National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Dolphins owner Ross contemplates possible changes

DAVIE, Fla. (AP) Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has left the team's complex without any announcement regarding the makeup of the organization for 2014.

Ross spent more than six hours at the Dolphins' headquarters on Thursday. He arrived and departed aboard his helicopter, which used the practice field as a landing pad, and he did not talk with reporters.

Ross has been meeting in recent days with his top advisers before deciding whether to fire anyone in the wake of a late-season collapse.

Offensive coordinator Mike Sherman is considered the most likely to go, and the future of general manager Jeff Ireland and coach Joe Philbin is uncertain.

The Dolphins (8-8) were on the verge of earning the final AFC wild-card berth before losing their last two games to the Bills and Jets.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Ex-Vikings punter: Coach made anti-gay remarks

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Former Minnesota punter Chris Kluwe says his special teams coordinator made anti-gay comments while Kluwe was with the Vikings, an allegation the coach "vehemently denies."

In an article posted Thursday on the website Deadspin, Kluwe wrote that coach Mike Priefer made several anti-gay comments in objection to Kluwe's outspoken support of a gay marriage amendment in Minnesota.

Kluwe also says former Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and current general manager Rick Spielman encouraged him to tone down his rhetoric in an effort to reduce distractions to the team. At the same time, Kluwe said, Vikings owner Zygi Wilf expressed support for Kluwe's championing of gay rights.

Hours later, Priefer issued a statement disputing Kluwe's portrayal of the events.

"I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discrimination of any type and am respectful of all individuals," Priefer said. "I personally have gay family members who I love and support just as I do any family member."

The Vikings said in a statement that they take the allegations "very seriously and will thoroughly review this matter."

"As an organization, the Vikings consistently strive to create a supportive, respectful and accepting environment for all of our players, coaches and front office personnel," the team said. "We do not tolerate discrimination at any level.

"The team has long respected our players' and associates' individual rights, and, as Chris specifically stated, Vikings ownership supports and promotes tolerance, including on the subject of marriage equality. Because he was identified with the Vikings, Chris was asked to be respectful while expressing his opinions. Team ownership and management also repeatedly emphasized to Chris that the Vikings would not impinge on his right to express his views."

Kluwe called Priefer "a bigot" and Spielman and Frazier "two cowards" for releasing him in May after eight seasons with the Vikings.

He was due to make $1.45 million, which was more than the cap-strapped Vikings wanted to spend on a punter. So they drafted Jeff Locke in the fifth round and parted ways with Kluwe, bringing to an end his colorful and outspoken stay in Minnesota.

"Any notion that Chris was released from our football team due to his stance on marriage equality is entirely inaccurate and inconsistent with team policy," the Vikings said Thursday. "Chris was released strictly based on his football performance."

In his article, Kluwe alleged that Priefer grew more and more impatient with the various causes Kluwe supported and several times made anti-gay remarks during team meetings.

Kluwe said wanted to post his article now in hopes of discouraging the Vikings, or any other team, from employing Priefer, who is widely respected at Vikings headquarters and is viewed by some as a potential head coach one day. Priefer was hired by the Vikings in 2011. He served previously as the special teams coach in Denver and Kansas City.

"If there's one thing I hope to achieve from sharing this story," Kluwe wrote, "it's to make sure that Mike Priefer never holds a coaching position again in the NFL, and ideally never coaches at any level."

The Vikings did not respond directly to allegations against Priefer in their statement, but did say they "will have further comment at the appropriate time."

"The primary reason I entered coaching was to affect people in a positive way, Priefer said. "As a coach, I have always created an accepting environment for my players, including Chris, and have looked to support them both on and off the field.

"The comments today have not only attacked my character and insulted my professionalism, but they have also impacted my family. While my career focus is to be a great professional football coach, my number one priority has always been to be a protective husband and father to my wife and children."

Kluwe averaged 44.4 yards per punt over his career in Minnesota, including a career-high 39.7 yard net average in 2012. But he ranked just 17th in the NFL in punting that season before he was cut and he lost a competition for the punting job with the Oakland Raiders in the preseason in 2013. He had several tryouts during the season, but was never signed.

Kluwe said he wanted to wait to air his grievances until after the season so as not to provide a distraction to his friends on the team during the season.

The Vikings finished this year 5-10-1 and Frazier was fired Monday.

Several Vikings players took to Twitter to defend Priefer.

"Coach Mike Preifer has always been professional and one of the best special teams coaches I have been around!" fullback Jerome Felton tweeted. "In any meeting I have been in, I have never witnessed him say anything close to what's been alleged. That's just my experience!"

