National Sports Archives for 2016-02

CURRY TURNING 3-POINTERS INTO LONGEST DRIVE COMPETITION

As Stephen Curry casually dribbled the ball across halfcourt, the clock winding down on a tie game in overtime, he took one bounce past the stripe, did his trademark foot shuffle as he gathered himself and let the ball fly from some 38 feet away.

 

Curry

 

The ball floated toward the basket, and long before it splashed through, Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter had already thrown his hands in the air in defeat. And for good reason.

 

There was just under 3 seconds left in the overtime, plenty of time for Curry to take another dribble or two in an effort to get a closer look. But in a season in which Curry has solidified himself as the greatest shooter the league has ever seen, why bother?

 

Curry has attempted 14 shots between 30 and 40 feet away from the basket this season, according to data collected by basketball-reference.com. He has made nine of them, turning the 3-point shot into a longest drive competition.

 

"When he pulled up, he looked like, 'Ah, whatever, it's going in,'" Warriors forward Draymond Green said.

Curry's .643 shooting percentage on shots between 30 and 40 feet (it was officially estimated at 32 feet by statisticians at the game but later was proven to be over 38 feet upon closer inspection) would be good enough to make him third in the league in field goal percentage from any distance, behind only dunk machines DeAndre Jordan and Hassan Whiteside.

 

His latest zip code-buster propelled the Warriors to a 121-118 victory over the Thunder in a regular season classic on Saturday that was ESPN's highest-rated non-Christmas Day regular season game since 2013.

 

The game was a riveting showdown between two of the best teams in the league, and we get to do it all over again in just four days. Golden State hosts the Thunder on Thursday night.

 

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One of the underrated coaching jobs done this season is coming in Memphis, where Dave Joerger has weathered injuries, age and a lack of perimeter shooting to somehow keep the Grizzlies in the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference.

 

Joerger has kept the Grizzlies from folding up the tents after Marc Gasol was lost for the season with a foot injury and Courtney Lee was traded to Charlotte. It's sometimes felt like he is back on the minor league circuit coaching in the Continental Basketball Association, where he cut his teeth.

 

"It's really tough," Joerger said. "Had I not gone through the minor leagues, I would not have been able to handle something like this because in the minors guys get called up, guys go overseas, guys get injured, you can't get guys into Bismarck or Sioux Falls on a drop of a hat. Some nights you're playing one style and some nights another."

 

After Gasol went down, the Grizzlies sent Lee to Charlotte and acquired Chris Andersen, Lance Stephenson and P.J. Hairston to add to a locker room that already has colorful personalities like Zach Randolph, Matt Barnes and Tony Allen. And yet, the Grizz keep winning, four times in the last six games to stay ahead of sixth-seeded Dallas.

 

After an ugly loss in Phoenix on the second night of a back-to-back, the Grizzlies are still 34-24 and face a week full of winnable games starting at Denver on Monday and followed with home games against the Kings, Jazz and Suns.

 

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Things to watch this week:

 

JOE JOHNSON: The former All-Star made his first appearance with the Heat on Sunday night in New York and played 30 minutes. His first game in Miami is on Tuesday against Chicago.

 

SPURS SCHEDULE: The Spurs are an NBA-best 28-0 at home and play in San Antonio on Wednesday for the first time since Feb. 6 when they host Detroit. They went 7-1 on their annual rodeo road trip and are assured of a winning record on the road for the 19th straight year, an NBA record.

 

CELTICS-CAVS: No. 1 in the East vs. No. 3. The Cavaliers already dropped one to Toronto last week, and the Celtics come to town on Saturday hoping to show they really belong.

 

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STAT LINE OF THE WEEK: Kyle Lowry, Raptors: 43 points, nine assists vs. Cleveland. On a night when his All-Star teammate DeMar DeRozan went 1 for 11, Lowry carried the second-seeded Raptors to a thrilling home win over the top-seeded Cavaliers.

 

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BOSA, OGBAH DELIVER SOLID SHOWS DURING NFL SCOUTING COMBINE

 

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Defensive linemen Joey Bosa and Emmanuel Ogbah had good workouts Sunday at the NFL's annual scouting combine.

 

Bosa, the Ohio State star, could be the first pick in April's draft.

 

Bosa

 

He finished the 40-yard dash in 4.86 seconds, then tied Clemson's Shaq Lawson for second in the 20-yard shuttle at 4.21 before finishing second in the three-cone drill at 6.89.

 

Ogbah, of Oklahoma State, was second in the 40 at 4.63, had a 35½-inch vertical jump and a broad jump of 10 feet, 1 inch.

 

Ohio State's Darron Lee led the linebackers with a 4.47 in the 40 and turned in the best broad jump at 11-1. Washington's Travis Feeney ran 4.50 in the 40 and went 10-10 in the broad jump.

 

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LINDSEY VONN INJURES LEFT KNEE IN CRASH AT WORLD CUP RACE

 

SOLDEU-EL TARTER, Andorra (AP) -- Lindsey Vonn suffered a minor fracture in her left knee during a World Cup super-G crash in heavy snowfall Saturday but didn't rule out her start in a combined event the next day.

 

In a race delayed for three hours due to bad weather, the American slid off the course near the end of her run. She was brought down the mountain on a rescue sled and underwent tests in a hospital.

 

Lindsay Vonn

 

"Got caught in the soft snow today and crashed pretty hard," Vonn wrote on Facebook. "X-rays showed I have a hairline fracture in my left knee and will get an MRI Monday. I will wait and see how I feel tomorrow to decide if I can race."

 

Vonn appeared on the start list for the super-G portion of Sunday's combined event, released by the International Ski Federation on Saturday evening. The event will be concluded by a slalom run.

 

Racing in difficult weather conditions, Vonn had led winner Federica Brignone of Italy by 0.32 seconds when she came off the race line and hit a spot of soft snow just before the next gate. She lost balance and slid off course on her left hip.

 

The race was interrupted for about 10 minutes as Vonn, fully conscious throughout, lay on the snow surrounded by medical staff and coaches.

 

The incident reminded some of Vonn's crash at the super-G of the 2013 world championships, when she badly damaged her right knee after landing a jump in soft snow. That race had also been delayed by hours because of bad weather and took place in tough conditions.

 

Vonn has won nine races this season after overcoming a hampered preparation. She missed the season-opening in October after a 10-week layoff because of a broken ankle bone, a year after coming back from the injuries that kept her away from the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

 

Chasing her fifth title, Vonn was leading the overall World Cup standings going into the race, 23 points ahead of Lara Gut.

 

The Swiss skier had to wait in the start gate following the incident. Gut never matched the pace of the early starters and came 1.15 behind in 16th, closing the gap with Vonn to eight points.

 

The American also retained her lead over Gut in the super-G discipline standings, 420-356 points.

Earlier, strong winds and snowfall forced organizers to lower the start and delay the race by three hours, allowing course workers to move fresh snow off the course.

 

Weather improved during the delay but heavy clouds moved back in again after the race began.

Snowfall slowed later starters as many racers shook their heads or shrugged shoulders after finishing.

From the elite group of the seven best-ranked super-G skiers, which start 16th to 22nd, only Viktoria Rebensburg made it into the top 10. The German came 0.82 behind in seventh.

 

Cornelia Huetter, who started 19th, was 1.70 off the pace.

 

"More than this wasn't possible" due to the snow, the Austrian said. "It would have been fairer if they'd slipped out the snow again after that 10-minute break."

Brignone, who wore bib No. 8, timed 57.33 seconds on the shortened Aliga course to beat Vonn's American teammate Laurenne Ross by 0.13 and Tamara Tippler of Austria by 0.37.

 

It was the Italian's second career victory. A giant slalom specialist, Brignone earned her maiden win in the season-opening race in October in Soelden, Austria, and Saturday's win was her first podium in a different discipline.

 

"I've been in the top 10 many times. It's like crazy, I can't believe it," she said.

 

Acknowledging that the conditions worsened for later starters, Brignone said: "This is skiing."

 

"Maybe today it was me, maybe tomorrow it is somebody else who is lucky. I took advantage of my luck. The slope was really good."

 

Ross tied her best career finish, three years after coming runner-up to Tina Maze of Slovenia in a downhill in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

 

"It's been coming and my skiing has been improving," Ross said. "I got on the lucky side of things today and I took advantage of it."

 

Also for Tippler, it was a second career podium as she finished behind winner Vonn in a super-G in Lake Louise, Alberta, in December.

 

In her second race back from her two-month injury layoff, Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States trailed Brignone by 2.31 in 29th.

 

The super-G was the first ever speed event in Andorra, which hosted slalom and GS races before.

A combined event, including a super-G and a slalom run, is scheduled for Sunday.

 

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STEPH CURRY IS ON A ROLL AND FANS EVERYWHERE ARE ENJOYING IT

A 40-foot buzzer-beater in Miami one night. A 45-footer to beat the clock in Orlando the very next night. In both cases, the thousands of fans who came to watch the NBA's brightest star do something special expressed their satisfaction with long, lusty cheers.

 

And remember, those were road crowds.

 

Curry

 

It is Stephen Curry's game right now, and whether the Golden State Warriors are home or away it seems no one needs a reminder to enjoy what the league's premier sharpshooter is doing on a nightly basis. The most entertaining player on the NBA's most entertaining team has fans coming early and staying late to catch a glimpse, take a selfie, get an autograph, whatever they can muster in order to feel part of the show.

 

"I was fortunate to play with Michael Jordan and just about every night I was awe-struck," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Thursday in Orlando, after Curry's shot from midcourt was the highlight of a 51-point night. "I would say that Steph is on that level now. You see it night after night. It's awesome, but it becomes routine because he does it so often."

 

Curry was the NBA MVP last season after averaging 23.8 points on 49 percent shooting, with a league-record 286 3-pointers.

 

He's somehow better now.

 

He's averaging 30.4 points on 51 percent shooting. He's extended his streak of games with at least one 3 to 128 and counting, a new NBA record. Reaching 400 3-pointers isn't totally out of the question; he should eclipse the record he set last year sometime next week.

The Warriors are 52-5, still on pace for the best record in NBA history and could actually clinch a playoff spot when they visit Oklahoma City on Saturday - with more than six weeks left in the season.

 

"What the guy has been able to do is different than we've seen," Miami guard Dwyane Wade said. "It's rare to see a guy who dominates a game that far out on the perimeter. Jordan dominated the game from 15 feet and in, Kobe (Bryant) as well. Shaquille (O'Neal) dominated from about 7 and in. You've see a lot of guys dominate in different ways. We haven't seen a guy dominate the way he's dominated from about 38, 40 and in.

 

"If you're a basketball fan, you're a Steph Curry fan," Wade added. "There's no reason to dislike anything about Steph Curry."

 

Even opponents can't help but marvel at his long-range antics.

