Associated Press Sportswatch

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

Harbaugh won't let Ravens coast into playoffs
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) -- Now that they've finally wrapped up another AFC North crown, the Baltimore Ravens intend to get healthy, close out the regular season with a win and take some momentum into the playoffs.
Baltimore (10-5) snapped a three-game skid and clinched their second straight division title Sunday with a 33-14 rout of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. No matter what happens in this Sunday's finale against Cincinnati, the Ravens will host a first-round playoff game on Jan. 5 or 6.
But coach John Harbaugh won't let Baltimore coast into the postseason. He said Monday, "Our guys are going to play the game full speed to win."
If Baltimore wins and New England loses to Miami, the Ravens get a No. 3 seed and open the postseason against Cincinnati.
Streaking Redskins need 1 more for NFC East title
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Six down, one to go for the Washington Redskins.
The Redskins need to win their regular season finale Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys to clinch the NFC East and complete a comeback that looked improbable back when their record was 3-6.
Now at 9-6, the Redskins can lose to Dallas and still get a wild card spot, but only if the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings lose earlier in the day.
Coach Mike Shanahan figures his players should be prepared for the pressure, given that they've been playing do-or-die games for a month and a half.
Cowboys know playoffs-or-bust drill in NFC East
IRVING, Texas (AP) -- The Dallas Cowboys should know this drill by now.
The only thing left is figuring out how to win a playoffs-or-bust game at an NFC East rival in the final game of the season.
The Cowboys flopped badly in Philadelphia in 2008, and were better but still not very good last season at the New York Giants.
Dallas gets another chance Sunday night at Washington against Robert Griffin III and the Redskins (9-6), who could still make the postseason even if they lose.
The Cowboys (8-7) briefly lost control of their playoff fate with Sunday's 34-31 loss to New Orleans in overtime, but got it back when the Giants lost at Baltimore.
Dallas lost to the Redskins on Thanksgiving.
Pats deal with second straight subpar performance
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -- The Patriots picked a bad time for their disappointing performances.
Now they have just one regular-season game left to gain some momentum going into the playoffs.
New England struggled for the second consecutive week and edged the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars 23-16 on Sunday. The win followed a 41-34 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in which the Patriots trailed 31-3.
Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said on Monday that the Patriots (11-4) never felt that they would string a number of drives together against the Jaguars (2-13). New England trailed 10-0 before Tom Brady led a comeback.
The Patriots finish their regular season on Sunday at home against the Miami Dolphins.
Houston looks to improve and clinch home-field
HOUSTON (AP) -- The Houston Texans blew a chance to clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with Sunday's ugly loss to Minnesota.
They'll get another opportunity to do it in the regular-season finale at Indianapolis next Sunday.
But first, coach Gary Kubiak is looking to correct many problems on his team. The biggest one, he says, is improving on third downs. Houston (12-3) has struggled in that area for three weeks, and against the Vikings was worst on third downs since Kubiak took over.
He says there are many reasons the Texans are struggling on third downs. A glaring one is that they have routinely faced long third downs because of an inability to run well on first and second downs .
Giants need answers and help to make the playoffs
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- The New York Giants won't go down without a fight despite throwing away control of their playoff destiny with lopsided losses the past two weeks.
Coach Tom Coughlin was perplexed Monday when asked about the embarrassing losses to Atlanta and Baltimore that have left the defending Super Bowl champions needing a ton of help to get back to the postseason.
New York (8-7) has to beat Philadelphia, have Minnesota and Chicago (both 9-6) lose and have Dallas (8-7) tie or lose to Washington.
Coughlin admitted that was a long shot. Barring that, he just wants the Giants to play well after another second-half collapse that has them on the verge of missing the playoffs for the third time in four years.
In final week, Cardinals have QB issues, as usual
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- The Arizona Cardinals entered the final week of the season with uncertainty at quarterback.
How fitting for a team that's misery on the field has been defined by poor play at that position.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Monday he wasn't ready to say whether Brian Hoyer would be the choice, although it seems a pretty good guess considering the problems that Ryan Lindley has had, and the fact that Hoyer was active and John Skelton inactive for Sunday's 28-13 loss to Chicago.
Hoyer, claimed off waivers by the Cardinals from Pittsburgh two weeks ago, would be making his first NFL start if he's the choice for Sunday's game at San Francisco, where the 49ers will be looking to clinch the NFC West title.
Pagano back to coach Colts after cancer treatment
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano is thanking interim coach Bruce Arians for taking over and doing a "masterful" job in leading the team to the NFL playoffs.
Pagano was back coaching the Colts on Monday, making his return the day after rookie Andrew Luck helped the team beat Kansas City and clinch a spot in the postseason.
Pagano was on indefinite leave to battle leukemia since Oct. 1. The day he left, he had asked Arians to step in and take over.
Pagano said at Colts headquarters Monday: "You carried the torch and all you went out and did was win ballgames."
He adds Arians "did it with dignity" and "class."
Eagles: Foles breaks hand, Vick likely to start
