Ravens win too, setting up the 'Harbaugh Bowl'

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Ravens win too, setting up the 'Harbaugh Bowl'

From Comcast SportsNetFOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -- Oh, brother!John Harbaugh and his Baltimore Ravens set up a family reunion at the Super Bowl, shutting down the New England Patriots 28-13 Sunday in the AFC championship game.The Ravens reached their first Super Bowl in 12 years, thanks to three touchdown passes from Joe Flacco and a defense led by Ray Lewis that made Tom Brady look downright ordinary.Next up for Harbaugh and the Ravens is younger brother Jim and the San Francisco 49ers, who beat Atlanta 28-24 earlier in the day for the NFC title."I don't know if we had a dream this big," John Harbaugh said. "We had a few dreams, we had a few fights, we had a few arguments -- just like all brothers."They'll meet in two weeks in New Orleans -- what a place for a party to celebrate the first brother-vs.-brother coaching matchup in Super Bowl history.It also will be quite a last game for Lewis, the emotional linebacker who will retire after the matchup with the 49ers, who opened as a 5-point favorite."This is our time. This is our time," said Lewis, who made 14 tackles Sunday and has 44 in three postseason games after missing 10 weeks with a torn right triceps.Driven by Lewis' pending departure from the NFL, Baltimore's defense stepped up in the playoffs. Brady was 67-0 at home when leading at halftime, but this was no contest in the second half."We've lost before. It takes a while to get over," Brady said.It also was a first for the Patriots, who hadn't lost an AFC championship at home.After they had avenged last year's AFC title game loss at Gillette Stadium, many of the Ravens gathered on the field jumping, chest-bumping and whooping before several thousand fans wearing Ravens jerseys -- mostly Lewis' No. 52 -- who remained in the stands.As in the previous two playoff wins against Indianapolis and Denver, the Ravens (13-6) were brilliant offensively in spots. This might be 17-year-veteran Lewis' team, but it's also Flacco's, and the quarterback's six road wins are the most in playoff history."It was pretty awesome," said Flacco, who has eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in the playoffs. "We were here last year and thought we had it, but came up a little short. Guys came out in the second half and made plays. ... We put pressure on them like that, and it worked pretty well."Flacco, whose contract ends after the Super Bowl, is the only quarterback to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons. He was dynamic with his arm and precise with his decision making. Looking much more the championship passer than Brady did, his throws of 11 and 3 yards to Anquan Boldin and 5 to Dennis Pitta all were perfect.The touchdown by Pitta capped the Ravens' best drive of the game, covering 87 yards in 10 plays and made it 14-13. It started with a 15-yard defensive pass interference penalty, and it was an indication of things to come."We've always believed in Joe," Harbaugh said. "And for Joe to come out and to have this kind of a game and this kind of a stage three weeks in a row ..."New England (13-5) lost a home AFC title matchup for the first time in five games. The loss denied Brady and coach Bill Belichick a shot at their sixth Super Bowl. They've gone 3-2, losing their last two times in the big game.Instead, it's the AFC North champion Ravens heading to the Big Easy, seeking their second NFL championship. San Francisco has won five."All these men out there, there might just be only five of us up here, but every man out there sacrificed this year for each other," Lewis said during the trophy ceremony. "And man, we did it and we're on our way to the Super Bowl. That's awesome."The Ravens have gotten there the hard way, with no postseason bye. Then again, five of the last seven Super Bowl champions took that route.The Ravens also were pushed into a second overtime in frigid Denver last weekend before eliminating Peyton Manning and the top-seeded Broncos.And now they've cast aside the league's most successful franchise of the last dozen years."I'd probably say we came up a little short in every area," Belichick said.New England, which hasn't won a Super Bowl since the 2004 season, had four injuries, the scariest when running back Stevan Ridley was knocked flat by Bernard Pollard in the fourth quarter, forcing a fumble. Baltimore turned that into the final touchdown, on the only short scoring drive it had, 47 yards.The Ravens gained just 130 yards in the first half.Brady guided a 13-play drive to Stephen Gostkowski's 31-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead. Neither defense yielded a big play, and punters Zoltan Mesko and Sam Koch were the busiest guys on the field.That changed when the teams switched sides for the second quarter. Baltimore again was pinned deep, at its 10, but Flacco led a 13-play drive. Ray Rice, whose 83-yard run on the Ravens' first play from scrimmage in their wild-card round victory here three years ago, ran left untouched for the TD.Awakened by Baltimore's march, the Patriots staged a long one of their own, 79 yards, aided by a 15-yard personal foul by Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Wes Welker picked up 24 yards on a short pass, then got free in the right corner of the end zone after a mix-up in the Ravens' secondary, making it 10-7.It was 13-7 by halftime as Gostkowski connected from 25 yards, with New England outsmarting Baltimore several times. Danny Woodhead ran for 7 yards on a direct snap on fourth-and-1 in the drive. Defensive end Paul Kruger, who's good at sacks, not much in coverage -- found himself downfield on Aaron Hernandez on what became a 17-yard reception.But Brady made a mental error himself, not calling timeout quickly enough after a short scramble. So the Patriots didn't get a shot at the end zone and Gostkowski made his second kick.Shockingly for an offense that scored 557 points this season, that was it for New England."We are probably the only team in the AFC that matches up good with the boy, No. 12 over there and his coach," linebacker Terrell Suggs said of Brady and Belichick.NOTES:Brady now has 5,949 yards passing, the most in NFL history for the postseason. He threw for 320 yards Sunday but was picked off twice in the fourth quarter. ... Ridley sustained a head injury but walked off the field. Patriots CB Aqib Talib hurt his thigh and DT Kyle Love injured his knee. Backup safety Patrick Chung was helped off the field after one play. ... Baltimore beat San Francisco 16-6 in the 2011 season.

