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49ers squander 21-point lead in 4th straight loss

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Colin Kaepernick jumped into the open arms of his leaping coach and all seemed right with the San Francisco 49ers for a few hours Saturday night. Then, in a matter of minutes, a matter of three clutch completions by Philip Rivers, the good feelings were gone. Just when San Francisco seemed poised for a rare celebratory moment between embattled fourth-year coach Jim Harbaugh and his highly criticized quarterback, Rivers changed everything and sent the 49ers to a fourth straight defeat. After Rivers led a 21-point rally in the second half, Nick Novak kicked a 40-yard field goal nearly 5 minutes into overtime to give the Chargers a 38-35 victory over the 49ers on Saturday night. Rivers completed his fourth touchdown pass of the day with a tying 11-yard TD pass to Malcom Floyd with 29 seconds left in regulation after completing a pair of fourth-and-longs as the Chargers (9-6) forced overtime. Phil Dawson's 60-yard field goal attempt for San Francisco as regulation ended fell way short. Quinton Patton then fumbled in overtime to set up San Diego's winning drive. A lot went right for San Francisco when it really didn't matter. Six days after the Niners' season essentially ended with playoff elimination at Seattle, Kaepernick, Frank Gore and the 49ers finally got it together in all phases - for most of the night, that is. On second down during the 49ers' first drive of overtime, Quinton Patton got loose in the open field on an end around for 20 yards and fumbled on his way down when Eric Weddle knocked the ball loose and nose tackle Sean Lissemore recovered at the San Diego 38. That gave Rivers the opportunity he needed to get his team into position. The 49ers blew just their second game when leading by 21 or more at halftime and lost their fourth straight game under embattled coach Jim Harbaugh. They lost 42-41 to Minnesota on Oct. 24, 1965, after leading 35-14 at halftime. Colin Kaepernick ran 90 yards for a touchdown and Gore had a 52-yard touchdown run as the Niners (7-8) grabbed early momentum. "Right now there's not much to say," Harbaugh said. "That's a tough one." Rivers threw touchdown passes of 21 and 1 yard to Antonio Gates and another to Eddie Royal, but also was hurt by three interceptions. On one of those, Antoine Bethea ran an interception back 49 yards for his first career touchdown, and a defense minus recently released starting lineman Ray McDonald never let Rivers find a rhythm. The 31-year-old Gore finished with 158 yards and he needs 38 yards in the final game next weekend against Arizona for a fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season and eighth in his 10 NFL seasons. His scoring run was his longest since a 64-yarder on Nov. 1, 2009, at Indianapolis. It also was the longest TD run allowed by San Diego since 2010 before Kaepernick topped it. Gore had more yards in this game than in his previous four combined, and New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez was in attendance wearing the running back's red No. 21 jersey. Gore broke four tackles on his 52-yard touchdown run in the first quarter six days after a concussion. The 49ers became the first team since at least 1960 to rush for as many as 355 yards in a loss. Kansas City had the previous high of 352 in a 20-13 loss to the Colts on Dec. 23, 2012. Rookie Bruce Ellington caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from Kaepernick early in the second quarter that put the Niners up 21-0, then ran for a 1-yard score in the waning moments before leaving with a hamstring injury. In one half, San Francisco topped its combined scoring total from the previous three games of 23 points. The Niners had their biggest lead since going ahead 28-3 in the third quarter of the season opener at Dallas - and their first lead by 21 points at home since a 34-3 victory against Houston on Oct. 6, 2013. Rivers, 33 for 54 for 356 yards, had his team driving late in the first quarter before throwing an interception picked off by Perrish Cox. Unclear whether ailing, Rivers didn't look comfortable. He sat out Wednesday's practice with neck and back injuries, and he was without running back Ryan Mathews and wide receiver Keenan Allen. Harbaugh, who is facing a constant swirl of speculation about his future - like a report alma mater Michigan has made him a six-year offer to coach the Wolverines - has said there's still plenty to play for, like a winning season despite the disappointment following three straight trips to the NFC championship game. Four players sustained concussions or head injuries - 49ers safety Eric Reid and San Diego cornerback Shareece Wright with concussions and San Francisco cornerback Leon McFadden and linebacker Aldon being evaluated for a head injuries. NOTES: 49ers RT Anthony Davis returned for the first time since Nov. 9 after missing four games with a concussion. ... Cox's fifth interception moved him into a tie for third place in the NFC. ... 49ers S Bubba Ventrone and WR Brandon Lloyd suffered groin injuries. --- Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Sun, 21 Dec 2014 05:58:00 +0000
Gruden praises RG3 after Redskins top Eagles 27-24

