AFC East: New England Patriots

PHOENIX -- As the New England Patriots prepare for Super Bowl XLIX, it's a good time to step back and remember that on this day 15 years ago, one of the most important decisions in franchise history was made: Robert Kraft hiring Bill Belichick as coach.

As ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates points out, there have been 123 other head-coaching changes across the NFL since that time.

Belichick reminisced on that chapter in his coaching career a bit during his opening news conference at Super Bowl XLIX.

"I have a great relationship with Mr. Kraft. I really appreciate the opportunity every day to coach the New England Patriots," he said. "Mr. Kraft gave up quite a bit in order to work out the trade, basically that’s what it was, for me to be part of this organization after I resigned from the Jets. I’ll be forever indebted to him for that, and the support that he and his family and his staff have given me as the football -- to coach the football team -- has been tremendous.”

Snapshots: Patriots' send-off rally

January, 26, 2015
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Below are some scenes from the Patriots' rally Monday at City Hall Plaza in Boston:

Bob Kraft and Bill BelichickMaddie Meyer/Getty ImagesPatriots coach Bill Belichick embraces owner Robert Kraft while quarterback Tom Brady looks on.
Bill BelichickAP Photo/Charles KrupaBill Belichick told the crowd: "Be safe through these next couple days of snow. We'll be thinking about you. But, we will be back soon."
Tom Brady AP Photo/Charles Krupa"We have the best fans in all of America," Tom Brady told the crowd, and added, "We will be needing you all next Sunday night."

Patriots Send-Off RallyMaddie Meyer/Getty ImagesTom Brady, Dan Connolly and Vince Wilfork soak in the cheers at City Hall Plaza as announcer and former Patriots quarterback Scott Zolak (right) watches.
Patriots fansAP Photo/Charles KrupaDespite the bitter cold in Boston on Monday morning, several thousand fans attended the rally.

Brandon Browner motivated by Obama snub

January, 26, 2015
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New England Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner might have a Super Bowl ring, but he is looking for redemption in Super Bowl XLIX.

Browner sat down with ESPN’s Josina Anderson to discuss missing last season’s Super Bowl victory because of suspension as a member of the Seattle Seahawks.

"I was at the White House and what-not, and President Obama got to speaking about the L.O.B. [Legion of Boom]," Browner said. "And he left my name out."

Being left off of the president’s list of acknowledgement really hit home for Browner.

"That was tough for me," Browner said. "[Seahawks head coach] Pete Carroll is such a great guy, and once he had seen that he looked back at me. We have a photo. As soon as [Obama] said that, we made eye contact and that was pretty much what I needed to settle me, to be like 'as long as my coach understands how much those guys meant to me then I’m good.'"

This season, Browner said that being given the ring while he was down turned everything in his life upright for him.

With a chance at another Super Bowl, this time as a player in uniform for the Patriots, Browner has one goal.

"The promise I made to myself was to get back here to shake the president’s hand," Browner said. "And let him know who I am a little bit."

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PHOENIX -- One notable matchup in Super Bowl XLIX will have the New England Patriots' best pass rusher, Chandler Jones, going up against the Seattle Seahawks' best offensive lineman, Russell Okung.

The two squared off in the Seahawks' 24-23 victory over the Patriots on Oct. 14, 2012, with Jones having one of his better games -- nine tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. But because Jones moved around the line of scrimmage, not all of that production came against Okung. In fact, the two sacks were when Jones beat tight end Zach Miller and guard James Carpenter.

Needless to say, Okung has revisited tape of that game to get familiar with Jones again and he told me Sunday that the growth is obvious.

[+] EnlargeRussell Okung
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesSeattle tackle Russell Okung compares Chandler Jones' style to San Francisco's Aldon Smith.
Asked if there is a player he faces more regularly who reminds him of the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Jones, he cited San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith (6-4, 265).

“Just the way their bodies are. Obviously they're not the exact same player, but they are long-armed guys who can move direction really quick and play some good ball," said Okung, a 2010 first-round pick of the Seahawks. "He has a combination of power and speed. Any time you have a guy like that, you have to expect anything, whether coming under, trying to power through you, or going up the field to hit the edge. Aldon Smith is dynamic in that way and so is Chandler Jones."

