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N.F.L. Reports That Patriots Personnel Probably Intentionally Deflated Balls

Patriots Colts

As you may recall, the two weeks between the AFC and NFC Championship games and the Super Bowl earlier this year was taken up with a scandal surrounding the New England Patriots that came to be known as “DeflateGate.” The story began in the wake of the AFC Championship game between the Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts when the Colts claimed that one of the game balls supplied by the Patriots for their own use during the game were under-inflated in violation of N.F.L. rules. The Colts brought the matter to the attention of referees at halftime, after which they found that some of the balls were below the required pressure. Those balls were inflated back to the correct pressure and the teams played the second half to a Patriots victory. The Patriots denied the allegations, but the N.F.L. opened an investigation anyway, and it was later reported that as many as ten of the twelve balls that the Patriots brought to the game were under the required pressure. The Patriots, of course, went on to win the Super Bowl, and now the N.F.L. has released a report investigating the matter which certainly casts the Patriots and their Quarterback Tom Brady in a bad light:

 The results of a nearly four-month investigation stated that “it is more probable than not” that New England Patriots personnel intentionally deflated footballs to gain an advantage against the Indianapolis Colts in the A.F.C. championship game in January, and that Tom Brady, the Super Bowl’s most valuable player, was probably aware of it.

No penalties have been announced by the N.F.L.

The investigation, which was conducted by Tedd Wells and the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, concluded that it was probable that Patriots personnel were “involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules.”

The report, which was released Wednesday, said that Jim McNally, a locker-room attendant, and John Jastremski, an equipment assistant, were involved in releasing air from the footballs. It said that besides those two and Brady, no other Patriots personnel, including Coach Bill Belichick, were aware of any wrongdoing. The report separately determined that the Patriots had not deliberately tried to introduce an improper football for kicking and cleared kicker Stephen Gostkowski of any wrongdoing.

Investigators looked at a wide range of evidence, including footballs, emails, text messagaes, security footage and weather data. McNally and Jastremski received sneakers, jerseys, autographs and other items from Brady in the months before the A.F.C. championship game, the report said.

The Patriots won the A.F.C. championship game, 45-7, but in the first half, a member of the Colts gave the officials a ball that appeared to be underinflated. The officials checked all 12 of the Patriots game balls and determined that all but one were below the mandated amount of air pressure, leading to a series of tense press conferences by Brady, Belichick and the team’s owner, Robert K. Kraft.

“To say we are disappointed in its findings, which do not include any incontrovertible or hard evidence of deliberate deflation of footballs at the A.F.C. championship game, would be a gross understatement,” Kraft said in a statement.

Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the N.F.L., said in a statement: “Troy Vincent and his team will consider what steps to take in light of the report, both with respect to possible disciplinary action and to any changes in protocols that are necessary to avoid future incidents of this type.”

Wells, one of the country’s top defense lawyers, has experience working in sports. He was also hired by the N.F.L. in November 2013 to investigate the scandal that engulfed the Dolphins. He led a special investigation into allegations of sexual harassment on Syracuse University’s basketball team and was hired by the N.B.A. players union to look into allegations of inappropriate financial dealings at the union. His report, also made public, led to the ouster of the union’s chief, Billy Hunter.

More from ESPN: (emphasis mine)

The NFL has found that it is probable that New England Patriots personnel deliberately deflated balls during the AFC Championship Game in January and that quarterback Tom Brady was probably “at least generally aware” of the rules violations.

The findings were released Wednesday in a 243-page report by Ted Wells, the league-appointed attorney who investigated whether the Patriots deflated balls in their game against the Indianapolis Colts.

“For the reasons described in this Report, and after a comprehensive investigation, we have concluded that, in connection with the AFC Championship Game, it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules,” the report said. “In particular, we have concluded that it is more probable than not that Jim McNally [the Officials Locker Room attendant for the Patriots] and John Jastremski [an equipment assistant for the Patriots] participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee. Based on the evidence, it also is our view that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady [the quarterback for the Patriots] was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.”

