SANTA CLARA, Calif. — With two great defenses in the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers, it’s no surprise that Sunday’s NFC divisional round game was a low-scoring affair.
In the end, the Niners did just enough to pull away in the fourth quarter for a 19-12 win to advance in the playoffs.
The 49ers will travel to face the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, Fox).
San Francisco 49ers
After a few below-standard showings over the past month, the 49ers’ defense heard all the whispers.
The same group that led the NFL in most major defensive categories all season had showed signs of fatigue, and better playoff opponents were poised to pounce, the skeptics said.
But on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium, that 49ers’ defense offered a resounding reminder of exactly what it represents, shutting down Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott & Co. on the way to the Niners’ third conference title game in four seasons.
Linebacker Fred Warner and cornerback Deommodore Lenoir came up with interceptions as the 49ers finished plus-1 in turnover margin. San Francisco is now 15-0 this season when it wins or ties the turnover battle. Dallas finished with just 282 yards of offense on 4.7 yards per play and was 5-of-15 on third down.
The Niners, who have now won 12 consecutive games in a season for the first time since 1984, advanced to face the Eagles with a Super Bowl bid on the line.
QB breakdown: The Dallas defense was easily the toughest test rookie quarterback Brock Purdy has faced since becoming the starter in Week 14, and it made his life difficult all day. When Purdy was pressured, the Niners struggled. When he had time to throw, he was solid.
But Purdy’s biggest number on the day was zero. As in the number of turnovers he had. That made the difference, as Purdy finished 19-of-29 passing for 214 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. It wasn’t pretty, but it was enough.
Prior to this season, there had never been a rookie QB to throw for 200 yards with no interceptions in a playoff game. Purdy has done it in back-to-back postseason contests.
Pivotal play: Stuck in the mud for most of the day, the Niners’ offense needed a spark, any spark, to get going. It came with 5 minutes, 19 seconds left in the third quarter, when Purdy rolled to his left and saw tight end George Kittle darting down the middle of the field.
Purdy’s throw was on target but led Kittle a little too much. So, Kittle improvised, reaching out with his right hand and juggling it twice before hauling it in for a 29-yard gain. The Niners’ offense found traction on the ground soon after and scored the game-winning points on a 2-yard touchdown run by Christian McCaffrey eight plays later.
Describe the game in two words: Heavyweight fight. These were two of the three best teams in the NFC all season, and though both offenses were plenty explosive, the defenses were the consistently best units on both sides. That showed up on Sunday as they stood in the middle of the ring and exchanged blows for all 60 minutes, before the Niners emerged with the victory.
Underrated statistic to know: McCaffrey’s fourth-quarter touchdown marked his eighth consecutive game with a touchdown, the longest streak of his career and longest for the 49ers since Terrell Owens scored a TD in nine straight games in 1998. — Nick Wagoner
The Cowboys’ season ends where it always ends, it seems: in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Prescott was intercepted twice in the first half (leading to two Niners field goals); kicker Brett Maher missed another extra point (five misses in two playoff games); running back Tony Pollard exited after suffering a fractured left fibula; and the defense wore down in the second half. As a result, the Cowboys’ Super Bowl drought is now at 27 years and counting, and they face a daunting offseason that sees them with limited salary-cap options, crucial free agent decisions and the potential loss of two coordinators to head-coaching jobs elsewhere.
QB breakdown: Prescott did not need to play perfectly to beat the Niners, but he had to stay away from mistakes. He didn’t. He became the first Cowboys quarterback with two interceptions in a playoff game since Troy Aikman in the 1998 wild-card round. The Cowboys are now 6-13 in the playoffs when their quarterback has multiple interceptions in a game. After finding wide receiver CeeDee Lamb just once in last season’s playoff meeting versus San Francisco (five targets), Prescott almost exclusively went to Lamb on Sunday. Prescott’s second interception was a killer because it came at the San Francisco 18-yard line. It was just the second red zone pick of the season for Prescott. The other came in the overtime loss in Week 10 to the Packers.
Biggest hole in the game plan: It wasn’t so much a problem with the game plan as it was the loss of Pollard in the second quarter. Without Pollard, the Cowboys’ running game went nowhere. Without his speed and elusiveness, the Cowboys could not do much of anything against a Niners run defense that did not allow an individual runner to top 70 yards during the season. Ezekiel Elliott had not averaged more than 4 yards per carry in a game since Week 14, and he rushed for 26 yards on 10 carries against the 49ers.
