Patriots

Levine: So where's the proof in the Wells Report?

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Levine: So where's the proof in the Wells Report?

It took three hours, two coffees and enough Adderall to satisfy the entire Seahawks secondary, but I made it through the Wells Report. And with that, here’s a quick summary of everything I most probably might have absolutely learned:

For starters, Tom Brady is an NFL quarterback who likes his footballs more deflated than inflated, and during a game last October against the Jets, he became particularly upset with the condition of said footballs. They were too big, and plump, and this made Brady angry because, again, he likes his footballs smaller . . . and less plump.

Yahoo's Dan Wetzel: Wells Report fails to prove guilt

The quarterback had previously voiced this preference to Pats’ equipment assistant John Jastremski, but it was hard for him to keep up when the referees were continually so careless on game day. In general, refs consistently failed to record pregame PSI levels and were supremely loose on protocol. In some cases, they simply inflated game balls to whatever level they arbitrarily deemed fit. At the very least, refs didn’t account for specific quarterback preferences, and that was inherently unfair. Seeing how we know that some quarterbacks like small footballs, and other quarterbacks like bigger footballs, randomly inflating along the PSI spectrum would leave one side at a random disadvantage.

In related news, balls from that Jets game were was found to be inflated at 16 PSI. That’s far higher than the legal maximum, and far higher than Brady was comfortable with. So again, he was pissed.

He consulted the rulebook and found that game balls were permitted to be as low as 12.5 PSI. In turn, he once again reached out to Jastremski and asked (or probably demanded) that future balls be maintained as low as legally possible.

There was nothing wrong with him doing this, by the way. If you gave MLB pitchers a choice between throwing a baseball or softball, they’d throw the baseball every time. All Brady wanted was a smaller, just as legal football.

Meanwhile, Jastremski was desperate to make Brady happy, because he wanted Brady to like him. Of course he did. We’re talking about Tom Brady. So, Jastremski recruited Officials’ Locker Room Attendant James McNally, a.k.a. the guy in charge of the game balls on game day. McNally had previously helped Jastremski under similar circumstances, but wasn’t a very eager participant. He had been with the Pats for more than 30 years. The novelty had worn off. He wasn’t honored to assist the great Tom Brady with some next level gamesmanship.

If anything, it was a chore.

Between the two attendants, McNally was undoubtedly the alpha male, and he got a kick out of teasing his co-worker. He knew how much the relationship with Brady meant to Jastremski, so as a ruse, McNally would verbally demean Brady, threaten to put MORE air in the balls; all as if to let Jastremski know: “Brady might be YOUR boss, but he’s got nothing on me.”

And so it went.

Every week —

1) Brady pestered Jastremski to make sure the balls were legally deflated and presented to the refs with as little air as the league allows.

2) Jastremski passively pestered McNally.

3) McNally teased and threatened Jastremski.

4) Jastremski floated out incentives like signed memorabilia and free Uggs — and ultimately McNally fell in line.

5) Before each home game, McNally (“The Deflator”) deflated balls down to 12.5 PSI, personally gave them to the refs, and reminded the lead official of Brady’s preference.

This is pretty much how it went down leading up to the AFC Championship, except this was the last home game of the season, and McNally only worked home games, so this was the last time he’d share the building with Brady until next year. By now, Jastremski had told Brady about the promises, and how it might be nice to acknowledge the work that McNally had done. So before the game, Brady invited both guys into the equipment room, and gave McNally two signed footballs and a signed jersey.

It was a simple gesture that Brady knew would go a long way, and he was happy to do it.

From there, McNally grabbed the balls, brought them to lead official Walt Anderson and reminded him about Brady’s desire to keep the PSI at or around 12.5. Anderson checked the balls, didn’t write down any of the results, and put them back in the bag. Soon after that, the start of the Patriots-Colts game was delayed 15 minutes because the NFC Championship Game was running late. It was chaos in the officials’ locker room. At one point, even though he wasn’t supposed to (maybe he was confused by the delay?), McNally grabbed the bag of balls and carried them out to the field — stopping only briefly along the way to use the bathroom.

