KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — The Atlanta Braves acquired pitcher Trevor Cahill from Arizona on Thursday night, hoping to boost a staff that's been hurt by injuries.
The Diamondbacks sent Cahill and for minor league outfielder Josh Elander and agreed to send Atlanta $6.8 million to cover the majority of Cahill's $12 million salary this year.
The 27-year-old right-hander, an All-Star with Oakland in 2010, was 3-12 with a 5.61 ERA for Arizona last season. He is 64-69 with a 4.07 ERA in six seasons.
Only opening day starter Julio Teheran, newcomer Shelby Miller and Alex Wood are guaranteed spots in the Braves' rotation. Mike Minor, who went 6-12 with a 4.77 ERA in 25 starts last season, is out indefinitely with a sore shoulder.
Braves assistant general manager John Coppolella said the Braves had their eyes on Cahill all spring.
"We thought he was a young pitcher with good stuff," Coppolella said. "We saw him four different times this spring and liked what we saw."
Cahill has suffered from shoulder stiffness but Coppolella said it was "just minor wear and tear."
"There are no red flags," Coppolella said. "He's going to give us a good shot to get us where we want to be."
To help cover Cahill's salary, Arizona will pay Atlanta seven installments of $812,500 by the first of each month from May 1 through Nov. 1 and then $1,112,500 by Dec. 1.
Cahill's contract includes a $13 million team option for 2016 with a $300,000 buyout and a $13.5 million option for 2017 with a $500,000 buyout.
The 24-year-old Elander is a .275 hitter in three seasons in the minors. He batted .219 with two homers last year at Class A Lynchburg.
NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL has fined the Atlanta Falcons, stripped the organization of a draft pick and suspended team president Rich McKay from the league's Competition Committee beginning April 1 following the team's use of fake noise at home games.
In statement released Monday, the league announced that the Falcons have been fined $350,000 and will forfeit their fifth-round selection in the 2016 draft. If the Falcons have multiple picks in that round, the highest selection will be forfeited.
The NFL noted throughout the 2013 season and into the 2014 season the Falcons violated league rules that state "at no point during the game can artificial crowd noise or amplified crowd noise be played in the stadium."
The league also said Roddy White, the team's former director of event marketing, was directly responsible for the violation and would have been suspended without pay for the first eight weeks of the 2015 regular season had he still been with the club. The Falcons fired him.
The league determined that Falcons ownership and senior executives, including McKay, were unaware of the use of an audio file with artificial crowd noise. But as the senior club executive overseeing game operations, McKay bears some responsibility for ensuring that team employees comply with league rules. McKay can petition Commissioner Roger Goodell for reinstatement to the committee no sooner than June 30.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank told The Associated Press in early February that he had seen enough of the NFL's investigation to acknowledge wrongdoing by his club.
"It's not really a fine line," Blank told the AP. "I think what we've done in 2013 and 2014 was wrong. Anything that affects the competitive balance and fairness on the field, we're opposed to, as a league, as a club and as an owner. It's obviously embarrassing but beyond embarrassing it doesn't represent our culture and what we're about."
The Falcons say 101 of 103 games have been sellouts since Blank bought the team in 2002. Actual turnouts declined during losing seasons the last two years.
Atlanta ranked 10th among the 32 NFL teams with its average home attendance of 72,130 in 2014. Construction is underway for a new $1.4 billion stadium that will replace the Georgia Dome in 2017. The new stadium will have a similar seating capacity.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL
ATLANTA (AP) — John Buck, an 11-year major league veteran who was attempting to land a job with the Atlanta Braves as a backup catcher, has retired.
The 34-year-old, an All-Star in 2010 with Toronto, hit 134 home runs with seven big league teams. He hit .225 in 32 games with Seattle and the Los Angeles Angels last year after playing for the New York Mets and Pittsburgh in 2013.
He says he wants to spend more time with his family. He hit .320 with one homer in 25 at-bats for the Braves in spring training.
Buck set career highs with 20 homers and 66 RBIs with Toronto in 2010. He played his first six seasons with Kansas City.
He would have gotten a $1 million contract if added to Atlanta's 40-man roster.
ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's highest court has rejected a challenge to the city of Atlanta using taxpayer revenue to help finance a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons.
The unanimous opinion published Monday by the Georgia Supreme Court says the financing structure does not violate the state Constitution. Construction of the stadium for the Atlanta Falcons is already well underway.
A group of Atlanta residents was challenging the city's plan to issue $200 million in bonds for the stadium. They argued the issuance of the bonds was unconstitutional because of an amendment to a 2010 state law governing the use of the city's hotel-motel taxes.
At a hearing in May, a judge issued an order rejecting their objections and confirming and validating the bonds for the stadium. The high court upheld that ruling.
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Alex Rodriguez will not play in the New York Yankees' exhibition opener against Philadelphia in Clearwater on Tuesday.
Back from a season-long suspension for violations of baseball's drug agreement and labor contract, Rodriguez was not on the travel roster posted Monday. He could make his spring training debut Wednesday, when the Yankees host the Phillies.
Rodriguez went 0 for 2 as the designated hitter in an intrasquad game Monday. Hitting off a pitching machine, he grounded to third on the second pitch and flied out to short right on the first pitch.
The game was played before about 100 fans in mostly empty Steinbrenner Field. Rodriguez spent most the game in a chair next the first-base dugout wearing a helmet and occasionally swinging a bat as he awaited his next plate appearance. He received cheers walking to the plate from the small gathering.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman say Chase Headley will be their starting third baseman and Rodriguez will compete for at-bats at designated hitter.
Rodriguez has been working out at third and first base, and could see limited time at both.
The three-time AL MVP has not played a full season since 2007 because of the suspension, operations on both hips and other injuries.
Adam Warren will start for the Yankees Tuesday. Position players making the trip to Clearwater include outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Chris Young.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
NEW YORK (AP) — Michael Jordan and two other NBA owners have reached new heights, making Forbes world list of billionaires.
Forbes released its list on Monday and noted that Jordan's net worth is estimated at $1 billion, thanks to his well-timed investment in the Charlotte Hornets.
Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, with a net worth of $1.6 billion, and the Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, worth $1.3 billion are also on the list. Jordan and Reinsdorf are newcomers to the list while Alexander returns for the first time since 2007.
The net worth of NBA franchise values increased this past year after the sale of Los Angeles Clippers to Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.
