National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Muschamp rips critics, defends reinstating players

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida coach Will Muschamp came to his own defense Wednesday, ripping critics who questioned his decision to reinstate three players suspended for a season opener that lasted just 10 seconds.

Muschamp said on the weekly Southeastern Conference coaches call that "it's not just about suspending players for games."

"There are a lot of things that go into discipline," Muschamp said. "It's about altering and changing behavior, which we've done here. I think our discipline speaks for itself and how we've handled our football team, OK? So it's not just about missing games, If it was just about suspensions, you never have an issue, right? So at the end of the day it's more than that, and there are a lot of things that go into those situations, a lot more than people know."

Muschamp suspended receiver Demarcus Robinson and defensive tackles Darious Cummings and Jay-nard Bostwick for last week's season opener against Idaho. But the game was called after the opening kickoff, which was delayed nearly three hours because of lightning and then eventually halted for good because of unsafe playing conditions.

Muschamp said Monday that Robinson, Cummings and Bostwick will play Saturday against Eastern Michigan. He could have kept their suspensions in place against Eastern Michigan or said they would be suspended against Idaho if the game had been rescheduled. He did neither.

"It's very frustrating for me as a coach, or any coach, to have someone being critical and you don't even have all the information," Muschamp said. "So at the end of the day, I make the decisions in this program, I handle the discipline in this program, and it's been handled very well."

Muschamp has seemingly cleaned up a program that had plenty of issues when he took over in 2010.

After replacing Urban Meyer, Muschamp had 11 players suspended a total of 14 times during his first two years on the job. He's had four players involved in five arrests since, including just one in the last 400-plus days.

Sam's 2nd chance comes on Dallas practice squad

IRVING, Texas (AP) Michael Sam waded through a crowd of reporters and was settling in front of yet another bank of cameras when someone asked if this was what it was like in St. Louis.

"The heat?" Sam said, drawing laughter from two dozen or so people surrounding him as he stood in front of a large Dallas Cowboys star on a wall just outside the locker room.

No, the latest version of the circus after the league's first openly gay player signed to the practice squad of America's Team. He's unlikely to get into the opener Sunday against San Francisco and might still face long odds of joining an active roster anytime soon.

But Sam got his second chance to make it in the NFL four days after the Rams released the seventh-round pick when they had to cut the roster to 53 players.

"You guys follow me around like hawks," Sam said after going through his first late-morning workout with the Cowboys. "I've been tired of it since February. I expected it."

The Cowboys, who are seeking help with their pass rush because of injuries and the offseason release of franchise sacks leader DeMarcus Ware, expected it, too. Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten said coach Jason Garrett addressed the signing with the team.

"I think he does it as good as anybody I've ever been around, of addressing issues and moving forward and putting our focus on what it needs to be and that's a good 49ers football team," Witten said.

Garrett said the move was "about football" and deflected any questions about the impact of bringing in Sam or how it might affect the locker room.

"That's your decision what question you want to ask," Garrett told a larger-than-usual crowd at his daily news conference. "We're focused on football. That's where our attention is, and what people say outside this organization is really up to them."

Owner Jerry Jones said Rams coach Jeff Fisher spoke highly of how Sam fit in with his teammates there.

"He was exemplary," said Jones, speaking at a Texas Lottery news conference in Austin. "He's relentless as a worker. He's relentless as a pass rusher. He is going to have to make up for a little speed. He's going to have to make up for size, but how many times have we seen that? That's what makes football."

Sam went through stretching and individual drills with his fellow defensive linemen during the brief portion of practice that reporters could watch. Dallas made room for him on the 10-player practice squad by releasing rookie linebacker Will Smith.

Any team can sign Sam off the Cowboys' practice squad, but would have to put him on the 53-man roster for a minimum of four weeks.

"I just want to do anything I can," said Sam, who faced long odds to make the St. Louis roster because of the team's depth on the defensive front. "On special teams, left end, right end, whatever. If you want me to hold the ball, I'll do it to perfection."

Being on the Dallas roster means Sam is returning to his home state. He was a lightly regarded recruit out of Hitchcock, Texas, a town of about 7,000 along the Gulf Coast about 40 miles southeast of Houston. Sam came out to his Missouri teammates before his senior season, when he was the SEC defensive player with 11 1/2 sacks. He told the rest of the world three months before the May draft.

The Cowboys didn't have Sam on their draft board, with Jones saying his size and skill set had him somewhere between defensive end and outside linebacker. Dallas passed on him with three of five seventh-round picks before the Rams got him at pick No. 249 out of 256.

But Dallas heads into the opener with serious questions about its defensive line after giving up the most yards in the NFL last year - and third-most in league history.

Defensive end George Selvie, who has been battling a shoulder injury in recent weeks, is the only Dallas lineman who had more than two sacks last year. Tackle Terrell McClain, one of the key free agent signings, is likely out of the opener with a sprained ankle. The other major free agent pickup, tackle Henry Melton, missed all the preseason games with a groin injury. He hasn't played since tearing a knee ligament with Chicago in Week 3 last year.

Rookie DeMarcus Lawrence, who was drafted in the second round with the hope that he could at least partially fill Ware's void, can't play until after the eighth game. He's on short-term injured reserve with a broken right foot. And while the Cowboys will get defensive tackle Josh Brent back, he faces a 10-game suspension over his conviction in an intoxication manslaughter case involving the 2012 death of teammate Jerry Brown.

"We are looking are looking for pressure, for pressure players and that's his position," Jones said of Sam. "We hope that he can refine his skills. He's not ready to go at all but can he come in and learn?"

If the answer is yes, his teammates are ready to support him.

"It's not a big deal," running back DeMarco Murray said. "If he's here to help us win, treat him like any other guy. Doesn't matter."

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AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.

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Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

Justin Verlander addresses online photo hacking

CLEVELAND -- Justin Verlander wants to keep his private life just that - private.

The Tigers' star pitcher commented for the first time Tuesday after nude photos of him and model girlfriend Kate Upton were allegedly hacked from an online account and posted on the Internet.

Verlander, who initially declined comment on the situation, spoke to reporters before Detroit played the Indians.

"I'm not going to comment on my personal life," the 31-year-old said. "I never have and I never plan on it. I keep my personal life personal. The focus for me is on the Detroit Tigers. I don't want to take any focus away from this team and what we're trying to accomplish. We're in the middle of a pennant race. We're trying to win a pennant and all of my focus currently is on doing whatever I can to help our team win our division."

Verlander, Upton and other celebrities, including Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence, allegedly had photos stolen and posted online. The FBI has launched an investigation.

Verlander knew there was interest in his side of the story and wanted to address the situation.

"I know a couple of guys wanted to get some questions from me yesterday," Verlander said. "Instead of everybody kind of sneaking around and getting questions at specific times, it's just easier to say, `I'm not commenting on that. I'm trying to win a pennant.' I know some guys are probably getting a lot of pressure from other people to get quotes or whatever. I knew I'd be getting a lot of questions. This is it."

The AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner in 2011, Verlander has always been able to block out distractions. He's dealt with a shoulder injury this season and takes a 12-11 record into Wednesday's start against the Indians.

"I've always been good at that," Verlander said of ignoring outside influences. "This is my life. Baseball's my life. You're able to focus on that especially when you're on the mound doing what I've done my whole life."

Verlander did not comment specifically on the photos.

Simpson, Mahan, Bradley complete US Ryder Cup team

NEW YORK (AP) U.S. captain Tom Watson said he wanted to fill out his Ryder Cup team with players who were on form and starting to peak.

The final pick was more about two years ago than what happened the day before.

Watson went with experience - and a gut feeling - when he selected Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson to complete an American team that will try to end two decades of European dominance in the Ryder Cup.

He didn't decide until Tuesday morning to go with Simpson, persuaded by a pair of big wins he had in the last Ryder Cup. That was enough for Watson to take him over Chris Kirk, who went head-to-head with Rory McIlroy over the last 36 holes Monday and won the Deutsche Bank Championship.

"Nobody is going to expect us to win," Watson said Tuesday night from Rockefeller Center. "But I fully expect us to win."

Bradley and Mahan weren't surprising choices.

Bradley wears his Ryder Cup passion proudly, and he made a sterling debut two years ago by winning all three team matches with Phil Mickelson. Even last week, he didn't hide how badly he wanted to be on the team.

Mahan won The Barclays two weeks ago against one of the strongest fields of the year. He is one of only three players on the U.S. team who has experience winning a Ryder Cup, even though he is associated more with being in the decisive match that Graeme McDowell won in Wales to deliver another win to Europe.

Simpson was a small mystery.

In his Ryder Cup debut at Medinah, he teamed with Bubba Watson for a pair of 5-and-4 victories. Simpson also lost two matches, including a singles match to Ian Poulter in a match he never trailed until Poulter won the last two holes for a 2-up victory.

Kirk, who has never played in a Ryder Cup, finished ahead of Simpson in the standings and won a FedEx Cup playoff event.

"People have to realize that's a snapshot," Watson said. "You have to look at the total package, the total picture. That's just one tournament. ... The final decision of Webb, that was the toughest of the decisions because Webb had some good play and he had some bad play. He missed a few cuts recently. But he's shown what he can do.

"The guy can get it done," he said. "He can flat get it done."

Watson bristled when asked whether he contradicted himself by saying he was looking for the hot hand after qualifying had ended at the PGA Championship, and then choosing a hot hand from two years ago.

"Why do you think I said that? Why do you think I put the pressure on them?" he said. "I put the pressure on them to play well to see if they could play well under pressure. It's not a contradiction. Webb played some damn good golf."

Whomever he chose, Watson's message was clear. The Ryder Cup, to be played Sept. 26-28 at Gleneagles, is all about redemption.

The Americans were poised to win at Medinah two years ago when they took a 10-6 lead into the final day, only for Poulter, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer to deliver key putts and big comebacks that allowed Europe to retain the cup.

Europe has won seven of the last nine times, and it will be heavily favored in Scotland.

Earlier Tuesday, at the European Tour headquarters in Wentworth, captain Paul McGinley selected Poulter, Lee Westwood and Stephen Gallacher, who will be 39 when he makes his Ryder Cup debut in his home country.

Bradley said last week at the Deutsche Bank Championship there wasn't a moment that he was not thinking about the Ryder Cup. He feared being left off the team when he finished his round on Monday, and shared an emotional hug with his girlfriend when Watson gave him the good news.

"I made no secret how badly I want to go back and win the Ryder Cup," he said. "This is a redemption year for a lot of guys who were on the team last year."

Bradley and Simpson are among seven players who were on that U.S. team that was on the losing end of the "Miracle at Medinah." The others are Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson.

Mahan knows better than most what it's like to lose. The 2010 matches came down to the final game, and McDowell went 2-up with a birdie on the 16th hole. Mahan stubbed a chip short of the 17th green that all but secured a European victory, and it seemed to him as though all of Wales stormed across the green when it was over.

"Losing lingers," he said. "It's been four years, but it feels like yesterday. I remember walking off the green and everyone was having a big party, and I felt like I was walking by myself for 600 yards to the clubhouse."

Wozniacki returns to Grand Slam semis

NEW YORK -- Caroline Wozniacki knew, as anyone paying attention does, that the woman she played in the U.S. Open quarterfinals, Sara Errani, does not hit booming serves.

And after noticing that Errani's previous opponent, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, tried unsuccessfully to pound those soft serves, Wozniacki decided the best course of action was simply to make sure she put those balls in play.

Getting all 34 of Errani's serves back over the net, and then claiming 26 of those points, Wozniacki parlayed six breaks and a 26-12 total edge in winners into a 6-0, 6-1 victory over the 13th-seeded Errani in a wind-whipped match Tuesday night.

The victory for the 10th-seeded Wozniacki moved her into her first Grand Slam semifinal in three years.

"I learned quite a lot from Lucic the other day. She was going for every return and trying to make winners on every return," Wozniacki said. "For me, that wasn't really the game plan today. It was just putting pressure on her from the start, and kind of start the rally from there."

Italy's Errani averaged only 65 mph (105 kph) on second serves, and 78 mph (126 kph) on first serves, and that was a problem.

"I hoped she would miss something here and there," said Errani, who beat Venus Williams in the third round, "but today she practically never missed."

With the players' towels and spectators' napkins and all sorts of things being tossed around by the stirred-up air, Wozniacki dealt with the conditions far better than Errani. Although not right away.

The match began competitively enough, with a pair of points that lasted more than 20 strokes apiece in the first game. Errani earned four break points before 2009 U.S. Open runner-up Wozniacki eventually held despite a double-fault in which one serve didn't come close to reaching the net.

"I have played in some very windy conditions here, but I know how to adapt," said Wozniacki, the runner-up at the U.S. Open in 2009, and a semifinalist in 2011. "It just took me a few serves to kind of get into the rhythm and figure out where to throw the ball and what to aim for."

Wozniacki, a former No. 1 who eliminated five-time major champion Maria Sharapova in three sets in the fourth round, will face unseeded Peng Shuai of China in the semifinals.

Errani was a finalist at the 2012 French Open, and made it to the final four at that year's U.S. Open, too.

She's accustomed to outrunning opponents on court and wearing them down. On this night, Wozniacki - who has been training to run the New York City Marathon in November for charity - did that very thing to Errani.

"Maybe," Errani said with a chuckle, "I need to run the marathon, too."

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

Broncos WR Welker suspended for 4 games

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) The Denver Broncos will be without Wes Welker for the first four games of the season after the NFL said the receiver violated the league's performance-enhancing drug policy.

Normally, the league announces such violations on Monday. News of Welker's ban didn't come down until late Tuesday, after the league offices had closed and the Broncos had already finished drawing up blueprints for their opener against Indianapolis, undoubtedly with Welker playing a prominent role.

ESPN first reported Welker's suspension, saying the violation had to do with amphetamines.

