There is now a likely explanation for why there was such a delay at the start of the second half of the AFC championship between the Patriots and Colts at Gillette Stadium last month.

Bill Belichick spent significant time leading up to the Super Bowl trying to explain Deflategate.  (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Bill Belichick spent significant time leading up to the Super Bowl trying to explain Deflategate. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

We know know why there was such a delay at the start of the second half of the AFC championship between the Patriots and Colts at Gillette Stadium last month.

According to a report from ESPN’s investigative unit “Outside the Lines” 48-year-old Patriots locker room attendant Jim McNally has been identified as the person responsible for attempting to introduce an unapproved special teams football into the AFC Championship Game.

ESPN spoke with four sources familiar with the investigation into Deflategate. It is not clear whether McNally’s attempt to introduce a kicking ball is related to the accusation of deflating footballs that were checked into the game by referee Walt Anderson.

One source told ESPN that McNally, the attendant assigned to the officials’ locker room, has been interviewed by investigators for Ted Wells, the attorney the NFL hired last month to lead an investigation into allegations the Patriots intentionally used under-inflated footballs on offensive plays in the first half of that game against the Colts, won by the Patriots, 45-7.

Additionally, three sources told “Outside the Lines” that McNally has worked Patriots games for a decade, and has been in charge of the officials’ locker room at Gillette Stadium since at least 2008. In the first half of the AFC Championship Game, McNally tried to give the unapproved football to an alternate official who was in charge of the special-teams footballs. Those footballs are known as “kicking balls” or “K balls.”

Before every NFL game, footballs are inspected and measured by NFL officials in their locker room before they can be approved for in-game use. The “K balls” are used for special teams, and not by the offenses of either team.

Here is more from ESPN “OTL” reporter Kelly Naqi Tuesday night:

NFL officials put a special mark or stamp on each ball approved for use on offensive possessions, as well as the “K balls” used on special teams, to ensure only properly inspected and approved footballs are used in that game. Walt Anderson, the referee for the AFC title game, had personally inspected and marked each of the footballs that were approved for use in that game.

The alternate official, Greg Yette, became suspicious when he noticed that the football McNally handed him did not have the proper markings on it, three sources say. One of those sources added that Yette found it surprising that the officials’ locker room attendant was on the field, trying to hand him a ball, since officials’ locker room attendants don’t typically have ball-handling responsibilities during NFL games. Once McNally tried to introduce the unapproved football into the game, the source says, Yette notified the NFL’s Vice President of Game Operations, Mike Kensil, who was at the game in the press box.

Sources say they are not sure at what point during the first half McNally tried to introduce the impermissible football to Yette. They didn’t know his motivation for doing so, either. Yette, when reached by Outside the Lines, declined to comment.

An Outside the Lines reporter approached McNally at his home earlier this month, but he said, “I can’t talk to you,” waving the reporter away as he walked up his driveway. It’s unclear if McNally, who lives in Amherst, New Hampshire, is hired only to work on game days for the Patriots.

McNally is a part-time employee who was hired by The Kraft Group, a company owned by Patriots owners Robert Kraft. Kelly Way, the director of operations for TeamOps at Gillette Stadium, says NFL game-day employees are paid by The Kraft Group. McNally is not listed in the Patriots’ main switchboard directory.

It is not known if McNally is the same locker room attendant who reportedly ducked into a bathroom with a bag of footballs for 90 seconds before taking them out to the field before the start of the AFC Championship Game. On Jan. 26, FoxSports.com’s Jay Glazer reported that a locker-room attendant from the Patriots allegedly took footballs “from the officials locker room to another area” on the way to the field, and Wells’ investigators have video of that. Glazer later reported that the attendant stopped in a bathroom with the game balls for 90 seconds. That locker room attendant, according to Foxsports.com, is a “strong person of interest.”

The Patriots, who won the Super Bowl over the Seattle Seahawks Feb. 1, came under scrutiny prior to the AFC Championship Game, when the Colts reportedly alerted the NFL that the Patriots may be using underinflated footballs in games.

A source told Outside the Lines that Kensil decided to personally go down to the officials’ locker room at halftime of the Patriots-Colts game to check the game balls, in part, because of the suspicions McNally’s actions raised.

Kensil did not respond requests for comment but it has also been reported that the Colts noticed an underinflated football after an interception by linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. Jackson said at the Pro Bowl that he didn’t notice that the football was underinflated. Also, Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, told 60 Minutes Sports that Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson told league officials in the second quarter of the AFC Championship game that the Patriots might be tampering with footballs.