Smith entered the NFL as a first-round pick in 2011 and has played in 50 regular-season games (30 starts) and has 44 career sacks.

Jones, a first-round pick of the Patriots in 2012, has played in 40 regular-season games (37 starts) and has 23.5 career sacks.

With the Patriots placing emphasis on not allowing quarterback Russell Wilson to scramble out of the pocket and extend plays, with their defensive backs using a "plastering" technique, Jones' work on the edge projects as a critical part of the game-plan in the Super Bowl. One breakdown in discipline could result in a Wilson escape of the pocket.

"He's very sound fundamentally, both as a rusher and playing the run," Okung said of Jones, crediting the Patriots' coaching staff.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick publicly lauded his players on Saturday, saying, "The team was the best team in the AFC in the regular season. We won two games in the playoffs against two good football teams. The best team in the postseason, that's what this team is. I know that because I've been with them every day and I'm proud of this team.”

For those curious if the players heard those words, the answer is a resounding yes.

"It’s always nice to hear your coach talk with that amount of passion and pride about our unit," Patriots receiver Julian Edelman relayed Sunday before the team's fourth practice.

At the same time, Edelman noted this isn't the time to be happy with receiving verbal bouquets.

"We still have other things to accomplish," he said. "We could talk about how Coach felt and all of that stuff after this week because it doesn’t really mean anything unless you go out and you finish it."

As for finishing it, Edelman described practices in recent days as "high tempo" while pointing out that "guys are focused."

Part of Edelman's preparation has been studying a Seattle defensive backfield that has some of the biggest players in the NFL -- cornerbacks Richard Sherman (6-3, 195), Byron Maxwell (6-1, 207) and Tharold Simon (6-3, 202) and safety Kam Chancellor (6-3, 232) among them.

"They’re a little different because they’re all big. They’re all big, strong, ferocious players," Edelman said. "They play in their scheme. They’re well coached. They play hard. We certainly have some guys that are big, but this a completely different group. [We’ve] got to take these next few days [to] prepare [and] get ready for them and try to bring out the A game."

Edelman described himself as "more focused" for this Super Bowl, a result of having played in one following the 2011 season.

"Any kid who played Pop Warner or high school football, this is the ultimate stage," he said. "When you’re 12 years old, you used to dream about getting this opportunity to go out and play against a really good opponent who’s the defending Super Bowl champs. It doesn’t get any better than that."

Patriots have perfect attendance at final practice before trip

January, 25, 2015
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots had perfect attendance in their final practice before heading to Arizona for Super Bowl XLIX.

The Patriots practiced inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse for the fourth consecutive day Sunday as they are preparing for Super Bowl conditions.

Rookie center Bryan Stork, who has been dealing with a knee issue, continues to show no noticeable signs of injury, as it looks like he will be ready to play in the Super Bowl.

Players were wearing sweats and shells at practice.

The final event for the Patriots before heading to Arizona is a send-off rally at 11 a.m. ET Monday at City Hall Plaza in Boston.

The Patriots' next practice will be in Arizona.

Transcript: Bill Belichick's defense of the Patriots

January, 24, 2015
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick called an impromptu news conference to address the football deflation allegations against his team. What follows are his extensive opening remarks:

“I want to take this opportunity to share some information. I spent a significant amount of time this past week learning as much as I could learn, more than I could ever imagine to tell you the truth, about bladders, gauges, stitching, pressure, game-day ball preparation, rub downs and so forth. I’m trying to be as helpful as I can here and show you what I’ve learned.

Belichick
“Having coached for 40 years in the National Football League, played for several years, growing up in a football family, being around this game my entire life, it’s clear that I don’t know very much about this area. Over the last few days, I’ve learned a lot more than I ever knew, like exponentially more.

“I feel like this is important because there have been questions raised and I believe now 100 percent that I have personally and we as an organization have absolutely followed every rule to the letter. Now it is a feeling on behalf of everyone in the organization, everyone that is involved in this organization, that we need to say something.

“I’ve talked to and gathered a lot of information from members of our staff. I have talked to other people familiar with this subject in other organizations and we have performed an internal study of the process and I think there’s certainly other things that I can do, maybe other research that can be done.