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Eagles rookie quarterback Nick Foles has a broken right hand, and coach Andy Reid says Michael Vick will likely start against the New York Giants in Sunday's season finale.
Reid said Monday that Foles broke his throwing hand in the second quarter of a 27-20 loss to Washington, but returned to the game after X-rays at the stadium were negative.
Vick hasn't played since suffering a concussion during a loss to the Cowboys on Nov. 11. He was recently cleared to return.
Reid said there's a "pretty good chance Michael will be the starter. That's the direction I'm going as we speak right now."
The Eagles (4-11) went 1-5 with Foles as the starter.
Bears, Mannelly agree to 1-year extension
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) -- The Chicago Bears have agreed to a one-year contract extension with veteran long snapper Patrick Mannelly through 2013.
The team announced the deal Monday.
Mannelly holds the franchise record for games played (230) and seasons (15). He is the only player from the 1998 draft still with the team that picked him.
General manager Phil Emery said Mannelly "epitomizes" what the Bears are looking for in terms of "excellence in performance and great leadership."
The Bears also waived receiver Dane Sanzenbacher on Monday. He appeared in 20 games over two seasons with Chicago and had 28 catches for 283 yards.
Cobb to stay as kick returner
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) -- Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy says leading receiver Randall Cobb is too valuable to take off of kick returns for safety reasons.
McCarthy says Monday that if Cobb is healthy, he will be the Packers' full-time punt and kick returner, even in the wake of the ankle injury he suffered in Sunday's 55-7 rout of the Tennessee Titans.
Cobb was injured when tackled by Tennessee's Tracy Wilson while returning a punt with 8:38 left in the third quarter - a game in which Cobb set the franchise single-season record for all-purpose yardage. On his previous two punt returns, Cobb had gained 14 and 17 yards.
Texas Tech pulls 3 from bowl for breaking rules
HOUSTON (AP) -- A Texas Tech official says three Red Raiders won't be playing against Minnesota in Friday's Meineke Car Care Bowl because they violated team rules.
Football program spokesman Blayne Beal on Monday would not divulge the rules violated. He says Red Raiders starting defensive back Cornelius Douglas, Chris Payne, a linebacker who played mostly on Texas Tech's special teams, and backup defensive tackle Leon Mackey won't play in the bowl game.
The Red Raiders (7-5) take on the Gophers (6-6) about three weeks after Tommy Tuberville unexpectedly left to take the head coaching position at Cincinnati. Interim head coach Chris Thomsen, who handled the offensive line under Tuberville, will coach the bowl game.
Former Red Raiders standout quarterback Kliff Kingsbury was hired as Tuberville's successor Dec. 12.
Plenty of intrigue on NBA's Christmas schedule
UNDATED (AP) --The NBA's hottest team will be playing at home in Los Angeles, and it's the Clippers, not the Lakers.
There's a finals rematch in Miami, a holiday matinee in Brooklyn, Kobe vs. the Knicks and the 20th anniversary of one of Michael Jordan's most memorable games in Chicago.
Welcome to Christmas, NBA style.
A five-game slate makes up the NBA's Christmas schedule, which this year comes with the additional bonus of not being the first day back after a lockout forced the cancellation of the opening portion of last season.
Schedule-makers set the matchups long ago, and the league always tries to get some marquee meetings.
This year, they pretty much struck gold.
Sacramento Kings reinstate C DeMarcus Cousins
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- The Sacramento Kings have reinstated center DeMarcus Cousins after a one-game suspension for "unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team."
Cousins practiced with the Kings on Monday. Cousins and Kings coach Keith Smart exchanged words in the locker room during halftime of Sacramento's loss at the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night. Smart benched Cousins for the entire second half and ordered him to remain in the locker room.
The 22-year-old Cousins has been suspended two other times by the NBA this season because of his conduct.
He was not with Sacramento during the team's 108-96 home win against Portland on Sunday night. Cousins is averaging a team-high 16.6 points and 9.5 rebounds.
Duke still No. 1 in AP poll; Pitt, K-State move in
UNDATED (AP) -- Duke and Michigan remain the top two teams in The Associated Press' college basketball poll while Syracuse drops from third to ninth after its first loss.
The Blue Devils received all but two of the first-place votes Monday from the 65-member national media panel. Michigan got the others.
Arizona, Louisville and Indiana all moved up one place to third through fifth. Kansas, which won at Ohio State, moved from ninth to sixth. Missouri, which beat Illinois, jumped from 12th to seventh. Cincinnati advanced from 11th to eighth. Syracuse, which lost to Temple, and Ohio State complete the top 10.
Pittsburgh and Kansas State are the newcomers to the poll at 24th and 25th. They replace New Mexico and North Carolina, which dropped out from 16th and 23rd after losses to South Dakota State and Texas.
Stanford still No. 1 in AP women's basketball poll
UNDATED (AP) -- Stanford remains No. 1 in The Associated Press women's basketball poll for the sixth straight week, matching the team's longest run in the top spot.
The Cardinal had 24 first-place votes Monday, while Connecticut received 14. Baylor got the other two.
UConn will visit Stanford on Saturday, trying to snap the Cardinal's 82-game home winning streak. Stanford, which beat South Carolina and Tennessee on the road last week, was No. 1 for six weeks in 1996.
Duke and Notre Dame round out the first five.
The Irish are followed by Georgia, Kentucky, California and Maryland, as the top nine teams remain unchanged.
Tennessee fell three spots from No. 10 after losing to Baylor and Stanford. UCLA had the biggest drop, falling five spots to 17th after losing to Cal State Northridge.
Arkansas entered the poll at No. 25 as West Virginia fell out.

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