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    By Rick Stroud, Times Staff Writer
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    TAMPA — They crowded against the railing near the tunnel to the Bucs locker room, hoping a glove, hat or sweatband would be tossed their direction by players after Sunday's game.

    But not every fan in that scrum was looking for a free souvenir.

    Some were more into the giving spirit, hurling insults directly at Josh Freeman.

    For the second game in a row, the Bucs quarterback threw four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown in a 28-13 loss to the Rams.

    The offense also was stopped twice on fourth down inside the Rams 10 in the fourth quarter. And for good measure, the defense allowed an 80-yard touchdown on the first play of the second half.

    This is how the 2012 home finale ended: a fifth straight loss — guaranteeing a losing record (6-9) and fifth consecutive season without a playoff appearance — and the Bucs tied with Carolina in the cellar of the NFC South.

    Every exclamation point for the Bucs five weeks ago has been replaced with a question mark. None bigger than Freeman.

    His eight interceptions over the past two games are as many as he threw over the first 13.

    "When he makes those plays, they're spectacular. Everybody is like, 'Wow! What a great play!' " Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. "When he doesn't, now he's forcing it. We're in a results-driven business, and when it works, it's a great play. Then when it doesn't work: Is he pressing? Is he trying too hard? It's somewhere in between."

    Freeman was left to rattle off his picks like Santa calling reindeer.

    • On an inside comeback, Mike Williams slipped, allowing cornerback Janoris Jenkins to make an easy interception and return it 41 yards for a second-quarter touchdown that gave the Rams (7-7-1) a 7-3 lead.

    • On a second-quarter pass to Vincent Jackson in the slot, linebacker James Laurinaitis dropped into a zone and got his head around in time.

    • With the Bucs trailing 21-6 in the third, Williams allowed cornerback Trumaine Johnson to undercut his route.

    • Tackle Michael Brockers tipped a fourth-quarter pass at the line of scrimmage, and end Eugene Sims caught the popup.

    "I'm the quarterback," Freeman said. "You've got to put it on me. And I just have to find a way to limit those. When you have a team like us, who have been in a bit of a rut, you can't make those mistakes that cost you."

    Freeman finished 30-of-54 for 372 yards and a touchdown. He also was sacked five times and hit on nine other occasions.

    He was stopped for no gain on fourth and 1 at the Rams 5 after trying to rush his team to the line of scrimmage for a sneak. But officials were slow in placing the ball, giving the Rams time to line up.

    "I blame myself," Schiano said. "I should've called a timeout."

    The Bucs held a huge advantage in yards (429-285) and time of possession (35:59-24:01). But Rams quarterback Sam Bradford was efficient in passing for 196 yards and two touchdowns.

    The biggest strike was an 80-yarder to tight end Lance Kendricks on the first play of the second half to make it 21-6. Linebacker Lavonte David bit on play-action, leaving the middle of the field open.

    "That was a shame," Schianio said. "Without getting into guys and things, it was a mistake; a valuable lesson learned."

    Meanwhile, the Bucs defense failed to take advantage of its opportunities. Cornerback Leonard Johnson caused a first-quarter fumble when he hit receiver Danny Amendola. But after scooping up the loose ball at the St. Louis 17, Johnson fumbled it back at the 5.

    Afterward, Bucs players talked about what a great week of practice they had following last week's 41-0 shellacking by the Saints. But at least one player wasn't having any of that.

    "It doesn't matter what you do Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. It's all about Sunday," defensive end Michael Bennett said. "You've got to get everybody on the team to understand that. The games are won on Sunday. You've got to come out and put your best foot forward and game up. This is a competitive league."

    Schiano realizes his pleas for patience might be wearing thin.

    "Right now, I'm not going to get into where we stack up," he said.

    "I do say this to our fans: We have good players in this program. And we're going to get more, and we're moving forward."


    DANIEL WALLACE   |   TimesDANIEL WALLACE | Times

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    By Ed Walker, Times Correspondent
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    What's hot: Plummeting water temperatures likely will end the fall-like patterns anglers had enjoyed this month. The migratory fish that lingered late this year will leave for more moderate conditions. For offshore fishermen, amberjack become a primary target. As the water settles, big amberjack will move into wrecks and other bottom features as shallow as 50 feet. Fifty-pounders have been common; 70- to 80-pounders are caught regularly.

