Tom Brady, Patriots cruise past Colts, 45-7, for trip to Super Bowl XLIX

PATRIOTS 45, COLTS 7 FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady and the New England Patriots dynasty were supposed to be finished. Instead, it turned out they were just getting restarted. Now, just a few months after the world wondered if age had finally caught up to them all, and three years after their last heartbreaking Super Bowl loss to the Giants, Brady and the Pats are back on the NFL’s biggest stage in search of their fourth championship ring. They got there by routing the Indianapolis Colts, 45-7, on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium in the AFC Championship Game. It is their sixth AFC title in the last 14 seasons. And when they play the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX in Glendale, Ariz. on Feb. 1, it’ll be a record sixth Super Bowl appearance for both Brady and Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Not bad for a 37-year-old quarterback and a 62-year-old coach who struggled so badly through the first month of this season, many assumed they were nearing the end of their storied careers. “I know we’ve had some ups and downs this year,” Brady said at the trophy presentation on the field. “But right now we’re up, baby. And we’re going to try to stay up for one more game.” They were certainly up for their third straight trip to the AFC title game after losing it each of the last two years. Brady wasn’t at his best, but he still outdueled his younger counterpart, Andrew Luck, by throwing for 226 yards and three touchdowns, including one 17-yarder to his left tackle, Nate Solder. Luck, 25, in his first championship game, was dreadful, even before the heavy rains came in the second half. He completed just 12 of 33 passes for 126 yards and threw two interceptions. The real difference-maker, though, was running back LeGarrette Blount, who provided the power behind the Patriots’ seemingly unstoppable offense. Blount, Continue Reading

Laid-back style of Pete Carroll has Seahawks in Super Bowl

Twenty years ago, Pete Carroll put up a basketball court at the Jets’ practice facility and somehow it was a sign of weakness. He was too close to his players, too friendly and definitely too loose. He wasn’t the autocratic disciplinarian NFL coaches are supposed to be. His hair is much grayer now, two decades after his first job as an NFL head coach, but not much else has changed about the unconventional Carroll. He’s 62 now, more like a grandfather to his players than the fun older brother he once was. But he still has a basketball court next to his practice facility. He’s still close to his players. He’s still friendly and loose. No, that’s not the NFL films image of a head coach. He doesn’t have the focused stare of Vince Lombardi or the grim face of Bill Belichick. He doesn’t even have a Tom Coughlin-sized book of rules. He still goes at his job with an outward enthusiasm that seems more suited for college. But his Seahawks will play in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday night. So it turns out that even in the NFL, his approach works. “It’s just the only way I know how to do it,” Carroll said this past week. “I understand that the guys do respond pretty favorably. They like what’s going on. We’ve created a culture that hopefully allows for guys to be at their best. That’s what we’re trying to do.” It sounds so simple, and it’s really not any different than what he tried to do in his one year with the Jets (1994) and his three seasons with the New England Patriots (1997-99). Carroll never wanted to be Bear Bryant, in a tower above the practice field, distant from and feared by his players. He wanted to be in their huddles. He wanted to run down the sidelines with them and celebrate when they scored. And he wanted their input. It’s not just his way or no way, according to his players. He tries to do things the way they would want them to be Continue Reading

How the Seahawks defense dominated Peyton Manning and won Super Bowl XLVIII

Most games with Peyton Manning at quarterback resemble a battle of wits. To stop him usually requires a creative game plan with a good dose of trickery. But in Super Bowl XLVIII Sunday, the Seahawks dispensed with the X’s and O’s. It was all about the “D,” relentless and dominant. The defense took away most everything the most prolific offense in history attempted to do, not by out-scheming Manning but by outplaying him. He really didn’t have much of a chance against these guys. “Nothing special,” said Michael Bennett, part of a defensive line that owned the line of scrimmage. “I think everybody makes it like you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that. But at the end of the day it’s all about going out and playing the way you play. I told you we’re the best defense ever. We could have played anybody today and have done the same thing. I’d never seen anybody do that to Manning but we expected to play the way we played.” Here’s a look at some of the key elements of the Seahawks’ total victory: PRESSURING PEYTON The first interception by Kam Chancellor was a result of feeling pressure off the edge. The second, a pick six by MVP Malcolm Smith, came as his elbow was hit by Cliff Avril. Manning’s offensive line, which protected him better than any unit all year, was dominated by simple quickness and explosion. Tackles Chris Clark and Orlando Franklin couldn’t handle Avril and Chris Clemmons. Manning’s pocket kept collapsing, his internal clock kept missing beats. It was similar to what happened in the regular-season loss in Indy, when Robert Mathis was harassing him, except it wasn’t just one man, it was four. “We knew facing a quarterback like him, you’d better be able to affect him,” said defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. “We didn’t talk about sacks. We talked about can we get him off the spot? We knew Continue Reading