Tweeted safety Harrison Smith: "Since I've had the privilege of playing for Mike Preifer he has been nothing but a class act coach and a respectful human being."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Welker rejoins with Manning after missing month

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Wes Welker and Peyton Manning remain in perfect rhythm even after a month apart.

At least, that's what the Denver Broncos' receiver reported after practice Thursday.

"I felt like we were kind of on the same page," said Welker, who is returning from a concussion he sustained Dec. 8 against Tennessee - his second in a four-game span.

Hardly a surprise, since they've been in sync all season, with Welker catching a career-high 10 touchdown passes.

Lately, though, Manning has been without his security blanket as Welker sat out the final three games of the regular season.

This first-round bye gives Welker and Manning more time to re-establish their rapport.

Not that they really need it. More like fine-tune it.

"I feel like we've been around the league long enough, where we know each other's thinking and can get on the same page and ready to go," said Welker, whose team will host Kansas City, Indianapolis or San Diego on Jan. 12 in the AFC divisional round. "Hopefully, keep it rolling and just keep it going."

With Welker sidelined, Manning had a chance to work receiver Andre "Bubba" Caldwell and tight end Jacob Tamme into the pass-catching rotation. Two more threats for an offense that scored an NFL-record 606 points this season.

"The more weapons we can have, the more guys out there making plays, the better off we're going to be," Welker said. "We're going to need everybody here through the stretch and everybody stepping up and making plays when we need to."

That starts with a healthy Welker, who returned to practice on a limited basis last week and was fully cleared Monday.

"I feel good," he said. "I feel fine. I feel ready to go."

Still, there are those who are concerned about Welker's return, especially since he's suffered two concussions in a short amount of time. He sustained a concussion against Kansas City on Nov. 17 but didn't sit out any games. He was concussed again just before halftime in the Broncos' win against the Titans last month.

And while he appreciates all the worry, he insisted he indeed is good to go.

"I think we've taken a lot more action than what we would have in the past with this whole ordeal," said Welker, who is in his first season with Denver after spending the last six years catching passes from Tom Brady in New England. "I feel like we've taken enough time. It will be five weeks from the day I had any contact at all.

"It's always a tricky injury in just trying to manage it and everything else. The doctors and trainers do a great of just doing the things necessary to get me back out there on the field."

He has been a refreshing sight for Manning, who frequently looks Welker's direction when defenses dial up the pressure.

"We're glad to have him back and can use this time to work and get our timing going," Manning said. "I'm sure he would tell you he has liked being back out on the practice field and having some time to work."

No question about that. Sitting out has been frustrating for Welker.

"It makes you appreciate and it makes you hungry and ready to get back out there, ready to go out there and compete, especially at a time of the year like this," said Welker, who had 73 catches for 778 yards this season.

He will certainly help on third-down conversions. The Broncos were converting at around a 56 percent clip for most of the season with Welker around, a figure that slipped to 20 percent against San Diego and Houston.

Not only that, but Welker has a way of opening things up for other receivers, too, especially Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas.

"A lot of times teams will decide to go ahead and double Wes," explained Thomas, who had a breakout season as he hauled in 12 TD passes. "So absolutely, it opens up things for me. If I have single-man coverage, it's something that I definitely enjoy and look forward to.

"Wes brings a lot to this offense and we're excited to have him back."

NOTES: Manning was selected the AFC Player of the Month after throwing for 1,755 yards and 19 TDs in December. ... Broncos DL Derek Wolfe (illness) didn't practice on Thursday. ... Broncos coach John Fox may cancel practice on Saturday as a reward to the team. ... Asked about the challenges of having a week off, Fox said: "The challenge is it's a new season. All the records go out the window, all the stats go out there window. It's a whole new season. ... You can't have a bad day."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Nadal reaches Doha semis against qualifier

DOHA, Qatar (AP) Top-seeded Rafael Nadal was the only seed remaining at the Qatar Open after he beat seventh-seeded Ernests Gulbis 7-5, 6-4 in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

Nadal is often tested by the 24th-ranked Gulbis but has yet to lose a match to the Latvian in seven played.

This match, which was delayed for two hours by rain, marked only the second time Nadal has beaten Gulbis in straight sets. The other time was also in Doha, in the 2011 quarterfinals.

Nadal is set to play German qualifier Peter Gojowczyk. The 162nd-ranked Gojowczyk defeated fellow German qualifier Dustin Brown 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) to reach his first career tour semifinal.

