PHOENIX -- The New England Patriots named Tedy Bruschi their honorary captain for Super Bowl XLIX.

“He was called the perfect Patriot by head coach Bill Belichick,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in a statement. “With an undefeated record in the games that we have honored him, including the 45-7 win in the AFC Championship game two weeks ago, Tedy is the perfect player to serve as our honorary captain for Sunday’s Super Bowl.”

Bruschi has been honored six times by the Patriots since he retired prior to the start of the 2009 season. The Patriots won all six of those games. Below is a list of the games when Bruschi was honored by the Patriots.
  1. Bruschi’s first honor was at halftime of the Patriots’ 25-24 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 14, 2009, when members of the 50th Anniversary team were recognized.
  2. He had an opportunity to thank the fans at halftime as part of “Tedy Bruschi Night” in a 45-3 “Monday Night Football” win over the New York Jets on Dec. 6, 2010.
  3. Bruschi was an honorary game captain in the Patriots’ 23-20 2011 AFC Championship Game win over Baltimore on Jan. 22, 2012.
  4. Bruschi was honored in a halftime ceremony to celebrate his induction into the team’s Hall of Fame in the Patriots’ 13-10 win over the New York Jets on Sept. 12, 2013.
  5. Bruschi was honored at halftime of the Patriots’ 43-21 victory over Denver on Nov. 2, 2014, when the Patriots honored the players that won three Super Bowls with the team.
  6. Bruschi served as an honorary captain in the Patriots’ 45-7 AFC Championship Game win vs. Indianapolis on Jan. 18, 2015.

Picture this: Super Bowl XLIX week

January, 31, 2015
Jan 31
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Thousands of fans have congregated in the Phoenix area to celebrate and prepare for Super Bowl XLIX, featuring the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks.

Check out these fan photos from numerous events being held at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona:

CHANDLER, Ariz. -- With New England Patriots players available to reporters for three straight days leading up to Super Bowl XLIX, and with those sessions between 45 minutes to an hour, there was much to digest. Little nuggets were picked up along the way, and we've pieced a lot of them together for a few upcoming "cleaning out the notebook" updates.

Bush
Amendola
For example, here's one thing -- receiver Danny Amendola on the dynamics of the receivers -- that struck as good insight into the inner workings of one aspect of the team:

“Start with [Brandon] “JoJo” LaFell. Great guy from Houston. We’re both from Houston. We remember watching each other play in high school. JoJo’s funny. He’s always quoting movies, singing songs, keeping the mood light.

"[Julian] Edelman and I have been good friends for four or five years now. We’re always joking around. We’re always ripping on each other.

"[Matthew Slater] is like The Equalizer. I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie with Denzel [Washington], but Slate is like the father figure in our group. He gets us all right. If we mess up, he’s going to get us right.

"B.T., Brian Tyms, he’s like our loose cannon. He’s a great player, fast, can take the top off coverages. Great guy to be around.

"[Practice squad player] Jonathan Krause, young cat, Vanderbilt, rookie. Just kind of wide-eyed but works hard every day, plays the game the right way, great athlete.

"Josh Boyce, great athlete from TCU. He’s been like a little brother to me since he’s come here. We’re both from Texas. He’s from Dallas, from central Texas, Dallas area. I’m from Houston, so we can relate that way.

"That’s it, really.”
PHOENIX – Pick almost any topic and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman can expound on it, or pontificate (a word Sherman would love) in a well-informed manner.

Sherman is an honors graduate of Stanford and a man who isn’t afraid to tell you what he thinks, and he'll make an argument to try to convince you he’s right.

Sherman
When his football career ends, Sherman will have plenty of options as to what he does next. Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, a fellow Stanford grad and one of Sherman’s closest friends, doesn’t have much doubt about it.

Baldwin sees Sherman becoming Congressman Sherman or Senator Sherman or some other important position in public life.

So what does Sherman see for his future, other than becoming a father any day now?

“Honestly, I haven’t decided that,” Sherman said. “I’m trying to leave my options open there, but politics isn’t a bad way to go.”