Welker told the Denver Post in an email that he was "as shocked as everyone at today's news." He noted he's meticulous about what he puts in his body and would "never knowingly take a substance to gain a competitive advantage in any way."

The 11th-year pro who's been the NFL's top slot receiver over the last decade added that he never concerned himself with the league's drug rules but now realizes those policies "are clearly flawed."

While it takes multiple violations of the league's substance-abuse policies to trigger a suspension, a four-game ban is issued for a single violation of the NFL's ban on performance-enhancing substances.

Welker's suspension will cost him roughly $706,000 in base salary.

"Tonight's news regarding Wes is very disappointing, but we understand the league's authority in this area," coach John Fox said in a statement. "While it's unfortunate to not have him to start the year, I have full confidence in our wide receivers and expect that group to continue playing at a high level."

Welker played a key role in the two greatest statistical offenses in NFL history: the 2007 New England Patriots and last year's Broncos.

He caught 73 passes for 778 yards and a career-high 10 TDs despite missing the last 3 1/2 games of last season. He returned for the playoffs and had 18 catches for 160 yards and a TD.

Without Welker, Peyton Manning will have to lean more on speedy wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who's played in the slot before, or tight end Jacob Tamme, who filled the role at times last year when Welker was out.

Tight end Julius Thomas is also better working the middle of the field. And if Sanders moves inside, that opens up playing time for rookie Cody Latimer or Bubba Caldwell opposite flanker Demaryius Thomas.

"I have no doubt that Wes will remain focused on his preparations for the season and stay in excellent shape during his time away from the team," Fox said.

Even before Welker's ban was issued, the Broncos were facing a daunting first month to open the season. Kicker Matt Prater has been suspended for the first four games for an alcohol-related violation of league rules and leading tackler Danny Trevathan is out for the first three games with a broken left leg.

Welker will miss games against Indianapolis, Kansas City, Seattle and Arizona. All four teams won 10 or more games last season.

The Seahawks and Colts both feature physical defensive backs that roughed up the Broncos' receivers at the line of scrimmage in wins over Denver last season.

Adept at getting open in 1-on-1 coverage and finding the holes in zones, Welker hit it off immediately with Manning last year after spending six seasons in New England with Tom Brady.

Welker was excused from practices for two days last month, apparently to meet with league officials about his pending suspension. He then played in a preseason game against Houston on Aug. 23, when he sustained his third concussion since Nov. 17.

Welker returned to practice Monday but declined comment afterward, saying he had to rush to a team function.

His latest head injury came when he tried to duck following a catch over the middle and absorbed a helmet hit by D.J. Swearinger.

Swearinger's hit knocked Welker from the game and drew a 15-yard penalty and the wrath of Manning. The quarterback raced up to say some choice words to the swaggering safety, drawing his first taunting penalty of his career. He was later fined $8,268.

"Obviously, I'm concerned about Wes," Manning said after the game. "I didn't like seeing him come out of the game with a blow to the head. He had one of those last year that kept him out for a while."

Welker will now be out of action until Oct. 12, when the Broncos visit the Jets.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Healthy Federer back into US Open quarterfinals

NEW YORK (AP) A year ago at this time, Roger Federer was dealing with a bad back. He was experimenting with new rackets. And his nine-year run of reaching at least the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open ended with a fourth-round loss.

Things are different these days for the 33-year-old Federer.

Enjoying a new racket with a larger head, healthy enough to train properly and push forward whenever possible, Federer got back to the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows with a 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 victory over 17th-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain on Tuesday night.

"Because of the issues I had last year, I had to be unbelievably careful what I did. We had to cut back on a few things I usually would do, but were scared to do. That was not what I wanted to do," he said about his fitness work. "Sometimes if that's what it is and it means don't run on the treadmill or don't do jumps or whatever it is, well, there's other ways you can train that. I'm happy that basically today I can do whatever and I don't have any more setbacks."

And the benefit of that, Federer explained: "Now I have my confidence back. It's as simple as that."

At the 2013 U.S. Open, Federer lost to Tommy Robredo in the fourth round, part of a stretch in which the 17-time Grand Slam title winner was bounced before the quarters three times in the span of four majors.

At Wimbledon in July, Federer got to his first Grand Slam final in two years, and even though he lost that match to Novak Djokovic, it signaled a real resurgence.

On a windy evening against Bautista Agut, someone he had never faced, Federer moved well and won the point on 35 of 52 trips to the net.

"Coming to net requires a lot of agility and explosivity and all that stuff - and I have it back," said Federer, a five-time champion at Flushing Meadows. "I'm happy I'm feeling good at net, too, because you've got to anticipate some and read some and it's working really well. So I hope I can keep it up."

Federer was broken only once, part of a three-game run for Bautista Agut that took the score from 5-1 to 5-4 in the first set. But Federer had no trouble the second time he tried to serve out that set, which he ended with a pair of aces.

In all, the second-seeded Federer needed less than two hours to improve to 25-1 in night matches at Arthur Ashe Stadium. This was Bautista Agut's first such occasion in the imposing, 23,771-capacity arena.

Federer is 71-9 overall at the U.S. Open, tying Pete Sampras and Bill Tilden for the fifth-most match wins in tournament history behind Jimmy Connors' 98. Federer's .888 winning percentage is second behind the .910 of Tilden, who went 71-7 and won seven championships in the 1920s.

In Thursday's quarterfinals, Federer will play 20th-seeded Gael Monfils of France.

Federer has won seven of their nine past meetings, including at a hard-court tuneup tournament in Mason, Ohio, last month.

"He's one of the most exciting and entertaining players out there," Federer said, "so I think we can get ready for some good points - some good retrieving by him, some attacking by me."

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

Questions for FSU and Alabama after opening week

Breaking down the ballots for the first regular-season AP Top 25 and wrapping up college football's opening weekend.

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REMAIN CALM! ALL IS WELL!

Overrated or over reactions?

Maybe it's a bit of the former, but probably far more of the latter after the first weekend of the college football season, which is notorious for setting off way-too-early alarms.

No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Alabama held their spots in the AP Top 25 released on Tuesday, though both looked to be less than juggernauts in close victories against heavy underdogs on Saturday.

Florida State struggled to run the ball behind an offensive line with four returning starters and had a difficult time getting Oklahoma State off the field on third down. Still, Jameis Winston was mostly excellent and the Seminoles outgained the Cowboys 476-364. If anything, the 37-31 victory for Florida State in North Texas might tell us more about how good Oklahoma State is than it does about the Seminoles' weaknesses.

Coach Jimbo Fisher said some inconsistent practices led to an inconsistent performance that he hopes helps to get his players' attention.

"And until you lose a game some time like that and you get that bitter taste and understand, and I hope we learned that lesson now," he said Tuesday.

Alabama got into a back-and-forth game against West Virginia before beating the Mountaineers 33-23 in Atlanta. The problems came mostly on the defensive side for Nick Saban's Crimson Tide, which had problems with pass coverage.

