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Bill Belichick: There’s no coach I respect more than Pete Carroll

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Patriots coach Bill Belichick has nothing but good things to say about his predecessor as coach of the Patriots, who also happens to be the man he’ll be coaching against on Sunday.

Belichick said he’s been an admirer of Seahawks coach Pete Carroll for decades, going back to the days when both of them were entry-level assistant coaches.

“Not a coach in the NFL I respect more than Pete Carroll,” Belichick said. “He’s a tremendous coach. He and I have kind of come up together in roughly the same era. We’ve both been defensive coordinators, we’ve both been head coaches. I have a ton of respect for what Pete does as a coach, how good of a fundamental teacher he is, the way his teams play. I’ve studied him from afar. We’ve never worked together, studied Pete from afar over a long period of time. I’ve learned a lot from what he does, and indirectly, I think he’s made me a better coach. I have all the respect in the world for Pete and his staff.”

Carroll was a graduate assistant for Arkansas in 1977, when Lou Holtz was the Razorbacks’ head coach and Monte Kiffin was their defensive coordinator, and Belichick said Carroll has run more or less that same defense he learned from Kiffin ever since.

“I think coach Carroll will tell you that their defense is pretty much the defense that he learned and coached in 1977 at Arkansas,” Belichick said. “He’s been doing it a long time. I’d say they’ve gone up against everything they can go up against: great quarterbacks, great receivers, great running games, great offensive lines. They’ve always been good. I think that they have a great system.”

When Carroll and Belichick square off on Sunday, we’ll be seeing a meeting between the two best coaches in the NFL.

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Low standard of proof applies to #DeflateGate

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It’s still not known what the NFL specifically has found, or will find, in the #DeflateGate investigation.  It is known that, when the time comes to assess the evidence, a low threshold will determine the outcome.

Per a league source, the “preponderance of the evidence” standard applies in cases involving allegations of conduct that undermines the integrity of the game.  That comes from the league policy manual given to every team.

It’s the standard that applies in civil litigation, a “more-likely-than-not” assessment of the proof that equates to, essentially, a 51-49 test far less stringent than proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which applies in criminal cases.

Although Patriots owner Robert Kraft has insisted on “hard facts as opposed to circumstantial leaked evidence to drive the conclusion of this investigation,” circumstantial evidence could be sufficient to overcome any legal standard — especially a low one like “preponderance of the evidence.”
Depending on the full extent of the evidence obtained during the ongoing investigation, that could be bad news for the Patriots.

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Wilson’s running is a different challenge for the Patriots

Russell Wilson, Rashad Johnson AP

Seattle’s Russell Wilson was the most prolific running quarterback in the NFL this season, and it wasn’t close. And that means the Patriots are in for a challenge they haven’t yet seen on Super Bowl Sunday.

Wilson carried 118 times for 849 yards during the regular season, by far the most of any quarterback in the league. Only 15 running backs gained more rushing yards than Wilson.

New England didn’t face any quarterback who had even half as many rushing yards as Wilson: Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who carried 56 times for 311 yards, was the most prolific rusher of any quarterback the Patriots have faced this season. For New England, containing a running threat like Wilson at the quarterback position is something they haven’t had to do.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said stopping Wilson will require the Patriots’ defense to treat him like another running back. The Patriots need to make the correct reads when Wilson runs and make sound tackles on him in the open field.

The Super Bowl record for rushing yards by a quarterback was set by Steve McNair 15 years ago, when he picked up 64 rushing yards against the Rams. Wilson is a threat to break that record on Sunday, and a threat to break open the game if the Patriots aren’t ready for the kind of running attack they haven’t previously faced.

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Patriots say there’s nothing suspicious about their ball security

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As Deflategate has dominated the football world over the last 10 days, it’s been pointed out that the Patriots have a suspiciously good track record for avoiding fumbles. Is that because they’re using deflated footballs, which are easier to grip?

