Chiefs supplant Rams atop AP Pro32 poll; Steelers fall to 10

By SIMMI BUTTAR, AP Sports Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes has had a special season so far.
A league-leading 43 touchdown passes.
A no-look pass against the Baltimore Ravens.
And he has led the Chiefs to the top of latest AP Pro32 poll .
The Chiefs received seven of 12 first-place votes for 379 points in balloting Tuesday by media members who regularly cover the NFL.
Kansas City (11-2) moved up a couple of spots to No. 1 after rallying for an overtime victory over Baltimore. The Chiefs clinched a playoff berth and maintained a one-game lead over the Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC West.
“There were no gaudy stats for MVP candidate Patrick Mahomes against Baltimore’s rock-solid defense, but there were clutch plays in crunch time in an overtime win that may be the deciding factor in securing home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs,” Newsday’s Bob Glauber said.
The Saints (11-2) received the remaining five first-place votes for 376 points to stay at No. 2.
The Chargers (10-3) jumped two spots to No. 4 and travel to Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday night to face the Chiefs to open Week 15.
“Can they beat the Chiefs?” Fox Sports’ John Czarnecki asked of the Chargers.
The Rams, LA’s other team, fell from the top spot to No. 3 after Sunday night’s 15-6 loss to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. The Rams return to Sunday night play this week when they host the Eagles.
“The Bears just proved you can shut down the Rams’ offense if you can shut down (running back) Todd Gurley,” said Ira Kaufman of Fox 13 in Tampa, Florida. “Difficult, but not impossible.”
The Bears’ win helped them move up one spot to No. 6.
The New England Patriots slipped a spot to No. 5 after their improbable 34-33 loss to Miami on the final play as the Dolphins scored on a pass and double lateral to complete a 69-yard pass .
It was the longest play from scrimmage to win a game with no time remaining in the fourth quarter since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
Another team that fell in the poll after losing was the Houston Texans. The Texans slipped two spots to No. 7 after being defeated by the Colts 24-21 to end their nine-game winning streak.
The Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys each moved up a spot to Nos. 8 and 9 after winning at home last week. Both 8-5 teams improved their playoff position in the NFC.
The reeling Pittsburgh Steelers, who have lost three in a row, dropped two places to round out the top 10. The Steelers, who have a half-game lead in the AFC North, host the Patriots on Sunday in a key AFC showdown.
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Roethlisberger OK, Boswell not as Steelers weigh changes

By WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger’s ribs are bruised but not broken.
The Pittsburgh Steelers believe the same could be said about their wildly uneven season.
Roethlisberger believes he’ll play on Sunday when New England visits Heinz Field, one of the few certainties for a team in search of answers thanks to a three-game losing streak, the latest setback a baffling 24-21 defeat in Oakland that included Roethlisberger missing most of the second half after taking a shot to the ribs, another late meltdown by the defense and the latest botched kick by Chris Boswell.
“Whenever talking about consistent failures in recent weeks, it’s usually a multitude of things,” coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday. “It’s all of the above. We’re open to change, going to make discussions regarding change.”
Starting, potentially, at placekicker.
Boswell was a Pro Bowler in 2017 — a season in which he drilled three game-winning field goals — and signed a contract extension in August that runs through 2022. Yet he has struggled with consistency this season.
When his left foot gave way on the final snap in Oakland, turning his potentially game-tying 40-yard attempt into a line drive that smacked into the sea of players in front of him, it marked his 11th missed kick this season (six field goals, five extra points). He missed just 13 combined kicks from 2015-17.
Tomlin said the team plans “to explore options that gives us the very best chances of the ball going through the upright this weekend.” That includes holding tryouts to give others a look, though Tomlin admitted there isn’t exactly much to choose from in mid-December.
“We’re cognizant of what’s available,” Tomlin said. “The prudent approach is to include Chris in those options.”
There are no such questions at quarterback despite an odd sequence in Oakland that led to Roethlisberger standing on the sideline in the fourth quarter while backup Josh Dobbs tried to build on a four-point lead.
