PHOENIX -- New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft's absence from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's annual Super Bowl news conference was noted in this space, in part because Kraft publicly expressed his displeasure with the league's handling of the investigation into underinflated footballs as it relates to leaks in the media. Kraft is usually in attendance at Goodell's news conference.

I've learned more about Kraft's absence.

Kraft decided to stay back with the Patriots, who had a team meeting scheduled at that time Friday. Kraft also went to practice after the team meeting.

Kraft's decision to forgo Goodell's news conference reflects how he is approaching this Super Bowl experience, looking to maximize the time with his players and coaches.

Roger Goodell reiterates opinion that Bills need new stadium

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday that Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills since 1973, lacks the features necessary for a state-of-the-art NFL facility and will need to be replaced.

"I do believe that a stadium, long-term, is going to be needed in that marketplace," Goodell said at his annual Super Bowl news conference in response to a direct question about the Bills' need for a new home.

Terry and Kim Pegula completed their purchase of the Bills in October and vowed to keep the team in Buffalo.

"Terry and Kim have been very focused on the stadium," Goodell said Friday. "I think that's one of the things that they're evaluating with their franchise. What's the next generation of stadium? I think that's an important consideration for the Buffalo market and that region, but also for the NFL and for Terry and Kim."

"I'm from Western New York," continued Goodell, who was born in Jamestown. "I love Ralph Wilson Stadium. But it's got to compete against a lot of these new stadiums that have a lot of very important features that that stadium doesn't have. So they're going through that process. We will certainly work with them, cooperate with them and if we can be helpful, we will."

The Bills have completed two seasons on their current 10-year lease for Ralph Wilson Stadium. Local and state politicians have been adamant about keeping open the possibility of an extensive renovation.

If a new stadium if built, Terry Pegula and Bills president Russ Brandon cautioned in October that progress would not be swift. "We will gradually proceed to plan and design a stadium for the Buffalo Bills," Pegula said. "These things take time."

"We'd all love to have a shiny, new stadium. I think we're all about trying to improve the experience, but we just spent $130 million on a renovation and we're two games in," Brandon said on Oct. 10. "We've got a lot of time, the way the lease is constructed, to make an informed decision as we move forward."
PHOENIX – Forget Deflategate. There was an actual rules violation during the AFC Championship Game.

NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said the touchdown pass caught by New England tackle Nate Solder in the third quarter of the Patriots’ 45-7 win should have been negated by an illegal substitution penalty, according to the Boston Globe.

The Patriots should have been penalized five yards because tackle Cameron Fleming did not leave the field nor was there a stoppage in play between the time Fleming reported as an eligible receiver and resumed his role as an ineligible lineman on the play that Solder scored, according to the Globe. NFL rules require a player to either leave the field or there to be a stoppage in play if that player switches from ineligible to eligible, or vice versa.

Fleming reported as an eligible receiver on a second-and-1 play from the Indianapolis 16 with 11:08 left in the third quarter. He didn’t leave the field following LeGarrette Blount’s run and played the next down as an ineligible offensive lineman when Solder caught a 16-yard touchdown from Tom Brady to go 24-7.

Had the Patriots been penalized, they would’ve been facing a third-and-6 from the Colts 21.

“We’re going to be obviously looking for that, make sure we follow the proper mechanics to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Blandino said.


Patriots vs. Seahawks preview

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
PHOENIX -- Five months ago, when the NFL season started, this is the Super Bowl matchup many people expected.

The journey to the desert was bumpy for the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks. The Patriots started the season 2-2, and the Seahawks were 3-3. Seattle has won eight consecutive games, and the Patriots have won five of the past six, with the only loss coming in the season finale to Buffalo when nothing was on the line.

Now they meet with a shot at history. The Seahawks hope to become the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since the Patriots did it 10 years ago. The Patriots hope to become only the sixth team to win it four times (San Francisco 49ers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Green Bay Packers).

ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss and Seahawks reporter Terry Blount take a look at how these teams made it here and how they stack up in Super Bowl XLIX:

Blount: Mike, the last time these teams faced each other is remembered by many for Richard Sherman’s “You mad, bro?” comment to Tom Brady after Seattle's 24-23 victory. Brady threw 58 passes that day. Do you see the Patriots throwing that much this time, or will they balance it out a little more with LeGarrette Blount running the ball?

Reiss: I’d be surprised if we see 58 pass attempts again. The unusual part about that game was that the Patriots ran 85 offensive plays compared with the Seahawks’ 55. I’d be shocked if we see that great of a discrepancy in the Super Bowl. The Seahawks, who were still creating their identity in that 2012 game, have a little bit of a Giants-like feel to them. Their pass rush is able to create disruption with the standard four rushers, and Patriots followers need no reminder of how that has given New England problems in past Super Bowls. One way to settle things down is to get the running game going; whether it’s Blount or Shane Vereen, I’d expect the Patriots to be committed to that part of the game early. The quick, short passing game -- which is often an extension of the running game -- is part of that, too.

Terry, Bill Belichick said watching Russell Wilson reminds him of his youth and watching Roger Staubach with some of his Houdini-type plays. What stands out to you about Wilson’s third NFL season compared with the first two?

Blount: That’s certainly a good way to describe his ability to make something out of nothing, along with his incredible ability to elude pass-rushers. But two things stand out for me now. First, his knowledge about when to run and when not to. It’s always his last option, but he’ll take off if he knows there are yards to be had. Second is his growing knowledge of what a defense is showing him and trying to do against him. He often checks off into a better play based on the defensive alignment. That’s what happened with the winning 35-yard TD pass to Jermaine Kearse in the NFC Championship Game when he saw the Packers were in a Cover Zero, meaning no safety would be deep to help and Kearse would be one-on-one with a cornerback.

Mike, a lot has been said and written this week about Pete Carroll’s three years as the head coach for New England. After being fired there, his career blossomed at USC and now with the Seahawks. What’s the general feeling about Carroll’s time there from inside the organization and from the Patriots' fans?

Reiss: Owner Robert Kraft was unfiltered and honest this week at the Super Bowl when he said, “I think I probably handicapped Pete from doing as good a job as he could have done.” That was the case, because Kraft was coming off a situation in which Bill Parcells wanted the control to “shop for the groceries” and Kraft said he reacted to that by setting up a three-headed structure with Carroll as head coach, Bobby Grier leading the personnel staff and Andy Wasynczuk managing the salary cap. Kraft also said at the Super Bowl that it was part of his “evolution as an owner” and ultimately led him to hire Belichick to succeed Carroll. So to sum it up, it was tough timing for Carroll in New England, succeeding such a strong personality in Parcells and having a relatively new owner still finding his way; for fans, my sense is many of them didn’t fully get Carroll and unfairly labeled him as a laid-back, California guy.

Keying on Marshawn Lynch seems like an obvious place for the Patriots to start. How often have teams been able to limit Lynch this season, and, when that happens, how have the Seahawks responded?

Blount: In three of the four games the Seahawks lost, Lynch rushed for 61 or fewer yards. If a team can stop him, it does improve its chances. However, two of those three losses came before the Percy Harvin trade, when Harvin was a big focus of the offense. After the trade, the Seahawks got back to doing what they do best as a power-running team that uses the read-option to keep defenses off balance. Focus on Lynch, and Wilson is the master at taking off and running, but what makes him so effective is his ability to throw downfield accurately while on the run.

One year ago, Brandon Browner didn’t get to play in the Super Bowl with his Seattle teammates. Now he gets to play in the Super Bowl against them. Browner even said he wants his teammates to target the injuries of Earl Thomas and Sherman. Do you sense this is a special moment for him? And do you think Browner and former Seahawks defensive tackle Alan Branch know things about the Seattle offense that can help the Patriots?