“I’d say at this time I definitely have enough information to share it with you. And so based on the events of today, I feel now is the time to do it rather than wait. Though, I know this is kind of an impromptu thing, but that’s just the way it worked out.

“First of all, let me start with the process. As Tom [Brady] explained on Thursday, I think the most important part of the football for the quarterback is the feel of the football. I don’t think there is any question about that and the exterior feel of the ball is not only critical, but it’s also very easily identifiable. When I feel a football, I can feel the difference between slippery and tacky. I can feel the difference in the texture of the football of what degree it’s broken in. If you put five footballs out there, which football is broken in the most, which football is broken in the least, that’s easy to identify and that’s in a sense the essence of the preparation. We prepare our footballs over time and we use them in practice. That preparation process continues right up until the footballs are given to the officials prior to the game. That’s when they are finalized, if I could use that word. I would say that in that process, I’ve handled dozens of footballs over the past week. The texture of the footballs is very easy to identify. The pressure of the footballs is a whole different story. It’s much more difficult to feel or identify.

“So the focus of our pregame preparation for the footballs is based on texture and feel. I think Tom went into that extensively on Thursday and he obviously could go through it a lot better than I can because he obviously is the one touching them, but that’s the heart of the process.

“So we simulated a game-day situation in terms of the preparation of the footballs and where the balls [were] at various [points] in the day or night, as the case was Sunday. I would say that our preparation process for the footballs is what we do -- I can’t speak for anybody else, it’s what we do -- and that [preparation] process we have found raises the PSI approximately one pound [per square inch]. That process of creating a tackiness, a texture, the right feel, whatever that feel is, a sensation for the quarterback, that process elevates the PSI approximately one pound [per square inch] based on what our study showed, which was multiple footballs, multiple examples in the process as we would do for a game. It’s not one football.

“When the footballs are delivered to the officials’ locker room, the officials were asked to inflate them to 12.5 PSI, 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 [PSI]. That’s at the discretion of the official regardless of what we ask for, it’s the official’s discretion to put them where he wants. Again, that’s done in a controlled climate. The footballs are prepared in our locker room. They are delivered to the officials’ locker room, which is a controlled environment. It’s whatever we have here, is what we have there.

“When the footballs go out onto the field into game conditions, whatever those conditions are, whether it’s hot and humid, cold and damp, cold and dry, whatever it is, that’s where the footballs are played with and that’s where the measurements would be different -- possibly different -- from what they are in a controlled environment and that’s what we found. We found that once the footballs were on the field over an extended period of time, in other words they were adjusted to the climatic conditions and also the fact that the footballs, which an equilibrium without the rubbing process after that had run its course and the footballs reached an equilibrium, that they were down approximately 1.5 pounds per square inch. When we brought the footballs back in after that process and retested them in a controlled environment as we have here, then those measurements rose approximately 0.5 PSI. So the net of 1.5 [PSI] back down 0.5 [PSI] is approximately 1 PSI.

“Now, we all know that air pressure is a function of the atmospheric conditions, it’s a function of that. So, if there’s activity in the ball relative to the rubbing process, I think that explains why when we gave them to the officials and the officials put it at 12.5 [PSI] if that’s in fact what they did, that once the ball reached its equilibrium state, it probably was closer to 11.5 [PSI]. That’s just our measurements, 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. But, it’s similar to the concept of when you get into your car and the light comes on and it says low tire pressure because the car has been sitting in the driveway outside overnight and you start it up and you start driving it and the light goes off -- it’s a similar concept to that. So the atmospheric conditions as well as the true equilibrium of the football is critical to the measurement.

“At no time were any of our footballs prepared anywhere other than our locker room or in an area very close to that, never in a heated room or a heated condition. That has absolutely never taken place to anyone’s knowledge or anyone’s recollection and that just didn’t happen. When you measure a football there are a number of different issues that come up -- No. 1 gauges. There are multiple types of gauges and the accuracy of one gauge relative to another, there is variance there. We are talking about air pressure. So there is some variance there.