And, like some politicians, Sherman is somebody who people either love or hate.

Sherman, who grew up in Compton, California, often talks to children in inner-city schools and has a simple message: “If I can do it, you can do it.” He feels an obligation to give back to the community.

“There are some things out there that need to be changed,” Sherman said. “And some things that I feel like I would be an asset, but I don’t know. There are a lot of different avenues that I’m going to explore when football is done, but hopefully that isn’t any time soon.”

PHOENIX – At first, Seattle guard James Carpenter took it as an insult.

Why, he thought, would teammate Marshawn Lynch rather shake his hand after a touchdown instead of celebrating the way they always have? Why was he rebuffing the hugs and helmet slaps and head butts?

Why?

After thinking about it for, oh, maybe a split second, it was obvious to Seattle’s offensive line. Lynch explained to his teammates, guard J.R. Sweezy remembered, that he simply didn’t want to get “beat up.” Head butts and head slaps were outlawed. They were replaced by handshakes.

But Carpenter said he wasn’t told by Lynch about the new celebration plan, leaving him in the dark about why the one of the league’s best running backs wouldn’t let Carpenter shower him with congratulatory hugs and head slaps.

[+] EnlargeMarshawn Lynch
AP Photo/Scott EklundMarshawn Lynch approaches touchdowns as the product of a day of work and celebrates accordingly.
“When I didn’t know that’s what he was doing, I went up to him and I was like, ‘Dang, you don’t want to celebrate with me?’” Carpenter said. “But then I find out why and it’s understandable because he does a lot of hitting out there.”

Lynch’s first recorded handshake celebration was during the NFC Championship Game in 2014, according to the Associated Press. It came after a 40-yard run that Lynch finished with a somersault.

Instead of the typical, somewhat violent celebration, Lynch simply, professionally extended his hand.

“It just happened,” Seahawks center Max Unger said. “It was, ‘Just stop. Just shake my hand.’

“It was cool, man. Whatever he wants to do. I’m not trying to hurt him.”

When Lynch first told some of his teammates the plan, Sweezy said everyone thought he was kidding.

“We just laughed it off but when he was serious, so we were like, ‘OK,’” Sweezy said. “And we just wanted to celebrate because it’s all so exciting, but that’s this thing, and we shake hands.

“That’s what we do.”

Rookie tackle Justin Britt hadn’t heard about Lynch’s penchant for handshakes before he was drafted in May. But he was the lone offensive player who had heard of a similar touchdown celebration.

When Chase Daniel was quarterback at Missouri, the Tigers celebrated touchdowns just like Lynch – with a handshake.

“It’s proper,” said Britt, who also played at Missouri. “It shows that you’ve been there before.”

But he wasn’t given a primer on how to celebrate with Lynch.

“No one really said that,” Britt said. “Just ran down there and he reached his arm out and I shook it and people stated talking about it.

“I’m fine with doing it. Sometimes he runs straight to the sidelines and so we’ll go do our [point-after touchdown] and then l get to the sideline and go over there and shake his hand. I don’t think there’s too much about it. It’s just he doesn’t want to get a bunch of head slaps and stuff like that.”

A handshake has always said a lot about a man. It can show his strength and his intensity. In the case of Lynch, that subtle, small moment after a touchdown is pulling back the curtain on his personality.

Tackle Russell Okung called Lynch “peculiar in his own way” and said “he’s special.” But, Okung added, the Seahawks have accepted Lynch for who he is and embraced his businesslike approach to touchdowns.

“He’s different in a lot of ways,” Carpenter said. “He doesn’t want to be in the media. He’s not a flamboyant guy, if you will. Not a showboat kind of guy. He does his job. He does it well and then he goes shakes our hand and sits down and he’s ready to do it again.

“It’s almost like he goes to work every time. It’s not … I don’t know exactly how to put it. It’s just what he does and we respect him because of that.”

After each time Lynch scored in 2014 – a career-high 13 times – that’s exactly how he celebrated: Like he was going to work.