But let's take a step back: Alabama outgained West Virginia 538-393, and allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown. That troublesome Tide defense allowed one offensive touchdown - though dropped passes by WVU aided Alabama's cause.

So, yes, it was definitely not the best efforts by two of the nation's top teams, but clearly no reason to panic. Openers, especially those away from home, can be tricky as players adjust to new roles.

The Crimson Tide and Seminoles should be credited for at least playing teams that have the ability to pose a threat, but the two lost support from AP voters.

Florida State went from 57 first-place vote to 46. Alabama dropped 44 total points.

Ohio State also took on a challenging opener, and had a tough time shaking free from Navy in Baltimore. The Midshipmen's triple-option offense and overall intensity is often vexing, even to the most talented opponent. Breaking in a new quarterback made the opener all the more challenging for the Buckeyes. J.T. Barrett had one terrible interception but went 12 for 15 for 226 yards and helped Ohio State pull away, 34-17.

"It was what I expected," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said about Braxton Miller's replacement. "He's a very cool, collected guy. ... I thought he handled himself very well."

Still, the Buckeyes dropped from fifth to No. 8.

UCLA also slipped after Brett Hundley and company survived a groggy offensive performance in a 28-20 victory at Virginia that kicked off at noon EDT - or 9 a.m. UCLA time. The Bruins dropped four spots to No. 11.

Florida State and Alabama have easy games next to work out the kinks, rest injured players and get the backups some work. The Seminoles face the Citadel, from FCS, and the Crimson Tide hosts Florida Atlantic. We'll need a few weeks to determine if Florida State and Alabama are, indeed, overrated.

UCLA goes home to play Memphis, giving the Bruins a chance to post confidence-building numbers against an opponent that could at least provide some resistance.

Ohio State gets a chance to make a statement and vault back up the rankings with a home game against Virginia Tech.

By Sunday, when the next Top 25 comes out, we'll have a better idea of whether Ohio State's Navy issues were anything more than that.

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GOING UP

Texas A&M's demolition of South Carolina in Columbia was the statement of the weekend. And because it happened on Thursday it gave the college football world the entire long weekend to toss around potential nicknames for the Aggies' new star quarterback.

Kenny Football? Please, no.

Kenny Pigskin? We see what you did there.

Kenny Thrill. Workable, maybe.

First-time starter Kenny Hill broke Johnny Manziel's school single-game passing record with 511 yards in the 52-28 drubbing of the Gamecocks.

The Aggies' reward was a No. 9 ranking, jumping 12 spots, the biggest leap this week.

The Aggies should be able to ride their top-10 status for a few weeks. Up next: Lamar, Rice and SMU.

As for that statement: On the list of most important people to arrive in College Station over the past few years, coach Kevin Sumlin ranks ahead of Johnny Football.

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GOING DOWN

South Carolina provided the equal and opposite reaction to Texas A&M. The two traded spots in the rankings with the Gamecocks falling to No. 21 from No. 9.

It was a disturbing weekend for the Gamecocks on another front: South Carolina's main rival in the SEC East, Georgia, looked tremendous in beating Clemson 45-21 behind star running back Todd Gurley. The Bulldogs moved up six spots to No. 6.

The Gamecocks host Georgia on Sept. 13. South Carolina doesn't have long to fix its problems - and Jadeveon Clowney isn't coming back.

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IN AN OUT

It took Bobby Petrino one week to get Louisville into the rankings. The Cardinals' opening 31-13 victory against Miami on Monday pushed them into the No. 25 slot as Petrino starts his second stint as Louisville coach.

Chris Petersen's debut at Washington coach was victorious but not nearly as impressive. The Huskies slogged through a 17-16 victory at Hawaii with backup quarterback Jeff Lindquist and fell out of the rankings. The suspended Cyler Miles will return, and start, this week for Washington against Eastern Washington.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoap

Cowboys' Brent reinstated, suspended for 10 games

Former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Josh Brent is being allowed to return to the NFL, though he won't play right away.

The NFL on Tuesday outlined a series of conditions Brent must meet to be eligible to play when the Cowboys return from their bye week in November.

Brent retired last year and was sentenced to 180 days in jail after a trial in January in the intoxication manslaughter death of teammate Jerry Brown, a practice squad linebacker for the Cowboys. A 10-year prison sentence was suspended.

The league says Brent will be suspended for the first 10 games of the season and can't participate in team activities for the first six weeks. He won't be allowed to visit the team's practice facility for the first six weeks except to meet with people associated with his rehab.

The 26-year-old Brent must have "no further adverse involvement with law enforcement" and faces potential banishment for what the league called "prohibited alcohol-related conduct."

Brent's agent, Peter Schaffer, said an appeal of the suspension was planned.

Brent can start attending meetings and doing individual workouts in Week 7, but can't practice or travel with the team. He can begin practicing two weeks after that.

If he meets all the conditions, Brent's first possible game is Nov. 23 at the New York Giants.

Brent crashed his Mercedes sedan on a suburban Dallas highway on the way back from a nightclub in December 2012. Brown was in the passenger's seat. Witnesses recalled seeing Brent trying to pull Brown, his former teammate at Illinois and his roommate in Texas, from the wreckage of the vehicle.

Tests later showed Brent to have a blood-alcohol level of 0.18 percent, more than twice the legal limit for drivers in Texas.

Brent faced up to 20 years in prison for intoxication manslaughter, and prosecutors pressed hard for prison time, saying his case would send a message to other would-be drunken drivers. But Brown's mother, Stacey Jackson, testified she had forgiven Brent and that "you can't go on in life holding a grudge."

The Cowboys open the season Sunday at home against San Francisco with many questions about their defense, including the rotation among defensive linemen. They are trying to replace franchise sacks leader DeMarcus Ware, who was released during the offseason in a salary cap move.

Brent was mostly a backup in three seasons with Dallas, but was starting in place of the injured Jay Ratliff at the time of the crash.

The Cowboys took a step toward replacing Ware by moving up to get defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence in the second round of this year's draft, but the rookie will start on the season on short-term injured reserve with a broken right foot.

Lawrence can't start practicing until after the sixth game and can't play until Week 9 against Arizona on Nov. 2. Dallas filled Lawrence's spot by signing defensive end Jack Crawford, cut by Oakland last week, to the active roster.

Offensive tackle John Wetzel and defensive back Jemea Thomas were added to the practice squad.

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Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

Yankees to wear uniform patches celebrating Jeter

NEW YORK (AP) The New York Yankees will celebrate Derek Jeter's career by wearing a special patch on their caps and jerseys during his final few weeks in the majors.

The team announced Tuesday that a logo depicting Jeter's last season will appear on the hats and left sleeves of players' uniforms beginning Sunday, when the club hosts Derek Jeter Day at Yankee Stadium. A pregame ceremony highlighting the star shortstop's career is planned before New York faces the Kansas City Royals.

After that, the Yankees will wear the patches for the rest of the season. Jeter, the longtime Yankees captain, is retiring after this year.

