detroit at Wright State, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Central Penn at Central Michigan, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Florida State at Miss State, 8:00 PM - ESPN U
Oral Roberts at North Dakota State, 8:00 PM - ESPN3.com
UTEP at North Texas, 8:00 PM - American Sports Network, MASN
UC Riverside at Northern Ill, 8:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Washington at California, 10:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
UCLA at Colorado, 10:00 PM - FS1
USC at Utah, 10:00 PM - ESPN U
Women’s College Basketball
Robert Morris (IL) at Ill-Chicago, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Kentucky at Alabama, 3:00 PM - SEC Network+
Georgia at Miss State, 4:00 PM - SEC Network+
Seton Hall at St. John’s, 6:00 PM - CBSSN
Arkansas at Ole Miss, 7:00 PM - SEC Network+
Florida A&M at Kennesaw State, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Georgia Tech at Louisville, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Auburn at South Carolina, 7:00 PM - SEC Network
LSU at Florida, 7:00 PM - SEC Network+
Marquette at Georgetown, 7:30 PM - FS1
Indiana State at Wichita State, 8:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Vanderbilt at Texas A&M, 8:00 PM - SEC Network+
Missouri at Tennessee, 9:00 PM - SEC Network
College Football
Houston vs. Pittsburgh (Armed Forces Bowl), 12:00 PM - ESPN
Iowa vs. Tennessee (TaxSlayer Bowl), 3:20 PM - ESPN
Kansas State vs. UCLA (Alamo Bowl), 6:45 PM - ESPN
Washington vs. Oklahoma State (Cactus Bowl), 10:15 PM - ESPN
National Lacrosse League
Buffalo at New England, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com, TSN.ca

Sports News   150101

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  College Football Bowl Game Results

(Wednesday, December 31)


Final Score: (6) TCU 42, (9) Ole Miss 3

Snubbed by the College Football Playoff committee, TCU made an emphatic statement against the nation’s stingiest defense on Wednesday. Trevone Boykin threw two of his three touchdown passes to Josh Doctson and the sixth-ranked Horned Frogs manhandled the No. 9 Ole Miss Rebels 42-3 in the Peach Bowl. TCU (12-1) felt it was worthy of playing for the national title, but fell from third to sixth in the final playoff rankings despite closing its regular season with a 55-3 rout of Iowa State to earn a share of the Big 12 championship. Boykin was 22-of-31 for 187 yards with three interceptions. Wide receiver Kolby Listenbee opened the scoring with a touchdown pass to Aaron Green and added a touchdown reception. Bo Wallace struggled mightily against a stout Horned Frogs defense. Wallace threw three first-half interceptions, one of which resulted in a TCU touchdown, and fumbled once while completing 10-of-23 passes for 109 yards. The Rebels (9-4), who were held to 129 total yards on offense, had their bowl win streak snapped a six games. Ole Miss entered the contest with the nation’s No. 1 scoring defense, allowing just 13.8 points per game.


Final Score: (21) Boise State 38, (12) Arizona 30

Boise State once again had a party in the Fiesta Bowl, even if it couldn’t start celebrating until the very end. Jay Ajayi rushed for three first-half touchdowns, Thomas Sperbeck amassed a career-high 199 yards on 12 catches and the 21st-ranked Broncos stopped Arizona near the goal line on the final play to hold on for a thrilling 38-30 victory over the No. 12 Wildcats. Boise State built a 21-0 first-quarter lead and stayed in front the rest of the way, though Arizona got within eight yards of a potential game-tying touchdown before Anu Solomon was sacked by Kamalei Correa as time ran out. Ajayi finished with 134 yards on 22 carries in the Mountain West champion Broncos’ ninth straight win and third in the past nine Fiesta Bowls. Grant Hedrick threw for 309 yards with a touchdown and an interception while completing 24-of-34 passes for Boise State (12-2). Solomon had both a rushing and passing touchdown and put up 335 yards on a 28-of-49 completion rate, but the freshman also had a few rookie mistakes that hurt Arizona (10-4) in its first major bowl appearance since the 1994 Fiesta. He was intercepted twice, one of which was returned 16 yards for a critical touchdown by Donte Deayon late in the third quarter, and couldn’t throw the ball away on Correa’s game-ending tackle on third down with the Wildcats out of time outs.


Final Score: (10) Georgia Tech 49, (8) Mississippi State 34

Justin Thomas accounted for four touchdowns and No. 10 Georgia Tech gouged eighth-ranked Mississippi State for an Orange Bowl record 452 rushing yards in a 49-34 rout on Wednesday night. Thomas finished with 121 yards on the ground with three touchdowns and also threw for 125 yards with a score and an interception, earning Orange Bowl MVP honors. Synjyn Days rushed for 171 yards and three scores for the Yellow Jackets (11-3), who responded from a close loss to Florida State in the ACC Championship Game and broke down a solid SEC defense. Dak Prescott went 33-of-51 passing for 453 yards with three touchdowns and an interception for the Bulldogs (10-3), while also rushing for 47 yards and a touchdown. Josh Robinson, who declared for the NFL Draft prior to the game via his Instagram account, rushed for a team-high 75 yards in the setback. De’Runnya Wilson hauled in nine passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Colts’ Cherilus done for season

The Indianapolis Colts won’t have offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus for the upcoming AFC Playoffs after placing the starting lineman on injured reserve Wednesday.

Cherilus missed the Colts’ last two regular season games with a groin injury after starting 13 of the team’s first 14 contests.

Joe Reitz is expected to man right tackle when the AFC South champion Colts host Cincinnati in Sunday’s Wild Card Round, with offensive lineman David Arkin promoted from the practice squad to fill the available roster spot.

Cherilus, a former first-round pick of Detroit, is in the second season of a five-year contract he signed with the Colts in March of 2013.


►  Marrone opts out of his contract with Bills

Buffalo Bills head coach Doug Marrone has opted out of his contract with the club, team owner Terry Pegula announced Wednesday.

“Doug Marrone informed me late today that he has decided to exercise the option clause in his contract and relinquish his responsibilities as our head coach,“ Pegula said in a statement.

“We are disappointed that Coach Marrone will no longer be an important part of our organization. We thank him for all of his hard work and leadership during his tenure and wish him and his family the best with the next chapter in their lives.

“We will now begin the important process of conducting a thorough search for a new head coach as we continue to strive to reach our goal of returning to the playoffs and bringing a championship to Buffalo for our fans.“

The recent ownership change triggered a three-day opt-out clause in Marrone’s contract. Terry and Kim Pegula purchased the franchise in October.

Marrone just finished his second season at the helm in Buffalo. The Bills finished with a 9-7 record in 2014, their first winning season in a decade, and were 15-17 overall in Marrone’s two seasons.

The 50-year-old Marrone reportedly asked for a contract extension from the new ownership. They declined, and he opted to leave. He will still get paid the $4 million he was due from the Bills in 2015.

Prior to joining the Bills, Marrone spent four seasons as the head coach at Syracuse.

He served as Sean Payton’s offensive coordinator in New Orleans from 2006-08 and was the New York Jets’ offensive line coach from 2002-05.


►  Eagles part ways with Tom Gamble

The Philadelphia Eagles agreed to part ways with vice president of player personnel Tom Gamble on Wednesday.

“We thank Tom for his service over the past two seasons and wish him and his family the best as they move forward,“ said Eagles general manager Howie Roseman in a statement. “I appreciate all Tom has done for our scouting department and our team.“

Gamble joined the Eagles in 2013 after spending the previous eight seasons with the San Francisco 49ers.


►  Beckham, Mosley named NFL’s top December rookies

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Baltimore Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley have been chosen as the NFL’s Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Month for December.

Beckham led the league in receptions (43), receiving yards (606) and touchdown catches (seven). His receiving yards total is the most by a rookie in any calendar month in NFL history.

Mosley registered 27 tackles and two sacks while helping the Ravens clinch a playoff spot.


►  Romo among NFC’s best for December

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner and Arizona Cardinals special teamer Justin Bethel have been named the NFC’s Players of the Month for December.

The Offensive Player of the Month, Romo led the Cowboys to a 4-0 record in December as the team won the NFC East. He completed 74.8% of his passes for 987 yards with 12 touchdowns and one interception for a 133.7 passer rating, the highest December passer rating in NFL history (minimum 100 attempts).

Romo is the first Cowboys quarterback to go 4-0 as a starter in December since Pro Football Hall of Famer Troy Aikman in 1993.

Wagner, the Defensive Player of the Month, had a team-best 36 tackles, including one sack, and a pass defensed as the Seahawks posted a 4-0 record in December, winning the NFC West and earning home-field advantage.

Bethel led the NFC with eight special teams tackles during the month and had a forced fumble in December as the Cardinals finished the season 11-5 and clinched a playoff berth.


►  Brown, Watt, Barth tabbed as top AFC players for December

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt and Denver kicker Connor Barth have been selected as the AFC’s top players for the month of December.

Brown, who was named the AFC’s top special teams player for Week 17, earned the offensive player of the month award. He notched 33 receptions for 440 yards with two touchdowns to help the Steelers to a 4-0 record that also pushed them to the AFC North crown.

The fifth-year veteran from Central Michigan had at least seven catches in all four games and had three 100-yard performances in that span. His 129 catches were the second-most in NFL history and he set a Steelers record with 1,698 receiving yards.

Watt, who could be in the running for the NFL MVP, picked up his second defensive monthly honor this season. He was previously selected in September and for the month of December led the NFL with nine sacks while adding 24 tackles with a forced fumble and a safety. He also won the award twice in 2012.

Barth grabbed the special teams award after connecting on 10-of-11 field goal tries and all 13 PATs for the Broncos during the month. He posted a pair of games with at least four made field goals, including a 5-for-5 effort in a 22-10 win over San Diego in Week 15.


►  Cottrell did his job

Better a thousand go free than one innocent man be punished.

That’s known as Blackstone’s formulation in criminal law and kind of explains why embattled Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will be playing this Sunday in Detroit’s wild-card playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys.

While that’s not a popular outcome for many who find the notorious bad boy to be a blight on the game of football, hearing officer Ted Cottrell got it right by cutting the one-game penalty down to a $70,000 fine.

Suh, of course, was punished for twice stepping on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ left leg in the fourth quarter of the Packers’ NFC North-clinching 30-20 victory over the Lions last Sunday at Lambeau Field.

The video of the incident, though, was not nearly as damning as the one that cost Detroit center Dominic Raiola, another Lions player with a reputation that would make Conrad Dobler blush, the Week 17 contest against the Packers for his Randy Orton-like stomp of Ego Ferguson’s leg the week prior.

In the case of Suh, you could at least make the argument that he had no idea that Rodgers was lying prone on the ground before he laid the boots to the star quarterback.

And most who hate Cottrell’s judgment can at least understand that perspective but look at Suh’s litany of misdeeds in the past as evidence that the 6- foot-4, 305-pound All-Pro had ill intent toward a player who routinely dismembers the Lions’ defense.

This incident was the second time Suh was suspended for stepping on a player, following a two-game ban in 2011 for tap dancing on the arm of then-Packers lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith. Meanwhile, he’s been fined on eight other occasions.

The NFL’s official statement on Suh’s suspension never mentioned his past acts for good reason, however ... it couldn’t.

According to league rules, a player who goes 32 games without a violation is removed from the repeat-offender list. Suh’s last infraction was in Week 1 of the 2013 season, when he was fined $100,000 for an illegal chop block on Vikings center John Sullivan, the biggest fine in NFL history for on-field conduct.

So NFL vice president of football operation Merton Hanks was forced to limit himself to Suh’s actions last Sunday.

“As Rodgers lay on the ground in a defenseless posture, you (Suh) backed up and stepped on his left leg with your right foot,“ Hanks claimed. “You then inexplicably stepped on Rodgers’ left leg again, this time with your left foot.

“The video then shows that you raised your right foot, applied pressure, and unnecessarily pushed off Rodgers’ unprotected leg with your left foot. Rodgers reacted to your actions by pushing you away with his right hand as he lay on the ground. You did not respond in the manner of someone who had lost his balance and accidentally contacted another player who was lying on the ground.“

Hanks and plenty of others certainly believe that spin but the last time I looked the former 49ers ballhawk isn’t Carnac the Magnificent and reasonable people could look at the same video and come to a far different conclusion.

Ed Reed, the Ex-Ravens All-Pro, had a far more compelling, albeit fruitless, argument on SHOWTIME’s “Inside the NFL”

“When you have stuff like this in the game, that shouldn’t be tolerated,“ Reed said. “He probably should have (been suspended more than one game) because of the things that he’s been doing up to this point—kicking guys and really disrespecting the game of football and the brotherhood that we have. Some things you just don’t do.“

Reed’s take is far more coercive than Hanks’ assumptions but like most of Suh’s detractors, Reed is basing his argument on the pattern, not Sunday ‘s actions.

Hanks didn’t have that luxury.

Think of it this way. The next time you are saddled with jury duty, you might get a burglary case with a career thief as the defendant. Any maybe that long- time criminal has a rap sheet longer than your right arm but for whatever reason judge rules that suspect’s past 10 arrests were inadmissible.

Guess what? You’re never going to hear about those past incidents and you are going to have to make your decision based on the evidence in front of you.

That’s exactly what Cottrell was facing and expecting the long-time defensive coordinator to ignore his role in order to play activist and flout the “law” because Suh is a “bad guy” is an ends-justifies-the-means mentality that we have seen fail time and time again on the personal-conduct front.

It’s fair to say Suh probably acted intentionally but all of our perspectives are clouded by his past, which was “inadmissible.“ Meanwhile, if Ziggy Ansah, Jason Jones, C.J. Mosley or any other Lions defensive linemen did the same thing to Rodgers in Week 17, they wouldn’t have been punished.

At the bare minimum, that’s plausible deniability for a serial offender like Suh and enough to keep him on the field this weekend.

As for the $70K stipend? Call it a stupidity tax for Suh’s ludicrous numb-feet defense.


WILD-CARD WEEKEND (All Times Eastern)


Arizona (11-5) at Carolina (7-8-1) (-6), Saturday, 4:35 PM - The Panthers didn’t win a football game for over eight weeks at one point this season and now they are set to host a wild-card playoff game as the favorite. Such is life in the war of attrition that is the NFL.

The NFC South champions will open up the NFL postseason against an 11-win Arizona team that will likely be relying on its third-string quarterback in Ryan Lindley.

Despite ping-ponger from Carson Palmer to Drew Stanton back to Palmer and back to Stanton before Lindley due to injuries the Cardinals tied a franchise record with the 11 victories and have won 21 total games in their first two seasons under likely NFL Coach of the Year Bruce Arians. Arizona has also won four of its past six postseason games, including a 33-13 win at Carolina on January 10, 2009.

“It’s a whole new season now,“ Arians said. “We’re all 0-0 and we’re in the tournament. We’re going to get ready for this playoff game. We’re not planning on being one-and-done.“

Despite their less-than-stellar record, the Panthers enter the tournament red hot, having won four straight and outscoring opponents 111-43 over that span. Under head coach Ron Rivera, Carolina is the first team to win back-to-back division titles in the NFC South after taking a dominating 34-3 road win at Atlanta last weekend. In December, the Panthers are ranked second in the NFL in rushing offense (199.3 yards per game) and points allowed (10.8 points per game).

“We put ourselves in this position by playing the way we did in December,“ Rivera said. “We’ve won the NFC South two years in a row and that’s something to build on as we move forward as a football team.“

Panthers 21, Cardinals 17


Baltimore (10-6) at Pittsburgh (11-5) (-3), Saturday, 8:15 PM - One of football’s fiercest rivalries amps up with a primetime postseason matchup.

The AFC North combatants will meet after the Ravens qualified for the playoffs with a 20-10 win over Cleveland combined with a San Diego loss in Week 17, while the Steelers earned the division title with a 27-17 win over Cincinnati in the regular-season finale.

“Anything can happen when you get into the playoffs,“ said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who guided Baltimore to a Super Bowl title in 2012 as the No. 4 seed.

The Steelers used a perfect December to lock up the AFC North and boast an . offense featuring quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (4,952 passing yards, 32 touchdowns, 103.3 passer rating), running back Le’Veon Bell (1,361 rushing yards, 854 receiving yards, 11 total touchdowns) and wide receiver Antonio Brown (129 receptions for 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns).

Bell, though, is unlikely to play Saturday after hyperextending his knee against the Bengals.

“We’re going to make the right decision,“ said Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin. “We won’t be swayed by circumstance—the magnitude of the game and so forth. If he’s healthy and able to protect himself and can be a positive contributor to our efforts, we’ll play him. If we can’t answer ‘yes’ to all of those questions and then some, we won’t. It’s just that simple.“

The Steelers brought in veteran running back Ben Tate on Tuesday for insurance. Tate spent time with both Cleveland and Minnesota this season.

The Ravens (0-3) have never beaten Pittsburgh in the postseason.

Steelers 24, Ravens 21


Cincinnati (10-5-1) at Indianapolis (11-5) (-3 1/2), Sunday, 1:05 PM - It’s been nearly a quarter century since the Cincinnati Bengals last won a playoff game and they will be back for a fourth straight year to try again, this time in Indianapolis on Sunday.

The Bengals come in having won five of their past seven games.

“At the end of the day, there are only so many teams that get this opportunity,“ said Cincinnati left tackle Andrew Whitworth. “It doesn’t matter what your record is anymore. It doesn’t matter where you’re seeded. All that matters is if you win.“

Winning AFC South titles had been a way of life for the Colts over the years. Indianapolis has taken nine of the past 12 South division crowns and will be looking to build a deep playoff run off of that.

“It’s one-and-done now,“ said Colts head coach Chuck Pagano. “We all know the stakes get higher and it’s single elimination. Whatever we have to do to win a game, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do whatever it takes.“

Back in Week 7, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who led the NFL with 40 touchdown passes, threw two scores as Indianapolis whitewashed Cincinnati 27-0.

Colts 28, Bengals 23


Detroit (11-5) at Dallas (12-4) (-7), Sunday, 4:40 PM - Wild Card Weekend wraps up with a matchup showcasing strength against strength as the Lions’ stingy defense prepares to try to stop the Cowboys’ explosive offense.

Detroit led the NFL in rush defense (69.3 yards per game) and ranked second in total defense (300.9 yards per game), holding opponents to 100 rushing yards or fewer in 14 of the team’s 16 games, including five games with 50 rushing yards or fewer.

Conversely Dallas’ running game ranked second in the NFL (147.1 yards per game) behind the game’s best offensive line and Pro Bowl running back DeMarco Murray, who set a franchise-record with 1,845 rushing yards.

“Controlling the line of scrimmage is important,“ said Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell, who tied a franchise record with 11 wins in his first season with the club. “Our defense has been really strong in that area throughout the year.“

Both teams also have dynamic quarterback-to-wide receiver connections in the Lions’ Matthew Stafford-to-Calvin Johnson and the ‘Boys’ Tony Romo-to-Dez Bryant.

Johnson compiled a franchise-record 329 receiving yards in his last game against Dallas—the second-best single-game total in NFL history, and piled up 211 yards in his only postseason contest against the Cowboys. Romo, meanwhile, led the NFL with a club-record 113.2 passer rating and Bryant’s 16 receiving touchdowns were a team record and topped the league.

“We’re just getting started and we’re excited about the opportunity in front of us,“ Romo said.

Cowboys 30, Lions 20


►  Two Packers among NFC’s best for Week 17

Green Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and punt returner Micah Hyde made up two-thirds of the NFC’s top players for the final week of the regular season.

Rodgers played through a calf injury to help the Packers capture the NFC North title and a first-round bye with a 30-20 win over the Detroit Lions. Rodgers completed 17-of-22 passes for 226 yards with two touchdowns and ran for a score to earn the offensive award.

Hyde returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown to claim the special teams award.

Carolina Panthers safety Roman Harper registered six tackles and scored on a 31-yard interception return as the Panthers routed the Atlanta Falcons 34-3 to win the NFC South for the second straight season.

Others considered for the offensive award were Harper’s teammate, quarterback Cam Newton, and San Francisco running back Frank Gore. Newton threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score, while Gore rushed for 144 yards in the 49ers’ season-ending 20-17 win over Arizona.

Dallas linebacker Bruce Carter was nominated for the defensive award after registering 11 tackles and two interceptions in a 44-17 over Washington.

Philadelphia’s Trey Burton was up for the special teams award after returning a blocked punt for a touchdown in a 34-26 win over the New York Giants.


►  Anderson, Newsome, Brown pick up AFC weekly honors

Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson, Indianapolis Colts linebacker Jonathan Newsome and Pittsburgh kick returner Antonio Brown were named the top AFC players for the final week of the regular season.

Anderson ran for 87 yards with three touchdowns and added 20 receiving yards to help Denver wrap up the AFC’s No. 2 seed in the playoffs with a 47-14 win over Oakland. He became the fourth different Bronco to win the AFC’s top offensive player, joining tight end Julius Thomas, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and quarterback Peyton Manning.

Newsome notched six tackles with two sacks and a forced fumble in the Colts’ 27-10 win at Tennessee to earn defensive honors. His 6 1/2 sacks this season were the most among AFC rookies.

Brown helped Pittsburgh win the AFC North title on Sunday night with a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown in a 27-17 victory over Cincinnati to claim the special teams award. He also had a 63-yard touchdown reception among his seven catches for 128 yards.

Others considered for the offensive award were New York Jets teammates Geno Smith and Eric Decker. Smith completed 20-of-25 passes for a career-high 358 yards with three touchdowns in a 37-24 win over Miami. Decker caught half of Smith’s completions for 221 yards with a score.

Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston was nominated for the defensive award after notching five tackles with four sacks and a forced fumble in the Chiefs’ 19-7 win over San Diego. Houston’s J.J. Watt was also considered after he picked up six tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble and a safety in the Texans’ 23-17 win over Jacksonville.

Denver kicker Connor Barth was up for the special teams award after connecting on each of his four field goal tries and all five PATs.


►  Haslett won’t return as Redskins’ defensive coordinator

Jim Haslett won’t return as the defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins.

The team and Haslett mutually agreed to part ways after five seasons.

Haslett spent his first four years with the Redskins under Mike Shanahan and this past season under first-year head coach Jay Gruden.

“Jay and I mutually agreed it’s time for the Redskins to have a new defensive coordinator,“ said Haslett in a statement Wednesday. “I want to thank (owner) Dan Snyder, (general manager) Bruce Allen, coach Gruden and all the players and fellow coaches for their efforts the last five years and I wish them nothing but the best.“

The Redskins were 4-12 this past season and ranked 20th in the NFL in yards allowed. Washington also yielded 438 points, fewer than only Chicago (442) and Oakland (452).

“Jim and I have had discussions over the last few days and have decided that it’s best for everyone that we have a new defensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins,“ said Gruden. “I wish him nothing but the best in the future.“

Haslett joined the Redskins in January 2010 after a year as the head coach of the fledgling UFL’s Florida Tuskers. He was also the head coach of the New Orleans Saints from 2000-05, compiling a record of 45-51, and had stints as defensive coordinator with the Saints (1996), Pittsburgh Steelers (1997-99) and St. Louis Rams (2006-08). In 2008, he was also the interim head coach of the Rams for the final 12 games, posting a record of 2-10.

The 59-year-old Pittsburgh native was a linebacker for the Bills and Jets from 1979-87.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Happy New Year

It’s the time of year for New Year’s Resolutions.

Forget about working out everyday or eating healthier, the die hard owners need a list of fantasy football resolutions.

I played in four different leagues this year and missed the playoffs in one, so my resolutions apply mostly to that 10-team league.

Here are my list of improvements for the 2015 season.

Always target needs

The draft is an exception to this rule. My draft strategy has always been target and stock running backs and wide receivers early.

This “value” method works as I routinely compete for championships, but picking up players on the waiver wire is a different story, especially late in the season.

In one of my leagues, I made the mistake of claiming Jordan Matthews over C.J. Anderson. Even though my team need was running back, my thought process was Matthews had a connection with Mark Sanchez, and he could be a trade piece to acquire a running back.

In other words, Matthews provided more value than Anderson.

Granted, Matthews was a decent pickup as he caught 67 passes for 872 yards and eight touchdowns in his rookie season, but little did I know, Anderson was the exact running back the team needed as he rushed for seven touchdowns in the final four weeks.

Late in the season, always target a need for the playoff run rather than counting on a trade.

Handcuff No Matter What

Injuries were the reason running back was a team need, and the team didn’t have Giovani Bernard’s handcuff, Jeremy Hill.

After drafting Bernard in the third round, my initial plan was to take Hill late in the draft, but I waited way too long. In the 10th round, I picked Danny Woodhead because at the time, his projections ranked him higher than Hill.

Owners never want to reach in the draft, but at that point, Hill had more value to me than Woodhead did because of the handcuff value Hill offered for Bernard.

It’s alright to reach for a player if he is a handcuff for a running back you already have.

Exercise Patience with Rookies

This was actually a mistake I made with one of my teams that made the playoffs.

I took a look back at the draft recap, and it turns out I selected Mike Evans in the 10th round. Go me, right!

Well, as readers can probably guess, judging by the fact I forgot I drafted Evans, he wasn’t on my team very long. Whether it was for a bye week need or someone on the waiver wire appeared to be better, Evans did not last more than five weeks on the team.

Evans went on to catch 68 passes for 1,051 yards and 12 touchdowns.

It is easy to be patient with the Kelvin Benjamin’s because they produce right away, but other rookies might take half a season to develop. Odell Beckham is another example.

Next year’s draft might not have another Evans or Beckham, but if I spend a draft pick on a rookie, he will stay on the roster through Week 10.

Don’t Judge too Quickly

There are probably several instances where my initially judgement on a player was correct, though, just a couple misses will have any owner reconsidering their evaluation process.

After the Ray Rice debacle, the Ravens backfield looked to be in disarray. It appeared Baltimore would still have success running, but neither Bernard Pierce nor Justin Forsett would carry the load on their own, especially the 5- foot-8 Forsett.

He went on to finished fifth in the league with 1,266 rushing yards and post an NFL best among running backs 5.4 yards per carry.

Although his success didn’t last the whole season, I overlooked Denard Robinson for mostly the same reason: too small. He had a stretch of four weeks where he either scored or rushed for 100 yards.

Even though Robinson’s injury suggests it wasn’t worth bothering to acquire him, Forsett definite proves in the right situation, a small back can succeed.

Take a Risk

For the most part, I do not take injury-prone or risky players unless they fall into my lap. This season, I stayed away from Doug Martin and Trent Richardson as if they had the plague. Running quarterbacks are a big no-no for me as well, and an aging player such as Andre Johnson is not a guy I target either.

However, I’m not sure taking a black-and-white approach to risky players is always the right decision because you miss out on guys like DeMarco Murray and Rob Gronkowski.

Murray rushed for over 100 yards in each of the first eight games, yet I kept saying, “He’s going to get hurt. He has never finished a full season. He will not last.“

I guess I was sort of right because Murray broke his hand, but he didn’t miss any time and blew every other running back away with 1,845 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.

As for Gronkowski, despite a slow start, he really turned it on and led all tight ends with 82 catches, 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Calculated risks might not be such a bad idea.

Now, it’s your turn. The only way to get better is to learn from past mistakes. What are your fantasy football resolutions?



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Area High Schools Boys Basketball Game Results

(Wednesday, December 31)


#4 Bridgeport 66     #7 Morgantown 57


►  Area High Schools Girls Basketball Game Results

(Wednesday, December 31)


#1 Fairmont Senior 61     Bridgeport 42

Robert C. Byrd 43     East Fairmont 25

Ravenswood 66     Tyler Consolidated 29

Scott 58     Nicholas County 56



<The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top-25 College Basketball Game Results

(Wednesday, December 31)


Final Score: (2) Duke 84, Wofford 55

Jahlil Okafor totaled 24 points and eight rebounds as No. 2 Duke remained perfect with an 84-55 decision over Wofford at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Justise Winslow added 16 points and Quinn Cook picked up 15 for the Blue Devils (12-0), who will put their unblemished record on the line in their ACC opener on Saturday against Boston College. Karl Cochran posted 13 points and five rebounds for the Terriers (9-4), who also begin their conference slate three days from now.


Final Score: (4) Wisconsin 89, Penn State 72

Nigel Hayes led four players in double figures with 21 points, and No. 4 Wisconsin kept rolling with an 89-72 decision over Penn State in the conference opener for both programs. Frank Kaminsky picked up 18 points and a game-high 14 rebounds for the Badgers (13-1, 1-0 Big Ten), while Sam Dekker had 17 points and Traevon Jackson totaled 16. D.J. Newbill poured in a game-high 29 points for the Nittany Lions (12-2, 0-1). Geno Thorpe and Shep Garner both picked 11 points in defeat.


Final Score: (6) Villanova 67, Butler 55

With stingy defense and a balanced attack, the No. 6 Villanova Wildcats opened Big East play with a 67-55 win over the Butler Bulldogs. Ryan Arcidiacono led Villanova (13-0, 1-0 Big East) with 15 points and five assists. JayVaughn Pinkston netted 13 points and Daniel Ochefu chipped in 10 points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots. The Wildcats limited the Bulldogs to 35.5 percent shooting, including just 5-of-21 inside the arc in the second half. Butler (10-4, 0-1) was paced by Andrew Chrabascz’s and Alex Barlow’s 12 points each. Kellen Dunham netted 10 points, but Roosevelt Jones was limited to eight on 4-of-15 shooting.


Final Score: (9) Iowa State 83, Mississippi Valley State 33

Naz Long went 7-of-10 from 3-point range in a 24-point effort that highlighted No. 9 Iowa State’s 83-33 blowout win over Mississippi Valley State. Long added five assists in a game the heavily favored Cyclones were never threatened en route to their 500th victory at Hilton Coliseum. Matt Thomas chipped in 11 points and Jameel McKay had 10 along with six rebounds to help Iowa State (10-1) record its seventh consecutive triumph. Mississippi Valley State (1-12) shot just 24.1 percent from the field and went 1-of-17 from beyond the arc, with no Delta Devils player finishing with double-figure points. Isaac Williams and Jeffrey Simmons scored six each in defeat.


Final Score: Seton Hall 78, (15) St. John’s 67

Sterling Gibbs poured in 25 points to lead five Seton Hall players in double figures, as the Pirates opened Big East play with a 78-67 victory over 15th-ranked St. John’s on Wednesday at the Prudential Center. Jaren Sina matched a season high with 14 points and keyed an early second-half run with two of his four 3-pointers in the victory. Gibbs also sank five from beyond the arc, including one with the shot clock winding down late in the contest to help quell a St. John’s rally. Angel Delgado and Brandon Mobley each contributed 13 points for the Pirates (11-2, 1-0 Big East), whose lone losses have come on the road against Georgia and nationally ranked Wichita State. Seton Hall welcomes another ranked squad to the Rock on Saturday when No. 6 Villanova makes the trip up the New Jersey turnpike. D’Angelo Harrison scored 25 points and Phil Greene IV added 15 for the Red Storm (11-2, 0-1), who had a seven-game winning streak stopped and lost for the first time since a 73-66 setback to Gonzaga in late November.


Final Score: (16) Wichita State 66, Drake 58

Ron Baker scored 15 of No. 16 Wichita State’s final 18 points to help the Shockers fend off Drake, 66-58, Wednesday. Baker finished with 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting for the Shockers (11-2, 1-0 MVC), who have now won 19 straight games against fellow Missouri Valley conference teams. Tekele Cotton chipped in 17 points and no other Shocker reached double figures. The Bulldogs (3-10, 0-1) were led by Jacob Enevold with 12 points and 15 rebounds. Gary Ricks Jr. added 11 points as Drake finished its four-game homestand with a 2-2 record.


Final Score: (18) Oklahoma 61, George Mason 43

Buddy Hield turned in a game-high 17 points as No. 18 Oklahoma claimed a 61-43 win over George Mason at Noble Center. Isaiah Cousins netted 11 with six rebounds for the Sooners (9-3), while Jordan Woodard added seven points and eight boards. Shevon Thompson totaled nine points and 11 rebounds for the Patriots (5-7). Isaiah Jackson picked up nine points while Jalen Jenkins had eight points and seven rebounds in a losing cause.


Final Score: (24) Colorado State 71, Boise State 65

John Gillon led all scorers with 23 points as No. 24 Colorado State opened conference play with a 71-65 victory over Boise State on Wednesday. Gillon made 6-of-11 shots from the field and was a perfect 4-of-4 from 3-point range. J.J. Avila scored 13 points and Daniel Bejarano supplied 11 points and eight rebound for the Rams (14-0, 1-0 MWC), who extended their franchise-best winning streak to open a season. Mikey Thompson paced the Broncos (10-4, 0-1) with 20 points in his team’s second straight loss.


Final Score: Xavier 70, (25) Georgetown 53

Jalen Reynolds finished with 17 points and four rebounds as Xavier opened Big East play with a 70-53 victory over No. 25 Georgetown on Wednesday. Remy Abell and Dee Davis each scored 12 points and James Farr chipped in nine points, 10 rebounds and three blocks for the Musketeers (10-3, 1-0 Big East), who improved to 8-0 at home this season. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera had a game-high 18 points and Joshua Smith supplied 10 points and four boards for the Hoyas (8-4, 0-1), who had a three-game winning streak snapped.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NBA Game Results

(Wednesday, December 31)


Final Score: Boston 106, Sacramento 84

Jared Sullinger had 20 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in the Boston Celtics’ 106-84 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday. Kelly Olynyk added 15 points off the bench for the Celtics, who put the brakes on a four-game losing streak. Jae Crowder contributed 12 points and Evan Turner tallied 10 points and 11 assists. Darren Collison and Carl Landry each had 14 points for the Kings, who shot just 36.8 percent from the field as they lost for the fourth time in their last five games. Ben McLemore ended with 12 points and Ray McCallum and DeMarcus Cousins scored 11 points apiece. Prior to the game, Sacramento coach Tyrone Corbin said his interim tag has been lifted for the rest of the season. He replaced fired coach Michael Malone on Dec. 15.


Final Score: Indiana 106, Miami 95

C.J. Miles made five 3-pointers en route to 25 points and the Indiana Pacers used a strong second half to beat the Miami Heat, 106-95, on Wednesday. George Hill added 20 points for the Pacers, who also beat the Heat in South Beach on Nov. 12. C.J. Watson tallied 11 points and Roy Hibbert contributed 10 points and 10 rebounds. Indiana outscored Miami by a 64-44 margin in the second half. Dwyane Wade ended with 20 points, seven assists, three blocks and two steals for the Heat, who have lost three in a row. Chris Bosh had 18 points and eight boards.


Final Score: LA Clippers 99, New York 78

J.J. Redick made four 3-pointers en route to 20 points and the Los Angeles Clippers handled the New York Knicks, 99-78, on Wednesday. DeAndre Jordan added 14 points, 12 rebounds and two steals for the Clippers, who went 15-of-34 from beyond the arc. Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford each scored 13 points, with Griffin also dishing out 11 assists. Carmelo Anthony ended with 19 points for the Knicks, who have lost nine in a row. Andrea Bargnani had nine points on 4-for-11 shooting in his long-awaited season debut after missing 73 games dating back to Jan. 22 of last season with elbow, hamstring and calf injuries.


Final Score: Milwaukee 96, Cleveland 80

Brandon Knight scored 26 points with six rebounds and the Milwaukee Bucks took down a depleted Cleveland Cavaliers team, 96-80, on Wednesday. O.J. Mayo supplied 15 points off the bench and Giannis Antetokounmpo added 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists for the Bucks, who have won two straight and three of their last four. Milwaukee could attribute the win to a very impressive defensive third quarter, holding Cleveland to 3-of-19 shooting and taking a 71-54 lead into the fourth quarter.


Final Score: Houston 102, Charlotte 83

James Harden made a career-high eight 3- pointers and scored 36 points to help the Houston Rockets beat the Charlotte Hornets, 102-83, on Wednesday. Harden also had seven rebounds and six assists for the Rockets, who snapped a two-game skid. He has scored at least 28 points in his last five games. Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas added 14 and 12 points, respectively, for Houston, which went 17-of-43 from beyond the arc. Dwight Howard contributed 11 points and eight rebounds.


Final Score: San Antonio 95, New Orleans 93 (OT)

Manu Ginobili capped off a 26-point night with a go-ahead layup with 24 seconds left in overtime, with the basket giving the San Antonio Spurs a much-needed 95-93 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. Ginobili’s big game, along with a fortunate bounce to close out regulation, helped the Spurs get back in the win column following a rough 2-7 stretch that included a loss to the Pelicans in New Orleans on Friday. New Orleans had taken an 84-82 edge on Anthony Davis’ second-chance slam with 0.7 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, but the Hornets’ Omer Asik inadvertently tipped in Boris Diaw’s inbounds pass for Tim Duncan as the buzzer sounded to force extra time.


Final Score: Oklahoma City 137, Phoenix 134

Kevin Durant returned from a six-game absence to score a season-high 44 points with 10 rebounds and lead the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 137-134 overtime win over the Phoenix Suns. Durant sprained his right ankle after scoring 30 points in the first half at Golden State on Dec. 18, with the Thunder going 3-3 during his absence. Russell Westbrook was ejected late in the first half after making a contested layup, then walking over to the Suns bench and taunting them. He finished with 20 points for the Thunder.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Phillies trade Byrd to Reds

The Cincinnati Reds acquired veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd from the Philadelphia Phillies Wednesday in exchange for pitching prospect Ben Lively.

The Phillies will also send the Reds an undisclosed amount of cash to cover a portion of Byrd’s remaining salary. The 37-year-old is set to make $8 million next season and has an $8 million option for 2016 that can vest based on plate appearances.

Byrd hit .264 with 25 homers and 85 RBI in 154 games with the Phillies last season. The 2010 All-Star is expected to be Cincinnati’s regular left fielder in 2015.

Over 13 major league seasons, Byrd owns a career .278 average with 131 homers and 618 RBI in 1,404 career games with the Nationals, Rangers, Cubs, Red Sox, Mets, Pirates and Phillies.

The 22-year-old Lively split last season between Class A-Advanced Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola, putting together a combined 13-7 record and 3.04 ERA with 171 strikeouts in 151 innings over 26 starts. He was a fourth round pick of the Reds in 2013 out of the University of Central Florida.


►  Dodgers sign Brett Anderson

The Los Angeles Dodgers have signed pitcher Brett Anderson to a one-year contract.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

Anderson made just eight starts last year in his lone season with the Colorado Rockies because of a broken left index finger and lower back surgery. He was 1-3 with a 2.91 ERA, permitting three or fewer earned runs in seven of his eight outings.

The 26-year-old lefty owns a career record of 27-32 with three saves and a 3.73 ERA in 92 games, including 81 starts, over six big league seasons with Oakland and Colorado.

Los Angeles opened a spot on the 40-man roster by designating infielder Erisbel Arruebarrena for assignment.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NHL Game Results

(Wednesday, December 31)


Final Score: NY Islanders 5, Winnipeg 2

Frans Nielsen scored two goals and collected one assist as the New York Islanders kicked off a seven-game road trip with a 5-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre. Ryan Strome finished with a goal and three assists for the Islanders, who got 21 saves from Jaroslav Halak. Anders Lee and Josh Bailey also scored for New York, which has won six of its last eight games. Andrew Ladd had two goals and Ondrej Pavelec stopped 28-of-32 shots in the Jets’ second straight loss.


Final Score: Tampa Bay 5, Buffalo 1

Ondrej Palat posted a goal and three assists to give the Tampa Bay Lightning a 5-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres. Nikita Kucherov had two goals and an assist, while Matthew Carle and Brett Connolly also scored for the Lightning, who have won their past four. Andrei Vasilevsky needed to make just 10 saves to secure the win. Tyler Ennis had the lone goal for the Sabres, who have dropped thier past two and six of seven. Jhonas Enroth allowed all five goals on 25 shots.


Final Score: NY Rangers 5, Florida 2

Martin St. Louis and Dominic Moore tallied in the third period as the New York Rangers closed out calendar year 2014 with a 5-2 win over Florida on Wednesday. Chris Kreider, Derick Brassard and Ryan McDonagh also lit the lamp for the Rangers, who recovered from a one-goal loss at Dallas on Monday and recorded their ninth win in 10. Derek Stepan contributed three assists while Henrik Lundqvist needed to make only 18 stops for the victory. Tomas Fleischmann and Jimmy Hayes scored once each for the Panthers, who fell to 5-3-2 in over their last 10 outings. Al Montoya surrendered all five markers on 34 shots in defeat.


Final Score: Pittsburgh 2, Carolina 1

Brandon Sutter scored the winning goal late in the third period to lift the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. Chris Kunitz had the other goal for the Penguins, who snapped a four-game losing streak. Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 24 shots in the win. Eric Staal scored the only goal of the game for the Hurricanes, who have dropped their past three games. Cam Ward allowed both goals on 39 shots in the loss.


Final Score: Toronto 4, Boston 3 (SO)

Nazem Kadri scored the deciding goal of the shootout as the Toronto Maple Leafs prevailed with a 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins. Mike Santorelli, Toronto’s first shooter, made several quick moves before shooting the puck through the legs of Tuukka Rask for a good goal. Torey Krug tied the shootout with a quick wrister over the glove of Jonathan Bernier in the second round. Kadri opened the fifth round by shuffling a backhander off Rask’s pad and through his legs to put the Maple Leafs ahead, and David Krejci missed the net for Boston to end the game. Phil Kessel notched his 500th career point after finishing with a goal and an assist, while James van Riemsdyk and Leo Komarov also scored as the Maple Leafs ended a two-game skid. Bernier stopped 25 shots in the win. Carl Soderberg had a goal and an assist, Krejci and Krug also lit the lamp and Rask stopped 18 shots for the Bruins, who were coming off a 5-2 win over Detroit on Monday.


Final Score: Columbus 3, Minnesota 1

Sergei Bobrovsky made 28 saves to help the Columbus Blue Jackets top the Minnesota Wild, 3-1, on Wednesday. The Blue Jackets got goals from Kevin Connauton, David Savard and Ryan Johansen to wrap up an outstanding 10-1-1 month of December. Connauton also added an assist, and Brandon Dubinsky was credited with two helpers. Johansen’s empty- netter was his first goal since Nov. 29. The Wild got their only goal from Zach Parise in the first period as they lost for the sixth time in their last seven games. Darcy Kuemper faced 25 shots and made 23 saves in the loss.


Final Score: Detroit 3, New Jersey 1

Henrik Zetterberg scored the game-winning goal late in regulation to lift the Detroit Red Wings to a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday. Darren Helm finished with two goals and Jimmy Howard made 12 saves for the Red Wings, who bounced back from a 5-2 loss to Boston on Monday to win their third game in their past four. Joe Whitney’s first NHL goal was New Jersey’s lone source of offense and Cory Schneider allowed all three goals on 28 shots in defeat.


Final Score: San Jose 3, Anaheim 0

Joe Pavelski’s two goals and a 28-save effort from Antti Niemi got the San Jose Sharks back on track with a 3-0 victory over the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center. Logan Couture added a goal and an assist to help end an 0-2-1 stretch for the Sharks that began with an overtime loss to the Ducks in Anaheim on Dec. 22. The Ducks had a five- game home win streak halted as they failed to generate a consistent offensive attack despite the return of sniper Corey Perry from a knee injury that sidelined him for the team’s last 10 contests. Frederik Andersen stopped 24- of-26 shots in the loss.


Final Score: Dallas 6, Arizona 0

Dallas received goals from six different players and Kari Lehtonen made 32 saves in the Stars’ 6-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes. Lehtonen recorded his third shutout of the season as Dallas won for the seventh time in eight games. In his NHL debut, Brett Ritchie scored his first career goal at the 7:22 mark of the second period. Just 63 seconds later, Colton Sceviour followed him up with another goal and the rout was on. Jamie Benn, Cody Eakin, Ales Hemsky and Ryan Garbutt added third period tallies for the Stars. Devan Dubnyk allowed all six goals on 31 shots faced as the Coyotes had their three-game winning streak come to an end.


Final Score: Colorado 4, Philadelphia 3 (OT)

Ryan O’Reilly scored with just 19.9 seconds left in overtime to give the Colorado Avalanche a 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Tyson Barrie and O’Reilly worked the puck back-and- forth in the Flyers end before Barrie sent a pass from the left side to the right and O’Reilly snapped it in for the win. Nate Guenin, Jarome Iginla and Borna Rendulic all scored for the Avalanche, who snapped a two-game slide. Semyon Varlamov stopped 26 shots in the win. Claude Giroux, Vincent Lecavalier and Jakub Voracek all scored for the Flyers, who have dropped three straight after opening their eight-game road trip with three consecutive wins. Steve Mason allowed four goals on 33 shots.


Final Score: Calgary 4, Edmonton 3 (OT)

Josh Jooris scored 1:08 into overtime to give the Calgary Flames a 4-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers. Just coming out of the penalty box, Jooris skated down the right wing on a 2-on-1, took a feed from Jiri Hudler and wristed the puck over the glove of Ben Scrivens for the win. Joe Colborne had two goals and Lance Bouma scored the other for the Flames, who have won four in a row. Jonas Hiller turned away 17 shots in the win. Jordan Eberle, Andrew Ference and Matt Fraser all lit the lamp for the Oilers, who were coming off a win on Tuesday that had snapped a nine-game losing streak. Scrivens allowed four goals on 28 shots in the loss.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


THURSDAY, JANUARY 01, 2015 - HAPPY NEW YEAR
National Basketball Association
Denver at Chicago, 8:00 PM - Altitude, CSN-Chicago, DSS
Sacramento at Minnesota, 8:00 PM - CSN-California, FS-North, DSS
National Hockey League
Chicago at Washington, 1:00 PM - CBC, NBC
Los Angeles at Vancouver, 10:00 PM - FS-West, SNET, DSS
College Basketball
BYU at Santa Clara, 5:00 PM - BYUtv
Northern Iowa at Evansville, 8:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Women’s College Basketball
Penn State at Michigan, 1:00 PM - Big Ten Network+
Minnesota at Purdue, 2:00 PM - Big Ten Network+
Rutgers at Ohio State, 2:00 PM - Big Ten Network+
Wisconsin at Northwestern, 2:00 PM - Big Ten Network+
College Football
Auburn vs. Wisconsin (Outback Bowl), 12:00 PM - ESPN 2
Michigan State vs. Baylor (Cotton Bowl), 12:30 PM - ESPN
Missouri vs. Minnesota (Citrus Bowl), 1:00 PM - ABC
Florida State vs. Oregon (Rose Bowl), 5:00 PM - ESPN
Ohio State vs. Alabama (Sugar Bowl), 8:30 PM - ESPN

Sports News   141229

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  Liberty Bowl

From the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game against Alabama to the Liberty Bowl matchup against Texas A&M, West Virginia’s 2014 season will be bookended by SEC foes.

While a 10-point loss to the Crimson Tide showed wherewithal, senior offensive guard Mark Glowinski wants WVU to finish the job against the Aggies and puncture some of the mystique surrounding college football’s most dominant conference.

“I just want to kick their ###, personally,” Glowinski said. “If we played better we should’ve beat Alabama. We were driving down the field, but internally, we just made mistakes.”

The Mountaineers are 1.5-point favorites against Texas A&M in a Midsouth faceoff of 7-5 teams that each appeared in the AP top 25 before enduring three-game losing skids. It’s a tossup as to who owns the motivational edge: West Virginia is excited to be back in bowl game after a deplorable 2013 campaign, and the Aggies seniors are attempting to become the school’s first class to post four straight bowl wins.

Then there’s inevitable urge to take down any team from the vaunted SEC.

“There’s no question that the SEC is everybody’s idea of the best league,” said West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. “So when our kids hear ‘SEC’ they’re excited to prove that we’re just as good.”

Since joining the SEC in 2012, Texas A&M’s recruiting classes have climbed from No. 15 to No. 11 to No. 6 in the Rivals rankings. And even before the conference swap, West Virginia assistant Joe DeForest recalled the Aggies trotting out impressive specimens during their Big 12 days.

“When they walk on the field, you’re going to go ‘Wow!’ Our kids are going to be surprised,” DeForest said.

Yet Glowinski recalls how West Virginia moved the ball against Alabama, which ranked fourth nationally in scoring defense.

“They’re definitely big and tall guys, but anything they’ve done, we’ve seen it,” he said. “We’ve seen the best, so I feel we’ll be prepared.”


WEST VIRGINIA (7-5) vs. TEXAS A&M (7-5)

Kickoff: 2 PM Eastern (ESPN)


Line: West Virginia favored by 1.5


Kevin White’s finale:

Despite the NFL draft looming, West Virginia’s Biletnikoff finalist was in no hurry to close out his college career.

“I just want to spend a little more time with my friends,” said White, who enjoyed the four-day stint in Memphis. “All the gear and getting catered to. You kind of get spoiled here.”

With 102 receptions, White stands 12 shy of matching Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey for the school’s single-season record.

“I didn’t know that actually, but it would be nice,” he said. “If I get 12 catches, that’s a good game.”

At 6-foot-3, White has enjoyed a size advantage on every cornerback this season. That won’t change at the Liberty Bowl, where Texas A&M’s top corner, Deshazor Everette is 6-foot and De’Vante Harris is 5-11.

“Going up against him, it’s an opportunity to get some publicity,” said Everette, who said he won’t always be able to follow White because of WVU running tempo. “I want to go out there and play as well as I can.”


Comparative scores:

The lone common opponent was Alabama, which beat West Virginia 33-23 in Atlanta on August 30 and obliterated Texas A&M 59-0 in Tuscaloosa on October 18.

“I don’t want to talk about that one,” said Aggies offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. “We were in our eighth straight game with no bye week and they got after us. I was disappointed in how we played. I thought we get hit in the mouth and we kind of backed out of it.”

Dealing with the layoff: Like most teams trying to avoid practice injuries, West Virginia hasn’t gone full-contact since the final regular-season game. Invariably, that can lead to missed tackles.

“That’s the scary thing about a bowl game,” said Gibson. “You have a month off. You try to do enough tackling and good-on-good in practice, but it always shows up in bowls at some point in the game.”


Young quarterbacks:

Sophomore Skyler Howard makes his second start since WVU’s Clint Trickett suffered what has become a career-ending concussion. Though undersized, Howard is strong-armed and elusive, having completed 36-of-63 passes for 483 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. His 10 carries have netted 85 yards.

Freshman Kyle Allen started Texas A&M’s final four games, posting a 2-2 mark that included a four-touchdown performance in a 41-38 upset win at Auburn.

Gibson was an assistant at Arizona when Allen was a five-star prospect in Scottsdale.

“He was at our 7-on-7 passing camps, so I’m very familiar with the kid and the ability he has,” Gibson said. “He’s really good. You could tell he was going to be the real deal.

“That kid is going to be very special. Hopefully it’s one more game from now.”


►  Might Holgorsen promote OC from within? ‘Everything’s a possibility’

With Shannon Dawson leaving for Kentucky after the Liberty Bowl, will West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen elevate his next offensive coordinator from the current staff, as he did with Dawson two years ago?

“I don’t know what I’m going to do yet,” Holgorsen said Sunday, adding that after the bowl game he’ll spend two weeks evaluating the entire staff.

Because Holgorsen handles the play-calling, he’s not in the market to land a high-profile coordinator from another power 5 program. (Dawson was earning $250,000 in Morgantown, relatively low for a major-college coordinator.) Holgorsen could look outside for a quarterbacks coach with the coordinator’s title attached, as was the case with Dawson, or he could accomplish the same by shuffling his staff, which includes two former quarterbacks, Lonnie Galloway and JaJuan Seider.

Galloway has been a receivers coach for five seasons during two stints at West Virginia, sandwiched around a two-year tenure as passing game coordinator at Wake Forest. In his 19th season of college coaching, he also currently holds the title of assistant head coach. Galloway was an All-Southern Conference quarterback at I-AA Western Carolina.

Seider began his career as a quarterback at WVU before putting up huge numbers as a transfer at Florida A&M. He spent seven seasons as a high school coach in south Florida before entering college coaching in 2008, where he has overseen running backs at WVU and Marshall.

FootballScoop.com reported Sunday afternoon that Seider has agreed to a two-year contract extension at a “considerable pay increase” from his previous salary of $200,000

“I may use the (NCAA coaches) convention for figuring out who the next coach is after I decide how I’m going to shuffle things around,” Holgorsen said. “I would venture to say everything’s a possibility at this point.”


Sumlin recommended Holgorsen to Luck:

The coaching ties between West Virginia and Texas A&M have been a layered storyline throughout the Liberty Bowl buildup.

Holgorsen publicly thanked Kevin Sumlin for being instrumental in his hiring at West Virginia. Sumlin, who was coach at the University of Houston when Oliver Luck was overseeing the Houston Dynamos of the MLS, leveraged the relationship when Luck became athletics director at WVU and sought to replace Bill Stewart.

“He talked to Oliver and called me and says ‘You owe me one.’ So I guess I still owe him one,” Holgorsen said.

While Holgorsen spent two seasons under Sumlin as UH’s offensive coordinator, he watched his boss provide adequate focus to various team units, along with overseeing recruiting and growing relationships with boosters.

“I learned a lot about being a head coach from working with him, especially from the CEO aspect of things,” Holgorsen said. “Kevin’s never going to spend a high percentage of the time on one side of the ball. He’s going to divvy it up.”


Happy in Memphis:

With West Virginia practicing at Memphis University School, a private campus mere blocks from the team hotel, Holgorsen lauded the week’s logistics. It’s an obvious improvement over the experience at the 2012 Pinstripe Bowl, which featured New York City traffic snarls and a practice in a hotel ballroom.

“You can tell the Liberty Bowl has done this before—56 years. Any time a bowl has that much experience, you know you’re going to get things done the right way,” Holgorsen said. “Logistically, everything has been on par. Two years ago was pretty tough to get anything done.  ~~  Allan Taylor ~~



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NFL Game Results

(Sunday, December 28)


Final Score: Pittsburgh 27, Cincinnati 17

Antonio Brown scored two touchdowns and the Pittsburgh Steelers captured their first AFC North title since 2010 with a 27-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday night. Brown opened the scoring with a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown, then put the game away late in the fourth quarter with a 63-yard TD catch. He ended with seven catches for 128 yards. The Steelers (11-5), who ended the regular season with four straight wins, secured the No. 3 seed and will host No. 6 seed Baltimore next Saturday at 8:15 p.m. ET. The Bengals (10-5-1) will play at the fourth-seeded and AFC South-champion Colts next Sunday at 1:05.


Final Score: Carolina 34, Atlanta 3

Cam Newton smiled. As time wound down in a winner-take-all game that turned into a no-care-in-the-world laugher, the Carolina Panthers quarterback waved his arms up and down and nodded. On the Atlanta Falcons sideline, Matt Ryan grimaced. Newton’s seven-win Panthers are headed to the NFL playoffs. Ryan’s six-win Falcons are not. Carolina returned two Ryan interceptions for touchdowns and scored 21 points off three turnovers in a 34-3 rout of the Falcons on Sunday at the Georgia Dome. Leading since the game’s first possession, the Panthers (7-8-1) clinched the NFC South for the second year in a row with the lopsided victory. They harassed Ryan all day, piling up six sacks. But the Falcons quarterback hurt himself, too. His overthrown pass was returned 31 yards for a touchdown by Roman Harper in the second quarter to help the Panthers build a 24-3 lead at halftime. And in the third quarter, Tre Boston picked off an underthrown pass and took it back 84 yards to put the game out of reach. The Panthers became the first team to win consecutive NFC South titles and made the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time ever. They will host 11-5 Arizona in a wild-card game next week after winning four straight games to end the regular season. The Falcons (6-10) eliminated the Saints from the division race with a 30-14 win in New Orleans last week to keep their playoff hopes alive, but will miss the postseason in back-to-back years for the first time since 2006-07.


Final Score: Baltimore 20, Cleveland 10

Joe Flacco tossed both of his touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and the Baltimore Ravens rallied past the Cleveland Browns 20-10 on Sunday afternoon to clinch a playoff berth. As time expired in Baltimore, the clock was also ticking down the final seconds in Kansas City, where a 19-7 Chiefs victory wrapped up a Ravens trip to the postseason for the sixth time in the last seven years. Baltimore failed to make the playoffs in 2013. The Browns led 10-3 heading into the fourth quarter before the Ravens ripped off 17 unanswered points to seize control. Flacco, who threw for 215 of his 312 yards in the second half, completed 22- of-36 passes for Baltimore (10-6), which won three of its last four games to close the regular season. Undrafted rookie Connor Shaw was 14-of-28 for 177 yards with an interception in his first NFL start for the Browns (7-9), who finished their campaign with five consecutive losses. Shaw got the nod after Johnny Manziel suffered a hamstring injury against Carolina last Sunday, while Brian Hoyer is dealing with shoulder and biceps injuries.


Final Score: Kansas City 19, San Diego 7

The Kansas City Chiefs sacked Philip Rivers seven times in a 19-7 win over San Diego on Sunday that eliminated the Chargers from playoff contention on the final day of the regular season. It came almost a year to the day that San Diego clinched a berth with an overtime win against Kansas City at home and some help from the rest of the league. It was simple this year: The Chargers (9-7) controlled their own fate after a comeback win over San Francisco last week. Needing only a win, they never even had a lead, their only points coming on Branden Oliver’s 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to get them within 10-7. Linebacker Justin Houston dropped Rivers four times by himself, breaking Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas’ single-season franchise record with 22 sacks, just a half-sack from Michael Strahan’s NFL mark. Rivers finished 20-of-34 for 291 yards with two interceptions and a fumble. The Chiefs (9-7) were in position to steal a playoff berth with a win before Baltimore and Houston both came back to win their games. The Ravens ended up with the AFC’s final wild-card berth by beating Cleveland. Chase Daniel made his second NFL start, completing 16-of-27 passes for 157 yards with Alex Smith sideline because of a lacerated spleen he suffered last week against Pittsburgh.


Final Score: Denver 47, Oakland 14

Denver scored on three of its first four drives, and C.J. Anderson finished with three touchdowns as the Broncos beat the Oakland Raiders 47-14 to clinch a first-round bye in the postseason. Anderson ran for 87 yards on 13 carries to help Denver (12-4) out-gain Oakland 451-199. Peyton Manning completed 21-of-37 passes for 273 yards but did not throw any touchdowns for just the second time in his Broncos career. Demaryius Thomas caught eight passes for 115 yards. The Raiders (4-12) only received one touchdown from their offense, a 1-yard pass from Derek Carr to Jamize Olawale. Their other score came on a fumble return by Keith McGill. Oakland secured its third consecutive losing season. Carr threw for 158 yards and an interception on 18-of-36 passing. He also lost a fumble in the setback. Latavius Murray led Oakland in rushing and receiving with 37 yards on the ground and 60 through the air on four catches.


Final Score: Green Bay 30, Detroit 20

Aaron Rodgers began to wince on a scramble and went down in pain following a touchdown pass, but everything was ok when his quarterback sneak put the Green Bay Packers comfortably in front. Rodgers tossed both of his touchdown passes to Randall Cobb and the Green Bay Packers won the NFC North for a fourth straight year following a 30-20 triumph over the Detroit Lions on Sunday. Green Bay (12-4) earned a first-round bye with the win and will be the No. 2 seed in the NFC.


Final Score: San Francisco 20, Arizona 17

Colin Kaepernick threw two touchdown passes to lift San Francisco to a 20-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in what was Jim Harbaugh’s final game as the 49ers’ head coach. The 49ers announced they had parted ways with Harbaugh, who will reportedly replace Brady Hoke as the head coach of his alma mater, Michigan. Kaepernick completed 15-of-26 passes for 204 yards and rushed for 63 yards on seven carries. Anquan Boldin and Bruce Miller had a receiving touchdown and Frank Gore carried the ball 35 times for 144 yards for the 49ers (8-8), who ended a four-game skid. Ryan Lindley threw both of his first two career touchdown passes to Michael Floyd and completed 23-of-39 passes for 316 yards with three interceptions for the Cardinals (11-5). Floyd made eight catches for 153 yards Arizona will face the NFC South champion Carolina Panthers on the road in the first round of the playoffs.


Final Score: Seattle 20, St. Louis 6

The NFC playoffs will run through the Pacific Northwest for a second consecutive season. The defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks used their patented defense, behind their rowdy crowd, to stifle the St. Louis Rams in a 20-6 win and wrap up the NFC West division in the process. The Seahawks (12-4), who ended the regular season on a six-game winning streak, clinched a first-round bye and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs by winning their seventh NFC West title in team history. Seattle has taken nine of its last 10 games overall since a loss at St. Louis (6-10) in Week 7, a game that the Rams returned a punt for a touchdown and also converted a gutsy fourth-down play in the closing minutes with punter Johnny Hekker. Russell Wilson threw for 239 yards with an interception and Marshawn Lynch rushed for a touchdown in the win. Rams quarterback Shaun Hill committed a costly interception on the first play of the fourth quarter in Seattle territory.


Final Score: Buffalo 17, New England 9

Kyle Orton threw a touchdown pass, Boobie Dixon ran for another score and the Buffalo Bills concluded their season with a 17-9 win over the New England Patriots. Orton was 16-of-23 for 176 yards as the Bills (9-7) finished a campaign with a winning record for the first time since 2004. Buffalo, which ended a 13-game losing streak at New England, will miss the playoffs for the 15th straight season, the longest active drought in the league. With home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs already locked up, New England quarterback Tom Brady played just the first half in a game in which wide receiver Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski were inactive. Brady completed 8-of-16 passes for 80 yards over five series. Rookie Jimmy Garoppolo totaled 90 yards on 10-of-17 passing for New England (12-4), which had its regular-season home winning streak against AFC opponents snapped at 35 games.


Final Score: Indianapolis 27, Tennessee 10

Andrew Luck threw a pair of touchdown passes in only one half of action, leading the AFC South champion Indianapolis Colts to a 27-10 win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at LP Field. Luck finished 10-of-16 for 160 yards and set the Colts’ single-season passing yardage record with 4,761 yards, surpassing Peyton Manning’s previous mark of 4,700 in 2010. Matt Hasselbeck also threw a touchdown pass in the second half for the Colts (11-5), who will open the playoffs at home next weekend. Indianapolis bounced back from a dreadful performance at Dallas last week and completed a sweep of the AFC South for a second straight year. The Colts, who managed only 229 yards in last Sunday’s 42-7 loss, totaled 378 on Sunday en route to their 13th straight divisional win. Charlie Whitehurst threw a scoring pass in defeat for Tennessee (2-14), which closed the year with 10 straight losses in Ken Whisenhunt’s first season as head coach. The Titans managed just 192 total yards and nine first downs on Sunday, finishing their worst season since moving from Houston in 1997. The two wins were the franchise’s fewest since a 2-14 record in 1994.


Final Score: Dallas 44, Washington 17

Tony Romo had a pair of touchdown passes to Dez Bryant as the Dallas Cowboys pounded the Washington Redskins, 44-17, in the final game of the regular season. Dallas came into the game having already secured its first NFC East crown since 2009 and had the potential to sit as high as first overall, but will have the third seed and host the Detroit Lions next week.Romo finished the game 22-for-34 for 299 yards with an interception, and DeMarco Murray set a franchise record for rushing yards in a season for the Cowboys (12-4), who won their final four games of the season to post their best mark since a 13-3 finish in 2007. Murray, who totaled 100 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries, finished the regular season with an NFL-best 1,845 yards to surpass Emmitt Smith’s single-season mark of 1,773 yards in 1995. Robert Griffin III finished off a lackluster season with 336 yards and a touchdown along with two interceptions on 27-of-41 attempts for the Redskins (4-12), who finished last in the division for a second straight year.


Final Score: New Orleans 23, Tampa Bay 20

Entering the fourth quarter with a 20-7 lead, Tampa Bay allowed 16 unanswered New Orleans points in a 23-20 loss to the Saints, and also clinched the top pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Drew Brees threw three interceptions for the Saints (7-9) but his 36-yard touchdown pass to Marques Colston just before the two-minute warning put New Orleans ahead for the first time in the game. Brees threw for 281 yards on 24-of-38 passing. Mark Ingram led the Saints with 57 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown, while Khiry Robinson also ran for score in the win. Kenny Stills was their leading receiver with 82 yards on five catches. The Buccaneers (2-14) totaled 183 yards on the ground, including 108 from Doug Martin. Charles Sims carried the ball 18 times for 69 yards and a touchdown.


Final Score: Houston 23, Jacksonville 17

Andre Johnson had 10 catches for 134 yards and a touchdown and J.J. Watt made NFL history as the Houston Texans defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 23-17 on Sunday. Watt finished with three sacks to become the first player to ever record 20- plus sacks in multiple seasons (2012, 2014) for the Texans (9-7), who despite doing their part in the win were unable to secure the playoff spot due to Baltimore’s win over Cleveland. Case Keenum completed 25-of-35 passes for 250 yards with two touchdown passes and one interception and Arian Foster made a 10-yard touchdown catch before exiting late in the first quarter with a hamstring injury. Blake Bortles completed 14-of-33 passes for 117 yards and also rushed for 61 yards on three carries for the Jaguars (3-13), who finished the season with an 0-8 road record.


Final Score: Philadelphia 34, NY Giants 26

Mark Sanchez’s two touchdown passes and a key play from the Eagles’ special teams enabled Philadelphia to end a disappointing December on a high note with a 34-26 win over the New York Giants. Trey Burton’s 27-yard runback of a punt blocked by James Casey early in the third quarter helped the Eagles (10-6) halt a costly three-game skid that eliminated the club from playoff contention, while Sanchez put up 292 yards with an interception on a solid 23-of-36 completion rate in the former Jet’s return to MetLife Stadium. Jordan Matthews aided Philadelphia’s cause as well by coming up with 105 yards and a touchdown on eight catches, with LeSean McCoy contributing 99 rushing yards on 17 carries. New York (6-10) had a three-game win streak stopped despite 429 passing yards from Eli Manning and career days from Odell Beckham Jr. and Rueben Randle. The Giants ended their first 10-loss season since Manning’s rookie year of 2004. Beckham finished out a sensational rookie campaign by amassing 185 yards and a touchdown on 12 receptions, while Randle finished with a personal-best 158 yards on six grabs. Manning hit on 28-of-53 throws with one touchdown and an interception.


Final Score: Minnesota 13, Chicago 9

Teddy Bridgewater had a touchdown pass and Blair Walsh kicked a pair of field goals as the Minnesota Vikings closed out the season with a 13-9 victory over the Chicago Bears. Bridgewater was 17- of-25 for 209 yards with an interception for the Vikings (7-9), who snapped a two-game losing streak. Matt Asiata carried the ball 19 times for 91 yards. Jay Cutler, back under center after being benched for last week’s game, was 23-of-36 for 172 yards for the Bears (5-11), who dropped their final five games of the season to finish last in the NFC North. After missing the playoffs for a seventh time in the past eight years, Chicago might be looking to clean house as head coach Marc Trestman and general manager Phil Emery are on the hot seat.


Final Score: NY Jets 37, Miami 24

If the Jets had played this well all season, Rex Ryan’s job security would never have been an issue. Geno Smith threw for a career-high 358 yards with three touchdowns, including a 74-yard scoring strike to Eric Decker that ignited a run of 23 unanswered points, as New York concluded a dismal year with a 37-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium. Decker caught 10 passes for 221 yards for the Jets (4-12), who hadn’t scored more than 25 points in a game all year and gave Ryan a victory in what could be his final game as New York’s head coach after six seasons. Ryan compiled a record of 46-50 and is expected to soon learn his fate, although indications are that he, and possibly general manager John Idzik, will be fired. Ryan took the Jets to the AFC Championship Game after each of his first two seasons, but New York hasn’t had a winning record since and this year’s finish was the worst for the franchise since a 4-12 mark in 2007. Miami coach Joe Philbin is set to return next year after owner Stephen Ross made the announcement following last Sunday’s victory over Minnesota. The Dolphins (8-8) finished Philbin’s third year with a second straight .500 campaign. Miami was 7-9 in Philbin’s first season and 8-8 last year, when a loss to the Jets on the final day of the season cost the Dolphins a playoff spot.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Things we learned on Sunday of Week 17

It was a mix of “old” and “new” that led the fantasy world in Week 17. And primarily they hailed from New York City.

The Giants’ Eli Manning led all passers with 429 yards, while young Geno Smith of the Jets had his best day as a passer with 358 yards and three touchdowns.

Veteran Jets receiver Eric Decker led the league in Week 17 with 221 yards receiving. But the best receiver in the game over the last half of the season, rookie Odell Beckham Jr., added another chapter to his growing story with 12 receptions for 185 yards and a touchdown.

Wideout Michael Floyd and running back C.J. Anderson were pretty good too.

Below are a few more things we observed:


Cleveland at Baltimore

Did someone forget to tell Baltimore that the playoffs were on the line this week?

The Ravens slept through the first three quarters, averaging 4.1 yards per play. If not for a huge fourth quarter, Baltimore would have been watching from the couch next week.

Baltimore gained 248 of its 419 yards in the fourth quarter as Flacco threw two touchdown passes in the final period. Torrey Smith and Kamar Aiken caught the touchdowns while Steve Smith Sr. led the team with eight catches and 90 yards. Torrey had four catches and 83 yards.

Justin Forsett also woke up in the fourth quarter, rushing for 32 yards on one play and finishing with 119 yards on 17 carries.

The Browns are probably still searching for their franchise quarterback. Connor Shaw was 14-of-28 for 177 yards and one interception. Cleveland scored three offensive touchdowns in their final four games and ended the season on a five-game losing streak.

Terrance West is something to look forward to for fantasy owners. He rushed for 94 yards on 18 carries and scored on Sunday.


San Diego at Kansas City

Almost is the key word of the day for Kansas City.

The Chiefs almost threw a touchdown pass to a wide receiver this week. Dwayne Bowe came within six inches of being the first Chiefs’ wide receiver to score this year, but he fumbled near the goal line. Luckily, tight end Travis Kelce recovered the fumble in the end zone for the score.

Great fortune for Kelce owners, but bad luck for any fantasy owner rolling the dice with Chase Daniel because he did not get credit for the touchdown.

Other than that, Kansas City continued to struggle in the red zone, settling for field goals on the three other red zone trips. Cairo Santos was 4-for-5, missing only a 50-yarder.

Daniel started well in his second career start, but he completed just three of his last 10 pass attempts. He finished 16-of-27 for 127 yards overall. .

The Chiefs had Philip Rivers under duress all day long, recording seven sacks. Justin Houston had four of them and broke Derrick Thomas’ franchise record for sacks in a single-season. Houston finished the year with 22 sacks, just a half sack away from the all-time single-season record.

Despite no Ryan Mathews, San Diego had its best rushing game as a team in several weeks. Branden Oliver gained 71 yards on 14 carries. Keenan Allen also didn’t play, so that gave a chance for Eddie Royal to lead the Chargers with four catches and 95 yards.

Antonio Gates did not have a target until late in the third quarter, but turned it on late to finish with four catches and 67 yards.


Jacksonville at Houston

In addition to a playoff berth, the sack title was on the line Sunday. J.J. Watt recorded three sacks in Week 17, but Houston still finished 1.5 sacks ahead of Watt for the title.

Watt’s last sack against the Jaguars resulted in a safety and secured a winning season for Houston. Watt is the only player in NFL history to record two 20-sack seasons.

DeAndre Hopkins must have picked on Case Keenum or did something to make fun of him last season because all the sudden, Andre Johnson is the go-to wide out again in Houston.

Johnson had 10 catches for 134 yards and a touchdown while Hopkins caught just two passes for five yards. Johnson received 15 targets versus Hopkins’ six. Keenum was 25-of-35 with 250 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Arian Foster left toward the end of the first quarter with an injury, so the running duties fell to Alfred Blue and Jonathan Grimes. Blue was unimpressive with 39 yards on 17 carries, but he did score. Grimes gained 45 yards with 11 rushing attempts.

Hopefully the Jaguars get some offensive weapons fantasy owners can use next season. Toby Gerhart rushed four times for eight yards before Jacksonville finally realized Jordan Todman was a better option. Todman gained 52 yards on seven carries.

Todman also led the Jaguars with five catches for 46 receiving yards and a touchdown. The throw, however, came from Cecil Shorts and not Blake Bortles. Sorry Bortles owners.

The Jaguars quarterback finished 12-of-28 for 94 yards. This isn’t Central Florida playing an American Athletic Conference schedule is it?


New York Jets at Miami

Who the heck was wearing No. 7 for the Jets on Sunday?

Geno Smith may have played his best game as a pro, completing 20-of-25 for 358 yards and three touchdowns. Is it enough to save his job? How about Rex Ryan’s job? Probably not.

As happy as Smith owners were, if there were any left, Eric Decker owners couldn’t have been more pleased. Decker had 10 catches for 221 yards and a touchdown, including a 74-yard touchdown in the third quarter. So that’s why the Jets signed him to a five-year, $36.25 million contract.

Neither Chris Ivory nor Chris Johnson did much, both averaging below 2.5 yards per carry. Chris Owusu scored the lone rushing touchdown. He is a wide receiver, in case you’ve never heard of him.

Lamar Miller ended the season on a high note with 19 carries for 178 yards and a touchdown. He could be a decent middle-round pick depending on whether Knowshon Moreno returns to form. Daniel Thomas vultured the other touchdown away. Thomas had one carry, one yard and one touchdown.

Brian Hartline, Jarvis Landry and Charles Clay each had five catches with Hartline leading the way with 94 yards, but Clay caught the touchdown. Fantasy owners hate balanced distribution.

Mike Wallace had one target and no catches, which was surprising based on his previous two weeks.


Chicago at Minnesota

Speaking of sleeping, congratulations to those who made it through this one without dozing off.

The Bears and Vikings combined to score one touchdown and Adam Thielen scored it. Prior to Sunday, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you whether he was on Chicago or Minnesota (hint: Teddy Bridgewater threw it to him).

Bridgewater was 17-of-25 for 209 yards with a touchdown and interception. Thielen led Minnesota with three catches for 68 yards. Four different receivers, Thielen, Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright and Rhett Ellison, all had three catches for the Vikings. Again, fantasy owners hate balanced distribution.

Matt Asiata led Minnesota with 19 carries and 91 yards.

Jay Cutler avoided any big mistakes and all big plays. He went 23-of-46 for 172 yards. Matt Forte had 25 touches for 74 yards, including eight catches for 23 yards. Forte reached the 1,000-yard rushing mark and his 102 catches set a new league record for a running back. In other words, he is a PPR monster.

Martellus Bennett also had eight catches for 59 yards. Alshon Jeffery received just five targets and caught two of them for 34 yards.


Buffalo at New England

Kyle Orton was solid against the first-string Patriots defense going 11-of-15 for 143 yards and a score in the first half. He did nothing in the second half, however, to disappoint fantasy owners.

Although Tom Brady’s uniform was out there in the first half, it couldn’t have really been him as the guy wearing the No. 12 was just 8-of-16 for 80 yards. I guess that’s what happens when your two best weapons, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman are inactive. Hopefully fantasy owners saw that coming and didn’t start Brady.

Jimmy Garoppolo saw a full half of action, but could get the Pats on the scoreboard. He’ll return to his spot on the bench after this short 30 minute exhibition.


Philadelphia at New York Giants

Typical Mark Sanchez, some good and some bad. He threw for 292 yards and two touchdowns, but also turned the ball over.

We had not seen Jordan Matthews be a big part of the Eagles offense since mid- season, but a 44-yard touchdown strike got him off to a huge start in the season finale and he finished the day with his 105 yards, his first triple- digit total since Week 11.

The Eagles D/ST did it again, blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown. It was their league-leading 11 score of the season.

Rueben Randle and Odell Beckham Jr. both posted 100-plus yards in two consecutive games.

With the Eagles paying close attention to Beckham Jr., as they rightfully should, Randle racked up five receptions for 134 yards by halftime. He finished with six receptions for 158.

Beckham Jr. was still targeted 21 times, catching 12 for 185 yards and a touchdown. Once again the rookie phenom makes all around him better.

Eli Manning threw for 429 yards and has 820 yards over the past two games.


New Orleans at Tampa Bay

Drew Brees’ attempt at throwing for 5,000 for a record-setting fifth time was derailed by an ugly 97-yard first half. he finished with 281 yards (48 yards short) and three interceptions. He did keep his consecutive games with a touchdown in tact, hitting old friend Marques Colston inside the final two minutes.

Doug Martin was a busy guy, racking up 92 yards rushing on 12 carries ... in the first half. He finished with 108 yards.

The Bucs spent most of the day with the lead, but in the end, won by losing. They clinched the top pick in the 2015 NFL draft. Tampa Bay, you are on the clock.


Indianapolis at Tennessee

After the “Debacle in Dallas,“ the Colts offense got untracked against the Titans. Luck threw two first-half touchdowns as the Colts opened up a 17-7 lead.

The Indy quarterback likes to throw to his tight ends in the red zone. Even without Dwayne Allen (inactive), Luck hit both Coby Fleener and Jack Doyle for scores.

Unfortunately for fantasy owners, Luck (10-of-16, 160 yards 2 TDs) only played the first 30 minutes.

Fleener caught a second touchdown, this one from Matt Hasselbeck and was a very good fantasy asset over the last six games.

Shonn Greene rushed for 94 yards on just 11 carries, overshadowing Bishop Sankey again. Sankey is not the answer. Neither is Greene.


Dallas at Washington

Another nearly perfect first half for Tony Romo. He went 16-of-20 for 225 yards and a pair of touchdown passes to Dez Bryant. He did two things wrong in the second half. he threw an interception and he finished the day with 299 yards passing, one shy of the bonus.

Bryant continues to be a touchdown machine, this time taking a short pass and going 65-yards for a score. He added a 23-yard score near the end of the first quarter as the Cowboys racked up 27 points by halftime.

DeMarco Murray didn’t let his broken hand stop him from breaking Emmitt Smith’s single-season franchise rushing mark (1,773 in 1995). Murray finished with 1,845 after a 20-100-1 line. It was his 12th 100-yard game of the season.

DeSean Jackson is one of the most inconsistent receivers in the league, but he gets yards in bunches. His only catch of the first half was a 69-yard TD strike midway through the first quarter. He only caught one more the remainder of the afternoon.


Carolina at Atlanta

When Carolina needed him most, Cam Newton came up big. He totaled 138 yards in the first half with a touchdown pass and a touchdown run as the Panthers built an insurmountable 24-3 lead.

Of course, Jonathan Stewart owners hate the touchdown run, but they should be used to it by now. He rushed for just 49 yards on 13 carries and caught two balls for 20 yards. We have gotten used to much more in the past few games.

The Panthers defense gave up 37 or more points five times, but down the stretch they came up big, yielding 17 or less to New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Atlanta.

Not only that, Sunday the Carolina defense scored two touchdowns and had a third one called back by penalty.

Just a horrible effort from the Falcons offense and Matt Ryan in particular. Fantasy owners have been platooning Ryan by starting him in home games, but the trend failed in Week 17.

Courtesy of garbage-time, Roddy White managed to earn the 100-yard bonus, but star Julio Jones was a non-factor.


Oakland at Denver

C.J. Anderson continues to deliver. This time it was two first-half touchdown runs and three all told.

Of course Peyton Manning owners aren’t happy about Anderson’s development. Those short touchdowns used to be “money” for Manning owners. In 2013 he threw 25 touchdown passes of nine yards or less, but just 17 this season.

Week 17 was another disappointment for Manning fantasy owners as he threw for 273 yards and zero touchdowns.

Ho hum. Another 100-yard receiving day for Demaryius Thomas. That’s 10 of them in the last 13 games.

Latavius Murray couldn’t run much against the Broncos, but did catch four balls for 60 yards. He could be good in a Matt Forte/Le’Veon Bell type role.


Detroit at Green Bay

The Lions were nowhere until Aaron Rodgers re-injured his calf. They mounted their first scoring drive of the game right after the injury with Matthew Stafford hitting Calvin Johnson just before the second half ended. And tied it midway through the third quarter.

Rodgers returned to a tie game late in the third quarter and promptly led his team on a touchdown drive which finished with a strike to Randall Cobb. He also “ran” one in from the 1-yard line to clinch the game. This clutch performance just might push him past Luck for fantasy MVP.

Is it my imagination, or does Eddie Lacy do his best work on the opening drive each week? He finished the day right on the money with 100 yards rushing on 26 carries.

