In Sports from United Press International

Dec. 2, 2002 at 12:36 AM
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Packers claim first playoff spot

GREEN BAY, Wis., Dec. 2 (UPI) -- The first of the National Football League's dozen invitations to the playoffs was mailed out Sunday and as far as the NFC is concerned, there should be some more being dispatched shortly.

But in the AFC, those hoping to make a run at the Super Bowl have little or no room in which to breathe.

Green Bay won for the first time in three weeks Sunday, a 30-20 decision over Chicago, and that victory made the Packers champions of the NFC North. Green Bay improved to 9-3 and all three of the other teams in the division are 3-9.

And with only six of the 16 teams in the NFC having a winning record, the likely playoff teams from that conference have come into focus.

Philadelphia, a 10-3 winner over St. Louis Sunday, owns a three-game lead in the NFC East; while San Francisco, which fought off Seattle, 31-24, is three games ahead in the NFC West. That leaves Tampa Bay, Atlanta and New Orleans, separated by one game in the NFC South, as the other teams from that conference expected to make it into the postseason.

The only other team from the NFC to have even a remote chance to break into the playoff picture is New York and the Giants dropped to 6-6 Sunday with a dramatic loss to Tennessee.

The AFC, however, could wind up being all about tiebreakers.

No matter the result of Monday night's game between the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders, there will be 13 teams separated by just two games.

There is a one-game difference between the top and the bottom of the AFC East and one game separates the top three teams in the AFC West.

Things tightened up in the AFC Sunday thanks to Tennesse's thrilling rally against the Giants, San Diego's overtime decision over Denver and Buffalo's impressive, if snowy, victory over Miami.

Green Bay finally earned its playoff spot thanks to two Brett Favre touchdown passes and five turnovers by the Bears.

Favre finished 24 of 42 for 222 yards with a fumble and interception, but improved to 33-0 all-time at home when the kickoff temperature is below 34 degrees. Favre also improved to 18-4 all-time against the Bears.

Elsewhere around the NFL:

-- Tennessee tied the game in dramatic fashion with nine seconds remaining in regulation and Joe Nedney kicked a 38-yard, overtime field goal to give the Titans a 32-29 victory over the New York Giants. Listed as questionable prior to the game with rib and toe injuries, Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair passed for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns. One of the scores came on a nine-yard pass to tight end Frank Wycheck with nine seconds left to bring the Titans within two. McNair then tied the game by running for the two-point conversion.

-- Michael Vick capped another electrifying performance with a 46-yard touchdown run 2:25 into overtime to lift the Atlanta Falcons to a 30-24 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. The NFL's fastest quarterback, Vick ran for 173 yards and two touchdowns and also threw for a 39-yard score to help the Falcons (8-3-1) extend their unbeaten streak to eight games. Atlanta maintained its strong hold on a wild-card position and will visit division leading Tampa Bay next week.

-- Aaron Brooks threw two third-quarter touchdown passes and New Orleans forced four turnovers in fighting off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 23-20. Tampa Bay scored with 2:49 remaining to cut its deficit from 11 to three points and Coach Jon Gruden decided not to try an onside kick. The buccaneers never saw the ball again as New Orleans closed to within one game of the division-leading Bucs. Atlanta is only a half game out of the lead.

-- Drew Bledsoe threw for 306 yards three touchdown passes in poor conditions as the Buffalo Bills knocked out quarterback Ray Lucas and kept their playoff hopes alive with a 38-21 victory over the Miami Dolphins. Buffalo snapped an eight-game home losing streak against AFC East foes in a game that began and ended in a heavy snowstorm. Buffalo survived despite a huge game from Miami running back Ricky Williams, who carried 27 times for 228 yards and two scores.

-- LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for a career-high 220 yards and three touchdowns and Steve Christie, given a second chance, kicked the winning field goal in overtime to give the San Diego Chargers 30-27 victory over the Denver Broncos. The win moved the Chargers (8-4) into sole possession of first place in the AFC West, a half game ahead of the Oakland Raiders (7-4).

Other results: Pittsburgh 25, Jacksonville 23; San Francisco 31, Seattle 24; Philadelphia 10, St. Louis 3; Indianapolis 19, Houston 3; Baltimore 27, Cincinnati 23; Carolina 13, Cleveland 6; Kansas City 49, Arizona 0.