“Clearly, all footballs are different. So footballs that come out of a similar pack, a similar box, a similar preparation, each football has its own unique characteristics because it’s not a man-made piece of equipment. It’s an animal skin. It’s a bladder. It’s stitching. It’s laces. And each one has its own unique characteristics. Whatever you do with that football, if you do the same with another one, it might be close, but there’s a variance between each individual football. Footballs do not get measured during the game. We have no way of knowing until we went through this exercise that this was really taking place, so when we hand the footballs to the officials, the officials put them at whatever they put them at, but let’s just say it’s 12.5 [PSI]. That’s where they put them and the air pressure at that point from then on until the end of the game, we have no knowledge of. And honestly, it’s never been a concern. What is a concern is the texture of the footballs, and again that is a point that Tom hit on hard on Thursday.

“We had our quarterbacks look at a number of footballs and they were unable to differentiate a one-pound-per-square-inch difference in those footballs. They were unable to do it. On a two-pound differential there was some degree of differentiation, but certainly not a consistent one. Couple ones they could pick out, but they were also wrong on some of the other ones that they had. So you’re welcome to do that [test] yourself. I can tell you from all the footballs that I’ve handled over the last week, you can’t tell the difference if there is a 1 PSI difference or a 0.5 PSI difference in any of the footballs.

“Again, anyone who has seen us practice knows that we make it harder, not easier, to handle the football.

“And our players train in conditions that a lot of people would recommend that we not drive in. That’s what they do. They are a physically and mentally tough team that works hard, that trains hard, that prepares hard and have met every challenge that I’ve put in front of them. And I know that because I work them every day. This team was the best team in the AFC in the regular season and we won two games in the playoffs against two good football teams, the best team in the postseason. And that’s what this team is. And I know that because I’ve been with them every day and I’m proud of this team.

“So, I just want to share with you over the last week. I’m embarrassed to talk about the amount of time I’ve put into this relative to the other important challenge in front of us. I’m not a scientist. I’m not an expert in footballs. I’m not an expert in football measurements. I’m just telling you what I know. I’m not going to say I’m Mona Lisa Vito of the football world, as she was in the car expertise area, alright?

“At no time was there any intent whatsoever to try to compromise the integrity of the game or to gain an advantage -- quite the opposite. We feel like we followed the rules of the game to the letter in our preparations, in our procedures in a way that we handle every game that we’ve played in as it relates to this matter. We try to do everything right. We try to err on the side of caution. It’s been that way now for many years. Anything that’s close, we stay as far away from the line as we can, and in this case I can say that we are as far as I know and everything I can do, we did everything as right as we could do it. And we welcome the league’s investigation into this matter. I think there are a number of things that need to be looked into on a number of levels. That’s not for this conversation. I’m sure it will be taken up at another point in time. And this is the end of this subject for me for a long time. OK?

“We have a huge game, a huge challenge for our football team, and that’s where that focus is going to go. I’ve spent more than enough time on this and I’m happy to share this information with you to try to tell you some of the things that I have learned over the last week, which I have learned way more than I’ve ever thought I would learn. The process, the whole thing is much more complex and I mean, there are a lot of variables that I was unaware of. It sounds simple and I’m not trying to say that we are trying to land a guy on the moon, but there’s a lot of things here that a little hard to get a handle on and there was a variance in so many of these things.”

Patriots mimic Super Bowl conditions at practice

January, 24, 2015
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots had perfect attendance at practice as they practiced inside the Dana-Farber Fieldhouse once again.

The Patriots have held all three practices this week in their indoor practice facility as they prepare for conditions similar to the ones they will encounter in the Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.

Patriots rookie center Bryan Stork, who is dealing with a right knee injury he suffered in the divisional-round victory over the Ravens, continues to practice. Stork’s progress and consistent presence at practice is an encouraging sign, as he would shore up the interior of the offensive line.

Players were wearing sweats and shells.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The NFL released the following statement Friday:
"Our office has been conducting an investigation as to whether the footballs used in last Sunday's AFC Championship Game complied with the specifications that are set forth in the playing rules. The investigation began based on information that suggested that the game balls used by the New England Patriots were not properly inflated to levels required by the playing rules, specifically Playing Rule 2, Section 1, which requires that the ball be inflated to between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch. Prior to the game, the game officials inspect the footballs to be used by each team and confirm that this standard is satisfied, which was done before last Sunday's game.

