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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) — Kenny Pickett threw for four touchdowns to break the Pittsburgh school record for scoring passes in a season, and the 20th-ranked Panthers beat Syracuse 31-14 on Saturday night.

Pittsburgh (10-2, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference, CFP No. 20) won its fourth straight and finished the regular season 5-0 on the road.

It’s the Panthers’ first 10-win season since 1981.

Pickett connected with tailback Rodney Hammond Jr. and wideout Jordan Addison in the second quarter. He hit tight end Gavin Bartholomew and Addison again in the third to stake the Panthers to a 28-7 lead.

Pickett boosted his season total to 40 touchdown passes, three more than the previous record set by Dan Marino in 1981 and matched by Rod Rutherford in 2003, and his career total to 79, equaling Marino’s mark. Pickett finished 28 of 38 for 209 yards with one interception.

Syracuse closed within 28-14 on Garrett Shrader’s second touchdown pass of the game to Courtney Jackson late in the third, but the Orange offense struggled all night. Shrader finished 17 of 24 for 217 yards and was sacked six times.

Syracuse (5-7, 2-6) was coming off a pair of lopsided losses and failed in its quest to reach the six victories required to play in the postseason. It’s the fifth losing season in coach Dino Babers’ six years.

The Panthers clinched the ACC Coastal Division last week with a 48-38 win over Virginia and were hoping to keep building momentum heading into their second appearance in the conference title game, something they failed to do in 2018. Pitt wrapped up the division that year with a win at Wake Forest, then headed to Miami and was drilled by the Hurricanes. A 42-10 loss to eventual national champion Clemson followed.

The Panthers stayed on track against the fired-up Orange, who took a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter and held Pitt in check until early in the second.

Led by Sean Tucker and Shrader, Syracuse entered the game leading the ACC in rushing with an average of 230 yards per game, and they were facing the conference’s top defense against the run. Pitt, allowing just under 100 per game, held the Orange’s imposing duo to 22 yards on 21 carries in the first half and 27 yards on 29 carries for the game. Syracuse finished with a season-low 25 yards rushing.

Tucker, third nationally with 1,467 yards and averaging 6.3 yards per carry entering the game, finished with 29 yards on 13 carries.

Syracuse scored on the game’s first possession, driving 75 yards in 14 plays that took 7:25 off the clock. Shrader completed four passes, hitting Devaughn Cooper for 8 yards on fourth-and-3 from the Pitt 21, and following with a 12-yard touchdown toss to Jackson.

The Panthers got rolling early in the second quarter and scored twice. Hammond sparked the surge, reeling off six carries for 19 yards before scoring on a 15-yard catch-and-run.

Pitt gained a 14-7 lead just over two minutes later, taking advantage of a Syracuse turnover. Cooper fumbled near midfield and SirVocea Dennis recovered. Pickett then hit Addison for a 25-yard TD.

Pickett hit Bartholomew on a 4-yard toss and Addison with a 5-yarder, and Sam Scarton added a 26-yard field goal midway through the fourth.

SLOW START

Pitt, which entered the game with the No. 3 scoring offense in the nation, had zero first downs and 21 yards on offense in the first quarter. Addison’s first two receptions netted minus-2 yards. He entered the game with 1,272 receiving yards, the most among Power Five receivers.

IRON MAN

Syracuse center Airon Servais started his 60th straight game, one of three players to do so at the FBS level this week.

THE TAKEAWAY

Pittsburgh: The Panthers are on cruise control heading to the ACC title game with Pickett in top form and the defense thriving.

Syracuse: Tucker has said he plans on returning next season but indicated a coaching change might alter his plans.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh: Plays Wake Forest for the ACC championship next Saturday.

Syracuse: Season over.

___

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Even Andy Reid coach of the winning Kansas City Chiefs thinks the NFL should reconsider its overtime rules

Even the winning coach, in this case Andy Reid, is questioning the NFL’s overtime setup.

One day after Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs won the overtime coin toss, then marched downfield for Travis Kelce’s 8-yard touchdown reception to end an epic divisional-round playoff game with the Buffalo Bills, Reid recognized how fortunate the Chiefs were.

“I had a chance to talk with Sean afterward,” Reid said of Bills coach Sean McDermott, “and that I’m sure is something they’re going to look at again too. And I wouldn’t be opposed to it — it’s a hard thing.

“It was great for us last night, but is it great for the game, which is the most important thing we should all be looking out for? To make things equal, it probably needs to be able to hit both offenses, both defenses.”

That never happened Sunday, and it has not happened much in the playoffs since the current rules were adopted in 2010 for the postseason and 2012 for the regular season. Under those guidelines for the playoffs:

  • Teams play 15-minute periods until there’s a winner.
  • A touchdown or safety on the first possession wins the game.
  • If the score is tied after each team’s first possession, either because neither team scored or because each kicked a field goal, the next score wins the game.
  • There are no coach’s challenges with all reviews initiated by the replay official.

In 11 playoff games that went to overtime, including the first in a Super Bowl when the New England Patriots beat the Atlanta Falcons with a touchdown on the first possession in 2017, the team that got the ball first won 10 of them — seven with opening-drive touchdowns.

The only loss in that span was in the NFC championship game in the 2018 season, when officials blew a blatant pass interference and illegal hit penalty on Los Angeles Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman late in regulation. New Orleans Saints fans insist that overtime never should have occurred.

Overall in the regular season and playoffs, the team that got the ball first is 88-65-10 with 35 opening-drive touchdowns, according to Sportradar. So the imbalance isn’t as profound as in the postseason.

Reid knows both sides of overtime outcomes. In the AFC title game in the 2018 season, the Chiefs rallied to force the extra period. But the Patriots won the toss and Tom Brady marched his team downfield against an exhausted defense for a winning touchdown.

This time, Reid was in a better spot after Bills quarterback Josh Allen called tails and heads came up.

“We should never let a football game be determined from a coin,” Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins said. “That’s the craziest rule in sports. Like, you can fight your entire fight the whole game, and then the game comes down to a 50-50 chance of a coin toss.

“This ain’t Vegas. We’re not at the casino table. This ain’t no 50-50 bet and there ain’t even no 50-50 bet. And it’s just crazy that that was the outcome.”

Those who support the current system stress that the defense needs to make a stop, and if it can’t then it gets what it deserves. The opposite viewpoint asks why shouldn’t both teams’ defenses be put in that position?

Might changes be coming? The NFL’s powerful competition committee, which makes proposals for rules changes, has gone into, well, overtime on the topic through the years. If a team or several teams bring it up with specific suggestions for alterations, the committee will consider them. Should those ideas seem worthy, a proposal would be made to the 32 owners at the league meetings in late March.

For now, though, players, coaches and fans have to live with what’s on the books. Not that it helps Dawkins and the Bills.

“It shouldn’t be a race, like, the first guy to touch that wall wins … but that’s what we’re dealt with now,” Dawkins said. “So I don’t want to make an excuse for it. But hopefully it’ll change.”

___

AP’s Josh Dubow, Dave Skretta and John Wawrow contributed.

AP’s Josh Dubow, Dave Skretta and John Wawrow contributed.

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