LANDOVER, Md. (AP) After all the negative things Jay Gruden has said about Robert Griffin III, the Washington Redskins' coach found some positives to discuss after the quarterback earned his first complete-game win in more than a year. So maybe they'll figure out a way to coexist next season, after all. Back as the starter because of an injury to Colt McCoy, Griffin threw for 220 yards and led the drive that resulted in Kai Forbath's 26-yard go-ahead field goal with 5 seconds left Saturday night. The Redskins beat the Eagles 27-24, pushing Philadelphia to the brink of elimination from playoff contention. "You have to be impressed with his performance," Gruden said. "I just thought he managed the game extremely well, getting out of the huddle and no delay-of-game penalties. He competed, man, and that's what you want to see a quarterback do - be a `competer,' be a leader. I told him before the game, `I don't care if you go 14 for 100, 10 for 10, or 1 for 1, man, just as long as we get the W."' Wins have been few and far between in Gruden's first season as an NFL head coach: This victory ended a six-game losing streak for Washington (4-11). Griffin, the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the year, hadn't been in from start to finish of a win since beating San Diego in overtime on Nov. 3, 2013. "It really isn't about me. This one's about this team. We've been through the wringer a little bit this year. We've been through a lot of adversity, a lot of mess," Griffin said. "Guys have responded." He was benched a few weeks ago, but regained the job by default because McCoy went on injured reserve this week with a neck injury. "Everybody's helped me get through this time," Griffin said. Griffin still looked a bit awkward and unsure at times, and threw an interception in the fourth quarter, but there were flashes of improvement as a drop-back passer. He connected with former Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson for two big gains - 51 yards in the second quarter, and 55 in the third. "Robert did a great job, getting the ball out of his hands and making good decisions," said Gruden, who earlier this season was publicly critical of Griffin's flaws as a QB. The Redskins certainly got plenty of help from the Eagles (9-6), who now have lost three games in a row and will be out of the hunt for a postseason berth if NFC East leader Dallas beats Indianapolis on Sunday. There were a couple of missed field-goal attempts in the third quarter - from 34 and 46 yards, both wide right - by Cody Parkey, who had botched two tries all season, going 29 of 31 until Saturday. There were three roughing-the-passer penalties by the Eagles, including two in a span of four plays during a drive that ended with one of Redskins fullback Darrell Young's two 1-yard TD runs in the third quarter. And there were Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez's turnovers. He fumbled on the game's opening possession - setting up a field goal by Forbath - and then threw an interception to Bashaud Breeland with 1 1/2 minutes left that led to Washington's six-play, 50-yard last drive. On the first play, Griffin completed a 23-yard pass to Pierre Garcon, before five runs by Alfred Morris. "You cherish those moments, those moments when you can go out there and lead your team to victory on that final, last drive," Griffin said. "And everybody was locked in." Notes: Morris went over 1,000 yards for the season, making him the only the team's second player - along with Stephen Davis - to gain at least that many three years in a row. ... Injured Redskins included LT Trent Williams (re-aggravated right shoulder) and LB Trent Murphy (broken bone in right hand). --- Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich --- AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Sun, 21 Dec 2014 02:35:00 +0000
No. 23 Utah routs Colorado St in Las Vegas Bowl

LAS VEGAS (AP) Utah quarterback Travis Wilson ran for three touchdowns and passed for another Saturday, leading the No. 23 Utes to a 45-10 rout of Colorado State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Wilson rushed for a season-high 91 yards on 11 carries and completed 17 of 26 passes for 158 yards. Utah (9-4) scored three times in the first quarter and finished with 548 total yards, including 359 on the ground. Devontae Booker ran for 162 yards and a TD and Troy McCormick ran for 86. Colorado State (10-3) fell behind in the first three minutes and never got its vaunted offense in gear. Garrett Grayson completed 21 of 35 passes for 242 yards, but he was unable to avoid Utah's rush in the second half when the Rams were forced to throw the ball.