The 52-year-old Jordan, a Hall of Fame player who won six NBA championships with the Bulls, reached billionaire status last June, according to the magazine. This is his first year on Forbes' annual list which typically is released in March.
Jordan acquired the majority stake in the Hornets in 2010 for $175 million. Forbes last June listed Jordan's equity as owner of the Hornets is $416 million and his net worth outside of the team to be $600 million.
Topping the list of sports-related billionaires was Stanley Kroenke, who owns the NFL's St. Louis Rams. His net worth of $6.3 billion, which ranks him as the 225th richest person in the world.
He is one of 11 NFL owners on a list that include 20 billionaire sports figures.
Other NFL owners to make the list include Robert Kraft (Patriots, $4.3 billion), Jerry Jones, (Cowboys, $4.2 billion), Stephen Bisciotti (Ravens, $2.7 billion), Arthur Blank (Falcons, $2.5 billion), Robert McNair (Texans, $2.4 billion), Tom Benson (Saints, $1.9 billion), James Irsay (Colts, $1.75 billion), Daniel Snyder (Redskins, $1.7 billion), Alex Spanos (Chargers, $1.25 billion) and Jeffrey Lurie (Eagles, $1.1 billion).
See Forbes.com/billionaires for more complete list of sports-related billionaires
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Padraig Harrington captured his first PGA Tour title in more than six years Monday when he won the Honda Classic by making a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole in regulation and beating 21-year-old rookie Daniel Berger on the second playoff hole.
Leave it to Harrington to emerge the winner of the craziest final round on the PGA Tour this season.
It took two days to complete the final round. Four of the five players who had a share of the lead hit shots into the water down the stretch. That included Harrington, who appeared to throw it away when he hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made double bogey to fall one shot behind.
Harrington, a three-time major champion and resilient as ever, followed with the birdie for an even-par 70 to get into a playoff with Berger, the hometown rookie who closed birdie-birdie for a 64. They finished at 6-under 274.
Both missed birdie putts on the par-5 18th in the playoff. And on the 17th hole, the roles were reversed. Harrington got his redemption, hitting his tee shot to 3 feet. Berger, whose 7-iron into 8 feet in regulation was key in getting into the playoff, followed Harrington with a shot into the water.
Berger took double bogey. Harrington missed from 3 feet, but it didn't matter. He was a winner again on the PGA Tour for the first time since his second straight major at the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills. And he's going back to the Masters.
"Believe it or not, when I get in contention I can still hit the shots," Harrington said.
The final hour was calamitous at PGA National.
Ian Poulter, who had a three-shot lead at the start of the rain-delayed final round, appeared to have recovered from water balls on consecutive holes at the end of play Sunday. He had a two-shot lead until hitting one in the water on the 11th for double bogey to lose his lead, and two in the water on the 14th for a triple bogey. Poulter hit five balls in the water in his final round for a 75.
"The good is good enough to win. I know that," Poulter said. "It's just bitterly disappointing to put myself in the position I have, to play as well as I've played ... and a couple of loose shots has cost me this tournament. It's a shame to hand tournaments away. I've handed one away this week."
Patrick Reed, tied with Harrington at 7 under, came up short on the par-3 15th and into the water for double bogey, and he never recovered. He bogeyed the next two holes and closed with a 73.
Paul Casey also had a share of the lead until a bogey on the 14th hole, and he never got it back. He missed a 20-foot birdie chance on the 18th that would have put him in a playoff and closed with a 68 to tie for third with Poulter and Russell Knox, who shot a 68.
Phil Mickelson was four shots behind when he returned Monday morning to face a 10-foot par putt on the ninth hole. He missed and didn't make a birdie. Mickelson shot a 73 and tied for 17th, six shots behind.
Harrington's last victory was at the Indonesian Open on the Asian Tour at the end of last year, and while it wasn't against a strong field, it did a world of good for his confidence. He talked earlier in the week about the royal treatment a three-time major champion gets in Asia, and that was easy to get lost on the PGA Tour.
He found himself again by playing like the Harrington of old.
Lost in all the collapses down the stretch was that the 43-year-old Harrington was five shots behind with eight holes to play when he hooked his tee shot and dropped his head walking off the 11th hole. It was enough left of the fairway to find a patch of muddied grass that had been trampled by the gallery, and he played a bold shot to a right flag over the water to 15 feet for birdie. That's where Poulter went into the water, and the three-shot swing meant Harrington was back in the game.
He followed with a 35-foot birdie on the 12th, a 7-foot birdie on the 13th and a 15-foot putt on the 14th for his fourth straight birdie and a share of the lead when Reed holed from 18 feet right before him.
Berger was not even part of the picture and only took the lead when he was done with his round. He chipped in for birdie on the 11th hole at the end of Sunday when darkness stopped the final round. And then he made two birdies at the end, including a two-putt from 40 feet on the 18th.
Berger had a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th to win and just missed left of the cup. That was his last chance.
NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL's salary cap is going up $10 million to $143.28 million for the 2015 season.
All 32 teams and the players' union were notified Monday of the increase, the second straight season the cap went up by at least $10 million. Adding in benefits, the league says the projected player costs will be $180.775 million per team.
The NFL's business year starts March 10, when free agency begins.
The salary cap is determined by a series of NFL revenue streams, with the players receiving 46 percent to 48 percent of those revenues, depending on the year.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kurt Busch has agreed to follow NASCAR's recommended guidelines to be eligible for eventual reinstatement.
The 2004 champion was indefinitely suspended Feb. 20 after a Delaware judge said he believed Busch likely committed an act of domestic violence against a former girlfriend and there was a "substantial likelihood" of him doing it again.
Busch lost two rounds of appeals for reinstatement before the season-opening Daytona 500 and has missed the first two races of the season. Regan Smith has replaced him in the No. 41 Chevrolet.
On Monday, NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said Busch has "agreed to our terms and conditions that must be met before he is eligible for consideration for reinstatement of his NASCAR license."
Stewart-Haas Racing, which on Monday said Smith would again drive the No. 41 this weekend at Las Vegas, said there is no timetable for Busch to meet NASCAR's guidelines.
"Kurt's willingness to embrace the conditions set forth by NASCAR is a positive step that we support," SHR said in a statement.
The specific guidelines have not been disclosed, but Higdon said an unidentified NASCAR consultant helped create them. Higdon added that Busch would need to meet the requirements "to the satisfaction of both NASCAR and the expert.
