You can now read 10 articles a month for free. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

Sunday Football Notes

Roger Goodell’s Saints bounty ruling still right call

When the Saints scandal broke, Roger Goodell was in the midst of changing the culture of the NFL as far as player safety.

AP/File

When the Saints scandal broke, Roger Goodell was in the midst of changing the culture of the NFL as far as player safety.

Commissioner Roger Goodell last week reissued disciplinary measures in the Saints’ bounty scandal, and, somewhat surprisingly, they changed little.

Linebacker Scott Fujita’s suspension was reduced from three games to one.

Continue reading below

Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove had one game knocked off his eight-game suspension.

Defensive end Will Smith’s punishment of four games remained intact.

And linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s season-long suspension was upheld, but he was given back six weeks pay.

Other than that, not much changed.

And it shouldn’t have.

As we said months ago, this isn’t over. The players will appeal (kicking and screaming) to Goodell, and then the case will be kicked to the internal appeals board. Then the players will likely go back to federal court. (With the attorney fees piling up in this case, Mom was right: I really should have gone to law school.)

Some thoughts as we wait for the rest of this case to play out:

 This time around, the NFL put just about all of its cards on the table in terms of evidence. That’s what it should have done in the first place, since Goodell decided not to go down a road — probably fruitlessly — of combining with the Players Association to appoint an independent council that could issue a finding of fact. Now the conspiracy theorists have to find some other explanation, because “how do we know there are really handwritten notes?” doesn’t fly. The handwritten notes are in the evidence, as the NFL represented them.

 It’s unfortunate that former Vikings defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy was named as one of the original sources of information. Then-Vikings coach Brad Childress told the NFL that Kennedy informed him that Hargrove said there was a $10,000 bounty on Brett Favre. The NFL had no choice but to name Kennedy, who isn’t technically a whistle-blower because he was just passing along second-hand information. It’s not as if he was on the Saints and went to the NFL.

 Kennedy initially said on Twitter that he never talked to the NFL. Then he said lead NFL investigator Joe Hummel did speak with him but he didn’t tell Hummel anything. Well, which is it?

 The players are still denying they did anything wrong. There’s a big shock, since most defendants just offer up their guilt. Professional athletes are even worse. Part of what makes them great is their instinct to fight. They never give in. The players will never admit to doing anything wrong in this.

 As we pointed out back in the spring, when the NFL came forward with some of its findings, the coverup made things substantially worse for the Saints, especially their management. Not only did coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, assistant head coach Joe Vitt, and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams deny that a bounty program existed after the 2009 season, but it went on for another two years. Williams still would have been headed for a major suspension since the program was created and managed by him, but if the rest had come clean in early 2010, there is no way Payton would have incurred a season-long suspension. But they denied it and kept it going, and for that they absolutely deserve what they got.

 The players said they weren’t warned by management about the investigation following the 2009 season. But, for one thing, every NFL contract comes with the signed stipulation that the player must adhere to the Constitution & Bylaws, in which bounty programs are outlawed. Secondly, Hargrove was interviewed in early 2010. So we’re supposed to believe he didn’t tell any of his teammates the NFL was sniffing around? Every time a bounty was mentioned after that, no one said anything about stopping it.

 Critics of the NFL’s handling of this have said it doesn’t have enough proof. But disciplinary matters under a collective bargaining agreement do not have to meet the same standard of proof demanded in a courtroom. It’s the same way in any labor agreement. The process has to be fair, but the burden of proof is lower so that it’s cheaper and easier — usually for the labor side.

 The NFL could not simply let Vilma go without a major suspension. It cannot have a player standing in the front of a meeting room promising $10,000 to whoever knocks the opposing quarterback out of the game. It’s barbaric. And what hasn’t been revealed, according to a league source with knowledge of the investigation, is that the two chief witnesses to Vilma’s action — Williams and former assistant coach Mike Cerullo — made their accusations independent of each other. Neither Williams nor Cerullo knew the NFL was talking to the other. And they testified exactly the same about Vilma’s actions, how much he put up and at which meeting it occurred. The defense attorneys have painted Cerullo as having an ax to grind, but his identical testimony had to lend more credence to him.