"The investigation is being led jointly by NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash and Ted Wells of the law firm of Paul Weiss. Mr. Wells and his firm bring additional expertise and a valuable independent perspective. The investigation began promptly on Sunday night. Over the past several days, nearly 40 interviews have been conducted, including of Patriots personnel, game officials, and third parties with relevant information and expertise. We have obtained and are continuing to obtain additional information, including video and other electronic information and physical evidence. We have retained Renaissance Associates, an investigatory firm with sophisticated forensic expertise to assist in reviewing electronic and video information.

"The playing rules are intended to protect the fairness and integrity of our games. We take seriously claims that those rules have been violated and will fully investigate this matter without compromise or delay. The investigation is ongoing, will be thorough and objective, and is being pursued expeditiously. In the coming days, we expect to conduct numerous additional interviews, examine video and other forensic evidence, as well as relevant physical evidence. While the evidence thus far supports the conclusion that footballs that were under-inflated were used by the Patriots in the first half, the footballs were properly inflated for the second half and confirmed at the conclusion of the game to have remained properly inflated. The goals of the investigation will be to determine the explanation for why footballs used in the game were not in compliance with the playing rules and specifically whether any noncompliance was the result of deliberate action. We have not made any judgments on these points and will not do so until we have concluded our investigation and considered all of the relevant evidence.

"Upon being advised of the investigation, the Patriots promptly pledged their full cooperation and have made their personnel and other information available to us upon request. Our investigation will seek information from any and all relevant sources and we expect full cooperation from other clubs as well. As we develop more information and are in a position to reach conclusions, we will share them publicly."
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis isn't taking the bait.

Revis
Asked his thoughts on Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman declaring himself the best player in the NFL at the position, Revis was quick with his response.

"That's great," he said, before snapping his head in the other direction to field a different question.

The discussion ended there. But it should be noted, for context, that Sherman also had high praise for Revis.

Over the course of the season, Revis has explained at various points that talk of being the best in the NFL is no longer important to him.

"I'm past all that," Revis recently said, adding that everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Re-grade of 2014 kind to the Patriots

January, 23, 2015
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ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. is reviewing each team's 2014 draft class and re-grading Insider them based on his initial thoughts from last season. Kiper sets his parameters for the grades at the beginning of the piece, and from a New England Patriots perspective, he has them improving based on his first impressions.

Kiper had given the Patriots a C grade immediately after the draft. And the mark improved in his re-grade.

Stork
"A great get was landing eventual starting center Bryan Stork in Round 4 and also getting likely keepers Cameron Fleming and Zach Moore. ... Yes, they got less out of their rookies than many teams with worse grades. But, divide that by winning," Kiper writes.

Undrafted free-agent cornerback Malcolm Butler could also be included in that mix, and he played some meaningful snaps for the team this season (16.6 percent, 182 snaps).

The Patriots were one of 13 teams improving their grades in Kiper's estimation.

One general thought from reading Kiper's piece: This year's Super Bowl teams, the Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, are good examples of how the draft helps them fortify their roster with the future in mind, not necessarily in the first year.

That reminds us of a comment from Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly, via Peter King of TheMMQB.com: "What's the worst thing about the league? ... The draft. I mean, the hype that goes into the draft is insane. Totally insane. The biggest thing for me is that everybody thinks whoever you drafted or whoever you signed is now gonna be a savior. They come in just like me and you come in as freshmen in high school or freshmen in college, or your first year on the job at Sports Illustrated -- you're not telling people what to do, you're just trying to figure out what room to go to. I think a lot of times the hype turns into really, really hard times for the individual who got picked, because there's so many expectations of everyone building them up to be Superman because they had three months to write about them and talk about them. Then when they get picked, they're a very, very good prospect, but there's a learning curve when you go from any job out of college into a company. If you take a job at Wells Fargo when you get out of college, your first day of the job they don't say, 'He's our first-round draft pick, he's the savior to the company!'"

LeGarrette Blount: 'Felt like a normal ball'

January, 22, 2015
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — For his part, New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount said Thursday that he didn’t feel anything different regarding the inflation of the footballs used in Sunday’s AFC title game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Williams
Blount
“I don’t know what the proper inflation feeling is, but it felt like a normal ball,” Blount said.