 

"Ridiculous," Orlando's Aaron Gordon said. "He's been doing that all year long."

 

Curry's pregame shooting and dribbling shows have become the stuff of legend. There were more than 150 people around the court just before 6 p.m. Wednesday - most of them with phones in hand, poised to snap photos or take some video - when Curry took the floor to warm up in Miami. When he left, some fans were waiting for his autograph and a teenage boy held out a ball for Curry to sign.

 

"Make it out to me," the boy said, handing Curry a Sharpie pen.

 

Curry started signing his name, and the boy said again, "make it out to ..." before stopping. Curry looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

 

"I'm sorry," the boy said. "I forgot my name for a second."

 

The nervous youngster got his autograph, as have plenty of others.

 

For his part, Curry enjoys the circus that follows the Warriors around.

 

"We have a lot of support," he said. "Every arena we set foot in, it's a pretty electric atmosphere. That's what you live for, really. To have that every single night, to get going in that kind of competitive environment with fan support, it's pretty fun."

 

The Warriors have seen sellouts all season, Curry's jersey is the hottest seller in the league - look around a crowd at just about any NBA game, it's out there - and Golden State merchandise is flying off the shelves as well.

 

And while there's no shortage of star power on the reigning champions' roster, Curry is the unquestioned leader.

 

"When you have the juice, enjoy it," Wade said. "There's going to be somebody coming up behind him. We don't know who that person will be. Right now, he has it and he's doing an amazing job with it."

 

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POLICE: MANZIEL'S DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CASE GOING TO GRAND JURY

 

DALLAS (AP) -- Dallas police said Thursday they have referred their domestic violence case against Johnny Manziel to a grand jury, which will consider whether to charge the troubled Cleveland Browns quarterback on allegations that he attacked his ex-girlfriend.

 

Manzel

 

Police released a statement saying they have asked the Dallas County District Attorney's Office to present a misdemeanor assault case to the local grand jury. Such a charge carries a maximum punishment of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

 

Manziel's attorney, Bradley Beckworth, didn't immediately return an email seeking comment Thursday. Manziel's agent and marketing agency have both dropped him, and the Browns have indicated they will release Manziel as early as March 9, when the league begins its new calendar year.

 

The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and Texas A&M star was accused by ex-girlfriend Colleen Crowley of hitting her and threatening to kill her during a night out on Jan. 30. Crowley said Manziel accosted her at a Dallas hotel and later struck her when they drove back to her apartment in Fort Worth.

 

Crowley said in court documents that he hit her so hard, she temporarily lost hearing in one ear.

 

Sashi Brown, the Browns' executive vice president of football operations, said at the NFL combine Thursday that the team would not comment further on Manziel's situation.

 

"I'm not going to comment again on Johnny," he said. "I think, respectfully, we want to give the young man some privacy. Our organization has spent enough time talking about him and we need to focus on moving forward."

 

A longtime Dallas criminal defense attorney, Pete Schulte, said police handling of the Manziel case was puzzling. Based on Crowley's affidavit, Schulte said police likely had enough information to at least charge Manziel. Misdemeanor cases like the one Manziel is facing are typically decided by police, not a grand jury, Schulte said.

 

"I think they're giving Johnny more of the benefit of the doubt than they give every other citizen they deal with," he said.

 

Crowley requested and was granted a protective order against the 23-year-old quarterback that prevents him from seeing her for two years. The order also requires Manziel to stay at least 500 feet from her home and place of work, and that he pay $12,000 in legal fees.

 

Crowley alleged she and Manziel had a confrontation in a Dallas hotel room, which eventually continued downstairs to the valet station. She said he forced her into a car and a valet disregarded her pleas for help. The two eventually drove to where her car was parked in front of a Dallas bar, she said in an affidavit. She accused Manziel of getting into the driver's seat and beginning to drive her.

 

She said she tried to jump out, but he stopped the car, dragged her back inside and hit her.

 

She said Manziel threatened to kill himself as he drove her back to Fort Worth, about 30 miles west of Dallas, where police were called.

 

Dallas police announced on Feb. 5 that they were investigating the case, one day after they issued a statement saying they considered the case to be closed.

 

In the wake of the allegations, Manziel's father said the family had made two recent, unsuccessful attempts to get him into a rehab clinic.

 

Manziel, who entered the NFL with a reputation for partying and drinking, spent 73 days last winter in a Pennsylvania treatment center specializing in care for alcohol and drug dependency.

 

Manziel was cleared of any wrongdoing last year after he and Crowley got into a heated roadside argument near the player's home. Witnesses to that incident saw Manziel arguing on the side of a highway with his girlfriend and pulling her back into his car as she tried to leave the vehicle. He was not arrested and Crowley told police she didn't want to press charges.

 

Beyond his legal problems, Manziel is also under investigation by the NFL, which is looking into whether he violated the league's personal conduct policy. Manziel was cleared of any wrongdoing by the league for a roadside argument in Ohio involving Crowley in October. Manziel was questioned by police.

An NFL spokesman said the league's new inquiry is still underway.

 

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SPRING BRINGS QB COMPETITIONS FROM ALABAMA TO NOTRE DAME

AP - Quarterback competitions that get settled in spring are often competitions in name only.

 

The ones with real drama almost always get resolved in August, but that does not mean some quarterbacks won't assert themselves during the spring.

 

QB

 

Last season, Ohio State's star-studded QB contest was one of the stories of the offseason and not until November was it settled. The Buckeyes have no quarterback competition this season, but several teams that hope to contend for a playoff spot do.

 

ALABAMA

For the third straight season Alabama has no clear-cut starting quarterback.

 

Cooper Bateman is the presumptive front-runner after he lost out to Jake Coker last year. Blake Barnett is the five-star future franchise QB. David Cornwell was a four-star recruit who could play at dozens of FBS schools.

 

Three of Alabama's national championships have come with a first-year starter behind center as Nick Saban has proved the best way to develop a quarterback is to surround him with future NFL players.

 

FLORIDA STATE

Sean Maguire ended last season as the Seminoles' starter, but he will have serious competition underclassmen with more upside. Redshirt freshman Deondre Francois was one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks coming out of high school in 2015 and five-star freshman Malik Henry has enrolled early to take part in spring practice. Henry has said he has no plans to redshirt. Jimbo Fisher might have other plans.

 

GEORGIA

Among 2016 freshman quarterbacks, Georgia's Jacob Eason would be voted most likely to start immediately. He is already enrolled, will take part in spring practice and new coach Kirby Smart's other options are ... limited. Brice Ramsey is the only returnee with experience, but an argument could be made he is a better punter (41.9-yard average) than passer (two picks and one touchdown pass in 35 attempts).

 

MICHIGAN

The Wolverines rode graduate transfer Jake Rudock to 10 wins in coach Jim Harbaugh's surprisingly good first season in Ann Arbor. Next in line appears to be another transfer. John O'Korn came over from Houston, where he was the American Athletic Conference freshman of the year in 2013 and demoted to second string in 2014. He is not a lock to win the job. Former five-star recruit Shane Morris figures to be his main competition, along with last year's backup, Wilton Speight. A couple of freshmen will get a look, too.

 

NOTRE DAME

DeShone Kizer saved Notre Dame's season after Malik Zaire broke his ankle in Week 2. Kizer passed for 2,884 yards and 21 touchdowns, ran for 10 TDs and threw 10 interceptions. Kizer, a sophomore, was so good it almost makes you forget that the junior Zaire was a clear No. 1 going into last season. Brian Kelly also second-year man Brandon Wimbush, who could be the most talented quarterback on the roster. Maybe Kelly can call Urban Meyer for some advice? Then again, maybe not a good idea.

 

STANFORD

Now that Kevin Hogan's 10-year career at Stanford (at least it seemed that way) is over, the Cardinal have a vacancy. Conventional wisdom is the job is Keller Chryst's to lose. The son of former 49ers offensive coordinator Geep Chryst and nephew of Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst played sparingly as the No. 2 last year, but being second on the depth chart meant he beat out Ryan Burns, this season's main competition.

 

Highly touted freshman K.J. Costello will join the competition in August, but for spring it will be Chryst and Burns taking just about all the reps.

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EX-NFL PLAYER PLEADS GUILTY TO STEALING FROM OHIO CHARITIES

CLEVELAND (AP) -- A former NFL wide receiver who'd become a respected and popular figure in the city where he played his best football pleaded guilty on Wednesday to stealing from two children's charities to pay his gambling debts and personal expenses and is expected to serve prison time.

 

Reggie Rucker

 

Reggie Rucker, who played seven seasons for the Cleveland Browns, was charged last week in U.S. District Court with wire fraud and lying to FBI agents. A plea agreement calls for Rucker, who's 68, to serve about two years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for May.

 

Rucker's attorney Michael Hennenberg said he accepts responsibility for his conduct.

 

"He knows he was wrong, and he's trying to do everything possible to make it right," Hennenberg said Wednesday by telephone.

 

The nonprofit groups Rucker was charged with ripping off are Amer-I-Can Cleveland, a local chapter of an organization created by Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame fullback Jim Brown to help inner-city youths succeed in school and life, and the Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance, which uses street workers to quell gang violence.

 

Rucker, who played in the NFL from 1970 to 1981, stepped away from the two groups in the last year, Hennenberg has said. Rucker often cited his tough upbringing in the District of Columbia for his devotion to helping underprivileged kids.

 

His plea agreement sets the groups' losses at between $95,000 and $150,000. Hennenberg said it's around $100,000.

 

The charging document detailed hundreds of thousands of dollars in bank and ATM withdrawals, including dozens of ATM transactions at casinos in Las Vegas, Cleveland and other places. Authorities said Rucker stole $65,000 to pay off gambling lines of credit, called markers, to Las Vegas casinos.

 

Rucker, who's from suburban Warrensville Heights, took money from the groups' accounts but also deposited large sums, including some of his gambling proceeds, authorities have said.

 

Hennenberg acknowledged Rucker has a gambling problem but said Rucker believed he'd returned all the money he'd taken.

 

"He thought he had made it right but lost track completely," Hennenberg said.

 

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PICKING COLLEGE BASKETBALL'S BEST TEAM TOUGH IN WILD YEAR

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- Good luck sorting out who is college basketball's best team this season.

 

Sports

 

Six teams have held the No. 1 spot in the Top 25, one shy of the record during the 1982-83 season. But there is still time to tie the mark. With less than three weeks to go before Selection Sunday, there is a crowd of good, but not great teams that includes Kansas, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Villanova.

 

But one team stands out when reviewing advanced stats and other indicators: Virginia, one of the nation's most efficient teams at both ends of the court.