Sun, 21 Dec 2014 00:28:00 +0000
Celtics trade Rondo to Mavericks

BOSTON (AP) The Boston Celtics traded point guard Rajon Rondo to Dallas on Thursday night, cutting ties with the last remnant of their last NBA championship while giving Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks a chance at another title. The Celtics will send Rondo and forward Dwight Powell to Dallas for Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, Brandan Wright, two draft picks and a $12.9 million trade exception. "Welcome to Rajon Rondo the newest member of the Dallas Mavericks," team owner Mark Cuban wrote on the social media application Cyber Dust shortly before the official announcement. Cuban also thanked the three departing players, calling them "Amazing players and better people." Boston got a first-round pick in next year's draft and a second-rounder in 2016. The Celtics have eight first-round picks in the next four years, picking them up in trades for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and even coach Doc Rivers as they shed the pieces of the New Big Three that earned the franchise its unprecedented 17th NBA title in 2008. "We would not have won Banner 17 without Rajon and will always consider him one of our most valuable Celtics," the team's owners said in a joint statement. "We will always cherish the time he was here." The Mavericks get a pass-first point guard - a four-time all-star - to team with Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler in what they hope will make them a contender again. Dallas is 19-8 this season but in third place in the Southwest Division and sixth in the Western Conference. The Mavericks, who won their only NBA title in 2011, have not won a playoff series since. The deal has been years in the making, with the Celtics shopping Rondo every time a coach grows tired of his moods or his contract expectations grow too large for their budget. But every previous time Boston management decided that the offers weren't enough. Celtics general manager Danny Ainge found a partner in Dallas, which is coached by his former Boston teammate Rick Carlisle. Rondo, 28, joined the rebuilding Celtics as the 21st overall pick out of Kentucky in 2006 and became the point guard for an NBA champion in his second year when Boston acquired Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett the next summer. They helped the Celtics reach the NBA finals again two years later. With the once-proud franchise mired in what now looks to be an extended rebuilding process, though, Rondo became more valuable as a trading chip. Due to be a free agent at the end of the season, he was reportedly expecting a contract at or near the NBA maximum. Rondo has averaged 11 points, 8.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds over his career. He missed the second half of the 2012-13 season and the first half of last season to have reconstructive knee surgery, and then reportedly fell in the shower in Las Vegas on the eve of training camp and missed all of the preseason. In 22 games this season for Boston, Rondo had an NBA-best 10.8 assists per game and also averaged 8.3 points and 7.5 rebounds. Nelson, who signed a two-year, $5.5 million deal last summer after 10 seasons in Orlando, was starting at point guard for Dallas, averaging 7.3 points and 4.1 assists while shooting 37 percent from the field. Wright has played about 19 minutes a game, averaging 8.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. Crowder has averaged 3.6 points per game for Dallas. Powell has totaled nine points and nine minutes in five games for Boston this season as the Celtics (9-14) opened their second season under new coach Brad Stevens. --- AP Basketball Writer Jon Krawczynski and AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.