Watt inks 6-year deal with Texans

HOUSTON (AP) J.J. Watt couldn't sleep on Monday night after agreeing to a six-year contract extension with the Houston Texans.

The star defensive end arrived at NRG Stadium about 3:30 a.m. and found the security code on the door had changed, keeping him locked out. A cleaning lady let him in and Watt went straight to the weight room.

"I thought they were pulling a joke on me," Watt said Tuesday. "I'm not even on the team anymore."

Not a chance.

Watt's deal is reportedly worth $100 million, including a $10 million signing bonus and $51.8 million in guaranteed money overall. He's now signed through the 2021 season.

"I hope the people of Houston don't mind me sticking around for a little while longer because I happen to like it here quite a bit," Watt said. "I'm really excited about this and I'm very, very fortunate. I promise to do everything in my power to work extremely hard and give everything that I have to prove that I've earned this."

He certainly has so far.

The 25-year-old Watt was the 2012 Defensive Player of the Year after recording 20 1/2 sacks and batting down 16 passes. He has 74 tackles for loss, 36 1/2 sacks and 27 pass breakups since he joined the league as the 11th overall pick in 2011, and he leads the league in sacks (31) and swatted passes (21) in the past two seasons.

"We normally wouldn't do this at this stage," owner Bob McNair said about the timing of the signing. "We just felt that his performance had been so outstanding, his attitude so great, his work ethic is such a role model for everyone on our team that we felt that he deserves special consideration. That's why we agreed to look at this situation."

Watt talked to his parents after agreeing to the deal on Monday night. His mother asked if Watt felt any differently now that he had a new deal in place. Watt said he didn't.

"Money doesn't motivate me, greatness does," he said. "I'm so fortunate that I don't have to worry about the money, so I can focus on the greatness. At the end of the day, I want to play this game because I want to be the absolute best I can be."

Watt can hardly believe the trajectory of his life from such humble beginnings in a small Midwestern town.

"I'm just a kid from Pewaukee, Wisconsin, you know, a small little town, who had big dreams and who worked extremely hard and had a great support system around him," he said. "So only to do to this so early in my career, to have the team show the faith and appreciation that they have, that's what I'm so grateful and I'm so thankful."

Watt had two years left on his contract that was due to pay him $1.9 million this year and just under $7 million in 2015. He expressed his desire for a new contract last month as the Texans were practicing with the Denver Broncos. He never intended to hold out, though, preferring to focus on practice and left the negotiating to his agent, Tom Condon.

General manager Rick Smith and Condon didn't have much to discuss beyond the money figures.

"I don't think I've ever been in a negotiation where there was so much alignment with how we felt about the player," Smith said. "You have to base your feeling on what the future looks like based on the past. That's a pretty good predictor of what you will have and everything that we've seen from J.J. gives us every confidence that he will continue to work the way that he's worked and continue to be as effective as a player that he's been so far."

Watt says his deal proves how well the combination of big dreams and hard work can pay off.

"Don't ever let anybody tell you why you can't be what you want to be," he said. "Don't ever let anybody crush your dreams. But your dreams don't mean anything if you're not willing to wake up and work for them. So you better be willing to do the second part. You better be willing to work hard, make sacrifices, be disciplined, do all these things that everybody talks about."

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NFL suspends Irsay 6 games, fines him $500,000

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (AP) The NFL suspended Jim Irsay for the first six games of the season and fined him $500,000 for violating its personal conduct policy, coming down hard on the Indianapolis Colts owner Tuesday just hours after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor stemming from an embarrassing March traffic stop.

Commissioner Roger Goodell said Irsay is barred from team facilities, practices and games and cannot represent the Colts at NFL meetings or events. The fine is the maximum allowed under league rules.

"I have stated on numerous occasions that owners, management personnel and coaches must be held to a higher standard than players," Goodell told Irsay in a letter released by the NFL. "We discussed this during our meeting and you expressed your support for that view, volunteering that owners should be held to the highest standard."

The 55-year-old Irsay pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of driving while intoxicated and acknowledged during his appearance before a Hamilton County judge that he was under the influence of the painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone when he was arrested March 16 near his home in the Indianapolis suburb of Carmel.

Irsay did not comment outside the courtroom, but he apologized to Colts fans in a prepared statement.

"I am committed to do everything in my power to turn this whole experience into a positive event for myself, my family and the community," he said. "In retrospect, I now know that the incident opened my eyes to issues in my life that needed addressing and helped put me on the path to regain my health. I truly hope and pray that my episode will help in some small measure to diminish the stigma surrounding our country's terrible and deadly problem of addiction. It is a disease."

Irsay's case was closely watched around the NFL - not least among players - because there are few examples of the league punishing an owner like Irsay. Detroit Lions president Tom Lewand was suspended for 30 days and fined $100,000 in 2010 for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy following his guilty plea to driving while impaired. A player with a first-offense misdemeanor DUI would not be suspended and would be fined no more than $50,000 under terms of the collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association.

Police said an officer spotted Irsay driving slowly, stopping in the roadway and failing to use a turn signal. Officers said he had trouble reciting the alphabet and failed field sobriety tests. Various prescription drugs were found in his vehicle, along with more than $29,000 in cash.

Irsay acknowledged in 2002 that he had become dependent on painkillers after several years of orthopedic operations but said he had overcome the problem.

Irsay will be on probation for a year and is prohibited from drinking or possessing alcohol during that time. He must submit to drug testing during his probation and successfully complete a substance abuse rehabilitation program. Less than 48 hours after his arrest, the Colts said Irsay had entered a treatment facility.

Irsay's driver's license also was suspended for one year by Judge J. Richard Campbell, who asked Irsay about his history of prescription drug troubles.

"Yes, I've had it in the past ... when I was dealing with the effects after having surgery," Irsay answered.

Andre Miksha, the Hamilton County chief deputy prosecutor, said Irsay's case wasn't handled differently than the roughly 1,100 other intoxicated driving cases the office handles each year. He said the "vast majority" of such cases end in plea agreements.

He also said the terms of Irsay's plea agreement are typical for a person who faced first-time driving while intoxicated charges in the county just north of Indianapolis.

Irsay had resumed his duties with the Colts at the NFL draft in May and even made an unsuccessful personal pitch to his fellow owners on behalf of Indianapolis' bid to host the 2018 Super Bowl.

Irsay became the Colts owner in 1997 after the death of his father, Robert Irsay, and a lengthy legal battle with his father's second wife. Forbes magazine has estimated Irsay's net worth at $1.6 billion.

He has helped build the Colts into a top NFL team over the past decade behind quarterback Peyton Manning, now with Denver, and was a key player in the drive to bring the Super Bowl to Indianapolis two years ago. He is working with some success to rebuild the team behind young quarterback Andrew Luck while coping with a divorce that follows a decade-long separation from his wife of 33 years.

Irsay told the judge he is still under the care of a doctor and an orthopedic specialist who prescribe medications for him. Under terms of his probation, Irsay must provide officials with all current medication prescriptions. The NFL said Irsay will be subject to ongoing treatment, counseling and testing as determined by doctors.