Here is a closer look at nine contenders, with stats through Sunday's games:

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IOWA

The Hawkeyes' 1-2 punch of Jarrod Uthoff (18.8 points) and Peter Jok (16.3) leads an offense ranked 11th in KenPom's adjusted efficiency ratings (118 points per 100 possessions). No. 8 Iowa also ranks fifth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio, according to STATS.

The Hawkeyes rank lowest among this group at 37th in adjusted defensive efficiency (95.9), but they've beaten Michigan State twice.

"I think what you're seeing is a team that understands how you have to compete, how you have to prepare, how you have to stay together and continue to believe in each other," coach Fran McCaffery said last month.

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KANSAS

There is plenty to like about the second-ranked Jayhawks.

Led by senior Perry Ellis, Kansas ranks sixth in adjusted offensive efficiency (118.8) and 21st in defense (94.5) against KenPom's fifth-toughest schedule. And the Jayhawks rank fourth in 3-point shooting (42 percent).

They've also beaten Oklahoma (twice), West Virginia and Kentucky, one of this year's No. 1s.

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MARYLAND

Sophomore Melo Trimble leads five double-figure scorers for the 10th-ranked Terrapins, who rank 14th in adjusted defensive efficiency (93.6) and 12th in free-throw shooting (76 percent).

But they lack high-end wins outside of beating Iowa in KenPom's 49th-toughest schedule. They also lost last week to a Minnesota team that was 0-13 in the Big Ten.

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MICHIGAN STATE

The Spartans stumbled from No. 1 as Denzel Valentine recovered from a knee injury, but they're rolling now.

They're tied with North Carolina for fourth in adjusted offensive efficiency (119.4), lead the country in rebounding margin (plus-11.6), rank second in assist-to-turnover ratio and third in 3-point shooting (42 percent).

The sixth-ranked Spartans have beaten Kansas, Louisville and Maryland, though their overall schedule strength ranks a group-low 53rd.

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NORTH CAROLINA

The preseason No. 1 team scores, takes care of the basketball (third in assist-to-turnover ratio) and hits the glass (17th in rebounding margin) with possibly the nation's deepest roster. But are the seventh-ranked Tar Heels tough enough to defend and finish?

Their five losses have come by 17 points. That includes last week's home loss to undermanned Duke, though they routed then-No. 11 Miami days later.

"It's a veteran team that I keep thinking, 'We're going to get it, we're going to get it a little bit better,'" coach Roy Williams said this month. "You never know with kids."

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OKLAHOMA

The third-ranked Sooners have a strong case behind star guard Buddy Hield.

Facing KenPom's second-toughest schedule, they're 12th in adjusted offensive efficiency (117.9) and 17th defensively (94) while shooting a national-best 43.1 percent from 3-point range.

Oklahoma blew out Villanova in December but fell twice to Kansas and recently lost three of four before beating West Virginia last weekend.

"Oklahoma is probably the hardest personnel to guard, I think, because all of them can go get their own," Kansas coach Bill Self said this month.

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VILLANOVA

Current No. 1 Villanova and Virginia are the only teams in the top 15 of both of KenPom's adjusted efficiency ratings. The Wildcats rank 15th offensively (116.5) and fourth defensively (91), while their guard-led lineup makes a national-best 78.1 percent of free throws.

The blemish? They lost measuring-stick nonconference games with Oklahoma and Virginia by double figures in KenPom's No. 33-ranked schedule.

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VIRGINIA

Tied for third in this week's AP Top 25, the Cavaliers separate themselves by doing a lot of things well.

Led by two-way star Malcom Brogdon, they're 14th in adjusted offensive efficiency (117.3) and sixth defensively (92). They're the only team from this group in the top 20 of those categories along with 3-point shooting (41 percent), free-throw shooting (75 percent) and assist-to-turnover ratio, too.

The Cavs also beat Villanova and West Virginia in KenPom's 11th-toughest schedule. Their only losses in the past month have come at Duke and Monday at Miami by a combined four points.

"Every single game we want to take a step forward because we know it's getting closer to March . and we want to start playing our best ball," junior London Perrantes said last week. "And I feel like we're starting to get into that stride."

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XAVIER

Fifth-ranked Xavier ranks in the top 25 of KenPom's adjusted offensive (114.3) and defensive (94.1) efficiency rankings. The Musketeers are also 14th in rebounding margin.

But they've played KenPom's 48th-toughest schedule. They have one win against an RPI Top 25 team to tie Villanova for fewest in this group - and the Wildcats' win came by 31 against the Musketeers. Their rematch is Wednesday.

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP's college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

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THURSDAY'S SPORTS SCOREBOARD

All Times Eastern
 
National Basketball Association
Utah vs Washington ppd, Postponed
Washington 103, Utah 89 F
Cleveland 106, Chicago 95 F
L.A. Clippers 105, San Antonio 86 F
 
National Hockey League
Pittsburgh 6, Detroit 3 F
Washington 3, N.Y. Islanders 2 F OT
Ottawa 4, Carolina 2 F
N.Y. Rangers 4, Toronto 2 F
San Jose 2, Florida 1 F 2OT
Tampa Bay 6, Winnipeg 5 F 2OT
Nashville 2, Boston 0 F
St. Louis 2, Los Angeles 1 F OT
Arizona 6, Dallas 3 F
Minnesota 5, Edmonton 2 F
Anaheim 5, Vancouver 2 F
 
Top 25 College Basketball
Minnesota 68, Maryland (6) 63 F
Michigan St. (8) 69, Wisconsin 57 F
Kentucky (14) 80, Tennessee 70 F
UConn 68, SMU (21) 62 F
 
Top 25 Women's College Basketball
Notre Dame (2) 86, Wake Forest 52 F
South Carolina (3) 61, Georgia 51 F
Ohio St. (5) 96, Nebraska 70 F
Syracuse (23) 83, Florida St. (10) 73 F
Louisville (11) 74, Virginia 59 F
Texas A&M (12) 68, LSU 54 F
Kentucky (16) 83, Mississippi St. (14) 60 F
Florida (22) 79, Vanderbilt 67 F
Tennessee (24) 57, Mississippi 51 F
Michigan St. (25) 70, Rutgers 67 F

 

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ROOKIE CHASE ELLIOTT BECOMES YOUNGEST ON DAYTONA 500 POLE

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Chase Elliott was too young to really remember celebrating in victory lane with his father, dressed in a shirt that matched Bill Elliott's firesuit and a little finger pointed toward the sky because daddy was No. 1.

 

Daytona

 

But here's a father-son snapshot Chase can savor forever: "Awesome Bill" waiting with a big embrace Sunday at Daytona International Speedway for the son who proved he's capable of following in some Hall of Fame footsteps.

 

Elliott kept the No. 24 Chevrolet on the pole for the second straight Daytona 500, with the rookie becoming the youngest driver to land the top spot in NASCAR's biggest race.

 

"I don't know if this opportunity has sunk in yet, much less sitting on the pole for the Daytona 500," Elliott said.

The 20-year-old has the ride of a lifetime, taking the seat from retired four-time champion Jeff Gordon at Hendrick Motorsports. Gordon was in the broadcast booth at Daytona, calling the shots as the No. 24 went around the track without him for the first time since 1992.

 

Elliott has some practice following the great ones: His father, Bill, is a two-time Daytona 500 champion.

"The manner which (he) went about his business, I think is really special," Chase said.

 

Without showing the pressure on the track that comes with the ride, Elliott's top speed was 196.314 mph and he outran 43 others in front-row qualifying Sunday. He also showed that Hendrick cars could be contenders again after taking a backseat to Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske in 2015.

 

Nonetheless, the Gibbs cars continued their strong opening to Speedweeks by putting Matt Kenseth on the front row for the Daytona 500. It came on the heels of Denny Hamlin's victory in Saturday night's exhibition race and showed that the team hasn't lost a step since Kyle Busch claimed the Sprint Cup title in November.

Busch was fourth fastest in Sunday's time trials, with Carl Edwards ninth and Hamlin 10th. JGR was the only multicar team to put all of its cars in the top 10.

 

But Gibbs cares little about the buildup to the Feb. 21 season opener. Year after year, his drivers prove to be the best of the bunch during Speedweeks but come up empty in the main event. He reminded Hamlin of that in victory lane Saturday night.

 

"I said, 'Try and get us a 500, will you?'" Gibbs said. "It's been 23 years since we were able to win one."

 

JGR won its only Daytona 500 in 1993 with Dale Jarrett, and Gibbs doesn't miss an opportunity to remind his current drivers of the drought.

 

"I've got to tell you, the 500 is just hard to win," Gibbs said. "That's where we come at it. So many things can happen. You can have really good cars, and we feel like we have had those, but it's a tough race to win. I'd love to get another one."

 

The rest of the Daytona 500 field will be set in Thursday's two qualifying races.

 

Elliott won the pole at 20 years, 2 months and 17 days, besting 2014 pole-sitter Austin Dillon's mark of 23 years, 9 months and 27 days.

 

Gordon already sounded like a seasoned pro in the Fox Sports broadcast booth, asking his replacement how he could keep his momentum headed into "The Great American Race." Gordon was a three-time Daytona 500 winner and won a pair of poles in the 24. Elliott's speed earned team owner Rick Hendrick his 10th overall pole in the Daytona 500.

 

NASCAR ditched its knockout group qualifying format for Daytona for single cars making one qualifying lap.

After 44 drivers had a scheduled turn, the 12 fastest advanced to the second round. The two fastest drivers in the second round set the front row.

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kenseth, Elliott, Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch and Joey Logano advanced.

 

Other things to know about qualifying:

 

WHO'S IN: Wood Brothers driver Ryan Blaney and BK Racing's Matt Dibenedetto secured spots in the Daytona 500 as the two fastest open team drivers. NASCAR's new charter system, which guarantees 36 cars a starting spot in each race, shut out the Wood Brothers because it had been 10 years since it ran a full season. Blaney ran 16 races for the Woods last year and failed to qualify for three others because rain washed out the session. He won't have to worry about a spot next week.

 

WHO'S LEFT: With two spots remaining, Josh Wise, Michael McDowell, Reed Sorenson, Robert Richardson Jr., David Gilliland and Cole Whitt all have to race their way into the field. The top open finisher in each qualifying race will make the Daytona 500.

 

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON: The Elliotts became the fourth father-son combination to earn the Daytona 500 pole, joining Richard Petty (1966) and Kyle Petty (1993), Bobby Allison (1981) and Davey Allison (1991), and Dale Earnhardt (1996) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2011). Bill Elliott, a two-time Daytona 500 champion, landed the pole in 1985, 1986, 1987 and 2001.

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BRONCOS D DOMINATES PANTHERS IN 24-10 SUPER BOWL WIN

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -- Von Miller forced two fumbles to set up Denver's two touchdowns and the Broncos defense frustrated Cam Newton all game to carry Peyton Manning to his second Super Bowl title with a 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.

