FOXBOROUGH — Deflate, deny, deflect.
That’s how the rest of the football-following country is going to look at your New England Patriots after a pair of news conferences from coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady on Thursday that provided no answers and more questions about how the Patriots ended up playing the first half of the AFC Championship game on Sunday with underinflated footballs.
Can you blame them?
The team that knows everything about its opponents, from their shoe sizes to their blood types, claimed to know absolutely zilch about the treatment and handling of footballs in its own stadium. They wanted you to believe they were like kids who showed up at the park and used whatever football was on the field. They did little to assuage those who feel the Patriots are systematic rule-breakers.
It was every man and his legacy for himself at Fort Foxborough on Thursday, as both Belichick and Brady professed bewilderment and ignorance as to how the Patriots’ game balls ended up being deflated below league specifications (12.5 to 13.5 pounds per square inch).
The Patriots were informed by the National Football League on Monday that their game balls were not properly inflated at halftime of the AFC title game. League office personnel and an alternate official inspected each ball twice, using different pressure gauges. ESPN has reported 11 of the 12 tested balls were two PSI below the specified limit.
Both Brady and Belichick took the “Hogan’s Heroes” Sergeant Schultz approach. They know nothing about Deflategate or what happens to their footballs once they’ve been approved by referees. It’s all a made-for-TV mystery.
This was beatification for Patriots haters and conspiracy theorists, who have been waiting for the Patriots to slip up since their 2007 scandal over the illicit taping of opposing teams’ signals, branded “Spygate.”
Whether you think playing with deflated footballs is a major transgression or not (I’m in the latter category), the Patriots’ lack of a plausible explanation or accountability was disconcerting and disheartening.
It was like a congressional hearing, full of lots of words and no answers.
With a flotilla of national media descending on Gillette Stadium, Belichick held a morning news conference in which he said he was “shocked” to learn about the underinflated footballs.
“I had no knowledge whatsoever of this situation until Monday morning,” said Belichick. “I would say I’ve learned a lot more about this process in the last three days than I knew or have talked about it in the last 40 years that I have coached in this league. I had no knowledge of the various steps involved in the game balls and the process that happened between when they were prepared and went to the officials and went to the game.”
Patriots players often resort to “Ask Bill” when trying to dodge an undesirable question.
Belichick turned the tables at his presser, and basically said, “Ask Brady,” when it came to Deflategate.
His Hoodiness left the impression that his franchise quarterback would be able to clear up the confusion.
Brady selects the game balls the Patriots submit to the officials for inspection two hours and 15 minutes before every game. The Patriots submitted 24 footballs before the Colts game, according to Brady.
The Patriots already were getting plaudits for using their golden boy QB as a human shield for their tight-lipped, curmudgeonly coach.
Brady stepped to the podium in the afternoon and calmly answered questions for more than a half-hour. However, he provided no insight.
“I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I don’t know what happened. I have no explanation for it,” Brady said. “I don’t know what happened between the time that I touched it. Really, until Monday morning, I had no idea what happened with the balls.”
Brady said, “I didn’t alter the ball in any way.”
“I would never do anything outside of the rules of play,” he said. “I would never have someone do something that I thought was outside of the rules of play.”
The problem is that the Patriots’ version of events requires a rewriting of the narrative we’ve become so familiar with when it comes to the team.
That — thanks to the braintrust of Belichick and Brady — they’re never caught off guard and are more prepared and better educated than the rest of their peers.
When your coach has cultivated a reputation as being omniscient in all areas of the game, it’s a bit difficult for him to convince people he was totally ignorant of what was happening with his team’s game balls.
When your quarterback is known to be such a perfectionist he will actually run a pass route himself to show a receiver exactly how he wants it done, it’s hard to convince people he didn’t notice the footballs he was throwing were underinflated.
The Patriots could be absolutely telling the truth. The footballs may have become deflated for reasons out of their control.
But to believe that we have to discard and dispel some of the Patriot Way mythology.
They can’t be prepared for every situation and possibility and lose track of the inflation of their own game balls.
The real issue for those who are inclined not to believe Brady and Belichick is not Deflategate. It’s Spygate.
In Bill We Trust is just a regional phrase.
The Patriots’ well of trust nationally ran dry during Spygate.
Patriots haters are overjoyed at the thought of seeing the Patriots get leg-swept off their pigskin pedestal.
The pent-up resentment and mistrust from Spygate has been bubbling beneath the surface.
All it took was another allegation of rule book impropriety to be reintroduced at a boil.
Instead of taking the air out of Deflategate once and for all, the Patriots just fell flat.