One source said Kensil personally checked each of the PSI (pounds per square inch) levels of the 12 footballs the Patriots had for use on offense and that 11 of those 12 were under-inflated by “one to two pounds.” They were re-inflated to the League-required level and were returned for use in the second half.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has attributed the 11 under-inflated game balls to atmospheric conditions and has said the Patriots “try to do everything right; we err on the side of caution.” Team owner Robert Kraft, in a strong defense of his head coach and quarterback Tom Brady, said: “I want to make it clear that I believe unconditionally that the New England Patriots have done nothing inappropriate in this process or are in violation of NFL rules.”

He added “I would expect and hope that the League would apologize to our entire team” if the Wells investigation “is unable to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure in the footballs.”

The NFL hired Wells on Jan. 23 to lead an investigation into Deflategate. In a statement released late last month, Wells said he expected his investigation to go on for “at least several more weeks” and asked that “everyone involved or potentially involved in this matter avoids public comment concerning the matter until the investigation is concluded. The results will be shared publicly.”

Dean Blandino, the NFL’s head of officiating, said at a Super Bowl news conference: “There was an issue that was brought up during the first half, a football came into question, and then the decision was made to test them at halftime. There’s an investigation going on, I can’t really get into specifics.” When asked for comment by OTL, Blandino texted, “I can’t elaborate with the investigation still ongoing.”

The NFL, though a spokesman, told OTL: “We’re not commenting on the details of the ongoing investigation.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia
Dante Scarnecchia remains an advisor to the Patriots, even in retirement. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Dante Scarnecchia remains an advisor to the Patriots, even in retirement. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The man who left the Patriots offensive line in the hands of Dave DeGuglielmo is still helping out where he can.

According to multiple reports, Dante Scarnecchia was on a flight from Boston to Indianapolis on Tuesday for the start of the NFL combine workouts in Indianapolis.

It was Scarnecchia who told the Boston Herald before Week 4 that he had faith that the offensive line would eventually gel and work well together. That faith was really tested when the Patriots, after Scarnecchia’s pronouncement, went out and were trounced 41-14 by the Chiefs in Kansas City on Sept. 29.

The key point to that gelling came with the insertion of rookie center Bryan Stork, a move that actually occurred in Kansas City, during the loss to the Chiefs. Stork was one player Scarnecchia referred to the Patriots after scouting him after retirement.

As it turns out, Scarnecchia, who retired from his offensive line job after the 2013 season, is still helping out, scouting players and advising Bill Belichick and the coaching staff. He’ll get that opportunity again this week.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

In what could be a precursor of the tone of talks with the Patriots, Darrelle Revis looked at 2014 as a one-year deal to earn a long-term commitment from the Patriots.

Bill Belichick and Darrelle Revis celebrate after Sunday's win over the Seahawks. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick and Darrelle Revis celebrate after Sunday’s win over the Seahawks. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

In what could be a precursor of the tone of talks with the Patriots, Darrelle Revis looked at 2014 as a one-year deal to earn a long-term commitment from the Patriots. Of course, as Jets owner Woody Johnson learned after the season, the superstar shutdown corner is actually signed for 2015 at a $20 million price tag.

According to Pro Football Talk, Revis was thinking along the same lines as Johnson when he actually inked the contract with the Patriots in March 2014.

All of this began last March when the Buccaneers cut him, realizing they didn’t want to give up a high draft pick to the Jets and pay a $1.5 million bonus. Bill Belichick hopped on the chance quickly to get the shutdown corner he desperately wanted to upgrade from the departed Aqib Talib.

The contract, when it was first reported, was for one year, with a handshake agreement that the two sides would both revisit in March 2015. But that was not the case. The Patriots and Revis came to agreement on a second season. That second season provided a degree of insurance for both player and team, at a cost of a $20 million payout for the ’15 season to Revis if a long-term deal could not be struck.

From the perspective of Patriots team president Jonathan Kraft, it’s a placeholder, as he told WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan after the Super Bowl win over the Seahawks.

But according to Pro Football Talk, that was not the understanding Revis had.

Revis and his representatives Schwartz & Feinsod felt the second year was designed to allow the Patriots to divide the signing bonus over two years, for cap purposes. In other words, either sign a new contract with the Patriots or be released by March 9 and sign a new deal elsewhere. The placeholder concept, according to PFT, was a bit of a curveball.

The $20 million is fully guaranteed but would preclude him from signing a multi-year deal at the top of his game in free agency that could be worth two or three times that amount on the open market. In a sense, the Patriots have a built-in, negotiated franchise tag of their own with Revis.

