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Patriots vs. Seahawks preview

Five months ago, when the NFL season started, this is the Super Bowl matchup many people expected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have been the keys for the Seahawks defensively?

Blount: The biggest factor was Wagner coming back. That enabled K.J. Wright to go back to his best position at Will linebacker, which improved both spots. But the Seahawks also had some players step up in the interior of the defensive line and make an impact after nose tackle Brandon Mebane went down with a torn hamstring. Veteran defensive tackle Kevin Williams, a six-time Pro Bowl pick who signed with the Seahawks back in training camp, took over as the starter and played like the Williams of old. He made the most of his chance to finally reach the Super Bowl in his 12th NFL season at age 34. And the Seahawks received a huge boost from second-year defensive tackle Jordan Hill out of Penn State. Hill was sensational down the stretch with 5½ sacks in the final six games before a knee injury ended his season in the playoff game against Carolina.

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

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

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

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

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Blizzard May Keep Patriots Fans From the Super Bowl, but Won’t Stop Soaring Ticket Prices

A trip to the Super Bowl is a far cry from a budget vacation, and some fans pay as much as it takes to put themselves inside a hotel room and then the stadium for the big game.

This year’s showdown between the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona is one of the costliest Super Bowls ever, says Ety Rybak, founder Inside Sports and Entertainment Group, a travel provider to major sporting and entertainment events around the world, including the Super Bowl.

With a blizzard leaving behind more than 30 inches of snow in parts of metro Boston this week, Rybak said many New England fans likely won’t make it to Glendale, although this kind of situation isn’t unprecedented.

“We had similar problems a few years back when the Pats were in the Super Bowl in Arizona and we had a snow storm right before the game,” said Rybak. “That storm really significantly impacted travel for the New England fans. With our clients, 40 to 50 people didn’t make it, and they didn’t know they wouldn’t make it until the day of the Super Bowl. A lot of tickets went unused.”

“I don’t see that happening in this case, I don’t think this storm will make as big an impact if New Englanders get held up because Arizona is Seattle’s Florida. A lot of Seattle folks vacation in Arizona just like a lot of Boston folks vacation in Florida. The stadium seats will still be filled, but probably not by as many New England fans than if we didn’t just have a massive blizzard.”

A Super Bowl Trip

Travelers descending on the 78,000 seat stadium in Glendale have likely saved for years for their dream trip to the Super Bowl, or they just have big wallets. Rybak says the latter is more common: Travelers will pay at least $500 a night for a hotel, even if they look for rooms further away from the stadium.

Hotels nearby the Glendale stadium will feature average room rates of more than $1,000 per night, and there’s a four-night minimum stay required for most. A stay at a Hyatt or Omni property in Glendale will amount to $1,500 a night on average, a bargain compared to a Four Seasons stay: $2,500 a night.

Tucson, Arizona, about an hour’s drive from Glendale, will have hotels with slightly lower nightly rates. In Scottsdale, Arizona, about a 30-minute drive from the stadium, a stay at the Embassy Suites will be $499 a night, up from its usual $199 a night.

“Hotels are bigger than the game tickets and every year its tougher and tougher to get a hotel room,” said Rybak. “Each year, there’s the same amount of supply, but a ton of more people are coming to city. Super Bowl host cities don’t create more hotel rooms for the Super Bowl.”

“For a city to get the Super Bowl, it has to commit 75% of its premium hotel rooms for anyone associated with the NFL, and then 25% to fans or companies attending the game.”

And of course airfare spiked this week for schedules to Phoenix from Boston and Seattle, though Seattle fans have it a little better. Sites such as Skyscanner, for example, show a round-trip ticket from Seattle to Phoenix departing Wednesday, January 28 and returning Monday, February 2 averaging about $1,000, while a round-trip for the same dates for Boston to Phoenix averages $1,300.

The competition of which companies get the best seats at the game is often more of a bloodsport than the game itself, making Super Bowl travel providers’ jobs high stakes.

“The Super Bowl is a huge schmooze fest and every company has to be there whether they like it or not,” said Rybak.

Most Expensive Super Bowl Ever?

