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Browns place T.J. Ward, James-Michael Johnson on injured reserve

T.J. Ward AP

The Cleveland Browns lost two starters for the rest of the season on Tuesday as the team placed safety T.J. Ward and linebacker James-Michael Johnson on injured reserve.

The Browns now have 10 players on the season-ending injured reserve list.

Ward suffered a bone bruise in his knee in the third quarter of the Browns’ 38-21 loss to the Washington Redskins on Sunday. Johnson also suffered a knee injury. According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, neither player is expected to require surgery.

Ward started all 14 games for the Browns this season while racking up 68 tackles, an interception, a sack and three forced fumbles. Johnson, a rookie fourth-round pick out of Nevada, started eight of the ten games he played in. Johnson compiled 36 tackles on the year.

Following the release of cornerback Dmitri Patterson on Monday, the Browns had three spots on their active roster to fill. Cleveland signed linebacker Adrian Moten, defensive back Prince Miller and promoted defensive end Hall Davis from their practice squad.

Patterson was claimed off waivers by the Miami Dolphins on Tuesday.

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Justin Forsett: The plan is to return to the Ravens

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Running back Justin Forsett is preparing to play in the Pro Bowl on Sunday night and would rank high on the list of participants that no one would have thought would be in the game if they’d voted at the start of the season.

After leading the league in rushing yards per attempt, though, Forsett was a good choice for the game and the last act of his breakout season will come before he turns his full attention to figuring out where he’ll play next year. Forsett is set to be a free agent and said recently that he’d like to exit the “friend zone” of short stays and have a long-term relationship with a team.

At the Pro Bowl this week, he said his plan is to have the Ravens be that team.

“That is the plan, they gave me my shot, they trusted me and believed in me enough to give me that shot so I’d like to stay,” Forsett said, via NFL.com. “They expressed that they want me back. I want to be back, so we’ll see what happens.”

The Ravens switched offensive coordinators with Gary Kubiak leaving for the Broncos head coaching job, but new coordinator Marc Trestman said he plans to keep the zone blocking scheme that helped spring Forsett in place for 2015. That would seem to help Forsett’s chances of sticking around, although, as always, the money will wind up determining where Forsett hangs his hat.

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Jets making a couple of hires in personnel department

New York Jets Introduce General Manager Mike Maccagnan and Head Coach Todd Bowles Getty Images

The Jets said goodbye to Rex Ryan at the end of the regular season, but they’ll have another Rex in the organization for the 2015 season.

Albert Breer of NFL Media reports that the team will hire Rex Hogan to be their director of college scouting. Hogan was a national scout for the Bears in recent years and had worked for the organization since 2004 before being let out of his contract to make the move to the Jets.

Breer also reports that the team will be bringing Brian Heimerdinger on board in a “prominent role” in the front office. Heimerdinger has worked for the Rams for the last few years and is the son of the late Mike Heimerdinger, who spent a year as the Jets’ offensive coordinator when Herman Edwards was the team’s head coach.

Heimerdinger broke into the NFL as an intern with the Texans when new Jets General Manager Mike Maccagnan worked in Houston. The two hires come after the Jets parted ways with personnel execs Terry Bradway and Jeff Bauer in moves that started the remodeling of the front office under the new boss.

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Bill Nye says Bill Belichick made no sense

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We’ll be posting the entire transcript of Bill Belichick’s Saturday press conference so that anyone interested in reading the whole thing can review it, process it, understand it.  One fairly famous scientist who presumably listened to the entire press conference and/or read the transcript already has issued a verdict.

Bill Nye, a mechanical engineer who worked at Boeing before becoming TV’s “Bill Nye The Science Guy,” appeared on Sunday’s Good Morning America to say Belichick’s explanation “doesn’t make any sense.”

Another group based in Pittsburgh that includes brainiacs from Carnegie Mellon (somehow, I was admitted there and graduated with a degree a metallurgical engineering and materials sciences and a degree in engineering and public policy) claims that the conditions of the AFC title game would have caused a significant drop in air pressure.

