Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Patriots: Probably Deflated for a While

I believe Tom Brady.

When he stood up there and said, “I had no knowledge of this at all,” I think he’s telling the truth. And when he said he goes over the footballs “Five hours before halftime and doesn’t want anybody touching them after that,” I think he’s also telling the truth. And his statement regarding not “altering the balls in any way,” I think is true as well.

But also I think this goes back a way. This isn’t the first time the Patriots and Tom Brady have played with somewhat underinflated footballs.

When I asked Mark Brunell on Wednesday, before he left for Bristol, CT and his appearances on ESPN if he had ever heard of deflated footballs he quickly responded.

“No,” he texted right back, “but it doesn’t surprise me. I think Tom’s been doing it for a while.”

And that’s probably as close to the truth as we’ll ever find. Somewhere in the past, maybe seven, 8, 9, 10 years ago, Tom Brady mentioned to somebody that he liked the ball with somewhat less air in it. And somewhere along the line, somebody with the ability to do that made it happen. After the officials inspected the balls and before they made it on the field.

And that became part of every pregame for the Patriots.

So when Brady says he had “No knowledge” I think he’s telling the truth. And when Bill Belichick says he was “shocked” Monday morning by the allegations, I think he’s telling the truth as well.

As known cheaters because of what became known as “Spygate” the Patriots are considered a suspicious organization. If this was any other team in the league, it might have never been an issue. And it certainly would have gone away by now.

The NFL revealed on Friday that they had interviewed 40 different people in their investigation (but not Brady) and that they had hired an outside agency to continue the investigation. While the league doesn’t have a good track record in the last 12 months for investigations, this one can’t expect to find much. Brady has said he’s not involved. Belichick says he didn’t know anything about it. So unless some ball boy or equipment manager decides they’re going to come forward and spill the beans, or they’re some secret recording of somebody letting air out of the balls, the ‘”investigation” will end as inconclusive and with nobody charged.

Everybody else is right as well. Hall of Famers John Madden and Troy Aikman said none of this could happen without the quarterback being involved or knowing. But knowing now and knowing 10 years ago is something completely different. Perhaps not any less culpable, but something different.

As we now know, the ball intercepted by D’Qwell Jackson of the Colts was taken to the sidelines as a souvenir. The equipment manager thought that the ball felt squishy and told Head Coach Chuck Pagano. Pagano notified the referee and the balls were inspected at halftime. They were found to be about two pounds per square inch less than the minimum allowed. They were taken out of play. Interestingly enough, the Patriots outscored the Colts 28-0 in the second half. With fully inflated footballs.

The ball being “doctored” is a time-honored tradition in the league. “Doctored” doesn’t always mean illegal. Some guys like it oiled up, scuffed up and beaten, all within the rules, while others like Aaron Rodgers, seem to like it right out of the box. Putting the ball in a microwave to try and warm it up, putting helium in it or taking a few pounds of air out are all illegal acts. Some can happen by chance, others are intentional.

Hard to say what happened here, but somebody knows.

We probably never will.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

For Jameis, More Questions Await

I think he wanted to stay in school.

After his father let everybody know that Jameis Winston would let his decision be known after the National Championship game next week, less than 24 hours later, word got out that Winston had made up his mind to turn professional.

Winston’s statement, published by his agent, had the usual thank you’s and praise for his teammates, his coaches and Florida State. He also promised “Seminole Nation” that he’d represent them proudly at the next level.

But I think he wanted to stay.

Winston leapt into the spotlight last year in his first game. He threw four touchdown passes and looked invincible. He stayed at that high level all year long with 38 TD passes and only 10 interceptions. He won the Heisman Trophy and helped the ‘Noles win the National Championship. There was an investigation into rape allegations that came out late in the year but no charges were filed.

Things looked rosy for Winston. But as the year progressed, several other incidents occurred, some criminal, some college pranks, some just plain stupid. But as they added up, although in different categories, they all tarnished his image and in turn, the FSU football program.