    Techniques: Live bait or fast-moving lures are a must. Amberjack almost never bite a dead bait, even if it was alive moments before. Tired or worn-out live baits seldom produce, either. Bring as many live baits as possible, and change them frequently. The faster a live bait tries to run away, the quicker amberjack will pounce.

    Finicky fish: Live pinfish work okay, but speedy baits such as blue runners, Spanish sardines and cigar minnows are better. This is even more pronounced at spots that receive regular fishing pressure. Because pinfish are the most common live bait offered by offshore anglers, the jacks get used to seeing them and might shy away. If you see jacks casually following your bait but not eating it, you might need to change your rig. When the fish are high in the water column, eliminate sinkers and cast far from the boat. Free-lining like this often produces our biggest fish of the day.

    Ed Walker charters out of Tarpon Springs. He can be contacted at info@lighttacklecharters.com or (727) 944-3474.


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    Times wires
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    Tonight

    Hawaii Bowl

    Who: SMU (6-6, 5-3 C-USA) vs. Fresno State (9-3, 7-1 Mountain West)

    When: 8

    TV/radio: ESPN; 620-AM

    Line: Fresno State by 12

    Notable: Fresno State has won five in a row while averaging 47.2 points. Derek Carr, younger brother of former Fresno State QB David Carr, threw for 3,742 yards and 36 touchdowns. SMU beat eventual C-USA champ Tulsa in its final game to become bowl eligible. Garrett Gilbert, who played for Texas in the January 2009 BCS title game, has thrown for 2,720 yards and 14 touchdowns.


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    By Tom Jones, Times Staff Writer
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    Biggest drop

    Have you ever seen a player whose game has dropped as far and as fast as Bucs QB Josh Freeman? After 10 games, he was a Pro Bowl candidate. These days, his game is suited for another type of bowl, if you catch my drift.

    Lately, he looks lost and confused. Quite frankly, he looks like the position is a little too much for him. He looks like a rookie, rattled on the field and even a bit unsure of himself off the field.

    "I'm comfortable going into games," Freeman said. "I try to relax and just play. But things haven't been going great and it has been … frustrating."

    Frustrating is one way to put it. Another way would be lousy.

    In the past two weeks, Freeman has thrown eight interceptions. Talk all you want about miscommunication, deflections, bad routes, receivers slipping, receivers not fighting for balls and crummy protection; this is on him.

    Worst play

    As much as the four interceptions hurt, there was another play that was just as troubling from a QB as experienced as Freeman. The Bucs trailed 28-13 with still more than 12 minutes left. Facing fourth and goal from the 7 and under no duress, Freeman opted to throw a little check-down pass to Doug Martin, who was stopped 3 yards short of the goal line.

    Doesn't a QB who has his act together keep looking for a receiver in the end zone instead of dumping it off to a guy who had virtually no chance of scoring?

    Worst line

    While it's admirable that the Bucs didn't mail in their performance despite playing for nothing but pride, one line repeated over and over after the game quickly got old. It was about how hard the Bucs practiced all week.

    Coach Greg Schiano talked about it. So did many of his players.

    Practice? What are we talking about, practice?

    Hey, would you rather have a bad week of practice and win on Sunday or practice well all week and lose?

    Three things that popped into my head

    1. Here's how bad the breakdown was on the Rams' 80-yard TD pass to start the second half: So bad that you couldn't even find someone close enough to blame.

    2. The Bucs can talk all they want about finishing strong at Atlanta. But how much stock are you putting into a game knowing that the Falcons are playing for absolutely nothing?

    3. Here's to the argument that Freeman struggles throwing the medium-to-long passes. He completed 15 of 19 passes to his backs and tight ends. He completed 15 of 34 passes to his wide receivers.

    Final thought

    This might surprise you if you haven't been paying attention, but if the Bucs lose at Atlanta in the season finale and the Panthers win at New Orleans, the Bucs will finish last in the NFC South.