This year the cheapest tickets have increased by more than $1,000 from last year’s game. This year’s average ticket price is more than $4,100 and is expected to rise by game day, but this is on the cheaper end, the best seats go for tens of thousands of dollars.

“This year I’m seeing the strongest ticket prices for any Super Bowl I’ve seen,” said Rybak. “The NFL raised face values of tickets because I think there’s just a greater general interest in this match-up and there’s a lot of great story lines.”

The Super Bowl also draws many international fans for which football is a foreign sport not played in their home country. Most of the international crowd hails from Latin and South America because of the game’s proximity to those regions, Rybak said.

“There are more [Dallas Cowboys] fans in Mexico than there are in Dallas,” said Rybak. “These international fans traveling to the game are definitely extremely wealthy, but this is still a once in a lifetime trip for them.”

“What I’ve found is that the Super Bowl is also full of fans who’ve never been before. A lot of [non-wealthy] fans go to the Super Bowl city and search for tickets.”

Outside the Game

Because of the four-night minimum stay at hotels in and around the stadium, this prevents many fans from simply flying in and out on game day and likely renders travelers captive audiences of what Glendale has to offer its visitors.

The NFL typically offers an array of entertainment options for fans, including concerts in hosts cities. This year the NFL will offer free concerts in downtown Glendale each day this week that will be cater to a mix of families and mature adults.

“There’s definitely more than enough entertainment to be had and a host city needs all of it,” said Rybak. “I’ve definitely noticed an increase in the entertainment and attractions offered in recent years, though, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that so many people go to the Super Bowl now without tickets to the game and just want to be in the city.”

Rybak adds the average person will spend $200 to $300 a night on dinner, and getting into any nightly Super Bowl party will cost $50 at the door and drinks can average between $8 to $10.

“Any decent party this year will see fans spending between $500 to $1,000 per party,” said Rybak.

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Seahawks obsessed with stopping Rob Gronkowski

The Seahawks understand that shutting down Rob Gronkowski is a Herculean task, but they are obsessed with limiting the All-Pro tight end’s impact in Super Bowl XLIX.

Coach Pete Carroll revealed Monday that he spent part of the day watching cut-ups of Gronkowski, searching for any keys that would help his players slow down the Patriots star.

“He really has all of the elements that you’re looking for from a big-time tight end,” Carroll said, “every aspect of it.”

Carroll believes the Seahawks match up well with Gronkowski because outside linebackers K.J. Wright and Bruce Irvin are “pretty tall and long” and Kam Chancellor is “about as big a strong safety as you can find.”

Joining Carroll at Monday’s press conference, Wright and Bobby Wagner each emphasized Gronkowski’s physicality and the need to respond in kind.

The Seahawks acknowledge that Tom Brady will succeed in getting the ball to Gronkowski on Sunday, but the goal is to prevent the duo from controlling the game.

“Our best against their best,” Wright said. “Of course I’ve got my money on Kam. He’s an All-Pro, he’s the captain of our defense. I expect him to win every battle.”

That clash of the titans will be the most riveting matchup to watch in the biggest game of the season.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast reacts to the Patriots’ deflated footballs controversy and tells you whom to trust in Super Bowl XLIX. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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Derrick Rose scores 22 as struggling Bulls blow out Spurs

More than anything, the swagger was back and so were the Bulls.

Rose scored 22 points and struggling Chicago beat the San Antonio Spurs 104-81 on Thursday night.

The Bulls came away with a much-needed win after dropping six of eight and handed the defending champions their most lopsided loss of the season.

The Central division leaders broke this one open in the third quarter, outscoring the Spurs 31-20, and snapped San Antonio’s four-game win streak.

“It shows what we’re capable of doing,” All-Star Pau Gasol said.

Rose, who called out his team after Monday’s loss at Cleveland, led six Bulls in double figures.

He was aggressive going to the rim, hitting 9 of 16 shots. Rose played just 45 seconds in the fourth quarter because of some stiffness and the lopsided score, but he expects to suit up at Dallas on Friday.

Gasol added 12 points and 17 rebounds after being voted to his fifth All-Star game and first as a starter.

