Tue, 30 Sep 2014 07:04:00 +0000

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Perhaps the Kansas City Chiefs gave their neighbors across the parking lot a little bit of inspiration with their impassioned performance against New England.

Jamaal Charles returned from an ankle injury to score three touchdowns, Alex Smith threw for 248 yards and three scores, and the Chiefs routed the Patriots 41-14 on Monday night, getting the sports week off to a smashing start in Kansas City with the Royals preparing to open the baseball playoffs on Tuesday.

"To have back-to-back events like this, Monday night football and a home playoff game, yeah, it's special," Smith said. "Right next door to each other."

Arrowhead Stadium, which was packed to the brim in red-clad Chiefs fans, is just a short walk from Kauffman Stadium, which will surely be packed with blue when the Royals end a 29-year playoff drought against the Oakland Athletics in the AL wild-card game.

Several members of the Royals even showed up for the Chiefs-Patriots game, including starting pitcher James Shields, drawing huge roars when they were shown on the big screens. And some of the Chiefs said they were thinking about returning the favor, including wide receiver Dwayne Bowe.

Regardless, the Chiefs will be able to spend Tuesday in a celebratory mood.

They held the Patriots' Tom Brady to 159 yards passing and a touchdown, picking him off twice and returning one for a touchdown. Brady was also strip-sacked by Tamba Hali to set up a Chiefs field goal, capping off a miserable night for the two-time NFL MVP.

"It was just a bad performance by everybody," Brady said. "We need to make sure we never have this feeling again. We've got to figure out what we have to do better."

The Chiefs forced the Patriots to air it out by stuffing Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley. And when Brady dropped back, their front seven ran roughshod over New England's suspect offensive line.

It hardly helped the Patriots offense that it was trying to operate on the same night Chiefs fans were trying to reclaim the record for loudest outdoor sports venue. The record was set in the first half, when Guinness World Records noted a noise level of 142.2 decibels - breaking the mark of 137.6 that Seattle Seahawks fans set last season.

"My ears are still ringing," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said with a smile.

Kansas City had 303 yards of offense by halftime, the most against any Belichick-coached team in the first half of a game. That includes his years coaching in Cleveland.

"We just never got anything going. Nothing," Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "They just executed. They executed perfectly. We were always out of the game, it seemed."

Here are a few of the reasons why the Patriots were thumped so soundly:

RUN, RUN, RUN: Charles looked just fine on his sprained right ankle, running for 92 yards. He was spelled by Knile Davis, who added 107 yards on 16 carries. "We kept each other fresh," Davis said. "When he went in, he did his thing. When I went in, I did my thing."

TENSE MOMENT: Charles briefly went to the locker room after stumbling into the end zone on his third touchdown of the game. He appeared to grab his hamstring, and Reid said that he received an IV, indicating that he might have been cramping. "I feel sore," Charles admitted afterward.

BRADY'S STRUGGLES: Brady is completing just 59 percent of his passes through his first four games, his worst rate since becoming the Patriots' starter in 2001. He is also averaging less than 200 yards passing per game. "I wouldn't say we've had a very productive four games to start, but hopefully we can learn from it and understand the things that we're doing wrong," he said. "There's nobody going to dig us out of the hole. We've kind of created it for ourselves and we're going to have to look each other in the eye and see what kind of commitment we're willing to make."

KELCE STARS: Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who is quickly becoming one of Smith's favorite targets, had eight catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. "We know what we can do on our offense and our defense," Kelce said. "Our defense got a lot of turnovers today, and that was awesome to see."

GAROPPOLO PLAYS: Rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo got into the game in the fourth quarter for New England, when the outcome was already decided. He was 6 of 7 for 70 yards with a touchdown. "I am a relief pitcher, pretty much," he said, "so that is my job."

Tue, 30 Sep 2014 06:57:00 +0000

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Roughly 12 hours after embattled Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he'd been given no indication that quarterback Shane Morris had been diagnosed with a concussion, athletic director Dave Brandon revealed in a post-midnight statement that the sophomore did appear to have sustained one.

That capped a bizarre day in which Michigan tried to address questions about the coaching staff's handling of Morris, who took a violent hit in the fourth quarter of Saturday's loss to Minnesota.

"In my judgment, there was a serious lack of communication that led to confusion on the sideline. Unfortunately, this confusion created a circumstance that was not in the best interest of one of our student-athletes," Brandon said in a statement released shortly before 1 a.m. Tuesday. "I sincerely apologize for the mistakes that were made.

"We have to learn from this situation, and moving forward, we will make important changes so we can fully live up to our shared goal of putting student-athlete safety first."

Morris took a crunching hit from Theiren Cockran on Saturday and briefly looked as if he was having trouble standing, but he remained in for the next play and threw an incompletion before coming out of the game.

Devin Gardner replaced him, but later on that drive, his helmet came off at the end of a play. While Gardner sat out for a play, as required, Morris went back in and handed the ball off to a running back.

Asked Monday if Morris had been diagnosed with a concussion, Hoke said: "Everything that I know of, no." Hoke said Morris would have practiced Sunday night if not for a high ankle sprain.

But in his statement, Brandon said: "As of Sunday, Shane was diagnosed with a probable, mild concussion, and a high ankle sprain. That probable concussion diagnosis was not at all clear on the field on Saturday or in the examination that was conducted postgame. Unfortunately, there was inadequate communication between our physicians and medical staff, and Coach Hoke was not provided the updated diagnosis before making a public statement on Monday."

Brandon said he has had numerous meetings since Sunday to determine what happened with Morris. He said Morris had been treated for a sprained ankle earlier in the game, and medical staff on the sideline believed that was why he stumbled while trying to walk around after being hit by Cockran.

"The team neurologist, watching from further down the field, also did not see the hit. However, the neurologist, with expertise in detecting signs of concussion, saw Shane stumble and determined he needed to head down the sideline to evaluate Shane," Brandon said.

As for how Morris went back in after Gardner's helmet came off:

"Shane came off the field after the (incomplete pass) and was reassessed by the head athletic trainer for the ankle injury," Brandon said. "Since the athletic trainer had not seen the hit to the chin and was not aware that a neurological evaluation was necessary, he cleared Shane for one additional play."

Brandon said the neurologist and other team physicians were not aware Morris was being asked to return to the field, and Morris left the bench when he heard his name called and went back into the game.

"Under these circumstances, a player should not be allowed to re-enter the game before being cleared by the team physician. This clearly identifies the need for improvements in our sideline and communication processes," Brandon said.

Brandon said Morris was examined for a concussion after the game and wasn't diagnosed with one at that point.

Hoke was already facing pressure over Michigan's performance this season. The Wolverines fell to 2-3 after losing 30-14 at home to Minnesota.

If there was one major point Hoke seemed to stress Monday, it was that he doesn't have input into whether a player is healthy enough to play. If a player shouldn't be going back in the game, that is the trainer's call.

"I knew the kid had an ankle injury," Hoke said. "That's what I knew."

Mon, 29 Sep 2014 22:18:00 +0000

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) EJ Manuel is out as the Buffalo Bills' starting quarterback, and veteran Kyle Orton is in.

Coach Doug Marrone's patience ran out following two straight losses that exposed 2013 first-round draft pick Manuel's lack of development. Marrone benched Manuel on Monday, one day after he completed less than half his passes and threw two interceptions in a loss to Houston.

Orton will start Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions. The Bills signed Orton on Aug. 30 to back up Manuel.

"It's not all EJ's fault," Marrone said, "but we need to get better production, obviously, out of that position.

"We have to make adjustments. We've got to make some changes because we can't keep going in the direction that we're going."

Manuel started 14 games over the past two seasons.

The Bills (2-2) have sputtered on offense during two straight losses. Manuel had a season-low quarterback rating of 59.4 and threw an interception to J.J. Watt that was returned for a momentum-changing touchdown Sunday during the 23-17 loss.

Manuel has completed just 58 percent of his passes through four games this year.

"We've got to get better in a lot of situations," Marrone said. "Just the overall offense in itself. You can start on first downs, which we're not doing a good job of. Third downs, red zone touchdowns, I think all those things that you see, again, it's not pinning it just on one player, but we all have to do a better job in those areas."

Marrone had previously said he wanted to be patient with Manuel's development.

Orton, a nine-year NFL veteran, spent the past two seasons in Dallas before being cut by the Cowboys in mid-July after he skipped the team's offseason workouts amid reports he was considering retirement. Orton has a 35-35 career record split among four teams since being selected by Chicago in the fourth round of the 2005 draft. He has been a starter with every team he has joined, as well as a backup, and spent two years behind Tony Romo in Dallas.

Marrone said he made the decision to change quarterbacks, then informed general manager Doug Whaley, Manuel, and the rest of the team.

"This decision was based on what's giving us the best opportunity to win," Marrone said. "I believe that we have a playoff-caliber team. I think that we have to play better than we did the last two weeks, though."

While Manuel has size and mobility, his decision-making and leadership have been questioned. He acknowledged needing better command of the offense days before the season opener, and understood he had plenty to prove as a bona fide starter.

Manuel also faced injury issues last year that hampered his development. He missed six regular-season games and went 4-6 in 10 starts.

