Sunday, January 24, 2010

Hartley boots Saints past Vikes 31-28, into Super Bowl

2009-10 NFL POSTSEASON SPECIAL COVERAGE – NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

After 43 seasons of mostly awful football and one tragedy that shook the Gulf Coast and gutted the Louisiana Superdome, the New Orleans Saints are headed for their first Super Bowl.

Garrett Hartley kicked a 40-yard field goal in overtime to push the Saints past the Vikings 31-28 in the NFC title game in New Orleans Sunday night.

The Saints (15-3) move on to face AFC champion Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami Feb. 7. The Colts downed the Jets 30-17 Sunday.

Minnesota (13-5) held the ball almost nine minutes longer than New Orleans and outgained the Saints 475 yards to 257. But the Vikings committed five turnovers, compared to the Saints’ one.

Vikings quarterback Brett Favre set the NFL record for most playoff completions, surpassing Joe Montana’s mark. Favre has hit 481 of his postseason throws during his time with Green Bay and Minnesota.

Before the Saints could win the game in overtime, they first had to survive a Favre-led Minnesota charge in regulation. The Vikings took possession with just over 2:30 left and had marched into field goal range, reaching the New Orleans 33 with 19 seconds left. But Minnesota was penalized for having 12 men in the huddle, pushing the Vikings back five yards and creating a third-and-15 situation, forcing Minnesota to try to gain more yardage.

Favre then rolled out and threw deep for Sidney Rice, but New Orleans cornerback Tracy Porter, who had earlier been flagged for a crucial pass interference penalty and missed a third-down tackle, stepped in front of the throw with 7 seconds left in regulation.

New Orleans won the coin toss to begin overtime and took care of business from there. Pierre Thomas returned the kickoff 40 yards to the Saints’ 39. Quarterback Drew Brees threw incomplete on third-and-6, but Minnesota’s Asher Allen was penalized for holding, giving New Orleans a first down.

Thomas dove over the pile on fourth-and-inches for a first down to the Vikings 41 and Minnesota’s Ben Leber was penalized for pass interference, moving the ball to the New Orleans 29. Reggie Bush lost five yards before Brees hit Robert Meachem for 12. Brees threw incomplete on third down, setting the stage for Hartley, who missed a potential 37-yard game-winning kick in final seconds of the Saints’ regular-season loss to Tampa Bay.

Not this time. Hartley hit this 40-yarder right down the middle with just under five minutes gone in the extra session to send the Saints to Miami.

New Orleans surrendered a touchdown on the opponent’s game-opening drive for the second straight week. Favre hit Jim Kleinsasser for 12 yards and Adrian Peterson caught a pass and broke a tackle for 11 before breaking loose and cutting left for a 19-yard touchdown. Ryan Longwell’s extra point capped the 10-play, 80-yard drive.

The Saints punched in their first score on their first possession. Meachem caught a screen on third-and-5 for seven yards, Marques Colston made a reception over the middle for 13 and an encroachment penalty on the Vikings’ Pat Williams gave New Orleans a first down.

Thomas then caught a screen pass and took it 58 yards down the sideline to the end zone. Hartley evened the score at 7.

Minnesota retook the lead immediately, with some help from the Saints defense. Favre threw incomplete on third-and-5, but New Orleans’ Randall Gay was penalized for holding, keeping the drive alive. Bernard Berrian caught a pass for 15 yards, the Saints’ Bobby McCray drew a flag for unnecessary roughness and Percy Harvin caught a pass for 20 over the middle on third-and-7.

Rice then hauled in a 5-yard touchdown on third-and-goal, and Longwell put the Vikings up 14-7.

Two possessions later, New Orleans tied the game again in the second quarter. Bush made a reception for 28 yards on third-and-10, David Thomas caught a pass for 11, Pierre Thomas ran for 12 and Brees found a leaping Devery Henderson on play-action for a 9-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone.

The Saints narrowly avoided disaster in the last minute of the first half. Bush muffed a punt, with Minnesota’s Eric Frampton jarring the ball loose and Kenny Onatolu recovering at the New Orleans 10-yard line.

But Favre and Peterson couldn’t get the handoff exchange right, putting the ball on the turf, and Scott Fujita came up with it for the Saints, allowing New Orleans to let the half expire.

A key special-teams play jump-started New Orleans’ first score of the third quarter. Courtney Roby returned the second-half opening kickoff 61 yards, the longest in Saints playoff history. David Thomas caught a pass for 17 yards and Pierre Thomas ran for nine yards up the middle, stretching the ball across the goal line for a touchdown. Hartley’s boot gave the Saints a 21-14 edge.

Minnesota re-knotted the score on its first possession of the half. Rice caught a pass for 13 Favre then found Visanthe Shiancoe for completions of 26 yards on play-action, 20 yards and 21 on play-action to convert third-and-2. Peterson hammered in the 1-yard touchdown, and Longwell tied the game.

The Saints defense then forced two straight turnovers, and the offense took advantage of the second one. Jonathan Vilma intercepted Favre, but New Orleans was forced to punt. The Saints’ Will Smith then forced a Harvin fumble, and Remi Ayodele scooped up the ball and ran to the Vikings 7.

Three plays later, Brees found Bush in the flat for a 5-yard touchdown, which was ruled a score after replay. Hartley’s point-after put New Orleans up 28-21 with just under 13 minutes to play in regulation.

After another turnover deep in New Orleans territory, Minnesota finally put together another scoring drive. Taking over at his own 43 after a Saints punt, Favre hit Shiancoe for 16 yards to convert third-and-6. Peterson ran for 18 yards up the middle, New Orleans’ Porter was penalized for pass interference in the end zone and Peterson ran two yards up the middle for a touchdown. Longwell tied the game at 28 with 5 minutes left in regulation.

Brees went 17 for 31 for 197 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Pierre Thomas ran for 61 yards and a score on 14 carries.

Favre completed 28 of 46 passes for 310 yards, a score and two picks. Peterson amassed 122 yards on 25 carries and three touchdowns, though he had two of Minnesota’s five fumbles. Berrian made nine receptions for 102 yards, Shiancoe caught four passes for 83 yards and Rice made four receptions for 43 yards and a touchdown.

NOTES:
This was the first NFC title game hosted by the Saints. … New Orleans’ opening touchdown drive was the first against the Vikings all season. … Montana completed 460 passes during his playoff career. … Minnesota finished with a 4-5 record on the road. The Vikings went 9-0 at home. … Minnesota had beaten the Saints four straight times. … Favre limped off the field and sustained a left-ankle injury after being hit by McCray while throwing his interception to Vilma. He did not miss an offensive snap. … Harvin, the league’s offensive rookie of the year, was active for Minnesota despite missing three practices this week with migraines.