“We took 12 brand new authentic NFL footballs and exposed them to the different elements they would have experienced throughout the game.” said Thomas Healy, founder of HeadSmart Labs and a masters student in mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon.  “Out of the twelve footballs we tested, we found that on average, footballs dropped 1.8 PSI when being exposed to dropping temperatures and wet conditions.”

As explained by the group that conducted the simulation:  “During testing, twelve brand new footballs were inflated to 12.5 PSI in a 75 degree Fahrenheit room.  This was to imitate the indoor conditions where the referees would have tested the footballs 2 hours and 15 minutes before kickoff.  The footballs were then moved to a 50 degree Fahrenheit environment to simulate the temperatures that were experienced throughout the game.  In addition, the footballs were dampened to replicate the rainy conditions.”

It’s unclear whether the footballs were placed in a wet, 50-degree environment immediately after testing for a full 135 minutes before kickoff or whether they waited until just before kickoff to move the footballs to the simulated game conditions.  It’s also unclear whether the various balls were exposed to the same external forces to which a dozen footballs used by an NFL offense would be exposed when rotated through the first half of a game.  It’s also unclear whether re-testing of the footballs was done following the precise duration of the first half of the Colts-Patriots game.

Precision is critical for any scientific experiment.  For example, the official kickoff temperature in Foxboro on Sunday was 51 degrees, not 50.  To fully simulate the conditions, the test should have occurred at 51 degrees.  Also, room temperature typically is 72 degrees, not 75.  That results in a four-degree variance, which surely had an impact on the ultimate findings, since pressure and temperature are directly related.

Overlooked by the CMU folks (and Belichick, and others) was the reported ability of the Colts’ footballs to remain within the accepted range of 12.5 to 13.5 PSI after the same duration of exposure to the same elements and conditions.  If, on average, the footballs tested at a starting PSI lost 1.8 pounds on average (i.e., 14.4 percent of their air pressure), footballs pumped even to the maximum of 13.5 PSI would have lost 1.94 PSI on average, taking them to 11.56, nearly a full bound below the minimum limit.

Look for more scientists in the coming days to emerge from their labs with more experiments and more explanations.  Ultimately, the NFL will need to offer a convincing explanation for whatever it was that caused the NFL to hire the guy who performed the Dolphins bullying investigation to get to the bottom of why the Patriots footballs were not within the required specifications.

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Hue Jackson thought he was “right fit” for Bills head coach

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Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has a year of head coaching experience with the Raiders and got a chance to interview for another shot at a top job in Buffalo this year.

The Bills opted to hire Rex Ryan instead of Jackson, but Jackson left his interview feeling like he was a good fit for what the Bills were looking for in a successor to Doug Marrone.

“I thought it was the right fit, the right situation. I had a good working knowledge of what they are trying to do, but, hey, it didn’t work out,” Jackson said, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Everybody has aspirations, but it’s still got to be the right fit. It’s got to be the right situation. Every head coaching job in the National Football League might not be for me and I might not be for everybody. I think when it’s time it will happen. Until then, I have a really good offensive football team here that, if we can get some luck and stay healthy, we can be one of the better offenses.”

Making that happen will take a decrease in turnovers and a better passing attack, both of which have a lot to do with quarterback Andy Dalton showing improvement over his 2014 efforts. Should Jackson pull that off, his chances of returning to a head coaching role should get a big boost.

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Arizona braces for onslaught of Seahawks fans

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No team has ever played in a Super Bowl hosted in its own stadium.  This season, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians repeatedly cajoled his players to ensure that no other team would be using their facility or dressing in their locker room for the championship game.

Not only did they fail to make it, but a division rival did.  Which means that the locally-despised Seahawks and their fans will be descending on the Phoenix area, hoping to become the first team in a decade to win back-to-back Lombardi Trophies.

Jack Broom of the Seattle Times recently explored the dynamic that has Arizonans torn between being good hosts and welcoming the enemy.  Four years ago in Dallas, there was a local sense of apathy because the Cowboys weren’t playing in the game.  In the Phoenix area, any apathy will be replaced by a passionate desire to see the Seahawks lose.