Reiss: Great question, Terry, as this has been one of my big takeaways from the early part of the Super Bowl week. I sat in on the first 20 minutes of Browner’s session at media day, and the passion was oozing; it was clear how much this means to him. As Chad Finn of wrote, Browner “talks like a professional wrestling heel trying to rile up a crowd; his cadence and booming voice makes everything sound like a declaration, a boast or a threat.” I also thought it was interesting that Brady said the team is tapping Browner’s knowledge. “Pete [Carroll] has run the same defense for a long time, and we’ve had a little insight from Brandon, who has talked to us about how he coaches,” Brady said.

The turning point for the Patriots’ season was a loss to the Chiefs. How fair would it be to say that a loss to the Chiefs was a turning point for the Seahawks?

Blount: Without question, it was a big turning point because the Seahawks haven’t lost since. Kam Chancellor and Thomas led a meeting with the team after that game to say, "This isn’t who we are, and we need to start playing for each other and trusting each other again." Another factor after the K.C. game was the return of middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who missed five games with a nasty turf-toe injury. His presence in the middle, along with Chancellor finally getting healthy, solidified a defense that went on a historic run in the final six regular-season games. But I believe the real turning point for this team was trading Harvin. It has taken a few weeks to get back to who they were, but shipping out Harvin brought back a feeling of trust and support among the players.

Mike, I don’t think anyone will be accused of deflating any footballs Sunday, but why do these wild accusations keep happening under Belichick’s watch? Does it all stem from the Spygate mess years ago? Is some of it just petty jealousy of all the team’s success?

Reiss: The past obviously doesn’t help them as it relates to this current issue. Although I personally think the impact of the illegal videotaping was minimal, and the coaches they were filming were in plain sight of everyone else in the stadium, the fact they still did it after the NFL sent out a memo prohibiting the action doesn’t earn them much benefit of the doubt. I mean, we had a team heating footballs on the sideline of a Vikings-Panthers game this year -- which is clear manipulation of the football -- and it was hardly a blip on the radar. So from this view, there is a different level of scrutiny with the Patriots. Some of that has been brought on by the team itself from the past, and some of it is generated from the league, which probably views the Patriots as a team that pushes the envelope harder than most. And as for jealousy, as they say, it’s lonely at the top, and there are quite a few who would like to see the Patriots knocked down a few pegs. The Colts, who, based on owner Jim Irsay’s tweets, sparked the investigation of the underinflated footballs, are the latest to join the hit party.

What have been the keys for the Seahawks defensively?

Blount: The biggest factor was Wagner coming back. That enabled K.J. Wright to go back to his best position at Will linebacker, which improved both spots. But the Seahawks also had some players step up in the interior of the defensive line and make an impact after nose tackle Brandon Mebane went down with a torn hamstring. Veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams, a six-time Pro Bowl pick who signed with the Seahawks back in training camp, took over as the starter and played like the Williams of old. He made the most of his chance to finally reach the Super Bowl in his 12th NFL season at age 34. And the Seahawks received a huge boost from second-year defensive tackle Jordan Hill out of Penn State. Hill was sensational down the stretch with 5 sacks in the final six games before a knee injury ended his season in the playoff game against Carolina.

Mike, in light of nickelback Jeremy Lane’s comments last week, saying he didn’t think Rob Gronkowski was that good, all eyes will be on Gronk on Sunday to see whether he'll make Lane eat his words. Lane isn’t likely to line up much against Gronk, but I can’t wait to see Gronk go toe-to-toe with Chancellor and Seattle's outside linebackers. How do you see that playing out?

Reiss: I thought Browner’s remarks summed it up best: “That’s going to be one for the ages. Gronk is a beast and Kam is a beast.” I see them both making plays, so it might be a one-on-one matchup that is ultimately decided by which player rises up and makes the one final play in the critical situation that could decide the game. Just thinking about it fires me up for the game itself.

The Super Bowl often produces an unlikely hero. Any thoughts on some good candidates for the Seahawks in that regard?