“I don’t have any knowledge of it. We practice with crappier balls than what we play with. I don’t know anything about what’s going on.”

The NFL found that 11 of the Patriots' 12 game balls were inflated significantly below the NFL's requirements, league sources involved and familiar with the investigation of Sunday's AFC Championship Game told ESPN's Chris Mortensen.

In the game, Blount had 30 carries for 148 yards and three touchdowns. Outside of quarterback Tom Brady and center Ryan Wendell, Blount handled the ball more than any other Patriots player.

With Patriots head coach Bill Belichick having faced the media Thursday morning and saying he, too, had no knowledge of any ball deflation during the game. Brady has a news conference scheduled Thursday for 3:45 p.m. ET.

“I feel like he has more important things to worry about than the pressure of a football,” Blount said of Brady.

Given the situation, media focus has shifted from next Sunday’s Super Bowl matchup against the Seattle Seahawks during the past couple of days. Blount said he isn’t surprised by the reaction, noting that it comes with the territory of the job and that the team won’t let it break their focus.

“It doesn't upset me,” Blount said. “They’re not inside our locker room. They don’t know what we do and what we don’t do.

“We’re not going to let it be a distraction. We’re going to continue doing what we do to prepare for this game. Everything that we need to do to make sure that we’re ready to play.”

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- After his opening remarks Thursday, which lasted about eight minutes, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick fielded questions from reporters.

The following was the Q&A:

Q: Aside from the NFL investigation, in your own investigation, did you find if anyone willfully [altered the footballs]?

Belichick: I’ve told you everything I know. I have nothing. I don’t have an explanation.

Q: Not withstanding what you’ve said here today, there are a lot of people questioning your integrity, who say you’re a win-at-all costs ...

Belichick: I’ve told you everything I know.

Q: What do you say to critics who are challenging your character, which seems to go well beyond the sport of football?

Belichick: I’ve told you everything I know.

Q: Any message to the fans who are watching this and are upset by all this?

Belichick: I’ve told them everything I know. There’s nothing else I can add to it.

Q: I would assume you’ve had conversations with Tom [Brady] about this specific issue and what happened ...

Belichick: I have no explanation for what happened.

Q: Coach, why do you think these controversies continue to follow you?

Belichick: I don’t have an explanation for what happened.

Q: As many Super Bowls as you’ve been to, you know distractions come with the territory. What do you say to your younger players who don’t have the experience being in the spotlight like this, and some of the older players?

Belichick: None of them are involved with this.

Q: How do you keep them focused with all of this going on?

Belichick: None of them are involved in this.

Q: Does Tom Brady handle the ball after inspection with his ball boys?

Belichick: Those are all questions that should be directed to the league, and that’s part of what they’re doing. That’s not what I’m doing.

Q: Is it possible that someone on your sideline, even though you maybe didn’t know about it, might have deliberately altered a ball?

Belichick: I don’t have an explanation for what happened. I’ve told you all that I can tell you from my point of view. Anything coming from the investigative side from the league needs to be directed towards them.

Q: Why do you want to overinflate the balls unless you think it happens naturally?

Belichick: So that there is no opportunity for a small margin of error that would put us under the specifications.

Q: Do you see any circumstance that 11 of 12 footballs could have deflated by accident?

Belichick: I don’t have an explanation for what happened.

Q: Knowing that you care about what’s going on, what has it been like for you once you found out about the investigation, and what’s it been like trying to deal with everything going on?

Belichick: As I said, I’ve learned a lot about the process. I had no idea how the balls got from the officials locker room [to] the field, and so forth and so on and all that. That’s not something that I have ever thought or concerned myself about game day. I’ve concerned myself with preparing and coaching the team. So some of the things that have been talked about that have happened, I’m totally unaware of.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Former NFL quarterbacks Rich Gannon and Boomer Esiason shared their thoughts on the New England Patriots being investigated for using underinflated footballs.