Three years ago, the thrilled-to-be-hosting-the-game citizens of Indianapolis endured a visit from one of the Colts’ interdivisional rivals, and ultimately got to witness the kid brother of their beloved quarterback take down the Patriots.  As rivalries go, however, this one is closer to the Rams playing in New Orleans in Super Bowl XXXVI, when the Patriots upset The Greatest Show on Turf to cap the final season in which the Saints and Rams played twice per year as members of the NFC West.  Or the Buccaneers and Raiders the following year, when San Diegoans got to see their enemies from Oakland obliterated by the Bucs.

The Cardinals-Seahawks rivalry is fairly new.  It’s the first time since Seattle and Arizona both joined the reconfigured NFC West in 2002 that the teams have been competitive at the same time.  But the intensity quickly has migrated toward Bears-Packers, Ravens-Steelers, and Cowboys-Rest-of-NFC-East proportions.

In seven days, it’s safe to say that many Cardinals fans will be pulling for the Patriots and hoping to witness the highest level of schadenfreude football can offer.  No one remembers the teams that don’t get to the Super Bowl; everyone remembers the team who loses it.

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Texans hire Paul Pasqualoni as defensive line coach

Paul Pasqualoni AP

The Texans lost a veteran assistant coach last week when defensive line coach Bill Kollar took a job with the Broncos.

They’ll replace him with another seasoned coach. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports that Paul Pasqualoni will join Bill O’Brien’s staff as Kollar’s replacement.

Pasqualoni coached the Bears defensive linemen in 2014 and was the head coach at the University of Connecticut from 2011 to his midseason firing in 2013. Pasqualoni has also coached with the Dolphins and Cowboys and is best-known for his 14-year run as the head coach at Syracuse. Pasqualoni was 107-59-1 in that job.

He’ll have the benefit of working with defensive end J.J. Watt in his new job, although Pasqualoni and the rest of the team’s defensive coaching staff should find plenty to do with the non-MVP candidates that make up the rest of the unit.

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Brian Hoyer open to Browns return if he can compete for starting job

Connor Shaw, Austen Lane AP

When the Browns benched Brian Hoyer in favor of Johnny Manziel late in the regular season, it seemed as if they would be moving on from Hoyer when he became a free agent.

Manziel fizzled, though, and there’s nothing close to certainty that he’ll be the starter when the Browns take the field to start the 2015 season. As a result, Hoyer’s not closing the door on a return to the team. His agent Joe Linta said that he’s heard interest, but no numbers, from the Browns in a return and indicated his client has no hard feelings about how things played out in 2014. Linta also outlined the scenario that would keep Cleveland as an option for Hoyer.

“I think the only thing that would make him not [want to] come back is if they said Manziel or whoever we take in the draft or whoever we sign in free agency is going to be the starter and you will only be the backup,” Linta said, via the Akron Beacon Journal. “I think that would probably drive him away a little bit. If [coach Mike] Pettine said, ‘Hey, it’s going to be an open competition again between you and Johnny,’ great, let’s go. … [Hoyer] wants to play. The kid wants to have an opportunity to compete and play.”

Linta said Hoyer anticipates meeting with Pettine and others from the team soon to discuss their plans and that negotiations would pick up at next month’s scouting combine if everyone is on the same page.

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Sunday morning one-liners

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwqzztuwzmqzmtvlmtnkngexndu5odg3ndkwnjg3otmy AP

Bills DT Marcell Dareus paid a visit to Luke Air Force Base.

The wait for a wax likeness of former Dolphins QB Dan Marino has come to an end.

Patriots WR Matthew Slater is familiar with Seahawks coach Pete Carroll from his college days facing USC as a UCLA player.

The Jets signed T Sean Hooey to a future contract, making him the first acquisition since G.M. Mike Maccagnan came on the job.

The Ravens met with USC CB Josh Shaw during Senior Bowl week.

T Marshall Newhouse is one of the free agents the Bengals will consider re-signing this offseason.

Eight reasons why Browns T Joe Thomas has been a fixture at the Pro Bowl.

Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler has waited a long time for his opportunity.

Texans QB Ryan Fitzpatrick helped a high school student with a project.

Colts CB Vontae Davis feels all “grown up” as he prepares for his first Pro Bowl.

QB Blake Bortles and Jaguars receivers will hold a passing camp before the start of offseason work.

Former Titans RB Eddie George has transitioned well from the football world to the business world.

