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Updated: 1 hour 23 min ago

Dallas Cowboys edge Oakland Raiders by slimmest of margins

1 hour 52 min ago

OAKLAND, Calif. — Dallas kept its playoff hopes alive by the slimmest of margins after Dak Prescott converted a fourth-down sneak by the width of an index card to set up Dan Bailey’s go-ahead 19-yard field goal, and Derek Carr fumbled the ball inches from the goal line with 31 seconds left to give the Cowboys a 20-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday night.

The first key play came when Cowboys coach Jason Garrett decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 39 with about five minutes left in a tie game. Prescott ran into a pile that took officials time to untangle.

Referee Gene Steratore then called for the chains to come out, but even that wasn’t enough. He then tried to slide what appeared to be an index card between the tip of the ball and the end of the chain. When the card didn’t slide through, Steratore gave Dallas (8-6) a first down.

Bryant then hit Dez Bryant with a 40-yard pass that set up Bailey’s short kick with 1:44 to play that gave the Cowboys the lead.

But the game was far from over. The Raiders (6-8) got a gift when Jourdan Lewis committed a 43-yard pass interference penalty on a fourth-and-10 from their own 30. Carr then scrambled on third-and-3 from the 8 and reached out for the end zone. But the ball came loose before crossing the goal line and went out of the end zone for a touchback that all but ended Oakland’s playoff hopes. The Raiders are tied for ninth in the AFC.

Dallas is in a three-way tie for seventh place in the NFC, a half-game behind Atlanta for the final playoff spot. The Falcons beat the Cowboys head-to-head.

The Cowboys got their third straight win without suspended star running back Ezekiel Elliott, who returns from a six-game suspension next week. But Dallas’ three straight losses at the start of the suspension created a hole the team is still trying to escape.

FAKE IT OUT

The Cowboys took a risk in the third quarter on a fourth-and-11 from their own 24. Punter Chris Jones kept the ball and ran 24 yards for a first down. Dallas then drove down the field and took a 17-10 lead when Prescott ran in from 5 yards out and then was given a shower of drinks thrown by fans in the Black Hole.

MILESTONE THROW

Carr set up Oakland’s first TD with a 32-yard scramble that was his longest run since his rookie year. That led to a 2-yard TD to Michael Crabtree that gave Carr 100 career touchdown passes. He joined Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Russell Wilson and Andrew Luck as the only players with at least 100 TD passes in their first four years in the NFL. Carr added a second TD pass to Crabtree in the fourth quarter that tied the game at 17.

TAKE IT AWAY

Sean Smith intercepted two passes for the Raiders, doubling the team’s total from the first 13 games. Smith got his first on the opening drive of the game and then added another just moments after Oakland got on the board for the first time. Bruce Irvin hit Prescott on the throw and Smith came up with the floater . He was initially given a TD return on the play but was ruled down by contact on replay and Oakland settled for a game-tying field goal from Giorgio Tavecchio.

WIPED OFF

The Raiders appeared to get on the scoreboard when Jared Cook caught an 11-yard TD pass from Carr in the closing seconds of the first half. But a pass interference call on Cook wiped out the TD and Oakland came up empty when Tavecchio missed a 39-yard field goal wide left on the final play.

INJURIES

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The Raiders lost LT Donald Penn (foot) and DT Treyvon Hester (ankle) to injuries in the first half. … Dallas LT Tyron Smith left in the second half with a knee injury.

UP NEXT

Cowboys: Host Seattle on Sunday.

Raiders: Visit Philadelphia on Dec. 25.



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Sudden power outage creates “nightmare” at Atlanta airport

December 17, 2017 - 9:59pm

ATLANTA — A sudden power outage caused by a fire in an underground electrical facility brought the world’s busiest airport to a standstill Sunday, grounding more than 1,000 flights in Atlanta just days before the start of the Christmas travel rush. More than 10 hours after the blackout began, authorities announced that electricity had been restored to several areas of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International.

Georgia Power said on its Twitter page late Sunday that power was back in the airport’s atrium and several concourses. It tweeted to the Associated Press that several more were still being worked on. The utility said earlier it expected power to be fully restored by midnight.

Passengers at the airport were left in the dark when the lights went out at around 1 p.m. The outage halted all outgoing flights, and arriving planes were held on the ground at their point of departure. International flights were being diverted, officials said.

Mayor Kasim Reed tweeted Sunday night that all passengers had been safely deplaned.

The City of Atlanta said on its Twitter page that it would provide shuttle service to the Georgia Convention Center for travelers in need of a place to stay and Chick-fil-A would be provided.

Delta passenger Emilia Duca, 32, was on her way to Wisconsin from Bogota, Colombia, when she got stuck in Atlanta. She said police made passengers who were in the baggage-claim area move to a higher floor. She said restaurants and shops were closed. Vending machines weren’t working.

“A lot of people are arriving, and no one is going out. No one is saying anything official. We are stuck here,” she said. “It’s a nightmare.”

Adding to the nightmare are what some passengers

Delta, with its biggest hub operation in Atlanta, will be hardest hit. By evening, Delta had already cancelled almost 800 Sunday flights and another 250 on Monday, nearly all of them in Atlanta, according to tracking service FlightAware.com.

Robert Mann, an aviation consultant and former American Airlines executive, said it likely will be Tuesday before Delta’s operations in Atlanta return to normal, and for passengers “it could be most of the week” because there aren’t many open seats on other flights in the last week before Christmas.

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“Tomorrow is going to be a long and difficult day for everybody,” Mann said.

One bit of good news, according to Mann: Delta has more spare planes and available crews in Atlanta than anywhere else, which will help it to recover.

Still, when flights at Atlanta were grounded for most of one day last spring, it took Delta five days — and about 4,000 cancelled flights — before it fully recovered.

Like Sunday’s outage, that April storm hit Delta’s largest hub at a busy travel time when there weren’t many empty seats to accommodate customers from cancelled flights. At the time, CEO Ed Bastian vowed that Delta would make “significant improvements” to its system for scheduling and tracking aircraft crews to recover more quickly from disruptions.

While Delta was hit hardest by the outage, other airlines also canceled flights for the rest of Sunday. American Airlines canceled 24 departures and an equal number of arrivals, said spokesman Ross Feinstein. The airline also diverted three planes that were headed to Atlanta when the outage struck, sending them instead to Dallas, Nashville and back to Philadelphia.

The FAA said it would staff the airport control tower throughout the night so that it can handle flights once they resume. The FAA said the tower could operate normally but flights were affected because airport equipment in the terminals was not working.

According to a Georgia Power statement, a fire in an underground electrical facility may have been responsible for the outage. The cause of the fire was not known.

“No personnel or passengers were in danger at any time,” the statement said.

No areas outside of the airport were affected by the power loss. The utility said that there are “many redundant systems in place” to ensure the power supply to the airport and that such outages at the airport “are very rare.”

That wasn’t enough to comfort Jeff Smith, 46, of Pittsburgh, who ended up stuck in a plane on the tarmac for three hours after it landed.

“This is the worst experience I’ve ever had at an airport,” he said.

Sara Melillo, who was traveling to Pittsburgh from Kenya, where she lives with her husband, Greg Presto, to spend Christmas with his family were stuck on the tarmac for six hours. The couple had made stops in Nairobi and Amsterdam and landed shortly after the lights went out in Atlanta.

She said the pilot didn’t have a lot of information for the travelers but the plane had air conditioning and attendants offered water and juice a few times. She described the Delta terminal as “big chaos” with not enough customer service for the hundreds of people trying to find a flight to their next destination and a place to sleep for the night.

With her new boarding pass handwritten and her bags still stuck on a plane, Melillo was hopeful that she and her husband would be able to get a flight in the morning to Pittsburgh, she said as she waited for an Uber to take them to a hotel.

By evening, power had been restored to at least one concourse. On its Twitter page Sunday night the airport tweeted, “Power on Concourse F is back ON! We are working with great urgency w/ @GeorgiaPower to restore power throughout rest of airport.” Airport workers were distributing bottled water, and Dunkin’ Donuts was giving out doughnuts.

Officer Lisa Bender of the Atlanta Police Department said officers were at the airport to help with crowd control and managing traffic around the airport.

