There has never been a series of press conferences more full of nonsense than what we saw in New England Thursday.
Bill Belichick: I don't know what you're talking about. I would never. How dare you?
Tom Brady: I didn't alter the balls in any way. I don't know what you're talking about. How dare you?
Brady actually said these words: "I have no knowledge of anything."
These pressers, brought to you by Olivia Pope.
"I did not believe what Tom had to say," said former quarterback Mark Brunell, now an ESPN analyst, on the network following the Brady press conference. "Those balls were deflated. Somebody had to do it. I don't believe there is an equipment manager in the NFL who would on his own initiative deflate a ball without that starting quarterback's approval."
Brady, on who in the organization has custody of the footballs after the referee checks them: "I have no idea. That's not part of my process."
No idea? A meticulous, brilliant guy like Brady—one of the most well-prepared and detail-oriented players in NFL history—has no idea? Really?
No one believes any of this except Patriots fans. No one. It's a joke. It's worse. It smells like a cover-up.
This was a chance for Brady to come clean. Instead, he pulled a Lance Armstrong.
I can tell you, I received texts from about a half-dozen current and former team officials, and they all mocked Belichick and Brady. Not a single, objective soul believes them.
Brady has expressed in the past how he liked his footballs to be under-inflated. Now, he's acting like he's never even heard of a football. A football? What is this football you speak of? Is that a game of some kind? Can you prove the existence of said football? Air pressure? What is this air pressure?
Think about this for a second. Brady selects the balls he deems as the ones he wants to play with. So, if you believe him, the footballs are unilaterally deflated, and he didn't notice? He carefully picked out the footballs, gauged how they felt, and then when they were under-inflated, he was fine with that?
Brady sounded lawyered up. If I was a ball boy or member of the equipment staff, I would look over my shoulder for a big-ass bus.
I think what the Patriots are doing is daring the NFL to punish them. I think the NFL should take that dare.
The Patriots just aren't believable, and for that reason they deserve the same type of suspension the New Orleans Saints received post-Bountygate. Because if you believe the Patriots, the footballs deflated themselves or some poor ball boy or equipment person did this on their own. Both things are total science fiction.
"We have to be careful not to conflate practical issues with philosophical issues," former Oakland Raiders executive Amy Trask, now an analyst for CBS, told Bleacher Report. "From a practical perspective, the use of under-inflated footballs is not the reason that New England won the AFC Championship. From a practical perspective, the New England quarterback is not the only quarterback who wants (and who has communicated that he wants) his footballs 'just so.'
"From a philosophical perspective, the league can't trumpet the integrity of the game without protecting it—belief in the integrity of the game is precious and to be cherished. From a philosophical perspective, the league can't enjoy the fruits of being the most popular game in the country without understanding the scrutiny and attention that come with being the most popular game in the country.
"Are these footballs the reason New England won? No. Is the New England quarterback the only quarterback who is particular about his footballs? No. But we must be careful not to conflate those practical issues with larger philosophical issues, and the league must do what is in the best interests of the game and public trust in the integrity of the game. Those who love this game want that."
There is one question that I've had throughout this Deflatriots saga, and it's this: How did any manipulation of the footballs occur, exactly?
Doing this, deflating footballs so no one sees you or knows what you are doing, would be no easy task. Sidelines are constantly videotaped. There are fans in the stands, all equipped with cellphone cams, watching. There is media on the field and in the press box watching.
There are eyes everywhere. So how exactly did any manipulation of the football happen post-ref inspection hours before the game?
One theory—and I'm going to apply this in general and not say it is about any specific team—goes like this. The ball boy, during the game, keeps the footballs in a large bag, and in the bag is the needle that's used to inflate or deflate the football.
It would be relatively easy, a player told me, for a ball boy to reach inside the bag and drain the footballs of air with no one seeing what he or she was doing.
If that is what was done in the Patriots' case, it is extremely devious. Even if it wasn't, and the cheating was done by some other shady means, this puts the Patriots organization in a horrible spot. More than that, it puts the entire NFL in a horrible spot.
What the Patriots did was sleazy. No, it doesn't compare to football players abusing women or other malfeasance, but it does compare to one of the league's most infamous cases, Bountygate.
For that reason, the NFL needs to suspend Belichick for a season, the way Sean Payton was, and Brady for half a season.
We all make mistakes. None of what I'm about to say is from a high horse. This comes from a sensible place: The NFL needs to severely punish this franchise. Not a slap on the hand. Not a moderate punishment. This organization needs a serious butt-kicking.
The Patriots reek of cutting corners. Reek of being shady and doing whatever it takes. Reek of not caring about the rules or respecting that the NFL is bigger than them. The fictional football teams in Playmakers, which the NFL hated and said didn't resemble its league, are like monasteries compared to the Patriots.
Belichick gave what some considered a heartfelt press conference, saying he was shocked—shocked, I tell you!—about footballs being deflated. Maybe he was, but as Roger Goodell said after the Bountygate case, ignorance is no excuse.
As Troy Aikman said on Sportsradio 1310 AM and 96.7 FM in Dallas (via The Dallas Morning News):
This whole comment by Roger Goodell based on the Saints when Sean Payton got suspended for the year, and he says 'ignorance is no excuse,' that's going to come back to haunt him again. That haunted him during the whole Ray Rice situation with he, himself, and now it's going to haunt Roger Goodell in terms of what the punishment is for the New England Patriots and Bill Belichick. If ignorance is no excuse, and it wasn't for Sean Payton.
Sean Payton did not cheat. There was nothing that Sean Payton and the Saints did that was illegal. And they did not give themselves a competitive edge. I maintain, regardless of whatever was said in the locker room, and in that locker room, is not anything different than what's been said in any other locker room around the league. There's no proof on the field of what took place that guys were targeting players. You can always pull out a play here and there. They were one of the least penalized teams for unsportsmanlike conduct. So there was no evidence that anything translated to the field that they were trying to hurt players. And they did not give themselves a competitive advantage.
Now twice, under Bill Belichick and possibly a third time, they've cheated and given themselves an advantage. To me, the punishment for the Patriots and/or Bill Belichick has to be more severe than what the punishment was for the New Orleans Saints.
Aikman is right. He is so damn right.
I used to think you could not compare the two gates: Bounty and Deflate. One was about bodily injury; the other is about puffing up footballs. Yet they are connected.
The Patriots apparently didn't learn from Spygate. The NFL fined Belichick $500,000; the Patriots were fined $250,000 and forced to forfeit a first-round draft pick.
Those spy cameras didn't turn on themselves, and the footballs didn't deflate themselves. Bountygate also established that ignorance is no excuse.
Bountygate established a $500,000 fine, and the Saints gave up second-round picks in 2012 and 2013, Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season, general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended eight games and Gregg Williams was sent to Siberia. He's just not getting his career back. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended six games.
This is what should happen to Belichick and Brady. It should be very similar to the Bountygate punishments.
Belichick should be suspended for a year. Brady for half of that. Why the disparity? Belichick's ignorance isn't an excuse, and Brady, though he's an eternal star, is still an employee.
The punishment needs to be harsh and swift because there's a lot at stake here. There is plenty of evidence for the NFL to act now. Those suspensions should begin immediately. Yes, for the Super Bowl.
The image of the NFL being the most paramount. That's all.
Not much at stake there, right?
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.