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Browns expect close contact players back for Steelers game

By TOM WITHERS AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — Browns coach Kevin Stefanski expects some of the players who missed Sunday’s loss because of COVID-19 protocols to return to practice Thursday as Cleveland gets ready to face Pittsburgh with a playoff spot riding on the outcome.
The Browns (10-5) were beaten 23-16 by the New York Jets, who took advantage of Cleveland being without its top four wide receivers, including leading target Jarvis Landry, starting left tackle Jedrick Wills and two linebackers after they were placed on the COVID list.
They’ll be able to return this week as long as they text negative.
The loss put the Browns in jeopardy of missing the postseason and put them in a win-or-miss situation this weekend against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who clinched the AFC North title and could rest some players in the season finale.
Cleveland’s trying to end a playoff drought stretching to 2002, the NFL’s current longest dry spell.
Landry was ruled ineligible along with receivers Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge after they had come in close contact with starting linebacker B.J. Goodson, who tested positive for the virus and will also miss the Pittsburgh game.
Wills was kept out Sunday because he was showing COVID symptoms. He had been placed on the COVID list last week after close contact with someone outside the organization and then activated on Saturday.
Also, rookie linebacker Jacob Phillips was ruled out after having close contact with Goodson.
Stefanski said none of the six has tested positive.
The players had spent time together in the recovery pool area inside the team’s facility, which wasn’t a violation. However, it was deemed as high-risk close contact by the league and necessitated them being held out of Cleveland’s biggest game to date this season.
Stefanski wouldn’t say if the players had skirted team safety guidelines, but said he addressed the situation with the offending players.
“We have to learn from this,” he said.
Stefanski is also hopeful starting right guard Wyatt Teller will practice on Wednesday. He’s missed the past two games with a sprained ankle, and the Browns missed him Sunday when they only rushed for 45 yards. Rookie Nick Harris made his first career start in Teller’s spot.
Harris injured his knee against the Jets and is day to day along with linebackers Sione Takitaki and Tae Davis.
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Ohio Sports

Bengals cap productive week with pair of unexpected wins

By SIMMI BUTTAR AP Pro Football Writer
The Bengals waited until the very end of 2020 to finally go on a winning streak.
Six days after surprising the Pittsburgh Steelers at home on “Monday Night Football,” the Bengals outlasted the Houston Texans 37-31 on Sunday. It was their first road win since Week 4 of the 2018 season and the first of coach Zac Taylor’s two years in charge.
“Man, it’s crazy to even think about,” wide receiver Alex Erickson said of ending the road drought. “This league’s tough and it’s hard to win on the road. To go two years, though, man, a long time coming. It’s just a testament to sticking to the process and believing. I know it’s hard sometimes when you lose that many road games in a row you never think it’s going to happen and you just keep believing.
“And I think on Monday night the energy was great and guys really believed, and now you see the momentum picking up. We’re playing the right way and we’re starting to get some momentum that we’ve earned, and so it feels really good to come down here and get a victory.”
Ending a long losing streak to the rival Steelers gave the Bengals some confidence going into the game against the Texans.
“I think winning, it’s contagious, right? You get on a roll, you feel that momentum and guys start believing. And it’s just a testament to staying with it,” Erickson said.
Despite another last-place finish, Taylor was pleased with the effort in the penultimate game of the season.
“And like I told them, we practiced in 10-degree weather on Christmas Day to come down and play a game in Houston,” Taylor said. “And not one guy, I didn’t hear one guy complain about it; they all knew that we had to get some work done before we were going to come down and win this big game, and just couldn’t be prouder of the work that they put in here in Week 16. We’re out of the playoff hunt. It’s easy for guys to check out right now and we haven’t had a single player do it.”
For a team that couldn’t find a way to win a handful of close games early in the season, the past week has been a welcome change.
“There have been a few games where we’re literally one play away from being a win,” quarterback Brandon Allen said. “Those are tough, but you have to be able to move on and approach the next week like you’re going to win it again. I think you can just see in these last two weeks that this team knows how close it can be, and we’ve finally been able to have two real close games and we put them together to get wins, and we can just take that momentum and move it forward.”
In both victories, the defense got key stops in the final minutes. On Sunday, it was Sam Hubbard who sacked Deshaun Watson. Watson’s fumble was recovered by Margus Hunt and the team added a field goal for the six-point win.
“They played really well in the first half and then obviously the third quarter and early fourth quarter didn’t go the way they wanted,” Taylor said of the defense which gave up 488 yards overall and 324 yards passing and three touchdowns to Watson.
“But we just needed them to make one stop there. And they did a great job. Sam got to the quarterback and I think Margus recovered that ball. That was a huge moment in the game for us.”
Plenty of losing teams pick up wins at the end of the season. Usually it doesn’t carry over to the next year. The Bengals (4-10-1) hope to build on their recent success.
“I think that when you finish the season strong and you do things the right way, you’ve got that leadership and that culture established, you’ve just got to take it and build on it and just run with it,” Hubbard said.
WHAT’S WORKING
The offense. Despite missing several key starters to injuries, including Joe Burrow, Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd, the Bengals gained 540 yards and scored a season-high 37 points.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The run defense. Against a below-average rushing offense, the Bengals allowed 166 yards on 17 carries, including 12 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown to David Johnson.
STOCK UP
Brandon Allen. The Bengals’ backup QB was 29 for 37 for 371 yards and two touchdowns.
STOCK DOWN
Draft positioning. By winning two in a row, the Bengals dropped from the No. 3 spot and are now No. 5 and could slide further depending on what happens in Week 17.
INJURED
Cornerback William Jackson left the game with a concussion in the second quarter.
KEY NUMBER
3 — The number of wins against the AFC South this season and the number of Bengals quarterbacks with victories this season.
NEXT STEPS
Close out the regular season at home against Baltimore on Sunday. The Ravens are in contention for a wild-card berth.
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Ohio Sports