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  • 12/23/12--16:44: Panthers 17, Raiders 6
  • Times wires
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    Rough Newton win

    CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cam Newton found himself apologizing.

    It had nothing to do with his performance, but rather what he said as he yelled at and pushed referee Jerome Boger in the fourth quarter of Carolina's win over Oakland.

    "I apologized to him during the game, but I'm going public and apologizing again," Newton said.

    Newton felt he took a late hit by Raiders safety Mike Mitchell — after Carolina knocked Carson Palmer (back) out of the game.

    Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly admitted Oakland aimed for Newton: "You take our guy out, we're going to go and try to take your guy out. We're not out to hurt someone, but when that happens. … "


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  • 12/23/12--16:58: Chargers 27, Jets 17
  • Times wires
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    Chargers sack Jets

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Sack after sack, the Chargers made things miserable for Jets QB Greg McElroy in his first NFL start. San Diego took McElroy down 11 times, tying the team record in beating New York. Defensive end Kendall Reyes had 31/2 sacks for the Chargers, who also had 11 against Dallas in 1986 and finished one off the NFL mark set by several teams.


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  • 12/23/12--17:18: Vikings 23, Texans 6
  • Times wires
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    Vikings stay alive

    HOUSTON — The Vikings don't need record-setting days from Adrian Peterson to stay in the playoff race.

    Peterson rushed for 86 yards, falling far short of the 2,000-yard mark, yet led an upset of the Texans. Christian Ponder threw a touchdown pass as the Vikings won their third straight. Minnesota hosts Green Bay next Sunday in the regular-season finale and would clinch a wild-card berth with a victory.

    "We obviously have a big one next week, and if we don't win that one, this one doesn't mean anything," said Ponder, the former Florida State star who last week married ESPN's Samantha Steele.

    The loss kept Houston from clinching homefield throughout the AFC playoffs. They would still claim the No. 1 seed with a win next week at Indianapolis.

    Peterson had a streak of eight 100-yard games end. He has 1,898 yards and needs 208 to break the league's single-season rushing record, set in 1984 by Eric Dickerson of the Rams.


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    By Gary Shelton, Times Sports Columnist
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    TAMPA

    If you judge by the collapse, they are not much better at all. If you judge by another playoff-free January, they aren't going anywhere fast.

    This is what it felt like last December, remember? The wind was whistling past, and the bodies were hurtling toward the rocks below, and all you could think about was how messy the end was going to be. The Bucs had gone from two games above .500 to a plummet toward nothingness, and it felt helpless, hapless, hopeless.

    You know, like this.

    Once again, the Bucs are spiraling out of control. Once again, they are among the worst teams in the NFL. Once again, it appears that another season will be under way before they win again.

    And so here, in the middle of the plunge toward failure, it is easy to ask a familiar question.

    Uh, just how much better are the Bucs?

    And just how much closer are they to being good?

    Judging by Sunday, they are still a miserable football team that cannot get out of its own way. The Bucs lost their fifth straight game, losing 28-13 to a pedestrian Rams team, and if it wasn't for the booing, there wouldn't have been any sound at all. For the fifth straight year, they will sit out the playoffs. After this game, you wonder if they will make it in the next five, either.

    This was a game that makes you question everything. What if Greg Schiano isn't the right coach, and what if Bill Sheridan and Mike Sullivan aren't the right coordinators, and what if Josh Freeman isn't the right quarterback? You can ask that sort of question about this coach or that player from now until draft day, and still not come up with an answer.

    Is the coaching better than last year? Yeah. Marginally.

    Is the quarterback better? Yeah. Statistically.

    Is the franchise better? Yeah. Slightly.

    And on and on. Granted, over the last 10 games of last season, the Bucs were one of the worst teams the NFL has seen in decades. They led the league in dysfunction, in disarray, in desperation. This team is better. But not by as much as you thought it would be a few weeks ago.

    In other words, they have fallen off a smaller mountain. Does that comfort you?

    Five weeks ago, there was such a positive buzz about the Bucs. They were 6-4, and you could say the word "playoffs" without having your friends point at you and laugh. Schiano looked like the coach of the year, and running back Doug Martin looked like the rookie of the year, and Freeman looked like the quarterback of the future.

