BOSTON (CBS) -- If you're a Patriots fan, here's a tip: save your breath. Whatever you say isn't going to matter. The Wells Report hit the ground as if Rob Gronkowski spiked it Wednesday afternoon, and pardon the pun, but it knocked the wind out of the Pats yet again.
Among the national headlines:
ESPN.com: "Tom Brady Sacked Like Never Before by Deflategate Findings."
New York Times: "Tom Brady's Legacy as One of the Best Takes a Hit."
New York Post: "NFL Must Sack Cheater Tom Brady with Two-Game Ban."
USA Today: "NFL Can't Go Soft on Brady, Patriots."
SI.com: "How Will Goodell Punish Brady?"
The Boston Globe: "NFL Implicates Brady."
The Washington Post: "Tom Brady Lied; Only the Consequences Are Open to Debate."
Bleacher Report: "Brady's Legacy Forever Scarred by Report."
Chicago Tribune: "Tom Brady Complained About Ball Pressure Before Beating Bears Badly."
Dallas Morning News: "NFL Should Stick It to Patriots, Brady in 'Deflategate' Case."
Los Angeles Times: "Tom Brady's Image is Flattened as Deflategate Report is Released."
CBSSports.com: " 'Deflategate' Report: Brady 'Aware' "
Get the picture?
Oh, sure, there are a few voices out there suggesting that the Patriots will not be tainted by this, that Brady will not be damaged, but we all know how this works. Independent of whether you find the conclusion of the Wells Report to be "more probable than not" that the Patriots tampered with the air pressure in the footballs before the AFC Championship Game, the Patriots are once again guilty in the court of public opinion.
Read: The Wells Report (.pdf)
No one is taking away those trophies, Patriots fans. But you're just going to have to accept the fact that the rest of the world simply doesn't like the way the Patriots do business, between the lines or, apparently, outside them.
First, with regard to the Wells Report, let's make something clear: it's not perfect. There is no definitive video of Jim McNally letting air out of the footballs in a bathroom between the officials' room and the field at Gillette Stadium. But there is a mound of scientific data that shoots down the many theories as to how an inordinate amount of pressure came out of the footballs prepared and used by the Patriots against the Indianapolis Colts. There are texts and emails from Colts officials and Gillette Stadium personnel that suggest it is "well known around the league" that the Patriots manipulate the balls and quarterback Tom Brady was "generally aware" of the process.
And that press conference that Bill Belichick might as well have conducted while wearing a white lab coat? According to the to the study done by Exponent, the outside lab hired to test the air pressure in a variety of settings, "the vigorous rubbing described by Patriots personnel does not appear to have had an impact on the pressures measured in the Patriots footballs either prior to the game or at halftime." Just like that, Dr. Bill became Dr. Quack.
Want to get a laugh today? Go back and read the media reports the day after Belichick's press conference, when Belichick's analysis of the ball preparation and PSI was treated as if he were Oppenheimer. Seriously. If Bill said it, it must be true.
Now that was an embarrassment.
Going forward, the obvious question now concerns the punishment levied against Brady and the Patriots by the NFL, specifically commissioner Roger Goodell. Purely based on the gut and on instinct, a short suspension seems most logical. (A fine doesn't seem enough.) For the Patriots, the good news is that Brady and the team will undoubtedly use this as motivation, and nobody ever has been better at turning a negative into a positive than the Patriots of the Brady-Belichick Era.
For sure, there is some damage done to Brady's legacy here, because Paragraph II of his bio will now contain a reference to Deflategate in the same way that Belichick's Paragraph II will have a reference to Spygate. The big mistakes never go away for any of us. They just stay there, stain you like an oversized blemish, and absolutely take some getting used to. But for anyone with half a brain, they also do not alter the bigger picture.
In the end, I'm not here today to tell whether I believe that the Patriots tampered with the footballs. (But, for the record, I do.) And I'm not here to tell you that you're an idiot if you think otherwise. What I am here to tell you is that this is not going away, that the Patriots methods (however you want to define them) always seem to have a way of biting them in the posterior, that the world comes with regulating mechanisms that ultimately keep everyone in check. Maybe those mechanisms are phony. Maybe they're unfair. But they exist nonetheless.
Four months from now, the Patriots will open defense of their latest title at Gillette Stadium against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Maybe Brady will be on the field and maybe he won't. Regardless, much of America will never look at him, like the Patriots, quite the same way again.
And ultimately, that is something for which only Brady and the Patriots know the real answer.
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