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    Times wires
    Thursday, December 13, 2012

    NEW YORK — Carmelo Anthony scored 22 of his 30 points in the first quarter, and the Knicks held on after he departed with a sprained left ankle to beat the Lakers 116-107 on Thursday in coach Mike D'Antoni's return to Madison Square Garden.

    "I was zoned in. I was locked in," Anthony said. "My teammates were feeding off of that."

    Firing in 3-pointers and moving the ball to open shooters, things they often struggled to do under D'Antoni for almost four seasons, the Knicks won for the eighth time in nine games and improved to 9-0 at home for the first time since 1992-93.

    Meanwhile, things are starting as poorly for D'Antoni in Los Angeles as they ended in New York, where he resigned in March. The Lakers lost their fourth straight and fell to 9-14, 2-8 on the road. Kobe Bryant had 31 points and 10 rebounds for Los Angeles, off to its worst start since 2002-03, when it began 9-15.

    "At this point I wish we had the Washington Generals on our schedule," Bryant said.

    Anthony, playing at an MVP level after he struggled last season under D'Antoni, made his first three 3-pointers, nearly reaching his NBA-leading average of 9.7 points per first quarter before 2½ minutes were gone. The Knicks made 17 of 23 shots in the quarter (74 percent) and built a 41-27 advantage.

    Anthony finished two shy of the franchise record for points in a quarter, held by Willis Reed and Allan Houston.

    "I wanted to beat the Lakers, especially protecting our home court," Anthony said. "It had nothing to do with Mike."

    The Knicks lost some of their flow when Anthony went to the locker room with 6:41 left in the third and a 17-point lead. He landed awkwardly after being fouled by Dwight Howard on a drive. He shot the free throws but was removed at the next whistle. Coach Mike Woodson said the sprain was slight and Anthony was day to day.

    Bobcats lose 10th in a row: Devin Harris scored 20 and the host Hawks won 113-90 to hand the Bobcats their 10th straight loss. It was the 11th time in 12 games the Bobcats surrendered 100 or more points.

    Around the league: Guard Brandon Roy is practicing on a limited, no-contact basis with the Timberwolves a month after arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Roy has been doing light drills. Coach Rick Adelman said teammate Ricky Rubio (ACL tear) has practiced at full speed without setbacks. … LeBron James (641,348) and Kobe Bryant (639,419 votes) are the leading vote-getters overall for the Feb. 17 All-Star Game, according to the first figures released by the league. Voting continues through Jan. 14.

    Knicks 116, Lakers 107

    L.A. LAKERS (107): World Peace 7-15 6-7 23, Jamison 1-3 0-0 3, Howard 8-11 4-6 20, Duhon 1-6 0-0 3, Bryant 10-24 6-6 31, Hill 0-1 0-0 0, Meeks 3-11 4-4 12, Sacre 0-1 0-0 0, Clark 0-1 0-0 0, Ebanks 5-11 5-6 15. Totals 35-84 25-29 107.

    NEW YORK (116): Brewer 3-6 0-0 6, Anthony 10-15 7-8 30, Chandler 5-5 8-14 18, Kidd 1-2 2-2 5, Felton 9-26 1-2 19, Smith 7-14 2-2 18, Novak 4-5 0-0 12, Wallace 3-5 0-2 8, Prigioni 0-0 0-0 0, White 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 42-79 20-30 116.

    L.A. Lakers 27 22 31 27— 107

    New York 41 27 25 23— 116

    3-Point GoalsL.A. Lakers 12-37 (Bryant 5-11, World Peace 3-6, Meeks 2-9, Jamison 1-3, Duhon 1-5, Ebanks 0-3), New York 12-25 (Novak 4-5, Anthony 3-5, Smith 2-4, Wallace 2-4, Kidd 1-2, Brewer 0-2, Felton 0-3). Fouled OutNone. ReboundsL.A. Lakers 55 (Bryant 10), New York 45 (Kidd 9). AssistsL.A. Lakers 13 (Bryant 6), New York 25 (Felton 8). Total FoulsL.A. Lakers 21, New York 20. A19,033.

    Hawks 113, Bobcats 90

    CHARLOTTE (90): Kidd-Gilchrist 4-9 0-0 8, Mullens 1-8 0-0 3, Biyombo 2-3 0-2 4, Walker 6-15 1-1 13, Taylor 3-6 4-4 12, Haywood 1-2 0-0 2, Henderson 6-11 5-6 17, Sessions 5-8 4-4 16, Gordon 2-9 2-2 7, Adrien 0-0 0-0 0, Diop 2-3 0-0 4, R.Williams 1-3 0-0 2, Warrick 1-2 0-1 2. Totals 34-79 16-20 90.

    ATLANTA (113): Stevenson 3-5 0-0 9, Smith 8-12 1-3 18, Horford 5-9 1-3 11, Teague 2-5 2-3 6, Korver 5-7 1-2 13, Morrow 0-0 0-0 0, L.Williams 5-10 0-0 13, Harris 7-11 2-4 20, Pachulia 0-0 0-0 0, Johnson 5-8 6-8 16, Tolliver 0-2 0-0 0, Scott 1-3 0-0 2, Jenkins 2-3 0-0 5. Totals 43-75 13-23 113.

    Charlotte 19 24 31 16— 90

    Atlanta 30 30 31 22— 113

    3-Point GoalsCharlotte 6-21 (Sessions 2-3, Taylor 2-4, Gordon 1-3, Mullens 1-3, Henderson 0-1, R.Williams 0-2, Walker 0-5), Atlanta 14-29 (Harris 4-8, Stevenson 3-5, L.Williams 3-7, Korver 2-3, Jenkins 1-1, Smith 1-2, Tolliver 0-1, Teague 0-2). Fouled OutNone. ReboundsCharlotte 37 (Kidd-Gilchrist, Biyombo 6), Atlanta 54 (Johnson 8). AssistsCharlotte 22 (Walker 6), Atlanta 28 (L.Williams 9). Total FoulsCharlotte 18, Atlanta 14. A13,090.


    Associated PressAssociated Press

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    Times wires
    Thursday, December 13, 2012

    PHILADELPHIA — One Pennsylvania team down, one to go for the Bengals.

    Andy Dalton threw for a touchdown and ran for one, and Cincinnati forced five turnovers to beat Philadelphia 34-13 on Thursday.

    The Bengals took a half-game lead over the Steelers for the last AFC playoff spot. The teams meet Dec. 23, and the Bengals clinch a playoff berth with a win if the Steelers lose to the Cowboys on Sunday.

    The Eagles' season was lost long ago. They fell to 4-10, losing double-digit games for the first time since 2005, the season after they lost to New England in the Super Bowl.

    An interception by Leon Hall set up Dalton's 11-yard run that put Cincinnati up 17-13 with 1:10 left in the third. Less than a minute later, defensive end Wallace Gilberry returned a fumble 25 yards for a score.

    The Eagles fumbled again on their next possession, leading to a Cincinnati field goal. Then they fumbled the ensuing kickoff when defensive lineman Cedric Thornton let the ball fall through his hands on a short kick. Dalton hit A.J. Green for a 5-yard touchdown that made it 24 points in 3:23 and put the Bengals up 34-13.

    The Eagles have committed a league-high 34 turnovers. They did end a drought of 22 quarters without forcing one by recovering two fumbles in the second quarter. Both led to field goals by Alex Henery, helping them to a 13-10 halftime lead.

    Cowboy impaired in crash, report says

    DALLAS — Cowboys linebacker Josh Brent had a blood-alcohol level of 0.18 at the time of the car crash that killed teammate Jerry Brown, the Dallas Morning News reported. That's more than twice the level at which Texas presumes a driver is impaired, 0.08.

    Brent faces a charge of intoxication manslaughter in the Dec. 8 death of the practice squad linebacker and is free on a bond of $500,000. Police in the Dallas suburb of Irving said they are waiting on results from the blood-alcohol test.