Jimmy Butler scored 17 on just nine shots. Taj Gibson added 15 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. Aaron Brooks scored 15, and the Bulls snapped a three-game home losing streak.

After giving up at least 102 points in six of the previous eight games, Chicago held San Antonio to 37 percent shooting. The Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard scored all of his team-leading 16 points in the first half.

“We just played embarrassing basketball,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “I want my money back.”

Rose had it going right from the start with 15 points the first half, and Chicago headed to the locker room with a 46-40 lead that was about to get much bigger.

Tony Snell converted a three-point play with 17.3 seconds left in the second quarter to start a 14-2 Bulls run that made it 57-42 early in the third. The Bulls stayed in control the rest of the way, putting aside the chaos for at least one night.

The recent struggles combined with Rose’s criticism and a meeting between the players and coach Tom Thibodeau painted an ugly picture for a team that was rolling along before the recent slide.

There is speculation that Thibodeau’s job is in jeopardy and that he is losing the locker room. It sure seemed like there was plenty of outside noise even if he shot down that idea, asking, “What noise?”

“As I told you yesterday, I could care less, couldn’t care less, and I don’t think our team couldn’t care less about that stuff,” he said.

Popovich dismissed the idea of Thibodeau losing the team before the game and did it again afterward.

“That’s baloney,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

AIR BALL

Popovich was less than pumped to answer a question about “Deflategate” before the game. He turned his head side to side and asked, “Are you on this planet? Is this an NBA game tonight?”

TIP-INS

Spurs: G Danny Green paid tribute to late ESPN sportscaster and fellow North Carolina product Stuart Scott on Thursday. He had “Stu” emblazoned on his left sneaker and “booyah” on his right one. “He was great at it and he brought a different kind of culture to the sports world,” said Green, who wasn’t close to Scott but crossed paths with him over the years. “He was more of how it really is, I guess, it’s hard to really explain. He’s the reason why I studied what I studied in school. I’ve got a communications degree. The media area, that’s something I wanted to do growing up if the basketball thing didn’t work out for me. He was somebody I looked up to from the day I met him.”

Bulls: C Joakim Noah missed his fourth straight game and F Mike Dunleavy Jr., his 11th in a row. Both have injured right ankles. Thibodeau said Noah has looked “very good” practicing on a limited basis the past two days and that Dunleavy is “very, very close” to returning.

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Maple Leafs fans charged with public mischief for jersey tossing protests

Have you ever seen a beer thrown on the ice during an NHL game?

It’s tragic, really, considering the price-per-ounce of arena suds. But it’s also something usually done in protest of an injustice against the home team, such as a bad call or a heinous act by the visiting team.

Does it lead to an ejection of that fan from the arena? Sometimes. Does it lead to an arrest? Well, no, because that’s draconian and stupid.

On Monday night, during the Toronto Maple Leafs’ latest “can it get ANY worse?” low-point of their season, fans threw a few items at the ice: Their Leafs jerseys, four of them, during different parts of the game.

The difference between those beers and those jerseys, outside of taste: The latter were tossed to express frustration over the home team’s performance, to embarrass management and send a message to the players.

One more difference: Two of the fans who tossed jerseys were charged with a crime, according to Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun.

From Longley:

Four times during the game, Leafs jerseys were tossed onto the ACC ice, with at least two landing on the playing surface during play. At the conclusion of the latest Leafs loss — five in a row, now — a waffle was reportedly thrown as well.

According to a Leafs official, Air Canada Centre security removed from the building three people who threw jerseys on the ice. According to the official, two were charged by police with public mischief.

Incredible.

This police action was telegraphed by MLSE earlier this season, when other Leafs fans were throwing their jerseys on the ice as the team let the Randy Carlyle fungus grow in their garden. From the Sun, in November:

“It’s important to note that a patron throwing anything on the playing surface could be charged with trespassing,” said an MLSE official, “which would see them barred from all MLSE venues for a minimum of 12 months and possibly for life.

“Any sweater thrown on the ice is held for a period of time in the event that the police require an investigation. After that it is donated to charity.”