Blount: Last year is a prime example with linebacker Malcolm Smith earning MVP honors after his 69-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first half. I’ll pick a couple on each side of the ball who could come up big this time. First is tight end Luke Willson, who has taken a major step forward in his second season. Willson is one of the fastest tight ends in the league. With Browner and Darrelle Revis on the outside for New England, Russell Wilson might look to make some big throws over the middle to the big Canadian. Also, wide receiver Ricardo Lockette is a blazer with good size who could get a shot at a big catch in a matchup with Browner. On defense, don’t be surprised to see linebacker Bruce Irvin make a game-changing play. He had two interception returns for touchdowns this season and has really blossomed after moving to the Sam linebacker spot last season. A real shocker as a hero could be rush end O’Brien Schofield, who has been a force off the edge in the second half of the season. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him force a fumble and come up with a big sack at a key moment.

Pool report from Patriots practice

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The following is the pool report from New England Patriots practice on Wednesday, as filed by Jarrett Bell of USA Today:

You might expect to see Bill Belichick in his signature hoodie at any given practice.

On Thursday, as the New England Patriots conducted their second practice of the week since arriving in Arizona for Super Bowl XLIX, it was team owner Robert Kraft sporting a hoodie on the sideline.

Kraft donned a sweatshirt during the latter half of the 1-hour, 56-minute session as sprinkles fell.

The entire practice, held on an outdoor field at the Arizona Cardinals training facility amid temperatures in the mid-60s, came against the backdrop of gray clouds that threatened rain.

Belichick wasn’t worried about the weather. Although he could have moved drills inside a practice bubble adjacent to the fields if needed, the coach laughed when asked whether they would have finished practice outdoors in a downpour.

“We’re like the U.S. Mail,” Belichick contended.

After practicing in full pads during their most intense session of the week on Wednesday, the Patriots were outfitted in shorts and shells as Belichick scaled back the contact.

“Less contact, but still a lot of mental alertness and timing,” Belichick said. “They’re working hard. Good tempo. We’re getting there.”

As was the case on Wednesday, every player on the active roster practiced, although a handful of players nursing injuries -- Bryan Stork, Chris Jones, Sealver Siliga, Dont’a Hightower and Akeem Ayers -- were officially classified as having limited participation. Ayers was the only new addition to the injury report on Thursday, because of a knee injury.

Tom Brady remains on the report (ankle) as a full participant, having taken all of his projected snap.

Belichick built in blocks of practice time to work on all four phases of the special teams return game -- kickoff coverage game, kickoff returns, punt coverage and punt returns. It constituted more special teams work than Wednesday. Practice concluded with field goal work.

The Patriots also worked on their two-minute offense and two-minute defense against scout teams, and spent more time working on red zone offense plays. There were more situational packages, including a sequence that began with Brady and the offense backed up on their 2-yard line.

That situation also prompted the Patriots to blast loud music. The first selection of the day: Ima Boss, a rap song by Meek Mill, featuring Rick Ross.

The Patriots welcomed a special visitor, Arizona State football coach Todd Graham. Belichick chatted with Graham after practice.

“They have a great program,” Belichick said. “He’s done a good job.”

Another coach, Seattle’s Pete Carroll, said during his morning press conference on Thursday that he was informed that officials in the Super Bowl will use pronounced hand signals to identify eligible and ineligible players at the line of scrimmage.

“I haven’t heard anything about that, so we’ll see what happens,” Belichick said. “I’ll check it out.”
CHANDLER, Ariz. -- After just one practice at the Arizona Cardinals' practice facility in Tempe, the New England Patriots couldn’t stop raving about the practice fields.

The weather, in the 70s Wednesday for their first Super Bowl practice in Arizona, didn’t hurt their initial impression either, but a handful of Patriots said the fields were some of the best they've played on.

“The grass is like perfect,” Patriots running back James White said. “Almost looks like turf from a distance.”

[+] EnlargeTom Brady and Rob Gronkowski
Elsa/Getty ImagesTo a man, the New England Patriots raved about the grass and the amenities of the Arizona Cardinals' practice facility.
New England was also pleased with the design of the Cardinals’ practice facility, which has three practice fields -- two outdoor and one in a bubble -- located directly outside the locker room, weight room and cafeteria.