The issue? Apparently an ancient X-ray machine at the Coliseum that offered no clarity on the extent of the rib injury Roethlisberger sustained while being driven into the ground late in the second quarter.
Roethlisberger, team physician James Bradley and general manager Kevin Colbert spent all of halftime trying to get a clean X-ray but none surfaced.
“We never had a full understanding of what the injury was,” Tomlin said. “The medical staff treated (Roethlisberger) to the best of our abilities.”
Treatment that included “medicating” the 36-year-old quarterback while also keeping him out of the game as a precaution.
Tomlin likened the approach to the one the team took during a wild-card game in Cincinnati three years ago in which Roethlisberger hurt his right (throwing) shoulder at the end of the third quarter.
In that game, Roethlisberger stayed off the field until the Bengals rallied to take the lead in the final minutes. Roethlisberger came on and — with more than a little help from Cincinnati — helped the Steelers rally to the victory .
It nearly happened again in Oakland. Roethlisberger completed all six of his passes on Pittsburgh’s penultimate drive, the last a 1-yard touchdown pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster that put Pittsburgh in front 21-17.
“We would only re-insert him if we felt it was necessary,” Tomlin said. “We appreciate what he was able to do … obviously it didn’t end in the way that we would like.”
Roethlisberger said during his weekly radio appearance Tuesday he expects to face the Patriots (9-4).
Tomlin indicated pain management will be the biggest concern. Roethlisberger rarely practices on Wednesdays and there’s a chance he could be given an additional day off.
Tomlin said the team did not file a complaint with the league about the X-ray machine in Oakland and declined to use it as an excuse for any of the decision-making on the sideline or the play on the field. He’s well aware Pittsburgh’s issues extend far beyond Boswell, sloppy turf or outdated medical equipment.
The defense has allowed second-half leads to get away each of the past three weeks. The Raiders, who came in tied with San Francisco for the worst record in the league, went the length of the field twice in the final 10 minutes, just as the Los Angeles Chargers at Heinz Field did the week prior while storming back from a 16-point deficit to pull out a 33-30 victory.
While Tomlin cautioned the defensive tweaks he’s considering might not be “noticeable to the naked eye” he’s aware the Steelers — their AFC North lead over Baltimore down to a half-game — are in serious need of a kick-start.
“We’re not going to hope and wish,” Tomlin said. “We’re not going to go through our process in the manner of which we have and hope that the outcome changes.”
NOTES: RB James Conner (ankle) could return against New England. Conner missed his first game of the season last week after getting hurt late against the Chargers. … RT Marcus Gilbert (knee) could return to practice. Gilbert hasn’t played since mid-October.
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Harden scores 29 to lead Rockets past Blazers 111-103

HOUSTON (AP) — The Houston Rockets’ bench came to the rescue twice Tuesday night, and the second time made the difference.
James Harden had 29 points and seven Rockets scored in double-figures as Houston used a big second-half run and snapped a three-game losing streak with a 111-103 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Chris Paul added a triple-double with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Clint Capela had 13 points and seven rebounds before fouling out with five minutes left, and Eric Gordon, who started in place of James Ennis, had 14 points for the Rockets, who shot 49 percent from the field.
“We did a good job of just competing, playing harder,” Harden said. “That was really it – playing harder and got into them. We were a little more aggressive. Good things seem to happen when you play harder.”
Houston’s bench played a key role in a 24-6 first-half run that erased a 15-point deficit, and then led a charge in the second half. Gerald Green had 13 points, and Danuel House had 12 off the bench.
“They won the game for us,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said of the bench. “They turned it around when we were down 15, and they came in, and Nene, Danuel House and Gerald put a lot of energy.”
Damian Lillard had 34 points, CJ McCollum scored 22 points and Jusuf Nurkic added 15 points and 10 rebounds for Portland, which shot 44 percent after starting the game by making seven of its first nine shots.
“I thought Houston played pretty aggressive defense on us,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We took some possessions for granted and some turnovers led to their transition. Obviously, their bench came in and hand an impact on the game. . They just outplayed us in the second half.”