“That’s pretty clean-cut,” Unger said.

W2W4: Patriots' key areas vs. Seahawks

January, 31, 2015
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots face the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday (NBC, 6:30 p.m. ET), and after a week of hype, let's drill down and highlight the areas deemed most critical for the Patriots from this perspective:

Stopping Lynch and read-option: In our film study on the Seahawks, some of the best examples of opponents having breakdowns against the read-option was the season finale against the Rams (for example, 5:42 of the first quarter, 15:00 of the second quarter). Defensive ends and the linebackers have to work together on the edges, reading keys and being patient. The Rams sometimes just blindly rushed toward quarterback Russell Wilson off the edge, and when the defensive end was sealed to the inside, it opened up huge running lanes. The Patriots must be much more disciplined and this is why ends Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, and linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower, are key players to watch closely Sunday night. The Seahawks give a defense a lot of action to contend with, and as defensive tackle Alan Branch said in our weekly P.A.T.. feature, it all starts with "building a wall" in the running game.

Gronkowski vs. Chancellor: Cornerback Brandon Browner, who has been teammates with both Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (6-6, 265) and Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor (6-3, 232), said it best about this projected matchup. "That's going to be one for the ages," he said. It's the NFL's best tight end against arguably the NFL's best strong safety. The Seahawks have been effective covering tight ends in the playoffs the last two years, but Gronkowski is their biggest challenge yet. One thing to watch: Chancellor went down late in practice Friday with a knee injury. Could that limit his effectiveness? If so, Gronkowski could have a big day, or force a change of plans with a linebacker such as K.J. Wright having a bigger part of the coverage responsibilities.

Capitalizing on special teams edge, starting with punt return: Special teams has played a big part in past Patriots Super Bowls. As it relates to this matchup, the feeling here is that New England has the edge in most areas. The Seahawks only had 17 punts returned against them during the regular season, a league-low, so their coverage unit hasn't been tested often. Patriots returner Julian Edelman is as fearless as they come in that area of the game (the Patriots had 41 returns in the regular season) and this is one of the "games within the game" we'll be watching closely. Edelman projects as a big difference-maker in a potential low-scoring game in which good field position is at a premium.

Discipline in pass rush to keep Wilson in pocket: Remember when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had almost 12 seconds to throw before firing incomplete in the Patriots-Packers game on Nov. 30? We envision a similar plan from the Patriots with their pass rush, focusing on a disciplined, conservative plan in which the ends sink at the line of scrimmage and never allow themselves to get too far up the field. That way, Wilson can't escape the pocket and extend plays. The Patriots might mix in a few more blitzes against Seattle than they did against Green Bay, but overall, the mindset seems to be keeping Wilson in the pocket and seeing if he can consistently win as a pocket passer. The Patriots know Wilson will extend some plays regardless, and when that happens, defensive backs will focus on the "plaster" technique.
PHOENIX – Former Seattle Seahawks safety Kenny Easley will serve as the team’s honorary captain for the coin toss Sunday in Super Bowl XLIX.

Easley, 56, was inducted into the Seahawks Ring of Honor in 2002. He was a first-round draft pick by Seattle in 1981 out of UCLA and earned AFC Rookie of the Year honors. He was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 1984 when he intercepted 10 passes. Easley also was a five-time Pro Bowl selection.

He finished his career with 32 interceptions, 498 tackles, 10 forced fumbles and nine fumble recoveries in only seven seasons.
There weren't many positives from the New York Jets' 4-12 season, but here's something most Jets fans will embrace:

They provided a blueprint for the Seattle Seahawks on how to beat the New England Patriots on Sunday in Super Bowl XLIX.

Think back to Week 7 at Gillette Stadium. The Jets exposed cracks in the Patriots' run defense, which allowed a season-high 218 rushing yards. A review of the game tape revealed a few trends that should be eye-opening for Seattle.

The Patriots struggled with the Jets' read-option, which happens to be a staple in the Seahawks' playbook.