Fri, 19 Dec 2014 02:36:00 +0000
Bears bench QB Jay Cutler for Clausen

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) The thought crossed Jay Cutler's mind as soon as he found out he was being benched: He might have played his final game for Chicago. The Bears announced Thursday that they will start Jimmy Clausen against the Detroit Lions on Sunday instead of the man who signed a massive, seven-year deal at the end of last season. Coach Marc Trestman said Cutler will be available as the backup at Soldier Field, where boos have rained down on a punchless, porous team that is now 5-9 and playing out the string after starting the season with legitimate hopes of a playoff run. They will miss the postseason for the seventh time in eight years and it's unclear whether Trestman - or Cutler - will be back for another try next year. "I would like to stay here," Cutler said. "I really like it here. I love the guys in the locker room that I get to play with. Clearly, it's a different circumstance now. But going forward, this is where I'd like to be." The move comes after Trestman pledged his allegiance to Cutler as the starter several times the past few weeks. "Certainly, it was not an easy decision," Trestman said. "In my mind those types of decisions never are, and I worked it through and think it through not only myself but with our staff." Trestman said he met with general manager Phil Emery on Tuesday and informed Cutler and Clausen of his decision on Wednesday. He met again with Emery later in the day to discuss his decision and informed the staff that night. Did Emery support the decision? Trestman paused for a few seconds, then said: "That's the way we are with each other. When we make decisions, we support it. We give our opinions and then we actively and passionately support each other with the decisions that we have to make. That's the way it's been the last two years. We talk thoroughly about it. We talk analytically about it. We talk passionately about it. And once a decision is made, we support each other." Cutler was taken aback by the decision, saying that he was "Shocked, I think at first. And then, I think disappointed." He said he could play for Trestman next season, although there would have to be some mending to the relationship during the offseason. Asked if he believed the team was committed to him, Cutler responded: "I don't know if I can answer that." Does he wonder about that? "Yeah," Cutler said. "I think everyone would. It's a natural response to wonder that." The switch adds more fuel to the idea that the Bears are in a state of dysfunction and that the future of everyone from Emery on down is open to discussion. There has been plenty of speculation about Trestman, now in his second year, not to mention defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. Cutler's future is also in question despite the big contract. "All I know is there's a lot of money involved in my contract, which comes with a lot of expectations and a lot of responsibility," he said, when asked if the change was fair. "And whenever you're not winning and performing the way you should, there's a likelihood that could happen." Cutler leads the league in interceptions (18) and turnovers (24) and he was benched after arguably his worst game of the season in Monday's loss to New Orleans. He threw three interceptions and got sacked a season-high seven times as the Bears fell meekly at home to the Saints, 31-15. That performance came after Kromer admitting he was a source behind a report by the NFL Network criticizing the quarterback's ability to identify when plays should be changed at the line. Kromer might have sealed his fate with his leak and admission. But there could be a long list of personnel taking the fall. The defense has ranked among the league's worst in two years with Tucker, and the offense has taken a big step back in Year 2 under Trestman. Then there's Emery, who fired Lovie Smith after a 10-win season in 2012 and chose Trestman over Bruce Arians, now rolling with the Cardinals. He also signed Cutler to that seven-year contract at the end of last season when the Bears could have applied the franchise tag instead. Even so, the timing of the benching seems curious considering the Bears are out of contention. Trestman, who came with a reputation for getting the most out of quarterbacks, acknowledged this week that has not happened with Cutler. So the Bears are going with Clausen, the former Notre Dame star. He has appeared in three games this season and attempted nine passes, completing three. H "Obviously, it's tough on him," Clausen, who was 1-9 in 10 starts as a rookie with Carolina in 2010, said of Cutler. "Being the starting quarterback and coach going a different way, it's obviously going to be tough on him, but he's been great with me." --- Online: AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Thu, 18 Dec 2014 22:49:00 +0000
Jaguars hold off Titans late, win 21-13 in home finale

