FOXBOROUGH – In a rare moment of forthrightness, Bill Belichick attacked the Deflategate scandal head-on Thursday morning in his first press conference since the scandal broke following Sunday’s victory over the Colts.
And his message to the media, fans and the NFL at large? Hey, don’t look at me. Blame the other guy.
The other guy, of course, is Tom Brady.
Brady is the one who grips the football on every play and obsesses over its condition. In 2006, it was Brady who was a driving force behind an NFL rule change that allowed road teams to provide their own footballs. Prior to that, the home team supplied them all, tailored to the specifics of the home quarterback.
Belichick attempted to make it quite clear that he had no idea how the Patriots’ footballs became underinflated in the first half of Sunday’s game.
“I have no explanation for what happened,” he said. “I honestly never touched a game ball. It’s not something I have any familiarity with on that. Again, I was completely and totally unaware of any of this that we’re talking about in the last couple of days until Monday morning.”
Belichick is the Patriots’ de facto CEO – you can’t go to the bathroom inside Gillette Stadium without Belichick knowing about it – but his response to this scandal was to feign ignorance and throw his star quarterback squarely under the bus. There was no admission from Belichick that the buck stops with him, which is common for a CEO whose company is embroiled in a scandal.
“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,” Belichick said. “I can tell you that in my entire coaching career, I have never talked to any player, staff member, about football air pressure. That is not a subject that I have ever brought up.”
Brady was supposed to have a press conference on Friday. Instead, the Patriots moved it up to 4 p.m. Thursday.
Hopefully, a member of the Patriots’ staff can wipe the tire tracks off his back beforehand.
“To me, the footballs are approved by the league and game officials pregame, and we play with what’s out there, and that’s the only way that I have ever thought about that,” Belichick said. “I’ve learned a lot more about this process in the last three days than I knew or had talked about it in the last 40 years.”
To his credit, Belichick didn’t stick his head in the sand. He attacked the subject head-on, a tactic we haven’t seen from him since Aaron Hernandez’s arrest a year and a half ago. He admitted that the Patriots probably have been inflating the footballs to the lowest possible acceptable amount (12.5 pounds per square inch), which leads to underinflated balls during the course of the game.
“I’ve learned about the inflation range situation. Obviously with our footballs being inflated in the 12.5 pound range, any deflation would then take us under that specification,” he said. “Knowing that now, in the future, we will certainly inflate the footballs above that low level to account for any possible change during the game.”
But his message was clear: I had nothing to do with this. Blame someone else.
“We play with whatever or kick with whatever we have to use, and that’s the way it is. That’s never been a priority for me,” he said. “So based on what I knew Sunday night, thinking back on this which I’ve done several times, I can’t think of anything I would’ve done differently based on what I knew then based on what I know now.”
Follow Ben Volin on Twitter at @BenVolin.