Baseball Hall of Famer, knuckleballer Phil Niekro dies at 81

By PAUL NEWBERRY AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA (AP) — Phil Niekro threw a pitch that baffled hitters and catchers.
Heck, he didn’t even know where it was going most of the time.
But the knuckleball carried Niekro to more than 300 wins, earned him a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame and gave him a nickname that stuck for the rest of his life.
Knucksie.
The longtime stalwart of the Atlanta Braves rotation died after a lengthy fight with cancer, the team announced Sunday. He was 81.
The Braves said Niekro died Saturday night in his sleep. He lived in the Atlanta suburb of Flowery Branch, where a main thoroughfare bears his name.
He was the seventh Hall of Famer to die this year, the most sitting members to pass away in a calendar year, according to spokesman Jon Shestakofsky. The others were Lou Brock, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan and Tom Seaver
“These names, and these men, will be remembered forever in Cooperstown,” Shestakofsky said.
Niekro won 318 games over his 24-year career, which finally ended in 1987 at age 48 after he made one final start for the Braves. The right-hander was a five-time All-Star who had three 20-win seasons with Atlanta.
Dale Murphy, who won two straight NL MVP awards as a teammate of Niekro’s, was among those who mourned his death.
“Knucksie was one of a kind,” Murphy wrote on Twitter. “Friend, teammate, father and husband. Our hearts go out to Nancy Niekro, the kids and grandkids. So thankful for our memories and time together. We’ll miss you, Knucksie.”
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, this year’s NL MVP, described himself as “heartbroken.”
“An amazing pitcher but an even better man!” Freeman said on Twitter. “Thanks you Phil for all the laughs and wonderful memories over the years.”
Niekro also pitched for the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays late in his career.
Incredibly, he had 121 wins after his 40th birthday.
“We are heartbroken on the passing of our treasured friend,” the Braves said in a statement. “Knucksie was woven into the Braves fabric, first in Milwaukee and then in Atlanta. Phil baffled batters on the field and later was always the first to join in our community activities. It was during those community and fan activities where he would communicate with fans as if they were long lost friends.”
A statue of Niekro delivering his trademark pitch is located outside of Truist Park, the Braves’ stadium.
Niekro didn’t make it to the big leagues until 1964, when he pitched 10 games in relief for the then-Milwaukee Braves. He made only one start over his first three years in the big leagues but finally blossomed as a starter in 1967 — the Braves’ second year in Atlanta — when he went 11-9 and led the National League with a 1.87 ERA.
With a fluttering knuckleball that required catchers to wear an oversized mitt, Niekro went 23-13 as the Braves won the first NL West title in 1969. He was runner-up to Seaver for the Cy Young Award, the closest he ever came to capturing pitching’s premier prize though he finished in the top six of the balloting four other times.
Niekro also had 20-win seasons in 1974 and 1979, despite pitching for a team that fell on hard times after its appearance in the inaugural NL Championship Series, where the Braves were swept in three games by New York’s Amazin’ Mets.
Niekro also led the league in losses for four straight seasons, losing 20 games in both 1977 and ’79.
He finished with a career record of 318-274 and a 3.35 ERA. Niekro was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997.
His younger brother, Joe, also had a long baseball career with an arsenal that included the knuckleball. He won 221 games over 22 years in the big leagues, making the Niekros baseball’s winningest set of siblings, with a total of 539 victories, just ahead of Gaylord and Jim Perry.
Joe Niekro died in 2006 at age 61.
Phil Niekro pitched a no-hitter in 1973 but his most memorable game with the Braves came in 1982, when the team started the season with 13 consecutive wins and improbably won the NL West title by a single game to send Niekro to the playoffs for only the second time in his career.
On the final weekend of the season, the 43-year-old Niekro pitched a three-hit shutout and hit a two-run, eighth-inning homer that led Atlanta to a crucial 4-0 victory over the San Diego Padres.