Troubling trend: It’s hard to blame the Cowboys’ defense for anything; but in the second half, it allowed a 91-yard scoring drive with the score tied 9-9, and after the Cowboys cut the deficit to 16-12, they allowed a 64-yard field goal drive. In the first six drives of the game, the Cowboys did not allow more than 46 yards while giving up three field goals. For a defense that feasted on quarterback pressures and takeaways, it had difficulty getting to Purdy in the second half, and Trevon Diggs dropped a potential interception on the 91-yard drive.
Underrated statistic to know: Per Elias Sports Bureau data, Maher is the only player in NFL history to have more than two unsuccessful extra point attempts in a single postseason; he missed five in the past two playoff games, including one on Sunday. — Todd Archer
ALGIERS, Algeria — Italy moved to deepen its ties with Algeria through a series of memorandums signed Monday during a two-day visit by Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni, who called Algeria Italy’s “most stable, strategic and long-standing’’ partner in the region.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said he reiterated to Meloni that his gas-rich North African country wants a solid strategic partnership with Italy “that should go beyond the energy sector” and end its dependence on hydrocarbons.
Tebboune gave Meloni, in office just three months, a solemn welcome ahead of their private meeting that capped a two-day working visit without fanfare.
Algeria has already become Italy’s main supplier of natural gas as Italy seeks alternatives to Russian gas since its invasion of Russia last February.
The agreements underlined Italy’s ambition to become an energy hub for Europe based on imports from Africa, with a focus on Northern Africa and Algeria, dubbed the “Mattei Plan’’ for the late former CEO of Italian energy company ENI Enrico Mattei.
Meloni’s visit follows two others last year by her predecessor, Mario Draghi, who secured for Italy pledges that increased imports of Algerian gas from 14 billion cubic meters (494 billion cubic feet) in 2021 to 20 billion cubic meters (706 billion cubic feet) in 2022.
“This is a model of collaboration on an equal basis, to transform the many crises that we are facing into opportunities,’’ Meloni told a joint news conference. “It is a model of development that allows African nations to grow based on what they have, thanks to a non-predatory approach by foreign nations.”
The CEO of Italian energy company ENI, Claudio Descalzi, signed agreements with the Algerian energy giant Sonatrach to develop projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing gas exports to Italy and possibly building a pipeline to transport hydrogen to Italy.
Italy’s Confindustria industrial lobby also agreed to pursue greater cooperation with Algerian business, and the Italian Space Agency signed an agreement to share knowledge and develop joint projects with its Algerian counterpart.
Tebboune said that talks focused on gas “and we want Italy to become a platform for distribution of Algerian energy products in Europe.” But, he added that “we want to enlarge our cooperation beyond energy.”
Italy’s economic model based on large and small companies “interests us to help Algeria get out of dependence on hydrocarbons.”
Pakistan increased its benchmark interest rate to 17%, the highest in more than 24 years, as the economy grapples with raging inflation, supply shortages, dwindling currency reserves and stalled foreign financing. State Bank of Pakistan’s monetary policy committee raised the target rate by 100 basis points from 16%, a move expected by 25 of 43 economists in a Bloomberg survey. The majority of the economists had forecast a hike ranging from 75-200 basis points, while four predicted a hold. Pakistan increased its benchmark interest rate to 17%, the highest in more than 24 years, as the economy grapples with raging inflation, supply shortages, dwindling currency reserves and stalled foreign financing. “The inflation pressure persists and on this basis the MPC emphasized to control inflationary pressures,” central bank Governor Jameel Ahmad said in a press conference Monday. The government’s 2% economic growth estimate this year may see pressure, he said.