The other semi will pit Florian Mayer of Germany against Gael Monfils of France.

Mayer defeated Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-4, 6-7 (8), 6-4, and Monfils took out Daniel Brands of Germany 6-2, 6-1.

Nadal finally broke Gulbis in the 11th game when the latter sent a drop shot wide. Nadal needed five set points to close out the first set in the next game.

Gulbis raced to 3-0 in the second set but couldn't hold on to the advantage. He had three points for 4-1 but ended up losing serve.

Nadal broke with a stunning backhand cross-court that creased the line in the seventh game to take a permanent lead. He closed the match with a breathtaking backhand volley winner.

"I'm happy to win against Ernests," Nadal said. "If you are not playing well it's very, very difficult. He's able to hit winners from every part on the court."

Before this week, Gojowczyk had only one ATP tour-level match win, at the 2013 U.S. Open.

Gojowczyk was serving for the match against Brown at 5-3, 40-30 in the third set but netted a forehand to drop his serve. From 5-5 in the tiebreaker, Gojowczyk won the final two points.

"I'm so happy to be in the semifinals, it's an unbelievably good feeling," Gojowczyk said. "2014 is beginning great for me."

Texas A&M WR Mike Evans declares for NFL draft

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans is declaring for the NFL draft.

Evans, a redshirt sophomore, was a consensus All-American and a Biletnikoff Award finalist this season.

He had 69 receptions for a school-record 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also set a school record with 279 yards receiving against Alabama this year. He broke his own record when he had 287 yards receiving against Auburn later in the season.

The 6-foot-5 former basketball star is rated as one of the top draft prospects at his position.

Evans thanked his coaches and teammates and says: "I made this decision based on what I thought was best for myself and my family."

He started all 26 games in his two-year career and had at least two catches in each of his games.

Oregon State WR Cooks declares for NFL Draft

CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) Oregon State junior wide receiver Brandin Cooks has declared himself eligible for the NFL draft.

The Biletnikoff award winner as the nation's top receiver, Cooks set Pac-12 records with 128 catches for 1,730 yards for the Beavers this season. His receiving yards were tops in the country.

His 16 touchdown catches this season are a school record.

The first-team All-American finishes his Oregon State career with 226 catches for 3,272 yards and 26 total touchdowns (a school-record 24 via catch). He has 3,863 all-purpose yards.

The Oregon State Beavers went 7-6, capping the season with a 38-23 victory over Boise State in the Hawaii Bowl.

Knights knock off Bears 52-42 in Fiesta Bowl

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Central Florida was supposed to be a patsy for Baylor in its first BCS bowl. The Knights wanted no part of it, turning the Fiesta Bowl into a big-play party.

Blake Bortles threw for 301 yards and accounted for four touchdowns, Storm Johnson ran for three more scores, and No. 15 Central Florida pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the bowl season by outlasting No. 6 Baylor 52-42 on Wednesday night.

A 17-point underdog, Central Florida (12-1) didn't back down from the big, bad Bears, racing past the nation's top offensive team with an array of big plays.

The jumped out to an early 14-point and kept rolling, piling up 556 total yards in the highest-scoring game in Fiesta Bowl history.

Rannell Hall had four catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns, and Johnson ran for 124 yards to give the Knights a rousing BCS bowl debut.

Baylor (11-2) had a hard time keeping up with the Knights, gaining 550 total yards but losing 135 on 17 penalties.

Bortles threw for three touchdowns on 20-of-31 passing and ran for another score.

Bryce Petty ran for three touchdowns and threw for 356 yards and two more scores for Baylor. Lache Seastrunk ran for 117 yards.

The Fiesta Bowl was the BCS coming-out party for Baylor and Central Florida before college football's switch to a playoff system next season.

The Bears had been building toward this since Art Briles became coach in 2009, winding up his high-octane offense to lead the nation in scoring and churn out the second-most yards in FBS history.

Central Florida had a slower rise under George O'Leary.

The coach who was fired by Notre Dame five days after being hired for lying on his resume has built his reputation back up in Orlando, taking a program that went winless in 2004 to the inaugural American Athletic Conference title and automatic BCS berth this year.

The matchup was projected to be like the 2011 Fiesta Bowl, when mighty Oklahoma rolled over Connecticut 48-20.

The Knights weren't listening.

They opened with a 76-yard scoring drive capped by Johnson's tackle-breaking 11-yard touchdown run. Johnson scored again on UCF's next possession, this one on a 2-yard run.

The early 14-0 lead was expected. The team leading wasn't.