Houston used a 25-5 run to end the third and start the fourth quarters, and opened a 100-83 lead on 3-pointer by Harden with 6:48 left. House and Green each had five points in the run.
“I think you could really tell the difference (in) the second half,” Green said. “I thought that we didn’t give up a lot of offensive rebounds that was really killing us in the first half. Our pace was really good tonight. I feel like we were playing faster. We were getting out in transition a lot more than we did in the last few games. I think it was something we can build on.”
The Blazers responded with a 14-2 run and cut the lead to 102-97 when Nurkic made a pair of free throws with three minutes left.
After trading baskets, Houston pushed the lead to 107-99 on a free throw by Harden and two free throws by Paul. After Lillard missed a layup, Paul hit two more free throws to push the lead back to 10 with 1:38 left. Portland got no closer than eight the rest of the way.
“We dug ourselves into a hole, and with the style that they play, you’re going to have a chance to get back into it, but it’s a tough battle when you have to fight back into the game,” Lillard said.
TIP-INS
Trail Blazers: Al-Farouq Aminu had 10 points and 15 rebounds. . Portland shot 17 of 21 from the free throw line. . The Blazers shot 10 of 25 from 3-point range.
Rockets: Houston’s bench outscored Portland’s 37-13. Nene had 10 points. . The Rockets shot 18 of 27 from the free-throw line. . Coach Mike D’Antoni said Brandon Knight (knee) could see playing time early next week. . Ennis left the game with a strained right hamstring.
CLEAN UP ON THE FLOOR
PJ Tucker dove for a loose ball during the second quarter, landing in front of Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman and Astros owner Jim Crane, who were seated courtside, and splashing their drinks on them. Bregman and Crane were given towels to help dry off.
UP NEXT
Trail Blazers: Travels to Memphis on Wednesday.
Rockets: Host the Lakers on Thursday.
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Penn ends No. 17 Villanova’s city supremacy in 78-75 win

By DAN GELSTON, AP Sports Writer
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Phil Booth took the potential tying shot with hands that have slipped on two Villanova national championship rings, and a tick of the clock suddenly seemed endless.
“The ball seemed like it was up there for way too long,” Penn forward AJ Brodeur said.
The shot was off. The Penn party was on.
The Quakers — who had shared the role of Philly’s doormat with the other three Big 5 schools during Villanova’s rise to dominance — had achieved the improbable upset, beating No. 17 Villanova 78-75 Tuesday night.
The final buzzer sent Penn students sprinting onto the Palestra court at speeds that could have qualified them to run in the famed relays next door. The fans tossed streamers, hopped around at midcourt, and mobbed the players who had set off a regular-season celebration not seen in Philly in years.
And with good reason — the national champion Wildcats had won a city-record 25 straight games against Big 5 rivals Temple, Saint Joseph’s, La Salle and the Quakers.
“They call it the Big 5. But really it seems like the Big 1,” Brodeur said. “Villanova is always coming out on top. They’re always on the podium at the end of the year in the Big 5 banquet.”
Brodeur, Antonio Woods and Michael Wang all sank free throw after free throw to pad the lead for Penn (9-2) in the stunner. Penn coach Steve Donahue, who led Cornell to the Sweet 16 in 2010, may have another blooming Ivy League power . Penn last beat Villanova at the Palestra on Dec. 5, 2001, and hadn’t beat them at all since Dec. 10, 2002.
The Quakers doused Donahue with water in the locker room as the celebration continued until the coach huddled up the players for a simple message: “We’re not pretty, we’re gritty.”
The Wildcats (8-3) paid the price — they hadn’t lost a city series game since dropping a 76-61 decision to Temple on Dec. 5, 2012.
“It was nice while it lasted,” coach Jay Wright said. “We learn from it. It was fun to be a part of it.”
Wright calmly tugged at his suit and looked at the scoreboard that read 75-69 as the Wildcats went into a timeout needing a hoops miracle to pull this one off. They nearly got one — Booth hit a fall-away 3 that that pulled them to 75-72 and another with 1.3 seconds to go that made it 78-75.
