Here’s a playoff head-scratcher: accompanying the Patriots and Packers, Steelers and Giants, are the Lions and Texans.
On Saturday, the Texans kick off the NFL playoffs by hosting Cincinnati. It’s merely their first postseason game in franchise history, a life span of 10 seasons.
At night, the Lions, whose last trip to the playoffs came in 1999 — and whose last win was eight seasons before that — play at New Orleans.
There they are, Detroit and Houston, both 10-6, in there amongst recent champions and frequent playoff qualifiers.
The lack of familiarity with such surroundings doesn’t seem to concern Detroit coach Jim Schwartz, who has 17 players with playoff experience, but only kicker Jason Hanson got it with the Lions.
“We haven’t always played our very best, I don’t think any team ever does, but I think we’ve learned from some of the things that have happened and I think we’re a little bit more battle-tested, a little more seasoned,” he said. “There’s one thing of learning about something, there’s another thing experiencing it firsthand and seeing how it affects the team and things like that. I think that every time we’re presented with one of those situations, we’ve done a pretty good job of doing it better the second time.”
This is their first playoff appearance in more than a decade, but their second go-round with the Saints (13-3) in five weeks. The Lions fell 31-17 at the Superdome on Dec. 4.
Then again, everyone lost at New Orleans this season.
Saints coach Sean Payton dismisses the newcomer factor, saying he doesn’t expect to see a wide-eyed, nervous opponent in the prime-time wild-card game.
“I don’t think that there’s really any correlation to new teams or experienced teams, necessarily, in the playoffs,” said Payton, whose new playoff qualifier in 2006 went to the NFC championship game. “I think teams have players, typically that are on their team that might have been in the playoffs with another team, but I think it’s the week of preparation. I think it becomes the key thing that wins and loses games each week in the turnover ratio, big plays, the red zone and third-down efficiency, those are the things that matter.”
Schwartz is no newbie to the postseason, making several trips while an assistant with the Titans — including to the 2000 Super Bowl, which ended with Tennessee near St. Louis’ goal line trying to tie the game.
“I think every game … you learn something, so I don’t know that there’s anything other than that,” said Schwartz, 18-30 in his three seasons as coach. “Other lessons — we’ve had some success in the playoffs, also had failures. I’ve been part of a wild-card team that went to the Super Bowl, also been a part of a team that had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and lost in the first game. So, I think the finality of playoffs — win and advance, keep playing; lose and your season’s over — I think that’s probably the thing that’s the most different from a regular-season game.”
The Texans wouldn’t know.
Born in 2002, they didn’t have a winning record until last season. Their AFC South crown seemed destined when Peyton Manning was sidelined in Indianapolis, but they struggled down the stretch and lost their final three games.
Indeed, Houston’s last win was at Cincinnati 20-19. And it’s the Bengals (9-7) who visit Reliant Stadium on Saturday.
Fourteen Texans have made it to the playoffs with other clubs.
“From that standpoint, as far as our players, maybe that’s a good thing that they don’t have a lot of things to pull from. It’s just, go play it like any other game,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “They know that the result — the biggest factor — is you can move on. If you don’t play well, you’re not moving on, you’re going home.
“They all understand that, but this is the Houston Texans’ first taste of a playoff game.”
This is Cincinnati’s third playoff appearance in seven seasons, but the Bengals have flopped every time. Their last postseason victory was in January 1991.
“It would be a tremendous feeling for us to get rid of that stigma of not being able to get to the playoffs and win it,” offensive tackle Andre Smith said.
On Sunday, Atlanta (10-6) is at the Giants (9-7), followed by Pittsburgh (12-4) at Denver (8-8).
Yes, the wild-card teams in those two games have better records than the division winners.
The Falcons haven’t won in the postseason with Matt Ryan at quarterback, not even as the No. 1 seed in the NFC last year. Ryan’s doesn’t dwell on blown chances.
“It is the first opportunity that I have and we have as a team this postseason. We are excited about that.” he said. “All the stuff that happened in the past doesn’t really make a difference. It comes down to preparing this week and doing whatever we can to keep advancing throughout the playoffs.”
The Broncos’ last playoff trip was in 2005, when they lost to the Steelers for the AFC title. Pittsburgh, also a wild card then, won the Super Bowl.