Chris Ivory, described as a poor man's Marshawn Lynch because of his north-south running style, gashed the Patriots with cutback runs. Ivory rushed for a team-high 107 yards and a touchdown. Lynch certainly has the ability to slice the Patriots with cutbacks on zone-blocking runs.

Geno Smith hurt the Patriots with his scrambling, running for 37 yards -- the most by a quarterback against the Patriots. If Smith can run for 37 yards, imagine what Russell Wilson could do.

This might be an oversimplification, but success and failure on most of the Jets' running plays hinged on how well they blocked massive defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. He's the key. If the Seahawks can neutralize him on most plays, they could have a huge day on the ground.

"For me, personally, going against them twice a year, they're always a little bit shaky against the run," Jets center Nick Mangold, speaking on ESPN Radio, said of the Patriots. "I know you have big Vince in the middle, but he's only one guy. If you find a way 'round him, there are leaks to be made."

Despite the 218-yard effort, no turnovers and 40-plus minutes in possession time, the Jets lost 27-25 because ... well, they were the Jets. But they might have provided a way for the Seahawks to prevent Bill Belichick & Co. from winning their fourth Super Bowl. No doubt, they'd love that.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Before he said anything else late Friday night, Brett Favre wanted to know this: What were the chances his old general manager, Ron Wolf, gets elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame the next day?

Favre had just emerged from two days of hunting in the woods of Alabama with Steve Hutchinson, his former teammate from his two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, and had not read or heard any of the scuttlebutt surrounding Saturday's Hall of Fame vote.

Foremost on Favre's mind was Wolf's possible induction. Wolf, the former Green Bay Packers general manger, is a finalist in the newly created "contributor" category.

"Man, I sure hope it happens," Favre said during a telephone interview. "Of course, I'm biased to Ron."

And then one of the NFL's all-time greatest talkers – and, of course, all-time best quarterbacks – spent the next 20 minutes telling stories about Wolf, the man who traded a first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Falcons in early 1992 to bring Favre to Green Bay.

That was one of the many moves that Wolf made to resurrect a downtrodden franchise that had not sniffed an NFL championship in nearly three decades.

"People don't think about it now because I played 20 years and had a great career, but he stuck his neck out to go get me," Favre said. "To give up a first-round pick for a guy who was drafted in the second round, who didn't play and was definitely unproven, and my goodness to hand him over to Mike Holmgren, an unproven guy as far as a head coach is concerned. That was his first move, and it ended up being a tremendous move. [Holmgren was] the greatest coach I ever played for at any point in my career. And I think getting me – and I'm not saying getting me because I thought I was great – just the risk was an unbelievable move, one that no one could see but him."

[+] EnlargeMike Holmgren and Ron Wolf
Getty Images/Matthew StockmanMike Holmgren and Ron Wolf celebrate with the Lombardi Trophy after Green Bay won Super Bowl XXXI on Jan. 27, 1997.
Favre wasn't even sure who Wolf was when the phone rang at his parents' home in Kiln, Mississippi, on Feb. 11, 1992. He had just hung up with June Jones, then the Falcons' offensive coordinator. It was Jones who broke the news to Favre that he had been traded to the Packers. Favre and his brother, Scott, were standing in the family kitchen still stunned over Jones' phone call when Wolf called.

"I had heard of Ron Wolf, but I don't even know if I knew he was in Green Bay at that point," Favre said. "He said, 'Look, I'm the GM in Green Bay and we just traded for you and I want you to know that we're very excited about having you and having you lead our team.'

"From Day 1, there was one thing about Ron: He was always ultra-positive with me. Of course, Holmgren, as a coach you see things a little different. You want to win football games with whoever you see fit, but he knew that Ron wanted me to play. I always felt this sense of comfort that no matter what, Ron's got my back."

Favre
The Packers, who went 101-57 (including playoffs) and won one Super Bowl in Wolf's tenure as general manager, went 9-7 in that first season with Wolf, Holmgren and Favre, who became the starter four games into that season. It was just the Packers' fourth winning season since their last NFL championship under Vince Lombardi in 1967.

In Favre's eyes, the change really began the next offseason.