    Since then, every week has made such notions seem sillier. Considering the additions of Vincent Jackson, Martin, Lavonte David and Mark Barron, you could argue that this season is even more disappointing. A good free agency class and a fine draft should have meant more than two more wins, shouldn't it?

    Which brings this question: Just how close are they toward turning this franchise around?

    As for Schiano, he didn't want to say on Sunday. Asked about his team's regression, he said that wasn't true "in three of the last five" because they were "coin-flip games" the Bucs could have won or lost.

    The thing is, it isn't a coin-flipping league. It's a win-the-darn-game league. And good teams find a way in the end to win close games. Losing a tight game is better than the alternative, but in the end, it's a bottom line sport.

    Bottom line, the playoffs still feel as if they are a thousand miles away from Tampa Bay. Face it: The Bucs are only sort of in the same league as the 49ers, the Packers, the Texans, the Broncos or the Patriots. They still haven't turned the corner. They still haven't changed their identity.

    So many things about this franchise seem to be going backward. Take Freeman, for instance, who drew boos throughout the game because, well, he threw interceptions throughout the game. Through 13 weeks of this season, Freeman threw eight interceptions. The last two weeks, he has thrown eight more. It has been a staggering backslide, and frankly, one that makes you wonder what the alternatives might be going into next season.

    Consider, for instance, first and goal from the 7 early enough in the fourth quarter for the game to still be winnable. On first down, Freeman threw too wide for Mike Williams in the corner of the end zone. On second, he threw too high for Jackson. On third, he threw too short to Williams. On fourth, he threw underneath to Doug Martin, 3 yards short of the end zone.

    And there you have it. Wide, high, short and impossible. Pretty much, that sums up the last month.

    As for the defense, it was slightly less problematic than usual, but still, it gave up enough to make you wonder whether the problems are players or scheme, and whether the scheme is Schiano's or defensive coordinator Sheridan.

    That's the thing with the Bucs. There is plenty of blame to spread around.

    As bad teams fall from grace, there usually is.

    Listen to Gary Shelton weekdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on 98.7-FM the Fan.


    DANIEL WALLACE   |   TimesDANIEL WALLACE | Times

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  • 12/23/12--17:26: Packers 55, Titans 7
  • Times wires
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    Packers prep for playoffs with rout

    GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Packers sure look ready for the playoffs.

    Aaron Rodgers threw for three touchdowns and ran for one, Ryan Grant scored twice and the defense sacked Jake Locker seven times in a rout of the Titans.

    It was the most points the Packers scored since Oct. 2, 1983, when they beat the Bucs 55-14.

    "It was important for us to go out and dominate the opponents late in the year," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We … wanted to take the next step and I felt we were able to accomplish that."

    Green Bay, which scored on nine of its first 12 drives, clinched at least the NFC's No. 3 seed. Tennessee allowed the most points since its 59-0 loss to New England in 2009.

    "It's embarrassing to lose 50-something to seven," coach Mike Munchak said. "Thank God we have that (game next week) because I wouldn't want this to be our last game of the year."


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  • 12/23/12--17:38: Colts 20, Chiefs 13
  • Times wires
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    Playoffs signify Colts' turnaround

    KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The expectations placed upon Andrew Luck almost seemed unfair.

    Being the heir to Peyton Manning in Indianapolis is heady stuff for a rookie taking the reins of a franchise that was 2-14 last season.

    Now, after guiding the Colts back to the playoffs — and breaking the passing record for a first-year player (see notebook, 6C) — it's safe to say Luck exceeded just about all of them.

    Luck threw for 205 yards, and his 7-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne on third and goal late in the fourth quarter led the Colts past the Chiefs.

    "Would we have done it without him?" interim coach Bruce Arians asked of Indy's playoff spot. "No."

    The Chiefs rallied behind Jamaal Charles' 226 yards rushing to tie it at 13 heading into the fourth quarter. But the Colts stuffed quarterback Brady Quinn on fourth and inches to give Luck a chance.

