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Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Patriots likely cheated beyond reasonable amount by deflating footballs

Bill Belichick Tom Brady

“If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”

That is an adage that has been associated with sports as long as I can remember. Whether it’s corking a bat, using illegal hand wraps on boxing gloves, tweaking a body style in car racing, or using a curved blade in hockey, cheating and controversies have been as much a part of sports as trophies, Gatorade baths and MVP awards.

Now we find ourselves in the middle of the latest controversy, one that comes at the biggest time of the season, involving one of the most high-profile teams, the most notable coach and quarterback in the league, and the most popular sport in the country.

The Patriots are being investigated for using under-inflated footballs during their 45-7 AFC Championship Game win over the Colts. There are many people defending the Patriots by saying the margin of victory was so great, any alterations to the football would not have affected the outcome. Then you have many current or former players arguing that the practice of altering or tampering with a football is commonplace in the sport.

But here is the issue: This isn’t just about whether or not the Patriots used some under-inflated footballs in a game they would have likely won easily regardless of the pressure in the football. This is about a pervasive culture of cheating within the Patriots.

Reported Facts of the Story

According to a report from ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, the NFL found that 11 of 12 balls used by the Patriots — which were checked by the referees at halftime — were under-inflated by two pounds per square inch. Game balls are supposed to have between 12.5-13.5 pounds per square inch of pressure and weigh between 14 and 15 ounces. The balls are inspected by referees two hours and 15 minutes prior to games and are not to be altered after being inspected.

Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson intercepted a Tom Brady pass in the second quarter of the game, noticed the ball felt deflated and mentioned something to the equipment manager. The equipment manager said something to head coach Chuck Pagano, and then something was said to the team’s GM, who said something to the league. That prompted the league to investigate the balls at halftime. That caused a slight delay in the game. The balls were supposedly changed out and 12 backup footballs were used in the second half. Brady had a brilliant second half throwing with balls of proper pressure.

Questions to Ask

– How did the footballs become deflated? Was it just due to the cold weather, which could cause balls to lose pressure? Or is it due to the Patriots intentionally using altered balls after the officials already checked and approved them?

– Assuming that the opponent was using the normal-sized ball with the proper amount of pressure but Brady was using intentionally altered balls, how much of an advantage would an underinflated ball provide?

Why I think the Patriots cheated beyond a reasonable amount

Many players defending the Patriots in the wake of “deflategate” cite examples of how they tampered with or altered a ball to their preference. These are thought to be defenses of the Patriots. The problem is I think there is a difference between altering the feel of a ball and deflating it beyond the regulations outlined by the league rules. I would equate this to the difference between a batter putting pine tar on his bat to give himself a better grip, which is within the rules, and corking a bat to make it lighter, which gives a batter an illegal advantage against a pitcher.

For instance, rubbing up footballs or raising seams to a quarterback’s liking seems to be within the rules and therefore allowable. Even having a ball over-inflated to the high end of the limit seems fair. But underinflating balls beyond an allowable amount provides an advantage to a team. It can help a quarterback get a better grip on a ball, which could help their accuracy and decrease fumbles. It could be particularly helpful for a team playing in poor weather.

The Patriots’ balls were inspected and approved by officials prior to the game. I do not think the cold weather was enough to make the balls reduce in pressure by 15 percent or so, which is the amount of reduction we’re looking at by the time they were tested at halftime. I think the Patriots had a system going where secondary balls were sneaked in and used for them on offense. That’s my gut feeling.

Lumping “Deflategate” together with “Spygate”

It’s impossible not to lump this together with Spygate when talking about the Patriots. They were caught filming opponents’ signals and were penalized by the league for it. They were stripped of a first-round pick because of that. It remains to be seen whether the league uncovers evidence that the Patriots intentionally used balls with lower pressure and what sort of punishment would be associated with this.

Depending on what the league determines — were deflated balls used intentionally — we could be looking at a culture of cheating used by Bill Belichick in New England. I believe that Belichick is a great coach, genius, excellent personnel guy and football mind, and also a cheater. I think he will look for any edge he can even if it is beyond the rules. Whether other people break the rules too is debatable, but the difference is it looks like the Patriots are getting caught. Maybe teams only tattle on them because they are bitter about losing. How did Eric Mangini know about the signals? Because he used to work for the Patriots. And did he only blow the whistle because he lost? Probably.

I still think Belichick and Brady are two of the greatest coaches and quarterbacks in the league’s history, but I cannot escape the feeling that there is a cheating culture in New England.

How big of a culture of cheating is it? Is it much different from Nick Saban gray shirting players and asking scholarship players to take medical retirements? Is it much different than home teams cutting out the audio feed from coaches to players via headset, which is an extremely common practice? Is it much different from a World Series champion watering down an infield to slow down a faster opponent?

The Patriots are still a great team. Belichick and Brady are still great at what they do regardless of what is discovered. And the reason why these controversies emerge is because they are a great team; nobody cares about rules being broken if it’s by a losing team. But these allegations and controversies are a part of their legacy. Maybe they’re a small part, but they’re there, just like all the NASCAR championships Jimmie Johnson won with notorious cheater Chad Knaus as his crew chief.

Opinions from notable football people who question Patriots’ actions.

Here is a round-up from many notable current or former football players who feel the Patriots cheated by deflating balls.

Jerry Rice:

Aaron Rodgers, who says he likes an over-inflated football, believes deflating one is an advantage:

“My belief is that there should be a minimum air pressure requirement, but not a maximum. There’s no advantage in my opinion — we’re not kicking a football — there is no advantage in having a pumped-up football. There is if you don’t have strong grip pressure or smaller hands — an advantage in having a flat football.”

Former Eagles QB/current ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski:

“There is an advantage to having deflated footballs. In inclement weather, you can grip the football better so there clearly is that advantage. Now was the intent to deflate the footballs to give the Patriots an advantage? The league’s gonna have to figure that out.”

Shannon Sharpe:

“If it doesn’t matter why are you doing it? If you don’t have to cheat then you don’t cheat. But if you do it why are you doing it? When it’s all said and done, you’re going to have to mention Spygate. If this allegation also proves to be true, it will also have to go on their resume.”

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