BOX SCORE

Video credit – FOX

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Jets march on with 17-14 victory in San Diego

2009-10 NFL POSTSEASON SPECIAL COVERAGE – AFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS

Four weeks after being left for dead by their own coach, the New York Jets have ridden a stellar defense, a strong running game and a rookie quarterback all the way to the AFC championship game.

Shonn Greene ran for 128 yards and a touchdown and the Jets defense intercepted San Diego’s Philip Rivers twice to lead New York to a 17-14 win over the Chargers in San Diego in the AFC divisional playoffs Sunday night.

New York (11-7) has won seven of its last eight, snapping San Diego’s 11-game winning streak.

The Jets are now one win away from the Super Bowl. The only team standing in their way is Indianapolis, where New York’s magical winning streak began one week after falling to Atlanta. First-year coach Rex Ryan famously proclaimed the Jets out of the playoff picture after that 10-7 loss Dec. 20.

But the Jets took down the Colts and Cincinnati to end the regular season, then beat the Bengals again in the wild-card round before Sunday’s conquest of the Chargers.

New York travels to Indianapolis for the AFC title game next Sunday. The Colts defeated Baltimore 20-3 Saturday night.

Trailing 7-3, New York took its first lead on its first possession of the fourth quarter after Jim Leonhard intercepted Rivers, giving the Jets the ball at the San Diego 16. The Chargers’ Shaun Phillips was penalized for a late hit, giving the Jets some more free yards.

On the third play of the fourth quarter, quarterback Mark Sanchez rolled right and found Dustin Keller in the back corner of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown on third-and-goal. Jay Feely’s extra point put the Jets up, 10-7.

The Chargers (13-4) punted, and New York put together another scoring drive. Jerricho Cotchery returned the punt 25 yards and caught a pass for seven yards to convert third-and-4. Greene broke loose for a 53-yard touchdown up the middle on the next play.

San Diego kicker Nate Kaeding missed a 40-yard field goal, his third miss of the game, on the Chargers’ next possession, but the Jets were forced to punt.

The Chargers then put together a long scoring drive to come to within one possession. Rivers hit Antonio Gates for 11 yards and found Vincent Jackson on the sideline, who got his toes in-bounds for a 37-yard gain. But Ryan challenged the call, and Jackson kicked the red flag on the ground, resulting in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

The call stood after replay. Rivers, undeterred, then found Darren Sproles for 19 yards and connected with Jackson for 12 on third-and-7. Rivers then finished off the drive himself, diving in for the 1-yard score with 2:14 left. Kaeding cut the Chargers’ deficit to 17-14.

New York’s Kerry Rhodes came down with the Chargers’ Mike Scifres’ onside kick, though, and this time the Jets were able to run down the clock. Thomas Jones ran over right guard for two yards on fourth-and-1 with under a minute to go to seal it.

The first quarter ended scoreless, after Kaeding missed a 36-yarder and the Jets went three-and-out on their first four possessions.

San Diego drew first blood the first time it got the ball in the second period. Jacob Hester caught a pass for 15 yards, the Jets’ Lito Sheppard was flagged for pass interference, Gates made a one-handed fingertip catch on the run for 23 yards and Rivers hit Kris Wilson in the back of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown. The halftime score was 7-0.

New York began the second half with its first points. The Chargers’ Quentin Jammer committed pass interference on third-and-7, giving the Jets a free first down. Feely then kicked a 46-yard field goal to make the score 7-3.

Sanchez hit 12 of 23 passes for 100 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Jones carried the ball 14 times for 41 yards, and Braylon Edwards caught two passes for 41 yards.

Rivers connected on 27 of 40 attempts for 298 yards. He threw one touchdown pass and two interceptions on two straight passes, the first to shutdown corner Darrelle Revis, who snagged the ball after it bounced off Jackson’s hands, leg, shoes and back.

Jackson made seven receptions for 111 yards and Gates caught eight passes for 93 yards.

NOTES: Kaeding had hit 67 straight kicks inside 40 yards and 20 straight overall coming in. … New York had not won two playoff games in the same season since 1982.

BOX SCORE

Video credit – CBS

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Saints beat Arizona 45-14 to reach NFC title game

2009-10 NFL POSTSEASON SPECIAL COVERAGE – NFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS

Nineteen seconds into the defending NFC champion Arizona Cardinals’ divisional playoff game with the New Orleans Saints, they had a 7-0 lead and all kinds of momentum.

It turned out not to matter.

New Orleans outscored the Cardinals 45-7 the rest of the way, Drew Brees threw for three touchdowns and the Saints took out Arizona 45-14 in New Orleans Saturday night.

With the win, the Saints (14-3) will host their first NFC championship in team history Jan. 24 against the winner of Sunday’s Dallas-Minnesota game.

If this was in fact star Arizona (11-7) quarterback Kurt Warner’s final game – he has openly talked about retirement – his final game was less-than-spectacular. He threw one interception and no touchdowns and left the game with a chest injury late in the first half after being blindsided trying to make a tackle after his pick. He did return in the second half, but by then it was far too late.

The Cardinals, coming off a 51-45 overtime win over Green Bay in the highest-scoring playoff game in NFL history last week, jumped on top with a score on their first possession. LaRod Stephens-Howling returned the opening kickoff 32 yards, and Tim Hightower took off for a 70-yard score on Arizona’s first play from scrimmage. Neil Rackers’ extra point put the Cardinals up 7-0.

Meanwhile, New Orleans’ situation wasn’t so bright after losing their last three regular-season games. But the Saints methodically marched down the field to tie the game. Jeremy Shockey caught a pass for six yards on third-and-2, Marques Colston made a reception for 17 and Reggie Bush cut back and ran for 11. Shockey hauled in a pass for 13 and Lynell Hamilton capped the drive with a 1-yard score. Garrett Hartley evened the count at 7.

The Saints’ defense forced an important turnover to set up the offense in good field position. Warner hit Jerheme Urban for a big gain, but New Orleans’ Randall Gay punched the ball out from behind, and Darren Sharper picked it up.

New Orleans began at the Arizona 37 and scored quickly. Quarterback Drew Brees hit Colston for 12 yards on third-and-1 and then, given all kinds of time, found a limping Shockey for a 17-yard touchdown.

Arizona went three-and-out on its next possession, and the Saints took advantage. Devery Henderson caught a play-action pass and broke three tackles for 16 yards and Bush broke a tackle in the backfield and ran 46 yards to the end zone. Hartley’s boot gave the Saints a 21-7 edge.

Arizona began the second period by cutting its deficit back to one score. Warner hit Steve Breaston for 17 yards. Sharper intercepted Warner, but a roughing-the-passer penalty negated it, giving Arizona the ball back.