    Police said they have met with prosecutors from the Dallas County district attorney's office. "They talked about the case and where we are in the investigation," police spokesman John Argumaniz said. "They also discussed things the D.A. would need to file the case."

    Heath Harris, the first assistant Dallas County district attorney, said he hopes a grand jury can hear the case this month.

    More Cowboys: Receiver Dez Bryant and linebacker DeMarcus Ware said they will play Sunday against the Steelers. Bryant broke his left index finger last weekend. Coach Jason Garrett said Bryant caught passes with a padded glove. Ware missed a second straight practice with a hyperextended elbow. Also, starting defensive tackle Jay Ratliff likely is out for the season after surgery for a sports hernia.

    Falcons: Receiver Roddy White missed his second straight practice with a knee injury but is expected to play Sunday against the Giants.

    Jets: QB Tim Tebow, unavailable for the past three games because of two broken ribs sustained Nov. 11, will be active Monday against the Titans. But the former Gator will not take snaps as a wildcat quarterback or punt protector.

    Patriots: Receiver Deion Branch, released twice by the team this season, re-signed, three days after Donte' Stallworth sustained a high right ankle sprain against Houston.

    Redskins: Coach Mike Shanahan said quarterback Robert Griffin III moved better on his sprained right knee during practice. Shanahan said he planned to wait as long as possible to determine if Griffin, hurt Sunday, or Kirk Cousins will start.

    Bounties: Saints interim coach Joe Vitt denied he overruled then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' request to shut down the team's bounty program. The Associated Press reported Williams made the accusation while testifying during four players' appeal of their bounty penalties before former commissioner Paul Tagliabue. The penalties were overturned this week.

    Blackout: The Chargers said because about 11,000 tickets remain, Sunday's home game against the Panthers will be blacked out. It's San Diego's fourth blackout this season.


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    By Stephen F. Holder, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 14, 2012

    TAMPA — Let's get one thing straight: Josh Freeman is the Bucs' quarterback; not only today, but for the foreseeable future.

    That does not, however, imply he is without flaws. Sunday's 23-21 loss to the Eagles is Exhibit A. And no one is more aware of that than Freeman.

    Typically staid and unspecific when speaking about his performance, an introspective Freeman expressed dissatisfaction Thursday with his play and conveyed his understanding that his 43.8 percent completion rate (32-of-73) in December is unacceptable.

    "When you throw the ball down the field, it's going to be tough sometimes," said Freeman, 14-of-34 against Philadelphia and 18-of-39 against Denver on Dec. 2. "But they are definitely throws I can make. In practice, we're continuing to work on those to develop more and more consistency down the field. You have to put it on yourself. You have to say, 'What can I do to get better? What can I do to be more consistent as a quarterback; throwing the ball and getting the ball into my playmakers' hands?'

    "I've been watching each throw and watching footwork. What allowed me to stand in there and make this throw versus this other throw? I really go down to the core level and see exactly what you can do to get better."

    Freeman's coaches are not tolerant of his recent issues, but they aren't overreacting. With one season remaining on his five-year rookie contract, Freeman potentially will be signed to a long-term extension during the offseason. And nothing over the past couple of weeks seems to have changed internal opinions about the 24-year-old who is on pace for career highs in passing yards and touchdowns.

    But consistency is the key word at One Buc Place right now.

    "I think the entire year has, in a lot of ways, been a bit of a roller coaster," offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said.

    Coach Greg Schiano remains unwavering in his support.

    "I think he didn't play his best game (against the Eagles), but I think he's built equity in our offense and in what he can do," Schiano said. "He just needs to come back and play another game and play well. That's what I fully anticipate."

    Freeman's biggest issue is accuracy. His 54.7 completion percentage ranks 34th in the NFL, though he is sixth in touchdown passes (25) and seventh in yards per attempt (7.6).

    The Bucs' proclivity for throwing deep balls — low-percentage attempts — skews the numbers a bit. Still, Freeman must be better.

    "Part of it is some throws are higher percentage than others," he said. "It's something you definitely want to improve on. You want to be in the upper echelon of the league as far as completion percentage."

    There are other factors. Freeman and teammates must learn to put missed opportunities behind them, Sullivan said.

    "When you count on making that (deep) throw — like an MMA fighter or a boxer who's a knockout puncher — you give your best shot and the guy's still standing, you have to gather yourself," he said.

    Sullivan added that Freeman, at times, has anticipated pressure that wasn't as close as he believed, resulting in rushed throws.

    "There was a particular play in the Denver game where, going over the tape, he said, 'Boy, I really had more time there. I could have set my feet,' " Sullivan recalled Freeman saying.

    Coaches point out some missed throws are not Freeman's fault. In an offense that relies on quarterbacks and receivers making reads on the fly, they don't always interpret coverages the same way. There are other explanations.

    "Sometimes, the route wasn't exactly the way it should be and you're throwing it on timing and rhythm," Schiano said. "Sometimes, (the ball) is coming out before the (receiver) ever breaks, and if he breaks wrong. … Sometimes, (Freeman) just misses the mark. Sometimes, he's under pressure."

    The Bucs aren't panicking. Frustrating as Freeman's recent play has been, Schiano said he expects him to bounce back Sunday against the Saints, against whom he has 1,259 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions over his past four meetings.

    "If you said it was a stock, how's it going?" Schiano said. "I know it's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. But overall, the stock is trending upward."

    Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@tampabay.com.


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    By Keeley Sheehan, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 14, 2012

    TAMPA — Munro Lortie, 13, likes golfing and plays about once a month. So he was eager to try out the giant driving range set up Friday in the 500 and 600 blocks of Franklin Street downtown.

    Six cranes held up a net covering the range. Numbered pinatas filled with confetti and golf balls hung from the top and a gong was set up at the end. Golfers who broke a pinata or hit the gong would win a prize.

    "I'm going for the 100 or the gong in the back," said Lortie, who was there with his father and cousin, in town from Atlanta for a wedding. "Line drives are my specialty."

    The Tampa-based special events company Big City Events put up the range, which was open until 9 p.m. Friday. By Friday evening, more than 300 golfers had bought an $8 bucket of balls and taken a few swings. The company wants to put on more large-scale events, especially in the Franklin Street area, to help rebrand Tampa as a "cool city," said Ferdian Jap, a partner at Big City Events.

    "This downtown area at night is kind of dead. There's a few restaurants here and there. We'd love to develop Franklin Street," Jap said.

    He said city officials helped them pull off the unusual driving range, once the company explained its intentions. Mayor Bob Buckhorn came out to support the event and even hit a few balls.

    The event also drew some neighbors. Ryan Garnder, 27, owner of creative co-op business 715 Franklin, noticed the setup from his nearby office.

    "I saw it all day," he said while hitting a second bucket of balls. "It looked that awesome and it was that awesome."

    Jap said his company would love to return the golf event in November 2013. Until then, he's taking suggestions of places and events he can host with the newly acquired netting. He's kicking around the idea of a March batting cage on Franklin Street. Other ideas can be sent via Twitter with the hashtag #tampateeoff.

    Times staff writer Robbyn Mitchell contributed to this report.


    Photos by CAROLINA HIDALGO  |  TimesPhotos by CAROLINA HIDALGO | Times

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    By Don Jensen, Times Correspondent
    Friday, December 14, 2012

    OLDSMAR

    The proverbial horse-racing carousel seldom stops. Some get off early. Jamie Ness often is the last one aboard. • The Odessa resident has a motor that runs as fast as his thoroughbreds. He trains, he claims, he manages, he researches, he travels … and he wins. • Ness, 38, has captured the past six training championships at Tampa Bay Downs, dominance not seen since the late Don Rice won eight titles from 1994-2005. • "It's hard work," Ness said, "but if I can do it, anybody can. I would slip a little bit if I cut corners."