 Saints backers have said the bottom line is what was happening on the field as far as injuries makes the whole bounty program a matter of semantics. Really? After a 2010 game against the Panthers — again, after the NFL had already served noticed to the Saints — the defense was hailed for producing “3 CART-OFFS! 1 already placed on I.R.!” according to a defensive PowerPoint slide. Carolina running backs Jonathan Stewart and Tyrell Sutton were literally carted off with injuries, and quarterback Matt Moore later went on injured reserve with a torn labrum. And pictures of all three players leaving the field were included in Saints PowerPoint slides. How can anyone defend that — let alone Favre barely being able to walk out of the NFC Championship game — as just semantics?

Here’s the real bottom line.

When the scandal broke, Goodell was in the midst of changing the culture of the NFL as far as player safety.

Imagine, for a moment, if ESPN had uncovered all of this evidence and the NFL decided this was an issue of semantics and did nothing. Can you imagine the (justified) outrage? But because the NFL discovered it, the reaction should somehow be different?

The Saints had a bounty program that they lied about and covered up. They offered incentives for players being carted off the field and/or knocked out. Whether anyone got hurt because of the program, now that’s semantics.

Because of the action taken by the NFL against the Saints, there will never be another bounty program in the league.

That helps player safety. And that’s what really matters.

HOLD ON THERE

Giants already irking 49ers

There’s no doubt the game of the day is the NFC Championship rematch as the Giants travel to San Francisco to take on the 49ers.

Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, an offseason Rhode Island resident who can speak out with the best of them, set off 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh with a comment that San Francisco defensive end Justin Smith holds a lot up front and “gets away with murder.”

“Kevin Gilbride’s outrageous, irrational statement regarding Justin Smith’s play is, first, an absurd analogy,” Harbaugh said in a statement from the team (not a press conference). “Second, it is an incendiary comment targeting one of the truly exemplary players in this league. It’s obvious that the Giants coaching staff’s sole purpose is to use their high visibility to both criticize and influence officiating.”

Harbaugh needs to relax a little bit. Sure, Gilbride spoke out of turn a little, but most of his quote was about how good the 49ers defensive front is. He had been asked what makes the front so tough to defend.

“Ability,” said Gilbride. “That’s it. They have great players. They’re tremendous, they’re tough. They have great speed on the outside, Smith is a beast on the inside, he’s strong, he does as good a job of grabbing a hold of offensive linemen and allowing those twists to take place.

“He never gets called for it, so he gets away with murder. That, in conjunction with the ability level they have, makes them as formidable as anybody we go against, and we go against some pretty good ones in Dallas’s and Philadelphia’s.”

Gilbride wasn’t exactly saying that Smith was good only because he holds a little bit — which he does.

Not that it will matter to Harbaugh and the rest of the 49ers, who undoubtedly will use Gilbride’s words as even more motivation.

Can’t wait for kickoff.

RETURN MAN

Carter ready to toe the line

Andre Carter, who went from afterthought free agent to perhaps the Patriots’ most valuable defensive player in 2011, will be back on an NFL field Sunday for the first time since being carted off with a torn quadriceps tendon last Dec. 18.

Raiders coach Dennis Allen said Carter will be active against the undefeated Falcons.

‘‘He’ll be a rotational player, and really that’s how we’ve handled the defensive line anyway,’’ Allen said. ‘‘You have to try to limit the number of plays that they play, especially playing a team like Atlanta that throws the ball like they do. You want to make sure you keep some fresh rushers out there.’’

The Raiders, who have just three sacks in four games, signed Carter Sept. 26. There was some hope that he would return to the Patriots, but his rehab lingered and rookie Chandler Jones quickly asserted himself here as an every-down player. The development of Jermaine Cunningham also likely left the Patriots feeling good about their depth at end.

Carter, 33, had 10 of his 76 career sacks for the Patriots. He was even better stopping the run at right end. He has gotten looks at left end for the Raiders as well.