The Bills invested heavily to improve their offense this season in order to give Manuel every chance to succeed. They made the biggest splash in the draft when they traded next year's first-round selection to move up five spots and select dynamic receiver Sammy Watkins with the No. 4 pick. The Bills also used three of their seven selections on offensive linemen, and acquired wide receiver Mike Williams in a trade with Tampa Bay.

Marrone said as Orton began practicing with the team that the Bills first targeted Orton early in training camp as a backup; the need for a contingency plan emerged when former backups Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel didn't show enough progress.

Before being informed of the change, Bills players backed Manuel earlier Monday.

"You can't put it all on him," tight end Scott Chandler said. "I think he made a lot of great plays, a lot of great throws that we didn't help him out on."

"It's not a one-man show," running back C.J. Spiller said. "In this league, the quarterback is the focal point and the emphasis of wins and losses of teams. Obviously, he didn't have his best day, and we didn't give him a lot of help either, as well."

NOTES: DT Kyle Williams (knee) and LB Nigel Bradham (knee) had MRIs, but a team spokesman said their status for next week is not yet known. G Chris Williams (back) has a chance to play this week, Marrone said. Williams did not make the trip to Houston. Rookie Cyril Richardson started in his place. . The Bills extended their streak of games with a sack to 17 with two against the Texans. It's the team's longest streak since it went 29 straight games with a sack from Oct. 27, 1996 to Oct. 4, 1998.

Mon, 29 Sep 2014 21:40:00 +0000

PHOENIX (AP) Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer has been formally charged with assaulting his wife during two arguments in July at their Phoenix apartment.

An indictment publicly released late Friday charges Dwyer with felony aggravated assault and eight misdemeanors, including assault, criminal damage and disorderly conduct.

Investigators say Dwyer broke his wife's nose with a head-butt during a July 21 argument and engaged in a dispute the following day in which he punched his wife and threw a shoe at his 17-month-old son, who wasn't injured.

Dwyer had been booked on Sept. 17 on suspicion of aggravated assault against his son, but the indictment doesn't charge him with any crimes related to the child.

Prosecutors say it's not unusual for grand juries to return slightly different charges than those initially brought in a case.

A message left for Jared Allen, an attorney representing Dwyer, wasn't immediately returned Monday.

Police say the first dispute between the couple erupted after Dwyer's wife learned about his recent phone contact with another woman and came to believe her husband was cheating.

The arrest came at a time when the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell are under fire over a series of violent off-the-field encounters involving some marquee players, including Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy.

The NFL has said the Dwyer case will be reviewed under the league's personal-conduct policy. The day after his arrest, the Cardinals placed Dwyer on the reserve/non-football illness list, meaning he can't play for Arizona again this season.

An Oct. 6 status conference has been scheduled for Dwyer.

Tue, 30 Sep 2014 01:54:00 +0000

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) He was the third base coach who gave Kirby Puckett a high-five to punctuate his winning homer in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series.

He was the trusting candidate who took Minnesota's managing job when many thought the Twins were about to be contracted in 2002.

He was the affable everyman who presided over the team's turn-of-the-century renaissance and turned the AL doormat into a six-time division champion.

Ron Gardenhire was just about everything in the 27 years he spent in the Twins organization. But even he couldn't survive the worst four-year stretch in franchise history.

The Twins fired Gardenhire on Monday, saying it was time for a new voice after his 13-year tenure concluded with 383 losses over the last four seasons.

"The reason for this change, I think it's safe to say, the last couple years we have not won enough games," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "That's what it comes down to. It's nothing more, nothing less than that."

The move was made with one season left on Gardenhire's contract, ending the second-longest active tenure in the major leagues behind Mike Scioscia of the Angels.

Gardenhire played an integral role in the franchise's turnaround, guiding the Twins to the playoffs six times in nine seasons from 2002-10. But Gardenhire's teams only got out of the first round once, and his postseason record was 6-21 with the last win coming in 2004.

The Twins have long been the model of stability in not only baseball but major professional sports, with only two managers over the last 28 years and two general managers over the last 20 seasons.

But all the losing of late became too much to overcome. Over the last four years, the Twins went 78-148 from Aug. 1 on for an abysmal .345 winning percentage.

"I'm gone, I'm outta here because we didn't win," Gardenhire said. "That's what it gets down to in baseball. That's what it should get down to. You have to win on the field and these last four years have been tough for all of us."

The Twins finished this season at 70-92, making Gardenhire just the fourth manager in the game's history to preside over at least four straight 90-loss seasons with the same team, joining Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics (nine), Zach Taylor of the St. Louis Browns (four) and his predecessor with the Twins, Tom Kelly (four). Kelly returned for one more season after his streak, and he retired after an 85-77 finish in 2001.

"One of the things we hope to get back to here is a winning culture across our organization, and not just with the major leagues," Twins President Dave St. Peter said, later adding, "That's clearly one of the goals with this move is to jumpstart that. Not to say that Ron wasn't capable of that ... but I think we believe very strongly that we've gotten away from that in recent years."

In an era when job security for managers is seemingly measured in months, Gardenhire's longevity has been truly unique. The outspoken and fiery Gardenhire quickly became one of the faces of the franchise, as synonymous with the Twins as the interlocking T and C on their caps. He took over for the revered Kelly, who won two World Series championships, just as the organization was starting to regain its footing after years of bad baseball.

"I feel like he's my brother, not my manager," said a glassy-eyed Ryan, who has known Gardenhire dating to their days together in the New York Mets system in the 1980s.

Ryan spent some time away from the organization this year to get treatment for cancer. He said Monday that a recent physical came back favorable and that he will return to the Twins next season.

Ryan offered Gardenhire a chance to remain in the organization, but Gardenhire doesn't believe he's done managing just yet.

"I would have loved to have won a World Series, but that didn't happen," Gardenhire said. "Maybe it's still to come."

Gardenhire clashed with some players over the years, but there was an expectation and hope among the players that he would return.

"We as players had a responsibility to the organization, fans, and coaches to win this season," starting pitcher Phil Hughes tweeted. "We failed."

Gardenhire joined the organization in 1987 and was added to Kelly's staff in 1991. His record as Twins manager was 1,068-1,039. He won the American League Manager of the Year award in 2010, the last time the Twins not only made the playoffs but had a winning record.

"As good as it gets in my opinion. Comes to the park ready to win each and every day. Kind of a players' manager," second baseman Brian Dozier said last week. "Always in good spirits. He knows the game better than anybody I've been around. I 100 percent want him back."

The contracts of Gardenhire's coaches were expiring, but some of them could be brought back. Bench coach Paul Molitor is sure to be considered for Gardenhire's replacement, but Ryan's search will spread outside the organization, too.

"Sometimes people need to hear a different voice," Gardenhire said. "They need a new face. I just want this organization to win; I'll be rooting just like everybody else."

The run of futility has disillusioned a once-passionate fan base, with attendance in Target Field's fifth year the lowest for the Twins since 2004.

Owner Jim Pohlad said dwindling attendance had "virtually zero" impact on the decision and they would have brought Gardenhire back next season if Ryan recommended it.

"He connected with me and our family way more than any single person in our entire career as owners of the team," Pohlad said. "He's just a special guy. He's loved. He's loved by us. I'll always remember him as a winner."

Mon, 29 Sep 2014 02:45:00 +0000

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) Tony Romo wasn't trying to look like DeMarco Murray.

The 34-year-old Dallas quarterback instead showed everyone that his surgically repaired back is coming along just fine.

Romo threw three touchdown passes and Murray ran for a pair of scores in another 100-yard game - one of them after the longest scramble of Romo's career - in the Cowboys' 38-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night.

The Cowboys went up 31-3 when Romo broke free on third down and slid for the first down a play before Murray ran loose in the secondary, juked Jairus Byrd at the 10 and was pushed across the goal line by Corey White.

"It makes me feel old and the fact that I haven't gotten more than 21 yards is pretty pathetic," said Romo, whose previous long run was 17 yards despite a career known for scrambles that keep plays alive. "But other than that, it feels pretty great."

The Cowboys kept Drew Brees and the Saints scoreless in the first half after giving up an NFL-record 40 first downs in a 49-17 blowout loss in New Orleans last year.

Brees had touchdown passes to Josh Hill and Jimmy Graham early in the fourth quarter to get the Saints to 31-17 before the Cowboys regained control.

The former Texas high school star threw for 340 yards, but had just 84 yards with an interception while Dallas was building a 24-0 halftime lead after he had 838 yards with seven touchdowns and no picks in his previous two games against Dallas, both wins.

"I think we're a different team than we were last year," Romo said. "What you find is you forget it's the Saints and Drew Brees and just go play."

Dallas reached 3-1 for the first time under coach Jason Garrett after also starting 2-1 the three previous seasons. The Cowboys are tied with Philadelphia for the NFC East lead.

The Saints (1-3) couldn't sustain the momentum from their win over Minnesota and lost to the Cowboys in Texas for the first time since 1991.

"There's not going to be too much good to see in this film," New Orleans coach Sean Payton said. "We're 1-3 right now, and that's about how we're playing."

The Cowboys had 445 yards against former Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, who directed the scheme that led to one of the franchise's worst offensive performances in years last season, about 10 months after they fired him.

Romo was 22 of 29 for 262 yards without an interception. He finished an 80-yard drive to open the game with a 6-yard pass to a leaping Terrance Williams in the end zone and found him again for 23 yards to put Dallas up 24-0 with 19 seconds left in the first half.