Making the Hall of Fame case for former Broncos RB Terrell Davis.

A look at the Chiefs offensive line heading into the offseason.

Former Raiders WR Tim Brown hopes the sixth time is the right time to make it into Hall of Fame.

Reminiscing about the Chargers’ trip to Super Bowl XXIX.

Assessing the chances that Cowboys TE Jason Witten can make it to the Hall of Fame.

The Giants have good memories of the last Super Bowl played in Arizona.

Eagles RB Darren Sproles feels validated by his Pro Bowl selection.

Which of their own free agents should the Redskins re-sign this offseason?

Bears QB Jay Cutler might have preferred facing a blitzing defense to being left alone with his kids.

Previewing free agent options on the offensive line for the Lions.

Grading the Packers Offense for the 2014 season.

Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman is showing patience building with youth.

The top five plays of the Falcons season as chosen by the Falcons.

Panthers TE Greg Olsen and LB Luke Kuechly will be on opposite sides in the Pro Bowl.

Reviewing Saints director of college scouting Jeff Ireland’s work with the Dolphins.

The Buccaneers website takes a look at some standout players from the Senior Bowl.

CB Justin Bethel wants to add more defensive work to his special teams duties with the Cardinals.

Said Rams DE Robert Quinn, “It’s a nice vacation, especially at this time of year. But I’m just proud to be here. To be voted to the Pro Bowl is a huge honor and a blessing. Being here and getting a chance to practice with and play against the best of the best, it’s something special.”

The 49ers offensive coordinator search will move on without Lane Kiffin.

Are this year’s Seahawks similar to the 2003 Patriots?

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Marcus Mariota not sure he’ll throw at Combine

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There’s still one game to play in this season, but 30 teams are a lot more interested in what’s going to happen in the offseason and draft and have already turned their attention in that direction.

For the teams in that group that are looking for a quarterback, Marcus Mariota’s workouts will be of particular interest in the months to come. The Oregon quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner is expected to be either the first or second quarterback off the board, but teams may have to wait a while to watch him throw.

Mariota was honored as the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year in Hawaii on Saturday and said at a press conference that he’s not sure if he’ll throw at February’s combine because of a right shoulder injury he suffered against Ohio State in the college title game.

“Right now we’re still making that decision, whether to throw at the Combine. I had to kinda rest about a week-and-a-half,” Mariota said, via the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “I sprained the AC joint. But now, I’m able to throw. Feels good.”

If Mariota’s able to throw now, one would imagine he’d be able to throw in Indianapolis in a few weeks. Like many top prospects, however, Mariota seems more likely to take time to polish up his game before doing his workouts for teams in his chosen environment a bit later in the process.

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Lane Kiffin staying at Alabama

SEC Championship - Alabama v Missouri Getty Images

If the 49ers were hoping to land Lane Kiffin as their offensive coordinator, they’ll need to look in a different direction.

Kiffin announced Saturday that he’ll return for a second season running the offense at the University of Alabama. There were reports earlier this month that Kiffin was a “front-runner” for the same job on Jim Tomsula’s staff, but he’s decided to keep on rolling with Nick Saban after leading the Crimson Tide to a school record for total offense.

“I made a comment at the Sugar Bowl that I would be back this fall at Alabama and that is definitely the plan. This time of year, there are lots of things out there regarding other coaching opportunities, but I want to reaffirm my commitment to the University of Alabama, Coach Saban, and our team,” Kiffin said in a statement. “I’m excited about what our offensive staff was able to accomplish last year, but I also think there are a lot of things we can do a better job of in terms of putting our players in the best situation to have success.”

Colts assistant Rob Chudzinski is also thought to be a candidate for the job. The Colts blocked him from interviewing, but Chudzinski’s contract is coming to an end so he’ll be free to talk to the 49ers as long as they don’t hire someone else.

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Packers’ Sam Shields admits he thinks Dez Bryant made the catch

samshields AP

Packers cornerback Sam Shields was covering Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant on his infamous overruled catch when their teams met in the playoffs. At the time, Shields said the ref made a good call in reversing the catch. Now Shields admits that’s not how he saw it.