Peyton Manning has eyes on being first QB to win Super Bowl with two teams

Peyton Manning mentioned he had spoken to Kurt Warner about taking two different teams to the Super Bowl. So, we talked about how he is now one of three quarterbacks to do so and then I asked him if he knew who the third QB was. “Morton, right? Craig Morton,” he said without hesitation. Of course he knew the answer. Manning is a dedicated student of the history of the game. And if he can beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium, he will not only get that elusive second ring, but he will be the first starting quarterback to win Super Bowls for two different teams. Joe Montana couldn’t do it. Johnny Unitas couldn’t do it. Joe Namath couldn’t do it. They couldn’t even get their second team to the Super Bowl. Warner won his first Super Bowl with the Rams, lost his second with the Rams and then lost with the Cardinals. Morton lost with the Cowboys, and then when he was with Denver, he lost to the Cowboys. Manning was 1-1 in Super Bowls with the Colts and now if he wins this game, it’s another significant entry in his Hall of Fame resume John Elway never had the chance to win Super Bowls for multiple teams because he played his entire 16-year career for the Broncos. I asked what he thought the impact of Manning winning for two different franchises would mean to his career. “Well, just add to his legacy, just add to his greatness,” said Elway, the Broncos’ executive VP of football operations. “For me, he’s already in the top five in the discussions. He’s just continuing to elevate himself as far as how many votes he’s getting for the all-time best.” Manning would always rather talk about the team than himself, but you can sense that not only is the second ring important to him, but doing it for another organization would be something for him to cherish. “I know that was special for Kurt to take the Continue Reading

Sunday Morning QB: Broncos and 49ers are leading the Super Bowl race

There are three parts to the NFL season: The first half, the second half and then the playoffs. The road is one-third traveled. Who makes it the rest of the way to MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2 for Super Bowl XLVIII? Here’s how I rank every team’s chances from the best to the historically bad. 1. Broncos (7-1) Eli won Super Bowl XLVI on Peyton’s home field in Indy and now Peyton has a great chance to lift the trophy, in Eli’s neighborhood. Peyton’s offense has been unstoppable: He has 25 TDs to just three INTs and Denver’s lowest point total (33) was in their only loss. John Fox is a defensive coach and he better coach up his guys on that side of the ball if he wants to get to MetLife. 2. 49ers (6-2) They are red-hot after losing early on by 26 to the Seahawks and 20 to the Colts. Now they’ve won five straight by a combined 174-61. Aldon Smith has been reinstated after alcohol rehab, and they should get wideouts Michael Crabtree (Achilles) and Mario Manningham (knee) back before the end of the month, which will really help Colin Kaepernick. They are playing better than Seattle as the season turns for home. 3. Seahawks (7-1) Pete Carroll really needs to get Percy Harvin on the field to spark the offense. Could happen next week. Russell Wilson needs more weapons, especially with Sidney Rice tearing his ACL. Right now, they have home-field advantage and they will not lose any playoff games at their incredibly noisy stadium. They beat the Niners once, but their Dec. 8 game at Candlestick could decide the No. 1 seed. Having Richard Sherman’s big mouth around here for Super Bowl week will be good for a few back pages. 4. Chiefs (8-0) How can the only undefeated team with a defense that has given up just 98 points not be No. 1? Because they will lose to the Broncos when they play Nov. 17 in Denver and Dec. 1 in K.C. Alex Smith won’t score enough points to beat Manning. How important is coaching? The Chiefs Continue Reading

