ND beats LSU on Brindza FG, and goal line stand in Music City Bowl

NASHVILLE—After losing four-straight games to close the regular season, Notre Dame wrapped its 2014 campaign with a victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl thanks to clutch plays from the quarterback rotation of Everett Golson and Malik Zaire as well as a winning field goal from Kyle Brindza.Closing out games was an issue for the Irish this year, so it had to be particularly satisfying for both Golson, who did not start the game and shared snaps with Zaire, and Brindza, who only made 3-of-9 field goal attempts in his final five games, to play such key roles in Notre Dame’s first win since Nov. 1.Story of the game: While Notre Dame opted to address its quarterback instability with a rotation of Golson and Zaire, LSU stuck with starting quarterback Anthony Jennings. Nevertheless, both teams relied heavily on their ground game for success on offense. That wasn’t a big surprise from LSU — leaning on Leonard Fournette, who was superb with a heavy workload, scoring another touchdown on a kickoff return — but it was a shock to see the Fighting Irish offensive line put together arguably its best performance of the season against one of the SEC’s top ranked defenses. Notre Dame totaled 263 team rushing yards at 5.2 yards per carry, with Zaire and Tarean Folston doing most of the work and C.J. Prosise adding a 50-yard touchdown run that tied the game at 28.
Controversy of the game: Just before halftime, LSU called a fake field goal on 4th and Goal that appeared, according to the replay on television, to be a touchdown. The officials ruled holder Brad Kragthrope down at the one-yard line after a lengthy review, giving the ball to Notre Dame. In a close game decided by just three points, LSU’s missed opportunity (for a field goal or the touchdown many LSU fans believe they deserved) will linger in the minds of many.

Hawks rally, beat Preds in shootout 5-4

The Blackhawks staged two comebacks that kept them on a roll and on top of the Central Division.Jonathan Toews scored the only goal in the shootout, after Bryan Bickell netted the tying goal with 1:13 left in regulation, and the Blackhawks topped the Nashville Predators 5-4 on Monday night.Bickell beat Pekka Rinne through a crowd – and with Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford on the bench for an extra skater – after Rinne had stopped David Rundblad’s drive from the blue line.Toews provided the winning margin when he beat Rinne with a wrist shot on the Blackhawks’ first shootout attempt to give the Hawks their 13th victory in 16 games.
”Certain games will stick out at the end of the year that we’ll say that were a huge two points,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. ”Tonight is probably leading in that category as far as drama.
”Down 3-0 to a team that doesn’t give up a whole lot, checks well and then you have to pull the goalie and try to get an equalizer. It was a big swing, big turn of events.”
Brad Richards, Andrew Shaw and Marian Hossa scored in a 7:10 span late in the second period to tie it at after the Predators built a 3-0 lead.
”We’re a good team in here for a reason,” Bickell said. ”We’ve come back from leads like this before. Just find a way.”
James Neal’s second goal of the game, a power-play tally with 56 seconds left in the second period, put Nashville ahead 4-3. Roman Josi and Craig Smith also scored, and Colin Wilson added two assists, but the Predators couldn’t hold on in regulation.
”(The Blackhawks) have a lot of high-end talent all the way down throughout their lineup,” Neal said. ”The only way to beat that is you have to be on the offense more than them and you have to be physical with their skill guys.
”I thought we did a good job shooting pucks and going to the net. Just a few little things, we clean that up and we can win the hockey game.”
Rinne made 38 saves, and Crawford stopped 36 shots before his perfect shootout as the division rivals met for the fourth and final time in the regular season. The Hawks won the series 3-1.
”Those two points are going to come in handy down the road,” Shaw said. ”They’re right on our heels, so we needed a big push. The guys dug deep and got those two points.”
Patrick Sharp had an assist for his 500th NHL point, earned in his 700th game.There were surprising scoring bursts and swings, considering the game matched the teams with the league’s best defensive records.The Blackhawks entered with an NHL-leading 2.03 goals-against average. Nashville’s was 2.06.The Predators were a step quicker in the first period and built a 2-0 lead as they put 18 shots on Crawford.Josi opened the scoring at 11:50, five seconds after the Predators killed Wilson’s hooking penalty. Josi raced down right wing and fired a rising shot over Crawford’s stick.Smith made it 2-0 with 2:48 left in the period and seven seconds after a Nashville power play ended. Crawford stopped Wilson’s first close-in attempt, but Smith popped in the rebound.Neal was credited with his first goal at 7:28 of the second period to make it 3-0.Then the Blackhawks roared back.Rinne made point-blank stops on Toews and Patrick Kane during a Hawk power play midway through the period. Richards made it 3-1 seven seconds after the advantage ended, at 10:33.Shaw stuffed in a loose puck from the side of the net with 4:12 left in the period to cut it to 3-2.Hossa’s 4-on-3-power-play goal, ripped over Rinne’s glove from the top of the right circle, tied it 3-3 just 1:55 later.Only six seconds after the Hawks were was penalized for having too many men on the ice, Neal buried a rebound of Filip Forsberg’s drive to put the Predators back ahead.
NOTES: Shaw’s goal was his first since Nov. 28, a span of 13 games. . Richards returned after missing three games with an injury….Michal Rozsival sat out his second. … Wilson has seven points in four games. . Nashville C Matt Cullen missed the game with an upper-body injury. He is day-to-day. . Predators C Mike Ribeiro played in his 900th NHL game. . A United Center season-high crowd of 22,208 watched the game.