It’s hard enough to beat Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay in Lambeau. It’s tougher still when you give them a special teams touchdown.

Stafford did throw three touchdown passes, but he was just 20-of-41 for 217 yards.


Arizona at San Francisco

Ryan Lindley has been in the league three seasons, but Sunday he threw his first touchdown pass after 228 attempts. Facing the 49ers beat up defense is a lot easier than the Seahawks defense isn’t it?

It only took him about 20 more passes to double his career touchdown pass total, hitting Michael Floyd just before halftime. He finished with a career- high 316 yards passing, but three interceptions were his downfall.

Floyd caught two touchdown passes in the first half. They were his first scores since Week 11 and his first double-digit fantasy performance in close to two months.

A solid performance from Colin Kaepernick; 15-of-26 for 204 yards, two touchdowns and 63 yards rushing. If he had done that all season, his team might still be playing next weekend.

Gore rushed for 144 yards, giving him 302 yards over the past two games, Where was that over the previous nine games?

The 49ers need a deep threat at receiver to spread the secondary. Anquan Boldin, who did catch a 76-yard touchdown Sunday, is more of a possession receiver.


St. Louis at Seattle

Either the Rams defense is very good or the Seahawks didn’t really care if they had home field advantage throughout the playoffs. St. Louis held Russell Wilson & Co. scoreless over the first 30 minutes.

The Rams offense, however, totaled just 66 first half yards, yet somehow, they still led 6-0. If Sam Bradford can’t stay healthy this team needs to find a quarterback who can. They have enough weapons to help fantasy owners if they can just solve the issue under center.

Seattle finally got it together and took their first lead in the fourth quarter on the back of a Marshawn Lynch’s personal-record 13th touchdown run. He combined for 100 yards from scrimmage.

Wilson was very dull, throwing for 239 yards and rushing for just seven yards and no touchdowns. Fortunately, he wasn’t needed to carry them in Week 17.

A Seahawks “pick-six” by linebacker Bruce Irvin sealed home field advantage.



<The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top-25 College Men’s Basketball Game Results

(Sunday, December 28)


Final Score: (6) Wisconsin 68, Buffalo 56

Frank Kaminsky posted 25 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks and carried No. 6 Wisconsin to a 68-56 win over upset-minded Buffalo to conclude non-conference play. Sam Dekker added 13 points and Nigel Hayes scored nine—all over the final 20 minutes—for the Badgers (12-1), who overcame a sluggish first half to post their fifth straight win. Wisconsin hosts Penn State in their Big Ten opener on Wednesday. Only five Bulls found the scoring column, with four reaching double figures. Justin Moss led a balanced attack with 14 points and 12 rebounds as Buffalo (7-3) saw its three- game win streak come to an end.


Final Score: Stony Brook 62, (13) Washington 57

Jameel Warney made a go-ahead jumper with 30 seconds remaining, and the Stony Brook Seawolves erased a 16-point deficit in the second half to stun the 13th-ranked Washington Huskies, 62-57, on Sunday. Warney ended with 15 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three blocks for the Seawolves (8-6), who beat a ranked team for the first time in school history. Kameron Mitchell added 12 points and Rayshaun McGrew tallied 10 points and 14 boards for Stony Brook, which has won three in a row. Nigel Williams-Goss and Robert Upshaw each had 10 points for the Huskies (11-1). Upshaw also pulled down 11 rebounds and blocked four shots.


Final Score: (17) St. John’s 82, Tulane 57

Sir’Dominic Pointer posted career highs of 24 points and seven steals to lead No. 17 St. John’s to an 82-57 rout of Tulane at Barclays Center. The Red Storm (11-1) built a 47-22 halftime lead and forced 17 turnovers in moving to 11-1, the program’s best 12-game start since the 1985-86 season. D’Angelo Harrison contributed 21 points and Rysheed Jordan had 12 in St. John’s seventh straight victory since a loss to No. 8 Gonzaga on Nov. 28. Jonathan Stark paced Tulane (9-3) with 15 points and Louis Dabney finished with 12 in the loss, the Green Wave’s second this week to a ranked opponent. Tulane was coming off a 66-57 setback at No. 13 Washington on Monday.


Final Score: (23) Northern Iowa 74, South Dakota State 63

Nate Buss had 14 points, Wes Washpun scored 12 and No. 23 Northern Iowa posted a 74-63 win over South Dakota State on Sunday. Seth Tuttle finished with 11 points and a career-high nine assists for the Panthers (11-1), who extended their home winning streak to nine games. George Marshall led South Dakota State (9-5) with 16 points, followed by Deondre Parks with 15.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NBA Game Results

(Sunday, December 28)


Final Score: Detroit 103, Cleveland 80

Brandon Jennings scored 25 points and led a 3-point barrage that carried the Detroit Pistons to a stunning 103-80 victory over a cold-shooting Cleveland Cavaliers squad. The Pistons made good on a scorching 17-of-31 attempts from beyond the arc in collecting their second straight win following the team’s surprising release of forward Josh Smith. Jennings went 5-of-9 from long distance, Jodie Meeks was 3-of-4 in a 14-point effort off the bench and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope finished 3-of-7 while adding 13 points. Andre Drummond chipped in 16 points, 17 rebounds and five blocks for Detroit, which had been mired in a 2-17 stretch prior to defeating Indiana on Friday. The Cavaliers, on the other hand, shot a woeful 32.8 percent over the final three quarters to lose for just the second time in their last 11 home outings.


Final Score: San Antonio 110, Houston 106

In a game that featured 13 ties and 20 lead changes, the San Antonio Spurs came out on top, 110-106, against the rival Houston Rockets on Sunday. Danny Green led San Antonio with 24 points and added five steals to help the Spurs snap a two-game losing streak. Tim Duncan added 16 points and eight rebounds. Manu Ginobili chipped in 15 points off the bench and Cory Joseph scored 14 on 6-of-9 shooting. San Antonio hit 21-of-24 shots from the free throw line while the Rockets made just 18- of-31 as they lost their two-game winning streak. James Harden paced Houston with 28 points and Corey Brewer contributed 25 off the bench. Dwight Howard scored 24 points and grabbed a game-high 17 rebounds.


Final Score: Dallas 112, Oklahoma City 107

Dirk Nowitzki poured in season high-tying 30 points with five rebounds to lead the Dallas Mavericks in a 112-107 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. Chandler Parsons had 26 points, Monta Ellis contributed 18 and Rajon Rondo finished with 15 points, seven assists and six rebounds for the Mavs, who have won two in a row. Serge Ibaka paced the Thunder with a season-high 26 points to go along with 10 rebounds. Reggie Jackson deposited 21 points and Russell Westbrook added 18 despite shooting 6-of-23 from the floor. Oklahoma City, which had its two-game winning streak snapped, played without Kevin Durant for a sixth straight game due to a sprained ankle.


Final Score: Portland 101, New York 79

Wesley Matthews matched a season-high with 28 points to lead the Portland Trail Blazers to a 101-79 win over the New York Knicks on Sunday. Nicolas Batum checked in with 17 points, Chris Kaman had 13 and Joel Freeland deposited a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double for Portland. The Blazers, who played without forward LaMarcus Aldridge (upper respiratory illness) for a second straight game, improved to 14-1 against the Eastern Conference this season. Tim Hardaway Jr. paced the Knicks with 17 points, while Cole Aldrich finished with 12 points and career-highs of 19 rebounds and four steals for New York, which dropped its eighth straight game. The Knicks close out their three-game West Coast road trip with a meeting against the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday. Carmelo Anthony finished with 13 points and five rebounds in just one half of action. He sat out the second half due to left knee soreness.


Final Score: Toronto 116, Denver 102

Kyle Lowry keeps playing at an All-Star level, and the Raptors keep winning. Lowry posted 30 points and 11 assists and Toronto took down the Denver Nuggets 116-102 on Sunday at Pepsi Center. Louis Williams chimed in with 31 points off the bench for the Raptors, winners in eight of their last nine games. The Eastern Conference leaders only committed six turnovers as a team. Ty Lawson paced Denver with 28 points and seven assists. Wilson Chandler tallied 20 points and 10 rebounds and Kenneth Faried had a big night, scoring 17 points to go along with 19 boards.


Final Score: Phoenix 116, LA LAkers 107

The Suns’ point guard trio combined for 61 points and Phoenix went into Staples Center and topped the Los Angeles Lakers, 116-107. Goran Dragic scored a game-high 24 points, Eric Bledsoe posted 22 with eight rebounds and eight assists and Isaiah Thomas had 15 off the bench for the suddenly red-hot Suns. Phoenix has won six games in a row on the heels of a six-game slide, although four of those wins have come against teams with a losing record. Nick Young and Jeremy Lin scored 21 and 19 points, respectively, off the bench, as LA fell to 4-11 at home this season.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NHL Game Results

(Sunday, December 28)


Final Score: Florida 6, Toronto 4

The Florida Panthers finished with a flurry, erasing a two-goal deficit in the third period to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-4 on Sunday. Brad Boyes redirected in Dmitry Kulikov’s wrister from the point on a power play for the go-ahead goal with 3:15 remaining. Kulikov, Willie Mitchell and Scottie Upshall also scored in the third for the Panthers, who got 13 saves from Roberto Luongo. Florida is 5-1-1 over its last seven games and extended its home win streak to four games. James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Richard Panik and Roman Polak had second-period goals for Toronto, which has dropped four of its last five games. James Reimer allowed five goals on 33 shots. Starting goaltender Jonathan Bernier missed the game with flu-like symptoms.


Final Score: Anaheim 2, Vancouver 1 (OT)

Cam Fowler scored 2:42 into overtime to give the Anaheim Ducks a 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks. Francois Beauchemin tied the game at the 6:52 mark of the third period for the Ducks, who started an eight-game homestand on Sunday. Frederik Andersen made 13 saves. Yannick Weber scored the lone goal for the Canucks, who had a two-game winning streak snapped. Ryan Miller stopped 29-of-31 shots.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


MONDAY, DECEMBER 29, 2014


National Basketball Association
Chicago at Indiana, 7:00 PM - WGN, FS-Indiana, DSS
Milwaukee at Charlotte, 7:00 PM - SportSouth, NBA TV, DSS
Sacramento at Brooklyn, 7:30 PM - CSN-California, YES, DSS
Orlando at Miami, 7:30 PM - FS-Florida, SunSports, DSS
Washington at Houston, 8:00 PM - CSN-DC+, ROOT-Southwest, DSS
Utah at LA Clippers, 10:30 PM - ROOT-Northwest, FS-Prime Ticket, DSS


National Hockey League
Detroit at Boston, 7:00 PM - FS-Detroit, NESN, NBCSN
Montreal at Carolina, 7:00 PM - RDS, FS-Carolina, DSS
Washington at NY Islanders, 7:00 PM - CSN-DC, MSG+2, DSS
Pittsburgh at New Jersey, 7:00 PM - ROOT-Pittsburgh, MSG+, DSS
Buffalo at Ottawa, 7:30 PM - MSG-Buffalo, TSN5, DSS
Toronto at Tampa Bay, 7:30 PM - SNET-Ontario, SunSports, DSS
Colorado at St. Louis, 8:00 PM - Altitude, FS-Midwest, DSS
Minnesota at Winnipeg, 8:00 PM - FS-North, TSN3, DSS
Nashville at Chicago, 8:30 PM - FS-Tennessee, CSN-Chicago, DSS
NY Rangers at Dallas, 8:30 PM - MSG, FS-Southwest, DSS
Los Angeles at Calgary, 9:00 PM - FS-West, SNET-West, DSS
Philadelphia at Arizona, 9:00 PM - CSN-Philadelphia, FS-Arizona, DSS


College Basketball
Rice at Texas, 1:00 PM - Longhorn Network
UMass Lowell at Boston College, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Wentworth at Boston Univ, 7:00 PM - Patriot League Network
Toledo at Duke, 7:00 PM - ESPN 2
Southern Miss at LSU, 7:00 PM - SEC Network
Maine at Quinnipiac, 7:00 PM - Patriot League Network
Cleveland State at VCU, 7:00 PM - CBS6
Mount St Mary’s at Old Dominion, 8:00 PM - MASN
Midwestern State at SMU, 8:00 PM - ESPN3.com
North Texas at Texas Tech, 8:00 PM - FS-Southwest+, FCS Central
Alice Lloyd at Western Kentucky, 8:00 PM - HSSN
Middle Tennessee at Auburn, 9:00 PM - SEC Network
Portland at BYU, 9:00 PM - BYUtv
Pepperdine at Loyola Marymount, 9:00 PM - Time Warner Sports
San Francisco at St. Mary’s (CA), 9:00 PM - ESPN U
UC Irvine at Oregon, 11:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Gonzaga at San Diego, 11:00 PM - ROOT-Northwest, Time Warner
Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Stanford, 11:00 PM - Pac-12 Network


Women’s College Basketball
SE Louisiana at Ole Miss, 7:00 PM - SEC Network+
Grambling State at Arkansas, 7:00 PM - SEC Network+
Ohio State at Maryland, 7:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Mississippi State, 8:00 PM - SEC Network+
James Madison at Vanderbilt, 8:00 PM - SEC Network+
Samford at Kansas, 8:00 PM - Jayhawk TV
Texas A&M at Washington, 9:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Duke at Connecticut, 9:00 PM - ESPN 2
Old Dominion at California, 9:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Nebraska at Minnesota, 9:00 PM - Big Ten Network


College Football
Texas A&M vs. West Virginia (Liberty Bowl), 2:00 PM - ESPN
Oklahoma vs. Clemson (Russell Athletic Bowl), 5:30 PM - ESPN
Arkansas vs. Texas (Texas Bowl), 9:00 PM - ESPN


International Soccer
Italian Serie A Soccer, 2:30 PM - beIN Sport
Liverpool vs. Swansea, 2:55 PM - NBCSN

Sports News   141228

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  Grad transfer Cullen Christian academically ineligible for Liberty Bowl

Two final-year West Virginia players were deemed academically ineligible for the Liberty Bowl game against Texas A&M.

Graduate transfer Cullen Christian, the backup to K.J. Dillon at Spur safety in 12 games this season, and seldom-used defensive lineman Brandon Jackson did not travel to Memphis.

“Their senior years ended one game earlier than we anticipated,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said.

Christian made five tackles this season after transferring from Pitt. His absence elevates Dayron Wilson to the No. 2 spot behind Dillon.

Jackson was a redshirt junior who told coaches last month he would not return for his final year of eligibility.


►  Jacky Marcellus update

Holgorsen said the redshirt freshman receiver is “in a good place” after being grazed by a bullet in a Christmas Eve shooting in Immokalee, Fla.

Marcellus’ brother Jackinson was shot in the face, police said.

After redshirting in 2013, Marcellus was sidelined for all of 2014 when he tore knee ligaments in preseason camp.

“Hopefully he’ll be joining us in a day or two,” Holgorsen.


►  Backup quarterback

With sophomore Skyler Howard pegged as the starter for WVU at the Liberty Bowl, who is the backup quarterback? That depends on the situation.

Clearly, senior Paul Millard becomes the best-available option, but he didn’t appear in the regular season and hopes to redshirt for a return in 2015.

Then there’s senior Logan Moore, a former Division II standout at Fairmont State who has split time at receiver since walking on at West Virginia.

“If a helmet pops off we’re probably going to put Logan in there,” Holgorsen said. “But if something (worse) happens to Skyler, we’re probably going to go with Paul to put our best foot forward to win the game.”


►  Spavital’s WVU legacy lives on in recruits like Worley, White

Nearly two years after leaving for Texas A&M, assistant coach Jake Spavital remains close not only with his mentor Dana Holgorsen, but also with several West Virginia players he recruited.

During Friday afternoon’s Liberty Bowl interview session, Spavital ran into Mountaineers sophomore Daryl Worley in a hotel lobby. The guys have swapped texts throughout Worley’s two seasons at WVU, a program to which Spavital lured the overlooked cornerback.

“I was an Oklahoma kid driving around Philadelphia when I saw Daryl Worley,” Spavital said. “From the minute you saw him walk in, you knew he could be a player.”

Having bonded with Spavital during a time when few other major programs showed interest, Worley became disappointed upon enrolling in January 2013 only to see his lead recruiter leave for College Station days later.

“It kind of hurt me when he left, but we still talk a lot,” said Worley, who called his shot regarding a bowl game interception. “I’m waiting to pick it off, and I hope it’s on Jake’s sideline so I can say something to him.”

Spavital’s other big contributions to the 2013 recruiting class were Biletnikoff finalist Kevin White and Mike linebacker-in-waiting Al-Rasheed Benton.

At 29, Spavital shoulders a rare blend of youth and responsibility. His first season as a stand-alone offensive coordinator featured the rise-and-fall of Kenny Hill, a midseason shift to true freshman quarterback Kyle Allen, and a streakiness that saw the Aggies surge and dip to emotional extremes.

For Spavital, who first took over play-calling duties at last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl, the last four months were humbling for an already-humble guy.

“We were ranked fifth in the country, and then we lose three straight and we’re the worst team in the country,” he said. “Then we beat Auburn and I’m back to guru status, but we lose the last two games so now we’re back to being an average team.”

Through the jumps and slumps, Spavital stayed connected with Holgorsen—so much so that the WVU coach let slip in late November that Clint Trickett’s latest concussion might be be season-ending. That information became more vital when the Liberty Bow pairing was announced December 7, though Holgorsen only revealed the official prognosis to reporters Friday.

Come game time, the overlap of offensive systems means both coaches must be cognizant of the other side recognizing signals. And cognizant of what Spavital jokingly described as “lots of side bets.”

In the six years since they were thrown together on a University of Houston staff and a UH apartment—Holgorsen as coordinator and Spavital as barely-paid grad assistant—they’ve been tethered.

“He took care of me and he treated me like a little brother,” Spavital said. “He always made sure I had everything I needed. It was tough to leave him because he took such good care of me, but he understood the move.

“I loved working for Dana and I enjoyed my time with him at Houston, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. I owe a lot to that man.”

And in a sense, West Virginia still owes some gratitude toward Spavital.

“He brought some great players to West Virginia,” said defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. “I’m excited about that.”



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Hokies beat Bearcats in Military Bowl

Coach Frank Beamer may not have been on the sideline for Virginia Tech, but the Hokies were still able to earn a 33-17 win over Cincinnati in the Military Bowl.

Virginia Tech (7-6) registered its 22nd consecutive winning season with the victory.

J.C. Coleman ran for a season-high 157 yards for the Hokies, who piled up 210 yards on the ground.

Michael Brewer threw for just 94 yards on 14-of-24 passing with a touchdown and interception.

Beamer was coaching from the coaches’ box, where he was ordered to be following throat surgery earlier in the month. His son Shane Beamer was the acting head coach.

Gunner Kiel completed 14-of-26 passes for 244 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for the Bearcats (9-4), most of which came in the first half. Kiel exited the game early in the third quarter with a reported head injury.

Chris Moore and Shaq Washington had 103 and 100 receiving yards, respectively, for Cincinnati, and Moore caught a pair of touchdowns.

Backup quarterback Michael Colosimo led Cincinnati with 54 rushing yards.

Holding a narrow 13-10 lead at the break, Virginia Tech was able to gain some breathing room on the first two possessions of the third quarter.

Brewer capped an 11-play, 75-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Malleck on the opening possession of the second half to extend Virginia Tech’s lead to 20-10.

On the Bearcats’ first possession, Kiel was hit hard by Deon Clarke and lost the ball. Defensive tackle Nigel Williams scooped up the loose ball and after he was stripped on the return, teammate Greg Stroman recovered the ball and dragged a Cincinnati player into the end zone as the Hokies took a 27-10 lead.

Kiel would not return to the game, and Cincinnati mixed in Washington taking snaps in the wildcat and Colosimo over the following two drives. Colosimo was pressed into action because the more experienced backup quarterback, Munchie Legaux, was unable to play.

After two drives stalled in Kiel’s absence, the Hokies added to their lead with a 38-yard Joey Slye field goal.

The Bearcats offense finally got into a rhythm. Colosimo missed on his first three pass attempts, but his next two went to Moore for 23 yards and then a 43-yard score to get Cincinnati back into the game.

Colosimo could not duplicate that success, and Virginia Tech added one more field goal to account for the final margin.

The teams were tied at seven after a first quarter that saw each team touch the ball five times and turn it over once. Kiel’s 31-yard pass to Moore opened the scoring, and Coleman responded with a 1-yard plunge on the following drive.

In the second quarter, Slye made field goals of 45 and 49 yards. Andrew Gantz kicked a 25-yarder for Cincinnati.

Game Notes

Virginia Tech now owns a 6-5 lead in the all-time series; including a 2-1 record in bowl games ... The Hokies improved to 11-17 in bowl games, while the Bearcats fell to 8-7 ... Kiel’s touchdown pass was his 31st of the season, tying a single-season school record.


►  College Football Bowl Game Results

(Saturday, December 27)


Final Score: (15) Arizona State 36, Duke 31

Demario Richard posted four touchdowns and Kweishi Brown came up with a key late interception as No. 15 Arizona State held on to take out Duke, 36-31, in the Sun Bowl. Richard racked up just 63 yards of total offense, yet crossed the goal line twice on rushes and twice more on Taylor Kelly passes for the Sun Devils (10-3). Kelly finished 24-of-34 for 240 yards, while Jaelen Strong led all receivers with 103 yards on seven receptions. Anthony Boone completed only 15 of his 31 attempts for 193 yards, two scores and that late pick for the Blue Devils (9-4). Jamison Crowder also threw a TD pass and racked up 102 yards on seven catches while also recording a 68-yard punt return score. Isaac Blakeney, Shaquille Powell and Johnell Barnes each posted a touchdown reception in defeat. Powell also totaled 117 yards on 29 carries.


Final Score: Virginia Tech 33, Cincinnati 17

Coach Frank Beamer may not have been on the sideline for Virginia Tech, but the Hokies were still able to earn a 33-17 win over Cincinnati in the Military Bowl. Virginia Tech (7-6) registered its 22nd consecutive winning season with the victory. J.C. Coleman ran for a season-high 157 yards for the Hokies, who piled up 210 yards on the ground. Michael Brewer threw for just 94 yards on 14-of-24 passing with a touchdown and interception. Beamer was coaching from the coaches’ box, where he was ordered to be following throat surgery earlier in the month. His son Shane Beamer was the acting head coach. Gunner Kiel completed 14-of-26 passes for 244 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for the Bearcats (9-4), most of which came in the first half. Kiel exited the game early in the third quarter with a reported head injury. Chris Moore and Shaq Washington had 103 and 100 receiving yards, respectively, for Cincinnati, and Moore caught a pair of touchdowns.


Final Score: South Carolina 24, Miami-Florida 21

Dylan Thompson scored the decisive touchdown on a quarterback keeper after a Duke Johnson fumble, as South Carolina edged Miami-Florida 24-21 in Saturday’s Independence Bowl. Thompson threw two touchdown passes while finishing 22-of-34 for 294 yards. Pharoh Cooper had 170 yards and one touchdown on nine receptions for the Gamecocks (7-6), who won a school-record fourth straight bowl game. Johnson rushed 24 times for 132 yards, but the junior suffered an ankle injury and fumbled on what is expected to be his final collegiate carry. Johnson’s mother, Cassandra Mitchell, told the Palm Beach Post on Saturday that her son will enter the 2015 NFL Draft. Brad Kaaya was 19-of-33 for 236 yards with a touchdown and one interception for Miami (6-7), which ended the season on a four-game losing streak. The Hurricanes also suffered a school-record fifth consecutive bowl defeat.


Final Score: Penn State 31, Boston College 30 (OT)

Sam Ficken gave Penn State a walk-off win at Yankee Stadium. The Nittany Lions have paid their penance. Now it’s time to celebrate. Christian Hackenberg threw for 371 yards and four touchdowns, including a game-winning 10-yard TD pass to Kyle Carter in overtime, as Penn State edged Boston College 31-30 in the Pinstripe Bowl. The Nittany Lions appeared in their first bowl game since a loss to Houston in the TicketCity Bowl in January of 2012. Penn State was originally banned from participating in a bowl until 2016 after the NCAA levied sanctions against the school in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. The NCAA, though, lifted the severe sanctions in early September due to Penn State’s good behavior. The institution will also have all of their scholarships returned next year. Tyler Murphy hit David Dudeck for a 21-yard score to conclude Boston College’s overtime march, but Mike Knoll hooked the ensuing extra point. It was the Eagles’ nation-leading eighth PAT miss of the season. Hackenberg connected with Jesse James for a 17-yard completion on a 3rd-and-15 and then lofted his 10-yard score for Carter in the front-left corner of the end zone. Ficken, who nailed a game-tying 45-yard field goal with 20 seconds left in regulation, split the uprights on the extra point to give Penn State (7-6) the dramatic comeback victory.


Final Score: (24) USC 45, (25) Nebraska 42

Cody Kessler had three touchdown passes and Javorius Allen ran for two scores as 24th-ranked Southern California held off No. 25 Nebraska, 45-42, in a wild Holiday Bowl. Kessler finished 23-of-39 for 321 yards with an interception. Allen carried the ball 26 times for 152 yards for the Trojans (9-4), who won their sixth bowl game in the last seven tries. Adoree’ Jackson scored on a 98-yard kickoff return and caught a 71-yard TD pass. The Cornhuskers (9-4), guided by interim coach Barney Cotton, nearly rallied from an 18-point, second-half deficit in a game the teams combined for 1,040 yards. Tommy Armstrong Jr. completed 32-of-51 for 381 yards with three TDs and an interception. Ameer Abdullah rushed 27 times for 88 yards and a score, while De’Mornay Pierson-El had eight receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown. Cotton, who has been on the staff as an associate head coach for the past seven seasons, replaced the fired Bo Pelini. The Cornhuskers let Pelini go on November 30 despite winning at least nine games in each of his seven seasons at the school. Mike Riley, who spent 14 seasons at Oregon State, was named the new Cornhuskers coach earlier this month.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Seahawks shoot for NFC West title, top seed

A loss to the hosting St. Louis Rams in Week 7 had many questioning if the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks would even be able to make the playoffs.

A victory over those same Rams this Sunday at CentruyLink Field will give the Seahawks a second straight NFC West title and the possibility of home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.

Seattle was just 3-3 on the season following a 28-26 loss to St. Louis on October 13, just the Seahawks’ third setback in their past 19 meetings with the Rams. But the defending champs have won eight of their last nine games—including five straight—to clinch their ninth postseason berth in the past 12 years.

The Seahawks’ current winning streak began with a win the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle swept the season series between the clubs with last Sunday’s 35-6 victory in Glendale. The two clubs are tied atop the NFC West standings at 11-4, with the Seahawks needing a win or a loss by the Cardinals to secure the division title.

The Seahawks can also make sure that the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC goes through Seattle with a victory as long as the Detroit/Green Bay matchup on Sunday does not end in a tie.

They could also do so with a win and a Dallas Cowboys loss to Washington.

Seattle racked up a franchise-record 596 yards of offense versus Arizona last weekend, with 267 of that coming on the ground. Russell Wilson ran for 88 yards on six carries with a score while also throwing for 339 yards and two touchdowns.

“That’s a lot of yards against a really tough group,“ Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said. “Just a fantastic job.“

Marshawn Lynch added 113 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries, including a career-high 79-yard scoring run that put the game away.

The Seahawks already held a 21-6 advantage before Lynch, battling a stomach illness, burst through the hole and cut across the field along the right sideline and stiff-armed Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson at the Seattle 45.

Lynch then powered through Peterson and Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson across midfield and Alex Okafor was unable to make a shoe-string tackle at the 20 before Lynch leapt into the end zone to complete the phenomenal touchdown with 10:14 left to play.

“As good of a run as I remember seeing,“ Carroll said.

Tight end Luke Willson caught three passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns and Doug Baldwin hauled in seven receptions for 113 yards in the triumph, while Seattle’s top-ranked defense held Arizona to 216 yards of offense.

The Rams come in needing a victory to match last season’s 7-9 record and they’ll try to avoid a third straight loss to end the campaign.

St. Louis pitched back-to-back shutout wins over San Diego and Oakland ahead of a 12-6 loss to Arizona in which the Rams again did not allow a touchdown. However, they struggled to keep the New York Giants out of the end zone last Sunday, falling in defeat 37-27.

Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. racked up 148 yards and two touchdowns as well as some late hits from the Rams defense. One by linebacker Alec Ogletree in the second quarter sparked a brawl that saw three players ejected, including Rams defensive end William Hayes.

In all, the teams combined for 21 penalties totaling 225 yards.

“Very disappointed in the actions on the other sideline, there’s no place for that in the game,“ said Rams coach Jeff Fisher. “It just was unfortunate that it got out of hand over there. I thought the officials did a nice job controlling it.“

Shaun Hill threw for 290 yards with two touchdown passes and an interception, while wide out Kenny Britt made nine catches for 103 yards. Rookie running back Tre Mason ran for a score and 76 yards on 13 carries.

Shaun Hill hit on 24-of-32 throws for 290 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for the Rams. Kenny Britt finished with 103 yards on nine catches, while Tre Mason had 76 yards and a touchdown on 13 rushes in the loss.

However, the St. Louis defense was tagged for 514 yards of offense by the Giants.

“I guess I’ll say I’m extremely disappointed in a number of areas. Defensively, we’ve been playing better defense than that obviously,“ noted Fisher.

The Rams have lost nine straight in Seattle, having not won there since 2004.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The Seahawks are near-impossible to beat when their offense is playing as well as the defense, something the Cardinals found out recently. Seattle is giving up just 16.5 points and 268.6 yards per game, both tops in the league, and just 184.5 yards through the air in this pass-heavy NFL.

The secondary, led by cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas, is the face of the unit, but the return of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner has been key as well.

Wagner missed five games with a toe injury, but has racked up 44 tackles in five games since coming back, and Seattle has allowed just 6.6 points and 193.6 yards per game during that stretch.

Wagner is second on the club in tackles with 94 behind only linebacker K.J. Wright’s 100.

“I think we’re playing really well right now. I think we’re on it, from the run game to the pass game,“ said Wagner. “I think that we’re really gelling right now in the chemistry that we’ve got right now. It’s scary to the league.“

See Wilson or Lynch with the ball is no pretty sight either.

Lynch has put up MVP-type numbers this season with 1,246 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground while adding another 34 catches and four receiving TDs.

Wilson, meanwhile, appears as if he will fall just shy of a 1,000-yard rushing season, having amassed 842 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. He also has thrown 20 touchdown passes to just six interceptions.

St. Louis knows his dual-threat abilities all too well. When Wilson faced the Rams in Week 7, he became the first player in NFL history to throw for over 300 yards and rush for more than 100 in the same game.

The Rams defense was able to shut down some teams in recent weeks, but that wasn’t the case last Sunday and the Seahawks will look to keep the unit reeling.

While Lynch is making a case as the top player in football, Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald has a great shot at capturing NFL Rookie of the Year honors. He leads all rookies with eight sacks and has added 17 tackles for a loss.

Linebackers Ogletree and James Laurinaitis have both reached 100 tackles and end Robert Quinn has totaled 10 1/2 sacks.

St. Louis also showed last weekend that it will get physical, but Seattle won’t approach the unit any differently.

“We are trying to play the game we want to play, and play it on our terms as best as we can, and not be taken out of that,“ noted Carroll. “This is no different than any other game, although we do recognize something happened last week. That’s not going to change anything.“

On offense, the Rams are finishing with Hill under center after losing Sam Bradford to season-ending injury in the preseason. The unit ranks just 25th in the NFL with 319.3 yards per game.

Mason has been a bright spot, much like Zac Stacy emerged last season, as he is second among all NFL rookies in rushing yards with 737 despite not starting the first four games of the season.

Mason is one of many players on the Rams just looking to finish on a high note.

“We want to play good football. That’s what we want to do,“ said Fisher. “We want to go into the offseason having finished up playing good football. They know that and they understand the challenge. We’ve got four days or whatever it is here to really focus and prepare ourselves and go up and play good ball.“

OVERALL ANALYSIS

It looks like the Seahawks will be enjoying the comfort of home and help from the vaunted “12th Man” in the upcoming playoffs.

With the offense and defense moving like perfect clockwork, even the NFL’s elite would have trouble stopping the Seahawks right now, let along the offensively-challenged Rams.

To Carroll’s credit, his team most likely won’t be looking past this game and should roll into the postseason off a big win.


►  Falcons and Panthers clash for NFC South title

It will be survival of the fittest Sunday afternoon between the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers at the Georgia Dome.

The winner will claim the NFC South title and punch a ticket to the playoffs, albeit with a losing record. That’s how the cookie crumbles in the NFL.

Atlanta is trying to reach the playoffs for a fourth time in five years and erase a painful 4-12 campaign of 2013. The Falcons have benefited by playing in a porous division this season and took care of the NFC South-rival New Orleans Saints with Sunday’s 30-14 victory in the Big Easy.

Matt Ryan threw for 322 yards on 30-of-40 passing with a touchdown and no interceptions. He had wide receiver Julio Jones back in the lineup after a hip injury kept him out of a loss to Pittsburgh the previous week. Jones recorded his third straight 100-yard game, catching seven passes for 107 yards.

Jones has recorded 28 receptions for 555 yards and two scores in his last three games for the Falcons, who had lost two straight and three of four games. Jones leads the NFC with 100 receptions for 1,535 yards and was named to the Pro Bowl.

“Julio has had an unbelievable year. The production that he’s put on the field that he’s shown has been impressive,“ Ryan said. “Even for a teammate to kind of step back and look at it he’s been incredibly impressive.“

Roddy White is the veteran of the receiving core and has enjoyed success in his career against the Panthers. White, who is close to another 1,000-yard season with 817, has six touchdown catches in the past five encounters against Carolina, amassing 40 receptions for 536 yards.

Ryan, of course, is the one who has to get the ball to his playmakers. He has prevailed in five of the last six home starts against Carolina with 11 TDs and three INTs in that stretch. Ryan has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in each of the previous four seasons, and is aiming for a fifth straight 300-yard passing game Sunday.

Matty Ice talked about the do-or-die situation on Sunday at the Dome.

“This is what you worked so hard during the offseason and during training camp is to have opportunities like this late in the year, where everything is on the line. That’s fun,“ Ryan said. “I think guys are going to enjoy the moment. We’re going to prepare as best as we can all week. Then, go cut it loose and play the way that we’re capable of on Sunday.“

Ryan hasn’t been sacked in each of the previous two games and has gone down just twice in the past four.

“I think our offensive line has done a great job. We’ve had, even last week, we had Gabe Carimi come in and step up with Jon Asamoah out. He did a really nice job for us,“ Ryan said of the protection. “I give credit to those guys for battling all year long, and continuing to get better as the year progressed.“

Still, winning the NFC South and going to the playoffs is most important.

“We have a game at home and if you win, you’re in,“ Ryan said. “We are where we are and we’re excited about our chances.“

Ryan is back home, where owns a 39-13 record with 86 touchdown passes and 33 interceptions. Ryan has thrown at least one touchdown in 20 straight games dating back to 2013.

The Panthers are excited for their chances, too, with three consecutive wins following six straight defeats and one tie.

Carolina’s revival has brought the team to the precipice of a second straight division title. In Sunday’s 17-13 win versus the Cleveland Browns, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton returned from a one-game absence to pass for 201 yards with a touchdown and an interceptions. He also rushed for 63 yards and a score, showing no signs of fractures to his lower back suffered in a car accident earlier this month.

Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was pleased with how his team, especially Newton, fought back to set up a crucial showdown in Atlanta.

“In spite of the things we’ve gone through ... it all comes down to one game,“ Rivera said. “I think we’ve shown some resilience and we’ve fought our way through it. I’m pleased with the fact that we have the opportunity.“

Newton said it was tiring to go through the last few weeks, but it has paid off so far. He has had Jonathan Stewart to lean on in recent weeks, as the running back posted 122 yards on 24 carries versus Cleveland. Stewart is averaging 117.3 yards per game in his last three.

The Panthers will try to attack the Falcons through the air, however, because they are allowing an NFL-high 291.1 passing yards per game. Atlanta will be without safety William Moore for the rest of the season because of an injured shoulder.

Second-year safety and former seventh-round pick Kemal Ishmael will fill the vacancy left by Moore in the defensive backfield.

“He’s continuing to improve and mature as a safety and a defensive back,“ Falcons head coach Mike Smith said of Ishmael. “It’s a next-man-up mentality. He’s played more snaps this year than William has played so he’s got a lot of experience as a second-year player with scrimmage snaps.“

Ishmael leads the Falcons with four interceptions and picked off Newton back in Week 11.

Panthers rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin will try to beat the Falcons over the top and is second among first-year players with 999 yards and third with nine touchdowns. Tight end Greg Olsen had a TD catch in five of the past six meetings with Atlanta, which squeezed out a 19-17 win in Carolina on November 16. Matt Bryant connected on four field goals, including a 44-yarder late in the fourth quarter.

Benjamin had 109 yards and a score on nine catches in that one. Jones was held to 59 yards on six receptions for Atlanta, which leads the all-time series with the Panthers, 24-15. Smith owns an 8-5 record against the Panthers and is 23-18 against division opponents since 2008.

The only other team to make the playoffs with a losing record was Seattle (7-9) in 2010.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The Panthers have played well this month lately with 11 wins over the previous 12 games in December. They went 11-1 down the stretch last season.

Newton has won three of his last four starts against the Falcons, and in seven career starts in this series, the former Heisman Trophy winner owns 11 TD passes and four rushing scores. Newton is ready to cash in on a possible playoff spot and division crown.

“We’re prepared for this moment,“ Newton said, “and hopefully we’ll seize it.“

Offensive coordinator Mike Shula appreciates the effort and strength Newton has put forth in getting himself back on the field.

“What a whirlwind it has been for him, and he never batted an eye,“ Shula said. “Without sounding too condescending or fatherly, I was very proud of him because I can’t even imagine. Just coming back from an injury ... let alone the fact that with the dang car rolling over, it could have been a lot worse.“

Newton has been sacked once in his last two games played, but was taken down 25 times in his previous six.

Falcons defensive end Kroy Biermann leads the team with just 4 1/2 sacks, but owns two in his past three. He had a season high-tying seven stops in the first matchups with Carolina, while middle linebacker Paul Worrilow posted nine and leads the team with 136 total tackles.

Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson knows something about sacking the quarterback and leads the defense with 7 1/2. He sacks Ryan once in the first meeting and has nine in the past seven games in this rivalry. Johnson has recorded 6 1/2 sacks in the past three games at the Georgia Dome.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

It’s hard to go against Ryan and the Falcons in their own backyard, and if anyone deserves to win the NFC South it’s Atlanta because of an unblemished 5-0 record in division play.

Ryan knows how important a win Sunday would be and doesn’t care about having a losing record heading into a winner-take-all showdown. To Ryan, the key is getting off to a fast start and putting up as many points as possible to bring the city another division title.

“It’ll be very important. Obviously, with what’s on the line and where we’re at to have an opportunity to continue to play into the playoffs that’s the reason I think guys play this game,“ Ryan said. “You work hard during the offseason; you work hard during training camp and all throughout the year to hopefully have an opportunity to keep playing in January.“

With some talented receivers in tow and an instinctive QB under center, the Falcons will ring in the new year as division champs for the third time in four years. Newton made a valiant effort to put the Panthers back on track and will get much-needed rest this offseason in hopes for a better 2015.


►  Colts search for confidence-building win over Titans

When it comes to lines of Week 17 questioning, most teams would prefer the phrase “No. 1 overall draft pick” not be germane to the conversation.

But that’s precisely where the Tennessee Titans find themselves as they approach the 2014 finale with the Indianapolis Colts, even if Ken Whisenhunt and his staff prefer not to ponder it just yet.

“That’s something there’s plenty of time to talk about, worry about,“ the Tennessee coach said. “We have another week of the season left.“

The Titans reach December’s end tied with Tampa Bay for the league’s worst record at 2-13, and they’d receive the first pick at this point, though a series of tiebreakers - or wins by either team - could change the dynamics by the actual close of the regular season on Monday.

Tennessee has lost nine in a row since a Week 6 defeat of Jacksonville, which is the franchise’s longest drought since the Houston Oilers lost 11 straight games on the way to a 2-14 end in 1994.

“It’s already one of the bad records in the league, but I mean we just want to win,“ wide receiver Kendall Wright said. “We just want to win, we’re not worried about the record at this point.“

It was a miss, but perhaps a nearer miss, last week in a 21-13 loss to the host Jaguars.

Quarterback Charlie Whitehurst’s 287 yards were the best of his career, the Titans scored a touchdown on their opening drive for the first time in 14 months and they didn’t turn the ball over for the first time in nine games.

“Nobody is giving up,“ Whitehurst said. “You can see how hard we fight until the very end, and that locker room expects to win (Sunday). That’s the way we’ve been all year and we just have not been able to put it all together yet.“

As for the Colts, they simply want to get back where they’ve been.

Indianapolis has already clinched the AFC South title, but its four-game win streak was rudely snapped last week with a 42-7 drubbing at Dallas. The loss locked the Colts into the No. 4 playoff seed in the conference, which means they’ll host whomever loses this weekend’s Sunday night game between AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

“It’s the National Football League. It’s a tough business,“ Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said. “It’s not for everybody. That’s why we don’t get discouraged. Disappointed, yeah, but discouraged? Never.“

The Colts posted what had been a season-low 278 total yards while defeating Houston in Week 15, but saw that number plunge to 229 in the loss to the Cowboys, which also yielded the lowest scoreboard total of the year. Indianapolis generated a single rushing yard in Dallas, and quarterback Andrew Luck’s streak of 21 games (regular season and playoffs) with a TD pass was ended.

He also threw two interceptions as the Colts dropped to 1-4 this season against teams who’ll also reach Week 17 with a guaranteed playoff spot.

“You want to be confident going into the playoffs and you want to go in feeling good about yourself,“ Pagano said. “Nobody wants to go through a day like we went through (last Sunday), but you have to bounce back and you have to keep moving forward.“

The Colts have won six in a row and 11 of their last 12 against the Titans, and Luck insisted that his focus is indeed on Week 17 and not what comes next. He threw for 393 yards and four touchdowns while defeating Tennessee, 41-17, in Week 4.

“I’m thinking about Tennessee first,“ he said. “We’ve got to fix (things) and focus on Tennessee, and then we can worry about the playoffs.“

Luck’s No. 1 target, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, is probable for at least some work this week after missing the Dallas game with a hamstring injury. He has equaled a career-high with 82 catches and burned the Titans for 105 yards - of a career-best 1,345 all season - in the September victory.

Indianapolis could also stand to improve on defense after allowing 28 first- half points against the Cowboys. Tennessee, conveniently, has scored only 31 points in its last three games.

“We have no choice but to be ready,“ Colts safety Mike Adams said. “The most dangerous team going into the tournament is the wounded team, and that’s us right now.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Welcome Back, Hilton

Neither he nor Luck may play the entire 60 minutes, but it’ll be a welcome return to normalcy for the Colts’ quarterback to have his favorite target back in the fold. Hilton will likely find himself opposite a sound cornerback in Tennessee’s Jason McCourty, but he still should be a go-to option as Luck tries to erase the memory of far too many dropped passes in the Dallas game last week.

Make Them One-Dimensional

The Titans haven’t been the 1985 Bears on defense. In fact, they’ve allowed 142 rush yards per game - which is second-worst in the league. But the Colts don’t run the ball well either, so simply keeping Indianapolis to its accustomed level of mediocrity could enhance the opportunity for Tennessee to hang close and maybe force a Luck mistake or two and give itself a chance to win.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Colts have nothing to play for beyond self-preservation and momentum- generation. The Titans, meanwhile, could be playing for a coach’s job and to avoid the ignominy of drafting first next spring. That, along with home field, could keep things close in an ideal world. But in reality, it won’t be nearly enough. Instead, expect Luck to get a big lead and Matt Hasselbeck to steer it home after halftime.


►  Daniel takes over Chiefs in key spot

It sure felt a lot different heading into Thanksgiving.

Back then, the Kansas City Chiefs were riding high at 7-3 and heading into a Thursday night primetime game with a team that had begun its season with 10 consecutive losses.

Coming out of Christmas, though, the moods aren’t quite so cheerful.

A loss to the woeful Raiders triggered what’s since been a one-win holiday season nightmare, leaving Coach Andy Reid’s team near flat-lined when it comes to a potential playoff berth after this weekend’s regular-season finale with the visiting San Diego Chargers.

“We don’t necessarily control our own destiny, and the whole ‘what-ifs’ and ‘what do we need to have happen,‘ it’s easy to get distracted,“ quarterback Alex Smith said. “The thing will be to focus in on the Chargers, a division game, them coming in, and we need to take care of our business.“

Now it’s even easier to get distracted because Smith will not be around Sunday.

The veteran signal caller will miss the regular-season finale with a lacerated spleen, suffered during the third quarter of last week’s 20-12 loss to Pittsburgh.

“I felt great athletically, running around, throwing,“ Smith said. “Just kind of had this constant deal going on and thankfully, Doc kind of urged me to get the test.“

Chiefs trainer Rick Burkholder said that Smith’s injury does not require surgery, but usually takes six weeks to heal.

“Once you started hearing how serious it is, you start knowing the implications can come of this as far as not playing.“ commented Smith. “That’s the last thing you want to hear.“

Chase Daniel will get the start at quarterback in a game the Chiefs need to win - along with a Baltimore loss to Cleveland and a Houston loss to Jacksonville - to reach the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in nearly 20 years.

“We’re not even looking at it like that,“ Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe said. “We’re just trying to get better at what we do, and if the chips fall like they may that’s great.“

Foundering on third down has been a significant reason for Kansas City’s lack of success.

The Chiefs had converted 48% of their drive-prolonging opportunities through 10 games, but have plummeted to just 25% in the last five. Additionally, they’ve turned the ball over seven times in the last four games after giving it up only 10 times in the first 11.

“We just have to play as a team. Sometimes we find a way to play as a unit, sometimes we don’t,“ linebacker Tamba Hali said. “Most of these games we lose, it’s not because the other team is whipping us. We shoot ourselves in the foot sometimes and we don’t know how to bounce back from it.“

Also hurting during the late-season stretch has been a previously prolific run game. Kansas City remains 10th in the league with an average of 120.5 ground yards per game, but it’s managed just 79 yards per game and just two rushing touchdowns overall in the last five.

Jamaal Charles has failed to exceed 52 yards in three of his last four, though he’s averaged 5.6 yards per carry and scored six times in his last seven games against San Diego.

The Chargers have surrendered 125 rushing yards per game for the season and allowed a ridiculous 355 rushing yards in Week 16 against San Francisco, but still managed to rally from a 21-point halftime deficit for a 38-35 overtime victory.

It was the highest rushing total ever allowed by a winning team.

It also boiled the postseason down to a simple proposition - win, and you’re in - which matches the scenario they faced in 2013, when a 27-24 defeat of Kansas City in Week 17 turned the trick.

Quarterback Philip Rivers kept the dream alive against the 49ers with a second-half/overtime effort that included 24 completions in 40 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns. The final TD tied the game with 29 seconds remaining, and San Diego won with a 40-yard field goal in the extra session.

“It says a lot about him,“ Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. “A lot of other teams, not just the quarterback, would have folded the way they played the first half. Philip’s one of the fiercest competitors and toughest competitors I’ve ever been around.“

Rivers has simultaneously been battling what’s been reported as a bulging disk in his back. His practice time last been limited in recent weeks, and his passer rating has dipped from 109.9 in the initial eight games to 81.4 in the last seven.

But in his last five games against the Chiefs, the rating is 112.1 and he’s got 12 TDs against four interceptions.

“We’ll do what’s in the best interest of Philip Rivers and our organization,“ McCoy said. “Philip’s as tough as there is in the business. Philip will play on Sunday.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Reaching for Milestones

Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston leads the league in sacks with 18, is two away from tying the franchise record of 20 and 4.5 from matching the league record of 22.5. So he’ll certainly be fired up. Responsible for keeping him out of the record books will be Chargers right tackle D.J. Fluker, who’s allowed five sacks this season and could be in need of help to keep that total from spiking.

Squashing Oliver

Rookie running back Branden Oliver has stepped up when full-time veteran Ryan Mathews has been unavailable with injuries, and he enters Week 17 with a matchup against a team for whom run-stopping has been a recent concern. The Chiefs have allowed 100-plus yards to anonymous types like Latavius Moore, C.J. Anderson and Kerwynn Williams, though they kept San Diego to 69 in Week 7.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The San Diego team that’s appeared at times this season - during the first half against San Francisco, and throughout a 37-0 loss to Miami in Week 9 - has been little short of forgettable. But the version that roared back to overtake the Niners could be dangerous to anyone at this time of year. Expect more of that Chargers unit to be on hand at Arrowhead to ensure the chance at playoff continuation.


►  Panthers RB Williams probable vs. Falcons

Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams is listed as probable for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Atlanta Falcons.

Williams has missed the last three games with a broken hand. He practiced fully all week, but Jonathan Stewart will make his fourth straight start Sunday.

The Panthers (6-8-1) are 3-0 with Stewart starting the past three games and need to beat the Falcons (6-9) to win the NFC South. Stewart has carried the ball 162 times for 760 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games this season.

Linebacker A.J. Klein (ankle) is questionable.


►  Bengals and Steelers reach for AFC North bragging rights

The final regular-season game of the 2014 NFL season will decide the AFC North.

Both the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers have already clinched postseason berths but the North division crown and the corresponding home playoff game it entails will be at stake when the teams square off at Heinz Field Sunday night.

After two consecutive years on the outside looking in at the playoffs the Steelers, who own an NFL record six Super Bowl titles, are relevant again after clinching a spot in the dance with a 20-12 home win over Kansas City last Sunday.

Ben Roethlisberger threw a touchdown pass in the triumph and Pittsburgh’s defense held strong as the Steelers secured at least a wild-card berth.

Pittsburgh held the Chiefs out of the end zone and limited them to four Cairo Santos field goals.

“A lot of good efforts by a lot of people,“ said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. “We realized what next week is. It’s a big week for us.“

The Steelers also exacted revenge on the Chiefs for last season. In the final week of 2013, Kansas City rested the majority of its starters in a 27-24 overtime loss to San Diego. That ultimately knocked Pittsburgh out of playoff contention.

Roethlisberger completed 18-of-25 passes for 220 yards while MVP candidate Le’Veon Bell rushed 20 times for 63 yards and a touchdown in Pittsburgh’s third consecutive win.

The Bengals, meanwhile, joined the Steelers in the AFC playoffs a day later when Jeremy Hill rushed for 147 yards and a touchdown and Dre Kirkpatrick posted two interceptions of Peyton Manning as Cincinnati clinched a playoff spot for a fourth straight season with a 37-28 win over the Denver Broncos on Monday night.

“We answered a lot of questions, especially on this Monday night thing,“ defensive tackle Domata Peko said referring to the team’s previous woes on nationally televised games. “Everybody was talking about it. We kept it in- house and just got it done. We’re just getting started.“

Andy Dalton completed 17-of-26 passes for 146 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for the Bengals while Dre Kirkpatrick intercepted a pair of Peyton Manning passes, one going for a pick-six.

“I’m very proud of our guys tonight for our resiliency, our ability to come back after negative plays and put positive plays and string them together,“ Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said. “Obviously, things to work on and do, but we’re still in position, still controlling our destiny, and that’s all we can ask for at this point in the year.“

Cincinnati still has an outside chance for the AFC’s No. 2 seed if its able to get a franchise-record fifth straight road win here, while the Steelers already know they will be playing on wild-card weekend but are looking to avoid packing.

Pittsburgh leads its all-time series with the Bengals by a significant 54-34 margin and has won seven of the past nine matchups, including a 42-21 blowout in Cincinnati on December 7 behind Bell’s 235 scrimmage yards and three TDs.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Things have changed dramatically in Pittsburgh and these Steelers are all about an explosive offense led by a new breed of triplets in Roethlisberger, Bell and receiver Antonio Brown.

Pittsburgh is second in the NFL in total offense, piling up 415.4 yards per game, less than one-yard short of league-leading New Orleans. Big Ben and Co. are also second when passing the football (300.5 ypg) and 13th when running it (114.9 ypg).

Roethlisberger already has compiled a single-season club record 4,635 passing yards and needs just one more TD pass to become the first player in franchise history with 250 for his career. The veteran has been especially hot in the second half, throwing for 3,042 yards in his past nine games (338.0 per game) with a 110.4 passer rating over that span.

Brown is his top target and leads the NFL with 122 receptions, needing just two more to surpass Herman Moore (123 in 1995) and Wes Welker (123 in 2009) for the second-most in a season in NFL annals. Brown’s consistency really stands out as he has caught five or more balls for 50-plus yards in 31 consecutive games, the longest streak in NFL history.

Bell, meanwhile, has had a breakout season, leading the AFC with 2,115 scrimmage yards (1,341 rushing, 774 receiving), already a single-season Steelers record. The Michigan State product is, perhaps, the most patient runner in football with an innate ability to find the hole and cut back thanks to his tremendous feet.

The Bengals defense trying to stop that triumvirate is 22nd in the NFL, far better at stopping the pass than the run. The Cincy stop unit is middle of the road against teams moving it through the air but it allows 122.1 ypg on the ground and Bell lit them up in space earlier this month.

“They know us and we know them,“ Tomlin admitted. “It’s a big football game. It’s going to be a good, classic AFC North football game. How else would you want it? I know our guys are excited.“

Win or lose Cincinnati is headed to the postseason for a franchise-record fourth consecutive season, a run which has correlated with Dalton taking over the team. The problem is that the Bengals are 0-3 when they get there so changing that narrative is paramount, making this a virtual must win to get the home playoff game.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way,“ said Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry. “It’s always good to be playing meaningful football in December.“

Dalton has been inconsistent at times this season with part of the problem being the absences of targets like Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert but “the Red Rifle” has generally played well against the Steelers, passing for 812 yards with five TDs and no picks and a 95.0 passer rating in his last three games against Pittsburgh.

A resurgent running game behind Hill should only help. The former LSU star has 829 rushing yards in his last eight games (103.6 per game) with six TDs and leads all NFL rookies in rushing yards (1,024) rush TDs (nine).

“We just have a new attitude,“ Bengals star left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. “The running game has really sparked kind of a feistiness, a will to make something happen for us. At times, we haven’t had that for whatever reason.“

The Steelers’ defense isn’t what it once was, allowing 354.5 yards per game (20th) but veteran coordinator Dick LeBeau has a host of playmakers at the linebacker position.

Veteran James Harrison, who spent 2013 with the Bengals before retuning to Pittsburgh, has 5 1/2 sacks in his past six games while Pro Bowl selection Lawrence Timmons leads the team with 121 tackles.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Steelers should have a little too much horsepower for a Bengals team that has taken a step back on the defensive side of the football after losing former coordinator Mike Zimmer to the head coaching job in Minnesota.

“We’re going to treat (this) like a playoff game like we’ve had the last three weeks,“ Roethlisberger said. “We still have work to do.“


►  Niners put Boone, Ventrone on IR

The San Francisco 49ers have placed offensive lineman Alex Boone and safety Bubba Ventrone on injured reserve.

Boone played in 15 games (14 starts) this season. The Ohio State product has appeared in 64 games (46 starts) during his career with the 49ers.

Ventrone saw action in eight games this year. The special teams ace has played in 97 career games with the Patriots, Browns and 49ers.

San Francisco also signed wide receiver Trindon Holliday to a two-year contract and promoted cornerback Cameron Fuller to the active roster from the practice squad.


►  Chargers RB Mathews out vs. Chiefs

San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews was ruled out for Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Mathews was absent from practice all week with an ankle injury that will keep him out for a third straight game.

Wide receiver Keenan Allen, who missed his last game with a broken collarbone and an injured ankle, was listed as doubtful after not practicing all week.

Punter Mike Scifres remains out with a shoulder injury.

Quarterback Philip Rivers (chest/back), defensive tackle Corey Liuget (ankle) and cornerback Shareece Wright (concussion) are all listed as probable, while guard Chris Watt (ankle) is questionable.


►  Jones, Jackson questionable for Falcons

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones and running back Steven Jackson are questionable for Sunday’s regular- season finale against the Carolina Panthers.

Jones, who hadn’t practiced since suffering a hip injury against Green Bay on December 8, returned to practice on Friday.

He played last week against New Orleans and caught seven passes for 107 yards. The former Alabama star has 100 receptions for 1,535 yards and six touchdowns in 14 games this season.

Jackson (quadriceps) did not practice this week. The 31-year-old has carried the ball 190 times for 707 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games this season.

Guard Jon Asamoah (back) and cornerbacks Robert McClain (illness) and Josh Wilson (hamstring) are also listed as questionable.

The Falcons (6-9) would capture the NFC South for the first time since 2012 with a victory against the Panthers (6-8-1).


►  Extra Points: Lions prepare to climb their Everest

When you take up rock climbing, it’s probably not a good idea to start with Mount Everest.

The world’s highest peak is just under 30,000 feet above sea level and attracts many experienced climbers as the ultimate test of their skills, an obstacle so treacherous it requires bottled oxygen to reach the top, at least for most.

So why do people chose to scale Mount Everest?

According to George Mallory, who some believe is the first man to reach the summit, “Because it’s there.“

The Detroit Lions could use some of that Mallory bravado because they are preparing to take on a task that is far more difficult than climbing Earth’s tallest mountain, at least for them.

The Lions’ Everest is the Green Bay Packers or more specifically the Packers at Lambeau Field.

The last time a Detroit team won in Wisconsin George H.W. Bush was president, the Dow Jones average topped 3,000 for the first time, and Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson were still relevant on the pop charts.

It was 1991 and the Lions have lost 23 straight in the Badger State since.

Postseason play is already assured for both Detroit and Green Bay this time around but plenty will be on the line Sunday when the rivals close the regular season at Lambeau.

The winner will not only claim the NFC North title and an all important first- round bye in the playoffs, it will have an outside chance of securing the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC.

For Green Bay that would mean a win, coupled with a Seattle loss, while Detroit would need the triumph and setbacks from both the Seahawks and Arizona.

“Any time you get to play for a division championship, especially in the NFC North, it’s huge,“ said Lions guard Rob Sims. “It’s going to be a good one.“

The Lions, however, face the daunting history in the winner-take-all contest, along with the opportunity to exorcise some serious demons.

To be fair, playing in Green Bay is an issue for most teams because Aaron Rodgers has been nearly flawless on his home field.

The Packers are 7-0 at Lambeau in 2014, averaging 41.1 points per game, and Rodgers has been lights out with a almost video-game-like 132.6 passer rating, currently the highest single-season home passer rating in NFL history.

If A-Rod keeps that pace up for one more contest he will be breaking his own record of 128.5 set in 2011, and next of the list is, you guessed it, Rodgers at 126.4 in 2013.

“(Rodgers is) just certainly an exceptional talent, but he’s also extremely familiar with the system that they run,“ Lions first-year coach Jim Caldwell said. “I mean, he knows where everyone is. He delivers the ball quickly and on time.

“When he doesn’t he’s certainly capable of getting outside of the pocket and gaining ground on the ground with his legs, but then also finding open receivers down the field. I think his familiarity, and he’s a good decision maker as well.“

Before this season Detroit was known primarily as an offensive team but the Lions are just 20th in total offense at 326.7 ypg and their own QB, Matthew Stafford, has been below average away from Detroit with a 72.8 road passer rating.

Yet the Lions are better equipped than most to at least slow Rodgers and the Packers down, entering Week 17 with the second-ranked defense in all of football, a group that allows just 295.9 yards per game. Detroit is also second in points allowed, surrendering only 16.8 per game and have the top- rated run defense (63.8 ypg).

“You just know it’s going to be a game where you have to be very efficient throwing the ball,“ Rodgers said. “You have to look for those opportunities for extended plays in the run game and the pass game.“

Another development that could trend favorably toward Detroit is Rodgers’ health as the veteran has a lingering calf issue and has also been battling with the flu.

“We have a full-plate game plan and I’m confident he’ll be able to run it,“ Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.

The real key to Green Bay’s home success, though, is a near-historic attention to detail.

The Packers sport the best turnover differential in the NFL at plus-15 and have given it away just 11 times all season, on pace to be a franchise record and just one above the all-time NFL record of 10 miscues set by the 2010 New England Patriots and matched by the 2011 San Francisco 49ers.

“I think it’s very, very difficult in this league to come away from a ball game without gaining a turnover and it’s very, very tough to win when you lose one or multiple,“ Caldwell admitted.

“We’ve got to do a great job of protecting the ball, particularly up there (Lambeau Field). You know, typically that’s been the problem with teams that have gone up. They’ve turned the ball over numerous times. You give the ball to him (Rodgers) an extra two or three times and believe me, he’s going to put some points on the board.“

Most outside observers think this is a hill too big for the Lions to climb.

Green Bay has won 22 consecutive regular-season home games against Detroit and 23 straight overall if you count a 1994 playoff triumph at Lambeau. Add in the fact that Stafford has been under whelming on the road this season and you should have a recipe for the fourth straight NFC North crown for the Packers.

Or do the Lions finally reach their summit?

“I can’t do a forecast,“ Caldwell said. “I can only tell you that I hope our experiences have benefited us. You’ll find that when you get into this stage of the season, that it’s going to take your ability to do certain things extremely well and you have to understand that the teams that you’re playing have very few deficiencies.

“But, you can also get hot this time of year.“


►  Bears sign C Garza to 1-year extension

The Chicago Bears signed center Roberto Garza to a one-year contract extension on Friday.

Garza started all 11 games he played this season, his 10th with Chicago.

“Extremely happy for Roberto, his family and the Chicago Bears that Roberto will remain with the team,“ Bears general manager Phil Emery said. “He has been a consistently good positive producer and key contributor to our offensive line for an extended time period.“

The 35-year-old veteran has started 175 of 205 career games over 14 seasons for the Bears and Falcons.

Garza played four seasons for the Falcons (2001-04), who selected him in the fifth round of the 2001 NFL Draft.


►  Cards’ Lindley gets nod over Thomas

Bruce Arians changed his mind.

The Arizona Cardinals coach said Friday that Ryan Lindley will start at quarterback against San Francisco on Sunday, not Logan Thomas.

The announcement came four days after Arians said he would go with Thomas in an important Week 17 game against the 49ers.

Arians said he picked Lindley after evaluating both quarterbacks during practice this week.

“He’s going to give us a better chance to win this game,“ Arians said. “Logan is going to be a hell of a player one of these days, but right now he’s not ready.“

The Cardinals (11-4) have already locked up a playoff berth and can clinch the NFC West with a win plus a Seattle Seahawks loss or tie against St. Louis. They can win the division with a tie against the 49ers if the Seahawks lose to the Rams.

Arizona can also clinch home-field advantage and a first-round bye with some help.

The team has had quarterback problems this season. Starter Carson Palmer was lost for the season with a knee injury and backup Drew Stanton suffered a partially torn ligaments in his knee and is still sidelined.

NFL.com reported Friday that Stanton could be lost for the season after having arthroscopic surgery to fight an infection.

Asked about the story, Arians said Stanton was “on schedule for next week.“

Lindley started last Sunday against the Seahawks and struggled in a 35-6 loss. He finished 18-of-44 for 216 yards with no touchdowns and one interception.

Thomas, a rookie, appeared for one play and had his lone pass attempt go incomplete.


►  Browns rookie Shaw to start at QB

Cleveland Browns rookie Connor Shaw will get the start at quarterback on Sunday against Baltimore, his coach said Friday.

The undrafted rookie out of South Carolina will take his first NFL snaps against a Ravens team chasing a playoff berth.

He’s the third quarterback to start a game this season for Cleveland, joining Brian Hoyer and fellow rookie Johnny Manziel, who are both injured.

“It’s a challenge, but at the same time we look forward to it,“ Browns coach Mike Pettine said. “If we go out and perform at all the other positions well, that’s going to minimized the impact.“

Shaw, a three-year starter at South Carolina, got the nod over veteran Tyler Thigpen, who was signed this week.

The Browns placed Manziel on injured reserve Wednesday with a hamstring injury the former Heisman Trophy winner suffered last week against Carolina. Hoyer also was hurt during the game and is unlikely to be ready for Sunday.

The Ravens can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Browns plus a loss or tie by San Diego against Kansas City. They also make the playoffs with a tie and a Chargers loss.


►  Ravens make final playoff push, host Browns

Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t hide his frustration after the Ravens’ disappointing loss last weekend.

“We got our (butts) kicked, plain and simple,“ Flacco said following a 25-13 defeat to the Houston Texans.

As a result, the Ravens no longer control their playoff destiny and they’ll need a victory this Sunday against the visiting Cleveland Browns and some help to reach the postseason for the sixth time in seven years.

The Ravens limited the Texans to 313 yards of offense, but the offense struggled all game in a costly setback that snapped a two-game winning streak and dropped Baltimore to 9-6 on the season.

The club now sits in third place in the AFC North at 9-6, a game back of second-place Baltimore Ravens and unable to catch the front-running Cincinnati Bengals, who are 10-4-1.

The Ravens now not only need a victory in this game, but they also need the San Diego Chargers to lose or tie in their road game at Kansas City this weekend.

Flacco put the blame on the offense for the setback to the Texans as he himself struggled in one of his worst NFL showings. He was just 3-of-18 passing in the first half with two interceptions and ended up getting picked off three times.

“We just got whopped man. There’s no other way about it,“ said Flacco, who ended up completing 21-of-50 pass attempts for 195 yards. “Our defense played well. Our special teams played well, and we didn’t do a single thing on offense. We just got beat up and whooped. It’s part of being a NFL football player; being able to take this sometimes and move on.“

Flacco completed a pair of touchdown passes to Torrey Smith, but running back Justin Forsett was limited to 19 yards on 10 carries.

Though the Ravens also are at the mercy of the Chargers, at least they have a favorable matchup this weekend.

Baltimore had an 11-game winning streak over Cleveland snapped in the second meeting of 2013, but defeated a hosting Browns team 23-21 back in Week 3 on Justin Tucker’s 32-yard field goal as time expired.

The Ravens have won six in a row at home over the Browns, who have not won in Baltimore since 2007, and are 12-3 as the host in this series.

Cleveland will try to snap its skid in Baltimore and finish the season at 8-8. Though last Sunday’s 17-13 setback to the Carolina Panthers was their fourth in a row, the Browns are still set to post their best record since going 10-6 in 2007.

First-year head coach Mike Pettine hopes to have his club headed in the right direction and will hope it can finish strong, but rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel won’t play in the finale after suffering a hamstring injury late in the first half versus the Panthers.

He has already been ruled out for this game.

“It felt like something I hadn’t experienced before and needed to get checked out,“ said Manziel. “Pretty frustrating.“

Brian Hoyer, who started the first 14 games of the season before getting benched, threw an 81-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Cameron, but did little else in racking up just 134 yards passing on the day.

Cleveland was outgained 404-228 in the loss.

“Offensively, not near good enough to win in this league,“ Pettine said. “Made the one big play but other than that, never seemed to get into much of a rhythm.“

Now Pettine will not have Hoyer for this game as the quarterback is dealing with a shoulder and biceps injury. Undrafted rookie Connor Shaw will get his first start with Tyler Thigpen, just signed to the club on Tuesday, penciled in as the backup.

“It’s a challenge, but at the same time we look forward to it,“ Pettine said. “If we go out and perform at all the other positions well, that’s going to minimized the impact.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Flacco has put together a very solid season, but he’ll need to bounce back in a hurry to keep Baltimore’s playoff chances alive. He’ll have to do so, however, without the services of tackle Rick Wagner, who left the game versus Houston with a foot injury and was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday.

That could leave to rookie James Hurst making the start in Wagner’s place and fellow Ravens tackle Eugene Monroe is also hobbled with a foot injury.

Baltimore is averaging 126.0 yards per game on the ground, but has managed just 126 over the past two games total.

“They’ve blitzed the run game quite a bit,“ said Ravens coach John Harbaugh of what teams are doing against his ground game. “In some games, we’ve handled that and made them pay for it, and some games we haven’t, and in (versus the Texans) we certainly didn’t hurt them. We missed some throws.“

Flacco, meanwhile, has matched his previous career high with 25 touchdown passes this season and the Ravens offense is 10 points shy of setting a single-season club record, surpassing the 398 set in 2012.

Flacco has a good chance to break some marks this weekend as he is 12-1 in his career versus the Browns with 2,715 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 90.5 passer rating.

The Browns do come in with the seventh-ranked passing defense and lead the NFL with 21 interceptions. They have picked off a pass in 11 straight, with defensive end Billy Winn keeping the streak alive versus the Panthers.

Cleveland’s 21 picks are the most for the club since it had 23 in 2008 and the Browns have forced 24 turnovers in the past 10 games. That, despite talented corner Joe Haden sitting out last weekend with a shoulder injury.

Linebacker Karlos Dansby returned from a four-game absence caused by a knee injury to rack up 12 tackles versus Carolina, while former Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger is pacing the Browns with a career-high 10 sacks. That is the most by a Cleveland player since linebacker Kamerion Wimbley had 11 in 2006.

Cleveland was hoping to get one more look at Manziel before his rookie campaign came to a close, but now they face the reality of being without both the first-round pick and the man he replaced under center, Hoyer.

One would expect the Browns to lean on their ground game this weekend. They are the only team in the NFL to have a pair of rookies with over 500 yards rushing—Isaiah Crowell (601) and Terrance West (579), and the club has rushed for 16 touchdowns on the season.

When Shaw does keep the ball, he’ll have to be aware of the Ravens’ talented linebackers in Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs.

Dumervil, who ranks third in the NFL in quarterback takedowns, remains one sack shy of a new career high of 18 and has 10 sacks in seven career games versus the Browns.

Suggs has faced Cleveland 22 times, racking up 15 sacks and seven forced fumbles.

Rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley leads all freshman NFL players with 122 tackles, second-most in the AFC, as the Ravens rank ninth in total defense.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Given the favorable matchup this weekend—at home versus the last-place Browns—the Ravens weren’t very happy to squander their meeting with the Texans. All the club can do now is win on the field and let the cards fall where they may.

“We lost control of our playoff destiny, and that hurts. We’re in a tough situation. What we can control is how we prepare this week and how we play this Sunday,“ said Harbaugh.

“We left all that was bad for us in Houston, and now the total focus has to be on beating the Browns this Sunday in Baltimore.“

Even doing so might not be enough for Baltimore, but it can’t afford to scoreboard watch either. Cleveland has nothing to lose and more than a few players will be looking to impress the coaching staff for next season.

That being said, the Ravens can also count on their defense and Suggs should have his unit ready to go regardless of who is under center for the Browns.


►  Cards take QB woes to Santa Clara in potential Harbaugh swan song

In winning nine of their first 10 games, the Arizona Cardinals seemed well on their way to their first division title since 2009.

Things haven’t gone according to plan since, but the Cardinals still have a shot at the NFC West crown this Sunday when they visit the disappointing San Francisco 49ers in a regular-season finale.

Arizona was 9-1 following a sixth straight victory on November 16, but the club then suffered back-to-back losses to Seattle and Atlanta on the road to tighten up the standings in the NFC West.

Wins over Kansas City and St. Louis then helped Arizona lock up its first playoff berth since 2009, though the Cardinals were then routed by the Seahawks 35-6 last Sunday to fall into a tie for first place in the division.

The loss to the Seahawks also gave Seattle a sweep of the season series, s. the Cardinals will need a victory and a loss this Sunday by the Seahawks to the visiting Rams to clinch the NFC West and a first-round bye in the upcoming playoffs.

Arizona also still has a shot at claiming home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, a scenario it can secure with a win and a loss by both the Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers to the visiting Detroit Lions.

As was the case last week, the Cardinals will have to find success without their top two quarterbacks. Carson Palmer is done for the season because of a torn ACL and backup Drew Stanton was unable to play versus the Seahawks due to his own knee ailment.

The Cardinals are hopeful Stanton will be able to return for the postseason, especially after Ryan Lindley struggled versus Seattle. He was just 18-of-44 passing for 216 yards with an interception.

Of course, the defense didn’t give him much help either, yielding 596 yards of offense to Seattle. That was the most allowed by the franchise since December of 1958.

The effort of the defense was summed up early in the fourth quarter, when Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch dodged and bullied his way to a 79-yard score to put the game away.

It was Arizona’s first loss at home this season.

“That’s not the outcome we were looking for but I’m still proud of our players,“ Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “We had it to a one-score game and then it fell apart.“

San Francisco has not had the type of season it had hoped for as it will miss the playoffs for the first time in four seasons under head coach Jim Harbaugh, and the club continues to be plagued by rumors of his possible departure at season’s end.

San Francisco was eliminated from the playoff race with a loss to Seattle on December 14, then lost its fourth game in a row this past Saturday with a 38-35 overtime setback to the San Diego Chargers.

The Niners racked up a franchise-record 355 yards rushing in the game, but blew a 21-point lead at halftime as the Chargers scored two touchdowns in the final nine minutes of regulation before getting a game-winning 40-yard field goal in overtime.

San Francisco lost three fumbles in the game, including one in overtime when wide receiver Quinton Patton was striped on a 20-yard end-around, setting up Novak’s winner.

“We did a lot of things well. We just had three turnovers. That’s the difference in the game,“ said Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick. “We have a fumble on the goal line, a fumble that ends in a touchdown and a fumble in overtime. That’s at least a 14-point swing.“

Kaepernick passed for 114 yards with a touchdown, but added 151 yards rushing on seven carries. A bulk of that came on a 90-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Running back Frank Gore broke off a 52-yard scoring rush in the opening quarter, finishing with 158 yards on 26 carries.

The Niners had been to three straight NFC Championship Games—making one Super Bowl appearance—in Harbaugh’s first three seasons, but won’t finish with a winning record this season.

Harbaugh, who is 43-19 with the 49ers, has reportedly been offered the head coaching job at Michigan, his alma mater.

“There’s not much to say except keep fighting and get our last regular-season win,“ the coach said.

The Niners have won nine of their past 11 versus the Cardinals, but lost to them for the first time in five meetings with a 23-14 setback in Arizona on September 21.

The Cardinals have lost five straight in San Francisco and are trying to sweep the season series for the first time since 2008.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The Cardinals looked like the team to beat when Palmer was under center and even figured to be a contender as long as Stanton played decent, but the likes of Lindley or rookie Logan Thomas aren’t likely to scare opposing defensive coordinators.

In Lindley’s defense, going up against the Seahawks is no easy task, but his inability to engineer a touchdown drive caused head coach Bruce Arians to suggest early this week he was thinking about giving Thomas the start this weekend.

The 6-foot-6 Thomas was taken in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, actually leading to the release of Lindley, who then rejoined the Cardinals last week following the injury to Stanton.

Thomas, though, has struggled in practice and reports surfaced late in the week that Arians may in fact start Lindley instead, something he made official on Friday.

“He’s going to give us a better chance to win this game,“ Arians said of Lindley. “Logan is going to be a hell of a player one of these days, but right now he’s not ready.“

There is a lot of pressure on Arizona quarterbacks given the club ranks just 30th on the ground with 80.7 yards per game.

Cardinals rookie receiver John Brown caught two of his five touchdowns this season back in Week 3 versus the Niners, while Larry Fitzgerald leads the club with 61 receptions and 755 yards.

Fitzgerald was targeted 11 times by Lindley versus the Seahawks, but only made four catches and continues to nagged by a knee injury. However, he is still just one touchdown catch shy of becoming just the 10th player in NFL history with at least 90 TD receptions and 12,000 receiving yards.

Arizona’s defense has yielded 20 points or fewer 12 times this season, but was gutted by Seattle last week. But despite the Seahawks’ 267 rushing yards, the Cardinals still rank eighth against the run.

Linebacker Alex Okafor had the Cards’ lone sack last weekend, his team-leading eighth of the season. He is looking to become just the third linebacker in team history to have a 10-sack season.

Like the Cardinals, the Niners have a strong defense that did not perform up to par in Week 16. San Francisco had three interceptions versus San Diego, but allowed Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to mount the comeback, with his second TD pass of the fourth quarter coming with 29 seconds left.

Perrish Cox, Antoine Bethea and Chris Culliver all had picks, with Bethea taking his 49 yards for a score.

Cox, meanwhile, nabbed his team-high fifth interception of the season, but also suffered a shoulder injury that is a concern.

Fellow defensive back Eric Reid, meanwhile, suffered his third concussion in two seasons and it would be a surprise to see him play this weekend.

One thing that has plagued San Francisco this season is Kaepernick’s inability to move the ball through the air and he has been unable to pull of the big plays in the passing game that earned him the starting job a few seasons ago.

The Niners rank 31st with just 191.6 passing yards per game and Kaepernick’s passer rating is just 85.1.

Kaepernick, though, is hoping that Sunday won’t mark Gore’s final game in a San Francisco uniform. The 31-year-old pending free agent is just 38 yards shy of his eight career 1,000-yard rushing season.

“He’s a huge asset and I’m hoping he’s back here. (I) feel a lot more comfortable with (Gore) in the backfield,“ said Kaepernick.

Former Arizona and current Niners wide receive Anquan Boldin is just 19 yards shy of his seventh career 1,000-yard receiving season.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Injuries dictate a lot in the NFL as the Cardinals are currently learning.

While the chance at a week off and some home-field advantage is certainly a goal that Arizona would love to reach, the reality is the Cards are going to the playoffs regardless, so Arians has some wiggle room this weekend.

It doesn’t matter if Lindley or Thomas gets the call really because even a victory won’t guarantee anything, especially with the Seahawks having a favorable matchup this weekend.

Arians would be wise to take it easy on his starters in this game.

San Francisco, meanwhile, is likely to be hitting a crossroad not long after this game ends, with Harbaugh seemingly on his way out. But the club has had a lot of success under the coach and should give its all in trying to send him out a winner.


►  NFL hands out fines for Giants-Rams skirmish

Five players received fines from the NFL for taking part in a sideline brawl during last week’s game between the New York Giants and St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome.

A melee on the Giants’ bench ensued after Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree delivered a late hit on New York wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. late in the first half, leading to ejections for Giants wideout Preston Parker and teammate Damontre Moore as well as St. Louis defensive end William Hayes.

Parker and Moore were handed $15,000 fines for their participation in the fight, with Hayes docked $10,000. Beckham also received a $10,000 fine for retaliating against Ogletree, who drew the lightest punishment with a $8,268 penalty.

The Giants went on to earn a 37-27 win, with Beckham amassing 148 yards and two touchdowns on eight catches.


►  Browns suspend Josh Gordon for violating team rules

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is suspended again.

Gordon, who missed the first 10 games of the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, has now been suspended by the Browns for violating team rules.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Area High Schools Boys Basketball Game Results

(Saturday, December 27)

Wirt County 45     Calhoun County 32

Harman 64     South Harrison 61

Webster County 81     Nicholas County 50

Philip Barbour 69     Tygarts Valley 58

Union Grant 64     Liberty 49

Grafton 51     #2 Notre Dame 49

Ravenswood 72     Roane County 50

Sherman 61     Clay County 51

Parkersburg South 62     Canal Winchester Harvest Prep, Ohio 55


►  Area High Schools Girls Basketball Game Results

(Saturday, December 27)

#6 Williamstown 78     #9 Gilmer County 48

Notre Dame 55     Richwood 36

Liberty 43     South Harrison 19

Philip Barbour 77     Point Pleasant 24

South Charleston 76     Parkersburg South 62

Belpre, Ohio 74     Wirt County 45

Herbert Hoover 59     Parkersburg Catholic 37

Parkersburg 65     John Marshall 45



<The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top-25 College Men’s Basketball Game Results

(Saturday, December 27)


Final Score: (1) Kentucky 58, (4) Louisville 50

Tyler Ulis poured in 14 points as top- ranked Kentucky dispatched No. 4 Louisville for the third straight time, a 58-50 result on Saturday. Karl-Anthony Towns chipped in 10 with nine rebounds for the Wildcats (13-0), who used a late second-half surge to remain unbeaten. Terry Rozier compiled 15 points and eight boards for the Cardinals (11-1), who were limited to less than 26 percent shooting. Chris Jones and Wayne Blackshear picked up 13 and 10 points, respectively, in defeat.