    In less than three weeks, the Heron, S.D., native will claim his first national wins crown, beating powerhouse conditioners Steven Asmussen and Todd Pletcher. The blue-collar horseman is having a white-hot year with career highs of 383 victories and $6,580,797 in purse earnings through Thursday. He leads Asmussen in wins by 105.

    Ness also has the horse with the nation's longest current winning streak, sprinter Guam Typhoon. Claimed for $25,000 in February, the son of Distorted Humor has won his past eight starts, the past three in stakes.

    And Ness' client, Midwest Thoroughbreds, has eclipsed a 38-year-old national season record for victories by an owner with 519. Dan Lasater held the previous mark of 494. Owned by Richard and Karen Papiese of University Park, Ill., Midwest is going for its fourth consecutive owner's title at the Downs, and it appears to be a top contender for its first Eclipse Award. It finished second in 2011, the year Ness was hired.

    "(The national title) is not something I need to have," Ness said. "It is very important to stay humble, and I am. I'm still the same as I was in 1999 when I was 0-for-41 (beginning his career at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, Minn.). I'm just a better trainer now. Obviously, I have crafted my skills tremendously since then.

    "I take pride (in knowing) I started with nothing. Being from a small town in South Dakota — living in a run-down shack house — to being leading trainer in the country is pretty cool."

    Ness was introduced to the sport by his father, John, and his late grandfather, L.A. Larson. Ness' dynamite season started at the Downs, where he finished the 2011-12 meet with a track-record 79 victories from 168 starts, a surreal win rate of 47 percent.

    He won the title outright after sharing it the previous two seasons with Gerald Bennett and Kathleen O'Connell. Racing mainly on the East Coast, Ness also finished first at Delaware Park in Wilmington, and he leads at Laurel Park (Md.) and Penn National in Grantville, Pa.

    Ness and Richard Papiese talk regularly about claiming horses.

    "That's what we like to do," Ness said. "I think our business is profitable in that middle range. We don't claim for $50,000, and we don't claim for $5,000."

    Guam Typhoon, sidelined with a slight injury after winning the $100,000 Changing Times Stakes on Sept. 22 at Penn National, is one of Ness' two best claims, he said. The other was Lookinforthesecret, a sprinter picked up for $12,500 in 2007. Lookinforthesecret won eight stakes, highlighted by the $250,000 Bob Umphrey Turf Sprint Championship in 2008 at Calder in Miami Gardens.

    "That put me over the hump," Ness said. "Ever since I took (Lookinforthesecret), everything has been good."

    Ness oversees 120 horses and 60 employees, including five assistant trainers. He has stalls for the first time at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach. Odessa is home to Ness and his wife, Mandy, who own a 3,000-square-foot house 4 miles from Barn 14, where Ness has 40 stalls. "There is no way I could function without Mandy," Ness said. "She grew up in the business, so she understands."

    On Oct. 18, Ness witnessed the birth of his first child, Hannah Annmarie. "I was right there and got a tear in my eye," he said. "I don't know the last time I did that."

    GREYHOUNDS: The $75,000 Holiday Distance Challenge finale is Race 10 (10:11) tonight at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg.


    BRENDAN FITTERER   |   TimesBRENDAN FITTERER | Times

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    By Damian Cristodero, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 14, 2012

    University of Minnesota goalie Adam Wilcox claims he can solve a Rubik's Cube puzzle in "about a minute."

    Yeah, right, said laughing Gophers goaltenders coach Justin Johnson. "Maybe if he was doing just one side."

    No, really, Wilcox said, "It's just kind of learning patterns. You have to take it step by step."

    And that is exactly how Wilcox has turned himself into one of the nation's top freshman goalies and one of the Lightning's most interesting and promising prospects.

    Drafted 178th overall in 2011, the South St. Paul, Minn., native decided to play for Minnesota rather than stay in juniors, a stepping-stone approach to his career he believes is the best way to prepare for subsequent levels.

    "I like to take each step of the process to make sure I'm ready to play," Wilcox said. "Get a good base, good experience, get the confidence at each level and keep building."

    So far the plan is paying off.

    Wilcox, 20, is 10-2-3 in 16 games for No. 3 Minnesota with 944 minutes, 23 seconds of ice time that is fifth in Division I. His 1.78 goals-against average is eighth — and third among freshmen — and he has two shutouts.

    "Tremendous athletic ability," Johnson said. "Even when he misreads a play, he's able to react back to the puck."

    "And he makes big saves, timely saves," Lightning goaltenders coach Frantz Jean said. "That's the X factor everybody is looking for."

    At 6 feet, 186 pounds, Wilcox is not big, especially for the size-obsessed NHL. But Jean said he compensates with "really good" foot movement and positioning.

    And a "tremendous glove," Johnson said.

    Wilcox, though, was quick to note the contributions of his teammates.

    "Our forwards are stacked, and we have the best (defense)," he said. "That gave me a lot of confidence coming in, knowing that even if I did give up one or two (goals), they have my back for the rest of the game."

    But let's get back to this Rubik's Cube thing.

    A friend showed Wilcox the puzzle in ninth grade, the goalie said, and after about three hours he had it licked.

    Wilcox's mother, Christy, isn't surprised.

    "He's a perfectionist and likes everything in order, so it fits him he'd take a Rubik's Cube and put it in order," she said. "I don't think I've ever cleaned his room or organized his room. I never had to worry about that.

    "Even when he was younger, he always had his toys in one area and dinosaurs in one area. He was a really organized kid."

    Wilcox said there is an argument that learning to solve Rubik's Cube helps him on the ice.

    "With doing that, you see ahead to the next move you have to make," he said. "I can kind of see what's going to happen ahead. I can see a guy coming in, if it's going to be to the back door. I can make the move before it happens."

    "The same with school and stuff," Wilcox added about majoring in sports management. "I like looking ahead and planning."

    Step by step.

    Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@tampabay.com.


    University of MinnesotaUniversity of Minnesota

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    By Rick Stroud, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 14, 2012

    Even if they fall short of earning a spot in the postseason, this could become a record-breaking season on offense for the Bucs.

    Doug Martin already has broken the franchise rookie rushing record with 1,234 yards, surpassing the 1,178 of Cadillac Williams in 2005.

    If Martin averages 103.7 yards over the final three games, he will run down the overall franchise record of 1,544 yards set by James Wilder in 1984.

    Vincent Jackson leads the Bucs with 56 catches for 1,145 yards and is taking aim at the franchise yards record held by Mark Carrier, who had 1,422 in 1989. He must average 92.7 yards to break it.

    Finally, the Bucs have never had a 4,000-yard passer. Josh Freeman, currently at 3,192, can do so by averaging 269.3 yards against the Saints, Rams and Falcons. He must average 206.7 to surpass Brad Johnson's franchise record of 3,811 set in 2003.

    THIRD AND MISSING: Watching the Bucs struggle during the first half against the Eagles last week, including going 1-for-8 on third down, you had to wonder if Freeman could use a more physical slot receiver than Tiquan Underwood.

    Freeman missed some receivers, and he must improve on short and intermediate throws.

    But coach Greg Schiano said the Bucs present other inside options for Freeman in those situations, including Jackson and Mike Williams.

    "Tiquan lines up in there, but Vince lines up in there. Mike lines up in there and (TE Dallas Clark)," Schiano said. "So we can format it any way we want. And the things we ask Ti to do in there lend towards his skill set.

    "I don't think we're asking him to do any of the things that a traditional slot might do — muscling guys — because that isn't his game. But he is fast, and he's elusive. So we try to utilize his skills when he is in there and also when he is outside."

    RED BARRON: The Bucs remain happy with the play of rookie S Mark Barron, the seventh overall pick in April. He has been a big reason why Tampa Bay's defense is first in the NFL against the run.

    However, Barron has struggled, at times, in coverage. He blew an assignment against the Eagles and failed to make plays on the ball during critical situations.