Bulls blow big lead, escape with win over Pacers

Chicago Bulls Logo - Red bull with script above head

INDIANAPOLIS—Jimmy Butler is finding ways to show what kind of threat he can be for the Bulls.And he’s finding ways to cause problems for the Indiana Pacers.Butler had 27 points and nine rebounds to lead the Bulls to a 92-90 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Monday night.It was Butler’s 3-pointer with 1:07 remaining that put the Bulls ahead for good.
”Derrick (Rose) is always on me to shoot and to shoot 3’s and be aggressive,” he said. ”I’m confident in my game, so I feel like I have to step up and take and make shots late.”
Pau Gasol had 20 points and Rose added 17 for the Bulls (22-9), who extended the team’s season-best winning streak to seven straight.Chris Copeland scored 13 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter, and George Hill and C.J. Miles each added 11 points for the Pacers (11-21), who trailed by 21 points in the second half.The Bulls seemed to have put the game away when Mike Dunleavy converted a 3-point play to put the Bulls ahead 75-54 with 2:33 left in the third quarter. But the Pacers went on a 23-2 run and regained the lead on Lavoy Allen’s basket to make it 84-83 with 6:15 left in the fourth quarter.
”It’s a different thing, executing in the final four minutes of a game than the first 44 minutes of the game,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. ”We had some poor possession on the offensive end. We were getting some stops, we just fell short.”
The Bulls tied the four-game season series with the Pacers at 1-1 and won for the first time at Indiana after losing the previous four games.Butler, who scored 32 points in a 99-90 loss to Indiana back on Nov. 15, gave Chicago all the momentum it needed.He had two put-back dunks midway through the third quarter in a 6-2 run, including one with 7:24 remaining in the third to give the Bulls a 59-41 lead.Butler also scored on a one-handed dunk at the buzzer to give the Bulls a 47-35 halftime lead.
”The lesson we learned is you have to keep playing,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. ”No lead is safe in this league.”
The two teams play the remaining two games of the series in March with each team hosting a game.
NOTES—The Bulls, who lead the Central Division, have put up big offensive numbers lately and scored under 100 points for just the second time in the last seven games….Guard Kirk Hinrich has missed four straight games with a left hamstring strain….Thibodeau said Hinrich participated in the morning shoot-around at Indiana and could return to the line-up as early as Tuesday against Brooklyn….Indiana shot under 50 percent for the first time after shooting above that mark in the previous four games. The Pacers didn’t reach that mark in the first 27 games of the regular season.

Clean sweep, Trestman, Emery and more GONE.

As expected, the Bears have parted ways with general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman. The team also fired with offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. The team made the announcement in a press conference on Monday.Under Trestman, the Bears disintegrated in 2014 to a 5-11 finish, which was the franchise’s worst single-season mark in ten seasons. In two years with the Bears, Trestman went 13-19, with no playoff appearances. He is the first Bears coach to be fired after only two seasons.Team President Ted Phillips is also leaving the organizaion.

