Patriots

Curran: Patriots' rebuttal effective at pointing out bias

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Curran: Patriots' rebuttal effective at pointing out bias

When the matter gets in front of a judge, the most plausible argument isn’t going to be that Jim McNally called himself the Deflator because he was trying to slim down.

It will be that the NFL began its investigation during the AFC Championship Game, prejudged the Patriots’ guilt and was the source of leaks that fed the media maelstrom the Patriots found themselves in.

In their Wells Report rebuttal, there’s an interesting e-mail exchange that is attached. The exchange is between Patriots lawyer Dan Goldberg and the NFL’s highest-ranking attorney, Jeff Pash.

In an email sent Feb. 6, Goldberg expressed dismay that the Wells investigation was not going to look inward at the NFL to determine how culpable the league’s employees were in creating the firestorm.

“We learned last night from Ted that the issue of how League personnel handled the pursuit of the low psi issues, including whether there were inappropriate prejudgments and unfounded presumptions of wrongdoing, selective leaks of information and misinformation, failure to correct obviously misreported information, and the like, are not part of what the Paul Weiss firm has been asked to investigate. I understand that the League has opted to investigate those matters internally. Because of the significance of these issues, their obvious interrelationship to the matters being pursued by the Paul Weiss firm, and the benefits of having them investigated by individuals who are not employees of the League (particularly since they involve the conduct of high level League employees), the Patriots ask that the League add these issues to the matters that are being independently investigated. In our view, League personnel's serious mishandling of this psi issue during and after the AFC Championship Game has caused the Patriots grievous harm. As a member club, we think this issue is no less serious than the related issues now in the hands of independent investigators and even more appropriate to be pursued by those who are not League employees, since they involve the conduct of other League employees. We would be happy to discuss this matter with you further.”

The instances Goldberg no doubt was referring to were issues the team had with the demeanor or NFL Game Operations lieutenants Mike Kensil and Dave Gardi. Kensil reportedly told Patriots equipment man Dave Schoenfeld, “We measured the balls at halftime. You guys are in big f****** trouble.” Gardi sent an e-mail to Patriots owner Robert Kraft with desperately inaccurate PSI readings purportedly taken at halftime. Also, early media reports that 11 of 12 footballs were two PSI under the low threshold fed a narrative that the Patriots were involved in aggravated cheating. That information could have only come from league sources.

Replying to Goldberg’s concerns, Pash replied:

“With respect to the internal matters that you have identified in your email, I think the Commissioner has been unequivocal in saying that the league office has made no judgments and reached no conclusions about why the footballs were under-inflated and who [if anyone] was responsible for that. I have repeated that as well. But I will state again -- There are no prejudgments. There are no presumptions of wrongdoing. We are taking seriously the explanations offered by Coach Belichick and others and are committed to giving them thorough and objective consideration. I am quite certain that I speak for the Commissioner in this respect I know the Commissioner is as displeased by the media activity as you and others are. He has been as clear as possible on this point. To some extent, the media activity is inherent in Super Bowl week -- having now been to 7 Super Bowls, the Patriots know better than any club the feeding frenzy that takes place around the game. I am somewhat encouraged that the media activity seems to have slowed down a bit, and I am hopeful that the investigation can now proceed in a calm, quiet, and professional way.”

The Patriots also pointed to the league's "preliminary finding" that the Patriots tampered with the pressure of the footballs.

From the rebuttal:

The hiring of Mr. Wells and his law firm followed the written notice to the Patriots (on the day after the AFC Championship Game) that the League had already made a “preliminary finding” that the Patriots may have tampered with the pressure of the footballs. See January 18, 2015 Letter from D. Gardi. League personnel, thus, with no basis and no understanding of the effect of temperature on psi, had already prejudged the issues. The Colts footballs also lost psi, but no similar “preliminary finding” was made regarding the Colts. The Wells investigators, then, were hired by the League to investigate an issue that the League had already prejudged. The report nowhere questions League personnel having made this “Preliminary Finding” or any other prejudgments by League personnel. The January 18 letter to the Patriots also contained two significant misstatements that set a tone for this investigation and were an apparent source of media misreporting: 1) that one of the Patriots footballs was measured at 10.1 psi at halftime, an obvious misstatement; 2) that all of the Colts footballs measured within regulation — another misstatement. The League never corrected this notice in any respect. Why was the League content to have the Patriots dealing with this investigation for months based on inaccurate information? The investigators were not troubled by any of these obvious errors or by the League’s failure to correct them. The inaccuracies in this letter, combined with subsequent leaks to the media that were never corrected by the League placed this investigation on a footing of misinformation, to the Patriots substantial disadvantage. The report treats these inaccuracies as inconsequential (See page 101), when quite the opposite is true; they fueled international media misinformation to the Patriots serious detriment.

You can roll your eyes at the Patriots' contentions that McNally was wasting away to nothing thanks to his new diet and came up with a bizarre nickname.

But they make points back with their takedown of the league's claim of objectivity.

Five Takeaways: Patriots lose their footing in 17-10 loss to Steelers

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USA Today Sports Photo

Five Takeaways: Patriots lose their footing in 17-10 loss to Steelers

PITTSBURGH -- Here are five quick-hit thoughts from what transpired between the Patriots and Steelers on Sunday night . . . 