A complicated story is sure to have more twists and turns before the two sides come to an agreement on what’s next.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia
In two years with the Bills, Jerry Hughes has recorded 19.5 sacks. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

In two years with the Bills, Jerry Hughes has recorded 19.5 sacks. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

When free agency begins in early March, there are a handful of players across the league who could appeal to New England. With the understanding that the status of these players could change because of the franchise or transition tag, here are a few possibilities for the Patriots to consider. We have to stress that all of these guys aren’€™€™€™t necessarily considered the elite of the free agent class — instead, they’€™€™€™re players we think would be a good fit in New England. We already featured C.J. Spiller,  Hakeem Nicks, Torrey Smith, Pernell McPhee, Charles Clay and Rahim Moore. Today we’re featuring Jerry Hughes.

Jerry Hughes
Position: Defensive end
Age: 26 (Aug. 13, 1988)
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 254 pounds

The skinny: Hughes just wrapped up the end of his rookie contract with the Bills, after he was traded to Buffalo from Indianapolis in April of 2013 for linebacker Kelvin Sheppard. The Colts drafted Hughes in the first round, No. 31 overall in the 2010 draft. The change in scenery did a great deal for the TCU product, as in three seasons with the Colts he recorded just five sacks, but in only two as a member of the Bills he recorded 19.5 sacks. He was part of one of the best defensive lines in football last season, as Buffalo finished with 54 sacks as a team, which led the entire NFL. Hughes finished the year with 9.5 sacks and 36 tackles.

With Rex Ryan taking over in Buffalo, it doesn’t seem likely Hughes will re-sign, and he will become a free agent for the first time in his career.

By the numbers: In 32 regular-season games in Buffalo, Hughes has five multi-sack games.

Why it would work: With Akeem Ayers likely not to return to the Patriots next season, New England will be in search for a pass rusher, and Hughes can certainly get after the quarterback. The 19.5 sacks in the past two seasons speak for itself, as no one player on the Patriots had more than that the past two seasons (Chandler Jones is the closest with 17.5). He would be a great complement on the defensive line to line up opposite Jones, and the two could team up to be a force in the pass rush, which the Patriots haven’t been known for over the past few seasons. He’s also been durable, playing in all 16 games the past three seasons, and 12 in his first two years in the league.

Why it might not work: This one is pretty simple — money. With the way Hughes has performed in Buffalo the past two years, he’s made a name for himself as a dominant pass rusher, and with how rare good pass rushers are on the open market, Hughes is sure to cash in. A benchmark for a potential Hughes contract would be around $8 million a year, and with the players on the Patriots defense that need their contracts taken care of, (Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty) the money just likely won’t be there for a player like Hughes. While Hughes is a great player, the Patriots don’t seem to be in a position to go out and sign a defensive end of his caliber.

Quote: “€œJust to kind of work with the guys, see how well we work together, just to know all the talent we have together, you know that we’re so close. Just going throughout the season, replaying all the games that we’ve had, that we kind of went through, just so close. You definitely want to come back and continue it. … You saw what we were able to do this season. The group of guys we had, to be so close, you definitely want to come back and take another shot at it, to see how we fall out to next year. I mean I definitely want to be back.”€ Hughes on the success the Buffalo defense had last season

Our take: While New England would certainly welcome a player like Hughes to their roster, the contract he will be seeking likely isn’t in the Patriots budget for 2015. Hughes is 26 years old, entering the prime of his career, and coming off two seasons in Buffalo with 19.5 sacks, so he’s likely going to get multiple offers. The Patriots aren’t a team to get into any type of bidding war for a player like Hughes, who is likely looking for top dollar, so they will probably sit this one out and let the other 31 teams bid on Hughes’ services. Unless for some odd reason Hughes would take a huge discount, expect the defensive end to land somewhere other than in New England.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

Lost in the weeks following the Super Bowl has been Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin’s personal foul penalty for his inappropriate touchdown celebration (squatting like he was going to the bathroom) after his third quarter touchdown in the

Seattle WR Doug Baldwin received a 15-yard penalty for this touchdown celebration in Super Bowl XLIX. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Seattle WR Doug Baldwin received a 15-yard penalty for this touchdown celebration in Super Bowl XLIX. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Lost in the weeks following the Super Bowl has been Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin’s personal foul penalty for his inappropriate touchdown celebration (squatting like he was going to the bathroom) after his third quarter touchdown in the Seahawks‘ 28-24 loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX.

Appearing on “The Barbershop” on 710 ESPN Seattle radio Monday, Baldwin said, “that would be Darrelle Revis” when asked who the celebration was directed towards, and went on to apologize for his actions.

