Patriots pool report from Saturday

January, 31, 2015
Jan 31
CHANDLER, Ariz. -- The following is the pool report from the New England Patriots on Saturday, written by Adam H. Beasley (filling in for Jarrett Bell):

Upstairs at the New England Patriots' Chandler, Arizona, team hotel, the lobby was buzzing with fans, friends and family. After two weeks of anticipation, kickoff was finally just a day away.

Down a flight of stairs, meanwhile, the organization quietly went about final preparations for its seventh Super Bowl since 1996. Instead of a walkthrough, the team held its normal Saturday meetings before posing for the team photo at lunch.

Bill Belichick's message to his team in the final hours before Sunday's game?

"Same thing that we talked about all week," Belichick said. "I don't think there's anything that's happened the last day or two days that will change what we normally do, fundamentally. Just kind of reinforcing some of the key points that we talked about all week."

The Patriots will have their final meetings Saturday night to go over "a few last-minute reminders," Belichick said, and then turn in for what they hope is a good night's sleep.

The Patriots chose not to hold a final walkthrough -- "we usually don't practice on Saturday," Belichick said -- and the first chance their players will have to test out the field at University of Phoenix Stadium will be pregame Sunday.
PHOENIX -- New England Patriots starting center Bryan Stork, who missed the AFC Championship Game with a right knee injury, has been upgraded on the injury report to probable for Super Bowl XLIX.

Stork has been limited in practices all week but sources expect him to start Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.

A fourth-round draft choice out of Florida State, Stork started 11 games in the regular season. His inclusion into the starting lineup in Week 4 was part of the Patriots stabilizing their offensive line. With Stork taking over at center, it allowed the Patriots to slide veteran Dan Connolly to left guard and insert veteran Ryan Wendell at right guard to help solidify the interior of the line.
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.
Geno Smith acknowledged Saturday this a "very, very vital offseason" for his career, which is now in the control of a new regime. The New York Jets' quarterback said he's eager to get back to work, and he'd like wide receiver Percy Harvin to be there when he returns.

"I would love for Percy to come back," Smith told reporters at a Manhattan restaurant, which is hosting the annual "Jet House" event over Super Bowl weekend. "Obviously, I can't make that decision, but in my short time with him, he's been a great teammate. He's obviously a dynamic player and I'd love to see what he can do in this new offense."

Harvin's future is one of the top items on Mike Maccagnan's agenda.

The multi-purpose player, acquired in a trade last October with the Seattle Seahawks, is under contract through 2018. But his 2015 salary is a hefty $10.5 million -- non-guaranteed. The Jets can cut Harvin with no salary-cap ramifications. That would be the prudent decision because, if they decide to keep him, the draft-pick compensation goes from a sixth-round pick to a fourth-round choice. It's hard to imagine Maccangan ponying up a fourth-rounder for a receiver who had only 29 catches and one touchdown in eight games.

Some of the decision could be based on the Jets' offensive scheme. New coordinator Chan Gailey ran a spread offense in his most recent job (Buffalo Bills, 2010 to 2012), so many are assuming he'll install the same system with the Jets. If that's the case, Smith believes it could help him improve because of his background with the scheme. He played in a spread at West Virginia.

"I think the familiarity of it will help, but I don't know what the ins and outs of his offense (are)," said Smith, speaking publicly for the first time since Maccagan and Todd Bowles were hired to replace John Idzik and Rex Ryan, respectively.

Smith has yet to speak to Gailey, but he already has started researching the spread, just in case it becomes a big part of the Jets' package. By rule, player-coach contact is limited at this stage of the offseason. He has yet to receive a playbook. Smith has talked to Bowles by phone, a get-acquainted chat. Bowles has reached out to many players.

Publicly, Bowles hasn't spelled out his plans at quarterback, remaining non-committal on Smith. He's only 11-18 as a starter, so no one was expecting a "Geno-is-my-guy" statement from the new coach. Smith said he hasn't received any assurances.

"We haven't even gotten that far," he said. "It's early in the stages. I'm pretty sure a lot of decisions will be made, coming in the near future."

Smith showed encouraging signs at the end of the season, finishing with a 97 passer rating over the final five games, but his inconsistency probably will result in a re-stocked depth chart by training camp. Look for the Jets to add a veteran and, quite possibly, a rookie. Asked how he'd feel if they drafted Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston, Smith said, "It's more competition. No matter who it is, there's always going to be competition."
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.

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.”

W2W4: Patriots' key areas vs. Seahawks

January, 31, 2015
Jan 31
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.

Walker's Fab 40 finale: Nos. 1-4

January, 31, 2015
Jan 31
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
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.

Roger Goodell reiterates opinion that Bills need new stadium

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Patriots vs. Seahawks preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have been the keys for the Seahawks defensively?

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

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

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

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

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

Pool report from Patriots practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone have a crossword puzzle?

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

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

Fleming majored in aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford.

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

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

After four straight days of interviews, there's almost nothing left to ask. So why not try a crossword puzzle?