With Super Bowl 49 still a week away, Seattle Seahawks defensive standout Richard Sherman was already getting his shots in against the New England Patriots.
The outspoken quarterback was skeptical that the Patriots would ever be punished, even if the NFL finds they purposely underinflated the footballs used in the playoff win over Indianapolis that sent them into the Super Bowl — where they’ll take on reigning champions Seattle.
“Will they be punished? Probably not,” Sherman said as selected Seahawks players met the press shortly after arriving in Phoenix.
Sherman says Patriots owner Robert Kraft and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell are too close for the league to take strong action against the club.
“Not as long as Robert Kraft and Goodell are taking pictures at their respective homes… Talk about conflict of interest,” Sherman said, a reference to pictures posted on social media of Goodell attending a party at Kraft’s home on the eve of last weekend’s game at Foxborough.
The suggestion that the Patriots intentionally deflated footballs — possibly making them easier for quarterback Tom Brady to grip and throw — isn’t the first scandal to touch the Pats.
Coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 in 2007, when they were caught videotaping the hand signals of opposing teams, in contravention of NFL rules.
“I think the perception is the reality,” Sherman said. “Their resume speaks for itself. You talk about getting close to the line.”
With their championship extravaganza just a week away, the NFL said Saturday it is looking into how balls used by New England in the first half of their 45-7 romp over Indianapolis in the AFC championship contest lost air between a pre-game inspection and halftime.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who professed himself at a loss on Monday when “Deflategate” broke, said the team had since conducted experiments and found balls can lose enough air to fall out of NFL guidelines without tampering.
“I believe now 100 percent I have personally and we as an organization have followed every rule to the letter,” said Belichick, whose team is scheduled to arrive in Phoenix on Monday.
The affair is sure to percolate throughout the publicity-drenched week that precedes the Super Bowl, but Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and coach Pete Carroll downplayed the possible effects of the distraction — on them or the Pats — in the February 1 title game.
Carroll said he understood Belichick’s surprise when the issue arose — because he had never paid much attention to his team’s ball preparation procedures either.
“I’m much better versed today than I was a week or so ago,” Carroll said. “I never checked on the whole process of how our footballs were handled until this week.
“I know every step of it now,” he said.
Wilson said he didn’t think the Patriots would take extra motivation from criticism.
“When you get to the Super Bowl, I think you’re motivated enough,” he said.
If anything, Carroll said, the Patriots would be stronger for the scrutiny.
“I think it’s common when you feel like you’re under attack. It draws you closer,” Carroll said. “I think that’s pretty common. I would think they will rally together.”