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Irving scores 55, leads Cavs to 8th win in row minus LeBron

CLEVELAND (AP) Kyrie Irving scored a career-high 55 points, breaking the arena record while LeBron James watched from the bench and leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to their eighth straight win, 99-94 over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night. Irving took over with James sidelined with a sprained right wrist. He buried a 3-pointer with 6.4 seconds left to break a 94-94 tie, grabbed a rebound off a missed 3-pointer by Portland's Damian Lillard, and as many in the crowd chanted "M-V-P" and James danced near the bench, Irving dropped two free throws with 2.1 seconds remaining to seal the win. Irving broke the previous scoring record at Quicken Loans Arena held by Allen Iverson. His point total was also the highest in the league this season, bettering the 52 scored by Golden State's Klay Thompson and Minnesota's Mo Williams.

Thu, 29 Jan 2015 02:40:00 +0000
Grant sparks No. 8 Notre Dame to 77-73 victory over Duke

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Jerian Grant had 23 points and 12 assists and No. 8 Notre Dame made two shots in the final 67 seconds as the shot clock ran out to beat No. 4 Duke 77-73 Wednesday night. Grant lost control of the ball, picked it up at the free throw line and got a shot off just in time to give the Irish a 73-70 lead with 67 seconds left. After Quinn Cook hit a pair of free throws, Grant looked as though he was holding for a shot. But he fired it over to Steve Vasturia in the corner for a 3-pointer, giving the Irish a 76-72 lead. Grant thenblocked a layup attempt to end the threat by Duke. The win keeps Notre Dame (20-2, 8-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) in second-place in the league. l Duke (17-3, 4-3) is off to its worst start in league play since opening the 1995-96 season 3-4.

Thu, 29 Jan 2015 02:50:00 +0000
Wade Phillips hired as Broncos defensive coordinator

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Wade Phillips is returning to Denver as Gary Kubiak's defensive coordinator. Phillips, 67, interviewed for the position this week after the Broncos were rebuffed in their attempts to speak with Bengals secondary coach Vance Joseph about the position. Joseph, who has a year left on his contract in Cincinnati, had interviewed for the Broncos head coaching vacancy following John Fox's ouster earlier this month. Phillips was Kubiak's defensive coordinator in Houston from 2011-13 and replaced him as interim coach when Kubiak was fired by the Texans in December 2013. Phillips has also served as head coach of the Saints, Cowboys, Falcons, Bills and Broncos, where he went 16-16 from 1993-94. He was out of football last season for the first time since 1975. Under Phillips, the Broncos figure to capitalize on their pass-rushing duo of Pro Bowlers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware by playing more of a 3-4 defense, with three down linemen and four linebackers. Under Fox the last four seasons they were primarily a 4-3 team. Taking on an added urgency under such a switch would be the re-signing of soon-to-be free agent nose tackle Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton because the fulcrum of a 3-4 alignment is a stout run-stuffer who can command double teams. Knighton has said he wants to finish his career in Denver, but he's also said he wants to keep playing for Jack Del Rio, who was hired as Oakland's head coach after the Broncos bowed out of the playoffs. Del Rio drafted Knighton in Jacksonville and was his defensive coordinator in Denver. Also Wednesday, the Broncos hired tight ends coach Brian Pariani and agreed to terms with Joe Woods to coach their defensive backs. Woods was Oakland's secondary coach in 2014. Pariani brings 24 years of NFL coaching experience, including 19 as a tight ends coach, to Denver, where he also coached the tight ends from 1995-2004. His prize pupils then were Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe and Pro Bowler Dwayne Cars well. This time, it could be Pro Bowler Julius Thomas and Virgil Green - providing the Broncos re-sign them. They are among Denver's dozen unrestricted free agents come March and general manager John Elway has said he'd like to keep them in Denver. Last season Pariani coached the tight ends in Baltimore, where Kubiak was offensive coordinator. He also coached tight ends during Kubiak's entire eight-year tenure with the Texans. --- AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Thu, 29 Jan 2015 03:17:00 +0000
Kobe Bryant has surgery, expected to be out for 9 months