Shields told ESPN that he believes Bryant did catch the ball, and he is surprised the Packers won their challenge of the play.

It was a catch,” Shields said, “But the new rule and at the last minute what happened, that’s what the refs came up with. I never said he didn’t catch it. He made a helluva catch I was in great coverage. Like I said, it was good on good and he came up with the catch.”

Shields seems surprised that Bryant reaching for the goal line didn’t constitute a “football move” that would make it a catch.

“I did look back and I seen him reaching and I guess that’s when he didn’t control the ball as he was doing that,” Shields said.

What Shields doesn’t seem to realize is that the NFL rules say that when a player makes a catch as he’s going to the ground, he must maintain control, and Bryant didn’t. Under NFL rules, it wasn’t a catch. But the fact that even Shields thinks it was a catch shows just how convoluted the NFL’s rules are.

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NFL to test new replay system at Pro Bowl

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This year’s Pro Bowl will be used to experiment with a variety of new procedures.  Most already were known.  One potentially significant one wasn’t.

Per Darren Rovell of ESPN.com, replay review during the Pro Bowl will be conducted via review of the play on a Microsoft Surface tablet — and with communication via Bose headphones.

That replaces the voting-booth approach the NFL has used since replay review returned well over a decade ago, with the referee examining a monitor hidden behind a curtain.

Per Rovell, the change is part of an effort to better integrate the products for which the NFL is paid millions of dollars to use.  It’s unclear whether the NFL will ditch the mobile replay unit and use tablets exclusively for games that count.

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Bill Belichick on sideline videotaping: “We never did it again”

Bill Belichick AP

After a more than 2,000-word opening statement in his Saturday press conference detailing how the club’s footballs might have become under-inflated in the AFC title game vs. Indianapolis, Patriots coach Bill Belichick opened the floor for a question-and-answer session.

Seven questions in, a sore subject for the Patriots was broached: the 2007 videotaping scandal that cost the club a first-round pick and $250,000 in fines, plus another $500,000 docked from Belichick.

According to the press conference transcript from the Patriots, here’s what Belichick was asked:

“You said you always try to err on the side of caution and stay on the right side of the rules, but with the videotaping it was clear that you were pushing the envelope on that. Is that something that changed that?”

Here was Belichick’s response, per the Patriots:

“I mean, look, that’s a whole other discussion,” Belichick said of the Patriots’ taping of the Jets’ signals from the sidelines. “The guy’s giving signals out in front of 80,000 people, OK?

“So we filmed him taking signals out in front of 80,000 people, like there were a lot of other teams doing at that time, too. Forget about that. If we were wrong then we’ve been disciplined for that.”

Before a follow-up question could be completed, Belichick continued:

“The guy’s in front of 80,000 people. 80,000 people saw it. Everybody [on the] sideline saw it. Everybody sees our guy in front of the 80,000 people. I mean, there he is.

“So, it was wrong, we were disciplined for it. That’s it. We never did it again. We’re never going to do it again and anything else that’s close, we’re not going to do either.”

It’s possible Belichick could again be asked about “Spygate” at the Super Bowl, especially after indicating Saturday that “there were a lot of other teams” filming signals around 2007, too. However, it doesn’t seem likely Belichick would be very expansive about this topic next week. To borrow a phrase from Jerry Reinsdorf, this might be our only bite of the apple on “Spygate.”

Then again, who saw Saturday’s press conference coming?

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Belichick’s explanation on inflation raises new questions

Belichick AP

Saturday’s unexpected press conference from Patriots coach Bill Belchick seemed like an effort to put the issue behind the team as the trip to Phoenix and Super Bowl XLIX awaits.  But Belichick’s words, which deftly loaded up the media with information on the subject at a time when the NFL is providing very little, raise several key questions.

Most significantly, Belichick’s Thursday and Saturday press conferences starkly differ on one key question:  Who inflates the footballs?

“Obviously with our footballs being inflated to the 12.5-pound range, any deflation would then take us under that specification limit,” Belichick said Thursday.  “Knowing that now, in the future we will certainly inflate the footballs above that low level to account for any possible change during the game.”  (Emphasis added.)

On Saturday, Belichick said that the Patriots have no control over the actual inflation, indicating that the officials — not the team — inflate the footballs.