Woods sailed an inbounds pass wildly out of bounds on the opposite end and Nova had one last shot to extend the streak.
“They trust me with the ball in my hands and unfortunately it was a huge error,” Woods said.
Donahue quickly interjected: “I should have put someone there at the foul line at the other end and I didn’t. That was my mistake and I knew it. He did what he was told.”
The Wildcats won the 2016 national title with a shot at the buzzer and won a few close ones en route to the 2018 title. They turned to Booth to bail them out, but he shot an airball.
Brodeur and Woods each scored 16 points and Wang added 14 points for Penn. The Quakers made 25 of 37 free throws.
Collin Gillespie scored 21 points and Booth finished with 18 for Villanova.
The Quakers came out for primed for an upset at the Palestra, home of some of the greatest moments in Philadelphia college hoops history. With a packed house on hand — “corners,” as it’s called at the Palestra — and students holding signs that read “There’s No Fear Here,” Penn did just about everything right early to position itself for an upset.
“Just the look, when you come out of the locker room and it’s a sea of red,” Donahue said. “I’m glad we were able to reward them.”
Bryce Washington hit a pair of 3s and the Quakers raced to a 14-2 lead over the rattled Wildcats. Penn — a 7½-point underdog — led 32-28 at the break.
The Quakers had been building toward a monumental upset since coach Donahue was hired in 2015. Donahue, who flamed out at Boston College, won 11 and 13 games his first two seasons before guiding the Quakers to a 24-9 record and their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2007. The Quakers opened this season 4-0 and would upset Miami 89-75 at the Palestra for their first win over Power Five conference team since the 2002-03 season.
“This group, whatever I ask of them, they try to do,” Donahue said.
BIG PICTURE
Penn: Penn has been hot, even after losing last season’s top scorer Ryan Betley to a season-ending knee injury in the opener. The Quakers held 35-22 edge on the boards.
Villanova: The Wildcats have been solid, but may have been outside the AP Top 25 without their championship pedigree. They fell out of the poll for a week on the heels of consecutive home losses to Michigan and Furman. But they had won six straight and fattened their record in the city series they made their own.
UP NEXT
Penn: Plays Dec. 22 at New Mexico.
Villanova: No. 1 Kansas hosts No. 17 Villanova on Saturday at Allen Fieldhouse in a rematch of the 2018 national semifinals.
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AP source: McCutchen, Phillies agree to $50M, 3-year deal

By RONALD BLUM, AP Baseball Writer
LAS VEGAS (AP) — All-Star outfielder Andrew McCutchen and the Philadelphia Phillies have agreed to a $50 million, three-year contract, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press.
The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the agreement, which includes a club option for 2022, is subject to a successful physical.
The 32-year-old McCutchen was an All-Star each season from 2011-15, topping .300 in batting average from 2012-14. He was the NL MVP in 2013.
McCutchen nine years with Pittsburgh before he was traded to San Francisco last winter. He was dealt to the New York Yankees on Aug. 31 and hit .255 with 20 homers and 65 RBIs in 155 games overall this year.
McCutchen has 223 homers, a .287 average and 790 RBIs in 10 major league seasons.
Philadelphia remains interested in Bryce Harper, the top free agent on the market, but has a surplus of outfielders, including Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr and Roman Quinn.
Rhys Hoskins is moving from left field to first base after the team traded Carlos Santana to Seattle for infielder Jean Segura last week.
Herrera, a former All-Star, is a trade candidate. He struggled in the second half last season and finished with career lows in batting average (.255) and on-base percentage (.310).
Philadelphia pursued Patrick Corbin and is still seeking a left-handed starter.
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AP Sports Writer Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia contributed to this report.
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Banged-up Nuggets sign veteran Nick Young

DENVER (AP) — The banged-up Denver Nuggets have signed veteran guard Nick Young under the injury hardship relief exception granted by the NBA.