Final Score: (8) Gonzaga 87, BYU 80

Kyle Wiltjer scored 24 points to help No. 8 Gonzaga make a second half comeback in its 87-80 win over Brigham Young. Kyle Pangos added 21 points on 5-of-8 shooting from 3-point range and also dished out seven assists for the Bulldogs (12-1, 1-0 WCC). Gonzaga received 15 points and 10 rebounds from Byron Wesley. Gonzaga found itself down by six a few minutes into the second half, but the Bulldogs were able to come from behind by limiting BYU to 32.1 percent shooting in the second half, including 2-of-13 from long distance. The Cougars (10-4, 0-1) got 13 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds from Kyle Collinsworth for his second triple-double of the season, but it was not enough. Tyler Haws and Anson Winder led BYU with 17 points each.


Final Score: (15) Maryland 72, Oakland 56

Dez Wells played for the first time in over a month and scored all 10 of his points in the second half, helping No. 15 Maryland hold off Oakland for a 72-56 win on Saturday. Wells, out since suffering a broken right wrist against Iowa State on Nov. 25, threw down an alley-oop dunk to spark a 9-0 Terrapins run to end the game. Maryland led by as much as 23 points early in the second half before Oakland clawed back to make it a game. Melo Trimble scored 17 points to lead the Terrapins (12-1), who have won five in a row since falling to nationally ranked Virginia on Dec. 3 to reach their highest ranking in the Associated Press poll since Jan. 2, 2006. Jake Layman added 15 points and 12 rebounds in the victory. Jalen Hayes scored 13 points to lead Oakland (4-10). Kahlil Felder added 12 points and Corey Petros and Dante Williams had 11 each for the Golden Grizzlies, who went scoreless over the last 4:15 of the game.


Final Score: (20) North Carolina 89, UAB 58

Marcus Paige scored 16 points to lead all scorers and help No. 20 North Carolina beat UAB, 89-58, on Saturday. The Tar Heels (9-3) used a number of dunks to dominate the points in the paint battle by a 40-28 margin. Kennedy Meeks netted 14 points and grabbed a game- high nine rebounds and Justin Jackson contributed 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting. C.J. Washington led the Blazers (4-9) with 12 points and pulled down seven boards. Robert Brown and Chris Cokley joined Washington in double figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively. The Blazers shot just 3-of-25 from long distance and 30.5 percent overall.


Final Score: (21) Ohio State 100, Wright State 55

D’Angelo Russell and Amir Williams combined for 45 points on 19 shots in 21st-ranked Ohio State’s 100-55 rout of Wright State. Russell, one of the nation’s scoring leaders among freshman, shot 6- for-6 from 3-point range en route to 24 points. Williams finished with a career-high 21 points with seven rebounds and four blocks. Kam Williams scored 15 points off the bench and Marc Loving had 13 for the Buckeyes (11-2), who shot a sizzling 61.4 percent from the field to crack the century mark for the second time this season. Meanwhile, Ohio State’s newly-minted zone defense looked as dominant as ever, holding the Raiders (8-6) to 21-of-70 shooting. Grant Benzinger had 12 points and Joe Thomasson finished with 10.


Final Score: (24) Colorado State 58, New Mexico State 57 (OT)

J.J. Avila scored 19 points with nine rebounds and 24th-ranked Colorado State continued the best start in school history with a 58-57 overtime win over New Mexico State on Saturday. Stanton Kidd chipped in 13 points for the Rams (13-0), who finished off their non- conference slate with a perfect record heading into a duel with Boise State to open Mountain West play on New Year’s Eve. Remi Barry deposited 14 points, Pascal Siakam had 13 points and 13 rebounds and Ian Baker added 12 points for the Aggies (5-9), losers in four of their last five.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NBA Game Results

(Saturday, December 27)


Final Score: Toronto 110, LA Clippers 98

Kyle Lowry had 25 points, seven assists and three steals as the Toronto Raptors defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 110-98 on Saturday afternoon. Jonas Valanciunas posted 22 points and 11 rebounds while Amir Johnson snatched 12 boards for the Raptors, who have won seven of their last eight games. J.J. Redick netted 23 points, Blake Griffin added 22 points, six rebounds and five assists and DeAndre Jordan pulled down 20 boards for Los Angeles, which has dropped four of its last six games.


Final Score: Orlando 102, Charlotte 94

Nikola Vucevic scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and the Orlando Magic overcame Kemba Walker’s career-high scoring effort to down the Charlotte Hornets, 102-94, in a matchup of the bottom two teams in the Southeast Division. The Magic committed only six turnovers and had six players finish in double figures to win for just the third time in their last 10 games. Tobias Harris hit a key 3-pointer and netted 21 points, Victor Oladipo added 13 and Elfrid Payton filled his stat line with 11 points, eight assists and seven boards. Kemba Walker exploded for 35 of his 42 points after halftime, but Charlotte still dropped its second straight on the heels of a four-game winning streak.


Final Score: Washington 101, Boston 88

Paul Pierce netted 14 of his 17 points against his former team in the first half and the Washington Wizards defeated the Boston Celtics, 101-88, on Saturday night. Kris Humphries posted 18 points and nine rebounds off the bench, while John Wall added 12 points and seven assists for the Wizards, who have won eight of their last 10 games. Jeff Green provided a game-high 23 points for Boston, which has dropped four straight games.


Final Score: Memphis 103, Miami 95

Mike Conley scored 24 points and led the Memphis Grizzlies to a 103-95 win over the Miami Heat on Saturday. Marc Gasol had a productive game, scoring 22 points with 10 rebounds to help the Grizzlies snap a season-high four-game losing streak. Beno Udrih and Tayshaun Prince went for 11 and 10 points, respectively, for Memphis, which played without Zach Randolph (knee) for a fourth straight game. Dwyane Wade, coming off a 31-point outing on Christmas Day in a win against LeBron James and the Cavs, scored 25 points with seven assists. Danny Granger tallied 18 points off the bench and Luol Deng added 16 for the Heat, who have lost two of their last three and have not won back-to-back games since Nov. 22-23.


Final Score: Indiana 110, Brooklyn 85

David West and the Indiana Pacers took control in the second half and downed the cold-shooting Brooklyn Nets, 110-85, at Barclays Center. Seven Indiana players scored in double figures and the team shot 58.1 percent from the field while posting a 60-38 advantage in the second half. West scored all but two of his 17 points after halftime, and Rodney Stuckey put together a terrific all-around effort with 20 points, eight assists, six rebounds and four steals in the lopsided win. C.J. Watson finished with 17 points while Luis Scola and Chris Copeland contributed 13 and 12 points, respectively, off the bench for the Pacers, who have won three of four following a 1-10 stretch. Jarrett Jack netted 22 points, but the Nets shot just 36.4 percent from the field and had their three-game winning streak come to a screeching halt.


Final Score: Chicago 107, New Orleans 100

Jimmy Butler scored 33 points, and the Chicago Bulls extended their season-high winning streak to six games by topping New Orleans, 107-100, at the United Center. Derrick Rose added 19 points, while Aaron Brooks scored 13, and Taj Gibson tallied 12 with 10 rebounds. Chicago native Anthony Davis had 29 points to pace the Pelicans, who failed to build on a 97-90 home win over San Antonio Friday night. Tyreke Evans scored 26 and Jrue Holiday notched 19 with seven assists.


Final Score: Atlanta 90, Milwaukee 85

Jeff Teague had 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists as the Atlanta Hawks defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 90-85 on Saturday night. Al Horford posted 20 points and nine rebounds, while Paul Millsap added 17 points and eight boards for the Hawks, who have won six of their last seven games. Khris Middleton tallied 21 points and Zaza Pachulia provided 11 points and 15 boards for Milwaukee, which has dropped three of its last four games.


Final Score: Utah 88, Philadelphia 71

Derrick Favors scored 17 points and anchored Utah’s best defensive effort of the season, as the Jazz clipped the Philadelphia 76ers 88-71 on Saturday. Favors pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds and blocked five shots and Trey Burke dropped 17 points for the suddenly-hot Jazz, who have won four of five on the heels of a 1-12 stretch. Gordon Hayward had 15 points, Enes Kanter tallied 10 points and 10 rebounds and Trevor Booker gave 14 points off the bench in Utah’s return to EnergySolutions Arena following a six-game road trip. Tony Wroten paced Philadelphia with 20 points and Robert Covington scored 17 in defeat. Michael Carter-Williams shot 2-of-20 and committed a game-high six turnovers.


Final Score: Sacramento 135, New York 129 (OT)

DeMarcus Cousins scored nine of his season-high 39 points in overtime, and the Sacramento Kings handed the New York Knicks a seventh consecutive loss in Saturday’s 135-129 victory. Cousins, who missed Friday’s loss to the Suns with a stomach virus, did not look 100-percent physically but stepped up in crunch time. He went 14-of-27 from the floor and added 11 rebounds and four assists. Rudy Gay added 29 points and Darren Collison donated 27 with 10 assists for the Kings, who had dropped seven of eight coming in. Carmelo Anthony paced the Knicks with 36 points, 11 rebounds and six assists, but it was not enough as New York fell to 2-14 on the road. Cole Aldrich scored a career-high 18 points before fouling out in overtime, while Tim Hardaway Jr. netted 19 for New York, which never led in regulation but scored nine of the final 11 points to force OT.


Final Score: Golden State 110, Minnesota 97

Stephen Curry scored 25 points with six assists to lead the Golden State Warriors in a 110-97 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday. Klay Thompson supplied 21 points, while David Lee, Andre Iguodala and Marreese Speights each chipped in with 10 points in the win. Golden State snapped a two-game losing streak after a winless two-game trip through Los Angeles against the Lakers and Clippers. It has won nine straight at Oracle Arena, however. Thaddeus Young paced the scuffling Timberwolves with 17 points and Zach LaVine added 12 points with a career- high 14 assists in Minnesota’s eighth straight loss overall and on the road.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NHL Game Results

(Saturday, December 27)


Final Score: Buffalo 4, NY Islanders 3 (SO)

Nicolas Deslauriers, Zemgus Girgensons and Chris Stewart scored in the third period to pull Buffalo out of a 3-0 hole and the Sabres snapped a four-game losing streak with a 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders on Saturday night. Buffalo’s goals, highlighted by Girgensons’ short-handed tally, came in a span of 5:12 in the period. Stewart tied the score with 8:09 remaining. Jhonas Enroth made 33 saves in the win, including 17 after the second period, then stopped two shots in the shootout after the first Islanders skater fired wide. He improved to 5-0 in shootouts this season. The Islanders placed goaltender Jaroslav Halak on injured reserve Saturday with a lower-body injury and recalled Kevin Poulin from the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers to make his first appearance in the NHL this season. Poulin made 17 saves in the first two periods, then allowed three goals on six shots in the third. John Tavares had two goals in the loss and Nick Leddy scored one. Tavares made one too many moves as the last skater in the shootout and Enroth stopped him with his right pad.


Final Score: Detroit 3, Ottawa 2 (OT)

Gustav Nyquist finished off a dominant shift with the game-winning goal late in overtime to lift the Detroit Red Wings to a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday. Nyquist cycled around the offensive with excellent puck protection for 28 seconds and beat Craig Anderson with a wrist shot from the left circle with 48 seconds remaining in the extra session to give Detroit the win. Henrik Zetterberg had a goal and an assist, Justin Abdelkader also scored and Niklas Kronwall supplied two helpers for the Red Wings, who have won two straight on the heels of a six-game losing streak. Jimmy Howard turned aside 31 shots in his return from a groin injury. Mike Hoffman and Clarke MacArthur each scored for the Senators, who have lost three in a row. Anderson made 24 stops in defeat.


Final Score: Tampa Bay 2, Carolina 1

Make if 5-for-5 for Ben Bishop against the Hurricanes. Bishop stopped 25 shots and the Tampa Bay Lightning got goals from Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn in a 2-1 victory over Carolina on Saturday. Bishop has five wins in as many career starts against Carolina. He took a shutout into the third period until Andrej Sekera lit the lamp on a wrister from just inside the blue line with 5:56 remaining. Cam Ward made 36 saves for the Hurricanes, who lost for the third time in four contests. They lost at Tampa Bay by the same score Dec. 11.


Final Score: NY Rangers 3, New Jersey 1

Derek Stepan registered his third career hat trick as the red-hot New York Rangers beat the New Jersey Devils 3-1 at Madison Square Garden. Stepan had a short-handed and power-play goal before sealing the Rangers’ season-high eighth straight victory by scoring into an empty net with 55 seconds left in the game. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 19-of-20 shots in his 600th career game. Cory Schneider made 25 saves and Steve Bernier scored for the Devils, who played their first game since head coach Peter DeBoer was fired on Friday. New Jersey president and general manager Lou Lamoriello announced before Saturday’s game that he will go behind the bench with Adam Oates and Scott Stevens. Oates will handle the forwards and Stevens will oversee the defense. The Devils have dropped three straight and eight of nine overall.


Final Score: Columbus 6, Boston 2

Scott Hartnell tallied twice in his return from injury, while Kevin Connauton added a goal and two assists, as Columbus used a strong second period to claim a 6-2 victory over Boston at Nationwide Arena. Nick Foligno, Matt Calvert and Jeremy Morin also lit the lamp for the Blue Jackets, who improved to 9-1-1 in the month of December. Jack Johnson and Brandon Dubinsky each chipped in a pair of helpers to back a 26- save effort from Curtis McElhinney. Patrice Bergeron and Craig Cunningham scored for the Bruins, who had taken three of their last four coming in. Niklas Svedberg and Tuukka Rask both allowed three goals on 15 shots.


Final Score: Winnipeg 4, Minnesota 3 (OT)

After a back-and-forth third period, a fortunate bounce helped Winnipeg top Minnesota 4-3 in overtime on Saturday. Andrew Ladd’s shot went way over the net, but the puck caromed off the glass into the crease. Minnesota goalie John Curry backed up looking for the puck and knocked it into the net to end the game. The Jets also received goals from Bryan Little, Adam Lowry and Blake Wheeler to win their fourth game out of their last five. Michael Hutchinson made 22 saves on 25 shots in the victory. Curry stopped 19-of-23 shots in goal for Minnesota after Darcy Kuemper was ruled out with an illness. Goals from Mikael Granlund, Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek were not enough to keep the Wild from losing their fifth straight game. The two teams will conclude the home-and-home set in Winnipeg on Monday.


Final Score: Washington 3, Pittsburgh 0

Eric Fehr scored twice and the Washington Capitals blanked the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-0, on Saturday. Fehr opened the scoring with a goal late in the first period and put the game away with Washington’s third marker midway through the third. Marcus Johansson also scored for the Capitals, winners in four of five. Braden Holtby posted his third shutout of the season and second in the last four games, stopping all 31 shots he faced. Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves for Pittsburgh, which lost its third straight game.


Final Score: Dallas 4, St. Louis 3

Defensemen Trevor Daley and Jason Demers scored power-play goals in the second period as the Dallas Stars edged the St. Louis Blues 4-3 at Scottrade Center. Travis Moen and Ryan Garbutt both had first-period goals for Dallas, which has won six of its last eight games. Kari Lehtonen made 30 saves in the Stars’ first victory over a Central Division opponent this season (1-7-3). Vladimir Tarasenko netted his 21st goal of the season for the Blues, who suffered their fourth straight loss. David Backes and Alex Pietrangelo also scored, and Jake Allen stopped 20-of-24 shots.


Final Score: Nashville 4, Philadelphia 1

Pekka Rinne stopped 26 shots and Nashville pumped home three power-play goals to fuel a 4-1 decision over Philadelphia at Bridgestone Arena. Colin Wilson scored twice and Filip Forsberg and Mike Fisher once each for thePredators, who have won six of their last eight. Roman Josi contributed two assists to the winning side. Claude Giroux provided the sole offense for the Flyers, who had won the first three outings on their current eight-game road trip. Ray Emery surrendered three goals on 37 shots in defeat.


Final Score: Arizona 2, Anaheim 1 (SO)

Captains are expected to produce in big situations, but this seemed out of Shane Doan’s control. Doan broke his stick, but was the only skater to score in a four-round shootout as the Arizona Coyotes beat the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 on Saturday night, knocking off the NHL’s top team in a goofy ending. The blade of Doan’s stick snapped off as he fired a shot at Frederik Andersen, who got a piece of the splintered wood with his shoulder but whiffed on the puck as it trickled—tamely—past his left pad and inside the goal post.


Final Score: Chicago 5, Colorado 2

Patrick Kane tallied two goals and an assist as the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Colorado Avalanche, 5-2, on Saturday. Brandon Saad, Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp all scored and Jonathan Toews supplied two assists for the Blackhawks, who bounced back from a 5-1 loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday. Corey Crawford turned aside 23-of-25 shots. Nathan MacKinnon and Erik Johnson each lit the lamp and Calvin Pickard allowed four goals on 32 shots for the Avalanche, who had a three-game winning streak come to an end.


Final Score: Calgary 4, Edmonton 1

Johnny Gaudreau remained red-hot, scoring twice as the Calgary Flames opened a six-game homestand with a 4-1 win over the lowly Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night. Gaudreau’s two goals came after he got his first career hat trick in Calgary’s last game, a 4-3 overtime win at Los Angeles on Monday. He has six goals in the last three games. Joe Colborne and Curtis Glencross also scored for the Flames, who have won twice this week on the heels of an eight-game losing streak. Jonas Hiller made 26 saves in the win. The NHL-worst Oilers have lost nine in a row (0-7-2) and 20 of their last 21 (1-14-6). Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored their only goal 4:23 into the third period.


Final Score: Los Angeles 3, San Jose 1

Anze Kopitar finished with a goal and an assist to lift the Los Angeles Kings to a 3-1 victory over the in-state rival San Jose Sharks on Saturday. Tyler Toffoli and Jake Muzzin also scored and Jonathan Quick made 21 saves for the Kings, who have won three of their last four games. Joe Pavelski netted San Jose’s lone goal and Antti Niemi stopped 26 shots in defeat. The Sharks entered the game 9-1-1 over their last 11 contests.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


SUNDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2014


National Football League
Chicago at Minnesota, 1:00 PM - FOX, DSS (707)
Philadelphia at NY Giants, 1:00 PM - FOX, DSS (708)
New Orleans at Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM - FOX, DSS (709)
Dallas at Washington, 1:00 PM - FOX, DSS (710)
Cleveland at Baltimore, 1:00 PM - CBS, DSS (711)
Jacksonville at Houston, 1:00 PM - FOX, DSS (712)
San Diego at Kansas City, 1:00 PM - CBS, DSS (713)
NY Jets at Miami, 1:00 PM - CBS, DSS (714)
Buffalo at New England, 1:00 PM - CBS, DSS (715)
Indianapolis at Tennessee, 1:00 PM - CBS, DSS (717)
Carolina at Atlanta, 4:25 PM - CBS, DSS (705)
Detroit at Green Bay, 4:25 PM - FOX, DSS (706)
Oakland at Denver, 4:25 PM - CBS, DSS (718)
Arizona at San Francisco, 4:25 PM - FOX, DSS (719)
St. Louis at Seattle, 4:25 PM - FOX, DSS (720)
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, 8:30 PM - NBC


National Basketball Association
Detroit at Cleveland, 4:30 PM - FS-Detroit, Ohio, DSS
Houston at San Antonio, 7:00 PM - ROOT-Southwest, FS-Southwest, DSS
Oklahoma City at Dallas, 7:30 PM - FS-Oklahoma, Southwest, DSS
Toronto at Denver, 9:00 PM - SNET, Altitude, DSS
New York at Portland, 9:00 PM -  MSG, CSN-Northwest, DSS
Phoenix at LA Lakers, 9:30 PM - FS-Arizona, Time Warner, DSS


National Hockey League
Toronto at Florida, 5:00 PM - TVA, SNET-Ontario, FS-Florida, DSS
Vancouver at Anaheim, 8:00 PM - TVA, FS-Prime Ticket, DSS


College Basketball
Tulane vs. St. John’s, 12:00 PM - FS1
Central Connecticut State at Connecticut, 1:00 PM - SNY, ESPN3.com
Harvard at Arizona State, 2:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
UNC Greensboro at East Carolina, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
NJIT at Lafayette, 2:00 PM - Patriot League Network
Morgan State at Marquette, 2:00 PM - FS1
Bucknell at Siena, 2:00 PM - Time Warner
Long Beach State at Syracuse, 2:00 PM - ESPN U
Coast Guard at Army, 3:00 PM - Patriot League Network
Texas Southern at Kansas State, 3:00 PM - FS-Midwest
Central Penn at Radford, 3:00 PM - Big South Network
Milwaukee at South Dakota, 3:00 PM - ESPN U
Bowling Green at South Florida, 3:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Rutgers at Monmouth, 3:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Northwestern State at Arkansas, 3:30 PM - SEC Network
Howard at Fordham, 4:00 PM - SNY
St Katherine at Fresno State, 4:00 PM - Mountain West Network
Wake Forest at Richmond, 4:00 PM - NBCSN
Florida Gulf Coast at Xavier, 4:00 PM - FS1
Mississippi Valley State at Houston, 5:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Illinois-Chicago at Bradley, 5:00 PM - CSN-Chicago
Delaware State at Temple, 5:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Belmont at Butler, 6:00 PM - FS1
UC Davis at Washington State, 6:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
UCLA at Alabama, 6:30 PM - ESPN U
Stony Brook at Washington, 8:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Buffalo at Wisconsin, 8:00 PM - Big Ten Network
CS Bakersfield at California, 10:00 PM - Pac-12 Network


Women’s College Basketball
East Carolina at South Florida, 12:00 PM - ESPN U
Oakland at Central Michigan, 1:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Oregon State at Tennessee, 1:00 PM - SEC Network
North Florida at Florida, 2:00 PM - SEC Network+
Rutgers at Indiana, 2:00 PM - Big Ten Network+
Northwestern at Michigan State, 2:00 PM - Big Ten Network+
Tennessee State at Kentucky, 2:00 PM - SEC Network+
Georgia at Seton Hall, 2:00 PM - Big East Digital Network
Miss Valley State at Alabama, 3:00 PM - SEC Network+
Penn State at Iowa, 3:00 PM - Big Ten Network+
Notre Dame at UCLA, 4:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Michigan at Wisconsin, 4:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Temple at Memphis, 8:30 PM - ESPN U


College Hockey
Michigan Tech vs. Michigan, 3:30 PM - FS-Detroit+
Quinnipiac at Princeton, 4:00 PM - ESPN U
Ferris State vs. Michigan State, 7:00 PM - FS-Detroit+


International Soccer
Nottingham Forest vs. Birmingham City, 6:55 AM - beIN Sport
Southampton vs. Chelsea, 9:00 AM - NBCSN
Blackburn Rovers FC vs. Middlesbrough FC, 9:55 AM - beIN Sport
Newcastle United vs. Everton, 11:15 AM - NBCSN

Sports News   141227

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  WVU quarterback career over after multiple concussions

Riddled by five concussions in the past 14 months, including two he admitted hiding from team doctors, West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett won’t appear in the Liberty Bowl and says his playing career is finished.

Trickett talked with reporters Friday at Memphis University School field, just yards away from where his teammates practiced. “I would love to be out there and finish the season with my guys,“ he said. “But it would be dangerous to be out there and I probably wouldn’t be as effective.“

The fifth-year senior, who now plans to begin his coaching career, left during the second half of a 26-20 loss to Kansas State on November 30 and sat out the regular-season finale at Iowa State. That means sophomore Skyler Howard will make his second career start when West Virginia meets Texas A&M at the Liberty Bowl, though for the moment at least, questions remained about Trickett’s health and how he managed to keep at least two head injuries undetected.

“In fairness to our training staff, they didn’t know,“ he said. “I didn’t tell them, so that was on me. If they would’ve known they probably would’ve been more precautions about it. But I was trying to push through it.“

Saying his family is “big on finishing what we start,“ Trickett maintained hope of appearing in one last college game, at least until last week when doctors at UPMC in Pittsburgh declared him out. The quarterback visited the hospital several times this month for concussion-impact testing but said his results were “not close” to where they need to be.

Even five weeks since bumping his head while making a tackle on an interception against K-State, Trickett said he continues to endure typical post-concussion symptoms: “It’s pretty bad.“

With a father who coaches Florida State’s offensive line and a brother serving as the offensive coordinator at Samford, Trickett said he’s eager to get “into the family business.“ Though not considered an NFL prospect, he previously mentioned taking his shot in the Canadian Football League.

“The more and more I think about,“ he said, “what I’m getting into I probably need to have a couple brain cells left.“

Trickett’s 3,285 yards rank fourth on the West Virginia single-season passing list, behind No. 3 Marc Bulger (3,607 yards in 1998) and Geno Smith’s two mammoth years (4,205 in 2012 and 4,385 in 2011).

Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen called the premature ending to Trickett’s career unfortunate but projected that “he’s going to make a hell of a coach.“


►  WVU football player grazed by bullet

A WVU football player suffered minor injuries during a shooting Christmas Eve. WINK TV reports redshirt freshman receiver Jacky Marcellus was one of three people sitting inside a car when shots were fired into the vehicle.

One of the bullets grazed Marcellus, but another shot struck his brother, Jackinson, in the face. He’s reported in serious condition.  J.C. Jackson, a University of Florida football player, was also in the vehicle and received minor injuries.

According to WINK News, “Deputies say there were at least three people sitting inside a car outside of the Crestview Apartments when bullets broke through the windows.”  Authorities say one or two men walked up to the car and fired.

WINK reports that witnesses say the three men were visiting friends while the two football players were home for Christmas break.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  College Football Bowl Game Results

(Friday, December 26)


Final Score: Louisiana Tech 35, Illinois 18

Kenneth Dixon finished with two touchdowns to lift Louisiana Tech to a 35-18 victory over Illinois in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at Cotton Bowl Stadium on Friday. Dixon rushed for 63 yards on 13 carries and also caught an 80-yard touchdown pass for the Bulldogs (9-5), who won their first bowl game since 2008. Cody Sokol completed 14-of-28 passes for 247 yards and a score and Blake Martin and Jarred Craft each added rushing touchdowns in the win. Reilly O’Toole threw for 290 yards on 23-of-38 passing with a touchdown pass to Jon Davis and an interception, while Donovonn Young had a rushing score for the Illini (6-7).


Final Score: Rutgers 40, North Carolina 21

Robert Martin and Josh Hicks combined for more than 300 yards rushing and three touchdowns, as Rutgers rolled past North Carolina, 40-21, in the Quick Lane Bowl. Martin ended the day with 100 yards and reached the end zone twice, with Hicks earning MVP honors after racking up 202 yards and another TD on 19 carries. Gary Nova threw for 184 yards and scores to Andrew Turzilli and Andre Patton for the Scarlet Knights (8-5), who claimed their first bowl win since beating Iowa State in the Pinstripe Bowl in December of 2011. Marquise Williams finished 25-of-37 for 198 yards with a touchdown through the air and one on the ground for the Tar Heels (6-7), who failed in their bid for a second straight postseason victory. Mitch Trubisky finished up with a touchdown pass on 7-of-9 efficiency. T.J. Logan compiled 110 yards on 14 carries, while Kendrick Singleton and Jack Tabb posted a scoring catch apiece in defeat.


Final Score: NC State 34, UCF 27

Matt Dayes rushed for two touchdowns in the third quarter as North Carolina State capped off a remarkable turnaround season with a 34-27 win over UCF in the St. Petersburg Bowl. Jacoby Brissett completed 15-of-26 passes for 262 yards with one touchdown for the Wolfpack (8-5), who had gone 3-9 in coach Dave Doeren’s first season in 2013. Dayes totaled 78 yards on 13 carries while his backfield mate, Shadrach Thornton, rushed 17 times for 96 yards and added a touchdown pass. UCF’s Justin Holman threw three touchdown passes to Josh Reese, the last coming with 1:44 left in the game, but the Knights (9-4), with no timeouts remaining, were unable to secure the onside kick. Holman was 23-of-53 for 291 yards with one interception, and Breshad Perriman had 138 yards on nine receptions.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Bucs extend WR Murphy

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have agreed to terms with wide receiver Louis Murphy on a multi-year contract extension.

Murphy had been scheduled to become a free agent after the season. The Florida product caught 31 passes for 380 yards and two touchdowns in 11 games this season before being placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury.

The 27-year-old Murphy has played in 82 NFL games with the Raiders, Panthers, Giants and Buccaneers, totaling 152 receptions for 2,124 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has also carried the ball 14 times for 146 yards and one touchdown.


►  Chiefs QB Smith out with lacerated spleen

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith will miss Sunday’s regular-season finale against San Diego with a lacerated spleen.

Smith, who practiced earlier this week, suffered the injury during the third quarter of last week’s 20-12 loss to Pittsburgh after getting hit on a throw to rookie receiver Albert Wilson.

“I felt great athletically, running around, throwing,“ Smith said. “Just kind of had this constant deal going on and thankfully, Doc kind of urged me to get the test.“

Chiefs trainer Rick Burkholder said that Smith’s injury does not require surgery, but usually takes six weeks to heal.

“Once you started hearing how serious it is, you start knowing the implications can come of this as far as not playing.“ commented Smith. “That’s the last thing you want to hear.“

Chase Daniel will get the start at quarterback in a game that will have postseason implications for Kansas City.

The Chiefs need to defeat the Chargers and also need Cleveland and Jacksonville to win on the road in order to make the playoffs.


►  Cowboys try to finish off a perfect December

So much for that December breakdown.

The Dallas Cowboys didn’t buy into that theory this season and are NFC East champions for the first time since 2009. The Cowboys will put the finishing touches on the regular season Sunday against the division-rival Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.

Dallas cinched up an NFC East crown with Sunday’s 42-7 dismantling of Andrew Luck and the AFC South-champion Indianapolis Colts. Tony Romo, who’s notorious for collapsing toward the end of the season, tossed four touchdown passes and threw for 218 yards with no interceptions.

“It’s great to see the guys go out and play a really good football game when we needed it,“ said Romo, who passed Troy Aikman for the most passing yards in franchise history and completed 18-of-20 attempts.

Romo finished the game with a 151.7 passer rating, setting an NFL record for six games this season with a rating over 135.0, surpassing Steve Young (1993) and Peyton Manning (2013). He has won seven of past 11 starts against the Redskins and leads the NFL with a 114.4 rating.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is glad to have Romo on his side.

“I’m confident as we go into the tournament that we’re going to have as good of quarterback play as any other team in the NFL,“ Jones said Sunday. “I think Romo is there. I’m going to say it one more time ... somehow, someway he needs to have a Super Bowl by his name. He’s that good.“

Philadelphia’s loss to the Redskins on Saturday set the stage for Romo and Dallas, which has won three in a row and five of its last six games. The Cowboys can still a first-round bye under a few scenarios. A win plus losses by Seattle and Arizona will give the Cowboys an extra week of rest.

Here’s an unlikely scenario: If the Cowboys win, Detroit-Green Bay ends in a tie and either Arizona loses or Seattle wins, Dallas will clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Dallas has been outstanding on the road this season as evidenced by a 7-0 record. It is 3-2 against the NFC East and 7-4 in conference action.

It is unknown if head coach Jason Garrett will rest his players in DC.

“Our plan is to practice as well as we can practice and go play our best football game with the guys who are available to us,“ Garrett said. “We’re excited about that opportunity. That’s what we do here.“

Cowboys running back and NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray played with a broken hand versus the Colts and could take a breather again the Redskins. He has 1,745 yards on 373 carries, so the possibility of reaching 2,000 yards is pretty much out of reach. He is 29 yards shy for the most rushing yards in a season, as Emmitt Smith currently holds the record of 1,773 yards in 1995.

Murray has 11 100-yard rushing games this season, which is tied with Smith for the most in a season for the Cowboys.

The Redskins ended a six-game losing streak with a 27-24 victory over the Eagles and spoiled Philly’s chances of making a playoff run.

Defensive back Bashaud Breeland intercepted Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez’s pass at the Washington 42-yard line inside the two-minute warning and Pierre Garcon later broke a tackle to set up Kai Forbath’s 26-yard field goal with five seconds remaining.

Philadelphia had one last chance and Sanchez’s desperation heave was batted down in the end zone.

“Love the way our team battled and competed,“ said Redskins coach Jay Gruden. “There’s been a lot of talk about people quitting and you can see what type of guys we have. Guys didn’t quit.“

Alfred Morris rushed for 83 yards on 21 carries and joined Stephen Davis (1999-2001) as the only running backs in team history to rush for 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. Robert Griffin III made the start at quarterback and didn’t have to do much, completing 16 of his 23 passes for 220 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

DeSean Jackson finished with 126 yards on four catches and will wrap up his first season in Washington this weekend. The former Eagle was asked if the team misses his big-play capability.

“That’s a question you have to ask them,“ Jackson said. “As far as my ex- teammates, I think a lot of the guys miss me. I’m happy to be here in Washington. Things didn’t go the way we wanted it go this year, but at the end of the day, we’ve got a job to do, which is to finish strong.“

The Redskins are 4-11 on the season and a win Sunday over the Cowboys would give them the most wins since a 10-6 record and an NFC East title in 2012. The ‘Skins were only 3-13 in 2013.

Washington defeated Dallas, 20-17, in overtime on October 27 in Big D, as Forbath booted a 40-yard field goal to win it. Morris had 73 yards and a touchdown, while Murray ran for 141 yards in defeat. Morris has rushed for seven scores in the past five encounters with the rival Cowboys.

Dallas leads the all-time series with a 64-41-2 advantage in the regular season over Washington and has won five of the past eight meetings, including both matchups in 2013. The Redskins haven’t swept a season series from the Cowboys since 2012.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Offensive play caller Scott Linehan pulled all the right strings for the Cowboys to this point and is hoping the success continues. It’s difficult to fail with a savvy quarterback, a dynamic wide receiver and running back, and a stout offensive line, but it’s happened in the past.

This season had a different feel to it and the Cowboys never quit.

Garrett reflected on the Week 1 loss versus San Francisco in which Romo threw three interceptions to just one touchdown. Romo, of course, dealt with a back issue all season.

“I felt like he was making progress physically, almost day by day and week by week since the start of the offseason,“ Garrett said. “At different times he didn’t look quite like himself physically because of the work he’d done in training camp or because of something that happened in a previous game. I think he’s had some of those moments throughout the year. But that’s every player. Some guys are banged up at different times. Tony’s a tough guy. He’s a physically tough guy. He’s a mentally tough guy. I knew he was going to respond the right way. That’s how he’s responded throughout his career. I knew he was going to get better physically.“

Dallas went on to win six in a row after the loss to the 49ers. Romo has thrown for 18 touchdowns to just two interceptions his last seven games, and is four TD strikes shy of matching a career-high 36 set in 2007. He should come close to that mark if he plays the entire game in Washington because the Redskins secondary is one of the weakest in the league.

“I just feel very comfortable throwing the football,“ Romo said. “Those are things that come with age and experience and working your butt off to technically perfect your craft. When you’re feeling good in that rhythm throwing it, I always felt like I could read it and see it, but you need that fundamental aspect of the game to take it to the next level. I think I’ve done a better job of that this year.‘

Romo has catapulted himself to MVP status. It helps to have Dez Bryant at receiver. Bryant leads the Cowboys in receptions (84), receiving yards (1,221) and receiving touchdowns (14). He needs six receptions to become the first Cowboy with 90 or more catches, 1,000-plus yards and 10 or more receiving TDs in three straight seasons.

The Redskins will try to expose Dallas’ defense with the vertical threat of Jackson and Garcon. Garcon had 47 yards on four receptions in the first meeting with Dallas and Jackson caught six passes for 136 yards. Jackson leads the Redskins with 1,083 yards and has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in each of the past two seasons and four times in his career.

Jackson has never had fewer than 700 yards in a season.

“He’s been great, man,“ Redskins head coach Jay Gruden said. “I gained a lot of respect for DeSean. Whatever happened in the past in Philadelphia I don’t know, but I know since that he’s been a Washington Redskin, he’s been solid to be around. He’s been a good worker and obviously he’s a big-time threat all the time.“

In 11 career games against Dallas, Jackson has 810 yards and only one touchdown on 42 catches.

“Anytime the Redskins play the Cowboys, it doesn’t matter what your record is, it should be great motivation and that’s definitely going to be my No. 1 tool this week for motivation is just beating the Cowboys,“ Gruden said.

Gruden utilizes Jackson’s speed and home run-hitting ability, and it doesn’t matter who’s throwing him the football. Gruden played musical chairs with his quarterbacks all season and Griffin could be playing his final game with Washington, which drafted him second overall in 2012.

Defensively, Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan has recorded a full sack in five straight games and has 13 1/2 on the season. He is currently tied with former linebacker Ken Harvey for the most sacks in a single season by an LB.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

If the Redskins had the chance to spoil the season for the Cowboys on Sunday, they would accomplish the task because misery loves company.

Not the case this weekend.

Dallas is in and could probably care less how the season finale unfolds. The Cowboys, though, should take it seriously in order to prepare for a tough NFC opponent in the postseason.

Entering the playoffs on a losing note doesn’t breed positivity.


►  Cardinals take QB woes to Santa Clara in potential Harbaugh swan song

In winning nine of their first 10 games, the Arizona Cardinals seemed well on their way to their first division title since 2009.

Things haven’t gone according to plan since, but the Cardinals still have a shot at the NFC West crown this Sunday when they visit the disappointing San Francisco 49ers in a regular-season finale.

Arizona was 9-1 following a sixth straight victory on November 16, but the club then suffered back-to-back losses to Seattle and Atlanta on the road to tighten up the standings in the NFC West.

Wins over Kansas City and St. Louis then helped Arizona lock up its first playoff berth since 2009, though the Cardinals were then routed by the Seahawks 35-6 last Sunday to fall into a tie for first place in the division.

The loss to the Seahawks also gave Seattle a sweep of the season series, s. the Cardinals will need a victory and a loss this Sunday by the Seahawks to the visiting Rams to clinch the NFC West and a first-round bye in the upcoming playoffs.

Arizona also still has a shot at claiming home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, a scenario it can secure with a win and a loss by both the Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers to the visiting Detroit Lions.

As was the case last week, the Cardinals will have to find success without their top two quarterbacks. Carson Palmer is done for the season because of a torn ACL and backup Drew Stanton was unable to play versus the Seahawks due to his own knee ailment.

The Cardinals are hopeful Stanton will be able to return for the postseason, especially after Ryan Lindley struggled versus Seattle. He was just 18-of-44 passing for 216 yards with an interception.

Of course, the defense didn’t give him much help either, yielding 596 yards of offense to Seattle. That was the most allowed by the franchise since December of 1958.

The effort of the defense was summed up early in the fourth quarter, when Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch dodged and bullied his way to a 79-yard score to put the game away.

It was Arizona’s first loss at home this season.

“That’s not the outcome we were looking for but I’m still proud of our players,“ Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “We had it to a one-score game and then it fell apart.“

San Francisco has not had the type of season it had hoped for as it will miss the playoffs for the first time in four seasons under head coach Jim Harbaugh, and the club continues to be plagued by rumors of his possible departure at season’s end.

San Francisco was eliminated from the playoff race with a loss to Seattle on December 14, then lost its fourth game in a row this past Saturday with a 38-35 overtime setback to the San Diego Chargers.

The Niners racked up a franchise-record 355 yards rushing in the game, but blew a 21-point lead at halftime as the Chargers scored two touchdowns in the final nine minutes of regulation before getting a game-winning 40-yard field goal in overtime.

San Francisco lost three fumbles in the game, including one in overtime when wide receiver Quinton Patton was striped on a 20-yard end-around, setting up Novak’s winner.

“We did a lot of things well. We just had three turnovers. That’s the difference in the game,“ said Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick. “We have a fumble on the goal line, a fumble that ends in a touchdown and a fumble in overtime. That’s at least a 14-point swing.“

Kaepernick passed for 114 yards with a touchdown, but added 151 yards rushing on seven carries. A bulk of that came on a 90-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Running back Frank Gore broke off a 52-yard scoring rush in the opening quarter, finishing with 158 yards on 26 carries.

The Niners had been to three straight NFC Championship Games—making one Super Bowl appearance—in Harbaugh’s first three seasons, but won’t finish with a winning record this season.

Harbaugh, who is 43-19 with the 49ers, has reportedly been offered the head coaching job at Michigan, his alma mater.

“There’s not much to say except keep fighting and get our last regular-season win,“ the coach said.

The Niners have won nine of their past 11 versus the Cardinals, but lost to them for the first time in five meetings with a 23-14 setback in Arizona on September 21.

The Cardinals have lost five straight in San Francisco and are trying to sweep the season series for the first time since 2008.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The Cardinals looked like the team to beat when Palmer was under center and even figured to be a contender as long as Stanton played decent, but the likes of Lindley or rookie Logan Thomas aren’t likely to scare opposing defensive coordinators.

In Lindley’s defense, going up against the Seahawks is no easy task, but his inability to engineer a touchdown drive caused head coach Bruce Arians to suggest early this week he was thinking about giving Thomas the start this weekend.

The 6-foot-6 Thomas was taken in the fourth round of the 2014 draft, actually leading to the release of Lindley, who then rejoined the Cardinals last week following the injury to Stanton.

Thomas, though, has struggled in practice and reports surfaced late in the week that Arians may in fact start Lindley instead.

Either way, the Cardinals will need Stanton healthy come playoff time.

“We’ve got our fingers crossed,“ Arians told Arizona’s website. “There are no sureties about either one. If (Stanton’s) ready for this one, it would be in a backup status, and we’ve got our fingers crossed he’ll be ready to practice next week.“

There is a lot of pressure on Arizona quarterbacks given the club ranks just 30th on the ground with 80.7 yards per game.

Cardinals rookie receiver John Brown caught two of his five touchdowns this season back in Week 3 versus the Niners, while Larry Fitzgerald leads the club with 61 receptions and 755 yards.

Fitzgerald was targeted 11 times by Lindley versus the Seahawks, but only made four catches and continues to nagged by a knee injury. However, he is still just one touchdown catch shy of becoming just the 10th player in NFL history with at least 90 TD receptions and 12,000 receiving yards.

Arizona’s defense has yielded 20 points or fewer 12 times this season, but was gutted by Seattle last week. But despite the Seahawks’ 267 rushing yards, the Cardinals still rank eighth against the run.

Linebacker Alex Okafor had the Cards’ lone sack last weekend, his team-leading eighth of the season. He is looking to become just the third linebacker in team history to have a 10-sack season.

Like the Cardinals, the Niners have a strong defense that did not perform up to par in Week 16. San Francisco had three interceptions versus San Diego, but allowed Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to mount the comeback, with his second TD pass of the fourth quarter coming with 29 seconds left.

Perrish Cox, Antoine Bethea and Chris Culliver all had picks, with Bethea taking his 49 yards for a score.

Cox, meanwhile, nabbed his team-high fifth interception of the season, but also suffered a shoulder injury that is a concern.

Fellow defensive back Eric Reid, meanwhile, suffered his third concussion in two seasons and it would be a surprise to see him play this weekend.

One thing that has plagued San Francisco this season is Kaepernick’s inability to move the ball through the air and he has been unable to pull of the big plays in the passing game that earned him the starting job a few seasons ago.

The Niners rank 31st with just 191.6 passing yards per game and Kaepernick’s passer rating is just 85.1.

Kaepernick, though, is hoping that Sunday won’t mark Gore’s final game in a San Francisco uniform. The 31-year-old pending free agent is just 38 yards shy of his eight career 1,000-yard rushing season.

“He’s a huge asset and I’m hoping he’s back here. (I) feel a lot more comfortable with (Gore) in the backfield,“ said Kaepernick.

Former Arizona and current Niners wide receive Anquan Boldin is just 19 yards shy of his seventh career 1,000-yard receiving season.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Injuries dictate a lot in the NFL as the Cardinals are currently learning.

While the chance at a week off and some home-field advantage is certainly a goal that Arizona would love to reach, the reality is the Cards are going to the playoffs regardless, so Arians has some wiggle room this weekend.

It doesn’t matter if Lindley or Thomas gets the call really because even a victory won’t guarantee anything, especially with the Seahawks having a favorable matchup this weekend.

Arians would be wise to take it easy on his starters in this game.

San Francisco, meanwhile, is likely to be hitting a crossroad not long after this game ends, with Harbaugh seemingly on his way out. But the club has had a lot of success under the coach and should give its all in trying to send him out a winner.


►  Rex aims to go out on a winning note

As it turns out, Rex Ryan needn’t hire a realtor in South Beach.

Though Ryan’s six-year run as head coach of the New York Jets will presumably come to an end after a Week 17 visit to the Miami, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has already eliminated one destination from the embattled Gang Green leader’s subsequent offseason interviewing tour.

Ross confirmed after Miami’s 37-35 defeat of Minnesota last week that Joe Philbin will return for a fourth season along the sidelines in 2015.

“It’s important for a head coach of a NFL football team that the owner believes in him, what he is doing and the program he is instilling,“ Philbin said. “It’s very important. If you don’t have that type of belief and faith from the owner it’s not going to work. I know if players don’t believe in their coaches and coaches don’t believe in their players, you have no chance. But again, I’ve been in this profession a long time, I wasn’t worried about my own personal future.“

Philbin improved from 7-9 to 8-8 in his first two seasons with the Dolphins, and can get to 9-7 with a victory in the finale against the Jets, though any hopes for the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2008 were erased last week when Pittsburgh beat Kansas City.

Miami is near New York in terms of defensive statistics - allowing 22.4 points and 333.3 yards per week through 15 games - and defeated the Jets, 16-13, in the teams’ first 2014 matchup in Week 13.

New York allows an average of 323.2 yards and 25.1 points per week.

Philbin’s holdover to next season was also welcomed on the offensive side, where quarterback Ryan Tannehill has posted solid numbers in 2014, including a 67% completion rate, a per-game average of 252.4 yards, 26 touchdowns and a 93.2 passer rating.

In the win against Minnesota, Tannehill had 35 completions, 396 yards and four touchdowns.

“That’s exciting news for me, and I think everyone on the team,“ Tannehill said. “We believe in coach Philbin and the program he has and everything he has set in place.“

The sky seemed the limit for Ryan after he arrived in 2009 and immediately steered the Jets to consecutive appearances in the AFC Championship Game for the first time in franchise history.

New York dropped to 8-8 amid turmoil in year three, however, and has failed to exceed .500 in three more seasons under his leadership.

“These last couple seasons have been pretty tough, there’s no doubt,“ he said. “So, I’d say this one’s probably a ‘dog-year’ season. We’ve only got three wins. At the same time, it feels like yesterday. So it’s like, man, I’m still here with my guys and I enjoy coming to work. Like, every day I’m excited about presenting a game plan and doing different things and watching players grow. So that part of it has been great.“

His job security hasn’t been helped by shortcomings at quarterback, where the tandem of youngster Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick have provided the league’s lowest per-game passing average of 170.4 yards. Smith began the season as the starter before losing the role to Vick in November.

He’s returned to start the last four games, but his season-long passer rating (70.9) is ahead of just two full-time quarterbacks - Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles (70.8) and Tampa Bay’s Josh McCown (70.5).

Smith managed just 65 yards passing in the December 1 loss to the Dolphins.

“The toughest part about it is not being able to continue to play for the same coach, the same guy that you learned to love, you invest so much in, and you believe (in) them,“ Smith said. “To reset and re-adjust is a tough thing to do, but we are professionals and we have to do it. A change could be good for us all, so if it happens, when it happens, then we’ll see.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Win the Rematch

Miami right guard Mike Pouncey has struggled with injuries and a new position during a largely ineffectual 2014 season, and has surrendered three sacks and 24 quarterback hurries on the year. But he held his own against New York’s Sheldon Richardson - allowing just two hurries - in Week 13, and could go a long way toward prolonging Week 17 drives if he replicates the effort.

Geno’s Secret Weapon

Truth told, the extent of Smith’s role in the Jets’ game plan is often turning to his right or left and handing the ball to a running back. But, with the addition of versatile playmaker Percy Harvin, the possibilities are at least multiplied. Harvin ran six times for 27 yards in Week 13, and he’ll likely be covered by cornerback Brent Grimes when it comes to passing downs this time around.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

One coach has eluded the hangman’s noose, while the other one likely will not. Ironically, it’s that lack of job status that could provide the difference in the finale. While Philbin has more overall talent on both sides of the ball, Ryan does intermittently get a lot out of a roster that’s really not even on an NFL average level. That bunch will get itself up for one last go-round before “Black Monday” comes.


►  Broncos hope to secure first-round bye

The top spot in the conference is out of their reach but the Denver Broncos still want a week off.

The AFC West champions will try to secure a first-round bye in the AFC playoff bracket when they close the regular season against the three-win Oakland Raiders.

The Broncos can earn the bye with a win over Oakland or a Cincinnati loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

Denver’s hopes of garnering the top seed in the conference went up in smoke during Week 16 when Jeremy Hill rushed for 147 yards and a touchdown and Dre Kirkpatrick posted two interceptions as the Cincinnati Bengals clinched a playoff spot of their own with a 37-28 win over the Broncos.

Peyton Manning struggled throughout the game and was picked off four times while finishing with 311 yards and two scores on 28-of-44 passing for Denver, which had a four-game win streak come to an end.

C.J. Anderson rushed for 83 yards and a score on 18 carries, Emmanuel Sanders had two scores to go with 70 yards on six catches and Demaryius Thomas finished with seven catches for a game-high 115 yards in defeat.

“We just have to be more consistent for four quarters,“ Manning said. “You can’t play well the end of the second quarter and the beginning of the third quarter - not play well in the first and not play well in the fourth. Against good football teams, you have to be more consistent and I have to play better as well.“

New England clinched the first overall seed in the AFC due to Denver’s loss.

The Raiders, meanwhile, come in off an exciting 26-24 win over Buffalo in which Derek Carr passed for 214 yards and two touchdowns, and Sebastian Janikowski kicked four field goals for Oakland.

Carr completed 17-of-34 attempts and tossed scores to James Jones and Jamize Olawale for the Raiders, who have a chance to match their win total of the past two seasons if they top the Broncos.

“We wanted to give our fans something special this week. [The fans] have been tremendous,“ said Raiders head coach Tony Sparano. “That’s a great job of fighting when nobody thought you’d come out and fight.“

Latavius Murray and Darren McFadden combined for 140 yards on 32 attempts, while Kenbrell Thompkins posted 90 yards on five receptions.

Oakland leads its all-time series with Denver by a 59-47-2 margin but the Broncos have won six straight, including a 41-17 win in Northern California on November 9 when Manning threw for 340 yards and five TDs, two apiece to Julius Thomas and Sanders.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The quarterback is the epicenter in every NFL city, the first player commented on and evaluated, be it positive or negative. And when that signal caller happens to be Manning, any blip, no matter how slight, in a career defined by consistency is going to be overblown.

To be fair to those currently questioning Manning, he is obviously far closer to the end of his brilliant career than the beginning with a medical record that includes four neck surgeries so it’s not exactly out of bounds to be on the lookout for what is the inevitable decline for every player.

Manning has looked mortal in recent weeks, almost like an actual 38-year-old man with Monday’s four-interception implosion in Cincinnati serving as the main course for the haters.

“The sky is not falling,“ Broncos coach John Fox said. “We’re not getting ready to get rid of our quarterback. He’s fine and, we’re all going to get better.“

Fine is a relative term in the NFL.

The setback against the Bengals was Manning’s first quadruple INT game since 2010 and helped assure that the road to AFC championship would go through Foxbrorough and not the Rocky Mountains, a potential death blow when it comes to the fairytale ending of Manning walking off stage left with the Lombardi Trophy.

“We have to find a way to learn from this,“ a dejected Manning said.

All four of Denver’s losses have come on the road this season and 11 of Manning’s 15 interceptions have come away from Mile High. Meanwhile, six of those 11 picks came at the hands of the Bengals and Patriots, two teams the Broncos may have to beat if they plan on being in Glendale come February.

Denver personnel chief John Elway overhauled his defense following the Super Bowl XLVIII collapse against Seattle last season and bringing in players like DeMarcus Ware, Aquib Talib and T.J. Ward has certainly helped on that side of the ball as evidenced by Denver’s current standing as the third-ranked stop unit in all of football.

What Elway didn’t address, however, was the offensive line, the team’s real Achilles’ heel against both the Seahawks and Cincinnati on Monday night.

“We gave up two sacks and we lead the whole National Football League in sacks per pass (play),“ Fox said when discussing his much-maligned OL on Tuesday. “We did not coach well enough and we did not play well enough. They had a better night than we did.“

The thought in Denver was the return of star left tackle Ryan Clady, who missed most of the ‘13 campaign with a Lisfranc injury would be enough. The plan was for Chris Clark, who replaced Clady at LT last season, to bump over to the right side with Orlando Franklin moving inside to left guard opposite solid right guard Louis Vasquez.

And if the ‘12 version of Clady, who allowed just one sack the entire season, showed up this time around all of that might have worked but the former All- Pro has been average at best this season despite the reputation-generated Pro Bowl nod he received on Tuesday night.

The ‘14 Clady has been playing at a level nowhere near the AFC’s best left tackles—Cleveland’s Joe Thomas and the Bengals’ Andrew Whitworth—and one high-profile, scouting-based website has him rated as the 45th best tackle in the NFL.

Clark, meanwhile, couldn’t carry his own water at right tackle before being replaced by Paul Cornick, who also faltered, leaving the Broncos to make wholesale changes, kicking Vasquez outside, moving Manny Ramirez from center to right guard and inserting veteran pivot Will Montgomery.

The lack of consistency has hurt but the bigger issue has been the athleticism or lack thereof, as the Denver O-Line has trouble getting to the second level in the running game, and Vasquez struggles mightily against speed on the outside as evidenced by Carlos Dunlap’s big game on Monday night.

No one covers for a mediocre offense line better than Manning, a signal caller who possesses a lightning-quick release as well as a football IQ that is off the charts.

Manning can and does vary his snap count better than just about any other QB who has ever played the game but eventually a defense is going to get its chances against a stationary target and the lack of consistent pass protection has left Manning a battered and bruised mess with the playoffs looming.

Perhaps no team ticketed for the postseason needs a first-round bye more than the Broncos and they can lock that up with a Week 17 win as a two-touchdown favorite over Oakland.

A rested and relatively healthy Manning is the difference between a deep playoff run and one-and-done.

“I learned a long time ago it doesn’t matter how you start the race it’s how you finish,“ said Fox. “We’ll step back from (Monday night), we’ll learn from it, we’ll analyze and decipher went wrong and hopefully get it fixed.“

For the Raiders, Carr leads all rookies in both passing yards (3,112) and touchdowns (20), and has probably been the second best freshman signal caller this season behind Minnesota’s Teddy Bridgewater.

Carr, though, has been well below average in the road, compiling a less-than- stellar 69.8 passer rating which has contributed to Oakland’s 0-7 record away from the Bay Area.

“We’ve got to learn how to take what we do (at home) and go on the road and do it,“ Carr said. “We need to learn how to do that and it’s something that we are learning to do. But it just hasn’t happened yet. Eventually we’ll get it right.“

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Carr and the Raiders may eventually get it but not this week. Denver has a significant talent advantage on both sides of the football and plenty to play for.

“The reality is we’re going to get an opportunity to compete for the Lombardi Trophy,“ Fox said. “We’re in the playoffs.“


►  Top-seeded Patriots finish up regular season vs. Bills

Hey, Buffalo, it was fun while it lasted, right?

The NFL’s longest running non-playoff participant woke up 1990s echoes for a few weeks during the back half of the 2014 regular season, and actually reached the final two games of the schedule with a mathematical - if not exactly linear - path to the league’s post-December Promised Land.

But then the Bills went to Oakland and, well, reality bit.

The drought reached 15 consecutive years after a 26-24 loss to the two-win Raiders and instantly transformed Buffalo’s final-week trip to New England from highly anticipated to already forgettable.

“It just breaks your heart,“ quarterback Kyle Orton said. “It was all there. We just didn’t have the execution. And in the end, it cost us.“

Orton threw for 329 yards and three touchdowns and was intercepted twice in the game, his 11th start of the season since taking over for benched former first-round draft choice EJ Manuel. The realities of the Week 17 trip to Foxborough raised questions about Manuel perhaps getting another call to start, but Bills coach Doug Marrone said winning still trumps prospecting, even against the Patriots.

“The game means a lot to me. We’re going to play the players that we feel give us the best chance to win,“ Marrone said. “That’s just the way that I’m wired and that’s my responsibility to the team. We all have a responsibility to each other and I have to make those decisions each week. Right now we still feel that (Orton) gives us the best chance to win in terms of efficiency, control, things of that nature than any other quarterback that we have.“

Truth told, it’s stopping the other team’s quarterback - a fellow named Tom Brady - that’ll likely have more impact on whether Buffalo is competitive in its finale. The Bills were gashed for 396 total yards in a 37-22 home loss to New England in Week 6, its second-highest allowance this season.

Buffalo also failed to force a turnover.

Three of the Bills’ defensive line players - end Mario Williams, and tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams - were selected to the Pro Bowl. Dareus dinged up a knee in the Oakland game and is questionable against the Patriots.

“We’ll just keep progressing with it through the week,“ Marrone said. “I think it’ll go all the way to the end.“

It’s a different subject, but New England certainly has the same mindset.

The Patriots enter Week 17 having clinched all pertinent playoff possibilities, meaning a No. 1 seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout their stay prior to Super Bowl XLIX in Phoenix.

They earned their lofty spot with a 17-16 defeat of the New York Jets last week, combined with Denver’s loss to Cincinnati on Monday night. Also, Buffalo has not won a game in Foxborough in 13 tries.

Brady threw for 182 yards and a touchdown and was picked off once against the Jets, but he’s memorized the “we’re not looking ahead” mantra, in spite of not winning a Super Bowl since the one that followed the 2004 regular season.

“There is plenty of time to think about things down the road,“ he said. “This isn’t the time for it. We’ve got to go play well this week. That is the attitude and that is what all the leaders of the team have to make sure everyone is on the same page.“

It’s predictably the same from New England coach Bill Belichick, especially after his team generated a season-low 231 yards on offense against the Jets.

“(We’ll) just keep getting ready for Buffalo,“ he said. “That’s what our challenge is. What our position is, it is, but that will all take care of itself in due course. It doesn’t really have anything to do with right now.“

Belichick conceded he’ll “do whatever is best for the team” in terms of who plays and who doesn’t against the Bills, which has prompted speculation that tight end Rob Gronkowski will sit, perhaps alongside wide receiver Julian Edelman, offensive lineman Dan Connolly and running back LeGarrette Blount. The latter three each missed last week’s game with New York.

Brady had 361 yards passing and four touchdowns in the Week 6 win, which lifted the Patriots to 21-1 in their last 22 games against Buffalo. The Bills, meanwhile, can finish better than .500 for the first time since they went 9-7 in 2004.

“With the (first-round bye), you realize we’re going to have a little time to rest up,“ Brady said. “We just want to go out and play well and see if we can string together as many good plays as possible. (The Bills’) defense will challenge you. They’ve got a good front, one of the best defenses in the league, one of the best defenses we’ve faced all year.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Keeping it Tight

The most likely scenario for the final game has Gronkowski arriving in uniform, but playing sparingly. Such an approach will not only allow the Patriots to keep their matchup nightmare healthy for January, but also to get another look at Tim Wright, who caught seven passes for 61 yards and a touchdown in his teammate’s absence during a Week 8 game with Chicago.

Go for a Run

The Bills somehow made the Raiders look like a run-stopping machine in Week 15, winding up with only 13 rushing yards on 13 attempts. And when the responsibility for winning was left in the hands of Orton, the results were self-explanatory. Buffalo averaged less than three yards a carry in its first meeting with the Patriots earlier this season, so it’ll need to improve that mark against better opposition.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The last time the Patriots clinched the No. 1 seed prior to the final kickoff, Brady played two full quarters and part of a third before giving way to then- backup Brian Hoyer. A similar scenario probably occurs this time, with Jimmy Garoppolo taking over at some point to ensure the franchise passer’s health into the postseason. After a deflating loss in Oakland and a cross-country trip, Buffalo won’t match the output.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Week 17 player fantasy rankings - quarterbacks

Any fantasy owners who have looked at Aaron Rodgers’ production in Lambeau Field this season, can’t possibly argue with his choice for our top pick in Week 17.

In seven home games, Rodgers has a stunning 132.6 QB rating. He’s thrown for an average of 301.1 ypg, tossed 23 touchdowns without an interception and, oh yes, his Packers are 7-0 and averaging 41.4 ppg.

And while the Lions are a very good defensive team, it should be noted they are No. 1 against the run and only No. 13 against the pass.

Put Rodgers in your fantasy lineup and you can R-E-L-A-X.

Drew Brees and the Saints are out of the playoff hunt, but Brees has a chance to reach the 5,000-yard passing mark for the fifth time in his career. That’s an even more impressive feat when you realize it’s only been done eight times in NFL history. Brees needs 329 yards passing. He’ll get it.

Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan has thrown for more than 300 yards in four consecutive games. He’ll have a good chance to make in five-in-a-row when he and his Falcons face off for the NFC South title against Carolina in the Georgia Dome.

Ryan is historically a much better quarterback at home and that hasn’t changed in 2014. He’s averaging 311 ypg in seven home games with 15 touchdowns and just five interceptions. As long as Julio Jones, Roddy White and Harry Douglas are healthy, Ryan should be a top fantasy selection.

Tony Romo was nearly perfect last weekend against the Colts (18-of-20 for 218 yards and four touchdowns) and faces a below-average Washington defense. The Cowboys still have a chance for a first-round bye, so expect to see Romo targeting Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and the rest of the receiving corps early and often to take pressure off of DeMarco Murray and his broken hand.

Top-25 Quarterback Rankings

—————————————-

1) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay

2) Drew Brees, New Orleans

3) Matt Ryan, Atlanta

4) Tony Romo, Dallas

5) Peyton Manning, Denver

6) Matthew Stafford, Detroit

7) Eli Manning, New York Giants

8) Russell Wilson, Seattle

9) Philip Rivers, San Diego

10) Andrew Luck, Indianapolis

11) Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh

12) Mark Sanchez, Philadelphia

13) Cam Newton, Carolina

14) Ryan Tannehill, Miami

15) Kyle Orton, Buffalo

16) Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota

17) Andy Dalton, Cincinnati

18) Tom Brady, New England

19) Joe Flacco, Baltimore

20) Jay Cutler, Chicago

21) Alex Smith, Kansas City

22) Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco

23) Robert Griffin III, Washington

24) Shaun Hill, St. Louis

25) Josh McCown, Tampa Bay


►  Week 17 player fantasy rankings - running backs

For many fantasy leagues, the season ended in Week 16, but for those still competing, it’s Championship Week.

Pittsburgh Steelers’ all-purpose running back Le’Veon Bell is our top choice in Week 17. He’ll face a slightly below-average run defense in Cincinnati (122.3 ypg). And as always, he’ll be a key component in the Pittsburgh passing game. Last Monday night, C.J. Anderson caught eight balls against the Bengals and he isn’t nearly the receiver Bell has become.

Interestingly, Bell has averaged just 71.3 ypg on the ground in seven home games, but 69.1 ypg receiving. That’s completely opposite of his road numbers where he rushes for over 105 yards per contest.

The Steelers and the Bengals will be playing for the AFC North division title, so Bell will be a 60-minute player.

If you were Texans head coach Bill O’Brien and you had a choice of having the outcome of the game determined by your just-signed quarterback, Case Keenum, or your star running back, Arian Foster, which would you choose?

Foster saw 26 touches against the No. 4-ranked Ravens defense last weekend. In Week 17 they face the Jacksonville Jaguars who are ranked 27th in the league yielding 127.3 ypg. If Foster doesn’t see 30-plus touches, someone isn’t paying enough attention to the statistics.

The “new” Denver offense isn’t as exciting as last year’s model, but it’s paid dividends for C.J. Anderson fantasy owners. The Broncos haven’t been passing the ball as often as earlier in the season, primarily because they are having trouble pass protecting. Anderson is the beneficiary of the additional running plays and short passes. He’s our No. 3 choice against Oakland.

Baltimore’s Justin Forsett faces the worst run defense in the NFL in Cleveland (142.4 ypg) which is the only reason he’s cracked the top-10 after two sub par games. We expect him to get back on track.

C.J. Spiller did return from the Buffalo injured list last weekend, but didn’t show anything for fantasy owners to get excited about while rushing for minus four yards in four carries. The Bills backfield workload still belongs to Fred Jackson.

Top-50 Running Back Rankings

——————————————

1) Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh

2) Arian Foster, Houston

3) C.J. Anderson, Denver

4) Jamaal Charles, Kansas City

5) Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati

6) Marshawn Lynch, Seattle

7) Matt Forte, Chicago

8) LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia

9) DeMarco Murray, Dallas

10) Justin Forsett, Baltimore

11) Joique Bell, Detroit

12) Tre Mason, St. Louis

13) Jonathan Stewart, Carolina

14) Eddie Lacy, Green Bay

15) Lamar Miller, Miami

16) Latavius Murray, Oakland

17) Mark Ingram, New Orleans

18) Fred Jackson, Buffalo

19) Alfred Morris, Washington

20) Matt Asiata, Minnesota

21) Andre Williams, New York Giants

22) Frank Gore, San Francisco

23) Daniel Herron, Indianapolis

24) Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland

25) Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati

26) LeGarrette Blount, New England

27) Joseph Randle, Dallas

28) Kerwynn Williams, Arizona

29) Reggie Bush, Detroit

30) Doug Martin, Tampa Bay

31) Chris Johnson, New York Jets

32) Stepfan Taylor, Arizona

33) Knile Davis, Kansas City

34) Chris Ivory, New York Jets

35) Jonas Gray, New England

36) Pierre Thomas, New Orleans

37) Silas Redd, Washington

38) James Starks, Green Bay

39) Trent Richardson, Indianapolis

40) Terrance West, Cleveland

41) Steven Jackson, Atlanta

42) Bernard Pierce, Baltimore

43) Bishop Sankey, Tennessee

44) Darren Sproles, Philadelphia

45) DeAngelo Williams, Carolina

46) Alfred Blue, Houston

47) Bennie Cunningham, St. Louis

48) Toby Gerhart, Jacksonville

49) Theo Riddick, Detroit

50) C.J. Spiller, Buffalo


►  Week 17 player fantasy rankings - wide receivers

As good as Green Bay Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, has been in home games this season, it’s hard not to predict that his favorite wide receiver, Jordy Nelson, will go big in Week 17.

Nelson has been spectacular at home this season, particularly catching the long ball. He’s averaging a stunning 23.97 ypc at Lambeau Field. He’s also averaging 116.4 ypg with nine touchdowns in seven contests.

Green Bay can clinch a first-round bye if things go right and throwing the ball to Nelson usually makes things go very right.

The Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. has been the best pass receiver in football over the past two months, He’s not just making the spectacular one-handed catches, he’s making all of them. Over the past eight games he’s amassed 1,014 yards (126.7 ypg) and eight touchdowns. He’s even making Eli Manning look good. He’ll face an Eagles secondary that gives up the long ball. Often.

Dallas wideout Dez Bryant is a touchdown machine. He’s caught a league-leading 14 this season, including four in the past two games. Few defenses can hold him down and Washington isn’t one of them.

Julio Jones (oblique) didn’t practice at all last week and still posted 107 yards on Sunday against New Orleans. He probably won’t practice much this week either, but with the division title on the line, he’s going to be a big part of the game plan.

Top-50 Wide Receiver Rankings

——————————————-

1) Jordy Nelson, Green Bay

2) Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants

3) Dez Bryant, Dallas

4) Julio Jones, Atlanta

5) Calvin Johnson, Detroit

6) Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh

7) Demaryius Thomas, Denver

8) Emmanuel Sanders, Denver

9) A.J. Green, Cincinnati

10) Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia

11) Randall Cobb, Green Bay

12) Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina

13) Golden Tate, Detroit

14) Sammy Watkins, Buffalo

15) Mike Evans, Tampa Bay

16) Julian Edelman, New England

17) DeAndre Hopkins, Houston

18) Roddy White, Atlanta

19) Alshon Jeffery, Chicago

20) T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis

21) Brandon LaFell, New England

22) Marques Colston, New Orleans

23) Torrey Smith, Baltimore

24) Mike Wallace, Miami

25) DeSean Jackson, Washington

26) Kenny Stills, New Orleans

27) Anquan Boldin, San Francisco

28) Jarvis Landry, Miami

29) Charles Johnson, Minnesota

30) Doug Baldwin, Seattle

31) Josh Gordon, Cleveland

32) Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia

33) Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay

34) Andre Johnson, Houston

35) Steve Smith Sr., Baltimore

36) Harry Douglas, Atlanta

37) Kenny Britt, St. Louis

38) Malcom Floyd, San Diego

39) Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati

40) Pierre Garcon, Washington

41) Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona

42) Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City

43) Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh

44) Eric Decker, New York Jets

45) Kendall Wright, Tennessee

46) Hakeem Nicks, Indianapolis

47) Marquess Wilson, Chicago

48) Michael Floyd, Arizona

49) Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis

50) Michael Crabtree, San Francisco


►  Week 17 player fantasy rankings - tight ends

Unfortunately, there aren’t any clear- cut No. 1 options at tight end for Week 17. The usual suspects, Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas, all have their “cons” that keep them out of the No. 1 spot.

Therefore, the oldie but goodie, Antonio Gates comes in as the No. 1 ranked tight end. Gates also has his “cons,“ facing a pretty tough Chiefs defense on the road, but with a playoff spot on the line, Philip Rivers should look for his hottest and favorite target. Gates has 16 catches for 146 yards and three touchdowns over the last two weeks.

Speaking of hot, after failing to catch more than six passes in any game before Week 15, Jason Witten has seven catches in each of the past two games. Over that stretch, he also has 159 yards and a touchdown.

Witten is facing Washington, who allows the second-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends this season, so it would be wise to ride out his hot streak.

Gronkowski returned to his 2011 form this year with 82 catches, 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns, and he remains a top option at tight end in Week 17. The only thing keeping him from being ranked No. 1 is the fact New England has nothing to play for, having already locked up home-field advantage.

Even though he might not play much in the second half, owners must start Gronkowski if they are in a championship game this weekend.

Martellus Bennett really let owners down with just one catch for zero yards in Week 16, but he should benefit with Jay Cutler back under center. Among tight ends, Bennett is second in receptions (82) and third in receiving yards (857) with six touchdowns and that is all with Cutler at quarterback.

If owners need some help at tight end, the Bengals vs. Steelers game could see some great production from the position with Jermaine Gresham and Heath Miller. Both caught touchdowns in the first matchup between these two teams three weeks ago and both are coming off a good Week 16.

Miller made seven catches for 68 yards versus the Chiefs, and Gresham had nine catches for 62 yards and a score against the Broncos last week.

Luke Willson surprised pretty much everybody with three receptions for 139 yards and two touchdowns last Sunday versus the Cardinals, but he likely won’t repeat that performance against the Rams. St. Louis allows the second-least amount of fantasy points to opposing tight ends.

Top-25 Tight End Rankings

————————————-

1) Antonio Gates, San Diego

2) Jason Witten, Dallas

3) Jimmy Graham, New Orleans

4) Greg Olsen, Carolina

5) Rob Gronkowski, New England

6) Delanie Walker, Tennessee

7) Zach Ertz, Philadelphia

8) Julius Thomas, Denver

9) Martellus Bennett, Chicago

10) Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati

11) Jordan Reed, Washington

12) Travis Kelce, Kansas City

13) Mychal Rivera, Oakland

14) Charles Clay, Miami

15) Heath Miller, Pittsburgh

16) Luke Willson, Seattle

17) Larry Donnell, New York Giants

18) Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis

19) Zach Rudolph, Minnesota

20) Scott Chandler, Buffalo

21) Jared Cook, St. Louis

22) Jordan Cameron, Cleveland

23) Coby Fleener, Indianapolis

24) Eric Ebron, Detroit

25) Owen Daniels, Baltimore


►  Week 17 player fantasy rankings - kickers

Fantasy owners could still be fuming over the poor Colts performance that contributed to Adam Vinatieri’s worst fantasy day of the year. The 41-year-old attempted just one extra-point to finish with one fantasy point.

Vinatieri should get back on track this week versus the Titans. The Colts should play their starters even though it is unlikely they improve their playoff seed. Indianapolis cannot afford to rest healthy starters after a horrible performance last week, so the offense could be in for a big day at Tennessee. The Titans allow the second-most fantasy points to opposing kickers.

The only other notable kicker not playing in potentially cold weather conditions is Matt Bryant. He came up big with three field goals, including a 50-yarder, and three extra points last week. Bryant has at least eight fantasy points in every game going back to Week 10 and has produced double-digit fantasy points in four of the last seven games.

Bryant also has favorable kicking conditions once again inside the Georgia Dome.

Randy Bullock was one of only two kickers to score more fantasy points than Bryant did last week. Bullock was 6-of-6 with an extra-point versus the Ravens. The Houston kicker could have another huge day against Jacksonville.

Blair Walsh has the most favorable matchup of the weekend versus the Chicago Bears, though, it might not be the best idea to count on Walsh kicking well in cold Minneapolis. At home since November 2, Walsh is 4-of-6 kicking field goals, and two weeks ago in Detroit, Walsh was 0-of-3.

Steven Hauschka is also struggling as of late. Going into Week 16, Hauschka had missed just three field goal attempts all season, but in Arizona, he went 0-for-3. Based on his season, owners should give Hauschka another chance in a game that could have a lot of field goals.

Top-25 Kicker Rankings

———————————

1) Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis

2) Matt Bryant, Atlanta

3) Connor Barth, Denver

4) Cody Parkey, Philadelphia

5) Stephen Gostkowski, New England

6) Randy Bullock, Houston

7) Justin Tucker, Baltimore

8) Dan Bailey, Dallas

9) Blair Walsh, Minnesota

10) Nick Novak, San Diego

11) Steven Hauschka, Seattle

12) Shaun Suisham, Pittsburgh

13) Mason Crosby, Green Bay

14) Graham Gano, Carolina

15) Matt Prater, Detroit

16) Mike Nugent, Cincinnati

17) Shayne Graham, New Orleans

18) Caleb Sturgis, Miami

19) Cairo Santos, Kansas City

20) Dan Carpenter, Buffalo

21) Phil Dawson, San Francisco

22) Josh Brown, New York Giants

23) Billy Cundiff, Cleveland

24) Chandler Catanzaro, Arizona

25) Patrick Murray, Tampa Bay


►  Week 17 player fantasy rankings - defense

The Texans defense has been on quite a fantasy tear with double-digit points in the last four games. In fact, Houston has scored at least seven fantasy points in every game since Week 8.

Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who allow the most-points to opposing defenses in the league, Houston comes in as the No. 1 defense for Week 16.

If Houston is No. 1, Seattle’s defense is “1A.“

The Seahawks have allowed 33 total points during their five-game winning streak. In each of those games, the Seattle defense has at least 11 fantasy points. Going all the way back to Week 8, the Seahawks have at least six points in every game.

It doesn’t matter that in Week 7, the Seattle defense scored just one fantasy point versus the Rams. It is a different Seahawks defense at this point in the season, and they are home this time.

The Patriots defense has played very well lately too, but with the team already wrapping up home field advantage throughout the playoffs, New England has nothing to play for this week. The Patriots could be sitting starters in the second half, so the defense’s fantasy value takes a slight hit.

Conversely, the Bills defense sees an increase in value due to the Patriots maybe resting some players. Buffalo has been one of the best fantasy defenses this year anyway and against Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, the Bills defense scored an average of 12 fantasy points.

The Lions have also been one of the best fantasy defenses this season and have played well lately, however, it wouldn’t be a wise choice to start them versus the Packers in Lambeau. Detroit hasn’t won in Green Bay in 24 years, and Rodgers hasn’t thrown an interception at home since December of 2012.

Top-25 Defense/Special Teams Rankings

——————————————————-

1) Houston Texans

2) Seattle Seahawks

3) Miami Dolphins

4) Philadelphia Eagles

5) Minnesota Vikings

6) Buffalo Bills

7) Baltimore Ravens

8) Kansas City Chiefs

9) Arizona Cardinals

10) New England Patriots

11) Dallas Cowboys

12) Denver Broncos

13) Atlanta Falcons

14) Detroit Lions

15) St. Louis Rams

16) San Francisco 49ers

17) New York Jets

18) Pittsburgh Steelers

19) New York Giants

20) San Diego Chargers

21) Green Bay Packers

22) New Orleans Saints

23) Indianapolis Colts

24) Carolina Panthers

25) Cincinnati Bengals



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Boys Area Game Results

(Friday, 12.26.14)

Huntington St. Joseph 66     Calhoun County 53

Wirt County 58     Williamstown 74

#10 Tucker County 53     Philip Barbour 53

#2 Notre Dame 75     Philip Barbour 53


►  Girls Area Game Results

(Friday, 12.26.14)

Richwood 47     Liberty 32

Notre Dame 50     South Harrison 34

#7 Greenbrier East 90     Philip Barbour 44



<The Gilmer Free Press

►  AP Men’s College Basketball Top 25

1. Kentucky
2. Duke
3. Arizona
4. Louisville
5. Virginia
6. Wisconsin
7. Villanova
8. Gonzaga
9. Texas
10. Kansas
11. Wichita State
12. Iowa State
13. Washington
14. Utah
15. Maryland
16. Notre Dame
17. St. John’s
18. West Virginia
19. Oklahoma
20. North Carolina
21. Ohio State
22. Baylor
23. Northern Iowa
24. Colorado State
25. TCU


►  Coaches Poll Men’s College Basketball Top 25

1. Kentucky
2. Duke
3. Arizona
4. Louisville
5. Virginia
6. Wisconsin
7. Villanova
8. Gonzaga
9. Texas
10. Kansas
11. Wichita State
12. Iowa State
13. Washington
14. Utah
15. Maryland
16. Notre Dame
17. West Virginia
18. Ohio State
19. St. John’s
20. Oklahoma
21. North Carolina
22. Baylor
23. San Diego State
24. Northern Iowa
25. Colorado State



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Knicks’ Acy suspended one game

The NBA suspended New York Knicks forward Quincy Acy one game without pay for committing a flagrant foul 2 which initiated an altercation with Washington Wizards guard John Wall.

The incident, which resulted in an ejection for Acy, occurred with 5:31 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Knicks’ 102-91 loss to the Wizards at Madison Square Garden on Christmas Day.

Wall took exception to a hard foul from Acy, retaliating with a shove. The New York forward swung his right arm as if to throw a punch before holding up.

The 24-year-old Wall was fined $15,000 for pushing Acy and escalating the incident.

Acy will serve his suspension on Saturday when the Knicks travel to Sacramento to play the Kings.


►  Rockets officially sign Josh Smith

The Houston Rockets signed former Detroit Pistons forward Josh Smith on Friday.

The Pistons waived Smith on Monday, less than two years into a four-year, $54 million contract.

Smith averaged 13.1 points and 7.2 rebounds in 28 games this season for the Pistons.

The 29-year-old will once again play with Dwight Howard, who is one of Smith’s closest friends and a former AAU teammate.

The Pistons acquired Smith as a free agent after the 2012-13 season. During his time with Detroit, Smith averaged 15.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.

For his career, Smith has averages of 15.4 points and 7.8 rebounds in 781 games with the Atlanta Hawks and Pistons.

The Rockets waived forward Tarik Black earlier Friday to free up room to sign Smith. Black averaged 4.2 points and 5.1 rebounds in 25 games (12 starts) this season.


►  NBA Game Results

(Friday, December 26)


Final Score: Brooklyn 109, Boston 107

Jarrett Jack’s late jumper helped seal the Brooklyn Nets’ impressive 109-107 comeback victory over the Boston Celtics on Friday afternoon. Jack finished with 27 points, seven rebounds and five assists, Alan Anderson scored 15 off the bench and Mason Plumlee had 14 points and 12 boards for the Nets, who have won three straight games. Jeff Green had 22 points and five assists, Jared Sullinger contributed 19 points and eight boards and Avery Bradley netted 17 points for the Celtics, who have lost three in a row.


Final Score: Cleveland 98, Orlando 89

LeBron James scored 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, lifting the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 98-89 win over the Orlando Magic on Friday night. Kevin Love had 22 points and seven rebounds for Cleveland despite not playing the fourth quarter and Dion Waiters scored 17. The Cavaliers snapped a three-game road losing streak and have won four of their last five overall. They were coming off 101-91 loss to the Heat on Christmas in James’ return to Miami. Tobias Harris had 16 points and Evan Fournier scored 15 to lead the Magic, who have dropped five of their last six and finished 1-3 on a four-game homestand. The Cavs were without point guard Kyrie Irving (knee) but got their ninth consecutive win over Orlando.


