It's time to stop with the excuses. Stop with looking the other way. Just stop. Stop defending Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
I've defended their Spygate shenanigans as minor cheating. Defended their Super Bowls. Defended it all. But no human being with a functioning cerebrum can do that now.
Sure, New England Patriots fans will. This is what fans do. Everyone cheats. All teams try to get an edge. You think the Patriots are the only team to underinflate footballs? It wouldn't have mattered in the game anyway. You're just a hater. All Brady and Belichick want to do is win. They are winners. Because winning. Patriot winning is greater than your winning. Mom, apple pie and winning. Please hold it down over there. We're winning.
The excuses from Patriots fans are flowing like a fine vintage of clam chowder. This is the second time the Patriots have shown they don't care about rules. To the Patriots, rules are for suckers. Rules are for losers. Rules are for you and me, not for Brady and B.
One underinflated football is interesting. Three are curious. Eight are a pattern. But 11 of 12?
Don't blame the weather. Don't look for false equivalence. Don't say the Packers overinflated, the Vikings warmed their footballs, the Earth's gravitational pull caused the air to leak or microscopic black holes sucked out the pressure.
Just use your mind, embrace the common sense of it all. I've defended Belichick as pushing the boundaries of the rules, right up to the wall, but won't defend him for cheating—for breaking the rules to gain an advantage. It's different now. You may believe in coincidence, but if you do, you are a fool.
Belichick and Brady cheated. No, they are not the only ones. But this is the second blatant example of rules skirting. This is no longer coincidence. This is a culture that I didn't think existed there but does.
There is no explanation for 11 of 12 footballs being doctored other than purposeful manipulation.
This is why the NFL should, and I think will, come down hard on the Patriots. If the NFL doesn't, it will look like it's enabling cheating. Roger Goodell is on record as saying he would punish teams harsher that try to cheat the competitive balance rules. After Spygate in 2008, he wrote this to the competition committee:
Too often, competitive violations have gone unpunished because conclusive proof of the violation was lacking. I believe we should reconsider the standard of proof to be applied in such cases, and make it easier for a competitive violation to be established.
And where a violation is shown, I intend to impose more stringent penalties on both the club and the responsible individual(s). I will also be prepared to make greater use of draft choice forfeiture in appropriate cases. I believe this will have the effect of deterring violations and making people more willing to report violations on a timely basis.
What I hear most from Patriots fans is wait and see what the NFL says. Why should I? Tell me why the Patriots deserve the benefit of the doubt here?
"It's a mess just because it's the Patriots and what Spygate…all the implications from that," Steve Young said on ESPN, "and then also, the fact the Patriots are one of the best organizations in football. Maybe in history. They do all the most difficult things so well, all the the things that no one else in the league can do, free agency and salary caps and bringing out the best in players. All the things they do that are very difficult.
"And now this is going to be talked about. Underinflation of footballs. Hey look, it's outside of the rules, I get it. It will mean more to the legacy of what the Patriots are trying to do."
That is perhaps the most significant point of all. Belichick will go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Brady will, as well. But all of this will follow them. Belichick, in particular, didn't make just one mistake. We all do that. This now looks like he's a serial cheater.
All of his brilliance and coaching acumen and stunning winning can't be taken away. I've defended that just as recently as this week. But this new information changes things. Because I don't believe this is Belichick and Brady's first rodeo with deflating footballs. It's likely this has gone on for some time.
You'd be a fool not to believe that.
Belichick deserves most of the heat. It's hard to fathom that a man who controls every aspect of the organization down to the mitochondrial level wouldn't know about this.
Brady is also not absolved. If there were 11 of 12 footballs underinflated, and Brady is on the record saying he likes them underinflated, it's impossible to believe he didn't know.
When Brady goes to that microphone in Canton one day, as he should, it will be a glorious day for him. But before that day, and beyond it, these controversies are now attached to him.
Patriots reporter Tom Curran wrote for Comcast Sports Net in New England:
This is officially a big deal.
It doesn't matter if every other team in the league screws with the PSI. It doesn't matter if Bill Belichick didn't even know the balls were manipulated (if they were). It doesn't matter that they would have bludgeoned the Colts anyway.
The Patriots cannot comport themselves with a 'do business as business is being done' mentality. They forfeited the right to that mentality in 2007 when they got pinched for filming defensive signals and the 72 miles of fire and sharp glass the team got dragged through as a result should have convinced them.
I want fans defending the Patriots to consider this scenario: The Patriots lost their last two Super Bowls to the Giants. What if it was discovered in those games that the Giants had some sort of edge the Patriots did not? And that edge was illegal?
What would you think? What would you say?