Williams led Dallas with 77 yards receiving, and Bryant had an 18-yard scoring catch late in the fourth quarter to secure the second win for Dallas in the past 10 games against New Orleans.

Murray's first touchdown, a 15-yard run virtually untouched around right end, was set up when Bruce Carter tipped Brees' pass and Justin Durant intercepted it at the New Orleans 39.

The NFL's leading rusher joined Emmitt Smith as the only Dallas running backs with 100 yards in the first four games of a season, and he didn't fumble in the first quarter for the first time this season. He had 149 yards to push his season total to 534.

"DeMarco is inspirational," owner Jerry Jones said. "Glad to see him have a game that he didn't turn the ball over. About the time New Orleans was thinking about getting some life, he'd go out and make those yards."

Brees had 256 yards passing after halftime, and the Saints ended up with 438 total yards. But New Orleans had three turnovers to none for Dallas.

"We had our chances in the second half," Brees said. "But at the end of the day when you look at this game, the entire game, we got beat. We got beat in every facet of it."

After pulling to 31-17 early in the fourth quarter, the Saints had a chance to get closer, but a drive stalled and punter Thomas Morstead was tackled for a 2-yard loss while trying to throw a pass on a fake punt. That set up Bryant's clinching touchdown.

"Hindsight's probably 20-20," Payton said. "It was on the hash mark that we wanted, and they covered it pretty well."

NOTES: Cowboys K Dan Bailey's 51-yard field goal in the second quarter was 29th in a row. He broke Chris Boniol's franchise record of 27 last week at St. Louis. ... Saints RB Khiry Robinson had 87 yards rushing, 62 of them on a run that set up the touchdown to Hill. ... Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne left in the first quarter with a left knee injury. Jones said after the game the initial exam "was not encouraging."

Sun, 28 Sep 2014 15:34:00 +0000

GLENEAGLES, Scotland (AP) The tone was set by Rory McIlroy, the best player in the world. The winning shot came from Jamie Donaldson, a Ryder Cup rookie.

Europe added another layer to its Ryder Cup dominance on Sunday by leaving no doubt who had the best team, if not the best players. Behind two early comebacks that showed its resolve, Europe clinched the cup with four matches still on the course.

With a 16 1/2-11 1/2 victory, Europe kept that gold trophy for the eighth time in the last 10 tries.

McIlroy played some of his best golf this year - even for a guy who won the last two majors - by trouncing Rickie Fowler to put the first point on the board. Donaldson finished off the Americans with a 9-iron that settled 18 inches from the cup on the 15th hole at Gleneagles and set off the celebration.

"It came down to me to close it out," Donaldson said. "But it's all about the team."

That concept appeared lost on the Americans.

Not long after the closing ceremony, Phil Mickelson said the Americans have strayed from the winning formula at Valhalla in 2008 under Paul Azinger - their only victory in these matches dating to 1999. Even with U.S. captain Tom Watson sitting six seats away, Mickelson said that American team was invested in each other, which was different from Watson's style of doing it his way.

It was an awkward way to end another bad week for the Americans in the Ryder Cup.

Watson defended his philosophy, though he conceded he might have erred in using some players who were too tired, leading to a 10-6 deficit going into Sunday singles.

"The bottom line is they kicked our butts," Watson said. "They were better players this week."

Watson said he had a pit in his stomach watching the Americans blow a 10-6 lead two years ago at Medinah. The PGA of America brought him back as captain - at age 65, the oldest in Ryder Cup history - hopeful he could repeat some history. Watson was the last captain in 1993 to win on European soil.

It might not have mattered where this was played.

Graeme McDowell rallied from 3 down after five holes to close out his match against Jordan Spieth on the 17th hole. Justin Rose was 4 down after six holes when he won four straight holes with birdies against Hunter Mahan, and got up-and-down for birdie on the 18th to give Europe a half-point.

Rose went unbeaten for the week at 3-0-2.

That set the stage for Donaldson, a 38-year-old from Wales playing in his first Ryder Cup. He seized control over Keegan Bradley at the turn, and then it was a matter of when Europe could pop the champagne. Donaldson was so locked in on his task that he was unaware that he had retained the cup for Europe when he was 4 up with four holes to play. From 146 yards in fairway, he fired a 9-iron at the flag and let the club twirl through his hands.

It was close to perfect.

Watson walked over and shook his hand, and then put his arm around McGinley as they headed to the green. Bradley got onto the putting surface, and as soon as he saw Donaldson's ball next to the cup, he removed his cap and shook hands.

McGinley talked all week about a template of European success. The message was to embrace their role as the favorites, and to be proud that they had earned it. And the final instruction was to avoid complacency. Europe won the Sunday singles session for the second straight Ryder Cup.

"I didn't execute the plan. All these guys sitting at this table did," McGinley said with the 17-inch trophy on display. "I know how difficult it is to play in a Ryder Cup. I know when your heart is jumping out of your chest how incredibly excited and nervous you are. But we relish this challenge. We did it with a smile on our face, which is so important. And we did everybody proud."

The Americans had a few bright spots.

Patrick Reed went unbeaten as a rookie. Reed and Spieth had to settle for a half-point Saturday afternoon, in part because Reed missed a 2-foot putt. The gallery heckled him before he teed off against Henrik Stenson, and it inspired him. Reed rallied from an early deficit, putting his finger against his lips to hush the crowd, and he won the point on the 18th hole when Stenson missed a 4-foot putt. Reed went 3-0-1 and earned the most points for the Americans.

The three American rookies - Spieth, Reed and Jimmy Walker - contributed nearly half of the points for the U.S. team.

Going into the Ryder Cup, Watson had singled out Ian Poulter as the European with the best record and the man to beat. Poulter wound up playing only three matches and he didn't win any of them, settling for two halves.

It wasn't about Poulter, though. It was about Europe, a formidable team.

Sun, 28 Sep 2014 23:58:00 +0000

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) The San Francisco 49ers got Frank Gore involved in the offense again, and it returned them to their winning ways.

Hard-nosed defense helped, too.

Gore caught a career-best 55-yard touchdown and ran for 119 yards in his first 100-yard game of 2014, leading the San Francisco 49ers past Philadelphia 26-21 on Sunday to hand the Eagles their first loss.

The 49ers (2-2) avoided their first three-game losing streak under fourth-year coach Jim Harbaugh, containing the league's top passer. Nick Foles threw two incomplete passes from the 1 in the waning moments after gaining six first downs a lengthy drive, more than the five the Eagles managed before that.

Foles completed a 22-yard pass to Jeremy Maclin on the right sideline on that late drive. The 49ers challenged whether he had possession, but the play stood, costing the 49ers their final timeout.

The Eagles couldn't pull off the second-half magic that had carried them in their three wins.

On a day the 49ers gave up big plays on special teams, Gore delivered. Colin Kaepernick also threw a touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson and Phil Dawson kicked three field goals - two of at least 46 yards. Kaepernick finished 17 for 30 for 218 yards, two TDs and four sacks.

Darren Sproles had a career-best 82-yard punt return for a touchdown, Malcolm Jenkins ran an interception 53 yards for a score for the Eagles (3-1). Brad Smith recovered Trey Burton's blocked punt against Andy Lee for a TD.

The 49ers produced in the second half for the first time this season to give Harbaugh a win against former Pac-10 foe Chip Kelly.

Antoine Bethea intercepted his first pass with the 49ers and forced a fumble, then the secondary kept the pressure on in the red zone. Perrish Cox made an interception with 41 seconds left to seal it.

Gore's long scored from an off-balance throw by Kaepernick on the first play of the second quarter was the longest TD catch by a running back this season.

But on San Francisco's next series, Kaepernick threw right to Jenkins and he broke three tackles on the way to the end zone.

The 49ers won their first game at new Levi's Stadium, where thousands of fans skipped out at halftime.

San Francisco outgained the Eagles 232-73 in the first half, but still trailed 21-13. Then Johnson tiptoed both feet inbounds inside the left pylon in the third quarter for a 12-yard catch, the first second-half TD of the year for San Francisco, outscored 52-3 after halftime in its first three games.

Dawson kicked a 51-yarder before halftime, but the NFL's most-penalized team hurt itself with seven more flags for 60 yards in the first half and 10 total for 80 yards. The Eagles also had 10 penalties for 70.

San Francisco right tackle Anthony Davis made his season debut but went down on the final play of the first quarter when Kaepernick took a sack right into the back of Davis' left knee. Tight end Vernon Davis was sidelined with a back injury early in the third quarter; he missed last Sunday's loss at Arizona with a hurting left ankle.

Foles, who led the NFL in passer rating a year ago, was 21 for 43 for 195 yards and two interceptions.

Mon, 29 Sep 2014 00:44:00 +0000

Sonny Gray pitched Oakland into baseball's last playoff spot, shutting out King Felix this October.

David Price delivered the AL Central crown to Detroit, St. Louis scratched ace Adam Wainwright after wrapping up the NL Central.

And on a final day that featured Derek Jeter's farewell, Jordan Zimmermann injected even more drama by throwing a no-hitter preserved when Washington rookie Steven Souza Jr. made a catch for the ages.

"Just an epic day for an epic season," Nationals outfielder Denard Span said.

Going into Sunday's first pitch, not a single postseason matchup was set - plus the possibility of three tiebreakers loomed. Hours later, the brackets were all settled in Game 162.