Final Score: Milwaukee 107, Atlanta 77

Jared Dudley was perfect off the bench, making all 10 of his shots and finishing with 24 points in leading the Milwaukee Bucks to a 107-77 rout of the Atlanta Hawks Friday night in the first of a home-and-home set. Dudley, who drained four 3-pointers, was one of six Milwaukee players to reach double figures in scoring. Brandon Knight had 16 points and Zaza Pachulia added 14 with eight rebounds for the Bucks, who snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Hawks and matched last season’s victory total of 15 in their 30th game. Johnny O’Bryant and Jerryd Bayless each scored 12 points and O.J. Mayo supplied 11 as Milwaukee ended a five-game slide at Atlanta. The Bucks posted their first win at Philips Arena since Nov. 10, 2010.


Final Score: Detroit 119, Indiana 109

Andre Drummond put together 20 points, six rebounds and three steals as Detroit posted a 119-109 victory over Indiana on Friday. Greg Monroe followed with 19 points and a game-best 15 rebounds for the Pistons, who put their four-game losing streak to rest and won just their sixth game all season. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 15 points, with Brandon Jennings and D.J. Augustin picking up 14 points apiece. Roy Hibbert topped the list with 19 points while Solomon Hill, CJ Watson and Luis Scola all posted 14 for the Pacers, who failed to win a season-best third straight game.


Final Score: Houston 117, Memphis 111 (OT)

James Harden had 32 points, including a tying layup late in regulation, and the Houston Rockets scored eight of their 13 points in overtime at the foul line to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 117-111 on Friday night. Josh Smith had 21 points and eight rebounds in his Rockets debut after being signed earlier in the day and Harden added 10 assists. Harden’s layup with 15.5 seconds remaining in regulation tied the score and came after Vince Carter had made two go-ahead 3-pointers for the Grizzlies. Houston took a half-game lead over Memphis in the Southwest Division, handing the Grizzlies their first four-game losing streak in more than a year. Corey Brewer added 13 points for Houston, Trevor Ariza scored 15 with 10 rebounds and Patrick Beverley had 12 points in the win.


Final Score: New Orleans 97, San Antonio 90

With Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson each netting 22 points to lead the way, the New Orleans Pelicans dealt the ailing San Antonio Spurs another loss with a 97-90 decision at Smoothie King Center. Davis added 12 rebounds and five blocks and Anderson provided a spark off the bench in a key victory for New Orleans, which also received 15 points and seven assists from Jrue Holiday. The defending world champion Spurs fell for the sixth time in seven games and took the court minus Tony Parker due to a hamstring injury, with Kawhi Leonard remaining on the sidelines with a torn ligament in his hand. Tim Duncan did come up with 20 points and 11 rebounds for San Antonio, while Cory Joseph also had 20 points starting in place of Parker. However, the Spurs were hurt by 17 turnovers that led to 20 New Orleans points.


Final Score: Oklahoma City 98, Charlotte 75

Russell Westbrook’s 29-point outing, his career-best 11th straight game with 25-plus, helped the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 98-75 win over the Charlotte Hornets. Westbrook had to take a bulk of the scoring load once again because his star teammate, Kevin Durant, sat for a fifth consecutive game due to a sprained ankle. Serge Ibaka scored 13 points with a season-high 14 rebounds and Anthony Morrow chipped in 11 points for Oklahoma City, which won for a second straight day after a two- game skid. The Thunder were coming off a 114-106 win over San Antonio on Christmas. Brian Roberts paced the Hornets with 17 points off the bench and Marvin Williams added 11 points in a reserve role.


Final Score: Dallas 102, LA Lakers 98

Rajon Rondo turned in a game-high 21 points to go with eight rebounds and seven assists as Dallas claimed a 102-98 win over the Lakers on Friday. Tyson Chandler picked up 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Monta Ellis chipped in 15 and Dirk Nowitzki followed with 14 points and eight boards for the Mavericks, who snapped a two-game slide and have won four of their last six. Carlos Boozer poured in 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds for Los Angeles, which has lost five of their last seven and two of three with Kobe Bryant on the sidelines. Nick Young totaled 15 with Jordan Hill and Wayne Ellington adding 12 points each in defeat. The Mavs led 95-79 with 3:56 remaining on Rondo’s lone triple of the contest, but the Lakers gradually chipped away for the remainder.


Final Score: Denver 106, Minnesota 102

Kenneth Faried racked up 26 points and a career-best 25 rebounds, and the Denver Nuggets needed every last one to hold off the Minnesota Timberwolves by a 106-102 score. Faried, who finished 11- of-15 from the field, was one of three Nuggets to record a double-double as Denver halted a two-game skid. Ty Lawson compiled 16 points with 11 assists, while Timofey Mozgov pulled down 14 boards in addition to netting 11 points. Wilson Chandler contributed 21 points to help the Nuggets send the Western Conference cellar-dwelling Timberwolves to a seventh consecutive defeat. Thaddeus Young had 23 points for Minnesota and Andrew Wiggins tallied 22 in the loss, with Gorgui Dieng amassing 14 points and 13 rebounds.


Final Score: Portland 114, Philadelphia 93

Damian Lillard scored 28 points with nine assists, Wesley Matthews tallied 25 points and the Portland Trail Blazers cruised past the Philadelphia 76ers, 114-93, on Friday. Lillard and Matthews connected on 10 of the Blazers’ season-high 18 3-pointers, with Matthews converting 7-of-14 tries from deep. Already playing without center Robin Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge (upper respiratory illness) and Chris Kaman (child’s birth) were both out of the lineup as well. In stepped Joel Freeland, who scored six points and pulled down a career-high 17 rebounds in Portland’s fifth straight win at home. Tony Wroten scored 22 points for the Sixers, who had a season-high two-game winning streak snapped. Michael Carter-Williams added 17 points with six rebounds and five assists.


Final Score: Phoenix 115, Sacramento 106

Isaiah Thomas scored 17 points off the bench in his return to Sacramento to help the Phoenix Suns come through with a 115-106 victory over the scuffling Kings. Thomas, traded to the Suns in July after three very productive seasons in Sacramento, put up eight of his points during a 16-2 second-half run that lifted Phoenix to a season- high fifth straight win. Fellow reserve Marcus Morris also had a big night for the Suns, hitting 6-of-7 attempts from 3-point range to finish with 20 points. Eric Bledsoe and Markieff Morris contributed 18 and 17 points, respectively, while Goran Dragic had 16 along with six assists. Playing without star center DeMarcus Cousins due to a stomach virus, Sacramento suffered its seventh loss in eight games after failing to match Phoenix’s markmanship from the perimeter, as the Suns went 14-of-33 on 3-point tries. Darren Collison paced the Kings with 19 points and Rudy Gay and Derrick Williams both had 16 in defeat. Reggie Evans compiled 11 points and 16 rebounds starting in place of Cousins.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Nationals ink Uggla to minor league deal

The Washington Nationals and second baseman Dan Uggla agreed to a minor league deal with an invitation to major league spring training on Friday.

Uggla, 34, struggled at the plate last season, hitting just .162 with two home runs and 10 RBI in 48 games for Atlanta. He was released on July 18 and signed by the Giants, who also released him after only four games.

The three-time All-Star, most recently in 2012, has hit for a .243 average with 233 homers and 690 RBI in 1,279 career games over nine seasons with the Marlins, Braves and Giants.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


SATURDAY, DECEMBER 27, 2014


National Basketball Association
Toronto at LA Clippers, 3:30 PM - SNET, FS-Prime Ticket, DSS
Orlando at Charlotte, 7:00 PM - FS-Florida, SportSouth, DSS
Boston at Washington, 7:00 PM - CSN-New England, DC
Memphis at Miami, 7:30 PM - SunSports, SportSouth, NBA TV, DSS
New Orleans at Chicago, 8:00 PM - FS-New Orleans, WGN, DSS
Indiana at Brooklyn, 8:00 PM - FS-Indiana, YES, DSS
Atlanta at Milwaukee, 8:30 PM - SportSouth, FS-Wisconsin, DSS
Philadelphia at Utah, 9:00 PM - TCN-Philadelphia, ROOT-Northwest, DSS
New York at Sacramento, 10:00 PM - MSG, CSN-California, NBA TV, DSS
Minnesota at Golden State, 10:30 PM - FS-North, CSN-Bay, DSS


National Hockey League
NY Islanders at Buffalo, 7:00 PM - MSG+, MSG-Buffalo, DSS
Boston at Columbus, 7:00 PM - NESN, FS-Ohio, DSS
Carolina at Tampa Bay, 7:00 PM - FS-Carolina, SunSports, DSS
Detroit at Ottawa, 7:00 PM - CBC, FS-Detroit, DSS
New Jersey at NY Rangers, 7:00 PM - MSG+2, MSG, DSS
Winnipeg at Minnesota, 7:00 PM - CITY, FS-North, DSS
Washington at Pittsburgh, 7:30 PM - TVA, ROOT-Pittsburgh, NBCSN
Philadelphia at Nashville, 8:00 PM - CSN-Philadelphia, FS-Tennessee, DSS
Anaheim at Arizona, 8:00 PM - FS-Prime Ticket, Arizona, DSS
Dallas at St. Louis, 8:00 PM - FS-Southwest, Midwest, DSS
Chicago at Colorado, 9:00 PM - CSN-Chicago, Altitude, DSS
San Jose at Los Angeles, 10:00 PM - NBCSN
Edmonton at Calgary, 10:00 PM - CBC, DSS


College Basketball
Georgetown vs. Indiana, 12:00 PM - ESPN 2
Maine at Seton Hall, 12:00 PM - FS1
UNC Wilmington at Minnesota, 1:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Kentucky at Louisville, 2:00 PM - ESPN 2
Northern Kentucky at Northwestern, 3:00 PM - Big Ten Network
UAB at North Carolina, 4:00 PM - ESPN 2
Santa Clara at St. Mary’s (CA), 4:00 PM - Time Warner, ROOT, CSN-Bay
Oakland at Maryland, 5:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Gonzaga at BYU, 6:00 PM - ESPN 2
Mercer at Georgia, 6:00 PM - SEC Network
San Francisco at Pacific, 6:00 PM - CSN-California
Wright State at Ohio State, 7:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Presbyterian at Virginia Tech, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Tennessee State at Tennessee, 8:30 PM - SEC Network
Kennesaw State at Illinois, 9:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Wayland Baptist at Utah State, 9:05 PM - Mountain West Network
SD Christian at San Diego State, 10:00 PM - FS-San Diego
Southern Utah at UNLV, 10:00 PM - Mountain West Network


Women’s College Basketball
SMU at Connecticut, 1:00 PM - SNY, ESPN3.com
UCF at Houston, 3:00 PM - American Digital Network
BYU at Gonzaga, 5:00 PM - SWX


College Football
Cincinnati vs. Virginia Tech (Military Bowl), 1:00 PM - ESPN
Duke vs. Arizona State (Sun Bowl), 2:10 PM - CBS
Miami-Florida vs. South Carolina (Independence Bowl), 3:30 PM - ABC
Boston College vs. Penn State (Pinstripe Bowl), 4:30 PM - ESPN
Nebraska vs. USC (Holiday Bowl), 8:00 PM - ESPN

Sports News     141224

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  Cato caps career with rout of Northern Illinois

Rakeem Cato finished off his illustrious career at Marshall by leading his team to a win in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl.

Cato threw for 281 yards with three touchdowns and also rushed for two scores in the Thundering Herd’s 52-23 win over Northern Illinois.

“I was out there playing football, trying to execute the calls the best I can,“ Cato said.

The Miami Central High School product continued his stellar play for Marshall (13-1) and pushed his NCAA-record streak of games with a touchdown pass to 46 straight.

“That’s just him, when he’s on the biggest of stages he rallies,“ Marshall coach Doc Holliday said of Cato. “I’ve won national titles and I’ve been around a lot of future NFL quarterbacks and he’s the most competitive quarterback I’ve ever coached.“

Tommy Shuler, Cato’s longtime friend and teammate at Miami Central, hauled in 18 passes for 185 yards and a score, while Deon-Tay McManus and Angelo Jean- Louis had a touchdown grab apiece in the win. Shuler ended his career with 321 catches, a Conference USA record.

“(Shuler’s) a good player,“ Holliday added. “He’s one of the best receivers I’ve coached because he’s got that it factor.“

Devon Johnson rumbled his way to 131 yards on 15 carries with a touchdown for the Herd, who bounced back from their lone loss of the season against Western Kentucky to win the Conference USA championship game before their lopsided win on Tuesday.

Drew Hare went 15-of-27 through the air for 225 yards and a touchdown for the Huskies (11-3). He also added 50 yards on the ground.

Cameron Stingily rushed for a score and Christian Hagan went 3-of-4 on his field goal attempts in the loss.

“I told the seniors, great season, bad game,“ Huskies coach Rod Carey said according to the team’s website. “It was a terrible ending, but this game doesn’t overshadow the season or take away the MAC Championship.“

A pass interference penalty set up the first score of the game, a 19-yard pitch-and-catch from Hare to Juwan Brescacin. It was the 10th straight game Northern Illinois scored first.

Deandre Reaves got it right back, though, as he returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for a score.

Marshall got the ball back at the NIU 42 after a three-and-out for the Huskies. Shuler made three catches for 38 yards on the drive before Cato took a quarterback keeper and rushed for a 5-yard TD to give the Thundering Herd a 14-7 lead with under four minutes to play in the opening quarter.

The Huskies moved deep into Marshall territory on the following drive, but Hagan missed a 32-yard field goal attempt,

Johnson flipped the field with a 47-yard run to the NIU 14 which led to Justin Haig’s 28-yard field goal.

Northern Illinois again moved the ball into its opponents’ territory, but Joel Bouagnon was stuffed on three straight plays from inside the 5 to set up a 19- yard field goal from Hagan that summed up NIU’s night in the red zone.

Marshall went 6-for-6 on its red zone opportunities and the Huskies converted 4-of-5 chances, but Hagan was the beneficiary of most of those trips.

Shuler’s 42-yard catch-and-run on the Thundering Herd’s next touch preceded Johnson’s 2-yard TD run two plays later for a 24-10 margin.

Hagan booted a 30-yard field goal in the closing seconds of the half to cut the deficit to 24-13 at the break.

The Huskies recovered an onside kick to begin the second half and moved the ball to midfield prior to turning it over on downs.

Shuler hauled in a 6-yard TD from Cato later in the third to push the margin to 31-13.

“We just give a head non and he knows I have his back and to throw me the ball,“ Shuler said of his relationship with Cato.

NIU answered with two big plays. On the fourth play of the march, Hare hooked up with Aregeros Turner for a 30-yard gain, then Stingily rushed for a 24-yard score on the following play.

Marshall continued to move the ball as Cato capped an 11-play, 68-yard drive with an 11-yard TD toss to Jean-Louis to regain an 18-point cushion with two minutes left in the third. Cato put the game away early in the fourth with a 27-yard yard TD strike to McManus.

The Huskies moved into the red zone and settled for yet another field goal from Hagan, then Cato capped the scoring and his career with a 4-yard TD run.

Game Notes

Shuler entered the game needing three receptions to set the school record, breaking Josh Davis’ mark of 306 set from 2001-04. He also moved into fourth on Marshall’s all-time receiving yards list, passing Randy Moss (3,467) ... This was the only bowl that featured two conference champions ... Marshall has won three straight in the series ... The Herd had a 505-425 advantage in total yards ... Bouagnon rushed for 82 yards in the loss.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Navy edges SDSU in Poinsettia Bowl

Navy and San Diego State played sloppy football throughout the fourth quarter of the Poinsettia Bowl, but it was a missed field goal that sealed the Midshipmen’s victory.

Austin Grebe’s 24-yard field goal with 1:27 remaining moved Navy in front, and the Midshipmen survived a missed 34-yard attempt by Donny Hageman with 20 seconds left in Navy’s 17-16 triumph.

The teams combined for seven turnovers, including four in the final quarter, but Navy (8-5) overcame four from its side on the night to win a bowl game in back-to-back years for just the second time in school history. Last year, the Midshipmen dealt Middle Tennessee State a 24-6 loss at the Armed Forces Bowl.

Keenan Reynolds had just nine yards rushing, but ran for two scores for the Midshipmen.

“I have no idea how we won the game. Our defense didn’t flinch. They played phenomenal,“ Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said.

Donnel Pumphrey had 21 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown for the Aztecs (7-6), but his fumble set up Navy’s winning kick. Pumphrey had the ball stripped by Chris Johnson at the Navy 47 with 5:54 left. The Midshipmen then converted a 4th-and-1 at the SDSU 44 when Chris Swain rushed for 13 yards.

A facemask penalty set Navy back, but Ryan Williams-Jenkins rumbled down the right sideline 28 yards to the SDSU 13 to set up the go-ahead kick.

Quinn Kaehler found Eric Judge over the middle for a 32-yard gain. The ball was jarred loose and the play was originally ruled a fumble, which would have given Navy the ball at its 37. The call was overturned after a video review as Judge’s back hit the ground with the ball in his possession.

A 16-yard pass to Pumphrey helped to set up Hageman’s kick, but the junior, who made his first three attempts, was wide right to seal the outcome.

“Our field goal kicker is really good from any spot once you get inside about the 35-yard line he makes them from anywhere anytime. Honestly we were trying to score a touchdown and we thought if we didn’t make the touchdown he would kick the field goal and we would still win, but he didn’t kick it quite right,“ San Diego State coach Rocky Long said.

Williams-Jenkins and Reynolds fumbled on the first two Navy drives of the final quarter, while George Jamison picked off Kaehler for the other turnover of the period.

SDSU faced a 4th-and-5 from the Navy 12, but instead of kicking a field goal, Kaehler’s pass to Mikah Holder fell incomplete near the goal line with 8:45 left.

Reynolds came into the game with 1,182 rushing yard on the season, but was bottled up all night. He also completed just 3-of-7 passes for 17 yards. Swain had 72 yards on eight carries.

Kaehler finished 11-of-27 for 141 yards.

Reynolds came into the game off three straight games with at least 100 yards on the ground, but he was limited to minus-five yards on nine carries in the first half.

Kaehler was picked off to set up the Midshipmen at the Aztecs 42 less than three minutes into the game. Reynolds cut inside and scored on a 1-yard run midway through the opening quarter. Navy converted a 4th-and-3 from the SDSU 35 on a 10-yard run from Geoffrey Whiteside.

Pumphrey tied the game two minutes later on a 5-yard rush, and the Aztecs turned a Reynolds fumble into a 43-yard field goal from Hageman. A 37-yard kick extended the margin to 13-7 with 6:34 left in the half.

Navy pushed ahead 14-13 with 8:28 left in the third thanks to a 6-yard TD run from Reynolds up the middle after he faked a handoff. That finished a 92-yard march with rushes on every down of the 13-play drive.

DeBrandon Sanders fumbled when calling for a fair catch to set up the Aztecs at the Navy 18. It resulted in a 30-yard field goal from Hageman with 4:16 left in the third.

Game Notes

Pumphrey (1,867) surpassed George Jones’ (1,842) 1995 mark as the highest single-season rushing total in SDSU history ... The other time Navy won back- to-back bowl games was when the Midshipmen topped New Mexico, 34-19, in the 2004 Emerald Bowl and defeated Colorado State, 51-30, in the 2005 Poinsettia Bowl. Long was the head coach of that 2004 Emerald Bowl New Mexico team ... The Aztecs had won eight straight games against Service Academy foes ... San Diego State had its eight-game home field winning streak broken.


►  College Football Bowl Game Results

(Tuesday, December 23)


Final Score: Marshall 52, Northern Illinois 23

Rakeem Cato finished off his illustrious career at Marshall by leading his team to a win in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl. Cato threw for 281 yards with three touchdowns and also rushed for two scores in the Thundering Herd’s 52-23 win over Northern Illinois. The Miami Central High School product continued his stellar play for Marshall (13-1) and pushed his NCAA-record streak of games with a touchdown pass to 46 straight. Tommy Shuler, Cato’s longtime friend and teammate at Miami Central, hauled in 18 passes for 185 yards and a score, while Deon-Tay McManus and Angelo Jean- Louis had a touchdown grab apiece in the win. Shuler ended his career with 321 catches, a Conference USA record. Devon Johnson rumbled his way to 131 yards on 15 carries with a touchdown for the Herd, who bounced back from their lone loss of the season against Western Kentucky to win the Conference USA championship game before their lopsided win on Tuesday. Drew Hare went 15- of-27 through the air for 225 yards and a touchdown for the Huskies (11-3). He also added 50 yards on the ground.


Final Score: Navy 17, San Diego State 16

Navy and San Diego State played sloppy football throughout the fourth quarter of the Poinsettia Bowl, but it was a missed field goal that sealed the Midshipmen’s victory. Austin Grebe’s 24-yard field goal with 1:27 remaining moved Navy in front, and the Midshipmen survived a missed 34-yard attempt by Donny Hageman with 20 seconds left in Navy’s 17-16 triumph. The teams combined for seven turnovers, including four in the final quarter, but Navy (8-5) overcame four from its side on the night to win a bowl game in back-to-back years for just the second time in school history. Last year, the Midshipmen dealt Middle Tennessee State a 24-6 loss at the Armed Forces Bowl. Keenan Reynolds had just nine yards rushing, but ran for two scores for the Midshipmen. Donnel Pumphrey had 21 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown for the Aztecs (7-6).


►  Chippewas meet Hilltoppers in inaugural Bahamas Bowl

Entering postseason play with identical 7-5 records, the Central Michigan Chippewas and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers will take part in the inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl a day before Christmas at Thomas Robinson National Stadium.

Central Michigan enjoyed a strong 2014 campaign, finishing 5-3 in Mid-American Conference play. This is Central Michigan’s sixth bowl game appearance in program history, with the latest postseason contest for the Chippewas occurring in the 2012 Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl, which coincidentally was against WKU and resulted in a 24-21 win over the Hilltoppers.

Western Kentucky got things started on the right foot in 2014 with a resounding 59-31 victory over Bowling Green. The team finished it off by taking down previously unbeaten Marshall, 67-66, in overtime. This is only the second bowl game for WKU since moving up from the Division I-AA (now FCS) level. The other bowl game was the loss to CMU in 2012.

That clash in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl in 2012 has served as the only time Central Michigan and Western Kentucky have met on the football field.

Although Central Michigan is entering this clash coming off a loss to Western Michigan, 32-20, the Chippewas should be fired up after the success the team was able to sustain this season, especially on the offensive end. Quarterback Cooper Rush was much improved, leading his team to a 25.2 ppg average by throwing for 2,664 yards with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

It’s been Central Michigan’s run game, though, that has surprised at 158.7 ypg. Thomas Rawls is at the center of that core groups of backs, averaging 122.6 rushing ypg with 10 touchdowns in just nine games played. Rawls is probable to play in the Bahamas Bowl after dealing with leg issues for a good portion of the season. Either way, Devon Spalding (four touchdowns) and Saylor Lavallii (four touchdowns) will be ready to provide assistance if necessary.

Rush was boosted by the return of several top targets this season, including that of senior receiver Titus Davis. Davis missed time in the season due to injury, but still hauled in 54 passes for 843 yards and nine touchdowns in just nine games played. Jesse Kroll provided a nice secondary threat for Rush if Davis was swallowed up by an opposing defense, catching 32 passes for 473 yards and four touchdowns, though he did most of his damage early on in the year.

Defensively, the Chippewas came together at certain points during the season, but it wasn’t as cohesive and smooth as coach Dan Enos probably would have liked. The Chippewas averaged 23.2 ppg allowed to opponents, which is a respectable number. But 144 points for the opposition this season came off of Central Michigan turnovers, something Enos would naturally like to eliminate moving forward into next season.

Linebacker Justin Cherocci led Central Michigan with 107 tackles this season, adding in decent numbers in tackles for loss (seven) and sacks (four). Linemen Joe Ostman (10 tackles for loss, three sacks) and Blake Serpa (11.5 tackles for loss, four sacks) were much more disruptive in opponents’ backfields over the course of the season. Tony Annese (three interceptions, 10 pass breakups) and Brandon Greer (three interceptions) will try to lock things down against a strong WKU passing game.

“I want to thank the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl for the invitation to be a part of its inaugural game,“ Enos said. “Playing in our sixth bowl game in the past nine seasons is a great accomplishment for this program. Western Kentucky is a great team and I expect a hard fought game when we face off on December 24.“

The Chippewas will have their work cut out for them defensively, as they prepare to take on the nation’s top statistical quarterback in Brandon Doughty of Western Kentucky. Doughty leads the FBS with 4,344 passing yards and 44 touchdowns, which is six more than Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, who won the Heisman Trophy. Doughty is the main reason the Hilltoppers average 44.0 ppg and 525.2 total offensive ypg.

The team’s running game hasn’t been too shabby either, even following the loss of Antonio Andrews to the NFL. Leon Allen paces the Hilltoppers this season with 1,490 yards and 12 touchdowns out of the backfield for a WKU offense averaging 160.2 rushing ypg. Anthony Wales contributed four touchdowns on the ground during the season as well.

Doughty had a strong year passing the football. Jared Dangerfield led the Hilltoppers with 64 receptions and 10 touchdowns, though his 738 receiving yards fell just short of Taywan Taylor’s 739-yard mark. Willie McNeal and Taylor each hauled in seven touchdown catches, and Antwane Grant caught five.

While WKU did a steady job burying teams offensively to the point where the opposition simply couldn’t keep pace, the team’s defense appeared capable of taking some time off. The Hilltoppers allowed opponents to score 39.2 ppg this season and gain over 500 yards of total offense per outing. Nine times this year Western Kentucky surrendered 31 points or more in a game, and four of those opponents scored at least 50 points.

Nick Holt registered a team-best 103 tackles this season with seven tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries. Though he led the team in the tackle category, the real brightest stars on WKU’s defense were Branden Leston (four interceptions), Bryan Shorter (5.5 sacks) and Wonderful Terry, who had several game-clinching turnovers. The WKU defense allows 229.7 rushing ypg to opponents, so Central Michigan will really be hoping for Rawls to be healthy in this one.

“It is a tremendous reward and opportunity for our players and coaches who have worked incredibly hard this season,“ said WKU head coach Jeff Brohm. “A bowl game is one of our goals at the beginning of every season, and to be able to realize and achieve that goal is a credit to their attitude and willingness to put in the effort to get better each and every week.“


►  Fresno State tangles with Rice in Hawaii Bowl

The Fresno State Bulldogs find themselves in familiar surroundings on Christmas Eve, as they take on the Rice Owls in the 13th annual Hawaii Bowl at Aloha Stadium.

The Bulldogs, who compete against the University of Hawaii in this same facility during Mountain West Conference play, are no strangers to the lay of the land in Honolulu, but this time around they’ll be focusing their attention on a non-conference foe in the Owls. Unlike last season when Fresno State was a threat to disturb the delicate balance of the BCS by running the table, this time around the Bulldogs were built on small streaks that both helped and hindered their prospects of making it to the postseason.

The Bulldogs registered a series of four three-game win streaks and skids over the course of the regular season. Luckily, the team played just well enough to win the tiebreaker in the West Division of the MWC to claim the regular-season title over San Diego State and take part in the conference title game against Boise State. However, the squad came up short against the nationally-ranked Broncos, 28-14, but because they were already bowl eligible prior to the defeat they were still invited to Hawaii.

“We are thrilled to be playing in the Hawaii Bowl against Rice,“ Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter notes. “Having been to the Hawaii Bowl just two years ago, our staff and players know that we are in for a fantastic week.

“I am extremely proud of this year’s team, who battled and persevered all season long. We now look forward to competing against a highly respected Rice Owls team and look to send this special senior class out the right way with a victory.“

The Bulldogs, who have a record of 12-14 in bowl games, lost that most recent appearance in the Hawaii Bowl to SMU and former Hawaii head coach June Jones, by a score of 43-10. Last season, the team was crushed by USC in the Las Vegas Bowl as well, 45-20.

As for the Owls, they are appearing in a bowl game for the third straight year, the first time that’s happened in school history. Like the Bulldogs, Rice got off to a shaky start to the regular season, but rebounded to register a six-game win streak between the end of September and the start of November. However, the final game of the regular season for a team that finished 7-5 overall, saw the Owls being blown away by Louisiana Tech, 76-31.

Nevertheless, head coach David Bailiff has gotten beyond that excruciating defeat and is looking forward to being in Hawaii.

“This is a great day for Rice Football and one that is a great reward for all the hard work that our players and staff have put into this program,“ Bailiff noted when the Owls accepted their invitation. “I know they are very proud to be the first team to earn a third straight bowl berth and they have the longest active bowl streak in Conference USA, but they are not going to be satisfied with a bid.“

The Owls took part in the Liberty Bowl last season where they bowed to Mississippi State, 44-7, snapping what had been a two-game, bowl win streak that now has the program sitting at 6-5 in the postseason.

In terms of the all-time series between these programs, this is the seventh meeting and all six previous encounters were won by the Bulldogs. The most recent battle between the former Western Athletic Conference foes took place in 2004 when Fresno State thoroughly beat down Rice, 52-21.

Both of these programs began the season 0-3 making them just the 20th and 21st programs since 1980 to drop three in a row to begin the season and still be heading to a bowl game.

Obviously, with their inconsistent play this season, the Bulldogs have some kinks to work out before they hit the field in Hawaii, although the offense is slightly better off than the defense currently. Quarterback Brian Burrell had an up-and-down campaign as he completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 198.2 ypg and a total of 22 touchdowns, but at the same time he tossed 16 interceptions which killed promising drives time and time again.

By far his favorite target was all-conference wideout Josh Harper who caught a staggering 86 passes, 55 more than his closest teammate, leading to 1,072 yards and seven touchdowns. Greg Watson made the most of his 31 catches in 12 games by reaching the end zone five times, the same going for Chad Olson who recorded four TDs on a mere 12 grabs.

Coming out of the backfield, Marteze Waller gave Burrell another option as the running back carried the ball 210 times for 1,292 yards and 11 TDs, while Josh Quezada supplied support with 473 yards and five scores as well.

Defensively, the Bulldogs were in complete disarray early on, surrendering no less than 52 points to the first three opponents on the schedule. It’s been difficult to recover from those awful efforts from a statistical standpoint, which is why Fresno State ranks 108th in the country with 455.5 ypg allowed and 102nd in run defense (206.9 ypg). Kyrie Wilson had a decent season as he led the program with 88 tackles, logged six stops for loss, intercepted a pair of passes and forced two fumbles, but still it was a rough campaign for the unit.

Rice, which lost to Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Old Dominion coming out of the gate this season, is led on offense by quarterback Driphus Jackson who needs just 116 more yards to reach 3,000 yards of total offense and become just the third player in program history to produce such a number in a single season. Jackson completed 57.3 percent of his attempts for 210.3 ypg and 21 TDs, against eight INTs. He was also third on the squad in rushing with 360 yards, trailing only Jowan Davis (910 yards, six TDs) and Darik Dillard (651 yards, 10 TDs).

Despite missing three games, wide receiver Jordan Taylor was still head-and- shoulders above the rest of the receiving corps as he caught 49 passes for 781 yards and six touchdowns, although Mario Hull, with his 29 grabs for 539 yards, had one more score to his credit.

Over on the other side of the ball, the biggest stumbling block for the Owls was their pass defense as it ranked 105th in the nation with an efficiency rating of just 141.26. The biggest issue for the group was that it registered a mere seven interceptions, with Ryan Pollard the only player with multiple picks (two). However, at the very least the team has a beast attacking the line of scrimmage in Brian Nordstrom who registered 18.5 of his 43 stops behind the line of scrimmage and was second on the unit with 7.5 sacks. Zach Patt, who set a school record with five sacks and added three forced fumbles in the meeting with FIU, led the program with 8.5 sacks overall.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Redskins LB Murphy to miss season finale

Washington Redskins rookie linebacker Trent Murphy will not play in Sunday’s season finale against the Dallas Cowboys.

Murphy was placed on injured reserve Tuesday after breaking his hand in Saturday’s win over the Philadelphia Eagles. He fractured the third metacarpal in his right hand.

A second-round pick out of Stanford, Murphy started the last eight games and registered 2 1/2 sacks and 32 tackles this season.

The Redskins filled the spot on the active roster by signing offensive lineman Rishaw Johnson from the New York Giants’ practice squad. The team also signed wide receiver Colin Lockett to its practice squad.


►  Browns sign QB Thigpen

The Cleveland Browns signed quarterback Tyler Thigpen on Tuesday.

Thigpen, who spent time with the Browns in training camp before being released, was added to the mix because rookie Johnny Manziel will sit out Cleveland’s season finale against Baltimore with a hamstring injury and Brian Hoyer is dealing with a shoulder injury.

Undrafted rookie Connor Shaw is an option for the Browns, but Thigpen has more experience.

A seventh-round pick by Minnesota in 2007, the 30-year-old Thigpen has played in 29 games but none since 2012. He started 11 games for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008.

The Browns waived fullback Ray Agnew to open a spot on the active roster for Thigpen, who has passed for 3,222 yards with 21 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.

The team also re-signed defensive lineman Christian Tupou to the practice squad.


►  Ravens place OT Wagner on IR

The Baltimore Ravens placed Rick Wagner on injured reserve Tuesday, ending his season.

The second-year offensive tackle suffered a foot injury in Sunday’s loss at Houston. He started each of the Ravens’ 15 games this season.

Baltimore promoted defensive end Steven Means from the practice squad to fill Wagner’s spot on the active roster.

The team also signed offensive linemen Nate Menkin and Joe Unga to the practice squad and waived defensive end Zach Thompson.

The Ravens remain in the hunt for a wild-card berth. They will secure a playoff spot if they beat the visiting Cleveland Browns in Sunday’s regular- season finale and the San Diego Chargers lose at Kansas City.


►  Falcons shut down Moore for season

The Atlanta Falcons placed safety William Moore on injured reserve Tuesday.

Moore had been placed on injured reserve/designated to return on September 30 after he separated his shoulder in a Week 4 loss at Minnesota.

The 2012 Pro Bowl selection missed seven games then returned on November 30 against Arizona, played one more game before sitting out on December 14 against the Steelers, and suffered a shoulder injury in last Sunday’s 30-14 win in New Orleans.

A sixth-year pro out of Missouri, Moore finishes the 2014 season with 25 tackles in seven appearances.

Atlanta signed safety Sean Baker to the active roster and inked running back Ronnie Wingo to the practice squad.


►  Vikings waive Tate a month after picking him up

The Minnesota Vikings waived running back Ben Tate on Tuesday.

Tate was waived by the Browns in mid-November and quickly picked up by the RB- needy Vikings. He only played three games for Minnesota and gained 38 yards on 13 carries.

The Auburn product signed with the Browns as a free agent in March after spending his first three seasons with Houston. He started six games and rushed for 333 yards with a 3.1-yard average and four touchdowns with the Browns.

Tate, 26, ran for 771 yards with four touchdowns and caught 34 passes for 140 yards in 14 games last season and has accumulated 2,363 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in 51 NFL games.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NFL Fantasy Player of the Week - Week 16

Championship Week. When the cream rises to the top and the winners grab the brass ring.

But in a one-and-done situation, it’s the ultimate “crapshoot.“

Just ask Andrew Luck’s owners. For 14 games the Indianapolis Colts third-year quarterback had carried them, leading the league in fantasy points. He still does, but with fantasy titles on the line he came up with a rare clunker in Dallas.

Oh, the humanity!

The following players were the best at their positions in Week 16.


Quarterbacks -

Russell Wilson, Seattle - When Wilson is “on” it’s an impressive sight. Sunday night against a supposedly very good Cardinals defense, he was at his best. Wilson threw for 339 yards and two touchdowns, ran for 88 yards and one touchdown and makes Seattle look like the strongest challenger to hold the Lombardi Trophy for a second consecutive year.

Eli Manning, New York Giants - Great players raise the game of those around them and rookie Odell Beckham Jr. is proving that theory in New York. Manning has been a much better quarterback since the rookie appeared in Week 5. Sunday was Eli’s best game of the season, throwing for 391 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover worth 31 fantasy points.


Running Backs -

Marshawn Lynch, Seattle - Lynch’s 79-yard touchdown run wasn’t quite as good as the 2010 playoff run against New Orleans, but it was close. He finished the day with just 10 carries, but 113 yards and two touchdowns.

Frank Gore, San Francisco - Gore had gone nine games without reaching triple digits, but fantasy owners who stuck with him were rewarded in Championship Week with his best game of the season - 158 yards and a touchdown worth almost 27 fantasy points.


Wide Receivers -

Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants - Beckham Jr. has become a regular in this column over the second half of the season. He had eight catches for 148 yards and a pair of touchdowns on Sunday against the Rams and over the past eight games he’s amassed 1,014 yards (126.7 ypg) and eight touchdowns. He’s even making Eli look good.

Emmanuel Sanders, Denver - Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders shook off the flu to catch six of seven passes for 70 yards and two scores. He has been one of the best surprises of 2014, taking over the “Eric Decker role” in the Broncos’ offense and posting better numbers (95-1,331-9) than his predecessor.


Tight Ends -

Luke Willson, Seattle - Injuries to Zach Miller, Anthony McCoy and Tony Moeaki allowed Willson some playing time and Sunday night Wilson used Willson to his advantage. The tight end caught two touchdown passes, one of 80 yards to amass 30 fantasy points.

Antonio Gates, San Diego - Gates can’t run anymore, but he’s still Philip Rivers’ favorite target. On Saturday, he caught seven passes for 92 yards and a pair of touchdowns worth 24 fantasy points.


Kickers -

Randy Bullock, Houston - Bullock’s shaky first season is a thing of the past and he’s much improved in 2014. Sunday he went 6-of-6 for a position-leading 19 fantasy points.


Defense/Special Teams -

Atlanta Falcons - The Falcons came up with a big game at a most unexpected moment. In the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Atlanta sacked Drew Brees five times, intercepted him two times and forced two fumbles, including a Osi Umenyiora 86-yard touchdown return.

And the winner of the TSN Fantasy Player of the Week for Week 16 is ... Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. His 427 yards of offense came at the perfect time for fantasy owners.


►  Ten best ways to celebrate a championship

The regular season has one week remaining, but the fantasy season for a vast majority of leagues has concluded.

For those who brought home the hardware, it’s time to celebrate.

Trash talking is always the “go-to” celebration move, but a milestone nearly as meaningful as say, marriage or the birth of your children (note to future wife, I’m kidding), needs further commemoration than that.

For the purposes of the kiddies and my job, we will be keeping it PG, but here are ten creative ways to celebrate your 2014 fantasy football championship.


Seek out the doubters

There is such a thing as winning with class, however, occasionally it’s necessary to remind those who said you couldn’t win that they were, once again, wrong.

Every league has that guy in Week 11, who said he would end your season. Then on “Monday Night Football”, Le’Veon Bell dropped 30 points and rallied your team to a two-point victory.

If all else fails, Adam Sandler’s “Who’s laughing now clown,“ is always an appropriate thing to shout to a beaten opponent.


Pop the “root beer”

Jerome Bettis said his kiss of the Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl XL was the sweetest kiss he ever had. Now, I’m not suggesting breaking out the Chapstick to pucker up, although there is absolutely no shame in that, breaking out a nice 20 ounce Barqs Root Beer bottle to drink from the trophy is more my style.

The french vanilla just smells like victory.


Carve name in trophy

Although the NHL has done its best to mess up the game of hockey, the sport does something better than every other major American sport: the championship trophy.

A 35-pound fantasy trophy is probably a little excessive mostly because that likely won’t fit as the center piece at Christmas dinner. A 10-pound trophy is more than efficient and more importantly, get a professional to carve your name in it.


Work desk banner

Owners can never forget to thank the fans who supported them all season long.

What fans you ask? Well, why else would fantasy leagues post home and away records. One of my teams went 7-0 at home, so I must have had some type of home-field advantage because ESPN would never post an irrelevant statistic.

Without a true home field to raise a championship flag, maybe a banner at the work desk or cubical is appropriate. All the co-workers you beat this season will love it.


Championship T-shirts

They will also love the championship T-shirt and DVD combination commemorating your winning season. Just don’t forget to send the runner-up’s championship T-shirt to Africa.


New football jersey

Where do the diehard fantasy owners true loyalties lie? If Aaron Rodgers carried an owner to the fantasy promise land, can he wear his jersey even though he is a Bears fan?

That combined with the trophy centerpiece would really make for an interesting family Christmas.


Championship ring

Thought a big trophy with your name on it was over-the-top? Fantasy championship rings and belts are also for sale.


Update the twitter bio

Don’t bother with a job description or a list of interests. A short and sweet bio stating “six-time fantasy football champion” is all people really need to know.


Nike commercial deal

This can be a bit dicey. Owners don’t want your players getting too upset that you are getting all the attention with Nike and Gatorade deals.

Make sure in all your press conferences you allocate the proper credit to the players and the rest of the coaching staff.


Start preparing for next season

Do you think Bill Belichick bothers with twitter bios and championship gear? Have you ever seen him in a commercial?

That’s why he is the best and if owners want to remain the best, success can’t go to their heads. Yes, I’m comparing myself and other owners to Belichick, though, I look better in a sweatshirt.

Congratulations to the 2014 fantasy champions. Enjoy it.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Boys Area High School Basketball Game Results

(Tuesday, December 23)

#10 Gilmer County 48     #9 Charleston Catholic 46

Braxton County 62     South Harrison 53

Lewis County 51     Buckhannon-Upshur 44

#6 Fairmont Senior 55     #1 Robert C. Byrd 54


►  Girls Area High School Basketball Game Results

(Tuesday, December 23)

Lewis County 62     Liberty 29

Lincoln 64     Robert C. Byrd 41

Roane County 58     Webster County 44

Clay County 45     Poca 28



The Gilmer Free Press

►  MEC Men’s Basketball Player of The Week Honors

Shepherd’s Morgan McDonald is the Mountain East Conference Player of the Week after helping the Rams to a pair of non-conference wins last week.

McDonald, a senior from Inwood, WV, averaged 27.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in two games. He shot 71% (17-of-24) from the floor, including 78% (7-of-9) from behind the arc as the Rams improved to 7-3 on the year. He matched his career high with 31 points in a 91-79 victory over Davis & Elkins, and followed it up with 24 points in limited action in a win over Penn State Mont Alto.


Other Top Performances

Tanner McGrew (WVWC) had 19 points and 16 rebounds in a non-conference victory over Shaw ...

Lawrence DeArmond (NDC) had 27 points, including 17 in the second half, in a victory over Malone ...

Seger Bonifant (WLU), the nation’s leading scorer, added 28 points in West Liberty’s lone game last week ...

Rob Reed (CU) had a career-high 25 points as the Mountain Lions handed Bluefield State a loss.

2014-15 MEC Players of the Week
Week Player (Team)
November17 Seger Bonifant (WLU)
November 24 Donte Morales (GSC)
December 01 Mike Boyd (CU)
December 08 C.J. Hester (WLU)
December 15 Devin Hoehn (WLU)
December 22 Morgan McDonald (SU)


►  MEC Women’s Basketball Player of The Week Honors

Notre Dame’s Martha Nagbe has been named Player of the Week after leading the Falcons to a 2-0 record last week.

Nagbe, a junior from Lakewood, Ohio, averaged 23.5 points, four assists and 2.5 steals as NDC picked up wins over Ursuline and Cedarville. She netted 21 points in a win over the Arrows, and then went for 26 points on 11-of-19 shooting as the Falcons handed the Yellow Jackets just their second loss of the season.


Other Top Performances

Liz Flowers (WLU) averaged 34.5 points in a 1-1 week, including a 40-point performance against Cedarville ...

Melea Smith (CU) averaged 15.5 points in two games ...

Hailey Garrett (FSU) filled the stat sheet with 22 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals in a win over Bluefield State.

2014-15 MEC Players of the Week
Week Player (Team)
November17 Hallie Gunnoe (FSU)
November 24 Hailey Garrett (FSU)
December 01 Nichole Perry (UC)
December 08 Jacqueline Kestner (CU)
December 15 Cara Mason (SU)
December 22 Martha Nagbe (NDC)


<The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top-25 College Men’s Basketball Game Results

(Tuesday, December 23)


Final Score: UNLV 71, (3) Arizona 67

No. 3 Arizona had won 39 consecutive non- conference games in the regular season, the longest active streak in Division I men’s basketball. That run is now over thanks to a 71-67 loss to UNLV on Tuesday. Christian Wood scored a career-high 24 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for the Runnin’ Rebels (8-3).


Final Score: (4) Louisville 80, CS-Northridge 55

Wayne Blackshear stepped up in Montrezl Harrell’s absence and scored a career-high 31 points to help No. 4 Louisville take down Cal State-Northridge, 80-55, in its final tune-up before Saturday’s showdown with Kentucky. Blackshear was given a larger role on Tuesday with Harrell, a preseason All- American, serving a one-game suspension and the senior delivered in a big way. Blackshear shot 11-for-17 from the floor, made six 3-pointers and pulled down six rebounds. Terry Rozier added 16 points for the Cardinals (11-0), who will look to stay unbeaten when they host No. 1 Kentucky at the KFC Yum! Center this weekend. Stephen Maxwell and Stephan Hicks posted 20 and 19 points, respectively, for Northridge (3-10).


Final Score: (7) Villanova 92, NJIT 67

Dylan Ennis led six players in double figures with 17 points, as No. 7 Villanova subdued NJIT by a 92-67 count at the Pavilion in a game which was much closer than the score indicated—or the matchup might suggest—for quite some time. Ryan Arcidiacono added 16 for the Wildcats (12-0), who trailed by as many as seven early in the second half but who used a surge shortly thereafter which ultimately led them to victory. Phil Booth contributed 14 points and Daniel Ochefu picked up 13 points with 10 rebounds for Villanova, which hadn’t won 12 games to begin a season since 1961-62. Damon Lynn provided 13 points for the Highlanders (5-8), who fell short in their bid for a second shocking road victory against a ranked opponent this year. Tim Coleman poured in 12 and Winfield Willis had 10 before fouling out.


Final Score: Stanford 74, (9) Texas 71 (OT)

Anthony Brown scored a season-high 25 points, including the go-ahead layup with 1:08 remaining in overtime, as Stanford upset No. 9 Texas 74-71 at the Erwin Center. Chasson Randle added 22 points and combined with Brown to go 7-of-12 from 3- point range to help the Cardinal snap a 15-game win streak for the Longhorns on their home court. Stanford (7-3) shot 43.3 percent from the field, the highest percentage by any Texas opponent this season, and received a career-best 14 rebounds from freshman Reid Travis to earn their first true road win in 2013-14. Javan Felix finished with 19 points for Texas (10-2), but missed a contested 3-point try with time winding down in overtime that sealed the outcome. Jonathan Holmes and Kendal Yancy each had 14 points in the loss.


Final Score: (11) Wichita State 80, Hawaii 79 (OT)

Rashard Kelly scored a career-high 12 points and sent Wichita State into the finals of the Diamond Head Classic with a tip-in late in overtime. Ron Baker scored 17 points, Fred VanVleet had 13 and the 11th-ranked Shockers survived a scare from Hawaii in Tuesday’s semifinals, edging the host Rainbow Warriors 80-79. Wichita State trailed by three with a minute remaining in the extra session. Darius Carter made 1-of-2 from the foul line and VanVleet hit from deep, giving the Shockers a one-point lead. Roderick Bobbitt then slashed to the rim and dropped off to Michael Thomas, who restored Hawaii’s lead with a layup. But out of a timeout, Kelly played the role of hero for the Shockers. VanVleet put up a triple from the right wing, and Kelly timed his offensive rebound perfectly and got his tip to fall with 3.8 seconds showing. Out of timeouts, Bobbitt pushed the ball and found Thomas, whose off-balanced jumper missed as time expired. Wichita State (10-1) will meet George Washington in the finals.


Final Score: (14) Utah 80, South Dakota State 66

Brekkott Chapman had 22 points, Delon Wright scored 17 and No. 14 Utah beat South Dakota State 80-66 on Tuesday. Dakarai Tucker added 11 points for the Utes (9-2), who have won two in a row since falling to No. 10 Kansas two Saturdays ago. Cody Larson scored 13 points and Reed Tellinghuisen chipped in 12 to lead the Jackrabbits (9-4), who had a seven-game winning streak snapped.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Nothin’ but Net: Sizing up Smith suitors

We have had 24 hours to absorb the shock.

When the Detroit Pistons released Josh Smith, it was a jaw-dropper, not from a basketball perspective, but from a financial one. Smith has A LOT of money left on his contract and Stan Van Gundy just decided this disaster he inherited wasn’t worth the $30-$40 million.

The Smith/Greg Monroe/Andre Drummond trio has been a disaster somewhere ranging between new Coke and the Exxon Valdez. The last Motown trio to do this poorly, the federal government bailed it out.

So, applaud Van Gundy and the Pistons for putting basketball decisions over financial ones. The Pistons are terrible and jettisoning Smith won’t move the radar significantly either way. They won’t improve and Monroe and Drummond can work on chemistry in the hope that Monroe re-ups this summer.

But, where does Smith land?

Make no mistake, Smith was bad for the Pistons. Smith’s offensive numbers have been in decline and he shoots too many 3’s, but he can make some from long range. Smith is a stretch four who can still defend a little and, since he’s only 29, although a long-tenured 29, he’s got years left.

Any future employer needs to know that Smith will be motivated. He’s not a locker room cancer, but Smith’s enthusiasm has come in question. There are a few factors that might shed some light where Smith might be headed.

First, no team will claim him off waivers. The Philadelphia 76ers are the only squad with the cap room to do it, but with their allergic reaction to veteran talent, Smith doesn’t make sense. Nor should the 76ers look at Smith.

It’s possible, I guess, that some team like the Sacramento Kings, who have had a serious crush on Smith for over a year and tried to trade for him several times, might claim him. Personally, with the amount of money and two years left on that contract, if a team claims him, that team should have its charter revoked.

So, after Smith clears waivers, where are we at?

The Kings seem like a fringe candidate at best, despite their unfettered yearning. They can’t offer more than the minimum and don’t have a strong enough roster to contend, assuming title contention is something that interests Smith. The only reason Sacramento makes the list of suitors is because of how badly it wants to be on the list. Does Smith do them a solid for showing that love? Probably not, the NBA is a business, not a high-school courtship.

The Los Angeles Lakers are a team that I thought at first made a lot of sense, however, I’m cooling. Smith is going to be in a position to hand-select his next team, so why does a Lakers’ squad strapped for cash because of Kobe Bryant’s contract, and absent shot attempts because of Bryant’s selection, appeal to Smith?

The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to be attached to any available talent, but Smith doesn’t help them. Backup power forward, (and to be clear, Smith is a power forward, no more flirting with this small-forward thing) is actually a position of strength for Cleveland with Tristan Thompson.

Serious candidates only, please.

The Miami Heat are ones, according to reports. Their prize offseason addition, Josh McRoberts, is done for the season. Miami applied for a Disabled Player Exemption, which, presumably, it would use on Smith. If the NBA grants the Heat this exemption, they can offer more than anyone else for Smith’s services. Miami is lovely, although warm. Playing with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh isn’t hell and Smith’s presence could help. His adequate long-range ability is a plus for the Heat, as is his athleticism in Miami’s traps. Are they contenders enough to peak Smith’s interest?

The Dallas Mavericks have been mentioned a lot as contenders for Smith’s services. One of Smith’s closest friends in the world is Rajon Rondo. You may have heard he was recently traded to the Mavericks. Like most in this bidding war, Dallas can only offer the minimum and it would seem like a good fit considering the Mavs traded most of their frontcourt depth. I don’t think it is a good fit. The Mavs need true big-man depth. Someone like Jermaine O’Neal is a better match. Dallas can play plenty of guys to back up Dirk Nowitzki as stretch fours like Chandler Parsons, Richard Jefferson and, of course, Charlie Villanueva (no kidding, he went 4-for-6 from long range on Monday). Smith is obviously a better option, but if I was Mark Cuban, I’d buy an island. Sorry, if I was Mark Cuban, I’d try to spend what little money available under the cap on a more pressing need.

That leaves us with our final two.

The Los Angeles Clippers need some frontcourt help badly on the second unit. Spencer Hawes is sidelined with a bruised knee and frankly, he hasn’t been any great shakes out there this season. Smith is an upgrade over Glen Davis and pairing him with Hawes off the bench could work as both have solid universal skill sets. However, the Clippers have very little financial wiggle room. Minimum is the maximum offer, but otherwise, LA fits the bill nicely for what Smith should be looking for in a franchise. He’ll contend, play in a nice climate and for a well-run, professional organization.

But the Clippers don’t offer as much as Smith’s next employer.

The Houston Rockets can offer Smith more than the veteran’s minimum. The Rockets can give Smith the biannual exception which could net Smith $500,000 more than the minimum. (He will, and has, made a lot of money from Detroit, so is that half a mil worth it?)

If the friendship factor is a pressing issue for Smith, then Houston is in great shape there, too. Smith and Dwight Howard are tighter than some jeans and according to reports, Howard is pressing hard for Smith.

The Rockets have a decent climate and are contenders. That’s appealing, plus, Houston has a need for Smith’s skill set. The Rockets have been without Terrence Jones for some time and Smith’s stretch-ability at the four could be valuable. (Remember how badly Houston wanted Chris Bosh?) Defense is a priority in Houston these days and Smith won’t kill them on that front.

Houston makes the most sense. I wanted this to end with a darkhorse candidate swooping in, but the Rockets just make too much sense. You can check off every box and Houston fits best.  ~~  Jim Brighters ~~


►  NBA Game Results

(Tuesday, December 23)


Final Score: Cleveland 125, Minnesota 104

Kevin Love scored 20 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in his first game against his former team, as the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled away to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves, 125-104, at Quicken Loans Arena. The win may have been costly for the Cavaliers, who lost center Anderson Varejao to a left foot and ankle injury in the third quarter. Kyrie Irving scored 29 and LeBron James totaled 24 points for the Cavaliers, who have won three in a row and 12 of their last 15 games. That includes nine wins in their last 10 at home. Love, who played his first six NBA seasons for the Timberwolves, was dealt to Cleveland as part of a 3-team deal in the offseason. Minnesota acquired Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, the last two No. 1 overall picks in the draft. Wiggins scored 27 and Gorgui Dieng had a season-best 20 to go with 11 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who have lost six in a row and 12 of their last 13 games to fall to 5-22 on the season.


Final Score: Indiana 96, New Orleans 84

George Hill was in the Indiana lineup for the first time all season and helped the Pacers to a 96-84 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday. Hill, who missed Indiana’s first 28 games due to a right knee contusion sustained in the preseason, scored a team- high 15 points off the bench in 21 minutes of action. Roy Hibbert supplied 14 points, while Solomon Hill and David West each posted 13 points in the win, the Pacers’ second straight. Anthony Davis led all scorers with 21 points on 8-of-18 shooting to go along with nine rebounds. Jrue Holiday scored 16 points with five rebounds and five assists, while Tyreke Evans netted 14 points with 11 rebounds for the Pelicans.


Final Score: Orlando 100, Boston 95

Tobias Harris scored 19 points, Kyle O’Quinn and Nikola Vucevic each recorded double-doubles, and the Orlando Magic fended off the Boston Celtics, 100-95, on Tuesday. The Magic won despite nearly blowing a 27-point lead in the fourth quarter. They were held to 15 points over the last 10 minutes, but did just enough to snap a four-game slide. O’Quinn and Vucevic each provided 18 points and combined for 25 rebounds. Tyler Zeller scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to pace the Celtics, who have dropped two in a row on the heels of a three-game winning streak. Jameer Nelson, playing his first game as a visitor in Orlando, finished with nine points and 11 assists and was vital in Boston’s near comeback.


Final Score: Chicago 99, Washington 91

Derrick Rose scored 25 points and the Chicago Bulls picked up another key road win, 99-91, over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday. Rose shot a combined 12-for-35 in the two games before missing two with an illness. Since his return, the former MVP has been lights out in a pair of crucial wins over two Eastern Conference contenders. Rose scored 29 points on 12-of-19 shooting against Toronto on Monday and hit 10-for-17 in Washington on Tuesday. His personal 6-0 run late in the game helped the Bulls extend the best road record in the East to 13-4. Pau Gasol had 18 points and nine rebounds for the Bulls, winners in four straight games and seven of eight. Washington lost its second straight game on the heels of six consecutive wins despite John Wall’s 18 points and nine assists. Marcin Gortat posted a 14-point, 11-rebound double-double in defeat.


Final Score: Atlanta 107, LA Clippers 104

DeMarre Carroll scored a career-high 25 points and the Atlanta Hawks closed out a tough five-game stretch with their fifth straight win, rallying from 13 down in the second half to beat the Los Angeles Clippers 107-104 on Tuesday night. Al Horford added 20 points and Paul Millsap scored 17 for the Hawks, who took the lead for good on Kyle Korver’s 3-pointer a minute into the fourth quarter and held on down the stretch to post their 14th win in 15 games. Blake Griffin scored 21 points to lead Los Angeles, but missed an off-balance 3-pointer as time expired after the Clippers bumbled an inbounds pass with 6.4 seconds remaining. DeAndre Jordan had 15 points and 22 rebounds in the loss, the Clippers’ fifth in their last eight games.


Final Score: Brooklyn 102, Denver 96

Joe Johnson scored 27 points to lead the Brooklyn Nets to a 102-96 triumph over the Denver Nuggets at Barclays Center. Mason Plumlee added 19 points and 13 rebounds, and Jarrett Jack supplied 17 points and eight assists for the Nets, who have won two in a row following a three-game skid. Brook Lopez (lower back strain) returned from an eight- game absence and had six points in over eight minutes of court time for the Nets. Ty Lawson scored 29 to go with nine assists for the Nuggets, who lost for the fifth time in seven games. They’ve also dropped six straight on the road. Kenneth Faried had 20 points and 14 rebounds for Denver.


Final Score: Philadelphia 91, Miami 87

Don’t tell the Miami Heat the Philadelphia 76ers aren’t playing to win. The Sixers, despite having just eight healthy bodies, rallied from a 23-point deficit in Miami and stole a 91-87 decision away from the Heat to earn back-to-back victories for the first time this season. Michael Carter-Williams scored 20 points, handed out five assists and recorded six steals for Philadelphia, which was coming off Sunday’s win over Orlando and earned just its fourth win in 27 games. Luc Mbah a Moute donated 19 points and K.J. McDaniels added 13 off the bench for the victors. The Heat, perhaps looking ahead to a Christmas Day-showdown with LeBron James and the Cavaliers, took their foot off the gas pedal in the second half, as they shot just 27.8 percent from the field after the break. Dwyane Wade led the Heat with 23 points, while Shawne Williams netted 17 in the loss, Miami’s third in its last four games.


Final Score: Charlotte 108, Milwaukee 101

Kemba Walker poured in 27 points to lead the resurgent Charlotte Hornets to a fourth straight victory, a 108-101 decision over the Milwaukee Bucks at the Bradley Center. Five other Charlotte players finished in double figures as the Hornets extended their season-best win streak, which followed a 2-14 stretch. Gerald Henderson chipped in 20 points, Al Jefferson had 12 along with nine rebounds and Marvin Williams went 4-of-5 from 3-point range in a 12-point effort off the bench. The Bucks dropped a seventh straight game to Charlotte despite a season-high 34 points from Brandon Knight. Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 12 and 11, respectively, in the loss.


Final Score: Portland 115, Oklahoma City 111 (OT)

Damian Lillard poured in 40 points on 11-of-21 shooting to go along with 11 assists, and the Portland Trail Blazers stunned the Oklahoma City Thunder, 115-111, in overtime on Tuesday. LaMarcus Aldridge contributed 25 points with nine rebounds and Wesley Matthews checked in with 22 points for the Blazers, who overcame a 10-point deficit in the final two minutes of regulation to win for the sixth time in seven contests. Russell Westbrook also went for 40 points with 10 rebounds and six assists in the loss. But unlike Lillard, it took him a career-high 34 shot attempts to do it. Reggie Jackson and Serge Ibaka had 21 and 16 points, respectively, for Oklahoma City, which played without star Kevin Durant for a third straight game due to a sprained right ankle. The Thunder have lost three of their last four entering their showdown with the defending champion San Antonio Spurs on Christmas Day.


Final Score: Phoenix 124, Dallas 115

Eric Bledsoe picked up his second career triple-double to help the Suns hold off the Dallas Mavericks, 124-115, on Tuesday. Bledsoe scored 16 points, handed out 11 assists and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds in Phoenix’s fourth straight win. Goran Dragic paced the Suns with 25 points and Gerald Green added 22 off the bench on 6-of-9 shooting from beyond the arc. Tyson Chandler netted 22 points and pulled down a game-high 14 rebounds. Dirk Nowitzki also scored 22 as Dallas dropped its second in a row.


Final Score: LA Lakers 115, Golden State 105

Not even former Lakers great Vlade Divac could miss as Los Angeles, playing without a resting Kobe Bryant, handed the Golden State Warriors their most unlikely loss of the season, 115-105, on Tuesday. The Warriors, an NBA-best 23-3 coming in, were shell-shocked at a lively Staples Center, as the Lakers built a huge lead by shooting 56.5 percent over the first three quarters and held on for a surprising win. Carlos Boozer led seven Los Angeles players in double figures with 18 points and added nine rebounds. Ronnie Price contributed 17 points and eight assists, Nick Young added 15 points, and Wesley Johnson and Ed Davis chipped in with 14 apiece to help snap LA’s three-game slide. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson led the Warriors with 22 and 18 points, respectively, but both sharpshooters were on the bench long before the final buzzer with the outcome never in question.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Giants finalize deal with Peavy

The reigning World Series champion San Francisco Giants officially announced on Tuesday that they have re-signed veteran pitcher Jake Peavy to a two-year contract.

Financial terms were not disclosed by the team, though ESPN reported that Peavy will earn $7 million in 2015 and $13 million in 2016 in addition to receiving a $4 million signing bonus. The deal also includes a full no-trade clause.

Peavy flourished with the Giants after being acquired from Boston just prior to the July 31 trade deadline, posting a 2.17 earned run average and a 6-4 record over 12 regular-season starts. The 2007 National League Cy Young Award winner also made four postseason starts for San Francisco, going 1-2 with a 6.19 ERA.

The 33-year-old right-hander had been having a rough season with the Red Sox, winning just one time in 20 starts while pitching to a 4.72 ERA.

A three-time All-Star, Peavy owns a 139-111 career record with a 3.53 ERA over 13 major league seasons.


►  Cardinals strike deal with Walden

The St. Louis Cardinals and reliever Jordan Walden avoided salary arbitration, agreeing to terms on a two-year contract Tuesday.

The deal includes a club option for 2017.

St. Louis acquired the right-hander along with outfielder Jason Heyward in a trade with the Atlanta Braves last month.

Walden, 27, had a 2.88 ERA and struck out 62 batters in 58 appearances this past season. The Texas native is 12-13 with 38 saves and a 3.10 ERA in 231 career games for the Angels and Braves.


►  Twins ink P Stauffer

The Minnesota Twins signed pitcher Tim Stauffer to a one-year contract on Tuesday.

Stauffer, 32, will make $2.2 million next season, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The right-hander went 6-2 with a 3.50 earned run average over 44 games (three starts) last season with the Padres.

Over nine seasons with San Diego, Stauffer has compiled a 32-34 record with a 3.87 ERA and 435 strikeouts in 183 games (73 starts).

Minnesota also outrighted catcher Eric Fryer and outfielder Chris Parmelee to Triple-A Rochester.


►  Orioles’ claim Lavarnway off waivers

The Baltimore Orioles claimed Ryan Lavarnway off waivers from the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday.

The Cubs had claimed the catcher off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers last week.

Lavarnway, 27, played in 97 games for Boston over the past four years. The Red Sox designated him for assignment in late November after he batted .283 with three homers and 20 RBI over 62 games for Triple-A Pawtucket last season.

The Orioles released outfielder Quintin Berry to make room for Lavarnway on the 40-man roster. The 30-year-old Berry hit .285 with 25 stolen bases in 112 games for Triple-A Norfolk in 2014.


►  Cubs reach deal with C Ross

The Chicago Cubs continued to overhaul the catcher’s spot by agreeing to terms with veteran David Ross on a two-year contract.

Ross has caught nearly 700 games over 13 major league seasons, the last two of which were spent with the Boston Red Sox. The 37-year-old hit just .184 in 50 games last season, but had seven home runs in 171 at-bats.

Over 744 career games, Ross owns a .233 average with 95 homers and 273 RBI.

Ross is expected to serve as a right-handed hitting complement to Miguel Montero, whom the Cubs acquired from Arizona at the recent Winter Meetings. Chicago also still has last season’s starter, Welington Castillo, currently on the roster.

Tuesday’s signing reunites Ross with new Cubs ace Jon Lester, as the two were teammates on the Red Sox prior to Lester’s trade to Oakland last July.


►  Mets farmhand Mazzilli suspended 50 games

New York Mets minor leaguer L.J. Mazzilli has been suspended 50 games without pay for violating the Minor League Drug and Prevention Treatment Program.

This is the second positive test for Mazzilli, who is the son of former major leaguer Lee Mazzilli.

L.J. Mazzilli is currently on the roster for the Mets’ Single-A team in St. Lucie of the Florida State League. He has a career average of .293 with 15 homers and 113 RBI in 201 minor league games, mostly at the Single-A level.


►  Marlins nab P Claiborne off waivers

The Miami Marlins have claimed reliever Preston Claiborne off waivers from the New York Yankees, the team announced Tuesday.

Claiborne was designated for assignment by New York on Friday when the Yankees acquired fellow relief pitcher Gonzalez German from the Mets.

The 26-year-old right-hander appeared in 44 games as a rookie for the Yankees in 2013, compiling an 0-2 record with a 4.11 earned run average. Claiborne spent the majority of last season in Triple-A but did pitch in 18 games for the Bronx Bombers, going 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA over 21 innings.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2014


College Football
Central Michigan vs. Western Kentucky (Bahamas Bowl), 12:00 PM - ESPN
Fresno State vs. Rice (Hawaii Bowl), 8:00 PM - ESPN

Sports News   141222

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  Steelers lock up playoff berth, move into AFC North lead

The Steelers are back in the playoffs.

Ben Roethlisberger threw a touchdown pass and Pittsburgh’s defense held strong in a 20-12 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Heinz Field.

The Steelers (10-5) secured a wild card berth and will host Cincinnati next Sunday for the AFC North title. The Bengals (9-4-1) host AFC West-champion Denver Monday night.

Pittsburgh, in the playoffs for the first time since the 2011 season, held the Chiefs (8-7) out of the end zone and limited them to four Cairo Santos field goals. Kansas City’s playoff hopes are slim heading into next Sunday’s home game against San Diego (9-6).

The Steelers exacted revenge on the Chiefs for last season. In the final week, Kansas City rested the majority of its starters in a 27-24 overtime loss to San Diego. That ultimately knocked Pittsburgh out of playoff contention.

The Chiefs lost for the fourth time in five games.

Shaun Suisham’s 23-yard field goal widened Pittsburgh’s lead to 20-9 with 4:04 remaining. That capped a 12-play, 70-yard march that took 6:14 on the clock. The drive was aided by a 24-yard pass interference penalty on Jamell Fleming on 3rd-and-3 from the KC 48.

Santos split the uprights from 23 yards out with 1:37 left, but the Steelers were able to kill the clock when the Chiefs failed to recover the onside kick.

Roethlisberger completed 18-of-25 passes for 220 yards. Le’Veon Bell rushed 20 times for 63 yards and a touchdown in Pittsburgh’s third consecutive win.

Alex Smith finished 31-of-45 for 311 yards for the Chiefs, who also received 29 rushing yards from Jamaal Charles.

Suisham’s 23-yard field goal capped Pittsburgh’s 11-play, 80-yard drive to open the game. The big play of the march was a 44-yard reception by Martavis Bryant down the right sideline during a 3rd-and-4 play from the Pittsburgh 21.

Santos tied the game with a 35-yard field goal on KC’s first possession, during which Smith converted a key 3rd-and-16 with a 19-yard connection to Albert Wilson.

The Chiefs pushed the envelope twice in the second quarter in an attempt to get into the end zone. First, they faked a field goal, and Travis Kelce’s 6- yard gain gave the Chiefs a 1st-and-goal from the 6. The drive stalled, and Santos kicked a 25-yard field goal with 9:25 left in the half.

Pittsburgh battled back to grab a 10-6 edge. Roethlisberger converted a 3rd- and-7 with a 13-yard pass to Markus Wheaton to the KC 32. A 14-yard reception by Heath Miller brought the ball to the 6, but the Chiefs made two stops from the 1 on a pair of incompletions. On 4th-and-goal, Bell rushed off right tackle into the end zone with 4:18 remaining.

Smith led the Chiefs from their own 16 to the Pittsburgh 12. but on 4th-and- inches and under 30 seconds left in the half, the Chiefs opted to run Charles up the middle. He was met by linebacker Lawrence Timmons and a host of Steelers for no gain. On the play prior, De’Anthony Thomas caught a 5-yard pass, which would have been a first down, but replays showed Thomas’ knee hit the ground before he stretched the ball to the marker.

Charles was stripped of the ball midway through the third quarter. The turnover led to Roethlisberger’s 3-yard TD connection to the middle of the end zone to Antonio Brown with 34 seconds left in the quarter for a 17-6 margin. Roethlisberger appeared to injure his knee during the scoring play when defensive tackle Vance Walker stuck his foot out and made contact with the Pittsburgh QB just as he stood in the pocket and threw the TD pass.

Roethlisberger went to the locker room but returned in time for Pittsburgh’s next offensive series after Santos drilled a 43-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.

Game Notes

Brown had seven receptions for 72 yards ... Bell’s TD was just the third rushing one allowed by KC all season ... Pittsburgh has won six straight games in December.


►  Romo, Cowboys rout Colts, win NFC East

Tony Romo threw for 218 yards with four touchdowns on 18-of-20 efficiency to lead the Dallas Cowboys to a 42-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts, and help clinch the franchise’s 19th NFC East title in the process.

Dallas (11-4), which just needed a win in one of its final two games after Philadelphia’s loss to Washington on Saturday, captured the division crown for the first time since 2009.

The Eagles, meanwhile, have been eliminated from playoff contention.

DeMarco Murray was active even though he underwent surgery Monday on his fractured left hand sustained in last Sunday’s win over the Eagles. Murray rushed for 58 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown.

Terrance Williams hauled in two touchdown passes, while Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley each had a touchdown grab in the Cowboys’ third straight win.

The Colts (10-5), who clinched the AFC South last week, had their four-game winning streak snapped.

Andrew Luck threw for a career-low 109 yards on 15-of-22 passing with two interceptions before getting substituted for Matt Hasselbeck late in the third. Luck’s 41.7 passer rating was the lowest of his career.

Dallas had a very productive touchdown drive to open the game that was prolonged by a taunting penalty.

On 3rd-and-11 from midfield, Romo checked down to Lance Dunbar, who was dropped by Jerrell Freeman for a loss of four on the play. However, Freeman stared down Dunbar as he got up from the tackle which warranted the taunting violation. Five plays later, Romo capped the 15-play, 80-yard drive that spanned 8:24 with a 9-yard TD to Williams on a slant that gave the Cowboys a 7-0 lead.

Indianapolis went backward on its first possession, then Colts coach Chuck Pagano tried some trickery on fourth down. The punt team was sent out at the 19-yard line and punter Pat McAfee dropped back to pass. He lofted a pass to an open Dewey McDonald on the near sideline, but McDonald dropped the easy first down to give the ball back to Dallas in excellent field position.

Romo didn’t wait long to punch another touchdown in, hooking up with Bryant for a 19-yard score following McDonald’s blunder.

The Cowboys continued to add on with another scoring drive that bridged the first and second quarters. Bryant hauled in a 24-yard pass from Romo toward the end of the first. Later in the march, Beasley caught a crossing pattern, slipped under D’Qwell Jackson and raced into the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown to make it 21-0.

The Colts were forced into another punt following three more unsuccessful plays. Dallas proceeded to chew up 6:31 of clock with Murray capping the 10- play drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.

Dwayne Allen then dropped his third pass of the half while wide open deep down the far sideline that would have given the Colts their initial first down of the game. Reggie Wayne finally gave the visitors a fresh set of downs on a swing pass with under six minutes to play in the half.

Indianapolis moved past midfield for the first time with under a minute left, but Luck was intercepted by J.J. Wilcox in the back of the end zone to close the half.

The second half started how the first half ended with a Cowboys interception of Luck. Nick Hayden got a hand on a pass at the line of scrimmage and Anthony Hitchens hauled in his first career interception. Dallas went backward on the possession, though, and Dan Bailey missed wide from 52 yards out.

Romo’s 15th consecutive completion was a 25-yard touchdown to Witten. That mark was a personal best for Romo, who also passed Troy Aikman (32,942) for the franchise lead in passing yards on the play.

Brandon Weeden relieved Romo in the fourth and hit Williams for a 43-yard touchdown, then Hasselbeck found Zurlon Tipton for a 1-yard touchdown pass with 5:24 remaining to account for the final margin.

Game Notes

Dallas snapped a three-game home losing streak ... Cowboys right tackle Doug Free was again inactive with an ankle injury ... The Cowboys have never shutout an opponent while scoring 40-plus points ... Murray is 28 yards shy of Emmitt Smith for the most rushing yards in franchise history ... The Colts were last shut out in a 38-0 loss to New England in 1993 ... Witten had a team-high 90 yards on seven receptions ... Hakeem Nicks caught a team- high nine passes for 72 yards in the loss ... Hasselbeck finished 15-of-21 for 126 yards with a touchdown.


►  NFL Game Results - Week 16

(SUNDAY, DECEMBER 21


Final Score: Carolina 17, Cleveland 13)

Cam Newton accounted for two touchdowns and the Carolina Panthers picked up a crucial win to set up a winner-take-all NFC South showdown next week. Newton’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Stewart in the fourth quarter was the difference, and Carolina topped the Cleveland Browns, 17-13, on Sunday. The scoring strike to Stewart, which capped a 7-play, 66-yard drive, came less than three minutes after the Browns took their first lead on Brian Hoyer’s 81-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Cameron. Hoyer replaced Johnny Manziel late in the first half after the rookie exited with a hamstring injury. The Panthers (6-8-1) will travel to Atlanta next week with the division on the line. Whoever wins that game will clinch the NFC South and host a playoff game.


Final Score: Detroit 20, Chicago 14

Joique Bell’s touchdown run in the fourth quarter gave the Detroit Lions a 20-14 victory over the Chicago Bears on Sunday. Detroit’s win coupled with Green Bay’s triumph in Tampa Bay, means the winner of the NFC North will be decided next week as the Lions will travel to Lambeau Field in a winner-take-all Week 17 matchup. The Lions came into the game having been assured of a playoff spot due to Philadelphia’s loss to Washington on Saturday. It is the first time since the 2011 season that the team has made it to the postseason. Green Bay also locked up a playoff spot Sunday. Matthew Stafford had a rough game as he went just 22-for-39 for 243 yards with a pair of red zone interceptions, while Reggie Bush also had a rushing touchdown for the Lions (11-4), who have won four straight to reach 11 wins for the first time since going 12-4 in 1991. Jimmy Clausen played admirably in the start, as he was under center in favor of a benched Jay Cutler. Clausen finished the game 23-for-39 for 181 yards and a pair of touchdown passes along with an interception for the Bears (5-10), who have lost their past four games.


Final Score: Houston 25, Baltimore 13

Randy Bullock converted a franchise-record six field goals while Arian Foster threw a touchdown pass as the Houston Texans downed the Baltimore Ravens, 25-13, in Week 16 action. Case Keenum passed for 185 yards and was picked off once after completing 20-of-42 passes to record his first career win as a starter for the Texans (8-7), who guaranteed themselves at least a .500 season with their third win in the last four. Foster also racked up a game-high 96 yards rushing on 25 attempts while C.J. Fiedorowicz was the beneficiary of his scoring throw. Andre Johnson totaled 65 yards on six catches and reached the 1,000-reception plateau. Joe Flacco had one of his worst days as a professional, completing only 21 of his 50 passes for 195 yards, two touchdowns to Torrey Smith and three interceptions for the Ravens (9-6), who had a two-game win streak snapped. Baltimore needs a win next week at home against Cleveland and some help in order to snag a wild-card berth. Steve Smith picked up 49 yards on five grabs, while Justin Forsett was held to 19 yards on 10 carries.


Final Score: Miami 37, Minnesota 35

Terrence Fede blocked Jeff Locke’s punt out of the end zone for a safety with 41 seconds left, sending the Miami Dolphins to a 37-35 win over the Minnesota Vikings. The blocked punt came after Damien Williams’ 3-yard TD catch tied the game for the Dolphins. The fourth quarter featured a combined 41 points. Despite the win, Miami (8-7) was eliminated from playoff contention due to the Steelers’ win over Kansas City. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said in the locker room after the game that head coach Joe Philbin will be back next season. Ryan Tannehill completed 35-of-47 passes for 396 yards, four touchdowns and an interception for the Dolphins, who snapped a two-game skid. Lamar Miller carried the ball 19 times for 92 yards and a score and caught five passes for 58 yards. Mike Wallace hauled in five passes for 58 yards and two touchdowns. Teddy Bridgewater connected on 19-of-26 passes for 259 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for the Vikings (6-9), who have lost two in a row. Matt Asiata carried the ball 16 times for 58 yards and two touchdowns. Greg Jennings caught three passes for 56 yards and a score.


Final Score: Atlanta 30, New Orleans 14

Matt Ryan threw for 322 yards and the Atlanta Falcons’ maligned defense rose to the occasion in a season-saving 30-14 victory over New Orleans that dropped the erratic Saints out of the NFC South race. Entering this critical divisional showdown ranked at the bottom of the NFL in total defense, pass defense and sacks, the Falcons put forth their best effort of the year on that side of the ball to set up a winner- take-all matchup with Carolina for the NFC South crown next Sunday at the Georgia Dome. Atlanta (6-9) held the Saints to 328 total yards and came up with five sacks and four takeaways, including a pivotal fumble from Jimmy Graham at the goal line early in the fourth quarter and Osi Umenyiora’s 86-yard fumble return touchdown on the final play. Ryan did his part as well, completing a sharp 30-of-40 passes with a touchdown and no turnovers. Julio Jones racked up 107 yards on seven catches after not practicing the entire week due to a hip injury. Drew Brees finished 30-of-47 for 313 yards and a touchdown to Graham, but was intercepted twice in the loss, the fifth straight at the Superdome for New Orleans (6-9).


Final Score: Pittsburgh 20, Kansas City 12

The Steelers are back in the playoffs. Ben Roethlisberger threw a touchdown pass and Pittsburgh’s defense held strong in a 20-12 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Heinz Field. The Steelers (10-5) secured a wild card berth and will host Cincinnati next Sunday for the AFC North title. The Bengals (9-4-1) host AFC West-champion Denver Monday night. Pittsburgh, in the playoffs for the first time since the 2011 season, held the Chiefs (8-7) out of the end zone and limited them to four Cairo Santos field goals. Kansas City’s playoff hopes are slim heading into next Sunday’s home game against San Diego (9-6). The Steelers exacted revenge on the Chiefs for last season. In the final week, Kansas City rested the majority of its starters in a 27-24 overtime loss to San Diego. That ultimately knocked Pittsburgh out of playoff contention. The Chiefs lost for the fourth time in five games.


Final Score: Green Bay 20, Tampa Bay 3

The Packers clinched a spot in the playoffs for the sixth straight season on the backs of their defense, limiting the Buccaneers to 109 yards of offense in a 20-3 win over Tampa Bay Sunday. Next week the Packers host the Detroit Lions, and the winner of that game clinches the NFC North title. Detroit rallied for a 20-14 win at Chicago Sunday. Offensively the Packers (11-4) were led by Aaron Rodgers once again as he threw for 318 yards and a touchdown to Jordy Nelson. Rodgers completed 31-of-40 passes. Nelson caught nine passes for 113 yards and fellow receiver Randall Cobb set career highs with 11 catches and 131 receiving yards. Eddie Lacy ran for 99 yards on 17 carries, including a 44- yard touchdown to open the scoring in the first quarter. Tampa Bay (2-13) got only 16 rushing yards, led by Doug Martin with 17. His longest run of the day was four yards. McCown completed just 12-of-26 passes for 147 yards. Vincent Jackson caught three passes for 60 yards, and Mike Evans added 49 yards on four receptions.


