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Lightning has an awful second period in loss to Winnipeg Jets

For a while, things were going along swimmingly for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

And then the team drowned.

Tampa Bay gave up three goals in the second period Tuesday night, losing a 6-4 game to Winnipeg. The Bolts gave up three goals or more for the 10th time in 12 games.

“It was men against boys after that first period,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “We’ve been able to accumulate some points at home, and we come out and do everything we wanted to do in the first period except get the lead. Just to come out like we did, we just didn’t defend. We thought about one net only and once you do that, that’s it for you. Next thing you know it’s 4-1 and that’s a long way to come back. It’s tough, too, in this league to score four goals in a game and lose. That’s tough and we found a way to do that tonight.

“We let one slip through our fingers tonight. Give Winnipeg credit. I know they outshot us two to one after the first period. When you break it down, they played two good periods of hockey and we played one. Usually that means the team playing two is going to win the game.”

The Bolts gave up the first goal for the fifth time in six games. They tied the game on Michael Peca’s first NHL goal.

“We just didn’t have a good follow-up shift after that, and the next thing you know, the penalty shot,” Cooper said. “It’s the call they made. But still, even with that going in, it’s one, but then we gave up the third one right away. After kind of a long shift in our own zone that we just did not compete hard enough and that’s what happens  against good teams.”

Nikolaj Ehlers scored twice for the Jets, including on a penalty shot.

The Bolts came back to within one after Nikita Kucherov scored twice and Ondrej Palat once.

Tampa Bay is home Thursday night against Nashville.

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Alabama’s Nick Saban tiring of questions about Lane Kiffin

Alabama coach Nick Saban hasn’t been able to shed Lane Kiffin as easily as he might have thought.

In a teleconference call Tuesday, Saban was peppered with questions about the timing of the departure of Kiffin, who Saban dumped as his offensive coordinator this week before Monday night’s national championship game. The odd-timing of the decision and Kiffin’s stated goal of working in the press box both were discussed.

“We made a statement about this yesterday,” Saban said, “and really don’t have much else to say about it. It’s difficult sometimes when you’re in a situation when you have a new opportunity and new job, and we mutually agree that in the best interest of everyone that this would be the best thing for us to do relative to the experience that we had in preparation for Washington and playing in the game.

“You know, I don’t think there’s a whole lot more to say about that. Our coaches are working hard to try to put the best game plan we can together to play against a very good Clemson defense, and we’re in the planning stages right now. I don’t know why you all keep asking me what changes we’re going to make. Dabo (Swinney, the Clemson coach) is a good friend of mine; maybe I’ll just call him up and tell him what we’re going to do.”

Saban said the rules would not allow for Kiffin to be around the Tide.

“If you understand the rules, you know, he’s not allowed to be involved with the team,” Saban said. “They’re involved in the planning. They’re involved in the organization. That’s where they make their contribution, in the coaching meetings. They’re not really allowed to be involved with the team.”

Saban said initially, he did not see that it would a problem for Kiffin to work both jobs.

“At the time there was no anticipation that – or thought that there would be any kind of problem relative to managing having two jobs at once, and when we sort of saw that that was – and agreed that that was a little bit of a tough thing, then we decided to move in a different direction,” Saban said.

All in all, Saban sounded more at ease talking about Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.

“I thought he played fantastic against us last year, and we thought he was an outstanding player last year when we played against him,” Saban said. “Any comment that I make now is certainly not a disrespect to how we felt about him a year ago.

“He may be arguably the best player in college football. The guy is very athletic. He’s got a great understanding of their offense. He does a really good job of executing for his team. He can extend plays. He can run. He can run quarterback runs. And he’s a terrific passer. I mean, he is the complete package of everything that you could ever want or look for in a guy at quarterback, and he’s been playing for a long time, so he has a tremendous amount of experience. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.

You know, I think that that’s why they’re a very, very dynamic offense.”

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Did participants in epic Rose Bowl deserve spot in CFP?

Sometimes adjectives are often overused when describing sporting events. Epic; classic; legendary; incredible.

All of those and more describe to the 2017 Rose Bowl. The words seem insufficient to define Monday’s back-and-forth between Penn State and Southern California, which the Trojans won 52-49 on Matt Boermeester’s 46-yard field goal as time expired.