Baylor finally revved up its offense late in the first quarter, scoring on a 1-yard TD sneak by Petty and Central Florida looked as if it was ready to fall apart with turnovers on three consecutive plays.

Baylor only turned one of those into points: a 30-yard from Petty to Levi Norwood. Petty followed Johnson's fumble with an interception in the end zone, just his third of the season.

Then came the spectacular plays, seemingly one after another.

Hall darted and dashed through Baylor's defense for a 50-yard touchdown on a screen pass, with help from Josh Reese's downfield block.

Petty hurtled himself into the end zone, flipping over UCF's Brandon Alexander to cap a 13-yard run. That gave Baylor 659 points, breaking the NCAA record for a 13-game season set by Texas (652) in 2005.

The momentum was gone shortly after, when Hall turned a swing pass into a 34-yard touchdown play - assisted again by Reese - to put the Knights up 28-20 at halftime.

Petty scored his third touchdown on 1-yard run in the third quarter and dashed in for the 2-point conversion to tie the game, but Central Florida still wouldn't back down.

Bortles hit Breshad Perriman on a 10-yard touchdown pass and opened the fourth quarter by scoring on an 11-yard run to put the Knights up 42-28.

Even after Baylor moved quickly for a 9-yard touchdown run by Glasco Martin, UCF had an answer, going up 49-35 on Johnson's 40-yard run through the heart of the Bears' defense.

Dantonio says he intends to stay at Michigan State

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio says his "intentions are to be at Michigan State." If he does, it sounds as if a big raise is coming his way.

Dantonio is reportedly a coach Texas has been considering as a possible replacement for Mack Brown. After Dantonio led the Spartans to a 24-20 victory over Stanford in the Rose Bowl on Wednesday, he was asked about being linked to some high-profile positions and the possibility a new contract at Michigan State is in the works.

Dantonio said: "That's very flattering, but it would be hard to leave these guys. So while it's very, very flattering, my intentions are to be at Michigan State. That's all I'll say about those things. I'll look forward to seeing my guys back on Monday morning for classes."

Before the game, athletic director Mark Hollis told the Detroit Free Press in a text message that Michigan State intends to make Dantonio one of the three highest paid coaches in the Big Ten. Dantonio makes about $1.9 million per year. The highest paid coaches in the Big Ten, according to USA Today's most recently updated data base of coaches' salaries, are Ohio State's Urban Meyer ($4.6 million per year), Michigan's Brady Hoke ($4.15 million) and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz ($3.985 million).

The 57-year-old Dantonio, who was born in El Paso, Texas, and played at South Carolina, is 64-29 in seven seasons with Michigan State. The Spartans (13-1) won the Big Ten outright and reached the Rose Bowl this season for the first time since 1987. Michigan State has won at least 11 games three times in the last four seasons.

Before coming to East Lansing, Mich., Dantonio got his first head coaching job at Cincinnati. He spent three seasons with the Bearcats (2004-06) and went 18-17 before returning to Michigan State, where he was defensive backs coach from 1995-2000 and worked for Nick Saban.

Report: Smith reaches deal to coach Tampa Bay

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith is set to take on the challenge of rebuilding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Two people familiar with Smith's plans said Wednesday night that the coach has reached an agreement to fill the opening created by the firing of Greg Schiano following a 4-12 finish.

The people spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because an official announcement hasn't been made. One of the people also said that former Minnesota Vikings coach Leslie Frazier will be the Bucs' defensive coordinator.

The 55-year-old Smith will replace Schiano, fired Monday after going 11-21 in two seasons in Tampa Bay. Frazier also was fired Monday.

Smith was 81-63 in nine seasons with Chicago, leading the 2006 team to the Super Bowl - where the Bears lost Indianapolis. He was fired a year ago after the Bears finished 10-6 and missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons.

Smith was Tampa Bay's linebackers coach under Tony Dungy from 1996-2000, then spent three seasons as the St. Louis Rams' defensive coordinator on Mike Martz's staff.

Smith will take over a team that made strides on defense after acquiring cornerback Darrelle Revis and safety Dashon Goldson last spring, however the offense sputtered badly following the abrupt benching and subsequent release of quarterback Josh Freeman. With rookie Mike Glennon running the offense, Tampa Bay sank to last in the NFL in passing and total yards per game.

One of Smith's first orders of business figures to be deciding if Glennon, who went 4-9 as a starter while throwing for 2,608 yards, 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions, showed enough to prove he's the team's quarterback of the future.

