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49ers beat Cowboys 19-12 to advance to NFC title game

Source image: https://apnews.com/article/san-francisco-49ers-dallas-cowboys-nfl-super-bowl-sports-f1268805853482b77d05a12a2fded011

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Brock Purdy rolled to his left and saw his first few options covered. At the last second, George Kittle broke free running deep, Purdy threw across his body and Kittle made a juggling catch that sparked San Francisco’s only touchdown drive.

That one big play proved to be enough to send the 49ers to their second straight NFC title game, thanks to a suffocating defensive performance.

Christian McCaffrey capped that drive with a go-ahead 2-yard run and the defense buckled down from there, sealing a 19-12 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

“Man, we’re just excited that we won,” said Purdy, the 49ers’ unbeaten rookie quarterback. “Everyone did their part. It’s playoff football, it’s never easy, but we’re moving on.”

The 49ers (15-4) used back-to-back long scoring drives in the second half to wear down the Cowboys (13-6) and win their 12th straight game. San Francisco advanced to play the Eagles in the NFC title game next Sunday in Philadelphia after losing in that round to the Rams a year ago.

The Cowboys lost for the record seventh straight time in the divisional round and have failed to make it to the NFC title game since winning their fifth Super Bowl title following the 1995 season.

Dak Prescott threw two interceptions and Brett Maher missed his fifth extra point of the postseason when his attempt was blocked. He later made two field goals.

“Just disappointment,” Prescott said. “Defense gave us an opportunity to win this game. They played hard against a really, really good offense, a really good team. For us to only put up the points that we did, that’s unacceptable. It starts with me. I’ve got to be better. There’s no other way to sugarcoat it.”

The key play came on the second play of the drive late in the third quarter with the game tied at 9. Purdy ran a bootleg that Dallas covered perfectly.

But he waited long enough for Kittle to improvise and turn upfield. Purdy then delivered a strike.

“We needed something,” Purdy said. “We needed a spark to get the ball rolling.”

Kittle bobbled the ball a few times before finally corralling it for a 30-yard gain, giving credit to his rookie QB for delivering it.

“I’m not even in the read, so I just kind of saw a space and he hadn’t thrown it yet so I was just going up the field,” Kittle said. “He gave me a catchable ball and I was just trying to be dramatic. Just for TV.”

McCaffrey capped the 91-yard drive with his TD run.

The Cowboys still had a shot late when they took over at their own 18 with 2:59 remaining, trailing 19-12 after Robbie Gould’s fourth field goal of the game capped a nearly eight-minute drive.

But Prescott threw two straight incompletions and was sacked on third down. Coach Mike McCarthy opted to punt on fourth-and-10 with all three timeouts left.

Purdy started the next drive with a 16-yard completion to Kittle and San Francisco didn’t give the ball back to Dallas until there were 45 seconds left. The Cowboys took over at their 6 and never got close from there.

“I like to be in those positions,” Prescott said. “We just weren’t able to get anything going.”

Purdy, the last pick in the draft last April, improved to 7-0 as a starter since replacing an injured Jimmy Garoppolo early in Week 13.

He went 18 for 28 for 215 yards with no turnovers against the Cowboys, joining Joe Flacco (2008) and Mark Sanchez (2009) as the only rookie QBs to win two playoff starts.

“I’m not shocked anymore,” McCaffrey said. “It’s just who he is now.”

The NFL’s top two scoring teams over the past 13 weeks had trouble getting going as the defenses led by All-Pros Nick Bosa of San Francisco and Micah Parsons of Dallas controlled the play.

The Niners picked off Prescott twice in the first half, turned those into field goals by Gould and led 9-6 at the break.

The Cowboys scored the only TD of the first half with Prescott connecting with tight end Dalton Schultz for the third time this postseason. But Maher’s low extra-point attempt was blocked by Samson Ebukam.

Maher got some redemption when he made a 25-yard field goal that tied the game at 9 early in the third quarter after Ray-Ray McCloud fumbled a punt return at the San Francisco 21.

“That felt like legit playoff football,” Bosa said. “That’s a really good team.”

JUST FOR KICKS

The Cowboys’ decision to stick with Maher after his four missed extra points last week looked questionable when he missed the early extra point. Maher’s five missed PATs are the second most by any NFL kicker in the playoffs. Roy Gerela missed six tries in 43 attempts in the 1970s for Houston and Pittsburgh.

There had been a dustup pregame when Maher was warming up. Trent Williams and other 49ers players tried to interfere with his attempts from San Francisco’s side of the field, leading to a brief argument.

