What Have We Learned From Super Bowl 50 Sunday & beyond of the 2016 NFL Playoffs

Demarus Dye| BKD TV Insiders

APTOPIX Super Bowl FootballDenver Broncos’ Malik Jackson (97) recovers a fumble by Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton (1) for a touchdown during the first half of the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

 

Here is What Have We Learned from Super Bowl 50 Sunday of the 2016 NFL Playoffs, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • Denver’s defense brings home the Lombardi-Seven sacks. Four takeaways. Ten measly points.Any more questions?

    Von Miller and the rest of Denver’s dominant defense silenced their doubters the only way they knew how, by securing the silver trophy in the Golden Gate City.

    There’s no denying Denver now.

    “Look man, we’re the greatest defense anyone ever faced,” linebacker Brandon Marshall declared. “The 2015 Broncos are the No. 1 defense of all time.”

    Not the ’85 Bears.

    Or the Ravens in 2000.

    Not the 2002 Buccaneers.

    Or the Steel Curtain of the ’70s.

    “Easy,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “They were the No. 1 offense in the whole world before this. All y’all was talking about was Cam Newton every day. And their offense. How we cannot stop them. Every day, that’s all y’all talked about. For us to give up 10 points and have four takeaways, we proved we’re one of the greatest ever defenses.”

    Denver’s dominant defenders passed around the Lombardi Trophy for selfies and snuggles in the delirious locker room after they hammered Newton and pounded the rest of Panthers into so many bumbles, stumbles and fumbles in a 24-10 beatdown that was both epic and classic.

    “That was the best defensive performance I’ve ever seen,” said GM John Elway, who finally got to return the favor to team owner Pat Bowlen and utter those four words he’d been longing to say for so long.

    “This one’s for Pat!”

    And for Peyton Manning, who did just enough to become the first QB to win rings with two different teams.

    And for DeMarcus Ware and Wade Phillips, long-suffering defensive giants whose resumes are no longer lacking.

    The Broncos controlled the game despite converting a single third down in 14 tries and Manning compiled a paltry 56.6 passer rating.

    Manning didn’t have to be vintage, just vexing.

    “Man, we’ve got the best defense on the planet,” said running back C.J. Anderson, who scored Denver’s only offensive TD with three minutes left after — what else — a strip-sack by Miller at the Carolina 4.

    “The offense did what they needed to do,” Marshall said. “I think all year we haven’t asked the offense to put up 30 points to win the game. We never asked Peyton to put up 300 yards like his teams in the past. Those teams needed him to throw for 300 yards and four touchdowns.

    “All we really need is 17 points,” Marshall said. “I love Peyton. I told him before the game, ‘I want to win this for you.'”

    The “Orange Rush” finished first in the NFL in sacks, yards per play, pass defense and total defense this season. But their detractors dissed them all year, dismissing all that dominance and turning them into the Rodney Dangerfield of defenses.

    “For two weeks straight, that’s all we heard was Cam this, Cam that, dab this, dab that,” cornerback Bradley Roby said. “They were dabbing in their team photos. It was very disrespectful. We wanted to come out and prove that we’re the best.”

    It was the “No Fly Zone,” not “Thieves Ave.,” which got so much attention as the Panthers piled up 50 takeaways.

    Cornerback Aqib Talib put it best: “We got goal boards in our locker room and we see everything that we’ve done this year. But everything will be forgotten by next season if we don’t come home with that trophy.”

    The Broncos thought they’d be celebrating like this two years ago when they rolled into the Super Bowl with guys like Miller, Harris and Derek Wolfe sidelined but an offense that had lit up scoreboards with an NFL-record 606 points.

    After a 35-point shellacking by Seattle, Elway spent $100 million to add thumpers Ware, Talib and T.J. Ward, and this time they brought the NFL’s No. 1 defense with them.

    That’s the closet thing there is to a lock in this league.

    No. 1 defenses are now 12-4 in the Super Bowl, and two of those losses were before the merger when the No. 1 team from one conference lost to the top defense from the other.

    “I’m so proud of my guys,” said Miller, the game’s MVP.

    Miller had 2 1/2 sacks and forced two fumbles that led to Denver’s two touchdowns. Danny Trevathan led the team with eight tackles and recovered two fumbles. Ward recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass. Ware had two sacks and hit Newton four times. Malik Jackson recovered one fumble in the end zone.

