Patriots

Deflategate reaction now a race to be the most ridiculous

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Deflategate reaction now a race to be the most ridiculous

Friday night, after wrapping up my writing and doing some errands, I had me a Friday night. I went to IHOP. Who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner? Grabbed a USA Today to keep me company. Opened up to “Sports.” Began to read a column.

I was then informed that Tom Brady “has proved to be little better than Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and everyone else who broke the rules in search of an edge.”

Here’s the link to the column by Nancy Armour. It almost made me spit out my Smokehouse Combo.

Because a four-month investigation – commissioned by an NFL which revels in twisting the Patriots’ tail – concluded Tom Brady may have been “generally aware” it was “more probable than not” that a hiss or two of air was let out of a football, he is right there with the most reviled cheaters in American sports.

Get over yourself, Nancy.

There’s a dearth of critical thinking in the media when sensational stories break. We turn into carnival barkers. And the quickest way to get people gathered under our tent and gawking is by using our bullhorn – blogs, columns, radio mikes, TV shows, Twitter feeds – to make some over-the-top claim. If it’s laughably out of proportion, whatever.

Since the granddaddy of all the Gates – Watergate – it’s been said that it’s not the crime, but the coverup which really does the damage and becomes some poor sap’s undoing.

In this instance, it’s not the alleged “crime.” It’s not the presumed “coverup.”

It’s the breathlessness of the coverage, the one-upsmanship in trying to paint this as tearing at the fiber of our nation’s youth that is truly damaging.

Because by the time everyone’s done raising the bar of indignity, the infraction itself is forgotten. That a national columnist has the gall to include Armstrong, Bonds and McGwire in a column about altered footballs is all the evidence you need.

Just consider the NFL’s own rule, for God’s sake.

“Once the balls have left the locker room, no one, including players, equipment managers, ball boys, and coaches, is allowed to alter the footballs in any way. If any individual alters the footballs, or if a non-approved ball is used in the game, the person responsible and, if appropriate, the head coach or other club personnel will be subject to discipline, including but not limited to, a fine of $25,000.”
— From the NFL Game Operations Manual

A $25K fine. Not a $5M investigation. Or, perhaps, no fine and a “stop doing that.” Which is what happened in the case of the Panthers and Vikings when those teams were caught heating up kicking balls on the sidelines in late November.

“You can’t do anything with the footballs in terms of any artificial, whether you’re heating them up, whether it’s a regular game ball or kicking ball, you can’t do anything to the football,” NFL V.P. of officiating Dean Blandino said at the time. “So that was noticed during the game, both teams were made aware of it during the game and we will certainly remind the clubs as we get into more cold weather games that you can’t do anything with the football in terms of heating them up with those sideline heaters.”

You think that’s a bad comp because the guys were “cheating” out in the open? Maybe this is a better one.

The Chargers using a towel laced with adhesive in 2012. That’ll help the grip, right? They didn’t fork over the towel when asked. Tried to hide it.

They got a $20,000 fine for that and, in USA Today, there was eye-rolling that the NFL fined the Chargers at all. Coverup is worse than the crime. Unless it’s universally decided that we’re not giving a crap about the crime or the coverup.

The officiating crews have been so lax about checking PSI that Ted Wells specifically mentioned that AFC Championship Game referee Walt Anderson is “one of the few” that checks PSIs himself instead of kicking the chore down the line to some schlub on his crew. They’ve never logged the PSIs. If they found a ball was under pressure, they just shot some air back into it. Which might be how you get a ball pumped up to almost 16 PSI.

Joe Posnanski wrote a great column (as he usually does) on the absurdity of the actual “crime” and he uses as his launch point George Brett having too much pine tar on his bat.

Would that make Brett akin to Pete Rose in Armour’s opinion? Did Jerry Rice’s admission of using using Stickum after it was banned, 

I’m aware I’m raging against the machine, here. The NFL will make its punishment decision conveniently after having a few days to gauge public sentiment.