The report includes text messages between McNally and Jastremski — sent in October and January — that imply Brady was requesting footballs deflated below 12.5 pounds per square inch. They described requests from McNally for shoes and signed footballs from Brady in exchange for deflating the balls.

The texts imply that Brady had previously been upset with the quality of the game balls.

“Remember to put a couple sweet pig skins ready for tom to sign,” one said.

“Nice throw in some kicks and make it real special,” another said.

The NFL is considering discipline for Brady, McNally and Jastremski, a source close to the investigation told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. Discipline is “days” away, the source said.

It also concluded that there was no deliberate attempt by the Patriots to introduce a non-approved kicking ball during the Colts game.

“Although Patriots personnel provided a kicking ball to game officials that did not have the distinctive inspection mark of the referee, we find that the Patriots personnel involved believed the ball to be authentic and appropriate,” the report stated. “We do not believe that there was any attempt by Patriots personnel, including Patriots kickerStephen Gostkowski, to deliberately circumvent the rules by offering the kicking ball for play.”

The Patriots won the AFC title and went on to beat the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl two weeks later.

(…)

The report’s findings now will be turned over to Troy Vincent, NFL executive vice president of football operations.

“As with other recent matters involving violations of competitive rules, Troy Vincent and his team will consider what steps to take in light of the report, both with respect to possible disciplinary action and to any changes in protocols that are necessary to avoid future incidents of this type,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “At the same time, we will continue our efforts vigorously to protect the integrity of the game and promote fair play at all times.”

It does not appear that the report, which I have embedded below, reaches any definitive conclusions regarding the deflation of game balls and whether or not anyone beyond the game officials knew anything about what was going on. The implication from the text messages that are included in the report, of course, is that Tom Brady was aware of what was going on, and may have even requested that he be given deflated game balls. This would contradict the statement that Brady gave to the press in the immediate aftermath of the AFC Championship game where he said that he had no knowledge regarding the matter and that he didn’t even care very much about how much a ball was or was not inflated. Presumably, this is the same statement he gave to league investigators. Implications, however, are not proof of anything and absent that proof I’m not sure at all where this leaves things. It would be difficult for the league to impose significant sanctions on either Brady or the team based on what amounts to circumstantial evidence, it seems, and the Patriots can continue with their claims that there was no wrongdoing, although the assertion that was made in a report prepared for the team that the deflation was caused by weather conditions seems to have been thoroughly debunked in the report.

Assuming that something more than probabilities can be established, the next question would become what punishments the league should hand out for what could potentially be a conspiracy to violate one of its rules. At the time the story first broke, some suggested that the Patriots should be barred from the Super Bowl, but that was always an absurd suggestion and anything similar such as taking away their victory in the Super Bowl would be as well. Given the fact that they defeated the Colts 45-7, and that they scored more points in the second half of the game than they did in the first, it seems silly to suggest that the Patriots only won the AFC Championship game because of deflated balls. In the Super Bowl, the referees took complete responsibility for providing and handing out the game balls, which probably should be the rule for every game as I argued in January, so they obviously didn’t play a role there. All the same, the Patriots already have a history of violating rules in the SpyGate scandal, and the team was already being criticized last season with allegations that it had played fast and loose with the eligible/ineligible player rules. So, they don’t exactly come into this with clean hands, and that may influence how the league chooses to handle things if they’re able to establish something more than just “probabilities.” In Spy Gate, Bill Belicheck was personally fined $500,000, the Patriots were fined $250,000, and the team lost draft picks. This time, the league may decide that it needs to be harsher if only to send a message to other teams.

Here’s the report:

NFL Deflategate Report by Doug Mataconis

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Pinky says:

    I don’t see how the league can come down on them, given the lack of a smoking gun. Then again, the NFL does things all the time that I don’t understand.