    But Schiano preaches patience.

    "He's also making some plays that not many rookies make," Schiano said. "You're going to make some mistakes. There are some veteran guys that will make mistakes.

    "He's learning that this is different and the skill people you have to cover at this level, they're the elite people in the world at what they do. But overall, I think he's good. He's a level-as-you-go guy, and he'll keep getting better."

    HAWAIIAN PUNCH: DE Michael Bennett isn't bashful about letting everyone know he would like to earn a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl team. After recording his ninth sack of the season against the Eagles, Bennett did a hula dance. The Pro Bowl is played in Honolulu.

    "He's just letting everybody know what his goal is," Bucs DT Gerald McCoy said. "I think he's just having fun. He put in a lot of hard work.

    "It's not easy to get to a quarterback in this league. So when you do and you've had the success he's had this year, just have fun with it. I think it's cool."

    Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud@tampabay.com and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.


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    By Ernest Hooper, Times Columnist
    Friday, December 14, 2012

    TAMPA

    When Bucs guard Davin Joseph looks at Middleton High's football field, he sees more than the current structure. • Joseph envisions a renovated stadium with a collegiate track, more bleachers, more access for concession vendors and a new scoreboard. He sees the venue hosting football and soccer games, band competitions and community events, with the profits supporting the school's athletic and performing arts programs. • He sees the stadium serving as a bright light in an East Tampa community that sometimes is darkened by crime, poverty and hopelessness. • "We want to give the community something to be proud of," Joseph said. "We want to open it up to have local businesses be a part of it, and for the residents to be a part of it. It's still in the works but it's something we're excited about." • The proposal, still in its infant stages, is just one of the ideas Joseph hopes to infuse through his foundation, Davin's Dream Team. The two-time Pro Bowler has spent the 2012 regular season off the field, recovering from the torn right patellar tendon he suffered in a preseason game. • He's devoted considerable energy to rehabbing the injury at 1 Buc Place, but he's also had time to refocus his foundation efforts, which seek to enhance athletic and performing arts programs in inner-city areas and includes a specific focus on Middleton and Blake high schools. • Joseph has designed a new foundation brochure, and participated in a recruiting program for the United Way Tampa Bay that drew 1,500 new volunteers. • Joseph recently shared thoughts about the foundation with Times columnist Ernest Hooper.

    How difficult has rehab been, because I'm not sure the average fan understands the frustration?

    Every rehab is different but really with the Buccaneers, they really have a great training staff: the strength and conditioning coaches, along with the athletic trainers and the rehab specialists. I spend my time up there and they really work on everything. When you're working with the best of the best, it's not as hard, but the competitive nature of an athlete is to always want to beat the odds, to always challenge yourself, push yourself — a little too far sometimes. That's what's so different about being in rehab because you really have to listen. When they say you can't do something, that's not motivation to do that something anyway — that means you can't do it.

    If you devoted most of your time to rehab and put the foundation on hold, everyone would understand. But you didn't do that. It is your profession.

    All things happen for a reason. For me not to be able to play football this season was disappointing, but it gave me more time to devote to my foundation, my family. I've really enjoyed getting to know people in Tampa and I've enjoyed being at home, being able to spend more time with my son (Ali). He's getting older. He's 9 and he's getting more active in sports and really learning and discovering himself. It's been enjoyable, although Sundays are still sad days.

    What have you done to improve the foundation?

    I started from scratch, really. I was able to go back in and see where I haven't done a good job. The overall goal of a foundation is to give a clear understanding of what your purpose is. So every foundation has to start with its mission statement. At one point, we were getting away from our mainstream cause, so we had to start from scratch — putting together some new ideas and getting our message across to the public. What does the Davin Joseph Foundation and Davin's Dream Team do. I think it's been a success.

    Tell me more about Davin's Dream Team.

    Davin's Dream Team is a group of people that is all about the education, health and participation of our youth. There are a lot of different organizations that deal with youth, but we're all separate, we all stay in our lanes. What we're trying to do with Davin's Dream Team is create a complete package of volunteers, mentors, students, principals, teachers that are just about those three main goals: health, participation and education. We're trying to work with other nonprofits and fill in the gaps for Blake High School and Middleton High School.

    What drives you to operate the foundation?

    That's a good question. It's been something that I've had in me — that nature to give back — but it's growing, and it's growing, and it's growing. It's almost like I'm addicted now. I had a taste of it when I was in college, and you meet some great people along the way and they give back and they do great things and you see it and you say, "Just being a part of that was awesome." Then you get to the league and I have guys like Derrick Brooks and Michael Clayton in the locker room, and you meet Warrick Dunn, and you see the things they're doing. I've met a lot of great people that gave back to the community, so I was influenced. So I got started with one event and then two events and then three events. Now I'm so far in I don't want to get out.

    What's the sense you get when you meet some of the kids you're helping?

    It takes me back to when I was their age and how hard it is to stay motivated, how hard it is to stay focused. And they probably have it worse than I did when I was a kid because of all the distractions. When I meet kids, it keeps me motivated because they're why I'm doing it. I had a roundtable discussion at Middleton High School last week, and they asked me what keeps me motivated. I said, "I'm doing it for you guys to be successful." What you really want to do is develop a culture, a sense of pride about where they're from so they will go back and give back to their community. The kids keep me grounded, keep me humble. Everybody has a story and to hear their stories about where they're from and their challenges help me learn as a leader. As much as they want to learn from me, I want to learn from them.

    Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.


    Courtesy of Ray PalmerCourtesy of Ray Palmer

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    Times staff
    Friday, December 14, 2012

    As the Big East exodus continues with the league's seven basketball-centric Catholic schools planning to exit and form their own league, USF is left in limbo as far as its future. Here's a look at where things stand:

    What are the chances the Catholic schools will stay?

    Poor. Big East commissioner Mike Aresco reportedly told athletic directors of the current and future football programs Thursday night that he expects the seven schools to leave.

    Will that leave the Big East with enough schools to compete?

    Yahoo.com reported Friday that the league is set on having its football season with 12 teams next fall. On Tuesday, the league announced home and road opponents for all schools. What the league looks like beyond that is in question.

    What are the chances USF could join another major conference, such as the ACC or Big 12?

    ACC and Big 12 members earn about $17 million to $20 million in payouts from the league, so a new member has to generate enough new revenue to justify a piece of that pie. Those leagues have little incentive to add a member who would cause other schools to earn less.

    USF's strongest asset is the Tampa Bay television market, which ranks 14th in the country. But the passion for football isn't quite as high. Tampa Bay tied Louisville for 20th in ratings for ESPN games at 2.1.

    Because USF is a relatively young school that started playing football in 1997, it doesn't have the generations of fan support more established programs have.

    What other options might USF have?

    The Sporting News reported Friday that Cincinnati and Connecticut, both of whom have lobbied for invitations to the ACC, are investigating the possibility of forming a new league that would include remnants of the Big East and the Mountain West, including USF and possibly UCF.

    Could the Big East have prevented this?

    The league was founded with a basketball focus and as football has become the dominant force, the nonfootball members' resentment built. But as long as the financial rewards were better, the seven Catholic schools had incentive to stay.

    The league made a major mistake when it rejected a $1.17 billion television rights offer from ESPN last year. Some schools, including ones that later defected, lobbied for the Big East to hold out for a bigger offer as Fox and NBC Sports Network sought to beef up their programming. Instead, defections have dramatically reduced the Big East's bargaining position, opening the door for the Catholic schools to believe they can make more in their own league.

    Will the Big East maintain its position among the BCS automatic qualifiers?

    Next season is the last one for the current BCS system before a four-team playoff system is implemented. Bill Hancock, the BCS executive director, told cbssports.com in an email it's "premature and inappropriate" to determine whether the league will retain its automatic qualifier status in 2013 in the wake of wholesale changes to the league. Starting in 2014, only the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12 will have automatic qualifier status for the major bowls. In addition, the highest-ranked team among the other conferences — Big East, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt — will earn a berth in a major bowl.