INJURIES

Cowboys: RB Tony Pollard left late in the first half after injuring his left ankle while getting tackled following a reception. He didn’t return to the game. … DT Calvin Watkins (calf) left in the first half.

49ers: DE Charles Omenihu (oblique) left briefly in the first half but returned to the game.

UP NEXT

The 49ers would reach their second Super Bowl in the past four seasons with a win at Philadelphia.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

Source: https://apnews.com/article/san-francisco-49ers-dallas-cowboys-nfl-super-bowl-sports-f1268805853482b77d05a12a2fded011

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Tokyo Olympic official, 3 others held in bid-rigging probe

TOKYO (AP) — A senior official with the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee and three company executives were arrested Wednesday in an ongoing bid-rigging scandal related to the Games.

Yasuo Mori, the Olympic official, was arrested along with Koji Henmi, who headed the sports division at Japanese advertising giant Dentsu. Two other business executives were also arrested on charges of violating anti-monopoly laws, the Tokyo District Prosecutors said in a statement.

Prosecutors have also been investigating a separate bribery scandal centered around former Dentsu executive Haruyuki Takahashi, who was a member of the organizing committee.

The bid-rigging probe in general involves the choice of venues for Olympic test events as well as for the actual Games. It is a joint operation of the Japan Fair Trade Commission, which looks at violations of anti-monopoly laws.

Prosecutors said the officials secretly agreed on the bids in 2018.

Some of the contracts had only one bidder, according to Japanese media reports. Prosecutors say the bid-rigging scandal arrests have just begun and could embroil more companies.

Upon conviction of violation of anti-monopoly laws, individuals can be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

The sprawling corruption allegations surrounding Tokyo have caused the bid by the northern Japanese city of Sapporo for the 2030 Winter Games to be placed “on hold.” Sapporo was considered the favorite before the scandal.

Salt Lake City is the only other known bidder that might consider taking 2030. Salt Lake officials have said they favor a bid for 2034.

The Tokyo Games were postponed for a year and held in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The official price tag is $13 billion, though a government audit suggests it might be twice that much.

Takahashi and officials at several other companies were earlier arrested in the bribery scandal. Plans for those trials are beginning. Takahashi was released on bail after being held for several months.

Among the companies embroiled in the scandal involving Takahashi are Aoki Holdings, a clothing company that dressed Japan’s Olympic team; Sun Arrow, which produced the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic mascots named Miraitowa and Someity; and Kadokawa Group, the publisher of the Games program and guidebooks.

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Jessica Pegula reveals her mother Kim Pegula’s health crisis

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Pro tennis player Jessica Pegula has revealed that her mother, Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres co-owner and president Kim Pegula, went into cardiac arrest in June and is still recovering while dealing with significant language and memory issues.

In an essay that The Players’ Tribune published Tuesday, Jessica Pegula detailed for the first time the medical crisis that abruptly removed her mother from the public eye and suggested that her mother may not resume the same level of involvement in the family’s sports franchises.

Kim Pegula, she wrote, went into cardiac arrest while sleeping and received lifesaving CPR from another daughter until paramedics arrived and restored her heartbeat. The family previously said only that Kim Pegula was receiving medical care for “some unexpected health issues” that arose shortly after she celebrated her 53rd birthday.

“My mom is working hard in her recovery, she is improving, but where she ends up is still unknown,” Jessica Pegula, 28, wrote.

She said she decided to write about her mother’s ordeal after Bills player Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field during a Jan. 2 game in Cincinnati in what Pegula described as “some bizarre, messed-up, full circle moment.”

“My stomach sunk because it felt like the exact same thing all over again. I was sitting on the bench for a tennis event in Sydney, Australia. I wanted to throw up,” wrote Jessica Pegula, who is No. 4 in the WTA’s singles rankings. “I was supposed to go on for mixed doubles in 15 minutes and I remember telling one of my teammates, `I am a little freaked out right now, this is too close to home, and I feel like I am going to have a panic attack.’”

As Hamlin began his recovery, Jessica Pegula joined in an outpouring of support from fans and the NFL and wore a white screen-printed patch with Hamlin’s uniform number while playing at the Australian Open. “It didn’t feel like it was just for him, it felt like it was for my mom as well,” she said.

Jessica Pegula had been home in Florida months earlier when she got a call from her sister, Kelly, around midnight on their mother’s birthday and learned that their mother was being rushed to the hospital.

“My mom was asleep when my dad woke up to her going into cardiac arrest and she was unresponsive for quite a while,” she wrote. Kelly Pegula, who was staying with their parents, performed CPR — just three months after telling her family that she planned to become certified in the procedure for a job.