In a piece written by Jason La Canfora on CBSSports.com, this is their take:

GANNON
"Ask any quarterback, and this is a non-issue. Everybody does something, to them. It's like a pitcher, he wants the ball a certain way. Take Tiger Woods, you wouldn't tell him after he's been hitting a 10.5 degree loft all week with a certain ball that, 'Hey, now we're going to switch your ball out.' That's his thing, and it's that specific feel that you want. That football is how we make our living and it sounds crazy, but it's a sacred thing. It's got to be a certain way."

ESIASON
"It really does seem totally ridiculous that this story has been blown so far out of proportion. If you look at the footballs that the quarterbacks are playing with and throwing for the last six or seven years, just realize that everybody is doing the same thing."

Meanwhile ESPN's Mark Brunell sees it a little differently.

In this video from SportsCenter, he explains how throwing a deflated football was easier for him in inclement weather.

"This is a huge advantage for a quarterback if he gets an opportunity to throw a ball like this because of the grip," Brunell said. "In cold, wet conditions, much like the AFC Championship Game, when you have a tough time as a quarterback gripping the ball, if you can have a ball like this, you can grip it and throw it further and with more ease. I could throw this ball 10 yards further because I can get more hand on the ball, I can squeeze it a little more. It makes a huge difference."
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Putting thoughts in one place on the story about the New England Patriots and deflated footballs:

Need more information on the pregame process. One of the key unanswered questions is the process that referee Walt Anderson and his staff underwent when inspecting the footballs before the AFC Championship Game. Did they test the air pressure of each ball? Just feel them? If they went through a thorough air pressure check of each football, and then conducted the same air pressure check during the game/after the game to find the footballs now had less than 2 pounds per square inch than what they initially did, that would be significant.

[+] EnlargeRob Gronkowski, Patriots
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesPatriots tight end Rob Gronkowski spikes the ball after a touchdown Sunday in the AFC Championship Game.
Difference between supplying underinflated footballs and altering them; officials' role in the process. The reason that more information on the pregame process is critical is that it would help clarify if the Patriots simply supplied underinflated footballs or if the footballs were manipulated in some form after they were inspected. From this viewpoint, the Patriots would still be held accountable for supplying underinflated footballs, but it would yield a lesser penalty when compared to potentially altering the footballs after they were inspected. The reason is that while teams should be supplying footballs that meet specifications, there is also a responsibility on the part of the officials to regulate that. That's why they have the pregame check in the first place. Officials also touch the football on every play, so they are a big part of this story, too.

Comparing Patriots footballs to Colts footballs. There's always the chance that weather conditions/elements could lead to a reduction in the air pressure of the football. So it would be helpful to know the air pressure of the footballs the Colts used in the game for a comparison -- both from the pregame inspection and a postgame inspection.

Quarterbacks are particular about their footballs. We know about Eli Manning's process with footballs from a 2013 New York Times piece. On the CBS broadcast of the Patriots-Packers game on Nov. 30, broadcasters Jim Nantz and Phil Simms talked about Aaron Rodgers' preferences for an overinflated football. In the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday, writer Rick Stroud relayed a story about how quarterback Brad Johnson altered footballs leading into a Super Bowl, paying $7,500 to do so. So we know many quarterbacks are specific in this area and Tom Brady is as well when it comes to how the footballs he uses in a game are broken in. That all seems fair game, as long as the air pressure of the football is within regulations.

Didn't have an impact on the game. It goes without saying, even though Colts tight end Dwayne Allen said it, the deflated footballs had no impact on the outcome of the AFC Championship Game. This is more of an issue of "integrity of the game" when it comes to either supplying footballs within the rules/potentially altering the footballs after they have been inspected.

Patriots always going to be under the microscope. Based on history and their consistent success, a story like this gains more traction with the Patriots than most (if not all) others. For example, if the same thing that happened in the Panthers-Vikings game from November occurred in a Patriots game -- when heaters were used on footballs on the sideline -- it's safe to say we would have heard a lot more about it. So there is a balance here between separating the key facts of what the NFL is looking into and how the Patriots are perceived.

Analyzing incomplete information. At this point, we have incomplete information and more facts are needed to make a final judgment. From this viewpoint, this is the greatest challenge in the 24/7 news cycle we now live in. It's obviously too early to rush to any judgment, but when 11 of 12 footballs come in under weight, it naturally raises questions as to how that can be the case.

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