Three Bears on PFW mid-season All-Pro team

934127.png

Three Bears on PFW mid-season All-Pro team

Charles Tillman has won NFC defensive player of the week and month awards. Lance Briggs is in the NFL history books along with Tillman for touchdown returns of interceptions in consecutive games. Julius Peppers has 5.5 sacks, tops on a defensive line that is No. 6 against the run (88 ypg.).

Now all three have been selected to the midseason All-Pro team by Pro Football Weekly. PFWs reasoning for each:

Lance Briggs Briggs is playing even better than a year ago, scoring pick-sixes in consecutive games and flying around the field. Anyone who suggested playing next to Brian Urlacher has made Briggs an overrated player has been proven dead wrong this season, as Briggs has picked up the slack for the Bears aging defensive captain.

Julius Peppers Peppers remains as steady as ever even as his snaps have been significantly cut back to keep him fresh later in the season. While the sack numbers are still there, Peppers is still an excellent run defender despite dealing with a foot injury that has limited his burst. He probably has been the Bears best player this season.

Charles Tillman Tillmans knack for forcing fumbles is becoming legendary, as four more in Week Nine put him in the league lead with seven this season. He also shut down Calvin Johnson and had pick-sixes in consecutive weeks. What more could you want from this steady veteran?

Penn State erases three-touchdown deficit to best Badgers in Big Ten Championship Game

trace-mcsorley-1203.jpg
USA TODAY

Penn State erases three-touchdown deficit to best Badgers in Big Ten Championship Game

INDIANAPOLIS — Penn State might not be representing the Big Ten in the College Football Playoff, but it is the champion of the best conference in college football.

The seventh-ranked Nittany Lions won the Big Ten Championship Game on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, adding another signature win to their Playoff resume with a 38-31 win over the sixth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers.

The immediate conversation, of course, turns to the Playoff and how that despite capturing the conference title, Penn State seems to have a slim chance of reaching the final four and competing for a national championship. Second-ranked Ohio State, which didn't play on Saturday night, looks like a Playoff lock. Same with top-ranked Alabama, which won the SEC Championship Game on Saturday and boasts an undefeated record. Fourth-ranked Washington won the Pac-12 Championship Game on Friday night and looked mighty impressive in doing so, seemingly punching its ticket to the Playoff. And then of course there's fifth-ranked Michigan, another Big Ten team not playing on Saturday but still under consideration thanks to its exceptional resume.

But Penn State has played like a Playoff-caliber team this season, and Saturday's win confirmed it, the Lions storming back from a three-touchdown deficit in the first half and scoring on five straight drives as Trace McSorley led yet another second-half comeback.

The selection committee will announce the four-team field Sunday. Has Penn State done enough to jump some teams and get into the Playoff?

Perhaps needing an exceptionally dominant performance to earn a berth, Wisconsin looked determined to turn one in early. The Badgers marched 81 yards on their first possession, getting a pair of huge third-down conversions from Bart Houston, a helpful late-hit penalty on Penn State and a one-yard touchdown plunge from full back Austin Ramesh to take an early 7-0 lead. The explosion came one the next possession — after the Badger defense had forced a second straight three and out — when Corey Clement busted off a 67-yard touchdown run, getting superb blocking en route to a 14-0 lead.

Penn State punched back, doing what it's done best during its eight-game win streak: getting big plays from its offense. Saquon Barkley rushed for 22 yards, McSorley completed a 16-yard pass, and then McSorley bombed a throw to the end zone, where tight end Mike Gesicki made an incredible leaping grab for a touchdown and to cut it to a one-score game.

The Lions finally forced a Badger punt, but five plays into the ensuing series a high snap bounced over McSorley's head and right into the arms of Wisconsin linebacker Ryan Connelly, who returned the fumble 12 yards for another Badger touchdown, making it a 21-7 game.

James Franklin made a questionable decision the next time Penn State had the ball, going for it on fourth down from his own 42-yard line. McSorley was pressured — a common theme throughout the first half — and threw the ball out of bounds, giving Wisconsin a short field. The Badgers capitalized, Dare Ogunbowale polishing off the short drive with a seven-yard touchdown run to make it 28-7.

Penn State had one more strike in it in the first half, though, going 90 yards downfield, the last 40 of which came on a McSorley touchdown pass to Saeed Blacknall, a touchdown when Wisconsin safety Lubern Figaro whiffed on the tackle and allowed Blacknall to waltz into the end zone. That score made it 28-14 right before halftime.

The Badgers started out the second half with Andrew Endicott's miss on a 48-yard field-goal try, and the Lions pounced on that opportunity, flexing their second-half muscles with a 70-yard bomb of a touchdown pass from McSorley to Blacknall on the very next play to make it 28-21.

After Houston avoided disaster for Wisconsin by recovering his own fumble on third down, Penn State marched right down the field, picking up several big gains en route to a game-tying touchdown, Barkley plowing in from a yard out to even the score at 28.

The Badgers responded with a great offensive sequence, getting 20-plus-yard gainers from Clement and Bradrick Shaw. But the drive stalled out in the red zone, and Wisconsin booted a chip-shot field goal to retake the lead, this one at 31-28.

Nothing about the Lions' offensive attack was stalling, though, with McSorley continuing to pitch the ball all over the field, with his receivers making terrific catches for huge gains. McSorley hit DaeSean Hamilton for gains of 38 and 25 yards before lofting a perfect pass to Barkley in the end zone for another Penn State touchdown. The offense looked unstoppable in taking a 35-31 lead, ending a fourth straight drive with a touchdown. McSorley & Co. made it five straight scoring drives on their next possession, Penn State marching downfield — with the help of a couple 15-yard penalties on Wisconsin — and getting a 24-yard field goal from Tyler Davis to boost the lead to 38-31.

The Badgers moved downfield late in the fourth, trying for a game-tying score, but Penn State stopped Clement short of the line to gain on fourth and 1, sealing the victory.

Regardless of Penn State's Playoff fate, the Lions' journey under Franklin, from the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal to a Big Ten championship, has been remarkable.

Bulls fall flat in blowout loss in Dallas

Bulls fall flat in blowout loss in Dallas

DALLAS (AP) -- Wesley Matthews scored 20 of his 26 points in the second half in the Dallas Mavericks' 107-82 victory over the Chicago Bulls 107-82 on Saturday night.

Harrison Barnes scored 17 of his 22 points in the first half to help Dallas win its second straight game after losing 13 of its first 15.

Chicago was coming off a 111-105 victory over defending champion Cleveland on Friday night, the Bulls only win in their last four. Jimmy Butler led Chicago with 26 points.

Barnes powered the Mavericks to a 17-point first-quarter lead.

Dwight Powell (17) and rookie Dorian Finney-Smith (11) had career highs in scoring, and Deron Williams had a season-high 15 assists.

Neither team scored in the first 2:15, but Dallas went on a 7-0 run over the next 1:20. The Mavericks led 23-6 with 3:17 left. The quarter ended with Dallas leading 29-18. Barnes scored eight points, and Andrew Bogut had six points and eight rebounds.

Chicago pulled within six points three times in the second quarter, but Dallas finished the first half with a 57-45 lead. In the third quarter, Matthews had 14 points, and the Mavericks' lead by as many as 21 points. The quarter ended with Dallas leading 82-66.