    I agree with you about putting the referees in charge of the balls, though. I can see that happening, although I’m not sure that there’ll be an opportunity to change the rules before the next season.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. They managed to find a way to change the rules for the Super Bowl so the referees handled the balls exclusively, I’m not sure why they couldn’t do the same thing for season starting in September. It would require training for the referees and some other measures, of course, but it still seems doable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  3. Tillman says:

    They don’t really have to do anything overt in terms of penalizing them. The asterisk that’s likely to get added in histories of the game will do enough.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Frankly, they should vacate the win against the Colts, and by association render the Pats ineligible for the Super Bowl win as well. It’s not as if this is the first time that the Pats have been caught cheating.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 13 Thumb down 10

  5. John H says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    I agree. Pro golfers call penalties on themselves for accidentally breaking absurdly picky rules, knowing they will lose out on million dollar purses, but the Pats knowingly break the rules and get a nasty finger wagging.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  6. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @John H:

    I might feel a little less strict about it if they weren’t repeat offenders in this regard, but the last set of penalties levied against them for (admitted) cheating clearly didn’t get the message across that cheating is a no no.

    Unless they are made to feel real pain, something that really smacks their collective heads against the wall and makes them think twice, they’ll just keep doing it. I don’t think that losing draft picks or paying token fines is going to be enough to accomplish that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 6

  7. C. Clavin says:

    It does not appear that the report, which I have embedded below, reaches any definitive conclusions regarding the deflation of game balls and whether or not anyone beyond the game officials knew anything about what was going on.

    As a news/sports photographer in Miami I spent considerable time around the Dolphins, and I worked for the Dallas Cowboys for a year.
    I can promise you two things based on that experience:
    1 – No one messed with those balls on their own without direction…whether it was explicit or implied.
    2 – If Brady was not directly involved he still knew damn well they were soft. I’d be willing to bet he can tell variations of a 1/10th of a pound or less. Remember…he handles balls for a living.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 2

  8. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Remember…he handles balls for a living

    Rimshot 😀

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 4

  9. C. Clavin says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    I wrote that entire comment just so I could use that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 3

  10. Mu says:

    Of course, if Brady goes to the sideline and complains the ball feels soft, and they’re giving him another, he’d just think his grip is off today, because it feels just the same as before.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  11. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @C. Clavin:

    It opens up so many doors, agreed.

    “Brady’s balls are deflated”

    “Brady has limp balls”

    “Brady’s balls seem to be sagging a bit”

    The possibilities are endless 😆

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 6

  12. C. Clavin says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    For the tops in juvenile humor you have to watch this TED 2 trailer, which features Mr. Brady.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8eHufVyP2gE
    NSFW

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  13. GeoffBr says:

    At the time the story first broke, some suggested that the Patriots should be barred from the Super Bowl, but that was always an absurd suggestion and anything similar such as taking away their victory in the Super Bowl would be as well.

    Not sure why this is so absurd. If the rule is important enough to enforce, then the penalties should be stiff enough to be a deterrent. If the rule isn’t important, it should be dropped. Personally, I think there should be severe penalties for intentionally cheating in a professional game.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  14. Tyrell says:

    “More probable ……probably aware”: not very definite language there.
    If anything, it would seem to my thinking that the quarterbacks would want more air in the ball to make it lighter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  15. Tony W says:

    Doesn’t matter. As a Hawks fan, all the deflate-gate scandals in the world can’t get Pete Carroll to give the ball to Marshawn Lynch for the win. {{{sigh}}}

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  16. Tony W says:

    @Tyrell:

    If anything, it would seem to my thinking that the quarterbacks would want more air in the ball to make it lighter

    Okay, now I know you are just trolling us. LOL

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  17. Tyrell says:

    @Tony W: Well, okay. But I get a tighter spiral with a ball that is pumped up more. And you can definitely get more distance in a kick or punt, but less if it is underinflated. Which brings up this question: do they use the same ball for passing and kicking ?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  18. Tony W says:

    @Tyrell: Yep – My understanding from the early reports is that the more inflated ball (1 out of 12) was used for kicking, for just the reasons you suggest.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  19. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Wait a second, what happened to you can’t prove that the balls didn’t deflate spontaneously? You can’t prove they didn”t you know? Even Kraft said that.