Insider Buzz: Jets Can Get Out of Revis Contract Due to Incident in Pittsburgh
Insider Buzz: Jets Can Get Out of Revis Contract Due to Incident in Pittsburgh
Insider Buzz: QB Mitch Trubisky Is a 'Lock for the Top 5' in 2017 NFL Draft
Insider Buzz: Salary Cap Increase Could Lead to Uptick in Franchise Tag Use
Tim Tebow Gave 75,000 Kids with Special Needs a Night They'll Never Forget
Insider Buzz: Aldon Smith Reinstatement in Jeopardy with Latest Controversy
Insider Buzz: Tony Romo Could Retire from NFL to Pursue TV Career
Insider Buzz: 49ers Open to Keeping Kaepernick but Not at Current Salary
History Will Never Forget New England Patriots 5th Championship in Super Bowl LI
Simms: Blame Falcons' Conservative D, Not Aggressive Offense, for SB LI Collapse
A7FL No-Pads, Full-Contact Football League Claims It's Safer Than the NFL
Gridiron Heights: Patriots Win Super Bowl LI
Gridiron Heights Episode 20: Roger Goodell Hosts the Griddies
NFL Comeback Player of the Year Jordy Nelson
Insider Buzz: NFL Being Urged to Decrease TNF Games; Goodell Not Budging
Top 5 NFL Interception Leaders of 2016
Insider Buzz: Rams Could Let Trumaine Johnson Walk in Free Agency
Insider Buzz: Las Vegas Deal Dead, but Raiders Haven't Contacted City of Oakland
Insider Buzz: Belichick Could Pull Out Old Trick to Slow Down Julio Jones in SB
NFL Award Predictions: Who Will Take Home Hardware at 'Honors' Ceremony?
Tale of the Tape: Do Patriots or Falcons Have Advantage in Super Bowl LI?
Why Dion Lewis Will Be Patriots Good Luck Charm in Super Bowl LI
Deflategate to Lady Gaga: Prop Bets That Will Keep You Hooked on Super Bowl LI
Which Group of Road Graders Will Win Offensive Line of the Year at NFL Honors?
Insider Buzz: Patriots Will Move Fast on Garoppolo Trade This Offseason
Insider Buzz: Romo Wants to Face Cowboys in 2017 Season
Can Super Bowl LI Patriots Cement Legacy as Top Team of New England Dynasty Era?
Fake Brady Makes Appearance at Super Bowl 51 Media Day
Atlanta Falcons X-Factors to Disrupt Patriots Offense in Super Bowl LI
Insider Buzz: John Elway, Rich McKay Endorsed John Lynch for 49ers GM Job
Insider Buzz: Raiders to Vegas Hits a Snag, Lease Proposal Seen as 'Insulting'
Why One of College Football's Worst Teams Will Be a Winner in Super Bowl LI
Insider Buzz: 'Unconventional' John Lynch Hire Won't Impact Shanahan to 49ers
Simms in 60: Falcons and Patriots Have Most Creative Offenses, Take Notice NFL
NCAA Lacrosse to Super Bowl LI: Patriots WR Chris Hogan's Rise to the Top
Insider Buzz: Teams Take 'Precautions' Before Facing Patriots, Shred Game Plans
Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa Is Much More Than "The Next Marcus Mariota"
Who Had the Best Attendance in the NFL in 2016?
Insider Buzz: Spanos Denies Wanting to Move Chargers Back to SD, Won't Sell Team
Insider Buzz: Former Bills Coaches Angry at 'Lazy' Dareus' Criticism of Rex Ryan
Insider Buzz: Outgoing Rams Coaching Staff Blames Todd Gurley's Struggles on Him
From College Lacrosse to Super Bowl 51: Chris Hogan's Journey
Insider Buzz: 3 Teams Eyeing Free Agent DeSean Jackson If Let Go by Washington
Insider Buzz: Stanford's Solomon Thomas Looking Like Top-10 Talent
Simms' Hidden Truth: Falcons Use of Julio Jones Too Dynamic for NE to Shut Down
Insider Buzz: Chiefs' Chris Ballard Emerging as Favorite for Colts' GM Job
Jackson vs. Garcon: Redskins Are Facing Difficult 2017 Free Agent Decision
Simms' Hidden Truth: X-Factors for Patriots to Slow Down Explosive Falcons in SB
Insider Buzz: Raiders Hope Carr Contract Won't Reset QB Market, No Rush on Deal
Insider Buzz: Collins Deal Will Be Baseline for Patriots to Ink Dont'a Hightower
Week 19 Episode of Gridiron Heights
How Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots Rewrote the History Books
Insider Buzz: CLE & SF Both Landing Spots for Kirk Cousins in Offseason
Chris Hogan Lived Up to His "7/11" Nickname in Patriots AFC Title Victory
Simms in 60: Brady's Brilliance Has Made NE Unstoppable Force Heading into SB51
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW: TOM BRADY POISED TO MAKE HISTORY WITH PATRIOTS WIN
The Key Player in the AFC Championship Game
Tom Brady Poised to Make History with Victory Over Pittsburgh Steelers
Insider Buzz: Raiders Face Hurdles in Vegas Move; Owners Want Them in Oakland
Insider Buzz: Shanahan May Cede Control of Roster to GM; 2 Lead Candidates Emerge
New England Patriots Have NFL's Ultimate Postseason Home-Field Advantage
Can Home-Field Advantage Help Falcons Close Georgia Dome with NFC Championship?