Delta Air Lines, which has its hub at the airport, said about 900 mainline and connection flights were cancelled, and 48 flights were diverted. Delta temporarily embargoed unaccompanied minors from traveling Monday.

At Southwest Airlines, about 70 Atlanta departures out of 120 scheduled for Sunday were cancelled, an airline spokesman said in an email. United Airlines and JetBlue Airways were among carriers reporting delays or cancellations.

Mozell Smith, 58, of Atlanta arrived at the airport hours after the electricity went off. He was headed to Las Vegas with a sister and a friend.

“This is terrible. I wish someone would’ve given us a heads-up before we got to the airport,” he said. “I wish there would have been better communication.”

American Airlines reported only a handful of diversions and cancellations because the carrier does not use Atlanta as a hub, airline spokeswoman Alexis Aran Coello.

Hartsfield-Jackson, which serves 104 million passengers a year, is the world’s busiest airport, a distinction it has held since 1998.

The airport serves an average of 275,000 passengers daily, according to its website. Nearly 2,500 planes arrive and depart each day.

AP Airlines Writer David Koenig in Dallas, Texas, contributed to the story.



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Cam Newton optimistic about Panthers’ “Caucasian Invasion” of Christian McCaffrey, Greg Olsen

December 17, 2017 - 9:02pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The soon-to-be for sale Carolina Panthers have two more reasons to be optimistic about making a late postseason run before owner Jerry Richardson sells the team.

Not only did rookie running back Christian McCaffrey have one of his most productive days as a pro, but the Panthers (10-4) finally got three-time Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen firmly back in the offensive mix on Sunday.

Olsen, who has missed most of the season with a broken foot, looked like his old self with nine catches for 116 yards and a touchdown in a 31-24 win over the Green Bay Packers. McCaffrey had 136 yards from scrimmage and a TD.

Panthers quarterback called it “The Caucasian Invasion.”

“Those guys came in and had a great game,” said Newton, who threw for four touchdowns. “We are going to need that more moving forward.”

Olsen had only four catches for 38 yards coming into the game.

“Once you get going, it’s funny how the game really starts getting into a rhythm and you feel like every ball is going to come your way,” Olsen said.

McCaffrey started the game for the Panthers and touched the ball nine times on the opening drive, which he capped with a 7-yard TD catch.

“The more football that he sees, the more that he understands,” Newton said. “There is a lot of just being on the same page. That’s similar to Greg. Being back for a couple of weeks now, he’s starting to get back to his regular self. Finding the open zones and the open holes.”

McCaffrey, who has 73 catches and five receiving touchdowns this season, is the only rookie running back in NFL history with at least 70 receptions and five touchdown catches.

DAVIS PUNISHMENT: The Panthers should be concerned about whether they’ll have linebacker Thomas Davis back for Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay. Davis delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit to Davante Adams, knocking the Packers wide receiver out of the game with a concussion — his second of the season.

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Davis was fined $48,620 earlier this year — his second offense — for his tackle on Tampa Bay wide receiver Adam Humphries.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers called it an “unnecessary hit.”

“He’s a repeat offender, so I am sure that the league will deal with him according to that,” Rodgers said.

Davis was not available to speak after the game.

NO SLOWING PEPPERS: Carolina defensive ends Julius Peppers and Mario Addison combined to drop Aaron Rodgers in the fourth quarter, and the half-sack gave Peppers 10 sacks for the 10th season of his 16-year career.

His teammates see a model of consistency from the 37-year-old, who this year rejoined the franchise that drafted him No. 2 overall in 2002.

“Everyone on that defensive line, we feed off that,” defensive tackle Kawann Short said. “Just to see him come in week in, week out, putting the work in and not looking his age at all, it just makes us not even worry about the little bumps and bruises we got.”

Peppers had a career-high 14 1/2 sacks in 2008 with Carolina, where seven of his double-digit sack seasons have come.

FRIENDSHIP FOR YEARS: After Peppers sacked Rodgers he shook the QB’s hand and then patted him on the back in a show of respect.

“There’s a close friendship there,” said Rodgers, who was teammates with Rodgers in Green Bay. “We talked at length before the game and talked after the game. He’s one of those guys you really enjoy playing with. He’s a phenomenal teammate.”

THIEVES AVENUE 2.0: It took 13 games for second-year Panthers cornerbacks Daryl Worley and James Bradberry to get their hands on a football in 2017. Now, they both have interceptions in back-to-back weeks.

One week after each picked off Minnesota’s Case Keenum, the duo intercepted Rodgers. Worley’s second-quarter interception and Bradberry’s third-quarter pick helped the Panthers get four takeaways. The interception matches Bradberry’s total of two from last year, while Worley now has three career picks.

Safety Colin Jones also intercepted Rodgers, and his pick set up a touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Damiere Byrd.

PACKERS PLAYOFF HOPES: On a day when Minnesota clinched the NFC North division, Green Bay watched its playoff prospects take a direct hit with a loss at Carolina.

Even if Atlanta loses Monday night at Tampa Bay, Green Bay will trail the Falcons by a game for the final playoff spot in the NFC with two to play. Plus, Atlanta holds the head-to-head tiebreaker by virtue of a 34-23 win at home against the Packers in September.

Seattle is also 8-6.

The Panthers can clinch a postseason berth with a win next week against the Buccaneers.

AP stringers Eli Pacheco and Justin Parker have contributed to this report.



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PHOTOS: Santa Claus is coming!

December 17, 2017 - 8:52pm

Santa Claus photos from around the world Dec. 17, 2017

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PHOTOS: The day in sports December 17, 2017

December 17, 2017 - 8:14pm

Photos from the day in sports on Dec. 17, 2017.



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Kapri Bibbs’ dream of playing for the Redskins became reality

December 17, 2017 - 7:48pm

Three weeks before the Washington Redskins worked out running back Kapri Bibbs, he had a dream about the team.

Vividly remembering the dream’s inclusion of the Redskins’ “mustard-color” attire, Bibbs, who couldn’t stop smiling, recounted the memory in his locker after Washington’s 20-15 win Sunday over the Arizona Cardinals at FedEx Field.

Bibbs, who was signed to the Redskins’ practice squad in November and promoted to the active roster Tuesday, said after waking from his dream, he called up one of his friends to tell him about the odd occurrence. He didn’t know what the Redskins-specific dream meant — whether it was an omen, a sign or just a meaningless occurrence — but three weeks later, Bibbs got a call from Washington inviting him to a workout.

“I had to call (my friend) back up and say like, ‘Man, guess what, like the Redskins just called me for a workout,’ ” Bibbs said. “He was like, ‘You got to kill it, you got to get the job’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, I know, I want it bad.’ ”

But when the team didn’t immediately sign him after the workout, the 5-foot-11, 203-pound running back thought his dream might have been a fluke after all. He thought that since he wanted it so bad, he had inadvertently convinced himself the dream was a sign. But two weeks later Bibbs heard from the Redskins, and they wanted to sign him.

On Sunday, the 24-year-old took the field for his first game in a Redskins uniform — wearing mustard-colored pants. He caught two passes on a key drive in the second quarter, which set up his 36-yard touchdown catch off a fake-reverse screen pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins to give the Redskins a 14-3 lead with 13:39 left in the first half. It was Bibbs’s second career touchdown in his three-year NFL career.

Bibbs finished Sunday’s game with one touchdown, four catches for 47 yards and two rushes for six yards.

“It means everything to me,” Bibbs said of the touchdown. “… I’m trying to stop smiling, but at the same time, I’ve been through a lot and this is just a blessing and I know God made everything happen for a reason.”

Bibbs previously spent time with the Denver Broncos, where he recorded his first touchdown — a 69-yard catch off a screen pass — last year. With Denver last season, he recorded 29 carries for 129 yards.

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“I think of Bibbs today, he’s been a joy to work with the last couple of weeks, and he’s shown some burst and some ability,” Kirk Cousins said after Sunday’s game. “It was fun to give him a couple of opportunities today.”

Bibbs was called up to the active roster this week after the Redskins officially placed tight end Jordan Reed, linebacker Chris Carter and running back Byron Marshall on injured reserve. Both Carter, who suffered a fractured fibula, and Marshall, a hamstring injury, were injured in the Redskins’ 30-13 road loss to the Los Angeles Chargers last Sunday. Reed last played in Week 8, after playing a career-low six games this season.