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    By Stephen F. Holder, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 14, 2012

    You're something of a scientist in your spare time from what I hear. Tell me about the project you were part of at West Virginia.

    I was on doing some independent research, helping out one of my professors. We were trying to help develop a new technique to see how long something's been dead. There's a way you can determine a short amount of time, from a couple days to a week or so. Then you can tell if they've been dead for multiple years. We were trying to do something in between. They were burying pig heads and testing it out. I guess they dig them up every so often, and they can tell how long they've been dead by looking at the DNA.

    Did you always have an interest in science?

    I think the main thing was I always wanted to know why. When I was a kid, I'd go somewhere with my mom and I was always asking why. And I was always into numbers, trying to solve problems. I just like to know the inside of things.

    So if football wasn't an option, what do you think your career plans would have been?

    Eventually, I wanted to get into the CIA. I always want to find out things that not everybody knows. That goes back to me always asking why. I just always enjoyed solving problems. And then I started watching CSI and shows like that. I think that got me interested in forensics. But once you start doing it, you quickly realize that's really glorified and it's not really like that. But I like doing the research.

    Another thing I learned about you last week is you threw for over 8,600 yards as a high school quarterback. Really?

    I started three years at quarterback. I was more of a pocket passer. I always had great receivers around me. In my first couple of years, we always had good running backs. But we had a pretty wide-open offense. We'd have five wide (receivers), and we ran the no-huddle. I was making checks on the field and in the two-minute drill. I was calling the plays. (My coach) let me do that in my sophomore year. I was actually calling plays.

    That must have been a lot of fun, no?

    It was real fun. And in my freshman year, I started at receiver. We had two quarterbacks, going back and forth. In my sophomore year, our starting quarterback got a spider bite and missed half the year. I stepped in and took the job.

    Do you ever miss playing quarterback?

    I did at first. You touch the ball on every play, and you're in charge of everything. But I think it's a lot more fun to chase people down and hit them instead of letting them hit you.

    These are my weekly questions: What's playing the most right now on your iPod?

    Well, I don't really listen to what everybody else listens to. I grew up with two older sisters, so I'm really into old school R&B. And right now, in the locker room, we're listening to (rapper) Trinidad James. That's real big right now.

    What website do you visit the most?

    ESPN.com. And I'm always on Google, Googling stuff like different scientific facts.

    When you're on ESPN, are you looking at football or other sports, too?

    I'm a real big basketball fan. That's actually what I grew up playing first. But then I stopped growing after my freshman year of high school.

    Finally, what's your favorite reality TV show?

    Well, I don't watch too many reality shows.

    Well, they don't talk a lot about science, do they?

    No. I've been kind of watching X Factor a little bit lately, though.

    At West Virginia, you were roommates with (Bucs linebacker) Najee Goode. What did he do that absolutely got on your nerves?

    Probably the fact that he always ran out of gas.

    What?

    When he first got his car, he ran out of gas probably three times in two weeks. And this is in Morgantown. You don't have to drive that far to go anywhere. He must have been putting in like $2 or $3. I'd be in class and would get a phone call, but I wouldn't pick it up. Then I'd get a text saying, "Hey, can you come pick me up?" I'm like, "For what?" He'd say, "Well, I ran out of gas again."

    What was his explanation?

    I don't know. I guess he just didn't want to put $50 in his tank at one time.

    What about around the house? Was he messy?

    Oh, man, he's one of the messiest guys you'll ever meet. But when he cleaned, he really cleaned. He'd clean everything spotless; the kitchen, his room, everywhere. But then he'd get done, and he'd start eating, and he'd have some ketchup on it, and he'd sit in the living room with that. We had every condiment in our house. And of course, he'd mess up the living room.

    So how did you get on his nerves? Or were you the perfect roommate?

    Of course I was.

    Stephen F. Holder can be reached at sholder@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @HolderStephen.


    DANIEL WALLACE   |   TimesDANIEL WALLACE | Times

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    By Rick Stroud, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 14, 2012

    Gerald McCoy had gone nine games without a sack when he was issued the ultimate personal challenge the night before last week's game against Philadelphia.

    The directive was not delivered via a fire-and-brimstone speech from an assistant coach or pressure from a teammate.

    It came during team chapel.

    "We got issued a challenge the night before in chapel about who do you play for?" McCoy, the Bucs' third-year defensive tackle said. "Or what do you play for? And when you play, how hard do you really play? The challenge was really do you play this game for the Lord or do you play for somebody else or some other reason?

    "When you go into the game, the challenge was, 'Let's see if you can play every play as hard as you can.' Regardless of the outcome of the game, the Lord judges your output for Him. That was my motivation for that game, and it felt good to play that way. I knew what my mind-set was and the reason I was playing."

    Before last week's game, there was no shortage of Bucs fans probably losing faith in McCoy. The third overall pick in 2010 ended each of his first two seasons on injured reserve with torn biceps (his left in 2010 and right in 2011).

    But in the 23-21 loss to the Eagles, McCoy played the best game of his fractured pro career (which includes missing two games in 2011 with an ankle injury). He sacked Nick Foles twice, hit him three other times and made five tackles, including three for a loss.

    McCoy, who had not registered a sack since Week 3, has been dominant at his position, Bucs coach Greg Schiano said.

    "I think he's just getting better at some of the things, but I think he's played at a high level all year," Schiano said. "He's been very disruptive. I think he's allowed other people to make some plays as well. In the run game, he's been dominant at times. So I think what he's doing is what we need our whole team to do.

    "Now he is becoming a more consistent performer with more cumulative reps under his belt, better understanding of the position. He had limited stints of playing his first two years. There's no substitute for playing in games. Practice is great, but the way you learn is in the fire. And as he's gone back to the fire more and more, he's been better and consistent."

    There has always been a sense of balance in McCoy's life. He was raised with his two sisters in the church in Oklahoma City, the son of a human resources manager and an aircraft mechanic.

    McCoy is so charismatic, so affable, critics often have believed he has too much squeak in his clean.

    Even McCoy's mentor, seven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Warren Sapp, has said of McCoy you can't live soft and play hard.

    "I think Gerald's got pretty good balance in his life," Schiano said. "He loves and is passionate about football, and when he plays, he plays hard; really hard. But off the field, he is a pleasant guy to be around. If you can pull it off, that's nice."

    At 6 feet 4, 295 pounds, McCoy has a rare combination of size and explosiveness off the snap to disrupt plays. But in his best season at Oklahoma, 2008, he recorded only six sacks.

    He will always be compared with Ndamukong Suh, the foot-stomping, groin-kicking defensive tackle for the Lions who went one pick earlier. After recording 10 sacks and making the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Suh has come back to earth. He posted four sacks in 2011 and has 51/2 with 27 tackles this season.

    McCoy has 29 tackles with five sacks and one forced fumble this season. Sapp averaged 33.6 tackles during his nine-year career with the Bucs and Raiders.

    McCoy's not the first Bucs player to balance faith, family and football. The best example might have been Lee Roy Selmon, who already was a legend at Oklahoma by the time McCoy arrived there.

    "I've always been that way, and I believe that's what God has called me to be," McCoy said. "My goal, before anything, was to finish the season. I've still got three games to do it. But in order to do anything, you've got to be out there. I would love to have all this different success with the team. But to finish 16 games, to be able to say I finished my first NFL season, I don't think people realize what that means to me.

    "After all the work I put in to get back … to finish 16 games will mean the world to me.''


    DANIEL WALLACE   |   TimesDANIEL WALLACE | Times

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    Times staff
    Friday, December 14, 2012

    The poll

    How will the Bucs, 6-7 with three games left, finish the season?

