Bengals, Niners Walk Off to Conference Title Games
The Cincinnati Bengals continue to make franchise history this season with their run behind quarterback Joe Burrow, as they walked off to the AFC Championship Game on Saturday afternoon with a 19-16 win over the Tennessee Titans. Rookie Evan McPherson made his fourth field goal of the game, a 52-yarder as time expired, this after allegedly calling his shot to Burrow before doing so. A Ryan Tannehill interception with under 30 seconds left in regulation set up the fourth game-winner of the year for McPherson, giving the Bengals their first road playoff win in franchise history. They were 0-7 away from home in the postseason before this, and this comes one week after snapping a 31-year playoff victory drought against the Las Vegas Raiders. Tannehill threw three interceptions on the day, setting up two McPherson field goals, and Ja'Marr Chase's 19-yard reception from Burrow set up the final and most important one. Chase had 109 yards receiving on the day, while Joe Mixon ran in for the Bengals' only touchdown in the third quarter. Derrick Henry made his return from a broken foot for the Titans, scoring on a wildcat play and had 66 yards on the ground. The Titans have now dropped three straight playoff games on their home field, failing to get a home playoff win since January 2003. Burrow had 348 yards passing and an interception becoming just the second quarterback to win a playoff game despite getting sacked nine times. Cincinnati will now visit the winner of the Buffalo Bills-Kansas City Chiefs showdown on Sunday night.
The Green Bay Packers did not wait until the NFC Championship Game to fall short of a Super Bowl run as a top seed, as the San Francisco 49ers played spoiler on the road Saturday night. Robbie Gould connected on a 45-yard field goal as time expired, sending the Niners to their second straight playoff win and the NFC Title Game with a 13-10 victory at Lambeau Field. Gould has made all of his 20 career field goal attempts in the playoffs, and this one was huge, setting up the 17th Conference Championship in franchise history, the most by any team since 1970. The big win was set up by a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, which tied the game at 10-apiece. This may have very well been the final game for Aaron Rodgers with Green Bay, as they haven't made it to the Super Bowl since winning it all in 2010. Rodgers has admitted to keeping all options open, and if this was the last time, he finished by going 20-of-29 for 225 yards and fell to 0-4 against the Niners in the playoffs. San Francisco will visit the winner of Sunday's Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Los Angeles Rams contest in the NFC Title Game on January 30th.
Auburn Beats Kentucky For 15th Straight; Tennessee Pulls Away From LSU
The second-ranked Auburn Tigers continued their program record run to start the season on Saturday afternoon, winning their 15th straight game by taking out the 12th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats, 80-71. Walker Kessler led the way with 19 points, while K.D. Johnson added 17 points for the Tigers, who are 18-1 overall and a perfect 7-0 in SEC conference play. Auburn trailed by as many as 10 on their home floor, but they continued to fight and hand the Wildcats their fourth loss. This is a team, led by coach Bruce Pearl, who is sitting in their highest ranking in program history, and they took advantage of the road team's second-leading scorer TyTy Washington leaving after just eight minutes and four points due to an ankle injury. Jabari Smith was also big for the Tigers with 14 points and seven rebounds, and they sealed the victory once jumping back ahead by making their first 15 free throws of the second half. The Wildcats were led by Oscar Tshiebwe's 16 points, 14 rebounds, and four blocked shots, but they dropped to 5-2 in SEC play.
The 24th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers got back at the 13th-ranked LSU Tigers on their home floor Saturday night, pulling away for a 64-50 win. The win helps avenge a 12-point loss to the Tigers from two weeks ago, as Santiago Vescovi led the way with 16 points to power the Vols to their 13th win and fourth in conference play. Tennessee used a 14-0 run to pull away in the first half, and then an 8-2 spurt in the second half to build on a five-point halftime lead. Vescovi shot four of seven from beyond the arc in the first half and added six rebounds, while Uros Plavsic added 12 points and six rebounds down low. The loss for the Tigers is their third in a row, dropping them under .500 at 3-4 in conference play. Tari Eason had 16 points in the loss, while Brandon Murray added 15, as LSU dropped to 15-4 overall on the season.
Other key scores around the country saw the seventh-ranked Kansas Jayhawks rally from a 17-point deficit to top the Kansas State Wildcats, 78-75. Adam Flagler had 16 points as the fifth-ranked Baylor Bears topped the Oklahoma Sooners, 65-51. Johnny Juzang finished with 23 points as the ninth-ranked UCLA Bruins held off the Colorado Buffaloes, 71-65. A.J. Griffin went five of nine from three-point range in the sixth-ranked Duke Blue Devils' 79-59 rout of the Syracuse Orange. And a couple upsets saw TCU take out 15th-ranked Iowa State, 59-44, while Missouri State bested 22nd-ranked Loyola Chicago, 79-69.
Suns, Bucks, Cavs Take Care of Business at Home
The Phoenix Suns pulled away late on Saturday night, slowing down the upset-minded Indiana Pacers with a 113-103 home win. Mikal Bridges tied a season-high with 23 points, while Bismack Biyombo got a career-high tying 21 points to go with 13 rebounds, as the Suns got their sixth straight win. Chris Paul chipped in a double-double of 18 points and 16 assists, and the Suns moved to an NBA-leading 36-9, tying their best start through 45 games, which they have done on three separate occasions, most recently during the 2006-2007 season.