The embattled GM took over in 2012 after spending the previous two seasons as the director of scouting for the Atlanta Falcons. He presided over the team for three seasons, firing Lovie Smith and hiring Marc Trestman as the head coach in 2013. He also signed star quarterback Jay Cutler to a seven-year, $126.7 million contract before the start of the 2014 season. Cutler has struggled since signing the extension and was even benched in favor of Jimmy Clausen late in the season.Emery hit on notable draft picks like Alshon Jeffery, Kyle Long, Jon Bostic and Kyle Fuller, but it was ultimately the decision to hire Trestman and sign Cutler to a long-term deal that led to his dismissal. Bruce Arians, who’s having success in Arizona, was one of the candidates to coach the Bears before Emery went with Trestman. The Bears went 23-25 over three seasons under Emery. He leaves a Bears roster with the most players over the age of 30 with 17 and the fewest first-round picks with five.

The Bears could give a head coaching candidate like Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles a call. Mike Shanahan also appears to be interested in the vacancy. The Bears announced they hired former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi to help them hire a general manager and a coach.

Bears awful season ends with loss to Vikes–NO Touchdowns!

MINNEAPOLIS—The Minnesota Vikings were just getting started, with a rookie quarterback and a first-time head coach in Mike Zimmer so eager to maintain momentum he told the players to report to practice in a few days.The Bears played again as if they were ready for this season to be over.Teddy Bridgewater threw the go-ahead 44-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen in the third quarter, guiding the Vikings to a 13-9 victory on Sunday to slap one more blemish on a forgettable year for the Bears.Bears coach Marc Trestman might not make it until Tuesday(He didn’t).

”I expect to be back(WRONG!). I couldn’t look at it any other way or with any other kind of focus,” Trestman said.

Blair Walsh kicked two field goals, linebacker Audie Cole had 11 tackles, three assists and a pass breakup in his first start of the season and the Vikings (7-9) ended Zimmer’s first season on a winning note. Bridgewater was so thrilled by Zimmer’s first NFC North win that he gave him the ball from the last snap of the game.

”I was so excited and so caught up in how well the guys played today. We showed a lot of character,” said Bridgewater, who went 17 for 25 for 209 yards to finish 6-6 as a starter in his first year.

Jay Cutler returned from a one-game benching with 172 yards on 23-for-36 passing without a fumble or an interception, but he rarely threw long and the offense was off all afternoon with a series of unforced errors. The Bears (5-11) finished with their worst record in 10 years.

”I don’t think anyone knows what’s going to happen,” said Cutler, acknowledging his own uncertain status. ”No one knows what direction we’re going. But I’m pretty confident that we’ll know relatively soon.”

After the Vikings drove to the 3, Matt Asiata was stuffed for no gain on the same play on third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 to give Cutler and the Bears one last opportunity with 2:53 left and a four-point deficit.As usual, they bungled it, metaphorically for this mess of a season. Three penalties, including two false starts, plus an incompletion doomed the drive.

”Just boneheaded mistakes sometimes, and it happens to all of us,” said Matt Forte, whose eight receptions gave him an NFL-running-back-record 102 for the season.

From players to coaches on up to general manager Phil Emery, just about every key figure entered the offseason on a tenuous note as the Bears missed the playoffs for the fourth straight year after reaching the NFC championship game following the 2010 season.Alshon Jeffery had only two catches for 34 yards after totaling 23 receptions, 384 yards and three touchdowns over the past two games against the Vikings. Without Brandon Marshall to attract attention elsewhere, the Vikings led by cornerback Xavier Rhodes had Jeffery well under control.Kyle Fuller intercepted a short pass by Bridgewater that was behind Cordarrelle Patterson but bounced off both of the wide receiver’s hands. Fuller reached the end zone with his return, but the replay revealed his knee was down at the 9-yard line.That was the second of three touchdowns, two by the Bears, overruled by an official review. The Bears had to settle for the second of three field goals by Jay Feely, who later missed a 43-yard try.Bridgewater responded with a bang, connecting with Thielen for 22 yards and finding him wide open for the score on the ensuing play for a 10-6 lead when Fuller and safety Brock Vereen blew the coverage.