Simms' Hidden Truth: NE Can Slow Creative PIT Defense with Only 2 WRs on Field
Insider Buzz: 49ers Expected to Target Kirk Cousins If Shanahan Named Head Coach
Simms' Hidden Truth: PIT Must Unleash Top Pass-Rushers on NE's Interior Linemen
Insider Buzz: Packers in Danger of Missing 3 WRs in NFC Championship Game
Simms' Hidden Truth: Meet Falcons' Secret Stars Crucial to Slowing Aaron Rodgers
Insider Buzz: Kyle Shanahan Expected to Be 49ers' Next HC; Will Pick GM
Simms' Hidden Truth: Seahawks' Simple, Predictable Defense Must Evolve in 2017
Insider Buzz: Kaepernick Era Will End with 49ers; Does Not Fit Shanahan's Offense
'Fame Can Change Things’: The Story Behind Aaron Rodgers' Family Feud
Expect High-Scoring Showdown in Packers vs. Falcons NFC Title Game
Insider Buzz: McDaniels Could Wait on DET or TEN Jobs to Open Next Offseason
How Bell, Brown Have Shattered Records on Steelers Historic Playoff Run
Insider Buzz: Colts' Future Unclear After Irsay Meeting with Gruden and Manning
Miller in 60: Shanahan's Brilliant Game Plan Makes ATL Super Bowl Contender
Gary Kubiak's Abrupt Departure Suddenly Makes Sense
Redemption or Repeat? Breaking Down the 4 Rematches of NFL Divisional Round
Simms' Hidden Truth: Seahawks Must Dominate in Trenches for Shot at Beating ATL
NFL Draft Live Insider Buzz: Jon Allen and Dalvin Cook Could Slide in NFL Draft
Expect a Blowout in Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots Playoff Game
Insider Buzz: Chargers Will Play at StubHub Center, Moving to Inglewood in 2019
Insider Buzz: Chargers Value Mike Smith's Experience, Impressed in Interview
Insider Buzz: McVay Front-Runner for Rams but Age, Experience Concerns Remain
Simms' Hidden Truth: Packers Must Go Big to Stop Zeke Elliott, Cowboys Run Game
Can Cowboys' Defense Slow Down Aaron Rodgers and Packers' Offense?
Insider Buzz: Marcel Dareus Got DL Coach Fired; Future with Bills Up in Air
Gridiron Heights, Ep. 18: Giants and Justin Beiber Are on a Boat
Insider Buzz: Bills Set to Hire Panthers' DC Sean McDermott as Next Head Coach
Former NFL Star Warrick Dunn Built Deshaun Watson's Childhood Home
How Rodgers and Cobb Connected for the Biggest Play of NFL Wild Card Weekend
Insider Buzz: Packers' Eliot Wolf Could Replace GM Ted Thompson This Offseason
Insider Buzz: Broncos and 49ers Top Landing Spots for Kyle Shanahan
Gridiron Heights, Ep. 17: Von, Cam Watch Trailer for “Playoffs: the Movie"
Insider Buzz: Chargers Focus HC Search on Defense, Plan to Keep Whisenhunt
Historic Offensive Performance Led Steelers to Victory
Odell Beckham and Giants' Boat Crew Didn't Show Up to the Party vs. Packers
Insider Buzz: Vance Joseph Has 'Leg Up' on Denver Coaching Search
Simms in 60: Nothing Is More Frustrating Than Inconsistent NFL Playoff Referees
Miller in 60: Seattle a Super Bowl Contender When Rawls Channels Beast Mode
The Patriots are winners. They're brilliant. They may also be something else.
And here we are. Entering the Super Bowl, we have The Deflatriots. And God forbid they lose this Super Bowl, because if they do, everyone will say the team can't win without cheating.
And this is how legacies are destroyed.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!