RUN DEFENSE CAN'T FIND FOOTING

The Steelers were averaging just a shade over 50 yards rushing per game over the last month. They'd racked up more pass attempts than any team in football over the course of the season. They were without their top back James Conner (not to mention their expected top back of 2018 Le'Veon Bell). But even the Steelers -- who usually "do what they do," for better or worse -- knew they could run the ball against New England. With three minutes left in the game, they'd run for 160 yards on 24 carries (6.7 yards per attempt). The Patriots de-activated defensive tackle Danny Shelton as a healthy scratch for the third consecutive game, and had no answers up front for Jaylen Samuels (142 yards on 19 carries) and the Steelers offensive line.

THREE-HEADED MONSTER QUIETED

One of the bright spots from last weekend's game against the Dolphins was that the Patriots had Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski all up and running well simultaneously. Sunday? Not so much. Edelman dropped a pair of passes and had penalties on back-to-back plays in the third quarter. Gronkowski was held without a catch until the fourth quarter. Gordon dropped a Brady pass on a third down early in the third quarter. Gronkowski showed signs of life midway through the fourth when he powered through a tackle to pick up a third down in the red zone, but it was for naught. Moments later Brady threw a killer pick off his back foot to end the scoring opportunity. With two minutes left in the game, Gordon and Gronkowski (seemingly doubled in big spots by a robber crashing down from the safety level) combined for 40 yards receiving. 

SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS

The biggest blunder of the day was Tom Brady's ugly interception in the fourth quarter, but the Patriots were uncharacteristically sloppy in picking up penalties throughout. They were called for 14 for 106 yards. Holds by Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon put the Patriots in perilous spots in the second quarter. Edelman's back-to-back penalties in the third nearly submarined a drive before it could get started. Joe Thuney's false start at the two-minute warning -- just after the Steelers crowd lost its collective mind to "Renegade" by Styx -- put the Patriots in a tough spot on their final drive. Moments later Shaq Mason was called for a hold with 33 seconds left. 

BIG RESPONSIBILITY FOR JACKSON

Think the Patriots trust undrafted rookie JC Jackson? He was locked up with JuJu Smith-Schuster throughout the first half, while corners Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty split the work on Antonio Brown. Jackson held up well enough as Smith-Schuster had three catches for 39 yards on a whopping eight targets in the first 30 minutes. On one 22-yard gain, Jackson was draped on Smith-Schuster but didn't turn his head around to see the football so the receiver plucked it off of Jackson's helmet. It's Smith-Schuster -- not Brown -- who led the Steelers in yards and catches coming into the game so, for Jackson, having the responsibility of shadowing one of the most productive wideouts in football represents a big step in the faith his coaching staff has in him.

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE HOME FIELD

We've written at length about how Ben Roethlisberger is a different quarterback at home versus on the road. But players aren't the only ones who can be influenced by their surroundings. It seemed as though Jeff Triplette's officiating team was baited into a penalty call by the Heinz Field crowd early in the second quarter. The back judge, from about 30 yards away, heaved a late flag on Jonathan Jones for a defensive pass interference that gave the Steelers 26 yards. On the following play, Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for a go-ahead 17-yard score. Because of the time it took between the end of the play and the flag being thrown, and because of the borderline nature of Jones' coverage, that felt like one that might stay in the officials pocket if the game was played at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots got one back in the third quarter when the back judge (and one other official) came flying in from long range with a pass-interference call against Chris Hogan that gave the Patriots one of only two third-down conversions to that point in the game. As far as the calls from New York went, the Patriots were on the wrong end of a challenge late in the second half when Cordarrelle Patterson was ruled down before converting a third-down pass from Tom Brady. They also had a downed-punt upheld by NFL head of officiating Al Riveron and Co. 

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Must-read recap: Patriots lose to Steelers in another road stinker

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NBC Sports Boston illustration

Must-read recap: Patriots lose to Steelers in another road stinker

Remember Titus Adams? Terdell Sands? Kendall Simmons? Isaiah Stanback? Well, they all have something in common with the current members of the Patriots: They were members of the last New England team -- the 2009 bunch that Bill Belichick couldn't "get to play the way I need them to play" -- that lost five games in a season. And these Pats still have two more chances to lose even more (though home games against the Bills and Jets don't ring the alarm meter). 

The Patriots stunk on the road again, lost to the Steelers via a one-touchdown performance and -- as noted -- are now a five-loss team for the first time since 2009. They're also now out of the No. 2 spot in the AFC. 

How the run defense absolutely stunk. The Steelers, who were without James Conner, ran early and often. Rookie fifth-round pick Jaylen Samuels went for well over 100 yards. 

How Tom Brady lost his damn mind in a big spot for the second week in a row. After taking a sack in the red zone at the end of the half last week with no timeouts, Brady threw a pick under pressure on second down in the red zone where he could have easily thrown the ball away. 

No. Chris Boswell missed a 32-yarder in the third quarter, though.

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Not the best day for Brown. A holding call negated a 25-yard Michel run in the second quarter and a false start in the fourth was part of the mess that led to the Pats being so far back on second-and-goal when Brady threw that pick. 

Jonathan Jones got hosed on a deep DPI call along the sidelines on Pittsburgh's third drive despite barely making contact. The Steelers scored on the next play.

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