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) Kobe Bryant is officially done for the season after having surgery to repair his torn right rotator cuff Wednesday. The Los Angeles Lakers also made it official that their superstar doesn't believe his career is finished. Bryant is expected to need nine months to recover from his third straight season-ending injury. If Bryant meets that timetable, he could return to basketball shortly before the start of the 2015-16 season - and the Lakers expect to see him in purple and gold again. Neal ElAttrache and Steve Lombardo performed the two-hour surgery at the Kerlan Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles. "I expect Kobe to make a full recovery, and if all goes as expected, he should be ready for the start of the season," ElAttrache said in a statement provided by the Lakers. The Lakers formally declared Bryant out for the year by acknowledging the expected recovery time from his injury, but also effectively confirmed he won't retire and will attempt to play his 20th season in the fall. Bryant, who will be 37 years old this summer, is the NBA's highest-paid player at $23.5 million this season, and he is under contract for $25 million next year. "In my mind right now, he's coming back next year, unless he tells me something different," coach Byron Scott said at practice Wednesday. Scott already had acknowledged Bryant was highly unlikely to play again this season for the flailing Lakers (12-34), who will match their franchise record for futility if they lose their 10th consecutive game when the Chicago Bulls visit Thursday. But if Los Angeles finishes with a top-five draft pick, the club won't have to give its first-round choice to Phoenix until next year to complete its brutal trade for Steve Nash in 2012. Bryant hurt his right shoulder while dunking last week in New Orleans, deciding on surgery shortly afterward. He is the third-leading scorer in league history and a five-time NBA champion. Bryant averaged 22.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists in 35 games, but made a career-worst 37.3 percent of his shots in a wildly inconsistent 19th season. He also passed Michael Jordan for third place on the NBA's career scoring list, trailing only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone. Bryant's popularity hasn't waned during his injury-plagued stretch. He was voted to the All-Star game for the 17th time this month, and he is still the Lakers' public face despite his recent prolonged absences from the court. Bryant missed the 2013 playoffs after tearing his Achilles tendon late in the regular season, and he played in just six games last season before breaking a bone near his left knee. Although he has played through innumerable injuries in the past, the accumulated wear from nearly two decades in the NBA has caught up to him. Bryant sat out eight games to rest in the past month, and he played under a strict minutes limit. It wasn't enough to protect him from another major injury. Bryant joins Nash, first-round pick Julius Randle and swingman Xavier Henry with season-ending injuries already for the Lakers.

Thu, 29 Jan 2015 00:16:00 +0000
Millsaps leads Hawks to 17th straight win, 113-102 over Nets

ATLANTA (AP) Paul Millsap had 28 points and 15 rebounds, five other Atlanta players scored in double figures, and the Hawks stretched their franchise-record winning streak to 17 games in a row with a 113-102 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night. Atlanta (38-8) has won 31 of 33 and leads the Eastern Conference by a commanding seven games. This was a bit tougher than expected against the struggling Nets, who kept it close most of the way. The Hawks pulled away in the final quarter, leading by as many as 15. Millsap finished off Brooklyn's last run with a 3-pointer from the corner with 2:34 remaining, pushing Atlanta to a 109-98 edge. Joe Johnson led the Nets with 26 points. It wasn't enough to prevent Brooklyn's 11th loss in 13 games, a slide that has knocked the team out of the top eight in the East. Al Horford also had a double-double for the Hawks with 20 points and 12 rebounds. Kyle Korver scored 17, connecting on five 3-pointers, while Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder had 13 apiece and DeMarre Carroll 12. Atlanta outrebounded the Nets 45-35. Brook Lopez scored 18 for Brooklyn off the bench, and Jarrett Jack chipped in with 14 points and 13 assists. The Hawks got off to a sloppy start, committing six turnovers in the first 7 minutes. But they seized control before the break, closing the second quarter on a 21-9 run that sent them to the locker room with their biggest lead of the half, 64-53. Millsap played a huge role in the turnaround. He scored 16 points, knocked down a pair of 3-pointers, and grabbed 12 rebounds in the opening half. Atlanta has built a double-digit lead in every game during its winning streak, and improved to 33-1 this season when up by at least 10 points. Amazingly, the Hawks have already matched their win total for all of last season, when they slipped into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed with a 38-44 record. And it's not even the All-Star break. TIP-INS Brooklyn: The bus carrying coach Lionel Hollins got caught in traffic trying to get to Philips Arena and didn't arrive until 6:43 p.m. for the 8 p.m. tipoff. A poultry convention at the adjacent Georgia World Congress Center clogged traffic in downtown Atlanta. ... F Mirza Teletovic traveled home after being hospitalized last week in Los Angeles with blood clots in his lungs. The Bosnian will miss the rest of the season, but is expected to make a full recovery. Atlanta: Schroder will represent the Hawks in the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star weekend in New York. The second-year point guard from Germany is one of the most improved players in the league, playing a key role off the bench as Teague's backup. ... Mike Budenholzer and his staff already earned the right to coach the Eastern Conference team in the All-Star game, and as many as four Hawks players could be selected when the reserves are named Thursday. UP NEXT Brooklyn: Head home Friday night to face the Toronto Raptors. Atlanta: Host the Portland Trailblazers on Friday night, the next-to-last game in a seven-game homestand. --- Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