Gray blanked Texas 4-0, helping the shaky Athletics hold off Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners for the second AL wild-card slot. The A's will open this year's postseason at Kansas City on Tuesday night, with Jon Lester facing the Royals' James Shields.

The Royals went 5-2 against the A's this season - both losses were to Lester.

For Oakland slugger Adam Dunn, it will be his first playoff appearance. He's been in 2,001 games, the most by any active major leaguer without reaching the postseason.

"I played scenarios of this day out in my head probably a thousand times," Dunn said.

On Wednesday night, Madison Bumgarner and San Francisco visit Edinson Volquez and Pittsburgh in the NL wild-card game.

The Pirates lost their chance to catch the Cardinals with a 4-1 loss to Cincinnati. No matter, they'll be back home at PNC Park, where they won the wild-card game last season.

"I expect it to be like last year: So loud you can't hear the ball off the bat," said Josh Harrison, who almost won the NL batting title.

Both of the best-of-five AL division series begin Thursday. It'll be the wild-card winner at the Los Angeles Angels and the Tigers at Baltimore.

In NL openers Friday, the wild card plays at Washington and the Cardinals are at the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Price, acquired by Detroit in late July to win big games, stopped Minnesota 3-0. The Tigers needed a victory to close out the Royals for the division title.

"On a day where we needed an enormous outing after giving up 20-something runs over the previous two, he stepped right up. He showed why he's a true No. 1," first-year Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said.

At Fenway Park, the World Series champion Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees were long gone from the playoff race. But the place was packed for Jeter's goodbye.

On his final swing, Jeter chopped an RBI single. He left to a rousing ovation, stopping to embrace Boston pitcher Clay Buchholz on the mound.

The 40-year-old Jeter left after 20 years with 3,465 hits, five World Series rings and no regrets.

"I felt like the time was right," he said. "My emotions were so all over the place on Thursday in New York, and when I got here I was ready; I was ready for my career to be over with."

The Nationals punctuated a season in which they had the NL's best record with an exclamation point - the first no-hitter in team history.

Zimmermann was in total control until two outs in the ninth, when Christian Yelich hit a deep drive. Souza, in left field as a defensive replacement, raced back into the gap and made a sensational diving grab.

Zimmermann winced when the ball was hit, figuring it was bound to be a "no-doubt double."

"And then he comes out of nowhere and makes that catch," Zimmermann said.

Sun, 28 Sep 2014 19:48:00 +0000

WASHINGTON (AP) One out away from pitching the Washington Nationals' first no-hitter, Jordan Zimmermann watched his 104th pitch on a crisp, clear Sunday afternoon get smacked toward deep left-center.

Zimmermann leaned his head back and winced. His first thought: "Double. No-doubt double."

"And then," the right-hander said later, "he comes out of nowhere and makes that catch."

Thanks to a dramatic, diving grab by little-used rookie Steven Souza Jr., who came on as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning, Zimmermann completed his gem, a 1-0 victory for the NL East champion Nationals over the Miami Marlins.

"I thought there was no way this would ever happen. My career numbers are something like one hit per inning, so I figure if I can make it out of the first, the hit's coming in the second," said the 28-year-old Zimmermann, a quiet guy who was a second-round draft pick in 2007 out of Division III University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. "But today was one of those special days."

Almost morphed into a one-hitter, though. With two outs in the ninth and a 2-1 count, Marlins leadoff man Christian Yelich turned on a 94 mph fastball over the plate.

Souza was shaded well over toward the left-field line at a coach's prompting.

"He probably couldn't have been more out of position," said right fielder Jayson Werth, who watched it all unfold from what became a nearly silent home dugout.

"I was just thinking to myself, `It is not optimal to be Steven Souza right now, because as soon as you come into the game, every time, the ball's going to find you,'" Werth said. "I had a feeling something crazy would happen. But not that crazy, that's for sure."

Souza sprinted, extended his glove and leaped for the sensational catch, using his bare hand to squeeze the ball in his mitt as he fell.

"The one thing on my mind is, no matter how I'm going to get there, I'm going to get there," Souza said. "Getting there, I kind of blacked out."

Souza held his glove aloft to show he had the ball. Zimmermann raised both arms. Nationals relievers in the home bullpen lifted their arms, too. So did thousands in the Nationals Park crowd of 35,085, who roared with every pitch late.

"I don't think anyone in the stadium expected Souza to get to that," Zimmermann said.

Indeed, Miami's Mike Dunn said he and other relievers in the left-field visitors' bullpen started cheering as the ball headed their way.

"When he caught it," Dunn said, "it was just like, `Really? Did that just happen?'"

Said Yelich: "With that on the line, that might be one of the best plays I've ever seen. Ever."

Souza jogged in and Zimmermann greeted him with a hug. Souza handed over the baseball, which Zimmermann shoved in his back pocket.

"It was too loud to hear everything he was saying," Souza said. "But I heard, `I love you' and `Thank you.'"

Souza's name now belongs alongside those of other players delivering superb catches to save no-hitters. The name that kept coming up in the Nationals' clubhouse was Dewayne Wise, the defensive replacement whose juggling, tumbling grab in the ninth saved Mark Buehrle's perfect game for the White Sox in 2009.

No major leaguer had thrown a no-hitter in Washington since Bobby Burke did it for the Senators in 1931 against Boston.

Quite a way to cap a regular season in which the Nationals finished with the NL's best record, 96-66. Washington hosts San Francisco or Pittsburgh in Game 1 of a division series Friday.

"Just an epic day for an epic season," said Denard Span, who set a Nationals season record with his 184th hit.

Zimmermann (14-5) struck out 10 and allowed only two baserunners. After retiring the first 14 batters, he walked Justin Bourn on a low, full-count fastball with two outs in the fifth. In the seventh, Garrett Jones reached first base on a strike-three wild pitch; moments later, catcher Wilson Ramos picked him off.

Zimmermann's accuracy was unassailable: 79 strikes and 25 balls.

Starting on seven days' rest because his pitching shoulder got bruised by a line drive his last time out, Zimmermann poured in fastballs in the mid-90s mph, used his mid-80s slider to great effect and had his changeup fooling a Marlins lineup without NL home-run champion Giancarlo Stanton.

It was the fifth time there has been a no-hitter on the final day of the season. Happened last year, too, when Henderson Alvarez of the Marlins did it against Detroit. On Sunday, Alvarez (12-7) was Miami's starting pitcher against Zimmermann, allowing Ian Desmond's 24th homer for the only run.

With only a few clouds and the first-pitch temperature at 79 degrees, Zimmermann didn't need a whole lot of defensive help until Souza's memorable play. That might have been a good thing, because Nationals manager Matt Williams pulled his starters as the game went on.

The closest Miami came to hits before Yelich were three liners in the fifth grabbed by backup infielders - Tyler Moore at first, Kevin Frandsen at third, and Danny Espinosa at shortstop.

"Three rockets, and right at guys," said Zimmermann, who had shaving cream in both ears from the on-field celebration. "That's when I knew there might be something special happening."

Frandsen wasn't so sure, saying: "Fifth inning's a little early to think, `He's got a no-hitter.'"

Maybe. But after the third, pitching coach Steve McCatty pulled Williams aside to point out that their initial plan to let Zimmermann have a light day's work with an eye to the postseason might not hold up.

"I said, `What do we do if we're going to give him six (innings) and he doesn't (allow) a hit?'" McCatty recounted. "He just looked at me and said, `That's not funny.' I said, `Well, there's a good chance that's going to happen.'"

Thanks in part to Souza, it did.

Sat, 27 Sep 2014 03:05:00 +0000

CHICAGO (AP) Kansas City's long postseason drought is over.

The Royals clinched a playoff spot for the first time in 29 years, beating the Chicago White Sox 3-1 on Friday night behind seven scoreless innings from Jeremy Guthrie.

Kansas City secured at least a wild card and ended the longest active postseason drought among the major North American sports leagues. Not since George Brett led the Royals to a World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985 had they reached the playoffs.

Small-market Kansas City endured more than its share of losing in recent years. But it contended into September last season and kicked down the playoff door on Friday.

Sat, 27 Sep 2014 02:48:00 +0000

WASHINGTON (AP) Kike Hernandez's grand slam, J.T. Realmuto's three-run triple and Adeiny Hechavarria's four hits helped the Miami Marlins beat the NL East champion Washington Nationals 15-7 for a split of a day-night doubleheader Friday.

After clinching home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs by winning the opener 4-0 on Doug Fister's three-hitter, Washington used only two regulars in the nightcap. One, right fielder Jayson Werth, had a single, double and triple and threw out a runner.

Realmuto, a catcher never above Double-A until this year, cleared the bases during Miami's five-run fifth against Washington's Taylor Hill (0-1), who was making his first major league start. Hernandez's first career slam came off Craig Stammen in the ninth. Miami had 22 hits.

A.J. Ramos (7-0) earned the win with a 1-2-3 eighth inning.

Sat, 27 Sep 2014 01:14:00 +0000

PHOENIX (AP) Just days from the end of an awful season, the Arizona Diamondbacks fired manager Kirk Gibson.

The firing was announced Friday, 15 minutes before a news conference to introduce new Diamondbacks general manager Dave Stewart.

"It was my trigger to pull," Chief Baseball Officer Tony La Russa said.