Early Doucet made a reception for 15 yards on third-and-2, and Chris Wells ran for a 4-yard score.

But from there, New Orleans was in complete control. Bush ran for six yards on third-and-5, Colston made a reception for 26, and Brees hit Henderson on a flea-flicker for a 44-yard touchdown.

The defense made another big play for the Saints. New Orleans’ Will Smith intercepted Warner, and to make matters worse for the Cardinals, Bobby McCray absolutely drilled Warner on a vicious, though apparently legal, blind-side block, forcing Warner to head for the locker room.

Starting at the Cardinals’ 27, New Orleans capitalized quickly. Bush caught a pass for five yards on third-and-3, Pierre Thomas ran for two yards to convert third-and-inches, and Colston caught a 2-yard touchdown pass just after the 2-minute warning. Hartley’s kick extended the New Orleans lead to 35-14.

Arizona got one last shot in the first half. Backup quarterback Matt Leinart took the Cardinals into field-goal range, but Rackers left a 50-yard kick short as the half expired.

The Saints scored the first points of the second half on their second possession. Colston caught a pass for 11 yards, and Arizona’s Calais Campbell was penalized for roughing the passer. Hartley kicked a 43-yard field goal for a 38-14 New Orleans lead.

New Orleans continued its domination with a special-teams touchdown. Bush returned Arizona’s next punt for an 83-yard score. Hartley’s point-after closed out the scoring at 45-14.

Brees completed 23 of his 32 passes for 247 yards, three scores and no interceptions to lead the NFL’s top-rated offense. Colston snagged six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, Henderson caught four passes for 80 yards and a score, Bush ran for 84 yards and a score on just five carries, and Thomas ran 13 times for 52 yards.

Warner connected on 17 of 26 for 205 yards, while Leinart hit 7 for 10 for 61 yards in relief. Hightower ran for 87 yards and a score on six carries, Fitzgerald caught six passes for 77 yards, Doucet made eight receptions for 68 yards, and Breaston caught four passes for 52 yards.

NOTES: Shockey dressed for the first time since Week 14. … Arizona’s Anquan Boldin and Gerald Hayes were inactive. Boldin hurt his left ankle and knee in the Cardinals’ loss to Green Bay in the regular-season finale, and Hayes hurt his right ankle against the Packers last week. … Warner is 9-4 in the playoffs, but 0-3 in the Louisiana Superdome. His St. Louis Rams lost to the Saints in 2000 and to New England in Super Bowl XXXVI the next season. … The Cardinals surrendered 90 points in their two playoff games, the most by a team in two straight games in playoff history. … New Orleans and Arizona combined for 49 points in the first half, the most of one half in playoff history. The previous high was 48, posted by Jacksonville and Miami during their 2000 AFC divisional game, which the Jaguars won 62-7.

BOX SCORE


Video credit – FOX

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Kansas bounces back with 84-72 win at Nebraska

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

It didn’t come easy, but the result was familiar – the Kansas Jayhawks beat Nebraska, again.

Sherron Collins scored 22 points, Marcus Morris added 19 and Kansas pulled away in the second half to beat the Cornhuskers 84-72 in Lincoln, Neb., Wednesday night.

The Jayhawks (15-1, 1-0 Big 12) (No. 3 AP) responded to their first loss of the season at Tennessee on Sunday by downing Nebraska (12-5, 0-2) for the 14th straight time and 23rd time in 24 tries.

Brandon Richardson, who did not start with the stomach flu, posted a career high with 18 points to lead Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers came out early with a 12-1 run out of the gate. Sek Henry scored, Ryan Anderson sank a 3-pointer, Jorge Brian Diaz scored twice and Eshaunte Jones drained a trey.

Kansas came up with a 20-5 run to take its first lead. Collins hit three shots from beyond the arc, Morris and Reed each hit 3s and Taylor scored. Morris’ 3 gave the Jayhawks a 21-17 edge.

Nebraska managed to take the lead at halftime, when Jones and Brandon Richardson hit 3-pointers late in the half. Richardson’s shot put the Huskers out in front, 44-43.

Richardson then gave Nebraska the lead again early in the second half, scoring eight straight points, including back-to-back 3s, giving the Huskers a 54-53 lead seven minutes into the second half.

But Kansas turned it on from there and was never seriously threatened again. Collins scored four seconds later in transition to put the Jayhawks back in front, sparking a 12-2 run. Collins scored again, Tyrel Reed hit a 3, Markieff Morris sank a triple and Tyshawn Taylor hit two free throws for a 65-56 Kansas lead.

Taylor and Reed each netted 11 points for Kansas.

Diaz scored 15 points and Jones added 12 to the Huskers’ cause.

Both teams shot exceptionally well from long range. The Jayhawks went 13-for-21 from beyond the arc, at 61.9 percent, and Nebraska hit 11 of 21 3-point shots, or 52.4 percent.

NOTES: This game matched the two best defensive teams in the Big 12. Nebraska came in surrendering just 58.6 points per game, while Kansas allowed 59.8 points a contest. … The Jayhawks lead the all-time series 167-71 and haven’t lost to the Huskers since Feb. 15, 2004. … Nebraska has lost seven of eight to ranked opponents. … Kansas has won 19 straight conference openers, dating back to 1992. … Kansas hosts Texas Tech Saturday afternoon. Nebraska will face Iowa State Saturday night.

BOX SCORE


Video credit – ESPN2

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Bledsoe leads unbeaten Kentucky past Florida, 89-77

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

The Kentucky Wildcats (No. 2 AP) keep playing with fire. And yet, they keep managing to remain unscathed.

Freshman Eric Bledsoe scored a career-high 25 points as the Wildcats let a 15-point second-half lead slip away but held on to beat Florida 89-77 in Gainesville, Fla., Tuesday night.

Kentucky (17-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) is off to its best start since the 1965-66 season and won for the first time in six tries at Florida.

The Gators (11-5, 0-2) came out with a 7-0 run to begin the game. Vernon Macklin and Kenny Boynton scored before Alex Tyus hit the first 3-pointer of his career.

Trailing 19-15, Kentucky scored eight straight to take control. Bledsoe scored, John Wall hit back-to-back jumpers and Bledsoe made an up-and-under layup in transition.

The Wildcats then put together a 9-3 run late in the half. Leading 29-26, Bledsoe scored, Patrick Patterson made a free throw and dunked off a Daniel Orton steal and Bledsoe made a couple of free throws and a jumper. Kentucky led 38-31 at halftime.