Are there better words to paint a picture of a game that featured Penn State coming from 13 points down to take a 15-point lead early in the second half? How about USC roaring back from that deficit to score 17 unanswered fourth quarter points to steal the win?

It would take thousands of words to describe all of the twists, turns, scrambles and runs. The game was that good.

The quality of play between two top caliber teams no doubt caused some to wonder if either of these teams belonged in the College Football Playoffs. I am one of those and must and must answer in the affirmative.

Both teams defeated their conference’s representative in the playoffs. Penn State gave Ohio State their only regular season loss, 24-21 in State College on October 23.

USC went to Seattle and gave Washington their only regular season loss, 26-13 on November 13.

The Nittany Lions had a better case than the Trojans. By beating Ohio State, they prevented the Buckeyes from even competing in the Big 10 Championship Game, which Penn State won over Wisconsin. Penn State finished 11-2, while Ohio State was 11-1.

Despite beating Washington, the Trojans did not qualify for the Pac 12 Championship Game. They were 9-3 on the season, including a 52-6 beating from Alabama. After a switch to Sam Darnold at quarterback, USC won their last nine games.

For all of the criticism of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), this year proves that the process of determining a college football champion is still a work in progress. The noise level and Twitter commentary would have been reduced had Ohio State not looked as bad as they did against Clemson on Saturday. 31-0?

Give Clemson credit for most of that, but a strong case can be made that on the day the four playoff contenders were announced, Penn State was a better football team than the Buckeyes. Plus, they defeated Ohio State head-to-head. Plus, they were the champions of their conference.

Again, USC could not make the case for inclusion that Penn State could, but it is fair to say that on the day the CFP four were chosen, they were the best football team in the Pac 12.

Didn’t we get rid of the BCS and the system before that because polls and computers were deciding who would have the chance to win the title? Well, in the case of these two teams, Penn State lost out because of polls and computers.

Sure, Penn State lost on Monday, but they lost to a team with which they were evenly matched. They may have fared no better than Ohio State did against Clemson. However, I believe they would have given the Tigers a much better game.

Hopefully, the NCAA will tweak the system and mandate the four representatives in the College Football Playoffs must be, at minimum, conference champions. That is why little controversy surrounded Pac-12 Champion Washington.

In the end, Alabama and Clemson, clearly the two best teams in the country, will be in Tampa next Monday for the championship game.

We can only hope that game is half as good as the Rose Bowl featuring two championship level teams.

 

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Florida defense swarms against Iowa in winning the Outback Bowl

This time, the Florida Gators charged into their off-season.

This time, the Gators finished their season in the accepted way.

Florida overwhelmed Iowa in Monday’s Outback Bowl, winning a 30-3 game and hardly breaking a sweat. The Gators intercepted three passes and held Hawkeye quarterback C.B. Beathard to only seven completions on 23 attempts for 55 yards. They also stopped a fourth-and-goal from the one.

A year ago, Florida ended with three straight losses. Had the Gators lost to Iowa, it would have finished the same way after losses to FSU and Alabama. But the Gators rolled to enter their off-season with a victory.

Freshman defensive back Chauncey Gardner intercepted two passes, returning one of them 58 yards for a score, to win MVP honors. Running back Jordan Scarlett ran for 84 yards to lead the rushing attack, and quarterback Austin Appleby threw for 222 yards and two scores after his first two passes of the day were intercepted.

Those interceptions led to a single field goal for Iowa. After that, Florida scored 30 straight points, including three field goals by Eddie Piniero. Mark Thompson turned a short pass from Appleby into an 85-yard touchdown and DeAndre Goosby scored on a six-yard pass.

For Florida, however, it was a familiar way to win. The vaunted Gator defense gave up only 226 total yards to Iowa. They allowed only four third down conversions on 16 plays.

“I’m so proud of them,” said coach Jim McElwain. “It’s well-documeted how beat up we were . We never once all year used that as an excuse in any shape or form.”

The Gators face the challenge of continuing to build their offense – which has ranked No. 111 and No. 116 the last two seasons. Much of this year’s defense will head to the NFL in the off-season, leaving McElwain with his biggest challenge.

“I will tell you that we’ll be tougher along the front next year,” McElwain said. “We’ve got good skill positions, but we have to develop a mindset that we will not be denied.”

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Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter considers giving up play-calling duties

The questions that coach Dirk Koetter has about the Tampa Bay Bucs starts, it turns out, with Dirk Koetter.