“I remember her telling us what she was doing in our family group chat,” Jessica Pegula wrote, “and my mom even responded, `Nice Kells! Now if we have a heart attack you can revive us.’”

Today, Kim Pegula “can read, write, and understand pretty well, but she has trouble finding the words to respond,” Jessica Pegula wrote. “It is hard to deal with and it takes a lot of patience to communicate with her, but I thank God every day that we can still communicate with her at all. The doctors continue to be blown away by her recovery, considering where she started, and her determination is the driving force of that.”

As the first woman to serve as president of an NHL and NFL team at the same time, Kim Pegula “lived it and loved it, and it was felt by everyone she met,” Jessica Pegula wrote. “Now we come to the realization that all of that is most likely gone. That she won’t be able to be that person anymore.”

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Mat Ishbia to AP: Suns ‘will be one of best places to work’

Mat Ishbia said his first major project as owner of the Phoenix Suns will be to listen to employees and figure out what problems they’ve faced.

After that, he’ll start fixing.

The tenure of embattled Robert Sarver as owner of the NBA’s Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury officially ended Tuesday, when Ishbia — the chairman, president and chief executive of United Wholesale Mortgage, plus a member of Michigan State’s NCAA championship team in 2000 — took over. He will be governor, while his brother, Justin Ishbia, will be alternate governor.

Justin Ishbia will be the team’s second-largest shareholder, behind his brother. They acquired more than 50% of the franchise, which includes all of what was Sarver’s stake as well as some holdings of minority partners, and the sale valued the Suns and Mercury at $4 billion.

“I’m going to spend a lot of time listening and learning, then make the adjustments to make this not only one of the best organizations in the NBA but also one of the best places to work,” Mat Ishbia told The Associated Press. “That’s a huge part of my success here in Michigan and it will be a big part of our success now in Phoenix. I don’t have enough information to know what exactly it’s been like, but I will dig in and roll up my sleeves and figure it out over the next three, four, five months-plus.”

The 43-year-old Ishbia was announced as the owner-in-waiting of the Suns on Dec. 20, and the last hurdle before the purchase became official was cleared Monday night when it was revealed that the NBA’s board of governors approved him as the next owner.

The transaction was completed Tuesday. Ishbia will hold a news conference in Phoenix on Wednesday.

Sarver was suspended for one year by the NBA in mid-September after an investigation found he engaged in workplace misconduct that included racist speech and hostile behavior toward employees. About a week after NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced the suspension and $10 million fine — the most allowed by league rule – Sarver said he would start the process of finding a buyer.

Ishbia’s name had been linked to other potential sales of pro sports teams in the past, including the NFL’s Washington Commanders. And the self-described basketball nut jumped quickly to acquire the Suns and Mercury.

“This is what I wanted the whole time,” Ishbia said. “My name got linked to a lot of things. That doesn’t mean it was actually necessarily right. The Phoenix Suns, in my opinion, is one of the elite franchises in one of the elite cities in America. To have a chance to be one of the owners of the Suns and Phoenix Mercury is a dream come true.”

Ishbia’s company, UWM, employs about 7,000 people. It had over $226.5 billion in mortgage originations in 2021, which the company says is a record for wholesale volume.

“We’re all about culture,” Ishbia said. “We’re all about people. We’re all about the word ‘team.’ It’s almost like a match made in heaven — the city, the location, the NBA, my love of basketball. And I can come in, take some of the really good things they’re doing but maybe make some changes from a culture perspective.”

There is one immediate order of business: The NBA trade deadline is Thursday.

The Suns — who went to the NBA Finals in 2021, losing a 2-0 lead and falling to Milwaukee in six games, had the best regular-season record in the league last season — are in a muddled Western Conference playoff race this season.

Ishbia said he and team president of basketball operations James Jones, who is also the general manager, have talked and will keep talking while Jones gauges the market to see what moves, if any, are right for the Suns.

“We’ve got to make sure we put ourselves in a great position,” Ishbia said. “I think we have an amazing team and I think we’re in a great position right now. Will I be involved? Yes. Are we highly active? Yes. But at the same time, I think we have a championship-contending team without doing anything over the next two days.”

Ishbia played for Tom Izzo at Michigan State, and he got into the 2000 title game against Florida at the end. He knew he was out of bounds when he picked up a loose ball in the final moments, but no referee blew the whistle. Sensing opportunity, Ishbia tried a reverse layup at the buzzer; it missed, but he celebrated anyway.

He senses another opportunity now.

“For me, this is a lifelong dream,” he said.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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