January 16, 2005

Falcons Blow Out Rams, 47-17

Warrick Dunn ran for a 62-yard touchdown, Allen Rossum set an NFL playoff record for punt returns and Atlanta routed the St. Louis Rams 47-17 Saturday night.

(20) Pittsburgh 67, Seton Hall 63

It wasn't easy, but Pittsburgh finally won a home game.

Chevon Troutman scored 10 of his 23 points in the final 4:47 Saturday to lift the 20th-ranked Panthers to a 67-63 victory over Seton Hall in a game of runs.

Pittsburgh had won 43 of its first 44 games in the 3-year-old Petersen Events Center before losing its last two there, 69-66 to Bucknell and by the same score to Georgetown. The Panthers (12-2, 2-1 Big East) won 66-63 at Rutgers last Saturday.

Wake Forest Triumphs Over N.C.

Chris Paul racked up 26 points and Wake Forest shot 32-of-32 from the free-throw line as the fourth-ranked Demon Deacons posted an impressive 95-82 victory over No. 3 North Carolina.

Steelers Defeat Jets, 20-17, in Overtime

Jeff Reed nailed a 33-yard field goal in overtime and the Pittsburgh Steelers somehow beat the resilient New York Jets 20-17 Saturday in a remarkable divisional playoff game filled with wild swings in momentum and emotion.

Pittsburgh rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger overcame two huge mistakes — an interception for a touchdown and another that appeared to doom the Steelers late in the fourth quarter — to lead a decisive drive that began at their own 13 and sent the Steelers to next Sunday's AFC championship game against New England or Indianapolis.

The loss will go down as one of the most excruciating in the Jets' star-crossed history. Kicker Doug Brien missed not one but two makable field-goal tries in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. The misses were doubly stunning disappointments for a gutty team on the verge of its biggest upset since Broadway Joe's guaranteed win over the Colts in the January 1969 Super Bowl.

Brien's 47-yarder with 1:58 remaining hit the goal post, but Roethlisberger gave the Jets the ball right back when his off-line throw was intercepted by David Barrett — just the kind of mistake rookie quarterbacks are supposed to make in the playoffs, but Big Ben had rarely made during his 13-0 rookie season. The Jets then drove cautiously from the Steelers 37 to the 25, giving Brien a 43-yarder to win it on the final play of regulation.

But the kick sailed far to the left, not even close, and the given-a-reprieve Steelers danced joyously on their sidelines — Roethlisberger right in the middle.

Brien's 28-yarder in overtime beat San Diego last week — yes, by the same 20-17 score — and he hit a 42-yarder to halt Pittsburgh's early momentum and make it 10-3 Pittsburgh early in the second quarter. He was 24-of-29 for the season.

The Jets became the first NFL team to play three consecutive overtime games, including their regular-season ending loss in St. Louis. They dropped to 0-7 in Pittsburgh and 2-16 all-time against the Steelers.

The Steelers won their team-record 15th in a row to advance to the AFC title game for the fifth time since the 1994 season — they are 1-3 under coach Bill Cowher there — but the Jets will wonder for years why they're not going.

The Jets turned two long touchdown returns, Santana Moss' 75-yard punt return and Reggie Tongue's 86-yard interception, into 17 consecutive points and a 17-10 lead in the fourth quarter that stunned nearly everyone in a jammed Heinz Field except the Jets.

After the Jets' 17-6 loss there Dec. 12, defensive lineman Shaun Ellis predicted they would win if they returned to Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Last week, it didn't appear anyone in the Steelers' locker room took him seriously.

When Jerome Bettis fumbled at the Jets 24 early in the fourth quarter — his first fumble in 353 carries or receptions this season — Ellis' confidence was looking like more than empty talk. Shades of Broadway Joe Namath?

But just when it appeared as if Roethlisberger was being exposed for the rookie he is, appearing confused at times by the Jets' ever-changing blitzes and fronts, he put together just the kind of drive that has marked the most remarkable season by a rookie quarterback in NFL history.

He sprinted for 20 yards on a first-down scramble, then mostly fed the ball to Bettis and Duce Staley on a 66-yard drive that ended with Roethlisberger's 4-yard scoring flip to Hines Ward — one of only three Roethlisberger completions on the all-important drive. He finished 17-of-30 for 181 yards and two touchdowns.

That drive was reminiscent of last month's game, when the Jets held the Steelers to a 3-all tie for three quarters before the Steelers wore them down with two Bettis-led scoring drives in the fourth.

Bettis outgained the Jets' Curtis Martin 101-77 in a matchup of two of the NFL's top five career rushers. Bettis has rushed for at least 100 yards in all seven starts this season.

The Steelers, who haven't lost a divisional playoff game in seven tries under Cowher since 1993 and are 9-0 at home this season, surged to the 10-0 lead in the first quarter after Troy Polamalu's interception of Chad Pennington's pass. Bettis powered in from the 3 on the fifth play of the 25-yard drive following Roethlisberger's 9-yard completion to Ward.

Reed had given Pittsburgh a 3-0 lead with a 45-yard field goal.

The Jets appeared to be in big trouble then, down 10 points on the road to a Steelers team riding a franchise-record winning streak and coming off its first 15-1 season. The Jets scored only six points in each of their last two regular-season games against the Steelers, including last month's loss, and hadn't scored more than 10 points against them since 1988.

