The Patriots aired their side of the story Thursday, and now the football world awaits the NFL’s ruling. (Don't hold your breath.) Here’s where things stand, along with a quick peek ahead to what we’ll be watching for next week in Phoenix
I asked you on Twitter late Wednesday if you’d prefer a Friday column on the events surrounding the Deflategate controversy in New England or an on-field football topic. You overwhelmingly voted football. I am writing this morning primarily about the Patriots’ football story. My current plan is for most of my “Monday Morning Quarterback” column to focus more on non-football-deflation topics, but today the story is too fresh, and too important, to ignore.
As we enter “Day 5: America Held Hostage By Deflategate,” this is what I find significant:
Scant chance there’s a ruling before the Super Bowl.
Now that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have both denied any wrongdoing in this story, and with the league building a case against someone or some entity, it’s highly unlikely there will be some resolution by early in the week—and the league is not suspending the coach or the quarterback of one of the Super Bowl contestants during the week of preparation for the game. I do expect the league, barring the unlikely scenario of a rogue ball boy acting without knowledge of anyone in the organization, to come down hard on the Patriots. But without clear proof of who did what and when it was done, and especially in an environment in which the NFL would get fricasseed for getting the party at fault wrong, that’s likely to be at some point after the Super Bowl.
The condition of the footballs on Sunday is coming into clarity.
This is significant, because it takes weather-as-a-factor out of the possible reasons why New England’s footballs could have lost air while the balls on Indianapolis’ sidelines would have stayed fully inflated. I am told reliably that:
- The 12 footballs used in the first half for New England, and the 12 footballs used by the Colts, all left the officials’ locker room before the game at the prescribed pressure level of between 12.5 pounds per square inch and 13.5 psi.
- All 24 footballs were checked by pressure gauge at halftime. I am told either 11 or 12 of New England’s footballs (ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported it was 11, and I hear it could have been all 12) had at least two pounds less pressure in them. All 12 Indianapolis footballs were at the prescribed level.
- All 24 footballs were checked by pressure gauge after the game. All 24 checked at the correct pressure—which is one of the last pieces of the puzzle the league needed to determine with certainty that something fishy happened with the Patriots footballs, because the Colts’ balls stayed correctly inflated for the nearly four hours. There had been reports quoting atmospheric experts that cold weather could deflate footballs. But if the Patriots’ balls were all low, and the Colts’ balls all legit, that quashes that theory.
The conclusion: There is little doubt the New England footballs were tampered with by a human.
Why were Thursday’s Bill Belichick/Tom Brady news conferences mostly useless?
Simple: If either man said anything other than that he knows nothing about deflated New England footballs in the first half of the AFC Championship Game, he likely would have been banned from the Super Bowl. And so if either man had something to hide, he likely would be willing to risk getting whacked for it after the Super Bowl—instead of admitting it and then being the first coach or player in the 49-year history of the game to be banned the week of the game by the NFL.
It’s too early to say whether Belichick or Brady is lying or telling the truth.
What did you expect from the first extended public pronouncements from the two men at the center of this story? You had to know neither was going to going to say, “I ordered the Code Red.” Watching the dueling news conferences, Belichick seemed more adamant than Brady in his denials, but Belichick’s a more adamant man. That’s why I believe it’s important to draw no conclusions, until significant evidence has been unearthed.
It strains credulity that Belichick didn’t know the footballs on his sidelines were taken for inspection after the first half.
Belichick said Thursday, “When I came in Monday morning, I was shocked to learn of the new reports about the footballs. I had no knowledge whatsoever of this situation until Monday morning.” That is a stunner, if true. Of all the things Belichick said in his meeting with the media Thursday, the most surprising was that he didn’t know—even after the second half was delayed to bring in a new football when the NFL is so exact about times of games and the trains running on time—that the footballs from both teams were inspected by the officials for air pressure at halftime. It’s not impossible. Just odd, and a bit incongruous.
Bose Soundbite of the Week
Belichick on Deflategate: You'll have to ask the other guy...
"Tom's personal preferences on his footballs are something that he can talk about in much better detail and information than I could possibly provide."
Regular Old Quote of the Week
"I did not believe what Tom had to say. Those balls were deflated. Somebody had to do it. And don’t believe there’s an equipment man in the NFL that would, on his own initiative, deflate a ball without his starting quarterback’s approval. I just didn’t believe what Tom Brady had to say."