By comparison, the Patriots’ practice fields are about “a couple hundred yards” away, cornerback Logan Ryan said, which made him appreciate having everything in one central area even more. The Patriots recently renovated their facilities and Ryan said the Cardinals’ stack up.

“Here is just as good, but I feel like other than the meeting rooms, the weight room’s right next to the cafeteria, it’s all so close,” he said. “So for what we’re here for, to get in and get out, it’s pretty effective.”

Tackle Nate Solder felt the locker room was "spacious." White said he liked the brick inside the building.

Running back Jonas Gray said the design of the Cardinals’ facilities fit in with its geographical location in the country.

“I thought they were cool,” he said. “They’re different. I think a lot of the West Coast facilities are similar to that. They got that kinda outdoor feel to it. All the structures are low. Kinda reminds me a little bit of how San Diego was. We didn’t see their facilities but how their visitor’s locker room was built and I like how everything’s close to each other. It’s all convenient in terms of walking and getting to a place.”

But it was the fields that really caught the Patriots’ attention.

They haven’t played on soft grass in months because their fields in Foxboro have been frozen.

“Fields were awesome,” Gray said. “And grass … beautiful grass, man. We were flying around on it, too. Hopefully we didn’t scuff it up too much.”

Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui seconded Gray’s opinion that the fields were “awesome.”

For most of the Patriots, their preference is to play on grass, even if the game is slowed down a bit, Ryan said. It’s also easier on the legs and joints, as Hoomanawanui has experienced.

“In the beginning of my career I couldn’t really tell,” he said. “In my fifth year, you can definitely tell the days you’ve been on the grass fields compared to the turf.”

Like the Cardinals’ practice fields, the University of Phoenix Stadium turf, site of Super Bowl XLVI, is also grass. The Patriots will experiment with which cleats work best for Sunday during the three practices leading up to the Super Bowl.

“There’s not as much pounding when you’re changing direction,” Ryan said. “And when you practice at the tempo we practice at you’re always running around.”

Anyone have a crossword puzzle?

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
CHANDLER, Ariz. -- What is a New England Patriots player to do during the mandatory 45-minute media access period at Super Bowl XLIX when no one comes up to ask a question?

Rookie offensive tackle Cameron Fleming, for one, made his time useful by attempting to complete a crossword puzzle.

Fleming majored in aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford.

On the football field, the fourth-round draft choice is a top backup who has carved out a niche as a sixth offensive lineman in a power-based run package. When fans hear, "No. 71 is reporting as eligible," that's the tip-off that Fleming has entered the game.

This moment Thursday morning captured, in a sense, where things stand from a media perspective at the Super Bowl.

After four straight days of interviews, there's almost nothing left to ask. So why not try a crossword puzzle?
The New York Jets' coaching staff should be just about complete.

On Thursday, head coach Todd Bowles filled the only position-coach vacancy on his staff, hiring former Minnesota Vikings tight ends coach Jimmie Johnson for the same position. Johnson, a former tight end who played with Bowles on the Washington Redskins, worked with the Vikings from 2006 to 2013. He was out of football last season.

The Jets also announced the hirings of Daylon McCutcheon (assistant secondary) and Ryan Slowik (assistant defensive line/quality control). McCutcheon retired 10 years ago after a seven-year career in the league, playing under Bowles from 2001 to 2004 with the Cleveland Browns. He has no NFL coaching experience; he spent last season as a coaching intern for the Arizona Cardinals, reuniting with Bowles.

Slowik, who has 10 years of NFL coaching experience, spent the last two seasons with Bowles as the Cardinals' assistant secondary coach.

Veteran running back Fred Jackson hasn't had the opportunity to say a formal hello to the Buffalo Bills' new coach, and he didn't get to say goodbye to the previous coach.

"I can't wait to play for him. I've heard nothing but good things," Jackson said of Rex Ryan during a Wednesday interview on ESPN New York 98.7 FM.

Ryan landed the Bills' job two weeks after being fired by the New York Jets. "I'm looking forward to that [first] conversation when I sit down and talk to him," Jackson said.