Final Score: NY Giants 37, St. Louis 27

Odell Beckham Jr. put on a show once again, amassing 148 yards and two touchdowns on eight catches to help the New York Giants record a 37-27 win over the St. Louis Rams. New York’s third straight victory featured another jaw-dropping performance by the rookie sensation, who followed up an 11-reception, 130-yard effort at Tennessee in Week 14 with last Sunday’s 12-grab, 143-yard, three-touchdown display against Washington. Beckham wasn’t the only Giant to put up big numbers on a day in which New York (6-9) piled up a season-best 514 yards. Eli Manning threw for 391 yards and three touchdowns while completing 25-of-32 attempts, Rueben Randle caught six passes for 132 yards and a touchdown and Andre Williams added 110 rushing yards on 26 carries. St. Louis (6-9) hadn’t allowed a touchdown in any of its previous three games, having yielded only 12 points during that stretch. Shaun Hill hit on 24-of-32 throws for 290 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for the Rams. Kenny Britt finished with 103 yards on nine catches, while Tre Mason had 76 yards and a touchdown on 13 rushes in the loss.


Final Score: Dallas 42, Indianapolis 7

Tony Romo threw for 218 yards with four touchdowns on 18-of-20 efficiency to lead the Dallas Cowboys to a 42-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts, and help clinch the franchise’s 19th NFC East title in the process. Dallas (11-4), which just needed a win in one of its final two games after Philadelphia’s loss to Washington on Saturday, captured the division crown for the first time since 2009. The Eagles, meanwhile, have been eliminated from playoff contention. DeMarco Murray was active even though he underwent surgery Monday on his fractured left hand sustained in last Sunday’s win over the Eagles. Murray rushed for 58 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown. Terrance Williams hauled in two touchdown passes, while Jason Witten, Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley each had a touchdown grab in the Cowboys’ third straight win. The Colts (10-5), who clinched the AFC South last week, had their four-game winning streak snapped. Andrew Luck threw for a career-low 109 yards on 15-of-22 passing with two interceptions before getting substituted for Matt Hasselbeck late in the third. Luck’s 41.7 passer rating was the lowest of his career.


Final Score: Oakland 26, Buffalo 24

Derek Carr passed for 214 yards and two touchdowns, while Sebastian Janikowski kicked four field goals as the Oakland Raiders topped the Buffalo Bills, 26-24, on Sunday. Carr completed 17-of-34 attempts and tossed scores to James Jones and Jamize Olawale for the Raiders (3-12), who have a chance to match their win total of the past two seasons if they top the Broncos in Denver next week. Latavius Murray and Darren McFadden combined for 140 yards on 32 attempts, while Kenbrell Thompkins posted 90 yards on five receptions. Kyle Orton finished 32-of-49 for 329 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions for the Bills (8-7), who conclude the regular season at New England seven days from now having been eliminated from postseason contention. With the running game largely shackled to the tune of 13 yards on 13 attempts, Fred Jackson totaled 93 yards on nine catches, while Sammy Watkins, Scott Chandler and Robert Woods posted a TD catch apiece.


Final Score: Seattle 35, Arizona 6

Marshawn Lynch wasn’t on the field for the start of the game due to an upset stomach. Following a drink of water and a mouthful of skittles, he was ready to go. Lynch then gave the Arizona Cardinals faithful nausea with a back-breaking touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. Lynch broke off a career-high 79-yard scamper to put the game away as the Seahawks seized control of the NFC West with a 35-6 victory over the Cardinals on Sunday night. The Seahawks had already held a 21-6 advantage before Lynch took a handoff off left tackle. He burst through the hole and cut across the field along the right sideline and stiff-armed Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson at the Seattle 45. Lynch then powered through Peterson and Cardinals safety Rashad Johnson across midfield and Alex Okafor was unable to make a shoe-string tackle at the 20 before he leapt into the end zone to complete the phenomenal touchdown. Seattle won for the eighth time in nine games following a 3-3 start and can win the NFC West and clinch homefield advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs with a win over the St. Louis Rams next Sunday afternoon. The Seahawks hold the tiebreaker over Arizona after sweeping the season series. Lynch carried the ball 10 times for 113 yards and two scores. Russell Wilson was 20-of-31 for 339 yards and two touchdowns, while racking up 88 yards and a score on the ground for Seattle (11-4), which totaled a franchise-record 596 yards.


(SATURDAY, DECEMBER 20)


Final Score: Washington 27, Philadelphia 24

Kai Forbath kicked a 26-yard field goal with five seconds remaining to lift the Washington Redskins to a 27-24 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday. The Redskins snapped a six-game losing streak and dealt a significant blow to the Eagles’ playoff hopes. Philadelphia has lost three straight games since a Thanksgiving win at Dallas gave it sole possession of first place in the NFC East. A win at home by the Cowboys against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday will eliminate the Eagles from postseason contention. The Eagles (9-6) have been prone to turning the ball over this season and cornerback Bashaud Breeland intercepted Mark Sanchez’s pass at the Washington 42-yard line inside the two- minute warning. Robert Griffin III then threw a short pass to Pierre Garcon, who spun out of a defender’s grasp for a 23-yard gain. A roughing the passer penalty tacked on 15 more yards and the Redskins added one more first down, forcing Philadelphia to use each of its three timeouts before Forbath nailed the go-ahead kick. The Eagles, who had erased a 24-14 deficit, were still alive with three seconds remaining because Forbath drilled Trey Burton with the kickoff at midfield. Cornerback David Amerson knocked down Sanchez’s pass in the end zone to end the game. Griffin completed 16-of-23 passes for 220 yards with one interception and Darrel Young had two 1-yard touchdown runs in the third quarter for Washington (4-11). Sanchez was 37- of-50 for 374 yards and threw two touchdown passes to Riley Cooper. Tight end Zach Ertz set an Eagles franchise record with 15 catches for a career-high 115 yards.


Final Score: San Diego 38, San Francisco 35 (OT)

Philip Rivers’ arm got the San Diego Chargers to overtime. Eric Weddle’s arm helped them win the game once they got there. Rivers led two touchdown drives in the final nine minutes of regulation and Weddle forced a fumble that led to Nick Novak’s winning 40-yard field goal in overtime, as the Chargers rallied to beat the San Francisco 49ers 38-35 in a thriller on Saturday night. San Diego trailed by 21 points at halftime and by 14 in the fourth quarter before Rivers’ touchdown passes to Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd, the last one coming with 29 seconds left on the clock. Weddle, the veteran safety, stripped wide receiver Quinton Patton on a 20-yard end-around—just San Francisco’s second play in overtime—and Novak split the uprights for the win. Rivers passed for 356 yards with four touchdowns and San Diego (9-6) overcame his three interceptions, including two that led to 14 San Francisco points in the first half. The playoff-hopeful Chargers stopped a two-game losing streak, winning without injured stars Ryan Mathews and Keenan Allen. Despite 355 rushing yards, the 49ers (7-8) suffered their fourth straight loss, guaranteeing them their first non-winning season under Jim Harbaugh. Colin Kaepernick had the second-longest touchdown run by a quarterback in NFL history, a 90-yarder late in the third quarter that restored San Francisco’s 14-point lead. It came two just two plays after his fumble was recovered in the end zone by Corey Liuget for a San Diego touchdown. Kaepernick passed for 114 yards with a touchdown to Bruce Ellington and rushed for 151 on seven carries. Frank Gore added 158 yards on 26 rushes, including a 52-yard touchdown run less than two minutes into the game.


(THURSDAY, DECEMBER 18)


Final Score: Jacksonville 21, Tennessee 13

Jordan Todman’s 62-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter highlighted the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 21-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night. Blake Bortles completed 13-of-26 passes for 115 yards and one touchdown for the Jaguars, who scored 21 straight points after falling behind 10-0. Todman carried the ball five times for 71 yards for Jacksonville (3-12), which avenged a 16-14 loss to these Titans on Oct. 12. Toby Gerhart rushed for 53 yards and a score on 12 carries. Tennessee turned back to Charlie Whitehurst due to injuries and he connected on 24-of-35 passes for 287 yards and one touchdown. Leon Washington caught seven passes for 62 yards and a score. Bishop Sankey carried the ball 14 times for 44 yards for the Titans (2-13), who have lost nine in a row.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Things we learned on Sunday of Week 16

Overall fantasy points leader, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck threw for less yards than rookie Blake Bortles. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick rushed for more yards than anyone except 49ers teammate Frank Gore. And Houston place-kicker Randy Bullock was successful on six field goal attempts.

So much for things going according to plan in Championship Weekend.

Below are a few more things we observed:


Cleveland at Carolina

The biggest question entering this matchup was how Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton would look after his unfortunate car accident. More specifically, owners were wondering how mobile he would be. Well, he looked good on the first possession, rushing two times for 19 yards, and showed no signs of laboring. Newton continued to look unaffected throughout the whole game, finishing with 201 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception, along with 65 rushing yards and one additional score on the ground.

Panthers’ tailback Jonathan Stewart has taken complete advantage of the absence of teammate DeAngelo Williams. After rushing for a combined total of 230 yards and one touchdown during his previous two games, Stewart was able to keep his hot hand going on Sunday, totaling 129 yards and a receiving touchdown to cap off his day.

The Johnny Manziel Show of 2014 may already be over. He left Sunday’s contest during the second quarter with a hamstring injury and was only 3-of-8 for 32 yards before his departure. Quarterback Brian Hoyer took over and was not particularly sharp, but he completed an 81-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Cameron to salvage both players’ afternoons. Hoyer finished 7-of-13 for 134 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Cameron’s long touchdown catch led to the majority of his team-high 88 receiving yards.

Carolina rookie wideout, Kelvin Benjamin, continued to be the Panthers’ top option. He had a team-high 12 targets for 47 yards on five catches. He is now just one yard short of his first 1,000-yard season.

Fantasy owners have been begging the Browns to stick with one featured running back, and they got their wish during Week 16. Isaiah Crowell recorded 16 carries, while no other player rushed more than two times. However, Crowell finished with just 55 yards on the day.


Detroit at Chicago

We had a Reggie Bush sighting. The Detroit Lions’ halfback had been dealing with an ankle injury for much of the season and had accumulated only 224 rushing yards, 187 receiving yards, and one score heading into Week 16. However, he opened up the scoring for Detroit with a first-quarter 13-yard touchdown run and finished with 98 combined yards.

Bush’s teammate, fellow tailback Joique Bell, has cemented himself as the lead back in Detroit, but had only three carries for five yards during the first half. Good thing they play two halves because Bell was able to help owners with a 17-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown run, which got him going. He ended up with 17 carries for 74 yards and two receptions for 13 more yards.

Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford was able to move the ball during the first half of play, passing for 148 yards. Yet what fantasy owners do not want to hear is the fact that he threw two interceptions inside the red zone before halftime. Unfortunately those owners stayed disappointed until the final whistle, because Stafford was unable to find the end zone and finished 22- of-39 for 243 yards.

Most of Stafford’s yards went to none other than receiver Calvin Johnson, who posted six receptions for 103 yards, on 12 targets.

With Chicago Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler benched for Week 16, Jimmy Clausen was given his first start since 2010, and he did a decent job during the first half. His numbers will not overwhelm you, but Clausen was able to manage 106 passing yards, along with completing an 11-yard touchdown pass to Matt Forte with 30 seconds left in the second quarter. He did throw for another score during the second half, but was plagued by seven drops from Chicago pass- catchers.

One of the culprits of those drops was Chicago wideout Alshon Jeffery. He did manage a touchdown on six catches for 72 yards, but clearly did not make the most of his 15 targets.

Forte’s second-quarter touchdown helped his afternoon immensely. He ended his afternoon with only 55 rushing yards on 19 carries, but was able to manage six receptions for 40 additional yards.


Baltimore at Houston

Houston Texans’ quarterback Case Keenum received his first start of the season, and while many did not expect him to do much coming into this game, he came out of the gate playing well, going 8-of-13 for 120 yards on three first- quarter possessions. He did enough to help Houston to a victory, but probably not fantasy owners as he threw for 185 yards and one interception, along with 19 yards rushing.

Houston running back Arian Foster tossed his first career pass, and he now owns an impressive passer-rating (127.1) after it went for a touchdown. Yet, the reason owners drafted Foster was for his running ability, and he totaled 96 yards on 25 carries, and also had one catch for 23 yards as well.

Texans’ wideout Andre Johnson was the biggest benefactor of Keenum starting the game. He saw nine targets during the first half, and caught five of them for 64 yards, but did almost nothing in the second half, adding just one more catch for one yard. His six receptions for 65 yards on 13 targets were all team-highs.

Hopefully owners started Houston place-kicker Randy Bullock. He was the fantasy stud of this matchup, converting all six of his field goal attempts, and totaling 19 points on the afternoon.

While Keenum and the Texans’ offense were able to move the ball during the first half, Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens had two quarters they would like to forget.

Baltimore’s quarterback had a dreadful opening half, going 3- of-18 for only 27 yards and two interceptions. His 16.7% completion percentage was the worst any quarterback has totaled in any half this season. Flacco did manage two touchdowns during the second half, but still had a horrible stat line, going 21-of-50 for 195 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.

Typically when a quarterback struggles, the rest of the team does as well. Ravens’ tailback Justin Forsett had his worst game of season, recording only 19 yards on 10 carries. Not what fantasy owners want out of their RB1 during the championship round.

Baltimore wide receiver Torrey Smith was the one player on the team who came through for owners during Week 16. He made the most of his 12 targets by catching five passes for 59 yards and two scores.


Minnesota at Miami

Fantasy owners who continue to start Minnesota Vikings’ running back Matt Asiata must understand that his production is dependent on whether he gets into the end zone or not. Those owners will be happy this week, as Asiata scored the opening touchdown of the game, on a 1-yard run and added his second on a 5-yard scamper during the fourth quarter. He finished in typical fashion with 16 carries for just 58 yards.

The guy who hands the ball off to Asiata, Teddy Bridgewater, has really improved as the season has progressed. The Vikings’ signal-caller connected on a beautiful third-down touchdown for 21 yards to wideout Greg Jennings, giving Minnesota a 14-0 lead. While that lead quickly disintegrated, Bridgewater ended his afternoon with a 114.1 passer rating, along with 259 yards, two scores and one interception.

Jennings’ touchdown grab was essentially his lone highlight. He finished with a team-high 58 receiving yards on three receptions.

Miami Dolphins’ quarterback Ryan Tannehill could not get much going through the first quarter and a half, but on his third possession the switch seemingly went on and he connected on the first of four touchdown passes. Tannehill threw for 396 yards with those four scores.

Dolphins’ receiver Mike Wallace has rebounded during his second season in Miami. He caught two touchdown passes, and now has an impressive 10 scores on the season.

Miami running back Lamar Miller had not totaled over 90 yards since Week 11, but came to life on Sunday. He likely made fantasy owners jump for joy, as he put together 19 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown, along with five catches for 58 more yards.


Atlanta at New Orleans

Steven Jackson doing what Steven Jackson does - sit due to injury, this time a quad. Remember when he was a reliable fantasy running back? Neither do I. Actually it was around 2009.

Matt Ryan had 209 yards and a touchdown ... at halftime. he would finish with 322 yards and the Falcons will play Carolina for the division title next weekend.

Julio Jones caught seven balls for 107 yards. Practice? We’re talkin’ ‘bout practice, man, practice. Apparently Jones, like Allen Iverson, doesn’t need it.

Did we see the future of the Falcons running game on a 31-yard touchdown run by Devonta Freeman?

Jalen Saunders took the opening kickoff back 99 yards, but somehow didn’t score. What are the odds of that? Mark Ingram’s fantasy owners thank him for the Christmas gift.

The Saints went for it on fourth and seven at the Atlanta 39 in the first quarter and the Drew Brees pass appeared to be picked off or at least incomplete and the announcer said it didn’t make a difference. I guess he didn’t have Brees as his fantasy league quarterback.

Brees hit Jimmy Graham for two touchdown passes, but on the first one the zebras ruled he failed to cross into the end zone before fumbling. I’d say they need to watch the game a bit closer. And no, I don’t have Graham on any of my five fantasy teams.


New England at New York Jets

The Jets had no one who could cover Rob Gronkowski. Too big and too fast. It’s a common complaint around the league. Gronk caught his 12th touchdown pass of the season tying him with Antonio Gates and Julius Thomas for the position lead.

Other than Tom Brady to Gronkowski, however, the Pats offense did little in the first half. They “amassed” 52 yards in the first 30 minutes and finished with just 231 yards.

Without LeGarette Blount, the Pats divided up the running back work fairly evenly between Jonas Gray, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden making no one fantasy worthy.

The Patriots’ win today was Bill Belichick’s 230th (including playoffs), passing Curly Lambeau for fourth on the all-time wins list by a head coach. For fantasy owners he’s ranked No. 1 as the “most frustratingly unpredictable coach.“

In fact, Geno Smith passed for more yards than Brady in this one (210-182). But hey, Geno, in the fourth quarter when you are in field goal range, don’t take a sack, dummy. Rex Ryan the blame is on you too. Why are you passing the ball?


Kansas City at Pittsburgh

Still waiting for that first Kansas City touchdown pass to a receiver. Glad I’m not holding my breath. Alex Smith did throw for 177 first-half yards and a season-high 313 yards.

Jamaal Charles was missing in action for a second straight weekend. It was a horrible time for him to go into a slump, with the fantasy championship on the line.

Le’Veon Bell continued to make his contribution to your championship hopes. This time with a 1-yard touchdown run. He has eight touchdowns in the last five games. He didn’t produce many yards, however, just 72 combined.

Antonio Brown made it 15 games in a row with five or more catches this season and 31 straight over two seasons.


Green Bay at Tampa Bay

Eddie Lacy apparently didn’t need his vision to get into the end zone. He’s been dealing with an eye issue due to his contact lenses, but it didn’t change the fact he’s been running the ball very well lately, including his longest touchdown run of the season from 44-yards out. His owners will be unhappy, however, because he finished the game with 99 yards rushing, one short of the bonus.

Aaron Rodgers wasn’t feeling well, injured his left leg and still threw for over 300 yards and a touchdown. He’s just that good.

Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson combined for 244 yards and a touchdown with both guys cracking the 100-yard mark.

With four minutes remaining in the first half the Bucs have 20 yards of offense. I hope you didn’t start any of them. They finished with 109 yards and three points. This Bucs team needs a complete rebuild.


New York Giants at St. Louis

Odell Beckham Jr. was at it again, catching an early touchdown pass. With his fourth catch of the day he passed Jeremy Shockey for receptions by a Giant rookie (74).

Beckham Jr. didn’t stop there. He caught a second touchdown pass, this one 80- yards in length, in the third quarter giving him his third consecutive 100- yard bonus performance (8-148-2) and sixth in his last eight games. Can you say fantasy superstar?

A great first half from Eli Manning: 16-of-18 for 200 passing yards and a TD. It was the highest first-half completion percentage of his career (88.9%). He finished 25-of-32 for 391 yards and three touchdowns.

Andre Williams rushed for more than 100-yards for the second time in three games. He’s starting to look better, but he still needs to figure out a way to get involved in the passing game if he wants to stay on the field and be a consistent fantasy-worthy asset.

The Rams’ Tre Mason put together another fine game despite limited touches. He ran the ball just seven times in the first half, but averaged 7.6 ypc and scored once. Too bad they fell so far behind they couldn’t use the running game.


Indianapolis at Dallas

The already-in-the-playoffs Colts looked like they were on vacation and not playing an NFL game.

The resulting blowout was a disaster for fantasy owners who had been carried for 14 weeks by fantasy points leader Andrew Luck. Luck sat down for good midway through the third quarter with a career-low 109 passing yards and two interceptions.

Indianapolis gambled on a fourth-down pass from punt formation at their own 19-yard line in the first quarter. When it backfired, the Cowboys went right to Dez Bryant for a quick-strike touchdown and the rout was on.

DeMarco Murray didn’t seemed too bothered by the hand injury. He scored a 1- yard run in the second quarter to give the Cowboys a 28-0 lead. That also should have signaled the time for the Dallas coaching staff to get him out of the game and rest his broken hand, but he played into the third quarter. Not sure why, but he added a few points for fantasy owners in that time.

Tony Romo was 13-of-14 for 155 yards and three touchdowns in the first 30 minutes. He completed 15 in a row though his third quarter touchdown pass to Jason Witten and finished 18-of-20 for 218 yards and four touchdowns.

What December swoon? Romo has 10 TD passes and zero interceptions this month. And his Cowboys are 3-0.


Buffalo at Oakland

In case you haven’t been paying attention, Dan Carpenter led the league in made field goals heading into Week 16. He hit a bonus-earning 54-yarder to end the first half.

Sammy Watkins caught a big one early (42-yard TD) in what was expected to be an easy win over the 2-12 Oakland Raiders. It’s always good to get your receiver an early touchdowns because if it does turn into a rout the winning team doesn’t throw much later on in the game. Of course, it didn’t turn out that way.

A Derek Carr touchdown pass was the first the Bills had given up in 17 quarters despite facing Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers during that time.

Latavius Murray started slowly, but finished the day with 23 carries for 85 yards. Fantasy owners have to like the workload with McFadden seeing the other nine rushing attempts.

Garbage time was good for Kyle Orton owners. Down by two scores for most of the fourth quarter Orton finished the day with 329 yards and three scores courtesy of two final stanza touchdown passes.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  With a No. 38 RPI, Wofford will gauge West Virginia’s ability to refocus

Not since their final night in San Juan had the West Virginia Mountaineers been so fiery and dogged, at least not to their coach’s satisfaction.

Bob Huggins sensed the ambush of Connecticut back on Nov. 23 evolved into a false pinnacle that left his team feeling too satiated. In complete accord was point guard Juwan Staten, who noticed a receding hunger from West Virginia’s first five games to its subsequent five.

What the Mountaineers needed to regain their edge, said Staten, turned out to be game No. 11, which resulted in Saturday night’s 83-69 win over N.C. State at Madison Square Garden.

“Yeah, I think we got it back,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve played with as much passion and intensity since Puerto Rico. We were wanting to get ranked and prove to the world how good we were, and once we did that, I think we got a little lax.”

If handling a solid ACC opponent showed a glimpse of WVU rekindled, Monday night’s quick-turn game against a mid-major that actually sports a higher RPI than the Wolfpack will test the ability to maintain.

Will the Mountaineers remain stuckin a New York state of mind, or is all this trap-game stuff nonsense? Here’s the primer for tonight …


WOFFORD (9-2) at No. 22 WEST VIRGINIA (10-1)

Tipoff: 7:30 PM Monday in Morgantown (West Virginia Media local TV affiliates)

Scouting Wofford: After a 20-13 season that culminated with an NCAA loss to Michigan, Wofford returned seven players who averaged 4.4 points or more. So the Southern Conference favorites possess continuity and chemistry. … The Terriers have never beaten a ranked team (0-19), but their 55-54 win at N.C.State on Dec. 14 certain caught WVU’s attention. … After dropping its opener 74-59 at Stanford, Wofford later fell 66-62 at William & Mary—a loss that ended a swing of five games in nine days. … Senior point guard Karl Cochran paces the team in scoring (13.6), rebounds (6.8), assists (3.3) and steals (2.2). Junior guard Spencer Collins adds 11.4 per game. The Terriers don’t feature a starter taller than 6-6.

Another Terriers tidbit: With an enrollment of 1,600 students, Wofford is the third-smallest school in Division I, ahead of only Presbyterian and VMI, which West Virginia beat 103-72 last month.

Williams awakens: Being 6-foot-8 and absurdly muscular doesn’t guarantee a player can get shots off at the rim, as Devin Williams’ 44-game career at West Virginia proves.

During a recent six-game stretch, when he made only 13-of-36 attempts (36 percent), Williams was particularly ineffective. That drought ended against N.C. State—one of the nation’s top shot-blocking teams—with a season-high 16 points on 6-of-11 shots.

“I’ve just got to continue to believe in my craft. Although I haven’t been playing real good offensively I’ve been in the gym everyday trying to figure it out,” Williams said. “I think this game really helped me out, really boosted my confidence.”

Fellow forward Jonathan Holton liked what Williams brought to the Garden: “Devin had energy. You could see it in him—he played like a real beast. It could be scary as we go forward.”

Huggins doles compliments: The rotations on the press haven’t always been reliable and the shooting has been downright dreadful in spurts, yet West Virginia has positioned itself to chase an NCAA bid with some winning work in the nonconference slate.

“This group, they let you coach them,” Huggins said. “I can get on their butts pretty good and they respond to it. They don’t take anything personal.”

Holton a threat from 3 again? The coach had no contempt for Holton launching late-game 3-pointers on Saturday. Huggins just wants more of them to go in, as Holton’s final two attempts did. Those lifted his season 3-point accuracy to 18 percent.

“If we’re going to make a serious run, he needs to make those shots,” Huggins said. “Because we can spread people then and let Wannie do what he does.

“We watch Jon shoot everyday—it’s not like he can’t shoot. It just hasn’t transferred over to the games yet. I think he gets anxious and gets in a hurry.”

Guard Jaysean Paige figures it’s a matter of time before Holton’s jump-shooting practice pays off.

“He works on that corner shot a lot, so I believe in him shooting the 3-ball. It hasn’t been falling, but as long as he works on it everyday, you can’t knock him for shooting it. It’s going to start falling sometime.”



<The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top-25 College Men’s Basketball Game Results

(Sunday, December 21)


Final Score: (6) Virginia 76, Harvard 27

Chalk up another impressive defensive effort for the unbeaten Virginia Cavaliers. Mike Tobey had 15 points and 10 rebounds, as the No. 6 ranked team dominated Harvard, 76-27, at John Paul Jones Arena. Malcolm Brogdon also scored 15 for Virginia (11-0), which is off to its best start since the 1992-93 season. The Cavaliers entered the day ranked second in the nation in scoring defense (47.9 ppg), behind only Kentucky (47.7 ppg). Virginia has held opponents under 70 points in a nation- leading 17 consecutive contests. It was also the second time this season the Cavaliers held an opponent under 30 points. They beat Rutgers, 45-26, on Nov. 29. Corbin Miller scored eight for Harvard (7-2), which shot 16 percent (8- of-50) from the field in its first game since a 12-day layoff for final exams. The Crimson had a six-game winning streak snapped. Harvard went 1-of-20 from the floor in the first half. That ties an NCAA record with Northern Illinois for fewest field goals in a half. The Huskies were 1-of-31 against Eastern Michigan on Jan. 26, 2013.


Final Score: (17) Maryland 73, Oklahoma State 64

Jake Layman’s first career double-double helped No. 17 Maryland overcome a late rally and top Oklahoma State, 73-64, in a non-conference showdown on Sunday. Layman shot 7-for-12, finishing with 21 points and 11 rebounds in Maryland’s fourth straight win following an 11-point loss to Virginia on Dec. 3. The Terrapins (11-1) won seven straight to open the season. Freshman Melo Trimble continued his strong play at point guard, making all seven of his free throws and netting 15 points with four assists, and fellow rookie Jared Nickens scored 11. Le’Bryan Nash had 17 points and nine boards to pace OSU (9-2), losers in two of four after also starting the season 7-0.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Nuggets’ Gallinari out indefinitely

Denver Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari has been diagnosed with a meniscus tear in his right knee and is out indefinitely.

The news was unexpected, as Gallinari scored 19 points and helped lead the Nuggets to a win over the Pacers on Saturday. He had been limited this season with knee soreness.

Gallinari is expected to undergo surgery.

The sixth-year forward is averaging 7.8 points and 3.0 rebounds in 18.8 minutes per game, the lowest totals since his rookie year.


►  NBA Game Results

(Sunday, December 21)


Final Score: Toronto 118, New York 108

Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams led the way with 22 points apiece as six players scored in double figures for the Toronto Raptors in a 118-108 victory over the New York Knicks on Sunday. Lowry also had nine assists and three steals for the Raptors, who have won six in a row. Greivis Vasquez and Terrence Ross tallied 21 and 18 points, respectively. Carmelo Anthony ended with 28 points for the Knicks, who have dropped five straight. Jason Smith and Jose Calderon contributed 16 and 15 points, respectively, with Calderon also dishing out 10 assists.


Final Score: Cleveland 105, Memphis 91

LeBron James scored 25 points and handed out 11 assists to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 105-91 win over the short-handed Memphis Grizzlies Sunday. Dion Waiters scored 21 off the bench for Cleveland, including 13 in the final quarter to keep the game out of reach. The Cavs shot 60.5 percent from the field while making 7-of-14 from long distance. Anderson Varejao chipped in 18 points and Kyrie Irving added 17 points with 12 assists in Cleveland’s second straight win. Memphis was without Tony Allen for the third straight game and Zach Randolph missed the contest with a sore right knee. In their absence, Marc Gasol scored 23 points, pulled down 11 boards and added five assists for the Grizzlies, losers of two straight. The Grizzlies were just 1-of-16 (6.3 percent) from beyond the arc and never led.


Final Score: Brooklyn 110, Detroit 105

Mason Plumlee posted 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Brooklyn Nets, who survived a late comeback effort by the Detroit Pistons to hold on for a 110-105 victory at the Barclays Center. Brooklyn had a 15-point fourth-quarter lead cut down to one after Kentavious Caldwell-Pope buried a 3-point shot with 9.8 seconds left, but held off the Pistons over the remainder to halt a three-game losing streak. Plumlee went 9-of-10 from the field and Joe Johnson recorded 16 points and seven assists for the Nets. Jarrett Jack, starting in place of an injured Deron Williams, contributed 15 points and 10 assists to the win. Caldwell-Pope finished with 20 points and Andre Drummond had 18 along with 20 rebounds—13 on the offensive end. However, the Pistons couldn’t complete the rally and fell for the 17th time in 19 games.


Final Score: Miami 100, Boston 84

Luol Deng scored 23 points to lead the Miami Heat to a 100-84 win over the Boston Celtics on Sunday. Heat forward Chris Bosh (calf) missed his fifth straight game, while Dwyane Wade (right knee contusion), Hassan Whiteside (left toe) and Josh McRoberts (knee) were also inactive. Rookie James Ennis posted his best scoring game as a pro, going for 16 points to help Miami snap its five-game home losing streak and two-game losing streak overall. Norris Cole had 15 points and Mario Chalmers supplied 11 points and 10 assists in the win.


Final Score: Philadelphia 96, Orlando 88

Behind 21 points and six assists from Michael Carter-Williams, the Philadelphia 76ers started a seven-game road trip with a 96-88 win over the Orlando Magic. Five players reached double figures for Philadelphia as it ended a five-game losing streak. Nerlens Noel posted 13 points and 12 rebounds, while Henry Sims and Robert Covington joined Noel by posting double-doubles as well. Sims had 12 points and 12 boards, with Covington recording 11 points and 10 rebounds. Victor Oladipo led all scorers with 23 points for the Magic, who have lost four straight and six of their last seven. Despite getting 19 points and 17 rebounds from Nikola Vucevic, Orlando was outrebounded by Philadelphia 52-43.


Final Score: Sacramento 108, LA Lakers 101

DeMarcus Cousins led the way with 29 points and 14 rebounds as the Sacramento Kings battled back in the fourth quarter to take a 108-101 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. Rudy Gay finished with 24 points and six assists, Ben McLemore had 23 points and eight boards and Darren Collison scored 19 for the Kings, who ended a five-game skid and won for the first time under interim head coach Tyrone Corbin. Nick Young had 26 points and Kobe Bryant supplied 25 points on a poor 8-of-30 shooting display for the Lakers, who have dropped their last three contests.


Final Score: Phoenix 104, Washington 92

Eric Bledsoe had 17 points and nine rebounds as the Phoenix Suns defeated the Washington Wizards 104-92 on Sunday night. Goran Dragic posted 16 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Markieff Morris tallied 17 points for Phoenix, which has won three straight on the heels of a six-game losing streak. John Wall recorded 14 points, eight assists, five boards and three steals and Bradley Beal added 14 points and seven boards for the Wizards, who had their six-game winning streak snapped.


Final Score: Indiana 100, Minnesota 96

C.J. Miles scored 28 points off the bench to lead the Indiana Pacers to a 100-96 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday. Roy Hibbert supplied 15 points with eight rebounds and David West netted 14 points for Indiana, which snapped an eight-game road losing streak. Mo Williams poured in 24 points with 10 assists for the Timberwolves, while Shabazz Muhammad and Chase Budinger deposited 21 and 13 points, respectively. Minnesota has lost five straight.


Final Score: New Orleans 101, Oklahoma City 99

Anthony Davis had 38 points and 12 rebounds as the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 101-99 on Sunday night. The Thunder regained possession with 10 seconds left following a Pelicans shot clock violation. Russell Westbrook got the ball at the top of the arc and dribbled to the left elbow before Jrue Holiday poked it away. Westbrook got it back at the 3-point line and rose for the triple from straightaway and the ball clanked off the front of the rim. Tyreke Evans came down with the rebound after Serge Ibaka’s tip attempt was off the mark to seal the outcome. Davis, who was 16-of-22 from the field, was coming off a 3-of-14 performance from the floor during New Orleans’ 114-88 blowout loss to Portland on Saturday night.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NHL Game Results

(Sunday, December 21)


Final Score: Colorado 2, Detroit 1 (SO)

Jarome Iginla scored the decisive goal in the ninth round of the shootout as the Colorado Avalanche edged the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 at Joe Louis Arena. Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene scored on Colorado’s first two chances in the tiebreaker, but the Red Wings stayed alive with goals from Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar in rounds two and three. Detroit’s Petr Mrazek and Colorado’s Calvin Pickard then matched one another save for save until Iginla’s goal to begin the ninth round. Pickard then made a right pad save on Brendan Smith to secure the victory. Pickard finished with 34 saves for the Avalanche, who have won back-to-back games for the first time since Nov. 22-25 and concluded their road trip at 2-0-1. They have played beyond regulation in four of their last five games, going 3-0-2 over that stretch. Mrazek, starting in place of Jimmy Howard (lower-body injury), made 22 saves for a Detroit team winless in its last six games (0-2-4). The Red Wings have totaled six goals during their current skid.


Final Score: Dallas 6, Edmonton 5 (SO)

Shawn Horcoff scored in the eighth round of the shootout to give the Dallas Stars a 6-5 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday. In the eighth round, Horcoff’s wrister went in between the pads of Ben Scrivens, and Anders Lindback stopped Anton Lander’s wrister with the glove for the win. Tyler Seguin had two goals and an assist, while Jamie Benn totaled a goal and an assist for the Stars, who have won four straight. Lindback stopped 9-of-10 shots to get the win in relief of Kari Lehtonen, who allowed four goals on 19 shots before getting pulled halfway through the second period. Taylor Hall scored two goals with an assist, Mark Arcobello had two goals and Teddy Purcell recorded a goal and two assists for the Oilers, who have lost seven straight. Scrivens stopped 40 shots in the loss.


Final Score: Boston 4, Buffalo 3 (OT)

Loui Eriksson scored the game-winning goal 2:14 into overtime to lift the Boston Bruins to a 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. Eriksson took a touch pass from Milan Lucic through the neutral zone and fought off a defender before firing a shot through the pads of Jhonas Enroth for the win. Dougie Hamilton finished with two goals and an assist, Chris Kelly also scored and Zdeno Chara added two helpers for the Bruins, who are 5-0-1 in their last six games against the Sabres. Tuukka Rask made 25 saves in the win. Tim Schaller scored his first NHL goal, while Andrej Meszaros and Rasmus Ristolainen also lit the lamp for the Sabres, who have dropped their last three. Enroth stopped 33-of-37 shots in defeat.


Final Score: NY Rangers 1, Carolina 0

Cam Talbot made 18 saves in backstopping the surging New York Rangers to a 1-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes Sunday night in the back end of a home-and-home set. Ryan McDonagh scored in the first period to give Talbot all the support he needed. The backup goaltender, who signed a contract extension on Friday, has three wins this season, all coming via shutout. The Rangers won their season-high sixth straight game and continued their home dominance against the Hurricanes, who have dropped eight in a row at Madison Square Garden. Anton Khudobin played well for Carolina, making 30 saves, but he still remains in search of his first win this season. The Hurricanes have lost eight of their last nine games overall.


Final Score: Chicago 4, Toronto 0

Antti Raanta stopped 31 shots for his second shutout of the season to lead the Chicago Blackhawks in a 4-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday. Patrick Kane posted a goal and two assists while David Rundblad, Jonathan Toews and Kris Versteeg all lit the lamp for the Blackhawks, who have won three of their last four. James Reimer allowed all four goals on 34 shots for the Maple Leafs, who have dropped their past three.


Final Score: Philadelphia 4, Winnipeg 3 (OT)

Jakub Voracek’s goal 10 seconds into overtime finished off a furious comeback as the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Winnipeg Jets, 4-3, on Sunday. Claude Giroux pressured Dustin Byfuglien on the forecheck and Voracek was there to take the loose puck and emerge from behind the net to beat Ondrej Pavelec with a quick wrister for the win. Voracek continued his frenetic scoring pace with two goals and Vincent Lecavalier’s second goal of the night tied the game late in regulation for the Flyers, who were coming off a 7-4 win over Toronto on Saturday. Rob Zepp stopped 25-of-28 shots in his NHL debut. The 33-year-old became the oldest NHL netminder to win his first career start since 41-year-old Hugh Lehman in 1926. Matt Halischuk, Mathieu Perreault and Byfuglien all lit the lamp for the Jets, who had their two-game winning streak come to an end. Pavelec made 19 stops in defeat.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Muhammad Ali hospitalized with pneumonia

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali has been hospitalized with a mild case of pneumonia, according to several media reports.

The 72-year-old, three-time world heavyweight champion, who has been battling Parkinson’s disease for 30 years, went to an undisclosed hospital Saturday morning. His prognosis is “good” for recovery, spokesman Bob Gunnell said in a statement to several media outlets.

Ali, who retired from boxing in 1981, has traveled the globe on humanitarian missions. He was the final Summer Olympic torchbearer in 1996.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


MONDAY, DECEMBER 22, 2014


National Football League
Denver at Cincinnati, 8:30 PM - ESPN


National Basketball Association
Denver at Charlotte, 7:00 PM - Altitude, SportSouth, DSS
Toronto at Chicago, 8:00 PM - SNET One, CSN-Chicago, DSS
Portland at Houston, 8:00 PM - KGW, ROOT-Southwest, DSS
Utah at Memphis, 8:00 PM - ROOT-Northwest, SportSouth, DSS
Atlanta at Dallas, 8:30 PM - SportSouth, FS-Southwest, DSS
LA Clippers at San Antonio, 8:30 PM - FS-Prime Ticket, Southwest, DSS
Sacramento at Golden State, 10:30 PM - CSN-California, Bay, DSS


National Hockey League
Nashville at Columbus, 7:00 PM - FS-Tennessee, Ohio, DSS
Ottawa at Washington, 7:00 PM - RDS, TSN5, CSN-DC, DSS
Pittsburgh at Florida, 7:30 PM - ROOT-Pittsburgh, FS-Florida, DSS
San Jose at Anaheim, 10:00 PM - CSN-California, FS-Prime Ticket, DSS
Arizona at Vancouver, 10:00 PM - FS-Arizona, SNET-Pacific, NHL Network, DSS
Calgary at Los Angeles, 10:30 PM - SNET-West, KCOP, DSS


College Basketball
Stetson at Florida State, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Ill-Chicago at Northwestern, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Ohio vs. George Washington, 2:30 PM - ESPN U
Elon at Kennesaw State, 3:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Dartmouth at Penn State, 4:00 PM - Big Ten Network+
DePaul vs. Colorado, 4:30 PM - ESPN U
Manhattan vs. Fordham, 6:00 PM - SNY
Citadel at Michigan State, 6:00 PM - Big Ten Network+
Miami-Ohio at Ohio State, 6:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Gardner-Webb at Purdue, 6:00 PM - Big Ten Network+
UT Martin at Butler, 7:00 PM - FS1
Oakland at Clemson, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Florida A&M at East Carolina, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Towson at Navy, 7:00 PM - Patriot League Network
Northern Ill at Notre Dame, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Liberty at Princeton, 7:00 PM - Ivy League Digital Network
Colgate at Syracuse, 7:00 PM - ESPN U
Kansas vs. Temple, 7:00 PM - ESPN 2
Mercer at Tennessee, 7:00 PM - SEC Network
SE Louisiana at UCF, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
East Tennessee State at VCU, 7:00 PM - CSN-DC+
VMI at Virginia Tech, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Bucknell at Wake Forest, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
New Orleans at Indiana, 7:05 PM - Big Ten Network
Columbia vs. Connecticut, 7:30 PM - SNY
Long Beach State at St. John’s, 7:30 PM - CBSSN
Wofford at West Virginia, 7:30 PM - WV Media
Southern at Baylor, 8:00 PM - FS-Southwest
UAB at Chattanooga, 8:00 PM - FSN, American Sports Network, MASN
Charleston Southern at Colorado State, 8:00 PM - Mountain West Network
North Florida at Iowa, 8:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Coppin State at Michigan, 8:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Furman at Minnesota, 8:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Weber State at Oklahoma, 8:00 PM - Sooner Sports
Chicago State at SIU Edwardsville, 8:00 PM - FS-Midwest
Incarnate Word at Tulsa, 8:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Penn at Vanderbilt, 8:00 PM - SEC Network+
Jacksonville State at Air Force, 9:00 PM - Mountain West Network
Milwaukee at Arkansas, 9:00 PM - ESPN U
Wisconsin at California, 9:00 PM - ESPN 2
College of Charleston at LSU, 9:00 PM - SEC Network
North Dakota at Marquette, 9:00 PM - FS-Wisconsin
Northern New Mexico at New Mexico State, 9:00 PM - ESPN3.com
UC Santa Barbara at Oregon, 9:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Miami-Florida vs. Providence, 9:00 PM - FS1
UC Riverside at San Diego State, 11:00 PM - FS-San Diego
Tulane at Washington, 11:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Loyola Marymount vs. Wichita State, 11:00 PM - ESPN U
Nebraska at Hawaii, 1:00 AM - ESPN U


Women’s College Basketball
Temple at Villanova, 11:30 AM - Big East Digital Network
Belmont at Georgia, 7:00 PM - SEC Network+
UT Martin at Missouri, 8:00 PM - SEC Network+


College Football
BYU vs. Memphis (Miami Beach Bowl), 2:00 PM - ESPN


International Soccer
Juventus FC vs. SSC Napoli, 12:30 PM - beIN Sport
Stoke vs. Chelsea, 2:55 PM - NBCSN

Sports News   141221

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  Michigan transfer Ferns officially joins WVU with an eye toward 2016

West Virginia confirmed Friday that Michigan transfer Michael Ferns will enroll for spring semester. The former four-star middle linebacker redshirted as a true freshman for the Wolverines and must sit out the 2015 season under NCAA transfer rules, but he could play a crucial role beginning in 2016 when WVU must replace Nick Kwiatkoski and a host of other linebackers.

“It’s perfect timing,” said Rivals senior writer Keenan Cummings, noting that Shaq Petteway, EDward Muldrow, Jared Barber and Isaiah Bruce also will be departing by the time Ferns regains eligibility. “With all those guys leaving, West Virginia could really use a player like Ferns.”

At 6-foot-3, 239 pounds, Ferns leaves Michigan just weeks after the firing of Brady Hoke and only a year after coming out of Saint Clairsville, Ohio, as one of the nation’s top-rated insider linebackers. Rivals ranked him 14th at the position and 211th overall in the Class of 2014.

Ferns was a primary target for Ohio State and held offers from the likes of Alabama, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Penn State, Stanford and West Virginia. Ferns grew up a Mountaineers fan near Wheeling, helping his decision to move closer to home.

“He played high school in Ohio, was sought after very young, commits to Michigan as a sophomore and he had a goal in mind, and part of that was playing for Coach Hoke,” his father, Mike Ferns, told MLive.com this week. “And then you get there, and a lot of what you thought you were fighting for is no longer there, it makes it a little tougher.

“So now, the question is, you have an opportunity to play for the school you grew up rooting for (West Virginia)—a lot of kids don’t get that chance. I understand Michigan and WVU, academically, aren’t in the same neighborhood. But Michael is the type of kid who is going to do well in life no matter what he does.”

Ferns was slowed by a hamstring injury in his first season at Michigan, and now will be two years deep into his college career before seeing his first live-game action.

“He’s better against the run than he is against the pass,” Cummings said. “”He doesn’t struggle in coverage, it’s just not his strong suit. But you don’t get the kind of offers he got out of high school unless you can play.”

Ferns has a younger brother, Brendan, a top linebacking prospect for 2016 who already holds offers from Ohio State, WVU, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Pitt and others. Brendan just wrapped up his junior season at 6-3, 223 and shows the speed to play outside linebacker in college.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  College Football Bowl Game Results

(Saturday, December 20)

Final Score: Louisiana 16, Nevada 3

Once again, the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns felt right at home in the Big Easy. Terrance Broadway threw for 227 yards and Hunter Stover kicked three field goals as the Ragin Cajuns won an unprecedented fourth straight New Orleans Bowl with a 16-3 triumph over Nevada. Broadway completed a crisp 26-of-31 passes with a first-quarter touchdown to C.J. Bates, though it was Louisiana’s defense that played the biggest role in the program’s latest successful venture into the Superdome. Louisiana (9-4) held the Wolf Pack to season-low totals in points and total yards (213), with Nevada (7-6) mustering just 89 on the ground after rushing for 223 or more in five straight games coming in. Cody Fajardo, Nevada’s dual-threat quarterback, was kept squarely in check in his final collegiate game, throwing for a mere 124 yards on 14-of-29 passing and gaining 49 yards on 13 carries. Elijah McGuire put up 153 yards from scrimmage to help the Cajuns close out the season with an eighth win in nine tries, with James Butler recording eight catches for 53 yards in the victory.


Final Score: Utah State 21, UTEP 6

The New Mexico Bowl was bereft of big plays, but Kent Myers accounted for two of them as Utah State grinded out a 21-6 victory over UTEP on Saturday. Myers ran for a 48-yard touchdown in the first quarter and set up a Nick Vigil TD run in the third with a 46-yard pass to JoJo Natson. The Aggies were otherwise stagnant on offense, but so were the Miners, who converted 5-of-20 third-down tries and managed just 149 rushing yards, well below their season average of 212. Utah State (10-4) reached double-digit wins for the second time in school history and posted its third straight postseason victory. The Miners (7-6) were hoping to end their campaign the way they started—with a win at University Stadium in Albuquerque. They upended New Mexico there in the season opener behind Aaron Jones’ 237 yards and three TDs on the ground, but Jones was limited to 88 yards on 25 carries in the finale. Jameill Showers completed 13-of-24 passes for 126 yards and an interception in defeat.


►  Utah crushes Colorado State in Las Vegas Bowl

Travis Wilson accounted for four scores as No. 23 Utah crushed Colorado State, 45-10, in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Wilson was 17-for-26 for 158 yards with a touchdown and an interception and added 11 carries for 91 yards and three scores for the Utes (9-4), who improved to 3-1 in this bowl game.

Devontae Booker had 26 carries for 162 yards and a score and Bubba Poole added a rushing touchdown for Utah, which won its first bowl game since a 30-27 overtime triumph versus Georgia Tech in the 2011 Sun Bowl.

Garrett Grayson was 20-for-34 for 227 yards with an interception and also caught a touchdown pass for the Rams (10-3), who fell to 6-8 in bowl games.

Colorado State was being coached by offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin as former head coach Jim McElwain bolted for Florida earlier this month.

Utah’s first snap of the game was a trick play that saw a reverse go to the left before a lateral back to the right got the ball to Wilson, who went deep for a 36-yard completion to Kaelin Clay. Two plays later, Wilson ran it in from eight yards out for a 7-0 lead.

The Utes’ second touch saw the team find the end zone again, as Wilson went to the left corner of the end zone where Delshawn McClellon made a leaping grab for a 16-yard score. Troy McCormick’s 49-yard run set up the touchdown.

Colorado State got on the board on its next possession with a trick play of its own. At the Utah 39, Charles Lovett took a toss to the right and then went back to the left for Grayson, who caught the pass and raced into the end zone to make it a 14-7 game with 5:42 to play in the first quarter.

Utah, though, quickly answered, as Booker took the first snap up the middle and raced down the right sideline for a 60-yard score and a 21-7 lead.

The Rams were able to get a 41-yard field goal from Jared Roberts to make it an 11-point game with 2:09 to play in the first quarter, and had a chance to cut further into their lead whem Wilson was picked off by DeAndre Elliott, but the team was unable to move the ball and had to punt.

Utah moved the ball 37 yards on eight plays, capping the drive with a 38-yard field goal from Andy Phillips to make it a 24-10 game with 8:25 left in the first half.

Phillips attempted another 38-yard field goal on the last play of the first half, but hit it off the left upright and it stayed out.

Colorado State got into scoring position on its first possession of the second half as Roberts lined up for a 44-yard field goal attempt, but he missed it well to the left.

Utah took advantage of the miss to build on its lead, as Wilson capped a 10- play, 73-yard match with a 15-yard run into the end zone for a 31-10 advantage with 4:12 to play in the third.

Early in the fourth, Utah recovered a fumble at the CSU 12, and the next snap saw Wilson run it in for a 38-10 lead 1 1/2 minutes into the final frame.

Grayason had a pass picked off on Colorado State’s next possession and that led to a 10-yard TD run by Poole.

Game Notes

Utah improved to 14-4 in bowl games, overall ... Utah leads the series with its former Mountain West Conference foe, 56-22-2 ... Utah totaled 548 yards to just 278 for Colorado State ... The Utes controlled the ball for nearly 34 minutes ... Colorado State’s Rashar Higgins led all receivers with seven catches for 110 yards.


►  Louisiana stifles Nevada in New Orleans Bowl

Once again, the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns felt right at home in the Big Easy.

Terrance Broadway threw for 227 yards and Hunter Stover kicked three field goals as the Ragin Cajuns won an unprecedented fourth straight New Orleans Bowl with a 16-3 triumph over Nevada.

Broadway completed a crisp 26-of-31 passes with a first-quarter touchdown to C.J. Bates, though it was Louisiana’s defense that played the biggest role in the program’s latest successful venture into the Superdome.

Louisiana (9-4) held the Wolf Pack to season-low totals in points and total yards (213), with Nevada (7-6) mustering just 89 on the ground after rushing for 223 or more in five straight games coming in.

Cody Fajardo, Nevada’s dual-threat quarterback, was kept squarely in check in his final collegiate game, throwing for a mere 124 yards on 14-of-29 passing and gaining 49 yards on 13 carries.

“We put together four quarters of possibly the best football we’ve played this season,“ said Ragin Cajuns head coach Mark Hudspeth. “Terrance was spot-on and our running game was efficient. We played really solid defense and were able to apply pressure.“

Elijah McGuire put up 153 yards from scrimmage to help the Cajuns close out the season with an eighth win in nine tries, with James Butler recording eight catches for 53 yards in the victory.

The 10 AM local time kickoff seemed to affect the West Coast-based Wolf Pack, as Louisiana thoroughly dominated the first quarter of play. The Ragin Cajuns outgained Nevada by a 137-35 margin in total yards for the period, while scoring on their first two drives to build a 10-0 lead.

Broadway, who completed his first 14 passes, marched Louisiana 77 yards in just eight plays on the game’s opening possession, which the senior quarterback capped with a 17-yard touchdown strike to Bates on 3rd-and-9.

The Cajuns grinded out 60 yards in 13 plays on their second series, positioning Stover to knock through a 46-yard field goal with 2:55 left in the first quarter.

Nevada was able to move into the red zone on its third drive of the day, with Fajardo’s 9-yard connection with Jarred Gipson on 4th-and-4 extending the sequence. The Wolf Pack came up empty, however, when Sean Thomas knocked the ball loose from Wyatt Demps following a short catch and Louisiana recovered at its own 11.

An 8-yard shank by Ragin Cajuns punter Daniel Cadona shortly after the turnover gave Nevada back the ball at the opposing 26-yard line. The Wolf Pack later had a 1st-and-goal from the 1, but a false start penalty and two Fajardo incompletions forced them to settle for Brent Zuzo’s field goal that cut the lead to 10-3 late in the second quarter.

“I look at the first half as a case of missed opportunities,“ said Nevada head coach Brian Polian. “Give Louisiana all the credit. They made all the plays and didn’t do the things to shoot themselves in the foot.“

Lenny Jones came up with a big defensive play for Nevada midway through the third quarter to keep it a one-score game, sacking Broadway with the Cajuns in scoring range and recovering the resulting fumble. However, the Wolf Pack offense crossed midfield just once in the second half, when they were stopped on downs at the Louisiana 35 with around nine minutes left.

“(This) was our best defensive effort by far,“ Hudspeth said. “We wanted to get pressure on (Fajardo). He was able to get out of the pocket a couple of times. But we were able to get him to. Got some big sacks and lost yardage plays that allowed us to come after him again.“

The Ragin Cajuns created some more distance by putting together a 15-play, 77- yard trek that overlapped the third and fourth quarters and consumed nearly 7 1/2 minutes. It again ended in a Stover field goal, this one from 30 yards away with 11:51 to play.

Stover tacked on a 35-yard kick with under five minutes remaining to increase the lead to 16-3, with Broadway’s 31-yard pass to Gabe Fuselier on third down setting up the attempt.

Game Notes

Nevada had scored at least 20 points in every game this season, while its previous low mark for total yards was 256 at San Jose State on September 27 ... McGuire, the 2014 Sun Belt Player of the Year, had 99 rushing yards on 16 attempts and five catches for 54 yards ... Fajardo became the first FBS player this season to pass for over 2,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 ... Stover’s three field goals tied a New Orleans Bowl record held by former Cajun Brett Baer, who did so against East Carolina in 2012 ... Louisiana’s four New Orleans Bowl wins are the most in the game’s history, breaking a tie it had held with Southern Mississippi ... The Sun Belt has now won each of the last six New Orleans Bowls ... Nevada has lost seven of its last eight bowl appearances.


►  Falcons edge Jaguars late in inaugural Camellia Bowl

South Alabama took its first lead in its first bowl game with 1:20 remaining, but it didn’t take long for Bowling Green to go back in front.

What a way to snap a 10-year bowl win drought.

James Knapke tossed a go-ahead 78-yard touchdown pass to Roger Lewis with 1:06 remaining and the Falcons defeated the Jaguars 33-28 in the inaugural Camellia Bowl on Saturday night.

Bowling Green regained the advantage 16 seconds after Terrance Timmons scampered in from three yards out off a pitch to the left side, staking South Alabama to a 28-27 edge.

Knapke lofted a perfect pass down the right seam to Lewis on the ensuing offensive snap to help the Falcons vault back ahead.

Jude Adjei-Barimah intercepted Brandon Bridge on South Alabama’s first play of its next drive to essentially seal the outcome. The Jaguars then forced a potential three-and-out, but committed a roughing the kicker penalty on a Joe Davidson punt to give the Falcons a fresh set of downs.

Bowling Green recorded its first bowl win since the 2004 GMAC Bowl, when it beat Memphis 52-35.

Knapke completed 25-of-39 passes for 368 yards with two touchdowns, Lewis finished with four receptions for 137 yards and two scores, Gehrig Dieter caught seven balls for 108 yards for the Falcons (8-6), who snapped a three- game losing streak.

Travis Greene ran for a pair of scores in the triumph.

No program had ever made a bowl game quicker than South Alabama. The Jaguars made it into the postseason in just their second year as a full-fledged FBS team after beginning the football program in 2009.

Bridge, who was just 4-of-13 for 34 yards in the first half, finished 20-of-37 for 279 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for South Alabama (6-7), which went 6-6 last season but was not invited to a bowl game.

Danny Woodson had six catches for 122 yards in defeat.

Bridge hit Woodson down the left sideline with a 45-yard completion to move the ball to the Bowling Green 32. Bridge floated 18-yard TD pass to DeMarrion Buford-Hughes four plays later to trim the Jaguars’ deficit to 27-21 with 11:23 to go.

Fred Coppet burst through a huge hole up the middle for a 31-yard run on the first snap of Bowling Green’s following sequence. Montell Garner committed a pass interference penalty in the end zone on a 3rd-and-3 to put the ball at the 2, but Greene was unable to get in on three consecutive carries. Tyler Tate then hooked an 18-yard field goal wide left to keep it a one-score contest midway through the fourth.

Earlier, Lewis hauled in a 44-yard TD catch to cap the Falcons’ opening 7- play, 65-yard march and the Falcons went up 14-0 on Greene’s 1-yard TD plunge a possession later.

South Alabama answered, though, as Kendall Houston broke off a 44-yard TD run down the right sideline to trim the gap in half.

Tate nailed a 39 and 22-yard field goal in the second to help the Falcons take a 20-7 cushion into the locker room.

Bridge’s 15-yard TD sprint along the left sideline with six minutes to go in the third got South Alabama within 20-14, but Greene’s 17-yard TD run on Bowling Green’s next touch helped it go back up by 13, 27-14.

Game Notes

Knapke surpassed the 350-plus yard passing mark for the third time in his career ... Bowling Green was coming off a 51-17 loss to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship Game ... Bowling Green outgained South Alabama, 500-415 ... The Jaguars went 5-of-15 on third down, while the Falcons finished 7- of-21.


►  Air Force runs past Western Michigan in Potato Bowl

Shayne Davern ran for 101 yards with a pair of touchdowns, as Air Force used its patented ground attack to claim a 38-24 win over Western Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on the blue turf at Albertsons Stadium on the campus of Boise State.

D.J. Johnson added 83 rushing yards and a score for the Falcons (10-3), who ranked seventh in the nation in rushing during the regular season at 272.2 yards per game and finished with 284 yards on the ground to snap a two-game bowl losing streak. Kale Pearson threw for 77 yards and chipped in 41 on 14 carries in the victory.

Zach Terrell threw for 297 yards with three touchdowns to Corey Davis, who hauled in eight passes for 176 yards in defeat. Western Michigan (8-5) has never won a bowl game in six tries.

Western Michigan managed only one first down on its first three possessions of the second half, then marched 92 yards on nine plays to pull within 23-17 with 13:26 remaining in the fourth when Terrell hit Davis down the left sideline with a 35-yard touchdown pass.

The Broncos got the ball right back after a punt and a 10-yard pass from Terrell to Davis put Western Michigan at the Air Force 43. Two plays later, though, Terrell fumbled and Dexter Walker raced 60 yards the other way for a score. The two-point conversion gave Air Force a 31-17 lead.

Western Michigan’s next series ended in a fourth-down incomplete pass and the Falcons converted 4th-and-6 with a 26-yard Colton Huntsman run to set up the clinching score, a 9-yard burst by Johnson on the next play.

Terrell and Davis hooked up again for a 51-yard score with 3:16 remaining to account for the final margin, as Air Force recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran off the remaining time.

Air Force’s Devin Rushing fumbled on the first play from scrimmage and Western Michigan took advantage with a 25-yard field goal from Andrew Haldeman, but the Falcons went in front later in the first quarter when Davern scored on a 1-yard run to cap a 61-yard drive. A fumbled snap on the point-after attempt left it 6-3.

Davis hauled in a 47-yard touchdown pass from Terrell early in the second quarter to put the Broncos back on top, but it didn’t take long for the Falcons to answer as Davern took a simple handoff up the middle on the third play after the kickoff and broke free for a 55-yard touchdown run.

Air Force appeared to be stopped on its next offensive series, but Davern took the snap on a fake punt and ran eight yards to convert 4-and-2. The Falcons continued the march and Rushing finished the 15-play, 80-yard set with a leaping touchdown run from the one on fourth down to make it 20-10 with 2:32 remaining in the first half.

Will Conant drilled a 31-yard field goal on Air Force’s second possession of the third quarter to extend the margin to 23-10.

Game Notes

Air Force improved to 11-12-1 all-time in bowl games and won for the first time since the 2010 Independence Bowl ... Terrell, who completed 19-of-38 passes, was also Western Michigan’s leading rusher with 61 yards on 11 carries ... Western Michigan’s Jarvion Franklin, the MAC’s top freshman, managed only 26 yards on 12 carries ... The Broncos outgained the Falcons, 376-361 ... This was the first meeting between the two programs.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Broncos list Manning questionable for Monday

The Denver Broncos have declared quarterback Peyton Manning as questionable for Monday night’s game at Cincinnati due to a thigh injury the five-time league MVP sustained last week.

Manning, who was a limited practice participant during the week, is still fully expected to start Monday’s contest, however. He was held out of one series of Sunday’s 22-10 win at San Diego after taking a shot to his thigh while blocking Chargers linebacker Donald Butler on a running play but played the entire second half following a brief visit to the locker room.

The 38-year-old has never missed a start in 16 of his 17 NFL seasons, the lone exception being the 2011 campaign. Manning sat out that entire season, his last with the Indianapolis Colts, after undergoing spinal fusion surgery.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is also questionable for Denver’s Week 16 tilt after sitting out Saturday’s practice with an illness. Offensive tackle Ryan Clady (thigh) and running backs Ronnie Hillman (foot) and Juwan Thompson (foot) were deemed 50/50 as well, though all were limited practice participants throughout the week.

Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, tight end Julius Thomas and running back C.J. Anderson, each of whom are dealing with minor ankle issues, are all probable to face the Bengals.

Linebacker Brandon Marshall, Denver’s leading tackler, has been ruled out after spraining his left foot in the San Diego game.


►  Browns put S Gipson on IR

The Cleveland Browns have shut down safety Tashaun Gipson for the remainder of the season, placing the playmaking defensive back on injured reserve Saturday due to a lingering knee injury.

Gipson tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee against Atlanta on November 23 and sat out the Browns’ next three games.

The former undrafted free agent was leading the NFL with six interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown in a Week 2 win over New Orleans, at the time of the injury. Gipson added 52 tackles and eight passes defensed while starting Cleveland’s first 11 games.

Linebacker Scott Solomon was elevated from the practice squad to the active roster in a corresponding move.


►  NFL Game Resuts

(SATURDAY, DECEMBER 20)


Final Score: Washington 27, Philadelphia 24

Kai Forbath kicked a 26-yard field goal with five seconds remaining to lift the Washington Redskins to a 27-24 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday. The Redskins snapped a six-game losing streak and dealt a significant blow to the Eagles’ playoff hopes. Philadelphia has lost three straight games since a Thanksgiving win at Dallas gave it sole possession of first place in the NFC East. A win at home by the Cowboys against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday will eliminate the Eagles from postseason contention. The Eagles (9-6) have been prone to turning the ball over this season and cornerback Bashaud Breeland intercepted Mark Sanchez’s pass at the Washington 42-yard line inside the two- minute warning. Robert Griffin III then threw a short pass to Pierre Garcon, who spun out of a defender’s grasp for a 23-yard gain. A roughing the passer penalty tacked on 15 more yards and the Redskins added one more first down, forcing Philadelphia to use each of its three timeouts before Forbath nailed the go-ahead kick. The Eagles, who had erased a 24-14 deficit, were still alive with three seconds remaining because Forbath drilled Trey Burton with the kickoff at midfield. Cornerback David Amerson knocked down Sanchez’s pass in the end zone to end the game. Griffin completed 16-of-23 passes for 220 yards with one interception and Darrel Young had two 1-yard touchdown runs in the third quarter for Washington (4-11). Sanchez was 37- of-50 for 374 yards and threw two touchdown passes to Riley Cooper. Tight end Zach Ertz set an Eagles franchise record with 15 catches for a career-high 115 yards.


Final Score: San Diego 38, San Francisco 35 (OT)

Philip Rivers’ arm got the San Diego Chargers to overtime. Eric Weddle’s arm helped them win the game once they got there. Rivers led two touchdown drives in the final nine minutes of regulation and Weddle forced a fumble that led to Nick Novak’s winning 40-yard field goal in overtime, as the Chargers rallied to beat the San Francisco 49ers 38-35 in a thriller on Saturday night. San Diego trailed by 21 points at halftime and by 14 in the fourth quarter before Rivers’ touchdown passes to Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd, the last one coming with 29 seconds left on the clock. Weddle, the veteran safety, stripped wide receiver Quinton Patton on a 20-yard end-around—just San Francisco’s second play in overtime—and Novak split the uprights for the win. Rivers passed for 356 yards with four touchdowns and San Diego (9-6) overcame his three interceptions, including two that led to 14 San Francisco points in the first half. The playoff-hopeful Chargers stopped a two-game losing streak, winning without injured stars Ryan Mathews and Keenan Allen. Despite 355 rushing yards, the 49ers (7-8) suffered their fourth straight loss, guaranteeing them their first non-winning season under Jim Harbaugh. Colin Kaepernick had the second-longest touchdown run by a quarterback in NFL history, a 90-yarder late in the third quarter that restored San Francisco’s 14-point lead. It came two just two plays after his fumble was recovered in the end zone by Corey Liuget for a San Diego touchdown. Kaepernick passed for 114 yards with a touchdown to Bruce Ellington and rushed for 151 on seven carries. Frank Gore added 158 yards on 26 rushes, including a 52-yard touchdown run less than two minutes into the game.


(THURSDAY, DECEMBER 18)


Final Score: Jacksonville 21, Tennessee 13

Jordan Todman’s 62-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter highlighted the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 21-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night. Blake Bortles completed 13-of-26 passes for 115 yards and one touchdown for the Jaguars, who scored 21 straight points after falling behind 10-0. Todman carried the ball five times for 71 yards for Jacksonville (3-12), which avenged a 16-14 loss to these Titans on Oct. 12. Toby Gerhart rushed for 53 yards and a score on 12 carries. Tennessee turned back to Charlie Whitehurst due to injuries and he connected on 24-of-35 passes for 287 yards and one touchdown. Leon Washington caught seven passes for 62 yards and a score. Bishop Sankey carried the ball 14 times for 44 yards for the Titans (2-13), who have lost nine in a row.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Checklist to a championship

Fantasy owners have less than a day to make their final preparations for their championship matchups. Every decision, right on down to the defenses and kickers, matters.

Despite the importance of every choice, it is also vital not to micromanage the team at this point. In order to help fantasy owners on the verge of a title, here is a checklist to follow before submitting the Week 16 lineup.

When in doubt, start the studs

Championship week is not the time to get cute. Owners obviously hated Josh Hill stealing two touchdowns from Jimmy Graham in the semifinals last week, but this week is not the time to roll with Hill.

Although Graham has been disappointing based on his ADP, he leads the Saints with 73 catches, 782 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Don’t overthink it. Leave him in the lineup.

Even studs with poor matchups should be left in lineups. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders might not receive as many opportunities as normal against a good Bengals pass defense. The Broncos may deploy a run-first game plan because Cincinnati struggles to stop the run, but Thomas and Sanders must be in lineups. It only takes one Peyton Manning pass to score major fantasy points.

The same goes for Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. The Chiefs allow the second- least passing yards in the league and have given up just two rushing touchdowns this season

It doesn’t matter. Brown has at least five catches and 70 yards in every game this season, and Bell has at least 100 total yards and a touchdown in the last four games. Don’t sit them now.

Identity boom-or-bust players versus safe players

If an owner is stuck between two different players and can’t decide who to start, this strategy is sometimes helpful.

First, identity if one of the players has higher upside or higher risk.

Here’s an example: in my 12-team league, Giovani Bernard and Martavis Bryant are two possibilities to start in my FLEX spot for a 12-team league. Unless the Bengals run 45 times for 244 yards again versus the Broncos, Bernard’s value is limited because Jeremy Hill is the first-down back.

As for Bryant, he has been the very definition of boom-or-bust this year. Since Week 7, he has five games with 10 or more fantasy points and three games with three or fewer points in standard leagues.

Therefore, Bryant has the much higher upside, but comes with higher risk as well.

Next, look at your opponent’s lineup and determine whether it might take a big score out of the position in question to beat him.

In my case, I feel confident enough in the rest of my team against my opponent’s squad. In that case, settle for some points and start the “safe” player.

If owners feel as though their opponent has a chance for a huge day, and more points to win are necessary, the high-risk, high-reward player would be the better start.

Avoid kickers in bad weather

Unless owners have stud kickers Stephen Gostkowski and Cody Parkey, kickers in cold weather should be avoided. Those two are excellent kickers on great offenses, so barring a snowstorm, they are the exception to this rule.

Connor Barth is the only other kicker in a cold weather city in Week 16 worth considering.

Notable kickers such as Matt Prater and Shaun Suisham should move to the bench or waiver wire this week. Although they are very good fantasy kickers, both are kicking in tough, cold stadiums, Solider Field and Heinz Field, respectively.

Matt Bryant is owned in just 36% of Yahoo leagues and is kicking inside this weekend. Bryant has at least eight fantasy points in six straight weeks and has the potential for a big week versus the Saints.

Bryant is an easy add for any team needing a kicker with a great matchup in favorable kicking conditions.

Pick up another quarterback

This might depend on the league, but the first tiebreaker in most leagues is bench points. Quarterbacks score the most points, so on the off-chance there is a tie in the championship, owners want a third or even fourth quarterback to increase the bench score.

Picking up the best available quarterback is easy; deciding who to drop could be a little more difficult.

The best player to drop is a handcuff owners have carried all season, but no longer need because the starter is healthy for Week 16. Or, owners can simply choose the least likely player they would start in Week 16.

In a perfect world, make the transaction either Friday or Saturday depending on the league. The idea here is to not leave enough time for that player to clear waivers and allow the opponent to pick them up and use them in the championship. In leagues with no waivers, waiting until the last minute is best when implementing this plan.

Keep in mind, however, players in the two Saturday games will not be droppable on Sunday morning. If Malcom Floyd is your worst player, or Carlos Hyde is the handcuff you don’t need anymore, drop them for the quarterback on Saturday.

Double, triple, and quadruple check injuries

After starting the studs, picking the safe or boom-or-bust players, finding the right kicker, and fixing the bench, the lineup should be pretty much set. Hopefully, owners planned ahead and already have the stud defense.

The best thing to do now is leave the lineup alone.

The only detail left is to make sure everyone in the lineup is playing. DeMarco Murray and DeAndre Hopkins are questionable. So is T.Y. Hilton and Julian Edelman. It looks like Julio Jones will be a game-time decision.

All these guys are must-starts if active, but it would be a huge mistake to start them and take a zero if they aren’t playing. Check the lineup at 10 AM to make sure the players felt good when they woke up. Check it again, around 11 AM to make sure there were no setbacks in warm-ups, and check it one more time at 12 PM when the inactive lists come out.

As long as owners don’t tinker with decisions already made throughout the week, it doesn’t matter how many times they check it. Just do not change anything unless a questionable player is ruled out to avoid micromanaging.

Follow this list and owners should be golden for Week 16. Best of luck to everyone in championship games.


►  Two minute warning - Week 16

It’s Championship Week for most fantasy leagues so it’s “do-or-die” time.

The weather in Week 16 is very good for a late December weekend. No rain, no snow and very little wind.

The truth of the matter is that at this time of the year, no football player is 100-percent healthy and everyone is feeling some pain. However, the list below is of those players where it may effect their production and therefor your fantasy lineup.

Here is the latest information as we approach game-time. We will continue to update this story as the information changes all the way up to the 1 p.m. kickoff.


Quarterbacks -

Peyton Manning, Denver - Manning’s thigh won’t hurt his production, after all, we don’t start the Broncos’ star for his legs, we start him for his arm and his brain.

Tony Romo, Dallas - Each week further away from the back injury the better he has played. He’s thrown three touchdown passes in each of the past two games without an interception. He could be without his best weapon, DeMarco Murray, but he’s still got Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. Start him as always.

Cam Newton, Carolina - Newton (back) is expected to play, but has a couple of things going against him in Week 16. First, he’s likely to protect his back by not running as much as he has been and that’s a big part of his game. Second, the Browns defense is No. 6 against the pass and No. 31 in yards allowed on the ground, so Newton should be handling the ball off to Jonathan Stewart for most of the day.

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh - Roethlisberger is a bit beat up, but nothing that will keep him from starting, but the Kansas City Chiefs defense is No. 4 in points allowed (18.1 ppg), No. 7 in yards allowed (331.8 ypg) and No. 2 against the pass (199.2 ypg). Play him at your own risk.


Running Backs -

DeMarco Murray, Dallas - It’s the biggest question during this “Championship Weekend,“ - will Murray play, and if so, how effective will he be? It appears he’s going to give it a try and fantasy owners will be forced to start him despite the question marks. You should return here after inactives are announced to verify that he’s in the lineup.

Rashad Jennings, New York Giants - Jennings missed practice all week and will not play Sunday. Rookie Andre Williams will be the workhorse back and is a viable fantasy option despite facing a solid Rams defense.

LeGarrette Blount, New England - Blount has already been ruled out of this one. That leaves Jonas Gray and Shane Vereen as fantasy options. With Julian Edelman also sidelined we like Vereen as both a runner and a pass receiver against the Jets.

C.J. Spiller, Buffalo - Spiller will be active for the first time since Week 7, but his role in the offense is a question mark. I think Fred Jackson still gets a majority of the work and is the only viable fantasy option with a title on the line.

DeAngelo Williams, Carolina - Williams won’t play due to his hand injury and Cam Newton isn’t going to want to run due to his back injury which makes Stewart a very good option in Week 16.

Kerwynn Williams, Arizona - Williams has averaged 5.1 ypc over 34 carries, but has two factors going against him in Week 16 - a sore knee and a dominant Seahawks defense.

Eddie Lacy, Green Bay - Lacy’s problem isn’t related to his arms or legs, but vision. His eye is irritated due to an issue with his contact lens, but he’ll be out there, perhaps with goggles on. I don’t care what he looks like out there, only that he is and given how well he’s playing he’s a must start.


Wide Receivers -

T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis - The Colts would like to win this game with Dallas, but they don’t need it as they have already qualified for the postseason. Therefore, it’s unlikely that Hilton plays in this one. Plan on life without Hilton in Week 16. Think Reggie Wayne, Donte Moncrief and Hakeem Nicks.

Julio Jones, Atlanta - The latest rumors have Jones (strained oblique) in the lineup despite not practicing all week. That’s a dangerous gamble for fantasy owners and is also a problem for those that have used Harry Douglas as a plug- and-play option. Jones could also play “decoy” for Douglas or Roddy White, so this game is rife with risk.

Emmanuel Sanders, Denver - Sanders missed practice on Saturday with flu-like symptoms and the Monday night game is both good and bad for fantasy owners. It’s an extra day rest, but leaves few options should he not go. Do you feel lucky?

DeAndre Hopkins, Houston - Hopkins (ankle) missed his third consecutive day of practice on Friday and despite a game-time decision tag, it’s not looking very good. Also he’ll have Case Keenum under center, That’s a bad combination to gamble on with a title on the line.

Julian Edelman, New England - Edelman has been declared out for Week 16. Brandon LeFell is hurting too with a shoulder issue. Rob Gronkowski might have to set a few records in this one, though we also like Vereen out of the backfield as a receiver.

Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City - Why are you still looking at Bowe? OK, Bowe (illness) is likely to be out there, but we’re still waiting for him to catch his first touchdown of the season.


Tight Ends -

Julius Thomas, Denver - Thomas has hurt fantasy owners the past two weeks and if you have somehow survived to reach the finals are you really willing to bet he turns it around this weekend? He’s caught one ball for 30 yards over the past two games.

Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota - He’s got both ankle and knee problems in this a “lost” season for the Vikings’ tight end. He’s played just eight games and amassed 24 receptions for 231 yards. Keep looking for tight end help.

Kickers -

Dan Carpenter, Buffalo - Carpenter is dealing with a groin injury, common to place-kickers, but should be ready to go and very busy against the sad Oakland Raiders. He’s 28-of-32 this season.

Robbie Gould, Chicago - Gould (quad) will miss the game, his third in a row. Jay Feely will handle the kicking chores.


►  Fred Jackson: start him or sit him?

Last piece was a column giving my advice on whether to start or sit Washington Redskins’ wide receiver Pierre Garcon for Saturday’s matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Saturday’s column will discuss whether fantasy owners should start or sit Buffalo Bills’ running back Fred Jackson for Sunday’s contest versus the Oakland Raiders.

After dealing with a groin injury earlier this season, Jackson reclaimed his lead-back duties during Week 12 against the New York Jets. Since that point, Jackson has out-touched and out-gained (53 touches, 312 yards) both Anthony Dixon (19 touches, 116 yards) and Bryce Brown (29 touches, 159 yards), proving he is the guy the coaching staff trusts.

The biggest issue owners need to worry about this week is the return of halfback C.J. Spiller. He will be returning from a broken collarbone on Sunday, and after being sideline since Oct. 19, he should have some sort of a role.

However, my advice to owners is not let Spiller’s presence affect the decision on whether or not to start Jackson.

In the seven games Spiller took part in this season, he failed to reach the 20-touch mark and scored only one touchdown during that span. The combination of poor production from earlier this year with the fact the coaching staff will likely ease him back into his role, should make Spiller not much of a fantasy factor against Oakland.

This is good news for Jackson-owners.

The Raiders are giving up the second-most fantasy points to opposing running backs (according to Yahoo), as they are allowing 24 points-per-game. Jackson is averaging close to 10 touches per game more than any other tailback on Buffalo’s roster over the past four games, which should give owners confidence that he will have the best opportunity to produce.

It is only natural to be a bit nervous about the Bills’ coaching staff giving more touches to Spiller, Dixon, or Brown, but with Jackson being the team’s third-down back, along with him being the guy who has solidified the backfield for Buffalo over the past few weeks, it is hard to imagine Jackson losing many touches, if any at all.    ~~  Max Zelenko ~~


►  NFL Inactives - Sunday, December 21, 2014

The following is a list of inactive players for today’s game.

