White Sox

...unlike this NFC mismatch

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...unlike this NFC mismatch

From Comcast SportsNetATLANTA (AP) -- The Atlanta Falcons wanted to make a statement.Boy, did they deliver one Sunday to the defending Super Bowl champions.Coming off an ugly loss and criticized for failing to impress even when they won, the Falcons turned in their most well-rounded performance of the season with the playoffs approaching. Matt Ryan threw three touchdowns passes and the defense handed New York its first regular-season shutout since 1996, routing the Giants 34-0."We love the haters, man," said Falcons cornerback Asante Samuel, who had the first of two interceptions against Eli Manning. "The haters keep us going. So keep your hate coming. We love it. It makes us play with a chip on our shoulder."It sure showed.Julio Jones caught a couple of scoring throws from Ryan, who broke his own franchise records for completions and passing yards in a season. Matty Ice finished 23 of 28 for 270 yards."I felt like I was seeing the field well," Ryan said.The Falcons (12-2), who have already clinched the NFC South, moved a step closer to home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs. One more win would ensure that any postseason contests before the Super Bowl are held at the Georgia Dome.Manning had his lowest-rated game since 2007 for New York (8-6), which dropped into a first-place tie with Washington and Dallas in the NFC East. The Redskins and the Cowboys both won Sunday.The Giants also went 0-for-3 on fourth down and missed a short field goal."Atlanta was very, very good. We were very, very bad," New York coach Tom Coughlin said. "There's no excuse for what happened here."Despite their lofty record, Atlanta has received plenty of criticism for struggling to beat inferior opponents. A 30-20 loss to last-place Carolina the previous week only seemed to reinforce the notion that the Falcons are headed for another short stay in the playoffs. They have yet to win a postseason game since Ryan took over as the quarterback in 2008, going 0-3.But one thing the Falcons never seem to do anymore is lose two straight games. They extended the NFL's longest active streak since consecutive defeats to 49 games, going back to the 2009 season."Our focus was heightened from other weeks," coach Mike Smith said. "We've got a lot of great leaders and mentors in that locker room. They took the message from the meetings and took it out on the field."After thoroughly dominating the Giants, the Falcons have surely sent a resounding message to the rest of the league: beware of this team in the playoffs."Last week everybody was talking smack about us," defensive end John Abraham said. "We just continue what we're doing."For the Giants, it was a miserable performance when they controlled their own destiny, at a time of year when they normally play some of their best football.Manning threw his first pick on the second play of scrimmage, setting up a quick Atlanta touchdown. Coughlin made a curious call late in the first half, passing up another short field goal attempt when his team was almost 2 yards shy of the marker. Samuel batted down a short pass intended for Victor Cruz, sending Atlanta to the locker room with a commanding 17-0 lead and all the momentum."I was thinking we needed to engender a lift for our sideline," Coughlin said. "That did not work out either."Nothing did.The tone was set right away.When Manning attempted to hit Hakeem Nicks on a short pass to the right, Samuel stepped in to make the interception and return it to the Giants 16. From there, Michael Turner ran it four straight times, the last of those a 1-yard plunge that gave Atlanta a 7-0 lead less than 3 minutes into the game.It was all Falcons after Lawrence Tynes missed a chip shot kick from 30 yards, ruining an impressive second possession by the Giants. Atlanta took it 80 yards from there, with Ryan going to Harry Douglas on a 37-yard gain for the biggest play. Then, on third-and-11 from the 12, Ryan went to his favorite target, Tony Gonzalez, in the end zone. The 16-year veteran leaped over safety Will Hill to haul in the high throw -- and hopped up quickly for his customary dunk over the goalposts.Manning finished 13 of 25 for 161 yards, leaving him with a dismal 38.9 rating -- his worst since a Dec. 23, 2007, win at Buffalo."We have two games left and we have to win those two games," Manning said. "What else happens after that, we don't know and can't control."Early in the second half, the Falcons blew it open on Ryan's 40-yard touchdown pass to Jones down the left sideline. Finally, after a drive that used up more than 9 minutes in the fourth quarter, Ryan went to Jones for a 3-yard TD.The Giants turned it over one more time in the closing minutes, finishing off their first shutout in the regular season since a 24-0 defeat at Philadelphia on Dec. 1, 1996. The performance came just a week after they put up 52 points on the New Orleans Saints.There was a moment of silence before the game honoring the Connecticut shooting victims, and New York took the extra step of wearing "SHES" decals on its blue helmets in honor of Sandy Hook Elementary School. Even more touchingly, Cruz dedicated the game to 6-year-old victim Jack Pinto, who was reported to be a big Giants fan."It was very emotional, obviously, during the game," said Cruz, who caught only three passes for 15 yards. "With a family facing that much tragedy, you want to be someone that inspires them, someone that can put a smile on their face at a time where it's tough to do that."NOTES:More recently, the Giants were shut out in the playoffs after the 2005 season, losing at Carolina 23-0. ... Ryan has thrown for 4,202 yards and 27 touchdowns this season. ... There was one bright spot for Manning: He set a franchise record for career completions with 2,585, moving past the mark held by Phil Simms (2,576).