    Luck completed a key pass to T.Y. Hilton on third down and made two throws to Wayne before hitting the veteran in the back of the end zone.


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    Times wires
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    HONOLULU — Jamaal Franklin had 19 points and 15 rebounds, and No. 18 San Diego State held off Indiana State 62-55 Sunday in the Diamond Head Classic tournament.

    Chase Tapley scored 13 for the Aztecs (11-1), who won despite poor free-throw and 3-point shooting.

    San Diego State pulled ahead for good during a 7-0 run that included five straight points from Tapley. With less than five minutes left, Tapley drove to the basket and Jake Odum committed a flagrant foul. Tapley hit two free throws and a quick 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, giving the Aztecs a 51-44 lead.

    The Sycamores got no closer than three points after that.

    "Every trip down the floor seemed like a big possession," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said. "Both teams came up empty at times."

    San Diego State made 4 of 17 3-pointers (23.5 percent) and 18 of 28 free throws (64.3 percent).

    Franklin was one rebound shy of his career high. RJ Mahurin had 15 points for Indiana State.

    "We knew it was going to be tough, and coming in we'd have to grind and grind and grind on them," Mahurin said.

    Neither team established a clear edge beyond a few key runs until San Diego State gained control late. The game had five ties and six lead changes.

    "They made us guard for 35 seconds and make baskets as the shot clock was going out," Fisher said.

    Women

    NO. 11 PENN ST. 82, NJIT 37: Maggie Lucas had 21 points and eight rebounds and Alex Bentley tied her career high with eight steals for the host Lions (10-2), who opened with a 16-2 run and never trailed.


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  • 12/23/12--17:56: Redskins 27, Eagles 20
  • Times wires
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    With RG3's return, Redskins close in

    PHILADELPHIA — Robert Griffin III showed he can win games without using his legs. One more victory puts the Redskins in the playoffs.

    Griffin threw two touchdowns in his first game back from a knee injury as Washington held on to beat Philadelphia for its sixth straight win.

    Counted out by coach Mike Shanahan six weeks ago, the Redskins (9-6) can win their first division title in 13 years with a victory next week over Dallas at home.

    "We're already onto the next one," Griffin said. "You don't celebrate wins at this point of the season."

    With the Eagles at the Redskins 5, the game ended on Nick Foles' intentional grounding penalty as he was pressured by defensive end Stephen Bowen.

    A sprained right knee forced Griffin to miss last week's win at Cleveland. The rookie had a season-low 4 yards rushing, but said of his bulky, black knee brace: "It didn't slow me down by any means. I felt like myself out there."


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  • 12/23/12--18:20: Saints 34, Cowboys 31, OT
  • Times wires
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    Saints show fight, Cowboys own fate

    ARLINGTON, Texas — Drew Brees and the Saints won't go to the playoffs in their season without suspended coach Sean Payton. The Cowboys still have a say in whether they get there.

    Brees threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns and led a drive — with a little luck — to Garrett Hartley's winning 20-yard field goal in overtime. Brees completed a pass to Marques Colston, and Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne stripped the ball. It rolled more than 20 yards and Saints tight end Jimmy Graham recovered at the Dallas 2.

    "You scratch and claw the whole game," cornerback Brandon Carr said. "It comes down to a play like that. It's kind of frustrating."

    Now, the Cowboys either win the NFC East by beating Washington next week, or miss the playoffs.

    Dallas forced OT with two touchdowns in the final 3:35, including Tony Romo's 19-yarder to Miles Austin with 15 seconds left.


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  • 12/23/12--18:22: Bengals 13, Steelers 10
  • Times wires
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    PITTSBURGH — A.J. Green doesn't really care about the Bengals' woeful past. The wide receiver wasn't part of it and hasn't taken time to study it.

    The Bengals were bad. End of story. And now they're good. Beginning of story.

    Andy Dalton hit Green for a 21-yard pass in the final minutes to set up Josh Brown's 43-yard field goal with 4 seconds left Sunday to lift the Bengals to a 13-10 win over the Steelers. Cincinnati clinched a second straight playoff berth and eliminated Pittsburgh.