Not according to the players on the Patriots, who instead say that they simply go through so many ball control drills that they have become the best team in the league at holding onto the ball.

“I can definitely tell that the coaching and the drills that we do within the spring and the offseason and camp and OTAs have really paid off for a lot of guys,” Patriots receiver Danny Amendola said. “We take a lot of drills that we do within the week, within practice, and take them to the field. We do a lot of drills that really benefit that.”

Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount has fumbled three times in his 219 career touches as a Patriot (a little less frequently than his 10 fumbles in 518 career touches when playing with the Buccaneers and Steelers), and he says that in New England the coaches always make a big deal about ball security.

“We put a heavy emphasis on keeping the football,” Blount said. “We practice holding the football, we have the defense punch at the football a lot extra more than probably most teams do. We do everything to emphasis ball security because like I said, you can’t win the game without the ball.”

That has long been an emphasis of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, and so he drills ball security into his players and avoids drafting or signing players who have a history of fumbling. That’s a more plausible explanation for the Patriots’ success at avoiding fumbles than deflated footballs.

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Robert Kraft: Party with Roger Goodell made Richard Sherman money

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When Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman arrived in Arizona for the Super Bowl, he opined that the Patriots wouldn’t be punished as a result of the NFL’s investigation into their use of under-inflated footballs because of a “conflict of interest” illustrated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell attending a party at Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s house before the AFC Championship game.

Kraft didn’t seem to agree with that take on Monday when he deplaned with a statement demanding an apology from the league “for what [the Patriots have had to endure this past week” in the event that the league’s investigation determines the team didn’t intentionally tamper with the balls.  Kraft then slammed the league for using “circumstantial leaked evidence” to paint the Patriots in a bad light.

At Tuesday’s Super Bowl Media Day, Kraft said he only wanted to answer questions about football, but did respond to a query about Sherman’s remarks. After calling Sherman “a very smart marketing whiz,” Kraft explained that the party in question would actually benefit Sherman.

“If you go into the facts of what he said, the NFL always used to pay for a big party for the AFC Championship Game. We’ve been privileged to own the team for 21 years, and this was our 10th championship game. When the league stopped giving the parties, we started doing it. This is our third one,” Kraft said, via ESPNBoston.com. “I think Mr. Sherman understood that he’s the biggest beneficiary, because they get over 50 percent of the revenues. So he didn’t go to Harvard, but Stanford must be pretty good because he figured it out.”

The league’s investigation isn’t expected to wrap up anytime soon, which leaves plenty of time for plenty of people to share opinions about what will  or won’t happen in the most watched study of air pressure in memory.

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Richard Sherman: Roger Goodell should have to talk weekly

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While Marshawn Lynch is trying to make himself into a counter-culture commodity by not talking, there are other people who might have things to say who aren’t terribly available either.

And that’s the point Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman made Tuesday at media day, specifically mentioning commissioner Roger Goodell.

Every one of the NFL’s personnel should be obligated to speak weekly,” Sherman said, via Mike Garafolo of FOX Sports. 

See, as political statements against the moneyed bosses who make them put on the red nose to participate in the circus media day has become, this one was a lot more effective.

Lynch is just doing it to be difficult, and frankly, I’m not sure he has that much to say.

Goodell has many things to address, and he’ll get his chance Friday.

That press conference could easily become the same kind of performance art as today (though league PR manages to filter out the costumed silliness better for the boss).

But Sherman’s right. I’m far more interested in what Goodell has to say than Lynch. But Roger’s not threatening to fine himself, either.

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Thousands of fans spend $28.50 to attend Media Day

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Many of the players at Super Bowl Media Day don’t want to be there, even though it’s their job. Many of the reporters at Super Bowl Media Day don’t want to be there, even though it’s their job. But while Super Bowl Media Day is often disdained by those who participate in it for a living, thousands of people in attendance wanted to be there so much that they paid for the privilege.