“€œI do regret the fact that it cost my team 15 yards and to the fans, ultimately I apologize to anybody I offended in any way,” said Baldwin. “It wasn’€™t about that. I just think it was a competitive situation. So to all the 12s, all the fans, that’€™s not what it’€™s about. So I apologize to anyone if I offended you.”

“€œIn that moment it was just a reaction,” he added. “€œSo obviously if I could go back, I would take it back.”

Baldwin caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson with 4:54 left in the third quarter, which gave Seattle a 24-14 lead at the time, but those would be the final Seahawks points of the game, as the Patriots went on to score 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to earn a come-from-behind win.

The catch was his only catch of the game.

“I spent a lot of time those two weeks prior to getting ready for that game just focused on my individual matchup with [Revis] and I put a lot into it, and in that moment, I guess you could say it was just kind of a built-up frustration I was letting out in that sequence, you know, between him and I,” Baldwin said. “Obviously there was competitive stuff going on in that game, and in that moment, I just let out what I felt personally.”

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Bill Belichick, Vince Wilfork and Matt Patricia celebrate at the end of Super Bowl XLIX. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick, Vince Wilfork and Matt Patricia celebrate at the end of Super Bowl XLIX. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

With the Patriots done for the season, we’ve got an end-of-the-year position-by-position breakdown of where the Patriots stand. We’ve looked at special teams, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends, quarterback, offensive line, safety and cornerback and linebacker. Now, we wrap it up with defensive line:

Depth chart (regular-season stats via coaches film review): Chandler Jones (43 tackles, 6 sacks, 10 quarterback hits, 2 passes defensed), Alan Branch (14 tackles, 2 quarterback hits, 1 pass defensed), Sealver Siliga (27 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 quarterback hits), Vince Wilfork (47 tackles, 1 quarterback hit, 1 INT, 2 passes defensed), Chris Jones (27 tackles, 3 sacks, 7 quarterback hits), Rob Ninkovich (56 tackles, 8 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, 1 INT, 2 passes defensed, 1 fumble recovery), Joe Vellano (6 tackles, 1 sack, 1 quarterback hit), Zach Moore (4 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery), Michael Buchanan (1 tackle), Dominique Easley (9 tackles, 1 sack, 3 quarterback hits) and Akeem Ayers (15 tackles, 4 sacks, 5 quarterback hits, 1 INT, 1 pass defensed). Jake Bequette remains on the practice squad.

Overview: The heart of the New England defense, the line was able to hold strong after a sluggish start and really one together nicely as the year developed and into the playoffs. At the center of it all was a resurgent Wilfork. The veteran had to knock a little rust off at the start of the season, but he was a huge part of the defensive success enjoyed by the Patriots over the course of the 2014 season, not only from an on-field perspective but as a leader and mentor to a group of younger defensive linemen. Along the interior, Wilfork was ably backed by youngsters Siliga and Jones, who returned to their roles as mostly complementary players.

On the edge, Ninkovich and Chandler Jones weren’t an overwhelming pass rush duo, but Ninkovich became the first member of the Pats to register three straight seasons of at least eight sacks since Hall of Famer Andre Tippett. Jones struggled with a hip injury and missed roughly two full months in the middle of the year, but Ayers — acquired from Tennessee in October — was able to provide relief as a pass rusher while holding up relatively well against the run. And Branch, who was plucked off the street in October, managed to find a role as a run-stopper and steadying part of the rotation up front.

Ultimately, it wasn’t an overwhelming defensive front, but in the spirit of good complementary football, it was more than enough to lift the Patriots over the top: In six of their final 11 games (including the playoffs), the Patriots held opposing teams under 100 yards rushing, and finished ninth in the league in rush defense (104.3 yards per game allowed).

Going forward, one of the offseason storylines worth monitoring will be what happens with Wilfork and his contractual situation. The veteran could be one of several players who might be asked to have his deal restructured in hopes of creating more financial flexibility. At the same time, most of the rest of the key parts are under contract for 2015, including 2014’s first-round selection Dominique Easley, who had recurring knee issues through the year and ended the season on injured reserve. Count on him to be a major part of New England’s defensive plans in 2015.

Best moment: Lots of moments to choose from here, but it’s hard not to be impressed by the work that the defensive front did over the course of the six-game gauntlet against (mostly) division leaders that would come to define the Patriots as the physical bunch they turned out to be. In that series, New England yielded an average of 81 rushing yards per game and just one rushing touchdown.