    8-8: 39 percent

    7-9: 37 percent

    6-10: 11 percent

    9-7, miss the playoffs: 8 percent

    9-7, make the playoffs: 5 percent

    Total: 865 votes

    Inside the numbers

    17-24 Bucs' record against the Saints

    7 Interceptions for the Saints' Drew Brees over his past two games compared with one touchdown

    30 Rushing yards needed by Doug Martin to pass Ricky Bell (1,263) for third in Bucs history for one season

    67 Rushing yards needed by Martin to pass James Wilder (1,300) for second

    What they're saying

    After winning four straight, the Bucs have now lost three in a row but still appear to be a team right on the verge of breaking out. If they can solidify the defensive secondary, this team will be competing for championships very soon.

    Brian Billick Fox Sports

    The heartbreaker against the Eagles was the kind of loss that says wait 'til next year in Tampa Bay. But at least it doesn't feel like false hope with Greg Schiano's program off to a strong start.

    Don Banks Sports Illustrated

    New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham has been able to hold onto one thing: his league lead in dropped passes. After a crucial drop in last week's loss to the Giants, Graham now has 10 for the season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. However, we should note that New England's Wes Welker has moved into a tie with Graham. The Saints are second in the league with 33 team drops.The Buccaneers are tied for No. 27 with 16 drops, and Doug Martin has seven of them. But it should be noted the rookie running back hasn't had a drop in more than a month. It also should be noted Vincent Jackson is one of only six receivers who has been targeted at least 40 times and has yet to drop a pass.

    Pat Yasinskas ESPN.com

    The picks

    The Saints come home angry — angry that their season's been stolen (in their eyes), angry they're out of it, angry they can't do anything about their anger except win the last three games and get ready for 2013. Drew Brees will see to it that the Saints will be playing for something here Sunday. Saints, 28-25.

    Peter King Sports Illustrated

    The Saints are out of it, so they are playing for pride. Tampa Bay is still alive, but the Saints beat them earlier in the season. I think they do it again. Drew Brees will light up an overmatched Tampa Bay secondary. Saints, 37-27.

    Pete Prisco CBSSports.com

    Both QBs, Josh Freeman and Drew Brees, can put up a ton of yards and likely will. Difference will be Bucs RB Doug Martin on Superdome turf. Bucs, 31-27.

    Sam Farmer Los Angeles Times

    Bucs at Saints

    1 p.m., Superdome, New Orleans

    TV/radio: Ch. 13; 620-AM, 103.5-FM

    Line, over/under: Saints by 4, 54

    Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 6 Week 7 Week 8 Week 9 Week 10 Week 11 Week 12 Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17
    Panthers

    Bucs 16, Panthers 10

    1-0
    at Giants

    Giants 41, Bucs 34

    1-1
    at Cowboys

    Cowboys 1 6, Bucs 10

    1-2
    Redskins

    Redskins 24, Bucs 22

    1-3
    Chiefs

    Bucs 38, Chiefs 10

    2-3
    Saints

    Saints 35, Bucs 28

    2-4
    at Vikings

    Bucs 36, Vikings 17

    3-4
    at Raiders

    Bucs 42, Raiders 32

    4-4
    Chargers

    Bucs 34, Chargers 24

    5-4
    at Panthers

    Bucs 27, Panthers 21

    6-4
    Falcons

    Falcons 24, Bucs 23

    6-5
    at Broncos

    Broncos 31, Bucs 23

    6-6
    Eagles

    Eagles 23, Bucs 21

    6-7
    at Saints

    1 p.m. today, Ch. 13
    Rams

    1 p.m. Dec. 23, Ch. 13 *
    at Falcons

    1 p.m. Dec. 30, Ch. 13

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    By Antonya English, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 14, 2012

    >>tonight

    No. 5 Florida at No. 8 Arizona

    When/where: 10; McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz.

    TV/radio: ESPN; 620-AM

    Records: Florida 7-0, Arizona 7-0

    Notable: After rising to No. 5 in both the media and coaches polls, the question most asked about the Gators: Are they really this good? Despite beefing up their nonconference schedule, the Gators have dominated so far, holding five of seven opponents to fewer than 50 points. Tonight, Florida should get the challenge it expected but didn't receive from Wisconsin, Marquette and FSU. The Wildcats have won by an average of 20.4 points and are led by the guard duo of Nick Johnson and Mark Lyons, who average a combined 27 points per game. Arizona, which has its highest national ranking since being No. 7 in 2006-07, is shooting 40 percent from the field. The Gators rank in the top 10 nationally in four statistical categories, including scoring defense (second, 48.3) and scoring margin (third, plus-25.3).

    Antonya English, Times staff writer


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    Times wires
    Friday, December 14, 2012

    Today

    New Mexico Bowl

    Who: Arizona (7-5, 4-5 Pac-12) vs. Nevada (7-5, 4-4 Mountain West)

    When/where: 1; Albuquerque

    TV/radio: ESPN; 620-AM

    Line: Arizona by 9

    Notable: Arizona's offense is ranked seventh in the nation, Nevada's 11th. Both teams are among the worst in points allowed. Arizona All-American Ka'Deem Carey is the nation's leading rusher with 1,757 yards, Nevada's Stefphon Jefferson is No. 2 with 1,703 yards.

    Idaho Potato Bowl

    Who: No. 18 Utah State (10-2, 6-0 WAC) vs. Toledo (9-3, 6-2 MAC)

    When/where: 4:30; Boise

    TV/radio: ESPN; 620-AM

    Line: Utah State by 10½

    Notable: Utah State's defense is top 15 nationally in points allowed, total defense and rushing. Toledo averages nearly 33 points per game. RB Kerwynn Williams leads Utah State in rushing, receiving, TDs and scoring.

    Times wires


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    By Stephen F. Holder, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 14, 2012

    118.9 (14th) 96.1 (26th)

    Projected starters

    BUCS

    OFFENSE

    WR: Vincent Jackson

    LT: Donald Penn

    LG: Jeremy Zuttah

    C: Ted Larsen

    RG: Jamon Meredith

    RT: Demar Dotson

    TE: Dallas Clark

    WR: Mike Williams

    QB: Josh Freeman

    RB: Doug Martin

    FB: Erik Lorig

    DEFENSE

    LDE: Michael Bennett

    DT: Gerald McCoy

    DT: Roy Miller

    RDE: Daniel Te'o-Nesheim

    SLB: Adam Hayward

    MLB: Mason Foster

    WLB: Lavonte David

    CB: E.J. Biggers

    CB: Leonard Johnson

    SS: Mark Barron

    FS: Ronde Barber

    special teams

    PR: Roscoe Parrish

    KR: Tiquan Underwood

    PK: Connor Barth

    P/KO: Michael Koenen

    SAINTS

    OFFENSE

    WR: Joe Morgan

    LT: Jermon Bushrod

    LG: Ben Grubbs

    C: Brian De La Puente

    RG: Jahri Evans

    RT: William Robinson

    WR: Marques Colston

    WR: Devery Henderson

    QB: Drew Brees

    RB: Mark Ingram

    FB: Jed Collins

    DEFENSE

    LDE: Cameron Jordan

    DT: Brodrick Bunkley

    DT: Sedrick Ellis

    RDE: Will Smith

    SLB: David Hawthorne

    MLB: Curtis Lofton

    WLB: Jonathan Vilma

    CB: Jabari Greer

    CB: Patrick Robinson

    SS: Roman Harper

    FS: Rafael Bush

    SPECIAL TEAMS

    PR: Darren Sproles

    KR: Travaris Cadet

    PK: Garrett Hartley

    P/KO: Thomas Morstead



    Stat pack



    1 p.m., Superdome, New Orleans | TV/radio: Ch. 13; 620-AM, 103.5-FM | Line, O/U: Saints by 4, 54

    Rushing yards

    passing yards

    total yards

    Rushing yards allowed

    passing yards allowed

    total yards allowed

    Bucs

    saints

    78.2 (1st) 152.4 (32nd)

    237.9 (13th) 298.1 (2nd)

    311.6 (32nd) 284.5 (30th)

    356.8 (13th) 394.2 (3rd)

    389.8 (29th) 436.9 (32nd)

    Injury report

    BUCS Questionable: DE Da'Quan Bowers (hamstring), CB LeQuan Lewis (knee). Probable: DE Michael Bennett (shoulder), CB Anthony Gaitor (hamstring), T Jamon Meredith (ankle), DT Roy Miller (head).