On Sunday after his second quarter touchdown, Bibbs was surrounded by teammates, including mostly the rest of the running backs group and safety D.J. Swearinger. After spending 10 weeks without an NFL team to call home, Bibbs, who joined rookies Perine and Daniels in the backfield, said he was just “happy to be part of an organization like this with coaches that believe in me.”

“All of that made my heart glow because I love football and to get that back again felt amazing,” Bibbs said.



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LeBron James wears 1 black shoe, 1 white shoe, speaks about Donald Trump

December 17, 2017 - 7:35pm

WASHINGTON — LeBron James made a statement during an NBA game with his shoes — one black, one white, with the word “equality” in capital gold letters on the back of each.

Then, after the game, James made a statement about President Donald Trump, saying: “This is a beautiful country and we’re never going to let one person dictate how beautiful and how powerful we are.”

The four-time NBA MVP was asked about his choice of footwear for the first half of his Cleveland Cavaliers‘ 106-99 victory over the Washington Wizards on Sunday night at an arena about a mile from the White House.

“Obviously, we know where we are right now,” James began. “And we know who’s at the helm here.”

He continued, speaking about the importance of “having equal rights and being able to stand for something and speak for something and keeping the conversation going.”

James then referred to his past discussions of Trump, saying: “Obviously, I’ve been … very outspoken and well-spoken about the situation that’s going on at the helm here. … Equality is all about understanding our rights, understanding what we stand for and how powerful we are as men and as women, black or white or Hispanic. It doesn’t matter your race.”

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Earlier this year, James called Trump “a bum” on Twitter and also said at Cleveland’s preseason media day: “He doesn’t understand how many kids, no matter the race, look up to the president of the United State for guidance, for leadership, for words of encouragement. He doesn’t understand that, and that’s what makes me more sick than anything.”

Then, for Cleveland’s first regular-season game, James donned a pair of black sneakers with the “equality” message. But this was the first time James chose to wear one white and one black shoe.

At halftime Sunday, he changed into other sneakers. James finished the game with 20 points, 15 assists and 12 rebounds.

“I didn’t play well in the first half, and I’m very superstitious, so I took ’em off,” James explained, before joking: “I didn’t play well in the second half, either, so if there was a third half, I would have took those off.”



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Ken Toltz is suspending his campaign to replace Polis, citing family heath reasons

December 17, 2017 - 7:01pm

Ken Toltz, the Boulder Democrat and longtime gun-control advocate, announced Sunday he is suspending his campaign to replace U.S. Rep. Jared Polis because of a serious health situation in his immediate family, narrowing the field for what was in all likelihood his top rival in the race, Joe Neguse.

Provided photoKen Toltz

“It’s a very difficult decision, which is the right one,” Toltz said in a written statement. “My time and attention has been focused on a serious health situation in my immediate family. Mounting a competitive campaign to represent Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District is full-time in itself, and now is not the time for me.”

He added:  “I remain engaged and focused on compelling Washington to uphold its primary responsibility, protecting the public safety and to accept their obligation of implementing a comprehensive gun violence solution.”

Toltz’s exit from the race creates a clearer path to victory for Neguse, a fellow Democrat and former Cabinet member of Gov. John Hickenlooper who had won endorsements from many of the party’s top names in Colorado.

Toltz announced his candidacy in early October. He ran unsuccessfully in 2000 in the 6th Congressional District against Republican firebrand Tom Tancredo, a contest that happened in the wake of the Columbine High School shootings.

Tancredo is now running as a Republican for governor.

In 2013, Toltz created Safe Campus Colorado as a way to push back against efforts to allow the concealed carrying of firearms on the state’s college campuses.

Other Democrats running for Polis’ job in 2018 include Nederland Mayor Kristopher Larsen and Mark Williams, former chairman of the Boulder County Democratic Party.

Nick Thomas has filed to run for the position as an independent. Peter Yu has filed to run as a Republican.

Polis is leaving his seat as he runs for governor.

Polis’ strongly left-leaning seat is made up of all of Boulder and Larimer counties and spans into Broomfield, Clear Creek, Eagle, Gilpin, Grand, Jefferson, Park and Summit counties.

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Anthony Bonner matches career high in Colorado State basketball’s win over Texas State

December 17, 2017 - 6:55pm

FORT COLLINS — Anthony Bonner has had an up and down two-plus years at Colorado State. With both his shooting numbers and playing time inconsistent, he freely admits it’s been tough to maintain his confidence.

And like most things in life, confidence is crucial for a shooter.

He’ll have a much easier time keeping his head up after leading Colorado State to a 66-58 victory over visiting Texas State on Sunday at Moby Arena in what was the redshirt sophomore’s best game yet as a Ram.

The guard from Lawrence, Kansas, matched a career-high with 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting and helped hold off a second-half comeback by the Bobcats with a late 3-pointer, part of a clutch 3-of-4 performance from behind the arc.

“It’s real tough, but I just see it all as part of the process of becoming a better basketball player, becoming more mentally tough as a person,” he said of trying to stay positive. “My teammates and coaches do a really nice job of keeping my head in it and always telling me to shoot the ball. ‘You can do this, you can do that. Just believe in yourself.'”

Read the full story at ReporterHerald.com.



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Colorado State Rams football faces uncertain offseason with program-defining year ahead

December 17, 2017 - 6:37pm

ALBUQUERQUE — New Mexico Bowl staff members grew understandably impatient Saturday night in a weight room facility outside Dreamstyle Stadium as reporters awaited the arrival of Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo, quarterback Nick Stevens and linebacker Evan Colorito for a  postgame news conference.

The Rams were running late after a 31-28 loss to Marshall.

It’s likely Bobo needed an extra moment to reflect with his 7-6 team in the locker room.

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“I told them I loved them,” Bobo said. “I told those seniors that I appreciate everything they’ve done for this program. How they represented this program. I did not recruit probably 85 percent of those guys in that room, but they were all in for Colorado State and all in with my vision, what I wanted to do with this program and the culture that we’re trying to set.”

But time to reminisce didn’t last long.

The Rams face an uncertain offseason with a program-defining year ahead. Internal expectations will exceed a seven-win season, but it will come at the hands of a new starting quarterback (Collin Hill) and at least four new assistants (offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, cornerbacks coach and a 10th assistant coach), in addition to an incoming recruiting class CSU hopes to mostly solidify on Wednesday, the start of the early signing period.

Bobo admitted to urgency in making his new hires official, and preferably before the recruiting contact dead period ends after Jan. 11, as coaches across the country once again hit the road before the traditional national signing day on Feb. 7. With a new five-year contract in hand, Bobo understands what’s expected. He spun CSU’s loss in the New Mexico Bowl as a learning experience for a roster that will return young talent at several key positions.

“I’ve got a good feeling of the direction we’re headed,” Bobo said. “Sometimes you say, ‘How can you say that when you’ve lost the game?’ That’s part of it. That’s how you grow, when you fail. If everything was easy all the time, nobody would amount to anything, in my opinion.”

CSU’s  2018 nonconference schedule looks daunting with three consecutive games against power five teams — Sept. 1 vs. Colorado, Sept. 8 vs. Arkansas and Sept. 15 at Florida — to open the season. Then it’s on to Mountain West games that include Air Force and Boise State on the road.

As Bobo addressed the future of the Rams on Saturday night, Colorito nodded his head with each positive note for what’s ahead. Colorito will no longer be on the roster to help, but he’s still confident the best is yet to come for the Rams.

“(Bobo) is a (heck) of a coach,” Colorito said, “and nothing short of that.”

The road ahead

Assessing several important changes that the Colorado State football team faces going into the offseason:.

Key departures

QB Nick Stevens: CSU’s career passing touchdowns leader (70) wasn’t at his best in the New Mexico Bowl, but he will be remembered as being among the school’s great quarterbacks.

WR Michael Gallup: Few players in CSU history have shocked and awed with incredible performances like Gallup, an All-American who now aims to dominate against NFL defensive backs.

RB Dalyn Dawkins: He averaged 6.2 yards per carry and rushed for 1,399 yards this year as CSU’s Energizer Bunny in the backfield.

LB Evan Colorito: A defensive captain who led the Rams in sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (12) this season.

CB Kevin Nutt: The Rams’ top cover corner will be missed as the unit rebuilds with a new cornerbacks coach.