Niekro finished 17-4 with a 3.61 ERA in 35 starts, but he didn’t get a decision in his only start of the NL Championship Series against the St. Louis Cardinals as the Braves were again swept in three straight games. He never made it to the World Series.
Niekro picked up his 300th win in 1985 while pitching for the Yankees. He reached the milestone by shutting out the Blue Jays 8-0.
Philip Henry Niekro was born in Blaine, Ohio, and learned the knuckleball from his father, who played for a coal-mining team in eastern Ohio.
“He was a very good pitcher,” Niekro told ESPN in an interview after his playing days were over. “He hurt his arm one spring, didn’t warm up good enough, couldn’t throw a fastball anymore. Another coal miner taught him how to throw the knuckleball.”
The elder Niekro passed it on to his son, who learned to grip the ball with his fingernails on the seams. That kept the ball from spinning, causing it to move in all sorts of confounding ways on its way to the plate.
“He threw it to me one day.” Niekro said of his father. “I asked him what it was. He showed me how to hold it. Didn’t know what it was, didn’t know anything about it except that I liked it.
“I never knew how to throw a fastball, never learned how to throw a curveball, a slider, split-finger, whatever they’re throwing nowadays. I was a one-pitch pitcher.”
Well, that wasn’t entirely true.
In his 300th victory, Niekro said he didn’t throw a knuckleball until the final batter, using it to strike out former teammate Jeff Burroughs to end the game. At the time, Knucksie was the oldest pitcher in baseball history to toss a shutout, a mark since broken by Jamie Moyer.
“I always wanted to pitch a whole game without throwing knuckleballs because people thought I couldn’t get people out without throwing them,” Niekro said afterward, with brother Joe sitting alongside him in Toronto.
After going 11-10 with a 3.97 ERA in 1983, Niekro had an acrimonious split from the Braves, who wanted him to retire so they could focus on their younger pitchers.
But Niekro was far from done. He won 16 games each of the next two seasons with the Yankees and even made the All-Star Game for the final time. He picked up 11 more wins with Cleveland in 1986 before his knuckler finally ran out of steam.
Niekro started 1987 with the Indians and was traded to Toronto in August, only to be let go by the Blue Jays after getting roughed up in three starts. He decided to retire but only after returning to Atlanta to make his final start in a Braves uniform.
Niekro lasted just three-plus innings, giving up six hits, six walks and five runs before he left the mound for the final time to a raucous ovation from the crowd at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium.
While the knuckler was his trademark, Niekro was an all-around athlete. He won five Gold Glove awards and was a decent hitter for a pitcher, wracking up seven homers and 109 RBIs.
Niekro remained active in the Braves organization after his retirement, taking part in alumni activities and often serving as a special instructor at spring training. He managed Atlanta’s Triple-A farm team for one season, but struggled in the role. He also guided the Colorado Silver Bullets, a barnstorming women’s baseball team sponsored by Coors.
Niekro is survived by his wife, Nancy, sons Philip, John and Michael, and two grandchildren, Chase and Emma.
Longevity was the hallmark of Niekro’s career, which was spent largely in obscurity pitching for Braves teams that rarely managed a winning season.
The knuckleball put little stress on his right arm, so he made at least 30 starts every season from 1968-86 — excluding the strike-shortened 1981 campaign — and finished with 245 complete games in his career.
He was even able to make infrequent relief appearances, earning 29 saves.
In 1979, at age 40, Niekro made a career-high 44 starts, completing 23 of them. He went 21-20 with a 3.39 ERA for a dismal Braves team that finished 66-94.
He remains the last pitcher to both win and lose 20 games in a season.
In this era where teams value velocity above all other traits, the knuckleball has essentially become extinct.
“There’s nobody around who can teach how to throw a knuckleball,” Niekro said in the ESPN interview. “There’s very few pitching coaches that I worked with that actually came out on the mound and told me what I was doing wrong with the knuckleball. Because they just didn’t know.
“I was on my own.”
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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry
___
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Ohio Sports