”It’s huge for our confidence going into next year. We had a good team, and we just had a lot of close games that we lost,” Thielen said. ”We want to be in the playoffs.”

NOTES—Forte took the record from Larry Centers, who had 101 catches for Arizona in 1995. Forte also topped 1,000-yard rushing mark for the fifth time in seven years. … Asiata had 91 yards on 19 carries, including a season-long 19-yard run, to finish with a team-leading 570 yards rushing. He had 10 touchdowns and 882 yards from scrimmage. … Cole had an interception negated by an offside penalty on former Bear Corey Wootton, but Cutler finished turnover-free for only the third time in 15 games this season. … Bridgewater finished with a 64.4 completion rate, the third-highest by a rookie in NFL history behind Ben Roethlisberger (66.4) and Robert Griffin III (65.6).

Hawks, Kane, Seabrook get past Avs 5-2

DENVER—Brent Seabrook has never played better defense than he is right now. And that’s powering his recent offensive surge.Or so goes the reasoning of Joel Quenneville, who praised his defenseman after another rock-solid performance on both ends of the ice.Seabrook’s power-play goal broke a second-period tie, Patrick Kane scored twice and the Central Division-leading Blackhawks beat the Colorado Avalanche 5-2 on Saturday night.Over his last five games, Seabrook now has six points (two goals and four assists). His goal against Colorado was a pinpoint shot into the upper corner of the net.Just where he was aiming, right?

”Shot it as hard as I could and hoped I didn’t hit anybody,” Seabrook said, smiling.

Moments after scoring, Seabrook turned in a nifty defensive play. With Matt Duchene racing down the ice on a breakaway, Seabrook caught up to him, lifted the speedy forward’s stick and poked the puck away.

”(Seabrook) was probably the one guy who turned it around,” said Quenneville, whose team flew in Saturday morning after a break for the holiday. ”I think the offense is coming because he’s been defending so well.”

Brandon Saad also scored for the Blackhawks, while Patrick Sharp celebrated his 33rd birthday with a game-sealing power-play goal in the third period.

”He’s getting old, but he can still score some goals,” Seabrook cracked.

Nathan MacKinnon and Erik Johnson had goals for the Avalanche as their three-game win streak was snapped.This is the second time the Hawks have beaten Colorado at Pepsi Center this year after going 0-2 in the building last season.Corey Crawford stopped 11 of his 23 shots in the third period, none bigger than the one he made with the Avalanche on a 5-on-3 power play. He turned back a point-blank shot to help the Blackhawks successfully dodge both penalties.

Bulls get past Davis, Pelicans 107-111

While the Bulls campaign for an All-Star spot for the dynamic guard, Butler is making his argument on the court.Butler scored 33 points, Derrick Rose had 19 and the Bulls beat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-100 on Saturday night for its sixth consecutive victory.

”I feel like we got a lot of easy baskets as a team,” Butler said. ”We rebounded the ball well and we got out into the open court and we got a lot of layups. When we’re playing like that, I think we’re really, really hard to beat.”

The Bulls (21-9) also had three reserves score in double figures in their ninth win in 10 games. Aaron Brooks scored 13 points, and Taj Gibson added 12 points and 10 rebounds.

”I thought our bench gave us a great lift,” coach Tom Thibodeau said, ”and then down the stretch Derrick and Jimmy made one big play after the next.”

Davis had 29 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots in his first NBA game in his hometown. Tyreke Evans scored 26 points for the Pelicans, and Jrue Holiday had 19 points and seven assists.The Pelicans (15-15), who were coming off a 97-90 victory over San Antonio on Friday night, committed 15 turnovers and were outrebounded 45-37 by the Bulls.

”Tough loss for us because we played really well last night,” coach Monty Williams said. ”Tough back-to-back, but we played against a really good team, and it’s a good lesson for us that we have to take care of the ball and not give up extra possessions.”

New Orleans pulled within seven with 2:58 remaining, but Rose then drove inside for a dunk. After Evans converted another layup, Butler had a three-point play that made it 104-94 with 1:49 to go.

”We’re getting more and more comfortable with what we are trying to do at the end of the game,” said Joakim Noah, who had seven points and nine rebounds for the Bulls.

