Packers return to playoffs
GREEN BAY, Wis., Dec. 24 (UPI) -- The number of NFL playoff teams grew to seven Sunday with Green Bay earning a spot while the snow was flying and the New England Patriots grabbing a post-season berth while taking the day off.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, meanwhile, wrapped up a first-round bye while Baltimore closed in on a chance to battle for its second straight Super Bowl and St. Louis neared a division title.
As winter burst through the midwest Sunday, snow flurries flew most of the day at Lambeau Field and in what for them was a natural setting, the Green Bay Packers disposed of the Cleveland Browns, 30-7.
Brett Favre threw three touchdown passes to reach 30 in a season for the sixth time -- two more than any other quarterback in NFL history.
Green Bay climbed to 10-4 and clinched at least a wild card berth. The Packers are one game behind Chicago in the race for the NFC division title and hold the tiebreak edge if they can catch the Bears. Chicago stayed in front at 11-3 Sunday by rallying for a 20-15 decision over Washington.
New England, meanwhile, was still celebrating its victory Saturday over Miami, one that boosted the Patriots into a half-game lead in the AFC East. That win took on extra meaning Sunday when the Seattle Seahawks fell to the New York Giants, 27-24. Seattle's loss secured a playoff berth for the Patriots.
The Giants' victory, which came when Kerry Collins threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Ike Hilliard in the final seconds, prevented Philadelphia from clinching the NFC East crown. New York is still two games behind Philadelphia, but can draw within one game with a win over the Eagles next week. That would send the division race down to the final weekend of the regular season.
Pittsburgh, already the winner of the AFC Central, ensured a bye in the first round by whipping Detroit, 47-14. A win in either of its last two games, or a loss by Oakland in either of its final two, would give the Steelers home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Baltimore also moved within one win of the playoffs by blanking Cincinnati, 16-0. Nevertheless, the defending Super Bowl champions surrendered a 100-yard rushing performance for the first time in 51 games when Corey Dillon picked up 127 yards on 24 carries.
The St. Louis Rams stayed one game in front of San Francisco in the NFC West chase with a 38-32 victory over Carolina. St. Louis has the tiebreak edge over San Francisco, so the Rams need to win only once more to capture the title.
In other NFL games Sunday, Atlanta won on a field goal as time expired, 33-30 over Buffalo; Jacksonville crushed Minnesota, 33-3; Tampa Bay built a 30-point halftime lead en ruote to a 48-21 blasting of New Orleans; Kansas city defeated San Diego, 20-17; Arizona bested Dallas, 17-10; and the New York Jets scored in the final minute to beat Indianapolis, 29-28.
Bucks end Spurs' winning streak
SAN ANTONIO, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Without Ray Allen, the other members of the Milwaukee Bucks' "Big Three" stepped up Sunday night and snapped the San Antonio Spurs' season-high 10-game winning streak with a 101-91 victory.
Sam Cassell scored a season-high 33 points and Glenn Robinson had 30 to halt a two-game skid for the Bucks, who played their second straight game without the injured Allen.
Michael Redd started in Allen's place and was six of 11 for 16 points and six rebounds as Milwaukee became the first Eastern Conference team in 10 tries to beat San Antonio this season. The Bucks shot 54 percent while limiting the Spurs to 41 percent.
San Antonio took a 73-70 lead into fourth quarter, but Milwaukee scored the first eight points on a jumper and three-pointer by Redd and another one by Tim Thomas.
David Robinson completed a three-point play to make it 78-76 with 9:20 left, but Cassell and Glenn Robinson scored 21 of the final 23 points for the Bucks, who registered their first double-digit lead and closed the scoring on Cassell's three-pointer with 1:30 left.
Other NBA results: Toronto 83, Miami 76; Boston 85, Menphis 80; Sacramento 133, Phoenix 101.
Red Wings find their offense
CHICAGO, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Dominik Hasek stopped 23 shots for his second straight shutout Sunday night and Brendan Shanahan and Luc Robitaille each had a goal and an assist as the Detroit Red Wings snapped the Chicago Blackhawks' three-game winning streak, 5-0.
Detroit went seven straight games without scoring more than two goals, a slump that included a 2-0 home loss to Chicago on Monday night. But the Red Wings broke out two nights later with a 4-1 triumph over Vancouver, and Hasek has carried them the last two games.
He flopped and fully extended his left pad to deny Steve Sullivan on a shorthanded breakaway early in the second period and Robitaille got the back-breaking power-play goal moments later to give Detroit a 3-0 cushion.
Other NHL results: New York Rangers 3, Ottawa 2; Nashville 1, San Jose 1; Atlanta 4, Dallas 1; Anaheim 4, Phoenix 0; Colorado 6, Minnesota 3.
Virginia remains unbeaten
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Fifth-ranked Virginia finally wore down Rutgers inside and remained unbeaten Sunday night with a 76-68 victory as Travis Watson scored 18 points and pulled down a season-high 15 rebounds.
Riding its longest winning streak in 12 years, Rutgers (8-3) led by as many as nine points early in the second half. But Virginia (8-0) went ahead for good, 62-61, when Watson made one of two free throws with 6 1/2 minutes to play.
A pull-up floater in the lane by freshman Ricky Shields got the Scarlet Knights within 66-65 with 5:13 remaining, but Rutgers did not make another basket until the final seconds and lost for the first time in nine games since Nov. 15.
Vanderbilt confirms coaching hire
NASHVILLE, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Vanderbilt University confirmed Sunday that the school had hired Furman's Bobby Johnson as its new football coach.
The news came one day after reports surfaced that Johnson would leave the Division I-AA power to join Vanderbilt, a Division I-A doormat that has gone 19 years without a winning season.
Johnson guided Furman to Friday night's Division I-AA title game -- a 13-6 loss to Montana. He coached at Furman for nine years, going 12-3 this season to bring his career mark to 60-36.
The 50-year-old Johnson is a product of Clemson, where he played wide receiver and cornerback in the early 1970s and later served as defensive coordinator in 1993.
Johnson will take over for Woody Widenhofer, who resigned on Nov. 8 after going 15-40 at the perennial Southeastern Conference also-ran following his promotion from defensive coordinator in 1997.
The Commodores were 2-9 this season -- 0-8 in conference play. They have just one SEC victory over the last two campaigns.