Browns’ playoff chances take hit with 23-16 loss to Jets

By DENNIS WASZAK Jr. AP Pro Football Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Baker Mayfield coughed up the ball — and the Cleveland Browns’ chances to wrap up a playoff spot.
After a 23-16 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday, the Browns will need to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers at home next Sunday if they’re going to end the NFL’s longest playoff drought.
“I failed this team,” said Mayfield, who answered one question during his postgame Zoom call and left. “I put three balls on the ground, two of them that they recovered and the other on fourth down — just hold onto the damn ball. Plain and simple. I have to hold onto the damn ball.”
On fourth-and-1 with the short-handed Browns (10-5) driving for the potential tying score, Mayfield tried to push forward for the first down but lost the ball when Tarell Basham smacked into him. Kareem Hunt recovered, but by rule, Mayfield was the only one who could advance the ball — and the quarterback was short of the first down.
The call was upheld by video review, and the Jets (2-13) got the ball with 1:18 left and sealed their second straight victory after an 0-13 start.
“This one’s on me,” Mayfield reiterated. “But here’s the thing: This one is going to sting for a day or two. But we got the Steelers to win and get in.”
It was a rough week for the Browns, who haven’t been in the postseason since 2002 and entered without seven players because of COVID-19 issues — including Jarvis Landry and three other wide receivers, and rookie left tackle Jedrick Wills. Cleveland had to call up several players from the practice squad and coach Kevin Stefanski ran a walk-through in a parking lot near the team’s hotel to get some of the new players up to speed on the game plan.
“It’s pretty much 2020 — all in 24 hours,” Mayfield said. “It’s not an excuse.”
Despite being short-handed, the Browns nearly erased a 20-3 deficit. But the Jets were able to hang on.
“It had nothing to do with the guys we didn’t have,” Stefanski said. “We got flat-out beat, flat-out outcoached with the players we had, myself included.”
Earlier in the fourth quarter, Cleveland had third-and-6 from its 15 when Basham sacked Mayfield and knocked the ball out and John Franklin-Myers recovered. Sam Ficken’s 34-yard field goal with 2:52 remaining gave New York a 23-16 lead.
Ficken sent the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, giving Cleveland the ball at the 40. The Browns got down to the 16, until the defense came up big again to end it.
“This team doesn’t have any quit in them,” Jets center Connor McGovern said.
New York clinched the second overall pick in April’s draft. Jamison Crowder caught a touchdown pass and threw one to Braxton Berrios, and Sam Darnold was 16 of 32 for 175 yards, including TD passes to Crowder and Chris Herndon.
The Jets took a 7-3 lead with some rare razzle-dazzle with 34 seconds left in the opening quarter.
Ty Johnson took the handoff from Darnold and flipped the ball to Crowder, who rolled to his right and zipped a pass downfield to a wide-open Berrios — who had been lined up as the tailback — for a 43-yard touchdown.
New York got the ball right back when Frankie Luvu sacked Mayfield and popped the ball away — and right into the hands of Folorunso Fatukasi.
The Jets took advantage when Darnold found Herndon wide open in the back of the end zone. Ficken’s extra point was blocked by ex-Jets defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, but New York was out to a stunning 13-3 lead early in the second quarter.
After the Jets made it 20-3 on Crowder’s 30-yard touchdown catch, New York had a chance to extend the lead, but Ficken’s 50-yard field goal try was blocked — again by Richardson.
Mayfield then marched the Browns downfield, and Nick Chubb’s 1-yard run made it 20-10.
Cleveland made it back-to-back touchdown drives with Hunt running it in from 4 yards out. But Parkey hit the left upright, and the Browns trailed 20-16 with 12:38 remaining.
“You win next week and you’re in,” Stefanski said. “What’s ahead of us is everything we set out to do this season.”
SHORT-HANDED
The Browns learned Sunday morning they would be without Wills because of an illness. He had been placed on the COVID-19 list on Thursday and activated Saturday, but was then downgraded Sunday.
Starting linebacker B.J. Goodson was placed on the COVID-19 list Saturday and five other players, including Landry, were ruled out due to close contact. The others were receivers Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge, and linebacker Jacob Phillips.
MILESTONE
The Jets’ Frank Gore became the third player in NFL history to run for 16,000 yards. The 37-year-old Gore joined Pro Football Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton to reach the milestone, doing so with a 4-yard run in the fourth quarter. He left late in the game with a chest injury.
INJURIES
Browns: LBs Tae Davis and Sione Takitaki left with ankle injuries and didn’t return.
Jets: OL Josh Andrews left with a groin injury.
UP NEXT
Browns: Host AFC North champion Pittsburgh next Sunday, needing a win to clinch a playoff berth.
Jets: Wrap up their season at New England next Sunday.
___
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Ohio Sports