True to their word, the police apparently decided to drop the hammer on protesting fans.

Of course, had Nazem Kadri had been elected sheriff, things would really be different. As he said after the game:

“I don’t know how that happens,” Kadri said. “I don’t know how that guy’s not taken by his shirt and dragged out of there, but what do I know?”

Kadri later lamented they weren’t tasered and thrown into an alligator pit …

As we’ve said before, throwing a jersey on the ice is the ultimate form of protest, and especially in a Canadian city where the whole “just stop going to the games!” revolution is about as likely as telling a Catholic to stay home from Christmas mass.

Is removing a fan from the ACC for throwing a jersey on the ice justified? Sure. You obviously don’t want to create an environment where fans feel like they can throw anything over the glass to delay the game, unless it’s a hat or a waffle or something that criticizes the opponent rather than the home team.

Is charging them with a crime justified? Of course not, even if the fan threw it during play. It’s petty. It’s myopic.

And above all else, it’s antagonist, which is one of the most surreal aspects of the mess that are the Maple Leafs: The hubristic reaction from the franchise and its players to fans that have suffered through hockey’s longest championship drought and are fed up with it.

The fans jeer. The players shoot back at booing fans in postgame interviews. They don’t raise their sticks after a win. Hey, that’s fine, they’re allowed to have a voice too.

Then management, the root of all evil here, starts arresting fans who protest how unfathomably awful this collection of players fan look.

Could another business act like this towards its customers? The answer, of course, is “yes,” as long as those customers are hopelessly dedicated to consuming that product.

Which is why the Maple Leafs and Maple Leafs fans is, by far, the most dysfunctional relationship in professional hockey.

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Seattle Seahawks take NFC Championship with OT clincher, 28-22

SEATTLE – Never doubt the resilience of the Seattle Seahawks.

Plagued by turnovers and outplayed much of Sunday by Green Bay, the Seahawks staged an improbable comeback and beat the Packers 28-22 in overtime. Russell Wilson, who struggled until the final minutes, hit Jermaine Kearse for a 35-yard touchdown 3:19 into the extra period on the only possession.

Seattle will now have a shot at back-to-back championships in Superbowl XLIX, as they await the winner of the AFC Championship showdown between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts.

CBSSports.com is offering a live stream of today’s AFC Championship game online. For more information about how to watch the game live online, visit here.

The Seahawks became the first defending champion to make the Super Bowl in 10 years, and will play the winner of the AFC title game between Indianapolis and New England. How they got there was stunning.

Seattle (14-4) trailed 19-7 with about four minutes remaining and had been ineffective on offense all game. Wilson finally put a drive together with passes to Doug Baldwin and Marshawn Lynch – initially ruled a touchdown but called back because he stepped out. Wilson finished with a 1-yard scoring run to cut the lead to 19-14 with 2:09 left.

Seattle recovered a bobbled onside kick at the 50, and Lynch sped and powered his way to a 24-yard TD run. Wilson’s desperate 2-point conversion pass was hauled in by Luke Willson to make it 22-19.

Then Aaron Rodgers led the Packers (13-5) to Mason Crosby’s fifth field goal, from 48 yards with 14 seconds to go to force overtime.

Then Wilson and Kearse struck, with Kearse – the target on all four interceptions Wilson threw – beating Tramon Williams on the winning pass. Kearse caught the winning TD in last year’s conference title win over San Francisco, too.

“Just making the plays at the end and keep believing,” said Wilson, who was overwhelmed and sobbing after the game. “There was no doubt … we had no doubt as a team.”

Kearse, who has caught touchdown passes in four straight postseason games, and several other Seahawks leaped into the stands behind the end zone, saluting the stadium-record crowd of 68,538. Wilson ran through cameramen to jump on Kearse’s back, and defensive end Michael Bennett borrowed a bicycle from a police officer and rode around the edge of the field saluting the “12s.”

Until the final minutes, there seemed to be no doubt the Packers were headed to the big game Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona. Despite All-Pro quarterback Rodgers’ injured calf that had him limping much of the game, Green Bay and its overlooked defense was carrying the day.