"Just as importantly, he made it cool to come to Green Bay, no pun intended, and that was because he got Reggie White," Favre said. "You know as well as I do – and no one thinks about it now because everybody would love to go to Green Bay and play – getting Reggie White brought serious credibility to coming to Green Bay. It wasn't just a place to be shipped off to in order to finish your career.

"Look, the players ultimately have to play at some point. You stick your neck out there for them, you pay them lots of money, you give up draft picks for them, and there are so many debacles that you can point to in the history of this league that didn't work. But yet his did. He can't win ballgames for anyone, but he can set the table, and that's what he did. I just think when you look at where Green Bay is today – [current GM] Ted Thompson's another one, he learned from the best in Ron and I think Ted's done an excellent job – there's just a filter-down effect from what he did that makes him unquestionably deserving of a Hall of Fame induction."

Walker's Fab 40 finale: Nos. 1-4

January, 31, 2015
Jan 31
10:00
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We're concluding our series ranking the Miami Dolphins' top 40 players this season.

Finally, we have Miami's best four players.

[+] EnlargeMike Wallace
Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsVeteran Mike Wallace led all Dolphins receivers in touchdowns this season with 10.
No. 4: Mike Wallace

Position: Wide receiver

2014 stats: 67 receptions, 862 yards, 10 touchdowns

Analysis: It's difficult to appreciate how dynamic Wallace is in Miami. He's arguably the fastest player in the NFL, and I've rarely seen a player get as open as he does. However, the Dolphins' offense and quarterback Ryan Tannehill are not a match for his talents. Still, Wallace did all he can to develop into a possession-type receiver and led the team in receiving yards and touchdowns. His longest reception of the season was 50 yards. Frustration eventually boiled over in Week 17 when Wallace was benched after a verbal altercation at halftime. It remains to be seen if the Dolphins will bring Wallace back next season, but I doubt Miami will be able to easily replace his production.

No. 3: Cameron Wake

Position: Defensive end

2014 stats: 36 tackles, 11.5 sacks, three forced fumbles

Analysis: Wake, 32, is still playing a high level. He posted double-digit sacks for the third time in his career and made it to his fourth Pro Bowl. Wake did have a few slow stretches during the season but few offensive tackles can handle his fastball. Wake's dedication to fitness and taking care of his body is a testament to his strong play despite his age.

No. 2: Brent Grimes

Position: Cornerback

2014 stats: 57 tackles, five interceptions

Analysis: Due to his modest demeanor, Grimes may never get the credit he deserves for being one of the NFL's best cornerbacks. Those who watch Grimes on a weekly basis knows how good he is. Grimes had another good year in Miami by leading the team in interceptions for the second year in a row. His best play last season was a one-handed, leaping interception against Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. Grimes further showed his stuff in the Pro Bowl, when he intercepted a pass and made a strong push for MVP honors.

[+] EnlargeBranden Albert
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeThe Dolphins' offensive line was clearly not the same without its star left tackle in Branden Albert.
No. 1: Branden Albert

Position: Left tackle

2014 stats: Nine starts

Analysis: I was wrong about Albert. I thought he was a very good -- but not elite -- left tackle. So when the Dolphins invested $47 million on the former Pro Bowler, I wasn't completely sure it was the best move to make. But after watching Albert play in Miami over the course of the past season, he's clearly one of the league's top left tackles -- when healthy. Albert shut down opposing defensive ends and his contributions were even more noticeable in his absence. With Albert, the Dolphins allowed 2.5 sacks per game. Without Albert, those numbers escalated to 3.5 sacks per game. He was definitely my MVP in the first half of the season. Albert is trying to recover from a torn ACL -- which is a concern -- but according to Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey, he's progressing well and appears ahead of schedule.

That concludes "Walker's Fab 40" for 2015.