 

 

Manning threw for just 141 yards and committed two turnovers in one of the least productive games of his brilliant career that could be coming to an end.

 

But with Miller leading a defense that recorded a Super Bowl record-tying seven sacks and forced four turnovers for the Broncos (15-4), Manning ended an up-and-down, injury-riddled season with another title to go with the one he won with Indianapolis nine years ago.

 

Play of Game

 

Newton's MVP season ended in disappointment for the Panthers (17-2). He lost two fumbles, threw an interception and failed to produce a touchdown for the only time this season.

 

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THE LATEST: BRONCOS BEAT PANTHERS TO WIN SUPER BOWL

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -- The Latest on Super Bowl Sunday from AP reporters covering the game, the telecast, the commercials and fans around the world (All times local):

 

10:22 p.m.

Thanks to Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and the Orange Rush, Peyton Manning can go out on top.

 

Miller had 2 1/2 sacks, forced Cam Newton to fumble twice and the Broncos beat the Panthers 24-10 to win the franchise's third Super Bowl title Sunday night.

 

Newton, the NFL MVP, was harassed by Denver's smothering, top-ranked defense all game. He was visibly frustrated after throwing an interception and slammed his hand on the turf when a referee didn't call a late hit in the fourth.

 

Manning was 13 of 23 for 141 yards and one interception. The victory was his 200th career win, second Super Bowl championship and he became the first QB to win an NFL title with two teams.

 

- Rob Maaddi reporting from Santa Clara, California.

 

---

 

Denver's D did it again.

 

Von Miller forced Cam Newton to fumble for the second time and T.J. Ward recovered it at the Panthers 4, setting up C.J. Anderson's 2-yard touchdown run.

 

Peyton Manning connected with Bennie Fowler for the 2-point conversion and a 24-10 lead with 3:08 left.

Miller has 2 1/2 of Denver's seven sacks.

 

Manning has just 141 yards passing, but is a few minutes away from winning his second Super Bowl title in perhaps his final game.

 

- Rob Maaddi reporting from Santa Clara, California.

 

---

 

6:42 p.m.

Carolina's Graham Gano kicked a 39-yard field goal to cut Denver's lead to 16-10 with 10:21 left in the fourth quarter.

 

Cam Newton drove the Panthers into field-goal range after Charles Johnson recovered Peyton Manning's fumble at midfield.

 

The Panthers are playing the final quarter without wide receiver Philly Brown, who left with a concussion after a 42-yard catch in the third quarter.

 

- Rob Maaddi reporting from Santa Clara, California.

---

 

6:30 p.m.

Peyton Manning is 15 minutes away from his second Super Bowl title.

 

Brandon McManus kicked his third field goal, a swarming defense smothered Cam Newton and the Broncos led the Panthers 16-7 after three quarters.

 

 

Trailing 16-7, the Panthers appeared to be going in for a score before another turnover cost them.

 

On second down from the Broncos 28, Newton's pass sailed through Ted Ginn Jr.'s hands and was intercepted by T.J. Ward. He returned it 4 yards, but was stripped by Mike Tolbert. Denver's Danny Trevathan fell on it at the 7.

 

The teams traded punts after that and the Broncos had the ball to the start the fourth.

 

Von Miller had 1 ½ sacks of Denver's five sacks and he also forced a fumble recovered by Mailk Jackson for a TD.

 

Newton was 14 of 31 for 218 yards and one pick. The NFL MVP was visibly frustrated after the interception.

 

- Rob Maaddi reporting from Santa Clara, California.

 

---

 

6:06 p.m.

Call Brandon McManus "Mr. Reliable."

 

Goal

 

McManus hit a 30-yard field goal to give the Broncos a 16-7 lead over the Panthers in the third quarter.

 

McManus is 3 for 3 in the Super Bowl and 10 for 10 in the playoffs.

 

After Graham Gano hit the upright on a 44-yard field goal attempt for the Panthers, Peyton Manning connected with Emmanuel Sanders for 25 yards. Manning then hit Sanders for a 22-yard gain to the Panthers 17.

 

But the drive stalled and McManus hit another one.

 

- Rob Maaddi reporting from Santa Clara, California.

---

 

5:59 p.m.

Doink.

Carolina's Graham Gano hit the right upright on a 44-yard field-goal try on the first possession of the second half and the Broncos still led the Panthers 13-7.

 

Cam Newton connected with Ted Ginn Jr. for a 45-yard gain to the Broncos 38 and Ginn caught a 14-yard pass to the 25. But the drive stalled and Gano missed the kick. Gano was 3 for 3 in the playoffs and 30 of 36 in the regular season.

 

- Rob Maaddi reporting from Santa Clara, California.

 

---

 

5:25 p.m.

Defense and mistakes dominated the first half.

 

Cam Newton hardly looked like the NFL MVP and Peyton Manning played like a 39-year-old quarterback at the end of his career.

 

 

Thanks to Von Miller and the Orange Rush, the Broncos led the Panthers 13-7 at halftime of Super Bowl 50 on Sunday.

 

Newton was 8 of 19 for 95 yards and was sacked three times. He ran for 46 yards.

 

Manning was 9 of 16 for 76 yards and one interception.

The offenses combined to go three-and-out seven times in 15 possessions. The Panthers also lost two fumbles on third-down plays. Manning threw a pick from the Panthers 24, costing Denver a chance at a field goal.

 

Miller forced a fumble that was recovered in the end zone for a score by Malik Jackson. Brandon McManus made field goals of 34 and 33 yards. Jordan Norwood's 61-yard punt return - the longest in Super Bowl history - set up McManus' second field goal.

 

Jonathan Stewart had a 1-yard TD dive for the Panthers.

 

- Rob Maaddi reporting from Santa Clara, California

---

 

4:50 p.m.

Special teams are doing their part to help Peyton Manning.

 

 

Jordan Norwood set up Brandon McManus' 33-yard field goal with the longest punt return in Super Bowl history.

 

Norwood fielded a short punt that appeared to be deflected. After a Panthers player bumped into him, Norwood bounced it outside and went 61 yards down the right sideline before Mario Addison caught him from behind at Carolina's 14.

 

But Manning and the offense stalled again. A holding call on Louis Vazquez nullified C.J. Anderson's 2-yard run on fourth-and-1 and McManus kicked his second field goal to make it 13-7.

 

San Francisco's John Taylor had the previous longest punt return, 45 yards in the 1989 Super Bowl against Cincinnati.

 

- Rob Maaddi reporting from Santa Clara, California

 

---

 

 

4:32 p.m.

Superman showed up in the second quarter.

 

Cam Newton started scrambling and led the Carolina Panthers on a scoring drive to cut Denver's lead to 10-7.

 

 

Newton, sacked twice already, had runs of 11 and 12 yards on the drive before connecting with Corey Brown for 13 yards to the 2. Jonathan Stewart then leaped in from the 1 for the score.

 

Newton hit Brown for 20 yards and Greg Olsen for 19 yards on the drive.

 

- Rob Maaddi reporting from Santa Clara, California.

---

 

4:25 p.m.

All zeroes won the first quarter pool.

 

The Broncos led the Panthers 10-0 after a defensive touchdown. Peyton Manning was 7 of 9 for 61 yards. Cam Newton was 4 of 8 for 31 yards and was sacked twice.

 

The first sack by Von Miller resulted in a fumble that was recovered in the end zone by Malik Jackson for a score.

 

Brandon McManus kicked a 34-yard field goal on Denver's first possession.

 

- Rob Maaddi reporting from Santa Clara, California.

 

---

 

4:21 p.m.

Panthers Pro Bowl running back Jonathan Stewart has returned to the game after missing one series with a foot injury. Stewart hobbled off the field midway through the first quarter after it appeared his foot got twisted under the pile.

 

 

- Steve Reed reporting from Santa Clara, California

 

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4:07 p.m.

The Orange Rush strikes first.

 

Von Miller sacked Cam Newton, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Malik Jackson in the end zone for a touchdown that gave Denver a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.

 

After the Panthers lost the first challenge when Jerricho Cotchery couldn't control Newton's pass over the middle, the Broncos' top-ranked defense made its presence felt quickly.

 

On third-and-10 from the 15, Miller blew past a blocker and stripped the ball from Newton's hand.

 

 

The Panthers had outscored opponents 55-7 in the first half this season in the playoffs entering the game.

 

- Rob Maaddi reporting from Santa Clara, California.

 

---

 

3:45 p.m.

Peyton Manning came out firing and the Broncos scored first.

 

 

Denver took the opening kick and the first four plays were passes for 46 yards. C.J. Anderson then ran for 8 and 12 yards. After Ronnie Hillman lost 3 yards, Manning threw two incomplete passes and the Broncos settled for a 34-yard field goal by Brandon McManus to take a 3-0 lead.

 

Manning got away with a poor pass that Robert McClain nearly picked near the sideline.

 

- Rob Maaddi reporting from Santa Clara, California.

 

 

---

3:35 p.m.

Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos will get the ball first to start the Super Bowl.

 

Manning

 

The Panthers won the coin toss when Thomas Davis called tails but elected to defer so NFL MVP Cam Newton has to wait to take the field.

 

The team captains were joined by past Super Bowl MVPs from Bay Area teams and Hall of Famer Joe Montana flipped the special coin.

 

- Rob Maaddi reporting from Santa Clara, California

 

---

 

3:10 p.m.

Bettors liked the Carolina Panthers all the way to kickoff in the legal sports books in Las Vegas.

 

The Panthers were 5.5 point favorites to win the Super Bowl at some books, and 5 point favorites at others in a betting line that barely budged for two weeks.

 

"It's been Carolina from the beginning to the end," said Nick Bogdanovich, the oddsmaker at the William Hill chain. "We've been at 5.5 points forever."

 

Bettors also loved the so-called "props" in the game, which books put on the board by the hundreds. Bettors could bet anything from whether the first score of the game was a safety to whether Peyton Manning would take the last offensive snap of the game for the Denver Broncos.

 

Bogdanovich said professional gamblers liked the under in the game, prompting his book to drop it from 45 to 44 points before game day.

 

Bettors stood in lines 10-15 deep much of Sunday waiting to place their bets. Most bookmakers said they expect the game to have a chance to surpass the record total of $119.4 million wagered legally in Nevada books two years ago.

 

---

 

2:55 p.m.

Peyton Manning's best receiver joined him on the field before the big game.

 

Marvin Harrison, who was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, greeted Manning during pre-game warmups. Harrison played his entire career with the Indianapolis Colts, including 11 seasons with Manning.

 

Harrison was joined on the field by Tony Dungy, who also was elected into the Hall of Fame on Saturday. Dungy, Manning and Harrison led the Colts to a Super Bowl title nine years ago.

 

- Rob Maaddi reporting from Santa Clara.