“It doesn’t matter how you get in,” Denver linebacker Mario Haggan said. “We have an opportunity, and when you get in anything can happen. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
No LeBron James? No Dwyane Wade?
Mario Chalmers and Chris Bosh made up for the absence of the Miami’s injured stars, carrying the Heat to a 116-109 triple overtime victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday night.
With James and Wade cheering from the bench, Bosh scored 33 points and Chalmers had 22 of his 29 points after the third quarter, including five of Miami’s seven points in the third overtime.
“Coach said I had to be aggressive,” Chalmers said.
Wade missed his second straight game with a sore left foot and James was held out after he turned his left ankle late in the third quarter of Wednesday night’s 118-83 win over Indiana. Neither was in uniform.
Bosh hit a last-second, tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation to force the first overtime.
“It was a lucky shot,” Bosh said.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said his team survived a test of its character.
“That game, the way it went down in the end, was an exercise in absolute endurance and mental and physical toughness,” Spoelstra said.
“Both teams played their hearts out there at the end.”
Joe Johnson had 20 points for the Hawks, who did not score in the third extra period. It was only the 10th time in NBA history that a team did not score in an overtime period.
Josh Smith added 17 points and 13 rebounds for Atlanta, which was seeking its second win over the Heat in four days but missed 15 of 46 free throws.
Hawks coach Larry Drew said his players ignored his warning against a letdown if James and Wade didn’t play.
“There was a total, total mental letdown,” Drew said, adding his players lacked the spark they had when they won 100-92 in Miami on Monday.
“I didn’t see the sense of urgency I saw in Miami,” Drew said. “The tendency is to let your guard down, and we certainly did tonight.”
Bosh, the only healthy member of Miami’s Big Three, also had 14 rebounds. Rookie Terrel Harris had nine points and 14 rebounds.
The Hawks led 93-90 when Bosh launched the tying 3-point attempt from the wing over Marvin Williams with only six-tenths of a second remaining in regulation.
Miami took a 67-54 lead on a 3-pointer by Chalmers midway through the third before the Hawks closed the quarter with a 16-1 run to take control.
Little-used rookie Ivan Johnson was a big surprise with 13 points for Atlanta. Johnson, an undrafted player from Cal State-San Bernardino, had a steal and jam to cut Miami’s lead to one point and then closed the third quarter with two free throws to give the Hawks their first lead of the second half.
Ivan Johnson and Al Horford fouled out in the third overtime.
Drew said he turned to Ivan Johnson and Willie Green, who had 14 points, because he was “really searching” for players who showed “a sense of urgency.”
Spoelstra said before the game that Wade “was a little bit more unlikely” than James to play. Afterward, Spoelstra said he was trying to protect Wade from a more serious injury.
“He’s making progress with it, but we really want to take care of this before it’s something that can linger,” Spoelstra said.
Wade hurt his foot at Charlotte on Dec. 28.
James participated in pregame warmups but his status for Miami’s game at New Jersey on Saturday remains uncertain.
“He’s walking around and hopefully he’ll be able to play soon,” Spoelstra said. “Whether that will be Saturday, I don’t know.”
James and Wade were often active and animated as they watched from Miami’s bench, at times leaping up as they reacted to plays.
James Jones and Shane Battier were the fill-in starters.
“I hope the guys realize it doesn’t matter who’s in the uniform, it’s the standard of play,” said Battier, who had nine points and played a lead role in defending Joe Johnson, who made only 7 of 20 shots from the field.
“I’ve been in a lot of games in my 10 years in the league and this is right up there,” Battier said.
The Hawks, whose win at Miami gave the Heat their only loss, struggled with poor shooting as there were 17 lead changes in the first half.
Miami led 54-49 at halftime.
Notes: The Hawks’ last triple-overtime game was a 123-121 loss at Houston on Feb. 22, 2004. … G-F Tracy McGrady played 29 minutes off Atlanta’s bench after coach Larry Drew said the veteran’s status was uncertain due to a bruised knee. … The Hawks play at Charlotte on Friday and host Chicago on Saturday to complete three games in three days. … Heat F Mike Miller, recovering from hernia surgery, has been cleared for full contact. Spoelstra said he would ease Miller into action.