"The expert administering the reinstatement can come back with a recommendation of return, but Kurt still must satisfy NASCAR's expectations, as well," he said.
NASCAR tailors its reinstatement programs to each individual and the offense. AJ Allmendinger, for example, had to complete a program overseen by Dr. David Black, who runs NASCAR's drug-testing unit. Alllmendinger was suspended for failing a random drug test and eventually reinstated.
Jeremy Clements, who was suspended in 2013 for an inappropriate comment, was reinstated after completing a NASCAR-authorized sensitivity training program. The program was administered by sports sociologist Richard Lapchick and his staff at the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
Higdon said a domestic violence expert will oversee Busch's program, and NASCAR will not be part of the process.
Unrelated to the guidelines for NASCAR reinstatement are conditions placed on Busch by Family Court Commissioner David Jones, who granted a no-contact order for ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll. Jones wrote in his opinion that he believe believes there's real possibility Busch will lash out again and has a propensity to lose control in response to disappointing or frustrating situations involving racing.
Jones ordered Busch to be evaluated to see if there is a "treatable mental health condition." He also said Busch must follow any suggested treatment plans.
ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Falcons have released wide receiver Harry Douglas, who was third on the team with 51 catches in 2014, and starting offensive guard Justin Blalock.
The moves follow Thursday's release of running back Steven Jackson.
Douglas, a third-round pick in 2008, had career-high totals of 85 receptions for 1,067 yards in 2013, when he started in 11 of 16 games. Douglas, a third-round draft pick from Louisville in 2008, usually was the No. 3 receiver behind Julio Jones and Roddy White.
Blalock, a second-round pick from Texas in 2007, started all 125 games in which he played, including 15 in 2014.
On his Twitter feed on Friday, Douglas said "Thanking @AtlantaFalcons for my 7 years in ATL & the opportunity to play in the city I grew up. First class organization. Much luv 2 fans."
ATLANTA (AP) — It was probably the world's only "pay-as-you-go statue," Bob Hope — a local marketing guru, not the famous comedian — likes to joke. Eight years after Braves right-fielder Hank Aaron shattered Babe Ruth's home-run record in 1974, Hope decided to form a nonprofit group dedicated to erecting a monument to the baseball legend. As a symbolic gesture of gratitude, the nonprofit deemed, it should be paid for by Aaron's fans.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Prosecutors have dismissed domestic violence charges against Panthers defensive end and soon-to-be free agent Greg Hardy after they said the accuser in the case couldn't be found.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Tuesday he has seen enough of the NFL's investigation of fake crowd noise at Atlanta's home games to acknowledge wrongdoing.
The NFL is trying to determine if the Falcons pumped artificial crowd noise into the Georgia Dome for home games the last two years. Apparently, the answer is yes.
Blank had a quick response when asked if there was a fine line for crowd noise not allowed by the league.
"It's not really a fine line," Blank told The Associated Press. "I think what we've done in 2013 and 2014 was wrong. Anything that affects the competitive balance and fairness on the field, we're opposed to, as a league, as a club and as an owner. It's obviously embarrassing but beyond embarrassing it doesn't represent our culture and what we're about."
Blank said he expects the league to report its findings in two to three weeks.
The Falcons could be fined or penalized with the loss of a draft pick if found to have added fake crowd noise during the opposing team's huddles when they were trying to call a play.
"We've got some information internally," Blank said of the investigation. "Not all, clearly, until we see the full report. But we've dealt with it internally the best we can, which was limited because we haven't seen the report.
"We've gotten some information from the league but until we read the full report and until they publish their findings, we can't be totally clear. We've talked to a lot of people and we've cooperated and we'll be anxious to read the report."
The Falcons say 101 of 103 games have been sellouts since Blank bought the team in 2002. Actual turnouts declined during losing seasons the last two years.
Atlanta ranked 10th among the 32 NFL teams with its average home attendance of 72,130 in 2014. Construction is underway for a new $1.4 billion stadium which will replace the Georgia Dome in 2017. The new stadium will have a similar seating capacity.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello on Monday said the league had no comment on the investigation.
COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — When John Smoltz plopped down in a director’s chair inside the Baseball Hall of Fame and stared at all the bronze plaques on the walls, the moment was both magical and a bit overwhelming.
PHOENIX (AP) — Tom Brady knows what's next: more Super Bowl wins.
At least he hopes so.
The most successful quarterback of his era was still riding the high of his fourth NFL championship on the morning after New England's 28-24 victory over Seattle. Brady had every right to look back at his four touchdown passes against the NFL's top-ranked defense and beam. Instead, he was looking ahead.
"I am still kind of in the midst of my career," Brady said Monday before being presented with a car and his third Super Bowl MVP trophy, tying him with his boyhood idol, Joe Montana. "I just love the game. I love playing. I love representing our team."
That team — or previous versions of the Patriots he has quarterbacked — won three Super Bowls in four years, then lost in its next two trips to the big game. Brady knows how close the Patriots came to a third straight flop against the NFC champion, needing an interception with 20 seconds to go to clinch the crown.
"We've been on the other end of this two times in the last seven years, being ahead late in the game with the chance to win it, and not closing it out," Brady said of losses in 2008 and 2012 to the New York Giants. "I'm glad we had the opportunity to do it. Coach talked all week about how it was going to take all 60 minutes and it certainly did.
"It never broke our will. We were down 10 in the fourth quarter and (Seattle) being on the 1-yard line with 20 seconds left, but the guys never gave up. And you fight until the end and great things happen."
Brady knows all about great things, obviously. A two-time league MVP, he threw for four touchdowns against the NFL's stingiest defense, and led a comeback from a 10-point deficit through three quarters. He connected on all eight of his throws on the decisive drive that ended with a 3-yard TD pass to Julian Edelman.
Brady is 37 and has said he hopes to play well into his 40s, and he works hard to stay in top physical shape. So he doesn't see his winning toss to Edelman as his final Super Bowl moment.
But he certainly recognizes how difficult the journey is.
"Yeah, absolutely," he said. "I was a young kid when we won those first three. I know in '04 after we beat the Eagles, I was like, 'I'm just ready for this to be over, get the offseason started,' just because we had experienced it. Obviously, with some perspective of that game, it's a hard thing to get here and then it's a hard thing to win the game.
"Playing against the other best team, obviously, one play here, one play there, all things change, and we've been on the other end of that, too. So I'm just proud that we really got a chance to finish it out."