Cavs win 3rd straight to open season, rout 76ers 118-94

By BRIAN DULIK Associated Press
CLEVELAND (AP) — Andre Drummond scored 24 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and made three steals as the Cleveland Cavaliers won their third straight game to start the season, 118-94 over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night.
Collin Sexton added 22 points and Darius Garland had 14 points and seven assists for Cleveland, which finished with the second-worst record in the NBA last season at 19-46. The Cavaliers are 3-0 for the first time since winning six in a row to begin 2016-2017.
“We want it. We want it bad,” said Drummond, who is averaging 20.3 points and 14.7 rebounds per game. “We play hard each and every time, and guys are ready when their number is called. We have a long season ahead of us and we’ll celebrate tonight, but we’ll be ready for our next game.”
Tobias Harris had 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists for Philadelphia, which fell to 2-1 and played without center Joel Embiid (back tightness). Ben Simmons scored 15 points and Dwight Howard had nine points and four fouls filling in for Embiid.
“Joel was planning on going, but when he went out on the floor, he had some stiffness,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. “He was such a late scratch, we couldn’t even add another big man to the active list.”
Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love (right calf strain) left in the second quarter and did not return. Love missed the season opener with the same injury and will undergo an MRI on Monday.
Cleveland, which shot 52.7% from the field, took its largest lead at 108-76 on Cedi Osman’s driving layup with 8:30 left. Osman scored 14 points off the bench and Larry Nance Jr. had 13 points and five assists.
“I still don’t think we’ve put our best four quarters together yet, but that’s our goal,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “Playing agenda-less basketball, that’s what the guys have bought into.”
Drummond, who has three double-doubles, netted 15 points and 10 rebounds in the first half as Cleveland carried a 64-50 advantage into the break.
The Cavaliers forced 22 turnovers, six by Simmons, and turned them into 35 points.
“I thought our spacing was bad,” Rivers said. “I want Ben to attack the basket, but I also want him to make plays and have a good balance. We won two games, but we just didn’t play well tonight.”
Both teams completed their first back-to-back set of the season. Cleveland beat Detroit 128-119 in double overtime Saturday, while Philadelphia won 109-89 in New York.
“It was a good back-to-back win because I am exhausted,” Drummond said, laughing.
WAITING GAME
Cavaliers G Kevin Porter Jr. (personal reasons) has yet to dress for a game as the front office mulls whether to discipline him for an offseason arrest. The second-year pro was expected to serve as Cleveland’s sixth man. “We’re still having those conversations, still working through the plan, organizationally,” Bickerstaff said.
TIP-INS
76ers: Embiid, a three-time All-Star, averaged 28 points and 12 rebounds in the first two games, leading the team in both categories against Washington and New York. … Howard committed a flagrant foul against Dante Exum in the second. … F Danny Green spent his rookie season with the Cavaliers, appearing in 20 games in 2009-10.
Cavaliers: Rookie F Isaac Okoro (left foot sprain) did not play after being injured at Detroit. The No. 5 overall draft pick started the first two games. … G Matthew Dellavedova (concussion) and rookie F Dylan Windler (broken left hand) also were inactive. … Cleveland debuted its rock-and-roll themed black alternate uniforms.
UP NEXT
76ers: Host Toronto on Tuesday. Philadelphia dropped three of four games to the then-NBA champion Raptors last season, but won the only matchup at Wells Fargo Center.
Cavaliers: Host New York on Tuesday. Cleveland then heads on the road for six games — its longest trip of the season — before returning home to play Memphis on Jan. 22.
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No. 3 Ohio St. runs past No. 15 Wildcats for Big Ten crown