Penn State AD says James Franklin is not on the hot seat

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Penn State AD says James Franklin is not on the hot seat

Is James Franklin on the hot seat?

Perhaps fans and observers think the Penn State head coach should be, but the Nittany Lions' athletics director certainly doesn't.

Sandy Barbour told the Altoona Mirror that Franklin is not on the hot seat and gave a complete vote of confidence in the coach, who's coming off a blowout 49-10 loss against Michigan.

"He's not on the hot seat, and he's not going to be on the hot seat in December," Barbour told the Mirror's Cory Giger.

"James is going to be our football coach. I believe in where this football program is going under James Franklin, and I think he's going to be our football coach, period."

Franklin is in his third season at the helm in Happy Valley, and while he's had his fair share of recruiting successes, he hasn't experienced much success on the field. After last weekend's loss to Michigan, Franklin is now 0-7 against ranked opponents since arriving at Penn State ahead of the 2014 season.

"When Penn State is where we ought to be, where we should be, where we're all striving to be, we absolutely should go toe to toe with anyone in the country. Clearly we're not there," Barbour said. "We're not a finished product. I don't think anybody thought we would be a finished product four games into the season.

"Was Saturday disappointing? Of course it was. But no one's more disappointed than our coaching staff and our student-athletes in our football program. So I certainly understand where our fans are coming from and the disappointment."

Back-to-back 7-6 finishes could be seen as mild successes, perhaps, considering the program is still working out from the shadow of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. But Penn State's historic status as one of college football's power programs is certainly not applicable right now, and the Lions competing for any kind of championship seems completely unrealistic in the ultra-competitive Big Ten East Division.

All that has led plenty to believe that Franklin's job might be in jeopardy, but Barbour at least verbally put those notions to rest.

"I believe that James is the right guy, and yeah, he's going to be our football coach."

Notre Dame needs mistake-free play from receivers

Notre Dame needs mistake-free play from receivers

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Last year, Notre Dame receivers combined to fumble twice in 13 games. Through four weeks in 2016, Irish receivers already have fumbled three times, losing two of them.

Sophomore C.J. Sanders’ fumble against Michigan State sparked the Spartans’ 36-point run, and fellow sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown lost a fumble that stunted Notre Dame’s offense in a three-point loss to Duke. Freshman Kevin Stepherson also fumbled against the Blue Devils, but impressive hustled back to recover it. 

In 2015, only Torii Hunter Jr. and Chris Brown fumbled (Hunter’s came at the goal line against USC; Brown’s came in that rainstorm at Clemson). That was a veteran-heavy receiving corps, while Notre Dame’s 2016 group only has two upperclassmen in it: Hunter, a redshirt junior, and Corey Holmes, a redshirt sophomore (who doesn’t have much playing experience). 

“A lot of young guys out there, a lot of young guys,” coach Brian Kelly said. “It's unacceptable, but a lot of young guys out there.”

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Sanders’ fumble, Kelly said was more careless — he didn’t have three points of pressure on the ball when it was knocked out. St. Brown tried to make a play despite having a second defender converging on him and should’ve gone down before the ball was dislodged. 

Guys like Sanders and St. Brown, who are seeing the first real college action at receiver this year, were probably able to make plenty of defenders miss with ease while in high school. But that’s nowhere near as easy to do now. 

Notre Dame needs its offense to avoid these unforced (yet, technically, forced) errors while its defense remains an ineffective work in progress. There isn’t much room for error as Notre Dame aims to pull out of its 1-3 tailspin and reach a bowl game. 

“At this level everybody is bigger and faster,” Sanders said. “So you have to kind of have that notion in the back of your head, okay, you know if there's three guys in the area and I don't know where to go, get down. We made that mistake which we learned from it, so now we know.”