His coach, Bill Belichick, recognizes the value of a likely first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback running his offense. When the Patriots were being dominated by the Seahawks in the third quarter Sunday, Belichick understood that if they could keep it close, they had the closer.
"He's a great player," Belichick said. "It's been a great privilege to coach Tom for the last 15 years, 14 years as starting quarterback. We have a great relationship. We meet on a regular basis weekly several times.
"I can't think of a more deserving player than Tom to be the recipient of the accolades that he has this week, and particularly last night and today here. He's our leader. He competes as well as any player I've ever coached. He's well-prepared. He has great poise and great presence. He may not always be perfect, as it is for any of us. We all have our moments, but Tom, like many other players on our team, is the guy that fights to the end and competes until the end.
"There's no player I respect more for that than Tom. That's been a great pillar of strength for our football team for the past decade and a half."
And, according to Brady, for a while into the future.
ATLANTA, Ga. - The Atlanta Braves have agreed to terms with Cuban free-agent outfielder Dian Toscano on a four-year Major League contract through 2018, with a fifth-year club option for 2019. The deal was formally confirmed by Major League Baseball today and financial terms were not announced.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Thursday he doesn't know how footballs became deflated during the game that got his team to the Super Bowl.
But Belichick declined to answer questions after saying he knew nothing until Monday morning about accusations that his team cheated with underinflated footballs in its win against the Colts in the AFC championship game on Sunday night.
The NFL is investigating. Belichick said the team is fully cooperating.
"I had no knowledge of this situation until Monday morning," said Belichick, who said he was "shocked" to learn the news.
"I would say I've learned a lot more about this process in the last three days than I knew or have talked about it in the last 40 years that I've coached in this league," Belichick said during an 8 1/2-minute opening statement during an 11 1/2-minute news conference. "I had no knowledge of the various steps involved in the game balls and process that went through."
Belichick did not specify who in the Patriots organization was responsible for the underinflated balls, or absolve anyone besides himself of potential wrongdoing.
Softer balls are generally considered easier to throw and catch, and quarterbacks, specialists and equipment managers are known to have very individualized preferences in how footballs are readied for games. Belichick said he was unaware of the process for game balls until the accusations were raised.
Belichick said he sometimes hears quarterbacks, kickers and other specialists talk about their preferences.
"I can tell you and they will tell you that there is never any sympathy from me whatsoever on that subject. Zero," Belichick said.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is expected to address reporters later Thursday.
"Tom's personal preferences on his ball, footballs, are something that he can talk about in much better detail and information than I could possibly provide," Belichick said. "I can tell you that in my entire coaching career I have never talked to any player, staff member about football air pressure."
The NFL requires balls to be inflated between 12.5 and 13.5 pound per square inch. Under league rules, each team provides 12 balls for use on offense. Referees approve the balls more than 2 hours before game time, then keep the balls until they're turned over to ball handlers provided by home teams just before kickoff.
Belichick said the balls used by the Patriots offense are inflated to the "12 1/2-pound range" and "any deflation would then take us under that."
Going forward, he said, the Patriots will inflate footballs to a safe level to prevent them from dropping under allowable air pressure during games.
"We will take steps in the future to make sure that we don't put ourselves in this type of situation again," he said.
The coach who has won three Super Bowls said he generally forces players to practice under bad-ball conditions.
"Anytime players complain about the quality of the footballs, I make it worse and that stops the complaints," he said. "We never use the condition of the footballs as an excuse. We play with whatever or kick with whatever we have to use."
The issue has drawn strong reaction from around the game and its fans as the Patriots prepare to play the Seattle Seahawks on Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona, for the NFL title.
Several players said it would not distract them in preparing for the game.
"It's unfortunate. We'd rather be celebrating our trip to the Super Bowl," special teams captain Matthew Slater said. "It's important to us that we respect the game and deal with things in a way that's considered professional."
Belichick declined to answer several questions after his opening remarks, answering several of them by saying: "I've told you everything I know," and "I don't have an explanation."
Jeff Gordon, the charismatic four-time NASCAR champion who became the face of the stock car racing as the sport exploded in popularity a generation ago, will retire as a full-time driver after the 2015 season.
The NFL says its investigation into whether the New England Patriots used under-inflated footballs in the AFC championship game is ongoing after a report Tuesday night claimed the league found 11 balls were not properly inflated.
Troy Vincent, the NFL's executive vice president for football operations, told The Associated Press that the "investigation is currently underway and we're still awaiting findings."
Vincent was responding to an ESPN report that cited anonymous league sources saying 11 of the Patriots' 12 allotted game footballs were under-inflated by 2 pounds per square inch of air. ESPN did not say how that occurred.
Vincent said earlier Tuesday he expected the probe to be concluded by the end of the week. The last thing the NFL wants after a difficult season off the field is a potential cheating scandal that disrupts Super Bowl week. New England faces Seattle on Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona.
The Patriots, who beat Indianapolis 45-7 for the AFC title, said they were cooperating with the league, and a Seahawks spokesman said the team would defer to the league on the matter.
The NFL began looking into the issue not only because doctoring the footballs could provide a competitive advantage, but because it would compromise the integrity of the game.
Deflating a football can change the way it's gripped by a player or the way it travels through the air. Under NFL rules, each team provides balls each game for use when its offense is on the field. The balls are inspected before the game by the officiating crew, then handled during the game by personnel provided by the home team.
Social media responses were quick late Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning.
"11 of 12 balls under-inflated can anyone spell cheating!!! #Just Saying" was the tweet from Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice.
"So we get to play the game again or nah? ??" tweeted Colts cornerback Darius Butler.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on ESPN radio in Milwaukee that he didn't like how referees who inspected balls before games take air out of the game balls.
"I have a major problem with the way it goes down, to be honest with you," Rodgers said. "The majority of the time, they take air out of the football. I think that, for me, is a disadvantage."
Rodgers said referees have a set range in which they "like to set game balls," and that he always liked the higher end of the range because of his grip.
"I just have a hard time throwing a flat football," Rodgers said. He thought a slight majority of quarterbacks like footballs on the flatter side.
"My belief is that there should be a minimum air-pressure requirement but not a maximum," Rodgers said. "There's no advantage, in my opinion. We're not kicking the football. There's no advantage in having a pumped-up football."