Kentucky led by as much as 15 points almost six minutes into the second half at 57-42 after a DeMarcus Cousins layup. But Erving Walker, who scored 20 points, and Florida chipped away and tied the game with a 30-15 run. Walker hit four 3s during the stretch and totaled 16 points. Tyus, Boynton and Macklin chipped in four points apiece and Chandler Parsons hit a basket. Macklin’s layup tied the game at 72 with 5 minutes to go.

But then the Wildcats woke up. Patterson scored down low, Darnell Dodson hit a 3 and Bledsoe made a trey and a layup after a Parsons free throw to go up by eight points. Wall sank four free throws and a late 3 to seal it.

Wall chipped in 19 points for Kentucky, while Patterson and Cousins joined him in double figures with 15 and 13 points, respectively.

Tyus netted 17 points and Boynton contributed 12 to the Gators’ cause.

NOTES:
This is Kentucky’s best start since starting the 1965-66 season 23-0. … Florida has won eight of the last 11 in the series. … The ‘Cats lead the all-time series 87-32. … Florida has lost five of its last eight, including games to Richmond and South Alabama. The Gators are 0-2 in SEC play for the first time under coach Billy Donovan. … Kentucky returns to action at Auburn Saturday afternoon. The Gators host LSU Saturday night.

BOX SCORE

Video credit – ESPN

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Rice, defense carry Ravens to 33-14 beatdown of Pats

2009-10 NFL POSTSEASON SPECIAL COVERAGE – AFC WILD CARD PLAYOFFS

The Baltimore Ravens have developed an old, familiar formula for playoff victories: Establish the running game. Rattle the opponent’s quarterback. Create points by forcing turnovers. Win the game.

Ray Rice ran for 159 yards and two touchdowns, the Ravens forced New England’s Tom Brady into three interceptions and a fumble and Baltimore took a 24-0 first-quarter lead and coasted home for a 33-14 wild-card win over the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass., Sunday.

The Ravens (10-7) advance to face AFC top seed Indianapolis Saturday. New England (10-7) is finished, having lost for the first time in its last 12 home playoff games and the first time at home this season.

Baltimore took the lead on the first play from scrimmage and never looked back. Rice took off for an 83-yard scoring run, the longest of his career and the second-longest in NFL playoff history, and Billy Cundiff’s extra point gave the Ravens a 7-0 edge.

The Ravens defense stepped up to help set up some more points. Linebacker Terrell Suggs sacked Brady, stripped the ball and recovered it at the Patriots’ 17. Rice then ran for five yards to convert third-and-4 and Le’Ron McClain punched in a 1-yard touchdown run.

Two possessions later, cornerback Chris Carr intercepted Brady to set the Ravens offense up at the New England 25. Quarterback Joe Flacco picked up a first down on third-and-1, Willis McGahee caught a pass for 13 yards out of the backfield and Rice found the end zone from one yard out. Cundiff’s kick extended the Baltimore lead to 21-0.

Baltimore’s D wasn’t done. Ed Reed intercepted Brady and ran 25 yards before lateraling to Dawan Landry, who ran 25 more yards to the Patriots’ 9. Cundiff hit a 27-yard field goal, mercifully ending the first quarter with a 24-0 lead.

New England took advantage of a turnover itself to score its first points. Baltimore’s Tom Zbikowski muffed a punt and the Patriots’ Kyle Arrington recovered at the Ravens’ 16. Fred Taylor picked up two yards on third-and-1 and Brady hit Julian Edelman for a 6-yard touchdown on third-and-goal. Stephen Gostkowski kicked the extra point.

Baltimore started off the third quarter with more of the same. Landry intercepted Brady on New England’s second offensive possession after cornerback Frank Walker separated the Patriots’ Ben Watson from the football. Landry ran 42 yards up the sideline to set up Cundiff’s 23-yard kick for a 27-7 edge.

The Patriots then marched down the field to come back to within two possessions. Darius Butler returned the kickoff 42 yards, Brady found Randy Moss for six yards on third-and-3 and Baltimore’s Carr was flagged for illegal contact, giving New England another first down. Edelman snagged a 1-yard touchdown, and Gostkowski brought the Patriots to within 27-14.

But Baltimore’s next drive put the game out of reach. Zbikowski ran the kickoff back 30 yards, Derrick Mason caught a pass for eight yards on third-and-2 and a leaping Michael Clayton snagged a pass for 17 on third-and-7. Flacco ran around left end for on third-and-7 for what proved to be just enough after replay.

McGahee capped the 12-play, 6-minute drive with a 3-yard touchdown. He was stopped on the 2-point conversion, but the Ravens had handed their defense a nearly insurmountable 33-14 lead.

New England could muster no more points. Gostkowski missed a 44-yard field goal wide right, and Brady was sacked on fourth-and-10 at his own 33 by Baltimore’s Dwan Edwards for a turnover on downs with about 1 minute left to end it.

Flacco completed just 4 of 10 through the air for 34 yards, with an interception. But Rice ran for 159 yards and two scores and McGahee picked up 62 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.

Brady went 23 for 42 for 154 yards, two touchdowns and three picks. Moss made five receptions for 48 yards, Edelman caught six passes for 44 yards and two scores and Kevin Faulk ran 14 times for 52 yards.

NOTES: Baltimore had never beaten New England before this game. The Ravens were previously 0-5 in the series. … The Patriots’ last home playoff loss was Dec. 31, 1978, to the Houston Oilers. … New England’s Wes Welker, the league leader in receptions, was placed on injured reserve and did not play. He suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee in the Patriots’ 34-27 loss at Houston last week.

BOX SCORE

Video credit – CBS

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dallas dominates Eagles to end long playoff skid, 34-14

2009-10 NFL POSTSEASON SPECIAL COVERAGE – NFC WILD CARD PLAYOFFS

Despite the Dallas Cowboys’ division-clinching defeat of Philadelphia last week, their recent playoff history suggested they might be in over their heads in a wild-card rematch with the Eagles.

Well, Wade Phillips, Tony Romo and Co. have their first playoff victory under their belts now. And they did it in dominating fashion.

Felix Jones ran for 148 yards, Romo threw for two scores and the Cowboys beat Philadelphia 34-14 in Arlington, Texas, Saturday night for their first playoff victory since 1996.

Philadelphia (11-6) didn’t help its own cause much. The Eagles committed five turnovers in losing their first playoff game of a season for the first time in eight postseason appearances under coach Andy Reid.

The win is Dallas’ second against the Eagles in seven days. The Cowboys took down Philadelphia 24-0 Jan. 3 to win the NFC East title.

Next up for the Cowboys (12-5) – a date at NFC North champion Minnesota next week.

After a scoreless first quarter, Dallas struck first early in the second period. Romo hit Miles Austin for 12 yards to convert third-and-8 and the Eagles’ Sheldon Brown was flagged for pass interference, moving the ball to the 1-yard line.