Here are my complete and updated rankings of Dolphins players:

1. LT Branden Albert
2. CB Brent Grimes
3. DE Cameron Wake
4. WR Mike Wallace
5. QB Ryan Tannehill
6. S Reshad Jones
7. P Brandon Fields
8. G Mike Pouncey
9. WR Jarvis Landry
10. LB Jelani Jenkins
11. DE Olivier Vernon
12. RB Lamar Miller
13. TE Charles Clay
14. RT Ja'Wuan James
15. LB Koa Misi
16. C Samson Satele
17. WR Brian Hartline
18. LS John Denney
19. QB Matt Moore
20. DT Randy Starks
21. DT Jared Odrick
22. S Louis Delmas
23. DT Earl Mitchell
24. LB Dannell Ellerbe
25. CB Cortland Finnegan
26. RB Knowshon Moreno
27. S Jimmy Wilson
28. DE Derrick Shelby
29. DE Dion Jordan
30. LB Jason Trusnik
31. TE Dion Sims
32. G Daryn Colledge
33. WR Brandon Gibson
34. CB Jamar Taylor
35. LB Philip Wheeler
36. OT Jason Fox
37. G/OT Dallas Thomas
38. DE Terrence Fede
39. CB Will Davis
40. DE Chris McCain
PHOENIX – Cornerback Byron Maxwell knows Super Bowl XLIX could be his last game as a Seattle Seahawk. Maxwell is a free agent who will be highly sought by other teams.

“I’m the prettiest girl at the dance right now,” Maxwell said. “But yeah, it’s one of those things I’m excited about it. I would love to be here, but I’m ready to see what’s out there and see how things work out.”

Housler
Maxwell
Seahawks general manager John Schneider said last week that trying to re-sign Maxwell is a top priority for the team, but it won’t be easy considering the fact that the Seahawks have big-money deals on the horizon for quarterback Russell Wilson and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.

Maxwell admits he has looked ahead to what might happen.

“Yeah, of course it would be hard not to think about your future,” he said. “Especially what’s in my future and how it could help my family? It would be hard not to be like, ‘What could be next?’ But right now, this week, I’m focusing on this game.”

Maxwell, 26, is in his fourth season out of Clemson. He took over as a starter last season while Brandon Browner was injured and later suspended. Maxwell had four interceptions and played so well that the Seahawks decided to let Browner move on. Browner signed with New England and will start against them Sunday in the Super Bowl.

Maxwell has been targeted a lot this season because opposing quarterbacks have elected to avoid Richard Sherman, but Maxwell has two interceptions and 11 passes defensed.

“Coming into the season I already knew teams were going to try me,’’ Maxwell said. “But it was cool. I accept that. That’s more opportunities for me to get the rock and put my name out there.”

Maxwell has a base salary of $673,000 this season and likely will get offers as high as $4 million a year in a long-term deal.

“The league probably knows who I am, but really I don’t think like that,” Maxwell said. “It’s like I’ve got to really show them why they know me. You’ve got to keep going. I’m never proven. They always want to come at me. I always got to prove myself when I’m out there.”
MINNEAPOLIS -- A year ago at this time, Teddy Bridgewater hadn't been through his infamous pro day yet. He was still at the top of many draft boards, with some predicting he'd be the most NFL-ready quarterback in his draft class.

At least according to one awards ballot, nothing changed on those fronts.

Bridgewater
Bridgewater was named the Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Year on Friday, winning the award through a fan vote. It doesn't mean the Minnesota Vikings quarterback will win the "official" Rookie of the Year award on Saturday night -- he'll have to beat out the New York Giants' Odell Beckham, among others, for the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award -- but the fact that Bridgewater won Friday's award is a vindication of some sorts.

"This award means a lot to me. I’m glad to have the fan base that I have,” Bridgewater said in a statement. “They’re the reason I was even in consideration for this award. To be able to play the game is one thing, but to also have a fan base is another and I’m very appreciative for that. Playing in The Bank this year – TCF Bank Stadium – hearing those fans chant my name, that was an amazing feeling. Also being able to go out and live out my dream, be able to complete my first season in the NFL was always a childhood dream of mine, so everything paid off.”