The Bills missed the playoffs this season despite finishing 9-7, their best record since 2004. Jackson cited Ryan's bold enthusiasm as an ingredient that could lead Buffalo back to the postseason. "I think we're right there," Jackson said, "and I think he's gonna be that catalyst that comes in and pushes us over that hump."

Ryan's predecessor, Doug Marrone, exercised an opt-out clause in his contract on New Year's Eve. "We were sitting in meetings three days before that, talking about what was it was we needed to do during the offseason to prepare ourselves going into the next season," Jackson said, "and three days later he's not there."

Marrone is now the Jacksonville Jaguars' assistant head coach and offensive line coach.

"I thought he was a tremendous coach," Jackson said. "He showed up, he worked hard, he pushed players to give their best effort. He got us to a 9-7 record -- we hadn't won nine games in 10 years. There's definitely some things about him that made him a great coach. It's just the way he exited. I don't think anybody expected that.

"Players, the way we found out is we got a generic text from him, saying that he was moving on and he had chosen to opt out of his contract."

Kyle Orton's retirement means the Bills' quarterback picture consists of former first-round pick EJ Manuel and whomever the team brings in to compete with him.

"I do think that he can be a starting quarterback," Jackson said of Manuel, who played just five games in 2014, throwing five touchdown passes and three interceptions. "He did things where he was trying to take that next step. At practice he learned from Kyle, he talked to Kyle. ... I've seen him talk to [former defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz] at the end of practice about what defenses are trying to do and what they're keying into.

"What he's going to have to do," Jackson said, "is figure out what defenses are trying to pin him in the corner and make him do, and figure out ways to get out of that. He has all the tools. He's a smart guy. He can pick up offenses."
PHOENIX -- The image of Tom Brady in the crushing aftermath of Super Bowl XLVI remains an indelible moment in recent New England Patriots history. Brady sat in front of his locker, towel draped over his head, looking downward between his football cleats for what seemed like an eternity. He was a beaten and battered quarterback who couldn't be consoled.

The scene was so perfectly captured that night in Indianapolis by award-winning columnist Dan Wetzel, the words penned four years after the devastation of a near-perfect season denied in Super Bowl XLII.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsThe Patriots say that Tom Brady's preparation has enabled him to celebrate so many big victories.
The Patriots had come so close both times. But instead, it was heartbreak, the first loss coming right here in Arizona at University of Phoenix Stadium, where Brady returns Sunday hoping to write a different championship ending.

“I remember that feeling,” Brady acknowledged this week in preparation for Super Bowl XLIX against the Seattle Seahawks. “I think each of those two losses we expected to go out and play great and win. We went into those games with a lot of confidence, too. We just didn’t make enough plays.

“This game, you hate to play anything less than your best because you rack your brain for all the things you wish you could have done better to help the team -- ‘If I made this read’ or ‘If I would have thrown it here on this play.’ That’s what you deal with the rest of your life.

“You’re obviously still proud of those teams and what we accomplished, but it’s about winning this game. That’s what this is all about.”

Brady, making his NFL record-tying sixth Super Bowl appearance, has a chance to win it for the first time since the 2004 season. If he pulls off the feat, it will mark the longest gap between Super Bowl wins by a starting quarterback in NFL history (Roger Staubach, 6, VI-XII).

That the game is back in Glendale, Arizona, the team’s first game back at University of Phoenix Stadium since Super Bowl XLII, isn’t lost on Brady and others.

“We talked about it and we’re happy and privileged that we have a chance to come back to Arizona and close the order,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. “He is driven. He has watched tape of every one of Seattle’s games. I don’t think fans understand how hard he prepares and how he takes care of himself. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t have a great day Sunday.”

Brady, who can tie Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana for the most Super Bowl victories by a starting quarterback with four, hasn’t had great days in his past two Super Bowl appearances.

In XLVI against the New York Giants, the tone in the 21-17 loss was set with an early-game safety when Brady was penalized for intentional grounding in the end zone. He finished 27-of-41 for 276 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

In the 17-14 loss in XLII, once again versus the Giants, a ferocious pass rush sacked him five times and he finished 29-of-48 for 266 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. Brady compared trying to throw the ball that day to being in a forest of large trees.

