Fourth and Dumb: The New England Patriots Respond to 'Deflategate'

The Super Bowl champs could have accepted their punishment and moved on. Instead, they're going down with guns blazing

Patriots coach Bill Belichick is all, like, 'WTF Bro?!?' Credit: Tom Pennington/Getty

The New England Patriots released their rebuttal to the Wells Report on Thursday, and not surprisingly, they were none too pleased with the conclusions drawn by investigator Ted Wells – nor the punishment handed down to them by the league as a result.

After all, why else would they spend some 20,000 words discussing the subject at WellsReportContext.com (the Miami Dolphins are probably kicking themselves for not grabbing that domain last year), only to conclude that they were "prejudged" on the matter? Rather than admit culpability and just move on, the organization brought in a Nobel Prize-winning chemist – who just happens to have founded a biotech company Patriots' owner Bob Kraft "made a passive investment in" – to dissect the Ideal Gas Law, provided reams of emails from NFL lawyers and execs, parsed the accuracy of "inexpensive gauges" and presented the weight-loss plans of their employees as evidence. Defiant to the very end.

Yes, the Patriots are well within their rights to do this; and yes, they probably have reason to be upset. Considering the context of punishments for team infractions in a vacuum, the hammer dropped on New England does seem rather weighty.

In January, the Patriots committed a rather minor infraction – something that has probably happened in NFL games hundreds of times, either natually or unnaturally – and in May, they were hit with a punishment that fit the crime like a tube top on Vince Wilfork: A four-game suspension for Tom Brady, the loss of two draft picks (including a first) and a $1 million fine.

Just this year, the Atlanta Falcons were caught piping in crowd noise at home, potentially a very significant advantage in those games, and lost a fifth-round draft pick, were fined $350,000 and team president Rich McKay was given a three-month suspension from serving on the Competition Committee. Also, the Cleveland Browns were given a fine of $250,000, and general manager Ray Farmer was suspended for four games, for texting offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan during games.

Neither of those punishments should be considered light, but when measuring them against the NFL's response to "Deflategate," they do seem paltry. Because of that, people are quick to assume that the league has an illogical vendetta against the most successful franchise of the century, that for some reason, Roger Goodell believes suspending one of the league's biggest stars – and tarnishing his legacy in the process – would be best for business. But perhaps there is more logical answer.

Maybe the Patriots and Brady cheated (to whatever degree you'd like to believe) and weren't as cooperative as they should have been. Considering the actions taken by New England with their new website, owner Robert Kraft conceding defeat before putting his dukes back up and Brady's agent putting Wells on blast, it would make more sense that maybe the punishment does fit the crime. Like, say, Giselle in a tube top.

The Falcons did not issue a response to their punishment on FakeCrowdsAreOK.net. The Browns didn't respond to the allegations against Farmer by trying to argue the intent of eggplant emojis. Both teams took full responsibility, accepted their punishments and moved on. Kraft seemed prepared to do the same – before doing a complete 180 when things turned out to be worse than he thought they'd be. Like the Pats' new website says, the team is trying to put the Wells Report's allegations in context. But it turns out that context isn't just laughable, it's downright hilarious. Some highlights:

  • Jim McNally, the assistant charged with deflating the balls, was just overweight, according to the Patriots.  He referred to himself as the "Deflator" because he needed to lose weight. You know, like how all of us talk about how we need to "deflate" when we want to lose a few pounds.
  • New England was forced to amend their rebuttal because they initially said that Roderick MacKinnon, the Nobel laureate who criticizes the scientific explanations in the Wells Report, had "no business or personal relationship with the Patriots." Except that he actually does. MacKinnon is the "scientific co-founder" and co-chair on an advisory board for a company that is partially funded by The Kraft Group.
  • McNally and Jastremski – the two guys who, according to the team, did nothing wrong – have been on indefinite suspension. If they were only interested in dropping pounds and picking up free shoes, why haven't the Patriots been defending them since the beginning?

It's not so much that the Wells Report is definitely right, or that the Patriots are definitely wrong – or that they don't have some reasonable beef with the punishment – but holy shit, are they going about it the wrong way.

Why not submit your rebuttal privately to the league? The only reason to release the findings is because you want to win back your innocence in the court of public opinion, but that doesn't make a whole lot of sense since most fans don't consider the Pats' Super Bowl win to be tainted. The majority of those polled by ABC News and ESPN seemed to reach the same conclusion: "Yes, New England cheated. Yes, the punishment was fair. But it probably didn't help them win the Super Bowl so let's leave well enough alone."

Now that the Patriots have made some far-fetched explanations to the text messages, and relied on a scientific expert with whom they had a previously existing relationship, it only makes them look worse. And in doing so, they only seemed to decrease Brady's odds of reducing his four-game suspension, which he officially appealed on Thursday, and shouldn't that be their only objective at this point?

The Patriots had every opportunity to diffuse this situation, to take their punishment and push on. Instead, they chose up the ante, turning a minor infraction into an international incident. That's how "Deflategate" has become "Deflategate-gate." The Patriots should not have said anything at all.

Now they have the same amount of punishment that they had on Monday, a website worthy of ridicule and they've kept people talking about a story most wanted to forget about as soon as Super Bowl XLIX began. Do other teams do similar things to gain an advantage? Probably.

But other teams also know when to keep their mouths shut.