The NFL season will open its 50th Super Bowl season with its greatest quarterback in leg irons for allegedly being generally aware that two guys were probably screwing with the air pressure in footballs, an infraction that just months before drew merely a “Cut it out.” And not even a stern one of those.

Get ready for us carnival barkers to take these words out for a spin: Taint. Stain. Smear. Tarnish. Sully. Blacken. Blot. Blemish. Mar. Defile. Soil. Muddy. Damage. Harm. Corrupt. Stigmatize. Besmirch.

Try to keep your Smokehouse Combo down.

 

Patriots' biggest advantage vs. Chiefs in AFC Championship Game? They have everybody this time

Patriots' biggest advantage vs. Chiefs in AFC Championship Game? They have everybody this time

FOXBORO – The biggest difference between these playoff Patriots and any other this decade? Good health.

Every year since 2012, the Patriots have had at least one major player land on injured reserve during the season and be lost for the playoffs.

IR aside, the Patriots can realistically look at 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2015 as seasons that ended with losses almost completely because they took the field for their final game with key players missing or playing at severely reduced levels.

This year? Fresh as a daisy.

The only veteran Patriot the team put on IR this season was cornerback Eric Rowe. He was capably replaced by both Jason McCourty and J.C. Jackson.

The other important guys who landed on IR were newcomers - running back Jeremy Hill, rookie offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn and rookie linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley. They were poised to make contributions but their regular-season level with the team wasn’t established.

“I think we’ve stayed away from some of the bigger injuries, which we’re very fortunate to do,” said Tom Brady. “And you’re right, I mean, you know my belief on injuries. I think a lot of them are [preventable]. I try to take as much responsibility and accountability for my injuries as possible so that I can be out there. Sometimes you have bad luck in football. It’s obviously a contact sport. You can take a bad hit and that’s your season. Our team’s been very fortunate in that sense this year to not really take those things. The guys have done a great job staying healthy and trying to go week to week.”

It takes seeing the names to really appreciate the toll injuries exacted on previous teams.

Here are some of the key guys from previous years who were off the active roster when the playoffs came (a nod to my guy Zack Cox at NESN who tweeted the full list here):

2017: Julian Edelman, Donta Hightower, Marcus Cannon, Jonathan Jones, Malcolm Mitchell, Nate Ebner, Martellus Bennett.
2016: Rob Gronkowski, Sebastian Vollmer.
2015: LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, Jerod Mayo, Nate Solder, Ryan Wendell.
2014: Aaron Dobson, Jerod Mayo, Stevan Ridley.
2013: Gronkowski, Tommy Kelly, Jerod Mayo, Sebastian Vollmer
2012: Nobody of consequence
2011: Dan Koppen, Andre Carter, Mike Wright.

Aside from IR, the 2012 season was meat when Gronk broke his arm against Houston in the Divisional Playoff and couldn’t play in the AFC Championship against the Ravens.

The 2011 Super Bowl against the Giants was also hosed by a Gronk injury – that one suffered in the AFC Championship against the Ravens. It left him a shell of himself in the Super Bowl. When Aqib Talib got obliterated in the 2013 AFC Championship by Wes Welker, the Patriots were pretty much cooked.

I’m not recalling all these injuries to play the woulda-coulda-shoulda game. It’s all hypothetical anyway.

The greater point is that, as they enter this AFC Championship Game, everybody’s tip-top. It’s astounding. Nothing wrong with Hightower or Gronk. Edelman is tip-top. Both tackles are good-to-go as is the interior offensive linemen. The secondary’s been healthy for weeks.

That can all change within one series, but if you ask what’s a greater advantage, home field or good health? I’d say good health.