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said the investigation is the least of his worries. And tight end Rob Gronkowski tweeted a photo of himself spiking the ball with the words: "WARNING GRONKING MAY CAUSE DEFLATION."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick on Tuesday deferred questions about the investigation, saying reporters should ask league officials. Belichick earlier said he wasn't aware there was an issue until Monday morning and promised to "cooperate fully with whatever the league wants us to, whatever questions they ask."
Belichick, of course, was fined $500,000 in 2007 for having an assistant spy on the New York Jets' defensive signals.
Special teams captain Matthew Slater said the Patriots "try to do things the right way. We work hard at our jobs, our professions, to be successful and it's unfortunate that things like this come up, but that's life, that's the world we live in."
Colts coach Chuck Pagano said he did not notice issues with the football and didn't specify when asked whether the Colts had reported the issue to officials.
"We talk just like they talk to officials (before the game)," he said. "We have an opportunity to talk to the officials about a lot of things."
Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman said the balls didn't feel different than usual.
And defensive tackle Vince Wilfork seemed amused by the matter and didn't shed any light on it.
"I don't know anything about that," he said. "I don't touch footballs. I tackle people."
AP Sports Writers Howard Ulman, Tim Booth and Genaro C. Armas contributed to this report.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/AP_NFL
Matias Dominguez was like most kids who fall in love with golf and dream of one day playing in the Masters.
Not many others faced such long odds. For starters, Dominguez grew up in Santiago, Chile, a country where golf is an afterthought and only one Chilean had ever competed at Augusta National. That was Enrique Orellana, who missed the cut 51 years ago.
Until recently, Dominguez, 22, wasn't even sure he wanted to golf for a living. He is a senior at Texas Tech, not exactly a golf powerhouse, and Dominguez is fourth in scoring average for the Red Raiders after four tournaments in the fall.
One chance was all he needed — the Latin American Amateur Championship. One week of great golf left him close to tears.
With a spot in the Masters riding on the outcome, Dominguez closed with a 1-under 71 Sunday at Pilar Golf Club in Buenos Aires, Argentina, winning the inaugural event and earning the right to be among Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and his golfing idol, Phil Mickelson, at Augusta in April.
"I always told to myself, 'I hope one day I can get to the Masters,'" Dominguez said in a conference call after his victory. "Hopefully, I can just share that moment with all my friends and my family, because we all grew up with that same dream. ... I just can't believe right now that dream just became true."
That was the idea behind the Latin American Amateur, which was patterned after the Asia-Pacific Amateur.
Augusta National, the Royal & Ancient Golf Club and the U.S. Golf Association founded the tournament with hopes it would inspire an entire region — South and Central America and the Caribbean. It comes with perks such as a spot in the Masters, the final stage of qualifying for the British Open and U.S. Open and a berth in the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur.
Without the Latin American Amateur, the only way for someone like Dominguez to play in the Masters would be as a top professional or to win an established amateur event open to the best in the world.
"Right before they announced this tournament, it seemed almost impossible for a Latin American to get there," Dominguez said. "And then here I am today. Just saying, 'I'm going to the Masters and play with everyone there,' it's just shocking."
Who could have imagined the road from Santiago to Magnolia Lane would lead through Lubbock, Texas?
Dominguez is in his final semester at Texas Tech, where his greatest achievement was leading them to a spot in the NCAA Championship as a sophomore. He is starting to branch out with academics and figure out where golf fits into the equation.
Asked for similarities between Santiago and the open spaces of West Texas, Dominguez broke out into laughter.
"Almost none," he said. "Probably if you want to find something that is the opposite of Chile, you would have to say Lubbock, Texas. But it's been a great journey. Lubbock has been something new, totally new people and new culture. It broadens my mind and makes me learn from other cultures and people, and it's been awesome for me. I wouldn't change it for anything."
Augusta National chairman Billy Payne has talked about using the reputation and resources of the Masters to help attract players from Asia — and now Latin America — to the game. The idea was to identify good golfers, which could create heroes for younger kids from the region.
The Asia-Pacific Amateur already has produced Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, who made the cut at Augusta both times he qualified and now is among the top players in the world. The Latin American Amateur is just getting started, but the goal is the same.
South America has produced two major champions — Roberto de Vicenzo (1967 British Open) and Angel Cabrera (2007 U.S. Open, 2009 Masters), both from Argentina. Chile's best golfer is Felipe Aguilar, who is No. 160 in the world and plays the European Tour.
Aguilar and Mickelson are Dominguez's golfing inspirations, he says, mainly because they always smile. And no one was beaming quite like Dominguez on Sunday.
"Everyone in Chile is just going crazy," he said. "It was something that for all of us, we thought it was almost impossible. ... We were waiting a few more years for the next player to get into the Masters. I think everyone is in shock right now that we got another Chilean guy playing the Masters after like 50 years.
"Hopefully, I can represent them the best I can at the Masters."
A few things to watch this week in the Southeastern Conference:
GAME OF THE WEEK: No. 1 Kentucky at Alabama: The Wildcats were back to their dominant ways during a blowout victory over Missouri on Tuesday following two surprisingly close games against Mississippi and Texas A&M to open SEC play. Now Kentucky faces a more challenging test on the road against Alabama, which has a 10-0 record this season at Coleman Coliseum.
LOOKING AHEAD: Georgia is showing signs that the Bulldogs are on their way back into contention. The Bulldogs entered the SEC schedule as prime NCAA tournament contenders but opened conference play with losses to Arkansas and LSU. They bounced back Wednesday by winning at Vanderbilt for the first time since 2005-06. Now Georgia enters a crucial stretch of its schedule, with three of the next four games at home, including intriguing matchups against Florida and Mississippi. Guard Kenny Gaines has been very good for the Bulldogs in SEC play, averaging 15.3 points on 50 percent shooting from the field.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Auburn forward Cinmeon Bowers is averaging a double-double in his first season in the SEC since arriving from Chipola (Florida) College. The 6-foot-7, 278-pound forward leads the SEC in rebounding and already has 10 double-doubles and a couple of 17-rebound performances this season. Bowers had 20 points and 14 rebounds Saturday in Auburn's 85-79 victory over Missouri.
KEY STATS: Kentucky's 86-37 wipeout of Missouri on Tuesday represented the Wildcats' largest margin of victory in an SEC game since a 106-44 blowout of Vanderbilt in 2003. Missouri's 37 points were the fewest that Kentucky had allowed in an SEC game since a 50-36 triumph over Mississippi State in 1987. ... Kentucky owns a 100-5 record during John Calipari's coaching tenure when it has allowed 63 or fewer points. The Wildcats are 50-0 under Calipari when they allow 55 or fewer points. ... Mississippi State has lost 16 straight regular-season SEC games dating back to last season. Third-year MSU coach Rick Ray has a 7-32 record in regular-season SEC play.