Irsay, who is active on social media, is also forbidden from discussing the Colts or NFL on his Twitter account.

Only 2 Chase spots up for grabs at Richmond

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) There are only two spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship up for grabs headed into NASCAR's regular-season finale at Richmond, where a first-time winner this season could snag a last-minute berth.

Kasey Kahne did it Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where his first win of the season earned him an automatic berth in the 16-driver field. Matt Kenseth, who is winless on the year, also became eligible based on points. They became the 13th and 14th drivers locked into the Chase with only Saturday night's race in Virginia remaining.

"It was just an unbelievable way to make The Chase," Kahne said. "I told a couple friends ... `I have to win. I have to win Sunday night.' It was all that I could think about. I knew Atlanta was a better opportunity for myself to win at than Richmond."

There are 17 drivers who have a win-and-in shot at making the Chase at Richmond. They are: Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson, Paul Menard, Austin Dillon, Jamie McMurray, Brian Vickers, Marcos Ambrose, Casey Mears, Martin Truex Jr., Tony Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett and David Gilliland.

There are only four drivers who could possibly get in on points if they don't win: Newman, Biffle, Bowyer and Larson, and only Newman controls his own fate.

Newman can make the Chase if he finishes 41st or better, or 42nd with at least one lap led, or 43rd and the most laps led. If there is a new winner that is not Kenseth, Newman is guaranteed a Chase spot with a finish of 18th or better.

Biffle controls his own destiny if there is a repeat winner or Kenseth or Newman win and he finishes 22nd or better. If there is a new winner that is not Kenseth or Newman, Biffle needs to score 19 more points than Newman - and stay ahead of Bowyer and Larson in the standings.

Bowyer and Larson need very big nights on Saturday to overtake both Newman and Biffle.

Wawrinka pulls away to beat Robredo at US Open

NEW YORK -- Australian Open champ Stan Wawrinka tumbled into the stands, kept calling for the trainer to treat cramping, and still pulled away to reach the U.S. Open quarterfinals.

The third-seeded Wawrinka won 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2 on Monday against Tommy Robredo, who has given him trouble in the past. The 16th-seeded Spaniard had a chance to serve out the first set and had two set points in the third, but Wawrinka rallied both times, and then dominated the final set.

"That's why I'm normally so strong, because I know that I have (a) few lives," Wawrinka said. "Even if I can feel really bad, I always find solution how to get better, how to relax physically, and at the end I was feeling good."

Leading 4-3 in the third, Wawrinka chased after Robredo's overhead and realized he was about to crash into the barrier behind the sideline. Wawrinka hurdled it and landed on some spectators.

He quickly scrambled back onto the court and stayed down on his knees for a few moments. After walking over to his chair, he stretched his right leg, and then rotated it around.

Once play resumed, his movement seemed fine. The trainer had already been working on that leg during changeovers.

Wawrinka, who likes the intimacy of Louis Armstrong Stadium, said he had never crashed into the crowd like that before.

"It was quite a bad fall," he said. "But I'm lucky I didn't have any big problem with that. I was already struggling physically, so was nothing from the fall."

Robredo upset Wawrinka's Swiss Davis Cup teammate, Roger Federer, in the fourth round at Flushing Meadows last year. He came into Monday's match with a 6-2 record in this series, though Wawrinka beat him in Australia in the same round on his way to his first major title.

Frustration started to boil over for Robredo after he failed to capitalize on his chances in the third set. The two players exchanged words, though they wouldn't say later what it was about.

"It's something that can happen in a match," Robredo said.

Azarenka tops qualifier Krunic to reach US Open QF

NEW YORK (AP) Trailing against a woman trying to become the first qualifier in the U.S. Open quarterfinals since 1981, Victoria Azarenka needed every ounce of experience and skill to advance.

Twice a major champion, and twice a runner-up at Flushing Meadows, Azarenka took four of the last five games Monday night to come back and win 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, ending the surprising, out-of-nowhere run by 145th-ranked Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia.

"Obviously, I didn't have a lot of data on her," the 16th-seeded Azarenka said about her 5-foot-4 (1.63-meter) opponent. "I was a little bit surprised that she's not that tall, and she hits the ball and unleashes her forehand with so much power."

The varied game played by Krunic, a 21-year-old from Serbia, worked wonders earlier in the tournament, when she used her mix of spins and speeds to eliminate two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the third round, and 27th-seeded Madison Keys in the second.

That run of success, which followed three victories in qualifying rounds, meant that Krunic, as she described it, "started maybe loving myself a little bit more."

"Everybody can hit forehand or backhand or serve," Krunic said. "Yeah, it's more about how you get it all together."

By making it to the fourth round, she earned a check for $187,300 - nearly matching her career take coming in. Asked if she knew what her U.S. Open prize money would be, Krunic replied: "No. I know it's 30 percent tax. That makes me very sad."

Her ranking would have been the lowest for a quarterfinalist in U.S. Open history, although other women - such as 2009 champion Kim Clijsters - have made it that far without any ranking at all because of a lack of activity.

And the crowd showered Krunic with loud support throughout the 2-hour, 19-minute match under the lights in Arthur Ashe Stadium, something she said surprised her.

Azarenka, who lost to Serena Williams in the 2012 and 2013 U.S. Open finals, took a more aggressive approach in the latter stages of the match, pushing forward to win nine of 10 points at the net in the final set.

Azarenka was down 3-2 in that set, but broke to go ahead 4-3 with a backhand winner down the line off one of Krunic's many attempted drop shots.

When the match ended, and Azarenka was pulled aside for an on-court interview, Krunic stuck around so the players could walk off together - the sort of thing that rarely happens at the U.S. Open.

Next up for Azarenka is 17th-seeded Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, who advanced earlier Monday by beating No. 7 Eugenie Bouchard 7-6 (2), 6-4.

Azarenka has won the Australian Open twice and used to be ranked No. 1, but she has struggled during an uneven 2014 because of health problems.

She entered Monday having played 20 matches all season, including one from January to June because of a left foot injury, and only four in the time between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open because of a bothersome right knee.

She bristled at her news conference when a reporter used the word "suffered" while referencing Azarenka's problems.

"You're making it sound like ... I almost died and, you know, there was 10 sharks, and I got attacked, and I survived. And, you know, I saved a dolphin, as well," Azarenka said. "It's not that complicated, really. What I enjoy is to play tennis. To be talking about what happened with my injuries, I mean, it's useless already."

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Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

Raiders tab rookie Derek Carr as starting QB

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) Oakland rookie Derek Carr will start the season opener against the New York Jets, becoming the first Raiders quarterback to start the first game of his rookie season.

Coach Dennis Allen announced Monday that Carr would be the starter for the foreseeable future ahead of Matt Schaub, who struggled in the preseason and has been hampered by a sore elbow.

"We've seen signs of Derek Carr's development from the day he stepped on campus here to where he is at right now," Allen said. "We've seen him grow by leaps and bounds and I think he's ready to accept the challenge."