—Mark Brunell, on ESPN’s “NFL Live” show Thursday afternoon, after Brady denied having any knowledge of the balls in last Sunday’s AFC Championship Game being deflated.
Ten Things I’ll Be Watching For This Weekend
1. The setting change … to Phoenix. Seattle arrives at the game site on Sunday at 2 p.m. local time, with its first press availability at 3 p.m. local time. The Patriots don’t arrive until Monday around 4:30 p.m. local time, with Monday at 6 p.m. being the first chance to ask Bill Belichick and Tom Brady the same questions that they faced Thursday. Media day is Tuesday at the basketball arena downtown, with the Patriots up for an hour at 10:30 a.m., and the Seahawks on the clock at 12:15 p.m.
2. … well, something I’ll be watching for beginning Wednesday. Seattle will practice Wednesday through Saturday at Arizona State University in Tempe. The Patriots will practice at the Arizona Cardinals training facility, one of the best in the league, on the same days, also in Tempe.
3. Rob Gronkowski being motivated by the Seattle nickel back. In the best tradition of Richard Sherman, the slot corner for Seattle, Jeremy Lane, said Thursday, in response to a question about what makes Gronkowski so good, “Yeah, I actually don’t think he’s that good." Foxboro bulletin board, meet Jeremy Lane.
4. The formation of coaching staffs. The Niners are going strange, with a pair of two-time head coaches taking assistant jobs. Former Dolphins and Raiders head coach Tony Sparano is Jim Tomsula’s tight ends coach, while ex-Jets and Browns boss Eric Mangini is defensive coordinator. Wonder if Mike Holmgren will be quarterbacks coach. Or Brian Billick offensive quality control coach.
5. Dan Quinn. He has nine more days to coordinate the Seahawks defense. Then he takes over the Falcons. It’ll be interesting to see if he can keep his mind solely on his work this weekend, and when Seattle gets to Glendale.
6. The Tom Benson soap opera. In one of the ugliest stories to hit the league in years, the daughter and two grandchildren of the Saints owner have filed a catty lawsuit (read the suit; the adjective fits) to prevent Benson from handing ownership of the Saints and NBA’s Pelicans to wife Gayle after he dies. Basically, daughter Renee and grandkids Rita and Ryan portray Gayle as a gold digger who has shielded Tom Benson from most contact with his loved ones. This, folks, is going to be a Deep South airing of dirty laundry better than John Grisham could ever write about.
7. London calling. Wisely, I believe, the NFL has scheduled all three Europe games next season for early morning in the United States. The Oct. 4 Jets-Dolphins game, Oct. 25 Bills-Jags game, and Nov. 1 Lions-Chiefs game (interesting: three games in London in 29 days) will be played at 9:30 Eastern Time … 6:30 a.m. on the West Coast, which, as Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times notes, is three games for the West Coast college students to watch when they’re coming in on Saturday nights.
8. The NFL competition committee studying the football-prep policy. It seems a virtual certainty that the NFL’s rules body will make the inflation of footballs more of a concern beginning this offseason. As one prominent league person told me this week, the NFL must now consider making ball boys league employees. No one considers that, say, replay officials can be swayed by a relationship with a quarterback or coach. And so the league will consider making ball boys league employees instead of local team employees. In other words, the Buffalo-New England game next year would have two ball boys on the home sidelines from Atlanta, and two on the visiting sidelines from, say, Dallas.
9. The Marshawn Lynch speaking thing. I don’t care. You don’t care. I don’t know who cares. Except for one thing: The NFL doesn’t want Lynch to skate at his Super Bowl media availabilities (Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, at minimum), because if he can bow out with immunity, what about all the other players (most, I believe) who don’t want to Meet The Press? Why should they have to appear? And so the league will press the issue with Lynch, and make him show up, and if he doesn’t, he’ll get fined again and again. Oh, and by the way: Nice maturity, Marshawn—scoring a touchdown in the NFC title game and grabbing yourself in celebration. Yippee! Such a wonderful example for all the kids who root for you!
10. Football. Football, please. At least that’s what the NFL’s hoping happens when the teams get to Phoenix. Can’t say I argue with that.
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