    The only other time the Bengals made the playoffs in consecutive seasons came in 1981-82, six years before Green was born.

    "A lot of people talked about we hadn't been (to the playoffs) in back-to-back seasons in 30 years," Green said. "I don't worry about that stuff. I've been here two years and we made the playoffs all two years."

    Brown missed a 56-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, but got a second chance when former Florida safety Reggie Nelson picked off Ben Roethlisberger and returned it to the Pittsburgh 46 with 14 seconds left. Dalton then found Green down the right sideline to set up Brown, the former Seahawk and Ram.

    Cornerback Leon Hall returned Roethlisberger's first pick 17 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter.

    "We should be (in the playoffs) if it wasn't for me," Roethlisberger said after his second game-deciding interception in eight days.


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  • 12/23/12--18:24: Dolphins 24, Bills 10
  • Times wires
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    Win insufficient for Bush, Dolphins

    MIAMI — The Dolphins walked off the field victorious and still in playoff contention. By the time they reached the locker room, they had been eliminated.

    Reggie Bush caught two touchdowns and scored on a short run to help beat the Bills. But six minutes later, Miami was out of the postseason chase because of Cincinnati's win at Pittsburgh.

    Miami came in with only a slim playoff chance and will sit out for the 10th time in 11 years.

    Quarterback Ryan Tannehill said he was unaware the Dolphins had been eliminated until he emerged from the locker room. "We just have to move forward and learn from past experiences," he said.


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  • 12/23/12--18:59: Patriots 23, Jaguars 16
  • Times wires
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    Patriots' stumble not enough for Jags

    JACKSONVILLE — Coming off consecutive prime-time games at home and facing a bad team on the road, the Patriots were poised for a letdown. They didn't expect a near meltdown.

    Tom Brady overcame a rough start by throwing two touchdown passes, and New England held on to beat the woeful Jaguars.

    "We came out flat and I think it showed out there," Patriots receiver Wes Welker said. "We've got to do a better job of starting fast and doing what we do to take control of the game."

    Brady had two interceptions early as Jacksonville took a 10-0 lead. But the Jaguars set a franchise mark for losses in a season.

    Thousands of Patriots fans helped give Jacksonville its biggest home crowd since 2004. "It was really loud, which you don't usually expect at home," said Jaguars tight end Zach Potter, who said crowd noise was a factor in him jumping the snap on a late play from the Patriots 1-yard line.


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  • 12/23/12--19:06: Sports in brief
  • Times wires
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    BASEBALL

    Indians land Swisher

    CLEVELAND — A pitch to bring Nick Swisher "home" worked, the former Yankees outfielder agreeing to a $56 million, four-year contract with the Indians, who used the free agent's deep Ohio connections to convince him to join the club, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

    Swisher, 32, must take a physical before the deal can be finalized, and an announcement is expected after Christmas.

    "Wow! What a crazy few weeks. Hey Cleveland! Are you ready? Because I'm coming home!" he wrote on Twitter.

    Swisher, who is expected to play rightfield, was born in Columbus and played at Ohio State. When he visited Progressive Field last week, he saw a video presentation that featured messages from Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer and basketball coach Thad Matta, who urged him to sign with the Indians.

    More Baseball

    Freel had a history of head injuries

    Ryan Freel, who was found dead Saturday in his Jacksonville home with a gunshot wound, had his career cut short after eight seasons because of injuries that included concussions.

    Authorities are investigating Freel's death as a possible suicide. A medical examiner will make the final determination of the cause of death.

    The 36-year-old Florida native, who played with five major-league teams and was with the Rays' Triple-A Durham affiliate in 2002, once estimated he'd sustained up to 10 concussions.

    Freel drew attention in 2006 when he was quoted by the Dayton Daily News as saying he had an imaginary friend, Farney. "He's a little guy who lives in my head who talks to me and I talk to him," Freel was quoted as saying. "Everybody thinks I talk to myself, so I tell 'em I'm talking to Farney."

    More Indians: The club agreed to terms with former Rays left-hander Scott Kazmir on a minor-league deal, pending a physical.