But Pennington, whose arm strength and decision-making were questioned following his three-interception performance in Pittsburgh on Dec. 12, then showed the same resiliency he had in San Diego.

Despite being sacked twice on the drive and dodging a strong rush on nearly every play from Pittsburgh's top-ranked defense, Pennington (21-of-33 for 182 yards and an interception) halted Pittsburgh's momentum by hitting Anthony Becht for 13 yards and Justin McCareins for 11 to set up Brien's 42-yard field goal early in the second quarter.

With the Jets' defense effectively controlling Roethlisberger, just as it did for three quarters last month, Moss found a seam down the sideline and sailed to his tying 75-yard return with three minutes left in the half.

The first punt return score in Jets postseason history was a big jolt to the Steelers' normally strong special teams, who allowed only one punt return longer than 10 yards in their last 11 games.

Kwan Wins 9th U.S. Figure Skating Title

PORTLAND, Ore. - Michelle Kwan held up nine fingers and grinned at the camera. She has her place in history, a run as impressive for its longevity as its dominance.

Kwan won her ninth title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday night, tying Maribel Vinson for the all-time record. She earned four more 6.0s, giving her 42 at nationals in the illustrious career that began more than a decade ago when she was too young to wear makeup.

Now 24, Kwan is a beautiful young woman with one of the most recognizable faces in the world. But she's as dominant as she's always been, with no one in the United States coming close to challenging her.

Certainly not Sasha Cohen, who once again failed to come through when it matters most. Cohen finished second after botching two jumps and was lucky to finish ahead of up-and-comer Kimmie Meissner, who made a bit of history herself with the first triple axel by a U.S. woman since Tonya Harding did it in 1991.

Earlier, Johnny Weir won his second straight men's title. Olympic bronze medalist Tim Goebel was second.

Vinson won nine titles in the 1920s and 1930s, a mark that once seemed certain to stand. Gretchen Merrill, Tenley Albright and Peggy Fleming — they all won multiple titles, but none came close to Vinson.

But it's somehow fitting that Kwan was the one to finally reach the pinnacle. Her former coach, Frank Carroll, trained with Vinson, and Carroll would often tell Kwan stories about Vinson and the lessons she'd taught him. Vinson may not have lived to see Kwan, but she's had a hand in Kwan's success.

"There's a cosmic connection between me and Maribel," Kwan said. "She taught Frank and Frank taught me. To be with her is something."

Vinson died when the plane carrying the U.S. team to the 1961 world championships in Prague crashed in Belgium. Vinson was coaching her daughters, Maribel Y. and Laurence, who had just won the U.S. title.

Her performance Saturday night may not have been Kwan's best — she was a little tentative and slower than she's been in practice. But it was still gorgeous, and more than worthy of one for the record books.

Skating to "Bolero," with a program choreographed by none other than Christopher Dean, Kwan was lovely in her golden costume. She was the picture of grace, perfectly in sync with the music.

She picked up speed with every jump she did, until she was dancing down the ice on her final footwork. The crowd was cheering so loudly she could barely hear the end of her music, throwing back her arms and head in triumph. Fans jumped to their feet, and Kwan pumped her fist, shook her head and clapped her hands as if to say, "I did it."

She patted her chest twice and grinned after taking her bows, and pointed to friends in the crowd. When she saw her 6.0s she beamed and raised her arms in triumph.

The title was Kwan's eighth straight, extending her own record. She's also a five-time world champion, and has silver and bronze medals from the Olympics. The only hole in her impressive resume is Olympic gold, but the 2006 Games are only a year away.

Cohen has yet to win a major title — nationals, world or Olympic — and she won't get one if she keeps skating like this. She crashed hard on a triple lutz and had to put a hand down on the ice to keep from falling on her triple loop.

But that wasn't her biggest problem. Cohen is one of the most beautiful skaters around, a vision of grace and elegance. Even when she botches her jumps, she packs the rest of the program with explosive footwork and emotion — but not this night. Her program was flat, slow and totally lacking of luster.

Even her dress, a salmon-pink number, was bland.

Had Meissner had even a bit more presence on the ice, Cohen might have found herself in third place. But just 15, Meissner's strength is still her athleticism.

Harding was the first U.S. woman to land the triple axel in 1991. No American woman has even tried it, let alone come close to landing it since Harding traded in her skates for boxing gloves. But with nationals in Harding's hometown, Meissner picked the perfect spot to end the drought.

Meissner had been doing the axel in practice all week and landed a perfect one in warmups, drawing loud applause. When it came time to do the jump for real, she almost seemed to be in slow motion as she took off and then turned 3 1/2 times in the air. A huge smile crossed her face as she lightly touched down, and the crowd roared, knowing they'd just seen something special.

"I was very excited about it," said Diane Rawlinson, Harding's former coach. "When she set up for it, I thought she was going to do it. It was nice. Very nice."

The judges thought so, giving Meissner 5.7s to one 5.9 for technical merit. That was enough to boost her ahead of Jenny Kirk, who finished fourth, though Kirk will likely still go to worlds because Meissner is too young.

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