DETROIT LIONS AT CHICAGO BEARS, 1:00 PM (ET)

Detroit - G Rodney Austin, WR Ryan Broyles, DT Nick Fairley, QB Kellen

Moore, DT Caraun Reid, CB Mohammed Seisay, DE Larry Webster

Chicago - S Chris Conte, DT Brandon Dunn, QB David Fales, K Robbie Gould,

CB Terrance Mitchell, OT Michael Ola, DE Trevor Scott

GREEN BAY PACKERS AT TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS, 1:00 PM (ET)

Green Bay - LB Carl Bradford, DT Bruce Gaston, C Garth Gerhart, CB Davon

House, WR Jeff Janis, TE Justin Perillo, QB Scott Tolzien

Tampa Bay - OT Anthony Collins, CB Isaiah Frey, WR Robert Herron, RB Mike

James, WR Solomon Patton, FB/TE Evan Rodriguez, LB Lawrence Sidbury

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS, 1:00 PM (ET)

Kansas City - WR Donnie Avery, CB Marcus Cooper, OT Laurent

Duvernay-Tardif, OL Eric Kush, QB Aaron Murray, RB Charcandrick West, DT

Nick Williams

Pittsburgh - WR Justin Brown, DE Clifton Geathers, G Chris Hubbard, QB

Landry Jones, S Troy Polamalu, TE Matt Spaeth, CB Ike Taylor

MINNESOTA VIKINGS AT MIAMI DOLPHINS, 1:00 PM (ET)

Minnesota - LB Anthony Barr, OT Carter Bykowski, DB Ahmad Dixon, OT

Charlie Johnson, FB Zach Line, CB Shaun Prater, TE Kyle Rudolph

Miami - G Nate Garner, WR Matt Hazel, S Don Jones, WR Rishard Matthews, LB

Chris McCain, G Dallas Thomas, RB Daniel Thomas

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS AT NEW YORK JETS, 1:00 PM (ET)

New England - CB Kyle Arrington, RB LeGarrette Blount, OL Dan Connolly, CB

Alfonzo Dennard, OT Jordan Devey, WR Julian Edelman, RB James White

NY Jets - DT T.J. Barnes, G Dakota Dozier, S Jaiquawn Jarrett, OL Wesley

Johnson, S Rontez Miles, WR Walter Powell, QB Matt Simms

CLEVELAND BROWNS AT CAROLINA PANTHERS, 1:00 PM (ET)

Cleveland - TE Gary Barnidge, DB Joe Haden, OT Vinston Painter, WR Rodney

Smith, DB K’Waun Williams, RB Glenn Winston

Carolina - CB Carrington Byndom, OT David Foucault, LB A.J. Klein, S

Robert Lester, DT Kyle Love, G Amini Silatolu, RB DeAngelo Williams

ATLANTA FALCONS AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS, 1:00 PM (ET)

Atlanta - CB Ricardo Allen, LB James Anderson, G Jon Asamoah, FS Charles

Godfrey, DE Stansly Maponga, QB Sean Renfree, LB Tyler Starr

New Orleans - OT Terron Armstead, RB Travaris Cadet, LB Moise Fokou, CB

Stanley Jean-Baptiste, WR Seantavius Jones, S Jamarca Sanford, NT Lawrence

Virgil

BALTIMORE RAVENS AT HOUSTON TEXANS, 1:00 PM (ET)

Baltimore - LB Arthur Brown, WR Michael Campanaro, NT Terrence Cody, G/C

Gino Gradkowski, CB Chris Greenwood, C Ryan Jensen, DL Casey Walker

Houston - LB Jason Ankrah, DB Josh Aubrey, TE Garrett Graham, LB Mike

Mohamed, WR DeVier Posey, QB Tom Savage, OG Xavier Su’a-Filo

NEW YORK GIANTS AT ST. LOUIS RAMS, 4:05 PM (ET)

NY Giants - TE Jerome Cunningham, LB James Davidson, OL Adam Gettis, DT

Dominique Hamilton, G Eric Herman, CB Jayron Hosley, RB Rashad Jennings

St. Louis - TE Alex Bayer, DE Alex Carrington, TE Justice Cunningham, G/C

Barrett Jones, CB Marcus Roberson, G Brandon Washington, DE Ethan

Westbrooks

BUFFALO BILLS AT OAKLAND RAIDERS, 4:25 PM (ET)

Buffalo - None

Oakland - None

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS AT DALLAS COWBOYS, 4:25 PM (ET)

Indianapolis - None

Dallas - None

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS AT ARIZONA CARDINALS, 8:30 PM (ET)

Seattle - None

Arizona - None



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Area High Schools Boys Basketball Game Results

(12.20.14 – Saturday)

Parkersburg South 67     Lewis County 50

#2 Poca 62     #1 Robert C. Byrd 35

Lincoln County 60     Liberty 51

Philip Barbour 70     Tolsia 49

Lincoln 61     Sissonville 60

#4 Bridgeport 72     #9 Mingo Central 50


►  Area High Schools Girls Basketball Game Results

(12.20.14 – Saturday)

#9 Gilmer County 63     Notre Dame 35

Ritchie County 57     Doddridge County 47 (OT)

Buckhannon-Upshur 45     Spring Mills 36



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Mountaineers topple NC State

Juwan Staten scored 24 points and Devin Williams added 16, leading 22nd-ranked West Virginia to an 83-69 win over North Carolina State in the Gotham Classic on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

Jaysean Paige contributed 11 points off the bench before fouling out late in the contest for the Mountaineers (10-1), who have won three straight since their lone loss of the season, a 74-73 setback to LSU on Dec. 4.

Trevor Lacey tried to keep North Carolina State close with 24 points, while Anthony Barber added 16 in defeat. The Wolfpack (9-3) committed 23 turnovers and fell to 3-3 after opening with six straight wins.

North Carolina State started the second half with an 11-3 run and drew within 44-43 on a Lacey three, but a jumper by Staten was followed by a Paige steal and layup to extend the West Virginia lead back to five.

Lacey’s tip-in with 10 1/2 minutes remaining made it a 54-53 game, but again the Mountaineers had an answer with seven straight points fueled by a Tarik Phillip triple.

The Wolfpack got only as close as six from there and trailed 71-64 with four minutes remaining when Phillip made a free throw. He missed the second, but Paige came up with the offensive rebound and Jonathan Holton drilled a three to extend the West Virginia lead to 10.

Another Holton triple with just over a minute remaining made it 81-67.

“This was really a good team win,“ said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who notched his 750th career win.

North Carolina State held an 11-6 lead early, but West Virginia answered with the next seven points to move in front. It remained tight for the next couple of minutes, but Staten scored four in a 6-0 spurt that gave West Virginia a 24-18 lead and forced an NC State timeout.

The Wolfpack, though, managed only four free throws over the next few minutes as West Virginia continued to pull away. A tip-in by Paige provided the Mountaineers with a 32-22 advantage, then NC State clawed within 37-32 in the final minute.

Williams halted the momentum with a free throw for West Virginia and the Mountaineers came up with a steal as NC State was trying to run the clock down. Jevon Carter then banked a 3-pointer home at the buzzer to give West Virginia a 41-32 margin at the break.

“In the first half, their pressure bothered us,“ said NC State coach Mark Gottfried. “We played like a young team. We had 16 turnovers. We got in a hurry. I thought their defense sped us up. We did not play with a lot of poise and that was all to their credit. They did a nice job with their pressure. I thought in the second half we settled down and played. We handled the pressure much better.“

Game Notes

Holton and Carter each finished with eight points for West Virginia, which shot 53.4 percent and connected on 7-of-13 from beyond the arc ... North Carolina State shot 55.6 percent and made 8-of-14 from 3-point range ... The Mountaineers improved to 10-7 all-time against North Carolina State ... West Virginia next plays Monday at home against Wofford, a team that beat NC State by a 55-54 margin last week ... North Carolina State will host Louisiana Tech on Tuesday.



<The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top-25 College Basketball Game Results

(Saturday, December 20)


Final Score: (1) Kentucky 83, UCLA 44

Devin Booker scored 19 points and top-ranked Kentucky put on a defensive clinic in an 83-44 obliteration of UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic. The Wildcats opened the game on a 24-0 run and allowed just three field goals on 37 shots from the Bruins in the first half en route to building a startling 41-7 lead at the break. The seven points were the lowest total in a half in UCLA’s storied history and the fewest Kentucky has permitted in a period since 1943. UCLA finished a miserable 25.4 percent from the field and 1-of-4 from the foul line, committed 15 turnovers and had 13 shots rejected by the Wildcats’ suffocating defense. Aaron Harrison chipped in 15 points and Andrew Harrison dished out eight assists to help Kentucky (12-0) dominate from start-to-finish. Isaac Hamilton had 14 points and Bryce Alford finished with 13 for UCLA (8-4), though neither scored during the Bruins’ humiliating opening half.


Final Score: (4) Louisville 76, Western Kentucky 67

Terry Rozier had 32 points and three steals in the fourth-ranked Louisville Cardinals’ 76-67 victory over the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Saturday. The game almost got ugly with 38.7 seconds left before the half. After a post-rebound scrum, Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell tried to throw a punch at Western Kentucky guard Avery Patterson. Shortly after, head coaches Rick Pitino and Ray Harper were both given technicals for jawing with each other. Harrell, who had 14 points and six rebounds, was ejected from the game. He will be suspended for Tuesday’s game against Cal State-Northridge. Chris Jones added 10 points for the Cardinals (10-0), who survived their first true road test of the 2014-15 campaign. T.J. Price ended with 24 points and seven rebounds for the Hilltoppers (5-5), who had a two-game winning streak snapped. DJ Clayton tallied 14 points.


Final Score: (7) Villanova 82, Syracuse 77 (OT)

Villanova erased a five-point deficit over the final 17 seconds of regulation and the seventh-ranked Wildcats eventually prevailed, 82-77, in overtime over Syracuse at Wells Fargo Center. With 11 seconds left in the second half, Josh Hart hit a 3-pointer to bring Villanova (11-0) within 69-67 and after stealing the inbounds pass the following possession, Jayvaughn Pinkston’s layup tied the game with four seconds left. Pinkston led all scorers with 25 points and 10 rebounds and Darrun Hilliard added 23 points. Hart’s 21-point game was a career high. Once leading by as many as 15 points, the Orange (6-4) could not put the hosts away. Rakeem Christmas and Michael Gbinije each paced Syracuse with 18 points before fouling out in overtime.


Final Score: (8) Gonzaga 63, Cal Poly 50

Przemek Karnowski had 16 points and eight rebounds as No. 8 Gonzaga defeated Cal Poly 63-50 on Saturday night. Kevin Pangos netted 16 points for the Bulldogs (11-1), who have won four straight since their lone loss at Arizona on Dec. 6. David Nwaba led the Mustangs (5-5) with 21 points.


Final Score: (9) Texas 78, Long Beach State 68

Javan Felix posted 17 points to lead No. 9 Texas to a 78-68 win over Long Beach State on Saturday. Jonathan Holmes scored 14 points, Cameron Ridley gave 13 points and six rebounds and Connor Lammert had 10 points and 12 boards for the Longhorns (10-1), who have won their past three. Demarcus Holland had 10 points, seven boards and four assists. Mike Caffey scored 23 points for the 49ers (5-7), who have lost three straight.


Final Score: (10) Kansas 96, Lafayette 69

Kelly Oubre Jr. gave 23 points and 10 rebounds as No. 10 Kansas crushed Lafayette, 96-69, on Saturday. Frank Mason III had 14 points and nine assists and Wayne Selden Jr. added 12 points and six assists for the Jayhawks (9-1), who have won eight straight since a loss to Kentucky on Nov. 18. Seth Hinrichs had 15 points, seven rebounds and five assists for the Leopards (7-3), who had a four-game winning streak stopped. Dan Trist gave 12 points in the loss.


Final Score: (24) North Carolina 82, (12) Ohio State 74

Brice Johnson had 18 points and nine rebounds in the 24th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels’ 82-74 victory over the 12th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes at the United Center. Marcus Paige added 16 points for the Tar Heels (8-3), who have won two in a row since a loss at top- ranked Kentucky on Dec. 13. Justin Jackson tallied 11 points. Marc Loving ended with 19 points for the Buckeyes (9-2), who had a four-game winning streak snapped. Sam Thompson contributed 17 points.


Final Score: (13) Iowa State 83, Drake 54

Naz Long scored 13 points to lead a balanced effort for No. 13 Iowa State in an 83-54 win over Drake on Saturday. Monte Morris netted 12 points, while Dustin Hogue and Matt Thomas each chipped in with 10 points for the Cyclones (9-1), who have won six straight since their lone loss of the season, a 72-63 decision against Maryland on Nov. 25. Iowa State shot 54 percent from the floor, including 52 percent from beyond the arc in the blowout win. Jacob Enevold Jensen and Trevor Berkeley each scored 10 points to lead the Bulldogs (2-9).


Final Score: (14) Utah 59, UNLV 46

Delon Wright scored 17 points and No. 14 Utah pulled away in the second half for a 59-46 win over UNLV at the MGM Grand on Saturday night. Brandon Taylor added 16 points for the Utes (8-2), who rebounded from a 63-60 loss to No. 10 Kansas last Saturday. They snapped a three-game losing streak to UNLV and beat the Runnin’ Rebels for just the second time in their last 10 meetings in Las Vegas. Rashad Vaughn scored 16 points to lead UNLV (7-3), which had a three-game winning streak snapped.


Final Score: (16) Washington 69, (15) Oklahoma 67

Mike Anderson and Robert Upshaw scored 11 points apiece, helping No. 16 Washington beat 15th-ranked Oklahoma 69-67 Saturday night at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The Huskies (10-0) built a 20- point lead in the first half, but had to hold on down the stretch to continue the program’s best start since going 11-0 to begin 2005-06. Jernard Jarreau paced Washington with 12 points and grabbed six rebounds. Isaiah Cousins and Buddy Hield both scored 17 points for Oklahoma (7-3), which had a three-game winning streak snapped. Ryan Spangler posted a double-double of 11 points and 13 rebounds in defeat.


Final Score: (19) San Diego State 70, Ball State 57

Winston Shepard finished with 15 points and five assists to lift No. 19 San Diego State to a 70-57 victory over Ball State on Saturday. JJ O’Brien scored 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting and added six rebounds and three assists, while Skylar Spencer had 10 points and six boards for the Aztecs (8-3), who bounced back from a 71-62 double-overtime loss to Cincinnati on Wednesday. Jeremie Tyler netted a game-high 17 points and Matt Kamieniecki supplied 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Cardinals (3-6), who dropped their third straight game.


Final Score: (21) Notre Dame 94, Purdue 63

Pat Connaughton recorded a double- double of 19 points and 14 rebounds and No. 21 Notre Dame bested Purdue, 94- 63, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Saturday’s Crossroads Classic matchup proved the Irish (11-1) have bragging rights in the Hoosier State, what with seven straight victories following their lone loss against Providence on Nov. 23. All five Notre Dame starters scored in double figures and Austin Torres donated 11 points off the bench for the victors. Demetrius Jackson led the way with 22 points, Steve Vasturia chipped in with 11, and Jerian Grant and Zach Auguste each added 10 in the rout. Jon Octeus, Bryson Scott and A.J. Hammons all scored 11 points as the Boilermakers (8-4) suffered their second straight loss.


Final Score: (22) West Virginia 83, North Carolina State 69

Juwan Staten scored 24 points and Devin Williams added 16, leading 22nd-ranked West Virginia to an 83-69 win over North Carolina State in the Gotham Classic on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. Jaysean Paige contributed 11 points off the bench before fouling out late in the contest for the Mountaineers (10-1), who have won three straight since their lone loss of the season, a 74-73 setback to LSU on Dec. 4. Trevor Lacey tried to keep North Carolina State close with 24 points, while Anthony Barber added 16 in defeat. The Wolfpack (9-3) committed 23 turnovers and fell to 3-3 after opening with six straight wins.


Final Score: Indiana 82, (23) Butler 73

Yogi Ferrell scored all 20 of his points in the second half, helping Indiana gain some long-awaited revenge on Butler with an 82-73 victory over the 23rd-ranked Bulldogs at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Troy Williams tied a career high with 22 points and pulled down a personal-best 11 rebounds to aid Indiana’s cause in the first meeting between the in-state rivals since Butler stunned the then top-ranked Hoosiers in overtime in Indianapolis during December of 2012. The outcome also was a special one for Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean, who garnered his 300th career win. Butler (8-3) received 23 points from Kellen Dunham and 14 out of Andrew Chrabascz, but struggled offensively for a second straight game.


Final Score: Texas Southern 71, (25) Michigan State 64 (OT)

Texas Southern did not take its first lead of the game until there was only 1:26 remaining in regulation, but the Tigers were able to force overtime and pull off a 71-64 upset win over No. 25 Michigan State on Saturday. Jason Carter’s 3-pointer capped a 7-0 Texas Southern run to give it a 53-52 lead, and his bucket the next possession helped push the game to overtime. Texas Southern (2-8) hit 12 free throws in the extra session to record its second win of the season. Chris Thomas led all scorers with 22 points for the Tigers, while Malcolm Riley added 20 off the bench. The Spartans (8-4) got 17 points and 10 rebounds from Matt Costello, and Denzel Valentine chipped in



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NBA Game Results

(Saturday, December 20)


Final Score: Phoenix 99, New York 90

Isaiah Thomas scored nine of his 22 points in the fourth quarter to help the Phoenix Suns pull away from the New York Knicks in their 99-90 victory at Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon. Eric Bledsoe posted a double-double with 25 points and 10 rebounds while Markieff Morris chipped in with 19 points for the Suns, winners of two straight following a six-game slide. Carmelo Anthony returned to the Knicks’ lineup after missing Thursday’s loss in Chicago and netted 25 points on 9- of-19 shooting. He also pulled down 11 boards, but it was not enough as New York fell for the 14th time in 15 games. Jose Calderon added 21 points but netted just two in a fourth quarter that saw the Knicks get outscored by 10.


Final Score: Charlotte 104, Utah 86

Kemba Walker scored 20 points with six assists to lead the Charlotte Hornets to a 104-86 win over the Utah Jazz on Saturday. Al Jefferson posted 19 points with 10 rebounds and Gerald Henderson netted 17 points for the Hornets, who have won two straight on the heels of a four-game skid. Gordon Hayward paced the Jazz with 14 points to go along with six assists. Joe Ingles had a career-high 13 points off the bench and Derrick Favors also scored 13 points as Utah had its 10-game winning streak against the Hornets snapped. Rudy Gobert deposited 11 points with 12 rebounds in the loss.


Final Score: Portland 114, New Orleans 88

So much for the Trail Blazers being sluggish following Friday’s triple-overtime victory over the Spurs. There was no hangover for Portland, as LaMarcus Aldridge poured in 27 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a 114-88 wire-to-wire drubbing of the Pelicans on Saturday. Damian Lillard, fresh off his 43-point performance against San Antonio, scored 17 points, and the Blazers led by as many as 34 by shooting 57.1 percent from the field over the first three quarters. Chris Kaman chipped in with 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting for Portland, which rolled to a fifth straight win heading into another tough road matchup against Houston on Monday. New Orleans had won three of four coming in, but the usually productive triumvirate of Anthony Davis, Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday combined to shoot 8-of-37 (21.6 percent) for a total of 19 points. Austin Rivers netted a team-high 21 points and Ryan Anderson added 16.


Final Score: Atlanta 104, Houston 97

Kyle Korver scored 22 points on 4-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc to help the Atlanta Hawks to a 104-97 win over the Houston Rockets on Saturday. Paul Millsap and Al Horford each chipped in with 14 points and DeMarre Carroll added 13 for the Hawks, who have won three straight and 12 of their last 13. Dennis Schroder tallied eight points with six rebounds and six assists in the place of Jeff Teague, who missed the game with a strained left hamstring. Houston lost back-to-back home games for the first time since November of last season and also had a 19-game home winning streak against Eastern Conference opponents halted. Dwight Howard paced the Rockets with 19 points and 11 rebounds, while James Harden supplied 18 points and a career-high 14 assists. Jason Terry and Patrick Beverley each had 14 points in the loss. The Rockets acquired Corey Brewer from the Minnesota Timberwolves and Alexey Shved from the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday, but both players were inactive. Houston dealt Troy Daniels and some cash to acquire the two wings. The Rockets waived Francisco Garcia to make room for their newest additions.


Final Score: Dallas 99, San Antonio 93

Three of Rajon Rondo’s nine assists went to Monta Ellis, who scored 38 points to lead the Dallas Mavericks to a 99-93 win over the short-handed San Antonio Spurs on Saturday night. Rondo also had six points and seven rebounds in his Mavericks debut, two days after he was acquired from Boston in a blockbuster trade. He missed eight of his 11 shots. Chandler Parsons added 16 points while Dirk Nowitzki and Devin Harris scored 13 apiece as Dallas earned its third consecutive win. The Spurs sat much of their roster after losing back-to-back triple-overtime games on Wednesday and Thursday. Missing Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter—among others—the Spurs scored 30 points in the third quarter and had a 77-75 lead going into the fourth, but shot just 31 percent over the final 12 minutes. They have lost four in a row for the first time in almost four years. Marco Belinelli led San Antonio with 21 points, Aron Baynes scored 16 with 10 rebounds and Cory Joseph and Matt Bonner each had 14 points.


Final Score: Denver 76, Indiana 73

Danilo Gallinari scored a season-high 19 points to lift the Denver Nuggets to a 76-73 win over the Indiana Pacers on Saturday. Ty Lawson deposited 15 points with 10 assists and J.J. Hickson added 10 points off the bench for Denver, which has won two straight on the heels of a three-game skid. Timofey Mozgov pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds and tied a career high with five blocks in the win. David West led the Pacers with 19 points to go with 10 rebounds and C.J. Miles netted 16 points off the bench in the loss. Indiana has dropped 10 of its last 11 games.


Final Score: LA Clippers 106, Milwaukee 102

Chris Paul had 27 points and nine assists as the Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 106-102 on Saturday night. Blake Griffin posted 24 points and eight assists, J.J. Redick netted 23 points and DeAndre Jordan pulled down 16 rebounds for the Clippers, who have won three of their last four games. Giannis Antetokounmpo tallied 18 points, nine boards and six helpers for Milwaukee, which had won three of its last four coming in. Paul netted nine of the Clippers’ last 11 points.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Giants acquire McGehee from Marlins

The San Francisco Giants have acquired infielder Casey McGehee from the Miami Marlins in exchange for minor league pitchers Kendry Flores and Luis Castillo.

The Giants have been searching for a third baseman since Pablo Sandoval left last month to sign with the Boston Red Sox.

McGehee became expendable when the Marlins acquired infielder Martin Prado from the New York Yankees in a five-player deal on Friday.

The 32-year-old McGehee won NL Comeback Player of the Year honors after hitting .287 with 29 doubles, four home runs and 76 RBI in 160 games with the Marlins in 2014. He spent the 2013 season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan.

McGehee owns a career .264 batting average with 128 doubles, 65 home runs and 359 RBI in 711 MLB games with the Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, Yankees and Marlins.

Flores went 4-6 with a 4.09 ERA over 20 starts with Class A Advanced San Jose this past season. The Dominican Republic native accumulated 112 strikeouts in 105 2/3 innings.

Castillo made 48 relief appearances at Class A Augusta in 2014, going 2-2 with a 3.07 ERA and 10 saves.


►  BoSox swap Middlebrooks for Hanigan

The Boston Red Sox and San Diego Padres have made a deal.

On Friday night, the BoSox formally announced the acquisition of catcher Ryan Hanigan in exchange for third baseman Will Middlebrooks.

The Padres picked up Hanigan from Tampa Bay as part of the 11-player deal consummated earlier on Friday that also landed them outfielder Wil Myers. However, San Diego had already added another catcher in Derek Norris from Oakland on Thursday to make Hanigan trade bait.

Middlebrooks became expendable in Boston after the Red Sox signed Pablo Sandoval as a free agent earlier this offseason. The Padres were reportedly also in the running for Sandoval.

Hanigan hit just .218 in 84 games last season, his first in Tampa Bay after playing the first seven years of his career in Cincinnati. The 34-year-old veteran, who has played more than 100 games in a season just once, is a career. 256 hitter with 25 homers and 172 RBI in 558 games.

Middlebrooks was projected to be Boston’s future third baseman after a 2012 season in which he batted .288 with 15 homers and 54 RBI in 75 games as a rookie. He struggled in 2013, hitting .227 with 17 homers in 94 games, and last year hit just .191 in 63 games as he split time between Triple-A Pawtucket and Boston.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NHL Game Results

(Saturday, December 20)


Final Score: Los Angeles 4, Arizona 2

Marian Gaborik scored his sixth goal in the last four games to help the Los Angeles Kings top the Arizona Coyotes, 4-2, Saturday at Staples Center. His goal tied the game at 2-2 at the end of the second period, and the Kings received goals from Alec Martinez and Trevor Lewis in the third to win their second straight game. Jeff Carter scored the Kings’ first goal and Jonathan Quick made 15 saves in the win. Devan Dubnyk was under siege all game, facing 35 shots and allowing all four Los Angeles goals. Arizona, losers of six of its last seven, picked up goals from Martin Hanzal and Kyle Chipchura in the second period.


Final Score: Colorado 5, Buffalo 1

Rookie Calvin Pickard made 28 saves to backstop the Colorado Avalanche to a 5-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night. Erik Johnson and Cody McLeod scored in the first period for the Avalanche, who have earned at least a point in four straight games (2-0-2). In the third period, Alex Tanguay scored twice and set up John Mitchell for a power-play goal. Jhonas Enroth stopped 18-of-22 shots for Buffalo, which has been outscored 10-2 while dropping its last two on the heels of a four-game winning streak.


Final Score: Philadelphia 7, Toronto 4

Claude Giroux posted two goals and two assists to lead the Philadelphia Flyers in a 7-4 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. Jakub Voracek had four assists while Michael Raffl and Sean Couturier each gave a goal and an assist for the Flyers, who snapped a two-game losing streak to open their eight-game road trip. Ray Emery allowed four goals on 25 shots in the victory. Joffrey Lupul posted a goal and an assist while James van Riemsdyk, Peter Holland and David Clarkson all scored for the Maple Leafs, who have dropped their past two. Jonathan Bernier allowed all seven goals on 41 shots, while James Reimer played the final 10 1/2 minutes and stopped the one shot he faced.


Final Score: Montreal 4, Ottawa 1

Carey Price settled in to make 24 saves after allowing a short-handed goal a few minutes into the game and the Montreal Canadiens beat the Ottawa Senators 4-1 on Saturday. Montreal scored four unanswered goals to win its fourth game in its last five. Brandon Prust and Brendan Gallagher scored in the first and second periods, respectively, and Tomas Plekanec and Alex Galchenyuk scored third-period markers to put the game away. Erik Condra potted Ottawa’s only goal as it had its brief two-game winning streak snapped. Robin Lehner made 25 saves on 29 shots in the Senators’ loss.


Final Score: Washington 4, New Jersey 0

Nicklas Backstrom scored a pair of goals and Alex Ovechkin notched a highlight-reel tally, leading the Washington Capitals to a 4-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Saturday at the Prudential Center. Mike Green also scored and Backstrom added an assist for the Capitals, who have won two straight and are 6-0-2 in their last eight games. Braden Holtby needed to stop only 21 shots for his second shutout of the season. Cory Schneider was back in the net for the Devils, who were coming off a 3-2 shootout win over Tampa Bay behind rookie Keith Kinkaid’s first NHL win on Friday night. The veteran netminder finished with 17 saves.


Final Score: NY Islanders 3, Tampa Bay 1

The New York Islanders scored a pair of goals in a 12-second span late in the third period to lift them to a 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night. John Tavares whistled a wrister from the slot past Andrei Vasilevskiy with 3:09 remaining to tie the game at 1-1. Travis Hamonic then put a wrister on net from the right point, which was re-directed by Anders Lee into the topleft corner to put the Islanders in front. Nikolay Kulemin added an empty-net goal for New York, which outshot Tampa Bay 48-21 and improved to 12-2-1 in its last 15 home matchups against the Lightning. Jaroslav Halak made 20 saves for the Islanders, who have won four straight games on the heels of a three-game losing streak. Vasilevskiy stopped 45 shots for Tampa Bay, which has dropped six of its last eight contests. Brett Connolly netted the lone goal for the Lightning in defeat.


Final Score: Pittsburgh 3, Florida 1

Derrick Pouliot scored in his NHL debut, Marc-Andre Fleury made 45 saves and the Pittsburgh Penguins topped the Florida Panthers 3-1 on Saturday night in the first of a home-and-home set. Sidney Crosby and Nick Spaling also scored in the Penguins’ fifth consecutive home win. They are 5-0-2 in their last seven games overall. Pittsburgh native Vincent Trocheck provided the lone goal for Florida, which had played beyond regulation in its previous four games, winning three in shootouts and losing the other in overtime. Despite the loss, Panthers coach Gerard Gallant was pleased with his team’s effort. Roberto Luongo stopped 31 shots in defeat.


Final Score: NY Rangers 3, Carolina 2 (SO)

Kevin Klein tied the score late in the third period and the New York Rangers went on to beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in a shootout Saturday night to open a home-and-home set. Mats Zuccarello scored the only goal in the shootout and Henrik Lundqvist made two stops, including a glove save on Chris Terry’s backhand to end the game. A third Hurricanes skater shot wide. J.T. Miller had a power play goal in regulation for the Rangers, who extended their season-high winning streak to five games and finished off a 4-0 road trip. Lundqvist made 18 saves, including three in overtime. Terry and Jeff Skinner scored for the Hurricanes, who were coming off a 4-1 win over Toronto on Thursday night, their only victory in the last eight games. Cam Ward played well in defeat, making 32 saves, plus one in the shooting to give Carolina a chance. The Hurricanes haven’t won back-to-back games since a four-game winning streak Nov. 1-7.


Final Score: Columbus 3, Chicago 2 (SO)

Jack Johnson scored the deciding goal in the ninth round of the shootout and Sergei Bobrovsky was stellar as the Columbus Blue Jackets ended a 13-game losing streak to the Chicago Blackhawks with a 3-2 victory on Saturday. The Blue Jackets seem to prefer playing more than the required 60 minutes as they went to their sixth straight beyond regulation (5-0-1). Each goaltender was perfect through four rounds before former Blackhawk Jeremy Morin beat Corey Crawford with a quick wrister. Andrew Shaw kept Chicago alive, however, as he snapped a shot over Bobrovsky’s glove. Brandon Saad, the Blackhawks’ eighth shooter, had Bobrovsky beaten, but his shot rang off the left post. Johnson followed by dragging Crawford out of position with a slick backhand-forehand move and wristed the shot into an open net to put Columbus ahead. Bobrovsky stood tall and sealed the win by denying Bryan Bickell’s shot from the slot. The Blue Jackets defeated the Blackhawks for the first time since a 4-3 win on Feb. 18, 2011.


Final Score: Nashville 6, Minnesota 5 (OT)

Mattias Ekholm scored the game-winning goal 1:45 into overtime to lift the Nashville Predators to a 6-5 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. An extra session was needed after Minnesota pulled its netminder and Thomas Vanek tied the game with 47.8 seconds remaining. The Predators, however, did not let the two points slip away. Ekholm battled along the boards behind the Minnesota net, emerged with the puck and scored off a wrister from the right circle for the win. Craig Smith, Matt Cullen and Roman Josi each had a goal and an assist, while Calle Jarnkrok and Filip Forsberg also lit the lamp for the Predators, who have won four of their last five games. Pekka Rinne earned the win despite allowing a season-high five goals on 27 shots. Zach Parise finished with two goals and an assist in defeat. Vanek and Marco Scandella each tallied a goal and a helper and Jason Zucker also scored for the Wild, who dropped their third straight game. Niklas Backstrom gave up three goals on 30 shots in relief of Darcy Kuemper, who stopped 11-of-14 shots during the first period.


Final Score: Vancouver 3, Calgary 2 (OT)

Chris Tanev celebrated his 25th birthday with the game-winning goal just 18 seconds into overtime, lifting the Vancouver Canucks to a 3-2 victory over the Calgary Flames on Saturday at Rogers Arena. The Flames, who battled back from a 2-0 deficit that included an own goal, had the first shot of the extra period. It went wide and the Canucks raced the other way. Henrik Sedin carried the puck into the Calgary zone along the left wing and sent a pass back to a trailing Tanev, who snapped a shot from the slot past Jonas Hiller for his second goal of the season. Radim Vrbata scored and Yannick Weber was credited with a goal for Vancouver when the Flames shot the puck into their own empty net on a delayed penalty. Ryan Miller made 26 saves for the Canucks, who snapped a five-game skid. Vancouver forward Jannik Hansen collapsed on the bench during the second period, but was apparently better in the locker room. He did not return for precautionary reasons.


Final Score: San Jose 3, St. Louis 2 (OT)

Brent Burns scored with 38 seconds remaining in overtime, lifting the San Jose Sharks to a dramatic 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday. The Sharks tied the game on Marc- Edouard Vlasic’s goal with 20.6 seconds remaining in regulation and the goaltender pulled, then skated 4-on-3 thanks to Alexander Steen’s tripping infraction with 2:03 remaining in overtime. Joe Pavelski skated up to the right circle and dished the puck to Burns, who stepped into the pass and blasted it past the blocker of Jake Allen for the win. Andrew Desjardins also scored and Antti Niemi stopped 18-of-20 shots for the Sharks, who have won eight straight home games. Patrik Berglund and Steve Ott each lit the lamp for the Blues, who have dropped two in a row on the heels of a five- game winning streak. Allen made 27 saves in defeat.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


SUNDAY, DECEMBER 21, 2014


National Football League
Cleveland at Carolina, 1:00 PM - CBS, DSS (705)
Baltimore at Houston, 1:00 PM - CBS, DSS (706)
New England at NY Jets, 1:00 PM - CBS, DSS (707)
Kansas City at Pittsburgh, 1:00 PM - CBS, DSS (708)
Detroit at Chicago, 1:00 PM - FOX, DSS (709)
Minnesota at Miami, 1:00 PM - FOX, DSS (710)
Atlanta at New Orleans, 1:00 PM - FOX, DSS (711)
Green Bay at Tampa Bay, 1:00 PM - FOX, DSS (712)
NY Giants at St. Louis, 4:05 PM - FOX, DSS (713)
Indianapolis at Dallas, 4:25 PM - CBS, DSS (714)
Buffalo at Oakland, 4:25 PM - CBS, DSS (715)
Seattle at Arizona, 8:30 PM - NBC


National Basketball Association
New York at Toronto, 3:30 PM - MSG, SportsNet, DSS
Memphis at Cleveland, 4:30 PM - SportSouth, FS-Ohio, DSS
Detroit at Brooklyn, 6:00 PM - FS-Detroit+, YES, DSS
Philadelphia at Orlando, 6:00 PM - CSN-Philadelphia, FS-Florida, NBA TV
Boston at Miami, 6:00 PM - CSN-New England, SunSports, DSS
Phoenix at Washington, 6:00 PM - FS-Arizona, CSN-DC, DSS
LA Lakers at Sacramento, 6:00 PM - Time Warner, CSN-California, DSS
Indiana at Minnesota, 7:00 PM - FS-Indiana, North, DSS
New Orleans at Oklahoma City, 7:00 PM - FS-New Orleans, Oklahoma, DSS


National Hockey League
Colorado at Detroit, 6:00 PM - Altitude, FS-Detroit, DSS
Dallas at Edmonton, 6:00 PM - FS-Southwest, SNET-West, DSS
Toronto at Chicago, 7:00 PM - TVA, WGN, NHL Network, DSS
Buffalo at Boston, 7:00 PM - MSG-Buffalo, NESN, DSS
Carolina at NY Rangers, 7:00 PM - FS-Carolina, MSG, DSS
Philadelphia at Winnipeg, 9:00 PM - TCN-Philadelphia, TSN3, DSS


College Basketball
Harvard at Virginia, 12:00 PM - ESPN U
Maine at Army, 1:00 PM - Patriot League Network
San Francisco at Cleveland State, 1:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Maryland at Oklahoma State, 2:00 PM - ESPN U
Western Carolina at UNC-Asheville, 2:00 PM - Big South Network
Vermont at Saint Louis, 2:00 PM - FS-Midwest
Creighton at North Texas, 2:00 PM - FSN, MASN2
Cornell at Radford, 2:00 PM - Patriot League Network, Big South Network
Goshen at Valparaiso, 2:35 PM - ESPN3.com
Austin Peay at Lipscomb, 3:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Tennessee St at Middle Tennessee, 3:00 PM - American Sports Net, MASN
Coker at South Carolina, 3:30 PM - SEC Network+
USC at Boston College, 4:00 PM - ESPN U
Seton Hall at Georgia, 6:00 PM - ESPN U
Appalachian St at Alabama, 6:30 PM - SEC Network
San Jose St at Washington St, 7:00 PM - Pac-12 Network


Women’s College Basketball
St. John’s Invitational, 12:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Texas A&M vs. Texas, 1:30 PM - SEC Network
Southern at Florida, 2:30 PM - SEC Network+
St. John’s Invitational, 2:30 PM - ESPN3.com
New Orleans at Alabama, 3:00 PM - SEC Network+
Dayton at Vanderbilt, 3:00 PM - SEC Network+
Kentucky at Duke, 3:00 PM - ESPN 2
Princeton at Monmouth, 3:00 PM - ESPN3.com
UNC Asheville at USC Upstate, 3:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Chicago State at Milwaukee, 3:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Oklahoma State at USC, 3:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Oklahoma vs. Arkansas, 4:00 PM - SEC Network
Louisville at California, 5:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Connecticut at UCLA, 5:00 PM - ESPN 2


International Soccer
Hellas Verona FC vs. AC ChievoVerona, 6:25 AM - beIN Sport
Newcastle United vs. Sunderland, 8:30 AM - NBCSN
ACF Fiorentina vs. Empoli FC, 8:55 AM - beIN Sport
AS Saint-Etienne vs. Evian Thonon Gaillard FC, 10:55 AM - beIN Sport
Liverpool vs. Arsenal, 11:00 AM - NBCSN
Elche CF vs. Malaga CF, 12:55 PM - beIN Sport
FC Internazionale Milano vs. SS Lazio, 2:55 PM - beIN Sport

Sports News   141220

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  Eagles try to keep playoff hopes alive

The Philadelphia Eagles no longer control their own destiny and squandered those chances with back-to-back convincing defeats.

The Eagles will try to keep their fading playoff hopes alive when they visit the Washington Redskins Saturday at FedEx Field.

Philadelphia was in a euphoric state after dismantling rival Dallas on Thanksgiving, but came back down to Earth with a 24-14 loss to Seattle the next week. To make matters worse, the Cowboys entered south Philly Sunday night and left town with a 38-27 victory and sole possession of first place in the NFC East.

Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant torched Eagles cornerback Bradley Fletcher for 114 yards and three touchdowns on six receptions.

“I had a terrible game. That’s what happened today,“ Fletcher said.

Eagles other defensive back Cary Williams was whistled for a few penalties in the loss, Philadelphia’s third in the last five games.

The start of the game set the tone for the Cowboys, who recovered the opening kickoff deep in Philadelphia territory after Josh Huff let the ball bounce, almost as if he was fielding a punt. DeMarco Murray later scored on a one-yard run to open the scoring and Dallas eventually led 21-0.

Philadelphia would scored the next 24 points for a three-point lead, but the Cowboys persevered with back-to-back scores from Murray and Bryant.

Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez completed 17-of-28 passes for 252 yards and two interceptions. Sanchez, who shouldered blame for the loss, has nine INTs this season to 10 touchdown passes and is looking forward.

“We’ve just got to bounce back,“ Sanchez said Sunday night. “Get this taste out of our mouth as soon as possible, as in tonight, and get in there, get in the film room, shake it off and move on. Because I know we have so much talent on this team, and it would be a real shame if we didn’t maximize it and get these next couple of wins. But it starts with next week.

“I need to clean up some mistakes and attack this thing like I do every week. That’s with a positive attitude, learning from the previous week, learning from this game and being ready to play.“

The Eagles will close the regular season on the road against the New York Giants on December 28 and can miss out on a chance to win the NFC East with a loss Saturday and a Dallas win Sunday versus Indianapolis.

Washington is last in the NFC East with a dismal 3-11 record and is mired in a six-game losing streak. In Sunday’s 24-13 road loss to the Giants, Robert Griffin III took over for Colt McCoy (neck) and completed 18-of-27 passes for 236 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.

McCoy left early against the Giants after aggravating a neck injury and was placed on season-ending injured reserve.

Now the starting job is back in the hands of Griffin, who is supposedly the future and face of the franchise.

“We’ve got two games left and we’ve got to make sure that as a team we go out there ready to play,“ Griffin said. “These guys in there are the best in the world, so we have to go out there and show it. So I pray that the team is ready to go.“

Griffin said the Eagles have an aggressive defense, but is ready for the challenge. Griffin did not play in the first meeting with the Eagles, a 37-34 setback at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 3. Kirk Cousins, who is now the backup, threw for 427 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

Pierre Garcon caught 11 passes for 138 yards and a score, while former Eagle DeSean Jackson recorded 117 yards and a score on five catches, including an 81-yard TD reception in the third quarter. Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin ended with 154 yards and a TD on eight catches. Maclin, who owns 10 TDs this season, has four 100-yard games in the last five against the ‘Skins.

The Redskins struggled against Giants rookie wideout Odell Beckham Jr. and could be in for another frustrating game versus Maclin.

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, who is out with a broken clavicle, completed 27 of his 41 pass attempts for 325 yards and three scores with no INTs back in Week 3. Now it’s up to Sanchez to get Philly back on track. He won his only start against the Redskins back on December 4, 2011 with the New York Jets.

The Redskins lost both meetings with the Eagles last season, but lead the all- time series, 81-74-6. Washington has lost three in a row and six of the past eight meetings between the rivals.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The Eagles have been able to slow down two of the top running backs in the league the last few weeks. Murray and Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch had seen better days against the Eagles, who now have to worry about both Alfred Morris and Griffin.

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly knows how good RG3 is.

“If you sleep on that guy, trust me, you’ll be sitting here after the game going, ‘Boy, he ran for 100 yards against you, how’d that happen?‘“ Kelly said Wednesday. “That kid’s athletic as heck, and he can run really, really well. We have to understand where he is on every single play.“

Philadelphia struggled against the elusive Russell Wilson in the loss to the Seahawks and could be in for a long afternoon if it misses assignments and tackles poorly.

“We’ve got to be really sharp on our contain when we rush the quarterback, because he’s a different element than we’ve seen except for Russell Wilson,“ Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said.

Jenkins also acknowledged Griffin’s arm strength and ability to set his feet and throw after moving out of harm’s way. Griffin has explosive receivers in Garcon, Jackson and tight end Jordan Reed. Morris can catch passes as well and needs 52 rushing yards for a third straight 1,000-yard season.

The Eagles won’t have Trent Cole Saturday and possibly for the remainder of the season because of a broken hand suffered Sunday night. Brandon Graham will make the start in Cole’s place at outside linebacker

“I’m just excited for any opportunity that I get,“ Graham said. “I’m definitely going to make the best of this opportunity, these last two games, and hopefully we can sneak into these playoffs.“

Rookie Marcus Smith could see extended playing time, too. He’s played in eight games and has just one tackle to show for it.

“I’m working hard and I have to be ready,“ Smith said. “The best way to learn is to get out on the field and do it.“

Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin leads the team and the NFC with 14 1/2 sacks and has recorded four in the past four games. Fellow linebacker Mychal Kendricks leads the team with 67 tackles (51 solo).

Washington has a talented pass rusher in Ryan Kerrigan, who has 12 1/2 sacks this season. Kerrigan has posted four sacks in the last five games against Philadelphia. Linebacker Keenan Robinson leads the ‘Skins with 99 tackles (64 solo).

The Redskins are one of three teams with only five interceptions this season. Kansas City is at the bottom with only four INTs. Robinson has one of those picks.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Eagles running back LeSean McCoy didn’t have a healthy line to play behind in the first meeting with the Redskins and recorded 22 yards on 19 carries. He has just two 100-yard games in his last six and posted 64 yards on 16 carries Sunday night.

“The situation we’re in now, we need wins, and they’re a team trying to finish the season out. I’ve been there. I know that type of role,“ McCoy said. “You want to play hard, but you’ve probably got your flights already scheduled, where you’re going. We’re fighting for something.“

Tackle Jason Peters was ejected in the first game for defending Foles, who was blindsided by Redskins defensive lineman Chris Baker on a turnover.

“We’re going down there to win ... Point blank,“ Peters said. “Whatever we’ve got to do to win, that’s what we’re going down to do.“

Philadelphia will keep its playoff hopes alive and can only hope the Colts upend the Cowboys in Big D. It’s a lot to ask, but extremely possible.


►  Ravens try to take advantage of banged-up Texans

The Baltimore Ravens hope to clinch their sixth playoff berth in seven years on Sunday when they visit a Houston Texans club that is reaching deep into the quarterback well to keep its postseason chances alive.

The Ravens have won two straight and four of their past five to stay in the mix of an ultra-competitive AFC North. However, at 9-5 they have a chance to secure a playoff spot with a victory and losses by division rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, or a win and a loss by both Kansas City and San Diego.

Baltimore is tied with Pittsburgh for second in the division, just behind 9-4-1 Cincinnati.

The Ravens, who host the Cleveland Browns to close out the regular-season next Sunday, picked up their second win in a row with a less-than-impressive 20-12 decision over the Jacksonville Jaguars this past weekend.

Joe Flacco threw for just 221 yards, including a three-yard strike to tight end Owen Daniels, but defense and special teams also chipped in.

Baltimore recorded a season-high eight sacks—2 1/2 by linebacker Terrell Suggs and another two from rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan—while Darian Stewart blocked a punt that Kamar Aiken returned 11 yards for an early score.

“We didn’t play smart all the time. We had too many mistakes, too many errors that kept us off the field or put our defense back on the field, those kind of things,“ said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “But Jacksonville did a good job. That’s a good young football team, especially on defense. That defense is salty and they get after you.“

Houston’s defense can also get after teams as it proved in Sunday’s 17-10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

The Texans held the Colts to season lows of 17 points and 278 yards, but still failed to win a third straight game while falling to 7-7 on the year.

Already without wide receiver Andre Johnson (concussion) and tight end Garrett Graham (ankle), Texans starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick left in the second quarter with a leg injury that forced rookie Tom Savage into duty.

“I felt for him because he knew right away that it was injured, his leg was injured, and I felt bad for him,“ said Texans coach Bill O’Brien of Fitzpatrick.

Savage completed 10-of-19 passes for 127 yards with two fumbles—one lost—and an interception in his NFL debut.

Fitzpatrick had season-ending surgery on his leg Monday, while Savage will also be out this weekend due to an undisclosed injury. With Ryan Mallett having been lost earlier to a season-ending pectoral injury, Houston will start a fourth different quarterback this season.

That will be either Thad Lewis or Case Keenum, who was signed off the St. Louis Rams practice squad this week. Keenum played with Houston last season and was with the club in training camp before getting released on August 31.

O’Brien, though, has yet to announce a starter, but whoever goes could also be under center for the Week 17 finale against visiting Jacksonville.

“I’m going to keep that one close to the vest,“ O’Brien said on Wednesday. “Both these guys, Case and Thad, are out there working hard. Right up until game time, that’s going to be the way it is.“

The Texans have beaten the Ravens only once in seven prior meetings, including a 2011 playoff victory for Baltimore.

This game will also mark a return to Houston for Baltimore offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak and Owns, who played with the Texans from 2006-13.

Kubiak, meanwhile, was Houston’s head coach from 2006-13, helping the club win back-to-back AFC South crowns in 2011-12.

“I think it will mean everything,“ Owens said of Kubiak getting a win this Sunday. “That’s all we want. Obviously, for this team to go in there and take care of business—to keep our playoff hopes on track—that’s the biggest thing. And then it’s just a little icing on top for (Kubiak) probably to go back into a place (where he was the head coach).“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Both quarterbacks figure to be under heavy pressure this Sunday as some of the top pass rushers will be on the field.

For the Ravens, they rank third in the NFL with 45 sacks and no other duo in the league has more combined sacks than Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, who have 28 between the two of them. Suggs’ 11 give him his sixth-career double-digit sack season.

Dumervil, meanwhile, has joined Texans defensive end J.J. Watt in the Defensive Player of the Year discussions. His 17 sacks are tied with Kansas City’s Justin Houston for the most in the NFL and match is previous career high of 17 set in 2009.

The Ravens limited the Jaguars to 248 total yards, including just 68 in the second half, and Dumervil also picked up a sack.

“It’ll be a good challenge for both offensive lines,“ said Dumervil of this matchup. “We have guys who get after the quarterback, and (Watt) is a guy who can get after the quarterback. So, I’m sure whoever’s defense plays the best wins the game, for sure.“

Watt, who has multiple sacks in a career-high three straight games, with seven over that time, agreed that the Ravens have depth at pass rushing.

“(Dumervil’s) playing very well. He’s playing very good football right now, and their whole defensive line is playing good football,“ said Watt. “You have him, Suggs and (Pernell) McPhee and Jernigan—all those guys are playing some good football up there. So, as a defensive lineman, you enjoy watching good football being played, and they’re definitely doing a good job of it.“

Watt has done a great job of playing football himself. He has 16 1/2 sacks on the year, 10 passes defensed, a pick-six and three forced fumbles, one he returned for a score.

The playmaker also has caught three touchdown passes.

“Where do you start? He does everything well. He catches passes for touchdowns, so what doesn’t he do? He’s just a great player,“ noted Harbaugh of Watt.

Houston’s Watt-led defense will try to slow down Flacco, who has posted a 107.2 passer rating over the Ravens’ past four games. He also is three touchdown passes shy of passing the career-high 25 he threw in 2010, while Baltimore is 23 points short of setting a new single-season record for points score. The 2012 squad scored 398.

Helping Flacco is the fact that under Kubiak, the club has allowed only 16 sacks, second-fewest in the NFL.

Watt figures to challenge that, while Houston running back Arian Foster will attempt to snap Baltimore’s string of 24 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. Foster just missed the mark versus the Colts, rushing for 99 yards on 26 attempts, and is averaging 102.5 yards per game on the ground this season.

Foster has 11 touchdowns, eight of those rushing, over his last eight games.

Johnson also expects to return this weekend from his concussion and is four receptions shy of 1,000 for his career. Hitting the mark this weekend would make him the second-fastest player to do so, coming in Johnson’s 168th career game.

His return should help either Keenum or Lewis.

Keenum passed for 1,760 yards with nine touchdowns and six interceptions in eight games for the Texans last season, while Lewis has passed for 1,296 yards with five touchdowns and four picks in seven all-time appearances, including five starts.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

In trying to deal with Watt, Flacco should have some room for error as the Ravens defense is likely to make it a long day for either Keenum or Lewis. Not helping either quarterback is the fact that Houston may not be able to lean heavily on Foster given Baltimore’s success versus the run.

The Ravens rank third in that department, yielding a mere 84.3 yards per game, while the Texans are fourth in the NFL with 136.8 yards per game on the ground.

Getting Foster some room to run will be key, but also easier said than done and the Ravens catch a break with the Texans’ issues under center.


►  OBJ takes aim at Rams’ stingy defense

Where was the pass rush from Jason Pierre-Paul earlier this season? The New York Giants defensive end looks to wreak more havoc on the St. Louis Rams Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.

Pierre-Paul recorded only 1 1/5 sacks in his first six games and 3 1/2 over 11 games from September 8 - November 23. JPP posted 2 1/2 sacks in Sunday’s 24-13 win over the Washington Redskins at MetLife Stadium and has six in the past three games.

“I think we have some people that are playing very well,“ Giants coach Tom Coughlin said today. “JPP is playing very well. Technically, early on, he was doing some things that we could correct and help with and he has really adapted his game again to the way and manner in which we would like him to rush.“

Pierre-Paul is now the veteran of the bunch and arguably the most talented across the defensive line. He had 2 1/2 of New York’s seven sacks on the afternoon, while DT Johnathan Hankins posted 2 1/2 as well. JPP leads the team with 9 1/2 on the season and rookie linebacker Devon Kennard has 4 1/2 sacks over the previous three games.

The Giants have sacked opposing quarterbacks at least seven times in each of the last three games (22 total). They have 41 total this season.

New York has won two straight following a seven-game losing streak and are averaging 28 points per game in the last four. It is 3-7 against NFC foes this season and 2-5 as the visiting team.

St. Louis is coming off Thursday’s 12-6 setback versus the NFC West-rival Arizona Cardinals last Thursday, as the offense stalled with a pair of Greg Zuerlein field goals.

Rams quarterback Shaun Hill passed for 229 yards with no touchdowns and an interception, while running back Tre Mason added 33 yards on 13 carries. Wide receiver Stedman Bailey posted a team-best 74 yards on five receptions.

“It’s hard to win football games when you don’t score touchdowns,“ Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said. “The difference in this game was our inability to get the ball in the end zone.“

The Rams had won two straight and three of four games.

“We’ve got to keep battling in this game,“ Rams tight end Jared Cook said. “The season’s not over. We’ve still got two games left. You’ve got to keep scratching and clawing your way to the top.“

St. Louis leads the series with New York, 25-14, and the teams have split two playoff matchups. The Giants have won the last five meetings with the Rams and recorded a 28-16 triumph in the last matchup on September 19, 2011. Eli Manning threw for 223 yards with a pair of TD strikes and one interception.

Coughlin is 3-1 in his career against the Rams, with the lone loss coming in 1996 while the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has taken off the past few weeks, especially the previous two games. He had 11 receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown at Tennessee on December 7, then caught 12 passes for 143 yards and three scores on Sunday.

Beckham’s speed and excellent hand coordination has him as one of the favorites for Rookie of the Year.

“Nothing this guy does amazes me at this point,“ Giants safety Antrel Rolle said of Beckham. “He’s a phenomenal talent and more importantly, I think he has the attitude and passion that this game deserves and that this team needs. He tries to go out there and be the best of the best each and every time on the field.“

Beckham has six touchdown catches in his last four games and five 100-yard efforts in the past seven. Beckham has recorded no less than 90 yards receiving since early November and his 12 catches Sunday were a rookie record for the Giants.

Beckham’s 12 receptions tied the highest total by a wide receiver in franchise history and it was the sixth time a Giants player caught at least 12 passes in a game. Hakeem Nicks was the last to accomplish the feat, registering 12 receptions at Houston on October 10, 2010. His 972 yards this season are a new Giants rookie record. The old record of 894 was set by Jeremy Shockey in 2002.

The LSU product’s nine touchdowns this season are the highest total by a Giants rookie since Bill Swiacki set the record with 10 in 1948.

“The young man is having outstanding success. When we are getting the ball to him, he’s doing very well with it,“ Coughlin said. “He’s a very good football player. He has the ability to go the distance, I think, any time he gets it ... whether as a punt returner or as an offensive player. He can run the football; he can throw the football, so we’ve tried to create a lot of situations. He does have the talent to exploit the defense in a lot of different ways.“

The Rams are allowing 249.7 receiving yards a game this season.

St. Louis has five players with two or more interceptions and cornerback Trumaine Johnson leads the team with three in seven games. Alec Ogletree, E.J. Gaines, Rodney McLeod and Janoris Jenkins each have two INTs.

Manning is good for one or two interceptions a game, but protected the ball Sunday versus Washington. In his last six games, Manning has thrown eight picks to 10 TD strikes. He won his 90th regular-season game as New York’s starting QB, five behind Phil Simms (95).

Manning, who passed for 250 yards with three TDs and no INTs, recorded a rating of 118.5, the second-highest of the season.

“We are preparing ourselves today for a very good (St. Louis) Rams team that is very physical,“ Coughlin said. “They have done a lot of very good things. They have done good things at home and we are going there to play at their place.“

Manning is facing a Rams defense that has posted 36 sacks, including 10 1/2 by Robert Quinn. Quinn has 4 1/2 sacks in his last three games and has posted at least 10 in each of the previous three seasons.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Giants would enjoy nothing more than to end the season on a high note and perhaps save the job of Coughlin. After visiting the Rams, the Giants will close the season at home versus Philadelphia, which is still eyeing the postseason.

Before trying to spoil the Eagles’ season, New York has to get through a stingy St. Louis defense and Manning must keep the football out of harm’s way. The Rams scored only six points versus a tough Arizona squad and will at least triple that number Sunday.

It won’t be enough, however, to stop Beckham and his remarkable season.


►  Cardinals hope to hold off surging Seahawks

A 10-win season didn’t get Arizona into the playoffs in 2013, so the club made sure not to chance it this year by going 11-3 and securing a postseason spot with two weeks left to go.

A 12th win on Sunday would put the Cardinals in a much-desired position going into the playoffs, but it won’t come easy as they host the Seattle Seahawks.

The Cardinals had to wait a few days after beating the St. Louis Rams 12-6 last Thursday, but they officially locked up their first playoff spot since 2009 when Dallas beat Philadelphia this past Sunday night.

Arizona’s 11 wins this season match a franchise record set in 1925, 1948 and 1975, and another win in this game would give the Cardinals their third NFC West title in seven seasons as well as home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

However, a loss to the 10-4 Seahawks would give Seattle the inside lane at winning the division since they picked up a 19-3 win at home over the Cards back on November 23.

The defending Super Bowl champions themselves can secure a playoff spot with a victory and a loss by either the Eagles, Detroit Lions or Green Bay Packers. They also get in regardless of the outcome of this game if Philadelphia losses on Saturday to Washington and Dallas beats or ties Indianapolis on Sunday.

As if dealing with the red-hot Seahawks wasn’t enough, the Cardinals are down to their third quarterback as Drew Stanton left the win over the Rams with a right knee injury. Ryan Lindley replaced him for his first NFL action since 2012 and completed 4-of-10 pass attempts for 30 yards as Arizona won despite not scoring a touchdown.

The Cards have now won two straight since back-to-back road losses to Seattle and Atlanta, with the setback to the Seahawks halting a six-game winning streak.

Stanton was making his fifth start since Carson Palmer went down with a season-ending ACL tear in his left knee on November 9 versus the Rams.

“I’m glad we don’t have to play the Rams anymore,“ Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “Both times we played them they banged our quarterbacks up.“

At 31 years and 102 days old, Fitzgerald became the youngest player in NFL history to compile 900 career receptions after finishing with seven catches for 30 yards versus the Rams, while running backs Kerwynn Williams and Stepfan Taylor combined to rush for 136 yards on 29 carries.

Arizona is 7-0 at home this season and are looking to go undefeated in a season at home for the first time in club history, but they’ll have to solve the Seahawks first.

Seattle has won six of its past nine versus Arizona, including a 19-3 win on November 23. Stanton threw for 149 yards and was picked off in the loss, while Fitzgerald did not play because of a knee injury.

Russell Wilson threw for 211 yards with a touchdown and also ran for 73 yards on 10 carries for the Seahawks.

Wilson has won 34 games in his career, the most by any quarterback in NFL history over his first three seasons. The latest came this past Sunday, a 17-7 win over San Francisco that knocked the rival 49ers out of the playoff picture.

Wilson was 12-of-24 passing for 168 yards with a 10-yard touchdown throw to rookie Paul Richardson and an interception, while Jermaine Kearse caught five passes for 78 yards for Seattle.

The Seahawks have won four straight, a run that began with the win over the Cardinals, and seven of their last eight overall.

“We’re having a great time right now,“ Seahawks safety Earl Thomas said. “I think we did great overall the whole game.“

Marshawn Lynch ran for 91 yards and a touchdown as Seattle allowed 178 yards to San Francisco in the first half, but clamped down and limited the 49ers to a meager 67 over the final 30 minutes. The Seahawks finished with six sacks.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

While the Cardinals are hopeful Stanton will return at some point, the club can’t be glad to see the Seahawks are on deck for Lindley in his first NFL start since 2012.

As a rookie, Lindley made four starts and six appearances for the Cardinals that season under former head coach Ken Whisenhunt, throwing for 752 yards while getting picked off seven times without a TD pass.

Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians kept Lindley as his third quarterback last season, but was released in August in favor of Logan Thomas. Lindley joined San Diego’s practice squad, but re-signed with the Cardinals when Palmer got hurt.

He’ll now move past Thomas and make the start, though Arizona is expected to have a package of plays ready for Thomas this weekend.

Lindley, meanwhile, isn’t trying to draw anything from his previous experience with the Cardinals.

“That’s night and day. At this point I don’t even think about (2012). Just the amount I’ve learned from both Drew and Carson and the staff, it’s a totally different ballgame right now,“ he said.

Lindley will be facing the league’s top-ranked defense, one that is allowing just 272.4 yards per game. Seattle has given up just 27 points and 752 yards over its last four games.

The return of linebacker Bobby Wagner has helped. He has 35 tackles in his last four games, including 10 stops and a sack last weekend, after missing five in a row due to a toe injury.

“We’ve rushed the passer a lot better and made it harder on the quarterbacks,“ noted Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. “The whole defense has played better. The pass rush has really been significant.“

And despite the switch at quarterback for Arizona, the Seahawks aren’t changing things up ahead of this meeting.

“They don’t look that different, in terms of the plays they’re running and how they’re using their personnel,“ cornerback Richard Sherman told Seattle’s website.

“So I think you have to be prepared for them the same way you’d prepare if Carson was playing or if Stanton was in there.“

Seattle is second in the NFL with 17.3 points allowed per game, just ahead of Arizona’s 17.4 given up per contest.

The Cardinals did sack Wilson seven times in the earlier loss, three by defensive end Calais Campbell, though the Seahawks quarterback threw three touchdown passes in a 34-22 win at Arizona last season.

Lynch, though, has been held to just 110 rushing yards in his past two games versus the Cardinals.

Also, Arizona expects to have talented young safety Tyrann Mathieu available this weekend after he missed the previous two games because of a fractured left thumb. He is likely to play with a large cast covering the ailment.

“I wasn’t going to miss this one,“ Mathieu said on Arizona’s website. “I didn’t want to miss the last two.“

Though yet to be officially ruled out, Seahawks left tackle Russell Okung may not play this weekend due to bruised lung suffered versus the 49ers.

Still, the offensive lineman figures to be a stretch to play and will likely be replaced by Alvin Bailey, who stepped in versus San Francisco.

“He made it through it,“ Carroll said of Bailey’s performance against the Niners. “He had some good plays and some bad plays. He did some good things. He struggled a little bit too. He wasn’t on his best game but he made it through it and managed to get through the game.“

Carroll added that extra preparation for Bailey this week would be a big help for the second-year player.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Many have expected the Cardinals to fade this season and those doubters will now have to wait until the postseason to see Arizona go away.

The Cards have so far survived the loss of Palmer, but losing Stanton ahead of such a big matchup is another mighty blow. Lindley must now step into the spotlight in primetime, where Arizona is 2-0 this season.

But Seattle is 3-0 this season in primetime football and now resembles the club that won the most recent Super Bowl.

This season’s NFL title game is set to take place in Arizona and this Sunday could be a mere warmup to the party again for the Seahawks.


►  Cowboys search for different kind of ‘Luck’ vs. Colts

The Dallas Cowboys control their own destiny for an NFC East title and will try to solve some home woes when they host the AFC South- champion Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium.

The Cowboys are winless in their last three home games and have scored no more than 17 points in each of those contests. They were throttled, 33-10, by Philadelphia on Thanksgiving and rebounded with back-to-back road victories over Chicago and the division-rival Eagles.

Dallas is 7-0 on the road and handed Philadelphia a 38-27 loss Sunday night, as Dez Bryant torched the Eagles for 114 yards and three touchdowns on six receptions to help the Cowboys claim sole possession of first place in the NFC East with a 10-4 mark. Jason Witten was a thorn in the Eagles’ side with 69 yards on seven catches.

Witten talked about Dallas’ chances of grabbing a postseason spot and possibly a division crown for the first time since 2009.

“We can’t really worry about how it all plays out,“ Witten said. “We have to handle our business and control what we can. At this point in the season, you know what you are playing for and it’s just one game at a time.“

The Cowboys will close the regular season at Washington on December 28 and has a chance to lock up a postseason berth and the NFC East title with a win and a Philadelphia loss to the Redskins. The Eagles will visit Washington Saturday.

Dallas can also clinch a playoff spot with a win along with losses by Green Bay and Detroit.

“We’re trying to stay together, play together and understand from here on out that these are all big games,“ Bryant said.

Bryant leads the NFL with 13 receiving scores.

NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray (1,687 yards, 11 TD) suffered a broken left hand against the Eagles and has been limited in practice. Murray’s status for Sunday is unknown and he underwent surgery Monday. Joseph Randle is second on the Cowboys with 237 rushing yards and Lance Dunbar has 91.

Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said it all depends on Murray’s conditioning if he will play Sunday, and at this point of the season his running back should be alright to suit up. Most players in this league are battling through bumps and bruises, and Murray is a valuable to piece to the team.

Murray has rushed for 403 yards in three games against AFC foes this season and has recorded five touchdowns in the previous five games against the conference.

Meanwhile, the Colts captured their second straight AFC South title with Sunday’s 17-10 win over the Houston Texans.

Colts QB Andrew Luck threw for only 187 yards with a pair of touchdown passes and an interception, while running back Dan Herron posted 60 yards on 11 carries.

“It wasn’t pretty, but to be division champs is special, and we’re excited about that,“ said Luck.

Luck is looking forward to the challenge in Dallas.

“It’s fun to play teams that are fighting for something. There’s a lot of magnitude to this game,“ Luck said. “That’s a good football team.“

Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who leads the team with 1,345 yards, had 50 yards on four receptions and is dealing with a sore hamstring. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said Hilton is day-to-day for an Indianapolis team jockeying for playoff seeding in the AFC.

The Colts, whose streak of at least 20 points in 20 games came to an end, have won four in a row after losing, 42-20, to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on November 16. They will wrap up the regular season on the road against the Tennessee Titans December 28.

In milestone news for the Colts, veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne set the franchise record with 209 games played. Wayne was asked what the Colts are seeking to accomplish next.

“If you still have room to move up into the seeding chart, you want to definitely do that. And you still want to finish off the season strong,“ Wayne said. “We’ve been blessed to have conquered the division but we still have a couple of games left where you want to win those games. You want to win, so you have that feeling rolling into the playoffs.“

Indianapolis is 6-9 all-time against Dallas, including a win in Super Bowl V. The Cowboys have won the last two meetings, including a 38-35 victory in overtime on December 5, 2010. Peyton Manning was the quarterback for the Colts and threw for 365 yards with two TDs and four interceptions.

Jon Kitna was under center for the Cowboys.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Luck leads the NFL in passing yards (4,492), yards per game (320.9) touchdowns (38) and is tied for third with 14 interceptions. The Colts are averaging an NFL-best 310.9 passing yards per game and are third in total offense with 421.4 yards per game.

The Colts will try to keep Dallas’ home woes going, but it won’t be easy.

“We know what kind of team they have, and what kind of players they have. We’ve got to go on the road and play a darn good football team,“ Pagano said.

It will be tough for the Colts to win if Hilton is out. However, Luck has other targets in Dwayne Allen, who has a team-high eight receiving scores, and Coby Fleener. Fleener has hauled in six TD grabs this season.

Dallas is allowing 249.6 passing yards on defense and 359.9 total yards. It shouldn’t have a problem with Indy’s ground attack, which features Herron and a disappointing Trent Richardson.

If Murray does play, the Colts will have their hands full with him and that cohesive offensive line. The Colts allowed 99 yards to Houston running back Arian Foster last week.

“We’re going to face a great runner in DeMarco Murray,“ Pagano said. “I understand that he has a hand injury and possibly a broken bone; I don’t know. I fully expect him to be out there and that’s how we’ll prepare, but the run defense has been outstanding.“

Indianapolis and Dallas are both allowing 110.4 rushing yards per game.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

If Romo and the Cowboys have plans on making the postseason, they have to start playing better at home. It seems the pressure of winning in Jerry’s world has taken its toll.

Romo was asked about the struggles at home.

“We’ve played well on the road. We’ve played some games well at home, too,“ Romo said. “We just need to do better as a whole and execute better and I look forward to doing that this week.“

Romo has won his last four starts against AFC foes and owns 17 TD passes to just two interceptions in his past eight against the conference. He expects AT&T Stadium to be energetic and loud with the possibility of clinching the NFC East. That goal may have to wait a week, but the Cowboys will get a step closer with a win Sunday.

►  Titans send McCluster to IR

The Tennessee Titans placed running back Dexter McCluster on injured reserve prior to Thursday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

McCluster, Tennessee’s primary third-down back this season, injured his knee during Sunday’s 16-11 loss to the New York Jets.

Signed to a three-year contract by the Titans during the offseason, the former Kansas City Chief caught 26 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown in 14 games. McCluster added 131 rushing yards on 40 carries.

He is the third Titans’ player to be put on IR this week, joining deposed starting quarterback Jake Locker (shoulder) and tight end Brett Brackett (knee).

Wide receiver Rico Richardson was elevated from the practice squad to take McCluster’s place on the 53-man roster.


►  Newton ‘on target’ to start

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera told reporters Thursday that Cam Newton will “probably” start Sunday’s game against Cleveland as the quarterback continues to progress well after a recent car accident.

Newton took the majority of first-team reps during Thursday’s practice, his first full session since injuring his lower back in a two-car accident on December 9. He declared himself pain-free when speaking to the media afterward, though Rivera has yet to make it definitive that Newton would be back under center against the Browns.

“I don’t want to say yes and then suddenly we have a setback,“ Rivera said. “We want to go through the process and make sure we do things the right way. I would say he’s on target. He had a good day today. He looked good out there, took the reps he was supposed to.

“But we’re going through the process. He did a few more things, and we’ll evaluate the tape and take a real good look to make sure he’s fine. We did some more things with him that we didn’t do yesterday, and we’ll increase that again tomorrow to make sure he’s really where he needs to be. Then we’ll double-check him on Saturday morning.“

Derek Anderson filled in for Newton last week against Tampa Bay, throwing for 277 yards and a touchdown to help the Panthers to an important 19-17 win over the Buccaneers.

“I don’t think we’re worried about who is starting at quarterback. I think we’re both ready,“ Newton said.

At 5-8-1, the Panthers enter the season’s final two weeks just behind 6-8 New Orleans for first place in the NFC South.


►  Bears make change at QB

Chicago Bears head coach Mark Trestman has decided to start Jimmy Clausen over Jay Cutler at quarterback for this Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions.

Cutler started the first 14 games of his sixth season with the Bears, completing 66.1% of his passes for 3,640 yards, 28 touchdowns and an NFL-high 18 interceptions.

He has fumbled 12 times as well, losing six to lead the league in overall turnovers.

“This is performance-based only,“ said Trestman during a news conference on Thursday. “We’re not getting enough out of our quarterback.“

Trestman added that this decision is for this week only and he will re- evaluate heading into the final week of the season.

“We’re not playing well enough at the quarterback position on a consistent basis,“ added Trestman.

Cutler said Thursday that he wants to stay in Chicago and can see himself working with Trestman in the future.

“I would like to stay here,“ said Cutler. “I really like it here. I love the guys in the locker room. This is where I’d like to be.“

Clausen, who was signed to a one-year contract in June, hasn’t started a game since 2010 while with the Carolina Panthers. He has thrown nine passes in three games for Chicago (5-9) this season, completing three.

Before this season, the former Notre Dame star hadn’t appeared in an NFL game since playing 13 for the Panthers as a rookie after he was taken in the second round of the 2010 draft.

The Bears enter Sunday’s matchup having lost three straight and six of their last eight games.


►  From Manziel to Manning: Bengals try to solve Peyton

If Jim Ross was getting ready to broadcast the Cincinnati Bengals’ next game, the famed wrestling announcer might say: “Business is about to pick up.“

When the Bengals welcome Denver to Paul Brown Stadium for “Monday Night Football,“ it’s with the stark realization that Johnny Manziel will be turning into Peyton Manning over a one-week span. That’s the equivalent of a basic arithmetic test followed up by one on advanced calculus.

“It’s going to be a big shift, safe to say,“ Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis admitted. “It’s a challenge. (Manning) gets everyone’s attention in this building right away. The player he is, how he carries himself, how he runs things on the field—it’s going to be a great challenge for us.“

Challenge may be an under statement because the Bengals have never beaten Manning whether he was in Indianapolis or Denver, compiling an 0-8 mark when the five-time MVP is lined up opposite them.

Cincinnati inched closer to its fourth consecutive postseason berth in Week 15 when plenty of money signs were flashed but none coming from the player associated with the gesture, Manziel.

The Cleveland rookie quarterback’s first career NFL start was as dismal as it gets and the Browns were whitewashed, 30-0, by the AFC North-leading Bengals.

Jeremy Hill had 148 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries and Giovani Bernard amassed 79 yards on the ground for the Bengals (9-4-1), who produced points on each of their first four drives and remain a half-game ahead of Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the division standings entering Week 16.

Cincinnati can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Broncos and it can earn the AFC North crown with a win coupled with losses by the Steelers, who play Kansas City on Sunday, and the Ravens, who are at Houston.

“We’re still in control of everything,“ said quarterback Andy Dalton. “We know these next two games are going to be big. The way our division is going, everyone keeps winning. We know what we’re facing.“

Dalton completed 14-of-24 passes for 117 yards with one interception against the Browns as Cincinnati won its fourth straight road game to tie a club record.

Denver, meanwhile, already punched its ticket to the postseason dance by winning the AFC West for a fourth straight year after downing San Diego, 22-10, in Week 15.

Now the Broncos are focused on a first-round bye and the top spot in the AFC. Denver will clinch the mini-vacation with a win over the Bengals but needs to win out and hope New England loses one of its final two games to claim the top spot in the conference.

Hindered by a bout with the flu and temporarily sidelined by a thigh injury, Manning got plenty of support from his Broncos teammates against the Chargers.

Manning briefly exited the game late in the first half and produced a modest 233 yards with a touchdown, but five Connor Barth field goals and a strong defensive effort helped Denver sew up another division crown.

“It’s a tough division to win, so it feels good,“ said Manning. “All it does is guarantee you a spot in the playoffs, but at least you have a shot.“

The Broncos limited San Diego to 288 total yards, with the Chargers failing to mount a sustained rushing attack with top back Ryan Mathews out with an ankle injury.

Demaryius Thomas caught six passes for 123 yards and a touchdown, while C.J. Anderson added 85 rushing yards on a workmanlike 29 carries.

“All that really matters now is winning,“ said Thomas.

Manning completed 14-of-20 attempts one week after he threw for a season-low 173 yards and had a streak of 51 consecutive games with a touchdown pass halted against Buffalo. The Broncos won that game, too, though.

Manning was shaken up while blocking Chargers linebacker Donald Butler on Anderson’s third-and-goal run that was initially ruled a touchdown, then overturned on review. When the five-time league MVP hobbled, Broncos head coach John Fox opted for Barth’s 19-yard field goal.

Brock Osweiler directed Denver’s next series, which ended in a quick three- and-out, as Manning received treatment in the locker room.

The Broncos lead their all-time series with the Bengals by a significant 19-8 margin and have won four straight, the last of which was a 31-23 triumph in November of 2012 when Manning threw for 291 yards and three TDs.

Both teams have had their troubles on Monday nights with Denver compiling a 29-36-1 mark over the years and Cincinnati being even worse at 10-20.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Manning and the Broncos offense have taken a step back from their 2013 performance, perhaps the best statistical season in NFL history, when Denver became the first team to pass the 600-point barrier.

That said, when you look up, the numbers remain staggering as Manning is third in the AFC with 4,143 passing yards and even better with 37 TD passes (second in the NFL) and a 106.4 passer rating (tops in the conference). The veteran now has an NFL record 14 career 4,000-yard passing seasons and headlines an offense that is fifth in the NFL in both yards (400.7 yards per game) and points per game (29.1).

If anything the group has become more well-rounded in recent weeks because of the emergence of the ground game and Anderson, who is averaging 135.3 scrimmage yards per game (812 total) with six total TDs (four rushing, two receiving) over the past six games.

The receiving threats remain as good as any in football led by Thomas, who has 1,389 receiving yards and leads all AFC receivers with 41 TD catches since entering the league in 2010. His running mate, Emmanuel Sanders, has a career- high 1,261 yards and seven TD catches over his past nine games.

The Cincinnati defense looked like world-beaters against Manziel but has taken a significant step back overall without Mike Zimmer, now the head coach in Minnesota.

The Bengals D entered last week’s contest 25th in the league and are now 20th after dominating Manziel. The 25 number is probably more indicative of where they belong because facing a QB who isn’t ready to play in the NFL is an anomaly and certainly not what Cincy will be up against on Monday night.

Dalton has been inconsistent this season so the strength of the Bengals offense is the running game, which is clicking now that Bernard is healthy and the rookie Hill is getting more comfortable week by week. The Cincinnati running game has been averaging 145.3 yards per game over its past four games.

That shapes up as strength versus strength, though, because the Denver defense is second in the NFL. allowing only 71.6 yards per game on the ground. Overall, Jack Del Rio’s stop unit is one of the most improved in the league and is fourth overall, surrendering 309.4 yards per game.

The two stars of the unit, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, come off the edge and the Broncos are one of only two teams with two players that have recorded 10 or more sacks (Miller 13, Ware 10).

“We have to get through this game before we have any opportunities at January,“ Lewis said. “It’s been (a playoff mentality) for the last seven weeks. Preparation and how you go about it, and the confidence of knowing what to do and how to do it allows you to play fast. That’s the most important thing, for us: to play fast, to play physical, to play smart.“

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Bengals are 13-2-1 in their past 16 regular-season home games but one of those losses and the tie came in their past two as the host. With the air of invincibility at Paul Brown Stadium diminishing and Manning’s history of success against Cincinnati, it’s tough to pick the Bengals here.

“It’s our goal (to win the Super Bowl) every year,“ Fox said. “Everybody’s hope and dream before the season is you’ll be hoisting that championship trophy. We got close last year and came up short. Obviously, (the AFC West championship) is a great accomplishment, but we still have more season left.“


►  Extra Points: Bengals need to buck history

Peyton Manning and the dark of night?

That’s as scary as it gets for the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Bengals inched closer to what would be an ongoing franchise-record fourth consecutive postseason berth in Week 15 when plenty of money signs were flashed but none coming from the player most associated with the overbearing gesture, Johnny Manziel.

The Cleveland rookie quarterback’s first career NFL start was as dismal as it gets and the Browns were whitewashed, 30-0, by the AFC North-leading Bengals.

But if Jim Ross was getting ready to broadcast the Bengals’ next game, the famed wrestling announcer might say: “Business is about to pick up.“

Cincinnati can clinch the playoff spot with a win over the AFC West champion Denver Broncos on Monday night, and it can earn the AFC North crown with a win coupled with losses by the Steelers, who play Kansas City on Sunday, and the Ravens, who are at Houston.

“We’re still in control of everything,“ said Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. “We know these next two games are going to be big. The way our division is going, everyone keeps winning. We know what we’re facing.“

What their facing is the Boogeyman on “Monday Night Football,“ along with the stark realization that Manziel will be turning into Manning over a one-week span.

That’s the equivalent of a basic arithmetic test followed up by one on advanced calculus.

“It’s going to be a big shift, safe to say,“ Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis admitted. “It’s a challenge. (Manning) gets everyone’s attention in this building right away. The player he is, how he carries himself, how he runs things on the field—it’s going to be a great challenge for us.“

Challenge may be an under statement because the Bengals have never beaten Manning whether he was in Indianapolis or Denver, compiling an 0-8 mark when the five-time MVP is lined up opposite them.

If that wasn’t daunting enough, the game is also going to be played after sundown and that’s never a good thing for Cincinnati.

The Bengals have played twice in primetime so far this season, getting blown out both times, a 43-17 setback at New England in a Sunday night game on October 5, and a 24-3 drubbing at the hands of the Browns while Brian Hoyer was still in charge on Thursday, November 6.

Since Dalton took over the Bengals in the 2011 season Cincinnati is playing .250 football (2-6) under the national spotlight, a sharp contrast from its 37-16-1 mark over that same span during day games.

“I have no idea,“ defensive end Wallace Gilberry said when asked about the team’s struggles at night. “I guess we’re afraid of the dark.“

Add in the three playoff losses since 2011 and the Bengals are a downright dismal 2-9 when the spotlight is focused squarely on them and Lewis’ team is tired of hearing about it.

“It is annoying and it’s our job to make it unannoying,“ safety George Iloka said. “If we lose this game, the talk will come back again. But that’s (the media’s) job to do. And if we want to silence the critics, we’ve got to put up or shut up. That’s how it goes. It might be annoying, but that’s on us.“

Silencing anyone on Monday is going to be a daunting task.

Manning and the Broncos’ offense have taken a step back from their historical 2013 performance, perhaps the best statistical season in NFL history.

That said, when you look up, the numbers remain staggering as Manning is third in the AFC with 4,143 passing yards and even better with 37 TD passes (second in the NFL) and a 106.4 passer rating (tops in the conference). The veteran now has an NFL record 14 career 4,000-yard passing seasons and headlines an offense that is fifth in the NFL in both yards (400.7 yards per game) and points per game (29.1).

If anything the group has become more well-rounded in recent weeks because of the emergence of the ground game and C.J. Anderson, who is averaging 135.3 scrimmage yards per game (812 total) with six total TDs (four rushing, two receiving) over the past six games.

The receiving threats, meanwhile, remain as good as any in football led by Demaryius Thomas, who has 1,389 receiving yards and leads all AFC receivers with 41 TD catches since entering the league in 2010. His running mate, Emmanuel Sanders, has a career-high 1,261 yards and seven TD catches over his past nine games.

The Cincinnati defense looked like world-beaters against Manziel but has taken a significant step back overall without Mike Zimmer, now the head coach in Minnesota.

The Bengals D entered last week’s contest 25th in the league and are now 20th after dominating Manziel.

The 25 number is probably more indicative of where Cincinnati belongs because facing a QB who isn’t ready to play in the NFL is an anomaly and certainly not what the Bengals will be up against on Monday night.

“We have to get through this game before we have any opportunities at January,“ Lewis said. “It’s been (a playoff mentality) for the last seven weeks. Preparation and how you go about it, and the confidence of knowing what to do and how to do it allows you to play fast. That’s the most important thing, for us: to play fast, to play physical, to play smart.“


►  Newton probable for Sunday

The Carolina Panthers have listed Cam Newton as probable for Sunday’s game against Cleveland, one day after head coach Ron Rivera said it was likely that his starting quarterback would return to action.

Newton sat out last week’s game against Tampa Bay while recovering from injuries sustained in a car accident on December 9. He took the majority of first- team reps during Thursday’s practice, however, after which Rivera told reporters that Newton was “on target” to start against the Browns.