“Obviously, you need your best players out there, and the guys that you expect to deliver, you need them playing well,” said Brady. “The only way to play well is to be healthy. If you have a bad whatever and you can’t do your job – if you’re a runner, run, or if you’re a thrower, throw, or if you’re a blocker, block – I mean, it’s hard to do on one arm or one leg. But, if you can feel good and you can feel like you’re trending always toward feeling your best for Sunday, I think that gives you a lot of confidence. Even some of the games we lost this year, I think you come out of those games and you think, ‘Wow, OK. A positive, we didn’t lose anybody.’ I think we’re at this point this year, and we’ve been pretty healthy to this point.”

As recognizable as Brady is as a diet/nutrition/pliability/training devotee, he didn’t resort to the TB12 Method because the Patriots were lagging behind.

As this story from Phil Perry in February 2015 demonstrated, Bill Belichick is as evangelical as anyone about the vital role nutrition plays 

And sleep (here’s Phil from February 2017 on the Patriots use of flotation tanks for kickass sleep).
 
And in 2016, Belichick went wayyyyy in-depth discussing the efforts the team expended after the 2015 season ended with practically half the team out or on the injury report for the last game.  

Predictably, Belichick didn’t want to get into a mess of salutes for his medical and training staff two days before the game. Probably feels like bad karma.

But he did allow that, given the focus the team has given to keeping their human resources available, the relative health could be a result of that.

“But,” he added. “I think in the end, it’s a combination of a lot of things. Training is like anything – it helps to have a good plan, it helps to follow the plan, and the players have worked extremely hard. There’s no pill we can take to get in condition or get stronger or get faster or anything. You’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to work at it, and you do that day after day, week after week, month after month, in some cases, year after year, and that’s how you improve, just like anything else.

“So, the players have worked really hard as a total team with a lot of consistency,” he reminded. “I think the work that, as you mentioned, the other people behind in those areas have done has been good, but it’s a combination of a lot of people working together and doing a good job. But, I think you can’t take anything away from the players. In the end, players work to get in condition. Certainly, they need a good plan, good structure – I’m not saying that – but if they don’t work hard at it, then you could have the best plan in the world, and probably aren’t going to have great results.” 

Those results have been so good they may have more to do with Sunday’s result than any other factor we whip out.

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Here's where to watch or stream New England Patriots vs. Kansas City Chiefs, AFC Championship Game

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NBC Sports Boston illustration

Here's where to watch or stream New England Patriots vs. Kansas City Chiefs, AFC Championship Game

The New England Patriots play the Chiefs in Kansas City for the AFC Championship and a trip to Super Bowl 53 at 6:40 p.m. on Sunday, January 20. Here's NBC Sports Boston's coverage throughout the day, along with a list of where else you can catch the game. . . 

  • 4 p.m.: Opening Drive
    • with Jade McCarthy and Albert Breer in Burlington, and Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry in Kansas City
    • TV: NBC Sports Boston. STREAMING: NBCSportsBoston.com
       
  • 5 p.m.: McDonald's Pregame Live
    • with Michael Holley, Troy Brown, Jerod Mayo and Rob Ninkovich at Toby Keith's in Patriot Place at Foxboro, Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry in Kansas City, and DJ Bean in Burlington
    • TV: NBC Sports Boston. STREAMING: NBCSportsBoston.com
       
  • 6:40 p.m.: New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs
    • TV: CBS. STREAMING: Game PassRADIO: 98.5 The Sports Hub
    • Live Stream: "Watch Now with fuboTV - Try free trial"
       
  • Halftime Live
    • with Michael Holley, Troy Brown and Ron Ninkovich at Toby Keith's in Patriots Place at Foxboro
    • TV: NBC Sports Boston. STREAMING: NBCSportsBoston.com
       
  • At game's end: Twin River Casino and Hotel Postgame Live
    • with Michael Holley, Troy Brown, Rob Ninkovich and Albert Breer at Toby Keith's in Patriots Place at Foxboro, Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry in Kansas City, and DJ Bean in Burlington
    • TV: NBC Sports Boston. STREAMING: NBCSportsBoston.com

HARD TRUTHS

Tom E. Curran's Hard Truths on the game, presented by Plymouth Rock Assurance:

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