 

---

 

5:07 p.m. (EST)

The "Let's Move" campaign is taking a short hiatus at the White House for the Super Bowl.

 

The campaign, led by First Lady Michelle Obama, is focused on curbing obesity, but she admits that the first family takes "Let's Move" rules off the table for the big game.

 

President Barack Obama says the Obamas will watch the game with a regular group of friends. The president says they'll eat wings, pizza and nachos. He says there's also a vegetable tray "that nobody touches."

 

Michelle Obama says the football game's serious watchers go to the Treaty Room of the White House. She also says there's a champagne room "where you really don't know what's going on, but you're close to the champagne."

 

The president and first lady spoke before the game to CBS News' Gayle King.

 

- Will Lester reporting from Washington.

 

---

 

1:12 p.m.

Both teams have arrived at Levi's Stadium for the Super Bowl.

 

 

MVP quarterback Cam Newton walked in decked out in his typical flashy style. He wore black pants, a black shirt with a bow tie and a black-and-white sports coat along with sparkly black loafers - with no socks, of course.

 

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning arrived with a more traditional and conservative blue blazer with a white shirt, orange tie and gray pants.

 

- Steve Reed reporting from Santa Clara, California.

 

12:29 p.m.

There will be two reigning MVPs on hand at Levi's Stadium today for Super Bowl 50.

 

 

Golden State Warriors guard and NBA MVP Stephen Curry will bang the "Keep Pounding" drum for the Panthers, the team confirmed Sunday. Curry, who grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, and played at nearby Davidson College, remains a huge Panthers fan. He even wore Panthers gear at Warriors practice the day of the NFC championship.

 

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was named the NFL's MVP on Saturday night.

 

Curry also hit the drum before the team's home opener against the Houston Texans. The Panthers viewed it as a good luck since they didn't lose at home all season.

Hitting the drum before the game is a tradition honoring the late Sam Mills, a former Panthers linebacker and coach who died of intestinal cancer inspired the message of "Keep Pounding."

 

- Steve Reed reporting from Santa Clara, California.

 

---

 

12:20 p.m.

Team spokesman Steven Drummond said the Panthers had no problems with curfew on Saturday night and there have been no off-the-field issues leading up the Super Bowl.

 

"We have checked all of the boxes and we're good to go," Drummond said.

 

- Steve Reed reporting from Santa Clara, California.

 

---

 

12:05 p.m.

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PANTHERS LB DAVIS ACTIVE, READY TO GO DESPITE BROKEN ARM

 

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -- Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis will play in the Super Bowl despite breaking his arm two weeks ago in the NFC championship game.

 

Davis had surgery 13 days ago to have 12 screws and a plate inserted into his right forearm.

 

Davis

 

Defensive end Jared Allen is also active after missing the NFC title game with a broken bone in his foot.

For Denver, safeties T.J. Ward (ankle) and Darian Stewart (knee) and guard Louis Vasquez (knee) are active.

 

Carolina's inactives include wide receivers Brenton Bersin and Kevin Norwood, running backs Cameron Artis-Payne and Brandon Wegher, safety Dean Marlow and defensive end Ryan Delaire.

 

Quarterback Trevor Siemian, running back Juwan Thompson, guard Robert Myers Jr., center Sam Brenner, nose tackle Darius Kilgo and cornerbacks Lorenzo Doss and Taurean Nixon are inactive for Denver.

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Little-Known Receivers Help Panthers Get to Super Bowl

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Cam Newton throws passes to a bunch of no-name receivers.

The Carolina Panthers have a group of wideouts who've embraced their roles, checked their egos and do whatever it takes to win.

Panthers

"We know we suck," Corey "Philly" Brown said sarcastically. "We're just going to continue to make plays and do what we've been doing all year."

 

Brown, Jerricho Cotchery, Ted Ginn Jr. and Devin Funchess don't have impressive resumes that compare to Denver's Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Thomas is a three-time Pro Bowl pick with four straight seasons of at least 1,300 yards receiving and two straight seasons with more than 100 catches. Sanders went to the Pro Bowl last year and has two straight seasons with 1,100-plus yards receiving and more than 75 catches.

Meanwhile, the Panthers rely on an undrafted free agent, a journeyman veteran, a first-round bust and a rookie.

"Those guys have been playing lights out since day one," Newton said. "Ted Ginn, who was a bust for so many people. I heard Jerricho Cotchery was washed up 10 years ago. Philly Brown had no hands. Devin Funchess was too high of a pick for the Carolina Panthers. ... We didn't let anyone else dictate to us that we knew what we were capable of. It's a very close-knit group and guys selling out for each other."

The Panthers had a No. 1 receiver, but Kelvin Benjamin tore his ACL in preseason. Without him, tight end Greg Olsen became Newton's go-to guy. Olsen had 77 catches for 1,104 yards.

None of the wide receivers even caught 50 balls.

Ginn led the unit with 44 catches for 739 yards and 10 TDs. He was the ninth overall pick by Miami in 2007 but never lived up to his potential and has bounced around the league.

"We're underrated," Ginn said. "We got a lot of guys who can play on another team and be great."

Brown, signed out of Ohio State in 2014, had 31 catches for 447 yards and four TDs this season.

"We don't care what people have to say about us and we don't listen to any of that," he said.

Cotchery had 39 catches for 485 yards and three TDs in his 12th season in the NFL and second with the Panthers. He's more valuable to the team as a mentor to the younger players.

"We just grew extremely close," he said. "Everything just came together for us."

Funchess, a second-round pick, caught 31 passes for 473 yards and five TDs. He also had a TD catch against Arizona in the NFC championship game.

"When Kelvin went down, we had to step up," Funchess said. "And we stepped up big since Week 1 and then we never looked back."

Panthers receivers coach Ricky Proehl has been instrumental in his group's development. He's no stranger to the Big Game himself.

Proehl played for two Super Bowl championship teams — the 1999 Rams and 2006 Colts. He also played on two teams that lost the Super Bowl. Proehl caught a tying TD pass late in the fourth quarter for the Rams in 2002 and Panthers in 2004. But Adam Vinatieri kicked game-winning field goals for the Patriots to win both games.

"All that he brought as a player he brings to our meeting room," Cotchery said. "That same competitiveness, wanting his group to be the best that they can be, working every day to perfect your craft. He's a guy that has a lot of wisdom about the game and he knows how to communicate that."

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SUPER BOWL 50: MANNING'S LAST GAME? NEWTON'S FINEST MOMENT?

 

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -- Peyton Manning's last game? Cam Newton's finest moment?

 

For all the golden tinge the NFL is placing on Super Bowl 50, this one just might come down to how the two star quarterbacks deal with the dynamic defenses bent on humbling them.

 

Manning

 

There can't be a better storyline than a five-time MVP likely to take his final snaps with a championship on the line. Except, perhaps, the league's rising star carrying his franchise to its first NFL title in the face of detractors.

 

Throw in those defenses: Denver's ranks first overall in many statistics and certainly in intimidation, with a pass rush capable of neutralizing any air game; Carolina's makes game-changing plays to the tune of a league-high 39 takeaways and a plus-20 turnover margin.

 

Add in a pair of coaches at the peak of their NFL careers, a relatively new stadium with nearly all imaginable technology, and a half-century of America's biggest game and the intrigue meter hits the stratosphere.

 

"If you have any appreciation for the game, and certainly you have watched Super Bowls, played in the Super Bowls, have a sibling that has played in the Super Bowls," Manning says, ,"it does make it maybe even more special."

 

Some attention-grabbers for Sunday's game at Levi's Stadium:

---

 

QUARTERBACKS: Manning has been mum on whether this will be the end of one of the most prolific and entertaining careers in sports history. He's 39, has been plagued by injuries for much of the last five seasons, and, win or lose, has nothing left to prove.

It's his fourth Super Bowl and, although he brings a 1-2 mark into this game, the losses don't detract from his legacy.

 

"I think it is important to use all of your experience to your advantage," Manning says. "I think you can always refer back to prior situations and two-minute drives, or a fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line. The more experience you have, you can use that to help you."

 

Newton doesn't have that background yet. But he was the NFL's most dominant - and sometimes most polarizing - player this season. No one has more fun playing the game than the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner, 2011 top overall draft pick and 2015 All-Pro quarterback who threw for 35 touchdowns and ran for 10.

 

If Manning represents the old guard, Newton - with his celebrations, dabbing and just plain coolness - is the future.

 

Some media compared Newton to Usain Bolt.

"Really?" Newton says, entertained by the comparison. "I got the opportunity to meet Usain last year. He was a cool guy. He was like real cool, you know? Like internationally cool. I'm just locally cool, you know?"

Bolt owns a vault full of gold medals. Newton goes for the gold of Super Bowl 50.

 

---

 

DEFENSES: Don't for a minute think the defenses can't decide this matchup.

 

Carolina feasts on mistakes, and Denver was a minus-4 in turnover differential, including 31 giveaways. With two All-Pros at linebacker in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, and another one with cornerback Josh Norman, the Panthers have playmakers all over. Safety Kurt Coleman tied for the NFC lead with seven interceptions and added two in the playoffs. DT Kawann Short is a disruptive force and had 11 sacks.

 

That unit struggled in the second half of the divisional-round win over Seattle, but it has a superior offense that scored 500 regular-season points to provide balance.

 

The most vivid memory of January football this year has to be Denver's full-out assault on Tom Brady. While Newton is far more adept at avoiding the pressure than Brady is, he doesn't have Brady's surgical skills at dissecting a defense.

 

All-Pro linebacker Von Miller and studs such as LB DeMarcus Ware, CBs Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby - along with a deep line - will provide a formidable obstacle for Newton.

 

---

 

COACHES: Ron Rivera was tagged with the nickname "Riverboat Ron" years ago. He's not truly a gambling coach, more someone who lets his players do what they do best. Sometimes that means taking chances, such as a reverse to Ted Ginn Jr. that resulted in a 22-yard TD in the NFC championship game.

 

Rivera has guided Carolina to three straight NFC South crowns, and couldn't be more popular with his players because "he gives us the freedom to be us," star tight end Greg Olsen says.

 

Gary Kubiak was an enlightened choice to take over the Broncos when team boss John Elway decided to release John Fox. He is Elway's former backup and long-time buddy, and he has focused on building a balanced team that isn't overly reliant on Manning.

 

Like Rivera, Kubiak's players have his back.

 

---

 

SUPER BOWL L: All season, the NFL has celebrated 50 years of the Super Bowl, starting with changing its logo and thankfully dropping the Roman numeral. The 50-yard line on every field was painted gold. Past "Super Bowl Heroes" were celebrated along with the games they participated in.

 

The big game has come back to Northern California for the first time in 31 years. Will it live up to the Super billing?

 

Stay tuned.

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LOWEST PRICE FOR SUPER BOWL TICKET IS $3,000, COMPANY SAYS

 

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -- For a mere $3,000, you can attend the Super Bowl.