Much like those Giants teams, the 2014 Seahawks have the ability to create similar frustrations for opposing quarterbacks with their swarming style of play and pressure with the standard four rushers. That’s what Brady and the Patriots face in a quest that Brady now has a greater appreciation for than when he was winning three titles in a span of four years (2001, 2003-04).

“When we went early in my career, I didn’t realize how hard it was,” he admitted. “I think that gave me some perspective, some experience on trying to get to this point. And when we got to this point, we just haven’t won this game. This would be an incredible achievement. I obviously realize how hard it is to win a Super Bowl.”

It’s hard just to get here, too.

Along those lines, Brady allowed himself a moment of reflection to consider his good fortune upon his arrival in Arizona this week.

“To have an opportunity to play in this game is really unbelievable. I never thought I’d have the experience to play in one of these. To think it’s my sixth time, I can’t imagine,” he said.

At that point, Brady shook his head, looked down between his shoes, before quickly raising his head and finishing the thought. In a year when offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Brady has worked harder than any he has seen, the 37-year-old has been dreaming of what it would be like to hoist another Lombardi Trophy.

That, more than the motivation of not feeling the sting of Super Bowl defeat for a third consecutive time, is what has driven him to this point.

“I’m trying to envision winning, being on the trophy stand,” he said. “That’s what I think about.”
General manager Mike Maccagnan made another key hire Thursday in his rebuilt front office, naming former Chicago Bears scout Rex Hogan the senior director of college scouting for the New York Jets.

Hogan replaces longtime front-office executive Terry Bradway, who was fired recently.

Hogan has spent his entire NFL career with the Bears. He started as a college scout in 2003 under former Bears GM Jerry Angelo and was bumped up to national scout in 2012. As a national scout, he was responsible for the West region.

Before the NFL, Hogan worked on the college level at Notre Dame and Utah, dealing with recruiting and football operations.

Hogan became the Jets' second front-office addition this week. Previously, they hired Brian Heimerdinger as the director of player personnel.

NFL Nation TV talks Hall of Fame

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
Join us at 3 p.m. ET, 12 p.m. PT Thursday for the second special NFL Nation TV Super Bowl Week Spreecast.

Episode No. 42 will review's recent joint venture with Pro Football Focus, which broke down how many "above-average" players each team is from contending for the Super Bowl.

The crew will also preview the Super Bowl matchup between the defending champion Seattle Seahawks and three-time winner New England Patriots as well as break down how the Pro Football Hall of Fame's upcoming class may shake out Saturday.

Host Paul Gutierrez (ESPN Nation's San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) will be joined by Jeff Legwold (Denver Broncos reporter) and ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando, both of whom are among the Hall's 46 selectors.


Dont'a Hightower grows into the job

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
PHOENIX -- New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower wasn't quite sure what to think about the team's first two days at Super Bowl XLIX.

 "I’ve been seeing more of y’all [reporters] and less of coaches, so I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing," he cracked.

That is about to change. The final media availability for players comes Thursday morning (10 a.m. ET), and then all that is left at that point is a Friday morning news conference with Bill Belichick, followed by the annual "state of the NFL" address by commissioner Roger Goodell.

As one would expect based on his role as the leader of the defensive huddle, Hightower has drawn quite a bit of media attention the last few days as he's a key cog in the defensive plan against the Seattle Seahawks.

"[Media day] was probably supposed to be the worst, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be," he said. "[I'm] just enjoying it and taking it all in. This is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So you definitely try to take it in, but at the same time letting it be a business trip. I’m pretty sure things are going to start picking up as we start to get towards the end of this week.”

As for football X's and O's, one of the things that has stood out with Hightower this season is how much smoother his transition has been in leading the defensive huddle. In 2013, when replacing injured signal-caller Jerod Mayo, he admitted to some growing pains because he was trying to do too much.