    After being hit just three times and throwing 15 in completions in the playoffs coming in, Newton was hit 13 times and misfired 23 passes.

    “I remember the Ravens, I remember the Bucs,” Talib said, listing the greatest defenses of all time. “I don’t really remember the Steel Curtain and all that, but I heard about them. The ’85 Bears, I didn’t see them, but I heard about them.

    “You’ve got to put us right there with them if you ask me, man.”

    He’s pretty sure they’ll be talking about this group generations from now after this historic performance.

    “They should. Why shouldn’t they?” Talib reasoned. “Top-5 in every category. Then, in the biggest game we played the No. 1 scoring offense against the No. 1 defense. And them boys got 10 points.”

  • Wade Phillips earns his first Super Bowl title-Wade Phillips stood at the podium, pumped his right hand in the air and screamed: “Yes!”Son of Bum is a champion.

    Phillips’ smothering defense shut down Cam Newton and the Denver Broncos beat the Panthers 24-10 to give Peyton Manning his second Super Bowl title Sunday.

    They wouldn’t have done it without Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and the rest of Phillips’ D.

    “We were underdogs,” Phillips said. “They said we can’t stop this quarterback or that quarterback, so it’s real gratifying.”

    The 68-year-old Phillips was out of football last year before returning to Denver as coach Gary Kubiak’s defensive coordinator.

    “From unemployed to Super Bowl is good. From unemployed to winning the Super Bowl is even better,” Phillips said.

    Phillips learned defense from his dad, Bum Phillips, who led the Houston Oilers in the ’70s. Bum Phillips was 82-77 coaching the Oilers and New Orleans, but never won a Super Bowl. His Oilers couldn’t get past the Pittsburgh Steelers’ dynasty.

    “He would be glad we kicked the door down,” Phillips said, referring to one of his father’s famous quotes. Bum Phillips passed away in 2013.

    The Broncos were No. 1 in yards allowed, passing yards allowed and sacks in the regular season. Then they beat Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and the NFL MVP in the postseason.

    “You have to say this is a special, all-time defense,” said Phillips, who was The Associated Press Assistant Coach of the Year.

    Phillips has gone 82-61 as a head coach, with only one playoff win in six tries. Of his three head-coaching stints, in Denver, Buffalo and Dallas, none lasted longer than four seasons.

    He has served as defensive coordinator with the Saints, Eagles, Broncos, Bills, Falcons, Chargers, Texans and the Broncos again. Wherever he goes, he builds strong relationships with his players.

    “We love to play for him. He brings that energy and enthusiasm every day,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said.

    Phillips put together a game plan that did what no other coach could manage this season. Newton and the Panthers were 17-1 and rolled into the Super Bowl with the highest-scoring offense in the league.

    Miller had 2 ½ sacks and forced two fumbles, DeMarcus Ware had two sacks and the Broncos tied a Super Bowl record with seven sacks. They also forced four turnovers.

    “When you have DeMarcus and Von, you let those guys go and others can cover for them,” Phillips said.

    The Broncos allowed just 44 points in the playoffs to three of the best offenses in the NFL.

    “We proved we’re one of the greatest defenses ever,” Harris said.

    And they might have the best defensive coordinator in league history.

    “He came in and figured out how to utilize the talents,” Ware said. “He changed everything up to where we could be more aggressive and get to the passer, but also create a lot of havoc.”

  • Kindred-spirit QBs Favre, Stabler voted into Hall of Fame– The first NFL game Brett Favre ever attended, as a teenager growing up in Mississippi, was the final home game of Ken “The Snake” Stabler’s career.Favre, a New Orleans Saints fan, traveled the hour-or-so drive from home to the Superdome on that Sunday in 1984 with his father, older brother and uncle — and it was a thrill to watch a guy who electrified a stadium the way Favre himself would one day.

    “All of a sudden, the crowd goes crazy, and it’s because Ken Stabler poked his head out of the locker room. He had hair like mine. His was just a lot longer, kind of aged and gray,” recounted Favre, wearing an all-black outfit and sporting a full white beard. “And I thought: Man, that’s cool. … It’s got to be cool to be ‘The Snake.’ And then they lost. My dad was throwing popcorn and beer. … I thought: Maybe it’s not so good to be ‘The Snake.'”

    Favre and the late Stabler, a pair of kindred-spirit QBs who each won a Super Bowl, entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame together on Saturday.