By MICHAEL MAROT AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Ohio State running back Trey Sermon got the message Saturday.
He’d heard coach Ryan Day preach about everything the Buckeyes overcame to reach this season’s Big Ten championship game. He also heard Day urging players to overcome more obstacles in the second half.
So Sermon delivered — with a record-breaking performance.
He ran for 331 yards and scored two second-half touchdowns, helping No. 3 Ohio State rally past No. 15 Northwestern 22-10 for its fourth straight conference crown and a likely spot in the College Football Playoff.
“I’m aware of my ability and I know I’m more than capable of playing my game, which is making guys miss and playing at the second level,” the Big Ten championship game MVP said. “When I’m in the zone, I feel like the game just really slows down and I can see everything develop, make the right reads and make the right cuts.”
Sermon used the combination of vision and speed to average 11.4 yards on 29 carries against one of the nation’s top defenses, breaking Eddie George’s single-game school record and the Big Ten championship game mark.
The former Oklahoma back did it all when the Buckeyes (6-0) needed him most, too.
Quarterback Justin Fields said he couldn’t throw the ball late in the game because of a sprained right thumb. Starting running back Master Teague left in the first half with an undisclosed injury, and star receiver Chris Olave was inactive and didn’t make the trip.
With Ohio State struggling and down 10-6 at halftime, it had a familiar feel to Day.
“This game was a microcosm of what this whole season has been,” Day said. “These guys, they’ve been gritty, they’re tough. They’ve been through so much and they just don’t flinch.”
For Northwestern (6-2) it was agonizing.
The Wildcats led from the moment Cam Porter scored on a 9-yard with 4:03 left in the first quarter until the moment Sermon answered with a 9-yard run to give the Buckeyes a 13-10 lead with 2:41 left in the third.
In between, Northwestern settled for a field goal on one drive and blew another scoring chance when Peyton Ramsey was picked off in the end zone to open the second half.
Ramsey was 24 of 37 with 224 yards and ran effectively, too. But he threw two interceptions and lost a fumble — all in the final two quarters.
“I’m just hurting for our seniors,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We didn’t come down here to play hard, we came down here to win, and not to get the job done is bitterly disappointing.”
Ohio State added a 26-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, and Sermon, fittingly, sealed the win with a 3-yard scoring run with 4:03 to go.
“We wanted to throw early, wear them out and run in the second half,” Day said. “That’s how it kind of played out.”
THE TAKEAWAY
Northwestern: For the second time in three years, the Wildcats played better than most expected in the title game. But again Northwestern wore down late and went home as the runner-up.
Ohio State: League officials waived the six-game eligibility requirement and the Buckeyes took full advantage of their chance. They didn’t earn many style points, but they are undefeated.
POLL IMPLICATIONS
Northwestern: The Wildcats may slide in the polls but this loss shouldn’t hurt their bowl resume much.
Ohio State: Whatever happens in the polls this week, the Buckeyes really only care about one thing — making the playoff.
COMMITTEE QUESTIONS
The CFP selection committee might want some answers from Ohio State before releasing the brackets Sunday.
Ohio State had nearly two dozen players on its inactive list for the second straight game and Olave wasn’t the only big name missing. Linebacker Baron Browning, defensive end Tyler Friday and punter Drue Chrisman were inactive, too.
Day said only “a few” of Saturday’s inactives might have to sit out the mandated 21 days for testing positive for COVID-19.
Starting safety Marcus Hooker didn’t dress, either. And injuries to Fields and Teague could further complicate matters.
Fitzgerald still believes the Buckeyes belong.
“No. 1, they’re undefeated,” he said. “No. 2, they have an incredibly talented team. They’ve overcome a bunch of adversity through COVID and run the gamut of the Big Ten season. With the ups and downs, I don’t think everyone understands the emotion that goes into the challenges they’ve been through.”
FAMILIES FIRST
Day said he supported the lobbying efforts of Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and Clemson coach Dabo Sweeney to allow players’ families at playoff games, though he acknowledged he hadn’t given it or the logistics much thought this week.
“I did see the comments that were made and I also agree that families need to be there,” Day said. “These guys have been away from their families for a long time.”
UP NEXT
Northwestern: Will find out Sunday where its headed for bowl season.
Ohio State: Must wait to see if it will be included in the national championship shootout.
___
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Ohio Sports