The embattled South Asian nation is reeling from the aftermath of catastrophic flooding last year that amplified the impact of political turmoil and a financial crunch. With foreign currency reserves at a nine-year low and funding including from the International Monetary Fund held up, Pakistan was forced to restrict import payments. On the bright side, Pakistan is “expecting progress in the talks with the IMF soon” and dollar inflows will come once that’s completed, according to the governor, who made similar remarks last week about incoming funds from the Middle East. Other officials have also made those assurances in the past but the money has yet to materialize. Pakistan has repaid $15 billion of the $23 billion in loans due in the financial year ending June, the governor said at the briefing. Of the remaining $8 billion, $3 billion will be rolled over, he said. Pakistan’s FX reserves were at $4.6 billion as of January 13, equivalent to less than a month of imports. At the same time, about 6,000 containers of food items, raw materials and medical equipment are stranded in ports, aggravating inflation that has lingered above 20% since June. Prices of chicken, eggs and flour in the country continue to rise even as global commodity costs have moderated. As the government curtailed overseas purchases, local banks have been refusing to issue letters of credit, leading to a standstill that puts businesses at risk of shutting down. Inflation may accelerate to 26.6% this month due to supply disruptions, according to Fahad Rauf, head of research at Ismail Iqbal Securities Pvt. That would put price gains near a four-decade high of 27.25% seen in August, higher than the central bank’s inflation forecast of 21%-23% that was revised upwards in November. Pakistan’s “core inflation is still rising consistently for the last 10 months and we are having major challenges on the external side,” said Ahmad. “In the given situation we want to keep the signals right. We don’t want to give any signal to the market that everything is alright and we are holding rates at current level or thinking of reversal.” The central bank raised the target rate by a total of 625 basis points in 2022. “Near-term challenges for the external sector have increased despite the policy-induced contraction in the current account deficit,” SBP said in a statement. Slowing global demand could affect exports and remittances, it added. A further increase in energy prices loom as part of the IMF’s conditions for the loan. A widespread power outage on Monday after a grid failure is the latest blow to Pakistan.
Every January, the turn of the year ushers in immense optimism for a brighter tomorrow, that this year will be the year. That’s especially true for the U.S. men’s national team, which calls up a predominantly MLS-based squad of young players and promising prospects to get their first taste of life with the senior national team.
This year’s roster is full of fresh faces, names that will get fans and analysts alike excited about what’s to come. Monday marks the beginning of a week in which the USMNT will play a pair of friendlies — Wednesday against Serbia, Saturday against Colombia — that will allow us our first proper look at many of them.
So, without a full-time manager — assistant Anthony Hudson takes the reins with Gregg Berhalter out of contract and no decision yet made whether he’ll be offered a new deal or will be replaced on the road to the 2026 World Cup on home soil — ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle and Kyle Bonagura sat down to discuss what they’re most excited about this week in Los Angeles.
Carlisle: Invariably, at least one or two players emerge from every January camp and prove they deserve a bigger role. I was looking at Dave Sarachan’s roster in 2018, and Walker Zimmerman was in there. Tyler Adams was in there, too. Each had only one cap at the time they were brought in, so you never know which players are going to develop and make the most of their opportunity. Obviously, big things were predicted for Adams, but Zimmerman was one of a handful of defenders whose potential was really unpredictable.
Bonagura: There’s always some value in the January camps for those reasons, but the dynamics here are much different than we’ve seen in several years. When Sarachan was the interim coach, the roster was essentially in need of a complete reset, so it was helpful to hand opportunities to younger players who were in line for important roles. The competition to earn a meaningful role this cycle will be much more difficult, and without a full-time coach in place, any sort of positive impression a young player makes in the camp won’t carry over.
At the same time, though, anytime you can see these up-and-coming guys together on the same field, it’s going to carry some level of intrigue. Brandon Vazquez is a guy that many fans thought should make the World Cup team after such a good year with FC Cincinnati. So for a player like him who has a real chance to work his way into the mix as a potential contributor in this cycle, I think it’s a great opportunity to get a taste for this type of environment.
Carlisle: I would add that just as guys can rise up, guys can fall, too. When a John O’Brien comes out of a 2002 World Cup, you’re expecting him to be a mainstay for the next decade. It didn’t work out that way. Stu Holden was another such example; the injury bug just crushed his career. The team that was just at the World Cup is young and talented, and it seems like for some of them, the ceiling is really exciting, but it’s not guaranteed.
Bonagura: That’s kind of why it’s worth paying attention, right? Because the team is in a place now where it’s trying to build and establish quality depth.
