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Analysis: Defense still wins in the NFL playoffs

Defense stills wins in the NFL playoffs. The San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals advanced to the conference championship games with excellent defensive performances on Sunday. The Philadelphia Eagles also had a standout defensive effort Saturday night. While high-flying offenses led by star quarterbacks get most of the attention, defense matters. It was evident in the NFL divisional round this weekend. The Bengals will meet the Chiefs again in a rematch of last year’s AFC championship game that was won by Cincinnati. Burrow is 3-0 against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Next up for the 49ers is a trip to Philadelphia to face one of the league’s most well-rounded offenses in the NFC championship game.

NFL playoffs: Bengals win streak hits 10, 49ers also advance

The Kansas City Chiefs learned they’ll get to host the AFC championship game against the Cincinnati Bengals instead of playing at a neutral site. They have to play the Bengals and Cincinnati is now on a 10-game winning streak after an impressive 27-10 road victory over the Buffalo Bills on a snow-covered field in Sunday’s NFL divisional round. Joe Burrow threw for 242 yards and two touchdowns while Joe Mixon ran for 105 yards and a TD. The 49ers beat the Cowboys 19-12 in the NFC. The 49ers will travel to face the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC title game.

49ers beat Cowboys 19-12 to advance to NFC title game

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Christian McCaffrey scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter and San Francisco’s defense did the rest, sending the 49ers to their second straight NFC title game with a 19-12 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. San Francisco advanced to play the Eagles in the NFC title game next Sunday in Philadelphia after losing in that round to the Rams a year ago. The Cowboys lost for the record seventh straight time in the divisional round and have failed to make it to the NFC title game since winning their fifth Super Bowl title following the 1995 season.

Scandals highlight lack of women coaches at top of US soccer

Few women are coaching at the top of American soccer — a result of how the sport offers scarce opportunities for female players and imposes a high price on coaching licenses. The shortage of qualified women was highlighted by a glut of vacancies created by men who were pushed out of the sport. When scandal rocked the National Women’s Soccer League in 2021, five male coaches were dismissed or forced to resign because of misconduct or harassment. Today, just three women hold head coaching jobs in the 12-team league. Five coaches, all men, are embarking on their first season with their teams this year.

Shelton, Paul give US 3 men in quarters at Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The next stop on Ben Shelton’s impressive debut run at the Australian Open will be the quarterfinals. The 20-year-old NCAA champion from the University of Florida pulled out a five-set victory over J.J. Wolf in an all-American matchup at Melbourne Park. Shelton is playing in only his second Grand Slam tournament. He joins Tommy Paul and Sebastian Korda to give the U.S. three men in the quarterfinals in Australia for the first time since 2000. Paul advanced by defeating 24th-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut in the fourth round. Also reaching the men’s quarterfinals were Novak Djokovic and Andrey Rublev. Magda Linette made it to the quarterfinals of a major for the first time and will meet Karolina Pliskova next. Aryna Sabalenka will play Donna Vekic in another women’s quarterfinal.

With Djokovic’s leg OK, he sees Australian title realistic

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — It took about a week for Novak Djokovic to go from worrying about whether he simply could play a match at all on his injured left hamstring to thinking he can win the Australian Open. And one pain-free, nearly perfect performance in the fourth round has made a world of difference. Djokovic now says he thinks he “can go all the way” to a 10th championship at Melbourne Park and 22nd Grand Slam trophy overall. He beat 22nd-seeded Alex de Minaur 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 to reach the quarterfinals. The 35-year-old from Serbia looked like his usual flexible, court-covering, dominant self at Rod Laver Arena and said he felt “fantastic.”

AP source: Chiefs’ Mahomes sustained high ankle sprain

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Patrick Mahomes sustained a right high ankle sprain in the Kansas City Chiefs’ divisional playoff win over the Jaguars, a person familiar with the nature of the injury told The Associated Press on Sunday. But the All-Pro quarterback is expected to play in next weekend’s AFC championship game. Mahomes was hurt late in the first quarter Saturday when a Jacksonville defender landed on him. X-rays taken during the game came back negative, and Mahomes returned after halftime to lead Kansas City to the 27-20 victory. He had an MRI on Sunday that showed no structural damage.

Bengals return to AFC championship with 27-10 rout of Bills

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Joe Burrow threw two touchdown passes, the Bengals swarmed Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen on a snow-slicked field and Cincinnati advanced to its second straight AFC championship game with a 27-10 win. Damar Hamlin’s inspirational presence while watching the game from an end-zone suite was not enough to spark the Bills in a rematch of a regular-season game that was canceled Jan. 2 when the Bills safety went into cardiac arrest and had to be resuscitated on the field in Cincinnati. The Bengals advanced to consecutive AFC championship games for the first time in franchise history and will again travel to play the Kansas City Chiefs.

Bills’ Hamlin attends 1st game since collapse, waves to fans

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin made his first public appearance Sunday since going into cardiac arrest three weeks ago during a game. He waved to fans from a suite at the Bills’ Highmark Stadium during the first half of their AFC divisional playoff loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The stadium erupted when an image of the recovering Hamlin filled the massive end zone screens and fans turned toward the glass-enclosed suite and cheered. The 24-year-old safety had not been seen in public since he needed to be resuscitated on the field in Cincinnati on Jan. 2, but he has been making regular visits to the stadium to see teammates.

Cowboys kicker misses 5th playoff PAT, makes 2 FGs

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Dallas kicker Brett Maher missed his fifth extra point of the postseason when his first attempt against San Francisco was blocked before making two field-goal tries. The Cowboys stuck with Maher for the divisional-round game against the 49ers even after he set an NFL record with four misses last Monday night against Tampa Bay before making his final try. The move looked questionable after Maher’s first attempt against the 49ers was low and blocked by Samson Ebukam. Maher fared much better on field goals, making a 25-yarder in the third quarter and a 43-yarder in the fourth.