NFL fines Ravens’ CB Peters spitting at Browns WR Landry

By TOM WITHERS AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters can deny it all he wants, but the NFL thought he spit at Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry.
The league fined Peters $12, 500 on Saturday for his actions, which were followed by a back-and-forth verbal battle between the players this week.
Peters was fined for unsportsmanlike conduct despite not being penalized during Baltimore’s 47-42 win over Cleveland.
TV footage caught Peters spitting in Landry’s direction at the end of the first quarter. Landry had his back turned and didn’t know what Peters had done until after the game.
Landry responded by calling Peters “a coward.”
“I think he knew that maybe behind my back he could do things like that, but to my face he wouldn’t,” Landry said. “So I take it for what it’s worth and now I know. Everybody knows what type of player he is, what type of person he is.”
Peters said in a statement released by the Ravens that he didn’t spit at Landry.
“Where I come from, when you have an issue with someone, you deal with it face to face, man to man,” Peters said. “Anyone who believes that I intentionally spit at him does not know me — plain and simple.”
Following the game, Peters was filmed by a teammate on the team’s flight calling Landry and Browns receiver Odell Beckham Jr. “home girls.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh defended Landry on Friday.
“No way would Marcus do that,” Harbaugh said. “I know Marcus really well. That’s not his style anyway. If he was upset, he wouldn’t be doing that. What he did was, he spat in that direction. It wasn’t in anybody’s direction, per se, and you could tell that on the clip.”
Browns coach Kevin Stefanski declined to comment on the situation.
There has been bad blood between the Browns and Ravens — who were the Browns before moving to Baltimore in 1996 — over the past few seasons.
Last year, Ravens defensive back Marlon Humphrey put his hands around Beckham’s throat and appeared to choke after the two wrestled following a play.
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Browns’ Garrett still not all the way back after COVID