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Blake Bortles revived a stagnant offense. Jordan Todman provided some cushion. And Sen'Derrick Marks sealed it with the most rewarding sack of his career. The trio provided all the highlights in the Jacksonville Jaguars' 21-13 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Thursday night. In a matchup that was widely billed as unwatchable, Bortles, Todman and Marks offered some compelling moments in a relatively meaningless game. "The neat thing about this was different guys stood up at different times," Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. Bortles completed 13 of 26 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown, a 4-yard pass to Marcedes Lewis that got Jacksonville going late in the second quarter. He also ran for 50 yards playing with a sprained right foot. "I wasn't going out there if I couldn't move around and help the offense," Bortles said. Todman's 62-yard run put the Jaguars ahead for good. He juked one defender and stiff-armed another in his first carry of the night, ending his first score of the season with a leap into the stands. Marks' play, though, got the most attention. With the Titans driving, Marks sacked Charlie Whitehurst on the final play. It gave him 8 1/2 sacks on the season, triggering a $600,000 bonus in his contract. "What a great way to end the night," Bradley said. Marks stood up and starting rubbing his fingers together before getting mobbed by teammates near midfield. "Oh, we're going to spend some of that money," Jaguars defensive end Red Bryant said. The Jaguars (3-12) won for the second time in four weeks thanks to a rejuvenated offense that had scored just two touchdowns in the previous four games. Playing the Titans (2-13) surely aided the effort. Tennessee lost its ninth consecutive game and moved a step closer to securing the No. 1 draft pick. "It was more about mistakes that we made than anything else because when we did it right - as you can see by most of the first half - we played pretty good," Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said. The Jaguars had only 16 yards of offense until Bortles led them on an 80-yard drive at the end of the first half, ending it with the jump ball to Lewis in the left corner of the end zone. The Jaguars got the ball to start the second half, and Bortles found Marquise Lee on a 34-yard catch-and-run on third-and 7. After two more completions, Jacksonville went to some trickery with a backward to Cecil Shorts III, who then threw across the field to Todman to the 9. It looked as if Jacksonville would have to settle for a tying field when Bortles was flushed from the pocket and scrambled down the sideline to the 2 on third-and-goal. But linebacker Avery Williamson was called for holding Lewis away from the play, giving the Jaguars new life. Toby Gerhart punched it in from the 1 on the next play. The turnaround for the Jaguars was surprising. Losers of seven of their last eight games, the Jaguars had only two offensive touchdowns in their previous 46 drives over four games and nearly two quarters, and just like that, Bortles took them down the field for touchdowns on consecutive drives. That was a bright spot in a game otherwise devoid of them early. For the final NFL game on Thursday night this year, about the only thing at stake was the inside track for the No. 1 pick, and likely a slightly easier schedule. In this case, the loser had more to gain. The Titans were led by third-stringer Whitehurst, who was replacing Zach Mettenberger. Whitehurst couldn't miss at the start, and for the first time this year, the Titans scored a touchdown on their opening possession. Tennessee made it 10-0 in the second and had a 179-16 advantage in yards. But things turned from there, with Bortles, Todman and Marks providing the big plays. "It was a great feeling," Todman said. "You're looking up at the scoreboard just hoping you don't get caught from behind. It was a great call. The line did a good job. I made a guy miss and then it was off to the races. It was just what we needed - just what I needed." Notes: The Jaguars gave up four sacks, giving them 66 for the season and breaking the franchise record of 63 set in 2001. Jacksonville has allowed at least four sacks in six consecutive games. ... Jaguars RB Toby Gerhart left the game with bruised ribs, tried to return and then sat out for good late. He finished with 53 yards on 12 carries. ... Titans defensive coordinator Ray Horton was on the sideline for the first time this season. ... After NFL observers complained and maybe threatened a fine, Jaguars LB J.T. Thomas removed his teal-tinted visor at halftime. --- AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Fri, 19 Dec 2014 05:07:00 +0000
Jones scores 21 to lead No. 2 Duke over UConn

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Freshman point guard Tyus Jones scored 21 points, Justise Winslow hit two key baskets late in the game and No. 2 Duke responded to a tongue lashing by coach Mike Krzyzewski to beat defending national champion Connecticut 66-56 on Thursday night. Winslow and Jahlil Okafor - the other two members of the Blue Devils' trio of talented freshmen - added 12 points apiece. Ahead 30-25 at the break, Duke (10-10) got off to a slow start in the second half and UConn (4-4) tied it, raising Coach K's ire. Amile Jefferson added 11 points and 13 rebounds for Duke in a game that had the feel and intensity of a NCAA tournament contest. Ryan Boatright had 22 points to lead the Huskies. Kentan Facey added 14 points and Daniel Hamilton had 10.