    Also voted in for the class of 2016 a day before the Super Bowl were modern-day players Kevin Greene, Marvin Harrison and Orlando Pace, coach Tony Dungy, contributor Ed DeBartolo Jr., and senior selection Dick Stanfel.

    The freewheeling Favre, as expected, was a first-ballot entry, a reward for a long and distinguished career, mostly with the Green Bay Packers, that included three consecutive NFL MVP awards from 1995-97 and a championship in the 1997 Super Bowl.

    “As a kid, all I ever dreamed of was to play pro football, to be Roger Staubach or to be Archie Manning. That’s what I dreamed of. I hated Terry Bradshaw, which I told him,” Favre said with a smile.

    Stabler, a left-hander who earned his nickname for his ability to slither past defenders, goes into the Hall as a senior selection about six months after dying of colon cancer at age 69 — and just days after researchers said his brain showed widespread signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

    Stabler, the 1974 NFL MVP, was represented at Saturday’s announcement by two of his grandsons, 17-year-old twins Justin and Jack Moyes. Each brother wore one of Grandpa’s bling-filled rings: Justin’s was from the 1977 Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders; Jack’s was from a college national championship with Alabama.

    “One thing he didn’t really talk to us much about was the Hall of Fame. I know it would mean a lot to him if he got in, which he finally did,” Justin Moyes said. “I know he’s smiling right now.”

    CTE is a disease linked to repeated brain trauma and associated with symptoms such as memory loss, depression and progressive dementia. It has been found in the brains of dozens of former football players, including one of last year’s Hall inductees, Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012 at 43.

    Favre played for 20 seasons, eventually retiring — after famously vacillating about whether to walk away from the game — as the NFL’s career leader with 6,300 completions, 10,169 attempts, 71,838 yards and 508 TDs. He never met a pass he was afraid to throw, no matter how ill-advised it might have seemed, and wound up with a record 336 interceptions, the trade-off for his high-risk, high-reward, entertaining style.

    Before Green Bay, he briefly was a member of the Atlanta Falcons. Afterward, he had short stints with the New York Jets and the Packers’ chief rivals, the Minnesota Vikings.

    “It was awkward,” Favre said of going from the Packers to the Vikings. “I had people tell me all the time, ‘You really divided my house.’ And I take pride in that, sort of.”

    In discussing Stabler, Favre called him “crafty,” choosing a word plenty might use for No. 4 himself. Favre brought up the Holy Roller play from 1978, when Stabler fumbled the ball in the closing seconds, and it rolled forward into the end zone, where one of his Raiders teammates recovered it for the winning touchdown against the San Diego Chargers. It’s one of the most famous plays in NFL history — and one that would be illegal today.

    “That was something I would have tried to pull off,” Favre said. “But I think that only he could get it done. I just think the good ones find ways to get it done, no matter what.”

    Harrison, Peyton Manning’s top receiver while with the Indianapolis Colts from 1996-08, holds the record for most catches in a season: a hard-to-fathom 143 in 2002. At the time of his retirement, Harrison ranked second only to Hall of Famer Jerry Rice in NFL history with 1,102 catches and most consecutive games with a catch (190).

    Harrison was not present at the announcement and engaged in an awkward conference call during the news conference for other inductees. Dungy called Harrison “the most artistic receiver I’ve ever been around.”

    Dungy coached Manning, Harrison and the rest of the Colts to victory in the 2006 Super Bowl, becoming the first black head coach to win the championship. When he started out his coaching career, Dungy said, there were only a half-dozen or so other black assistants.

    “It wasn’t a situation,” he said, “where you had a lot of role models.”

Middle

  • No masterpiece, but Peyton Manning rides off with a win– The best thing for Peyton Manning is that he won the Super Bowl.A close second: He never has to lace ’em up again.

    Constantly harassed, never quite comfortable — sort of the way the whole season has played out — Manning walked away with his second Super Bowl title Sunday night, after Denver’s defense all but handed him the Lombardi Trophy in a 24-10 victory over the Carolina Panthers.

    A towel draped over his shoulder, his freshly printed championship hat on his head, Manning wouldn’t budge on whether this was, in fact, his last game.

    “I got some good advice from Tony Dungy,” Manning said of the first of four coaches with whom he’s been to the Super Bowl. “He said, ‘Don’t make an emotional decision.’ This has been an emotional week, an emotional night. I’m going to take some time to reflect.”