John Phillips then caught a 1-yard touchdown pass off play-action, and Shaun Suisham kicked the extra point.

The Eagles got a jolt from their situational quarterback to tie the game. Michael Vick came on, faked a handoff and found Jeremy Maclin for a 76-yard score down the left sideline. David Akers hit the equalizer.

But from there, it was all Dallas. After a Romo interception was overturned by replay, Felix Jones ran for 12 yards and a face-mask penalty on Will Witherspoon handed the Cowboys 15 more yards. Patrick Crayton caught a pass for 18 yards on third-and-9, Roy Williams made a reception for 17 on third-and-7 and Jason Witten snagged a play-action pass for 18.

Tashard Choice capped the 10-play, 85-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, and Suisham kicked the point-after.

Crayton then returned a Philadelphia punt 31 yards up the sideline, Austin caught a pass for 36 and Williams hauled in a toss for 17 to set up Suisham’s 25-yard boot for a double-digit lead.

Dallas got a little help from the Eagles offense to dig Philadelphia a deeper hole. Vick and fullback Leonard Weaver couldn’t get the handoff exchange right, and the Cowboys’ Bobby Carpenter scooped up the fumble at the Eagles’ 18.

Jones ripped off a gain of 13 yards, and Romo hit Austin for a 6-yard touchdown on play-action just after the 2-minute warning.

Dallas’ Bradie James then stripped Weaver after a reception and recovered the ball himself, setting the Cowboys up with 51 seconds left. Philadelphia’s Asante Samuel was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct and Quintin Mikell was flagged for pass interference before Kevin Ogletree caught a pass for five yards on third-and-4.

The much-maligned Suisham, who was cut in midseason by rival Washington and then signed by the Cowboys, booted a perfect 48-yard field goal with 2 seconds left in the quarter, giving the Cowboys a 27-7 halftime lead.

Dallas kept up its offense in the third period. Romo hit Crayton for 10 yards on third-and-4 one play before Jones took off for a 73-yard run, cutting down the sideline, then back to the middle of the field, then back down the sideline to the end zone. The run was the longest in Cowboys playoff history and, with Suisham’s extra point, extended the Cowboys’ advantage to 34-7.

The Eagles scored the final points of the night and of their season in the fourth quarter. Maclin caught a pass for 15 yards, Brian Westbrook gained 27 on a screen and Dallas’ Ken Hamlin was penalized for unnecessary roughness and Jason Hatcher was flagged for illegal hands to the face, giving Philadelphia two more free first downs.

DeSean Jackson then caught a screen on play-action and ran four yards to the end zone. Akers’ kick made the final score 34-14.

Romo hit 23 of 35 passes for 244 yards for Dallas. Jones ran for 148 yards on 16 carries with a score and Choice ran 14 times for 42 yards and a touchdown. Austin caught seven passes for 82 yards and a touchdown and Williams made five catches for 59 yards.

Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb went 19 for 37 for 230 yards, a score and an interception, while Vick completed one of his two attempts, with a touchdown. Maclin amassed 146 yards receiving on seven catches, with a score. Brent Celek caught three passes for 59 yards.

Jackson, who made waves the week leading up to the game by posting on Twitter that the Eagles were going to “sting” the Cowboys, was held to three catches for 14 yards, with the short touchdown reception.

NOTES: Dallas ended a six-game playoff losing streak. … The Cowboys have won four of six in the series. … Phillips was 0-4 in the playoffs coming in, while Romo was 0-2. … This was the first time the Cowboys had beaten one team three times in the same season. … The teams were penalized a combined 228 yards, a postseason single-game record. … The official attendance was 92,951, a playoff single-game record, not including Super Bowls.

BOX SCORE

Video credit – NBC

Friday, January 8, 2010

ZSN College Football Final Top 25 Rankings

School (Final record)/Why?

1. Alabama (14-0)/Didn’t exactly play a stellar game against Texas, but defense was good enough for the Tide to finish perfect.

2. Texas (13-1)/Longhorns suffered outrageous misfortune in losing quarterback Colt McCoy on their first possession in the title game and couldn’t quite complete what would have been a comeback for the ages.

3. Boise State (14-0)/Broncos pulled out all the stops to claim another Fiesta Bowl, this one over TCU.

4. Florida (13-1)/If this game marked the end of an era in Gainesville, the Gators sure went out with a bang in the Sugar Bowl.

5. Texas Christian (12-1)/Hard-fought loss to Boise State in Fiesta Bowl for first defeat of year.

6. Cincinnati (12-1)/Dominated by emotional Florida in New Orleans.

7. Ohio State (11-2)/Finally claimed another BCS win, downing Oregon in the Rose
Bowl.

8. Iowa (11-2)/Dominated Georgia Tech in Orange Bowl.

9. Oregon (10-3)/Played pretty well, but couldn’t best Buckeyes in Pasadena.

10. Penn State (11-2)/Nittany Lions came back to knock off LSU.

11. Georgia Tech (11-3)/ACC champs shut down by stout Iowa defense in Miami.

12. Virginia Tech (10-3)/Hokies looked very good in taking down Tennessee in Chick-fil-A Bowl.

13. Pittsburgh (10-3)/Hard-fought win over North Carolina in Meineke Bowl.

14. Brigham Young (11-2)/Opened up a can on Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

15. LSU (9-4)/As has been the problem much of the season, less-than-explosive offense cost Tigers big-time in bowl loss to Penn State.

16. Wisconsin (10-3)/Dominated Miami in a virtual road game at the Champs Sports Bowl.

17. Miami (Fla.) (9-4)/Didn’t play particularly well in a bowl loss to Wisconsin.

18. Nebraska (10-4)/Shut out Arizona in Holiday Bowl to cap stellar season defensively.

19. Utah (10-3)/Downed Cal fairly handily in Poinsettia Bowl.

20. Oklahoma State (9-4)/Cowboys dropped a tough one to Ole Miss in the Cotton Bowl.

21. Stanford (8-5)/Cardinal fell to Oklahoma in El Paso.

22. Oregon State (8-5)/Laid an egg against BYU in Vegas.

23. Southern California (9-4)/Didn’t exactly overwhelm a game Boston College team in the Emerald Bowl, but ultimately took care of business.

24. Central Michigan (12-2)/Chippewas put together fourth-quarter comeback, then knock off Troy in overtime in GMAC Bowl.

25. Texas Tech (9-4)/Dealt with pregame adversity and chaos and came back to down Michigan State in a closer-than-anticipated Alamo Bowl.

Dropped out/Why?

Arizona. Thoroughly dominated by Cornhuskers in San Diego.