    CYCLING

    British paper sues Armstrong for $1.5M

    Lance Armstrong, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned from cycling for life, is being sued for more than $1.5 million by London's Sunday Times over the settlement of a libel action, which followed doping allegations against the cyclist that it published.

    The newspaper paid Armstrong about $485,000 in 2006 to settle a case after it reprinted claims from a book in 2004 that he took performance-enhancing drugs. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency concluded this year that Armstrong led a doping program.

    The newspaper, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., wants a return of the settlement payment plus interest, as well as its court costs.

    ET CETERA

    Soccer: Chelsea, undergoing a revival since Rafa Benitez took over as manager last month, moved to third in the English Premier League standings as seven players scored against American goalkeeper Brad Guzan in an 8-0 win over Aston Villa. … Manchester United's five-game Premier League winning streak ended when Swansea earned a 1-1 tie.

    Times wires


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    Times staff, wires
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    Greg Schiano, Bucs coach, on the five-game losing streak:

    "Three of the five, I would say flip a coin, you're winning or losing, (and) we are sitting here talking about, 'We've lost a couple here, but we are in the playoffs and that's great.' That didn't happen."

    Josh Freeman, Bucs QB, on his recent play:

    "I've got to take the blame as the quarterback. Saints game, this game, not really the brand of football I want to play. …

    "(I'm) not depressed, just, I'd say, frustrated. As anyone who goes out each week and does everything they can to win (would be). When you lose, it's frustrating."

    Mike Williams, Bucs WR, on Freeman:

    "People are going to say what they want to say about him. I think he's the Buccaneers quarterback for the future."

    Michael Bennett, Bucs DE, on who should shoulder the responsibility for the struggles:

    "People want to say the coaches this, the coaches that. … It's not the coaches. It's the players."

    Ronde Barber, Bucs S, on the team's development:

    "Collectively, we're not where we want to be and clearly out of the (playoff) picture, and we probably were last week. This team will be the type of team that we envision."

    Jeff Fisher, Rams coach, on moving forward:

    "We've got seven wins now. I don't think many people thought we would do that, but we've got a chance to get eight, so that's what our focus is."

    Jo-Lonn Dunbar, Rams LB, on rookie CB Janoris Jenkins:

    "He's a huge playmaker. Any time the ball is up, he has a play to make on the ball."

    James Laurinaitis, Rams LB, on being prepared:

    "We felt like we had a good bead on these guys going into the game, and what they were trying to do. They had some tells. So we've got to credit the coaches and credit the guys for studying hard."

    Pat Yasinskas, ESPN.com NFC South blogger:

    What might be more disappointing than anything is that the Bucs haven't even been competitive the past two weeks and that's been against mediocre teams. All the progress that coach Greg Schiano seemed to bring in the early and middle part of the season has been negated. Things may not be as crazy as they were when the Bucs lost their final 10 games under coach Raheem Morris last season, but the quality of play is starting to look very similar. …

    I've always been a big believer in Freeman and thought the Bucs had found their franchise quarterback. But, like many Tampa Bay fans, I'm starting to have some very real doubts.

    Chris Burke, SI.com:

    When Tampa Bay was 6-4 and riding a four-game win streak, Greg Schiano looked like a sleeper Coach of the Year candidate. Now, the Bucs are 6-9, have lost five in a row and, based on Sunday's showing against St. Louis, have totally folded up shop on Schiano.

    It's hard to imagine Schiano's job would be in jeopardy already. If Tampa Bay starts 2013 slowly, on the other hand …

    Jeff Gordon, St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

    Still, a 15-point road victory is a notable accomplishment for this rebuilding team. The Rams defense threw the kitchen sink at Freeman and came away with four interceptions. The team had a solid emotional reaction to last week's disappointing home-field lost to Minnesota. The rebuilding program took another step forward.


    0 0

    Times wires
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    The Michigan Wolverines arrived in Tampa on Sunday to get acclimated to the warmer weather and continue preparations for the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl.

    Michigan coach Brady Hoke promised his players a fun Christmas Eve tonight and the team will take Christmas Day off. Then it's back to work.