The NFL sold tickets to Media Day at $28.50 a pop, and thousands of fans turned out to the US Airways Center in Phoenix to be there to see it live. Most of those fans seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The fans in the stands got a radio that allows them to tune to whichever podium they choose and hear whatever player they like, and fans were cheering, laughing and otherwise indicating that they liked hearing from their favorite players.

So while most of us who attend Media Day as part of our jobs probably don’t think it’s an event worthy of buying a ticket to attend, there are a lot of football fans who think it’s a fun experience. Which means that the NFL will surely continue selling thousands of tickets to Media Day.

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Marshawn Lynch shows up at media day to avoid fines

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A year ago at Super Bowl media day, Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch played peek-a-boo with reporters, using a side entrance to make a late arrival and an early getaway.

This year, the NFL put him on a podium for a tougher escape, probably as the league’s reminder they set the rules.

Lynch showed up and did his part. Our guy Curtis Crabtree was in the best position to hear this nothing, as Lynch gave the same answer to all the early questions.

I’m just here so I won’t get fined,” he said repeatedly.

Lynch left after less than five minutes, making the appropriate gesture of whatever it is he’s trying to prove.

It really doesn’t have to be that hard. Lynch was able to make a promotional video for candy, but he can’t talk to the people who want to hear from him on other matters.

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Wilfork calls Belichick the greatest coach ever

wilfork AP

Patriots coach Bill Belichick has been peppered with questions about whether he did anything improper in Deflategate, but Belichick is also getting strong support from his players.

Several Patriots spoke out about their respect for Belichick at Super Bowl Media Day, most notably defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, who said he feels privileged to have played his entire career for Belichick.

“He’s the best coach in the game — the best coach ever in the game,” Wilfork said. “When it’s all over I can say I was coached by the greatest.”

If the Patriots beat the Seahawks on Sunday, Belichick will join Chuck Noll as the only head coaches to win four Super Bowls, and Belichick is already the coach with the most postseason wins in NFL history. Wilfork may be biased by his own relationship with Belichick, but you can make a good case that he’s right, and that Belichick really is the best coach in the history of the game of football.

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Bill Belichick calls Marshawn Lynch “best back we’ve faced”

Marshawn Lynch AP

Patriots coach Bill Belichick says his defense hasn’t faced a challenge quite like Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch before.

Although Belichick is refusing to answer questions this week about Deflategate, he gave lengthy answers to reporters’ questions about his thoughts about the Seahawks on the field. And there was no one Belichick sounded more impressed with — and perhaps concerned about — than Lynch.

“Lynch is a tremendous back, best back we’ve faced. He does everything well, he’s got great balance, great power, vision, instincts, he’s great in the open field, he gets tough yards around the goal line, third down,” Belichick said.

Lynch ran for 1,306 yards in the regular season, and his 157-yard game against the Packers went a long way toward the Seahawks winning the NFC Championship. He may just be the best running back in football right now. Belichick seems to think so.

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Kraft’s statement increases the pressure on Goodell

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Richard Sherman’s premise is possibly being tested.  The Seattle cornerback on Sunday expressed skepticism about potential punishment of the Patriots for #DeflateGate, based on the friendship between Commissioner Roger Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft.  At this moment, one of the most influential owners in the NFL isn’t feeling very friendly about the office over which Goodell presides.

“If the [Ted] Wells investigation is not able to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure in the footballs, I would expect and hope that the League would apologize to our entire team and in particular, Coach Belichick and Tom Brady for what they have had to endure this past week,” Kraft said in a defiant statement written on the plane from Boston and delivered in Arizona.  “I am disappointed in the way this entire matter has been handled and reported upon.  We expect hard facts as opposed to circumstantial leaked evidence to drive the conclusion of this investigation.”

As Sal Paolantonio of ESPN reported in the aftermath of Kraft’s remarks, “As one source close to the Patriots told me, this was Robert Kraft reminding Roger Goodell who he works for.”