    If part of the decision involves a peek back at this game, he won’t like anything he sees, except the final score.

    He was creaky, off-target at times. He got bamboozled into his first interception of this year’s playoffs and could’ve thrown a few more if Panthers’ defenders had better hands. Manning lost a fumble, as well.

    His most important throw? Might have been the pass that flew 10 yards out of the end zone but drew a defensive holding call that set up the game-clinching touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Manning completed 13 passes for 141 yards and got the Broncos moving to start both halves.

    That was plenty. Those small wisps of offense set up a few field goals, kept the Broncos in good field position — then allowed No. 18 and Co. to clear the way for a smothering, historically good defense that won the game with seven sacks and four turnovers.

    Manning became the first quarterback to win the Super Bowl with two franchises. He joined his brother, Eli, and 10 other quarterbacks as multiple Super Bowl winners. He’s been taking it week by week this year, insisting he’s not thinking about what he’ll do after the season. Now that it’s over, he’ll have to decide whether he wants to walk away on top — same as his boss, John Elway, did after he won his second title back in 1999.

    After his final win, Elway took some time to reflect and admitted to himself that he couldn’t grind another year.

    Smart money has Manning making the same choice, and his father, Archie, suggested his kid’s days in Denver are all but done.

    “I want to hear his side of it first,” Archie said, while standing against a wall outside the Broncos locker room. “I’ve got some ideas. I would never tell Peyton what to do. I’ll lay some things out for him. He knows what to consider. If he wants to play some more football, he’s going have to go to another team. He’s going to be 40. But we have not talked about it.”

    Manning is technically under contract with the Broncos for one more season, though everything they’ve done over the past year — fire John Fox, hire Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips, revamp the offense — has spoken to a desire to build a winner that will last beyond Manning’s tenure in Denver.

    Which could be ending shortly.

    Manning spoke to the team Saturday night — an emotional talk that defensive lineman Derek Wolfe called the “most intense” speech he’d ever been part of.

    “I kind of thanked them for letting me be a part of the journey,” Manning said.

    It had the makings of a farewell.

    The quarterback rewrote the record book his first three years in Denver, then remade himself in Year 4. He threw 17 interceptions, missed six games with an injured foot, suited up as a backup, and finally, came back as a diminished game manager.

    But he didn’t shirk from that role.

    He won with a Super Bowl passer rating of 56.6 that, unbelievably, wasn’t that much lower than what he compiled this season.

    He won by handing off a lot. The Broncos ran 28 times Sunday, including on third-and-9 late in this game while nursing a lead. That never would have happened in earlier in his 18-year career. Denver’s 11 first downs were the same as Manning would’ve racked up in a quarter a few years back.

    “We couldn’t move it, couldn’t run it,” Archie Manning said. “I got so tired of hearing ‘No gain.’ They said it a hundred times.”

    A game like this that would normally send Peyton scurrying to the film room, trying to figure out how to make things better for next week.

    Next week doesn’t matter. Next year might not either.

    “Peyton’s spoiled us,” his father said. “The season was hard. So different. But that’s what life is, and football has many similarities. It’s dealing with adversity. That’s what life’s about.”

Downs

  • Cam Newton, Panthers vow to get back to Super Bowl after loss-Carolina quarterback Cam Newton didn’t say much after the Panthers lost Super Bowl 50 on Sunday night, but the league’s MVP did promise this: “We’ll be back.”But will they?

    Only time will tell. The Panthers could fade into oblivion, like the San Francisco 49ers did after losing the Super Bowl three years ago. Or they could bounce back, just like these Denver Broncos did after a devastating loss in the big game two years ago.

    Either way, Carolina’s mettle will be tested when they report to training camp in Spartanburg, South Carolina next summer.

    “I told our guys, this is the same (Broncos) team that a couple of years ago got beat,” coach Ron Rivera said. “So we have an opportunity to grow and learn from this experience. So we need to learn from this experience and give ourselves an opportunity to get back here.”

    The last time the Panthers lost in the Super Bowl, it took 12 years to get back.

    But the pieces in Carolina seem to be in place for success over the long haul.

    The Panthers had won 22 of their last 24 games and three straight NFC South championships before Sunday’s 24-10 loss to the Broncos.

    General manager Dave Gettleman has a solid core that includes six first-team All-Pros — Newton, center Ryan Kalil, fullback Mike Tolbert, linebackers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly and cornerback Josh Norman.