Thu, 29 Jan 2015 03:36:00 +0000
Lynch at Media Day: 'I'm here so I don't get fined'

PHOENIX (AP) Marshawn Lynch smiled politely, waved at the crowd and answered every question the same. "I'm here so I don't get fined," the Seattle Seahawks' star running back constantly repeated for five minutes before leaving the podium at Media Day on Tuesday. It's not clear if his plan will work. About 200 reporters crowded around Lynch's podium for at least 15 minutes before he arrived. But the media-shy Lynch made it clear right from the start he wasn't saying anything except variations of his scripted answer. Lynch set a timer on his phone and told everyone he showed up just to avoid a fine. Lynch caught a bag of Skittles tossed from Olympic gold medal gymnast Shawn Johnson and stopped to pick up a reporter's recorder off the floor before he walked away. Lynch later spoke to "Entertainment Tonight" about his foundation, the "Fam 1st Family Foundation." The Professional Football Writers of America was talking to the league about the session and Lynch had been apprised of a potential fine. He is also required to be at media sessions Wednesday and Thursday. In November, the NFL fined Lynch $50,000 for violations of the league's media policy in addition to collecting the $50,000 fine that was imposed against Lynch for violations last season. The fine from 2013 was held in anticipation of future cooperation from Lynch. "I'm fine sitting up here, but not everybody is comfortable with it so I don't think he should be forced to do it," All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said. Lynch has much more to say when the price is right. Insurance company Progressive and candy maker Skittles released commercials featuring Lynch saying a bit more than his usual: "Yeah" and "Nope" and "Thanks for asking." At Media Day last year, Lynch's reclusiveness became a major story. Lynch appeared for 6 1/2 minutes, left the arena, and then returned to a "mixed zone" the NFL created for players not on podiums or in microphone-equipped speaking areas at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. With the exception of briefly speaking with the NFL Network's Deion Sanders, to the Seahawks' website, and to Armed Forces Network, he did not deal with reporters that day. Sanders, the Hall of Fame cornerback, tried again to interview Lynch, but got nowhere this time and left laughing. Teammates defended Lynch's behavior. "This is who he is. I don't nitpick or judge, so I just accept a person for who they are," All-Pro safety Earl Thomas said. "I just love who he is. He is so random." Sherman even continued answering questions after the 60-minute session ended. "I don't think (players) should be obligated any more than the commissioner is obligated to speak to the media," Sherman said. "I think that if players are going to be obligated to speak to the media then every one of the NFL personnel should be obligated to speak to the media weekly, and that's not the case. "It's unfortunate, but I think that every team should be forced to present certain players, obviously a few of them. Obviously, if someone is uncomfortable in front of the media and uncomfortable answering questions, then you have to find a way to accommodate the NFL. This is a game; you find a way to accommodate everyone else who's uncomfortable." Lynch was fined $20,000 for making an obscene gesture during Seattle's overtime win over Green Bay in the NFC championship game. The league did not specify what the gesture was, but Lynch grabbed his crotch after scoring a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. Lynch was fined $11,000 for a similar gesture in Seattle's win over Arizona on Dec. 21. Lynch also was told before the last game he could not wear gold shoes because they were a violation of the NFL's on-field dress code, and that he could be ejected from the game if he wore them. "He's a guy that cares about everyone in that locker room," assistant head coach and offensive line coach Tom Cable said. "Anytime you hand it to him, he's carrying them. He's not carrying the football, he's carrying his team. That's who he is. That's what he does." --- AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org --- Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP-RobMaaddi

Wed, 28 Jan 2015 01:17:00 +0000
Brodeur to retire, join St. Louis Blues front office