 

That's the lowest price of a ticket to the big game on Sunday, according to an executive from the online ticket marketplace StubHub.

 

Super Bowl Tickets

 

Prices are holding steady, said Jason Deppen, StubHub's director of field operations.

 

"We're seeing prices as low as $3,000 to get in, so we are talking upper corner, upper end zone. Those prices are hovering around $3,000. The average price we're seeing - $4,500, $4,700 - and prices get up to into the tens of thousands depending on suite levels, and lower sidelines of course," Deppen said.

 

StubHub has already sold nearly 5,000 tickets, and it expects sales to reach 6,000 before kickoff, Deppen said.

"We have not seen a lot of downward trend movement, which we have seen in the past at other Super Bowls. I don't know if I expect it to go too much down on how much inventory is left on game day," Deppen said.

 

To sweeten the pot, StubHub is offering Fan Fair for buyers shelling out the big bucks. The company rented out the Great America amusement park before the game.

 

"This is actually a free experience for any StubHub customer, so if you buy your ticket on StubHub for the Super Bowl, this is a gift to you back from us. It's a little surprise and delight, and something we like to do for all of our fans," said Justin Finn, the company's head of event marketing.

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TEAMMATES, COACHES SAY CAM NEWTON'S SUCCESS NOT BY ACCIDENT

 

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- Cam Newton didn't just stumble into becoming the NFL's best player.

 

Sure, he has all the physical attributes any quarterback could ask for - he's 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds of muscle with a strong arm and wide receiver speed. He even has a million-dollar smile and the confidence of a player who has always been a winner.

 

 

Cam Newton

 

But those in the Panthers organization say what people don't see is what Newton has done behind the scenes to improve as a pro quarterback.

 

"People see him smiling, giving footballs away and dancing, but what they don't see is that throughout the workweek the guy is just a machine," center Ryan Kalil said. "He's incredible with the time he puts in."

 

That's right, Newton is a film room junkie.

Hard to believe, isn't it?

 

People don't talk much about his work ethic because it doesn't fit the narrative about Newton. They'd rather talk about his Versace pants, his touchdown celebrations or his ability to leap over defenders at the line of scrimmage.

 

Fullback Mike Tolbert recently called Newton the hardest-working football player off the field he's ever been around.

 

Teammates marvel at the time he spends studying the opposition's tendencies on defense and working on his skills.

 

"He has gotten to where he knows what defenses are trying to do," wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. "And that's tough to stop when you combine that with his skillset."

 

You don't have to tell Gene Chizik.

 

Chizik coached Newton at Auburn, where the Tigers won a national championship and Newton took home the Heisman. He said Newton's quarterback's athletic skill and physical talent often overshadow the time he puts in trying to get better.

 

"He loves to have a good time and people can like that or not like it, he really doesn't care. But the number one most important thing to him is when it comes to his job and his profession is to be the best at his trade," Chizik said. "And he will work tirelessly to do that, and that's why he's in the position he's in right now."

 

Added Kalil: "People have this misconception that you are only a serious quarterback if you have this semi-bland lunch pal sort of look to you. Cam is destroying that notion."

 

The Panthers (17-1) have been the NFL's best team all season, sprinting out to a 14-0 start in large part because of Newton's emergence as the game's most dangerous quarterback.

 

More comfortable than ever in the pocket, Newton threw for 3,837 yards and a career-high 35 touchdowns in his fifth season. He also ran for 636 yards and 10 more TDs.

 

He's playing the best football of his career. The only question left is: Can Newton finish and deliver in the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos and league's best defense?

 

"He's not motivated by anything else other than trying to be the best," Panthers defensive end Jared Allen said.

Teammates say Newton is ready for the moment.

 

He tends to play his best when the lights are the brightest.

 

He won two national titles in college - one in junior college and the other at Auburn. He's been brilliant so far this postseason.

 

He led eight scoring drives against Arizona and Seattle in the first half alone against the league's second- and third-ranked defenses.

 

"I'm not sure how much better you could be at that position that he's been not only this year, but the last handful of years," tight end Greg Olsen said. "And then off of the field, since he's gotten here, he's been everything that you would hope. He's a good teammate. He's a good person. He's good to be around. He brings a lot of energy. Everyone sees it on Sunday, but we see that in every walk-thru, every meeting."

 

Offensive coordinator Mike Shula agreed: "He has a fast mind. He sees things extremely well on game day. He does a great job utilizing the personnel that we have around him."

 

If Newton is nervous about playing in his first Super Bowl, he hasn't shown it.

 

"Having been in the national championship game, it's kind of helped him in terms of preparation for the onslaught of the attention we have gotten as a football team and he's gotten as an individual," Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. "I think that's important because he could fall back on that experience."

 

---

AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, North Carolina contributed to this report

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VON MILLER, 2 OTHER BRONCOS FINED BY NFL FOR AFC TITLE GAME

 

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Denver Broncos Von Miller, T.J. Ward and Shiloh Keo have been fined $23,152 each by the NFL for actions in their victory over the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game.

 

Fines

 

Miller, a linebacker, was docked for unsportsmanlike conduct, likely for a celebration after one of his 2 1/2 sacks of Tom Brady.

 

Ward, a safety, was fined for spearing an opponent. Keo, also a safety, was punished for a hit on a defenseless receiver.

 

Each player's fine is worth about half his AFC title game bonus paycheck.

 

The Broncos face the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl on Sunday.

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DENVER BRINGS DOMINANT DEFENSE INTO SUPER BOWL 50

 

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- Peyton Manning wanted to make one thing perfectly clear when he arrived in the Golden Gate City for the golden anniversary of the Super Bowl: "Our defense is what got us here."

 

Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr., Derek Wolfe, all sideline spectators last time, leading the way.

 

Denver Defense

 

His boss, John Elway, said something similar 17 years ago before riding off into that orange sunset with a second Super Bowl ring. Manning can do the same Sunday if he musters one more magical performance out of his 39-year-old body and that quick mind.

 

Two years ago, Manning brought along the league's top offense - in fact, the highest-scoring team in NFL history - and things didn't work out. This time, he's tagging along with the league's No. 1 defense.

 

The "Orange Rush" finished first in the NFL in sacks, yards per play, pass defense and total defense. But to earn their place atop or even alongside the '85 Bears or '00 Ravens, Denver's fearsome front-seven and star-studded secondary will have to corral Cam Newton and beat the favored Carolina Panthers.

 

"We got goal boards in our locker room and we see everything that we've done this year," cornerback Aqib Talib said. "But everything will be forgotten by next season if we don't come home with that trophy. So, the most important stat is winning this game."

 

They're very capable of doing just that.

 

This is a defense that knocked Aaron Rodgers silly, limiting him to 77 yards in the worst game of his career, sent Andrew Luck into the hospital and ushered Tom Brady into the offseason with a 23-hit beat-down.

The players say that it's hard for them to study film of how other defenses played the Panthers.

 

"Nobody's really playing like how we play and it makes it kind of hard to watch the film because you see these other teams and they're not as good. They're nowhere close," Harris said. "They have a great offense, so it's going to be a tough battle. But I don't think they've seen anybody with the speed we have."

 

What the Broncos (14-4) need to do is keep things close and not let the Panthers (17-1) get off to a fast start - they've outscored their opponents 55-7 in the first half in the playoffs.

 

Denver knows how a punch to the gut can ruin great game plans.

 

The Broncos were ill-prepared for the noise and the nerves two years ago, as the first snap sailed into the end zone for a safety 12 seconds into the Super Bowl.

Denver never recovered in a 35-point shellacking by the Seahawks that prompted Elway to spend more than $100 million to sign DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Talib, then draft cornerback Bradley Roby and linebacker Shane Ray.

 

Even-keeled Gary Kubiak pumped up the jams at practice to prepare for noise.

 

"The goal is don't let them get off to a fast start. Let it be a boxing match, let them keep punching back and forth," running back C.J. Anderson said.

 

Should the Broncos find themselves behind, though, they're not going to freak out, Anderson said.

 

They're the only team in NFL history to overcome two-touchdown deficits to beat three playoff-bound teams in a season. They did it against the Chiefs in Week 2, the Patriots in Week 12 and the Bengals in Week 16.

 

"Us being down 14 to some very, very good teams, it lets us know we're battle tested. We've been there before. We know what we have to do to get back in the games," Anderson said.

 

The Broncos have won an NFL record 11 games by seven points or less, and they went 7-2 against playoff teams while facing the toughest schedule in the league.

Still, old man Manning faces his doubters and some think the Panthers defense is just as good as Denver's.

 

"Every time we turn on the TV people are just talking about how we're going to get dogged this game, we're going to get blown out," Harris said with a laugh. "We love that, it just makes us hungrier."

 

Prediction:

Denver 24, Carolina 14

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SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONS HAVEN'T ALWAYS BEEN 'SUPER'

 

AP - They have the gaudy rings and the rest of the swag that comes with being a Super Bowl champion.

 

The prism of history, however, isn't so kind.

 

Super Bowl History

 

Some years, the team that rampaged through the fall doesn't celebrate on a confetti-strewn field in winter, Lombardi Trophy thrust aloft in giddy celebration. For every '85 Bears and '72 Dolphins, there's a group whose grasp on the national imagination faded not long after the MVP's parade at Disney World.

 

Sure, everybody loves an underdog, but underdogs aren't born, they're made. Somewhere along the way, they tripped up before capturing the elusive "it" that carried them through the final Sunday of a six-month slog from training camp to triumph, a team of the year if not for the ages.

 

To call them the "worst" of the best would be a snarky misnomer. After all, the championship banners all come in the same size, right? Still, looking back, it's a wonder some got there at all.

 

TEAM: 1980 Oakland Raiders (11-5)

 

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS? The first wild-card team to win the Super Bowl, the Raiders spent most of the year as a mistake-prone offensive mess. Oakland turned it over 44 times and finished 16th in total yards. Jim Plunkett completed just 51 percent of his passes and had 16 interceptions to go with 18 touchdown passes. While Plunkett was markedly better in the playoffs, Oakland needed the Browns to be ... well, the Browns in the divisional round. Trailing by two in the final minute and well within field goal range, Cleveland's Brian Sipe was picked off in the end zone on a play infamously known as "Red Right 88" and the Raiders escaped with a 14-12 win.

 

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS! Cornerback Lester Hayes and his stickum-laden fingers picked off 13 passes and the Raiders collected seven return touchdowns to bail the offense out that season. In a relatively easy Super Bowl win over the Eagles, the defense was dominant. Rod Martin picked off three passes in a 27-10 romp.