    They have other consistent players like tight end Greg Olsen and running back Jonathan Stewart, and budding young stars such as defensive tackle Kawann Short, guard Trai Turner and defensive end Kony Ealy, who had 3 ½ sacks, a forced fumble and an interception in the Super Bowl.

    With the exception of Norman, all are under contract next season.

    “At the end of the day, we established something, we built something here,” Ealy said. “We’re not going to change it up, switch it up next year when the season starts over. We’re going to keep the same. … That’s what got us here. And our character got us here. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”

    Rivera, who has won NFL Coach of the Year two of the last three seasons, is back too.

    And so is the highly competitive Newton who, not surprisingly, didn’t take the loss well.

    The fifth-year quarterback, who sulked in his postgame press conference before walking out, appeared to get down on himself during the game as well. The Broncos took advantage, forcing four Carolina turnovers and registering seven sacks.

    “Hey, when things don’t go his way, we see the body language — it’s obvious,” Broncos safety T.J. Ward said. “That’s what we wanted to do. That was our intent to come in this game and get the body language going. We didn’t want the happy, fun-spirited ‘dabbing’ Cam. No, we want the sulking, upset, talking to my linemen, my running backs, ‘I don’t know what’s going on’ Cam Newton — and that’s what we got.”

    As Rivera said, things to learn from.

    The Panthers (17-2) never expected to lose.

    They had been the NFL’s best team all season, starting 14-0, and the highest-scoring offense in the league. Their defense was pretty stout, too, leading the league in takeaways. That’s why the loss hurt so much.

    On this night, their offense got completely outplayed.

    “It doesn’t feel good,” Stewart said.

    “Yeah, it stings,” Kuechly said. “We accomplished a lot of what we wanted to do this year. We won the division, we won in the playoffs and we made it to the Super Bowl. We checked off a couple of boxes.”

    But not the last one.

    “When you look back on it we will be kicking ourselves forever because we let one get out of the gate,” safety Roman Harper said.

    Now the only thing left to do is to look to next season.

    “We’ve grown as a team,” Stewart said. “One thing you can really look forward to is us getting bigger, faster and strong for a few years to come.”

  • Johnny Manziel’s troubles mount, police open criminal investigation– Johnny Manziel’s troubles — both legal and personal — are worsening.A scrambling quarterback who can usually wriggle his way out of a predicament, Manziel is under pressure unlike any he’s felt before.

    Dallas police announced Friday night they were launching a criminal investigation into a domestic violence assault complaint filed against Manziel, who was involved in an altercation last weekend during which he allegedly struck his ex-girlfriend, Colleen Crowley, several times.

    On Thursday, police in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, said they had closed their investigations into allegations involving Manziel.

    The turn of events came on the same day Manziel was dropped by his agent, his father said he fears for his son’s life and it was revealed that Crowley received a protective order against the former Heisman Trophy winner, preventing him from seeing her for two years.

    Manziel’s world appears to be crumbling.

    The 23-year-old, who electrified college football just a few years ago at Texas A&M with his ability to make game-breaking plays, is a falling star. After two combustible seasons, the Cleveland Browns said earlier this week that they intend to release Manziel next month, putting his onetime promising professional career in peril.

    By initiating their new investigation, Dallas police said detectives would determine what, if any, criminal charges Manziel would face. They noted it is not uncommon for victims of domestic violence to question or delay reporting an assault.

    Crowley, who told police last week that Manziel was violent with her at a Dallas hotel and later while she drove with him to her apartment in Fort Worth, released a statement to television station WFAA on Friday night. Crowley said she met with domestic violence specialists at the Dallas Police Department a day earlier to describe what happened on the night of Jan. 29 and to answer questions.

    “I don’t know what will happen next with this case — that’ll be up to the Dallas Police Department,” she said in the statement, which also asked for privacy.

    It was not immediately clear if Manziel has a lawyer who could comment on the criminal investigation. The Associated Press left messages seeking comment for Manziel, his parents and a lawyer who represented the player when he was at Texas A&M.

    Paul Manziel told The Dallas Morning News that his son refused to enter rehab facilities twice in the past week.

    “I truly believe if they can’t get him help, he won’t live to see his 24th birthday,” he told the newspaper.