By TOM WITHERS AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — Myles Garrett still hasn’t completely recovered from being sacked by COVID-19.
Cleveland’s star defensive end has played two games since missing two with the virus and said Friday that he’s not all the way back.
“I’m trying. Still doing breathing treatments and still doing conditioning on my own,” he said Friday. “I’m feeling better each day.”
A fitness buff and a player often called “a physical freak” by teammates and opponents, Garrett wishes those who dispute the seriousness of the pandemic or the severity of the illness would use his case as an example that it’s very real.
“I do not think anybody should think they are the bulletproof or just because you are asymptomatic that it will not have any effect on you down the line,” he said. “This is something new that nobody has ever seen before.”
Garrett’s only 24, a supreme athlete in the prime of his life and coronavirus flattened him. When he returned a few weeks back, he said the illness “kicked my butt.”
He wishes others weren’t so dismissive or doubtful about its severity.
“People are so caught up in conspiracies and trying to downplay it that they do not actually see that it can be serious in different ways,” he said Friday on a Zoom calls as the Browns (9-4) prepared to face the New York Giants (5-8) on Sunday night. “Talk about how there are not many cases of people dying from it, but that is not all it is about.
“There are cases of people having the mental illnesses just as an effect of COVID, heart problems, lung issues and being hospitalized for days and weeks on end. There are so many things that come with being diagnosed with COVID or testing positive for COVID. You have to take it seriously.”
Garrett knows there can be long-term effects after becoming infected. But at the moment, he’s most concerned about being as healthy as possible to help the Browns in their push to make the NFL playoffs for the first time since 2002.
He’s had two of his 10 1/2 sacks since returning, but acknowledged he’s still doesn’t have the same stamina as he did before getting sick.
“I’m not sure how long it’s going to take for me to feel really 100 (percent) with my wind,” he said. “Physically, speed and strength-wise, I feel normal, it’s just about trying not to gas out too early and trying to pace myself knowing it can jump on me rather quickly.”
As he works his way back to complete health, Garrett said he hasn’t had to curb his workout routine.
“I have honestly turned it up,” he said. “Just trying to catch back up to what I feel like I was at before. I want to be progressing, not digressing or going back. We will see. Hopefully, it is the right state of mind to have, but I think I am doing well and getting back to where I was with my conditioning.”
NOTES: Browns starting RG Wyatt Teller will miss Sunday’s game with an ankle injury suffered Monday night against Baltimore. Coach Kevin Stefanski did not provide any specifics on Teller and said he’s “week-to-week.” He missed three previous games with a calf strain. Chris Hubbard will replace Teller, who has had a solid season. … CBs Denzel Ward (calf) and Kevin Johnson (groin), TEs Austin Hooper (neck) and David Njoku (knee) and WR KhaDarel Hodge (hamstring) are questionable, but Stefanski seemed optimistic about all of them playing.
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Calvin, Holden lift Wright St. over Detroit 93-70

DETROIT (AP) — Trey Calvin and Tanner Holden scored 19 points apiece as Wright St. easily beat Detroit 93-70 on Saturday in a Horizon League opener for both teams.
Grant Basile added 18 points and Loudon Love had 14 points and nine rebounds for Wright State (3-1). Holden also had six rebounds.
Marquell Fraser had 19 points for the Titans (1-4). Antoine Davis added 15 points. Bul Kuol had 12 points and three blocks.
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This was generated by Automated Insights, http://www.automatedinsights.com/ap, using data from STATS LLC, https://www.stats.com

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Ohio Sports

Atlanta United returns to CONCACAF Champions League in 2021

ATLANTA (AP) — Despite a disappointing season, Atlanta United will play in the CONCACAF Champions League for a third straight year in 2021.
The CONCACAF Council has approved a request by the the United States Soccer Federation to award Atlanta a spot in the 16-team continental championship as the current holder of the U.S. Open Cup, the team announced Saturday.
United won the Cup in 2019, earning a spot in this year’s Champions League. The club was eliminated in the quarterfinals Wednesday by Mexico’s Club América.
The U.S. Open tournament was canceled in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, so Atlanta United will take that spot again in the Champions League. They’ll be joined from Major League Soccer by MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew, Supporters Shield winner Philadelphia Union and the Portland Timbers, who claimed the MLS Is Back Tournament.
Atlanta United was also eliminated in the quarterfinals after earning its first Champions League spot in 2019 as winner of the MLS Cup. The only other club that will be returning to the tournament for the third straight year in 2021 is Costa Rica’s Saprissa.
United will be looking for a comeback season after slumping to 12th in the Eastern Conference and failing to make the playoffs for the first time in the franchise’s four years.
The club announced Argentina’s Gabriel Heinze as its new coach Friday.
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