ATLANTA (AP) — Matt Ryan bolstered his MVP credentials with a brilliant first half Sunday, throwing four touchdown passes to lead the Atlanta Falcons to a 38-32 victory over the New Orleans Saints, securing a first-round playoff bye.
Ryan was 17 of 19 for 235 yards by halftime, directing the Falcons (11-5) to touchdowns on all five possessions and a commanding 35-13 lead. He finished 27 of 36 for 331 yards, leaving him with a franchise-record 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns and just seven interceptions this season.
Atlanta is seeded second in the NFC to Dallas.
The Saints (7-9) came into the regular-season finale looking to finish another disappointing season with a three-game winning streak and avoid a third straight losing mark. But they were blitzed early and often by the league’s highest-scoring offense.
Atlanta piled up 323 yards in the first two quarters, and also benefited from a 46-yard pass interference penalty against Roman Harper. Ryan threw scoring passes of 7 yards to Tevin Coleman, 1 yard to Julio Jones, 10 yards to Mohamed Sanu and 7 yards to Justin Hardy.
Devonta Freeman ripped off a 75-yard touchdown run and also hauled in three passes for 55 yards as the Falcons put on a dazzling offensive display.
The second half was essentially a chance for Atlanta fans to serenade Ryan with chants of “MVP! MVP! MVP!” every time he was shown on the video board. The Falcons have never had a player win the NFL’s top individual award.
The Saints staged a furious rally in the fourth quarter, scoring three touchdowns and recovering an onside kick. But the Falcons pounced on a second onside try with 38 seconds remaining, securing the victory.
One consolation for New Orleans: Drew Brees became the first quarterback in league history to throw for 5,000 yards five times. He was 29 of 50 for 350 yards, giving him 5,208 on the season.
His 471 completions this season set an NFL record.
Falcons rookie safety Keanu Neal and Saints receiver Willie Snead IV were both left with possible concussions after a huge collision in the fourth quarter.
Neal turned his head as he approached Snead to make the tackle on a 27-yard pass play, but their helmets struck when they both ducked down.
Snead fumbled, though the Saints recovered. Both players staggered off the field before they were taken to the locker room for evaluations.
Saints coach Sean Payton is facing questions about his future after a third straight 7-9 season.
Payton was once the toast of New Orleans, posting a record of 62-34 over his first six years with the team, including four playoff appearances and the franchise’s lone Super Bowl title.
Since being suspended for a year in a bounties scandal, Payton is 32-32, with the lone playoff appearance coming in 2013.
The Falcons earned a week off in the opening round of the playoffs, only the fourth time they’ve been in that position under the current postseason format. Atlanta had a first-round bye during the 1998 (different divisional alignment), 2004, 2010 and 2012 seasons. The Falcons won their first playoff game three of those years to advance to the NFC championship game (the only exception was 2010).
The team’s lone Super Bowl appearance was 1998. Atlanta has never won a championship.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .
For more NFL coverage: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP—NFL
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The New York Jets are sticking with Todd Bowles. The roster he coaches next season might look a lot different.
After ending a dismal season on a winning note with a 30-10 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, the Jets are making no changes in leadership heading into what appears will be a busy offseason.
“I’m not going to take away from the team win today,” Bowles said. “I knew I’d be back, so it wasn’t a big deal.”
Bowles is 15-17 in his two-year tenure with New York, which hired him in January 2015 after firing Rex Ryan. He had been the subject of increased criticism by some fans and media in recent weeks because of a few ugly losses and questions about his in-game management and handling of the locker room.
But the Jets (5-11) announced after the game that owner Woody Johnson decided that Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan will return next season.
“One of the biggest things with the NFL and something that’s very helpful to franchises is continuity,” said quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw two touchdown passes in what was likely his final game for the Jets.
Fitzpatrick went 20 of 30 for 210 yards, but is likely to be among the big names to go because he’s a free agent and unlikely to return.