West Virginia. Didn’t look good in blowing double-digit lead against fired-up Florida State in the Gator Bowl.

Houston. Spectacular season ends with a thud against Air Force in Armed Forces Bowl.

Tide holds off McCoy-less Texas for BCS title, 37-21

2009-10 COLLEGE FOOTBALL POSTSEASON SPECIAL COVERAGE – BCS NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

When star senior quarterback Colt McCoy left the game with a shoulder injury on Texas’ first possession of the BCS national championship game, all seemed lost for the Longhorns.

Texas came back to cut its 18-point halftime deficit to three in the fourth quarter. But then the Crimson Tide’s second-ranked defense seized Alabama’s eighth national title.

Alabama’s defense forced five turnovers, Heisman winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson each ran for two scores and the Tide defeated Texas 37-21 in Pasadena, Calif., Thursday night.

McCoy was hit on his right shoulder by Alabama’s Marcell Dareus on an option run and ran off the field with his arm hanging limp. ABC reported that McCoy’s X-rays were negative, but he did not play another snap, forcing true freshman Garrett Gilbert into action.

Texas (No. 2 ZSN/2 AP) was in control early after an Alabama fake punt deep in its own territory failed, as the Longhorns’ Blake Gideon intercepted punter P.J. Fitzgerald’s pass at the Crimson Tide 37. Cody Johnson ran for a first down on third-and-1, Tre’ Newton ran for 16 yards on a sweep and D.J. Monroe came in motion, took a handoff and ran 10 yards. Hunter Lawrence’s 18-yard field goal put Texas on top.

The Longhorns (13-1) then employed an intermediate kickoff instead of kicking it deep, and Curtis Brown came up with the ball to give Texas possession at the Alabama 30. Lawrence booted a 42-yard field goal to double the Horns’ lead.

Alabama (No. 1/1) finally put together a sustained drive and took the lead early in the second quarter. Quarterback Greg McElroy found Julio Jones for 23 yards before Ingram ran right up the middle for a 2-yard score. Leigh Tiffin hit the extra point for a 7-6 Crimson Tide lead.

The Crimson Tide (14-0) forced an overwhelmed Gilbert and Texas into a couple of three-and-outs before another touchdown. Richardson ran up the middle 49 yards to the end zone on the second play of the drive, and Tiffin extended the Alabama lead to 14-6.

Texas’ Justin Tucker’s next punt traveled just 35 yards, and Alabama All-American Javier Arenas returned it 12 yards to the Texas 29. Tiffin nailed a 26-yard field goal with 29 seconds left in the half for what everyone assumed would be an 11-point halftime lead.

However, the Longhorns elected to try to grab a few more points before the half ended. That backfired horribly when Monroe bobbled Gilbert’s shovel pass into the line and defensive lineman Dareus picked the ball out of the air, stiff-armed Gilbert to the ground, spun away from another tackle and ran 28 yards for a score with 3 seconds to go. Tiffin’s kick gave the Crimson Tide a 24-6 advantage at the half.

Both teams’ first three possessions of the second half ended in punts before the Longhorns began to come back. Gilbert hit Marquise Goodwin for 13 yards on third-and-8 and then found Jordan Shipley running free down the middle for a 44-yard touchdown. Lawrence’s kick cut the Alabama lead to 24-13.

After Texas punted and Tiffin missed a field goal for Alabama, Gilbert settled in and directed the Longhorns offense to another score. The Tide’s Rolando McClain and Terrence Cody jumped offsides on third-and-1 and Shipley caught passes for 13 and 12 yards, the first to convert a third-and-9. Gilbert hit a wide-open Shipley for a 28-yard score and gunned a pass over the middle to Dan Buckner for the 2-point conversion to draw Texas to within 24-21 with 6:15 left in the game.

The Horns then forced an Alabama punt and took over at their own 7 with 3:14 to go. But Gilbert was hit from behind by the Crimson Tide’s Eryk Anders and fumbled, and Courtney Upshaw fell on it at the Texas 3.

Ingram powered his way to a 1-yard score with 2 minutes left. Arenas then picked Gilbert off for the second time, and Richardson punched in a 2-yard touchdown.

Fittingly, the Alabama defense intercepted Gilbert for the fourth time – Tyrone King snagged a deflection – to end it with 26 seconds left.

McElroy completed just 6 of 11 passes for 58 yards. But Ingram, named the game’s offensive MVP, and Richardson each surpassed 100 yards on the ground and ran for two scores against Texas’ top-ranked rushing defense – Ingram ran for 116 yards on 22 carries and Richardson ran 19 times for 109 yards.

Dareus was the defensive MVP.

Gilbert hit 15 of 40 for 186 yards, two scores and four interceptions in a debut as Texas’ offensive leader that was both challenging and promising. Shipley caught 10 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns and Goodwin made three receptions for 70 yards for Texas, which was seeking its second BCS title in five years.

NOTES:
Teams from the Southeastern Conference have now won four straight BCS titles. Florida beat Ohio State to cap the 2006 season, LSU took down the Buckeyes the next year and the Gators downed Oklahoma last season. … Alabama’s last national title was in 1992. … Texas won the last BCS championship played in Pasadena, defeating USC 41-36 in the 2006 Rose Bowl. … Ingram extended his school record for rushing yards in a season to 1,658 yards. … McElroy is 30-0 as a starter in high school at Carroll in Southlake, Texas, and college. He hasn’t lost a start since eighth grade. … Alabama coach Nick Saban became the first coach since the AP poll began to win national titles at two different schools. He directed LSU to a win in the 2004 Sugar Bowl. … Alabama has won 27 of its last 29 games. Texas lost for just the second time in its last 28 contests. … The Longhorns’ nation-long 17-game winning streak and seven-game postseason string came to an end.

BOX SCORE


Video credit – ESPN on ABC

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Iowa shuts down vaunted Jackets rushing attack, 24-14

2009-10 COLLEGE FOOTBALL POSTSEASON SPECIAL COVERAGE – ORANGE BOWL

Coming in, the Orange Bowl was billed as a battle between Georgia Tech’s explosive offense and Iowa’s stout defense.

Ricky Stanzi, Brandon Wegher and the Hawkeyes’ offense stole the show early, and the Iowa defense did its part all night long.

The Hawkeyes (No. 10 ZSN/10 AP) held Georgia Tech to less than half its normal yardage output, Stanzi threw for two first-quarter touchdowns and Wegher ran for 113 yards and a key late score as Iowa took down the Yellow Jackets 24-14 in Miami Gardens, Fla., Tuesday night.