But special teams trickery lifted the Seahawks back into the game after falling behind 16-0. Their first touchdown came on a fake field goal when holder Jon Ryan threw 19 yards to tackle eligible Garry Gilliam in the third quarter. After Wilson made it 19-14, Chris Matthews recovered the onside kick that Packers tight end Brandon Bostick couldn’t gather.

Lynch, who rushed for 257 yards on 25 carries as the one consistent offensive force Seattle had, wouldn’t be denied with 1:25 remaining.

The 16-point comeback was the largest ever in a conference title game. The Colts defeated the Patriots after trailing 21-6 in 2006.

And after the Packers tied it, Seattle wouldn’t be denied in overtime, winning the coin toss and going 87 yards in six plays.

“It takes everybody and everybody had to contribute to get that done,” coach Pete Carroll said. “It was so much heart, so much belief today. Somehow, somehow we pulled it out.”

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Predators G Pekka Rinne out 3-5 weeks with knee injury

The Nashville Predators look like a legitimate Stanley Cup contender through the first half of the season, and the play of starting goaltender Pekka Rinne has been one of the biggest reasons why.

Unfortunately for the Predators, they will be without him for the next three to five weeks while he recovers from a sprained knee that he suffered during their 5-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday night.

In 37 appearances this season Rinne has a .931 save percentage, third best in the NHL, and is not only one of the leading contenders for the Vezina Trophy which goes to the top goalie in the league every season, but is also making a pretty convincing MVP case.

Injuries limited him to 24 games in 2013-14, and when he was in the lineup he never seemed to be himself. His absence, combined with his struggles when he did play, were too much for the Predators to overcome.

Rinne was part of the 2015 NHL All-Star roster but will not participate in the game due to the injury.

He was replaced by Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury on Thursday.

For the short-term, this will be a pretty big blow to the Predators but they still do enough things well that it shouldn’t be too much to overcome, especially with a pretty solid hold on a playoff spot in the Western Conference. They are a top possession team in the NHL and score a ton of goals which can help overcome a drop in goaltending production. They might lose an extra game or two in the short-term because of it, but just so he is able to return within a month and get back to playing at his normal level they should remain a top team in the NHL.

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Steelers have no DC talks planned

The Pittsburgh Steelers have not scheduled interviews with any outside candidates for their opening at defensive coordinator, a league source told ESPN.com, another strong indication that longtime linebackers coach Keith Butler will succeed Dick LeBeau in that position.

LeBeau resigned last Saturday after 11 consecutive seasons as the Steelers’ defensive coordinator and 13 overall. Butler, the Steelers’ linebackers coach since 2003, has turned down opportunities to interview for defensive coordinator positions in past years and he has already met with coach Mike Tomlin about the opening.

The one name to watch outside of Pittsburgh is Washington Redskins defensive backs coach Raheem Morris, given his experience as a head coach and defensive coordinator in Tampa Bay and his close friendship with Tomlin.

Morris has interviewed for the New York Giants’ opening at defensive coordinator and the Redskins are allowing him to pursue other jobs.

LeBeau, meanwhile, has talked with the Arizona Cardinals about joining their staff but he may be leery about going that far west with his family rooted in the Cincinnati area, a source close to LeBeau told ESPN.com.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette first reported on Monday afternoon that the Cardinals, who are coached by former Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, have reached out to LeBeau.

LeBeau, who was the Steelers’ defensive coordinator all four seasons they played in the Super Bowl post-1970s, wants to continue coaching as long as he is physically able to do so.

The Cardinals would be a logical landing spot for LeBeau if distance isn’t an issue as Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is interviewing for multiple head-coaching opportunities.

LeBeau, 77, is in excellent physical condition, his top prerequisite for continuing a coaching career that goes back to the early 1970s. But the source close to LeBeau said he won’t jump at any job and that it has to be the right situation for him.

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Ravens game will show us if Patriots are for real

Are the 2014-15 Patriots Super Bowl-bound, or are they Adams Division/Presidents’ Trophy “more days in first place” frauds?

We find out Saturday.

This game against the Ravens is a valid test. It’s going to tell us whether these Patriots are the real thing, or yet another January patsy, artificially inflated by the clown show that is the AFC East, unable to punch back when they get smashed in the mouth in the playoffs.

There’s a lot to love about this Baltimore-New England matchup. It’s not another All-Access “try-the-burgers-at-the-CBS-Scene” layup. And that’s good. You’re supposed to win hard games in order to advance to the championship. And for all their regular-season success, it has been a while since the Patriots won the hard games in the playoffs.

Try this on with your Patriot Place footie pajamas: Since running the table in 2007, the Patriots have one postseason victory against a quality opponent. One.

Sorry, it’s true. Starting with Super Bowl XLII, the Patriots are 4-6 in the postseason. Those wins include:

1. A 45-10 spanking of the Tim Tebow-quarterbacked Denver Broncos in 2012. That was an 8-8 Denver team that was outscored during the regular season;.

2. A 41-28 win over the pitiful Houston Texans in 2013. The Patriots beat that same team, 42-14, a month earlier;

3. Last year’s 43-22 laugher against the Colts, a team that couldn’t stop the run, and a team New England crushed in Indianapolis again this year.

The lone legit, hard-earned playoff win since 2007 is the 23-20 decision over the Ravens in the AFC Championship three years ago. To win that one, the Patriots needed Baltimore to drop a late-game touchdown pass, then miss a 32-yard field goal attempt as the clock ran out.

Naturally, all of these games were played at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots never win on the road in the playoffs, primarily because they never play on the road in the playoffs. New England’s last road playoff victory was eight years ago in San Diego.

During this entire magical run, Tom Brady is 3-3 on the road in the playoffs (which includes a game Drew Bledsoe finished for Brady).

Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco is 7-4 lifetime on the road in the playoffs. He has beaten the Patriots twice at Gillette in January. He has won his last five playoff games and has 20 touchdown passes to go with two interceptions in all of his playoff games since 2010. Brady is a mere 8-8 in all playoff games since Jan. 14, 2006.

So there you have it, folks. For all their success in the cheeseball AFC East, the Patriots have been less than ordinary in the games that matter in January. A victory over the Ravens would change this disturbing dynamic.

Brady objected mildly when a reporter from New York this week asked, “How much is it a motivation for you personally since it’s been 10 years since your last championship as your career reaches this stage?’’

“This stage?’’ Brady asked, cheerfully as ever. “What does that mean? What stage is that? Like twilight years?’’

Brady went on to remind us that every year is important and that the Patriots always try to win their last game and that expectations are high. The usual stuff.

But Brady’s shrinking window is on everyone’s mind as the Patriots prepare to play the Ravens. The Patriots need to make a statement. They need to remind us that they are something more than fortunate sons in a noncompetitive division.

“It’s time to put a stop to all the rhetoric about how the Ravens don’t fear the Patriots. The Patriots by now should be sick of hearing about how Flacco, John Harbaugh, and Terrell Suggs don’t fear New England.

The Patriots have been reminded a million times that the Ravens sent them home from Gillette twice in the last five years. It’s time for the Patriots to demonstrate that they are the better team.

There is considerable pressure on the Patriots because a loss would mean same-old-same-old, and another 100,000 miles on the Brady odometer. It would remind us that a closing schedule of Dolphins, Jets, and Bills might not be the best way to prepare for the playoffs. It would suggest that 20 days without a competitive down might not put a team in position to play its best football.

The Patriots are a better team than the Ravens. We expect them to win. And a victory against a confident, veteran team that is coming off a big road win would be a strong signal that the Patriots are prepared to go to Glendale and win the Super Bowl.

Detroit Tigers Woman Jersey

Pat Caputo – Why Tigers’ great Alan Trammell belongs with these players in Baseball Hall of Fame

The Baseball Hall of Fame will announce its 2015 class on Tuesday. It’s always been a source of great debate, but lately also involving tremendous consternation. The so-called steroids era has clouded the landscape. Sabermetrics have effectively and justifiably challenged many traditional views about what constitutes a Hall of Fame worthy player statistically.