ST. LOUIS (AP) Martin Brodeur is retiring to take a front office job with the St. Louis Blues. The New Jersey Devils have a spot waiting for one of the greatest goaltenders in NHL history whenever he is ready to come back home. "Absolutely. He is aware of that and has always been aware of that," Devils president and general manager Lou Lamoriello said Tuesday. "He could have come back even now if he wanted to." The 10-time All-Star and four-time Vezina Trophy winner finished his career with St. Louis after a standout, two-decade run with New Jersey. A news conference was set for Thursday morning before the Blues return from the All-Star break to play Nashville. "It's kind of sad to see a guy like him hang `em up," said Brian Elliott, the Blues' All-Star goalie. "I'm sure it's a tough decision, but I was grateful to be on the same team with him if only for a little bit." The 42-year-old Brodeur wrapped up his 22-year career with St. Louis after signing as a free agent on Dec. 2. He was 3-3 with a 2.87 goals-against average and in his final victory became the fifth-oldest goalie to post a shutout in a 3-0 win over Colorado on Dec. 29. He last played on Jan. 2 in a loss at Anaheim and had not returned since being granted a one-week leave of absence on Jan. 14. Brodeur had dropped to third on the depth chart after Elliott returned from a knee injury, with 24-year-old Jake Allen sharing the position, but teammates are happy he'll still be around to help. "It's an extremely smart move," forward Alexander Steen said. "All the experience and all that stuff is so valuable to have in an organization. That stuff spreads." Lamoriello said he's been talking with the Brodeur the last several weeks, so the announcement was not a surprise. Lamoriello said it won't be long before the Devils retire his No. 30 and that there are no hard feelings Brodeur is sticking with St. Louis for now. "It's something that he feels he would like to try and see," Lamoriello said. "He might even find out whether he likes this business or not. Who knows? There is no issue whatsoever." Brodeur played his first 21 seasons with the Devils, who did not re-sign him after committing to Cory Schneider as the No. 1 goalie. Schneider said he was a little surprised about the announcement, calling it the end of an iconic career. "Those kinds of players, like Marty and Jaromir (Jagr), they only come along so often," Schneider said. "The things that Marty did, I don't know if we will ever see again or it probably won't be for a long, long time." The Montreal native was 691-397-176 with a 2.24 goals-against average, .912 save percentage and 125 shutouts in 1,266 career appearances. He holds regular-season NHL records for wins, games and minutes. "I don't think he has to worry about losing those anytime soon," Elliott said. "It's just awesome to be able to stand on the same ice as a guy like that, especially when you look at the record books probably 50 years from now and you can be like, `I played with that guy,' so it's cool." Brodeur also holds postseason records for starts (204) and shutouts (24), and is second in wins (113). He appeared in 70 or more games in 10 consecutive seasons from 1997-98 to 2007-08. He won three Stanley Cups with the Devils and was a two-time Olympic gold medalist with Team Canada in 2002 and 2010. Devils center Scott Gomez won two Stanley Cups with Brodeur and remembered a player so handy with the stick it prompted an NHL rule change. Jagr said having Brodeur in goal was like having an extra half defenseman who could start breakouts. "So many new goaltenders come in the league and it's kind of incredible for him to adjust and stay in that game for such a long time," Jagr said. "I don't think anybody can do that again, in any sport. Maybe (Peyton) Manning if he keeps playing, because quarterback is that type of position." --- AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan contributed to this report.

Tue, 27 Jan 2015 23:58:00 +0000
Jury convicts 2 ex-Vanderbilt players of raping woman