Key returners

QB Collin Hill: A redshirt year should prove valuable to a 6-foot-5, 210-pound passer with a big arm.

WR Olabisi Johnson: Gallup’s departure will create more opportunity for a proven playmaker with more than 1,200 career receiving yards.

OT Ben Knox: The junior college transfer will be a senior in 2018 and checks in at 6-6 and 325 pounds.

S Jordan Fogal: The NCAA granted Fogal a rare sixth year of eligibility, and he brings veteran leadership to the CSU secondary.

LB Max McDonald: The Rocky Mountain High School product finished the season fourth in team tackles (57) as just a sophomore last year.

2018 signing class

According to 24/7 Sports as of Sunday afternoon, CSU had 18 verbal commitments in its 2018 signing class. With 12 three-star prospects, the class ranks No. 2 in the Mountain West. The Rams’ highest rated recruit is wide receiver Jammal Houston of Marrero, La. He pledged to CSU in July.

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Facing misconduct investigation, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson selling NFL team

December 17, 2017 - 6:25pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Facing a growing investigation that accuses him of sexual misconduct and using racist language at work, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson announced Sunday that he will sell the NFL team after the season.

The team announced on Twitter that Richardson is selling the team, linking to a five-paragraph letter by the franchise’s only owner.

“I believe it is time to turn the franchise over to new ownership,” Richardson wrote, saying he wouldn’t begin discussions until after the season. The Panthers, who lost in the Super Bowl two seasons ago, are in playoff position again.

“I hope everyone in the organization, both on and off the field, will be firmly focused on one mission: to play and win the Super Bowl,” said Richardson, 81.

Richardson’s letter did not directly address the investigation or allegations against him.

The NFL awarded Richardson, a former player with the Baltimore Colts, an expansion franchise in 1993, and he has been the team’s only owner.

“There has been no greater mission or purpose in my life than to have brought and NFL franchise to Charlotte,” Richardson wrote. “The obstacles back then were significant and some even questioned whether or community could or would support professional football. But I always knew that if given the chance the Carolina would rise to the occasion. And you have.”

Richardson attended Sunday’s win over the Green Bay Packers at Bank of America Stadium and was photographed sitting beside his wife Rosalind in his luxury box.

He did not speak to reporters.

The NFL had no comment on the upcoming sale of the Panthers.

“While I will no longer be the team owner, I will always be the Panthers Number One fan,” Richardson’s letter said.

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The Panthers are tied to Charlotte through June of 2019.

The city of Charlotte and the Panthers reached agreement on improvements for the team’s stadium in 2013. The plan called for the city to contribute about $87 million for renovations to Bank of America Stadium in exchange for a six-year hard tether to keep the Panthers in Charlotte.

The money is less than what the team was seeking for improvements of the stadium, which opened in 1996. Forbes estimates the Panthers worth at $2.3 billion. The Buffalo Bills sold in 2014 for $1.4 billion following the death of owner Ralph Wilson.

Richardson and his ownership group paid $206 million in 1993 for an expansion team.

Richardson’s announcement comes after a Sports Illustrated report Sunday that cited unnamed sources who said Richardson made sexually suggestive comments to women and on at least one occasion directed a racial slur at an African-American Panthers scout. The report states that the settlements came with non-disclosure requirements forbidding the parties from discussing the details.

The NFL on Sunday said it has taken over the investigation of allegations of workplace misconduct. Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond said Sunday the team requested the league take over the investigation for “transparency reasons.”

The Panthers began play in 1995 but have never delivered on Richardson’s promise of winning a Super Bowl. They lost after the 2003 and 2015 seasons.

Panthers interim general manager Marty Hurney said he had never seen any evidence of Richardson displaying any sexual or racial misconduct in the workplace.

“If this (sale) happens I think it is a significant loss for the NFL,” Hurney told The Associated Press. “I have the utmost respect for him as an owner. Our employees have the utmost respect for him. I came back because of the respect I have for him and for the organization he started and developed.”

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said after Sunday’s win over Green Bay that Richardson has served as a father figure to him since his arrival in Carolina seven years ago.

“For me I hope things don’t alter my thinking of Mr. Richardson,” Newton said. “But I do know that he has given me some things that I will forever be appreciative of.”

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said after the game it is important to let the process play out.

“The only thing I can speak on is for what he has been to me as far as I’m concerned,” Rivera said. “A lot of you know I had a house fire, and he was there for (my wife) Stephanie and I. He was tremendous in supporting us. My brother passed, and Mr. Richardson was there and helped me get to the funeral and back. I can’t speak to anything other than that.”

Richardson was hospitalized 2008, one month after receiving a pacemaker for heart problems. He underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2002 and was placed on a donor waiting list for a new heart. He received the new heart on Feb. 1, 2009, and has not had any known setbacks since.

It has been a wild year for the Panthers organization.

Team president Danny Morrison abruptly resigned in February. Richardson then fired general manager Dave Gettleman on the eve of training camp and replaced him with Hurney on an interim basis.



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Avalanche’s Erik Johnson suspended two games for dangerous play on Vlad Namestnikov

December 17, 2017 - 6:18pm

Defenseman Erik Johnson, who leads the Avalanche in average ice time at 25:38 — 10th most among all NHL players — will serve a two-game suspension for boarding Tampa Bay’s Vladislav Namestnikov on Saturday night, the NHL Department of Player Safety ruled Sunday.

Johnson will sit out Monday’s game against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins and Thursday’s game at the Los Angeles Kings. He has played in all 32 of Colorado’s games thus far.

Johnson is considered a repeat offender, having served a two-game suspension for slashing in February 2014. He declined comment after practice Sunday, before he had a telephone hearing with the league.

Colorado’s Erik Johnson suspended two games for boarding Tampa Bay’s Vladislav Namestnikov. https://t.co/lut25xraWy

— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) December 18, 2017

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New England Patriots rally behind Rob Gronkowski, edge Pittsburgh Steelers

December 17, 2017 - 6:03pm

PITTSBURGH — Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski did it to the Pittsburgh Steelers again.

One questionable decision by Ben Roethlisberger helped.

Brady fed Gronkowski repeatedly to set up Dion Lewis‘ go-ahead 8-yard touchdown with 56 seconds remaining and Roethlisberger was intercepted in the end zone with 5 seconds left as the New England Patriots rallied to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-24 on Sunday.

The Patriots (11-3) gained the inside track for homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs by ending Pittsburgh’s eight-game winning streak. Brady threw for 298 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Gronkowski, fresh off a one-game suspension, finished with nine receptions for 168 yards, including four on the game-winning drive.

It briefly looked like it wouldn’t be enough.

The Steelers (11-3), who played most of the game without injured wide receiver Antonio Brown, appeared to take the lead when Roethlisberger connected with tight end Jesse James for a 10-yard touchdown with 28 seconds to left. The play was overturned on review, with official Tony Corrente saying the ball did not “survive” the completion of the catch.

Roethlisberger hit Darrius Heyward-Bey for a short gain but stayed in bounds. With the clock running and no timeouts left, Roethlisberger hurried to the line. Rather than spike it to set up a short kick that would have sent the game to overtime, Roethlisberger tried to win it.

Instead, he lost it. His pass to Eli Rogers was batted into the air, and New England safety Duron Harmon came down with it. One kneel down later the Patriots had their fifth straight victory over the Steelers.

Roethlisberger completed 22 of 30 for 281 yards with two touchdowns and the pick. Le’Veon Bell ran for 117 yards and added another 48 receiving as Pittsburgh hung in there even with Brown, the NFL’s leading receiver, in a hospital having his left calf injury examined.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin hardly downplayed the pregame hype, welcoming the moment and the pressure that comes along with it even while facing an opponent that he’s beaten just twice during his 11-year tenure and never in a game of true consequence, including a blowout loss in the AFC championship game 11 months ago.

Pittsburgh received an early emotional jolt when cameras cut to injured linebacker Ryan Shazier sitting in a private box less than two weeks removed from spinal stabilization surgery. The crowd at rainy Heinz Field roared as Shazier, who appeared to be seated, waved a Terrible Towe l. The 25-year-old is recovering from spinal stabilization surgery on Dec. 6, two days after leaving a Monday night victory over Cincinnati on a stretcher following a routine hit on Bengals wide receiver Josh Malone.

The emotional boost of Shazier’s surprise cameo faded quickly. Brady took a snap, and the reality the Steelers face without their most irreplaceable defensive player set in. Brady took the Patriots right down the field, connecting with Cooks for a 43-yard gain that set up Rex Burkhead‘s 1-yard touchdown.

The Steelers answered immediately on an 18-yard lob from Roethlisberger to Eli Rogers. Pittsburgh took its first lead over the Patriots since 2011 early in the second quarter on a Chris Boswell field goal, one that came at a possibly heavy price. Brown left in obvious pain after getting his left leg tangled up with a pair of New England defenders. He was helped to the medical tent then taken to a hospital for further examination.

Still, Pittsburgh hung around thanks to the depth they didn’t have while getting rolled by New England the last time the AFC superpowers met.

Bryant, suspended all of last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, made a pretty one-handed touchdown catch late in the first half that put Pittsburgh up 17-10 at the break. Bell, limited to just 11 snaps in Foxborough last January, churned up clock and yards. Smith-Schuster, the ebullient rookie, caught six passes for 114 yards, including a 69-yard catch-and-run that put the Steelers in position to at least tie it.

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Roethlisberger opted to go for the wind instead, a decision now that could have ramifications in January.

UP NEXT

New England: Host Buffalo on Christmas Eve. The Patriots handled the Bills 23-3 in the first meeting of the season earlier this month in Buffalo.

Pittsburgh: Visits Houston on Christmas Day.



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Atlanta airport blackout reverberates, grounding at least 12 flights in and out of DIA

December 17, 2017 - 6:02pm

A sudden power failure that shut down Atlanta’s busy airport Sunday reverberated nationwide, Denver included, with airlines canceling at least a dozen flights in and out of Denver International Airport.

And three more Sunday flights to DIA from Atlanta were listed as delayed Sunday evening, DIA spokesman Heath Montgomery said. Two more DIA-to-Atlanta departures were marked delayed.

“We have a very interconnected national airspace system in this country. When one major hub has problems, it trickles through the rest of the system in many ways,” Montgomery said.

“The airlines build their schedules for their assets which are highly moveable. But if you have a major kink in the hose, it can cause problems for either that airline or others. Something as simple as a computer glitch can cause delays,” he said

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The power failure at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in the early afternoon left passengers in the dark. All outgoing flights were canceled, and inbound planes were halted at departure runways. Airlines with hubs in Atlanta, such as Delta, made the most cancellations. Atlanta’s airport serves 275,000 people a day, on average, with about 2,500 planes flying in and out each day.

Georgia Power officials couldn’t say when electricity could be restored. No areas beyond the Atlanta airport were hit by the outage.



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Woman who led State Patrol on 75-mile chase “wasn’t paying attention” to lights, sirens

December 17, 2017 - 5:34pm

A woman led state troopers on a 75-mile chase Sunday from the western metro area along Interstate 70 before pulling over in mountainous Summit County.

When she didn’t stop, troopers radioed ahead to colleagues, who raced into positions along the I-70 corridor and cleared traffic as a precaution.

The woman finally stopped after 66 minutes and was taken to a hospital for medical checks before authorities arrested her for failing to stop.

Nobody was hurt.

“We’re still doing the investigation into why this happened. It was not high-speed, just a continual failure to yield,” State Patrol Sgt. Rob Madden said.

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The chase began around 11 a.m. in Jefferson County when “somebody called law enforcement. … What they observed was indications someone was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.”

Police declined to identify the woman and her vehicle.

Troopers pursuing the woman in Clear Creek County put on flashing lights and blared their sirens, but she kept driving through the Eisenhower Tunnel, Madden said.

“We were able to speak directly to her,” he said. “She was not paying attention to the lights and sirens.”



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North America’s bid to host 2026 World Cup jeopardized by falling U.S. popularity

December 17, 2017 - 5:30pm

The North American bid to stage the 2026 World Cup seems like a sure thing. From stadiums and infrastructure to commercial opportunities and organizational experience, the joint effort by the United States, Mexico and Canada appears to meet all the necessary requirements (and then some) to host soccer’s premier competition.

The proposal would mesh almost a half-billion people from three countries that have put on 12 FIFA tournaments (men and women, senior and youth). With European and Asian countries ineligible to bid and South America waiting for 2030, the only challenger is Morocco, a country of similar size and population to California.

No contest, right? Not so fast.

As the sides finalize their bids ahead of the March 16 deadline, there is growing concern in some U.S. circles that a North American victory celebration after the FIFA vote June 13 in Moscow is not as certain as once thought.

Behind the scenes, those familiar with the tri-nation effort are worried many FIFA member countries — and, by extension, continental voting blocs — are leaning toward Morocco.

The reasons have nothing to do with the sterling credentials of the North American bid or the certainty that the tournament would fill both stadiums and coffers. Rather, they stem from a precipitous decline in U.S. popularity around the world and, to a smaller extent, the fact that the American judicial system took the lead in prosecuting FIFA scandals. While the exposure of misconduct has helped cleanse the sport’s tarnished international governing body, some in world soccer apparently aren’t happy with the U.S. government’s aggressive role.

The inclusion of Mexico and Canada should broaden the bid’s appeal. Of the 80 matches, 60 would take place in U.S. venues and 10 apiece in the other two countries. The 2026 World Cup will be the first with 48 teams, an increase of 16.

The North American campaign is bracing for a hard fight.

“We expect Morocco to put together a very good bid,” said Sunil Gulati, the outgoing U.S. Soccer Federation president who chairs the United Bid Committee on behalf of the North American effort. “This isn’t going to be a computer-generated program that spits out an answer about what the best bid is. So we’ve got to campaign.”

FIFA’s membership will vote. The four involved countries are ineligible to cast ballots, leaving the bids seeking to secure 104 of the 207 votes. Before FIFA’s reforms, the 24-member executive committee decided the winner by secret ballot. New guidelines mandate an open vote.

Morocco presumably would receive backing from most, if not all, of the other 53 African countries. The North American bid would likely claim 32 from CONCACAF and, it hopes, 10 from South America. That leaves Europe (55), Asia (46) and Oceania (11) up for grabs.

One possible, but unlikely, twist: If the 37-member FIFA Council (which replaced the executive committee) doesn’t believe either bid is adequate, the process would reopen to countries in all continents.

With lobbying efforts accelerating, Gulati was in the United Arab Emirates this past week for the FIFA Club World Cup. Gulati is a member of the FIFA Council, which, in the wake of the corruption scandal, replaced the organization’s executive committee.

The North American bid will feature 32 cities interested in hosting matches or training centers (25 in the United States, four in Canada and three in Mexico). If the bid is successful, the local organizing committee would work with FIFA is selecting between probably 15 and 18 game venues. (Mexico would get three, Canada two or three.)

Morocco is bidding for the fifth time after failed attempts to host the 1994, 1998, 2006 and 2010 tournaments. In August, the country suggested nine stadiums. Doubts about Morocco’s infrastructure to handle an expanded tournament will loom large ahead of the vote.

The United States lost out on the 2022 rights to Qatar (albeit amid corruption allegations) and could be part of an effort that falls short against a smaller foe again.

At the very least, the North American organizers expect a fair fight.

“FIFA has put a lot more compliance and ethics requirements into this bid than certainly in the last one,” United Bid Committee Executive Director John Kristick said. “FIFA knows the spotlight is shining very, very brightly. This something the FIFA president is going to be judged every step of the way, and based on the fact you have an independent compliance agency every step of the way, I feel much better about where we are at for this process going forward than the last one.”



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Cleveland Browns fall to 0-14 as Hue Jackson’s future grows cloudier

December 17, 2017 - 5:16pm

CLEVELAND — Before the Browns’ home finale, a couple exchanged wedding vows in the stadium’s Dawg Pound bleachers.

The intimate ceremony went off without a hitch.

The reception was another sloppy mess.

Doomed by turnovers, questionable play calling and more disturbing throws by rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, the Browns lost their 14th straight game this season. They fell to 1-29 in two years under coach Hue Jackson with a 27-10 loss on Sunday to the Baltimore Ravens, who moved closer to a playoff berth.

The Browns stepped toward unwanted history.

“It is what it is — and it sucks,” said guard Kevin Zeitler. “We do have talent. We play hard. We practice hard, and we have good coaches. It’s just execution.”

On another gray, gloomy day along Lake Erie, the Browns, now two losses from an imperfect 0-16 season, showed why they’ve become the NFL’s longest-running joke. They failed to gain an offensive yard in the first quarter, committed four turnovers — Kizer threw two interceptions and lost a fumble — and lost their 16th straight game inside the AFC North.

As if the losing wasn’t enough, there’s renewed speculation about Jackson’s future amid reports that he could leave for a job in Cincinnati where Marvin Lewis is reportedly on his way out with the Bengals after 15 seasons.

Unless they can win one of their last two road games — at Chicago next week or in Pittsburgh to end the season — the Browns will join the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams not to win in a 16-game season.

The losing has taken its toll on Jackson.

“I am not going to lie to you. I am not coping with this very well,” he said. “I haven’t for two years. I haven’t been in this situation. I am just being honest with you. It is not something I want to deal with. It is not something that I think is fair to anybody, not just myself but the coaching staff, the players, our fans, everybody. We have to fix this.”

Owner Jimmy Haslam has said Jackson will return in 2018. But that hasn’t stopped conjecture about Jackson’s status, which became more tenuous earlier this week when new general manager John Dorsey dodged a question about whether he would guarantee his coach would return.

Jackson has done everything in his power to stay positive amid the losing, but it’s getting more and more difficult.

“I told you guys three or four weeks ago that this doesn’t define me,” he said. “I get all this. ‘Hue, this is your record. This is how it works.’ I got that, but this will not define me as a football coach.

“I know what is here. I know how we got here. I see it. We all do. What we have to do is fix it. Talking about it is not going to do anything. The record is what it is. We are in the situation we are in, and we have work to do.”

Jackson has long been viewed as the next in line for Cincinnati’s job when Lewis leaves. Jackson spent seven seasons with the Bengals, serving as their offensive coordinator before he was hired in Cleveland.

There’s a natural connection, but Jackson said his sole focus is on the Browns.

“We all know that Marvin is a close friend, but trust me, I’m not running from this,” he said. “I have never gone any place and left it worse than when I found it. I’m not going to run from this. I’m going to be here and I need to get this fixed as fast as I can because I think it is important.”

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One of Jackson’s goals this season was to develop Kizer, but the 21-year-old isn’t showing the progress anyone hoped for.

He threw his second interception — and league-leading 19th this season — into a crowd. Kizer was strip-sacked for a TD when Jackson called a pass play with the Browns backed up at their end zone and no one in the backfield to block for his QB.

“We have to get our quarterback who is playing for us to quit turning the ball over,” Jackson said. “It is just that simple.”

If only everything else was for the Browns.



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Everything you need to know about Pittsburgh Penguins at Colorado Avalanche

December 17, 2017 - 4:50pm

PITTSBURGH AT COLORADO, 7 p.m. Monday, ALT; 92.5 FM

Spotlight on Mike Sullivan

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The Penguins’ third-year coach got his 100th win with the team Saturday, becoming just the fourth coach in franchise history to hit the century mark — joining Michel Therrien (135, 2005-09), Eddie Johnston (232, 1980–83, 1993–97) and Dan Bylsma (252, 2009-12). Sullivan, 49, led the Penguins to winning the Stanley Cup the last two seasons. The Massachusetts native broke in as an NHL head coach in 2003-04 for the Boston Bruins, but he was fired after two seasons and served as an assistant coach for the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks until joining Pittsburgh in 2015-16.

NOTEBOOK

Penguins: They have lost two of their last three games by identical 2-1 scores, beginning last Monday against the visiting Avalanche. Pittsburgh lost 2-1 on Thursday at Vegas to begin a three-game trip before winning 4-2 at Arizona on Saturday. Defenseman Olli Maatta scored with 14.8 seconds left in regulation Saturday to break a 2-2 tie. Carter Rowney, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby also scored for the Penguins, who blew a 2-0 lead. …  Pittsburgh hasn’t allowed a power-play goal in its last eight games, going 23-for-23 in penalty killing.

Avalanche: The Avs gave up three 4-on-4 goals in Saturday’s 6-5 loss to the visiting Lightning. They practiced their 4-on-4 play extensively Sunday. … Defensemen Cale Makar and Conor Timmins, the Avalanche’s top two picks in the 2017 draft, will represent Canada at the under-20 World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y. Avs rookies Tyson Jost and Sam Girard are eligible to play for Canada but won’t be loaned, Colorado coach Jared Bednar confirmed Sunday. “Looking at Makar and Timmins, it is a perfect opportunity for them,” Bednar said of the future Avs. “We are looking forward to those guys having a real good tournament. It’s a great experience for them to be able to go there and go compete in that. I think that is starting to show you that we have a little bit of depth and some young guys coming our way.”

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“We feel like our system was hijacked”: DEA agents say a huge opioid case ended in a whimper

December 17, 2017 - 4:44pm

WASHINGTON – After two years of painstaking investigation, David Schiller and the rest of the Drug Enforcement Administration team he supervised were ready to move on the biggest opioid distribution case in U.S. history.

The team, based out of the DEA’s Denver field division, had been examining the operations of the nation’s largest drug company, McKesson Corp. By 2014, investigators said they could show that the company had failed to report suspicious orders involving millions of highly addictive painkillers sent to drugstores from Sacramento, California, to Lakeland, Florida. Some of those went to corrupt pharmacies that supplied drug rings.

The investigators were ready to come down hard on the fifth-largest public corporation in America, according to a joint investigation by The Washington Post and “60 Minutes.”

The DEA team – nine field divisions working with 12 U.S. attorney’s offices across 11 states – wanted to revoke registrations to distribute controlled substances at some of McKesson’s 30 drug warehouses. Schiller and members of his team wanted to fine the company more than $1 billion. More than anything else, they wanted to bring the first-ever criminal case against a drug distribution company, maybe even walk an executive in handcuffs out of McKesson’s towering San Francisco headquarters to send a message to the rest of the industry.

“This is the best case we’ve ever had against a major distributor in the history of the Drug Enforcement Administration,” said Schiller, who recently retired as assistant special agent in charge of DEA’s Denver field division after a 30-year career with the agency. “I said, ‘How do we not go after the number one organization?’ ”

But it didn’t work out that way.

Instead, top attorneys at the DEA and the Justice Department struck a deal earlier this year with the corporation and its powerful lawyers, an agreement that was far more lenient than the field division wanted, according to interviews and internal government documents. Although the agents and investigators said they had plenty of evidence and wanted criminal charges, they were unable to convince the U.S. attorney in Denver that they had enough to bring a case.

Discussions about charges never became part of the negotiations between the government lawyers in Washington and the company.

“It was insulting,” Schiller said. “Morale has been broken because of it.”

The result illustrates the long-standing conflict between drug investigators, who have taken an aggressive approach to a prescription opioid epidemic that killed nearly 200,000 people between 2000 and 2016, and the government attorneys who handle those cases at the DEA and the Justice Department.

None of McKesson’s warehouses would lose their DEA registrations. The company, a second-time offender, had promised in 2008 to be more diligent about the diversion of its pills to the street. It ultimately agreed to temporarily suspend controlled substance shipments at four distribution centers and pay a $150 million fine.

“Within the ranks, we feel like our system was hijacked,” said Helen Kaupang, a DEA investigator and supervisor for 29 years who worked on the McKesson case in Denver before retiring in September.

While the fine set a record for drug distributors, it is only about $50 million more than the compensation last year for McKesson board chairman and chief executive John Hammergren, the nation’s third-highest-paid chief executive. McKesson has 76,000 employees and revenue of almost $200 billion a year, about the same as ExxonMobil.

The Justice Department declined repeated requests for comment.

“The McKesson settlement was a groundbreaking conclusion to a successful multi-district investigation into the role of a distributor’s failure to detect and report suspicious orders, many of which were tied to independent and small chain pharmacy customers ordering opioid medications,” the DEA said in a statement. “More importantly, McKesson accepted responsibility and accepted terms beyond the requirements of the [Controlled Substances Act].”

A senior agency official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the fine was a significant penalty, the company agreed to an independent monitor, and the case prompted McKesson and other distributors to be more diligent about reporting suspicious orders.