The most talked-about call-up in this camp is Club America attacker and Mexican-American Alejandro Zendejas. What makes him special, and what can we expect from him when the USMNT already has so many talented attacking options?
Carlisle: For me, it’s his end product, which has been a problem for the U.S. as we saw at the World Cup. For every player that is engaged in a tug of war between the U.S. and Mexico, it doesn’t always end up being as big of a deal as it seemed at the time, but he has been a contributor for one of the biggest teams in Mexico. America is a huge club that gets a lot of attention, and with that comes a lot of pressure and expectation.
However, this whole camp is less than ideal because it’s not nearly as long as some of the other camps. Zendejas jetted in after a sensational performance in his Liga MX game against Puebla on Saturday, is expected to play against Serbia on Wednesday, and then then he’ll go back to Mexico City. So it’s going be a brief glimpse, but they wouldn’t be bringing him in, in that manner, if he wasn’t going to play. Given the attention that’s been put on Zendejas, it’ll be fascinating the extent to which he delivers on those expectations.
Could he make some headway with the full group? We’ll see how much he’s able to challenge guys for playing time, but as much as the U.S. had depth in the wing positions, at least during qualifying, they also sustained a lot of injuries. Christian Pulisic missed time. Giovanni Reyna missed time. I still think Brenden Aaronson‘s best position is still up in the air. I don’t think you can have too many options in attack.
Bonagura: You can’t have too many of those guys, especially considering the U.S. wingers don’t have a great track record with injuries. I think the other interesting part to consider here is that we don’t know how the next manager is going to want to set up the team. We’re kind of conditioned to view everything through the 4-3-3 that they’ve been using under Berhalter, but who’s to say that the next manager doesn’t change that up? And as a result, the player profiles are different and they’re slotting on the field in different ways.
Until we have an understanding of what the U.S. will look like tactically, all of these questions don’t really have firm answers.
Apart from Zendejas, which other debutantes are you most excited to see get a taste of the senior international game?
Bonagura: Vazquez and Zendejas are probably the names that have the broadest interest, but there are several players I’m looking forward to seeing.
When you look at the depth chart of the U.S., there’s not really a clear backup option for Adams at defensive midfield — he’s so clearly ahead of anyone else who plays that position. So from that standpoint, I’m curious to see if Aidan Morris can work his way into that conversation. He looked so good coming up and had the injury setback, so this will be a good opportunity for him.
Then I think Julian Gressel is an interesting name to see on this list, just because of the backstory there. The fact that the German-born wide midfielder has been one of the better players in MLS for a long time now, was able to get citizenship and is now qualified to represent the United States through that process at 29 years old makes for a cool story.
Carlisle: Another name I’d throw in there is Eryk Williamson. He’s had a few extended looks under Berhalter, but obviously an injury kind of sidetracked him a bit. Now he’s back.
There was a lot of love directed towards the midfield trio of Adams, Musah and Weston McKennie during the World Cup, but I think there’s a concern in that group that there’s not enough quality on the ball. Williamson is a guy who I think provides enough on the defensive end, and when combined with his offensive ability, is a guy to watch to see if he can move up this cycle.
And then a total flyer is Sam Rogers. This is a guy who the Seattle Sounders flat out told wasn’t tough enough, wasn’t physical enough. So he took a path through the USL, and then he landed in Norway. He logged a lot of minutes last year for Rosenborg, which is one of the biggest clubs in Norway, and scored six goals as a center-back along the way. And that’s just in 23 appearances.
It’s difficult to judge whether he’ll see the field with Zimmerman and Aaron Long in camp, but I think Rogers is an interesting prospect, and we’ll see whether he’s able to parlay his time in Norway into a move to a bigger league.
Carlisle: This is kind of where all January camps are not created equal. This is a much shorter timeframe. It used to be for the whole month of January whereas this year, camp started on Saturday and the final game will be seven days later. So I don’t think that it’s necessarily going to take a huge bite out of Aaronson’s time with Frankfurt.
And all of this gets done with the club’s blessing. They didn’t have to release him. If they wanted him to stay, they could have put their foot down. I think in their minds, it’s probably a situation where maybe he gets a competitive game or two that he otherwise wouldn’t have gotten with his club.
