ARLINGTON, Texas — Matthew Stafford lost to his hometown team again, and the playoff plans are on hold for the Detroit Lions.
Dez Bryant threw his first career touchdown pass between a pair of scoring catches, Ezekiel Elliott ran for two TDs and the Dallas Cowboys kept the Lions from clinching a post-season spot with a 42-21 win Monday night.
Despite a second straight loss following five consecutive victories, Detroit (9-6) still controls its post-season fate. The Lions will be at home against Green Bay (9-6) with the NFC North title at stake in the finale Sunday.
“It’s a one-game season,” Stafford said. “If you told me in Week 17 we would have a game at our place and got a chance to win the division, I’d take it all day.”
Stafford, a championship-winning high school quarterback in the Dallas area, had a one-yard scoring plunge , but was sacked four times — matching a season high — almost two years after losing a wild-card game at the Cowboys.
He was 26 of 46 for 260 yards, including an interception that set up Elliott’s one-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to brek a 21-all halftime tie.
With home-field advantage already wrapped up, the Cowboys (13-2) didn’t let up in their seventh straight home win while matching their franchise record in victories, reached two other times.
“There’s just one way to play,” coach Jason Garrett said. “You can’t put different meaning on different competition, like all of a sudden this is less important than that. That’s not how we operate.”
The biggest sign they were serious about this one came late in the third quarter, when Bryant took a reverse pitch from Dak Prescott and tucked the ball as if planning to run before pulling up and tossing a lefty lob to Jason Witten for an easy 10-yard score and a 35-21 lead.
Witten, the normally stoic 14th-year tight end, flashed Bryant’s celebratory “X” and was soon mirrored by the often-exuberant receiver.
“We’ve been working on that about five or six weeks, maybe a little longer,” Bryant said. “You know how you practice plays and sometimes you don’t run them? I did not think we were going to call that play. And we did, and we made it happen.”
Elliott, the NFL rushing leader, had a 55-yard touchdown run in the first half and finished with 80 yards on 12 carries. He has 15 touchdowns rushing, two behind league-leading LeGarrette Blount of New England.
The first-year sensation known as “Zeke,” who is 177 yards shy of Eric Dickerson’s 33-year-old rookie rushing record of 1,808 yards, was almost upstaged by Detroit’s “double-Z” — Zach Zenner.
The little-known undrafted back in his second year out of South Dakota State, filling in with Theo Riddick sidelined for a third straight game with a wrist injury, had a career-high 64 yards and two touchdowns at halftime. But Zenner faded in the second half, finishing with 67 yards.
“Found some creases, made some nice runs,” Stafford said. “We’ve got to have more of it. We’ve got to find a way in the second half to get a couple more yards here or there on the ground.”
Prescott tied Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger (2004) for the most wins by a rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era with 13. He was 15 of 20 for 212 yards with three touchdowns, including Bryant’s juggling 25-yard grab in the end zone when he fought off pass interference by Johnson Bademosi.
Bryant broke a tie for second with Hall of Famer Michael Irvin on Dallas’ career TD receptions list with his 66th in the first half. The club record of 71 belongs to another Hall of Famer, Bob Hayes. … Elliott is up to third on the rookie season rushing list, behind Dickerson and New Orleans’ George Rogers (1,674 in 1981). He passed teammate Alfred Morris, who held third at 1,613 yards with Washington in 2012.
HIGHLAND PARK REUNION
Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who graduated from Highland Park High School in Dallas with Stafford in 2006, attended the game. Nine days earlier, Highland Park celebrated on the same field after its first state title since Stafford led the way in 2005.
Dallas defensive end Randy Gregory made his season debut after serving a 14-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. The second-year player almost sacked Stafford in the fourth quarter and had two tackles.
Dallas’ already-depleted defensive line sustained two more injuries in the first half, to Terrell McClain (ankle) and Ryan Davis (knee). Starting end Tyrone Crawford missed his first game of the season with shoulder and hamstring injuries. … Dallas cornerback Anthony Brown left in the first half with a possible concussion. … Detroit defensive tackle Stefan Charles didn’t return after a knee injury in the second half.
Lions: Home against Green Bay.
Cowboys: At Philadelphia in a game that likely will feature plenty of backups for the Cowboys.
Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020
Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.
Theo Bair (MLS)
This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)
Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.
Connor McDavid (NHL)
McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.
Chuba Hubbard (College Football)
The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.
2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo
Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.
The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.
Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.
Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.
“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”
Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.
Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.
Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.
“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”
Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.
“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”
Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.
Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.
“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”
After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.
“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”
None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.
“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.
Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.
“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”
That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.
“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.
Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month
NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.
The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.
Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.
“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.
“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”
It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.
For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.
Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.
A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.
It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.
Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.
“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.
“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”
Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.
“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.
“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”
And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.
“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”
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