Goodell already has shown a willingness to impose discipline on the team Robert Kraft owns, more than seven years ago in Spygate.  In the aftermath of that incident, Goodell pushed for the owners to permit rules violations that undermine the integrity of the game to be proven with reduced evidentiary requirements.

“Too often, competitive violations have gone unpunished because conclusive proof of the violation was lacking,” Goodell wrote to the NFL’s Competition Committee in advance of the 2008 league meetings.  “I believe we should reconsider the standard of proof to be applied in such cases, and make it easier for a competitive violation to be established.”

Therein lies the dilemma for Goodell.  He ultimately obtained the power to determine violations with something other than direct evidence, such as a Patriots employee caught with a camera containing video showing he was videotaping defensive coaching signals.  But Kraft wants something other than “circumstantial” evidence, even though plenty of men over the years have ended up imprisoned for life or executed based on circumstantial proof.  (Eventually added to that list could be former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who faces murder charges based largely on circumstantial evidence.)

“[Y]ou’re trying to balance the due process with making sure you’re protecting the integrity of the game,” Goodell said in October regarding the challenge of determining the best way to deal with players facing serious criminal charges.  “My No. 1 job is protecting the integrity of the game, and I will not relent on that.”

If, as the NFL already has concluded, the proper inflation of footballs represents a game-integrity issue and if, as the NFL already has concluded, the footballs used in the first half of the AFC title game were underinflated, the question becomes whether Goodell will authorize significant sanctions against the Patriots without a smoking gun — even if it means that his friendship with Robert Kraft will go up in smoke.

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Can a bag of footballs be deflated in 90 seconds?

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As the #DeflateGate controversy continues to overtake Super Bowl XLIX, the first tangible evidence other than footballs being underinflated (which the NFL has acknowledged) emerged Monday, when Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported that a Patriots employee took a bag of football that had been inspected and approved by officials into a separate area. That individual has become, per Glazer’s report, a “serious person of interest” as to the question of how the footballs came to be underinflated.

As PFT reported last night, adding to Glazer’s bombshell, the separate area was a bathroom in which the employee spent approximately 90 seconds. The red state/blue state nature of the debate has caused those predisposed to assuming the Patriots are guilty to say it’s enough time to deflate the footballs. Those predisposed to assuming that this is a league- and/or media-driven witch hunt say the only leaking came from the guys urinary tract (or perhaps elsewhere).

Obviously, the report from Glazer shows an opportunity for foul play existed. And Glazer’s report became the first clear indication since this issue first arose of a chance by someone to do something to the “perfect” footballs as hand-selected by quarterback Tom Brady to make them even more perfect.

A separate question has emerged regarding whether a team employee should have even been taking the footballs on his own to the field without supervision. One source said it’s normal; another source believes it’s entirely abnormal. Regardless, Glazer’s report puts a Patriots employee in a room with a locking door alone with the footballs for, based on PFT’s addition to that report, approximately 90 seconds.

So can 12 (or in this case 11) footballs be deflated in that amount of time?  One league source with extensive knowledge and experience in the NFL believes that 90 seconds provides enough time to do it — especially if the type of bag allowed the valves to be accessed without individually removing them.  (The bag in the photo, for example, has a large zipper that when open permits quick access to the balls.)

The source called it as “easy” thing to do. “Needle in each ball for a couple of seconds,” the source said.

Indeed, if this is something that had been going on for some period of time, the employee would have developed a certain expertise in this regard, allowing him to do it quickly — which in turn would allow for the plausible argument to be made that there was no deflation but merely urination.

Is it conclusive evidence of tampering?  Not without a camera in the bathroom or an admission from the employee.  But it also becomes difficult to declare innocence, given that the contents of the surveillance video as first reported by Glazer reveal an employee of the Patriots taking the footballs into a place where, in theory, something could have been done to them.