“We could have fined them out of existence, or indicted the company and put them out of business,” the official said. “I’d rather have one of the largest drug distributors be the poster child for detection and reporting of suspicious orders.”

At the time of the settlement, McKesson said it had instituted “significant changes” to its program designed to flag suspicious orders of narcotics. “We continue to significantly enhance the procedures and safeguards across our distribution network to help curtail prescription drug diversion while ensuring patient access to needed medications,” Hammergren said in a statement.

The company also has said that addressing the opioid problem requires the cooperation of everyone involved – doctors, pharmacists, distributors and manufacturers.

In a recent interview, Geoffrey Hobart, McKesson’s lead attorney, said that the prospect of criminal charges or a $1 billion fine against the company were never raised by government lawyers during nearly three years of negotiations.

Mark Abramson, The Washington Post“Within the ranks, we feel like our system was hijacked,” said Helen Kaupang, who worked on the Colorado case. Kaupang, seen in New York last month, was a DEA investigator and supervisor for 29 years before she retired in September.

“While I am not privy to any of the government team discussions that may have taken place behind closed doors in this particular settlement, I can tell you that the DEA investigators, the U.S. attorney’s offices and others would have had plenty of opportunity to raise their views during the process,” said Hobart, a former federal prosecutor who is now a partner at Covington, one of the most influential law firms in Washington. “While individual DEA investigators and agents are entitled to their opinions, their agency may ultimately take a different view.”

“If the lawyers for the government believed there was criminal conduct here, they would have told me about it,” Hobart added. “That would have increased the leverage they had, and that never happened.”

DEA investigators, agents and supervisors who worked on the McKesson case said the company paid little or no attention to the unusually large and frequent orders placed by pharmacies, some of them knowingly supplying drug rings.

Instead, the DEA officials said, the company raised its own self-imposed limits, known as thresholds, on orders from pharmacies and continued to ship increasing amounts of drugs in the face of numerous red flags.

“They had multiple chances to correct their behavior going back to the Internet pharmacy days. They promised everyone they were going to correct their behavior, and a year or two later, they were doing it again,” said Jim Geldhof, a DEA program manager who worked on the McKesson case in Detroit before retiring in 2015 after a 43-year career. He is now advising law firms suing opioid manufacturers and distributors, including McKesson.

The DEA agents and investigators contend that lawyers stationed at the chief counsel’s office in the agency’s Division of Diversion Control were “intimidated” and retreated from the battle with McKesson and its legal team, which included a former top DEA official from that division.

Schiller said DEA lawyers would repeatedly ask: “Why would you go after a Fortune 50 company that’s going to cause all these problems with Ivy League attorneys, when we can go after other [DEA registration holders] that are much lower, that are going to put up no fight?

“And I said, ‘That’s exactly why you want to go after McKesson. They’re the prize. They’re the ones that are going to send a message to the thousands of mom-and-pops, to other big distributors, to the manufacturers, that this is no longer acceptable.’ ”

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mc

– – –

In 2008, McKesson paid a $13.25 million fine for failing to report hundreds of suspicious hydrocodone orders from Internet pharmacies – even after being warned by the DEA three years earlier that it was shipping excessive amounts of the drug commonly called Vicodin. The online pharmacies took orders from customers who had obtained bogus prescriptions, resulting in criminal prosecutions.

“By failing to report suspicious orders for controlled substances that it received from rogue Internet pharmacies, the McKesson Corporation fueled the explosive prescription drug abuse problem we have in this country,” then-DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said in a statement announcing the settlement.

As part of its agreement with the Justice Department, McKesson pledged to temporarily suspend distribution of narcotics from two of its 30 distribution centers and to improve its system for monitoring and reporting suspicious drug orders.

McKesson caught the attention of the DEA again in 2012, when state and local law enforcement began to investigate Platte Valley Pharmacy in Brighton, Colorado, a suburb 25 miles northeast of Denver on the banks of the Platte River. The population was 38,000.

Pharmacist Jeffrey Clawson was selling as many as 2,000 pain pills per day.

With state and local law enforcement, the DEA’s Denver field division began a criminal investigation into Clawson, making undercover buys and monitoring the size of his drug purchases.

Most of the drugs came from McKesson’s warehouse in Aurora, northeast of Denver, records show. Under federal law, McKesson is required to notify the DEA about any orders of unusual size, frequency or pattern and hold off on shipping the drugs until those issues are resolved.

But McKesson filled 1.6 million orders from the Aurora warehouse and reported only 16 as suspicious between June 2008 and May 2013. None of the 16 involved Platte Valley, and the company reported them only after the DEA began its investigation.

“We would have a pharmacy in a small town out in Colorado, 200 miles from Denver, that is getting the same number of pills or perhaps exceeding a pharmacy that is located next to a medical center in the city of Denver,” said Kaupang, the DEA investigator who worked on the Colorado case. “There was no legitimate reason for that pharmacy in that little town in remote Colorado to be getting hundreds of thousands of pills over a several-year period. None. There was no justifiable reason.

“And yet, the pills kept coming.”

Clawson ordered so much oxycodone that he repeatedly bumped up against thresholds McKesson had set for his pharmacy. The company raised those limits and sent him more, DEA agents and investigators said.

“The company would raise thresholds so pharmacies could order more pills without setting off suspicious monitoring alarms inside the company,” Kaupang said. “Did they think we wouldn’t look at them again? I don’t know. But they almost acted that way.”

Hobart, McKesson’s lawyer, denied that the company raised thresholds to avoid scrutiny.

Schiller and his DEA colleagues in Denver believed they had enough information, at a minimum, to bring an administrative complaint against McKesson that could result in stiff fines and the revocation of the Aurora distribution center’s registration to handle controlled substances.

In December 2012, the DEA asked attorneys at headquarters to issue an “immediate suspension order” against McKesson, an enforcement tool reserved for the most serious threats to public health and safety, Schiller and Kaupang said.

But the immediate suspension order was never approved. Schiller said lawyers at DEA headquarters told him he needed more evidence that the drugs from the warehouse were posing an immediate danger to public health and safety.

“They said, ‘You don’t have enough evidence to prove it’s an immediate danger,’ but they created the lack of immediacy because they delayed the case for nearly a year,” Schiller said. “They were just looking for an excuse not to issue the order.”

The senior DEA official contended that the Denver field division did not submit documents supporting the request for the immediate suspension order until February 2013. Agency lawyers in headquarters did not believe the company’s threat to the public could be considered “immediate” because too much time had passed, the official said.

The investigators tried again in March 2014, this time seeking an “order to show cause” that would bring McKesson to a hearing, where the DEA could argue for the need to halt drug shipments from Aurora before an administrative law judge.

But DEA attorneys declined to approve that request, as well. Schiller said he was told that he still needed more evidence – even after he said the team submitted eight boxes of documents to the attorneys.

“It still wasn’t enough,” Schiller said.

The senior DEA official said that settlement negotiations with McKesson had begun and the show-cause order would have interfered with the talks.

At the same time the administrative case against McKesson was languishing, the criminal case against Clawson was moving ahead.

A Colorado grand jury had indicted him in 2013 along with 14 others on drug trafficking charges. The indictment noted that McKesson was the main supplier of Platte Valley Pharmacy and said that the company had an obligation to report suspicious orders of narcotics to the DEA.

“From 2008-2011, the percentage increase for oxycodone 30 mg orders supplied by McKesson to Platte Valley Pharmacy was approximately 1,469%,” the grand jury wrote.

Clawson was convicted on drug trafficking charges and is serving a 15-year sentence. McKesson was not charged in the indictment.

– – –

As Schiller’s team was examining the Aurora warehouse, he took steps to broaden the investigation beyond Colorado to determine whether McKesson was ignoring the agreement it had reached with the Justice Department in 2008 to tighten its procedures. Schiller and the Denver DEA division took the lead as eight divisions in other parts of the country began to collect information on McKesson’s activity.

In all, the DEA would pursue administrative cases involving 12 McKesson distribution centers. A DEA memo outlined the investigative findings:

– “Supplied controlled substances in support of criminal diversion activities.”

– “Ignored blatant diversion.”

– “Pattern of raising thresholds arbitrarily.”

– “Failed to review orders for suspicious activity.”