A day after his team’s season-ending,17-16 victory over the Carolina Panthers, Koetter admitted that he was considering – just considering, mind you – surrendering his play-calling duties.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot,” Koetter said. “I am probably not ready to make any crazy announcements on any of that today because I think about a lot of stuff all the time. I think all the time, how can I, in the stuff that I control, make us better and are there places where I am making us worse?

“I learned as a head coach, I’d love to have more time to get involved with individual players on a daily basis. When I do get a chance to talk to players one-on-one, I enjoy it. I enjoy the motivational part of trying to reach guys and different groups on the team. As far as my schedule goes, I am asking myself all the time, are the things I have to spend my time on, are those in the best interest of helping the Bucs win games or am I spinning my wheels on stuff that doesn’t really matter and what’s the most important things to helping us win?

“I’m contemplating how does our team get better in all areas? When we look at everything, if there is someone out there that can do a better job to help us than me calling the plays, then that’s something that we definitely need to look at.”

The Bucs finished the season 9-7 with fewer explosive plays than a year ago. Koetter said his team could use more speed.

“We need more speed and when we say playmakers, playmakers and explosive plays are one and the same,” Koetter said. “Guys that can make explosives, guys that can catch a 10-yard pass, break one tackle and turn it into a 30-yard gain. Our run after the catch is not where it needs to be. And again, anything that we’re saying here is not an indictment on the guys we have because the guys you have are the guys you have and you’ve got to coach the heck out of them.

“Once again, it goes back to the thing I said in the beginning, I think this team did a good job of playing as close to their talent level. That’s a hard thing to judge, it’s not an exact thing. In my opinion, we played close to our talent level.”

 Koetter said that he could spend time doing other things if he didnt have to worry about play calling.

“I’ve always been a play caller,” Koetter said. “I love being a play caller. That’s one of the best things about the game, but with being the head coach this year, I have more responsibilities and I have really enjoyed my interaction with the players. I’ve really enjoyed to go in and do the team meetings every day. That takes time. I don’t just get up there and wing it from the hip like I do in here (laughs).

“It actually takes preparation time. Everything I say in front of the team. I take very seriously. So, I want to back it up, not just BS those guys. I try to never BS those guys. So, I ask myself, ‘If I spent more time on it, could I do a better job?’ But, at the same time, I look around the league at other, there’s plenty of other coaches in the league that are doing it the way we did it here this year. You look at some of the guys I consider top play callers in this league; (Green Bay coach) Mike McCarthy, (New Orleans coach) Sean Payton, (Kansas City coach) Andy Reid. They’re guys that have been the play caller, they’ve given it up and they’ve always taken it back. When that day comes when I do give it up, I don’t want to take it back. I want to be sure.”

Koetter said he was unsure if guard J.R. Sweezy, who missed the entire season, would be ready next year.

“That is a question that I can’t answer,” Koetter said. “The thing about J.R. is, we did our evaluation based on his time in Seattle and we were very excited about what we bringing into the mix here. He had an unfortunate injury that none of us control. The result of that surgery, for whatever reason, he hasn’t come back, he hasn’t come back from that injury. I’m not a doctor, but what I do know is, we haven’t seen him on the field.

“So at this point, it’s been over a year since he’s played and we really don’t know what we have because until we see him on the field healthy, that’s an unknown. I think if it ever comes to that point where we have a healthy J.R. Sweezy on the field and he’s the player he was that we thought we were getting when we were looking at the Seattle tape, then I think he just adds another one to the depth I already talked about at O-line. But, do we ever get to that point? I do not know that.”

Koetter said that being a head coach in the NFL is a chore.

 “It’s demanding,” Koetter said. “I thought I was ready for it and still think that today, but I also believe that you learn and you’ve got to admit your mistakes and you know what? Sometimes my mistakes that I admit to aren’t the same ones you guys think I miss. You guys are still criticizing me for some that I don’t think I miss. But the ones I think I’ve made, I’ll be the first to admit them. And I’ll be better next year than I was this year and I’ll be better the year after that than I am next year.”

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NFL Pro Bowl brings football’s best to Orlando

The NFL’s biggest superstars will be in Orlando for a week full of events culminating with the 2017 Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium.

