Deflategate was NFL's version of Big Name Hunting


Deflategate was NFL's version of Big Name Hunting

FOXBORO – Soooooo, I guess Bob Kraft won’t be getting that apology . . . ?

The NFL lifted its leg on the Patriots late Monday afternoon -- the quarterback, the owner, the team’s reputation and its legacy -- and handed down a medieval suspension.

Bouncing Tom Brady for a quarter of the upcoming season? Harsh, but not wholly unexpected.

A $1 million fine? Heavy, but not outrageous given the “prior” from 2007 and the ginned-up notion that the Patriots weren’t forthcoming enough with Ted Wells and his investigative dancers.

But a first-round pick? And a fourth-round pick to boot?

Excessive. Over-the-top. And proof that, in this clash between 280 Park Avenue and 1 Patriot Place, a weakened Roger Goodell saw a chance to get his swagger back by going after the most successful organization of the millennium and the most accomplished quarterback of the Super Bowl era.

This was personal from the start. From the start (an e-mail missive sent by a lowly Colts equipment man that got passed around like the measles until everyone in the league operations department was on high alert) right to the finish (when Troy Vincent punctuated his discipline letter to Tom Brady saying, “Each player, no matter how accomplished and otherwise respected, has an obligation to comply with the rules and must be held accountable for his actions when those rules are violated and the public’s confidence in the game is called into question”). 

Deflategate wasn’t an embarrassment for the NFL. It was an opportunity. And they treated it as such every step of the way. 

It started with an opportunity to “catch” the Patriots. Why would they want to do that? Perhaps because of the open disdain for executives and league officials that Bill Belichick’s shown. Maybe because their decade-and-a-half of success caused some Patriots fatigue, or touched off “unspecified chatter” (Ted Wells' words) that they were rule-bending even now. Maybe a lot of the people in the NFL offices started out with a franchise that competed against the Patriots.

So instead of picking up the phone or sending an e-mail of caution, the more than half-dozen league execs in the know (thanks to the concerns of a Colts equipment man) let things play out.

They didn’t find much -- certainly not 11 of 12 balls almost two PSI light, as was initially leaked -- but they could work with they got.

Because the next opportunity was showing everyone the league’s unswerving dedication to integrity by calling in the National Guard in the form of Ted Wells to determine who left the milk out.   

The punishment phase led to the next great chance: Showing people whose opinions the league covets -- like Richard Sherman’s -- that they needn’t question again a cozy owner-commissioner relationship between Goodell and Robert Kraft.

And now that the whole thing is over, what’s the opportunity? CONTENT!!!

The NFL Network is on the air live beginning at 9 a.m. on Tuesday with non-stop Deflategate coverage. What great timing, right in the dead spot after the draft. Fortuitous. 

It was said centuries ago that, in a democracy, people get the government they deserve. 

The NFL’s owners have gotten the same. They -- and Kraft shares a lot of the responsibility for this -- delivered a business-savvy, moneymaking suit to the Commissioner’s office. The money’s flowed and every owner is free to buy islands for himself or boob jobs for his ladyfriends. As many as he wants or they need.

But Goodell’s no lawyer. And he’s been lashing around with his discipline stick like he’s trying to kill a bat in a darkened room. 

The man screwed up so prominently and so often the only way to save face -- maybe --  and restore some confidence -- maybe -- was to go Big Game Hunting. And, as it turned out, Big Name Hunting. 

No bigger game than the Patriots. No bigger name than Brady.

The $5 million and 100-plus days spent on the investigation produced a 243-page report that answered the question of whether or not the Patriots deflated footballs with, “We still don’t know.”

Screw it. The letter to the Patriots said that Wells did know.  “[That] report established that the footballs used by the Patriots were inflated at a level that did not satisfy the standard set forth in the NFL’s Official Playing Rules and that the condition of the footballs was the result of deliberate actions by employees of the Patriots.” 

It was pretty clear that the NFL was going to use Brady’s failure to share his personal e-mails and texts as cause for suspension.

And the NFL had to slap the Patriots hard for being back in front of them (albeit eight years later) and not allowing Wells to pull out the fingernails of Jim McNally and John Jastremski. 

But the Patriots got hit with the first and fourth because they are the Patriots. And really, that’s what this whole thing was about from the start.

Starting with that e-mail sent by the Colts equipment guy.

Tom Brady reached this passing milestone in Patriots' loss to Steelers

USA TODAY Sports Images

Tom Brady reached this passing milestone in Patriots' loss to Steelers

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady didn't play particularly well in Sunday's 17-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, but he did reach an impressive passing milestone.

Brady became the fourth quarterback in NFL history to throw for 70,000 or more yards in the regular season.

He finished with 279 yards against the Steelers and has 3,700 through 14 games this season and 70,138 for his career.

Brady surpassed Peyton Manning for the most passing yards in league history -- regular season and playoffs combined -- earlier this season. The Patriots quarterback's 10,226 playoff passing yards are nearly 3,000 more than Manning in second place. 

Brady, barring an injury, is pretty much a lock to reach 4,000-plus passing yards for the seventh consecutive season in which he's played more than 12 games. 

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Steelers' JuJu Smith-Schuster shares praise Bill Belichick gave him

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Steelers' JuJu Smith-Schuster shares praise Bill Belichick gave him

Pittsburgh Steelers star JuJu Smith-Schuster has become one of the better wide receivers in the NFL in just his second pro season, and he's already earning the respect of the greatest coach in league history.

Smith-Schuster caught four passes for 40 yards in the Steelers' 17-10 win over the New England Patriots at Heinz Field on Sunday, and he tweeted about a special exchange he had with Bill Belichick after the game.

Receiving that kind of praise from a legendary coach like Belichick must've been a real thrill for the 22-year-old receiver.  

Smith-Schuster has 91 receptions for 1,234 yards and six touchdowns through 14 games this season. He ranks fifth among all wide receivers in receiving yards. 

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