– “Ignored own procedures designed to prevent diversion.”

In addition to Aurora, investigators found that McKesson warehouses in Livonia, Michigan, and Washington Court House, Ohio, were supplying pharmacies that sold to criminal drug rings, according to internal government documents obtained by The Post and “60 Minutes.”

As they were working on the administrative cases, Schiller and Joseph Rannazzisi, who led the DEA’s diversion office during part of the McKesson case, said investigators also were compiling information in preparation for a potential criminal case against the corporation for knowingly supplying the corrupt pharmacies.

In the summer of 2015, “on two occasions, I was briefed by my staff, and talked to the Denver field division, and they believed they had more than enough to go after the corporation criminally,” said Rannazzisi, who now works as a consultant to lawyers suing drug companies.

John Walsh, then the U.S. attorney in Denver, said he had discussions with Schiller and others about possible criminal charges against McKesson.

“We were not presented with a case that had adequate evidence,” said Walsh, now a partner at WilmerHale, a global law firm.

Schiller said that his team had amassed “more than enough” evidence and presented it to Walsh.

“I said, ‘We have everything we could possibly want on a silver platter,’ ” Schiller said. “We had corrupt pharmacies that were being supplied by McKesson, and they were turning a blind eye to everything that was going on.”

In a recent response to The Post, a McKesson spokeswoman said, “We categorically deny any criminal intent or the violation of any criminal law in our handling of opioids, and in our discussions with the government, they never suggested otherwise.”

In October 2014, Schiller requested a meeting at DEA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. On one side of the table were DEA Chief Counsel Wendy Goggin and Clifford Lee Reeves II, the associate chief counsel. On the other side sat Schiller and his agents and investigators.

The meeting started off on a cordial note as they began to review the facts of the case.

“And then the gloves came off,” Schiller said. “It was one of the most stressful conversations I’ve ever had in my life.”

Reeves declined to comment, and the DEA declined to make Goggin available for an interview.

“They were attacking the things we did, how we did it,” Schiller recalled. “Not one time did they say, ‘All right, here’s what else we need. It’s been a great case. We know about the previous settlement.’ That never came up. It was, ‘We are going to settle.’ ”

– – –

With a settlement looming, representatives of the nine DEA division offices descended on the agency’s headquarters a month later, in November 2014, to make sure that their attorneys knew they wanted take a hard line against McKesson.

“It is clear that [McKesson] does not appreciate the gravity or extent of their violations,” the group wrote in an internal document obtained by The Post and “60 Minutes.”

They demanded four-year “surrenders” of McKesson’s DEA registrations to distribute controlled substances in Washington Court House, Livonia and Aurora, as well as two-year surrenders in Methuen, Massachusetts, and Lakeland, Florida.

The company balked. McKesson’s lawyer, Hobart, called the proposed surrenders a “dealbreaker,” according to an internal Justice Department memo.

McKesson insisted that its registrations be “suspended” rather than “surrendered,” the memo said. A surrender would cost the company accreditations it needed for state regulatory boards, and McKesson would have to reapply for DEA registrations when the penalties expired. That would trigger a new round of inspections of company operations.

A suspension would allow each warehouse to keep its registration.

McKesson wanted something else as part of a settlement: A provision that would allow the Livonia and Washington Court House distribution centers to continue to send drugs to facilities that serve the federal prison system, Veterans Affairs and the Indian Health Service. McKesson holds a $31 billion federal contract to supply VA centers and other sites.

But some DEA officials wanted to take a hard line with the company because it had already been sanctioned for its behavior in 2008, documents show.

“Notwithstanding, their bad acts continued and escalated to a level of egregiousness not seen before,” Imelda Paredes, a DEA official working on the case, wrote in a memo on March 30, 2015. “They were neither rehabilitated nor deterred by the 2008 [agreement].”

She also noted that McKesson received an exception for VA in 2008. She said that allowing McKesson to continue to distribute narcotics was “inconsistent with the public interest.”

“How then, can the Government say it is inconsistent with the public interest for McKesson to distribute to the general public; however, they are ‘good enough’ to serve veterans?”

McKesson and government officials argued that punishing the company would disrupt the flow of drugs and hurt veterans. But Paredes and other DEA officials said there would be no disruption if the contract was turned over to one of McKesson’s competitors, Cardinal Health or AmerisourceBergen.

“Find other distributors,” Paredes wrote.

The next day, Schiller wrote to Paredes, saying he had heard that the DEA and the Justice Department were on the verge of settling instead of taking the company to court.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” he wrote to her on March 31, 2015.

Paredes replied that she was being overruled by lawyers in the DEA’s legal office.

“I’m totally against settling, but how do we hold their feet to the fire if counsel refuses to litigate?” Paredes wrote. “Our attorneys have us over a barrel with their refusal to go to court.”

Paredes, who has left the DEA, declined to comment.

Schiller’s fears were justified. The same day that Schiller wrote to Paredes, Arthur Wyatt, chief of the Justice Department’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section, recommended in an internal document that McKesson’s registrations should be suspended but not surrendered. It was a big win for the company. Wyatt said that the assistant U.S. attorneys working on the case believed that suspensions were “satisfactory” in light of the “overall scope of the settlement.”

In September 2015, McKesson and the government reached a tentative settlement. McKesson’s registrations would be suspended in Aurora for three years, in Washington Courthouse for two and in Livonia for two. The company would be barred from distributing for one year one type of narcotic, hydromorphone, from its Lakeland, Florida, warehouse.

There would be no criminal charges. No administrative case. No $1 billion fine.

The case took more than a year to come to a conclusion. In January, the Justice Department announced that it had finalized a deal with McKesson that included the $150 million fine and the four warehouse suspensions. The company also agreed to increase staffing and retain an independent monitor to assess its compliance.

Schiller said he and his team were left demoralized.

“It’s on the front lines of everybody’s dinner table conversation, kids, adults,” he said. “McKesson was at the forefront. But DEA wasn’t going to go after them? We were going to settle. How do you settle? How do you say it’s OK, just ‘Here, write this check this time and – and close this place for a little bit, sign this piece of paper.’ ”

In Washington, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has begun an investigation into how drug distributors, including McKesson, sent 780 million pills over six years into West Virginia – 433 doses for every man, woman and child in the state. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has also launched an investigation into the role of drug distributors and manufacturers in the opioid epidemic.

Across the country, 41 state attorneys general have banded together to sue the opioid industry.

“One of the things we have to do is begin to hold the pharmaceutical companies accountable,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., whose state suffers from the second-highest drug overdose rate in the nation. “Right now, when you see a fine for the McKesson company for a hundred-fifty million when they make a hundred million a week in profits, that isn’t going do it.”

She noted that it was state attorneys general who had won a settlement against the tobacco industry for more than $200 billion in the 1990s.

“This in many ways reminds me of the situation with Big Tobacco,” Hassan said. “I think it’s one of the reasons you see attorneys general around the country beginning to file lawsuits against the pharmaceutical industry, to hold them accountable for the cost of this terrible epidemic.”

– – –

The Washington Post’s Alice Crites contributed to this report.



Categories: All Denver News.

Audit finds Denver unprepared to continue essential services after disaster

December 17, 2017 - 4:12pm

A new audit found that the city of Denver is unprepared to continue non-emergency — but essential — services in the wake of a disaster, making it possible that recovery from a man-made or natural disaster could take longer.

“If the worst should happen,” Timothy M. O’Brian, the city’s auditor, said in a release, “Denver needs to be ready to respond to keep city services going. If we faced an extreme weather event, pandemic, terrorist attack or another disaster, we’d need to know Denver could bounce back and continue serving its citizens.”

The audit looked at whether agencies had “continuity of operations” plans that would be effective in the event of an emergency, according to the release.

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The audit found 29 out of 69 agencies had not reviewed their plans in 2017. Of those 29, three agencies had not reviewed their emergency plan since 2001. Five agencies did not have a plan at all.

The audit also found there was no training for the agencies on how to write an effective plan.

Insufficient guidance and training could result in longer waits for city agencies to restore vital services.

The plans are created as a guide so each agency’s workers know where to go and what to do in case of an emergency. Standards for effective continuity of operations are set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The lack of effective plans could result in increased costs and potential damage to city infrastructure, services and reputation, the release said.



Categories: All Denver News.