Georgia Tech (No. 9/9) came into the game as the 11th-ranked total offense in the Football Bowl Subdivision at 442.7 yards per game and second in rushing at 307.2 yards a contest. But the Hawkeyes’ defense, rated 11th in total defense, limited the Ramblin’ Wreck to 156 yards, 143 on the ground.

Iowa (11-2) out-gained Georgia Tech (11-3) 257 yards to 32 in the first half and forced the Yellow Jackets to their season high in punts – in the first half.

The Hawkeyes’ offense started inauspiciously, when Marvin McNutt caught a pass and fumbled. But after a Georgia Tech punt, Stanzi, returning from injury, and Iowa found the end zone first. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos caught a pass for nine yards on third-and-2, Tony Moeaki hauled in a pass for 54 and Stanzi hit McNutt for a 3-yard score on third-and-goal. Daniel Murray’s extra point gave Iowa a 7-0 edge.

After another Georgia Tech punt, Iowa marched to another quick score. After a 10-yard holding penalty on the Jackets, Adam Robinson ran for 15 yards, Johnson-Koulianos made a reception for 31 and Colin Sandeman caught a 21-yard touchdown pass on the fourth play of the 83-yard drive.

The Yellow Jackets’ defense got Georgia Tech on the board. Cornerback Jerrard Tarrant returned a Stanzi interception 40 yards to the end zone, and Scott Blair kicked the extra point.

That would remain the score until Iowa put together another scoring drive to begin the third period. Sandeman caught a pass for 11 on play-action, Moeaki made a reception for 23 and Robinson ran for successive gains of 12 and 10 yards to set up Murray’s 33-yard field goal.

Georgia Tech cut its deficit back to one possession early in the fourth quarter. Jonathan Dwyer caught a pass for 11 yards, ran for eight on the option on third-and-3 and took another pitch for 11. Josh Nesbitt ran for 14 on an option keeper before Anthony Allen’s 1-yard touchdown. Blair cut the Hawkeye lead to three at 17-14.

However, that was all the significant offense the Jackets would be able to muster. Nesbitt threw an interception to Iowa linebacker A.J. Edds on the first play of Georgia Tech’s next possession. The Hawkeyes didn’t score, attempting an unsuccessful fake field goal, but then backed up at the Georgia Tech 12, Dwyer foolishly reversed field all the way back into his own end zone and narrowly avoided a safety, losing 11 yards. The Jackets were forced to punt.

Iowa then went on the game-clinching drive. Trey Stross caught a pass for 10 on third-and-8 and Wegher ran for 23 yards before his 32-yard touchdown run with just under 2 minutes left. Murray’s extra point closed the scorebook at 24-14.

Stanzi, who hit his first eight throws, finished 17 of 29 for 231 yards, two scores and a pick. Wegher ran for 113 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown and Robinson rushed for 61 yards on 14 carries. Moeaki caught four passes for 85 yards, Johnson-Koulianos made four receptions for 63 yards and Sandeman hauled in four tosses for 52 yards and a touchdown.

Nesbitt and Dwyer led the Yellow Jacket offense with 48 yards on the ground apiece.

NOTES: Stanzi led Iowa to a 9-0 start before suffering an ankle injury that needed surgery in the Hawkeyes’ loss to Northwestern Nov. 7. … Georgia Tech was forced to punt seven times, six in the first half. Their previous high was six in one game. The Yellow Jackets had not punted in 22 straight possessions coming in, since their Nov. 14 game at Duke. … This was the teams’ first-ever meeting, Georgia Tech’s first BCS bowl and Iowa’s second. The Hawkeyes fell to USC 38-17 in the 2003 Orange Bowl. … This was the coldest Orange Bowl on record, at 48 degrees in the first half. … This was the Hawkeyes’ first-ever win against an Atlantic Coast Conference team. They were previously 0-7. … Iowa held nine opponents to 17 points or less this season. … Nesbitt surpassed the 1,000-yard mark and finished with 1,039 on the season, helping Georgia Tech finish with two 1,000-yard rushers for the first time ever. Dwyer racked up 1,394 yards this year. … Allen ran for two touchdowns for Louisville in its 2007 Orange Bowl win over Wake Forest.

BOX SCORE

Video credit – FOX

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Boise knocks off TCU, completes another perfect season

2009-10 COLLEGE FOOTBALL POSTSEASON SPECIAL COVERAGE – FIESTA BOWL

The Boise State Broncos turned back to their magical bag of tricks on their way to their second Fiesta Bowl victory and another undefeated season.

With the score tied and its offense stagnant, Boise used a fake punt to spark the game-winning fourth-quarter drive that ended on Doug Martin’s touchdown run as the Broncos beat also-undefeated TCU 17-10 in Glendale, Ariz., Monday night.

Boise State finished 14-0 and completed its second perfect season in four years with its second Fiesta Bowl victory in that time – the Broncos famously took down big-boy Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime in Glendale in 2007. Boise also gained a measure of revenge against the Horned Frogs – TCU handed the Broncos their only loss in last year’s Poinsettia Bowl, 17-16.

The Broncos (No. 6 ZSN/6 AP) took a 10-0 first-half lead in this much-hyped battle of perfect teams from outside the BCS power conferences, but TCU scored the next 10 points to tie the game and basically shut down the high-octane Boise State offense until midway through the fourth period. After a Kellen Moore third-and-9 pass was batted away at the Broncos’ own 33, the Boise punt formation came out on the field.

However, instead of kicking the ball away, punter Kyle Brotzman lofted a pass to a wide-open Kyle Efaw who ran free for 29 yards down the middle.

Given new life, Moore then found Efaw for 11 more and Tommy Gallarda for 16 before Doug Martin tumbled up the middle for a 2-yard touchdown. Brotzman’s point-after gave the Broncos a 17-10 edge with just under 7:30 left.

The Horned Frogs (No. 3/3) and quarterback Andy Dalton had a couple of possessions left after that. TCU’s Jeremy Kerley returned a punt 39 yards up the sideline to give the Horned Frogs excellent field position, but Antoine Hicks dropped a sure touchdown pass on first down and Dalton threw incomplete on fourth down at the Broncos’ 27 for a turnover on downs with about 4 minutes left.

Then, after Brotzman uncorked a 55-yard punt to pin the Frogs at their own 1, Dalton marched TCU down the field until throwing his third interception of the game. Brandyn Thompson knocked the ball in the air away from Hicks, and Winston Venable caught the deflection at his own 14-yard line and fell to the turf with 18 seconds left to end it.

Though both offenses ranked among the best in the nation, the game, like last year’s Poinsettia Bowl, took on a defensive tone, and the Broncos’ defense scored the first points. Thompson, who was named the game’s defensive MVP, returned Dalton’s first pick 52 yards for a touchdown.