    The elder Manziel also said he tried to have his son admitted to a psychiatric and chemical dependency hospital, but he was allowed to leave despite his father telling officers he believed his son was suicidal.

    Manziel entered the NFL with a party-boy reputation. He spent 73 days last winter in a Pennsylvania treatment center specializing in care for alcohol and drug dependency. The lengthy stay — Manziel never disclosed why he was admitted — seemed to change him and he returned to the Browns last season far more committed following a rough rookie season.

    But there were more signs of trouble this past season, forcing the team to move on from a player they selected with the No. 22 overall pick in 2014.

    Browns owner Jimmy Haslam told reporters on Friday that he hasn’t been able to contact the quarterback.

    “Johnny has not responded to us, but we’ll do anything we can to help him personally and our thoughts and prayers are with Johnny and his family,” Haslam told reporters in San Francisco ahead of the Super Bowl. “We’re not worried about Johnny Manziel the football player, we’re worried about Johnny Manziel the person, and I think that’s all we need to say on the issue.”

    Manziel’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, expressed “deep regret” in deciding to end the business relationship with a personal he considers a close friend. For Burkhardt, there was no longer any choice.

    “Though I will remain a friend and Johnny supporter, and he knows I have worked tirelessly to arrange a number of professional options for him to continue to pursue, it has become painfully obvious that his future rests solely in his own hands,” the agent said in a statement.

    “His family and I have gone to great lengths to outline the steps we feel he must take to get his life in order. Accountability is the foundation of any relationship, and without it the function of my work is counterproductive. I truly wish the best for Johnny and sincerely hope he can, and will, find the kind of peace and happiness he deserves.”

    Beyond his legal issues, Manziel is also being reviewed by the NFL, which is looking into whether he violated its personal-conduct policy. League spokesman Greg Aiello said the inquiry is ongoing. It’s the second time in four months the league has been forced to examine Manziel, who was accused by Crowley of striking her during a heated roadside argument near his home in Avon, Ohio.

    That incident in October was disturbing.

    Nothing compared to what Manziel is dealing with now.

  • NFLPA Union: Raiders, Jaguars far under spending minimum– The Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars are the only two NFL teams below the 89 percent cash spending required by next year, and they are significantly under the minimum, the players’ union said Thursday.NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith singled out the Oakland Raiders as being $41 million below the spending floor they must reach by March 2017. The Jacksonville Jaguars are $28 million short of the collectively bargained requirements, Smith added.

    Oakland was hamstrung in its spending until this season because of contracts for former players that created “dead money” on its payroll. The Raiders should have little trouble getting up to the minimum by reworking contracts for quarterback Derek Carr and defensive star Khalil Mack.

    Jacksonville has planned for 2016 and ’17 to be heavy spending years after trying to build a base in the draft.

    Early last month, Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell said: “The philosophy is you’ve got to look, at least for us, not this year but next year. We have some very key guys on our team that are going to be free agents or going to be in their third year and able to redo their contracts.

    “You have to judge, ‘How much of it can we spend this year to get us where we need to be to win championships? But how much can we do it so we can retain the guys and get them into deals that we can be good for a long period of time?'”

    Smith also projected during the union’s annual Super Bowl news conference that the salary cap will rise again this year and total spending by teams to the players, including benefits, will reach nearly $200 million per franchise. As much as $40 million could go toward the benefits.

    Executive committee member Matt Hasselbeck of the Indianapolis Colts emphasized that players are being “more honest” with medical personnel about their injuries.

    “When I got in the league, it was a no-no to be honest with the medical professional on the sideline,” said Hasselbeck, who just finished his 17th season. “You were thought of as a wimp.

    “We’ve learned as players it’s our job, everybody’s job, to take ownership of the culture of the locker room. We have to educated youngers guys, and sometimes older guys (such as coaches). Be honest with your medical personnel. Whatever we fight for, it trickles down.”

    NFLPA President Eric Winston, an offensive tackle with the Bengals, was asked about complaints from coaching staffs that there isn’t enough practice time to properly prepare players. He scoffed at the idea, calling it “a cop-out.”

    “If you can’t teach a young guy in 30 minutes because you only have 20 minutes, then you have to change your teaching skills,” said Winston, a nine-year veteran.

    “For some reason the onus has been put on the players to learn something rapidly instead of the teacher to teach something differently. You see some teams have rookies who play well year in and year out and there’s something to that. They’re probably being taught in a different way.”

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