New England quarterback Tom Brady, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and Dallas rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are just some of the fan favorites who will play at the January 29 Pro Bowl. The 88 best players — 44 from the American Football Conference (AFC) and 44 from the National Football Conference (NFC) were chosen by votes from fans, players and coaches.

This year’s Pro Bowl will return to the traditional AFC vs. NFC format, following three years of a coach’s choice arrangement that mixed players from both conferences.

“Hosting the NFL Pro Bowl is exactly the type of opportunity we had in mind when our community pulled together to invest in the reconstruction of Camping World Stadium,” said Steve Hogan, CEO of Florida Citrus Sports. “Orlando is the top tourist destination in the country and we look forward to providing players, staff, families and fans from all levels of football an unforgettable week,”

Pro Bowl Week starts January 24 with AFC and NFC team practices at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World. The venue will also host youth football competitions, a free festival called NFL Pro Bowl Experience and the taping of The Pro Bowl Skills Showdown, which pits the AFC and NFC All-Stars against each other. The Showdown will air at 7 p.m. January 26 on ESPN.

On January 27, Pro Bowl players and NFL cheerleaders will parade down Main Street at the Magic Kingdom. Runners will pace through Disney Springs and Epcot for the Pro Bowl 5K run on January 28.

The annual USA Football National Conference will take place during the week leading up to the Pro Bowl. The sport’s national governing body leads high school and youth football administrators and coaches. More than 650 participants from all 50 states attended the 2016 National Conference in Indianapolis, addressing such topics as coach education, player safety and key trends.

The Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year Award winner will be announced during the Pro Bowl. The award honors high school football coaches that display the integrity, achievement and leadership exemplified by former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, who has the most wins in NFL history. 

Each of the Pro Bowl players will invite their former youth or high school coach to be a part of the celebrations during the week. Players on the winning Pro Bowl team will receive a grant from the NFL Foundation to support their youth or high school football program. 

Pro Bowl game tickets are still available at www.nfl.com/probowl. The game will be televised live at 8 p.m. January 29 on ESPN and ESPN Deportes.

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Jags drop season finale to Colts; coaching search to begin in earnest

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ 2016 season came to an end Sunday in heartbreaking fashion. After Jason Myers kicked a go-ahead 41-yard field goal with 1:33 to play, Andrew Luck drove the Indianapolis Colts the length of the field to take a 24-20 win at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

It was certainly a different way to lose. Jacksonville led 17-0 at one point, but could not close the deal. It was the second time this season the Jaguars had a 17-point lead on Indianapolis. The other occasion came in early October when the Jags were able to hang on for a 23-20 win in London on October 3.

The game brought back memories of the December 19 game in Houston, when the Jags held a two-score lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Texans scored late to win the game, 21-20, after which Head Coach Gus Bradley was fired.

It is always difficult (exhausting when talking about the Jaguars) to find the upside after a painful loss, but there is actually is one: the play of quarterback Blake Bortles.

Since Bradley was dismissed two games ago, Bortles has looked like the quarterback the Jaguars management and fan base hoped to see. On Sunday, he was 25 for 39 passing for 301 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

Over the last two games under interim coach Doug Marrone, Bortles has completed two-thirds of his passes for 626 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. That is no coincidence.

There can be little argument that Bortles regressed this season, but his recent play shows there is still a strong upside.

Corey Grant was given the nod at running back on Sunday and he responded with 122 yards rushing. He had the play of the day with a 57-yard scoring run. Jacksonville, who struggled all year on the ground, rushed for 182 yards on Sunday.

With all of that in mind, this was still a devastating loss. Jacksonville finished the season with a 3-13 record, the six straight year of double-digit losses.

“I told the players at halftime, you are either going to be the hunter or the hunted,” said Marrone. “You’ve got to learn to hunt, you really do. We had an opportunity at the end of the half to go up by three scores and we didn’t do that. We didn’t answer in the third quarter when they got themselves back in it.”

As Marrone closed his second and final post-game interview as head coach, attention will now shift to the search for a new head coach. It could be a familiar name or one not on many people’s radar.

The Jaguars need another version of Adam Gase. One year ago, the Miami Dolphins hired the Offensive Coordinator of the Chicago Bears to take over in south Florida. He got the Dolphins into the playoffs in his first season.

Other coaches will be fired this week and some of those will likely be interviewed for the job. Former Jags’ and New York Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin has already had one interview.