Schaub was anointed starter after being acquired in a trade from Houston in March but has been outplayed by Carr all summer. Carr solidified the starting job by throwing three touchdown passes and leading the Raiders to the end zone four times in as many drives against Seattle last week.

"It's not an indictment on Matt Schaub at all," Allen said. "I feel very confident in Matt Schaub. I think it says more about we feel Derek Carr is in his progression."

Neither Carr nor Schaub was available in the locker room Monday. Both are scheduled to talk to the media Tuesday.

Carr, a second-round pick out of Fresno State in May, will become the 18th starting quarterback for the Raiders since the start of the 2003 season.

Carr was one of the most prolific quarterbacks in college football last season. He threw for 5,083 yards and 50 touchdowns with only eight interceptions in a spread offense at Fresno State that included many quick screens and almost exclusively shotgun formations.

But he also played one year in college in a pro-style offense under former coach Pat Hill and has made the transition back to that kind of system since joining the Raiders.

Carr played well in the preseason, completing 66.7 percent of his passes with four touchdowns, one interception and a 108.2 passer rating. He showed the strong arm needed to stretch the field, completing 11 of 18 passes more than 10 yards downfield for 234 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Receiver James Jones, who spent the past six seasons catching passes from Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, had high praise for the rookie.

"It didn't surprise me at all," Jones said. "I've been calling him baby A-rod since he got here."

Carr joins his older brother, David, as rookies to start in the season opener. According to STATS, they are the only brothers to do that since at least 1950. David won his debut for the expansion Houston Texans against Dallas in 2002 but never developed into the quarterback the Texans were hoping for when they picked him first overall.

Derek Carr faces a tall task in the opener as Jets coach Rex Ryan's defenses have been tough on rookie quarterbacks. Russell Wilson is the only rookie in eight tries to beat Ryan's Jets in his first start against them, with the eight quarterbacks combining to complete just 48.3 percent of their passes and posting a 61.1 passer rating.

"He's not your typical rookie," center Stefen Wisniewski said. "He's got an NFL quarterback older brother that's been teaching him for years. He understands defenses at a very advanced level more than most rookies would. I think Derek gets way more prepared than most rookies would be."

This marks the second straight season that the veteran quarterback acquired by general manager Reggie McKenzie in the offseason to be the starter has lost the job before the season opener.

Last year, Matt Flynn struggled in the preseason and had a sore elbow before being beaten out for the starting job by Terrelle Pryor. Flynn started one game when Pryor was hurt before being released.

Now Schaub is following a similar pattern.

"He's disappointed," Allen said. "I think any competitor would be. He's handling it like a pro. Listen it's not an easy situation to be in. But he's a real pro. He's been around football for a long time, he understands how things operate. ... He'll be ready when his number is called."

NOTES: Starting MLB Nick Roach did not practice as he recovers from a concussion sustained in the third exhibition game. ... TE David Ausberry was back at practice for the first time since undergoing knee surgery in early August.

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Murray beats Tsonga in three sets at Open

NEW YORK -- An hour-and-a-half into his stay at the U.S. Open, Andy Murray had to wonder whether it would end quickly.

A week later, the same guy who hobbled through head-to-toe cramps in his first-round match looked strong on a day that was even more hot and humid - and now he's in the quarterfinals. The eighth-seeded Murray beat No. 9-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-5, 7-5, 6-4 in 2 hours, 35 minutes on Monday.

"I don't feel like I'm that far away from playing my best tennis," Murray said.

He hasn't reached a tournament final since back surgery late last year. Coming into the U.S. Open, Murray felt he was playing well but lamented that he was struggling to close out matches.

In a tight one against a tough opponent Monday, Murray won enough crucial points to pull out the victory in straight sets.

Tsonga had three break points to go up 3-0 in the third, but Murray fought them off to swing the momentum. He promptly broke in the next game to get the set back on serve, and then closed out the match with another break.

Murray, who still isn't sure why the cramps struck so early in his opening match last Monday, drank too many fluids this time and gave himself a stomachache.

It was a tough draw for both players - and gets even tougher for Murray, who next faces No. 1 Novak Djokovic. That matchup feels much more like a Grand Slam title match than a quarterfinal, and for good reason. Murray and Djokovic have met five times in major tournaments, with four coming in the finals; the other was a semi.

Tsonga rolled into the U.S. Open full of confidence after beating Djokovic, Murray and Roger Federer in Toronto to win the title. In Tsonga's 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4 victory over Murray in early August, he was the one winning the key points in a close match.

"Tennis, it's never a straight line. It's always like this," Tsonga said, tracing peaks and valleys with his hand. "So today it was like this maybe at the wrong moment."

Murray hasn't been back to a final since becoming the first British man in 77 years to win Wimbledon in July 2013. He beat Djokovic to clinch that title and also defeated him at the 2012 U.S. Open for the first Grand Slam championship by a British man in 76 years.

"Great memories from that match," Murray said in an on-court interview. "Hope we can play another top-level match."

After beating 22nd-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-1, 7-5, 6-4 earlier Monday, Djokovic called the prospect of facing Murray or Tsonga a "very tough, tough draw."

Murray, he said, "knows how to play center court U.S. Open where he played some great tennis and we had some great matches."

They went to five sets twice in 2012, in Djokovic's win in the Australian Open semis and Murray's breakthrough victory in the U.S. Open.

"Long games, long rallies, long points, because we do a lot of the same things well," Murray said.

When Murray's ranking slipped after the surgery, it left him vulnerable to this sort of draw: He could potentially play Tsonga, Djokovic, Australian Open champ Stan Wawrinka and 17-time major winner Roger Federer in the last four rounds. Wawrinka beat 16th-seeded Tommy Robredo 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2 on Monday.

Murray may finally be playing well enough to make that run sound plausible.

"It's still obviously a long way from trying to win the tournament," he said, "but it's only nine sets now, three matches. ... Maybe five, six days away from potentially winning another Grand Slam."

Gronk promises he will play Sunday; Dolphins ready

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Star tight end Rob Gronkowski stood in front of his Gillette Stadium locker Monday and announced he will be playing in the New England Patriots' opener at Miami this Sunday.

Meanwhile, the news hardly caught the Dolphins by surprise.

"I'm super excited," said Gronkowski, who didn't play in any of the four preseason games as he completed his recovery from December right knee surgery. "I won't have to see my teammates grind all week - (I'll) go back out there with them, get in the huddle, break the huddle with them.

"It's going to be an honor to be back out there with my teammates. Super pumped, super excited and just preparing for the game."

The pronouncement came as a bit of a surprise in a locker room not known for players "breaking news."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm just getting it out of the way there," Gronkowski said. "Every single day this week (he would have been asked about returning) - get it out of the way now."

"It just feels good in my mind to know that I'll be out there with my boys, working hard, grinding with them, being out there."

The Patriots are 6-0 all-time when Gronkowski plays against the Dolphins, but Miami has kept him in some check of late. Gronkowski's last two games against Miami resulted in a total of only four catches.

Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said his team was "fully prepared" for a Gronkowski sighting.

"He's an excellent player," Philbin said Monday. "He's been a very very productive player throughout his career. We'll have a good plan in place, but he's certainly an important part of their offense, and a productive part of it. We'll be ready for him, for sure."

Gronkowski, who tore his right ACL and MCL last Dec. 8, is a two-time Pro Bowler and was an All-Pro in 2011. He has 226 catches with 42 touchdowns in 50 regular-season games. Last season, coming off multiple surgeries and an arm infection, he appeared in seven games, catching 39 passes, four for touchdowns, before going down on a hit by safety T.J. Ward, then of the Cleveland Browns.

Asked if he feels ready, Gronkowski said, "Definitely. I feel mentally and physically ready, for sure, no doubt about it."

"Just the way we just worked throughout all camp and the last few weeks, everything's just been going well," Gronkowski added. "There's been no setbacks, just more and more (work) every single day.

"Now I just have to focus on the Miami Dolphins, just keep focusing on getting better and getting stronger."

Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said he's been working under the assumption Gronkowski would be ready for Week 1.

"He's also been a big target for them in the red zone," Coyle said. "If he plays, and how much he plays, we don't know how much that will be, that's not going to change what we do."

Gronkowski says he doesn't expect to play "every single snap" Sunday, but is ready for "whatever the coaches have."

"It's been long and tiring for sure," he said. "But you just got to be patient and everything comes along well. That's the way I've been - just keep working hard and it will all come."

Last week, the Patriots traded veteran guard Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay for tight end Tim Wright, who has been added to provide depth.

"So far, he's been working hard. It's been great seeing him improving every single day, learning everything, and it's always fun with a new guy that wants to work hard," Gronkowski said.

NOTES: WR Josh Boyce, cut Saturday, was one of 10 players signed to the taxi squad, a list that includes DL Charley Hughlett, who is being signed for the second time as a long snapper after the release of Danny Aiken. DE-LB Rob Ninkovich is currently the only long snapper on the roster. ... Also re-signed were DL Jake Bequette, LBs Ja'Gared Davis and Deontae Skinner, S Kanorris Davis, RB Jonas Gray, OL Chris Martin and DB Daxton Swanson. The club also added quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson, last with San Francisco. ... Late Monday, the Patriots announced that they claimed safety Don Jones off waivers from Miami and released offensive lineman Chris Barker.

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AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds in Davie, Fla. contributed to this story.

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Houston Astros fire manager Bo Porter

HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Astros fired manager Bo Porter on Monday, saying the dismissal had less to do with the team's 59-79 record than the need for "new direction" and a "united message throughout the entire organization."

Porter was in his second season with the Astros and was succeeded by interim manager Tom Lawless, who worked in Houston's minor league system. Lawless' first game in charge is Tuesday night at home against the first-place Los Angeles Angels.

Bench coach Dave Trembley also was let go.

Porter joined the Astros after working as a third-base coach for the Washington Nationals. The Astros went a franchise-worst 51-111 in his first season for their third straight 100-loss season.

General manager Jeff Luhnow said the decision was not based on "our current level of competitiveness." The Astros entered Monday in fourth place in the AL West with the second-worst record in the league.

"I recognize that our win-loss record is largely a product of an organizational strategy for which I am responsible," Luhnow said in a statement. "Rather, I made this decision because I believe we need a new direction in our clubhouse."

Luhnow refused repeatedly to get into more detail about why Porter was let go as he fielded questions for almost 25 minutes on Monday afternoon. He did say that he had been mulling the move for a few weeks and that he made the final decision on Sunday.

"Once you make a decision it is in everyone's best interest to move it along," he said. "It's easier to wait until the end of the season in some respects, but it's not fair to Bo and it's not fair to us."

Owner Jim Crane said the firing was "not an easy decision to make." It comes following recent reports citing sources who said Luhnow and Porter were not getting along. Luhnow wouldn't address those rumors other than to say that there were "numerous inaccuracies" in the reports.

Porter issued a statement Monday afternoon.

"During my time in Houston I dedicated myself to do everything I could to help this organization win, in the short-term and for the long-term," he said in the statement. "I am proud of what we were able to accomplish in Houston with an organization in transition. I'm gratified we were able to bring some excitement to this city as a result of our improvement from 2013 to 2014."

Starting pitcher Scott Feldman lamented Porter's firing and noted the care and concern he showed when Feldman's father died earlier this season. He said he spoke to Porter on Monday and thanked him for the way he treated him throughout the season and particularly in that difficult time.

"I hope he realizes that he was doing as well as he could given the circumstances," Feldman said. "It's tough to see, but Bo's a strong guy and I'm sure he'll be back on his feet and back in the game whenever he wants to be."

Whoever is hired as full-time manager will be the team's fourth since 2007, not including those who held the job on an interim basis. Luhnow said they hope to hire someone quickly.

"What we will seek going forward is a consistent and united message throughout the entire organization," Luhnow said. "It is essential that as an organization we create an atmosphere at the major league level where our young players can come up and continue to develop and succeed.

"Ultimately, I am responsible for creating that culture, and I will do everything in my power to do so - even when it means making difficult moves like the one we made today."

Porter was the first managerial hiring in Luhnow's tenure, and he was unhappy it didn't work out.

"It is a disappointment in that any time you bring in a new leader of any department ... you hope that the individual is going to be there for the long haul," he said. "In no way did we intend to hire someone for a short-term (transitional) period. As we look forward to the next hire, we're looking for someone for the long haul."

He said many people will help in the hunt for a new manager and noted that Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, who re-joined the team in February as a special assistant following a stint with the Rangers, will be among them.

The firing is the latest development in months of trouble surrounding the Astros that includes being the victim of hackers who accessed team's servers and published months of internal trade talks on the Internet, and failing to reach a deal with No. 1 overall draft pick Brady Aiken.

"It's been a challenging summer for me personally and for us as the Astros organization," Luhnow said. "A lot of things happened not the way we scripted them to happen and we've had to react. That's part of the job."

Lawless was the interim manager at Triple-A Oklahoma City this season when manager Tony DeFrancesco was on medical leave. Adam Everett, who was also working in the minors, will replace Trembley as bench coach.

Hamels, 3 Phillies relievers no-hit Braves

ATLANTA (AP) Cole Hamels and three Philadelphia Phillies relievers combined to pitch a no-hitter Monday, beating the Atlanta Braves 7-0 and giving a last-place team a rare reason to celebrate.

Hamels (8-6) was pulled after six innings and seemed fine with the decision. He struck out seven, walked five, hit a batter and threw 108 pitches on a hot afternoon at Turner Field.

Relievers Jake Diekman, Ken Giles and closer Jonathan Papelbon each pitched a hitless inning to finish off the fourth no-hitter in the majors this season.

Clayton Kershaw and Josh Beckett of the Dodgers and Tim Lincecum of the Giants each threw no-hitter earlier this year.

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