GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It was an interception ripe for the taking.

At the third quarter ticked away of Sunday’s Pro Bowl, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was looking deep for New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. His pass sailed high and deep as Graham cut off his route. Waiting, what looked patiently, in the end zone were Arizona Cardinals cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Peterson.

Once they saw the pass start sailing both took off for the end zone. Cromartie was inside. Peterson was outside.

Cromartie jumped, trying to time his leap with Ryan’s throw but the ball went right through his hands, potentially slightly tipped by him. It bounced at Peterson’s feet, falling incomplete, both their hopes of a Pro Bowl interception dropping with it. All four Cardinals were on Team Carter, which lost 32-28 to Team Irvin at University of Phoenix Stadium.

“I just dropped it,” an animated Cromartie said after the game. “Can’t say nothing about it. I just dropped it.”

Peterson picked up the ball and threw it at Cromartie, who was sitting on his knees, upset at himself for missing the pick. It was all done in jest but it was also the lightest moment of the most uncompetitive game of the season.

“He said, ‘here you go, here you go,’” Cromartie said.

Peterson wanted the pick. Badly. It would’ve been his second straight Pro Bowl with an interception.

“Definitely would’ve had that ball if he wouldn’t have tipped the ball,” Peterson said of Cromartie.

If he would’ve returned the interception for a touchdown, he could’ve given the Houston Texans' JJ Watt a run for defensive MVP of the game.

“I wanted to win the freaking truck,” said Peterson of the SUV that’s awarded to the MVP. “That was my only opportunity I had to get back to the end zone. But I didn’t get any plays tonight. But it happens.”


PHOENIX -- I spent some time at Seattle Seahawks' media availability on Sunday, as they arrived a day earlier than the New England Patriots. One of the topics that came up was the Seahawks' view of the underinflated football issue as it relates to a distraction.

Sixth-year veteran defensive end Michael Bennett was decisive in his viewpoint, calling the entire issue "propaganda" that is meant to be "inflating the game."

Bennett then elaborated on what he meant.

"It's just talking about all the things that are not really important; talking about the balls, talking about, 'Did something happen in 2006?'" he said. "It's not really talking about what's ahead, what Tom Brady has accomplished this year, what Robert Gronkowski has accomplished this year, what Bill Belichick has done over the last five years as a coach; always winning his division, getting a chance to play in the AFC championship.

"It's not talking about the things that Russell Wilson has done. [Richard] Sherm[an], Marshawn Lynch and the records they're [achieving]. ...

"... It's really just about two great teams playing. I think a lot of people are shying away from that aspect of it. The Patriots are arguably one of the best teams of this decade and we're starting to try to catch up to where they're at, what they've done the last 10 years. Bill Belichick is one of the best coaches of all time, so I think people are forgetting that.

"It's too much about the balls and stuff and hopefully everyone starts to talk about the game."

Bennett doesn't think the Patriots will be knocked off track by any distraction.

"I heard Bill say he's more worried about the task at hand. I heard [Brady] say that they're worried about that and [Gronkowski] said the same thing, so I think it's one of those things where they're not too worried about it. I think the media is more worried about it than [them]," he said.
One thing is certain: Last week was a lot easier for Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll than it was for New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Belichick and his players spent a good portion of the week answering "Deflategate" questions, including an unusual press conference Saturday in which Belichick used scientific reasons for the footballs being deflated in the AFC Championship Game.

“It’s a big deal for them," Carroll said. “I know they’re dealing with it. It isn’t for us at all. It has no bearing on anything."

That issue aside, Carroll emphasized again how much he and Belichick have in common, even though their personalities are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

“We are both defensive guys, both kind of started in the back end in the secondary and all that,” Carroll said. “But I think it’s more. You can’t play this game at championship level unless you have a lot of fundamental aspects of your game together. You can’t operate, because other teams beat you.