That’s the most important thing to remember from Monday’s report.  Whether it was 90 seconds or longer, whether it was the Patriots who surrendered the video or the NFL who found it, Glazer’s report shows an opportunity for tampering that had not previously been disclosed.

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Pete Carroll still likes Robert Kraft, who fired him

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It feels like Bill Belichick has been coaching the Patriots forever, but he hasn’t. There was a coach of the Patriots before Belichick was hired in 2000, and that coach was Pete Carroll.

Carroll, who is preparing to coach the Seahawks against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX, was fired by Patriots owner Robert Kraft after going 8-8 in 1999. And although things didn’t end well for Carroll in New England, Carroll still has warm feelings for Kraft, and Carroll actually called Kraft after the Seahawks and Patriots won the conference championship games.

“I think we’ve remained in a good relationship and it’s been very consistent,” Carroll said. “Whenever we bump into each other, whenever there is a time for us to cross paths, we always check in and that’s just been the way that it has been. So, in calling him, it was just a matter of just checkin in with him and saying, ‘Hey, didn’t know if we would bump into each other here but I wanted to make sure to say hello.'”

Carroll thinks he’s a much better coach now than he was when he coached in New England.

“I’ve been through so many experiences since then, so many challenges and it’s really just about evolving as a coach and as a man,” Carroll said. “But, you know, there were a lot of days back in those years when, man, I was just winging it and trying to do the best I could in figuring it out.”

Whatever Carroll hadn’t figured out when he was in New England, Carroll has it figured out now.

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Report: Rams interested in trading for Nick Foles

Philadelphia Eagles v Indianapolis Colts Getty Images

Last year, the Eagles made one of the most surprising moves of the offseason when they released receiver DeSean Jackson. This year, the Eagles may again make a surprising move by getting rid of starting quarterback Nick Foles.

Multiple stories have surfaced this month indicating that Eagles coach Chip Kelly is interested in moving on from Foles, especially if Kelly could replace Foles with his old Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. The latest report comes from NJ.com, which says that possible suitors are beginning to emerge, and the Rams have interest in Foles.

The Rams have indicated that they would like quarterback Sam Bradford to return this year, but only at the right price. If the Rams can’t convince Bradford to take a significant pay cut from the $13 million he’s scheduled to make this year, they’ll surely release him, and then trading for Foles could make sense.

The question, however, is whether it would make sense for the Eagles. If Kelly is going to get rid of Foles, he has to be confident he can acquire someone better. Unless the Eagles are able to move up in the draft and get Mariota in three months, trading Foles feels like an odd move.

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Video shows employee taking 24 balls into bathroom

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On Monday, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports added the next new big piece of news in #DeflateGate, reporting that the NFL has interviewed a locker room attendant who allegedly took footballs from the officials’ locker room after they had been inspected and approved “to another area on way to field” before the start of the game.

PFT can now contribute additional details to that story.

First, per a league source, the other “area on way to field” is a bathroom.  The bathroom consists of one toilet and one sink and a door that locks from the inside.

Second, according to the same source, the person carried two bags of balls into the bathroom:  the 12 balls to be used by the Patriots and the 12 balls to be used by the Colts.

Third, from the same source, the evidence comes from a surveillance video that was discovered by the Patriots and given to the NFL early in the investigation.

Fourth, again from the same source, the video shows the employee in the bathroom for approximately 90 seconds.

Could the employee have fished 12 balls out of a fairly large bag, deflated each of them by two pounds, put them back into the bag, and exited the bathroom in roughly 90 seconds?  That question will surely become the centerpiece of the next red state/blue state debate between folks who have determined that the Patriots have done something wrong and those who are staunchly defending the franchise.

And, yes, the photo accompanying this story was taken inside one of the bathrooms at Gillette Stadium.  When NBC broadcast the Ravens-Patriots playoff game from Foxboro on January 10, Florio Jr. demanded pictures from the venue.  Since he didn’t specify where he wanted them from, I took one inside the bathroom and texted it to him.

He didn’t think it was funny.

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