The rumors will begin in earnest starting Tuesday morning.

 

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Bucs stop two-point conversion to end with winning record

With 17 seconds to play, the Tampa Bay Bucs’ defense came up with one final stop on their season, and it meant a winning record.

The Bucs stopped a two-point conversion with 17 seconds remaining Sunday after three-time Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olson slipped. Instead, the ball bounded off the facemask of Bradley McDougald, leaving the Bucs 17-16 winners. Tampa Bay finished at 9-7, their first winning season since 2010. The Bucs missed the playoffs, however, due to the tie-breaking formula.

“We didn’t come to do anything but win,” Panthers’ coach Ron Rivera said.

Said Bucs’ coach Dirk Koetter: “Please stop them. That was on my mind. Please, please stop them.’”

The Panthers finished 6-10. The Bucs finished 9-7, including a 6-2 record in their second half.

“Overall, it was an extremely frustrating day on offense,” Koetter said. “We just couldn’t get out of our own way. It was one thing after another. We finally put some plays tougher on that last drive.”

Tampa Bay sputtered for most of the day on offense – their first touchdown was an interception return by Brent Grimes. Going into the Bucs’ final legitimate drive, James Winston had a rating of only 49.49. But he hit five of six for 72 yards on a 74-yard scoring drive to win.

Keith Tandy had 12 tackles and two interceptions for the Bucs.

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Dolphins fall to Patriots; prepare for playoffs

The New England Patriots will not be traveling for the 2017 NFL playoffs. Thanks to their 35-14 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, the Patriots will host any playoff game in which they are involved.

Future Hall of Famer Tom Brady showed why he earned that moniker. He completed 25 of 33 passes to seven different receivers for 276 yards and three touchdowns.

Despite the fact New England had the Eastern Division of the AFC wrapped up, the Patriots still needed the victory to guarantee home field advantage. They treated it like a playoff game.

Another incentive was the fact New England had lost their last three visits to Miami. Brady made sure that would not happen again.

“This has always been a challenging place for us, for one reason or another,” he said. “But we just found a way to be a good football team.”

The final score does not accurately reveal that Miami was in the game until late in the fourth quarter. After falling behind 20-0, Miami came back on two touchdown passes to from Matt Moore to Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry.

Even after Brady hooked up with Julian Edelman for a rally-killing 77-yard catch and run touchdown, Miami again came back. With the Dolphins in the red zone attempting to get back within one score, Damien Williams was stripped after a catch at the 13 yard-line.

After a 69-yard return by Shea McClellin set up the Patriots, LeGarrette Blount put the game out of reach with a one-yard plunge. The entire sequence of events perfectly describes the Patriots.

As the GEICO commercial says, “that’s what they do.” The victory gave the Patriots a perfect 8-0 record on the road this season.

There is a bright side for the Dolphins. They took on a New England team that was not holding anything back and stayed with them for the most part.

Moore shows that he can make plays against a championship team as he fills in for Ryan Tannehill. He threw for 205 yards and two touchdowns.

This game was a good indicator that Miami has an opportunity to perform well in the playoffs. While the Pittsburgh Steelers, next week’s first-round opponent, is a battle-tested team, they are not the Patriots.

Depending on weather conditions in Pittsburgh, Moore should be able to make some throws and Jay Ajayi will have opportunities to run. The Steelers are a fitting opponent. Miami began their incredible season-ending streak of nine wins in their last 11 games with a 30-15 thrashing of Pittsburgh on October 17 in Miami.

The Dolphins (10-6) will be looking for their first playoff victory since December 30, 2000 when they beat the Indianapolis Colts.

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Florida State running back Dalvin Cook declares for NFL draft

Florida State running back Dalvin Cook has announced he will enter the NFL draft, less than 24 hours after the Seminoles defeated Michigan in the Orange Bowl.

Cook, who is expected to be a first-round pick, made the announcement Saturday via video on Instagram. He says he made the decision after much consideration but was doing it after discussions with his family.

The Miami native wrapped up his collegiate career by being named Orange Bowl MVP after rushing for 145 yards along with three receptions for 62 yards in No. 10 FSU’s 33-32 win.

He is Florida State’s all-time leading rusher with 4,464 yards. He is also the first running back in Atlantic Coast Conference history to rush for 4,000 yards in three seasons.

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

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