For Slonina, I think it’s a no-brainer. We’ll see if he plays because Sean Johnson is there as well, but I think for Slonina’s position and where he sits in the Chelsea hierarchy, I think it makes a ton of sense because he could get a competitive game or some competitive minutes he wouldn’t get with Chelsea.
Bonagura: In that similar vein, it’s interesting to see Matthew Hoppe‘s name on this list, too, because his career path over the past few years has been bizarre.
He kind of unexpectedly rises up in Germany, scores that hat trick with Schalke 04 that gets everyone really excited, moves to Spain, then moves to the Championship in England — where he’s played six games for the first team and five for the reserves — and now he’s in a January camp in the middle of a season. That’s not the trajectory anyone would have liked for him.
It also doesn’t feel like a great sign that that Middlesborough released him in the middle of their season — more so than the other guys that have just joined up with their clubs. And I thought he was impressive in the Gold Cup. He hasn’t been able to capitalize on that at all.
What are your expectations from these Serbia and Colombia teams, who also won’t have several of their first-team regulars?
Carlisle: These will be competitive games for this group of U.S. players. No one’s really expecting Serbia and Colombia to bring anything close to their first teams, but it’ll still be a good challenge for this group. For the players that are on the current roster, it’ll give them a different look.
Another thing I’m pleased about is that it wasn’t some run-of-the-mill CONCACAF opposition that got scheduled. Stylistically, it’s going to take these guys out of their comfort zone a little bit. I think that’s a positive.
Bonagura: I think the other positive about the January environment, generally speaking, is that because the other countries have the same scheduling issues as the U.S. team does, they also feature younger players looking to make an impression on their coach. We’ve seen full-team friendlies before where it feels like guys are going through the motions; at least here, you would expect the energy and effort level from other teams to be high. That doesn’t mean it will allow for much clean soccer, but it’s something.
Actor Anthony Rapp on “Rent,” new one-man show – CBS News
Actor Anthony Rapp talks about his time in “Rent,” “Star Trek” and “Dazed and Confused” with Vladmir Duthiers. Just months after losing his civil court case against fellow actor Kevin Spacey, Rapp is poised to star in his very personal one-man show, “Without You.”
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Germany has not received a request from Poland or any other country for permission to transfer the German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, a government spokesman said Monday.
“To this hour we have not received a request,“ Steffen Hebestreit told a news conference. “And if they ask, then there is a certain procedure. I can’t tell you whether that will take a few days or several months.“
He promised that any application would be “processed with the necessary speed that is required, but of course also with the necessary thoroughness that such procedures demand.”
However Hebestreit defended Berlin against such accusations.
“Maybe it’s good to weigh and consider a lot of things before you go recklessly into a step that you bitterly regret later,“ he said, adding that other countries, such as Spain, also have qualms about the potential tank transfer.
Novak Djokovic beat Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets – 7-6 (9-7) 6-3 6-4 – to move in the last 16 of the Australian Open, despite a labored performance from the world No. 5 who was visibly struggling to move at points during the match.
Djokovic, who is arguably the favorite to win the competition after Rafael Nadal and Casper Ruud were knocked out, came into the Saturday’s clash carrying a hamstring injury, although he seemed to ease those worries as he broke Dimitrov’s serve in the first game.
But Djokovic pulled up feeling his hamstring later in the first set and was forced to take a medical timeout after winning a grueling tie break.
After some treatment, Djokovic returned a new man and took advantage of Dimitrov’s loose play to take the second set comfortably.
The Bulgarian had not dropped a single set in the previous two rounds, but he could not keep up with the metronomic Djokovic.
Despite playing well in the first set, Dimitrov was unable to recover after losing it.
He was sensational at times, serving 15 aces and playing some terrific shots, but for ever classy stroke, there was an equally wild one and he ended the match with 50 unforced errors.
If there is anyone who can punish silly mistakes, even while carrying an injury, it is the relentless Djokovic.
It was not a pretty victory, but even while struggling with fitness, Djokovic’s defense was unshakeable and frustrated Dimitrov time and time again.
Following an attritional third set in which five serves were broken, Djokovic eventually closed out the match to win in straight sets and continue his hunt for a 22nd grand slam title.
Djokovic will now face Australian Alex de Minaur in the round of 16 and the 23-year-old will have a raucous home crowd behind him.
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