Sports Football

NFL PLAYOFFS

Mystery about Deflate-gate only deepening

By Bill Lankhof, Toronto Sun

Patriots QB Tom Brady. (AFP)

Patriots QB Tom Brady. (AFP)

Bill Belichick says he doesn’t know anything about his balls being deflated.

 

But, then, what would anyone expect the guy to say? Really?

The NFL’s investigation into whether the New England Patriots are cheats, victims of circumstance, or simply dupes of perpetrators unknown, is being greeted with a hint of nonchalance, some exasperation, a touch of anger, much suspicion, and all of it surrounded by an air of mystery. It just depends on who is doing the talking.

And there’s much talking, from Ravens defensive end Chris Canty calling the Patriots “habitual line-steppers,” to hall of fame coach John Madden suggesting quarterback Tom Brady has to be the prime suspect, to former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis saying he believes Belichick when he says he doesn’t know Brady’s preference in footballs.

Many don’t believe — despite protestations of innocence from Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady on Thursday, in separate news conferences.

“I have no explanation for what happened,” the usually stone-faced Patriots coach said as he was pelted with questions in regard to 11 under-inflated footballs discovered in last week’s conference championship victory over Indianapolis.

Belichick said he was “shocked” when informed of allegations his team used balls that somehow became deflated after they were inspected by officials before the game. Of course, former U.S. President Richard Nixon said he was shocked by the hired help, too — and everyone knows how that turned out.

Not to suggest Belichick is playing politics, but with Spygate in the franchise’s past, not many people are giving him the benefit of doubt.

Belichick’s 11-minute news conference was devoted completely to the controversy, saying he and the Patriots are fully cooperating with the league after NFL officials discovered at halftime that 11 game balls were inflated significantly below 12.5 pounds per square inch.

“I was shocked. I had no knowledge until Monday morning,” Belichick said. “I’d say 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 that I’ve coached in this league.”

When it was suggested that many people were questioning his integrity, Belichick shrugged, saying, “I’ve told them (NFL investigators) everything that I know.”

It was a line he repeated several times, although whether he convinced himself in the end was left as an open-ended joke to more than one of the cynics armed with tape recorders.

When asked how Brady — who in past interviews has admitted he likes a softer ball — prefers to have balls inflated, Belichick told reporters they’d have to ask the quarterback.

“In my entire coaching career, I have never talked to any player or staff member about football air pressure,” he said. “The footballs are approved by the league and officials pre-game, and we play with what’s out there.”

“I think we all know that quarterbacks, kickers, specialists have certain preferences on footballs. They know a lot more about it than I do.”

For someone who’s supposed to be the smartest guy in the room, that seemed to simply be playing ignorance. On social media, the prevailing opinion was that Belichick had just thrown his quarterback under the bus.

But for a guy who supposedly was wearing tread marks on his back, Brady looked calm, hands in his pockets, in a packed press hall, as he answered questions for more than 30 minutes on Thursday afternoon.

Guess all those nights with Ray Lewis breathing down his back were good practice in dealing with the heat of the moment, although it’s doubtful his explanations will change the minds of people who believe the Patriots did cheat.

“I believe in fair play. I was as surprised as anyone when I heard Monday morning what was happening. I would never do anything to break the rules,” Brady said. “I didn’t alter the balls in any way.”

Brady said he, too, would like to “know what happened” just like everybody else.

Meantime, the NFL, which said it was fast-tracking its investigation, hadn’t even spoken with Brady. Maybe somebody should pick up the phone. You know, before they fumble the ball on this like they did by not phoning folks about the elevator ride into delusion in the Ray Rice affair.

Brady explained that getting comfortable with a football is like a baseball player breaking in a new mitt and that he picked out 24 footballs before the AFC title game for officials to inspect.

The Patriots’ equipment staff supplied the balls to referee Walt Anderson at the required two hours, 15 minutes, before the game for inspection. As per NFL policy, Anderson marked 12 balls with his approval and ultimately returned them to the Patriots’ ball boys. Under NFL rules, no alteration of the footballs is allowed once they are approved. If a person is found breaking league rules and tampering with the footballs, that person could face up to a $25,000 fine and potentially more discipline.

Brady said on Thursday that he has spoken with the Patriots’ equipment staff and that they have told him they didn’t tamper with the balls. And that he believes them.

But, then, you’d expect him to say that.

“I felt like we won the game fair and square,” Brady said.

Maybe. Maybe not.

It is fair to say they didn’t win because the balls were deflated. Brady actually played better in the second half — New England outscoring Indy 28-0 — after officials detected and corrected the situation during halftime.

But if cheating occurred, it does create an integrity issue. It makes the NFL look like little more than the WWF with shoulder pads.

“The Patriots are habitual line-steppers,” Canty told NBC. “If the allegations are true, then you are talking about attacking the integrity of our game and I have an issue with that. (It’s) no different than performance-enhancing drugs. You are cheating at that point. You are getting a competitive advantage outside of the rulebook and there has to be some sort of consequences for that.”

The Ravens had concerns about proper inflation of footballs in their own playoff loss to the Patriots, but head coach John Harbaugh said he believed that was just because it was cold. Science has proven that balls deflate in colder weather and it was 20 degrees. Still, in a report by Jay Glazer of Fox Sports, the Colts were believed to have been tipped off by the Ravens that the Patriots were using under-inflated footballs.

That would indicate the Ravens believed it was more than coincidence. If the report is true, it’s evident the Ravens were pretty upset.

But, why wouldn’t they simply have told the league, rather than the Colts?

As is often the case in these situations, it is difficult to know what is fact, what is innuendo, how much is sheer speculation.

Because, while the Patriots have been known for their cheatin’ hearts, it’s equally true that they are also viewed with jealousy and dislike by many outside New England. Who knows? Maybe the answer is as simple as the guy inspecting the balls just gave ’em a quick squeeze and flipped them back at the ball boys. Here. Good to go ...

Maybe Belichick really doesn’t know his PSI from his ... oh, never mind. We won’t go there.

But the NFL needs to. Go there, that is.

And they could start by phoning Brady.

QUICK HITS

Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no ...

Well, actually, the NFL saw Marshawn Lynch grab his crotch after running for a touchdown against the Packers last weekend and deemed it obscene.

As such, the league fined him $20,000.

This could be an expensive Super Bowl for Lynch. He’s scheduled to speak with the media three times next week, and has already been fined $50,000 for refusing to talk previously ... The Bucs, expected to draft Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, have signed University of Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian to be quarterbacks coach ... Patriots centre Bryan Stork (knee), who missed the conference title game, practised on Thursday ... New Jets coach Todd Bowles says it’s too early to say whether Geno Smith will be his starting quarterback ... Eric Mangini is expected to become the 49ers defensive coordinator ... Former Raiders interim head coach Tony Sparano is joining the 49ers as tight end coach.​

SHERMAN: IT DOESN'T MATTER

Seahawks star Richard Sherman says the Patriots may be cheaters.

But they’re also in the Super Bowl. And, they’re going to stay there.

Sherman says even if the NFL finds the Patriots cheated, it won’t impact the Feb. 1 championship game.

“If it’s against the rules, it’s against the rules,” Sherman told reporters. “But, you see, it’s not going to have any effect on this game. Nobody’s going to get suspended. Nothing’s going to happen. They’re going to play this game.

“I’m not sure anything will come of it, honestly, if it’s true or if it’s not true. I mean, it didn’t have much effect on the game, if any. If it did, then whatever.” 


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