Bridgewater dropped to the bottom of the first round in large part because of his poor pro day workout, when he threw without his gloves and gave scouts concern by missing several throws at Louisville. But once Bridgewater worked out with Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner, he assuaged whatever fears the team had about his pro day and the Vikings put him at the top of their quarterback draft board with Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.

And at the end of his first season, Bridgewater looks to be at the top of his class among quarterbacks. His passer rating (85.7) was the seventh-highest by a rookie in NFL history, and his completion percentage (64.4) was the third-highest by a rookie. Bridgewater did it all at the controls of a dilapidated offense that was missing Adrian Peterson, among others, and fans across the country took notice of that performance.

Considering how much publicity Beckham earned after his sensational one-handed touchdown catch against the Dallas Cowboys and his prolific statistics, it says something that Bridgewater beat him out. We'll see if it's a precursor to more awards on Saturday.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The following is the pool report from the New England Patriots' practice on Friday, via reporter Jarrett Bell:

The New England Patriots concluded their practice preparations for Super Bowl XLIX on Friday, with coach Bill Belichick sensing that his team had accomplished its mission with three practices at the Arizona Cardinals' training facility.

Belichick has determined that he will cancel plans to conduct a walk-through session on Saturday.

“We’re just going to meet, take a team picture,” Belichick said of the Saturday itinerary after putting his team through a light, soggy practice on Friday.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Elsa/Getty ImagesThe Patriots practiced in the rain Friday before deciding to cancel their Saturday walkthrough.
“This is it,” Belichick added. “Practice-wise, we’re done. We’re as ready as we’re going to be.”

It won’t mark the first time the Patriots don't have a walk-through on the day before the Super Bowl. That was also the case before their last Super Bowl appearance, four years ago in Indianapolis.

“We’ll just meet in the morning, take the team picture and that’s it,” Belichick said.

The meetings and picture will take place at the team’s hotel in Chandler.

Despite intermittent rain showers, Belichick had the Patriots practice outdoors for about an hour -- excluding a 28-minute “halftime” break -- rather than move the session to an indoor bubble.

“I thought about going inside,” Belichick said, “but not for long.”

In Belichick’s mind, the wet weather in typically dry Arizona provided a bonus of increasing difficulty.

“Make it tougher in practice than it will be in the game,” Belichick said.

One key player, though, caught a break. All-pro cornerback Darrelle Revis watched the bulk of team drills from the sideline, which Belichick said was not due to an injury.

“We backed a lot of guys off,” Belichick said. “He took a lot of reps yesterday and Wednesday.”

Asked if there are any injury concerns that have popped up, Belichick responded, “No. We’re all good to go.”

The Patriots devoted significant time on the kicking game with half-speed, noncontact reps on Friday. As on the previous days this week, the team ran a fair number of plays with the offensive and defensive units working in a variety of situations against scout teams.

As was the case all week, Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft was joined by a couple of his sons and grandsons at practice, including Patriots president Jonathan Kraft and Dan Kraft.

About halfway through the practice, the players left the field and returned to the locker room. They returned about a half-hour later, which mimicked the extended, 28-minute halftime during the Super Bowl that is more than twice as long as the typical 12-minute NFL halftime.

“We’ve done it before,” Belichick said of the simulation.

Belichick said he’s pleased by his team’s mental state as the Super Bowl looms.

“These guys have worked hard,” he said. “I think they’re ready to go. We’re playing a good team, so we’re going to have to play well.”

Final preparations before Sunday will include settling on the script of plays for the offense.

“We’ve talked about a lot of things over the course of the week,” Belichick said. “Now we’ve got to boil it down to the most important thing -- the plays that we’re going to start the game with, the way we want to start the game, so they can really focus on that. We’ve got a lot of plays in the game plan. But we can only call so many to start the game. So it’s, ‘Here’s the ones we’re going to call. Let’s see if we can get them right.’”
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.
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PHOENIX -- Moments after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell completed his annual Super Bowl press conference, ESPN analyst Bill Polian cut to a crucial flaw in the presentation.