“When the footballs are delivered to the officials’ locker room, the officials were asked to inflate them to 12.5 PSI,” Belichick said. “What exactly they did, I don’t know.  But for the purposes of our study, that’s what we did.  We set them at 12.5.  That’s at the discretion of the official, though. Regardless of what we ask for, it’s the official’s discretion to put them where he wants.”  (Emphasis added.)

So who inflates the footballs?  Thursday’s “I have no explanation” Bill Belichick made clear it’s the team that was putting the minimum required amount of 12.5 PSI into the balls before the game, and that any naturally-occurring deflation was necessarily taking the footballs under the low end of the one-pound acceptable range from 12.5 to 13.5 PSI.  Saturday’s “I have an extensive explanation” Bill Belichick said the Patriots simply ask the officials to inflate the footballs to 12.5 PSI, but that it’s ultimately the “official’s discretion” as to how much air will be put in the footballs.  (And, in turn, the official’s fault if the balls weren’t properly inflated.)

It’s a stunning contrast, one that calls for further explanation from Belichick.  This should be the first question he’s asked at his first press conference in Arizona, and the assembled media should decline to accept a response along the lines of, “I’ve said all I’m going to say about that.”

Another topic on which Belichick may need to say more than he has said is the interaction between inflation of the balls to 12.5 PSI and any “rubbing” that results in the balls reaching an “equilibrium state” of 11.5 PSI.  The key question is whether anyone in the organization — specifically mysterious football savant Ernie Adams — knew that any type of rubbing would result in the ball reaching an “equilibrium state” that brought it one full PSI below the minimum.  Beyond that, atmospheric conditions would drop the ball even farther below the minimum.

Other curious statements were made by Belichick on Saturday.  For example:  “We can’t speak specifically to what happened because we have no way of touching the footballs other than once the officials have them we don’t touch them except for when we play with them in the game.”  That’s just not accurate; ball attendants employed by the Patriots have possession of the 12 game balls and the 12 backup balls until they’re used during the game.

“I believe now 100 percent that I have personally, and we as an organization, have absolutely followed every rule to the letter,” Belichick said early in the Saturday press conference.  But there’s a potential difference between following rules to the letter and respecting their spirit.  As Ravens defensive lineman Chris Canty said earlier in the week on NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk, the Patriots are “habitual line-steppers.”  In an effort to gave every possible advantage, they possibly look for ways to push the envelope, retreating to plausible deniability whenever complaints are made or investigations are launched.

It would be naive to assume that the procedures used by the Patriots when it comes to inflating and handling footballs was accidental or coincidental, even if Belichick truly had no knowledge or involvement in that aspect of game preparations.  The ultra-competitive nature of the sport coupled with the uncanny ability of Belichick and those he employs to seize upon every opportunity to gain an edge suggests that they discovered a way to produce footballs that passed the pregame inspection at the low end of the permitted PSI and that then dropped well below the minimum, furthering the stated preferences of the guy charged with the task of throwing the footballs.

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North rolls to 34-13 victory in Senior Bowl

Ameer Abdullah AP

Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah garnered Most Outstanding Player honors as the North pulled away to a 34-13 victory in Saturday’s Senior Bowl at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama.

One of the more well-regarded backs in the Class of 2015, Abdullah (5-8, 198) gained 73 yards rushing on just seven carries and added four receptions on 40 yards for the North, which was led by the Titans’ coaching staff.

Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty (North) paced all passers with 123 yards on 9-of-13 attempts, though he was picked once. Oregon State’s Sean Mannion added 79 yards on 9-of-13 passes for the North, including a touchdown pass to Notre Dame tight end Ben Koyack.

Yale running back Tyler Varga scored a pair of fourth-quarter rushing touchdowns for the North, which outscored the South 24-6 after halftime. Minnesota running back David Cobb (11 carries, 69 yards) added the North’s other TD.

Northern Iowa running back David Johnson tallied the South’s lone touchdown, a 19-yard first-quarter score. Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson led the South with 118 yards passing on 8-of-15 attempts.

The Jaguars coached the South team. Jacksonville selects third in the upcoming draft, with Tennessee picking second.

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