Bench coach Alan Trammell also was dismissed, but will stay on to manage the final three games, a weekend series against St. Louis.

"We just decided that being fresh, starting fresh with not just the upstairs leadership team but downstairs, is more consistent with what we are doing as an organization," La Russa said at the news conference.

Gibson took over as interim manager in 2010 when A.J. Hinch was fired, then got the job without the interim title. In 2011, his first full season, he led the Diamondbacks to the NL West title and was named major league manager of the year.

But his next two teams went 81-81, and this year, with a squad riddled with injuries, the Diamondbacks are assured at least a tie for the worst record in baseball. The Diamondbacks were 63-96 entering Friday night's game.

"I am extremely appreciative for this opportunity and I had a great experience with the Diamondbacks," Gibson said in a statement issued through the team. "I know we had a tough year and people will look at this as a negative, but we accomplished a lot of good things here. I told the team that I have nothing but the utmost respect for this organization and the people I've met along the way."

Gibson and Trammell were teammates on the 1984 Detroit Tigers team that won the franchise's most recent World Series.

La Russa called Trammell one of his favorite players and Gibson "one of the great competitors of our time."

"So it is really not a reflection on them," La Russa said. "I know that sounds a little hollow, but I'm always sincere when I am serious. The situation was unfair enough that the losses piled up, but we are making a fresh start. It made sense in the end to start fresh with the manager."

La Russa said Trammell was let go because he and Gibson "are so close."

Reliever Brad Ziegler, in his fourth season with Arizona, knows more changes are coming.

"There's going to be some player moves, too. It's not just coaching staff and front office changes," he said. "There's going to be some overhaul in the locker room, too."

Ziegler said the players are "all accountable for what we did on the field, and hopefully everybody can walk away from it knowing we did everything (we could). But going forward, there's no question they're going to demand more of us."

Arizona fired Kevin Towers as general manager earlier this month, but Towers stayed on to help La Russa while the GM search was completed. Towers was in the back of the room at the news conference, which mostly was dedicated to what Stewart and another newcomer, De Jon Watson, bring to the team.

"I'm looking forward to the day-to-day challenges of bringing a championship caliber team," Stewart said.

Watson, who came from the Dodgers organization, will hold a new position, senior vice president, baseball operations. He will concentrate on scouting amateur and professional players.

Injuries were a big part of the problem this year.

All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt had his season ended after four months by a broken hand after he was hit by a pitch from Pittsburgh reliever Ernesto Frieri.

Slugger Mark Trumbo, the team's key offseason acquisition, missed about two months because of a stress fracture in his left foot, and before the season, the Diamondbacks lost starter Patrick Corbin to Tommy John surgery.

Sat, 27 Sep 2014 00:16:00 +0000

BOSTON (AP) The Boston Celtics rebuilding project suffered a major setback when four-time All-Star Rajon Rondo underwent surgery Friday for a broken left finger.

The Celtics said the point guard is expected to miss six to eight weeks after breaking his finger in a fall at his home Thursday night. The team gave no further details.

Avery Bradley, a four-year veteran who signed a four-year contract in July to stay with the Celtics, is expected to fill in at point guard.

Bradley played that role last season during Rondo's 40-game absence following major knee surgery in the offseason. The Celtics also have second-year guard Phil Pressey and draft choice Marcus Smart. In 30 games last season, Rondo averaged 11.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 33.3 minutes.

Rondo had been the subject of trade speculation for several years. That continued after the Celtics finished with the third worst record in club history, 25-57, last season under first-year head coach Brad Stevens.

Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, has said he has no intention of trading Rondo but indicated the eight-year veteran can become a free agent after the coming season. Ainge also has said no one is untradeable.

Rondo's surgery came one day after the Celtics continued tinkering with their roster by making a trade that sent guard Keith Bogans and two future Sacramento second-round draft picks to the Cleveland Cavaliers for forwards Dwight Powell, Erik Murphy and Malcolm Thomas, guard John Lucas III, 2016 and 2017 second-round picks and a trade exception.

The Celtics also waived guard Chris Babb and guard-forward Chris Johnson.

Sat, 27 Sep 2014 04:38:00 +0000

BOSTON (AP) Nineteen years into his Hall of Fame career, Derek Jeter may have produced his final "first."

The New York Yankees shortstop asked out of the lineup for Friday night's 3-2 win over the Boston Red Sox - something neither Jeter nor manager Joe Girardi could remember him ever doing before.

Jeter watched the opener of his final major league series from the dugout, taking it easy a day after his walk-off single finished off an emotional farewell to Yankee Stadium.

"I don't think I really slept - maybe a couple of hours," Jeter told reporters. "I don't know if I could play tonight if I was playing tonight. Last night was as special as it gets."

Since announcing in spring training that this would be his final season, Jeter has been celebrated across the major leagues, collecting gifts at each stop and applause from former opponents and their fans. Then came his final home game, when the pregame cheers were surpassed by the postgame celebration after he led the Yankees to another win.

"I was thinking how fitting it was, what a great night it was," Girardi said before Friday's game. "I'm sure he's emotionally drained, probably physically drained."

With both the Yankees and Red Sox eliminated from playoff contention, Girardi compiled a lineup missing many of his regulars and joked that it looked more like spring training roster. Eury Perez batted in Jeter's familiar No. 2 spot - and collected his first major league hit - and Brendan Ryan played shortstop.

Jeter said he would be back in the lineup on Saturday and Sunday - but as designated hitter, so his final memories as a shortstop would be in Yankee Stadium. Girardi told Jeter he could play any position but pitcher or catcher this weekend if he had the urge - including manager.

Jeter declined.

"I don't pay attention enough," he said. "When I'm not playing, I'm all over the place."

A 14-time All-Star and five-time World Series champion, Jeter has collected 3,463 hits in his career along with the near-universal respect from teammates and opponents alike. Even in Boston, where fans hate the Yankees like no other team, most of the animosity was reserved for Alex Rodriguez or Red Sox defectors like Johnny Damon and Roger Clemens.

The sold-out crowd, peppered with fans in pinstriped No. 2 jerseys, chanted Jeter's name in the second inning - something that would not have been tolerated a decade ago, when Bostonians wore profane T-shirts about Jeter and argued that Nomar Garciaparra was a better shortstop.

Since then, though, the Red Sox have ended their eight-decade World Series drought - winning three titles in 10 years, in fact - and the rivalry has lost some of its edge.

"I think after they won - I don't want to say they softened up, I would say I think they're kinder," said Jeter, who ventured onto the streets of Boston for lunch on Friday afternoon and was greeted warmly. "People were saying, `Congratulations for the career. I'm a Red Sox fan and I hate the Yankees, but I respect you.'

"Even when I was walking here through the stands, people were cheering. I remember in 1999, when I was here for the All-Star Game ... I remember getting out of the car and I thought they were going to kill me. Funny how things have changed."

And the feeling is mutual.

Although his night off no doubt disappointed those who bought a ticket for an otherwise meaningless game hoping to see a part of history, Jeter said he would play the final two games of the season out of respect for the rivalry.

"It's always difficult at this point because everybody wants to see him," Girardi said. "I think Derek understands the magnitude of the rivalry and the importance of it in the game of baseball. ... I think there's a huge amount of respect too for what these organizations have done for the game of baseball."

Red Sox manager John Farrell said Jeter's Yankee Stadium finale was special, and he expects the good feelings to surround this weekend, too.

"The game has an incredible way of creating unique opportunities," Farrell said. "His 3,000th hit is a solo home run, his last at-bat at Yankee Stadium is a walk-off. The game provides us opportunities that embed memories, and that's certainly one of them."

Elsewhere in baseball, they were also talking about Jeter.

"When you look at great players, you look at them as the heat turns up, they get calm," Washington Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "Not everybody can do that. But he's one of them that can. ... That's why he got the hit last night. Because the situation is never too big for him."

---

AP Sports Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington, D.C., and freelancer Ken Powtak in Boston contributed to this report.

Wed, 24 Sep 2014 23:12:00 +0000

CANANDAIGUA, N.Y. (AP) After more than six weeks in limbo, NASCAR star Tony Stewart finally got the news he had been hoping for.

A grand jury that heard testimony from more than two dozen witnesses, including accident reconstruction experts and drivers, and looked at photographs and video decided against bringing criminal charges against Stewart for the death of 20-year-old sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. during an Aug. 9 race.

That doesn't mean it's over.

A few hours after Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo announced the grand jury's decision in this upstate New York hamlet, the Ward family indicated in a statement read over the telephone by sister Kayla Herring that they will seek civil damages in the young driver's death.

"Our son got out of his car during caution when the race was suspended. All the other vehicles were reducing speed and not accelerating except for Stewart, who intentionally tried to intimidate Kevin by accelerating and sliding his car toward him, causing the tragedy," the family said Wednesday. "The focus should be on the actions of Mr. Stewart. This matter is not at rest and we will pursue all remedies in fairness to Kevin."

The family might have a difficult task: Tantillo disclosed that Ward was under the influence of marijuana the night he died and said two different videos were enhanced, frames were isolated and viewed at at least three different speeds and finally overlaid with grids and data. Both showed Stewart had done nothing wrong.