Derek Anderson filled in for Newton last week, throwing for 277 yards and a touchdown to help the Panthers to an important 19-17 win over the Buccaneers. The result kept Carolina (5-8-1) right behind first-place New Orleans in the NFC South entering the season’s final two weeks.

Running back DeAngelo Williams’ status for Sunday’s matchup is less certain as he continues to mend from a broken hand that has kept him out of the team’s last two games.

Williams has practiced the entire week on a limited basis and was termed questionable on the final injury report, though Rivera indicated on Friday that he isn’t optimistic about the veteran back’s chances of suiting up this weekend.

Guard Amini Silatolu (knee) and linebacker A.J. Klein (ankle) also have been declared questionable.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Week 16 player fantasy rankings - quarterbacks

Aaron Rodgers picked an awful time to have his first game with no touchdown passes of the 2014 season. Last week in Buffalo, he completed just 40% of his passes and threw two interceptions.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, however, do not quite have the Bills secondary. The way Rodgers responded from his below average play (for his standards) at the beginning of the season, owners can expect Rodgers to bounce back and remind everyone why he is the front-runner for the MVP award.

Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford all have very “friendly” matchups against division rivals this weekend. Brady faces the Jets, who rank fifth- most in fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks. Brady threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns in the first meeting versus the Jets.

Stafford arguably has the best matchup of the week against the leaky Chicago Bears. Stafford posted 390 yards and two touchdowns versus the Bears on Thanksgiving. Chicago allows the most fantasy points against quarterbacks.

Like Brady and Stafford, Brees ripped apart the team he is facing this week, the Falcons, in the first matchup. Brees was 29-of-42 with 333 yards, one touchdown and one interception versus Atlanta in Week 1.

Peyton Manning falls out of the top-five this week because of his below average play the last three weeks. Manning is averaging 195 yards in the last three games, which were against the Chiefs, Bills and Chargers. Over the same span, he had three touchdowns and three turnovers as well. Those three opponents are all tough on quarterbacks, but so are the Bengals, Manning’s Week 16 opponent. Denver might again feature a run-first attack.

Mark Sanchez is another struggling quarterback, having thrown just two touchdowns and three interceptions in the last two games. Sanchez should get on track versus Washington. Chicago is the only team that permits more fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks than Washington does.

Robert Griffin III has a chance for a big game as well since the Eagles are also friendly to quarterbacks. If owners need quarterback help, Griffin is an option.

Alex Smith is another option for owners hurting at the quarterback position. The Steelers allow the eighth-most fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks.

Top-25 Quarterback Rankings

—————————————-

1) Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay

2) Tom Brady, New England

3) Drew Brees, New Orleans

4) Matthew Stafford, Detroit

5) Andrew Luck, Indianapolis

6) Peyton Manning, Denver

7) Matt Ryan, Atlanta

8) Tony Romo, Dallas

9) Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh

10) Andy Dalton, Cincinnati

11) Mark Sanchez, Philadelphia

12) Joe Flacco, Baltimore

13) Russell Wilson, Seattle

14) Alex Smith, Kansas City

15) Philip Rivers, San Diego

16) Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco

17) Eli Manning, New York Giants

18) Robert Griffin III, Washington

19) Cam Newton, Carolina

20) Ryan Tannehill, Miami

21) Kyle Orton, Buffalo

22) Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota

23) Shaun Hill, St. Louis

24) Josh McCown, Tampa Bay

25) Jimmy Clausen, Chicago


►  Week 16 player fantasy rankings - running backs

With a championship on the line, fantasy owners need to stick with the basics. Barring injuries, start your stars, the guys who have put you in this position in the first place.

Of course, the one exception could be Dallas running back DeMarco Murray.

Murray has been fantastic this season, rushing for a league-leading 1,687 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s added 54 receptions for 395 yards and leads all running backs in fantasy points.

But Murray had left-hand surgery Monday and though he appears to be in line to return to the field this weekend, he is still a question mark at this point. It’s also likely that he’ll give up some of his carries to backup Joseph Randle as the Cowboys try to limit Murray’s exposure.

And if the game is out of reach, expect to see Murray sitting on the sideline. For those reasons, Murray is, at best, an RB2 this weekend versus the Indianapolis Colts and is ranked all the way down at No. 10, his lowest ranking since Week 2.

Our top selection is Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell. Even while his three-game streak of 200 yards from scrimmage was coming to an end in Atlanta last Sunday, Bell was still a big help to his fantasy owners. He scored twice while totaling “just” 119 yards from scrimmage.

Bell and the Steelers host the Kansas City Chiefs and the running back will once again be involved in both the running and passing games. His home splits are significantly different from his road splits in 2014. He’s hasn’t been as good a runner (72.7 ypg vs. 105.3), but he’s been a much better receiver at Heinz Field (79.2 ypg vs. 36.3).

Behind Bell is Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy. After a slow start, Lacy has been a touchdown machine scoring 12 times in the last 11 games. he should get plenty of chances against the Tampa Bay Bucs. He’s also become more involved in the passing game, having already caught more balls for more yards than all of last season.

Sliding in at No. 3 is Houston tailback Arian Foster. Given the team’s questionable options at quarterback (Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallet and Tom Savage are all sidelined), Foster figures to see 30 touches against the Baltimore Ravens.

You will find Buffalo running back Fred Jackson a lot further up the list than normal. Jackson has attempted 20 or more rushes in two of the last three games and facing a very generous Oakland Raiders team he and the Bills should be “working on the clock” for most of the second half. Earning the 100-yard bonus for the first time this season is not out of the question.

Top-50 Running Back Rankings

——————————————

1) Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh

2) Eddie Lacy, Green Bay

3) Arian Foster, Houston

4) Jamaal Charles, Kansas City

5) C.J. Anderson, Denver

6) Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati

7) Marshawn Lynch, Seattle

8) Matt Forte, Chicago

9) LeSean McCoy, Philadelphia

10) DeMarco Murray, Dallas

11) Fred Jackson, Buffalo

12) Joique Bell, Detroit

13) Justin Forsett, Baltimore

14) Tre Mason, St. Louis

15) Lamar Miller, Miami

16) Latavius Murray, Oakland

17) Alfred Morris, Washington

18) Matt Asiata, Minnesota

19) Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland

20) Mark Ingram, New Orleans

21) LeGarrette Blount, New England

22) Jonathan Stewart, Carolina

23) Daniel Herron, Indianapolis

24) Steven Jackson, Atlanta

25) Joseph Randle, Dallas

26) Kerwynn Williams, Arizona

27) Andre Williams, New York Giants

28) Alfonso Smith, San Francisco

29) Terrance West, Cleveland

30) Doug Martin, Tampa Bay

31) Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati

32) Chris Johnson, New York Jets

33) Knile Davis, Kansas City

34) Chris Ivory, New York Jets

35) Darren Sproles, Philadelphia

36) Shane Vereen, New England

37) Pierre Thomas, New Orleans

38) Silas Redd, Washington

39) James Starks, Green Bay

40) Theo Riddick, Detroit

41) Reggie Bush, Detroit

42) Juwan Thompson, Denver

43) Trent Richardson, Indianapolis

44) Stepfan Taylor, Arizona

45) Bernard Pierce, Baltimore

46) Bishop Sankey, Tennessee

47) DeAngelo Williams, Carolina

48) Alfred Blue, Houston

49) Bennie Cunningham, St. Louis

50) Phillip Tanner, San Francisco


►  Week 16 player fantasy rankings - wide receivers

Wide receivers Dez Bryant, Antonio Brown and Demaryius Thomas have helped carry a lot of fantasy teams to championships in 2014, but unfortunately in championship week, none of them have outstanding matchups. As a result, all three of them land outside of the top five on this week’s rankings.

Each wideout faces a defense that does not allow many fantasy points to opposing wide receivers with Thomas drawing the worst matchup in Cincinnati. The Bengals yield the second-least fantasy points to the other team’s receivers.

Even still, now is not the time to get cute. These wideouts are obvious must- start players and all of them are just one big play away from a huge fantasy day.

Julio Jones is expected to be back on the field this Sunday after missing last week with a hip injury. Prior to the injury, Jones set receiving career-highs in back-to-back weeks. If he is on the field, he needs to be in fantasy lineups for what should be a high-scoring affair in the “Big Easy.“

Without Jones, Harry Douglas started against the Steelers and caught 10 passes for 131 yards last week. If Jones suffers a setback, Douglas turns into a strong WR2, but with Jones, Douglas should still receive some FLEX consideration because of the expected high score against the Saints.

If owners are looking for juicy matchups, DeAndre Hopkins faces the Ravens, who allow the most-points to fantasy wide receivers. Hopkins has emerged as a dynamic playmaker as Andre Johnson continues to decline. If this game was a week ago, Hopkins would be in line for a low-end WR1 status.

The problem, however, is it is unclear who will be throwing to Hopkins with Tom Savage, Ryan Mallett and Ryan Fitzpatrick all injured. Thad Lewis and Case Keenum, possible starters under center for Houston, will not exactly intimidate the Baltimore secondary. Hopkins should still be in lineups this weekend, but his upside is somewhat limited with unknown quarterback talent throwing him the ball.

Just taking a glance at T.Y. Hilton’s matchup, it would appear he has a great matchup as well with Indianapolis paying a visit to Dallas in Week 16. The Cowboys secondary is 23rd in the league with 249.6 passing yards allowed per game. Dallas, however, gives up the eighth-fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers, so Hilton comes in ranked as the 19th receiver for Week 16.

Mike Wallace, Larry Fitzgerald and Martavis Bryant should probably hit the bench this week. Wallace is coming off his best game of the season with five catches for 104 yards and a touchdown against Darrelle Revis and the Patriots. That’s a great sign, but the Vikings are a pretty tough matchup for wide receivers as well. Since it took Wallace 14 games to earn a 100-yard receiving day, it doesn’t seem like a good gamble to hope lightning strikes again.

Fitzgerald and Bryant have tough matchups against the Seahawks and Chiefs, respectively. Despite playing at home, both receivers run the risk of posting very low numbers, particularly Fitzgerald, who will have the Cardinals third- string quarterback throwing him passes.

If owners are looking for an emergency plug-in, Dwayne Bowe has a favorable matchup against the Steelers. Pittsburgh has allowed 28 passing touchdowns, the fifth-most in the league. Perhaps a Kansas City receiver will finally score a touchdown.

Top-50 Wide Receiver Rankings

——————————————-

1) Calvin Johnson, Detroit

2) Jordy Nelson, Green Bay

3) Julio Jones, Atlanta

4) Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants

5) A.J. Green, Cincinnati

6) Dez Bryant, Dallas

7) Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh

8) Demaryius Thomas, Denver

9) Julian Edelman, New England

10) Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia

11) Randall Cobb, Green Bay

12) Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina

13) Golden Tate, Detroit

14) Mike Evans, Tampa Bay

15) Emmanuel Sanders, Denver

16) DeAndre Hopkins, Houston

17) Roddy White, Atlanta

18) Alshon Jeffery, Chicago

19) T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis

20) Brandon LaFell, New England

21) Josh Gordon, Cleveland

22) Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia

23) Marques Colston, New Orleans

24) Steve Smith Sr., Baltimore

25) Kenny Stills, New Orleans

26) Vincent Jackson, Tampa Bay

27) Jarvis Landry, Miami

28) Andre Johnson, Houston

29) Sammy Watkins, Buffalo

29) Davante Adams, Green Bay

30) Torrey Smith, Baltimore

31) Harry Douglas, Atlanta

32) Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis

33) Malcom Floyd, San Diego

34) Anquan Boldin, San Francisco

35) Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati

36) Charles Johnson, Minnesota

37) Pierre Garcon, Washington

38) Mike Wallace, Miami

39) DeSean Jackson, Washington

40) Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona

41) Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City

42) Doug Baldwin, Seattle

43) Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh

44) Eric Decker, New York Jets

45) Kendall Wright, Tennessee

46) Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville

47) Marquess Wilson, Chicago

48) Michael Floyd, Arizona

49) Michael Crabtree, San Francisco

50) Stedman Bailey, St. Louis


►  Week 16 player fantasy rankings - tight ends

Another game, another opportunity for New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski to be ranked at the very top of the list.

Gronkowski has been a very consistent performer this season, scoring touchdowns in nine of 14 games this season. While not quite up to his record- breaking 2011 season, “Gronk” has 76 receptions for 1,093 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’ll face a New York Jets defense that has yielded the third-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends.

Carolina’s Greg Olsen comes in at No. 2 off a 10-catch performance in Week 15. It was his second consecutive game with double-digit receptions and it shouldn’t matter whether Cam Newton is back in the lineup or Derek Anderson is under center. Olsen is a great fantasy option.

In his highest ranking of the season, Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce sits at No. 4. Off back-to-back double-digit fantasy games, Kelce faces a vulnerable Steelers defense. His five touchdown passes this season is tied for the team lead with running back Jamaal Charles. Of note, through 14 games the Chiefs still have zero touchdown passes to wide receivers and nine to their tight ends.

Martellus Bennett of Chicago has been a good option all season, but his No. 5 ranking could now be in question with an unknown quantity starting at quarterback for the Bears. In case you haven’t been near a computer or a television, Jay Cutler has been benched in favor of Jimmy Clausen.

The Cowboys have turned back to Jason Witten over the past seven games. After seeing more than six targets just once in the first seven games, Tony Romo has looked for his tight end in the second half of the season. Four times since Week 8 he’s seen at least seven targets including nine times last weekend against the Eagles. He figures to have a big game against Indianapolis, who has yielded the fifth-most points to opposing tight ends.

Top-25 Tight End Rankings

————————————-

1) Rob Gronkowski, New England

2) Greg Olsen, Carolina

3) Jimmy Graham, New Orleans

4) Travis Kelce, Kansas City

5) Martellus Bennett, Chicago

6) Jason Witten, Dallas

7) Delanie Walker, Tennessee

8) Larry Donnell, New York Giants

9) Antonio Gates, San Diego

10) Julius Thomas, Denver

11) Jordan Reed, Washington

12) Zach Ertz, Philadelphia

13) Jared Cook, St. Louis

14) Mychal Rivera, Oakland

19) Dwyane Allen, Indianapolis

15) Coby Fleener, Indianapolis

16) Jordan Cameron, Cleveland

17) Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota

18) Brent Celek, Philadelphia

20) Charles Clay, Miami

21) Owen Daniels, Baltimore

22) Health Miller, Pittsburgh

23) Ryan Hewitt, Cincinnati

24) Eric Ebron, Detroit

25) Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville


►  Week 16 player fantasy rankings - kickers

The difference between a kicker getting fantasy owners 12 points compared to five points has the potential to be a deciding factor, when it comes to competing in your fantasy football championship. On many occasions, choosing the right kicker is a crapshoot, yet there are definitely a few trends owners can use to help make the correct decisions.

Our top-ranked kicker has the second-most fantasy points (according to Yahoo) this season, with 146, and has accumulated the most points over the past four games (49). Philadelphia Eagles’ place-kicker Cody Parkey has jumped onto the scene as a rookie, and has made a major impact during the 2014 fantasy football season. With the Eagles scoring on just 48% of their red-zone possessions, Parkey should continue to have a good amount of field goal opportunities during Week 16.

New England Patriots’ kicker Stephen Gostkowski was projected as the top- ranked kicker heading into the season, and has simply lived up to that expectation. He has the most fantasy points among kickers (155) and continues to be a major weapon for fantasy owners. Gostkowski’s upcoming opponent, the New York Jets, are giving up the ninth-most points to opposing kickers (8.8 points per game), paving way for New England’s kicker to put together another solid outing.

The only guy who has played in every game this season and yet to miss a field goal attempt, is Indianapolis Colts’ kicker Adam Vinateri. Not only is he our third-ranked kicker for Week 16, but Vinateri also has the third-most fantasy points (146.0) among place-kickers. The future Hall-of-Famer continues to be as steady as a rock for both the Colts and more importantly, fantasy owners.

The Detroit Lions were in desperate need of somebody to solve their kicking woes. After going through both Nate Freese and Alex Henery, it seems Detroit finally found their man in Matt Prater. Over the past four games he has recorded 44 fantasy points, which is tied for third-most among kickers, and with a juicy matchup against the Chicago Bears who give up the most points to opposing place-kickers (11 ppg), Prater is in line to keep his hot streak going.

Another player who did not start the season with his current team is Denver Broncos’ kicker Connor Barth. Fantasy owners need to have confidence in starting him this week against the Cincinnati Bengals, who are giving up the 10th-most points to opposing kickers (8.6 ppg). On top of that, Barth has excelled during his time in Denver, and has put together a four-week span of producing the fifth-most fantasy points (43) at his position (tied with Matt Bryant). All good trends heading into the championship round.

Top-25 Kicker Rankings

———————————

1) Cody Parkey, Philadelphia

2) Stephen Gostkowski, New England

3) Adam Vinatieri, Indianapolis

4) Justin Tucker, Baltimore

5) Steven Hauschka, Seattle

6) Matt Bryant, Atlanta

7) Matt Prater, Detroit

8) Dan Bailey, Dallas

9) Shaun Suisham, Pittsburgh

10) Connor Barth, Denver

11) Mike Nugent, Cincinnati

12) Mason Crosby, Green Bay

13) Dan Carpenter, Buffalo

14) Randy Bullock, Houston

15) Nick Novak, San Diego

16) Blair Walsh, Minnesota

17) Phil Dawson, San Francisco

18) Shayne Graham, New Orleans

19) Cairo Santos, Kansas City

20) Caleb Sturgis, Miami

21) Josh Brown, New York Giants

22) Chandler Catanzaro, Arizona

23) Greg Zuerlein, St. Louis

24) Graham Gano, Carolina

25) Billy Cundiff, Cleveland


►  Week 16 player fantasy rankings - defense

It is important to never overlook the defensive position in your fantasy football lineup. Making the wrong choice could easily determine whether you win, or lose, that coveted championship matchup.

After a somewhat lackluster start to the season, the Seattle Seahawks’ defensive unit has shined as of late. They have not allowed more than 14 points over the past four games, and in three of those contests Seattle has let up just seven points or fewer. This impressive streak makes it an easy choice for the Seahawks to be our top-ranked defense heading into Week 16.

With Arizona Cardinals’ quarterback Ryan Lindley making just his fifth career start in such a meaningful game, fantasy owners should expect Seattle’s defense to feast on the young signal-caller.

While Seattle’s defense has been dominant during the past month, the Buffalo Bills’ defense has been even better (according to Yahoo). Buffalo has accumulated 67 fantasy points over the past four games, which ranks second in fantasy football. They have the most sacks in the NFL (49), and with a matchup against the lowly Oakland Raiders, it is hard not to love the Bills’ chances to produce even more.

The team who has the third-most sacks (45) in the league in 2014 is also our third-ranked defense for Week 16. The Baltimore Ravens have played well lately, and as a result have the fifth-most fantasy points (49.0) over the past four games. Their opponent, the Houston Texans have actually played well against opposing defenses, allowing only 5.5 points per game, however with quarterbacks Thad Lewis or Case Keenum destined to make a start, Baltimore’s defense should continue to thrive.

A team that has taken a step back over the past couple of weeks is a team that owners should not shy away from on Saturday afternoon. The Philadelphia Eagles are still atop the defensive charts with 173 points, and will be facing off against the Washington Redskins, who are giving up the second-most fantasy points to opposing defenses (12.2 points per game). Fantasy owners need to start Philadelphia’s defensive unit with confidence.

The casual fan may not have a clue which team has recorded the most defensive fantasy points during the past four weeks. If you said the St. Louis Rams, you are correct; and the ranking is warranted as they have allowed only 12 total points over their last three games, including two shutouts. They will be facing off against Eli Manning and the New York Giants, and with Manning prone to turning the ball over combined with New York allowing the 10th-most fantasy points (8.7 ppg) to opposing defenses, St. Louis makes for an intriguing play once again.

Top-25 Defense/Special Teams Rankings

——————————————————-

1) Seattle Seahawks

2) Buffalo Bills

3) Baltimore Ravens

4) New England Patriots

5) Arizona Cardinals

6) Philadelphia Eagles

7) St. Louis Rams

8) Detroit Lions

9) New York Giants

10) Carolina Panthers

11) Miami Dolphins

12) Cleveland Browns

13) Minnesota Vikings

14) Kansas City Chiefs

15) Tennessee Titans

16) Pittsburgh Steelers

17) Green Bay Packers

18) San Francisco 49ers

19) Houston Texans

20) Denver Broncos

21) Indianapolis Colts

22) New Orleans Saints

23) Cincinnati Bengals

24) Atlanta Falcons

25) Dallas Cowboys



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Area High Schools Boys Basketball Game Results

(Friday, December 19)


Roane County 66     South Harrison 47

Wood County Christians 63     Elk Valley 24


►  Area High Schools Girls Basketball Game Results

(Friday, December 19)


#9 Gilmer County 72     Doddridge County 47

Notre Dame 47     Ritchie County 35

Roane County 59     South Harrison 20

#1 Fairmont Senior 86     Philip Barbour 36

Lewis County 41     Preston 39

East Fairmont 48     Robert C. Byrd 43

Bridgeport 77     Liberty 17

Wood County Christian 59     Elk Valley 44



<The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top-25 College Men’s Basketball Game Results

(Friday, December 19)


Final Score: (3) Arizona 60, UTEP 55

Freshman phenom Stanley Johnson scored 17 points and No. 3 Arizona survived its first true road test of the season with a 60-55 win over UTEP. Gabe York added 13 points and T.J. McConnell tallied nine points, eight assists and six rebounds for the unbeaten Wildcats (12-0), who have now won 39 straight non-conference regular season games. Vince Hunter paced UTEP (6-4) with 18 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out midway through the second half.


Final Score: Eastern Kentucky 72, (18) Miami-Florida 44

Corey Walden scored 18 points and Eastern Kentucky’s tough defense stifled No. 18 Miami in a 72-44 upset of the Hurricanes at BankUnited Center. The Colonels (6-4) held Miami to 29.3 percent shooting from the field and scored 20 points off 14 Hurricanes turnovers. Timmy Knipp nailed five 3-pointers on his way to a 17-point game and Isaac McGlone shot 4-of-4 from long range for 12 points off the bench. Eastern Kentucky shot 53.8 percent from 3-point range. The Hurricanes (9-2) lost for the second time in their last three games after falling to Green Bay on Dec. 6 at home. They were outrebounded by a 37-26 margin. Sheldon McClellan paced Miami with 14 points as its only player to reach double-digit points. Angel Rodriguez went 0-for-6 in a one-point performance.


Final Score: (20) St. John’s 53, St. Mary’s-CA 47

D’Angelo Harrison posted 21 points to guide No. 20 St. John’s to a 53-47 victory over St. Mary’s on Friday. Sir’Dominic Pointer gave 11 points and 11 rebounds and Chris Obekpa added eight points and seven rebounds for the Red Storm (9-1), who have won their past five games. Brad Waldow gave 26 points and 11 rebounds for the Gaels (6-3), who have lost two of their last three games.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NBA Game Results

(Friday, December 19)


Final Score: Utah 101, Orlando 94

Derrick Favors had 23 points and 10 rebounds as the Utah Jazz defeated the Orlando Magic 101-94 on Friday night. Gordon Hayward posted 20 points and six assists, while Enes Kanter added 11 points and seven rebounds for Utah, which has won two straight on the heels of a 1-12 stretch. Tobias Harris netted 24 points and Evan Fournier provided 21 for the Magic, who have dropped five of their last six games.


Final Score: Charlotte 109, Philadelphia 91

Kemba Walker scored 30 points and the Charlotte Hornets rolled to a 109-91 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday to snap a four-game losing streak. Al Jefferson added 20 points and 12 rebounds in the win as the Hornets led for the final 41 1/2 minutes of the game. The earned just their third win in the last 17 games, shaking off Wednesday’s loss to Phoenix, when they blew a 17-point lead. The loss dropped the Sixers to 0-14 at home this season. They are five losses from matching the 1993-94 Dallas Mavericks (0-19) for the worst home start in NBA history, but they won’t be getting closer to the mark any time soon.


Final Score: Boston 114, Minnesota 98

The Boston Celtics began life without Rajon Rondo on a high note. Kelly Olynyk scored 21 points off the bench to lead six Celtics in double figures in a 114-98 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night. Rondo was traded to Dallas along with Dwight Powell on Thursday night in exchange for guard Jameer Nelson, forwards Jae Crowder and Brandan Wright, two draft picks and cash considerations. Jeff Green supplied 18 points and seven rebounds, while Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller and Avery Bradley each scored 14 points in the Celtics’ third straight win. Sullinger pulled down 10 rebounds and Evan Turner contributed 10 points starting in place of Rondo, the All-Star point guard who ranks fourth on the Celtics’ all-time assists list. Shabazz Muhammad led all scorers with 26 points in the loss. The Timberwolves lost a fourth consecutive game overall and have now lost nine straight in Boston. Minnesota was also without one of its key players after Corey Brewer was traded to Houston in a three-team deal Friday.


Final Score: Cleveland 95, Brooklyn 91
Mike Miller scored a season-high 21 points in a rare start and the Cleveland Cavaliers bounced back from their worst loss of the season with a 95-91 win over the Brooklyn Nets. Miller hit 7-of-8 from behind the arc in his first start of the season and LeBron James scored 22 points with nine assists for Cleveland, which was coming off a 29-point home loss to Atlanta on Wednesday. Miller, who hadn’t played since Dec. 4, had just 19 points in 13 games all season before Friday. Kyrie Irving chipped in 16 while Kevin Love had his worst shooting performance in a Cavs uniform, going 1-for-10 for six points. Love, however, finished with a game-high 14 rebounds. Joe Johnson led five Nets players in double figures with 26 points.


Final Score: Toronto 110, Detroit 100

Toronto used a strong third quarter to overcome a slow start and beat Detroit, 110-100, Friday. Jonas Valanciunas led the Raptors with 17 points to go along with seven rebounds in their fifth straight win. Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams each netted 15 points, and James Johnson added 12 points and eight rebounds off the bench for Toronto, which did not lead at all in the first half. In their third straight loss, the Pistons were led by Brandon Jennings’ 22 points and eight assists. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope chipped in 18 points on 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range.


Final Score: Washington 105, Miami 103

John Wall and the Washington Wizards added to the Miami Heats’ early season misery at home. Wall had 20 points and 10 assists as the Wizards defeated the Heat 105-103 on Friday night. Dwyane Wade knocked down a straightaway 3-pointer off an inbounds pass with 16.7 seconds left to claw Miami within 101-100. Bradley Beal sunk a pair of free throws at the other end and then came up with the game-clinching steal. The Wizards double-teamed Wade right as he crossed the halfcourt line and Beal came up with the swipe before hitting two more free throws to seal the outcome with 3.8 ticks left. The Heat lost their fifth straight at home for the first time since March of 2008 and have dropped eight of their last nine in South Beach overall.


Final Score: Chicago 103, Memphis 97

Jimmy Butler’s first double-double of the season helped the Chicago Bulls to a 103-97 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night. A night after he went for a career-high 35 points in a win over the New York Knicks, Butler netted 31 points with 10 rebounds as the Bulls stopped Memphis’ six-game winning streak. The Grizzlies were coming off a tough, three-overtime victory over San Antonio their last time out. Nikola Mirotic proved to be a spark off the bench for Chicago, scoring a career- high 27 points on 6-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc. The Bulls, who have won two straight and five of their last six, were without Derrick Rose (illness) and Taj Gibson (ankle) for a second straight game. Mike Conley deposited 21 points on 7-of-18 shooting and Beno Udrih posted 15 points in the setback. Grizzlies forward Marc Gasol contributed 13 points with 10 rebounds, while his brother, Pau, was held to six points to go along with 11 rebounds for Chicago.


Final Score: Portland 129, San Antonio 119 (3-OT)

The Portland Trail Blazers became the second team this week to beat the San Antonio Spurs in triple-overtime. Damian Lillard had 43 points, LaMarcus Aldridge scored 32 and the Blazers pulled away in the third overtime to top the Spurs 129-119 on Friday night. Lillard hit game-tying 3-pointers in regulation and the first overtime and scored nine of Portland’s 17 points in the third overtime as the Blazers wrapped up their fourth consecutive win. Cory Joseph hit a tying shot in the second OT for San Antonio, which became the first NBA team in 63 years to play in consecutive three-overtime games. The Spurs fell to Memphis 117-116 in Wednesday’s thriller, two days after the Blazers beat them in Portland. So the reigning NBA champions have dropped three in a row, their longest losing streak since a three-game slide Jan. 26-29.


Final Score: Denver 109, LA Clippers 106

Nate Robinson had 20 points to lead seven Denver scorers in double figures and the Nuggets held on for a 109-106 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night. Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick both missed 3-pointers during a Clippers flurry in the final seconds after Blake Griffin missed a free throw on purpose with 12.6 ticks left. Wilson Chandler added 16 points and Kenneth Faried scored 14 for the Nuggets, who snapped a three-game losing streak and won for only the second time in their last nine. Griffin had 32 points and 12 rebounds to lead Los Angeles, Jamal Crawford scored 20 off the bench and Chris Paul added 17 points and 15 assists.


Final Score: Oklahoma City 104, LA Lakers 103

Russell Westbrook scored 31 points with 10 assists and five rebounds to lead the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 104-103 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night. Reggie Jackson deposited 25 points, Serge Ibaka netted 16 points with seven rebounds and five blocks and Andre Roberson added 10 points for the Thunder, who played without Kevin Durant due to a sprained right ankle. Durant left Thursday’s loss to the Warriors after sustaining the sprain late in the first half. Oklahoma City has won eight of its last nine games. Ed Davis paced the Lakers with 18 points to go along with nine rebounds, while Ronnie Price and Carlos Boozer chipped in with 14 points apiece. Los Angeles has lost two straight on the heels of a three-game winning streak. Kobe Bryant finished with a season low-tying nine points on 3-for-15 shooting. He did add a team-high eight assists with eight rebounds.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Olympian Michael Phelps pleads guilty to DUI

Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps entered a guilty plea to a drunk driving charge on Friday in a Baltimore courtroom and received a one-year suspended sentence.

Phelps was arrested September 30.

After entering the guilty plea Friday, Phelps told the judge he made a “bad mistake” and was looking toward his future. He entered a treatment program after his arrest.

Phelps, who was suspended by USA Swimming for six months following his arrest, will remain on probation for 18 months.

According to the Maryland Transportation Authority, Phelps was charged with DUI, excessive speed and crossing double lane lines within the Fort McHenry Tunnel on I-95 in Baltimore.

The MDTA report said Phelps was driving a 2014 white Land Rover at a speed of 84 miles per hour in a 45-mph zone. An officer pulled the vehicle over beyond the tunnel’s toll plaza and Phelps failed to perform the standard field sobriety tests. He was cooperative throughout the process.

This was Phelps’ second arrest on DUI-related charges, with the first coming in 2004 for which he also received 18 months’ probation and a $250 fine.

Phelps has won a record 18 Olympic gold medals and 22 overall.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Dodgers complete trade for Rollins

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies have finalized their agreed-upon trade that sends former National League MVP Jimmy Rollins to the West Coast for a pair of minor league pitching prospects.

Rollins, the 2007 NL MVP and the Phillies’ all-time hits leader, heads to Los Angeles in exchange for right-hander Zach Eflin and lefty Tom Windle. Philadelphia is also sending the Dodgers an undisclosed amount of cash to help cover Rollins’ $11 million salary for this coming season.

The two teams have had the parameters of the deal in place since last week’s Winter Meetings, but it was held up because of a delay in the trade between the Dodgers and San Diego involving slugger Matt Kemp.

Eflin, a Padres farmhand, was part of the package Los Angeles received in the Kemp deal, which was finally completed Thursday after an issue regarding Kemp’s physical was resolved.

Rollins turned 36 years old last month but remains a capable all-around shortstop. The three-time All-Star hit 17 home runs and stole 28 bases in 138 games last season, finishing the year with a .243 average and 55 RBI.

The California native had spent his entire professional career in the Phillies organization. Rollins was selected by Philadelphia in the second round of the 1996 MLB Draft and made his big league debut in September of 2000. He proceeded to start the next 14 Opening Days for the franchise, developing into a cornerstone of a Phillies team that won five straight NL East titles from 2007-11 and captured the 2008 World Series.

Rollins amassed 2,306 hits and a franchise-record 479 doubles in a Phillies uniform, and also ranks second in team annals in games played (2,090), extra- base hits (806), stolen bases (453) and total bases (3,655). He also won four Gold Gloves for his work at shortstop, most recently in 2011.

“Jimmy is both an iconic player and person whom I have had the great joy of watching grow up in this game and this city,“ Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro stated. “His contributions to the franchise and to Philadelphia are unparalleled and I wish him the best in Los Angeles. This transaction is one that I believe benefits both Jimmy and the Phillies.“

The Dodgers were in the market for a shortstop after 2014 starter Hanley Ramirez signed with Boston as a free agent.

Eflin, 20, is coming off a solid season in the Class A California League, going 10-7 with a 3.80 ERA in 24 starts for Lake Elsinore. A supplemental first round selection of the Padres in 2012, he led the Midwest League with a 2.73 ERA in his first full pro season in 2013.

Windle, a second-round pick of the Dodgers in the 2013 draft, went 12-8 with a 4.26 ERA in 26 games (25 starts) for Rancho Cucamonga in the Cal League.


►  Braves send Justin Upton to San Diego

The San Diego Padres continued what has been a whirlwind week on Friday, as they have apparently acquired outfielder Justin Upton from the Atlanta Braves.

San Diego put the finishing touches on deals for both outfielder Matt Kemp and catcher Derek Norris on Thursday, and are also working toward finalizing a three-team trade that would net them 2013 American League Rookie of the Year Wil Myers.

Now, according to multiple reports, they have picked up Upton. Although the return is not yet known, minor league left-hander Max Fried is one name rumored to be headed to Atlanta.

Upton, 27, won a Silver Slugger Award last season for the Braves, as he hit .270 with a 29 home runs and improved upon his RBI total by 32, as he drove in a career-best 102 runs over 154 games.

The first overall pick in the 2005 draft, Upton spent the first six years of his career with the Arizona Diamondbacks before being dealt prior to the start of the 2013 to Atlanta, where he spent the last two seasons playing alongside his brother, B.J.

Upton is entering the final year of his contract and is expected to make $14.5 million in 2015 before becoming a free agent.

A two-time All-Star, Upton is a career .274 hitter with 164 home runs and 535 RBI in 1,034 games for the Diamondbacks and Braves.


►  Giants retain Peavy with 2-year deal

The San Francisco Giants have apparently re-signed right-hander Jake Peavy to a two-year contract.

Although the Giants have yet to confirm the deal, the pact is believed to be worth $24 million and contains a full no-trade clause.

Peavy started last season with Boston, but was dealt to San Francisco in late July after going 1-9 with a 4.72 ERA in 20 outings for the Red Sox. However, he flourished with the Giants, as he was 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA in 12 starts.

The 33-year-old hurler also made four starts for the Giants in the postseason and was 1-2 with a 6.19 ERA. He tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings in his NLDS start versus Washington, but his season ended on a sour note, as he lasted just 1 1/3 innings in a Game 6 World Series loss to the Kansas City Royals.

A National League Cy Young Award winner with the San Diego Padres in 2007 and a three-time All-Star, Peavy is 139-111 with a 3.53 ERA over 13 seasons with the Padres, Chicago White Sox, Red Sox and Giants.


►  Padres pick up Myers from Rays in 11-player deal with Nationals

The San Diego Padres continued to reshape their roster Friday, acquiring outfielder Wil Myers from the Tampa Bay Rays as part of an 11-player trade that also involved the Washington Nationals.

The Padres picked up Myers, the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year, along with catcher Ryan Hanigan and minor league pitchers Gerardo Reyes and Jose Castillo from the Rays.

Tampa Bay received catcher Rene Rivera, minor league first baseman Jake Bauers and pitcher Burch Smith from the Padres, as well as outfielder Steven Souza and pitcher Travis Ott from Washington. The Nationals will pick up pitcher Joe Ross and a player to be named later, said to be shortstop Trea Turner, from the Padres.

Myers, who just turned 24 years old, is the centerpiece of the trade.

The Rays acquired Myers from Kansas City prior to the 2013 season in the deal that sent pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals.

Myers, in 88 games as a rookie, batted .293 while hitting 13 homers and driving in 53 runs to help Tampa Bay to a wild card berth. A wrist injury slowed him down in 2014, when he played just 87 games and hit six homers with 35 RBI and batted only .222.

Hanigan hit just .218 in 84 games last season, his first in Tampa Bay after playing the first seven years of his career in Cincinnati. The 34-year-old veteran, who has played more than 100 games in a season just once, is a career. 256 hitter with 25 homers and 172 RBI in 558 games.

The Padres have been busy since the start of last week’s Winter Meetings, signing pitcher Brandon Morrow while adding outfielder Matt Kemp and catcher Derek Norris in trades with the Dodgers and Athletics, respectively. San Diego is also set to acquire outfielder Justin Upton from Atlanta in a trade that has yet to be announced officially.

Tampa Bay has also undergone a major shakeup since the departures of head of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon. Matt Silverman, Friedman’s replacement, had already traded pitchers Jeremy Hellickson and Joel Peralta, as well as outfielder Matt Joyce and infielder Sean Rodriguez, before this latest deal.

“This is a baseball trade, and one we believe will make our club more competitive both for 2015 and beyond,“ said Silverman in a statement Friday. “Trading Wil Myers was not an easy decision, but we are very excited about the talent coming back our way, and this deal has potential to improve our team on both sides of the ball.“

The Rays, who also released veteran catcher Jose Molina this offseason, will hope Rivera can help behind the plate. The 31-year-old native of Puerto Rico played in a career-high 103 games last season with the Padres and batted .252 with 11 homers and 44 RBI.

Burch appeared in 10 games in 2013, including seven starts, and was 1-3 with a 6.44 ERA. He missed most of last year with a forearm injury. Bauers played at Single-A in 2014. Ott was also a Class-A player last year in Washington’s organization, while Souza could be the key piece for the Rays.

Souza was the International League’s top player in 2014 for Washington’s Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse, batting .350 with 18 homers and 75 RBI in just 96 games. The 25-year-old played in 21 games for the Nationals last year and hit two homers in 23 at-bats, while also making a tremendous catch to preserve Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter on the final day of the season.

The Nationals will pick up a former first-round pick in Ross, a 21-year-old right-hander who has not pitched above Double-A since he was chosen 25th overall in 2011.

Turner can’t officially be traded until next June, as league rules mandate that a draft pick cannot be dealt until a full year after he was selected. The 13th overall pick last June, he could be Washington’s shortstop of the future with Ian Desmond set to be a free agent after next season.


►  Padres to deal Hanigan to BoSox for Middlebrooks

The San Diego Padres are apparently not done trading.

According to Yahoo! Sports, the Padres are nearing a deal that would send recently acquired catcher Ryan Hanigan to the Boston Red Sox in exchange for third baseman Will Middlebrooks.

The Padres picked up Hanigan from Tampa Bay as part of the 11-player deal officially announced Friday that also landed them outfielder Wil Myers. However, San Diego had already added another catcher in Derek Norris from Oakland on Thursday to make Hanigan trade bait.

Middlebrooks became expendable in Boston after the Red Sox signed Pablo Sandoval as a free agent earlier this offseason. The Padres were reportedly also in the running for Sandoval.

Hanigan hit just .218 in 84 games last season, his first in Tampa Bay after playing the first seven years of his career in Cincinnati. The 34-year-old veteran, who has played more than 100 games in a season just once, is a career. 256 hitter with 25 homers and 172 RBI in 558 games.

Middlebrooks was projected to be Boston’s future third baseman after a 2012 season in which he batted .288 with 15 homers and 54 RBI in 75 games as a rookie. He struggled in 2013, hitting .227 with 17 homers in 94 games, and last year hit just .191 in 63 games as he split time between Triple-A Pawtucket and Boston.


►  Cubs add Motte to bullpen

The Chicago Cubs and pitcher Jason Motte agreed to terms on a one-year contract Friday.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the Chicago Tribune reported it to be worth $4.5 million.

Motte was the closer for the St. Louis Cardinals before undergoing Tommy John surgery during the 2013 season. He returned last year and was 1-0 with a 4.68 earned run average in 29 games.

The 32-year-old right-hander owns a career record of 18-13 with 54 saves and a 3.03 ERA in 311 relief appearances—all with St. Louis—from 2008-14. He has 290 strikeouts in 285 innings pitched.

Motte helped the Cardinals to the 2011 World Series championship, closing out Game 7 against Texas to cap a postseason in which he produced five saves and a 2.19 ERA in 12 games.

In 2012, Motte tied for the National League lead with 42 saves and posted a record of 4-5 with a 2.75 ERA in 67 games. He developed an elbow injury in spring training the following year and eventually underwent surgery in May, forcing him to miss the entire 2013 season.

The Cubs will likely employ Motte as a setup man for Hector Rondon, who notched 29 saves last season.


►  Orioles add reliever Wright

The Baltimore Orioles have signed left- handed reliever Wesley Wright to a one-year contract, the team announced Friday.

A seven-year major league veteran, Wright spent last season with the Chicago Cubs and pitched in 58 games, going 0-3 with a 3.17 earned run average. The 29-year-old was granted free agency after the Cubs opted not to tender him a contract earlier this month.

Wright, who has made 360 appearances in the majors and held lefty hitters to a .238 average for his career, joins a Baltimore bullpen that lost fellow southpaw Andrew Miller to the rival Yankees in free agency.

Initially breaking into the majors with Houston in 2008, Wright pitched five- plus seasons with the Astros before being dealt to Tampa Bay in August of 2013. He owns a 10-18 lifetime record with a 4.17 ERA and has struck out 290 over 299 2/3 career innings.


►  Cash fills out Rays’ coaching staff

The Tampa Bay Rays finalized their coaching staff for the 2015 season on Friday, naming Tom Foley as bench coach for new manager Kevin Cash.

Foley had spent the past 13 seasons as the Rays’ third base coach. Charlie Montoyo will take over as third base coach and former Rays star Rocco Baldelli will be the club’s new first base coach.

George Hendrick, who had been the first base coach, has accepted a role as the special advisor to baseball operations.

The remainder of the coaching staff will remain intact, as Jim Hickey returns for a ninth season as pitching coach and Derek Shelton enters his sixth year as hitting coach. Stan Boroski will remain the bullpen coach and Jamie Nelson will stay on as major league coach.

“I feel very fortunate to have inherited a staff that is both respected throughout baseball and knowledgeable of our players and the culture,“ said Cash in a statement Friday. “I am thrilled to have Tom as our bench coach. I have great respect for the role he has played in the organization from its inception and will lean on him for his experience and judgment. In adding Charlie and Rocco, we have two men who combined have more than 30 years invested in this organization at many different levels and have great familiarity with our players. Both have meant a great deal to the Rays, and I am grateful they will be joining Jim, Derek, Jamie and Stan for what I feel is a great team.“

Cash was named the Rays’ new manager earlier this month, replacing Joe Maddon, who stepped down in October after baseball operations head Andrew Friedman also left. Friedman went to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Maddon quickly found a home as the skipper of the Chicago Cubs.


►  Rounding Third: Padres not messing around

So, what did you do this week?

I guarantee it wasn’t as much as what San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller did, as he completely transformed the identity, look, and overall perception of his team.

San Diego drastically upgraded its lineup, as it acquired outfielders, Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton, along with catcher Derek Norris and third baseman Will Middlebrooks, while re-signing righty Josh Johnson and adding flamethrower Brandon Morrow.

Did you get all that?

You better believe San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean, new Dodgers’ baseball czar Andrew Friedman and a lot of other National League GMs did.

Have these moves made San Diego the team to beat now in the NL? Absolutely not. Truth be told they are still probably the third best team in the NL West. But they have closed the gap on both the Dodgers and Giants and at the very least they are a legitimate wild card contender.

And people are certainly now talking about the Padres. When was the last time you could have said that?

The additions will certainly improve a lineup that ranked at the bottom of the majors with a .226 average, .292 on-base percentage and 535 runs scored. Their 109 homers were also the second-fewest in the bigs.

San Diego’s offense was historically bad in the first half of last season, as it was hitting just .210 through 83 games, including an abysmal .171 for the entire month of June. Just how bad is that? Well, Baseball-reference tracks team splits back to 1914. No other team in that time frame had hit below .175 in a calendar month.

So, yes that lineup needed a complete facelift.

And they probably aren’t done. If the Upton, Myers and Kemp triumvirate is now your starting outfield, that leaves no place for players like Cameron Maybin, Seth Smith, Wil Venable or Carlos Quentin.

There are still some deals to be made. We will get to that in a bit.

San Diego’s strength last season was its starting pitching. Only the Washington Nationals had a better team ERA in the NL. And no team had a lower bullpen ERA in the NL than the Padres’ 2.59.

Righty Tyson Ross emerged as an All-Star, Ian Kennedy and Andrew Cashner are solid, while Cuban project Odrisamer Despaigne showed flashes of brilliance. Of course, highly-regarded 24-year-old Jessie Hahn was dealt to Oakland in the Norris deal, but Morrow figures to step in and who knows what the oft-injured Johnson will give them.

If the Padres go into the season with what they have, they are probably a wild card contender. Like 10 other teams in the league. But, why make all these moves if you, maybe, could contend. Yes it’s nice to create a little bit of buzz, but if you are going to go for it, go for it.

And that means San Diego native Cole Hamels.

It’s no secret the Philadelphia Phillies are looking to move him. And even with all these moves this past week, the Padres still have the pieces to go and get him.

San Diego can give the Phillies a major league ready outfielder. Plus they still have most of their top prospects in tact. Outfielder Hunter Renfroe, catcher Austin Hedges and righty Matt Wisler are all still in play.

The Padres have a rotation good enough to compete. But, just imagine how much better that group is with someone like Hamels at the top of it. Plus you keep him away from the Dodgers, another team rumored to be in the mix for him.

It makes too much sense now not to happen.

Like we said. If you are going to go for it. Go for it.  ~~  Chris Ruddick ~~


►  Selig named Commissioner Emeritus

Major League Baseball has given Bud Selig the title of Commissioner Emeritus.

Selig’s retirement will become official on January 25, the date Rob Manfred takes over as baseball’s new commissioner.

In his next role, Selig will advise Manfred and assist with special projects.

“I greatly appreciate the opportunity to stay connected to the game in this new capacity,“ said Selig in a statement. “I will be proud to stand behind Rob’s vision for the future and to assist in any ways that he asks. Baseball is the greatest game in the world, and I look forward to seeing our sport flourish under Rob’s leadership.“

Manfred was elected to the position by a unanimous vote among baseball owners in August and agreed to a five-year contract in November.

“Commissioner Selig has had an unparalleled career of decorated service to the national pastime, and this role will allow the game to benefit from his unmatched institutional knowledge, experience and relationships,“ said Manfred in a statement Friday. “I could not ask for a finer mentor during this transition process, and I am grateful that commissioner Selig will continue to be available to me as a resource.“

Selig will have spent 22 years as the sport’s commissioner. He assumed the leadership post in September 1992, initially on an acting basis following the resignation of Fay Vincent, and was given permanent duties in 1998.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NHL Game Results

(Friday, December 19)


Final Score: New Jersey 3, Tampa Bay 2 (SO)
Patrik Elias registered the lone goal of the shootout as New Jersey claimed a 3-2 decision over Tampa Bay at Prudential Center. Elias and Adam Henrique picked up first-period tallies for the Devils, who finally put an end to a five-game losing streak. Keith Kinkaid finished with 26 saves in regulation and three more in the game’s final segment to earn his first NHL victory. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov supplied offense for the Lightning, who have dropped five of their last seven. Evgeni Nabokov made 16 stops but allowed his team to earn a point. Elias put his team ahead as the opening shooter in the third and final round, pulling Nabokov out of position before sliding a shot inside the right post. Kinkaid cemented the outcome and picked up his milestone by turning away a Jonathan Drouin chance.


Final Score: Ottawa 6, Anaheim 2

Mike Hoffman scored twice as the Ottawa Senators roughed up the Anaheim Ducks, 6-2, on Friday. Kyle Turris and Mika Zibanejad each posted a goal and an assist, while Milan Michalek and Mark Stone also scored for the Senators, who have won four of their last six. Craig Anderson allowed just two goals on 32 shots in the win. Ryan Getzlaf scored both goals while Ilya Bryzgalov gave up all six goals on 31 shots for the Ducks, who came into the game having won eight of their last nine.


Final Score: NY Islanders 2, Detroit 1

Jaroslav Halak stopped 17 shots while Anders Lee netted the winning score midway through the second period as the New York Islanders recorded a 2-1 win over Detroit at Joe Louis Arena. Brock Nelson picked up a goal and one assist for the Islanders, winners of three in a row who closed the gap over idle division-leading Pittsburgh to two points. Henrik Zetterberg’s first-period marker was all the offense for the Red Wings, whose season-high losing skid reached five games. Petr Mrazek took the loss, having given up the lead goal on 23 shots in relief of Jimmy Howard. Howard exited after the first period due to a lower-body injury having stopped eight shots.


Final Score: Winnipeg 2, Boston 1

Michael Hutchinson stopped 30 shots and the Winnipeg Jets held on for a 2-1 win over the Boston Bruins on Friday. Evander Kane and Mathieu Perreault each posted a goal for the Jets, who have won their past two games. Torey Krug scored the only goal of the game for the Bruins, who have lost four of their last five. Tuukka Rask allowed both goals on 27 shots.


Final Score: Dallas 2, Calgary 1

Jamie Benn and Trevor Daley scored in the second period and the Dallas Stars held on to top the Calgary Flames, 2-1, at the Saddledome. Kari Lehtonen halted 21 pucks and Cody Eakin added a pair of assists for the Stars, winners in three straight and four of five. Mark Giordano lit the lamp for the Flames, who have lost seven straight games. Jonas Hiller played well in defeat, making 19 saves.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


SATURDAY, DECEMBER 20, 2014


National Football League
Philadelphia at Washington, 4:30 PM - NFL Network
San Diego at San Francisco, 8:25 PM - CBS


National Basketball Association
Phoenix at New York, 1:00 PM - FS-Arizona, MSG, DSS
Utah at Charlotte, 7:00 PM - ROOT-Northwest, SportSouth, DSS
Portland at New Orleans, 7:00 PM - CSN-Northwest, FS-New Orleans, DSS
Atlanta at Houston, 8:00 PM - SportSouth, ROOT-Southwest, DSS
San Antonio at Dallas, 8:30 PM - CW35, FS-Southwest, DSS
Indiana at Denver, 9:00 PM - FS-Indiana, Altitude, DSS
Milwaukee at LA Clippers, 10:30 PM - FS-Wisconsin, Prime Ticket, DSS


National Hockey League
Arizona at Los Angeles, 4:00 PM - FS-Arizona, West, DSS
Chicago at Columbus, 7:00 PM - WGN, FS-Ohio, DSS
Colorado at Buffalo, 7:00 PM - Altitude2, MSG-Buffalo, DSS
NY Rangers at Carolina, 7:00 PM - MSG, FS-Carolina, DSS
Philadelphia at Toronto, 7:00 PM - CSN-Philadelphia, DSS
Washington at New Jersey, 7:00 PM - CSN-DC, MSG+, DSS
Tampa Bay at NY Islanders, 7:00 PM - SunSports, MSG+2, DSS
Ottawa at Montreal, 7:00 PM - TVA Sports, NHL Network, DSS
Florida at Pittsburgh, 7:00 PM - FS-Florida, ROOT-Pittsburgh, DSS
Nashville at Minnesota, 8:00 PM - FS-Tennessee, North, DSS
Calgary at Vancouver, 10:00 PM - CBC, DSS
St. Louis at San Jose, 10:30 PM - FS-Midwest, CSN-California, DSS


College Basketball
SMU at Michigan, 12:00 PM - ESPN 2
Charlotte at Georgetown, 12:00 PM - FS-South, FLA, OH, Wisconsin, MASN2, YES
Louisville at Western Ky, 12:00 PM - FS1
VA Commonwealth at Cincinnati, 12:00 PM - ESPN U
Citadel at Virginia Tech, 1:00 PM - ESPN3.com
South Alabama at IUPUI, 1:00 PM - HTSN, ESPN3.com, DSS
Syracuse at Villanova, 1:00 PM - FOX
Mount St. Mary’s at American, 1:00 PM - CSN-Baltimore
Ohio State vs. North Carolina, 1:00 PM - CBS
Massachusetts at Providence, 1:00 PM - CBSSN
SC State at Houston, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
South Florida vs. Florida State, 2:00 PM - MASN2, MSG+, FS-Southwest, SD, PT
Drexel vs. Penn State, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Vanderbilt at Georgia Tech, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Missouri vs. Illinois, 2:00 PM - ESPN 2
St Francis-PA at Rutgers, 2:00 PM - Big Ten Network+
Indiana vs. Butler, 2:30 PM - FS1
UMBC at Kennesaw St, 3:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Delaware State at Oregon, 3:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Lafayette at Kansas, 3:00 PM - Jayhawk TV, ESPN3.com
Western Mich at Northwestern, 3:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Oral Roberts at Memphis, 3:00 PM - CBSSN
UCLA vs. Kentucky, 3:30 PM - CBS
Detroit at Rhode Island, 4:00 PM - Ocean State Network
Southern U at Wyoming, 4:00 PM - ROOT-Rocky Mountain
Davidson at Coll of Charleston, 4:00 PM - Charleston Sports Net
Oakland at Pittsburgh, 4:00 PM - ROOT-Pitt, YES, ESPN3.com, NESN, STO, DSS
UC Davis at Air Force, 4:00 PM - Mountain West Network
Wake Forest vs. Florida, 5:00 PM - FS1
Texas Southern at Michigan State, 5:00 PM - ESPN U
Iowa State at Drake, 5:00 PM - MC22
Purdue vs. Notre Dame, 5:15 PM - Big Ten Network
Xavier at Auburn, 6:00 PM - SEC Network
Boston Univ at Dayton, 7:00 PM - Time Warner Sports Channel
Texas A&M at Kansas State, 7:00 PM - ESPN U
Iona at George Mason, 7:00 PM - NBCSN
Incarnate Word at UMKC, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com, DSS
Valparaiso at IUPU-Ft Wayne, 7:00 PM - PBS 39
Richmond vs. Pepperdine, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Iowa at Northern Iowa, 7:30 PM - Big Ten Network
Milwaukee at SIU Edwardsville, 7:30 PM - FS-Midwest, Wisconsin
Long Beach State at Texas, 8:00 PM - Longhorn Network
SE Missouri St at Arkansas, 8:30 PM - SEC Network
Lehigh at Arizona State, 9:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Oklahoma vs. Washington, 9:00 PM - ESPN U
Utah Valley U at Weber State, 9:00 PM - KJZZ TV
NC State vs. West Virginia, 9:30 PM - ESPN 2
Cal Poly vs. Gonzaga, 10:00 PM - ROOT-Northwest
Ball State at San Diego St, 10:00 PM - Mountain West Network
South Dakota St at Utah State, 10:05 PM - Mountain West Network
Stanford at BYU, 11:00 PM - ESPN U
Utah vs. UNLV, 11:30 PM - ESPN 2


Women’s College Basketball
Gardner-Webb at Kennesaw State, 12:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Western Michigan at Detroit, 12:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Auburn at St. John’s, 12:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Stanford at Tennessee, 1:00 PM - SEC Network
Alabama A&M at Ole Miss, 1:00 PM - SEC Network+
Texas State at Stetson, 1:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Vermont at Green Bay, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Indiana at Oakland, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Grambling State at Kansas State, 2:00 PM - FCS
SMU vs. Indiana State, 2:30 PM - ESPN3.com
Furman at Georgia, 4:00 PM - SEC Network+
William Jewell at UMKC, 4:30 PM - ESPN3.com


College Football
Nevada vs. Louisiana (New Orleans Bowl), 11:00 AM - ESPN
Illinois State at New Hampshire (FCS Playoffs), 2:00 PM - ESPN U
Utah State vs. UTEP (New Mexico Bowl), 2:20 PM - ESPN
Utah vs. Colorado State (Las Vegas Bowl), 3:30 PM - ABC
Colorado St-Pueblo vs. Minnesota St-Mankato (Division II Champ), 4 PM - ESPN 2
Western Michigan vs. Air Force (Potato Bowl), 5:45 PM - ESPN
South Alabama vs. Bowling Green (Camellia Bowl), 9:15 PM - ESPN


International Soccer
Derby County FC vs. Norwich City FC, 7:10 AM - beIN Sport
Manchester City vs. Crystal Palace, 7:45 AM - NBCSN
FC Barcelona vs. Cordoba CF, 9:55 AM - beIN Sport
Aston Villa vs. Manchester United, 10:00 AM - NBCSN
AS Roma vs. AC Milan, 2:40 PM - beIN Sport

Sports News   141219

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  Mountaineers add 6-foot-3 cornerback Rasul Douglas as early enrollee

Rasul Douglas, a rangy 6-foot-3 cornerback from Nassau (NY) Community College, committed and signed with West Virginia on Wednesday, representing a quality defensive pickup for the 2015 class.

A four-star prospect according to Scout.com and 247 Sports, and a three-star prospect on the Rivals board, Douglas should be on hand for spring practice, where he could begin battling Terrell Chestnut for the starting job opposite Daryl Worley.

Douglas, who retains two years of eligibility, held offers from Florida State, Georgia and Tennessee, though his finalists boiled down to Louisville and Rutgers.

“Douglas is an extremely physical cover corner,” said Keenan Cummings, Rivals senior writer for WVSports.com. “That physical play translates not only in his coverage skills but also with helping to drop down and stop the run. Douglas isn’t afraid to put his shoulder down and take on a running back in the hole or lay a big hit on smaller receivers on the outside. The bigger corner uses his size to man up wide receivers but also has the speed to keep up.”

Rivals currently ranks West Virginia’s class No. 21 for 2015.

Douglas became the second early enrollee from the juco ranks to sign a national letter of intent with WVU on Wednesday, following defensive end Larry Jefferson.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Bears to start Clausen over Cutler

With two games left in a dreadful season, the Chicago Bears are reportedly benching their starting quarterback.

The Bears plan to start Jimmy Clausen over Jay Cutler in Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions, ESPN.com reported Wednesday.

Cutler has started all 14 games in his sixth season for the Bears, completing 66.1% of his passes for 3,640 yards, 28 touchdowns and an NFL-high 18 interceptions.

He has fumbled 12 times, losing six to lead the league in overall turnovers.

Clausen, who was signed to a one-year contract in June, hasn’t started a game since 2010 for the Carolina Panthers. He has thrown nine passes in three games for Chicago (5-9) this season, completing three.

Before this season, the former Notre Dame star hadn’t appeared in an NFL game since playing 13 for the Panthers as a rookie after he was taken in the second round of the 2010 draft.


►  Chargers try to stay alive against Niners

For the first time in four seasons under coach Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco 49ers won’t be going to the postseason.

Owners of two straight losses, the San Diego Chargers are in danger of joining them.

The Chargers hope to stay alive in the playoff hunt this Saturday night when they visit the 49ers and Levi’s Stadium.

San Diego used a three-game winning streak to move into the postseason picture in the AFC, but a pair of losses to the best the conference has to offer as taken the club out of the driver’s seat.

The Chargers had their win streak halted with a 23-14 loss to the New England Patriots on December 7 and were then bested by the Denver Broncos 22-10 this past Sunday.

At 8-6, the Chargers are tied with Kansas City and Buffalo at one game back of Pittsburgh and Baltimore for the two wild card positions. That means San Diego will likely need to win this Saturday and in its regular-season finale at the Chiefs, plus get help, to reach the playoffs.

The Chargers, without running back Ryan Mathews due to an ankle injury, were held to 288 total yards of offense in the loss to the Broncos. Philip Rivers completed 24-of-41 pass attempts for 232 yards, completing a touchdown pass to tight end Antonio Gates while also throwing two interceptions.

Kicker Nick Novak also missed a pair of field goal attempts, further deflating an offense that had managed just 216 total yards a week earlier versus the Patriots.

“It was a tough two-game stretch against the best teams in the conference and we’re not in their company yet,“ said Rivers. “We’re just not. That doesn’t mean we can’t be or that I think we can’t beat them. I believe we can.“

The Chargers hope to get on track Saturday and deal the 49ers a fourth loss in a row. San Francisco has lost twice to division-rival Seattle twice over that span, including a 17-7 setback on the road this past Sunday that, along with Detroit’s win over Minnesota, knocked the 49ers out of the playoff picture.

San Francisco had reached the NFC Championship Game in each of its first three seasons under Harbaugh, including one Super Bowl appearance.

Now, there is continued speculation that Harbaugh won’t even return as the team’s coach next season.

“I’m aware of it and I understand what it means,“ 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of his team missing the postseason. “We’ll never give in, keep fighting.“

San Francisco lost running backs Frank Gore (concussion) and Carlos Hyde (ankle) to injury during the game and also saw rookie linebacker Chris Borland depart with his own ankle injury.

Seattle allowed 178 yards to San Francisco in the first half, but clamped down and limited the 49ers to a meager 67 over the final 30 minutes.

The Seahawks outscored the 49ers 14-0 in the second half.

Colin Kaepernick completed 11-of-19 passes for 141 yards for the 49ers, while getting sacked six times.

Sunday was the seventh time in their last eight contests that the 49ers failed to score more than 17 points.

“It is difficult,“ Kaepernick told San Francisco’s website of missing the postseason. “That’s our expectation: that we’re going to get to the playoffs and we’re going to make a run. To not get that opportunity this year is not something that we’re used to.“

The all-time series between the Niners and Chargers is even at 6-6, though that does not include San Francisco’s victory over San Diego in Super Bowl XXIX.

The Chargers have won three straight over the Niners, including a 34-7 decision in the most recent meeting in 2010. Rivers posted a 150.5 passer rating in that game, throwing for 273 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

San Francisco’s offense was held to 192 total net yards.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Both teams come in hobbling, having lost several key players last Sunday.

San Diego, which has the 12th-ranked passing offense in the league, will be without wide receiver Keenan Allen, who has been ruled out due to a broken collarbone and ankle injury sustained in the third quarter against the Broncos. He leads the Chargers with 77 catches and 783 yards to go along with four touchdown receptions.

“There’s no doubt it hurts,“ Rivers said of losing Allen. “You know how I am with any injury we’ve had over the years and dealt with. I never want to slight the player that we’re losing, but at the same time, you don’t want to slight the guys who are going to be stepping up. So we’ll miss him.“

Those expected to step up include wideouts Eddie Royal, Malcom Floyd and Seyi Aijrotutu, while Gates is always a factor as well.

Gates needs just two more TD catches to tie Don Hutson (99) for ninth place in league history.

San Diego is averaging just 82.6 rushing yards per game, 31st in the league, and there is a good chance Mathews is out again this weekend, while Rivers did not practice on Tuesday and Wednesday because of injury.

Rivers, though, expects to play on Saturday and extend his streak of 142 straight starts. He is 2-0 as a starter versus the Niners with 607 passing yards, five touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 130.1 passer rating.

“I hate not practicing,“ Rivers told San Diego’s website. “But I think at some point you’ve got to do what’s best for me and the team. Practicing today wouldn’t have been beneficial moving toward Saturday ... Where we are in the season, and what I can get done in the walk through, it’s not a major concern.“

San Diego’s ninth-ranked defense wasn’t immune to injury either, with inside linebacker Donald Butler going on injured reserve because of a dislocated elbow sustained versus the Broncos. He was second on the club with 73 tackles and also had three fumble recoveries.

The Chargers will be going up against a Niners offense that may be without its top two running backs in Gore and Hyde. The latter already doesn’t expect to play, while Gore must pass concussion protocol.

With those two sidelined from practice this week, San Francisco signed Phillip Tanner, leaving him and Alfonso Smith as the only healthy running backs available.

San Francisco’s ranks 13th on the ground, with Gore posting 804 yards on 204 carries with three touchdowns. He also is scheduled to be a free agent as season’s end.

“Frank obviously has been a huge asset to this team,“ said Kaepernick. “He’s been a great player, a great leader on this team, and we want to win as many games as we can for him and everyone.“

Perhaps the bigger blow is the loss of Borland, the team’s leading tackler with 107. He helped fill the void left by injured linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVarro Bowman and Nick Moody is expected to start in his place on Saturday.

Moody, in his second season, stepped in for Borland versus the Seahawks and had five tackles. Saturday could mark his first NFL start.

“It felt real good,“ Moody said on the Niners’ website of getting into the game, “especially knowing that the guys had confidence in me.“

San Francisco did come up with five sacks versus the Seahawks and still rank third in total defense with 307.1 yards allowed per game. Defensive tackle Tank Carradine picked up the first two sacks of his career, while linebacker Ahmad Brooks notched his team-leading sixth sack.

Defensive tackle Ray McDonald also had a sack, but the Niners opted to release the troubled player on Wednesday after police announced he is the suspect in a sexual assault case.

The 49ers stuck with McDonald after he was arrested in August on charges of domestic violence, which were dropped on November 10 due to insufficient evidence, and he has not been arrested for the current charges as the investigation is ongoing, but San Francisco still decided to terminate his contract.

“Ray has demonstrated a pattern of poor decision-making that is no longer going to be tolerated,“ San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Niners are the definition of a lame duck right now and reports have already surfaced of Harbaugh being offered a massive deal to become head coach of the Michigan Wolverines.

Couple that distraction with continued struggles by Kaepernick, who has thrown for fewer than 200 yards in three straight and four of his last five, and this has all the makings of a blowout loss in front of a frustrated fanbase.

The Chargers still have a ton to play for and their goal will be to keep Rivers healthy and intact for hopefully a big Week 17 meeting at Kansas City. Though banged up, San Francisco can still bring heat on the quarterback and not having Mathews or Allen will impact the Chargers offense as well.

San Francisco should be loose, but that may not be a good thing given its inability to put up points right now.


►  Teddy returns to South Beach as Vikings visit Dolphins

Mike Zimmer is approaching the waning days of what he hopes is the first of many years as the Minnesota Vikings head coach. Joe Philbin is likely in the death throes of his three-year stint in Miami.

Such is life in the NFL where 6-8 is considered progress in one city and being a tick better at 7-7 is a disappointment in another.

The Dolphins and their lame-duck head coach will try to halt a two-game losing streak on Sunday when they host a Vikings team excited about the development of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a Miami native.

Philbin’s ultimate fate was probably sealed last weekend when Miami faltered in the second half and was doused by AFC East-rival New England, 41-13, in Foxbrorough.

Tom Brady threw a pair of touchdown passes during a 24-point third quarter, as the Patriots clinched their sixth straight division title.

Ryan Tannehill completed 29-of-47 passes for 346 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for Miami, which had beaten New England in the season opener 33-20 but saw its already slim playoff hopes dashed further with the second straight loss.

The Dolphins outscored the Patriots 23-0 in the second half back in September but had the tables turned this time to the tune of 27-0 in the final 30 minutes of this one.

“We have to play 60 minutes of football,“ Philbin said. “You can’t make the mistakes that we made.“

Miami is technically still alive in the postseason race but must win its final two games—against Minnesota and the New York Jets—and receive plenty of help elsewhere to get in.

“I believe in the players,“ Philbin said. “I have confidence in the players. We have an outstanding locker room.“

The Vikings, meanwhile, had 10-4 Detroit on the ropes last weekend but faltered thanks in large part to a blocked, fourth-quarter field goal.

The Lions’ Matt Prater hit his late field goal to lift Detroit to a 16-14 victory over Minnesota in the NFC North matchup.

Bridgewater went 31-for-41 for 315 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for the Vikings, who had won their previous two coming into the game.

Leading by one Minnesota went on an impressive long drive that covered 75 yards over 18 plays and ate up 11 minutes, but the team came away empty as Blair Walsh’s 26-yard field goal was blocked by Jason Jones. Detroit then countered with the march that won the game, culminating with Prater’s 33-yard field goal for a 16-14 lead with 3:38 to play.

The Vikings had chances, getting the ball back near midfield thanks to a big return from Cordarrelle Patterson, but Patterson fell on a fourth down passing play to give the ball back to Detroit.

Minnesota forced a punt and got the ball back with 45 seconds, but they were only able to get to midfield and Walsh’s 68-yard field goal attempt fell well short to end the game.

“We led almost all the way, but we can’t turn the ball over twice and we can’t miss field goals,“ Bridgewater said. “We’re just going to continue to try to get better.“

The Dolphins lead their all-time series with Minnesota by a 6-4 margin, winning the last two. The teams haven’t played since September 19, 2010 when Miami edged the Vikings, 14-10, in Minneapolis. They haven’t tussled in South Florida since 2006.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Philbin has been the definition of mediocre as the Dolphins coach, compiling a 7-9 record in 2012 and upping that to 8-8 last season before settling in at 7-7 with two weeks left in the current campaign.

A 5-3 start and some improvement by Tannehill has many thinking Miami was ready to take the next step this season but that’s been tempered in the last two weeks as the Dolphins have been outscored by a 69-26 margin in losses to playoff- caliber teams, Baltimore and New England.

“Players were disappointed. Coaches are disappointed. Owners are disappointed. “I think that’s understandable,“ Philbin admitted.

The main issue has been the offense which can’t get the running game going and hasn’t topped 16 points in any game during the month of December. The Dolphins have mustered only 71 yards on the ground per game this month, making the team one-dimensional and easy to figure out especially when it falls behind.

With opposing defenses content to pin their ears back Tanneheill has been sacked 10 times during Miami’s two-game skid.

The Vikings’ strength, meanwhile, is its defense, not a surprise considering Zimmer’s reputation as a blitz doctor. Minnesota has improved from 31st in the NFL to 11th in defense in one-year under Zimmer, who is on the verge of turning young players like defensive end Everson Griffen, defensive tackle Shariff Floyd, linebacker Anthony Barr and cornerback Xavier Rhodes into stars. Safety Harrison Smith, meanwhile, is already entrenched as one of the NFL’s best.

The unit has continued to be stingy despite being without Floyd and Barr recently due to knee injuries, holding Detroit to a season-low 233 yards.

Offensively Minnesota isn’t very dynamic because of the year-long absence of Adrian Peterson due to off-the-field issues. Things are starting to click for Bridgewater, though, who will be aiming for a third straight game with a completion percentage over 70.0 and more than 300 yards passing.

“The good thing is Teddy is getting a lot of these experiences,“ Zimmer said. “The on-the-job training he’s getting I really believe will bode well for him in the future and for us as an organization and as a team.“

Bridgewater, meanwhile, is excited for his chance to play in South Florida.

“I’m pretty loved back home in Miami and a lot of people tell me that I’m a role model in my community,“ Bridgewater said Wednesday. “So it’ll be amazing to see how many turn out there and get to see me play in person for the first time for some people.“

The Vikings may have found something in first-year receiver Charles Johnson, a lengthy and speedy target who has an innate feel for running routes and creating separation. Johnson has quickly become Bridgewater’s favorite target, snaring 20 balls for 355 yards and two TDs over his last five games.

The Dolphins’ defense is talented but has stalled recently, forcing just five turnovers in the past six games as the pass rush has slowed. Miami has also struggled against the run in recent weeks because of injuries at the linebacker position.

“Part of my job is to get the team to play up to their potential each and every week,“ Philbin said. “To that degree, certainly I feel like we could do better.“

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Vikings are headed in the right direction but still haven’t figured out how to close in tight games. Figure on the growing pains to continue here on the road as Miami wins a field-gal game late.

“Right now what’s relevant is getting our team to play up to their potential for 60 minutes against the Minnesota Vikings,“ the embattled Philbin said. “That’s really all that is important to me right now.“


►  Packers are back to torture Lovie

Midwesterners heading to Florida at this time of year aren’t unique.

What’s a trifle more rare, however, is a Sunshine State football team that’d rather be elsewhere.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers enter their Week 16 matchup with the visiting Green Bay Packers having lost seven consecutive games at Raymond James Stadium, including all six this season. The stretch of home futility is the franchise’s longest in exactly 37 years, when the expansion version lost its first 13 games on home turf before breaking through to beat the St. Louis Cardinals on December 18, 1977.

“We’ve come close quite a few times at home,“ Bucs coach Lovie Smith said. “Once we get it going, instead of talking about getting that first win we should be talking about, ‘Hey, we haven’t lost at home.‘ We realize we have a couple of more opportunities, but what better week than (against Green Bay)?“

Tampa Bay’s wins this season came at Pittsburgh and Washington in weeks 4 and 11, respectively, but the 27-7 defeat of the Redskins has since been followed by four straight losses in which it has scored 13 points twice and 17 points twice. The Bucs have gotten past 17 points just three times in the other 10 games and are third from last in the NFL in total offense, with an average of 305.9 yards per week.

It’s the opposite for the Packers, who have posted 31.1 points and 383.6 yards per week, while Tampa Bay has been gashed for weekly averages of 26.2 points and 366.6 yards - both 25th in the league.

Smith was zero for his last six against Green Bay while coaching the Chicago Bears, including a 21-14 loss in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field in January 2011. The Packers haven’t faced the Bucs since a 35-26 home win in Week 11 of the 2011 regular season.

He’ll have a slightly easier day this time around in the absence of Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who’s lost for the remainder of the season with a sprained right knee.

“Of course you want to finish the games with your guys, but you have to look at the bigger picture, and that’s my overall health,“ McCoy said. “I think we have a lot of great - not good, great - ahead of us for this team, this organization. A big part of that will be my health.“

Considering the Bucs’ inability to win at home, something will have to give when it comes to Green Bay, which has gone just 3-4 in seven 2014 road games compared to a pristine 7-0 slate at Lambeau Field.

The Packers dropped a surprising 21-13 verdict last week at Buffalo, a defeat that both ended a five-game win streak and dropped them into a tie with Detroit atop the NFC North. The Lions were 19-7 winners when the teams played at Ford Field in September and could clinch the division title this weekend with a win against Chicago coupled with a Green Bay loss to Tampa Bay.

If both Detroit and the Packers win this week, the crown will be worn by the winner of their Week 17 game in Green Bay. The Packers can stay in contention for the No. 1 overall seed in the conference if they beat the Bucs and Seattle wins at Arizona.

Green Bay at least secures a playoff berth - its sixth straight - with a win, and a loss by either Dallas or Philadelphia.

“Everything is right in front of us,“ quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “We win out, we still win the North.“

Rodgers completed just 17-of-42 passes - the 25 incompletions were a career- high - against the Bills, who picked him off twice while holding him to 185 yards. It was the first game this season in which he hadn’t thrown a touchdown pass, and put a dent in what had been a league-best 119.0 passer rating.

“It wasn’t my best day by any stretch of the imagination,“ he said. “I’ve got to play better for us to win, and I expect more of myself.“

All five of Rodgers’ interceptions have come in road games, and he’s failed to exceed 210 yards four times in those seven starts. He has 12 TD passes away from home, compared to 23 at Lambeau. The last four road games have resulted in losses to New Orleans and Buffalo and three-point victories over Miami and Minnesota.

“This is a road game we have to have,“ said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who can pass Vince Lombardi on the all-time Green Bay wins list (including postseason). “We clearly understand the importance of winning in December, and we need to take it up a notch as a football team.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Getting Rodgers Right

As mentioned, Green Bay’s MVP candidate heads into the weekend after the worst statistical game of his accomplishment-rich career, the loss to the Bills in which he finished with an anemic 34.3 passer rating. Though the Bucs don’t present much of a threat when it comes to wins and losses, it’s worth noticing that Rodgers has started twice in Tampa Bay (in 2008 and 2009) and lost both games.

Remember When

Another week, another chance for Tampa Bay fans to look back when they think about running back Doug Martin. The now third-year man took the league by storm as a rookie and scored 12 times while amassing 1,454 yards. But he played just six games in 2013 and has 369 rush yards this year while still battling injuries. A good sign: He comes in this week off of 2014’s best game - 96 yards against Carolina.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, and the fact that Rodgers hasn’t ever won in Tampa Bay is worth mentioning. But that’s about all. Outside of those wins in the Jon Gruden and Raheem Morris eras, the Bucs have precious little to bank on this time around. Regardless of venue, the Packers have more on the line, more to look forward to and are just better by every pertinent measure.


►  ‘Johnny Sequel’ Manziel tries again vs. Panthers

It can’t possibly go worse, can it?

The much-anticipated starting debut of Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel was a bigger bomb than “47 Ronin,“ the Keanu Reeves fantasy action film regarded by Hollywood as the biggest Box Office bust in history.

“Johnny Football” will get his second opportunity on Sunday against a 5-8-1 Carolina Panthers team still in the thick of the NFC South race.

The harshest of Manziel’s critics didn’t expect what happened last weekend when the lightning rod proved to be an abject mess in his first NFL start, completing 10-of-18 for 80 yards with two first-half interceptions as Cleveland’s playoff hopes nosedived in a similar trajectory to Manziel’s stock with a 30-0 setback to the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals.

“There were flashes but they were brief,“ Browns coach Mike Pettine said in a laughably kind review of Manziel’s performance.

Seemingly every Bengals defender got a chance to flash the former Heisman Trophy winner’s signature money-sign celebration to the FirstEnergy Stadium crowd, essentially mocking Manziel for his inability to get anything done offensively.

“Of course, he kind of brought that on himself,“ Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry quipped.

The Browns made the switch from the limited Brian Hoyer to Manziel to provide a spark in an effort to keep their fading playoff hopes alive. However, that spark was never fanned.

In his first 30 minutes, Manziel was 4-for-9 for 22 yards and a 12.0 passer rating and things never really turned around as Cleveland, which has lost three in a row, ran only 38 offensive plays (the fewest by any team in a game this season), totaled 107 yards of total offense and had six three-and-outs.

“I saw the field fine today, but when it came down to it, I just need to throw the ball and let it rip, and I didn’t do a very good job of that,“ Manziel understated.

About the only positive you could take from Manziel’s performance was the fact he didn’t make any excuses.

“Nobody wants to win (in the locker room) more than I do, and it’s tough to come out there and lay an egg like that,“ Manziel said. “I’m not using the rookie excuse. I needed to play better.“

The Panthers, meanwhile, kept hope alive in Week 15 by topping lowly Tampa Bay, 19-17, to win for the first time in seven games despite being without star quarterback Cam Newton, who was injured in a car accident earlier in the week.

Derek Anderson filled in for Newton and threw for 277 yards and a touchdown.

Newton suffered two transverse process fractures in his lower back in a two- car accident on December 9 near the team’s stadium. Anderson, who also started for Newton in the Panthers’ Week 1 win at Tampa Bay, completed 25-of-40 passes.

“Everything was not as clean as we would’ve liked it.“ Anderson said. “It wasn’t perfect by any means ... overall I’m very happy with the win.“

Greg Olsen matched a career-high with 10 receptions for 110 yards and Kelvin Benjamin added 104 yards on eight receptions for Carolina, which is percentage points behind the New Orleans Saints (6-8) for first place in the division with two games to play.

After Cleveland the Panthers will finish their schedule at Atlanta, which is 5-9 and also in the mix in the NFC South. The Saints and Falcons play each other in New Orleans on Sunday, and the Saints will close the regular season at Tampa Bay in Week 17.

The Panthers need to win their final two games and have the Saints lose once to repeat as division champions.

Carolina leads its all-time series with the Browns by a 3-1 margin but the two teams haven’t met since November 28, 2010 when Cleveland got its only win, a 24-23 triumph in the Buckeye State. The clubs haven’t met in the Queen City since 2006, a 20-12 Panthers win.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The Panthers are playing a wait-and-see game with Newton but signs point to him giving it a go on Sunday. Newton was able to practice by Wednesday and reports said he was moving well and looking relatively pain free, just eight days since his accident.

“He looked like he threw the ball well, but again, a lot depends on how he feels tomorrow,“ Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He went through all the team drills. He went through all the individual drills. He did all we had slated for him.This is a young man who is very strong-willed and very tough.“

The hope is that Newton continues to progress without any setbacks. Rivera hopes to make a final decision on his status by Friday.

“The biggest factor will be whether or not (team doctors) tell me he can protect himself,“ Rivera said. “I don’t want to put a guy out there if he can’t protect himself. By that I mean being able to run out of the way, scramble out of the way to stay alive, keep the play alive, by being able to get out of the way.“

Whether its Newton or Anderson under center, expect them to keep feeding Olsen, who has 20 catches in his last two games and is tied for the NFL lead among tight ends with 81 receptions and ranks second with 960 yards.