It could have also been the final game with New York for cornerback Darrelle Revis (who had his first interception of the season in the game); wide receiver Brandon Marshall (inactive because of a hip injury); and center Nick Mangold (on injured reserve), among others.
The Bills (7-9) also face some uncertainty this offseason after firing coach Rex Ryan earlier in the week and elevating offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn to the interim role.
Two people with direct knowledge of the situation told the AP before the game that Lynn is the clear favorite to take over the job permanently.
One person called Lynn’s succession to replace Ryan as being “the working plan.” Another person said the final decision on general manager Doug Whaley’s recommendation rests solely with owners Terry and Kim Pegula.
Both people spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity because the Bills have not revealed details of their coaching search.
“Until they tell me I’m not employed anymore,” Lynn said, “then I have to go back and get these evaluations done and look at our team and what we have to go after in the offseason.”
A third person with direct knowledge of the discussions told the AP that former Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley is a candidate to become the Bills defensive coordinator under Lynn. Bradley was fired by the Jaguars two weeks ago.
Lynn was asked if the Bills, who have missed the playoffs 17 straight seasons, have indicated to him that the job is his.
“No,” he said. “Not at all.”
Safety Corey Graham called the pending decision “very important.”
“We’re all very interested to see what’s going to happen, whether it’s a new guy coming in or if it’s going to be A-Lynn,” he said. “It’s going to affect me, if I have to learn a new defense.”
The Jets took a 7-0 lead on a 2-yard pass from Fitzpatrick to Bilal Powell, who also finished with 122 yards on 22 carries.
Dan Carpenter’s 34-yard field goal made it 7-3, but the Bills missed out on more points when EJ Manuel underthrew a wide-open Charles Clay.
Nick Folk kicked a 30-yarder as time expired in the first half to give the Jets a 10-3 lead.
The Jets got a turnover on the Bills’ next drive when Corey Lemonier — claimed off waivers during the week — got a strip-sack of Manuel and Jordan Jenkins recovered at the Buffalo 13. Officials initially ruled Manuel down, but Bowles challenged the call and it was reversed by video review.
Three plays later, Jalin Marshall reached over the goal line for a 6-yard touchdown reception that made it 17-3.
Buffalo turned it over again on its next possession, Sheldon Richardson recovering a fumble by Jonathan Williams.
New York’s Doug Middleton recovered a kickoff in the end zone after the Bills’ Mike Gillislee allowed the ball to bounce, giving New York a 30-3 lead.
Gillislee tried to make up for the gaffe with a 1-yard TD run with 39 seconds left to cap the scoring.
Manuel started at quarterback instead of Tyrod Taylor, who was inactive for the game with a groin injury.
Manuel made his first start since Oct. 25, 2015, and finished 9 of 20 for 86 yards. He was replaced by Cardale Jones in the fourth quarter, and the rookie was 6 of 11 for 96 yards with an interception.
Buffalo running back LeSean McCoy limped to the sideline with a high right ankle injury after a 2-yard loss on the first play of the second quarter. He was carted to the locker room. X-rays were negative, he was upgraded to a “probable” return, though he didn’t get another carry.
Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins also left late with a hip injury.
Bills running back Reggie Bush finished the season with 12 carries for minus-3 yards, becoming the first NFL running back to have negative yards rushing with 10 or more carries. He had no carries against the Jets.
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo, New York, contributed.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP—NFL
TOKYO (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un hinted Sunday that Pyongyang may ring in the new year with another bang — the test-launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile.
In his annual New Year’s address, Kim said that after testing what the North claims was its first hydrogen bomb last year, preparations for launching an intercontinental ballistic missile have “reached the final stage”
Kim did not explicitly say an ICBM test, which if successful would be a big step forward for the North, was imminent. But he has a birthday coming up on Jan. 8, and last year Pyongyang conducted a nuclear test on Jan. 6.
Kim threatened in the address to boost his country’s military capabilities further unless the U.S. ends war games with rival South Korea. But he also said efforts must be made to defuse the possibility of another Korean war and stressed the importance of building the economy under a five-year plan announced in May.
“The political and military position of socialism should be further cemented as an invincible fortress,” Kim said, according to an outline of the speech carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. “We should resolutely smash the enemies’ despicable and vicious moves to dampen the pure and ardent desire of the people for the party and estrange the people from it.”
The address was shown on television mixing video with Kim speaking and stretches of audio only, as still photos were broadcast. It was less than 30 minutes long.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry said in a statement that it “strongly condemns” Kim’s threat to proceed with a test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile and strengthen North Korea’s nuclear-strike capabilities. It said that the international community will not tolerate North Korean efforts to develop nuclear weapons, and that the North will only face tougher sanctions and pressure if it continues to go down that path.
Under Kim, who rose to power following his father’s death in 2011, North Korea has seen steady progress in its nuclear and missile programs, including two nuclear tests in 2016. It recently claimed a series of technical breakthroughs in its goal of developing a long-range nuclear missile capable of reaching the continental United States.
U.N. resolutions call for an end to North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests. Kim appears uninterested in complying.
The year ahead could be a tumultuous one in north Asia, with Donald Trump set to become the new U.S. president on Jan. 20, and South Korea’s politics in disarray over a scandal that brought the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye.
Kim indicated there will be no change in the North’s nuclear policy unless Washington makes a big, conciliatory first move, which, even with the advent of Trump, would seem unlikely.
Trump has somewhat offhandedly suggested he would be willing to meet with Kim — but not in North Korea — and has at the same time indicated that he wants China to exert significantly more control over Pyongyang to get it to abandon its nuclear program.
Demands from Pyongyang for the U.S. to stop its joint military exercises with the South and enter into negotiations to sign a peace treaty formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War have fallen on deaf ears in Washington for years amid an atmosphere of distrust and deepening hostility.
Kim is in his early 30s and is now in his fifth year as the North’s leader.
His New Year addresses, and a marathon speech at the May ruling party congress, are a contrast with his enigmatic father, Kim Jong Il, who rarely spoke in public. But he has yet to meet a foreign head of state or travel outside of North Korea since assuming power, and remains one the world’s most mysterious national leaders.
HOUSTON (AP) — Minutes after collecting 53 points, 17 assists and 16 rebounds in his second straight triple-double, Houston’s James Harden was asked what it has been like to play in new coach Mike D’Antoni’s system.
“It’s been a dream so far,” Harden said.
It looked more like a nightmare to the short-handed New York Knicks after Harden powered the Rockets to a 129-122 win on Saturday night.
“It was like NBA 2K numbers,” New York’s Brandon Jennings said, comparing Harden’s performance to the video game. “I just told him afterward to just go and get the MVP and keep balling and doing what he’s doing.”
Harden became the first player in NBA history to have at least 50 points, 15 assists and 15 rebounds in a single game, according to information provided by the Rockets from the Elias Sport Bureau. He also tied Wilt Chamberlain for most points in a triple-double, set career highs for points and 3-pointers with nine, and matched his career best for assists.
He passed his previous career best of 51 points on a 3 with 1:16 left, leading to a standing ovation.
“It looked very effortless,” teammate Ryan Anderson said. “But it just goes to show how great of a player he is.”
Harden has thrived as the point guard in D’Antoni’s fast-paced system. He is averaging 28.5 points and an NBA-best 12 assists per game.
“He’s an unbelievable player,” D’Antoni said.
The Knicks got within three several times in the fourth quarter, with the last time coming on a layup by Joakim Noah with about four minutes left. Harden responded to Noah’s basket with three free throws before dishing to Anderson for a 3-pointer that made it 119-111.
Another 3 by Anderson with less than two minutes left extended the lead to 124-113.
Harden, who had 30 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in Friday night’s 140-116 victory against the Clippers, completed his eighth triple-double this season when he grabbed his 10th rebound with about 10 minutes left in the third quarter.
It was his 17th career triple-double and his fourth career 50-point game.
The Knicks played without starters Kristaps Porzingis (sore Achilles tendon) and Courtney Lee (sore right wrist) due to injuries. They lost another one at halftime when Carmelo Anthony was sidelined by a sore left knee. He had seven points in the first half.
“I just decided at the last minute to just go out there and play and try to get going and the more I played the (more sore) it got … I don’t think it’s that serious,” Anthony said.
Anderson added 25 points for the Rockets, who have won four in a row.
Jennings had a season-high 32 points for New York, which has dropped four straight.
A 3-pointer by Harden extended Houston’s lead to 18 points with about seven minutes left in the third. Jennings then had nine points in a 15-5 run that trimmed Houston’s lead to 88-80 with less than four minutes remaining in the quarter.
Harden made two foul shots in the final seconds to lift Houston to a 99-92 lead after three.
D’Antoni took a minute out of his pregame talk with reporters to wish his father Lewis D’Antoni a happy birthday. The elder D’Antoni was celebrating his 103rd birthday on Saturday.
The coach was asked about the best lesson he had learned from his father.
“Probably how to stay alive,” he said with a chuckle.
Then he got serious.
“There’s just so many (lessons) … just the way he approached life was remarkable,” he said.
THEY SAID IT
D’Antoni on the Rockets going 15-2 in December: “We’re good but we need to get a lot better because we’ve got more aspirations. We’ve got a lot of things we’ve got to do.”
Knicks: F Kyle O’Quinn sat out because of an illness. … Willy Hernangomez received a flagrant 1 foul in the fourth quarter after elbowing Anderson in the stomach. … Derrick Rose finished with 21 points.
Rockets: G Patrick Beverley missed the game with pain in his right wrist. … Friday and Saturday marked the first time Houston had played home games on consecutive days since February 2012. … The Rockets have scored at least 66 points in the first half of the last four games. … Eric Gordon added 15 points.
Knicks: Host Orlando on Monday.
Rockets: Host Washington on Monday.
The problem of fake news came to a dizzying head in 2016 when a man fired a shot in a family pizzeria as he “self-investigated” a false report of a child abuse ring led by top democrats. A BuzzFeed report confirmed that fake news stories, such as the one that claimed Hillary Clinton sold arms to ISIS, were actually viewed more times than articles from established and legitimate news sources. Did fake news have an impact on the election? How do we address the problem from here? This lesson plan features a Channel One News report on the problem. Then, students analyze the problem and consider steps media outlets and individuals need to take to prevent the viral spread of propaganda.
Warm up: Ask students:
Words in the News: Review this word prior to viewing the video.
propaganda (noun): Information that is often exaggerated or false and spread for the purpose of benefiting or promoting a specific individual or cause.
Heard on the Air: “If we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems.”
Have students scan their social media newsfeeds to spot suspect articles. Then, have them use this checklist from the News Literacy Project, Ten Questions for Fake News Detection, to determine whether they’ve spotted an illegitimate news source.
Then, work with the whole class to create a list of sites that they evaluated. List the sites, and create columns for read, “liked,” or shared. Perform a class-wide survey to see how many times people read, “liked” or shared an article from each site.
Based on the results of the survey, ask students:
What impact do you think fake news had on the 2016 Presidential Election? What steps should the government, media outlets and individuals take to address the problem? Write an essay exploring the issue. Support your answer with evidence from the video, the class survey and your own experience.
Premium subscribers get access to the Channel One News video library, daily show and daily lesson plans. Learn more.
NIMRUD, Iraq (AP) — The giant winged bulls that once stood sentry at the nearly 3,000-year-old palace at Nimrud have been hacked to pieces. The fantastical human-headed creatures were believed to guard the king from evil, but now their stone remains are piled in the dirt, victims of the Islamic State group’s fervor to erase history.
The militants’ fanaticism devastated one of the most important archaeological sites in the Middle East. But more than a month after the militants were driven out, Nimrud is still being ravaged, its treasures disappearing, piece by piece, imperiling any chance of eventually rebuilding it, an Associated Press team found after multiple visits in the past month.
With the government and military still absorbed in fighting the war against the Islamic State group in nearby Mosul, the wreckage of the Assyrian Empire’s ancient capital lies unprotected and vulnerable to looters.
No one is assigned to guard the sprawling site, much less catalog the fragments of ancient reliefs, chunks of cuneiform texts, pieces of statues and other rubble after IS blew up nearly every structure there. Toppled stone slabs bearing a relief from the palace wall that the AP saw on one visit were gone when journalists returned.
“When I heard about Nimrud, my heart wept before my eyes did,” said Hiba Hazim Hamad, an archaeology professor in Mosul who often took her students there. “My family and neighbors came to my house to pay condolences.”
Perhaps the only vigilant guardian left for the ruins is an Iraqi archaeologist, Layla Salih. She has visited it multiple times in recent weeks, photographing the destruction to document it and badgering nearby militias to take care of it. Walking with the AP across the broad dirt expanse of the ruin, she was calm, methodical and precise as she pointed out things she’d seen on previous visits that were no longer in place.
Still, Salih does not despair. She searches out reasons for optimism.
“The good thing is the rubble is still in situ,” she said. “The site is restorable.”
To an untrained eye, that’s hard to imagine, seeing the extent of the destruction that the Islamic State group wreaked in March 2015. Salih estimated that 60 percent of the site was irrecoverable.
The site’s various structures — several palaces and temples — are spread over 360 hectares (900 acres) on a dirt plateau. A 140-foot-high ziggurat, or step pyramid, once arrested the gaze of anyone entering Nimrud. Where it stood, there is now only lumpy earth. Just past it, in the palace of King Ashurnasirpal II, walls are toppled, bricks spilled into giant piles. The palace’s great courtyard is a field of cratered earth. Chunks of cuneiform writing are jammed in the dirt. Reliefs that once displayed gods and mythical creatures are reduced to random chunks showing a hand or a few feathers of a genie’s wing.
During a Dec. 14 assessment tour by UNESCO, a U.N. demining expert peered at a hole leading to a tomb that appeared to be intact. It might be rigged to explode, the expert said, and the UNESCO crew backed away.
The militants boasted of the destruction in high-definition video propaganda, touting their campaign to purge their self-declared “caliphate” of anything they deemed pagan or heretical.
They dismantled the winged bulls, known as lamassu, as purposefully as any decapitation in Raqqa or Mosul. The bearded male heads of the statues are missing — likely taken to be sold on the black market as IS has done with other artifacts. They then wired the entire palace with explosives and blew it apart, along with the temples of Nabu and of the goddess Ishtar.
It was a brutal blow to a site that gave the world a wealth of startling Mesopotamian art and deepened knowledge about the ancient Mideast.
Nimrud was a capital of the Assyrians, one the ancient world’s earliest and most ferocious empires. Known at the time as Kalhu, the city was the seat of power from 879-709 BC, an era when Assyrian armies expanded out across the Levant, capturing Damascus and other cities, crushing the kingdom of Israel and turning its neighbor Judah into a vassal.
A British-Assyrian team first excavated Nimrud in 1945, then it was re-excavated in the 1950s by Max Mallowan. Though famous in his own right at the time, Mallowan is better known as the husband of Agatha Christie , who accompanied him and photographed and filmed the digs.
“It’s just one of the most beautiful sites in the Middle East, or at least it was,” said Georgina Herrmann, a British archaeologist who worked at Nimrud with Mallowan. “It used to be covered with wildflowers. You’d be there and there’d be bits of ancient sculptures sticking out.”
