From Comcast SportsNetNEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Three players fighting suspensions from the NFL's bounty investigation have told a federal judge they are comfortable with their representation by union lawyers and see no potential conflict of interest in the arrangement.The players written comments on Thursday came in response to an order a day earlier by U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan, who lamented the failure of settlement talks and wrote that she was concerned there were competing agendas among lawyers on all sides in the dispute that were undermining the interests of the players.The judge asked whether it made more sense for New Orleans defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove to have separate lawyers, rather than the same lawyers representing the NFL Players Association.The NFLPA also filed a response in which it explained that it has been seeking to engage league lawyers in settlement talks, "and the NFL continued to refuse to do so, never making a single settlement offer to the Players."The union added that it also sees no conflict in representing the players, but will help them get their own attorneys if the court desires.The NFLPA, the three players, and Saints linebacker Jon Vilma, who has his own attorney, are claiming in their consolidated lawsuits that Commissioner Roger Goodell abused his authority and followed improper procedures in disciplining the players for a program that, according to NFL investigators, paid improper cash bonuses for tackles that injured opponents. The lawsuit seeks to have the punishment handed down by Goodell thrown out.Vilma was suspended the entire season, Hargrove for eight games, Smith for four games and Fujita three games.Earlier this week, the NFLPA asked for a temporary restraining order that would allow the three players it represents to rejoin their clubs while the case proceeds. Vilma made the same request in July, and Berrigan has yet to rule on either TRO request, but could potentially do so before the Saints and Browns open the regular season on Sunday.Meanwhile, Smith, who like other suspended players has been barred from practicing this week, issued a statement expressing his concern that the matter was not resolved already, with the Saints' opener against Washington only three days away."I am disappointed my playing status remains in limbo," Smith said. "Irreparable harm has already been levied on me and the players. We have been unfairly labeled and punished by this process. While we believe in mediation and settlement, the NFL has never expressed a genuine interest in a mediation process that would provide the players with a fair venue that could be trusted, nor made a settlement offer for us to professionally consider, at any time. That is why we have asked the court for just relief. It is my sincere hope to have this matter resolved as quickly as possible so I may return to my job, teammates and fans, as we take the field against the Redskins."When Berrigan ordered the players and the union to address her concerns about conflicts of interest regarding the players' legal representation, she also ordered the NFL to respond by Thursday to the union's request for a temporary restraining order on behalf of the three players it represents in the case.The league complied, stating that it opposes the NFLPA's TRO request for the same reason it opposed a similar request by Vilma.Those reasons included NFL arguments that Berrigan did not have jurisdiction over the matter because the league's labor agreement was collectively bargained. NFL attorneys also have argued that granting a restraining order would motivate more players to bring similar frivolous requests to the courts in an effort to delay punishment in subsequent disciplinary matters.
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FOXBORO -- Tom Brady can be his own worst critic. That's why last week, after beating the Texans in the Divisional Round to move on to the AFC title game, he wasn't thrilled. He didn't play up to his standards. The offense struggled at points. He wore his frustration like a five o'clock shadow.
Winning is not everything for Brady, most weeks. He has an idea of how he should perform, how the Patriots offense should perform, and when those ideals aren't met, he's generally displeased.
PATRIOTS 36, STEELERS 17
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On Sunday, after beating up on the Steelers, 36-17, that wasn't the case. It was a sound performance, but it wasn't perfect. It was explosive at times, but it shined a light on areas where the Patriots will need to continue to improve.
Despite its imperfections, Sunday was no time to brood about plays missed or lessons learned the hard way. Screw it, Brady seemed to say. They were going to the Super Bowl. It was OK to smile.
"It was a good day," Brady said. "I mean, we're going to the Super Bowl, man. [Expletive], you've got to be happy now."
The Super Bowl berth is the ninth in franchise history -- more than any other club -- and the seventh with Brady and coach Bill Belichick. By throwing for 384 yards and three touchdowns on 32-of-42 passing, Brady tied Joe Montana for the most postseason games (nine) with three touchdown passes.
Brady will also claim the record for Super Bowls played when he and the Patriots head to Houston. And if they win, he'll tie Charles Haley for most Super Bowl wins for a player (five).
Those are lofty numbers made even more significant, perhaps, due to the fact that Brady wasn't allowed to start this season as his team's quarterback. He was asked during Sunday's postgame press conference if it was personally satisfying to get back to the Super Bowl despite having to serve a four-game suspension due to Deflategate.
"Well, that's because of the hard work of a lot of people from my coaches to my teammates to our families that support us," he said. "It takes a lot of people, a lot of hard work and a lot of effort over the course of many months. This didn't start at 6:40 tonight.
"This thing started in April. It really started before that in free-agency when we were picking up guys like [Chris] Hogan and drafting guys like Malcolm Mitchell and guy who were in rehab like [LeGarrette Blount] and [Dion Lewis] and [James Develin] and Nate [Solder]. It's a lot of hard work. There are only two teams left standing, and I'm happy we're one of them."
They're going to the Super Bowl. He has to be happy now.