    "It's not a vacation," senior right guard Patrick Omameh said. "It's a business trip."

    South Carolina, Michigan's Outback opponent, will arrive Wednesday. The Gamecocks have practiced in Columbia, S.C., where the temperatures have been in the low 70s.

    Hoke has remained mum on how exactly senior quarterback Denard Robinson, who missed 2 1/2 games and hasn't thrown a pass since Oct. 27 when he injured a nerve in his right (throwing) arm, will be used. So South Carolina is preparing two quarterbacks, as well. Devin Gardner has filled in for Robinson.

    For the Gamecocks, Connor Shaw is the projected starter and has recovered well since tweaking an ankle that held him out of the regular-season finale against Clemson. He has battled ankle and shoulder injuries all season, but South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said this week that Shaw is running better than he has during the last month.

    South Carolina also expects to play quarterback Dylan Thompson. While Shaw is considered the better runner, Thompson has the better arm.

    "The more tape we watch on (the Wolverines), the more we know what a big defensive front they have with the defensive line and linebackers," Spurrier said.

    Michigan co-captain Jordan Kovacs said that even though the Outback Bowl is not a BCS bowl, the focus is clear.

    "If you know Coach Hoke, you know it's not going to be less intense," said Kovacs, referring to the team's preparation. "You want to go have a great time, but at the end of the day it's about winning the ball game."

    FAU WR to leave: Duron Carter, the son of former NFL star Cris Carter, is leaving the Owls program, coach Carl Pelini confirmed to the website Owl report.com, and could be headed toward the NFL draft. Academic eligibility was a constant issue for him.

    Southern Cal: Quarterback Matt Barkley still has not practiced since injuring his shoulder Nov. 17, leaving his status for the Dec. 31 Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech uncertain. Max Wittek could make his second start.

    Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.


    0 0
  • 12/23/12--19:39: NFL playoff glance
  • Times staff
    Sunday, December 23, 2012

    Playoff glance NFC

    Team/Div. Rec. Div. Cnf.

    x Falcons-S 13-2 3-2 9-2

    y Packers-N 11-4 5-0 8-3

    z 49ers-W 10-4-1 2-2-1 6-4-1

    Redskins-E 9-6 4-1 7-4

    Wild card

    z Seahawks 10-5 2-3 7-4

    Vikings 9-6 3-2 7-5

    In the hunt

    Bears 9-6 2-3 6-5

    Cowboys 8-7 3-2 5-6

    Giants 8-7 2-3 7-4

    Remaining schedules

    Falcons: vs. Bucs

    49ers: vs. Cardinals

    Packers: at Vikings

    Redskins: vs. Cowboys

    Seahawks: vs. Rams

    Vikings: vs. Packers

    Bears: at Lions

    Cowboys: at Redskins

    Giants: vs. Eagles

    AFC

    Team/Div. Rec. Div. Cnf.

    y Texans-S 12-3 5-0 10-1

    y Broncos-W 12-3 5-0 9-2

    y Patriots-E 11-4 5-0 10-1

    y Ravens-N 10-5 4-1 8-3

    Wild card

    z Colts 10-5 3-2 7-4

    z Bengals 9-6 2-3 6-5

    Remaining schedules

    Texans: at Colts

    Broncos: vs. Chiefs

    Patriots: vs. Dolphins

    Ravens: at Bengals

    Colts: vs. Texans

    Bengals: vs. Ravens

    x—clinched homefield throughout playoffs

    y—clinched division z—clinched playoffs

    Clinching scenarios

    49ers: NFC West: win

    Redskins: NFC East: win

    Seahawks: NFC West: win AND 49ers loss

    VIKINGS: NFC wild card: win

    BEARS: NFC wild card: win AND Vikings loss

    COWBOYS: NFC East: win

    Giants: NFC wild card: win AND losses by Bears, Vikings AND Cowboys

    TexanS: First-round bye: win OR Patriots loss or Broncos loss

    Broncos: First-round bye: win OR Patriots loss

    PATRIOTS: First-round bye: win AND Texans loss OR Broncos loss

    COLTS: Clinched No. 5 seed

    BENGALS: Clinched No. 6 seed


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