‘‘It gives us a little bit more veteran leadership,’’ Allen said. ‘‘He’s a guy that understands how to do it, and he’s done it at a high level. He’s come in and tried to help the whole group. He’s been a good addition for us.’’

Carter had his first padded practice Wednesday.

‘‘I knew the road to recovery was going to be a process,’’ Carter said. ‘‘It’s something you definitely have to be very patient about. You don’t want to rush anything. You don’t want to have any major setbacks, so I did the necessary things as far as my recovery.’’

ETC.

Telling signs on Manning

Patriots players and coach Bill Belichick said all the right things about the right arm of Peyton Manning, but the way they played him said otherwise. The Patriots played mostly with a single high safety against the Broncos, while the other was used to help take away the middle of the field, where Manning prefers to operate with high-low concepts (two receivers in the same area, but one in front of the linebackers, and another behind). New England played a lot of man concepts with a single high safety. The Patriots seemed to be inviting Manning to throw deep outside the numbers, something they usually do with average quarterbacks. The previous week against the Bills, they played a ton of three-deep coverage, which showed great respect for the arm of Ryan Fitzpatrick and his weapons. Manning rarely took up the Patriots on their offer, and it didn’t come until late. On the back-to-back throws to Eric Decker against Alfonzo Dennard, the first one was a terrible fluttering pass that had no chance. The second was underthrown. And the 28-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas against Devin McCourty wasn’t meant to be back shoulder — that’s as far as Manning could throw it late in the game from the other hash mark. Manning’s arm looked worse as the game went on.

Nickel package

1. With Dont’a Hightower questionable and Tracy White out, it will be interesting to see how the Patriots handle things against the Seahawks. There are three options. Plug in Bobby Carpenter. Move Rob Ninkovich to linebacker and insert Jermaine Cunningham at end. Or go to a 3-4 with Ninkovich and Chandler Jones at outside linebacker. All three could be successful.

2. He’s done this in the past to defend his play, and he did it again last week (as did position coach Ben McAdoo), but the bottom line is, Aaron Rodgers should never be referencing his statistics. Who the heck cares? Just say, “We’re 2-3, that’s what matters, and we all need to play better starting with myself.”

3. This should have been done a long time ago, but somebody needs to shut down the Twitter account of Brandon Spikes. Besides the “homophobic” tweet/joke, he has put much worse stuff on there. It should be embarrassing to the organization.

4. Best of luck to Kevin Faulk in retirement. He is an example to all current and future Patriots for what it’s like to be a true professional, through and through.

5. Rest in peace, Alex Karras. A three-time All-Pro, Karras was on the NFL’s all-decade team of the 1960s. Amazing that he played defensive tackle at 6 feet 2 inches, 248 pounds.

Short yardage

Cowboys right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau, a Waltham native and Bentley graduate, is getting a lot of heat for his early-season play after signing a big free agent contract. Owner Jerry Jones hinted on his radio show that backup Derrick Dockery could see more time if Bernadeau doesn’t improve Sunday against the Ravens after a bye week. Bernadeau likely needed the rest after coming back quickly from offseason hip surgery, not that he’s making excuses. “If I do what I’ve got to do, there’s nothing else to worry about,” he said. “Unfortunately, I’ve been doing my job, just not to the best of my ability.” . . . The Patriots tripled the pay of practice squad receiver Greg Salas, whom they acquired from the Rams. Considering the lack of receivers in the system — and that Salas knows the scheme from being with Josh McDaniels in St. Louis — it makes sense, to fend off other teams from poaching him. But remember the Patriots did the same thing with end Markell Carter last year and he didn’t come close to making the team out of camp . . . Expect the Patriots to try to get under the skin of Seahawks right tackle Breno Giacomini, a Malden native. He’s a tough guy who can have trouble controlling his emotions. Giacomini had a holding penalty that wiped out a 56-yard pass against the Panthers last week, and then a roughness penalty that negated an 11-yard run. He was benched briefly . . . Randy Moss has nine catches for 99 yards — that’s for the season, not a game — in San Francisco. Should be interesting to see how he deals with a lesser role from here on out.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.
Loading comments...

You have reached the limit of 10 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week