Seahawks shackle Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII blowout

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Defense wins championships.Russell Wilson and Percy Harvin do too.The Seattle Seahawks' Legion of Boom frustrated Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos while Wilson managed the game plan with aplomb in a dominating 43-8 Super Bowl XLVIII victory Sunday at MetLife Stadium."It's not too crazy to us, because we knew what we had in our locker room," Harvin said. "We knew how we prepared and we knew what we were capable of." BOX SCORE: Seahawks 43, Broncos 8 BELL: Peyton far from Super on this night SEAHAWKS: Master plan comes through on big stageThe Seahawks limited the Broncos to 306 yards and intercepted Manning (34-for-49 passing, 280 yards, lost fumble) two times, claiming the first Super Bowl victory in franchise history."Sea-HAWKS," chanted the rowdy Seattle fans, who have become known as the "12th Man."Wilson, meanwhile, stayed within himself, avoiding turnovers. He completed 18 of 25 passes for 206 yards, ran for 26 yards and threw second-half touchdown passes to Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin to set the final score."At the end of the season, you want to play your best football. And that's what we did tonight," Wilson said.When Harvin returned the second-half kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown and a 29-0 lead, the lights were out in Jersey.Manning, who won his fifth regular-season Most Valuable Player award on Saturday night, had another Super stumble, falling to 1-2 in title games. He was intercepted by Kam Chancellor with 59 seconds left in the first quarter, setting the Seahawks up at the Denver 37. Seven plays later Marshawn Lynch blasted over from the 1-yard line to make it 15-0 Seattle three minutes into the second quarter. HALFTIME: Bruno Mars' show was forgettable BRONCOS: Denver's miserable day in one playDenver (15-4) didn't gain a first down until 10:32 of the second quarter. When they finally seemed to be getting untracked offensively, boom went the dynamite.A crushing hit by Cliff Avril allowed Super Bowl Continue Reading

Pete Carroll returns to NJ with Seahawks for Super Bowl XLVIII, twenty years after being fired by NY Jets

Pete Carroll has every right to come back to New York with a grudge. But it’s nearly 20 years later and in the all that time since the Jets fired him after a one-and-done season, he’s won two national championships at Southern Cal and now has the Seahawks in the Super Bowl while the Jets have won nothing. Maybe it wouldn’t have been such a bad idea if the Jets let him stick around for a little bit longer. Carroll hasn’t changed much in his let’s-have-fun approach and if it wasn’t for the gray hair, he would look 42 instead of 62, which makes him the second oldest coach in the NFL after Tom Coughlin. He still has all that enthusiasm, bounces around the sideline like a kid and might be the only head coach in the NFL that actually looks like he’s enjoying himself on game day instead of suffering. He’s the NFL’s Peter Pan. And there is nothing wrong with that. So with all that he’s accomplished, it must be gratifying for Carroll to come back to MetLife Stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII, a few hundred yards from where Dan Marino’s fake spike at the old Giants Stadium ruined the 1994 season and his Jets coaching career, and led to Leon Hess firing him. “Not one bit of me feels that way,” Carroll told the Daily News. “I’m not bitter or pissed off or frustrated. I don’t feel like I have to prove anything. I don’t have that in me at all. Everybody feels I should. That was just one messy year, a one-shot deal. I thought it was a blast being in New York. I thought it was awesome. It was a great time to be in a setting of that magnitude.” Hess was relaxing on the beach in the Bahamas in the days following another Jets season gone wrong when the oil baron’s daughter broke some news that surprised only Hess: The Eagles had fired his pal, the overmatched Rich Kotite. Hess, who wasn’t moving well in those days, still managed to hustle inside to Continue Reading

Peyton Manning proves doubters wrong with Super Bowl XLVIII appearance

Bill Polian, Peyton Manning’s old boss with the Indianapolis Colts, quoted Manning’s old center, Jeff Saturday, when asked the question Tuesday about whether the man who quarterbacks the Denver Broncos now needs to win Super Bowl 48 to somehow validate his “legacy.” “I will use the word I heard Jeff use the other day,” Polian, who now works at ESPN the way Saturday does, said. “That notion is ludicrous.” Polian is one of the great executives in the history of professional football. He was the general manager of the Buffalo Bills when they made it to four Super Bowls in a row, went to Carolina after that and had the Panthers in the NFC Championship Game in their second season of existence. After that all he did was take Manning with the first pick in the draft and watch Manning win a ton of games for him, including a Super Bowl game in Miami one time against the Bears. Polian was with Manning when he found out he was going to need a surgery on his neck called single level anterior fusion. The longer name is anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. All you really have to see is “fusion.” Nobody, starting with Manning, knew if he would ever play again, much less throw for 55 touchdowns in one season and nearly 6,000 yards and make it back to one more Super Bowl, this time with the Broncos. “He needs to win this game or what, his legacy is shot?” Polian says. “Let me give you a reference from another sport. Did Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine need another World Series to validate their own greatness, or their own legacies? Maddux won 355 games. Come on.” Polian wasn’t done. “You talk about the greatest quarterbacks and you have to start with four guys, in my opinion, “ Polian says. “Peyton. Tom Brady. Joe Montana. John Elway. Sure, there’s other guys in the conversation, but I think you gotta start with those four. Now say Continue Reading

Every Steeler, from Hines Ward to Mike Tomlin, knows what counts in Pittsburgh: winning Super Bowls

PITTSBURGH - On Feb. 6, 2006, the day after Pittsburgh defeated the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL, Hines Ward, the Steelers' veteran wideout and game's Most Valuable Player with five receptions for 123 yards, stopped at a gas station. When he spoke to the fans standing by, he realized that the celebration was already over. "Everyone was asking if we were going to win the next one," Ward says. "I was like, 'Geez, let's just enjoy this one.'" Such is the way success is greeted in Pittsburgh. Since 1975, the Steelers have won six Super Bowls, the most of any franchise in history. Their most recent title came just two years ago, but their berth in the AFC Championship Game has an entitled town anticipating a seventh Lombardi trophy. The next step comes Sunday against the Jets at Heinz Field. "I hesitate to say this, but some people say it's almost like a religion around here," says Steelers owner Art Rooney II, whose family's consistent, blue-collar sensibilities since Art Rooney Sr. secured the franchise in 1933 certainly have contributed to the pious aura. Reminders stand in the hallway inside the team's office building. The silver, glistening trophies, encased in glass and surrounded by colorful collages and descriptions on placards, greet all who enter. Not to be lost in the shadows are the everyday links to the past, be it Hall of Fame defensive lineman Joe Greene one day or "Immaculate Reception" hero Franco Harris the next. "The only story line we have is six trophies, and we're trying to get another one," safety Ryan Clark says. Motivation can be monetary as well. On the grease board on a wall in the practice facility locker room this week, the math has been laid out for newcomers in blue, erasable marker. The message is simple: "$142,000" - the bonus each player stands to earn if the Steelers win the Super Bowl - is encircled by stars and followed by the words: "This is what we're playing for." Beneath are starker terms: "Don't f--- with Continue Reading

Ben Roethlisberger planning to strike his Super Bowl flop from memory

TAMPA - Ben Roethlisberger went to his first Super Bowl with a camera he barely used and a case of nerves that contributed to one of his worst performances.Monday, Roethlisberger stepped off the Steelers' plane for his second Super Bowl carrying a camcorder to record every moment and a determination to redeem himself for his Super Bowl XL effort. "The first time around I brought a camera and I took maybe 25 pictures," Roethlisberger said. "I thought to myself, of all the greats that have never had a chance to do this ... this may be my last one. I hope not but you never know so I am going to soak it all up, every single minute and just enjoy it because you never know if it is going to happen again." Listening to Roethlisberger, it's easy to forget that he actually won Super Bowl XL when the Steelers beat the Seahawks, 21-10, in his second season. But the quarterback says Pittsburgh won despite him. Saying he was overwhelmed by nerves, knowing that millions were watching, Roethlisberger completed just nine of 21 passes for 123 yards and threw two interceptions. The Steelers' lone passing TD came when Antwaan Randle El threw a 43-yard score to Hines Ward on a trick play. While Roethlisberger did score on a 1-yard run, he has waited nearly three years to wash the foul taste that remains from that Super stinker. "It was the months and years after that when you start thinking, man, I played really bad and I didn't help this team win the football game," Roethlisberger said. "That kind of eats at you a little bit. My play didn't help them to win, almost helped them lose it. I expect it to be different this time and to treat it like it might be my last (game)." A more experienced Roethlisberger also downplayed any feud with his former offensive coordinator and current Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt. After Whisenhunt left for Arizona in 2007, Roethlisberger criticized Whisenhunt's offense for being too conservative when he was asked about playing under new coordinator Bruce Continue Reading