ON THE WOMEN'S SIDE: No. 10 Kentucky must play the rest of the season without starting point guard Janee Thompson, who broke a bone in her left leg Sunday during the Wildcats' 68-60 loss to top-ranked South Carolina. Thompson had been averaging 10.1 points per game. Joining South Carolina and Kentucky in this week's Top 25 are No. 6 Tennessee, No. 11 Texas A&M, No. 15 Mississippi State and No. 18 Georgia.
Complied by AP Sports Writers Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, and David Brandt in Jackson, Mississippi.
DALLAS (AP) — Ohio State and Oregon will meet in a game that has never been played for a trophy that has never been raised.
The winner Monday night in North Texas can be called the truest champion in the history of major college football.
The first College Football Playoff national championship game matches the second-seeded Ducks and fourth-seeded Buckeyes at AT&T Stadium.
"It's college football history," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Sunday during a news conference with Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, with that new championship trophy sitting in between them.
The days of bowls, polls and the BCS having the final say about who is No. 1 are over. The playoff that fans wanted for so long — and finally got — will determine a champion without a doubt.
Oregon (13-1) and its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota are in search of the program's first national title, the last remaining goal for a school that has barged onto the national stage over the last two decades with ostentatious flare and flashy uniforms.
Ohio State (13-1) is shooting for national championship No. 5, but the first under coach Urban Meyer, who returned to his home state three years ago to take over a college football goliath that was looking to start its next golden age.
Tradition rich vs. cutting edge.
The Ducks from the Pac-12 raced into the championship game with an emphatic 59-20 victory against Florida State last week at the Rose Bowl.
The Buckeyes from the Big Ten upset Alabama 42-35 at the Sugar Bowl to cap an improbable rebound from an early season loss and injuries to two star quarterbacks.
"This is much more of a business trip, this time around," Ohio State All-America defensive end Joey Bosa said. "Last week we went, we hung out and had some fun. This week it's all about business; no going out, no messing around. We're just preparing."
Ohio State has won 12 straight since stumbling at home to Virginia Tech in September.
The Ducks have won nine in a row since, all by double-digit margins, since losing to Arizona in October.
"We've been playing, both our program and Ohio State have played with that kind of early loss, and your back was against the wall to get to this point every play of every game, the entire rest of the season, it was to the those words: do or die," Helfrich said.
For decades college football's best team was picked by poll voters and postseason matchups were set with little regard for determining a national champion.
The Bowl Championship Series was implemented in 1998, a system designed to create a No. 1 vs. No. 2 national championship game to end the season. It was an awkward and imperfect step in the right direction, often leaving everyone involved unsatisfied. The conference commissioners who ran the BCS relented a couple of years ago and decided to create a four-team playoff.
Here are some things to know about the ultimate winner-take-all-game:
Mariota can become the seventh Heisman Trophy winner since 1996 to win the national championship in the same season he won the Heisman. Florida State's Jameis Winston did it last season.
Another victory in what is very likely his last college game would top off a career that can go down as one of the best in college football history.
Mariota has thrown for 10,463 yards, 103 touchdowns passes and just 13 interceptions while winning 35 games in three seasons as Oregon's starter.
"Our No. 1 concern is their quarterback," Meyer said.
The Buckeyes hope to contain the fast-moving Mariota with a defensive line, led by Bosa, that is among the best in the nation.
"They've got an awesome front seven," Mariota said. "Big, physical guys that really control the line of scrimmage."
Meyer can become the second coach in college football history to win national championships with two schools, joining Nick Saban, who won the BCS title in 2003 with LSU and then three more titles with Alabama.
Meyer won national titles with Florida in 2006 and 2008. A third championship would make Meyer the ninth coach in college football's poll era (dating to 1936) to win at least three championships. Bear Bryant leads with the six he won at Alabama.
The Ducks will be down their most productive receiver over the last two games.
Darren Carrington is ineligible after failing an NCAA administered drug test. He is second on the team in yards receiving with 704 and averages 19 yards per catch. He's been especially good lately.
In the Pac-12 championship game against Arizona and the Rose Bowl against Florida State, Carrington had 14 catches for 292 yards and three touchdowns.
Oregon also lost Devon Allen, second on the team in catches (41) and touchdown receptions (seven), at the Rose Bowl to a knee injury.
"We don't have things in our system that it's, hey, we need to throw this guy the ball in this play period," Helfrich said. "That doesn't exist."
OH-FER OHIO STATE
This will be the ninth meeting between Oregon and Ohio State. The Buckeyes have won the previous eight.
NEW YORK — Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz, a trio of star pitchers who dominated in an era of offense, were elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame on Tuesday along with Craig Biggio, the first time since 1955 writers selected four players in one year.
NEW ORLEANS — Cardale Jones came through again at the Sugar Bowl in his second career start and Ezekiel Elliott ran for 230 yards, leading Ohio State to a 42-35 upset of top-ranked Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal Thursday night.
PASADENA, Calif. — Marcus Mariota and Oregon turned an avalanche of Florida State mistakes into a mountain of points and the Ducks rolled past the defending national champions 59-20 Thursday to turn the first College Football Playoff semifinal into a Rose Bowl rout.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Trapped behind the line of scrimmage, Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas escaped by veering sharply and upfield, leaving a defender flailing and Yellow Jackets fans cheering another touchdown.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Freshman Nick Chubb ran for a career-high 266 yards and two touchdowns, and No. 13 Georgia overcame an injury to starting quarterback Hutson Mason to beat 20th-ranked Louisville 37-14 in the Belk Bowl on Tuesday night.
Here's a new tradition unlike any other — the race to see if the Masters can keep its field under 100 players by April.
For the fourth time in the last five years, at least 90 players already have qualified for the Masters at the end of the year with three months of opportunities remaining before the field is set. Each time, Augusta National managed to achieve its objective of keeping the number of competitors in double digits.
By far the smallest field of the four majors, the Masters has not had more than 100 players since 1966.
That's what Augusta National prefers. Club chairmen have talked about a small field creating a better experience. Remember, the original name of the Masters was the Augusta National Invitation Tournament.
But if the last eight months were any indication, this could be the closest call yet.