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Chuck Garfien on Yasmani Grandal signing with the White Sox

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Chuck Garfien on Yasmani Grandal signing with the White Sox

SportsTalk Live is at the United Center for Blackhawks Authentic Fan Night. David Haugh, Charlie Roumeliotis and Scott King join Kap on the panel.

0:00 - The Blackhawks look to get back in the win column with the Lightning in town.

5:00 - Chuck Garfien joins Kap to talk about Yasmani Grandal signing with the White Sox. How much will this help the Sox sign more free agents? Plus the panel discusses how much this improves Willson Contreras' trade value as the Cubs reportedly shop him.

17:00 - Chase Daniel said Mitch Trubisky looked great in practice. Will that translate to the game on Sunday?

Listen here or in the embedded player below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Morgan Park's Adam Miller another program-changing recruit for Illinois

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ADAM MILLER

Morgan Park's Adam Miller another program-changing recruit for Illinois

Illinois and head coach Brad Underwood landed their most important recruiting target for the second time in three seasons on Thursday night.

Morgan Park senior guard Adam Miller became the latest Mustang guard to commit to the Illini and Underwood when the preseason co-favorite for Player of the Year announced his decision during a public press conference at the Jordan Brand store on State Street.

A consensus top-40 national prospect in the Class of 2020, Miller's commitment to Illinois gives the program another highly-regarded in-state prospect. Just two years earlier, at the very same Jordan store and under very similar circumstances, Morgan Park guard Ayo Dosunmu announced his college decision to go to Illinois -- a commitment that changed local recruiting momentum at Illinois during Underwood's first full season.  

Although Miller's commitment shares similarities to Dosunmu's, Miller's pledge is also slightly different from his former high school teammate. Any program can win one major recruiting war over the big boys. By doing it twice in three years, it's a major signal that Underwood and Illinois are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to local recruiting. Landing Miller's commitment in a hotly-contested race over his other finalists of Arizona and Louisville, Miller's announcement on Thursday signifies that Illinois and Underwood are ready annually to compete with national powerhouse programs when it comes to keeping local talent at home.

While former Illinois coaches like Bruce Weber and John Groce failed to consistently keep, and develop, top in-state talents late in their tenures, Miller's commitment is a significant indication that Underwood and his staff are making positive recruiting inroads at home that could continue to last.

The term "pipeline" has become cliche in the recruiting world. But it certainly can't hurt Illinois to be continually involved with Morgan Park's best players. The Mustangs continue to churn out Division I prospects every single season. And Morgan Park has another high-major junior -- guard Brandon Weston -- waiting in the wings that Illinois is already recruiting. 

Illinois will certainly need to spread its recruiting efforts more throughout the Chicagoland area to maintain recruiting stability of top in-state talents. Grabbing a top-50 player in two out of three classes -- particularly in a basketball-crazy hotbed like Chicago -- is significant.

During his junior season, Miller took the city by storm as he was the state's most dominant scorer. The lefty averaged 28.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game -- putting up multiple 40-point games and looking virtually unstoppable during certain stretches of play. Even as opposing defenses threw exotic zones and double-teams his way, it didn't do much to slow Miller down. 

Miller already faced a tough set of local expectations entering the 2019-20 season. Morgan Park returns a loaded, nationally-ranked team. There's a baseline expectation for Miller to replicate his stellar junior season. Those local expectations now become enormous since Miller is staying home and going to Illinois. 

Now that Miller's commitment is under his belt, he can focus on pushing Morgan Park to a potential city and state title as the preseason's No. 1 team in the area. Illinois can focus its recruiting efforts on getting additional reinforcements for Miller and his fellow 2020 recruits. And by the time Miller reaches Champaign next season, Illinois is optimistic that they'll be a consistent NCAA tournament presence once again.