Young spent last season with Golden State, where he appeared in 80 games and averaged 7.3 points. He’s also played for the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia and Washington over his 11-year career. Young was the 16th overall pick by the Wizards in 2007.

4th Redskins QB starter of season prepped with ‘Madden NFL’

By Howard Fendrich
Pro Football Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — This is what it’s come to for the Washington Redskins: Their fourth quarterback of a once-promising, now-lost season, Josh Johnson, will be making his first NFL start since 2011 and spent time playing the “Madden NFL” video game to try to pick up something about his new teammates.
“I learned their names, first and foremost,” Johnson said with a smile.
He will be playing the most important position on the field next Sunday when the Redskins, who have gone from 6-3 and first place in the NFC East to 6-7 thanks to a four-game losing streak, play at the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9), who might be the most disappointing team in the entire league.
Between Washington’s Johnson and Jacksonville’s Cody Kessler, the two QBs have a combined career mark of 1-14 as NFL starters. Johnson is 0-5 and hadn’t even thrown a pass in a game in seven years until coming in to replace Mark Sanchez in the second half of Washington’s 40-16 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday.
“I’ve been a fourth-stringer, a third-stringer. I’ve been so many other things,” the 32-year-old Johnson said.
He’s been signed and discarded by nearly half of the league: The Redskins are the 13th team that’s brought him in, although only the second for which he actually was allowed to attempt a throw in a regular-season game (Tampa Bay was the other).
So why has he bounced around so much with little game time to show for it?
“He can be hot and cold throwing the ball. He can throw a great ball, then throw one in the dirt, then throw a great ball,” coach Jay Gruden said. “The (inconsistency), probably, is what people see.”
In Washington, Johnson essentially is the backup to the backup’s backup.
Sanchez only got to start against New York because Colt McCoy broke his right leg during the prior game; McCoy was starting only because Alex Smith broke HIS right leg two games before that.
Add it all up, and Johnson’s is Gruden’s No. 4 starting QB in a span of five games.
Johnson was signed last Wednesday; a week before facing the Giants, he was playing in a charity basketball event at home in California.
“It was a good test for my cardio,” Johnson said. “I actually got my body ready.”
Entering Sunday after the score was 40-0, he went 11 for 16 for 195 yards, with a 79-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder and one interception against the Giants.
Johnson also ran seven times for 45 yards with a TD.
“Josh came in and provided a spark with his legs a little bit, avoided some pressure, moved around, got to the second, third progressions on a few throws, despite just getting here,” Gruden said. “So I was impressed with his poise, mostly, and his ability to maneuver in the pocket.”

Warriors named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of Year

By JOE REEDY, AP Sports Writer
The three-time NBA champion Golden State Warriors are the fourth team to be honored as Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year .
The Warriors join the 1980 U.S. hockey team, the 1999 U.S. Women’s World Cup soccer squad and the 2004 Boston Red Sox as the other team honorees.
Sports Illustrated announced the winner Monday, and editor-in-chief Chris Stone said they have been thinking of some way to honor the Warriors during their run of three titles in four years. He also acknowledged that there were a couple years where Steph Curry has been in the conversation.
“There is something transcendent about the team where the sum of their parts was apparent from the beginning,” Stone said. “What they have built into a dynasty is a function of empirical success. They’re really a generational team. I don’t know if, in my lifetime, there has been a team where the pieces have blended so beautifully together.”
Stone also said that the Warriors’ honor is more about the celebration of the organization doing something unique over an extended period while the other teams were honored for what they did in a certain year.
Alexander Ovechkin, who led the Washington Capitals to their first Stanley Cup title, Tiger Woods and LeBron James also received consideration, but Stone said the Warriors felt like the favorite when they repeated as NBA champions.
“In the same way they play, they seem to speak in a single voice,” Stone said. “The unity of message with the Warriors is the same way we refer to LeBron and his answering some of the hard questions. They did it forcefully, but also civilly, in a way that helps advance conversations.”