The Milwaukee Bucks held off the Sacramento Kings on their home floor for a 133-127 victory, their 30th of the season. Khris Middleton led the charge with 34 points on a night where Giannis Antetokounmpo got some rest. With the Greek Freak out, the entire team stepped up, with four starters finishing in double figures, and six players overall. Donte Divincienzo came off the bench with 20 points, while Jrue Holiday posted 26 points, five rebounds, and four assists. The Bucks' win moves them one game out of the top spot in the East, but they still have three teams in front of them.
The Cleveland Cavaliers rode the big nights from Darius Garland and Evan Mobley to hold off the Oklahoma City Thunder, 94-87, at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. Garland had 23 points and 11 assists, while Mobley posted 15 points with a season-high 17 rebounds for a Cavs team that led by as many as 17 points. Jarrett Allen also posted a double-double of 14 points and 13 rebounds in the paint, helping Cleveland to their sixth over the past seven games. The Thunder were once again led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who had 29 points, nine rebounds, and six assists, but they fell to 14-32, just a half game out of the last place spot in the West.
Bulls' Alex Caruso Out With Fractured Wrist
The Chicago Bulls' injury list got a little bit longer on Friday night, which was confirmed on Saturday afternoon, as guard Alex Caruso is expected to miss six to eight weeks with a fractured wrist. Caruso will undergo surgery for the injury, which was suffered following a hard flagrant foul from Grasyon Allen during Friday's 94-90 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. Allen was ejected from the game for the hard hit, as it resulted in a flagrant two foul. The former Los Angeles Laker attempted to play through the pain, but his wrist continued to bother him, which led to a 1-for-6 finish from the floor. The Bulls were not happy with the hard foul from Allen, and on top of that, Caruso confirmed that the Bucks forward did not come to check on him after the play. The guard is in his first season with the Bulls, averaging 8.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.9 assists, but he now joins Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball on the sidelines.
Avs Win 15th Straight Home Game; Lightning Rout Sharks
The Colorado Avalanche needed overtime on Saturday night, but they still got the job done once again on their home ice with a 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens. Gabriel Landeskog scored 1:16 in to overtime, giving the Avs their 15th straight home win, becoming the first team with such a home win streak since the Washington Capitals in 2017. They have also won six straight games overall, with the previous two home wins coming in a shootout, and now this one in overtime on Landeskog's 15th goal of the season. The Avs moved to 28-8-3 on the season, good for first place in the Central Division, while the Habs continue to struggle, with four overtime losses on this 10-game road trip. They sit at just 8-25-7 on the season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning dominated the ice out west with a 7-1 blowout of the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night. Ross Colton scored twice to lead the charge, while Alex Killorn and Steven Stamkos chipped in a goal and an assist apiece. The Lightning also got goals from Brayden Point, Joseph Mathieu, and Corey Perry, and have now won seven of their past nine games. This victory helped them move past a 5-1 defeat at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night, as they moved in to a tie atop the Atlantic Division in points with the Florida Panthers, but they trail the first-place Panthers by two in the regulation loss column.
Other key scores saw the New York Rangers move back in to first place in the Metropolitan Division, as Chris Kredier's hat trick powered a 7-3 rout of the Arizona Coyotes. They were helped out by the New Jersey Devils taking down the Carolina Hurricanes, 7-4, behind Jesper Bratt's late goal. Alex Ovechkin rallied the Washington Capitals with two third period goals, and then Nicklas Backstrom won it in overtime for a 3-2 victory against the Ottawa Senators. And Morgan Rielly had a goal and an assist in the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-1 road win over the New York Islanders.
Oregon's Travis Dye Transfers to USC
The USC Trojans gained a huge spark in their backfield through the transfer portal as Oregon Ducks running back Travis Dye announced that he is transferring out west to join the Pac-12 team. This news come one week after he entered the transfer portal and now he will be a graduate transfer for them in the 2022 season. Dye is coming off a season that saw him run for 1,271 and 16 touchdowns for the Ducks, along with 46 receptions, which led the team. He got a larger role in the Oregon offense after C.J. Verdell went down with an injury in October. Dye ended his Ducks run with 153 yards and a touchdown in the Ducks' loss to the Oklahoma Sooners in the Alamo Bowl. During his run with the Ducks, he finished with 3,111 rushing yards, 869 receiving yards, and 29 touchdowns over three seasons, and the Trojans may not be done. Quarterback Caleb Williams is reportedly choosing between USC and LSU in the transfer portal, and most recently played for USC head coach Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma.
Hawai'i Hires Timmy Chang as Next Football Coach
The Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors announced on Saturday that they are bringing in Timmy Chang to be their next head football coach, bringing him back to the program he played for. The 40-year-old was most recently a wide receivers coach with Colorado State, but played at quarterback for the Rainbow Warriors. He replaces former coach Todd Graham, who resigned earlier this month following allegations that he mistreated players. Chang has had plenty of coaching experience since his playing days, also working as a position coach with Nevada from 2017 to 2021. He is from Oahu and played high school football at Saint Louis High School in Honolulu. He did not disappoint while playing for Hawai'i, ranking second on the NCAA career passing list with 17,072 yards, only trailing Houston's Case Keenum, and he will now look for the same type of success on the sidelines.