Sports

Ben Volin | On Football

In wake of Deflategate report, still plenty of questions for Patriots

Robert Kraft was right. Ted Wells and his investigators didn’t find a “smoking gun” that would implicate the Patriots as deliberately deflating footballs before the AFC Championship game, as Kraft said they wouldn’t back in March at the NFL owners meetings.

What Wells and his investigators also didn’t find, though, were satisfying answers to their legitimate and unbiased questions about how seven of the Patriots’ 11 footballs were more than 1 pound per square inch below the legal limit when checked at halftime of their 45-7 win over the Colts on Jan. 18.

No, Wells didn’t prove that Tom Brady, assistant equipment manager John Jastremski, and officials locker room attendant Jim McNally deliberately deflated those footballs.

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But it’s easy to see why Wells and his investigators concluded in their extensive, 243-page report that “it is more probable than not” that the men “were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules” and that Brady “was at least generally aware” of what was going on.

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Brady, McNally, Jastremski, and the Patriots’ organization had every opportunity to explain away what happened. And they wouldn’t. Or couldn’t.

“This absence of a credible scientific explanation for the Patriots halftime measurements tends to support a finding that human intervention may account for the additional loss of pressure exhibited by the Patriots balls,” Wells wrote.

Let’s take a look at all of the questions the Patriots didn’t or wouldn’t answer:

Why did Brady communicate with Jastremski so much in the days following the game?

Based on Jastremski’s cellphone data, the two hadn’t communicated by phone or text for more than six months leading up to the AFC Championship game. But they spoke on the phone at least twice on the Monday after the game, twice on Tuesday, and twice again on Wednesday before Jastremski surrendered his cellphone to investigators.

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Brady also invited Jastremski into the quarterbacks’ meeting room the day after the game for the first and only time in Jastremski’s 20-year tenure with the Patriots. Brady also sent Jastremski text messages — “You good Jonny boy?”

And Brady claimed to the NFL investigators he didn’t know McNally’s name or anything about his game-day responsibilities, but Jastremski acknowledged to investigators that Brady knew McNally’s role well.

Why didn’t Brady hand over to investigators text messages or electronic communications?

Brady interviewed with the Wells group with “agents and lawyers” in attendance, but he declined all requests to provide e-mails and text messages. Why?

Why didn’t the Patriots make McNally available again?

The Wells report noted that although the Patriots were mostly helpful in the investigation, the team declined to make McNally available for a follow-up interview after other questions arose.

Robert Kraft said in a statement that McNally “had already been interviewed four times and we felt the fifth request for access was excessive for a part-time game day employee who has a full-time job with another employer.”

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But wouldn’t offering McNally again help exonerate the team if he did nothing wrong?

Why did McNally and Jastremski discuss needles?

Jastremski, a full-time employee for 20 years, and McNally, a part-time employee for 32 years, regularly text-messaged each other about needles and “Tom’s” preference for a softer football. Just three days before facing the Chicago Bears in October, Jastremski texted McNally, “Cant’ wait to give you your needle this week :)”

And yet McNally’s job as the officials locker room attendant has nothing to do with needles.

“He is responsible for bringing items like towels, toiletries, time sheets and game programs to the locker room prior to the game,” wrote Wells, as well as bringing the footballs to and from the field before the game and at halftime, under the officials’ supervision. “All of the Patriots witnesses interviewed stated that McNally has no role in the process of preparing footballs for use on game day.”

Jastremski claimed he was just “joking around” and that the “needle” references had nothing to do with deflation.

How did McNally know Brady liked his footballs at 12.5 PSI?

During referee Walt Anderson’s pregame football inspection, “A number of officials heard McNally remind Anderson that ‘Tom likes them at 12.5.’ ”

How would McNally know that Brady likes his footballs at 12.5? He’s a game-day-only employee who isn’t supposed to have anything to do with ball preparation.

“Brady is a constant reference point in the discussions between McNally and Jastremski about inflation, deflation, needles and 18 items to be received by McNally,” Wells wrote. “McNally told NFL Security he had been personally told by Brady of Brady’s inflation level preference.”

Why did McNally refer to himself as ‘the deflator’?

That nickname was used in a May 2014 text between McNally and Jastremski. McNally also jokingly texted Jastremski that he’s “not going to espn . . . yet.”

Why did he come up with that nickname and joke about going to the media?

Why did McNally take the footballs from the locker room without Anderson’s permission?

Anderson noted that as the officials prepared to head out to the field before the game, they couldn’t locate the game balls, which were supposed to have been stored in their locker room. Anderson said this was the first time in his 19 NFL seasons he couldn’t find the game balls.

That’s because McNally had taken the balls without notifying anyone. Video surveillance showed McNally leaving the locker room with both teams’ footballs about 20 minutes prior to kickoff, slipping into a bathroom and emerging about 1 minute, 40 seconds later.

Why did McNally change his story?

When interviewed immediately after the game, McNally never mentioned going into the bathroom before the game.

“In subsequent interviews, McNally provided varying explanations for the bathroom stop and his decision not to utilize readily available bathroom facilities in the Officials Locker Room and adjacent Chain Gang Locker Room,” Wells wrote.

Anderson said it was normal for an attendant to use the bathroom inside the officials’ locker room.

Why were the Colts’ footballs in the acceptable PSI range and not the Patriots’?

The NFL hired Exponent, a leading scientific engineering and consulting firm, to conduct a series of tests to determine if weather or external factors could have led to the Patriots’ footballs being deflated. Dr. Daniel Marlow, former chairman of the physics department at Princeton, was hired as a consultant.

They tested physical factors, environmental factors, and how quickly someone could deflate footballs. They replicated the weather factors – both on the field and in the locker room – and even tried scuffing the footballs to increase inflation, the way Bill Belichick explained in his Jan. 24 press conference.

Yes, the Ideal Gas Law played a factor into the deflation. But the Patriots’ footballs deflated at a much faster rate than the Colts’.

“When tests were run using the most likely game-day conditions and circumstances, the Patriots halftime measurements could not be replicated, and the pressures observed for the Patriots footballs by Exponent during its experiments were all higher,” Wells wrote.

“Exponent also concluded that the difference in the magnitude of the reduction in air pressure between the Patriots and Colts footballs based on the halftime measurements is statistically significant.”

They also concluded that 12 footballs could easily be deflated in less than 1 minute and 40 seconds.

Yes, the report has some holes. Namely, it forces us to take Anderson at his word that he properly inspected each football with a pressure gauge before the game. There is no video or written recording of this.

“We credit Anderson’s recollection of the pre-game measurements taken on the day of the AFC Championship Game based on both the level of confidence Anderson expressed in his recollection and the consistency of his recollection with information provided by each of the Patriots and Colts regarding their target inflation levels,” Wells wrote.

We’re also supposed to believe there was no sting operation involved, and that everything the NFL did was above reproach.

“We believe that the game officials, NFL executives, NFL Security representatives and other members of the NFL staff who participated in the testing of the footballs and the subsequent investigative process acted fairly, properly and responsibly,” Wells wrote about the people that hired him.

Still, Brady, Jastremski, and McNally had every opportunity to answer Wells’s questions and put this issue to rest.

Instead, their answers (and non-answers) provided a long paper trail of circumstantial evidence that points squarely to a “deliberate effort to circumvent the rules,” of which Brady “was at least generally aware” it was going on.

And now Brady and the Patriots are going to have to pay the price.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.