Thursday’s Sports In Brief
PHOENIX (AP) The number of recorded concussions dropped 25 percent during the regular season, according to the NFL, even as injury reporting and trips to injured reserve list rose overall.
Data released by the league showed there were 111 concussions in games during the 2014 regular season, down from 148 in 2013, and 173 in 2012, a 36 percent drop over that three-year span.
This follows repeated changes by the NFL meant to cut down on blows to the head, including reduced practice time and rules protecting defenseless receivers and barring leading with the crown of the helmet.
When preseason games, plus preseason and regular-season practices, are included, the 202 concussions this season declined 12 percent from 2013, and 23 percent from 2012. That’s despite no new rules meant to protect players’ heads.
PHOENIX (AP) – NFL officiating chief Dean Blandino says the inspection of the footballs by referee Walt Anderson before the AFC championship game was handled properly.
Blandino also said the process of checking the footballs and security surrounding the inspections will be enhanced for Sunday’s Super Bowl.
As the league’s investigation into the Patriots’ use of under-inflated footballs moves along, Blandino made it clear the officiating crew for New England’s win over Indianapolis did its job.
Super Bowl referee Bill Vinovich and his staff will be looking over a lot more footballs this week.
Normally, 12 balls per team are brought to the officials’ locker room before a game, where they are tested and marked by the referee. This week, each team gets 54 footballs and all of them will be taken into custody by the NFL on Friday after the Seahawks and Patriots have prepared them.
PHOENIX (AP) – NFL Players Association President Eric Winston said the league’s new personal conduct policy ”violates the CBA in several ways and we’re going to be grieving this as far as we can.”
The union filed a grievance against the NFL last week over changes to the policy. NFL owners unanimously approved the changes in December.
The union and the league have been at odds over the personal conduct policy since both groups began navigating the Ray Rice domestic violence case and later Adrian Peterson’s child abuse case.
After dealing with both issues, a more extensive list of prohibited conduct will be included in the policy, as well as specific criteria for paid leave for anyone charged with a violent crime. A suspension of six games without pay for violations involving assault, sexual assault, battery, domestic violence, child abuse and other forms of family violence will be in effect, but with consideration given to mitigating or aggravating circumstances.
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) – Tiger Woods helped attract a record, raucous crowd to the Phoenix Open, the first big event in a week that concludes with the Super Bowl.
In his first appearance at the TPC Scottsdale in 14 years – and only his second tournament in six months – Woods couldn’t hit the green with three chip shots and was near the bottom of the leaderboard until two key shots on the back nine salvaged a 2-over 73.
That put him nine shots behind Ryan Palmer, who opened with a 7-under 64 to build a one-shot lead when play was suspended by darkness. Keegan Bradley and Masters champion Bubba Watson were tied for second.
The attendance was 118,461 – more than the Super Bowl will get on Sunday – and broke the Thursday record at the Phoenix Open by just over 30,000.
OCALA, Fla. (AP) – Ha Na Jang went from qualifier to leader in just a few days at the LPGA season opener.
The 22-year-old South Korean, ranked 21st in the world, shot a 7-under 65 in the second round of the Coates Golf Championship for a 12-under 132 total and a four-shot lead over Stacy Lewis (70) heading into the third round.
World No. 2 Lydia Ko (69) and Azahara Munoz (71) were five back at 7 under.
NEW YORK (AP) – Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague were picked as reserves for the Eastern Conference All-Star team, giving the sizzling Atlanta Hawks three selections.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were selected in the West, despite early season injuries for the Oklahoma City stars. The Miami Heat also had two reserves in Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. Portland surprisingly only had one in LaMarcus Aldridge.
Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, last year’s All-Star game MVP, and first-timer Jimmy Butler of Chicago were the other players announced to the East roster.
The rest of the West reserves for the Feb. 15 game at Madison Square Garden in New York are James Harden (Houston), Klay Thompson (Golden State), Tim Duncan (San Antonio) and Chris Paul (Clippers).
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – Andy Murray reached the Australian Open final for the fourth time, beating Tomas Berdych in a tension-filled semifinal to earn one more shot at a long elusive title.
Serena Williams has five titles from five finals at Melbourne Park, and earned a chance at another one when she advanced to a championship match against Maria Sharapova, who has one Australian title from three trips to the final.
The top-ranked Williams beat 19-year-old Madison Keys 7-6 (5), 6-2 in an all-American semifinal, after Sharapova beat fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova in straight sets.
In the night match, sixth-seeded Murray beat No. 7 Berdych 6-7 (6), 6-0, 6-3, 7-5.
ST. LOUIS (AP) – Martin Brodeur may one day return to the New Jersey Devils, where he won three Stanley Cups and cemented his place as the goaltender with more wins than any other in NHL history.
Up first, though, is some serious time with the St. Louis Blues.
The 42-year-old Brodeur formally announced his retirement to take a front-office position with St. Louis, where he wrapped up his career after 21 outstanding years with the Devils.
Brodeur joined the Blues as a free agent in early December after No. 1 goaltender Brian Elliott was sidelined by a knee injury. He went 3-3 with a 2.87 goals-against average and .899 save percentage. He extended his NHL record for shutouts to 125 with a 3-0 win against Colorado on Dec. 29, his final NHL victory.
When Elliott returned, Brodeur became the odd man out among the team’s three goalies, including Jake Allen.