Tampa Bay, which lost its first eight games before going 4-4 over the second half of the season, will have the seventh pick in this year's draft and can use help in several areas, including defensive end, offensive line and wide receiver.

Michigan St beats Stanford 24-20 in Rose Bowl

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) Connor Cook passed for a career-high 332 yards and hit Tony Lippett with a tiebreaking 25-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, leading No. 4 Michigan State to a 24-20 victory over No. 5 Stanford on Wednesday night in the 100th Rose Bowl.

Cook also threw a TD pass to Trevon Pendleton, and Jeremy Langford rushed for 84 yards and a score in the first Rose Bowl victory in 26 years for the Big Ten champion Spartans (13-1), who finished the season with 10 straight wins.

Michigan State's defense capped its dominant season with one more smash-mouth performance during the centennial celebration of the Granddaddy of Them All.

The Spartans ended it by stopping the Pac-12 champion Cardinal (11-3) on fourth-and-1 with 1:46 to play, utterly stuffing a run play up the middle.

Maple Leafs beat Red Wings in snowy Winter Classic

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) A lot of winter. Very little classic hockey.

Light snow swirled down in the Big House, making it tough to push the puck through piles of the white stuff on a sheet of ice where football is usually played.

Teeth-chattering temperatures and a brisk wind were factors, too, that made the NHL's Winter Classic much more of an event than a game.

Tyler Bozak scored the winning shootout goal and Jonathan Bernier made two saves in the heart-pounding final moments, lifting Toronto to a 3-2 victory over Detroit on Wednesday in front of 105,591 fans - the largest crowd to watch a hockey game.

"I was just lucky to get a stick on it and keep it low enough," Bozak acknowledged.

The Red Wings were not as fortunate in the closely contested spectacle that was altered in a lot of ways because of the conditions.

Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg appeared to have good chance in overtime with the puck in the Maple Leafs' end and defenseman Cody Franson on his left side. The horn, however, sounded to stop play at the 2:30 mark of the extra period so that both teams played into a 10-plus mph wind for an equal amount of time.

"I think I would have had a clear breakaway," Zetterberg said.

The game also was halted midway through the third period so that the teams could switch sides. In the shootout, skaters for both teams attempted shots with the wind in their face toward the same net - or end zone.

After a slew of skaters with shovels cleared the ice following overtime, Pavel Datsyuk scored Detroit's only goal in the shootout and teammate Tomas Tatar was foiled on his team's third and final attempt because he couldn't control the puck on the snow-covered surface and didn't even get a shot off.

"The conditions made it so some of the skill in the game was eliminated," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.

Bernier, with a knit hat over his helmet, made 41 saves - the most in an outdoor regular- season game.

The crowd surpassed the 104,173 who saw Michigan and Michigan State skate in the same football stadium known as the Big House in 2010.

The game-time temperature was 13 degrees with a wind chill of zero and steady snow that didn't stop on a windy afternoon.

At the previous five Winter Classics, the average temperature was 39 degrees and the average attendance was 53,045.

This one was bigger, colder and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman loved every minute of it.

"This has been a terrific day, terrific way to start the new year and a terrific way to embark upon the part of the season that's going to see five more outdoor games at the Olympic break," Bettman said. "We couldn't be any more pleased with the way things went."

The struggling yet storied franchises did their best to put on show in the snow.

"I don't know if you would call it a gem from a pace standpoint," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "There was a lot of snow and a lot of things to deal with."

Joffrey Lupul, who might face discipline from the NHL for a cross-check that knocked Patrick Eaves out of the game in the first period, scored the first of two goals for the Maple Leafs in the shootout.

Jimmy Howard had 24 saves for Detroit. After leaving the ice and the snow-covered football field, he returned minutes later when he was introduced as one of the members of the U.S. Olympic team that will go for gold next month in Sochi.

Detroit's Justin Abdelkader tied it 2 with 5:32 left in regulation after Bozak scored the go-ahead goal early in the third period. Daniel Alfredsson opened the scoring for the Red Wings at 13:14 of the second and James van Riemsdyk tied in on a power play with 37 seconds left in the period.

And in the end, the Maple Leafs moved a point ahead of the Red Wings in the Atlantic Division toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture with about half of the regular season remaining.

"The points were really big for us," Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf said.

NOTES: The Maple Leafs acquired veteran D Tim Gleason from Carolina on Wednesday in exchange for defenseman John-Michael Liles. ... The previous attendance for an NHL game was set at the first Winter Classic in 2008 when 71,217 watched the Buffalo Sabres host the Pittsburgh Penguins at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

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