"The videos did not demonstrate any aberrational driving by Tony Stewart until the point of impact with Kevin Ward, at which point his vehicle veered to the right up the track as a result of the collision. Prior to that, his course was pretty straight," said Tantillo. He added that toxicology evidence from Ward's autopsy "indicates that at the time of operation he was under the influence of marijuana. The levels determined were enough to impair judgment."

Stewart's reaction was not one of celebration, and his statement had the same twinge of sadness that he's carried since he returned to NASCAR three weeks ago following three weeks of seclusion after Ward's death.

The 43-year-old NASCAR superstar acknowledged the investigation was "long and emotionally difficult" but noted it allowed time for all the facts to be presented.

"This has been the toughest and most emotional experience of my life, and it will stay with me forever. I'm very grateful for all the support I've received and continue to receive," he said. "While much of the attention has been on me, it's important to remember a young man lost his life. Kevin Ward Jr.'s family and friends will always be in my thoughts and prayers."

David Weinstein, a former state and federal prosecutor in Miami who is not involved in the case, said the toxicology evidence will make it difficult for the Wards to win a lawsuit against Stewart. He said the Ward statement showed the family was "clearly upset and at a vulnerable point."

"Hopefully, someone will explain to them that Kevin will be dragged through the mud during a civil trial," he said. "After the results of the toxicology report and the findings of the grand jury, the deep pockets will not be willing to settle this lawsuit so quickly."

The decision came nearly seven weeks after Stewart's car struck and killed Ward, sending shock waves through the top racing series in the United States. The brash and popular NASCAR driver known as "Smoke" skipped three races as he grieved, and returned to racing in late August. One of the biggest stars in the garage, Stewart has 48 career Cup wins in 542 starts but is winless this year and did not make the championship Chase field.

Sheriff Philip Povero spent weeks investigating, several times saying he did not have evidence to suggest Stewart meant to harm the other driver.

Authorities said the first car to pass Ward had to swerve to miss hitting him. The front of Stewart's car appeared to clear Ward, but Ward was struck by the right rear tire and hurtled through the air. He died of blunt force trauma.

The sheriff asked in the days after Ward's death for spectators to turn over photos and videos of the crash as investigators worked to reconstruct the accident. Among the things being looked at were the dim lighting, how muddy it was and whether Ward's dark firesuit played a role in his death, given the conditions.

Tantillo also said two videos - one from a fan, the other from the tiny track in Canandaigua - had been examined and enhanced. The grand jurors "were not considering whether anybody else was at fault," Tantillo said.

"However, I am sure from their deliberations and discussions that the fact that Kevin Ward was observed running basically down two thirds of the track, into a hot track, into the middle of other cars that were racing, played a big, big factor in their decision," he said. "Realistically, I think judgment is probably the most important factor in this case."

Stewart vowed to cooperate in the investigation but he did not testify before the grand jury. He issued a brief statement expressing deep sadness and then dropped off the radar, missing races at Watkins Glen, Michigan and Bristol before coming back for the Aug. 31 race at Atlanta.

Stewart's peers were protective of him as questions emerged in the aftermath of the crash, and it pained them that Stewart was grieving in private and had cut off communication with so many of them. They welcomed him back in Atlanta, two CEO's from his top sponsors stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him before the race in a sign of support, and fans gave him a robust cheer, too.

NASCAR spokesman Brett Jewkes said there were "no winners" in the accident and expressed support for Ward's family and Stewart. Current Chase leader and 2012 NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski tweeted after the marijuana disclosure: "Can't believe what I'm reading about Tony Stewart's case. Why didn't they release this sooner?!?!"

After Ward's death, NASCAR announced a rule that prohibits drivers from climbing out of a crashed or disabled vehicle - unless it is on fire - until safety personnel arrive. The series also cleared the way for Stewart to make its Chase for the Sprint Cup championship with a win, despite missing the three races.

Stewart, who is from Columbus, Indiana, has long been one of the most proficient drivers in racing, winning in every kind of series, from sprint cars to the elite Sprint Cup Series. He has for years taken part in little races in nondescript towns because he loves the thrill of the high horsepower, lightweight cars skidding around the dirt.

He rarely made his schedule public, popping up when he pleased, and he was welcome at the clay track at Canandaigua Motorsports Park the night before the NASCAR race in nearby Watkins Glen.

Fri, 26 Sep 2014 22:09:00 +0000

DOVER, Del. (AP) Tony Stewart's walk back to his motorhome was halted by a pair of old friends. Two longtime NASCAR participants stopped Stewart not far from his car for a lengthy chat in the Dover garage.

His firesuit stripped down to his waist, a freshly shaven Stewart smiled and laughed as the trio caught up shortly after the first Sprint Cup practice on Friday.

Kenny Wallace, a close friend and TV analyst, put his hand on Stewart's right shoulder as they spoke and gave him a big hug when they finished.

Stewart's loyal friends have stood by his side in his toughest time.

So have the fans who roar for him during driver introductions and crowd his car, snapping pictures and shouting for autographs.

They've all stuck up for Smoke - and empathized with him in the bleakest moments following the fatal sprint car crash that killed Kevin Ward Jr.

"There is sort of a sickness or something in the pit of your stomach for what Tony is going through," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday.

Stewart seemed in good spirits at Dover International Speedway in his first race weekend since a grand jury decided he would not be charged in Ward's death.

"I'm sure there's some type of relief that it's kind of done," six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson said.

There could be some legal woes ahead. Ward's family has said "the matter is not at rest," and Stewart may still face a civil lawsuit.

For Stewart, the driver who inspired the (hash)StandWithSmoke movement on Twitter, the support has been appreciated, if not totally unexpected, from a racing community that always cares for its own.

"Racers have always taken care of racers," Stewart told AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer in his first interview since the crash. "You don't have to know `em for him to be a part of your family. That's what's so different about what we do versus other sports. It's just always been that way. But the support from the NASCAR community, the sprint car community, the racing community in general, has just been overwhelming."

And not just for Stewart, but Ward's family, as well. In Stewart's brief statement in his return at Atlanta Motor Speedway in late August, he mentioned Ward's parents and three sisters by name, saying he wanted them "to know that every day I'm thinking about them and praying for them."

Johnson and Earnhardt, two of NASCAR's biggest stars, both made mention of thinking of Ward and his family when they answered questions Friday.

"I feel sadness in my heart for the Ward family," said Earnhardt, whose father, Dale, was killed on the track in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Stewart has continued on as a fan favorite and stops to sign for fans on an autograph hunt in the garage.

He received a big cheer from the crowd when he was introduced in Atlanta. Many fans wrote notes of encouragement on the pavement at the entrance to his garage stall.

"Welcome back Tony."

"Go Get Em Smoke."

Stewart can't forget how the fans welcomed him back with open arms.

"It was one of the most flattering, if not the most flattering experience I've had in my life," he told the AP. "As much support as I got from the racing community, it showed me how much deeper it actually went. Through this whole thing, you get online and you read posts and you read blogs and you sit there and see people who are Jeff Gordon fans, or Jimmie Johnson fans or Carl Edwards fans, whoever, and read comments that do not like me but understand and it's not just been ... it's people who don't like me and don't pull for me racing, but were sympathetic of the situation."

Ward and Stewart had been racing for position when Ward crashed, exited his vehicle and walked down the dark dirt track in an apparent attempt to confront Stewart. A toxicology report found Ward also had marijuana in his system.

"The toxicology report is shocking to see," Johnson said.

Ward's condition was just the latest question in the aftermath of the crash. Did Stewart try and send his own message by buzzing Ward, only to have his risky move turn fatal? Or did Ward simply take his life into his own hands by stepping into traffic in a black firesuit on a dark track?

On the advice of legal counsel, Stewart would not describe what he remembers about the crash at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, but insists what happened "was 100 percent an accident."

"The end result is a talented driver lost his life," Stewart said. "Instead of being mindful of that, people are spending more time pointing fingers right now than they are helping a family grieve and understanding what happened."

Stewart starts 15th in Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Dover. Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick won the pole.

"You're worried about your friend, the circumstances that are surrounding him and how things could be dictated for the rest of his life," Harvick said. "Knowing how much it's weighed on him and all the things he has going on, for me personally, I'm happy for my friend."

Fri, 26 Sep 2014 21:22:00 +0000

MIAMI (AP) Luol Deng said Friday that he forgives Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry for making racially charged remarks about him, and hopes the two will work together to draw some sort of positive solution to the matter.

"I don't think Danny's racist," Deng said.

Deng signed with the Miami Heat this summer after strongly considering an offer from the Hawks, who are reeling from a pair of racially insensitive incidents. Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson said he would sell his controlling share of the team over comments made in email in 2012, and then came the revelation that Ferry referred to Deng as someone who "has a little African in him" on a conference call with team officials this summer.

Ferry was repeating comments that were made in a scouting report, the author of which remains unclear.

"It's not something I want to hold onto for the rest of my career or the rest of my life," Deng said. "I had a chance to speak to Danny. I really believe that he's really sorry for what he said. Whether it came from him or wherever it came from, I think the main focus really should be how we move on forward."

Ferry is taking an indefinite leave from the Hawks. He and Deng both played for Duke, though Deng - who is 18 years younger than Ferry - said he does not know him well.

Deng said he would like to see he and Ferry work together with an organization to advocate change, or find some other benefit.

"There's a lot of things we could do to turn it into a positive," Deng said.

The Hawks have said Ferry was disciplined internally for his comments, though the sanctions have not been released.