    SAINTS Out: T Charles Brown (knee), RB Chris Ivory (hamstring), S Malcolm Jenkins (hamstring), T Zach Strief (ankle), CB Corey White (knee). Questionable: RB Jed Collins (toe).

    Prediction

    Saints 28, Bucs 26

    The teams have split their previous eight meetings dating to 2008 and have a heated rivalry. Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman excels against the Saints, completing 65.1 percent of his passes for 1,259 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions over his past four games against them. But Saints quarterback Drew Brees has a 116 rating over his past two meetings against the Bucs.

    Saints' top offensive player

    Drew Brees, right, already has registered his seventh consecutive 4,000-yard passing season. Brees, the only Saint with even one 4,000-yard season, also leads the NFL with 32 touchdown passes.

    Saints' top defensive player

    End Cameron Jordan, left, is coming on strong and leads the Saints with seven sacks. He recorded a sack and forced fumble in this season's first meeting against the Bucs.

    What the Saints do best

    The Saints, even without suspended coach Sean Payton, continue to orchestrate a passing attack that is the envy of many. Brees leads the NFL with 4,028 passing yards.

    How you beat the Saints

    Take advantage of a defense ranked last in the NFL, 42.4 yards per game worse than the No. 31 Jags, and last at 6.4 yards per play. It's why the Bucs put up 513 yards in the teams' first meeting.

    The Bucs must avoid …

    Getting off schedule with miscues, penalties and short first-down plays making second and third down unmanageable.


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    By Pat Damico, Times Correspondent
    Friday, December 14, 2012

    What's hot: We are enjoying some very low morning tides combined with mild wind, which offer sight-fishing opportunities for fish that "tail." Careful and stealthy observation will reveal changes in the water's surface — sometimes referred to as nervous water — that signal the presence of fish. A tail breaking the surface means a fish is using its nose and mouth to uncover a crustacean, shrimp or crab. The fish's body is now more vertical. Inexperienced fishermen have followed mullet and even wing tips of rays, mistaking them for redfish.

    Tip: At this time of year, sheepshead occupy the same shallow water flats enjoyed by redfish for the same reason: plentiful food. It is more difficult to differentiate the two, so why not pursue the proverbial bait-stealing sheepshead, a great fighter and fine table fare? Close observation shows the difference in tails, but sheepshead can be more difficult to fool with a fly rod. If your tailer refuses your regular redfish presentations of crab and shrimp-type flies, reduce the size, remembering that tiny sand fleas or sand crabs are favorite sheepshead delicacies. Also, lengthen and reduce the tippet section of your leader to 10-pound test. A strong hook must be used because sheepshead bend the point down with their crushers, making a hook set impossible. Keep your rod tip on the water and eliminate slack to detect soft takes. Move the fly very slowly. A small pair of binoculars will extend your vision and allow you to cover more water before heading off to chase the wrong fish.

    Fly fisherman Pat Damico runs charters in lower Tampa Bay and can be reached at captpat.com and (727) 504-8649.


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    By Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 14, 2012

    TAMPA — Considering Bucs defensive end Aaron Morgan grew up in New Orleans, the matchup Sunday against the Saints in the Superdome will be a special homecoming.

    But, truth be told, Morgan always felt more at home in bayou boats than on Bourbon Street.

    "I was an outdoorsy kid," he said.

    Morgan, 23, has fished since he was 3, largely because of his father, Jimmy Sr., a longshoreman. The family moved to Amite, a small town 80 miles north of New Orleans, when Morgan was 10 years old. He would help his dad around the house, from tractor work to gardening, and wrestle with his two older brothers.

    But Morgan always found time to fish. To this day, Morgan and brother Eric, 34, have epic competitions each time they're in town together. They'll spend 12 hours in an aluminum, flat-bottom boat, searching for freshwater perch, catfish and bass, with points awarded for casting, type of catch and finding the best spots.

    "When he comes home, I've got some redemption to do," Eric said, laughing. "He beat me real bad last time. He game-planned all that time to beat me that one time. It's okay. When we're home this time, I'm going to be ready."

    The rematch won't come until the offseason because Morgan will be busy this weekend trying to reel in Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Morgan, promoted from the practice squad in early November, has received more playing time in recent weeks, used primarily as a speed rusher off the edge on passing downs.

    Morgan, who was undrafted out of Louisiana-Monroe in 2010, is still developing as a player, but he's gaining confidence in the Bucs scheme.

    And defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan said the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder has speed that makes him different from some of the other linemen.

    "He brings a lot to this defense," defensive end Da'Quan Bowers said. "He's very, very fast. He can bend the edge. A lot of guys think he's all about speed, but he's got some power behind him, too. … He's bringing a different approach (that) fits in perfectly with what we're doing."

    Morgan didn't watch or play much football until he got in high school. At a smaller school such as Amite High, with around 500 students, he had the chance to compete in several sports, including track, baseball, and basketball.

    But Eric knew his younger brother's calling was football while watching one of his early junior varsity games.

    "That week, he asked me, 'Is it legal for me to strip the ball from the running back when he has the ball and take it back for a touchdown?' " Eric remembered. "I told him, 'You can if you get your hands on the ball.' When I walked into the stadium, that was the first play I saw him do. It was kind of like a dream. Like, 'Is this really going on?' He stripped the ball and went back 40 yards for a touchdown. I was in awe."

    Morgan's coming-out party came at the Superdome, when he led Amite to a Class 3A state championship in 2004. The game helped put him on the recruiting map before he landed at Louisiana-Monroe.

    And on Sunday, Morgan will be back, with about 20 friends and family in the stands.

    "It's exciting," Morgan said. "It's always good to go home."


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    By Stephen F. Holder, Times Staff Writer
    Friday, December 14, 2012

    TAMPA — Mike Williams could have chosen to trash the video and forget that it ever happened.

    But the Bucs' third-year receiver instead is more than willing to look back at that fateful play at the end of Tampa Bay's loss to the Saints on Oct. 21.

    With the Bucs down seven and looking to tie the score, Williams caught what appeared to be a touchdown with time expiring in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, the score was nullified by an illegal touching penalty because Williams had first gone out of bounds and come back into the field of play.

    "It's a play I've definitely learned from," Williams said. "I just have to stay in bounds. If I do that, we tie that game and keep playing."

    It's a particularly painful game to look back on for other reasons, too. The Bucs had 513 total yards that day, their second-most of the season, with WR Vincent Jackson (216 receiving yards) and QB Josh Freeman (420 passing yards) setting career highs.

    Yet, Tampa Bay lost the game 35-28, blowing a 21-7 advantage.

    "Everything was executed, except me going out of bounds on the last play," Williams said. "Everything went the way it was supposed to. Everything was so perfect. So it's hard when you play like that and you lose."

    Said Jackson: "For me, it's always about the win first. … We executed some things well. Josh had time and he was getting the ball out. Our scheme is good. When we don't hurt ourselves and we're playing at a high level … it allows us to be very dynamic."

    The outcome of the first game was typical of this series. The teams have split their last eight meetings, four of them decided by seven points or fewer.

    Williams anticipates the usual on Sunday at the Superdome. And he knows now, more than ever, that one play might be the difference.

    "I really think it's really the definition of a tough division," Williams said of NFC South matchups. "Anytime we play anyone in our division, it's going down to the final play. It can always go either way. We always know it's going to be tough."