"It was a lot different last year," he said. "We didn’t have as much experience up front, but [going through that] helped a lot of guys. It helped Chris Jones. It helped me. It helped Jamie [Collins]. This year was a lot easier. I had Sealver [Siliga], I had V [Vince Wilfork], I had [Alan] Branch, I had Chandler [Jones]; I had a lot of older guys up front to help me. Then there was the secondary. Devin [McCourty] does a tremendous job with communcation and makes sure all the guys in the secondary are lined up right. Then there’s [Darrelle] Revis and [Brandon] Browner, who are such smart guys. Then you throw in Logan Ryan, and there’s a lot of guys who can get the gameplan and understand it, which makes my job a lot easier, as far as getting checks and stuff.”

With more comfort in the job, it has allowed Hightower to do different things on defense, including rushing the passer a bit more than he has his first two seasons. He was credited with 92 tackles by coaches (second on the team) and had six sacks and 12 quarterback hits during the regular season.

"This year I definitely feel that role coming into play a little bit more, with playing that 'joker' position and doing everything," he said. "I think like this year it’s finally starting to click.”
PHOENIX -- New England Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner has a unique viewpoint when it comes to the two head coaches in Super Bowl XLIX because he's played for both of them.

Browner is indebted to Seattle's Pete Carroll for giving him his NFL chance (2011-2013). He's also appreciative of Bill Belichick for signing him as a free agent and giving him a chance to win another Super Bowl ring.

"They are so different," Browner began, "but at the same time they’re the same."

Say what?

“The difference is they’re two coaches on two different sides of the spectrum," he explained. "One is old school, hard-nosed and Pete Carroll is a great guy [but] he keeps it looser. On our way to walking into meeting rooms in Seattle you could hear music blasting, pumping, but none of that is going on in New England. It’s all business orientated.

"But I love playing for both coaches. [Pete is] the ultimate player’s coach. I’ve never met any coach like him as far as the way he approaches the game. He keeps it loose around there which keeps guys loose and you’re not walking on egg shells. ... [With Bill], I grew up with hard-nosed coaches from Pop Warner to high school; that’s what I’m used to and it brought back a little structure to my game.”

Browner then shared a story that he thinks links the two.

"Besides what you see from TV, I think they are the exact same. Their football IQ is the exact same," he said. "Belichick this week broke down some of the philosophies that Pete Carroll likes and sitting back I felt like I was listening to Pete talk to me. Over in Seattle, [Pete] talks about the ball and that was one of the things Belichick said to us, and he said it in the exact three words in order, 'It's about the ball!' Just the same way Pete Carroll says it.”
PHOENIX -- A recap of some of the notable stories surrounding the New England Patriots at Super Bowl XLIX on Wednesday:

Brady turning to garlic and rest to fight cold. Tom Brady has been under the weather but he said he expects to be 100 percent on Sunday. He participated fully in practice.

Stork making progress at practice. Starting center Bryan Stork, who injured his right knee in the divisional-round win over the Ravens, continues to make progress. He "practiced without any apparent setback", according to pool reporter Jarrett Bell. Wednesday marked the Patriots' first practice since arriving in Arizona on Monday.

Catching up with an old friend. With the Patriots practicing at the Arizona Cardinals' home facility, it was a chance to once again work with Matt Caracciolo. New England's director of football operations from 2006-2011, Caracciolo is now the Cardinals' football operations coordinator. "[We have] a good working relationship with him," coach Bill Belichick said.

McDaniels on ineligible receivers. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels touched on the team's usage of ineligible receivers and how it wasn't used with a fast tempo, so defenses had a chance to match it. That runs counter to the opinion of others, such as Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

Wilfork sees a softer side of Belichick. Veteran defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said one thing that has changed with coach Bill Belichick is that he shows a softer side a bit more these days.

Some media fatigue setting in. After meeting with reporters once again on Wednesday morning, and the session running for 45 minutes, linebacker Dont'a Hightower said, "I’ve been seeing more of y’all (reporters) and less of coaches, so I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.” The media blitz will continue on Thursday.

Families set to arrive. Many of the players' and coaches' families are scheduled to arrive on Thursday, which adds a layer of excitement to the trip.