Boise State’s offense put up its first points on its first drive of the second quarter. Titus Young caught a pass for 30 yards on third-and-7, Austin Pettis hung on for a five-yard reception on fourth-and-3 and Brotzman hit a 40-yard field goal to open up a 10-0 lead.

Just like after falling behind by double digits in the teams’ meeting last season, TCU came right back. The Frogs got on the board late in the half, when Hicks caught a pass for 12 yards and Dalton tossed a 30-yard strike to Curtis Clay in the corner of the end zone with 49 seconds left in the half. Ross Evans’ extra point cut TCU’s halftime deficit to 10-7.

TCU’s defense then made its own big play to set up a score by the Frogs’ offense. TCU All-American defensive end Jerry Hughes stripped Martin at the Frogs’ 42 and recovered the fumble to give the offense good field position.

Jimmy Young caught a pass for 14 yards and Kerley caught a pass on play-action and made a Bronco miss for 22. Evans’ 29-yard field goal knotted the score with just under 4 minutes to play in the third period.

Moore connected on 23 of 39 attempts for 211 yards through the air. Efaw, named the offensive MVP, caught four passes for 75 yards, Titus Young hauled in eight passes for 72 yards and Martin ran 16 times for 42 yards and a score.

Dalton hit 25 of 44 passes for 272 yards, one touchdown and three picks – the first multi-interception game of his career. Jimmy Young caught four passes for 68 yards, Kerley made six receptions for 65 yards, Hicks hauled in four passes for 45 yards and Ryan Christian caught five passes for 45 yards.

The Broncos’ defense held TCU’s (12-1) sixth-ranked ground attack to 36 yards rushing. The Frogs had averaged 256.5 yards per game on the ground.

NOTES:
Boise State has won 26 of its last 27 games. … Dalton broke the school record for all-time passing yards. He surpassed Max Knake, who threw for 7,370 yards from 1992-95, with a completion to Jimmy Young. … TCU’s streak of four straight bowl wins was snapped. … The Horned Frogs were seeking their first undefeated season since 1938. … Pettis returned after missing most of the Broncos’ last two games with a lower-leg fracture. … This was the first BCS matchup of two undefeated teams that wasn’t the national championship game.

BOX SCORE


Video credit – FOX; Audio credit – Yahoo! Sports/TCU/ISP Sports Network

Sunday, January 3, 2010

McGahee, Ravens beat Raiders 21-13 to reach playoffs

NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE

It took all four quarters to secure the win over upset-minded Oakland, but the Baltimore Ravens are headed back to the playoffs.

Willis McGahee ran for three touchdowns and 167 yards as the Ravens beat the Raiders 21-13 in Oakland, Calif., Sunday to clinch an AFC wild-card berth.

Baltimore will travel to New England next week to begin the playoffs. Meanwhile, one week after staying alive with a 23-20 victory over the Ravens, rival Pittsburgh’s postseason hopes are dashed.

The Ravens opened the scoring on their second possession. Ray Rice ran for 27 yards and quarterback Joe Flacco hit Todd Heap for 22 to set up McGahee’s 2-yard touchdown run up the middle. Billy Cundiff kicked the extra point.

Oakland came right back with its first points. Charlie Frye found Chaz Schilens for 15 yards and Johnnie Lee Higgins for 16. Baltimore’s Frank Walker was flagged for illegal contact and Higgins caught a pass for 16 on third-and-7 before Sebastian Janikowski booted a 37-yard field goal.

Baltimore used an uncharacteristically long play to reach the end zone again. After Raiders punter Shane Lechler pinned the Ravens at their own 5, Heap caught a pass for 18 yards and McGahee stiff-armed Oakland’s Hiram Eugene to the ground on his way to a 77-yard touchdown run.

The Raiders put together a last-minute drive to score the final points of the half. After Baltimore’s Chris Carr was penalized for pass interference, Higgins caught a pass for 21 yards and Louis Murphy hauled in a 17-yard reception. Frye ran for two yards on third-and-1 and then found a leaping Zach Miller in the back of the end zone for a 12-yard score. Janikowski cut the Baltimore lead to 14-10, which remained the halftime score after Cundiff missed a field goal as the half expired.

Frye, however, would not take another snap in the game. The AP reported he suffered an injured ankle and back, and with the turnover-prone JaMarcus Russell under center, the Raiders offense wasn’t quite the same.

Russell did lead Oakland to the first points of the second half. Starting at the Raiders’ 48 after a Baltimore punt, Russell found Murphy for 10 and Schilens for 17 to convert third-and-15. Janikowski hit a 39-yard kick to draw the Raiders to within one.

But Russell threw an interception to Dannell Ellerbe, who returned it 28 yards to the Raiders 22, the next time Oakland had the ball, and the Ravens capitalized.

McGahee capped the short drive with his third score of the day, a 1-yard run, and Cundiff gave Baltimore a 21-13 lead early in the final frame.

Oakland and Russell were marching on the next drive when the Ravens’ Antwan Barnes stripped Russell from behind and Ellerbe recovered at the Baltimore 23.

The Ravens offense could not take advantage on that drive, as Cundiff missed a 51-yard field goal well short. But Oakland was forced to punt on the ensuing possession, and McGahee ran for 36 yards on third-and-4 at the two-minute warning to seal it.

For Baltimore (9-7), Flacco completed 11 of 19 passes for 102 yards. Rice amassed 70 yards on 14 carries, and Heap made two receptions for 40 yards.

The Raiders’ (5-11) Frye threw for 180 yards and a touchdown, hitting 18 of 25 passes. Russell connected on 9 of 14 for 102 yards and an interception. Schilens hauled in eight passes for 99 yards, Murphy caught six passes for 59 yards and Higgins snagged four passes for 71 yards.

NOTES: The Steelers remained alive with their 30-24 win at Miami Sunday, but needed Denver, Baltimore and the New York Jets to lose in order to reach the playoffs. The Broncos fell to Kansas City 44-24; if the Jets defeat Cincinnati Sunday night, they claim the AFC’s sixth and final playoff spot; if the Bengals win, Houston will make its first playoff appearance in franchise history. … McGahee’s second touchdown run was the longest play from scrimmage for the Ravens this season. … Oakland defeated playoff participants Philadelphia and Cincinnati and contenders Pittsburgh and Denver this season. … Baltimore has not lost to a team with a losing record in coach John Harbaugh’s two seasons on the sideline. … This was the Ravens’ first-ever win in a road season finale. … Oakland has lost 11 or more games in seven straight seasons. … Baltimore scored 47 touchdowns this season, a franchise record. … The Ravens lost 1,094 yards to penalties this season, another team record and the most in the NFL this season.

BOX SCORE

Video credit – CBS