Sonics steal one from New Jersey

SEATTLE, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- After New Jersey's Richard Jefferson missed two free throws that would have clinched the game, Brent Barry made a three-pointer with 2.3 seconds left Sunday night to give the Seattle SuperSonics a thrilling 96-95 victory over the Nets.

Down the stretch, Jason Kidd outdueled Gary Payton, scoring five straight points to give New Jersey a 95-91 lead with 14 seconds remaining. Desmond Mason, who earlier missed a potential tying jumper, sank a 15-footer to make it 95-93 with 10 seconds to go.

The Nets inbounded to Jefferson, who was fouled with 9.8 seconds left. A 73 percent foul shooter, Jefferson missed both from the line.

Vladimir Radmanovic rebounded and Seattle opted not to call timeout. Mason dribbled quickly upcourt and into the lane before passing into the right corner to Barry, whose three-pointer was perfect.

After a timeout, Kidd tried to win it with a driving shot, but Mason soared to block it as time expired.

Other NBA results: Indiana 92, Los Angeles Clippers 87; Toronto 92, Memphis 87; Boston 95, New Orleans 86; Sacramento 103, Houston 84; Minnesota 110, Los Angeles Lakers 107.

Red Wings hand Flames fourth straight loss

DETROIT, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Curtis Joseph stopped 31 shots and rookie Henrik Zetterberg scored the go-ahead goal in the second period Sunday night as the Detroit Red Wings held on for a 4-2 triumph over the Calgary Flames, whose latest losing streak reached four games.

Joseph has given up only two goals in three wins over Calgary this season, improving to 23-7-3 lifetime against . the Flames. This victory was the 355th of his career, moving him into a tie with Rogie Vachon for 12th on the all-time list.

Zetterberg scored his sixth goal of the season and second in as many games to break a 1-1 tie. With 7:03 to go in the second, defenseman Jason Woolley missed the net with a slap shot. But the puck caromed in front to Zetterberg, who whacked it past goaltender Roman Turek.

Sean Avery beat Turek on a breakaway with the eventual game-winner midway through the third period and Sergei Fedorov added an empty-netter in the final minute after Jarome Iginla's power-play tally lifted Calgary within 3-2.

Other NHL results: New York Rangers 4, Tampa Bay 3; Atlanta 5, Washington 4; Anaheim 3, Chicago 2.

O'Meara cashes in at Skins Game

INDIO, Calif., Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Mark O'Meara used three birdie putts Sunday to pick up five skins, two cars and $330,000 and became the overall winner of the 20th Skins Game, the annual holiday weekend exhibition played this year at the Landmark Golf Club.

A long-time friend and neighbor of Tiger Woods, O'Meara had eight skins and $405,000 for the two-day tournament. Coming off his 14-stroke victory in the PGA Grand Slam of Golf earlier in the week, Woods claimed four skins but was last in the four-man field with $125,000.

For the second straight day, all four golfers collected at least one skin. Phil Mickelson made a short birdie putt at the 18th hole that gave him $200,000 for the day and $300,000 for the weekend.

Three-time former champion Fred Couples won three skins and $170,000 overall. On Sunday, he claimed two skins worth $120,000. Couples ran his Skins Game earnings to $2.27 million.

All four players agreed to donate 20 percent of their winnings to charity.

Russia rallies to win Davis Cup

PARIS, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Untested Mikhail Youzhny rallied for an unprecedented five-set triumph over rookie Paul-Henri Mathieu of France in the fifth and deciding match Sunday to lift Russia to its first Davis Cup championship.

After Yevgeny Kafelnikov was trounced in Friday's singles and took part in a five-set loss in Saturday's doubles, Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev decided to replace the two-time Grand Slam champion with Youzhny, who overcame his nerves to post a 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 victory on the clay courts of the Palais Omnisports Paris Bercy.

Russia kept alive its hopes of winning the Davis Cup trophy for the first time with Marat Safin's 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (13-11) defeat of France's Sebastien Grosjean in the first of Sunday's reverse singles matches.

A team had not come back from 2-1 down to win the title since Australia defeated the United States in Cleveland in 1964.

