Read the Patriots’ 19,682-word “The Wells Report in Context” rebuttal closely enough, and you almost start to believe that they have a case.
The Patriots make some compelling points in their methodical deconstruction of Wells’s report, which concluded that it was “more probable than not” that the Patriots had deliberately deflated their footballs, leading to a four-game suspension for Tom Brady and NFL-record penalties for the Patriots.
We can pretty much toss out any of the science Wells used at this point. Referee Walt Anderson didn’t record the pregame PSIs, he lost track of which pressure gauge he used, not enough of the Colts’ footballs were tested, and I’m 99 percent sure that everyone involved with testing the Patriots’ footballs that January night — Anderson, Mike Kensil, Troy Vincent, and others — had never heard of the “Ideal Gas Law” at that point.
But despite their fiery rhetoric and some convincing arguments about bias from the league office, the Patriots’ “Context” report still falls short in answering the crucial questions that played a large role in Wells and the NFL determining their guilt.
I went into Thursday’s report with seven questions I wanted answered from the Patriots. They provided fairly underwhelming answers on five, and declined to answer two.
1. Why did Patriots employee Jim McNally call himself the ‘Deflator?’
This answer was dissected by pretty much everyone in the country on Thursday, so we won’t spend too much time with it.
“Mr. McNally is a big fellow and had the opposite goal: to lose weight. ‘Deflate’ was a term they used to refer to losing weight.”
And the “going to ESPN” comment was about McNally getting memorabilia, not deflating footballs.
Yeah, OK. It’s hard to find a rational-thinking person in the country who buys this answer. It severely damages the credibility of the rest of the Patriots’ arguments. If this was the best the Patriots could come up with, perhaps they shouldn’t have released this report.
2. Why didn’t the Patriots make McNally available for a follow-up interview with Wells?
This, to me, is one of the most damning pieces of evidence against the Patriots. If McNally were innocent, they’d have no trouble making him available.
Instead, we see through a chain of e-mails how the Patriots’ attorneys gave Wells the run-around.
Before Wells began his investigation, the Patriots’ attorney e-mailed Wells, “The interviews will be arranged so that, barring unanticipated circumstances, there will not be future multiple interviews of the same person.” It is unclear if Wells accepted these terms.
So Wells and his team received all of McNally’s and fellow Patriots staffer John Jastremski’s text messages when the investigation began. They parsed through the communications made during the 2014 season, and had about a seven-hour sit-down interview with each person.
In the days or weeks after interviewing McNally, Wells discovered the “Deflator” text that also joked about “going to ESPN” from May 2014. Naturally, he wanted to ask McNally about those comments, and said he offered to drive to McNally’s home in New Hampshire for the follow-up. Here is where the Patriots “lawyered up” instead of giving the “full cooperation” they promised.
They contend that Wells discovering the text wasn’t an “unforeseen circumstance.” He had the texts in his possession, and sorry, he already had his crack at McNally.
“I have also pointed out to you that the ‘new’ areas explored in the fourth Jastremski interview that you requested did not address issues that could not have been covered in an earlier interview,” the Patriots’ attorney wrote. “For all these reasons, I remain disinclined to ask him to return again.”
Regardless of when Wells found those texts, the Patriots should have made McNally available to answer for them, one way or another.
3. Why did Brady not hand over electronic correspondence?
The one argument for this that has some credence is that Brady did not want to set a bad precedent for the NFL Players Association by letting Wells see his cellphone. That’s an NFLPA mistake, not necessarily a Brady mistake (the NFLPA was not present at Brady’s meeting).
But the other argument — that Wells already had Jastremski’s texts, therefore there would be nothing new on Brady’s phone — doesn’t hold much water.
Maybe there was other correspondence that added more detail? Maybe he just wanted to confirm the correspondence? In a full investigation, you don’t take suspects at their word. Brady refusing to show any of his texts or e-mails smacks of someone with something to hide.
4. Why did McNally go into that bathroom and not the one in the officials’ locker room?
Apparently the bathrooms connected to the officials’ locker room were too crowded, so McNally had to leave the locker room (with the footballs) and go into the bathroom by the field, which he said he had done before. And while in the bathroom, the Patriots state that “the report does not address whether one minute and 40 is consistent with the time that it takes a gentleman to enter a bathroom, relieve himself, wash his hands, and leave.”
And apparently, “With the start of the game having been delayed, there was no reason for Mr. McNally to rush any efforts to deflate footballs in the bathroom if that was the task at hand.”
Except, you know, not to get caught.
5. Why did Brady say he didn’t know McNally?
Brady said he’d never heard of McNally, but in Wells’s report Jastremski said that Brady clearly does. The Patriots’ report said “not a single witness ever observed a substantive conversation between Mr. Brady and Mr. McNally.”
No one’s claiming the two were Sunday barbecue buddies. But McNally has been with the team for 32 years, and Brady for 15. McNally is on the sidelines and works closely with the equipment department (as we have found out). It stretches credibility to think Brady doesn’t at least know who McNally is.
6. Did the Patriots instruct Wells to approach with a ‘fresh start?’
The Patriots complained last week that they didn’t make McNally available for a fifth interview because it was a tremendous strain on his time as it is. Then we find out Tuesday that Wells only got one crack at McNally, and he was told to approach the investigation with a “fresh start,” as if the three interviews between McNally and NFL Security never happened.
Did the Patriots promise a “fresh start?” They never address that in their report.
7. Why suspend Jastremski and McNally if they’re innocent?
The Patriots went to great lengths to try to prove that McNally and Jastremski did nothing wrong. So why did the team suspend them indefinitely? This also wasn’t addressed.
The Patriots made a lot of salient points in their report, no question about it. And while the team will likely have to take its punishments, Brady seems to have a decent case that his suspension was too harsh.
But there are still big, nagging questions.
Notice that the title is, “The Wells Report in Context.” The report pokes many holes into the NFL’s arguments and paints an interesting, if not entirely believable, picture of the league having it out for the Patriots.
But what doesn’t the report say?
“We didn’t do it.”
And while the Patriots continue to poke holes, a strong denial of the charges would help their case a lot more than a 19,682-word report.