The Sports Report: Matthew Stafford seeks his first playoff victory tonight
Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.
Gary Klein on the Rams: His NFL resume includes nearly 50,000 yards passing, dozens of comeback victories and a selection to the Pro Bowl.
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But Matthew Stafford has never won a playoff game.
In 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions, Stafford was 0-3 in postseason games, his last appearance coming in 2016.
On Monday night, Stafford continues his quest for a playoff victory when the Rams play the Arizona Cardinals in an NFC wild-card game at SoFi Stadium.
“There’s no question that in the playoffs it’s win and continue, lose and go home,” Stafford said. “Not oblivious to that.
“But the biggest thing for me is to try to be the best version of myself for this team and let the chips fall where they may.”
Rams general manager Les Snead and coach Sean McVay went all in for Stafford when they traded quarterback Jared Goff and two first-round draft picks to the Lions. Stafford passed for 41 touchdowns with 17 interceptions as the Rams finished 12-5 and won the NFC West.
It was the first division title for Stafford, the top pick in the 2009 NFL draft. Now he has the opportunity for another first.
“Looking forward to the opportunity to go out there and get it done against Arizona,” he said.
Stafford is not the only star player for the Rams seeking his first playoff victory. Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has played in only one playoff game — a New York Giants loss to the Green Bay Packers in 2016.
Since signing with the Rams in November, Beckham has five touchdown catches in eight games. But that was the regular season.
“I don’t want to say it doesn’t mean anything,” he said of the regular season, “but everything is about this weekend.”
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Jeff Miller on the Chargers: No player among the 2021 Chargers was discussed more than Justin Herbert, who guided the offense to a top-five finish while earning starter status for the Pro Bowl.
All that talk can stop now.
Looking forward to the 2022 Chargers, the overriding topic is defense, the shortcomings on that side of the line of scrimmage costing Herbert the chance to make his postseason debut this weekend.
Sure, the Chargers need to address the right side of their offensive line, where injuries forced stopgaps Storm Norton and Michael Schofield to start for most of the season.
They have a decision to make on No. 2 wide receiver Mike Williams, who had a career year — 76 catches for 1,146 yards and nine touchdowns — as he enters free agency.
Veteran tight end Jared Cook also is set to be a free agent after he had the highest drop rate (12.7%, according to Pro Football Focus) among the team’s regulars.
And changes already have begun on special teams, coordinator Derius Swinton II and assistant coach Mayur Chaudhari fired after one season.
But defense is where the real work will be done as the Chargers attempt to mold the group to align more precisely to the specifications of head coach Brandon Staley.
“We really believe in how we play,” Staley said. “I think that it’s getting the right people that fit that way … and then coaching our guys better, teaching our guys better, taking that ownership and that accountability.”
NFL PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE
All times Pacific
at Cincinnati 26, Las Vegas 19
at Buffalo 47, New England 17
at Tampa Bay 31, Philadelphia 15
San Francisco 23, at Dallas 17
at Kansas City 42, Pittsburgh 21
Arizona at Rams, 5:15 p.m., ABC, ESPN, Rams favored by 3 1/2 points
Saturday, Jan. 22
Cincinnati at Tennessee, 1:30 p.m., CBS, Paramount+, Tennessee by 3
San Francisco at Green Bay, 5:15 p.m., Fox, Fox Deportes, Green Bay by 5 1/2
Sunday, Jan. 23
Rams or Arizona at Tampa Bay, Noon, NBC, Peacock, Universo
Buffalo at Kansas City, 3:30 p.m., CBS, Paramount+, Kansas City by 2 1/2
Note: Super Bowl is Sunday, Feb. 13 on NBC.
Dan Woike on the Lakers: Coach Frank Vogel, desperate to grab onto something, has seen moments this year that he hoped could be a turning point.
The gutted-out win in Detroit, overtime in Indiana, dominance against Boston in Los Angeles, small-ball successes without Anthony Davis — all of them moments where the Lakers could plant their foot in the ground and start moving in another direction.
It never happened.
Sunday felt different. Now this — a 37-point loss that somehow looked worse than that deficit implies — this could be a moment.
Coming off their worst loss of the season, called out by a franchise legend and challenged by one leader, the Lakers reached a crisis point — a moment when it was fair not to wonder if things were about to get better but if they could possibly get any worse.
“We got to make a decision. We just got to play hard. Sometimes the schemes and how you play doesn’t really matter. You got to just play hard sometimes,” Russell Westbrook said after the Lakers lost 133-96. “Teams are playing harder than us, simple as that.”
Saturday in Denver, the Lakers hit rock bottom on their season in a 133-96 loss to Denver, a reminder of how far the Lakers need to go to even be mentioned as a contender for anything other than a rebuild.
And Westbrook’s repeated insistence that the Lakers weren’t playing hard enough, that was the biggest indictment.
Magic Johnson expressed the same sentiment on Twitter, though Westbrook and Howard both bristled at the comments coming from an outsider.
“Lakers fans can accept being outplayed but we deserve more than a lack of effort and no sense of urgency,” Johnson wrote. “Owner Jeanie Buss, you deserve better.”
UCLA WOMEN’S BASKETBALL
Charisma Osborne scored a game-high 25 points to lead the UCLA past Washington State, 71-58. The Bruins improved to 34-0 all-time against the Cougars at home.
Washington State (10-6, 2-3 Pac-12) jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, forcing a timeout from the UCLA bench. The Bruins (7-4, 2-1) got on the board via a pair of free throws from Osborne, but Johanna Teder and Charlisse Leger-Walker answered right back with triples to make it 13-2 at the 2:14 mark. The Bruins responded with a quick 6-0 run to end the frame, cutting WSU’s lead to 13-8 after the first 10 minutes.