Besides the reliefs and statues, archaeologists dug up hundreds of stone tablets written in cuneiform letters containing everything from treaties to temple and palace records. The tombs of queens yielded troves of gold and jewelry. Iraqi archaeologists also made a grisly find: more than 100 skeletons inside a palace well, including some with shackled hands and feet, possibly prisoners dumped in when Nimrud was sacked in 610 BC.
Salih, 40, came to Nimrud a few days after IS fighters were driven out in early November. So far, she is the only Iraqi antiquities official to visit. Ancient Assyria is not even Salih’s field; she specialized in Islamic art and architecture. But there was no one else to do it. Half of the 50-odd government archaeologists in Mosul are still trapped there under IS rule.
She confirmed what satellite images had already shown: Sometime between Sept. 1 and Nov. 4 as international forces closed in, IS bulldozed the ziggurat.
It had never been explored by archaeologists. “What exactly was inside it only ISIS knows,” said Herrmann.
Touring the site, UNESCO’s representative to Iraq, Louise Haxthausen, called the destruction “absolutely devastating.”
“The most important thing right now is to ensure some basic protection,” she said.
But the government has many priorities right now. It is still fighting IS in Mosul. Moreover, there is a long and expensive list of needs in rebuilding the country from the Islamic State group’s legacy. Tens of thousands of citizens live in camps. Large swaths of the western city of Ramadi were destroyed in the offensive to wrest it from IS control. Mass graves are unearthed nearly every day in former IS territory, with more than 70 discovered already. Other ancient sites remain under IS control, including Nineveh — another ancient Assyrian capital — in the heart of Mosul.
Nimrud is in an active war zone, on the edge of the Tigris River valley south of Mosul. To reach it, one drives through checkpoints of multiple armed groups fighting IS — the Iraqi military, Shiite militias, Kurdish peshmerga and Christian fighters.
None of those forces is assigned to guard Nimrud. The first three times the AP visited, Sunni and Shiite fighters eventually showed up after an hour, apparently after hearing of the team’s presence.
During the UNESCO tour, Salih noticed that some of the ancient bricks from the palace rubble had been neatly piled up as if to be hauled away. She questioned two Shiite militiamen about them.
“Both of them told me different stories,” she said in exasperation. One said Islamic State extremists did it, intending to sell the bricks; the other said the militia members themselves stacked them to protect them. Salih believes neither story and thinks someone had hoped to take the bricks to repair homes damaged in fighting.
It’s hard to say what’s missing, because no one even knows what’s in the piles of rubble to know if it’s being stolen.
Two locals were recently arrested with a marble tablet and stone seal from Nimrud, presumably to sell. The men remain in custody.
The artifacts seized from them, however, are harder to track down. The police insisted they were at a lab in Irbil, the capital of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq. The lab said it knew nothing about them. The Antiquities Ministry in Baghdad said they were safe in the Ninevah government offices, while an official in those offices said they were with the police awaiting transit to Baghdad.
It was a perfect circle of confusion — one that makes it easy for someone to simply steal items.
Salih is working to get international funding to pay someone to guard the site. But she recognizes that job will have to go to one of the militia factions. She has no illusions that the militias will provide full protection.
But she has grown used to compromises that once would have been unimaginable. Before she fled her home in Mosul soon after the IS takeover in 2014, she and other archaeologists pleaded with the militants to let them destroy the city’s ancient tombs that the group so despised. At least that way, the buildings housing the tombs could be spared.
The plea was futile, and IS detonated the buildings and tombs.
So she will negotiate now with the militias to do as much as they can to preserve Nimrud. On the final visit with the AP, wind-whipped winter rains sent rivulets of water through the loose dirt, further dislodging the remains.
“There isn’t another choice, as you see,” she said.
Associated Press photographer Maya Alleruzzo and videographer Bram Janssen in Nimrud; and Salar Salim and Mohammed Nouman in Irbil, Iraq, contributed to this report.
Read previous reports in the AP’s series “A Savage Legacy” chronicling the impact of the Islamic State group at: https://www.ap.org/explore/a-savage-legacy/