Of the 90 players who are eligible and expected to compete, 17 earned invitations by winning PGA Tour events that award full FedEx Cup points. That's up from 12 a year ago, a reminder not only that winning is difficult for everyone but that the PGA Tour is stronger and deeper than ever.
There are 13 chances for players not already in the Masters to win a full PGA Tour event and get in. And because the Match Play Championship has been moved from its traditional late February slot, top international players such as Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson and Adam Scott are not expected to play much (if at all) before the Florida swing.
The other way to qualify is to move into the top 50 in the world ranking published on March 30. Among those on the outside is Brandt Snedeker (No. 58) from the PGA Tour. Tommy Fleetwood (51), Alexander Levy (53) and Francesco Molinari (55) are also outside the top 50, though they will face some of the European Tour's stronger fields during the Middle East swing.
Also, the Masters had created a new spot for the winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship, to be played in January in Argentina.
A year ago, 90 players were eligible after the first cutoff in December. Seven players not already eligible won PGA Tour events, and Stephen Gallacher was added from the world ranking. Then again, one spot was reduced when Tiger Woods had back surgery a week before the Masters.
This year? Stay tuned. It starts with the Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, a field that includes four players who won before last year's Masters — Scott Stallings, Matt Every, Steven Bowditch and Matt Jones — and are not yet eligible at Augusta.
FALL OPPORTUNITIES: Two years into a wraparound schedule is too soon to analyze trends, though there was one significant change this year.
A year ago, Chris Kirk had the worst world ranking of the six winners in the fall. He was at No. 93 when he won the McGladrey Classic. Dustin Johnson had the highest ranking (No. 23 when he won he HSBC Champions), and the others were scattered in between. Jimmy Walker at the Frys.com Open was the only first-time winner.
This year provided more opportunity.
There were three first-time winners — Ben Martin, Robert Streb and Nick Taylor — among the seven tournaments. The player with the worst ranking? That would be Taylor at the Sanderson Farms Championship (played opposite Shanghai), who checked in at No. 594.
Bae Sang-moon was at No. 195 when he won the Frys.com Open, while Streb was No. 177 before winning at Sea Island.
The best ranking belonged to Bubba Watson, who was No. 7 when he won the World Golf Championship in China.
SCHEDULE SWAP: It's always good to have solid title sponsors, even better to have sponsors who are flexible.
The European Tour discovered that anew when the Turkish Airlines Open — typically the third of four events in the Race to Dubai final series — ran into problems for 2015. The G20 Summit starts in Turkey on Nov. 15, the same day as the final round of the golf tournament. The Turkish Golf Federation feared it would be exceedingly difficult for the events to clash and asked to change the date.
The BMW Masters in Shanghai — typically the Final Series opener — agreed to swap.
That means the Turkish Airlines Open will be the opening Final Series event, followed by the HSBC Champions in Shanghai and then the BMW Masters. The final event is the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
"We are a dedicated partner of golf worldwide, and we were keen to act in the interest of golf," Thorsten Mattig of BMW said.
BMW also sponsors European Tour events in Germany and at Wentworth, along with a FedEx Cup event on the PGA Tour.
REACHING OUT, GIVING BACK: The PGA Tour already is involved with military outreach with its "Birdies for the Brave" program. It added another layer for 2015 by offering military members complimentary or discounted tickets to its tournaments.
Starting with the Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, the "Birdies for the Brave Military Ticket Program" allows active duty and reserve military members, retired military and their dependents to get free admission to 30 PGA Tour events.
Discounted tickets to other tournaments also will be available to nonretired veterans.
The program is supported by Quicken Loans, the Detroit-based company that sponsors Tiger Woods' tournament in the Washington area in the summer. Military personnel only have to visit www.birdiesforthebrave.sheerid.com to access tickets to various tournaments.
"The Military Ticket Program ... is just one way we express our gratitude to those who put their lives on the line every day to keep America safe and free," said Charlie Zink, the co-chief operating officer for the PGA Tour.
Zink is a former Navy officer.
DIVOTS: Waialae Country Club has agreed to host the Sony Open for four more years. This will be the 50th straight year at Waialae. Only Colonial and Augusta National have hosted PGA Tour-sanctioned events for more continuous years. ... Bubba Watson donated his winnings from the Thailand Golf Championship to the Thongchai Jaidee Foundation, which is helping children with scholarships, golf lessons and accommodation. Watson tied for 25th and sent Thongchai a check for $9,250. ... Half of the 84 professionals who already have qualified for the Masters are Americans. ... Medinah Country Club has approved a $3.6 million project to restore the No. 2 course to its original character and upgrading standards of greens, bunkers and drainage. That means Medinah will have invested $14 million since 2008 to upgrade three courses, including the No. 3 course that has held majors and the Ryder Cup.
STAT OF THE WEEK: The Masters currently has 23 players from outside the top 100 in the world — 12 are former champions and six are amateurs.
FINAL WORD: "It's as good. I can't believe that I'm saying that, comparing it to my lifetime goal to win on the PGA Tour. ... Because the way things went the last two years, I didn't think I would play again or compete again." — Arjun Atwal after winning the Dubai Open.
ATLANTA (AP) — Jessie Tuggle knows a thing or two about tackling. They didn't call him the "Hammer" for nothing.
When the retired linebacker gets together with other former players, one subject inevitably comes up.
These guys today just don't tackle like we used to.
"A kid has played in high school and played in college, so you assume when he gets to the NFL ... that he knows how to tackle," said Tuggle, who was credited with more than 2,000 stops during his 14-year career with the Atlanta Falcons. "That assumption is not right."
It's not really surprising, either.
In football, one of the essential elements of the game — tackling — just doesn't get a whole lot of practice time anymore. It's like a baseball infielder who doesn't take grounders before a game, or a hockey goalie who never faces 100 mph shots until it counts.
"We don't tackle live, not in practice," said Bob Sutton, defensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. "I don't think anybody in the league does."
The reasons for that are understandable. Tougher restrictions on full-contact drills have taken hold at all levels of football, mostly spurred by a heightened awareness of the devastating long-term damage that concussions can cause.
From high schools to colleges to the pros, the impact of that change is noticeable to everyone — especially those who are trying to avoid getting tackled.
"It's a lost art," said Falcons running back Steven Jackson, who had rushed for more than 11,000 yards in the NFL.