    RUSHING BREES: Only five teams have given up fewer sacks than the Saints, a key reason QB Drew Brees already has his seventh straight 4,000-yard season.

    But the Bucs will settle for making Brees throw under pressure or, as they call it, getting him "off his spot."

    It's a key element to having success against the prolific New Orleans passing attack.

    "We have to rush better and cover better so there's nowhere to go with the ball," coach Greg Schiano said. "But even in (the first meeting), Drew was very good at extending the play. So, we need to be very disciplined in our rush lanes where, if he tries to extend the play, he runs into somebody. … He's not looking to run. He's looking to extend the play and throw it to an open receiver."

    But defensive linemen must reconcile that edict with knowing when to freelance a bit, Schiano said.

    "That is such a fine line," he said. "I've been (on teams) where the defensive line coach is so ingrained in rush lanes that nobody takes a chance and gets a sack. … I think you change it up. You blitz, you straight rush. As you change it up, the rush lanes change per the call, and that helps a lot."

    DE Da'Quan Bowers said there are other ways to disrupt Brees.

    "You have to get in his throwing lanes," Bowers said. "He's not tall (6 foot), so anytime we can get a hand up and change the path of the ball, anything like that, can help."

    INJURY REPORT: Bowers, who has been slowed by a hamstring injury, was listed as questionable. CB LeQuan Lewis (knee) also is questionable, while DE Michael Bennett (shoulder), CB Anthony Gaitor (hamstring), G Jamon Meredith (ankle) and DT Roy Miller (head) are probable.

    The Saints ruled out five players: T Charles Brown (knee), RB Chris Ivory (hamstring), S Malcolm Jenkins (hamstring), T Zach Strief (ankle) and CB Corey White (knee).


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    Times wires
    Friday, December 14, 2012

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Ahmad Bradshaw, the Giants' leading rusher, will sit out this week's game against the Falcons due to lingering knee and foot problems. They include a sprained right knee sustained Sunday against the Saints.

    "With someone like that and his constitution, he thinks that come game day he'll be fine and be able to play," coach Tom Coughlin said. "But medically, it was the only wise move to keep him out."

    With second-leading rusher Andre Brown out with a broken leg, New York will turn to rookie David Wilson. Last week, he returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, ran for two touchdowns and had a team-record 327 all-purpose yards.

    Wilson, who also remain the primary kickoff returner, said he's up for the challenge to run the ball 20 or so times. "Maybe there's a little more anticipation and a little more excitement now," he said. "I think we all had a great week in practice, and we're showing the coaches that we can get the job done. They shouldn't worry if I have to pull it together on Sunday."

    Defamation suit: Jonathan Vilma urged a federal judge to reject commissioner Roger Goodell's motion to dismiss the defamation lawsuit filed against him by the Saints linebacker. Vilma's request to U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan argues Goodell acted with "reckless disregard for the truth" when basing initial allegations about Vilma upon one fired Saints assistant, Mike Cerullo, whose testimony has been inconsistent and challenged by other witnesses in the NFL's bounty probe of the Saints.

    Bears: Coach Lovie Smith denied a Chicago Tribune report that quarterback Jay Cutler has a sprained ligament in his knee.

    Falcons: Receiver Roddy White missed another practice because of a knee injury. He is questionable for Sunday.

    Jets: A day after saying Tim Tebow would not be a wildcat quarterback or punt protector, coach Rex Ryan reversed himself. Tebow has missed three games with two broken ribs.

    Packers: Linebacker Clay Matthews is expected to return this week from a hamstring injury.

    Patriots: Tight end Rob Gronkowski practiced for the first time since surgery for a broken forearm Nov. 19. But profootballtalk.com reported he won't play.

    Raiders: Safety Tyvon Branch, whose 57-game streak ended Sunday because of a neck injury, returned to practice. Defensive tackle Richard Seymour, out since Nov. 4 with a hamstring injury, missed practice a day after aggravating it.

    Ravens: Linebacker Terrell Suggs, who sat out Sunday with a torn biceps, will be a game-time decision.

    Redskins: Quarterback Robert Griffin III, who sprained his right knee Sunday, practiced for the third straight day but was limited. Coach Mike Shanahan said he plans to wait as long as possible before choosing between him and Kirk Cousins.

    Saints: Tight end Jimmy Graham said he has dealt with a wrist injury since the preseason. Graham, who has not been listed on the injury report, said he has taped both wrists to hide it from opponents.

    Seahawks: Starting corner Walter Thurmond won't play because of a hamstring injury. Receiver Sidney Rice, who sustained a bruised foot Sunday, practiced for the first time this week and is expected to play.

    Vikings: Starting corner Antoine Winfield missed practice with a knee injury, but coach Leslie Frazier said he expects him to play.

    Fines: Jets defensive lineman Quinton Coples was fined $15,000 for grabbing the face mask of Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne. Giants corner Prince Amukamara was fined $15,750 for a horse-collar tackle of Saints running back Pierre Thomas. Lions tackle Gosder Cherilus was fined $10,000 for a chop block. Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan was fined $10,000 for grabbing Bills running back C.J. Spiller by the face mask. And Bears corner Charles Tillman was fined $7,875 for a late hit on Vikings running back Toby Gerhart.


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    Times wires
    Friday, December 14, 2012

    RUSTON, La. — Skip Holtz wasn't without a head coaching job for long.

    He was introduced as Louisiana Tech's coach Friday, less than two weeks after he was fired by USF.

    "I am tremendously excited for the opportunity to build on what Coach (Sonny) Dykes started and to lead this great team forward," Holtz said at a news conference.

    Dykes left to accept the head coaching job at Cal last week. Louisiana Tech went 9-3 under Dykes this season, with a potent offense that averaged 51 points and 578 yards per game. It was left without a bowl invitation after balking at an early invitation to the Independence Bowl.

    Holtz said he is planning to keep Dykes' up-tempo, wide open offense. "I think if it ain't broke, then don't fix it," he said.

    Holtz, 48, the son of Hall of Fame coach Lou Holtz, is coming off a 3-9 season at USF, where he was 16-21 in three seasons. He was fired Dec. 2, a day after a 27-3 season-ending loss to Pittsburgh left the Bulls 1-6 in the Big East this year and 5-16 in conference play during his tenure, easily the league's worst record in that time.

    Holtz is 88-71 overall in 13 seasons at Connecticut, East Carolina and USF. During his stint at East Carolina, the Pirates won Conference USA titles in 2008 and 2009. Louisiana Tech is moving from the WAC to C-USA in 2013.

    Holtz said he was on a golf course when Louisiana Tech called him Wednesday about the job. "I told them I could be on a 4 p.m. flight to interview," he said.

    Said Louisiana Tech president Dan Reneau said, "I am extremely excited about the opportunity to have a coach of the caliber and experience of Skip Holtz leading our football program into the future."

    No 'bama suspension for murray hit: The SEC won't suspend Alabama defensive end Quinton Dial for a hit on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray in the SEC Championship Game. That means Dial can play in the Jan. 7 national title game against Notre Dame. Dial leveled Murray, a former Plant High standout, with what appeared to be a helmet-to-helmet hit during a second-quarter interception return in the Dec. 1 game. He was not penalized. SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw told al.com later that Dial should have been penalized. The league said in a statement it had reviewed video of the play and the school would handle any punishments internally. Alabama coach Nick Saban typically doesn't disclose internal punishments.

    Temple: Giants assistant offensive line coach Matt Rhule will be introduced as the school's head coach Monday unless there is a breakdown in negotiations, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Rhule was one of the final two candidates for the job. Miami Hurricanes defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio withdrew from consideration, reports said.

    North carolina: Sophomore All-America tailback Gio Bernard, among the nation's top rushers and punt returners, said he will enter next year's NFL draft.


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