Youzhny, 20, became the first player in the competition's 102-year history to come from down two sets to love down and win a decisive fifth match.

Sharks fire Darryl Sutter

SAN JOSE, Calif., Dec. 2 (UPI) -- The San Jose Sharks, who are last in the Pacific Division a season after winning the first division title in team history, announced Sunday they had fired Coach Darryl Sutter.

General Manager Dean Lombardi made the surprising announcement after the Sharks were beaten by Phoenix on Saturday to fall to 8-12-2-2.

Also dismissed were assistant coaches Rich Preston and Lorne Molleken. Pro scout Cap Raeder and director of pro development Doug Wilson will share coaching duties until Sutter's successor is named.

Sutter, 44, leaves as the most successful coach in team history with a 302-262-86 record. Last season, he guided the Sharks to the Pacific Division title and a first-round playoff victory over Phoenix.

Kings sign Jim Jackson

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Dec. 2 (UPI) -- The injury-riddled Sacramento Kings signed free agent guard Jim Jackson Sunday to fortify their depleted roster.

The Kings placed swingman Hedo Turkoglu on the injured list with a sprained right wrist. He joins guard Mike Bibby on the IL and will miss at least five games.

Guard Brent Price also is on the injured list while All-Star forward Peja Stojakovic (foot), forward-center Scot Pollard (back) and guard Mateen Cleaves (foot surgery) are on the active roster but unavailable.

Despite the rash of injuries, the Kings lead the Pacific Division with a 14-5 record. Jackson, 32, joins his ninth team. The 6-6 guard spent last season with the Miami Heat, averaging 10.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in 55 games.

Jackson became a free agent July 1 but did not sign with any team and probably was the best unsigned player available. He wass in uniform for Sunday's game against Houston.

Tangerine takes Clemson

ORLANDO, Fla., Dec. 2 (UPI) -- In a mild surprise, Tangerine Bowl officials announced Sunday they had decided to bypass Virginia as its Atlantic Coast Conference representative and invite Clemson to play in its postseason game on Dec. 23.

Clemson is 7-5 this season and 4-4 in ACC play, two games behind Virginia. The Cavaliers completed an 8-5 regular season Saturday with a 21-9 loss to Virginia Tech.

Clemson won three of its last four games, including a victory over South Carolina.

The Tigers' opponent will come from the Big 12 Conference and an announcement is expected on Tuesday. Oklahoma State (7-5) is a leading candidate.

It will be the first appearance in the Tangerine Bowl for Clemson, which last played in Orlando in the 1992 Citrus Bowl.

Virginia already had been bypassed for the Peach Bowl despite beating Maryland last week. The Cavaliers could land in the Continental Tire Bowl or the Seattle Bowl.

Hurricanes keep No. 1 spot

MIAMI, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Miami remained on top and Oklahoma dropped five places in the latest college football coaches poll released Sunday.

Miami (11-0) earned 60 of a possible 61 first-place votes and a total of 1,524 points in a nationwide poll after a 49-7 romp over Syracuse on Saturday.

The Hurricanes moved a step closer to the Fiesta Bowl and extended the nation's longest winning streak to 33 games. They need only to defeat Virginia Tech next Saturday to lock up a date with Ohio State for the national title on Jan. 3 in Tempe, Ariz.

Still at No. 2, the idle Buckeyes (13-0) earned the remaining first-place vote and 1,463 points. Ohio State finished its regular season with a 14-9 triumph over Michigan on Nov. 23 and will play for their first national title in 34 years.

Oklahoma was ranked No. 4 last week, but suffered a 38-28 setback to Oklahoma State Saturday. The Sooners were the frontrunners to land a berth in the Fiesta Bowl should the Hurricanes stumble, but they dropped to No. 9 in this week's poll.

With its regular season complete, Iowa (11-1) stayed in the third spot, and Georgia (11-1) and Southern California (10-2) each moved up one spot to complete the top five. USC's 44-13 triumph over Notre Dame dropped the Fighting Irish (10-2) from seventh to 13th.

Kansas State (10-2) is ranked No. 6, ahead of Washington State (9-2) and Texas (10-2). Penn State (9-3) rounds out the top 10.

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