“I’ll give you a stat that’s crucial. Since 2012, they’re plus-51 in the turnover ratio and we’re plus-51 in the turnover ratio. The next team is plus-28, whoever it is. To have a football team that plays with that kind of focus and that kind of concentration, it crosses the entire gamut. It’s every aspect of your game, and guys have to appreciate and understand what fundamentals in this game are all about. I think that’s a nice comparison."
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll had a one-word answer when asked how his team will approach its preparation this week for the New England Patriots and Super Bowl XLIX: “repping.”

Carroll means the Seahawks will spend this week on repetition, reviewing what they’ve already worked on during the off week. The Seahawks are using the same approach they had last year for the Super Bowl.

"We practiced as though we were playing a game [in one week], so we got all the installation in [of the game plan],” Carroll said. “We’ll go into game week really ready to finish it up in preparation.”

Carroll feels that’s the best way to approach the crazy week in Arizona, where there is so much media attention and so many distractions.

“Everything will be continued focus on the little things," Carroll said. “It’s making sure that we’re really sharp and ready and the players know exactly what’s asked of them and they will feel really good about the game plan and what they need to know.”

Carroll believes knowing the drill from last year is a major benefit to the 34 returning players for Seattle. It’s also beneficial that those players can prepare the other 19 guys for what’s coming.

"I think it’s really important,” Carroll said. “Having been through this process before, the guys know what to expect. They know what we’re calling from them this week. There is nothing new about that. It’s so fresh that we had just done it [at last year’s Super Bowl], so we’re going to stay right with the routine."

All the players will be available for interviews Tuesday in what has become an annual sideshow of zaniness on media day, which this year takes place at the US Airways Center in downtown Phoenix.

Carroll and six players -- quarterback Russell Wilson, wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, left tackle Russell Okung, defensive end Michael Bennett, free safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman -- will speak to reporters when the team arrives at its hotel Sunday.

Players also have media obligations on Wednesday and Thursday but are not available from Friday until the game Sunday. Carroll and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick have a joint press conference Friday morning.
Take “front-runner” Lane Kiffin off the San Francisco 49ers’ short list of offensive coordinator candidates.

Kiffin, the former head coach of the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Volunteers and USC Trojans and current offensive coordinator at Alabama, confirmed Saturday he would be staying in college rather than returning to the NFL, via the Alabama football team's official Twitter feed.

Last week, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported Kiffin was the “front-runner” to land the gig on new Niners coach Jim Tomsula’s staff. But with Kiffin staying in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to where will the 49ers shift their focus?

Indianapolis Colts special offensive assistant Rob Chudzinski, a former head coach of the Cleveland Browns, has also been a target of the 49ers, but they, as well as the St. Louis Rams, have reportedly been denied permission to interview Chudzinski.

“I’m not going to get into specifics, but it’s ultimately my job to make sure that good people stay in this building and don't just walk right now,” Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said Friday. “So we’ll address that and do our best to keep good people here.”

Reports, though, have Chudzinski’s contract expiring next week.

The Niners have also been linked to Mike Shanahan for the offensive coordinator opening, and the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach of the Denver Broncos was the team’s play-caller the last time the 49ers won the Super Bowl, 20 years ago.

Niners quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst also could be considered an option.
RENTON, Wash. – With big-money contracts on the horizon for Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (perhaps over $20 million a year) and middle linebacker Bobby Wagner (likely as much as $8 million a year), many people assume the Seahawks won’t be able to keep cornerback Byron Maxwell.

Seahawks general manager John Schneider sees it differently.

“Quite frankly, one of our first priorities is to talk to Maxey," Schneider said. “He’s going to be a highly-sought free agent after the season, and he should be, but we would like to have the opportunity to try to retain him.”

The Seahawks already have the highest paid secondary in the NFL with cornerback Richard Sherman (four more years for $56 million), free safety Earl Thomas (four more years for $38 million) and strong safety Kam Chancellor (three more years at $19.7 million).

Keeping Maxwell will be difficult, and the Seahawks believe they have a rising star in second-year cornerback Tharold Simon.

Schneider believes the Seahawks are ahead of the game compared to last season, when the Super Bowl trip caused the management team to get a little overwhelmed.

“The good thing is we’ve had our free agency meeting already, about a month ago,” Schneider said. “We did it earlier than last year. We kind of got in a crunch [last year] and I don’t think we did a very good job with it. We're more prepared [this year] for what other people would think of our free agents and what we think of their free agents.

“It felt great to have that behind us before the playoffs started. And we’re having our draft meeting starting down there [in Arizona next week]. We found out last year we got a little behind. I’m not saying we did a bad job with it, but we could have done a better job.”
RENTON, Wash. -- Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said free safety Earl Thomas will play in the Super Bowl after Thomas returned to practice Friday on a limited basis.

Thomas missed the first two days of practice this week after suffering a separated shoulder in the NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers.

“It’s over, really,” Carroll said of Thomas’ injury concerns. “There were two days of him being very uncomfortable [sitting out practice]. It’s really good to get him back out because of all the continuity that these guys have shared for so long. It picks everybody up.

“That’s a big statement that Earl is going to be fine for next week. It’s going to take him all the way to game day and we’ll keep him from getting banged up [next week in practice], but he’ll be fine by game time.”

At this point, everyone on the 53-man roster is good to go for the Super Bowl, including cornerback Richard Sherman, who suffered a sprained elbow against Green Bay.

“Richard did everything," Carroll said. “He took every snap this week and looked totally fine.”

Carroll said he didn’t know whether Sherman would wear a brace on his arm for the Super Bowl.

Starting right guard J.R. Sweezy missed practice all week, but Carroll said Sweezy also is OK.

“We rested J.R. this week," Carroll said. “He’s has some ankle issues that have been kind of nagging all year, so we took the benefit of the [bye] week. He could play this week if we were playing.”

Right tackle Justin Britt, who missed the game Sunday with a knee injury, practiced all week, and Carroll said Britt was fine.
RENTON, Wash. – Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and defensive end Michael Bennett know the circus is coming on Tuesday for Super Bowl media day in Arizona. Sherman learned that lesson last year.

“I think there was somebody naked at media day,” Sherman said. “Everybody was like, ‘Media day is so serious.’ Then you see a clown over there and three kids over here. Somebody asked me about a Nintendo. So I was like, ‘Oh, I guess this isn’t as serious as they made it out to be.’ "

Bennett could do without all the Super Bowl distractions.

“I think it’s just boring," Bennett said. “It’s just a waste of time. It’s for the NFL to make their money."

Bennett said he didn’t need to be at the festivities last year to know what it was like.

“That’s always been my opinion," Bennett said “It’s just like a boxing match. It’s all about the hype. They want to keep building it up, but at the end of the day, you really just have to play the game.”

Bennett tries to ignore it all and make sure he’s studying the New England Patriots.

The Seahawks are following the same plan they had last year of practicing and installing the entire game plan this week, just like they were playing on Sunday. That’s make it easier for the players to deal with all the media assignments next week in Arizona and use practice to review what they’ve already worked on.

“You really can’t get into all of the media and all of the things going on,” Bennett said. “You see all of the things they’re talking about now just to keep everybody talking about the game, but really it’s about us lining up and playing a great football team and a great game.”
RENTON, Wash. -- Want to guess how many times the phrase "deflated balls" will be mentioned on TV during the Super Bowl? How about whether Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch will make an obscene gesture during the game?

That’s just two of a plethora of crazy things you can place a bet on this week for Super Bowl XLIX. The website listed dozens of unusual choices for betting on the big game. Here are the odds on those two items above, along with a few others that are atypical, to say the least, and the MVP odds:

Deflated balls reference:

Over/Under -- 2 1/2

Will Lynch have an obscene gesture?
Yes -- 4/1
No -- 1/6

Will Bill Belichick smile during the game on camera?
Yes -- 3/2
No -- 1/2

What color hoodie will Belichick wear?
Grey -- 1/2
Blue -- 7/4
Red -- 7/1

Which song will Katy Perry perform first at halftime?
Firework -- 3/2
Roar -- 3/2
This Is How We Do -- 5/1
Dark Horse -- 12/1
E.T. -- 12/1
Wide Awake -- 12/1
Waking Up In Vegas -- 20/1

What color hair will Katy Perry have?
Black/Brown -- 2/1
Pink/Red -- 3/1
Blue/Green -- 3/1
Blonde -- 4/1
Purple -- 5/1

How many times will Gisele Bundchen (Tom Brady's wife) be shown on TV?
Over/Under 1 1/2

Which team owner will be shown more on TV?
Robert Kraft -- 1/2
Paul Allen -- 3/2

Which city will have the higher Nielsen rating?
Boston -- 11/10
Seattle -- 2/3

What will be higher?
Russell Wilson's passing yards Sunday or the U.S. national average gas price (in cents) on Monday.

The first score of the game will be what?
Patriots Field Goal -- 4/1
Patriots TD Pass -- 3/1
Patriots Rushing TD -- 11/2
Patriots Safety -- 33/1
Patriots Defensive or Special Teams TD -- 14/1
Seahawks Field Goal -- 7/2
Seahawks TD Pass -- 4/1
Seahawks Rushing TD -- 4/1
Seahawks Safety -- 33/1
Seahawks Defensive or Special Teams TD -- 14/1

Super Bowl MVP odds:
Tom Brady -- 8/5
Russell Wilson -- 7/2
Marshawn Lynch -- 4/1
Rob Gronkowski -- 9/1
LeGarrette Blount -- 12/1
ESPN NFL analysts Tedy Bruschi has a unique perspective as a man who played for both Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

Bruschi was linebacker for the Patriots during Carroll’s three years there (1997-99) and during the following nine years of his career under Belichick.

“I think sometimes people forget that Pete spent three years in New England, and they were three very influential years of my career,” Bruschi said on a conference call Thursday. “It was my second, third and fourth year, my rookie year being with [Bill] Parcells.

“Carroll came in  I believe our records were 10-6 and 9-7 and 8-8. There were so many young players like myself that learned a lot from Pete.”

Bruschi was asked how Carroll is different now than he was at New England.

“Well, I don't think he's changed much,” Bruschi said. “Maybe he's grown as a coach in his own mind. I think you always try to improve. But I see that energy. I see the exuberance, the enthusiasm. The way that he speaks at the podium when I watch his press conferences is very similar to the way he handles things with us in the locker room.

"Turnover Thursday, No Repeat Friday, things like that. The naming of the days. And the way he's able to relate to the new modern athlete. I think that's new on how he's done that.”

Bruschi said he never doubted Carroll’s skills as a leader.

“I always thought that Pete was a great coach,” Bruschi said. “I was just learning to play linebacker when Pete came in. I was a defensive end at the University of Arizona. That's all I did was rush the passer. So there was a lot I had to learn.

“Pete taught me a lot of things about becoming a leader. It's just unfortunate I wasn't ready to take that step yet, because I was still learning how to survive to stay on a team.”
Not many people would pass up the chance for a do-over, right?

ESPN NFL analyst Mel Kiper Jr. did just that with last year's draft. He went back over all 32 teams' 2014 selections and re-graded everyone's picks.

A year ago he gave the San Francisco 49ers a post-draft grade of "A."


"I really thought this was a fantastic draft at the time, and while I still really like it, the issues are that we don't know if they have a starting wide receiver out of this class, and that's a position of need," Kiper wrote. "While they got contributions in several places from this group, it was a disappointing season for the 49ers measured against their expectations."

An 8-8, non-playoff season essentially cost Jim Harbaugh his job.

Kiper mentioned the likes of defensive back Jimmie Ward and running back Carlos Hyde as good gets and referred to linebackers Aaron Lynch and Chris Borland as steals in the draft but wanted to see more out of center Marcus Martin and receiver/returner Bruce Ellington.

"This is another good draft that gets dinged slightly because the team took a step back, particularly on offense," Kiper wrote.

So, what is Kiper's re-adjusted grade on the Niners' 2014 draft? It's Insider so you'll have to click here. Insider
RENTON, Wash. -- The Seattle Seahawks players continued to hear questions Thursday about the New England Patriots' underinflated-football controversy, and for the most part, the Seahawks either laughed it off and just didn’t really care.

“We haven’t even really talked about it,” said Seahawks defensive tackle Kevin Williams. “You’ve still got to tackle, you’ve still got to cover and you’ve still got to rush the quarterback. It doesn’t matter how much air is in the ball.”

Williams, however, does think it’s an issue for the New England Patriots.

“It’s definitely a distraction for them," Williams said. “That’s kind of all the media is talking about right now. I’m glad it’s their problem and not ours.”

Seahawks middle linebacker Bobby Wagner said it doesn’t change his play one way or the other.

“I don’t care," Wagner said. “They can be flat. They can be pumped up. Someone has to hand them off and someone has to catch them. I’m the guy who has to tackle them, so put as much air as you want in them.”

Wagner also doesn’t worry about the integrity of the situation.

“I don’t know what’s unfair," Wagner said. “It’s playing ball. At the end of the day, what can we do now? It’s all in the past.

“It’s not like we’re going to go and say, ‘Replay the game.’ It’s not like we’re going to go and say, ‘Disqualify them or something.’ They’re here and we’re going to play them and we’re going to take advantage of all of our advantages.”

Has the controversy changed the way he views the Patriots?

“It hasn’t changed," Wagner said. “They are what they are. We focus on us and they do what they do. They’re winners. They’ve done this for a long time. I’ve watched them -- growing up -- winning. I have respect for them.”
There was a reason Eric Mangini was referred to as “Mangenius” early in his coaching career, both in positive and negative ways.

There is also a reason Mangini has not been coaching on the defensive side of the ball since at least 2010, when he was fired as head coach of the Cleveland Browns.

The San Francisco 49ers and new coach Jim Tomsula, though, believe there is still some magic in Mangini when it comes to replicating not only his past success as a defensive-minded coach, but in keeping Vic Fangio’s achievements rolling.

Otherwise, why tab Mangini to succeed Fangio as the Niners’ defensive coordinator, per a report from ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, after four straight seasons with top-five total defenses?

As 49ers tight ends coach last year and a senior offensive consultant in 2013, Mangini kept a relatively low profile on Jim Harbaugh’s staff. The thinking was Harbaugh wanted Mangini on that side of the ball to give his offensive coaches an inkling as to what a defense might be thinking.

[+] EnlargeEric Mangini
AP Photo/Jeff ChiuBefore becoming head coach of the Jets and Browns, Eric Mangini was defensive coordinator of the Patriots.
His resume spoke for itself.

Mangini, who interviewed for the Oakland Raiders head coach job that eventually went to Jack Del Rio, and was considered for their defensive coordinator job as well as the one in Washington, began his career as a ball boy for the Browns and then-coach Bill Belichick took a shine to him.

In 1996, Mangini was an offensive assistant with the Baltimore Ravens before rejoining Belichick, who was the New York Jets defensive coordinator, in the Meadowlands as a defensive assistant from 1997 through 1999.

He went to New England with Belichick in 2000 as defensive backs coach through 2004, winning three Super Bowl rings, before being promoted to defensive coordinator in 2005. The Patriots had the No. 26 total defense that season and, a year later, he landed his first head coach gig with the Jets, becoming the youngest head coach in the NFL at 35.

The Jets went 10-6 in 2006 and lost in the wild-card round to the AFC East champion Patriots 37-16. The Jets went 4-12 in 2007.

In 2008, the Jets started out 8-3 but lost four of their last five to finish 9-7 and out of the playoffs. Mangini, who blew the whistle on his mentor Belichick’s “Spygate” scandal and later said he regretted doing it, was fired. But he found work quickly, hired as the Browns head coach.

A pair of 5-11 seasons ended Mangini’s Cleveland stay and he worked for ESPN as an NFL analyst in 2011 and 2012.

That’s when coaching called to him in San Francisco.

Mangini has experience with both 3-4 and 4-3 base defenses -- new senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach Jason Tarver, the former Raiders’ defensive coordinator, ran a 4-3 in Oakland but is a 3-4 coach at heart -- and the 49ers’ personnel dictates a 3-4 scheme.

However, the Niners could put Chris Borland at middle linebacker and flank him with All-Pro inside linebacker Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, both of whom are coming off injury. Then they probably would have to put outside linebackers Aldon Smith and Aaron Lynch at defensive end.

Still, the 49ers would have to figure out what to do with their interior defensive linemen, which is a question mark with the uncertain status of Justin Smith, though the D-line is Tomsula’s forte.

It's all in due time for the rebirth of "Mangenius," right?
RENTON, Wash. -- Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and Seattle Seahawks right guard J.R. Sweezy were fined by the NFL on Thursday for illegal hits in the NFC Championship Game last Sunday.

Matthews was fined $22,050 for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson after Wilson threw an interception in the second quarter.

Sweezy was fined $8,268 for a late hit on Matthews when Matthews was on the ground after sacking Wilson in the third quarter.
As far as the likes of Vernon Davis, Derek Carrier, Vance McDonald, Garrett Celek and Asante Cleveland are concerned, they hope the hiring of Tony Sparano as tight ends coach is more than a ceremonial title.

They should want Sprano to fix them, literally and figuratively.

Indeed, the San Francisco 49ers’ tight end group suffered through an injury-filled and shockingly unproductive season in 2014.

Combined, the quintet combined for 39 receptions for 423 yards, averaging 10.9 yards per catch, and two touchdowns.

By comparison, Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten had 64 catches, 703 yards and five TDs by himself in 2014.

Granted, pass-catchers can’t catch balls if they’re not thrown to them, but the lack of targets would speak to quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s lack of faith in the tight ends in general, Davis in particular.

Consider: After making 13 touchdown catches in 2013, Davis had two in 2014, with none after the opening game at Dallas. The two-time Pro Bowl selection was not targeted at all in the red zone after kickoff weekend and his 26 catches were his fewest since his rookie season of 2006. His 9.4-yards-per-catch average was a career-low.

Carrier added nine receptions for 105 yards and McDonald, a second-round draft pick in 2013, had two catches for 30 yards. Celek checked in with two catches for 53 yards. Cleveland did not catch a pass in six games.

Granted, injuries played a huge part as Davis missed two games with back and ankle injuries, and Carrier (foot), McDonald (back) and Celek (ankle) all finished the season on injured reserve.

So, besides being healthier in 2015, how can Sparano help resurrect a TE crew that regressed under the defensive-minded Eric Mangini after combining for 62 catches for 1,007 yards (16.2 yards per catch) and 13 TDs in 2013?

Sparano, most recently the Oakland Raiders interim head coach, does have experience with tight ends. Granted, not on a daily level since 2004 with the Dallas Cowboys. But Sparano did tutor the aforementioned nine-time Pro Bowl tight end Witten during the first two years of his NFL career.

And Witten might be Canton-bound with 943 catches for 10,502 yards and 57 TD catches in 12 seasons.

The Niners would be satisfied with a return to relevance for their tight ends under Sparano ... for now.