Fri, 19 Dec 2014 03:37:00 +0000
49ers' Harbaugh mum on reported offer

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is declining to respond to reports that he is weighing an offer from Michigan to become the new football coach at his alma mater. Harbaugh has one season remaining on the $25 million, five-year contract he signed in January 2011. Several media outlets, including ESPN and the NFL Network, have reported Harbaugh has a six-year offer on the table from the Wolverines to return to Ann Arbor. "As you know, I'll only talk about the job that I have. We've been together a long time and it's a longstanding policy," Harbaugh said Thursday. All season long, he has said he won't let outside issues affect him. His name has emerged as a possible candidate for what should be several NFL vacancies after the season if Harbaugh and the 49ers part ways, including to fill the job across the bay in Oakland. San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke said this week that a decision on Harbaugh's future would come after the season. The Niners (7-7) were eliminated from playoff contention in last Sunday's 17-7 loss at Seattle, giving them their first three-game losing streak under Harbaugh. San Francisco had reached three straight NFC championship games, losing the Super Bowl after the 2012 season. "Trent and I have discussions every day," Harbaugh said, noting he still intends to coach out his contract. "I have said that I'm going to finish this `til the end. My focus is the same as the players' focus, the same as the coaches' focus, focused on the practice field, focused in meetings, by our players, by our coaches and by me." Harbaugh said the 49ers still have plenty to play for in their final two games, Saturday at home against San Diego and next week hosting Arizona - like ending with a winning record. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who worked on Harbaugh's staff at Stanford before joining him in the jump to the NFL, said everybody wants to end this season on a positive note despite all the outside chatter about the coach's future. "We don't talk about that stuff at all. We're focused on the Chargers, all that water cooler talk is just that," Roman said. When asked whether he still has a special affinity for the Michigan program and university, Harbaugh again wouldn't bite. "Again, I really don't want to talk about any other job than the one I have or talk about anybody else's process," Harbaugh said. --- AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Thu, 18 Dec 2014 23:25:00 +0000
Yankees GM Cashman: A-Rod now a full-time DH

NEW YORK (AP) Alex Rodriguez faces a diminished role in his return to the New York Yankees, who have stripped A-Rod of his third-base job and plan to limit his role to full-time designated hitter - at most. General manager Brian Cashman said Tuesday that A-Rod's days as an everyday fielder are over in the Bronx and Chase Headley will start at third after agreeing this week to a $52 million, four-year contract. Coming off a season-long suspension for violations of baseball's drug agreement and labor contract, Rodriguez will have to compete with Martin Prado for time as Headley's backup at third. "I can't expect Alex to be anything," Cashman said during a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "I've got to think the worst and hope for the best. Even before the suspension, he wasn't the same player at third base on the defensive or offensive side. And that was before the suspension. "And now he's been out of the game for a year. He's approaching 40 years of age. And just to automatically assume given his circumstances that he'll be able to plug right in, play third as an everyday guy and hold up and be productive, I think that would be dangerous thinking from my perspective, in the seat I'm sitting in." Rodriguez turns 40 in July and has not played a full season since 2007 because of leg injuries, operations on both hips and the suspension. Cashman said A-Rod will have to prove to manager Joe Girardi he can play the field. "So given all that circumstance, we look forward to him hopefully solidifying himself as a tremendous DH for us, and if he shows he has retained athleticism, then he can play third as a choice when Joe decides to give Headley a rest," Cashman said. "He can compete for Joe's thought process, whether it's Prado swinging over or Alex playing third." Cashman said he has not spoken with Rodriguez about his new role. "I don't need to. I've been very consistent with my conversations publicly from October on," he said. "I have not heard from Alex on any of that, and I know he reads all this stuff." Rodriguez is owed $61 million by the Yankees in the final three seasons of his contract, and New York could use improvement at DH - its players there combined to hit .230 this year (12th in the AL) with 18 homers (11th), 63 RBIs (13th), a .290 on-base percentage (14th) and a .372 slugging percentage (12th), according to STATS. Acquired from San Diego in July, Headley convinced the Yankees to keep him. He will get $13 million each year and the chance to earn an additional $1 million annually in performance bonuses based on plate appearances. He would receive a one-time $1 million assignment bonus if traded. "We measure a lot of different things on the hitting analytics as well as our scouting assessments of him," Cashman said. "He's got plate discipline. He's got power. ... We like his leadership. We like his abilities. We think he's an exceptional defender." Headley hit .229 with seven homers and 32 RBIs last season for the Padres and .262 with six homers and 17 RBIs in 191 at-bats for New York. His offense improved after a herniated disk in his back was treated with an epidural injection June 20. "If the back rears its ugly head, we know the process necessary to deal with that. So it was a risk that we felt worth taking," Cashman said. New York anticipates Headley, a 2012 Gold Glove winner, will be joined in the infield most days by Didi Gregorius at shortstop, Prado at second and Mark Teixeira at first. "We believe we now have a very strong defensive infield," Cashman said, "that will serve our pitching staff and our run prevention well."