The Warriors will receive the award during a ceremony in Los Angeles on Tuesday that will air on NBCSN on Thursday.
“This is an incredible honor and one that certainly signifies our Strength in Numbers philosophy as a team and organization,” Warriors President of Basketball Operations/General Manager Bob Myers said. “Our success is due to the contributions of every single player, coach and staff member in our organization; for Sports Illustrated to recognize this unique dynamic is truly special.”
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Boswell’s missed FG sends Steelers to 24-21 loss to Raiders

By JOSH DUBOW, AP Pro Football Writer
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — A Pittsburgh Steelers team that kept finding ways to win during a six-game winning streak now has fallen short at the end for a third straight game.
A slick field that led to kicker Chris Boswell losing his footing on a potential game-tying kick is to blame this time.
Boswell missed a 40-yard attempt after the Steelers used a hook-and-lateral to get into position following Derek Carr’s go-ahead touchdown pass that sent Pittsburgh to a 24-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
“Sometimes it makes it worse when it’s right there,” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “If you get blown out it doesn’t seem to hurt as bad as when you have a chance.”
The Steelers (7-5-1) have sure had their chances during their current skid. Roethlisberger threw an interception at the goal line with just over a minute left of a 24-17 loss to Denver on Nov. 25 and Pittsburgh then lost last week when Mike Badgley made a field goal on the final play in a 33-30 victory for the Chargers last week.
This week it was a missed kick by Pittsburgh that determined the outcome. Boswell also missed a 39-yard field goal against the Raiders (3-10) and has six missed field goals and five missed extra points for the most combined missed kicks in the NFL this season.
Coach Mike Tomlin called Boswell’s slump disappointing and wouldn’t commit to sticking with his kicker long term.
“He’s not the only one disappointed,” Boswell said. “I mean this is a business. You’re evaluated by results and I’m not getting it done right now so whatever happens from here happens.”
The loss cost the Steelers a chance to open up some ground in the AFC North race with Baltimore. The Steelers still lead the Ravens by a half-game, but have matchups with New England and at New Orleans the following two weeks.
Roethlisberger almost led an impressive comeback after missing the first four series of the second half with a rib injury. He returned to the game after backup Joshua Dobbs failed to generate any points on four drives and Derek Carr gave Oakland a 17-14 lead with a 3-yard TD pass to Lee Smith with 5:20 to play.
Big Ben then led a 75-yard drive capped by his second 1-yard TD pass of the game to JuJu Smith-Schuster, putting Pittsburgh on top 21-17 with 2:55 to go.
But Roethlisberger was only a spectator as Carr drove the Raiders to the go-ahead score, a 6-yard pass on fourth down to Derek Carrier with 23 seconds left.
“We’re there at the ball,” Tomlin said. “We’re not making plays on the ball. Probably equally as frustrating is we’re not making them and they are. It’s not like those balls are falling incomplete so we still have work to do.”
Pittsburgh almost overcame that when Roethlisberger threw a short pass to James Washington for a 5-yard gain. Washington then flipped the ball to Smith-Schuster, who raced down the sideline for 43 more yards to set up Boswell’s kick that went right into the line when he lost his footing.
“The field is the field,” he said. “You can’t complain about it. You can’t blame anything. It’s as bad as it is for me as it is for anyone else. You just have to find a way to put it through.”
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Column: Across USA, cheers. In New England, shocked silence

By BARRY WILNER, AP Pro Football Writer
In viewing areas across America, from sports bars to living rooms, explosive cheers rang out.
Throughout New England, shocked silence.
Whether the way the Patriots-Dolphins game ended is worthy of being dubbed the South Beach Stunner or South Beach Bummer depends on your perspective.
Maybe stick with “Boise,” which is what coach Adam Gase called this bit of razzle dazzle.
Or Stick with “The Drake Escape” if you will, as Miami’s Kenyan Drake finished off a 69-yard reception-and-lateral marvel to lift the Dolphins past the Patriots 34-33. It’s the latest in the line of unforgettable plays that not only draw nicknames, but live in both celebration and infamy — again, depending on your perspective.