For pro teams, where the top players are making millions of dollars and rosters are limited to 53 players plus a small practice squad, one of the primary goals during the week is just making sure everybody is healthy for the game. Hitting in practice is simply not feasible, especially at this time of year when most teams are all beat up.
"Probably the most challenging thing is having your guys prepared and ready to tackle," Atlanta coach Mike Smith said, "because you don't have the opportunity to practice in pads."
There seems to be more hitting in practice at the college level, where the rosters are larger, but even then it's rare for a team to do full-scale tackling once the season begins.
At Georgia, like many schools, they do most of their work using "thud" drills, where the defensive players — wearing helmets and shoulder pads — are expected to do everything they would do during a normal tackle except take the offensive player to the ground.
"There are a lot of fundamental drills that are actually harder to do than tackling," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. "Sometimes, you can just lay out, grab a guy, trip his heels, and that's considered tackling him. But when you're teaching to thud, you've got to have good body position, sink your hips, strike with your eyes up, then let the guy go. That takes more effort, more energy."
But most of the rule changes over the last decade or so were largely designed to increase scoring and penalize those who dole out especially brutal tackles. To some, that's made defensive players more hesitant to tackle the way they were always taught.
"They don't want you hitting with your head," Buffalo Bills linebacker Brandon Spikes said. "They want you to arm tackle."
Good luck with that. Since there's so much emphasis on offense these days, it's inevitable that many of the biggest, fastest, strongest players end up on that side of the line.
At 5-foot-11 and 212 pounds, Falcons safety Dwight Lowery is usually trying to bring down players who are bigger than he is.
"The athletes are different," Lowery said, with a knowing grin. "It would be interesting if you could take players from the past and bring them to the present."
For that matter, the old-timers never faced the sort of complex passing schemes that are the norm in today's NFL game. Teams used to line up most of the time with two running backs and a tight end, which essentially left all but two receivers jammed close to the ball. These days, teams line up with four or five receivers, intent of spreading the field as much as possible.
"There's so much more space in the game today than there was years ago," said Kevin Coyle, defensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins. "Years ago, teams were lining up with two backs and they were pounding the ball and everybody was crowding around the ball. Occasionally, you would get the ball thrown outside quickly. Nowadays, half to three-quarters of the game are the perimeter plays."
It's much the same in college, where spread formations and no-huddle offenses are all the rage.
"Space is the enemy in tackling," Richt said. "The more space they have, the harder they are to tackle."
Alabama coach Nick Saban, who has assembled some of the college game's greatest defenses, said the whole culture of practicing has changed, spurred on by the number of teams that run fast-paced offenses.
"I think it's more difficult to coach defensive players in practice," he said. "Do you practice fundamentals or do you practice the pace of play? Until recently, we always emphasized fundamentals, but we didn't play very well when the pace of play was faster. So this year, we put more emphasis on the pace of play."
Saban doesn't regret that decision.
But he recognizes the trade-off.
"I do think it has affected tackling."
AP Sports Writers John Wawrow in Buffalo; Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, New Jersey; John Zenor in Montgomery, Alabama; Steven Wine in Miami; Dave Skretta in Kansas City, Missouri; Anne Peterson in Portland, Oregon; Dennis Waszak in New York; Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis; and AP freelance writer Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee, Florida contributed to this report.
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) — Atlanta Falcons players have been wearing 1-0 shirts in recent weeks as a reminder to focus on one game instead of their ugly record.
The winner of Sunday's game between the Falcons (6-9) and Carolina (6-8-1) will clinch the NFC South and have a home playoff game. Wide receiver Julio Jones says the losing record won't matter because "when you get to the postseason, it's 0-0."
Atlanta remained in the playoff chase with Sunday's 30-14 win at New Orleans.
The Falcons may be playing to save coach Mike Smith's job. They are assured of their second straight losing record after five straight winning seasons under Smith.
Smith said Monday he has not been distracted by speculation about his status.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was cleared Sunday of the accusations he faced at a student code of conduct hearing involving an alleged sexual assault two years ago.
Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Major Harding wrote in a letter to Winston that the evidence was "insufficient to satisfy the burden of proof." Prosecutor Willie Meggs made a similar decision a year ago when he decided not to criminally charge Winston, citing a lack of evidence.
This month, a two-day hearing was held to determine whether Winston violated four sections of the code of conduct — two for sexual misconduct and two for endangerment.
The ramifications for Winston ranged from a reprimand to expulsion from school.
The woman can request an appeal within five days.
"We will consider an appeal but right now we feel a little duped," Baine Kerr, one of the woman's lawyers, said in an emailed statement. "At some point we have to recognize that Florida State is never going to hold James Winston responsible."
AP is not identifying the woman because it does not identify people who say they are victims of sexual abuse.
"Somehow Jameis Winston still wins," Kerr said. "The order doesn't even follow the Student Conduct Code and it ignores the bulk of the evidence."
Kerr said that between his client, Winston, and two teammates that were at the off-campus apartment — Chris Casher and Ronald Darby — only the woman would answer questions about what happened.
Winston did submit a lengthy statement detailing his version of events.
Florida State president John Thrasher said the university selected the former state Supreme Court justice to remove any doubt about the integrity of the process.
"He (Harding) conducted a thorough Student Conduct Code hearing and reviewed more than 1,000 pages of evidence generated by three other investigations, and we would like to thank him sincerely for his service," Thrasher said.
Harding wrote that both sides' version of the events had strengths and weaknesses, but he did not find the credibility of one "substantially stronger than the other."
"In sum, the preponderance of the evidence has not shown that you are responsible for any of the charged violations of the Code," Harding wrote.
Winston family adviser David Cornwell did not respond to requests for comment.
Cornwell has contended that attorneys for the former student pushed for the hearing after they were rebuffed in an attempt to reach a settlement with Winston.
Florida State faces Oregon in the College Football Playoffs semifinal on Jan. 1. Before the ruling, there were questions whether Winston would be available to play. The Seminoles won a national championship with Winston at the helm last season and have not lost a game since he earned the starting job before the beginning of the 2013 season.
Florida State is currently being investigated by the Department of Education on how hit handles possible Title IX violations. The woman who said Winston assaulted her filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, which decided the university should be investigated for possible Title IX violations over the way it responds to sexual violence complaints.
Title IX is a federal statute that bans discrimination at schools that receive federal funding. The Department of Education in 2011 warned schools of their legal responsibilities to immediately investigate allegations of sexual assault and domestic violence, even if the criminal investigation has not concluded.