Tue, 16 Dec 2014 23:07:00 +0000
Sprint to end NASCAR sponsorship after 2016 season

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Sprint informed NASCAR it won't extend title sponsorship of the top Sprint Cup Series beyond its current contract, which expires after the 2016 season. "Sprint has long benefited from the unprecedented level of brand integration available in NASCAR, and the passionate fan base that is the most loyal in sports," Steve Gaffney, vice president of marketing for Sprint, said in a Tuesday statement. "Without question, the NASCAR sponsorship property has been a valuable investment for us and will be for our successor. "As we look to the future, Sprint is focused on investing in maintaining a competitive edge and providing consumers with the best value in wireless," The wireless carrier assumed a 10-year sponsorship agreement with NASCAR when it acquired Nextel in 2005. The Nextel Cup Series became the Sprint Cup Series in 2008, and Sprint later agreed to a three-year extension that took the contract through 2016. Now, the company is citing "a need to focus more directly on its core business priorities," in ending its relationship with NASCAR. SoftBank bought out Sprint in 2013 and the change in leadership has led to a new CEO and changing marketing strategies. The announcement Tuesday gives NASCAR two seasons to find a replacement, and NASCAR chief communications officer Brett Jewkes said the series understands that significant changes within Sprint led to the decision. "The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is a very unique, premium sports marketing platform with strong momentum, so we are very confident of moving forward in 2017 with an outstanding new partner," Jewkes said in a statement. "In the meantime, we look forward to Sprint's partnership on the best racing series in the world for the next two seasons." Sprint's exit means NASCAR will enter a new entitlement agreement for just the fourth time since 1971, when RJ Reynolds began its 33-year sponsorship of the top series through its Winston brand. RJR pulled out after the 2003 season and Nextel stepped in until Sprint's corporate merger. Since Sprint stepped in, the wireless carrier has implemented fan-friendly innovations ranging from a new generation scanner in 2005, a mobile app in 2008 and the Miss Sprint Cup ambassador program in 2007. The Miss Sprint Cup program has more than 1.5 million social media followers. Sprint is also responsible for funding the season-ending point fund, which was approximately $22 million this past season and awarded $4.8 million to first-time champion Kevin Harvick. Sprint also promotes the series through various marketing campaigns. "Much like 2004, this is an enormous opportunity for a prospective sponsor to join one of the country's most popular sports on its highest level," Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage said. "NASCAR has reached out in advance to industry people like myself to assist them in identifying a replacement title sponsor. We encourage NASCAR to find an active, supportive and long-term sponsor with broad consumer reach and minimal category conflict that proves beneficial to the entire industry in the future." NASCAR signed a deal with Xfinity this year to replace Nationwide as entitlement sponsor of the second-tier series, and NASCAR extended its current deal with Camping World through 2022 for title sponsor of its Truck Series.

Tue, 16 Dec 2014 23:15:00 +0000