Drake’s view was simple: a miracle.
“Until I got in the end zone . I mean honestly, I’m sitting before you all and I still don’t believe it,” he said during interviews after the improbable conclusion sent New England to its fifth loss in the last six visits to South Florida.
“I just saw it was Gronk (Rob Gronkowski) in front of me and I was just like ‘Look, I’ve got somewhere to be.’ So I had to get in the end zone.”
The fact that the Patriots’ superb tight end was playing safety on the desperation play was about as bizarre as the play itself — the longest to win a game with no time remaining since the NFL-AFL merger was finalized in 1970. Sure, it made sense for the 6-foot-7 Gronk, with his long reach, powerful body and sticky hands, to be in for a “Hail Mary” pass into the end zone. But Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill wasn’t likely to throw the ball 70 yards.
So the hulking Gronk was no match for the speedy Drake, not even after the Dolphins running back had sped most of the 52 yards he carried the ball after receiving a lateral from DeVante Parker. Who had taken a lateral from Kenny Still after Tannehill’s short completion.
Guess Bill Belichick got outsmarted by Gase on this one. One of the Patriots coach’s former star safeties, Rodney Harrison, questioned the strategy on NBC’s halftime show Sunday night, astonished that Devin McCourty — nearly as good a player as Harrison was — stood on the sideline.
“Every time we practice it, it’s for the Hail Mary,” said Gronkowski who admitted he tripped chasing Drake. “You’ve got to be ready for anything. It’s football. Just the way it ended, I mean, it sucked. I mean, I’ve never really been a part of anything like that.
“I feel like it’s going to test our character big time, how we bounce back from something like that. I’ve just got to make that tackle.”
Such odd situations tend to always be part of unfathomable plays. Jack Tatum deflecting Terry Bradshaw’s pass directly to a spot where Franco Harris can make a shoestring grab and turn the Immaculate Reception into perhaps the most memorable play in pro football history.
Or the Giants’ coaching staff opting to skip a kneel-down and have Joe Pisarcik attempt a handoff to Larry Csonka with the clock running down. Voila: the Miracle at the Meadowlands for Herm Edwards and the Eagles.
Or the Music City Miracle in which the Buffalo Bills left the entire left sideline open for Kevin Dyson to take a cross-field lateral and speed to a playoff victory for the Tennessee Titans.
Whether this play reaches that level of significance and remembrance remains to be determined. Suffice to say that, for now, it is the play of 2018 — particularly when it happens to and not for the Patriots.
Fans just about everywhere outside of the New England region rejoice when the dynasty from Foxborough loses so dramatically and spectacularly. It happened when the Patriots were unbeaten in 2007 and the Giants slayed the AFC giant in the Super Bowl. Same thing four years later. Same thing when the Eagles turned the trick last February.
And this was built basically on one improbable play.
“They kicked the field goal,” Tannehill explained, “and we have one play, so you know it’s a long shot. Just the emotion of that, and then obviously the elation of seeing KD get in the end zone, it’s pretty much as drastic of emotions as you can get right there, of knowing you don’t have much of a shot to winning the game.”
And yet you win.
How lasting the impact will be, who knows? As Stills said: “The Miami miracle? I like that, but it means nothing if we don’t finish the season strong and find our way into the playoffs.”
As for New England, which was denied clinching its 10th consecutive AFC East crown Sunday, that will come soon enough. This could become a motivator for a team that doesn’t compare on defense to many if not all of the eight Super Bowl qualifiers since Tom Brady became quarterback. Or opponents will look more at what happened before the Drake Escape and see how leaky that D is and find more ways to attack it.
“It’s going to test our mental toughness,” Gronkowski said. “I feel like I’ve been going through that all year, and now to get to this point now. We’ve just got to keep working hard. We’ve just got to keep grinding. We’ve got to keep focusing and just come together as a team more. It’s definitely, definitely going to test our mental toughness.”
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AP Sports Writers Steven Wine, Simmi Buttar and Jake Seiner contributed.
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