 

TEAM: 1987 Washington Redskins (11-4)

 

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS? Don't let the record fool you. Washington's NFC East-leading mark received a major boost by the replacement players, who went 3-0 during the '87 strike, helping the Redskins overcome shaky quarterback play as Jay Schroeder and Doug Williams took turns winning the job ... and then losing it. The defense was 24th against the pass and 18th overall. The four regular-season losses were to teams who went a combined 24-36.

 

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS! Coach Joe Gibbs finally settled on Williams midway through the regular-season finale against Minnesota and the Redskins took off. Darrell Green's exquisite hurdling punt return for a touchdown sparked an upset over Chicago in the divisional round and Williams went off on the Broncos in the Super Bowl. Washington ripped off five touchdowns in the second quarter of a 42-10 annihilation, an imperfect team that represented an imperfect year after the league endured its second strike of the decade.

 

TEAM: 1990 New York Giants (13-3)

 

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS? So what if they started 10-0? The Giants went 3-3 down the stretch and lost quarterback Phil Simms to a foot injury in Week 14, leaving the offense - such as it was - in the hands of a largely unproven Jeff Hostetler. New York's leading receiver was scatback Dave Meggett (39 receptions) and the ghost of O.J. Anderson averaged 3.5 yards per carry.

 

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS! Oh, right, LT. The league's best defense allowed less than two touchdowns a game, picked off 23 passes and found a way to upset the two-time defending champion San Francisco 49ers on the road in the NFC championship. Then, Hostetler and Anderson played keepaway from Buffalo's "K-Gun" offense in the Super Bowl, leading to a 20-19 upset in what remains the greatest Super Bowl ever. (Save it, 2004 Patriots and 2008 Steelers fans.)

 

TEAM: 2011 New York Giants (9-7)

 

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS? Does it seem like we're picking on the Giants? Well, maybe we are. Still, these guys kind of deserve it. New York is the only Super Bowl winner to finish the regular season with a negative point differential (minus-six), ranked 25th in total defense, lost four of five in the middle of the year and was just 7-7 going into a "road" game against the Jets on Christmas Eve.

 

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS! The Giants upset the 15-1 Packers in the divisional round, dominating Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field in mid-January. They avoided catastrophe at rainy Candlestick Park to top the 49ers in overtime in the NFC title game, then stunned the Patriots and Tom Brady in the Super Bowl for the second time in five years. The defense that couldn't stop anybody during the regular season held Brady in check in Indianapolis and gave Eli one more Super Bowl title than big brother Peyton ... regardless of whether he's Eli-te or not.

 

HONORABLE MENTION

1967 Green Bay Packers: Even with all those Hall of Famers, Vince Lombardi's injury-decimated group was in the bottom half of the NFL in total offense and turned it over 36 times (including 17 picks by Bart Starr).

 

2001 New England Patriots: were 5-5 in November before Brady started to figure it out.

 

2012 Baltimore Ravens: only 11th in the league in point differential (plus-52) and if Denver's Rahim Moore times his jump properly on Joe Flacco's late heave to Jacoby Jones, the Ravens don't escape with the "Mile High Miracle."

 

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DESPITE TROUBLES APLENTY, NFL AND SUPER BOWL POPULAR AS EVER

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- The headlines hit in a persistent stream this season, and the onslaught only grew steadier as the Super Bowl approached.

Concussions scrambling the brains of current and former players.

 

Super Bowl 50

 

Fantasy football under siege.

 

Poor officiating. Ugly football.

 

A commissioner still not fully trusted by the players and public to handle it all.

 

And yet, with the 50th edition of the NFL's title-game extravaganza on tap Sunday, the league has never looked in better shape.

 

The values of TV contracts are still rising. The league is bringing at least one, and probably two, teams to Los Angeles and getting new stadiums in Minnesota and Atlanta. More than 110 million people are expected to tune in to watch the Broncos play the Panthers for the title, and when the game is over, an offseason filled with the mundane business of contract negotiations, scouting combines and training camps will draw as much or more interest than all the other U.S. sports.

Conclusion: The NFL, despite all its problems, is essentially made of Teflon.

 

"You look at all the things that have happened over the course of five to 10 years that would appear to have thrown bad light over the NFL," said Dennis Deninger, who teaches a class at Syracuse called The Super Bowl and Society. "And each time, the NFL has recovered and moved forward."

 

It's not to say there aren't issues, and that the league isn't trying to "get better," as commissioner Roger Goodell emphasized in the opening of his annual Super Bowl news conference Friday.

 

"To me, player safety is always going to be No. 1, no matter what else happens," said John Mara, a co-owner of the New York Giants.

 

The NFL has attempted to make its game safer, but the authenticity of the effort has been questioned by people both inside and out of the sport. In an Associated Press survey released last weekend, only 47 of 100 players from across the league answered "Yes" when asked if they felt NFL teams, coaches and team doctors had players' best interest in mind when it came to their health.

 

Meanwhile, as the much-hyped movie "Concussion," illustrated, the NFL has a credibility gap when it comes to showing it really is trying to mitigate head injuries. The NFL's own study showed a 58 percent increase in concussions in 2015 over the previous year - a result the league suggested could have come about because of better reporting.

 

"The game's in a good state, but I just don't know with head injuries," said Jake Plummer, the Broncos quarterback who retired suddenly in 2007, after 10 seasons in the league, which allowed him to get out while he was still relatively healthy.

 

"Any smart culture eventually stops playing sports that will possibly leave you debilitated," Plummer said. "So, the question is, when's that going to click, or will it ever click?"

 

That discussion will play out over years, maybe decades. Meanwhile, the NFL has more pressing matters at hand:

 

-Player discipline, most vividly illustrated by Goodell's four-game suspension of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his role in "Deflategate." The suspension was overturned by a judge who said Goodell overreached - not an uncommon thought about a leader who has struggled to find balance in handing out punishment in a number of areas. One of those areas, domestic violence, was back in the news Thursday, when allegations surfaced that quarterback Johnny Manziel hit his former girlfriend.

 

-Fantasy football: Authorities in several states have questioned the legality of fantasy football "daily" games - games that last less than a full season - saying they are akin to gambling. Fantasy football is considered a major growth area for the NFL, one that could be severely curtailed.

 

-Officiating and quality of play: Though there were many examples of poor referee-work and just as many poorly played games this season, Goodell brushed it off, instead touting a record number of contests decided by eight points or less.

 

-Los Angeles: The league still has to decide if the Chargers or Raiders will join the Rams in L.A., though just getting back into the country's second-largest market can only boost the value of future TV/media deals.

 

"These owners look at their Wall Street buddies who have 40-to-50-billion-dollar businesses and they're like, 'We're only a 12-billion-dollar business,'" said former Packers executive Andrew Brandt, who now teaches and also reports on the business of the NFL. "I think the way they look at their world is so different from the average fan."

 

The average fan does not stay away from football despite the steady drumbeat of bad news.

 

Super Bowl week opened with news about late Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler, who was revealed to have suffered from CTE, a brain disease associated with head trauma that has been discovered during autopsies of dozens of football players.

 

Goodell insists the NFL is working on making the game safer. In response to the season's violent outbursts by Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict and others, he suggested a rule that would call for an automatic ejection if a player receives two personal fouls in a game.

 

It was a small tidbit of news, the debate over which will generate headlines as big as those for any baseball game in July or an Olympic medal in August.

 

"That's what you have to look at - the NFL and the Super Bowl as an entertainment product, and a whole lot of people who really do love that entertainment product," Deninger said. "There's enough good publicity and entertainment value in the product to more than offset all the bad publicity they get from the other places."

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SUPER BOWL'S BRONCOS, PANTHERS EXCEL AT DEFENSE DIFFERENTLY

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -- Sometime late last season or early this season - depends on whom you ask - Josh Norman and the Carolina Panthers' other defensive backs were heading toward a drill as part of their weekly "Turnover Circuit," when assistant coach Eric Washington yelled out a spur-of-the-moment greeting.

 

"Hey, here come the thieves!"

 

SuperBowl

 

It was meant to be funny, using that word to refer to a group of guys whose job description includes trying to steal the ball. It stuck, and the members of the secondary now own gray T-shirts, courtesy of safety Roman Harper, that refer to "Thieves Avenue," the name they adopted for their section of the locker room.

 

"The next time they came over, I didn't say it, and one of the guys was like, 'Hey, what's the deal?' And so it just kind of caught on," said Washington, who coaches Carolina's defensive line. "It took on a life of its own and it's a big part of our identity in terms of creating turnovers and trying to take the football away."

 

That identity helped NFL MVP Cam Newton and the rest of the Panthers make it all the way to the Super Bowl against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on Sunday, a matchup between two elite defenses that dominate in divergent ways.

 

If rules changes and offensive innovations have made pro football a decidedly "Who can score more?" sport, it's noteworthy that a pair of clubs boasting such capable defenses made it to the season's final game. It's the first time in 50 Super Bowls that the team that led the league in takeaways (Carolina, 39) met the team that allowed the fewest yards (Denver, 283.1 per game), according to STATS.

 

"Their defense is built a little different, and the way they end up doing stuff is different. But it all turns out to be the same: You always want to get as many turnovers as you can and hold the opponent to as few first downs as you can," Broncos defensive line coach Bill Kollar said. "And these are two really good defenses that do both of those things."

 

The Panthers use a 4-3 formation, blitz on only about a quarter of opponents' passing downs but do so effectively, and - here's the key stat - thrive on takeaways, leading the NFL with 39 in the regular season before tacking on another nine in the postseason.

 

The Broncos use a 3-4 formation, blitz on about 40 percent of passing downs, had a league-best 52 sacks, and - here's the key stat - led the NFL in opponents' yards per rush (3.3) and yards per pass attempt (6.2, tied with - guess who? - Carolina).

 

Denver is only the fifth team in the past half-century to rank No. 1 in both of those categories over a full season, according to STATS, and they shut down two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger's Pittsburgh Steelers and four-time champ Tom Brady's New England Patriots en route to the AFC title.

 

They really knocked Brady around, sacking and harassing him throughout the game two weeks ago.

"Denver's got a great defense. They're fun to watch. They fly around. They're physical. They get after the passer," said Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who returned an interception for a touchdown in each of the NFC champions' two playoff games. "And we try to do the same thing. We've got guys on every level of our defense that take a lot of pride in what they do."

Both secondaries carry colorful nicknames (the Broncos' unit goes by "No Fly Zone"), and both rosters are stacked with All-Pros and established stars.

 

The Panthers have Norman at cornerback, Kuechly and Thomas Davis at linebacker, and Kawann Short at defensive tackle. Any discussion of the Broncos begins with pass rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Their lockdown secondary includes Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. at cornerback, and T.J. Ward at safety.

The two defensive coordinators are talented, too: Denver's Wade Phillips and Carolina's Sean McDermott.