January is traditionally dumping time, when movies that have been held over from the previous year get thrust upon the multiplexes just as film lovers are catching up with higher-quality awards contenders. Some good movies do come out in January — “Alpha Dog” (2007), “Cloverfield” (2008) and “Taken” (2009) are a few recent examples — but those are the anomalies.
So here’s a look at some of the worst January releases of the past decade. We had to narrow it down somehow, and even then it was difficult to choose just five. Hold your nose and let’s go:
— “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” (2009): It made over $183 million worldwide, but that doesn’t make it good. And what’s so frustrating is that this dopey comedy is a dismal waste of the innate regular-guy likability of its star, Kevin James, who created the character. James plays a portly, Segway-riding shopping center security guard who pines for the hottie at the hair extension kiosk. Having repeatedly failed the New Jersey state trooper exam, he longs for action, and finds it when he gets caught up in a holiday bank heist that’s a cheap knock-off of “Die Hard.” This being a Happy Madison Production — Adam Sandler is James’ friend and domestic partner from “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry” — there are, of course, plenty of obligatory adolescent sight gags to go along with the man-child hero fantasies.
— “Bride Wars” (2009): Clearly, 2009 was off to an inauspicious start. “Bride Wars” represents everything that’s wrong with a) wedding movies and b) modern romantic comedies in general. Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway co-star as lifelong best friends who’ve obsessively fantasized about the ideal wedding since they were children in small-town New Jersey. Because that’s what all girls do, right? Lavish nuptials represent the zenith to which we all aspire. Then both get engaged within days of each other and accidentally book their weddings at New York’s Plaza Hotel on the same date. An elaborate game of sabotage ensues, climaxing with a catfight in which they rip each other apart in a screechy frenzy of hair and veils and silk. “Bride Wars” offers cliched stereotypes of female, catty materialism. Shockingly, two of the film’s three writers are women.
— “Kangaroo Jack” (2003): Jerry O’Connell and Anthony Anderson play a couple of racially mismatched buddies who go Down Under — to the accompaniment of Men at Work’s “Down Under,” in case we couldn’t figure out where they were — and hit a kangaroo with their Jeep. Said marsupial (who isn’t dead, but isn’t exactly alive either, no thanks to some shoddy CGI work) gets up and hops away with the $50,000 they’re supposed to deliver in Australia as an assignment from O’Connell’s mob-boss stepfather, played by Christopher Walken. That’s right, Christopher Walken. Even he can’t make this movie funny. This sets up a series of allegedly wacky adventures in which the two friends try to find the kangaroo. Oh, and O’Connell plays a hairdresser, so we have to suffer through lame gay jokes. And it’s a Jerry Bruckheimer production. The end.
— “When in Rome” (2010): I saw this when I was on maternity leave because it was playing that week at the Mommy and Me movie. My bleary-eyed nights of sleep deprivation were more fun. Like “Bride Wars,” ”When in Rome” perpetuates yet another rom-com cliche I can’t stand: the high-powered woman who’s married to her job and too busy to look for love. Why movies like this, which ostensibly are for women, continue to peddle the insulting notion that a woman can’t be fulfilled personally and professionally at the same time is beyond me. Anyway, Kristen Bell functions in this role as an art curator who travels to Rome for her sister’s wedding. There, she suffers a curse while splashing in a fountain which makes her irresistible to a cadre of creeps. Even the hunky Josh Duhamel, as the best man, couldn’t make this tolerable.
— “Mad Money” (2008): Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah and Katie Holmes have no business being in the same room with each other, much less co-starring in a heist comedy. And yet, here they are. It’s essentially a chemistry-free rip-off of 1980′s “How to Beat the High Cost of Living,” which starred Susan Saint James, Jane Curtin and Jessica Lange as friends who scheme to steal cash from a giant money ball at the mall. Here, the target is the Federal Reserve Bank where the three women work. Except for Latifah’s character, who’s barely scraping by and eagerly seeks a better life for her sons, it’s tough to muster much sympathy for any of these people. Worst of all is Holmes, whose defining trait is bopping around at work with her headphones on, dancing as she listens to music. “Ocean’s Three,” it ain’t.
Now that the Queen of Soul has found her king, she’s focusing on all the key details of her upcoming nuptials, including the place, the entertainment and, most important, the dress.
“You know I am very hands-on. There is no way in the world anyone else could do my wedding other than myself, along with whomever I select to do various things,” she told The Associated Press.