    Or are you going with “once a cheater, always a cheater” (kind of like dealing drugs) this time?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 6

  20. Matt says:

    I still haven’t found out what advantage is given by the deflated balls and how much the balls were deflated.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker:

    Good effort, but you’ve spent that wad already. Alas, no joy, sorry. 😳

    Janice does have some lovely consolation prizes for you though 😀

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 5

  22. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Matt:

    Deflated balls are easier to grip, ergo easier to throw and easier to catch. They improve your passing success rate.

    Brady went 23 of 35, passing for 226 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. The odds are that he would have been to some degree less successful had the balls not been deflated to give him and his receivers an advantage.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 5

  23. EddieInCA says:

    I think the NFL will look at the Patriots record of fumbling, or lack of fumbling, with this new information. Since 2007, when Tom Brady’s passing efficiency took a tremendous leap forwards, the Patriots have fumbled once every 187 carries. The league average is once every 105 carries. Running backs who went to the Patriots suddenly fumbled less than their previous averages, then, upon leaving the Patriots, went back to fumbling as they did pre-Patriots.

    538 is going to delve further into these numbers. Should be interesting.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 0

  24. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Brady went 23 of 35…. The odds are that he would have been … less successful had the balls not been deflated …

    Care to tell the rest of us just what those “odds” would be ?

    Are you building conjecture on top of a suspicion?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 8

  25. Pete S says:

    @Pinky:

    I don’t see how the league can come down on them, given the lack of a smoking gun.

    The NFL just suspended a player (Greg Hardy) for 6 games for charges that had been dismissed before the suspension. He was probably guilty, the accuser seems to have received a cash settlement from him and refused to testify. But if probably guilty of criminal charges is good enough for a suspension, then probably guilty of cheating will be enough.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  26. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Bob @ Youngstown:

    If it’s not beneficial in terms of improving pass completion performance, why go to the trouble of deflating 11 balls in the first place? They did have the presence of mind to avoid deflating the kicker ball though :-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 5

  27. al-Ameda says:

    A 243 page report seems to me to be a mild case of overkill.

    To me, it comes down to the fact that if Russell Wilson hands the ball off to Marshawn Lynch in that final minute, nobody cares about this “issue.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  28. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Can you answer the question?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 6

  29. Pinky says:

    @Pete S: Hardy had been found guilty in court. More to the point, the NFL investigation concluded that he was guilty.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Bob @ Youngstown:

    Given that I think it’s being asked in an effort to be snarky, no, I’ll pass. Thanks though.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 5

  31. J-Dub says:

    @al-Ameda:

    As a Ravens fan, I care, and I’m sure all the Colts fans care as well. The Patriots shouldn’t have been in the Super Bowl in the first place.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  32. AshleyE says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Wait, the grown man who uses emoticons doesn’t like someone being snarky to him? What? Hypocrite much?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  33. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Given that I think it’s being asked in an effort to be snarky, no, I’ll pass.

    Looks like you are making another presumption, this time about my motives.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  34. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Bob @ Youngstown:

    Such is life, I guess. I’ve just decided I’m not interested in swinging at the dirt, so I pass. Sorry for any offense it might cause.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  35. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    @HarvardLaw92:
    Honestly don’t understand the phrase “swinging in the dirt” means.

    You suggest that Brady’s “full game” pass completion stat (23 of 35) was influenced by the balls being underinflated. I was asking how you might know that.
    What would tend to validate your suggestion as being true would be to compare Brady’s pass completion stat during the first half versus the second half.
    We believe (from the Well’s report) that the Patriots footballs during the second half were of significantly greater pressure that those of the first half.

    Since it was your suggestion originally, what I wanted to know was if you had determined that Brady’s pass performance was significantly better during the first half versus the second half.

    It’s just an question….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  36. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    @HarvardLaw92:

    Here are the passing stats for Brady in the AFC playoff. During the first half, with the lowered pressure footballs: 22 passes with 11 completions.
    During the second half with balls inflated by officials to regulation: 13 passes with 12 completions.

    From the standpoint of the actual stats, Brady’s performance was significantly IMPROVED with the “harder” footballs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1