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) A jury convicted two ex-Vanderbilt football players on Tuesday of raping a former student, rejecting claims that they were too drunk to know what they were doing and that a college culture of binge drinking and promiscuous sex should be blamed for the attack. The jury deliberated for three hours before announcing that Brandon Vandenburg and Cory Batey were guilty of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery. Batey was stoic, staring ahead and Vandenburg shook his head "no," appearing stunned. His father had an outburst and abruptly left the courtroom. The victim, a 21-year-old neuroscience and economics major at the time of the June 2013 attack, cried as each guilty verdict was announced. The men face decades in prison when they are sentenced March 6. The jury heard two weeks of dramatic testimony from a parade of witnesses, including police, former and current Vanderbilt students and the woman, who said she didn't remember what happened that night, only that she woke up in a strange dorm room. They also saw cellphone images from the night of the attack that Vandenburg sent to his friends as it was happening. Despite the photos and video, and witnesses seeing the woman unconscious and at least partially naked in a dorm hallway, no one reported it. The victim said in a statement she was hopeful the publicity from the case would lead to a discussion of how to end sexual violence on college campuses. In Nashville, where the prestigious private university is located, hundreds of college officials from across the state were meeting this week to discuss exactly that. "Finally, I want to remind other victims of sexual violence: You are not alone. You are not to blame," she said. Vandenburg and Batey were on trial together, but represented by different attorneys. Attorneys for Vandenburg, who had been seeing the woman, said he did not assault her. Testimony showed Vandenburg passed out condoms to the other players, slapped her buttocks and said he couldn't have sex with the woman because he was high on cocaine. Batey raped the woman and urinated on her, prosecutors said. His attorneys argued the images didn't show that. Defense lawyers argued that Vandenburg and Batey were too drunk to know what they were doing and that a college culture of binge drinking and promiscuous sex should be partly to blame. During closing arguments, Deputy District Attorney Tom Thurman told jurors that the college culture argument was a "red herring" and that the athletes thought the law didn't apply to them. "That's the culture that you really saw here," Thurman said. "Their mindset that they can get away with anything." Earlier, one of the defense attorneys conceded that Vandenburg took "deplorable" photos, but shouldn't be convicted of rape because he didn't take part in it. "He took photographs that he never should have taken," attorney Fletcher Long said. Batey, of Nashville, turned 21 on Tuesday. Vandenburg, 21, is from Indio, Calif. Vandenburg's roommate at the time testified that he had been on the top bunk and saw the woman face down on the floor. He said he heard one of the players say he was going to have sex with her, but didn't do anything because he was afraid. Rumors about what happened quickly spread around campus, and the assault might have gone unnoticed had the university not stumbled onto the closed-circuit TV images several days later in an unrelated attempt to learn who damaged a dormitory door. The images showed players carrying an unconscious woman into an elevator and down a hallway, taking compromising pictures of her and then dragging her into the room. School authorities contacted police, who found the digital trail of images. The university said after the verdict that they had kicked the players off the team many months ago, expelled them from school and were confident they acted appropriately. "We will also continue our comprehensive ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the importance of every Vanderbilt student intervening when another student is at risk or in distress," the school said in a statement. Jaborian "Tip" McKenzie, who is also charged in the case, testified he did not touch the woman himself but also took pictures. No trial date has been set for him and Brandon Banks, the fourth former player accused in the assault. Banks did not testify.

Wed, 28 Jan 2015 00:59:00 +0000
Super Bowl, Tiger make Phoenix center of sports universe

PHOENIX (AP) Tiger Woods will tee off his season in front of 200,000 golf fans and an estimated million people will flock to a revived Phoenix downtown for NFL events. A pair of NBA games will be played in the heart of it all. Concerts abound and there will be parties galore. Oh yes, there's a football game, too. Although the Super Bowl is actually being played 30 minutes away in suburban Glendale. Super Bowl week is always a spectacle. With the addition of golf's biggest name in its most raucous tournament, the scene in and around Phoenix this week should be even crazier. For a few days, what once was a desert wasteland is the center of the sports and entertainment world. "It kind of puts us on the map," Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "It kind of gives us that networking that we don't have like other teams - the Dallas Cowboys or the New York teams. Everybody can see what the state is all about." The fun will stretch from Glendale to the west to Scottsdale in the east. The epicenter is downtown Phoenix, where 12 blocks have been cordoned off for a myriad of Super Bowl activities and displays. Thanks to a temporary law change, fans can wander through with open containers of alcohol. A few steps away is the NFL Experience, billed as the league's interactive theme park, set up in the Phoenix Convention Center. Walk a block or so, and there's US Airways Center, where the ever-entertaining, often-bizarre Media Day was held on Tuesday, with fans able to witness it for $28.50 a pop. The arena swings back into its usual purpose on Wednesday night, when the Washington Wizards play the Suns. Friday night, the Chicago Bulls are in town. Scottsdale has a party scene any weekend. Super Bowl weekend it goes over the top. Streets around the clubs will be blocked off with Maxim and Rolling Stone among those hosting gatherings. In north Scottsdale there will be a giant party that happens to have a golf tournament running through the middle of it. The Waste Management Phoenix Open, played on the spacious TPC Scottsdale course, has by far the biggest crowds on the PGA tour, with Saturday always the party day. Now that Woods is playing in the tournament for the first time in 14 years, it should be even more crowded, as hard as that is to imagine. Tournament officials have said more than 200,000 are expected this Saturday. Among those performing somewhere around town will be Lil Wayne, Kid Rock, Darius Rucker, Imagine Dragons and Kevin Hart. Rihanna has an invitation-only gig in Glendale on Saturday night. And, of course, Katy Perry will perform at halftime on Sunday. The Pro Bowl kicked everything off. Usually played in Hawaii, it was moved for this one season to the site of the Super Bowl. A sellout crowd of 63,225 packed the Sunday night event. This will be the third Super Bowl for the Phoenix area. The first was in 1996 at Sun Devil Stadium on the Arizona State University campus in Tempe. In 2008, the game was played at University of Phoenix Stadium, with the New York Giants stunning previously unbeaten New England. At the time, downtown Phoenix was entangled in scaffolding for one project after another. For the Super Bowl to return, it's an upgrade that was essential. "It's really been the $44 billion development to the downtown Phoenix area," said Devney Preuss, senior director off the Arizona Super Bowl host committee. "That created a downtown area that's primed and ready for an event like this." Hotels and restaurants were built. The convention center was expanded. A light rail line opened from Mesa to downtown. Now more big games are on the way. Next January, the college football championship game is in Glendale. The following year, it's a college football playoff semifinal game. And in spring of 2017, the stadium hosts the Final Four. For the Phoenix area, it seems, the party's just begun.