There is much envy-driven rage from those who love the game, but aren’t eligible to vote (members of the Baseball Writers Association of America for 10 years or more are the eligible voters). Subsequently, voting has become favorite a target for trolling on social media.

This year, there were changes. Players are eligible for 10 years instead of 15, assuming they are named on the necessary five percent of the ballots. The ballot was still limited to no more than 10 players. Those already on the ballot for more than 10 years, but not yet 15, such as Tigers’ great Alan Trammell, remained eligible. I used all 10 spots for my ballot this year. These are the players I placed on my ballot and why:

Randy Johnson – By every possible measure, The Big Unit belongs in the Hall of Fame. His career ERA is a bit high (3.29), but not for the era he worked. A strong case can be made Johnson is one of the top dozen pitchers ever.

Pedro Martinez – He was undeniably effective. Martinez had just 218 wins, but pitched in an era of more extensive bullpen use, and won nearly 70 percent of his decisions with an ERA under three.

Alan Trammell – Few Hall of Fame worthy players have been overlooked to the degree of Trammell. He was every bit as good as Barry Larkin, and a much better hitter than Ozzie Smith. According to the Baseball-Reference.com version of WAR, Trammell is the 93rd best player of all-time, ahead of many Hall of Famers. Why he doesn’t get more Hall support is, frankly, perplexing.

Curt Schilling – There are going to be those who will be bogged down by Schilling’s record (15-10, 3.46 ERA was his average season), but they will be missing the bigger picture. He pitched his entire career in a very strong offensive era, which was reflected by his outstanding WAR (26th all time among pitchers, 62nd among all players). He was a true standout in the postseason (11-2, 2.33 ERA overall, 4-1, 2.06 ERA in the World Series).

Craig Biggio – Take any performance enhancing drug suspicion out of the equation, and the Biggio “sure thing” Hall of Fame argument is mostly based on topping 3,0000 hits and being 15th all time in runs scored, while playing in a high-scoring era. What is too seldom pointed out is his OPS was just .796 (468th all-time), he never came close to winning an MVP Award, didn’t play on a World Series championship team and was a postseason disaster (.618 OPS in 185 plate appearances). Yet, he also fell just two votes short of getting in last season. When a player gets that close, I put him on my ballot. Biggio played 20 years in MLB and earned his Hall support. I’m not going to be the one guy who keeps him out. It’s why I voted for Jim Rice and Gary Carter later in the process as they closed in on possible induction. While I understand and respect the idea of “it’s not the Hall of very good,” I also find campaigns against players, like the Sabermetrics witch hunt that cost Jack Morris his spot in the Hall of Fame, to be reprehensible.

Tim Raines – I think Raines is one of the most underrated players of all time. He is fifth in steals, and was successful on nearly 85 percent of his attempts. He was a dominant player early in his career, but it was under the radar at the time because he played in Montreal. He ranks among the greatest leadoff hitters of all time, and Sabermetrics have validated his value (his Baseball-Reference.com WAR 69.1 is 106th of all time and better than many Hall of Famers). On the downside, Raines wasn’t a particularly good defender, but given his offensive credentials it’s splitting hairs.

Mike Mussina – Sabermetrics are much kinder to Mussina than they are to Jack Morris, but the argument against him is similar. There is a focus on a high ERA (3.68), lack of 20-game win seasons (just one) and no Cy Young Awards. It misses the point, though. Being a starting pitcher in the American League during Mussina’s career was particularly treacherous because of PEDs and the DH. And he was incredibly consistent through it all.

Fred McGriff – Another player who has fallen the cracks, unfairly in my opinion. McGriff hit 493 home runs (27th all-time), is 66th all-time in OPS, 43rd in RBI, 50th in total bases and was an excellent postseason player (.917 OPS in large sample size). Support for McGriff has fallen in recent years. It would be a shame if he doesn’t get the necessary five percent to remain on the ballot.

John Smoltz – Smoltz ability to transition from starter to closer to starter again was nothing short of amazing. He also had a brilliant postseason record (15-4, 2.67 ERA).

Lee Smith – Closers are no longer in vogue among voters, but you can make as strong a case for Smith as any of the closers who are currently in the Hall.