"Everyone wanted to hear about domestic violence," Polian said. "Everyone wanted to hear about Deflategate. Everyone wanted to hear about the major issues that have affected the league outside of the normal realm of the game. And he led off with the extra point!"

Indeed, Goodell mentioned the ongoing discussion about the length and difficulty of extra points before referencing any specifics about an ongoing investigation into the integrity of the AFC Championship Game. We have plenty of coverage on what Goodell did say about the New England Patriots' deflation issue, so let's consider his ill-placed but still notable remarks on other issues -- starting with the basic definition of a "conflict of interest."

1. Perception vs. reality

Goodell bristled at two questions in particular.

[+] EnlargeRoger Goodell
Cliff Hawkins/Getty ImagesRoger Goodell hit on many key points during his press conference on Friday, but the timing of some of them was a bit curious.
One referenced the league's hiring of outside attorneys it pays to provide independent investigations. (Former FBI director Robert Mueller, who investigated the league's response to the Ray Rice domestic violence matter, worked at the same law firm as Baltimore Ravens president Dick Cass.) The other question referred to his attendance at a party hosted by Patriots owner Robert Kraft the night before the AFC Championship Game shenanigans.

Goodell's response was, in essence, that no conflict of interest existed because the people involved all have "uncompromising integrity." That might be true, but that isn't the full point of a conflict of interest. It's not simply whether impropriety occurred as a result of an interconnected relationship. It's whether the relationship creates the perception that an impropriety could occur.

Did Mueller take it easy on the NFL given his firm's relationship with Cass? Will investigator Ted Wells exonerate the Patriots because Goodell partied with Kraft a couple weeks ago? Unlikely. Is it possible to conceive? Of course.

No matter what might or might not have happened, Goodell would be well served to step away from anything that could provide even the appearance of a conflict. His defiance remains a hurdle in publicly moving past the issues of this season.

2. That troublesome extra point

Goodell: "Fans want every play to have suspense. But the extra point has become virtually automatic. We have experimented with alternatives to make it a more competitive play and we expect to advance these ideas through the competition committee this offseason."

Seifert: NFL place-kickers converted 99.3 percent of their extra-point attempts in 2014 (1,222 of 1,230), a year after hitting 99.6 percent. The league experimented by moving the kick back to 33 yards during the preseason and then narrowed the goal posts for the Pro Bowl. It seems likely the league will push some form of a change through its competition committee in the coming months.

3. Expanded playoffs

Goodell: "The possibility of expanding the playoffs has also been a topic of discussion for a number of years. There are positives to it, but there are concerns as well, among them being the risk of diluting the regular season and conflicting with college football in January."

Seifert: This change has seemed certain for the better part of a year, and Goodell said recently he expected a vote during the league's owners meeting in March. The "concerns" Goodell mentioned Friday represented at least a tapping of the brakes. A cynic would say Goodell was acknowledging objections simply to placate outnumbered opponents.

4. Officiating changes

Goodell: "We are looking at other ways to advance replay and officiating. That includes potentially expanding replay to penalties if it can be done without more disruption to the face of the game. We are discussing rotating members of the officiating crews during the season as a way to improve consistency throughout our regular season and benefit our crews in the postseason."

Seifert: Vice president of officiating Dean Blandino said Thursday that multiple teams have already submitted proposals to expand replay in various ways. It seems unlikely the league will allow all plays to be reviewed, as the Patriots proposed last year, but a slower expansion is a realistic possibility.

Rotating officials, meanwhile, might help dissipate the penalty disparities among crews that we have documented for the past two seasons. It would also devalue the chemistry and familiarity that season-long crews develop.

5. Over-the-top telecast

Goodell: "We are aggressively pursuing the streaming of a regular-season game with our first over-the-top telecast. It would be carried on broadcast stations in both team markets, but also reach a worldwide audience, including millions of homes that don't have traditional television service."

Seifert: At the moment, this is a win-win for everyone. All games would remain available over-the-air while the NFL and its chosen partner experiment with streaming. Some day, of course, the NFL could offer some games exclusively via streaming, most likely at a cost to consumers.

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