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?
NFL has found that 11 of the Patriots footballs used in Sunday’s AFC title game were under-inflated by 2 lbs each, per league sources.— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) January 21, 2015
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?
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.