In the second quarter, the Colts alerted the league to a potentially illegal ball in their possession. At halftime, NFL officials collected all the balls and tested all the PSI, and from there, well, the whole Wells Report is a messy blur — shoddy science projects, corrupt research firms, out-of-context and potentially edited text conversations. By the end, Wells concludes that it’s more probable than not that McNally and Jastremski participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls. He concluded that it is more probable than not that Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities.

But for all the probability that Wells spews out in this report, just know that the report itself is most definitely a joke, and an insult -- to Tom Brady, to the Patriots, and to you as a member of the human race.

And all because an innocent quarterback wanted to avoid getting stuck with another 16 PSI football?

Man, confirmation bias is a powerful drug.

Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine

Patriots searching for answers after season of road disappointments

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Patriots searching for answers after season of road disappointments

PITTSBURGH -- What makes it all so strange is that this Patriots team isn't all that different from last year's, or even 2016's, when it comes to the personnel. 

Those were both Super Bowl teams. One was the last team standing after the single greatest comeback in the history of the sport. The mental toughness of those teams was not questioned.

This one? 

After losing to the Steelers on Sunday, 17-10, they fell to 3-5 on the road for the season. They were called for season-high 14 penalties. They had a season-high three drops. The offense stalled in critical spots, going 3-for-10 on third down. They went 0-for-3 in the red zone. 

All of those issues -- situations that they began practicing back in OTAs -- could be filed away in the "mental toughness" folio. 

"Every year is different," Matthew Slater said. "This year is a little bit different. Obviously we've had some tough games on the road and that's the way football is sometimes. We really can't feel sorry for ourselves. There's still a lot for us to play for, but we certainly need to figure out who we are on the road as opposed to who we are at home."

STEELERS 17, PATRIOTS 10

The Patriots locker room, while dejected after a bad game, did express confidence that it can turn things around. The problem is, they're running out of time. The next time they'll be on the road, if they end up there, will be in the postseason. 

"I wouldn't say concerned," Duron Harmon said when asked about the team's road issues, "because . . . I know the type of group that we have. We all come ready to work. We are going to fix it. We are going to fix it for sure. We are going to be better next week and when we get another opportunity to play on the road, we will be better and do everything we can to get a win."

"We're still forming as one," Julian Edelman said. "We're still going. Still trying to improve. Lot of football left. Whether you win or lose, you gotta have a short memory and just get back on the train and go out and prepare next week and have a good week of practice."

Some of the things that the Patriots have been working on since the spring, though, are what's still ailing them. And as confident as players are that they'll get fixed, it's worth wondering if they ever will. It's Week 15.

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The Patriots are who we hoped they weren't

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The Patriots are who we hoped they weren't

They are who we hoped they weren’t.

After last week’s self-immolation in South Florida, you figured that this was a perfect time for the 2018 Patriots to prove they were part of the lineage.

A winter Sunday evening in Pittsburgh.

How many statements have the Patriots made in the past two decades on that chewed-up field in front of hate-filled fans? The 2001 AFC Championship, the 2004 AFC Championship, the 2010, 2016 and 2017 regular seasons games.

All the times the Patriots walked onto that field and proved over three hours that they were smarter, more disciplined, better constructed, immune to the frenzied towel-waving, poised and tougher than Pittsburgh. Proved that there was something in their DNA strands the Steelers didn’t have.

Only this time, not only did the Steelers play like the Steelers … the Patriots did too.

The traits of the past have skipped this generation. The resemblance this team has to the 2013-to-2017 teams ends with the uniforms.

STEELERS 17, PATRIOTS 10

The Patriots lost 17-10. Their only touchdown came when three Steelers decided to cover Josh Gordon and none decided to cover Chris Hogan.