Worst moment: It seems redundant to say this — that Monday night loss to the Chiefs in Kansas City was the low point for just about the entire roster, save maybe Brandon LaFell and Matthew Slater — but the defensive front really hit rock bottom in that one. The Chiefs rushed for a whopping 207 yards in that one (107 yards from Knile Davis and 92 from Jamaal Charles). Small wonder that Wilfork said after the game that the Chiefs beat them, “like we stole something.” That loss put the capper on a four-game stretch to open the year where New England yielded an average of 130 rushing yards per game.

By the numbers: 952 — The number of snaps Wilfork played in 2014 (including the postseason), according to Pro Football Focus. Following a season-ending injury that cut short his 2013 campaign, it was an impressive finish to the year for the veteran defensive lineman.

Money quote: “It’s phenomenal for me to have a leader like Vince in my meetings every day. He’s a guy that sits in the front, pays attention, sits upright and is really into the meetings. If I need to point to anybody in the room that I think needs to do it a certain way, I can just point to Vince and say, ‘You need follow this guy’s example. This is how you sustain in the NFL. This is how you’re a champion in the NFL. You do it like he does it and you attack each day and each week with the preparation that he does.’ I think it’s an easy follow for the young guys that come in.” — Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia on Wilfork’s impact

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
If the Patriots use their franchise tag, Devin McCourty is the top candidate. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

If the Patriots use their franchise tag, Devin McCourty is the top candidate. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Monday marked the first day of the NFL’s franchise tag window, where teams can designated one player who is set to be a free agent on their roster the franchise tag.

The most common designation is the non-exclusive franchise tag where the player must be offered a one-year deal based on the average of the non-exclusive franchise numbers at his position over the last five seasons and their percentage of that year’€™€™€™s salary cap or 120 percent of his prior year’€™€™€™s base salary, whichever is greater. If a player does get a non-exclusive franchise tag, they can talk with other teams, but if he signs an offer sheet with another club, his team has five days to match the offer. If the offer is not matched, his team will receive two first-round picks as compensation from the signing team.

The two-week window ends March 2, right before the start of free agency.

Of the players on the Patriots roster, the two who seem most likely to be designated the tag, if at all, are safety Devin McCourty and kicker Stephen Gostkowski.

The Patriots have not used the tag since 2012, when New England franchised Wes Welker, only to see him depart via free agency the following offseason. Prior to Welker, the team used it on Vince Wilfork in 2010 and Logan Mankins in 2011 and then eventually settled to contract extensions, which could be the case again this year (For a complete look at the Patriots’ history with the franchise tag, check out Chris Price’s Sunday Notes from this week).

While the Patriots have used the franchise tag on a kicker before (Adam Vinatieri), it doesn’t seem to make much sense this time around. Gostkowski just wrapped up a five-year, $15,759,000 contract where he made just over $3 million a year. According to NFL Media’s Albert Breer, the value of the franchise tag for a kicker for 2015 would be $4.12 million. The highest paid kicker in the NFL is currently Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski, making an average of $3.75 million a year.

Gostkowski, who turned 31 during Super Bowl week has emerged as one of the best kickers in the game (finishing second in the NFL in field goal percentage this past year), and will seemingly want to be the highest paid kicker in the game. With plenty of good seasons left in him, why not make him the highest paid kicker in the game (above $3.75 million a year), and sign him to a multi-year extension? There’s no need to mess around with the franchise tag, especially when the value is over $4 million. So by not using it on Gostkowski and making him the highest paid kicker in the game, New England would actually likely save themselves money.

From this viewpoint, McCourty is the more likely to be designated the tag. He’s finished his rookie contract, and could not be at a better point in his career. After being moved from cornerback to safety, he’s become one of the better safeties in the game and it doesn’t hurt he’s coming off a Super Bowl win. From a New England perspective, he seems to enjoy being a member of the Patriots and is well-respected in the locker room, as well as by coach Bill Belichick.

There could be a situation where the Patriots model what they did with Wilfork in 2010. The defensive tackle was also coming off his rookie deal and the team gave him the tag on Feb. 22, three days before the end of the franchise tag window that year, with the intentions of continuing to negotiate a new long-term deal. A new deal was agreed upon in March, and the tag just allowed the Patriots more time to work out a new deal for Wilfork.

When it comes to McCourty, the two sides will likely try and work out an extension between now and when the two-week window ends, as by all accounts McCourty wants to return to New England and the Patriots would want him back to solidify the back end of their defense. Similar to Wilfork, if a deal cannot be agreed upon, it would seem likely the team will designate the tag on him and continue to try and hammer out a deal.

Don’t be alarmed if the Patriots haven’t used their tag once other teams start using theirs, as like what has happened in the past the team doesn’t have to use it, and when they do, they have a plan.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable