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Wilson, Seahawks close in on NFC West title
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Seattle's defense was stifling as usual and its offense had a record-breaking eruption against a defense that's supposed to be one of the NFL's best. That team from the Pacific Northwest sure looked a lot like the Super Bowl champs of last season in its 35-6 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday night. "I think it feels better than last year," Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett said. Russell Wilson threw for two touchdowns and ran for another and the Seahawks amassed a franchise-record 596 yards to close in on another NFC West title and the No. 1 seed in the conference. "That's about as much fun as you can have playing NFL football in the regular season," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. Seattle (11-4) moved into a tie with Arizona (11-4) for first in the NFC West and holds the tiebreaker by virtue of two wins over the Cardinals. A Seattle win at home over St. Louis in next weekend's regular-season finale would clinch the NFC's No. 1 seed in the NFC. That would have the Seahawks at home throughout the playoffs, until they'd come back to this same Arizona stadium for the Super Bowl. "They're playing awesome football," Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "You can't taking nothing away from that ballclub. They have a championship pedigree, what it takes to win on the road, what it takes to win the division. Obviously, it's not over yet, but they're one step closer." Arizona's only remaining hope of winning the division is to have the Seahawks lose to the Rams and the Cardinals win at San Francisco. Otherwise, Arizona will be relegated to a wild-card spot and a first-round game on the road. The Cardinals would have clinched the No. 1 seed in the conference with a victory. Instead, the Cardinals suffered their most one-sided loss of the season and their only one at home in eight games. Wilson had the longest run of his career (55 yards) and matched the longest pass of his career (80) in the Seahawks' fifth straight victory. Marshawn Lynch sat out the first quarter with what the team called an "upset stomach," then came in to score on a 6-yard run in the second quarter and a spectacular, multiple tackle-breaking 79-yard scoring run in Seattle's 21-point fourth quarter. After his long run, Lynch spun around in the air and grabbed his crotch facing the field before falling to the turf. The Cardinals had their most one-sided loss of the season and their only one at home in eight games. Third-string quarterback Ryan Lindley, pressed into action with an injury to Drew Stanton in the previous game, was 18 for 44 for 216 yards and an interception against a Seattle defense that ranks No. 1 in the NFL and has allowed 33 points in its last five games. "He needed more help," coach Bruce Arians said. "He didn't jump offsides on third-and-goal, that's for sure. Points were going to be a premium for us. Overall, he threw about how we expected him to do." Wilson completed 20 of 31 for 339 yards, including touchdown passes of 80 and 20 yards to tight end Luke Willson. Lynch gained 113 yards on 10 carries, and Wilson ran for 88 yards in six attempts. The blowout would have been worse had Steven Hauschka not missed three field goals. Wilson's 55-yard run on the final play of the first quarter moved the Seahawks past midfield, but Seattle stalled and Hausschka's 52-yard field goal was wide right. Arizona took over at its 42 and, with the help of two Seattle penalties and Arizona moved in to get Catanzaro's first field goal and lead 3-0. On the second play after Arizona's kickoff, Willson got behind the Cardinals' defense, Wilson lofted the ball in perfectly and the 80-yard touchdown play put Seattle up 7-3 with 7:03 to play in the half. Another scramble, of 22 yards, helped set up Lynch's 6-yard touchdown run that made it 14-3 3:41 before the half. It stayed 14-3 until the fourth quarter, when the bottom fell out for the Cardinals in what had been termed the biggest regular-season game in franchise history. Then the three late TDs made it a blowout. Notes: The Seahawks have allowed a combined 33 points in their five-game winning streak. ... Seattle's previous total yards record was 591 at San Diego on Dec. 29, 2002. ... The Cardinals hope to have Stanton back for their playoff opener. .... The Cardinals are 13-3 at home in Arians' two seasons, and two of the losses were to Seattle. ... All 18 points in Arizona's last two games came by field goal. Mon, 22 Dec 2014 04:53:00 +0000
QB Jameis Winston cleared in conduct hearing
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was cleared Sunday of the accusations he faced at a student code of conduct hearing involving an alleged sexual assault two years ago. Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Major Harding wrote in a letter to Winston that the evidence was "insufficient to satisfy the burden of proof." Prosecutor Willie Meggs made a similar decision a year ago when he decided not to criminally charge Winston, citing a lack of evidence. This month, a two-day hearing was held to determine whether Winston violated four sections of the code of conduct - two for sexual misconduct and two for endangerment. The ramifications for Winston ranged from a reprimand to expulsion from school. The woman can request an appeal within five days. "We will consider an appeal but right now we feel a little duped," Baine Kerr, one of the woman's lawyers, said in an emailed statement. "At some point we have to recognize that Florida State is never going to hold James Winston responsible." AP is not identifying the woman because it does not identify people who say they are victims of sexual abuse. "Somehow Jameis Winston still wins," Kerr said. "The order doesn't even follow the Student Conduct Code and it ignores the bulk of the evidence." Kerr said that between his client, Winston, and two teammates that were at the off-campus apartment - Chris Casher and Ronald Darby - only the woman would answer questions about what happened. Winston did submit a lengthy statement detailing his version of events. Florida State president John Thrasher said the university selected the former state Supreme Court justice to remove any doubt about the integrity of the process. "He (Harding) conducted a thorough Student Conduct Code hearing and reviewed more than 1,000 pages of evidence generated by three other investigations, and we would like to thank him sincerely for his service," Thrasher said. Harding wrote that both sides' version of the events had strengths and weaknesses, but he did not find the credibility of one "substantially stronger than the other." "In sum, the preponderance of the evidence has not shown that you are responsible for any of the charged violations of the Code," Harding wrote. Winston family adviser David Cornwell did not respond to requests for comment. Cornwell has contended that attorneys for the former student pushed for the hearing after they were rebuffed in an attempt to reach a settlement with Winston. Florida State faces Oregon in the College Football Playoffs semifinal on Jan. 1. Before the ruling, there were questions whether Winston would be available to play. The Seminoles won a national championship with Winston at the helm last season and have not lost a game since he earned the starting job before the beginning of the 2013 season. Florida State is currently being investigated by the Department of Education on how hit handles possible Title IX violations. The woman who said Winston assaulted her filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, which decided the university should be investigated for possible Title IX violations over the way it responds to sexual violence complaints. Title IX is a federal statute that bans discrimination at schools that receive federal funding. The Department of Education in 2011 warned schools of their legal responsibilities to immediately investigate allegations of sexual assault and domestic violence, even if the criminal investigation has not concluded. Mon, 22 Dec 2014 00:54:00 +0000
Steelers, Packers, Cowboys, Seahawks win, move into playoffs
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers both qualified for the NFL playoffs with wins Sunday. Next week, they will play for division titles at home. Defending Super Bowl champion Seattle also qualified, routing Arizona 35-6, and moved into a tie for the top spot in the NFC West. The Seahawks (11-4) own the tiebreaker over the Cardinals should they both finish with the same record. Dallas clinched the NFC East with a 42-7 romp past Indianapolis, ending any chance for Philadelphia to make the postseason. The Steelers (10-5) beat Kansas City 20-12 to secure at least a wild-card berth. They will win the AFC North by defeating Cincinnati next Sunday night. The Bengals (9-4-1) host Denver (11-3) on Monday night. "It was such a sense of urgency this week, knowing what was at stake. I just thought we answered the challenge," said Pittsburgh defensive end Cam Heyward. Green Bay topped Tampa Bay 20-3 and heads to Lambeau Field for next Sunday's showdown with Detroit for the NFC North crown. Both are 11-4 after the Lions won 20-14 at Chicago. "We've won six out of seven games, so I'd like to classify that as playing a lot of solid football, that's for sure," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. Seattle's lopsided victory gave it a good shot at the top seed in the NFC and was its fifth in a row, ninth in 10 games. It swept Arizona over the last four weeks. The Seahawks host St. Louis, while the Cardinals visit San Francisco. With their wins in Week 16, the Falcons (6-9) and Panthers (6-8-1) set up a winner-take-all game for the NFC South next Sunday at Atlanta. Carolina beat Cleveland 17-13, and Atlanta defeated New Orleans 30-14. "Now it all comes down to one game and that's all we can ask for is to be in that situation," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. New England earned an AFC first-round bye with its 17-16 victory at the New York Jets. It will get home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs by beating Buffalo next week at home. The Patriots are the first team since the current format was adopted in 1990 to get five straight first-round byes. "I'm glad it came out the way it did - makes for a better Christmas," Tom Brady said. Still alive in the AFC are Baltimore (9-6), whose loss to Houston (8-7) also kept the Texans in contention; Kansas City (8-7); and San Diego (9-6), which won Saturday night at San Francisco. The Chargers will be in if they win at Kansas City next weekend. Buffalo (8-7) lost all chance of ending its NFL-high string of non-playoff appearances, now at 15, by falling at Oakland 26-24. The NFC is less muddled, except for which team will get the top seed. Dallas (11-4), which is at Washington next Sunday, Seattle, Arizona, Green Bay and Detroit all have a shot. "In so many ways, this is such a long journey and to get to a point to achieve your first goal of winning the division title, a lot goes into that," said Dallas coach Jason Garrett, in his fourth full season. "I think the way you play in securing that matters, and I thought we played really, really well." --- AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL Mon, 22 Dec 2014 04:51:00 +0000
LeBron scores 25 as Cavaliers tame Grizzlies 105-91
CLEVELAND (AP) LeBron James and Kyrie Irving stepped aside and let one of their teammates polish off an opponent. On Sunday, Dion Waiters finished Memphis. Waiters scored 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter as the Cleveland Cavaliers handled one of the Western Conference's best teams, beating the short-handed Grizzlies 105-91. The Cavs have been waiting for the enigmatic and inconsistent Waiters to become more reliable. It's still a work in progress but Waiters, who has frequently been mentioned in trade rumors over the past two seasons, is showing signs of developing into a steady scorer off the bench. "He's learning every day," said James, who had 25 points and 11 assists. "He's a young guy. He hasn't experienced much in this league, so for him to have a game like he had, we needed it." James scored 16 in the second half and the Cavs shot a season-best 61 percent from the field to improve to just 3-6 against West teams. Anderson Varejao scored 18 and Irving had 17 points and 12 assists for the Cavs, who are 11-3 since their sluggish 5-7 start. Marc Gasol scored 23 and added 11 rebounds for the Grizzlies, who played without forward Zach Randolph. He's nursing a sore and swollen right knee he injured in Friday's loss at Chicago. Jon Leuer added 16 points for Memphis, which dropped to 21-6. Gasol refused to use Randolph's absence as an excuse. "We play who we have," he said. "Whoever's not here is not here. Trust me, we have enough talent in this locker room not just to win tonight but to win the same amount of games we've won so far." Despite not having Randolph, their leading rebounder, Grizzlies were still within 79-74 when the Cavs went on an 8-0 run to take control. Irving triggered the spurt with a basket before Waiters, who was benched in the second half of a win over Brooklyn on Friday, fed James for an alley-oop dunk. Waiters then drained a 3-pointer to cap an 11-3 run, and the backup guard scored eight consecutive points to push Cleveland's lead to 100-83. Waiters scored 11 points in a span of 2:10, assuming the closer role usually played by James and Irving. "When it's not one of those guys nights, somebody's got to step up and my approach every game is to be locked in as far as being consistent and being aggressive at all times, that's just who I am," Waiters said. "I just try to let the game come to me now. I just take what they give me." Cavs coach David Blatt said his team would need to "bring it" to match the Grizzlies' physicality. Cleveland brought it, building a 20-6 lead in the first quarter, helped by Gasol going to the bench after picking up his second personal. The Grizzlies, though, battled back and were only down 11 at halftime. Grizzlies: An MRI taken Saturday on Randolph did not show any structural damage but the Grizzlies are going to be extra cautious with him as he's likely to sit out Monday against Utah. "He's a warrior and I just thought taking a night off isn't the worst thing in the world," said coach David Joerger. "A game or two can help you over the long haul." ... G Tony Allen missed his third straight game with a scratched cornea. ... Leuer's start was first since he was a rookie in 2011-12 for Milwaukee. Cavaliers: Cleveland has won eight of nine at home. .. The Cavs are 9-2 when James has at least nine assists. ... Irving shot 8 for 13. He came in shooting just 37 percent (30 of 81) in his previous five games, but Cavs coach David Blatt isn't worried about his point guard's slump lingering. "Guys go through periods like that," Blatt said. ... During a timeout, F Mike Miller's various hairstyles - long, high and tight and a mullet - were shown on the giant scoreboard, prompting James to turn to his teammate and say, "That's (messed) up, man." PROTEST: During the game several dozen demonstrators gathered outside Quicken Loans Arena to protest the recent death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed by a Cleveland police officer while carrying a toy gun. The group walked to the steps of the building where they were met by about 30 uniformed officers. Grizzlies: Host Utah on Monday. Cavaliers: Host Minnesota on Tuesday. Mon, 22 Dec 2014 04:36:32 +0000
Saints eliminated with 30-14 loss to Falcons
NEW ORLEANS (AP) As Jimmy Graham came down with a catch over the middle with his feet just short of the goal line, the star tight end began writhing in an effort to find just enough leverage to force his way through two Atlanta defenders and into the end zone. Short of using the type of goal-line technology employed in certain soccer and tennis matches, it may be tough to know if Graham did enough to score before safety Kemal Ishmael ripped the ball loose and made a momentum-swinging fumble recovery. And regardless of how long debate rages, it won't change the fact that New Orleans lost the game, 30-14, and was eliminated from playoff contention on Sunday. "Did I think it was a score? Yes," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "It looked pretty clear and yet - look - it is what it is, right? ... It's disappointing." Atlanta (6-9) next meets Carolina (6-8-1) for the NFC South title next week in the Georgia Dome. The Saints (6-9) are left with an anticlimactic visit to Tampa Bay after losing five straight at home in one season for the first time since the 1980 1-15 team. Graham's forward progress appeared to have been stopped by safety Dezmen Southward and Ishmael before the ball came loose, but that was not reviewable. One replay angle showed that the ball may have broken the plane of the goal line, and the Superdome crowd roared when it was shown on large video boards. However, referee John Parry could not find evidence conclusive enough to overturn the call. Parry's announcement spawned a cascade of boos from anxious Saints fans, whose team remained down 20-7 with its playoff hopes fading. "There was nothing clear and undisputable to make a change to the ruling from the field," Parry said. Graham was not present when locker rooms were opened to reporters. Southward said he never had a good look at whether Graham got in. "I was too busy putting my face in his ribs. I was just trying to keep him out," Southward said. "All that credit goes to Kemal, obviously coming in and not quitting on the play." Brees said he thought Graham scored, calling the consequences of the ruling, "huge." While the play was a momentum changer, the Saints might have lost anyway. After not practicing or playing for about two weeks, Jones caught seven passes for 107 yards. "For him to gut it out and to go play the way he did today, I think speaks volumes about his grit, his toughness but also showcases what a stud he is," said quarterback Matt Ryan, who completed 30 of 40 passes for 322 yards and a touchdown. Falcons running back Devonta Freeman added a 31-yard score. The Saints committed three turnovers in the fourth quarter and were eliminated officially with Carolina's victory over Cleveland. New Orleans still had a chance to drive for a winning score in the final three minutes, but Robert McClain's interception in Saints territory set up a Falcons field goal. Payton thought his defense was "good enough" against Atlanta's respected offense, adding, "Offensively, we weren't good enough." Atlanta sacked Brees five times. Brees finished 30 of 47 for 313 yards and one touchdown to Graham, which pulled the Saints as close as 20-14 with 5:48 to go. Brees was also intercepted by Desmond Trufant on a fourth-down pass in the first half. In the final seconds, Osi Umenyiora returned Brees' fumble for an 86-yard TD, turning and waving goodbye to Atlanta's long-time rivals as he trotted downfield. The result brought forth a devastating realization for the Saints, who'd sought a fifth playoff berth in six seasons. "As we walk out of this stadium, every person you see, you feel like you let that guy down today, and that's tough," right tackle Zach Strief said. "We deserve it. We got exactly what we deserved." Seeking to fire up the home crowd in a crucial game, the Saints changed their introductions, turning off the house lights during a pyrotechnic display while fans held up their mobile phones as if at a concert. Fans were in a frenzy when Jalen Saunders returned the opening kickoff 99 yards to set up Mark Ingram's 1-yard touchdown run. But those celebrations were short-lived as the Falcons scored the next 20 points. "It's disappointing to know that with two games left we controlled our own destiny," Brees said. "If we win we're in, and we were not able to do that." --- AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL Mon, 22 Dec 2014 00:50:00 +0000