Tue, 27 Jan 2015 22:18:00 +0000
Kraft takes the offensive, defends team, seeks NFL apology

CHANDLER, Ariz. (AP) The New England Patriots came out swinging upon their arrival at the Super Bowl. Not star quarterback Tom Brady or All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis. Not coach Bill Belichick, either. Robert Kraft. The team owner on Monday night demanded an apology from the league once the Patriots are found to be not guilty of breaking any rules regarding using under-inflated footballs in the AFC championship game. A conclusion Kraft is certain will occur. In an unscheduled statement, Kraft strongly defended his team's actions and integrity, growing more fiery with each sentence. "I want to make it clear that I believe, unconditionally, that the New England Patriots have done nothing inappropriate in this process or in violation of NFL rules," Kraft said at the team's first media availability in Arizona. "If the (Ted) Wells investigation is not able to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure in the footballs, I would expect and hope the league would apologize to our entire team, and in particular to coach (Bill) Belichick and Tom Brady, for what they've had to endure this week." NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash and Ted Wells of the law firm of Paul Weiss are leading the probe. Wells was the investigator in the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal and has said the current investigation could last a while. Kraft welcomes a thorough search. "I'm disappointed in the way this entire matter has been handled and reported upon," Kraft said, pointing directly to reports citing anonymous sources. "We expect hard facts rather than circumstantial leaked evidence to drive the conclusion of this investigation." The NFL has said evidence shows the Patriots used underinflated footballs during the first half of the AFC title game victory over Indianapolis. The league is still determining why the balls were underinflated. "I am confident that this investigation will uncover whatever the facts were that took place last Sunday and the science of how game balls react to changes in the environment," Kraft added. "This would be in direct contrast to the public discourse, which has been driven by media leaks as opposed to actual data and facts. Because of this, many jumped to conclusions and made scarring accusations against our coach, quarterback and staff questioning the integrity of all involved." Belichick and Brady followed Kraft to the podium, but basically left any comments on the investigation to their boss. When asked if he was upset by the accusations and jokes of which he was the subject, Brady said: "I've moved past those initial feelings and I want to move forward." But moving away from the deflated footballs theme will be particularly difficult on media day, when just about any question has been fair game in the past. So Kraft came out swinging before then with a speech tinged with emotion - and fire. "Tom, Bill and I have been together for 15 years. They are my guys," said Kraft, who has three Super Bowl titles and three other trips to the big game since 2001. "They are part of my family. Bill, Tom and I have had many difficult discussions over the years. I've never known them to lie to me. That's why I'm confident in saying what I just said. "It bothers me greatly their reputations and integrity - and by association that of our team - has been called into question this week." This hardly is the first time the Patriots have been under such scrutiny. Most famously was 2007, their undefeated regular season. Revelations that New England videotaped New York Jets coaches' signals during a game cost Belichick a $500,000 fine, and the team was fined $250,000 and stripped of its 2008 first-round draft choice by the NFL. During this year's playoffs, Ravens coach John Harbaugh accused the Patriots of being deceitful with some alignments on offense. The NFL exonerated Kraft's team of any wrongdoing. Now, Kraft has taken the offensive. "I, and our entire organization," he said, "believe strongly in the integrity of the game and the rules of fair play are properly, equitably and fairly enforced." --- AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Tue, 27 Jan 2015 16:41:00 +0000