Winston admitted at the Rose Bowl that he didn’t go out much in the last couple of months, only leaving his apartment to go to school and practice. He stopped having fun. Albeit self-inflicted, Winston’s notoriety and his own actions had forced him inside and halted his fun march through college life. He said after last week’s loss to Oregon that he was looking forward to playing baseball in Tallahassee this spring. As a student, he was having fun, enjoying himself, sometimes too much and at other people’s expense. Nobody’s feeling sorry for Winston, but his changing situation changed his mind about staying at FSU.

A lot of people tried to help Winston during his college journey. Even fellow Alabaman and Heisman Trophy Winner Bo Jackson threw his hands up and stopped trying to help. So Jameis’ circle grew smaller and smaller, with less and less fun and higher and higher expectations.

So he decided to turn pro.

He’ll be prodded and poked, talked to and provoked in the vetting process that leads up to the NFL Draft. His throwing motion and his footwork will be dissected. His football acumen will be questioned. But most of all they’ll try to figure out if a multi-million dollar investment in Winston with a top pick will disappear because of his lack of judgment off the field.

And then somebody will take him with the top selection.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

FSU Beaten By Oregon In The Semi

For a game on New Year’s Day, the Rose Bowl is at least tied for the top spot to play a college football game. This one between FSU and Oregon was somewhat historic since it was the first semi-final in the new system to determine a National Champion. Since FSU was here just last year for the national title game, it made sense that the Ducks fans outnumbered the Noles, significantly. In the parking lot it looked like it was 100-1, but in the stadium, it was more like 5-1.

No question FSU was the bigger team and they were Oregon’s equals in terms of speed, but the Ducks were relentless and equally talented, especially at the skill positions. Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota showed good touch on his passes, good speed when running and good leadership for an offense that was as up-tempo as anything anywhere.

FSU meanwhile looked out of sync in the first half, unable to take advantage of red zone opportunities, passes that were slightly off and tackling that was sub-standard. Still, right at the end of the half, the Noles made a good stop on defense and went down for a score to make it 18-13 Oregon at halftime. FSU might have pulled within two but Carlos Aguayo’s 55-yard attempt hit off the left upright to leave a five-point deficit.

Down by five isn’t a problem for the Seminoles at halftime, it’s a familiar spot for the 2014 team, plus they were getting the ball to start the second half. But driving the ball into Oregon territory, Dalvin Cook had the ball taken away from him and the Ducks drove right downfield to score a TD and take a 25-13 lead.

Undaunted, FSU drove down the field with a combination of Winston passes and finally used the bootleg to score a TD of their own to make it 25-20.

That’s what people thought this game would be like, up and down and up and down. Oregon didn’t disappoint, taking five plays and one slip by a FSU defensive back to score from 81 yards out to take a 32-25 lead.

And that’s where FSU imploded, Cook fumbled and the Ducks recovered. Using the bubble screen that the ‘Noles refused to cover with three defensive backs, Oregon marched down the field, Mariota hitting a wide open wide receiver (Darren Carrington, son of the former Jaguars DB of the same name) for a TD to take a 39-20 lead with four minutes to play in the 3rd quarter. The Noles continued their implosion with Jameis Winston trying to do too much on a third down, only to fumble and have Oregon return it for a TD and a 45-20 lead. A tipped ball was intercepted by the Ducks that lead to another score to make it 52-20 as the torture continued for the Noles and their fans. Then they scored again to make it 59-20.

Overall, Oregon was as good as advertised and perhaps more physical than they’ve been in the past. Florida State didn’t play well, looked out of sync early and cost themselves dearly with turnovers. And the Ducks were opportunistic, never letting the Noles get away with a mistake.

This kind of stuff sometimes happens in big games. How many times have we seen blowouts in the Super Bowl? It doesn’t diminish what the Seminoles have done over the last two years. They just ran into a better team.