Jaelynn Penn finished the game with 17 points including three triples while IImar’I Thomas had 10 points and five boards.
USC WOMEN’S BASKETBALL
The USC women’s basketball team was fueled by 15 second-half points from birthday girl Jordyn Jenkins to turn the tide on visiting Washington. The Trojans had trailed by 10 at halftime before hitting the gas and working out to a final 73-66 victory over the Huskies. USC improves to 9-5 overall and to 2-2 in Pac-12 play with the win, while Washington goes to 5-5, 0-2.
Washington crafted an early lead and kept pace from there in the first half, shooting 44.4% from the field while knocking down four three-pointers to hold a 10-point lead at the break. USC was shooting 39.3% with just a single three landed, while Washington also led on the boards 21-16 at halftime. In the second half, however, USC closed the gap and took over thanks to a 62% shooting.
UCLA WOMEN’S GYMNASTICS
Thuc Nhi Nguyen on the Bruins: In her first two years as UCLA’s choreographer, Bijoya “BJ” Das has set the internet aflame with three viral floor routines. Two of the star-making performances were choreographed during a pandemic that limited the assistant coach’s ability to interact with the gymnasts she was coaching.
The challenges continued for Das this season as she split time during the summer and fall working on Simone Biles’ “Gold Over America Tour.” The post-Olympic event left Das exhausted and on a tight time schedule to begin UCLA’s season.
But seeing her work on the floor with the Bruins this year wouldn’t suggest any fatigue.
“Somehow, I think the routines are the best they’ve ever been,” head coach Chris Waller said. “It’s remarkable what she has done. … Each of these routines reflects the personality of each athlete in a really special and powerful way.”
In her third year as UCLA’s floor choreographer, Das is trying to up the ante on the team’s trademark event by emphasizing each gymnast’s individuality. The Bruins will unveil their full lineup Monday at Minnesota, where UCLA will make a delayed season debut after its original season opener was canceled because of COVID-19 protocols.
Helene Elliott on tennis: The Australian Open, known as the “Happy Slam” for its hospitable setting in Melbourne and its place as the first big event of the tennis calendar, isn’t off to a cheery start this year. Hold the vegemite sandwiches and take the shrimp off the barbie.
The first Grand Slam of 2022 began Monday in Australia (Sunday in the United States) still steeped in the sour aftermath of Novak Djokovic’s controversial entry into the country and, after more time spent in a court than on one, his deportation by the Federal Court of Australia based on fear that his non-vaccinated status might trigger strong anti-vaccination protests and discredit the country’s efforts to curb the surging COVID-19 omicron variant.
Projecting what might have happened hardly seems reason enough to send him packing, but that’s what it came down to as a three-judge panel upheld immigration minister Alex Hawke’s wide discretionary power to revoke Djokovic’s visa. That ended a saga that included the visa being canceled upon his arrival, restored when a judge determined procedural errors had been made, a second cancellation after he had practiced at Melbourne Park, and a weekend decision that wasn’t appealed because time had run out on his chance to compete.
The final decision seemed to reflect public sentiment: According to a survey conducted for the Sun-Herald and Sunday Age last week, 71% of Australians wanted Djokovic booted out; that figure was 83% in a NewsCorp survey of more than 60,000 people. To a population understandably weary of COVID lockdowns and concerned about a burdened health system, letting Djokovic into the country to pursue a men’s record 21st Slam singles title was seen as arrogant disrespect for the hardships the people are still experiencing.
THIS DATE IN SPORTS
1961 — The Cincinnati Royals’ 22-year-old rookie sensation, Oscar Robertson, becomes the youngest player to receive NBA All-Star MVP honors. Robertson scores 23 points and hands out 14 assists in a 153-131 victory for the West at Syracuse.
1971 — The first Super Bowl under the NFL-AFL merger ends with Baltimore rookie Jim O’Brien kicking a 32-yard field goal for a 16-13 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
1986 — Tim Witherspoon wins a majority decision over Tony Tubbs at the Omni in Atlanta to win the WBA heavyweight title.
1988 — The Denver Broncos beat the Cleveland Browns for the second straight year in the AFC championship game. Defensive back Jeremiah Castille strips running back Earnest Byner at the Denver 3-yard line with 65 seconds left in the game to preserve a 38-33 victory.
1995 — The NFL Rams announce they’re leaving Southern California after 49 years and moving to St. Louis.
1996 — Detroit’s Steve Yzerman becomes the 22nd player in NHL history to score 500 goals as the Red Wings beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-2.
2003 — Joe Nieuwendyk scores his 500th career goal in New Jersey’s 2-1 victory over Carolina.
2004 — New Jersey’s Patrik Elias ties an NHL record by scoring his fourth overtime goal of the season in a 2-1 win over Washington.
2010 — Jeremy Abbott earns a trip to the Olympics by winning his second national men’s figuring skating title. Abbott’s wins in a landslide with a score of 263.66 points, 25 more than Evan Lysacek.
2011 — West Virginia of the Big East moves into the men’s poll for the first time this season to tie the record of nine teams from one conference in the Top 25. There were nine Big East teams ranked for one week in January 2009.
2011 — Fifth-ranked Pittsburgh scores the first 19 points only to lose the lead, then comes back behind Nasir Robinson’s 21 points to hand No. 3 Syracuse its first loss with a 74-66 victory.
2014 — Five-time champion Serena Williams becomes the winningest woman at the Australian Open, notching career win No. 61 as she advanced to the fourth round with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Daniela Hantuchova.
2016 — The Carolina Panthers builds a 31-0 halftime lead before barely holding off Seattle’s relentless comeback, beating the Seahawks 31-24 to advance to the NFC championship game.
Supplied by the Associated Press
Footage from the 1961 NBA All-Star game. Watch here.
Until next time...
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