Aretha Franklin announced to the AP in a statement earlier this week that she was engaged to longtime friend Willie Wilkerson. In a phone interview Wednesday night from Atlanta, where her late father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, was to be honored by the Trumpet Awards for his achievements, a jovial Franklin said Wilkerson’s proposal wasn’t entirely unexpected.
“We were … just kind of talking along those lines, and then it got very serious,” she said. “I just said, ‘Is that a proposal?’ and he said ‘yes.’ And that’s how that happened; we just kind of talked into it.”
Now Franklin is starting to plan the wedding, including talking to designers Donna Karan and Vera Wang about her dress.
“I’d love to see what they would do custom for me . without me saying anything. They’re known for kick butt (dresses),” she said.
She’s also scouting locations for the ceremony, which she estimates will include about 250 people. While the Detroit native initially considered Miami Beach, Fla., for a June or July wedding, she’s now leaning toward “the exclusive Hamptons” in Long Island, N.Y., where friends have a house with a private beach.
“I’m kind of leaning that way because it’s closer to home, and more friends could get there easily,” she said.
And who would perform at the wedding of one of music’s top legends? Franklin said she hasn’t asked anyone but has her preferences.
“I would love to have Smokey (Robinson) sing, my dearest, oldest friend,” she said, adding gospel singer Karen Clark and Stevie Wonder to her list.
Franklin has two previous marriages. When asked why she was ready to try a third time at age 69, she said: “I like being married. It’s an institution that I like. So momentarily I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be married.”
Franklin also said she’d like to have someone to lean on.
“I need taking care of a little more, I think. Let someone else be strong,” she said.
Wilkerson was a longtime friend before their relationship became romantic, which is proof, she said, that “sometimes what you’re looking for is already there.”
Franklin said she was in a relationship with a celebrity before she and Wilkerson got serious.
“We had an intimate affair. (He was) one of America’s late-night talk-show hosts,” she said without elaborating. Franklin said the end of that relationship had a silver lining.
“At this point I’m thrilled it didn’t (work), and what I was looking for was already here,” she said.
Franklin said being longtime friends with Wilkerson “bodes well” for their relationship.
“We’re very compatible, and he supports me and I support him a lot, and he has given me specialized attention that I don’t think I’ve received from anyone else,” she said.
“I receive a lot of male attention, but Will is more special than all the rest.”
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A deep-pocketed restaurateur shelled out nearly $750,000 for a tuna at Japan’s Tsukiji fish market on Thursday, smashing the record price for a single bluefin.
The 269-kilogramme (592-pound) fish — caught off the coast of Japan’s northern Aomori prefecture — stood at an eye-popping 56.49 million yen ($736,500) when the hammer came down in the first auction of the year.
The figure dwarfs the previous high of 32.49 million yen paid at last year’s inaugural auction at Tsukiji, a huge working market that features on many Tokyo tourist itineraries.
Thursday’s winning bidder was Kiyoshi Kimura, president of the company that runs the popular Sushi-Zanmai chain.
At around 210,000 yen per kilogramme, a single slice of sushi could cost as much as 5,000 yen, but the firm plans to sell it at a more regular price of up to 418 yen, local media reported.
“The flesh is coloured in magnificent red and the quality of fat is very good,” Kimura said. “It is very delicious. The taste is unbeatable.”
A Hong Kong sushi restaurant owner bought the previous year’s record tuna, and Kimura added: “I wanted to win the best tuna so that Japanese customers, not overseas, can enjoy it.”
Bluefin is usually the most expensive fish available at Tsukiji.
Emiko Misumi, a 44-year-old woman who tasted a slice, said: “This tuna is so fatty and very delicious.”
“It was sweet even without sugar or sake. It was a very delicate sweet taste,” said another female customer Noriko Nakai, 63.
Decades of overfishing have seen global tuna stocks crash, leading some Western nations to call for a ban on catching endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna.
Japan consumes three-quarters of the global catch of bluefin, a highly prized sushi ingredient known in Japan as “kuro maguro” (black tuna) and dubbed by sushi connoisseurs the “black diamond” because of its scarcity.
“You know, good things like this are appreciated in the whole world,” said 22-year-old male customer Hirotaka Higurashi when asked about the overfishing issue. “There is nothing we can do about it.