Davis was greeted with mostly cheers from the sold-out crowd of 21,935. The No. 1 overall selection in the 2012 draft had a mild concussion when New Orleans visited Chicago during his rookie year, and he broke his left hand before the Pelicans’ road game against the Bulls last December.The 6-foot-10 Davis got a chance to play at the United Center in August with the U.S. national team and scored 20 points in a 95-78 victory over Brazil in a tuneup for the World Cup of Basketball. Davis then helped Team USA win the gold medal in Spain, and carried over his stellar play into his third season with New Orleans.It was more of the same in his return to Chicago, with Davis showing off his breathtaking game on both ends of the court. In one typical sequence in the first quarter, he blocked a shot by Pau Gasol, and then used a spin move to set up a nifty left-handed layup that gave the Pelicans a 22-21 lead.After Davis banked in a turnaround jumper while being fouled by Butler in the third, a fan behind the basket yelled ”Woooooo! Chi-town boy!” Davis then made the foul shot to trim the lead to 53-52 with 9:27 remaining, Jimmy Butler was all over the place. He drove inside for big baskets. He made his foul shots. He even guarded Anthony Davis for a while.

Illini routed by Louisiana Tech in Heart of Dallas Bowl

Illinois Fighting Illini (2004 - 2013)

DALLAS….Louisiana Tech picked up its first bowl win since 2008 by beating Illinois 35-18 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The Bulldogs win was just the latest for Conference USA, which is having a very nice bowl season as the conference now sits at 4-1.

Story of the game: If you were to look at the box score and not know the final score you’d probably think Illinois won the game. The Illini outgained Louisiana Tech by nearly 100 yards (they had a 200-yard advantage in the third quarter) and held on to the ball 10 minutes longer than the Bulldogs, but it was Louisiana Tech making the big plays that Illinois couldn’t.

The Bulldogs finished with only 361 yards of offense, but 150 of them came on two plays: an 80-yard touchdown pass to Kenneth Dixon and a 70-yard pass to Carlos Henderson that set up another Dixon score. The Bulldogs also had a pick-six courtesy of Xavier Woods, who picked off a Reilly O’Toole pass in the second quarter and took it 69-yards to the house.

Player of the game: It has to go to Louisiana Tech defensive end Houston Bates. Bates was in an odd position in this game, as he spent the beginning of his career with Illinois before transferring to Louisiana Tech for the 2014 season. Bates was not kind to his former team in this one, finishing the day with 6.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. He had 3.5 sacks for the Illini in the entire 2013 season.

Highlight of the game: I’ll let you decide. It’s either Kenneth Dixon’s 80-yard touchdown catch and run…


BALTIMORE over Cleveland
HOUSTON over Jacksonville
Indianapolis over TENNESSEE
KANSAS CITY over San Diego
MIAMI over NY Jets
NEW ENGLAND over Buffalo
DENVER over Oakland
PITTSBURGH over Cincinnati

Carolina over ATLANTA
NY GIANTS over Philadelphia
New Orleans over TAMPA BAY
Dallas over WASHINGTON
SEATTLE over St.Louis
SAN FRANCISCO over Arizona

GREEN BAY over Detroit
MINNESOTA over Bears

Last Week: Les 9-7, Adam 8-8, Kevin 9-7, Zach 10-6

Ramblers win Las Vegas Classic, first Tourney win in four years.

LAS VEGAS—Milton Doyle scored the go-ahead basket to lead Loyola in a 48-45 comeback victory over Boise State on Tuesday to win the Las Vegas Classic and the Ramblers’ sixth straight game.Named the tournament MVP, Doyle scored a layup with 2:37 to play that put the Rambers up 46-45, then Donte Ingram added a layup. A 3-point try by Boise State’s Nick Duncan fell short with 2 seconds left.Christian Thomas scored 14 for the Ramblers (10-2), who trailed 27-22 at halftime.The Ramblers used a 13-6 run to take a 35-33 second-half lead on a layup by Thomas, then trailed by a basket with 4:14 to go. Loyola beat Texas Tech 62-44 to advance to the finals. It’s their first holiday tournament win since November, 2010.James Webb III led the Broncos (10-3) with nine points.Boise State beat Houston 75-73 to advance to the finals. The loss ends their six-game winning streak.