 

"They'll pressure you. They'll play a lot of (zone). They'll do a lot of things. But the bottom line is they're good across the board. Their front is very physical," Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak said about the Panthers. "We'll have our hands full."

 

Panthers center Ryan Kalil, among the offensive linemen charged with providing time for Newton, said preparing for Denver's defense "makes for a tough film week."

 

"Different defenses that you scheme against sometimes have incredible talent, but the scheme is very bland. Other teams, they don't quite have the (same) talent as other teams and they have incredible schemes and exotic looks and things that really make you work all week long," Kalil said. "This is a team that has both of those things, and I think it's why they're so dangerous."

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MVP NEWTON, WATT, RIVERA, BERRY BIG WINNERS OF NFL AWARDS

 

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Cam Newton is now a Super Bowl quarterback with an MVP award.

 

Offensive Player of the Year, too.

 

And his coach, Ron Rivera, owns a second NFL honor as well.

 

MVP

 

Newton, the Carolina Panthers star, won The Associated Press NFL Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year awards Saturday night.

 

"It means so much, but not just for myself," Newton side in a video acceptance speech for the MVP award. "To be the first person in Panthers history to win it - that's what I'm most proud about. I've received a lot of awards, but to be able to get this organization here, I'm really proud. We didn't get in this position by happenstance. It took years of hard work and dedication, and now we are reaping the benefits."

 

Newton was not on hand at NFL Honors because he is kind of busy preparing for a little game on Sunday against Denver. But just as he has for much of the week - for most of the season, really - Newton still was a dominant figure.

 

His father, mother and two brothers accepted the Offensive Player award.

 

"Cam took an unconventional journey to get here and we're just so proud of what has happened, my family and I," said Newton's father Cecil. "So many thanks go out to so many people, from Pop Warner to the Panthers. I don't have time to tell you all, 'Thank you.' You know who you are. We know who you are."

 

Newton was a landslide choice for MVP with 48 votes from a nationwide panel of 50 sports writers and broadcasters who regularly cover the NFL. Fellow QBs Tom Brady and Carson Palmer each received one vote.

Newton earned 18 votes for top offensive player. Steelers receiver Antonio Brown was next with 10.

 

The All-Pro quarterback set an NFL mark for the position with 45 touchdowns this season: 35 passing and 10 rushing. He also ranked sixth in passer rating (99.4), while throwing for 3,837 yards. His 636 yards on the ground easily led all QBs, and the 10 touchdowns rushing were more than All-Pro running back Doug Martin of Tampa Bay scored.

 

Rivera led the Panthers to an unprecedented third straight NFC South title and two playoff victories. In a season featuring several outstanding coaching jobs, Rivera easily outdistanced the field. He received 36 1/2 votes, far in front of Kansas City's Andy Reid with six votes.

 

Rivera also won the award two years ago. He dedicated this one to his late brother, Mickey, who died recently.

 

"It's a tremendous award for the organization," Rivera said. "It validates everything that we've done. And again, our success always starts at the top. I really do appreciate our owner, Mr. (Jerry) Richardson, for believing in me and giving me my opportunity. Dave Gettleman and Marty Hurney - the two general managers I've worked with - I thank them for what they've done. Our coaching staff has been tremendous; our players have been outstanding."

 

Another outstanding player, Houston end J.J. Watt won his third Defensive Player of the Award in five pro seasons. He also won it in 2012 and last year, when he was a unanimous choice.

 

This time, in tying Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor as the only players to take the award three times, Watt earned 37 votes.

 

"It's almost difficult to comprehend because I've only been in the league five years," Watt said. "So to think about where I've come from and where I am now and what lies ahead, those type of things it almost doesn't register because of the greatness of the guys that have come before me. So to even be considered amongst those guys is truly incredible. But I mean that's what the goal is. The goal is to come out here and try to be one of the best ever.

 

Watt spoke about playing football in the yard with his brothers while growing up in Wisconsin, pretending to be Packers stars Reggie White or Brett Favre.

 

"There might be kids out there pretending that they're wearing No. 99 is literally one of the coolest things in the entire world," Watt said. "I was a 2-star recruit ... going into college, and now I have three Defensive Player of the Year trophies, so (take that) all you guys who doubted me."

 

Kansas City safety Eric Berry gave an emotionally charged speech while accepting Comeback Player of the Year. At one point, his eyes welled with tears and he paused before accepting the award.

 

Berry missed 10 games the previous season battling lymphoma, then returned to the Chiefs to become an All-Pro. His inspirational story and superb performance on the field earned him 38 votes.

 

"Everybody, just live out your dreams. Don't let anything come in between," Berry said. "I'm truly honored, truly blessed, truly thankful to be standing here before you all. ... It was some tough times. It was some times where I felt like I couldn't do it anymore. ... There was a lot of rough times, a lot of rough nights, a lot of lonely nights."

 

And now, a rewarding night.

 

His teammate, cornerback Marcus Peters, took Defensive Rookie of the Year. Peters tied for the league lead with eight interceptions in helping the Chiefs make the playoffs. He received 45 votes.

 

Rams running back Todd Gurley took Offensive Rookie with 27 votes, well ahead of the 17 for Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston, the first overall pick in last year's draft. Gurley missed the first two games of 2015, then went on a tear that included four straight 100-yard rushing performances: 146, 159, 128 and 133 yards. He finished the season third in league rushing and scored 10 touchdowns.

 

His voice cracked with emotion as he mentioned coming back from his ACL injury. And at the end of his speech, he referenced the Rams' impending move from St. Louis to Los Angeles.

 

"I just want to say something to the St. Louis fans: I know you all might be disappointed that we might be leaving but, you know, it's out of our control," Gurley said.

 

Wade Phillips' work in turning the Denver defense into the stingiest in the NFL got him the Assistant Coach of the Year award. The Broncos ranked first overall and against the pass, third versus the run.

 

Phillips, who has been a head coach for three franchises and interim for three more, received 16 votes, twice that of Hue Jackson, the Bengals' offensive coordinator in 2015 and now Cleveland's coach.

 

San Francisco receiver Anquan Boldin received the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award for his off-field work.

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IF JOHNNY MANZIEL WANTS HELP, NFL IS READY TO GIVE IT

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- If Johnny Manziel wants help, the NFL and its players are ready to step in.

The troubled quarterback simply has to accept it.

 

"We wish to give Johnny as much support as he is willing to receive, we can't make anyone do anything," Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president of football operations, said Saturday before the NFL Honors show. "I've seen his father make a statement, reach out to the family to make sure the family knows the National Football League, the Cleveland Browns, the players association - everyone's here to support you, but you have to embrace it."

 

Might not be so easy for the 23-year-old star in a tailspin.

 

Dallas police said Friday night they were launching a criminal investigation into a domestic violence assault complaint filed against Manziel, who was involved in an altercation last weekend during which he allegedly struck his ex-girlfriend, Colleen Crowley, several times.

Dallas police said detectives would determine what, if any, criminal charges Manziel would face. They noted it is not uncommon for victims of domestic violence to question or delay reporting an assault.

 

The same day Manziel was dropped by his agent, his father said he fears for his son's life and it was revealed that Crowley received a protective order against the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, preventing him from seeing her for two years.

 

Also, the Browns said earlier this week that they intend to release Manziel next month after just two seasons.

Vincent said the league has reached out to both the Browns coaching staff and Manziel's family asking the quarterback to consider a helping hand. Vincent said the worry now isn't about Manziel as a player but a person.

 

Vincent noted NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell mentioned that Friday in his news conference the league stands ready to give Manziel as much as support as the quarterback wants.

 

Rams running back Reggie Bush, on the red carpet, said everyone was young and made mistakes. But he believes the league could help Manziel.

 

"The NFL definitely has everything that it needs to be able to help him, all the resources that it needs to help," Bush said. "I think he's a great player. I love watching him play. He's exciting. He's young, and I think he has some maturing, some growing up to do."

 

Hall of Famer Mike Ditka coached Jim McMahon in Chicago, so he has experience with a renegade quarterback.

 

Ditka said he would sit Manziel down and tell him the limitations he must work within because of the code of responsibility that goes with playing in the NFL.

 

"Where else in life can you get a job playing a sport you grew up playing as a kid and make millions of dollars? Hello...," Ditka said. "Guys don't look at it this way.

 

What an opportunity he has to be a great example to young people and people in the Cleveland area. I don't know what's going to happen to him now. ... You only get so many chances in life."

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BROWNS TIRED OF QUARTERBACK JOHNNY MANZIEL'S ANTICS

CLEVELAND (AP) -- The Browns have quarterback Johnny Manziel one foot out the door.

 

The team issued a strong statement Tuesday, condemning Manziel's actions and pointing to the club releasing him in March.

 

Manzel

 

Manziel's off-the-field issues have been a problem almost from the day Cleveland drafted the Heisman Trophy winner in the first round in 2014. Last weekend, he was involved in a disturbance with his ex-girlfriend in Dallas that is being investigated by police and the NFL.

 

"We've been clear about expectations for our players on and off the field," said Sashi Brown, the team's vice president of football operations. "Johnny's continual involvement in incidents that run counter to those expectations undermines the hard work of his teammates and the reputation of our organization. His status with our team will be addressed when permitted by league rules. We will have no further comment at this time."

 

The Browns can release Manziel as early as Monday, the day after the Super Bowl. But salary-cap implications point to the move happening March 9, when the league's new year begins.

 

Manziel made strides on the field during his second season, but persists in finding trouble off it.

 

The league cleared Manziel of wrongdoing following a fight with his girlfriend in October. Manziel spent more than 70 days in rehab last winter. He ended this season by missing a medical treatment at the team's complex while his teammates were playing their home finale against Pittsburgh.

 

He's made eight starts in two seasons, going 2-6 with 1,675 yards passing, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.

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APNEWSBREAK: NASCAR'S TONY STEWART HOSPITALIZED WITH INJURY

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart is hospitalized with a back injury and Stewart-Haas Racing said Tuesday the team is unsure of the extent of his injuries.

 

SHR spokesman Mike Arning told The Associated Press that Stewart was injured in a non-racing accident on Sunday. He was being evaluated at an undisclosed hospital and able to move all extremities, Arning said.

No further information was given and Arning indicated Stewart's condition will not be updated again until Thursday.

 

Stewart is retiring at the end of this NASCAR season, and he was due to report next week to Daytona International Speedway to begin preparing for the Feb. 21 Daytona 500.

 

He turns 45 in May and missed a third of the 2013 season with a broken leg he sustained in a sprint car accident. A year later, his car struck and killed a fellow driver at a dirt track in New York. Stewart was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing, but faces a civil suit from the family of Kevin Ward Jr.

 

Stewart spoke last month of his excitement over his upcoming final season, and said he'd likely return to racing in non-NASCAR events upon his retirement. He's not competed in anything out of a Sprint Cup race since Ward's death in 2014.

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