Heat forward Udonis Haslem said he was "shocked" that something like what was said about Deng would be said, especially so soon after the league since much of last season dealing with a racial issue involving former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

"There's certain mistakes that shouldn't be made," Haslem said.

Fri, 26 Sep 2014 22:03:00 +0000

ZURICH (AP) Under pressure from FIFA's independent prosecutor to unlock the secrecy that surrounds a World Cup bidding corruption probe, Sepp Blatter shut down that populist move Friday.

In doing so, the longtime president showed he remains as influential as ever - even as he moves closer to a fifth term leading football's governing body.

Blatter was in combative form at a news conference after a two-day executive committee meeting, and used his chance to seize back control of an agenda dominated for a week by ethics prosecutor Michael Garcia.

Still, even on a day when Blatter told his executive committee he intends to run for re-election next year, he had to spend more time talking about a corruption investigation when addressing the media.

Responding to public pressure on FIFA to publish a report into alleged corruption surrounding the bids for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup, Blatter said his body is bound by its ethics code to keep it secret. He also chided the chief investigator, former U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia, for issuing a press release Wednesday calling for FIFA's executive committee to publish his report, rather than contacting Blatter personally.

"The FIFA president or secretary general have not had any demands or requests from Mr. Garcia to speak with us," Blatter said Friday. "The only contact that we have had ... was his press releases."

The probe centers on alleged corruption in the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding contests won by Russia and Qatar, and several executive committee members who joined since the December 2010 votes had backed Garcia's views this week. However, those voices apparently fell silent during Friday's meeting.

"Most of the requests coming for the publication of this report were from people (that) were not there on the second of December (2010) when the decision was taken," Blatter said. "Today there was not any longer any requests from any of these members in the FIFA to publish this report."

The issue will now likely quiet down until November. Then, FIFA ethics judge Joachim Eckert should be done reading the first-draft reports from Garcia's team.

Garcia can request opening formal cases against FIFA board members and final verdicts are expected around April. Eckert has suggested he will limit sanctions to individuals, and leave Blatter's board to decide on possible action against Russia or Qatar.

In another comment that could invite criticism from those seeking more transparency within FIFA, Blatter also rejected the idea of a televised public debate with election opponents in 2015.

"We shall not imitate all what is done in politics," the veteran Swiss official said.

At the age of 78, and after 16 years as president and 39 total years at FIFA, Blatter is preparing to stay through 2019.

"I am still in good condition," said Blatter, adding he was accepting the "let's say, demands, pleas" from FIFA's member associations to remain their president.

"If I still feel well and if they want me, I am at their disposal because I want to go on serving," he said.

In other news:

- FIFA agreed to ban third-party investors from owning players' transfer rights. Detailed rules will be passed by March and phased in over up to four years. UEFA and players' union FIFPro had campaigned for action against the practice which is popular with agents and clubs in South America, Spain and Portugal. UEFA said it threatened the integrity of competitions and players' freedom by promoting regular transfers to cash in profits.

- FIFA added the centenary Copa America to the international schedule for 2016. That means clubs will be obliged to release players for the 16-nation tournament, which is set to be hosted by the United States.

- FIFA will send experts to Canada to survey artificial turf playing surfaces for the 2015 Women's World Cup amid fierce protests from U.S. players. A law suit alleging discrimination by FIFA will be filed in Ontario next week with support from players in Brazil, Germany and Spain.

- Gibraltar's bid for membership was rejected because the British overseas territory is not an independent state. Gibraltar hopes to be in the 2018 World Cup qualifying draw next July, and will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

- FIFA agreed to reduce capacity at two 2018 World Cup stadiums - in Kaliningrad and Yekaterinburg - to 35,000, lower than any of the 12 venues which hosted matches in Brazil.

Wed, 24 Sep 2014 17:15:00 +0000

WASHINGTON (AP) The NFL players' union has hired former federal prosecutor Richard Craig Smith to oversee its investigation into the Ray Rice domestic violence case.

Smith will look at how the league and the Baltimore Ravens handled issues of due process and discipline, as well as look at the conduct of the league office and the Ravens that led to the indefinite suspension Commissioner Roger Goodell gave to Ray Rice.

The Ravens also cut Rice after video of him punching his then-fiancee in a hotel elevator went public. Originally, Goodell had given Rice a two-game suspension.

Rice and the NFL Players Association have appealed his suspension.

A former federal prosecutor, Smith is the head of regulatory and governmental investigation for the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright.

The union said in a statement Wednesday it "will request that the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens cooperate in the interest of transparency."

Thu, 25 Sep 2014 01:27:00 +0000

PHOENIX (AP) The Phoenix Suns and point guard Eric Bledsoe have reached agreement on a five-year, $70 million contract, capping a long, sometimes-tense negotiation to keep him in the desert.

The deal Wednesday is considerably more than the four-year, $48 million the Suns initially offered but well below the five-year, $80 million-plus maximum contract Bledsoe's agent, Rich Paul, sought for the restricted free agent.

The sides didn't budge in the negotiations until talks finally progressed in the last few days.

"All summer, I knew that I really would be most comfortable coming back to Phoenix because of the great fans, my Suns teammates and our coaches," Bledsoe said in a statement released by the team. "I am very happy it was able to work out this way."

Bledsoe faced an Oct. 1 deadline to sign a $3.7 million qualifying offer to play for the Suns this season, then become an unrestricted free agent.

"I learned long ago that it doesn't matter how stormy the sea is as long as the ship comes in, and today we are thrilled that the ship has come in and Eric will remain a Sun for a long time," Suns president of basketball operations Lon Babby said in a statement. "He will be an integral part not only of our basketball team, but our Phoenix community."

The Suns see Bledsoe as a critical part of their double point-guard system. He missed much of last season after undergoing his second surgery to repair a meniscus in his right knee.

When Bledsoe teamed with fellow point guard Goran Dragic last year, the Suns won two-thirds of their games. But injuries kept the duo apart, most significantly the knee surgery.

While the Suns coveted Bledsoe's skills - particularly his drives to the basket and defense - as well as his obvious upside, they balked at giving the 24-year-old guard a max contract but felt highly enough of him to give a rich deal.

"We are thrilled Eric Bledsoe will be in a Phoenix Suns uniform for years to come," general manager Ryan McDonough said. "Eric is one the most exciting and dynamic two-way players in the league. He played very well for us on both ends of the floor last season and we feel he is well on his way to establishing himself as one of the elite players in the NBA."

Despite Bledsoe's knee injury, the Suns won a surprising 48 games and just missed the playoffs.

Bledsoe was the backup to Chris Paul with the Los Angeles Clippers before the Suns acquired him and Caron Butler in a three-team trade that sent journeyman forward Jared Dudley to the Clippers and a second-round draft pick to Milwaukee.

Bledsoe had knee surgery in October of 2011, then again last January.

Injuries limited him to 43 games last season, 40 as a starter. He averaged 17.7 points and 5.5 assists.

"Lon, Ryan and the Suns have shown confidence in me, and I am looking to take that responsibility and help our team get better from last year and position ourselves to win an NBA championship," Bledsoe said. "It's why I came back to Phoenix.

Dragic, carrying a bigger load when Bledsoe was out, had a breakout season, averaging 20.3 points and 5.9 assists, shooting 50.5 percent from the field, 41 percent from 3-point range. The Suns added a third point guard to the mix in the offseason, signing high-scoring free-agent Isaiah Thomas.

Wed, 24 Sep 2014 03:31:00 +0000

NEW YORK (AP) The fans came to their feet one more time, cheering and chanting and pleading for Derek Jeter to deliver one more big hit.

Not this time for Jeter, not this year for the New York Yankees.

Jeter struck out on three pitches with a runner on first to end the game, and the Yankees were pushed to the brink of playoff elimination Tuesday night with a 5-4 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

"Every game is must-win," Jeter said.

The Yankees fell five games behind for the second AL wild card with only five games left.

Jeter extended his hitting streak to seven on his last homestand, but took two shaky swings against Orioles closer Zach Britton in the ninth.

"You're thinking that he's going to hit a home run or he's going to hit a ball in the gap, we're going to tie the score," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "But it didn't happen, unfortunately."

Jeter said he heard the crowd noise, but was focused on trying to keep a rally going. Brett Gardner beat out an infield hit with two outs, bringing up Jeter.

"For me, I'm trying to take the approach that I'm trying to play a game," he said. "My approach doesn't change."

Jeter has two more home dates scheduled before he retires. The Yankees then conclude the regular season this weekend in Boston.

And, it looks as though there might be rain when Jeter ends his reign in the Bronx.

The 40-year-old shortstop is set to play his final game at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night against Baltimore. The National Weather Service forecast called for a 70 percent chance of showers during the day, tapering off to 20 percent at night.

"I'm told the weather forecast for Thursday isn't all that bad, and the rain should be out of here. But I am worried about it, and I'll continue to worry about it," Commissioner Bud Selig said at Yankee Stadium before Tuesday night's game.

"The commissioner can control a lot of things, but, damn it, all the weather isn't one of them. But, hopefully - because that's a magnificent day here, and I have great faith in the Yankees they'll somehow get that game in."

Girardi wasn't sure what would happen if Jeter and the Yankees were rained out.

"That's a great question," he said. "I'm sure it would upset a lot of people."