The Patriots committed 14 penalties. You can quibble with a couple (the pass interference on Jonathan Jones being a prime one) but the unforced pre-snap penalties they committed are a by-product of not being all there mentally. At least that’s what we’ve always said when other teams do that.

They allowed the Steelers -- owners of the 28th rushing offense in the 32-team league with a couple of spare-part running backs -- to run for 168 yards on 22 running back carries. That came a week after the Dolphins ran for 189 on New England on 21 carries. Which was a week after the Vikings ran for 95 yards on 13 carries.

Aside from Trey Flowers, it’s expansion-level talent in their front-seven. And the Patriots secondary – while smart and capable in coverage – are not what they were even a year ago in run-support.

They either can’t defend the run, as in, they aren’t physically capable; or they won’t stop the run, as in, they don’t have the belly for it. I’m not sure which would be worse.

STEELERS 17, PATRIOTS 10

One of the saddest exchanges of the game when the Patriots executed an amazing punt-downing at the Steelers 1 in the first half. It went Jonathan Jones to Rex Burkhead, through the legs of Matthew Slater and into the hands of Ramon Humber. The Steelers had to take over at their 1.

Three plays later – one of them a 12-yard run by Stevan Ridley, who I figured would be working in a vape shop by now – the Steelers were at the Patriots 46.

Silver-lining seekers may point to the fact Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster didn’t ruin the Patriots day. Or that Pittsburgh scored merely a field goal over the final 42 minutes.

The Steelers lost to the Raaaaaaiiiiiddddderrrrrrs last week. Pittsburgh got to the Patriots 4-yard line in the third quarter and somehow came away without points. Ben Roethlisberger threw two picks. They aren’t that good either.

But really, the most distressing aspect of all of it isn’t the run defense or the penalties. It’s Tom Brady.

STEELERS 17, PATRIOTS 10

He’s played fine/good/OK for most of the season. He can very easily perform the physical tasks of playing NFL quarterback at a level that will win games.

It feels like heresy but that’s the facts. Playing “good” is such an amazing comedown from where’s he’s been since 2014 when he strung together four seasons that cemented his legend as the best to ever play his position.

He’s disconcerted by the buzzing pass rush.

His fundamentals sometimes come undone when there’s no threat at all.

Roll back the final play of the game and watch how he bails out to his left and curls away from presumed contact.

Look at the throw last week in the second half to Cordarelle Patterson that sailed toward the cheerleaders. Or the rushed throw to Chris Hogan against Miami. Or the decision to throw to the end zone on third-and-15 during the final drive with what looked like the Steelers holiday party surrounding Gronk when James White was pretty much alone on the left side and ready to pick up a few to set up fourth-and-manageable with the clock running.

What Brady’s 2018 performance underscores is just how necessary his round-the-clock, round-the-calendar, drag-everyone-with-him-to-the-mountains, football-is-life approach really was to ensuring he was without peer.

Because without that, he’s got a lot of peers this year.

STEELERS 17, PATRIOTS 10

So do the Patriots. They are 9-6 since the Super Bowl. They went 3-5 on the road this season. They scored 10 points in Detroit, 10 points in Tennessee and now 10 in Pittsburgh. It took a garbage-time touchdown against Jacksonville to get them to 20 points.  

When everything’s right, they can be a handful. Ask Minnesota. Or the Chiefs. But when it isn’t going right, they don’t have the (select one: talent, toughness, maturity, confidence, good sense, will) to change it.

They have five losses right now, the most they’ve had since the Nadir of ’09. In some ways, this team is like that one, it just has a better collective personality. This one, like that one, was born under a bad sign with a fractious offseason leading into a less-than-focused regular season.

But there was still a sense this year that they’d come to their senses.

A glass of water to the face like they took last week in Miami should have done the trick. The hated Steelers across from them on Sunday should have brought them fully awake.

It didn’t. And we’re left to conclude that what they’ve shown us is what they are.

Fine. OK. Good. A lot like a lot of teams. But nothing like they’ve been.

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