“If I see him one-on-one with a guy that I know can’t cover him, I have a lot of confidence in what (Olsen’s) going to do,“ Anderson said.

Making things tougher for the Cleveland defense are injuries to cornerbacks Joe Haden (shoulder) and Justin Gilbert (concussion), who are both iffy for this contest.

Manziel, meanwhile, called his first chance at solving an NFL defense “very humbling” and the Browns are hoping his struggles serve as a wake-up call when it comes to off-the-field preparation.

“I think it’s too small a sample size,“ Pettine said when asked to project Manziel’s future. “When you look at how we played around him, I think it’s very unfair to judge what somebody’s career is going to be like off of their first start. That type of game humbles all of us.“

Manziel, however, is trying to stay away from the negativity.

“I’m not really listening to any outside noise or what anybody else has to say,“ he said. “I know that I need to play better and if I don’t, people are going to continue to say things like that.“

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Panthers get a big break here in a must win game with Manziel starting, which strikes many as a general manager forcing a first-round pick on a first- year coach with little cachet. Pettine understands Manziel is simply not ready to play an NFL game yet so the Browns ate behind the 8-ball for the final weeks.

Whether Newton or Anderson starts, Carolina should do enough to stay in the NFC South race for at least one more week.

“It’s a race, but we play Cleveland next. That will be the focus,“ Rivera said. “We’ve got to get things going in the right direction.“


►  Steelers seek to lock up playoff berth vs. Chiefs

With apologies to Paul Revere and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, winning is most certainly a “two if by land” proposition for the modern-day Kansas City Chiefs.

The 2014 Chiefs have lived and died based on the fortunes of running backs Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis, who’ve combined for 1,388 yards on the ground and scored 21 of the team’s 36 touchdowns.

It’ll be the same scenario for Week 16, when Kansas City visits Pittsburgh, whose run defense has allowed 183 yards and one score in its last two games. Davis had a pair of touchdowns in the Chiefs’ 31-13 defeat of Oakland last week, while Charles is listed probable to face the Steelers after dinging up an ankle and undergoing a concussion test after a hard hit.

“Every game from here forward is a playoff game. We’re taking that mindset into every game,“ Davis said. “For me, it’s just a dream to be in the NFL. To make the big plays and help this team win is just huge all around.“

Meanwhile, the drought continues for the Chiefs wide receivers, who’ve now gone 17 games across two seasons without a touchdown, matching Denver (1971-72) and Cleveland (2008-09) for the longest streaks since the AFL-NFL merger. Quarterback Alex Smith has 18 TD throws, including five each to Charles and tight end Travis Kelce and four to another tight end, Anthony Fasano.

The two Browns teams involved in Cleveland’s streak were a combined 9-23, while the two Broncos teams were 9-18-1.

“The fact that they’re still winning games and haven’t been able to have passing touchdowns like that, it shows that they’re a very resourceful team,“ Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats said.

Both Pittsburgh and Kansas City will need some success this week to stay playoff relevant.

The Steelers, at 9-5, are tied for second with Baltimore in a competitively muddled AFC North, each sitting a half-game behind Cincinnati. The Bengals play Monday night against Denver - which has already clinched the AFC West ahead of the Chiefs - while Baltimore heads to Houston.

Pittsburgh finishes the regular season with Cincinnati next weekend. The Steelers beat the Bengals, 42-21, in Week 14, then came back and won at Atlanta, 27-20, last Sunday.

A win against the Chiefs and Pittsburgh will clinch at least a wild-card berth.

“The last couple of games have been playoff games for us,“ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “We’ve had to take that approach and that mindset because of how important every game was where we were record wise, seed-wise whatever you want to call it. We’ve kind of had that mentality for the last couple of weeks that it’s time to get hot and play our best football. So we’re just going to continue to try to do that.“

Kansas City was in prime playoff position about a month ago, before a three- game losing skid that was only halted by the win against the Raiders. The Chiefs are now among a gaggle of AFC teams at 8-6 or better and will finish the season against another, San Diego, next weekend.

“Every game is playoff mode,“ Charles said. “Every game, you’ve got to come with it.“

Pittsburgh’s offense have been the league’s most prolific through 14 games, thanks to an eight-game stretch in which it’s averaged 424.9 yards and 33.1 points. The Steelers are 6-2 during that run.

“We’re trying to stack wins,“ cornerback William Gay said. “Playing against good opponents and just putting everything on the line.“

The driving force has been the trio of Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger has already exceeded 4,400 passing yards and he’s completed a career-best 67.2% of his passes. His 29 touchdowns are three shy of his high watermark, set in 2007.

Brown’s 115 catches are tops in the NFL and a franchise record for a single season. He’s two yards from surpassing the 1,499-yard franchise record he established last year, and one more TD catch will make him the fourth Pittsburgh receiver to haul in 12 in a season, joining Hines Ward (2002), Louis Lipps (1985) and Buddy Dial (1961).

Bell has 76 catches of his own, far exceeding the previous team best by a running back - 51 by John L. Williams in 1994. His 2,043 yards from scrimmage are also a franchise record.

Bettering the numbers won’t be a cake walk against the Chiefs, whose pass defense is No. 2 in the league with an average allowance of 199.2 pass yards per week.

“It’s a good defense. We have to look at a lot more film because they get after the passer (and are) good in the secondary,“ Roethlisberger said. “This is going to be one of our toughest tasks of the year.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

A Multi-Toned Bell

Pittsburgh’s Week 15 foe, Atlanta, came in with an all-in strategy to stop the run, and they were successful in limiting Bell to just 47 yards on 20 rushes. Problem is, the run is not the only thing with which Bell can hurt a defense. He caught five passes for 72 yards - including a 44-yard catch and run - and will be a vital element regardless on which way the Chiefs attack.

Disrupt “Big Ben’s” Timing

The Steelers have seen Roethlisberger sacked 32 times in 14 games, which doesn’t sound terrific, but is still on pace to be Ben’s lowest number for a season in which he started at least 14 games. Keeping that pace could be an issue, however, if the league’s co-leader in sacks, Justin Houston, gets clear to add to his 17. He and fellow outside linebacker Tamba Hali have 23 combined.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

It’s probably not a preview of the AFC Championship Game. In fact, there’s a far better chance that the team that loses this game won’t even make the playoffs at all. What it is, though, is a meeting of two teams with significant talent on both sides of the ball. The difference, it seems, comes in the fact that the Steelers have more Plan Bs when the Plan As don’t work. That’s what’ll matter here.


►  Saints plan to ground Falcons in NFC South race

The playoffs start early in The Big Easy on Sunday when the New Orleans Saints play host to the Atlanta Falcons in a game that will go a long way in determining who represents the downtrodden NFC South in the postseason.

The Saints lead the NFL’s worst division at 6-8 with two games to play but both Carolina (5-8-1) and Atlanta (5-9) remain in the mix with NOLA and the Falcons controlling their own destinies.

If either the Saints or the Falcons can win out, they will win the division and host a first-round playoff game. After this contest New Orleans will close the regular season at Tampa Bay in Week 17, while Atlanta will host the Panthers.

Carolina, meanwhile, entertains Johnny Manziel and Cleveland this week and needs to win their final two games and have the Saints lose once to repeat as division champions.

New Orleans can clinch the South for the first time since 2011 with a victory over the Falcons and a Carolina loss to the Browns.

“It sets us up for no bigger game than what’s coming up against Atlanta,“ Saints quarterback Drew Brees said.

“We all understand where we’re at,“ Atlanta coach Mike Smith countered. “We know we control our own destiny. It doesn’t matter what anyone else does. The first thing we have to do is go down and play very well and win the game in New Orleans.“

The Saints took over first place for now thanks to an impressive 31-15 win over the stumbling Bears in Chicago on Monday night.

Brees threw three touchdown passes in what was his 200th career game, completing 29-of-36 passes for 375 yards and setting an NFL record with his ninth straight season with at least 4,000 yards passing.

“I think there’s a sense of urgency that we need to create each week, and we need to be mindful of how important that edge is to play well,“ Saints coach Sean Payton said.

Josh Hill caught two scores, Marques Colston finished with five catches for 65 yards and a touchdown and Mark Ingram ran for a late score.

“We were pretty balanced and able to make some plays in the passing game,“ said Brees. “It was a great team effort.“

The Falcons, meanwhile, suffered their second straight tough loss against a prolific offense, losing to Pittsburgh 27-20 as Le’Veon Bell scored twice and set the Steelers franchise record for yards from scrimmage.

Bell did not find much running room against an uncharacteristically stingy Atlanta front, but he did reach the end zone twice among 20 carries for 47 yards. He also made five catches for 72 yards and broke Barry Foster’s single- season Steelers record for yards from scrimmage with 2,042.

Matt Ryan threw for 310 yards with two touchdowns and an interception for the Falcons, who were coming off a 43-37 shootout loss in Green Bay.

Harry Douglas filled in admirably for an injured Julio Jones, making 10 catches for 131 yards. Jones, who was coming off a career-high 259 yards against the Packers, was unable to play through a hip pointer injury he suffered late in a loss to the Packers.

“We felt we had lots of chances to have a different outcome,“ said Smith.

Atlanta leads the all-time series by a 47-43 margin, including a 37-34 overtime win back in September at the Georgia Dome when Ryan threw for a franchise-record 448 yards and three TDs, and Matt Bryant booted a game- winning 52-yard field goal in the extra frame.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Brees has been the Falcons biggest nemesis ever since he came to New Orleans from San Diego back in 2006. The veteran signal caller has amassed a 7-1 mark over Atlanta in the Superdome, compiling a stellar 103.8 passer rating in those contests.

Of course Atlanta is hardly the only team that has had a difficult time containing Brees, who leads NFL with 43,091 passing yards and 314 TD passes since he took over the Saints.

The veteran destroyed the Bears, who rank 31st in the NFL in passing defense, on Monday night and the Falcons have the only secondary giving up more yardage than Chicago, a league-worst 292.5 yards per game.

‘I think we’ve shown a couple times we can handle adversity, let’s make sure we can handle success, too,“ Brees said. “The tendency after success is to relax, and it’s not time to relax.“

Brees threw for 333 yards in the loss in Atlanta earlier this season but was outdone by Ryan’s Herculean performance, which may have to happen again here.

Ryan has been putting up big numbers recently, tossing for 1,046 yards and eight TDs over the last three weeks but has also been throwing the game- changing pick at inopportune times.

“We know what’s in front of us,“ Ryan said. “We know what we’ve got to do. It’s a playoff-type mentality. We’ve got to win next week. We’ve got to have the best week of practice that we’ve had this year and prepare as best we can.“

Getting Jones, perhaps the best receiver in all of football, back should help. The All-Pro is second in the NFL with 1,428 receiving yards despite missing last week’s game.

“It’s tough when (Jones is) not in,“ Ryan said. “He’s such a special player.“

New Orleans’ defense hasn’t been much better than the Falcons’ this season but did show a little life in Chicago, stopping a four-game string in which they had allowed at least 400 yards. The Saints’ stop unit limited Jay Cutler and Co. to 278 total yards while amassing seven sacks and three interceptions.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Facing a Payton-coached team in the Superdome used to foreshadow certain demise but the Saints’ 19-game run with the veteran coach on the sideline in NOLA ended against San Francisco on November 8. Since then the Saints have lost three more in what used to be their cozy confines. Conversely they have won their only two on the road over that span.

Translation: you never know what to expect with this New Orleans team. If anything, though, the Falcons are even less consistent and just don’t have the horses on defense to contend with Brees.

“You want to be playing for a lot at the end of the season and we are right now,“ Brees said. “No bigger game than the one coming up.“


►  Clausen set to take over Bears against playoff-hungry Lions

The Detroit Lions are still in the mix to be the No. 1 seed in the NFC heading into the postseason. Then again, there’s also a slim chance they’ll be out of the playoff picture altogether.

Detroit takes another step toward a playoff berth and its first-ever NFC North crown, as it goes after a fourth straight win in a road test against the hapless Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

The Lions can clinch their second playoff spot in four years before they even take the field on Sunday if Philadelphia loses to Washington on Saturday.

A win over the Bears would net the same result for the Lions, who could also clinch their first division crown in 21 years with a win coupled with a Green Bay loss to Tampa Bay.

“It’s right there in front of us,“ defensive end Jason Jones said.

Everything broke right for the Lions in Week 15. First, the Buffalo Bills pulled off an upset of the Packers, then Matt Prater’s late field goal helped the Lions pull out a 16-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings to move them into a tie atop the division with the Packers.

Detroit actually holds the tiebreaker over Green Bay at the moment given its win over the Packers earlier in the year. The Lions will visit Lambeau Field in Week 17, likely with a chance at securing their first division title since winning the NFC Central in 1993.

“We’re not taking any game for granted, any play for granted,“ said Matt Stafford, who threw for a season-low 153 yards in the win over the Vikings. “It’s not going to be pristine every time, but we’re going to fight tooth and nail for wins and that showed up again today.“

It’s the first time the Lions reached 10 wins in the first 14 games of the season since the Lions started 10-4 in 1991.

Chicago, meanwhile, is no such playoff position after a lifeless, 31-15, shellacking at the hands of the New Orleans Saints on Monday.

And now the team is in complete disarray.

Shortly after the loss reports started to circulate that head coach Marc Trestman may be out of a job at the end of the season. Then, on Wednesday it leaked that the Bears would bench starting quarterback Jay Cutler in favor of Jimmy Clausen, who hasn’t started a game since 2010.

“The bottom line is that this is a business based on winning and losing,“ Trestman said. “We can’t sugarcoat it. We are disappointed that we’re not playing well enough to win.“

Cutler turned in another subpar performance against the Saints as he threw for just 194 yards on 17-of-31 passing with two touchdown passes and three interceptions for the Bears, who have dropped their last three games.

“Overall, I just feel that we need passion to come from certain places and I don’t think the passion is always there all the time,“ Bears tight end Martellus Bennett said.

The Lions have won three straight over the Bears including a Thanksgiving Day triumph when Stafford threw for 390 yards and two scores. They haven’t won consecutive contests in Chicago since a six-game run from 1968-73

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Detroit only managed 233 total yards versus the Vikings, but could be in store for a big bounce back this week considering the Bears have given up 35.3 points and 438.0 yards over their three-game slide.

Chicago’s defense has given up a league-high 409 points, 19 more than the Tennessee Titans, who have allowed 390. In fact, they’ve given up 251 points in the first half alone.

To put that into perspective, three teams haven’t surrendered that many in 14 full games, led by the Lions with 238 and followed by the Seahawks (242) and Cardinals (244).

Speaking of the Lions’ second-ranked defense, they haven’t allowed more than 17 points in three straight games and five of the last six.

That doesn’t figure to change against a Bears team that will go with Clausen, who has completed three of his nine pass attempts this season.

Before this season, the former Notre Dame star hadn’t appeared in an NFL game since playing 13 for the Carolina Panthers as a rookie after he was taken in the second round of the 2010 draft.

Cutler, meanwhile, has started all 14 games in his sixth season for the Bears, completing 66.1% of his passes for 3,640 yards, 28 touchdowns and an NFL-high 18 interceptions.

He has fumbled 12 times, losing six to lead the league in overall turnovers.

“Our whole football team isn’t where it needs to be,“ Trestman said. “Nobody’s happy about it. Jay’s not happy about it. We all can do better.“

Even without Cutler the Bears still have some offensive firepower with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, Bennett and running back Matt Forte.

“You look at a guy like Alshon Jeffery,“ safety Glover Quin said. “He can make tough catches. He can go deep on you. You look at Bennett. He can move the chains. You look at Forte. He’s a Pro Bowl player. He’s a big-time running back.

“You look at all those things. They can throw it. They can catch it. They can run it.“

OVERALL ANALYSIS

It’s all there for the Lions taking. All they need to do is win and they are in the playoffs. With a regular season-ending game in Green Bay next week, the Lions know they’d be better off taking care of business this week.

As for the Bears, well, what can you say. They looked like a team that had packed it in last week. Now, they’ll have a quarterback who hasn’t started a game in four years. It’s getting ugly in Chicago and it figures to be worse after Sunday.


►  Revis returns as Patriots search for first-round bye

If you focus on the math, it’s nearly a “why bother?“ proposition.

The New England Patriots have been held to fewer than 21 points exactly twice in 14 games this season.

Meanwhile, the New York Jets average just 16.4 points, and have been held to 20 or fewer to 10 times.

So when an 11-win New England team - fresh off clinching its 12th AFC East title in 14 seasons - heads to MetLife Stadium to meet a three-win New York team, it’s understandable that nearly everyone but Jets coach Rex Ryan considers a Patriots victory a done deal.

“It’s not hard for me to do,“ Ryan said. “I’m a confident person, and I think I’m a decent football coach and I think people who know the game realize that. So, I don’t worry about it.“

Ryan, by most accounts, is playing out the string of a six-year tenure that’s likely to end shortly after the Week 17 finale in Miami. But he has managed to keep his team relevant in some areas, particularly the run game, where New York trails only Seattle with a 166.6-yard weekly ground average.

The Jets gashed New England for 218 rush yards in a two-point loss in Foxborough in Week 7, and their per-carry average of 4.74 yards is third in the league behind the Seahawks and Green Bay.

And, then, well ... there’s Geno Smith.

The second-year quarterback could also be in the final days of an underwhelming run as starter. New York is second-to-last in the league with a weekly passing average of 168.9 yards, and Smith has thrown two touchdown passes and two interceptions in three games since regaining the starting role from Michael Vick, though his passer rating in those games is a pedestrian 78.2.

It won’t help Sunday that his new favorite target - in-season trade acquisition Percy Harvin - is still questionable with the sprained left ankle he suffered two weeks ago at Minnesota. He played in last week’s 16-11 win at Tennessee, but had no catches and managed a single run for 10 yards.

If he plays, he’s like to get a dose of New England cornerback Darrelle Revis, who returns to New York for the second time - and first with the Patriots - since he was traded prior to the 2013 season.

“I’ll probably just approach it like I did when I played with Tampa last year,“ Revis said. “Just treat it like another game.“

Revis and the Patriots defense have been on their best behavior, regardless of opponent, for the better part of 10 weeks since a 41-14 loss to Kansas City in late September. In fact, New England has held foes to an average of 19 points since that loss, going 9-1 while defeating high-end opposition like Indianapolis (42-20 win) and Denver (43-21 win), and losing close to Green Bay (26-21).

The Colts, Broncos and Packers are three of the top five scoring offenses in the NFL.

“We have to play our best football to win,“ defensive end Chandler Jones said. “I truly believe that.“

Two more victories - against the Jets, then at home with Buffalo in Week 17 - would give the Patriots home-field advantage for the length of their stay in the AFC playoffs. And if New England wins and Denver loses at Cincinnati on Monday night, the top seed will be clinched prior to next week.

Four of the last five games between the Patriots and Jets have been decided by three points or fewer, and New York won in overtime, 30-27, when New England traveled to New Jersey last season.

“I know the records are what they are, but we don’t look at it like that,“ quarterback Tom Brady said. “We lost going into the Meadowlands last year.“

Brady was held without a TD pass in that game - the only time that’s happened to him in his last 25 regular-season starts. And in the last three games with the Jets, the Patriots have been limited to averages of 283.3 yards and 22.3 points.

“They’ve got a real good defense,“ Brady said. “We’re anticipating their best game.“

Of course, New England faced the seventh-ranked defense in the league last week against Miami and scored 41 points. That rout continued a stretch of seven games - since the initial meeting with the Jets this season - in which the Patriots have been at or near the top of the league with 36.4 points (first) and 419.9 yards (third) per game.

The usual game-week angst between the teams was toned down Monday when Ryan suggested New England’s Bill Belichick was a “first-ballot Hall of Fame coach” when he retires, though Belichick ultimately responded in his typical low-key persona.

“It’s a very flattering comment, but it sounds like Rex is just buttering me up,“ he said. “I know they’re working hard, like they always do, to play us very competitively. We’ve really had a hard time with them, including the last time we played them. We’re going to have to do a good job getting ready to go here, stopping a team that runs the ball well, that stops the run well, that’s got a lot of explosive guys in the kicking game, that’s well-coached, that’s though (and) that beat us down there last year.

“We have our work cut out for us.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Grounded and Pounded

The fundamental task of establishing the edges and containing them will be front and center for the Patriots defense against the bruising Jets run game. The interior is manned by Vince Wilfork, Sealver Silga, Alan Branch and Dont’a Hightower, and if the outside holds up as well, it could force the game into the oft-scattershot hands of Smith at quarterback.

Move Those Chains

If they want to stay close with New England throughout 60 minutes, the Jets have to be successful in not only extending their own drives, but in getting the Patriots off the field on third downs. Shane Vereen was able to burn them too many times in the first game, while the defense was turning its attention to Rob Gronkowski. Jonas Gray and LeGarrette Blount also provide diverse options for Brady.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

It’s the same old story for the Jets these days. If they come in prepared and revved-up, then play their best game with few or no mistakes, they’ll have a chance to hang with the Patriots and maybe win at the end. But with any deviation from that script - read: mistakes by Smith, misfires by the defense - it’s got the chance to get ugly in a big way. That’s more likely the script here, in Rex’s final Jersey appearance.


►  Bills hunt for rare Oakland win

Just when you start to believe in the Oakland Raiders, they give reason not to.

Of course, the reality is that the Raiders’ 2014 season was a lost cause long before their visit to Kansas City last weekend. But when they got within just four points in the third quarter - after having won two of three games coming in - there was at least some reason for middling optimism.

Less than five minutes later, though, those positive thoughts were a distant memory.

Three Chiefs touchdowns in a stretch of 4 minutes, 42 seconds - including one after a fumbled snap by quarterback Derek Carr—started the death spiral toward an eventual 31-13 loss, which plunged the Raiders to 2-12 on the season as they head into a Week 16 home game with the Buffalo Bills.

Oakland had 10 penalties in the defeat, and its 103 infractions for the season are eighth in the league.

“You can’t do those kind of things in any football game,“ Raiders interim coach Tony Sparano said. “But you certainly can’t do those things when you’re on the road and in an environment like that, and kind of feed their ego with false starts and with penalties and then turn it into a game that you have to throw the football as much as we had to throw the ball with that kind of pass rush.“

Carr completed less than half of his 56 passes against Kansas City, while totaling 222 yards and connecting for a touchdown alongside four sacks. He’s been slightly better at home in his rookie season, including 10 TDs and just three interceptions in his last five games at the O.co Coliseum.

The Bills haven’t won a game in Oakland since 1966 and haven’t beaten the Raiders franchise on the road since a victory in Los Angeles in 1991. That theme continues for Buffalo overall, as it strives to end a postseason drought - the longest in the league—that stretches back 15 years to 1999.

A 21-13 win over visiting Green Bay last week ensured that the Bills would finish at .500 for the first time since they went 9-7 in 2004. Jumping from respectability to the playoffs, however, will take a little more.

Buffalo is last among the nine AFC teams who’ve registered eight or more wins - thanks to a 4-6 in-conference record and losses to fellow 8-6 teams Kansas City and San Diego. A berth would not only require a win in Oakland, but a follow-up victory at New England, where it is 0 for its last 13 efforts.

The defeat of the Packers saw Buffalo snuff the offensive of the most-prolific scoring team in the league and prompt a career-high 25 incompletions, a career-worst 34.3 passer rating and two interceptions from quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Bills haven’t allowed a passing TD in six of its last seven games and its pass defense - which yielded 210.1 yards per week - is No. 5 in the league.

The Green Bay win came a week after a loss to Denver in which Buffalo gave Peyton Manning a forgettable stat line that included 14 completions, two interceptions, 173 yards and no touchdowns.

“We have to obviously continue to play like that but once we do that, now the mark is set,“ cornerback Corey Graham said. “Now you got to expect that every week from everybody and that’s what we got to do. We’ve got to make sure we’re locked in and ready to go every week.“

The offense could certainly use the same swagger.

The Bills got four field goals, a safety and a punt return touchdown against the Packers, which didn’t help the 31st-best ratio of touchdowns (20) to red- zone possessions (49). Quarterback Kyle Orton completed 14-of-27 passes for 158 yards and an interception, alongside three sacks.

No wide receiver or tight end caught more than two passes.

“We’ve got to do a better job,“ Buffalo coach Doug Marrone said. “We’ve got to protect better, got to run routes better, we’ve got to get a better rhythm.“

A boost could arrive in the form of running back C.J. Spiller, who broke his collarbone in Week 7 and hasn’t played since. He’s second among all running backs since 2010 with a 5.0-yard average per carry, and is listed as probable against the Raiders.

“He’s a guy who’s made plays in the past,“ Marrone said. “Any time you can bring back someone who’s a potential playmaker obviously helps.“

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Crash the Carr

The Bills enter the game with 49 sacks and they’ll face an opponent in the Raiders who’s not exactly erected fortress-like walls around Carr all year, and allowed four sacks in last week’s loss to Kansas City.

Thus, it’ll be incumbent upon Oakland’s Latavius Murray, who had 59 yards against the Chiefs, to be effective enough to draw containment attention from Buffalo ends Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes.

Sling it to Sammy

A common denominator in Buffalo’s six losses this season has been the limited production of Sammy Watkins, who’s scored just one TD and exceeded 100 yards in one game as well. Raiders cornerback Tarell Brown has surrendered just one TD among the 42 passes completed in his direction in 2014, and help from veteran safety Charles Woodson should keep the game from becoming a Watkins showcase.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

OK, Coach Marrone, it’s your move. The Bills have gone from long-term laughingstock to having the dreaded “trap game” label hung on them. Its incumbent on the second-year boss to make sure his team handles the cross- country trip to meet an inferior foe, on the Sunday prior to a visit to the perennial AFC East powerhouse that could be the final obstacle to a January return. Score one for preparation.


►  Seahawks sign LB Wright to 4-year extension

The Seattle Seahawks signed linebacker K.J. Wright to a four-year extension, the team announced Thursday.

Wright has a team-leading 96 tackles this season with a career high-tying two sacks and three forced fumbles.

He has started 54 games since the Seahawks drafted him in the fourth round in 2011, compiling 339 tackles, 6.5 sacks and one interception.

“K.J. is the epitome of a team guy,“ Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said in a statement. “We are excited to reward a player of his caliber for all the hard work he has put in over the years to become an important piece of our defense.“

Wright has appeared in four playoff games, starting three.


►  NFL Game Results

(THURSDAY, DECEMBER 18)


Final Score: Jacksonville 21, Tennessee 13

Jordan Todman’s 62-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter highlighted the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 21-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night. Blake Bortles completed 13-of-26 passes for 115 yards and one touchdown for the Jaguars, who scored 21 straight points after falling behind 10-0. Todman carried the ball five times for 71 yards for Jacksonville (3-12), which avenged a 16-14 loss to these Titans on October 12. Toby Gerhart rushed for 53 yards and a score on 12 carries. Tennessee turned back to Charlie Whitehurst due to injuries and he connected on 24-of-35 passes for 287 yards and one touchdown. Leon Washington caught seven passes for 62 yards and a score. Bishop Sankey carried the ball 14 times for 44 yards for the Titans (2-13), who have lost nine in a row.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  The fantasy snoozer

As Terrell Owens would want, fantasy owners are getting the popcorn ready.

This week, there are seven different time slots spanning over four days, with a break Friday, fantasy owners can root for their stars.

On Saturday night alone, there are eight key fantasy players in action, with the potential for more, in deeper leagues. Studs such as LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates are all playing along with key fantasy role players like Mark Sanchez, Alfred Morris and DeSean Jackson. That’s not even counting defenses, kickers or injured players who might still make an impact like Frank Gore and Ryan Mathews.

To conclude fantasy championship week, owners will see if players like Peyton Manning, C.J. Anderson, Jeremy Hill, Demaryius Thomas, A.J. Green, and Julius Thomas can take them to the fantasy promise land. The Monday night Denver at Cincinnati matchup has the potential to set up really fun scenarios.

Perhaps one owner will be rooting for Demaryius Thomas, but he is playing against Manning. That owner would be nervously excited on every Broncos drop back.

What about owners in multiple championships? An owner could have Anderson in one league and play against him in another.

Maybe an owner has Anderson and Sanders in one league and Demaryius Thomas in another while also playing against Manning.

You get the point. The possibilities are endless. Santa Claus isn’t the only reason why this is the most wonderful time of the year.

With all these scenarios, owners just want the week to start already! Thank goodness it finally begins on Thursday ... sort of.

Tennessee at Jacksonville is perhaps the worst prime time matchup in the history of the NFL. Neither team has a playmaker which makes both squads just flat out boring.

Titans and Jaguars fans, I look forward to your angry letters.

Blake Bortles and Charlie Whitehurst are QB2 ... at best. Listening to the Nutcracker on repeat sounds less torturous than watching those two quarterbacks “duke” it out.

Some called Bishop Sankey this year’s Eddie Lacy. He was more like this year’s Johnathan Franklin.

Jacksonville’s leading rusher in 2014 was a collegiate quarterback, and he is hurt; that’s about all owners need to know there.

Speaking of hurt, the Titans top two wide receivers, Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter, will likely not be available for owners. Not that they were lining up to use them. The duo has combined for 1,131 receiving yards this season, or Antonio Brown’s total through 11 games.

In all likelihood, owners who advanced to the championship don’t have a player in Thursday night’s game. If you advanced to the final round with Bortles as one of your quarterbacks, you might be the next Joe Gibbs, Houdini or the luckiest man on the planet. Testing that luck in the lottery this weekend is probably a good idea.

Anyway, good luck to owners in Week 16.

Make sure the lineup is set for Thursday, I guess, but you can probably wait until Saturday. Thursday can be spent spinning the dreidel or lighting the Christmas tree without having to check your fantasy football app.

As for my rooting interest Thursday, Marqise Lee is 151 yards away from becoming the fourth Jacksonville wide receiver to reach the 500-yard mark. The Jaguars could become the only team in the NFL without a 800-yard receiver, but four 500-yard receivers.

Sorry, that’s all I’ve got.  ~~  Dave Holcomb ~~



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Area High Schools Boys Basketball Game Results

(Thursday, December 18)

#10 Gilmer County 66     South Harrison 37

Calhoun County 65     Braxton County 51

Roane County 58     Doddridge County 44

Preston 80     Lewis County 55

#1 Robert C. Byrd 62     East Fairmont 43

#4 Bridgeport 94     Liberty 36

Buckhannon-Upshur 65     North Marion 57

Lincoln 58     Elkins 44

#6 Fairmont Senior 74     Philip Barbour 40

Clay County 70     Webster County 54



<The Gilmer Free Press

►  Top-25 College Men’s Basketball Game Results

(Thursday, December 18)


Final Score: (2) Duke 66, Connecticut 56

Tyus Jones scored 21 points and No. 2 Duke stayed unbeaten with a 66-56 win over Connecticut on Thursday. Jones made 9-of-10 from the free throw line and handed out a game-high three assists for the Blue Devils (10-0), who have won all 10 games this season by at least 10 points. All five Duke starters reached double figures, while the Blue Devils didn’t receive a single point from three bench players that logged minutes. Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor scored 12 points apiece and Amile Jefferson went for 11 points and 13 rebounds. Duke is 10-0 for the 19th time in school history. Ryan Boatright scored 22 for UConn (4-4), which hadn’t lost four non-conference regular season games since the 1986-87 season.


Final Score: (6) Virginia 70, Cleveland State 54

Justin Anderson and Malcolm Brogdon each netted 16 points as sixth-ranked Virginia remained unbeaten with a 70-54 win over Cleveland State. Anthony Gill added 13 points and eight rebounds for the Cavaliers (10-0), who overcame a slow start from a 12-day layoff to shoot 50 percent from the field and move to 10-0 for the first time since 2000-01. Trey Lewis was the lone Cleveland State (5-6) player to score in double figures, finishing with 18 points while hitting 4-of-9 attempts from 3-point range.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NBA Game Resuts

(Thursday, December 18)


Final Score: Chicago 103, New York 97

Jimmy Butler scored a career-high 35 points and dished out seven assists to lead the Chicago Bulls to a 103-97 win over the New York Knicks on Thursday night. Pau Gasol contributed 20 points with seven rebounds and Aaron Brooks added 18 points off the bench for Chicago, which played its ninth game of the season without star point guard Derrick Rose. Rose missed the contest with an illness and his status for Friday’s game at Memphis is uncertain. The Bulls, who improved to 5-4 without Rose this season, have won four of their last five games overall. New York, meanwhile, was without leading scorer Carmelo Anthony, who missed the game to rest his sore left knee. Tim Hardaway Jr. picked up the slack to lead the Knicks with 23 points, while Amar’e Stoudemire chipped in with 16 points and six rebounds. New York has lost seven straight at the United Center and three straight overall, as well as 13 of its last 14 games.


Final Score: New Orleans 99, Houston 90

Anthony Davis tallied 30 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks, and the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the Houston Rockets, 99-90, on Thursday. Jrue Holiday finished with 16 points and 10 assists and played his best basketball down the stretch to help the Pelicans win their second straight game. Holiday scored half of his points and dished out three assists in the final period. Ryan Anderson and Dante Cunningham contributed 16 and 15 points, respectively, off the bench, and Omer Asik grabbed 11 boards for New Orleans. James Harden paced Houston with 21 points and Dwight Howard posted his third double-double since returning to the court after missing 11 games with a knee injury.


Final Score: Milwaukee 108, Sacramento 107

Not even the return of DeMarcus Cousins could help the Sacramento Kings find the win column. Brandon Knight scored 20 points and O.J. Mayo and Jared Dudley each chipped in 19 to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a 108-107 win over the scuffling Kings on Thursday night. Milwaukee, which has won three of its last four, made 56.5 percent of its shots from beyond the arc. Cousins, who returned from a 10-game absence due to viral meningitis, had a chance to win it in the closing seconds, but his jumper was off the mark as the buzzer sounded. He finished with game highs of 27 points and 11 rebounds in just under 33 minutes in the Kings’ fifth straight loss. Sacramento went 2-8 in Cousins’ absence and fell to 0-2 under interim coach Tyrone Corbin, who relieved Michael Malone of the head coaching duties this week.


Final Score: Golden State 114, Oklahoma City 109

Steph Curry stuffed the stat sheet and six Warriors scored in double figures as Golden State got back in the win column with a 114-109 decision over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Curry posted a game- high 34 points with nine assists, seven rebounds and four steals for Golden State, which lost its franchise-high 16-game win streak in Memphis on Tuesday. Klay Thompson scored 19 points and Draymond Green flirted with a triple- double, tallying 16, nine assists and nine boards for the Warriors. Thunder star Kevin Durant scored 30 points in the first half but didn’t play in the second after suffering a sprained right ankle just before halftime. Russell Westbrook picked up some of the slack, netting 33 points with eight assists but shooting just 11-for-30 from the field. The Thunder were 7-1 over their last eight games with Durant in the lineup. The reigning MVP missed the first 17 games of the season following foot surgery.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Volquez heading to Kansas City

The Kansas City Royals and pitcher Edinson Volquez have reportedly agreed to a two-year contract.

According to CBSSports.com and MLB.com, the deal is worth $20 million.

Volquez spent 2014 in Pittsburgh and had one of the best seasons of his 10- year career with a record of 13-7 and a 3.04 ERA in 32 games, all but one as a starter.

The 31-year-old right-hander was 9-12 with a 5.71 ERA for the Padres and Dodgers in 2013. He owns a career mark of 66-59 with a 4.44 ERA in 191 games, including 185 starts with Texas, Cincinnati, San Diego, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh.

Volquez had his best season with the Reds in 2008, posting a mark of 17-6 with a 3.21 ERA.

The American League champion Royals have been in need of another starting pitcher with the loss of James Shields to free agency.


►  Rays set to deal Myers to Padres in deal with Nationals

Wil Myers is reportedly heading from Tampa Bay to San Diego as part of an 11-player trade that also involves the Washington Nationals.

According to MLB.com, the Padres will acquire Myers, the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year, along with catcher Ryan Hanigan and minor league pitchers Gerardo Reyes and Jose Castillo from Tampa Bay. The Rays will receive catcher Rene Rivera, first baseman Jake Bauers and pitcher Burch Smith from the Padres, as well as outfielder Steven Souza and pitcher Travis Ott from Washington, while the Nationals will pick up pitcher Joe Ross and a player to be named later, said to be shortstop Trea Turner, from the Padres.

The deal is pending physicals.

Myers, who just turned 24 years old, is the centerpiece of the trade.

The Rays acquired Myers from Kansas City prior to the 2013 season in the deal that sent pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals.

Myers, in 88 games as a rookie, batted .293, hit 13 homers and drove in 53 runs to help Tampa Bay to a wild card berth. A wrist injury slowed him down in 2014 when he played just 87 games and hit six homers with 35 RBI and batted only .222.

Hanigan hit just .218 in 84 games last season, his first in Tampa Bay after playing the first seven years of his career in Cincinnati. The 34-year-old veteran, who has played more than 100 games in a season just once, is a career. 256 hitter with 25 homers and 172 RBI in 558 games.

The Padres have been somewhat busy since the start of Winter Meetings last week, signing pitcher Brandon Morrow while adding outfielder Matt Kemp in a trade from the Dodgers. The Kemp deal has yet to be officially announced.

Tampa Bay has also undergone a major shakeup since the departures of head of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon. Matt Silverman, Friedman’s replacement, has traded pitchers Jeremy Hellickson and Joel Peralta, as well as outfielder Matt Joyce and infielder Sean Rodriguez.

The Rays, who also released veteran catcher Jose Molina, will hope Rivera can help behind the plate. The 31-year-old native of Puerto Rico played in a career-high 103 games last season with the Padres and batted .252 with 11 homers and 44 RBI.

Burch appeared in 10 games in 2013, including seven starts, and was 1-3 with a 6.44 ERA, but missed most of last year with a forearm injury, while Bauers played at Single-A in 2014. Ott was also a Class-A player last year in Washington’s organization, while Souza could be the key piece for the Rays.

Souza was the International League’s top player in 2014 for Washington’s Triple-A affiliate in Syracuse, batting .350 with 18 homers and 75 RBI in just 96 games. The 25-year-old played in 21 games for the Nationals last year and hit two homers in 23 at-bats while also making a tremendous catch to preserve Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter on the final day of the season.

The Nationals will pick up a former first-round pick in Ross, a 21-year-old right-hander who has not pitched above Double-A since he was chosen 25th overall in 2011.

Turner can’t officially be traded until next June, as league rules mandate that a draft pick cannot be dealt until a full year after he was selected. He was the 13th overall pick last June and could be Washington’s shortstop of the future with Ian Desmond set to be a free agent after next season.


►  A’s acquire De La Rosa from Arizona

The Oakland Athletics acquired pitcher Eury De La Rosa from the Arizona Diamondbacks for cash considerations on Thursday.

In 25 games with Arizona last season, De La Rosa went 2-0 with a 2.95 ERA. The 24-year-old left-hander allowed just two home runs in 36 2/3 innings and held right-handed hitters to a .233 batting average.

De La Rosa is 2-1 with a 4.21 ERA in 44 career appearances over two seasons with the Diamondbacks.

The Dominican native began the 2014 season at Triple-A Reno and compiled a 2.52 ERA and .224 opponents batting average in 36 relief appearances with the Aces before he was promoted to Arizona on July 5.

To clear a spot on the 40-man roster, the A’s designated pitcher Fernando Rodriguez for assignment and also released pitcher Jorge De Leon, who was designated for assignment December 09.


►  Kemp trade on hold over medicals

The San Diego Padres are considering whether or not to finalize or void their agreed-upon trade for Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Matt Kemp due to results over the outfielder’s physical, according to a report from USA Today.

Sources told USA Today that Kemp’s physical revealed arthritis in both of his hips, with the Padres still trying to determine whether the condition will impact the remainder of the 30-year-old’s playing career.

The Padres and Dodgers had set a deadline for Thursday to complete the deal, in which Los Angeles would send Kemp and backup catcher Tim Federowicz to San Diego in exchange for catcher Yasmani Grandal, pitcher Joe Wieland and minor league hurler Zach Elfin.

Los Angeles is also believed to be sending the Padres $32 million towards the remaining $107 million Kemp is owed on his contract, which runs through 2019.

The snag also impacts the Dodgers’ pending trade with Philadelphia involving Jimmy Rollins, as Elfin was to be sent to the Phillies for the veteran shortstop.

Kemp has been hampered by hamstring issues in two of the last three seasons, missing 51 games in 2012 and 73 in 2013. The 2011 National League MVP runner- up did play in 150 games this past season, batting .287 with 25 home runs and 89 RBI.

Padres first-year general manager A.J. Preller has been aggressive this offseason in trying to improve an offense that was the worst in the majors in 2014. In addition to the potential Kemp trade, Preller reportedly has swung a deal to acquire 2013 American League Rookie of the Year Wil Myers from Tampa Bay as part of a three-team swap that also involves the Washington Nationals.


►  Royals reach deal with P Medlen

The Kansas City Royals have signed pitcher Kris Medlen to a two-year contract with a mutual option for the 2017 season, with the hope that the Tommy John surgery recipient will be able to contribute during the second half of the upcoming year.

Medlen put together a strong 2013 campaign for the Atlanta Braves, winning a career-best 15 games with a 3.11 earned run average in 32 games (31 starts). The right-hander missed all of last season, however, after tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow during a spring training outing.

The Braves declined to offer Medlen a contract earlier this month, in large part due to his injury history. The 29-year-old also underwent a Tommy John procedure that sidelined him for the majority of the 2011 season.

Medlen has been a quality pitcher when healthy. His .674 winning percentage (31-15) since 2010 ranks only behind a pair of Cy Young Award honorees, Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer, over that stretch, and he sports a 2.95 ERA over 152 appearances (61 starts).

According to the Kansas City Star, Medlen will receive $8.5 million guaranteed over the life of the deal. He is slated to earn $2 million next season, but can earn an additional $4 million based on games started and innings pitched.

Medlen will make $10 million in 2017 if he and the Royals both exercise the option year. Kansas City will pay a $1 million buyout if either side declines.

The signing is the second by the reigning AL champion Royals involving a starting pitcher in as many days, with the club reportedly inking Edinson Volquez to a two-year, $20 million contract on Wednesday.

Kansas City is not expected to re-sign last year’s staff ace and current free agent James Shields.

Infielder Johnny Giavotella was designated for assignment to create room for Medlen on the 40-man roster.

Giavotella hit .238 with four homers and 45 RBI over 125 games with the Royals across the last four seasons, but appeared in just 26 games in the majors over the last two.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  NHL Game Results

(Thursday, December 18)


Final Score: Florida 2, Philadelphia 1 (SO)

Dave Bolland scored in the sixth round of the shootout to lift the Florida Panthers over the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 on Thursday night. The Panthers needed an NHL-record 20 rounds to pick up a shootout victory over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday. Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek kept the shootout going when he scored in the third round. Florida’s Brandon Pirri had scored in the first. Scottie Upshall lit the lamp in regulation for the Panthers, who got 25 saves from Roberto Luongo. Voracek also scored the only goal for the Flyers, who fell to 0-5 in shootouts this season. Steve Mason stopped 31-of-32 shots.


Final Score: Pittsburgh 1, Colorado 0 (OT)

Blake Comeau scored at 2:24 of overtime to lift the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 1-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was back in the lineup after missing three games with the mumps. Teammate Marc-Andre Fleury, who tested negative for the virus, made 29 saves to earn his career-high and league- leading sixth shutout of the season and help Pittsburgh improve to 4-0-2 in its last six games. Rookie Calvin Pickard played superbly for the Avalanche, making 47 saves, including 19 in the third period to force extra time.


Final Score: Carolina 4, Toronto 1

The Carolina Hurricanes snapped a six-game losing streak, scoring two special-teams goals in a 4-1 win over the red-hot Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night. While Toronto eyed its longest winning streak in more than 11 years, Carolina jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Chris Terry and Justin Faulk, who scored while the Hurricanes were short-handed. Andrej Sekera’s power play tally in the third period restored the two-goal lead and Cam Ward finished with 25 saves as the Hurricanes ended the 0-6 skid. Dion Phaneuf scored for the Maple Leafs, who had a six-game winning streak snapped and lost for just the third time in their last 13 (10-2-1). They haven’t won seven in a row since an eight-game streak from Nov. 22-Dec. 6, 2003. Jonathan Bernier gave up three goals on 36 shots and had a personal four-game winning streak stopped.


Final Score: Washington 5, Columbus 4 (OT)

Eric Fehr’s goal 42 seconds into overtime lifted the Washington Capitals to a 5-4 come-from-behind victory over Columbus, halting the Blue Jackets’ seven-game win streak. Michael Chaput’s first career NHL goal had given Columbus a 4-3 lead with 4:25 remaining in regulation, but Troy Brouwer answered for the Capitals just 1:25 later to send the game into extra time. Fehr, Jason Chimera and Karl Alzner each recorded a goal and an assist for Washington, which earned a point for a seventh straight outing. The Caps are 5-0-2 over that stretch, which included an overtime loss to the Blue Jackets in Washington a week ago. Nick Foligno scored twice and assisted on another for Columbus, which received 31 saves from Sergei Bobrovsky in defeat.


Final Score: Anaheim 2, Montreal 1

Frederik Andersen made 23 saves and the Anaheim Ducks beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 on Thursday night for their eighth win in nine games. Hampus Lindholm and Matt Beleskey scored for the Ducks, who were coming off a 6-2 loss to Toronto on Tuesday, which snapped their seven-game winning streak. Beleskey’s winner came 8:33 into the third period, his 15th goal of the season. David Desharnais scored for the Canadiens, who had a three-game winning streak snapped. Carey Price gave up two goals on 23 shots.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Champions Tour announces 2015 schedule

The Champions Tour announced its 2015 schedule Wednesday and it will feature 26 tournaments.

Just like in 2014, the 2015 slate will begin in Hawaii on January 23 for the Mitsubishi Electric Championship and the schedule will run through the Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Arizona, which will be held from November 5-8.

The schedule is up one event from 2014 with the addition of the Tucson Conquistadores Classic, which will be played from March 20-22. Also, the Pacific Links Hawaii Championship will be moved to Tianjin, China and will be called the Pacific Links China Championship. That event will be played September 18-20.

The Regions Tradition will once again serve as the first major championship of the season, running from May 14-17. The Senior PGA Championship will be played the week after in Indiana on the Pete Dye Course at French Lick.

Three weeks after the Senior PGA is the Constellation Senior Players Championship, the season’s third major, held at Belmont Country Club in Boston from June 11-14. Two weeks later is the U.S. Senior Open Championship from June 25-28 and will be contested at Del Paso Country Club in Sacramento, Calif.

About a month later, the Champions Tour will head overseas for the fifth and final major of the season, the Senior Open Championship. It will be played on the Old Course at Sunningdale Golf Club in Berkshire, England from July 23-26.

Ten events separate the Senior Open Championship from the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship, which will be held on the Cochise Course at Desert Mountain Club for the second straight year.


►  Inverness to host 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur

The United States Golf Association announced on Wednesday that Inverness Club was selected to host the 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur Championship.

This is the first time Inverness Club, located in Toledo, Ohio, will play host to the U.S. Junior Amateur and it will be the eighth USGA event contested there. The championship will be held from July 15-20.

“Inverness Club has enjoyed a storied history, having hosted seven USGA championships over the past century,“ said Daniel B. Burton, USGA vice president and Championship Committee chairman. “By hosting this championship in 2019, the club will become the first to have a U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur, U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Junior Amateur.“

Inverness has also hosted four U.S. Opens, two U.S. Senior Opens in 2003 and 2011, and the 1973 U.S. Amateur. The most recent U.S. Open to be held at Inverness was in 1979, when Hale Irwin won by two shots over Gary Player and Jerry Pate.

The Gilmer Free Press


References
ABC - American Broadcasting Company
CBS - Columbia Broadcast System
FOX - Fox Entertainment Group
NBC - National Broadcasting Company
JIP - Joined in Progress
DSS - DIRECTV
TSN - Sports Network (Canada)
SNET/SN - Rogers SportsNet (Canada)
RDS - Reseau des sports
MSG - Madison Square Garden Network
TNT - Turner Network Television
TBS - Turner Broadcasting System
SNY - SportsNet New York
CBSSN - CBS - College Sports Network
CSN - Comcast SportsNet
TCN - The Comcast Network
NBCSN - NBC Sports Network
NESN - New England Sports Network
MASN - Mid-Atlantic Sports Network
ROOT - Root Sports (Pittsburgh, Northwest, Rocky Mountain)
CST - Cox Sports Television
FCS - FOX College Sports
FS - FOX Sports Regional
RSN - Regional Sports Networks
CPTV - Connecticut Public Broadcasting
TVG - Horse Racing Channel
FS1 - FOX Sports 1
TWC - Time Warner Cable Sports Channel
* - If Necessary


FRIDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2014


National Basketball Association
Utah at Orlando, 7:00 PM - ROOT-Northwest, FS-Florida, DSS
Charlotte at Philadelphia, 7:00 PM - SportSouth, CSN-Philadelphia, DSS
Minnesota at Boston, 7:30 PM - FS-North, CSN-New England, DSS
Toronto at Detroit, 7:30 PM - SNET One, FS-Detroit+, DSS
Brooklyn at Cleveland, 7:30 PM - YES, FS-Ohio, DSS
Washington at Miami, 7:30 PM - CSN-DC, SunSports, DSS
Portland at San Antonio, 8:00 PM - CSN-Northwest, FS-Southwest, ESPN
Chicago at Memphis, 8:00 PM - WPWR, SportSouth, DSS
LA Clippers at Denver, 9:00 PM - FS-Prime Ticket, Altitude, DSS
Oklahoma City at LA Lakers, 10:30 PM - FS-Oklahoma, Time Warner, ESPN


National Hockey League
Tampa Bay at New Jersey, 7:00 PM - TVA, SunSports, MSG, DSS
Anaheim at Ottawa, 7:30 PM - FS-West, RDS, TSN5, DSS
NY Islanders at Detroit, 7:30 PM - MSG+, FS-Detroit, DSS
Boston at Winnipeg, 8:00 PM - NESN, TSN3, DSS
Dallas at Calgary, 9:00 PM - FS-Southwest+, West, DSS


College Basketball
Wilberforce at Youngstown State, 1:30 PM - ESPN3.com
Jackson State at Tulane, 2:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Siena at Radford, 6:00 PM - Big South Network
Case Western at Bucknell, 7:00 PM - Patriot League Network
Eastern Kentucky at Miami-Florida, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Stillman at Alabama, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Bethune-Cookman at Mercer, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Niagara at Buffalo, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Clemson at South Carolina, 7:00 PM - SEC Network
St. Mary’s (CA) at St. John’s, 7:00 PM - FS1
Tennessee Tech at Tennessee, 7:00 PM - FSN
Furman at Florida Gulf Coast, 7:30 PM - ESPN3.com
Chattanooga at Middle Tennessee, 8:00 PM - American Sports Network, MASN
Seattle at Minnesota, 8:00 PM - Big Ten Network
Pan American at Creighton, 9:00 PM - FS2
Alabama A&M at Marquette, 9:00 PM - FS1
Ark-Pine Bluff at Texas Tech, 9:00 PM - FS-Southwest+, FCS-Central
Eastern Washington at California, 10:00 PM - Pac-12 Network
Idaho State at Utah State, 10:05 PM - Mountain West Network
Arizona at UTEP, 11:00 PM - FS1


Women’s College Basketball
Ohio Valley at Youngstown State, 11:00 AM - ESPN3.com
Campbell at Stetson, 1:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Northern Colorado at Florida Gulf Coast, 4:30 PM - ESPN3.com
Belmont at Mercer, 5:00 PM - ESPN3.com
Savannah State at Florida State, 7:00 PM - ESPN3.com
DePaul at Connecticut, 7:30 PM - SNY, ESPN3.com


College Football
NAIA Football Championship, 3:00 PM - ESPN U
Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, 7:00 PM - ESPN U
Sam Houston State at North Dakota State, 8:00 PM - ESPN 2

Sports News   141218

The Gilmer Free Press


The Gilmer Free Press

►  Juco defensive end Jefferson becomes WVU’s first signee for 2015

Three-star junior college defensive end Larry Jefferson signed with West Virginia on Wednesday afternoon, becoming the first official member of the Mountaineers’ 2015 recruiting class.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder from Itawamba (Miss.) Community College submitted his national letter of intent with plans to enroll for spring semester. His recruitment took multiple turns as Jefferson committed to West Virginia in October, flipped to Iowa State only 11 days later, and finally recommitted to WVU on November 25.

ESPN ranks Jefferson as the No. 8 junior college defensive end and Rivals touts him as the No. 28 junior college prospect overall. He made 67 tackles in two seasons at Itawamba, including 16.5 for loss.

Jefferson also held offers from Kansas State, Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, Miami, South Florida and California.

He was an all-state player at Banneker (GA) High, where he played linebacker and receiver. Jefferson also starred on the basketball team and was a sprinter in the 400- and 200-meter events. He originally was bound for Louisville in the class of 2012 before failing to qualify academically.

West Virginia is losing three of the four players who started games at defensive end this season, with Shaq Riddick, Dontrill Hyman and Brandon Golson’s eligibility expiring after the December 29 Liberty Bowl.


►  Oliver Luck leaving for post at the NCAA

Athletics director Oliver Luck plans to leave West Virginia for a newly created leadership position at the NCAA, closing a four-year chapter in which he explored new revenue channels, steered the Mountaineers into a Power 5 conference and made head coaching moves in several sports.

“It has been a tremendous honor to serve my alma mater as director of athletics,” Luck said in a release. “As those who have spent time in West Virginia know, this is truly a special place. It’s been an incredible experience for me to work with some of the best administrators, faculty, coaches, staff, student-athletes, fans, media and alumni in the nation.”

A former Mountaineers quarterback who returned to West Virginia in June 2010, Luck was at one time a leading candidate for the Texas AD job that went to Steve Patterson last year. He now will become the NCAA’s executive vice president of regulatory affairs.

From his new position in Indianapolis, Luck will work with NCAA president Mark Emmert during what he called “a time of fundamental change” for the organization, whose enforcement power has been gutted by seven key staff defections within the past 18 months. The move also provides Luck an opportunity to be closer to his son Andrew, who plays quarterback for the Colts.

Luck’s tenure saw West Virginia join the Big 12 Conference in the spring of 2012, an odd geographic fit that nonetheless was a welcomed rescue from the crumbling Big East. Realignment has meant record revenue for West Virginia athletics as the school’s initiation period builds toward a complete Big 12 share.

The 54-year-old Luck served on the inaugural College Football Playoff selection committee this season, a three-year appointment that means the Big 12 must choose another AD to fill his vacancy.

WVU’s Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director Keli Cunningham, a native of Petersburg, began serving as interim athletics director immediately and will do so as the search takes place.

A member of the WVU sports hall of fame, Luck had been on the job as AD barely six months in December 2010 when he rattled the football program by hiring coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen from Oklahoma State a Bill Stewart’s successor. That uncomfortable arrangement preceded Stewart’s firing the following summer.

Luck elevated basketball coach Bob Huggins to the $3-million salary club with a contract extension through 2023.

In 2012, Luck fired baseball coach Greg Van Zant after 18 seasons and brought in Randy Mazey, who twice has led West Virginia to the brink of an NCAA regional bid. Last March, Luck removed wrestling coach Craig Turnbull after 36 seasons and hired Sammy Henson.

In April, Luck announced $106 million worth of renovation projects aimed at keeping West Virginia’s facilities competitive. That package began with the new 150-seat football team room that’s soon to be completed, and will subsequently include an expansion of the concourses at Milan Puskar Stadium. The yet-to-be designed third phase would remodel parts of the WVU Coliseum.

Luck coordinated with Monongalia County officials, state legislators and developers on a tax-financed $21 million ballpark—slated to open next spring—that will serve as the new home for Mountaineers baseball and a New York-Penn rookie-league team.

He also oversaw a re-seating campaign for basketball season ticketholders aimed at rewarding more lucrative donors.

Luck also sought to boost revenue by outsourcing WVU’s third-tier media rights. That ultimately led to an $80-million, 12-year contract with IMG, though Luck made missteps along the way and was removed from the bidding process upon review by the state’s attorney general. Luck remains a defendant in an ongoing lawsuit filed by West Virginia Radio Corp. (the parent company of MetroNews) alleging fraud and collusion between the AD, West Virginia Media and IMG. Depositions are ongoing in the lawsuit.

WVU president Gordon Gee issued a statement regarding Luck’s departure:

“Oliver has a storied history with West Virginia University. From his days as an outstanding student-athlete where he led us to great victories on the gridiron, to his service as a member of our Board of Governors, to his role in advancing our athletic programs and the life of the student-athlete, he has always embodied the Mountaineer spirit of perseverance and success. Indeed, his leadership has changed the face of WVU athletics, and I thank him for his dedicated efforts.”

Luck’s start date with the NCAA is scheduled for January 15.

“We plan to move swiftly to find the best fit in a new athletic director to lead our programs, coaches and student-athletes into a new era of Mountaineer athletics,” Gee said.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Marshall heads south later this week ahead of Boca Raton Bowl

Friday is a travel day for Marshall University’s Thundering Herd (12-1) ahead of Tuesday’s matchup against Northern Illinois University’s Huskies (11-2) in the inaugural Boca Raton Bowl in Florida.

“For a first year bowl game, I think Boca Raton kind of hit the jackpot with this one,” said Steve Cotton, Marshall’s play-by-play announcer.

“You have two teams that had a combined record of 23-3.”

Outside of the two playoff semifinal games, the Boca Raton Bowl is the only bowl game matching up two conference champs — Marshall won Conference USA, while NIU won the Mid-American Conference.

The Huskies will be making their seventh straight bowl appearance, but Marshall and NIU have not met in a game since 2001. NIU holds the edge in the series 4-3.

A total of 28 players on Marshall’s roster hail from the Sunshine State.

In addition to family and recruiting benefits, Cotton said Florida is a good place to be in December for weather reasons. “It looks like about 75 degrees to 80 degrees every day for a high temperature and it’s not bad to be spending a few days in Florida,” he said.

On Monday night, a Marshall pep rally will be held at 6 PM Mizner Park Amphitheater.

Kickoff for the Boca Raton Bowl is scheduled for 6 PM Tuesday at FAU Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN.

For more on tickets: www.herdzone.com or call 1.800.THE.HERD.



The Gilmer Free Press

►  Eagles’ Cole ruled out for Saturday

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Trent Cole is having hand surgery, coach Chip Kelly announced Wednesday.

Cole has been ruled out for Saturday’s game at Washington. He reportedly fractured a bone in his hand in Sunday night’s home loss to Dallas that dropped the Eagles one game behind the Cowboys for the NFC East lead.

The 32-year-old Cole has registered 6 1/2 sacks and forced three fumbles in 14 games this season.


►  Hill, Talib, Thomas tabbed AFC’s best of the week

Cincinnati Bengals running back Jeremy Hill, Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib and Kansas City Chiefs punt returner De’Anthony Thomas were selected as the AFC’s top players for Week 15 of the NFL season.

Hill was named the best offensive performer after rushing for 148 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries in the Bengals’ 30-0 win at Cleveland.

Talib earned defensive acclaim for registering eight tackles and one interception as the Broncos clinched the AFC West title with a 22-10 win at San Diego.

The special teams honor went to Thomas, who scored on an 81-yard punt return in the Chiefs’ 31-13 home win over Oakland. Thomas averaged 19.5 yards on eight punt returns.


►  Bryant, Quin, Catanzaro are NFC Players of the Week

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin and Arizona Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro were named the NFC’s best players from Week 15 of the NFL season.

Bryant earned Offensive Player of the Week honors after catching six passes for 114 yards and three touchdowns in the Cowboys’ 38-27 win at Philadelphia.

Quin, the Defensive Player of the Week, set up a touchdown with a 56-yard return on an interception and registered three tackles in the Lions’ 16-14 home win over Minnesota.

Catanzaro made field goals from 23, 44, 46 and 51 yards, supplying all the points in the Cardinals’ 12-6 win at St. Louis to capture the Special Teams Player of the Week award.


►  Titans and Jags close out Thursday night package

There is no flex scheduling on Thursday nights, meaning the NFL Network’s television vehicle will not exactly be going out with a bang this season.

You can look at 2014’s final “Thursday Night Football” battle between the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars in two ways, a tilt to decide who will end up in the AFC South cellar or an opportunity to garner a better pick in the ‘15 NFL Draft.

The Titans and Jags will square off having mustered only two wins apiece with one of Tennessee’s coming when it edged Jacksonville, 16-14, back in Music City on October 12.

Since that game, the teams have combined to lose 14 of 16 contests with the Titans dropping eight straight in Ken Whisenhunt’s first season at the helm, and the Jaguars losing six of eight behind rookie quarterback Blake Bortles.

Each team suffered its latest setback in Week 15 as Tennessee fell to the lowly New York Jets, 16-11, and Jacksonville came up short in Baltimore, 20-12.

The Jets’ Chris Ivory scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 3:09 remaining in the fourth quarter to lift New York to its triumph in Nashville although the Titans made it interesting and nearly pulled off another Music City Miracle on the game’s last play, lateraling numerous times before Delanie Walker came up short at the Jets’ 9-yard line.

Jake Locker made his first start for the Titans since Week 5 and likely his last with the organization as he left the game late in the second quarter with a dislocated left shoulder.

The injury-prone Locker, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2011 draft, started because rookie Zach Mettenberger re-injured his right shoulder the week prior. He was subsequently placed on season-ending injured reserve this week and is unlikely to return to the Titans next season.

“To me, he’s a true pro,“ Whisenhunt said. “He’s a great teammate, works hard and you obviously feel badly for Jake just from the standpoint of having to have surgery and his season being over.“

Charlie Whitehurst replaced Locker against the Jets and was 10-of-24 for 203 yards in his first action since Week 7. The veteran will start again this week and be backed up by the recently signed Jordan Palmer.

“I haven’t played as well as I wanted to this year. There’s a few plays I left out there,“ Whitehurst said. “But every time I go out there, there’s a few personal things that come out of it—It’s been fun to do it and kind of see what you’re made of.“

Tennessee’s current eight-game skid is the franchise’s longest since the 1994 Houston Oilers dropped 11 straight.

Jacksonville, meanwhile, fell in the Charm City when the Ravens’ Joe Flacco threw for 221 yards with a touchdown and the Baltimore defense kept the Jaguars out of the end zone.

Josh Scobee kicked four field goals to account for the Jags’ entire offensive output.

Bortles threw for 210 yards with an interception for the Jaguars. He was, however, also sacked eight times by a swarming Baltimore defense that limited Jacksonville to 248 total yards.

“There’s gonna be talk about how ‘Hey Jacksonville played extremely hard, very physical, came into our house and did some really good things, special teams wise two phases did really good’ but I told them we’re not into moral victories,“ Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley said. “We’re into victories. We’re into victories. That’s what we’re after.“

After the beating Bortles was diagnosed with a mid-foot sprain and has been in a walking boot but the Jags are hopeful he will play on Thursday and the rookie was back at practice on a limited basis by Tuesday.

“As far as I know, it’s going to be Blake,“ Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said Tuesday. “We’re going to obviously see how he practices.“

“He did better,“ Bradley added on Tuesday. “You could see him improve.“

The Titans lead their all-time series with the Jags by a 22-17 margin, including the win earlier this season when Jackie Battle rushed for a TD and kicker Ryan Succop booted three field goals.

Bortles threw for a career-high 336 yards and a touchdown in the setback but Tennessee sacked him six times and blocked a potential game-winning 55-yard field goal with 12 seconds left.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

‘Tis the time of year when certain teams give up and the Titans seem to be at the top of that list, failing to succeed no matter who is under center, Mettenberger, Locker or Whitehurst.

“The (injury) circumstances aren’t great, but when something like that does happen, it does give you a chance,“ Whitehurst said. “There’s no substitute for it. You get to play. You get to play in the NFL.“

The lack of a consistent competent option at the game’s most important position has hindered Tennessee all season and the Titans head into the final two games with the NFL’s 29th ranked offense, mustering just 307.9 yards per game and scoring less than 14 points per game during their current skid. The Jags are even worse, however, 31st in a 32-team league while averaging under 300 ypg at 293.8.

On paper that should make things easier for the respective defensive units but they haven’t exactly set the world on fire either as the Jags’ stop unit is ranked 28th, surrendering 372.6 ypg, and the Titans are actually a tick below at 29, allowing six yards more.

The run game has been particularly daunting for Tennessee. The Titans can’t run it, amassing under 65 yards per game over the last 2 1/2 months, and they can’t stop opponents from running it, surrendering a league-worst 139.6 ypg.

Jacksonville has a little more hope because Bortles, the No. 3 overall pick in last year’s draft, has shown signs, albeit only for brief periods. Bortles has thrown 10 touchdown passes versus 17 interceptions and has the league’s second-worst passer rating at 70.6 but he’s also under significant duress more often than not, being sacked an NFL-high 41 times since he’s taken over from Chad Henne.

The impressive skill set is visible, though, and Bortles has embraced a leadership role.

“A lot of (the sacks) are on me,“ Bortles said. “Some are on the offensive line. It’s on the whole offense. It’s football, so you better be used to getting hit.“

Bortles also seems aware that he needs to speed up his decision making.

“In college, you can run around and do more stuff, but in the NFL guys are a lot faster and stronger,“ the Central Florida product said. “So it’s a little more difficult. You want to be able to get rid of the ball and live another down, not lose yards on third down and create longer field-goal situation. Those are definitely things I’m working on.“

Whitehurst has actually been Tennessee’s most effective QB this season, compiling an 89.1 passer rating and going 1-2 as a starter with the lone triumph being against the Jags in the October game when he completed 17-of-28 passes for 233 yards.

“I feel good about Charlie and what he’s done,“ Whisenhunt said. “He started against Jacksonville the last time and played a pretty good game. He’s been a great support in the room, and we have confidence in him.“

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Neither team looks primed to much offensively but the Jags seem like the lesser of two evils here mainly because the Titans have been an abject disaster on the road, losing six straight and being outscored by an average of 34 to 16 in those games.


►  Conte is smarter than you think

It shouldn’t be news that 25-year-old men think a lot differently than 50-year-olds but Chris Conte’s recent comments sure surprised a lot of people.

The oft-injured Chicago Bears safety recently told WBBM radio in the Windy City that playing football means so much to him that he would be willing to do it even if it does take years off the end of his life.

“My life will revolve around football to some point, but I’d rather have the experience of playing and, who knows, die 10, 15 years earlier than not be able to play in the NFL and live a long life,“ he said. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do with my life and I wanted to accomplish. And I pretty much set my whole life up to accomplish that goal. So I don’t really look toward my life after football because I’ll figure things out when I get there and see how I am.“

Some well-intentioned folks feel sorry for athletes like Conte, who has suffered two documented concussions this season, along with a shoulder injury, a back problem and an eye issue.

They envision a future where the best-case scenario is a crippled individual and the worst is unspeakable things like dementia, ALS or the self-inflicted ends players like Junior Seau, Andre Waters and another Bears safety, Dave Duerson, endured.

But, legislating someone’s path isn’t the domain of others, well-intentioned or not.

The great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw correctly surmised “youth is wasted on the young,“ a nod to the fact that younger people simply don’t have the experience to make the most logical decisions at times.

Hopefully Conte does live to see the half-century mark and while there are few sure things in this world, you can rest assured that his priorities will have changed by that point. Walking a potential daughter down the aisle or seeing a grandchild grow up will become a much bigger deal than topping the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

It’s a natural evolution that nearly everyone undergoes and that’s why the NFL is in a very difficult spot when it comes to concussions and the long-term health of their alumni.

The vast majority of players toiling today understand the risks of playing the game and gladly sign up to do so every weekend. In an anonymous survey back in January, 85% of the 320 NFL players ESPN polled claimed they would play in the Super Bowl with a concussion.

The league, however, also understands that mentality will change as the years pass no matter what the players believe today.

“My reference wasn’t even to concussions, just the associated risk with football and accepting the fact that life expectancy of someone who has played in the NFL is shorter than the average person,“ Conte told ESPNChicago.com on Wednesday. “And I’m fine with trading that risk for the opportunity to play football since it’s something I have always wanted to do and a dream come true. Doing what I love outweighs risks despite injuries I have amounted this year.“

But, here’s the real kicker, Conte is probably making the right decision no matter what he or the rest of us think.

In 1994, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health published research examining death rates and risk factors for former NFL players based on all deaths that had occurred through 1991.

After following those players for an additional 16 years, NIOSH published new research in January of 2012 which found players had a much lower overall rate of death compared to men in the general U.S. population of similar age and racial mix.

NIOSH concluded that several factors explained why NFL players live longer than the average American male, including documented low levels of cigarette smoking, their body composition (more muscle mass) and high levels of fitness.

So, sometimes the young guys get it right ... even if they don’t know it.

WEEK 16 (All Times Eastern)

Tennessee (2-12) at Jacksonville (2-12) (-3), Thursday, 8:25 PM - There is no flex scheduling on Thursday nights, meaning the NFL Network’s television vehicle will not exactly be going out with a bang this season. You can look at 2014’s final “Thursday Night Football” battle between the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars in two ways, a tilt to decide who will end up in the AFC South cellar or an opportunity to garner a better pick in the ‘15 NFL Draft. Neither team looks primed to much offensively but the Jags seem like the lesser of two evils here mainly because the Titans have been an abject disaster on the road, losing six straight and being outscored by an average of 34-16 in those games.

Jaguars 16, Titans 13


Philadelphia (9-5) (-9) at Washington (3-11), Saturday, 4:30 PM - The Eagles are up against it after losing to Dallas on Sunday night and falling one game behind the Cowboys in the NFC East. Philadelphia’s easiest path to the playoffs now is winning out (against the Redskins and NY Giants) and hoping Dallas loses one of its two final games (vs. Indianapolis and at Washington). Chip Kelly has never lost to the Redskins (3-0), who will be going back to Robert Griffin III at QB now that Colt McCoy has been shut down for the year.

Eagles 24, Redskins 17


San Diego (8-6) at San Francisco (7-7) (-2 1/2), Saturday, 8:25 PM - The 49ers’ three-year NFC Championship Game run is officially over and the Chargers playoffs hopes are on life support in this Golden State battle. San Diego QB Philip Rivers has dominated San Francisco in the past, going 2-0 and completing 48-of-64 passes for 607 yards (303.5 per game) with five TDs and a 130.1 passer rating.

Chargers 23, 49ers 14


Atlanta (5-9) at New Orleans (6-8) (-5 1/2), Sunday, 1 PM - Somebody has to go to the playoffs from the NFC South and two of the three possible participants meet in the Superdome here. The Saints have the inside track after topping Chicago on Monday but both NOLA and the Falcons—who face the other team in the mix, Carolina, in Week 17—are in control of the division. Win out and they’re in. Sean Payton’s club has dropped four straight in the once cozy confines of the dome but Drew Brees is getting hot at the right time, passing for 375 yards and three TDs against the Bears en route to recording his NFL-record ninth consecutive 4,000-yard season (4,358).

“We know what’s in front of us,“ Falcons QB Matt Ryan said. “We know what we’ve got to do. It’s a playoff-type mentality. We’ve got to win next week. We’ve got to have the best week of practice that we’ve had this year and prepare as best we can.“

Saints 27, Falcons 20


Kansas City (8-6) at Pittsburgh (9-5) (-3), Sunday, 1 PM - The Chiefs and Steelers are in the middle of the jumbled AFC playoff picture. Kansas City is one game out of a wild-card position, trailing Pittsburgh and Baltimore with two games to play. The Steelers, meanwhile, are just one half-game behind Cincinnati in AFC North with a Week 17 matchup with the Bengals looming. With a win on Sunday, Pittsburgh will lock up a playoff berth while Kansas City needs to win out to reach the postseason.

“It’s a big week coming up,“ said Steelers cornerback William Gay. “We’ve put ourselves in a playoff mindset. Every day counts.“

Steelers 24, Chiefs 14


Cleveland (7-7) at Carolina (5-8-1) (NL), Sunday, 1 PM - The Panthers are still in the NFC South hunt after topping Tampa Bay last weekend with backup Derek Anderson at the helm. It remains to be seen if Cam Newton is able to return from two transverse process fractures in his lower back suffered in a scary car accident just over a week ago. The Browns are hoping for a better performance out of Johnny Manziel, who was dismal during his first NFL start, a 30-0 whitewash at the hands of Cincinnati.

Panthers 20, Browns 13


Detroit (10-4) (-7) at Chicago (5-9), Sunday, 1 PM - Detroit needs two consecutive road wins to take home the NFC North, this week against Chicago and Week 17 at Green Bay. The Lions have won three straight over the Bears including a Thanksgiving Day triumph when Matthew Stafford threw for 390 yards and two scores.

Lions 28, Bears 14


Baltimore (9-5) (-5) at Houston (7-7), Sunday, 1 PM - The Ravens are closing in on a playoff spot and seem to have a very desirous schedule down the stretch. Baltimore will be visiting a Houston team down to its fourth QB (either Thad Lewis or the recently returning Case Keenum) with a Week 17 tangle against Cleveland and the overmatched Johnny Manziel on deck. The Ravens are 6-1 all-time against the Texans.

Ravens 23, Texans 10


Minnesota (6-8) at Miami (7-7) (- 6 1/2), Sunday, 1 PM - The Dolphins could be playing the final two games in the Joe Philbin era while the Vikings continue to build behind rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, who will be aiming for a third straight game with a completion percentage over 70.0 and more than 300 yards passing.

Dolphins 20, Vikings 17


New England (11-3) (-10) at New York Jets (3-11), Sunday, 1 PM - The Patriots can clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win here coupled with a Denver loss at Cincinnati on Monday night. New England has won nine of its past 10 this season and seven of its past eight against the Jets. In his past six games against New York Tom Brady has passed for 1,585 yards with 12 TDs and just one interception.

Patriots 24, Jets 14


Green Bay (10-4) (-10 1/2) at Tampa Bay (2-12), Sunday, 1 PM - Green Bay can clinch a playoff berth with a win and some help and can still take the NFC North by winning out thanks to a Week 17 matchup with Detroit. MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers had his worst game as a professional against Buffalo’s stout front last weekend but expect him to bounce back against Tampa Bay’s antiquated cover-2-heavy philosophy. Rodgers still leads the NFL with a 111.2 passer rating and the Packers lead the NFC in scoring with 436 points.

Packers 34, Buccaneers 20


New York Giants (5-9) at St. Louis (6-8) (-5), Sunday, 4:05 PM - The Odell Beckham, Jr. show headlines in the Gateway to the West. The spectacular rookie receiver had 12 catches for 143 yards and three TDs last week against Washington, becoming the first rookie in NFL history with 12-plus catches, 140-plus yards and three-plus TDs in a game. The Rams defense, meanwhile, has not allowed a TD in three consecutive games.

Giants 17, Rams 16


Indianapolis (10-4) at Dallas (10-4) (-3), Sunday, 4:25 PM - Dallas holds a precarious one-game lead over Philadelphia in the NFC East after topping the Eagles last weekend while Indianapolis owns the AFC South again after staying undefeated against the Texans in the Hoosier State. With a win and a Philadelphia loss this week, the Cowboys will clinch their division for the first time since 2009. Dallas can also clinch a playoff spot with a win along with losses by Green Bay and Detroit. Indy, meanwhile, won its ninth division title in the past 12 seasons and second in a row behind quarterback Andrew Luck, who is one of only two quarterbacks (Russell Wilson) in the Super Bowl era to lead their teams to at least 10 wins in each of their first three seasons.

Cowboys 28, Colts 24


Buffalo (8-6) (-5 1/2) at Oakland (2-12), Sunday, 4:25 PM - The Bills’ impressive front four takes aim at rookie Derek Carr here. Buffalo leads the NFL with 49 sacks and shut down presumptive NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers last weekend. The Bills are the only team with three players with nine-plus sacks (Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus and Jerry Hughes). Carr leads all NFL freshman in passing yards (2,898) and passing TDs (18), both franchise rookie records.

Bills 20, Raiders 10


Seattle (10-4) (-8) at Arizona (11-3), Sunday 8:30 PM - The Seahawks and Cardinals will meet on Sunday night at University of Phoenix Stadium—the site of Super Bowl XLIX—in a key NFC West showdown. Both teams are currently in control for the division and can clinch the title by winning out. The Cards are the first team in the NFC to clinch a playoff berth but are down to their third-string QB, Ryan Lindley, after losing both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton to injury. A win here would enable Arizona to lock up the NFC West, a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Seattle, however, has won seven of its past eight games, including a Week 12 win over Arizona. A victory this week would give the Seahawks the head-to-head sweep against the Cardinals and put Seattle in position to claim the division for the second year in a row.

Seahawks 17, Cardinals 6


Denver (11-3) (-3) at Cincinnati (9-4-1), Monday, 8:30 PM - Week 16 concludes on Monday night with a matchup of division leaders. The Broncos have already clinched the AFC West for a fourth straight year and can lock up a first-round bye with a win. With two weeks to play, the Bengals hold a half- game lead over both Pittsburgh and Baltimore in the AFC North with a Week 17 visit to the Steel City looming. A triumph here would clinch a playoff spot for Cincinnati and a victory with losses by both Pittsburgh and Baltimore will give the Bengals the division.

Broncos 27, Bengals 21


►  Lions place OT Waddle on IR

The Detroit Lions placed offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday.

Waddle, 23, suffered a partially torn ACL in his left knee during the Lions’ 16-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

The Texas Tech product has played in 22 games (18 starts) over his two pro seasons.


►  49ers cut McDonald amid investigation

The San Francisco 49ers released Ray McDonald on Wednesday after police announced that the veteran defensive tackle is the suspect in a sexual assault investigation.

General manager Trent Baalke said the 49ers notified McDonald and his agent that his contract was terminated.

“Ray has demonstrated a pattern of poor decision-making that is no longer going to be tolerated,“ Baalke said in a statement.

According to an email from the San Jose Police Department, officers responded to a call Tuesday from a local hospital regarding a possible sexual assault victim who was receiving treatment and who said she was assaulted the previous day.

After a preliminary investigation revealed McDonald as the alleged suspect, police served a search warrant on the player’s San Jose home.

Police said McDonald has not been arrested and the investigation is ongoing.

The 49ers stuck with McDonald after he was arrested in August on charges of domestic violence, which were dropped on November 10 due to insufficient evidence. The team, despite some criticism, allowed McDonald to continue playing during the investigation.

A law-enforcement source told the San Jose Mercury News the alleged victim in the sexual assault investigation is not McDonald’s fiancee, who was the reporting party in an earlier domestic violence case.

McDonald, who has spent all eight of his pro seasons with San Francisco, compiled 39 tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble over 14 starts for the 49ers this season. He signed a five-year deal with the team in July 2011.


►  Jags QB Bortles on track to start

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles is on track to start Thursday night’s game against Tennessee as long as he feels OK during a workout before the game, his coach said.

Bortles suffered a sprained right foot on Sunday against Baltimore but played the entire game. He was out of a walking boot on Tuesday and practiced again on a limited basis Wednesday.

Bortles is officially listed as questionable to play, but coach Gus Bradley said Wednesday the team is leaning toward him being on the field against the Titans, according to the Jaguars’ official website.

The rookie was sacked eight times on Sunday while making his 11th consecutive start for the Jaguars.

Backup Chad Henne would start against Tennessee if Bortles is ruled out. The Jaguars signed rookie quarterback Stephen Morris from the practice squad to the active roster.

Henne started the first three games of the season before being replaced by Bortles, who was the No. 3 overall pick in May’s draft.


►  Cowboys’ Murray on field for practice

Dallas Cowboys running back and the NFL’s leading rusher DeMarco Murray was on the field for Wednesday’s practice after undergoing surgery Monday on his fractured left hand.

Murray, who was listed on the injury report as not practicing because he didn’t participate in any of the team’s drills, took part in individual drills and was seen taking handoffs from Brandon Weeden. He had a plastic shell sewn into the top of his glove.

The 26-year-old was hurt late in Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles. He ran for 81 yards with two touchdowns in the 38-27 victory, which lifted Dallas into first place in the NFC East.

Murray has 1,687 yards on the ground and also leads the league with 11 rushing touchdowns.

Joseph Randle took the first-team snaps at running back.

In addition, right tackle Doug Free and right guard Zack Martin did not practice due to ankle injuries and both players are “day-to-day.“