With Jeter's career winding down, he said he hasn't made any decisions about playing the last three regular-season games at Fenway Park.

"I can't think about Boston. I'm thinking about tonight's game, just like I can't think about tomorrow or Thursday," he said before taking on the Orioles. "I just haven't been wired that way, to think that far in advance. I just take it one game at a time. It's a better question for when I get there."

Girardi said that if the Yankees were still in the playoff race, he figured Jeter would be in the lineup every day. If they're eliminated, Girardi said he planned to talk to Jeter "on a daily basis" to see his preferences.

"I'm going to ask him and leave it to him," Girardi said.

Last year, with the Yankees eliminated and going into the final games of the season at Houston, there had been talk that career saves leader Mariano Rivera would fulfill a longtime wish by playing center field.

But coming off a touching scene in which Jeter and teammate Andy Pettitte walked to the mound to pull Rivera from his last appearance at Yankee Stadium, the great closer never played again.

"Mo just kind of wanted it to end that way," Girardi said.

As for Jeter's last game, "I can't really script it," manager said.

"What happened with Mo just came to me at that moment," Girardi said. "Whatever happens, happens."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Yankees: 1B Mark Teixeira returned to the lineup after missing two games because of his ailing right wrist and went 1 for 4. He recently had a third cortisone shot. The oft-injured Teixeira said he plans to take only a week off this winter, rather than a month. "I definitely need to get stronger. Full body, especially the wrist," he said.

UP NEXT

In Jeter's next-to-last game scheduled at Yankee Stadium, Orioles RHP Bud Norris (14-8, 3.62 ERA) pitches against RHP Shane Greene (5-3, 3.24). The early start time of 1:05 p.m. is because of Rosh Hashana, which begins at dusk.

ALEX THE WAIT

Selig was at the stadium to present an award to Jeter, and was asked about the possible return of New York third baseman Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod was suspended this season after baseball's Biogenesis investigation.

"He's entitled to come back next year, and that's a situation between him and the New York Yankees," Selig said.

SWING AND A MISS

Yankees pitchers fanned 11 and have now struck out 1,319 this year, breaking the team record set in 2012.

Wed, 24 Sep 2014 00:35:00 +0000

NEW YORK (AP) Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig hopes one day Derek Jeter will own a team after the 40-year-old shortstop retires as a player.

The New York Yankees captain, playing his 20th and final major league season, says owning a team is the only job in baseball that interests him.

"He'd be fabulous," Selig said at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday after presenting Jeter with the Commissioner's Historic Achievement Award. "Anything I can do to help him, I will do. I think that much of him. He's thoughtful. Understands the sport. It would be a great thing in every way."

Jeter, sixth on baseball's career hits list, has said managing, coaching and broadcasting don't interest him. He will spend time working on his Turn 2 Foundation and business ventures such as Jeter Publishing, a partnership with Simon & Schuster, and Luvo, a food company encouraging healthy nutrition that also struck an agreement with the Yankees.

Jeter, who lives in Tampa, Florida, has said there is no way to anticipate when a baseball ownership opportunity will arise.

"It's a little too early yet, but I would help him in every way," Selig said, "and I think he would be tremendous."

Selig presented Jeter with a $222,222 check for his Turn 2 Foundation and called him "the finest ambassador that I could have hoped for throughout my entire tenure as commissioner."

He praised Jeter's parents, saying "they did a remarkable job in a tough era of raising a great young man,"

"When I was a kid, as I've reminisced here today, my favorite player was Joe DiMaggio," Selig said. "And what Joe D. meant to my generation is what Derek has meant to his. And I've been overjoyed to see Derek join the heroes of my youth: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and all the other greats."

Tue, 23 Sep 2014 18:21:00 +0000

NEW YORK -- Derek Jeter has had as close to perfect a career as a major leaguer can have. Still, five years from now, don't expect the New York Yankees' captain to be a unanimous selection to baseball's Hall of Fame.

That's not a knock. He'd be in pretty impressive company.

Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Cal Ripken Jr. all dominated the game, and all came up short. Tom Seaver, the top vote-getter by percentage, was left off five ballots.

If there's anyone worthy of 100 percent approval from the voters in the Baseball Writers' Association of America, Jeter could be it.

MORE: Ominous forecast for home finale  |  Selig honors Jeter

"He's so revered," Hall spokesman Brad Horn said. "He's reached iconic status probably at a more national standard of any player of his lifetime."

The 40-year-old shortstop's model career for the major's most storied franchise will come to an end Sunday after two decades, save a baseball miracle. Five World Series championships, sixth on the career hits list, 14 All-Star selections. He's the face of baseball, idolized by a generation of young stars from Troy Tulowitzki to Yoenis Cespedes to Mike Trout. And he played through the Steroids Era without the slightest tarnish.

What then could possibly prevent No. 2 from receiving affirmation from all 500-plus voters on the class of 2020 ballot?

Plenty, it turns out.

Election to the Hall of Fame requires 75 percent of the vote from writers with 10 consecutive years in the BBWAA at any point, a rigorous standard that produced no player electees in 2013. Writers can vote for up to 10 players - there were 36 on the ballot this year with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas gaining entry.

Seaver received 98.84 percent of the vote in 1992. Ripken, credited with helping revive baseball after the 1994-95 strike by breaking the consecutive games record set by Lou Gehrig, failed to impress eight voters and was third by percentage at 98.53. Aaron? Nine people didn't vote for the home run king, and he's sixth on the list at 97.83.

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"I do not consider a unanimous vote important for the simple reason that it is nearly impossible for between 500 and 600 people to agree completely on any one thing," BBWAA Secretary-Treasurer Jack O'Connell said. "It is hard enough to get the 75 percent required for election."

Election to the Hall is not based solely on statistics. Consideration of integrity, character and sportsmanship are integral.

That's where it gets complicated.

Stars such as home run king Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire have fallen way short of the minimum because many writers refuse to vote for anyone who has admitted using performance-enhancing drugs or been accused. Two voters who revealed their secret ballots this year, Ken Gurnick and Larry Rocca, left Maddux off because the 355-game winner played during the Steroids Era, even though no one suggested he used PEDs.

Gurnick submitted just one name, Jack Morris, who fell short of the 75 percent threshold in his final year on the ballot. Others have returned blank ballot in protest of PED users.

Writers have left names off their ballot specifically because no one has been a unanimous selection.

Others have withheld votes from superstars in order to throw support to a candidate they may think needs more help. Some players were left off ballots because they had contentious relationships with members of the media. One gave his vote to Deadspin - he was banned from voting again.

"Voting for the Hall of Fame is a subjective exercise," Horn said. "The Baseball Hall of Fame has entrusted the BBWAA since the very first election in `36 to provide strong council, good judgment and make very representative selections of what the Hall of Fame stands."

Ruth's feats on the field and his shenanigans off it made him one of the most famous people in America. Yet, he was omitted from 11 ballots and got just 95.13 percent of the vote in 1936. Perhaps his carousing had an influence on the writers.

Jeter doesn't have that problem, though, and that is in part what makes him the perfect candidate for perfection.

"If there's going to be a first-time unanimous choice for the Hall of Fame, it should be him," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

Tue, 23 Sep 2014 23:43:00 +0000

NEW YORK (AP) NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and chief assistant Troy Vincent were told by 11 former players Tuesday that the league must act immediately when someone is accused of domestic violence.

At a 3 1/2-hour meeting to discuss ways to improve the league's personal conduct policy, the former players also said teams must be held accountable when players misbehave.

"One question asked around the room was, when an arrest occurs, do you take them off the field or let them play and let the due process take care of itself?" said Vincent, the NFL's vice president of football operations. "To a man, they said, `Take them off the field, pay them, and let due process take care of itself."'

At the meeting were Hall of Famer Mike Singletary, plus Matt Birk, Eddie Mason, Patrick Kerney, Willie McGinest, Roman Oben, Marty Lyons, Charles Way, Tony Paige, Scott Turner and Robert Porcher. More weekly meetings are planned among league officials and former players, current players and team owners.

"I felt like the clock was on after last Friday and the clock was on that we can't talk to enough people," Vincent said of a news conference at which Goodell announced the league will re-examine how and when it should discipline players for violating the policy.

"You begin this discussion with people it means the most to: the players and the owners," Vincent added. "Let's begin by bringing in some of our `thought leaders."'

The NFL has faced heavy criticism of its personal conduct policy after incidents this year involving Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy, Ray McDonald and Jonathan Dwyer. Goodell repeatedly has said he mishandled the punishment of Rice for punching his then-fiancee in a hotel elevator.

Vincent said the meeting became emotional at times as the players stressed the importance of "making sure everyone is accountable."

Singletary, the great former Bears linebacker, pointed out the need to "find who is most influential person in this person's life" and then get the message across that if the player can't accept societal and league rules, "the lines are long behind them, and the people on those lines are ready to step up and assume the responsibility."

Vincent said he felt the league got a bit closer to finding solutions to swifter and more emphatic punishments for players who violate the personal conduct policy.

"You can't negotiate the game," Vincent said, his voice cracking. "The one thing we all got to fight for ... we are talking about the game and we all got to be all-in. We all have got to answer the questions of where are we today, how did we get here, why is this happening, how do we stop this and manage this?

"We don't have time to wait on anybody to give us direction. There is one thing we don't negotiate, it's the game."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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