Why Deflategate Is Overblown and the Patriots Didn't Cheat

Updated on July 12, 2018
JesseUnk profile image

Firstly, let me state I'm a huge Browns fan. Deflategate spurred me to write this after their witch trial ended without very much evidence.

Are the Patriots Really Cheaters?

This logo references the Spygate Scandal in 2007.
This logo references the Spygate Scandal in 2007.

Is the Patriot's Legacy Stained?

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have created the modern dynasty of the NFL throughout the 2000's and 2010's. They've won five Superbowls in eight trips, won MVPs and Coach of the Year awards, and boast one of the greatest winning percentages in NFL history. While it can't be argued that they're a very talented duo and franchise, many people believe that this entire legacy is tarnished by years of cheating. The Patriots have been accused and disciplined for cheating on multiple occasions. All of the suspicions began in 2001 when people believed the NFL aided the Patriots in beating the Raiders when Tom Brady received a favorable call in the infamous Tuck Rule play.

The Famous Tuck Rule Call: Brady's Arm Went Forward

What Was the Tuck Rule?

In 2001, the Patriots faced off against the Raiders in the AFC Divisional Playoff game. The day was extremely snowy and the weather kept the game's score extremely close. With Tom Brady leading the offense, attempting to tie the game, he dropped back for a pass before getting hit from behind and losing the football. The play was initially called a fumble, recovered by the Raiders. Had this result stood, the Raiders would have had the ball with less than a minute and a half left in the game, along with a three-point lead. The game would have been all but over. Instead, the play was reviewed and Tom Brady's arm was ruled to have been moving forward. This overturned the call to an incomplete pass. Brady ended up leading the charge to tie the game and ultimately win in overtime. Speculation of cheating would start and never end for the Patriots at that moment.

The Tuck Rule

  • NFL Rule 3, Section 22, Article 2, Note 2. When [an offensive] player is holding the ball to pass it forward, any intentional forward movement of his arm starts a forward pass, even if the player loses possession of the ball as he is attempting to tuck it back toward his body. Also, if the player has tucked the ball into his body and then loses possession, it is a fumble.

To simplify this rule; If a player's in a position to throw the ball and their arm is moving forward, with the intention of passing or pump-faking, and the ball is lost due to another player or their own dropping of the ball, it is an incomplete pass. If the player has the ball tucked into their body or has two hands on the ball and loses possession, it's a fumble.

So, with this information on the rule, we can see that Brady's arm was definitely moving forward on the Tuck Rule play. When Charles Woodson hits him his arm is in a passing motion. When the announcer says "I think he was holding that pass up" it doesn't even matter by rule. Brady didn't have the ball tucked to his body or with two hands on the ball. Therefore, by rule, the Patriots didn't get an unfair call in their favor. In fact, the Tuck Rule was implemented in the NFL between 1999 and 2013 and was even called against the Patriots earlier that same season in week 2 against the Jets. In 2013 it was repealed and rewritten.

Tuck Rule Currently

  • NFL Rule 3, Section 22, Article 4, Item 2, Passer Tucks Ball. If the player loses possession of the ball during an attempt to bring it back toward his body, or if the player loses possession after he has tucked the ball into his body, it is a fumble.

This simply takes away the ability to be pump-faking when you lose the ball and still have a favorable "incomplete" call.

The Tuck Rule was never a fan favorite, and while it's wording can seem confusing it was still the rule. The rule had been in effect for two years prior to the Patriots-Raiders game and continued to be used for another twelve years. The rule certainly cost the Raiders the game, but that doesn't make it illegal, cheating, or an NFL inside job.

Tuck Rule Against the Patriots

The NFL Memo That Wasn't a Rule

What Was Spygate?

Fast forward six years and the Patriots had been on a roll. They had won the Superbowl three times and would return to the Superbowl and lose to the Giants that same year after having a perfect 16-0 season. However, in week one the Patriots were caught filming the Jets' coaches' hand signals from their sideline. After an investigation took place the league fined Bill Belichick $500,000, fined the Patriots $250,000, and took their first-round selection in the 2008 NFL draft. The rule the Patriots broke is:

Article 9.1 (C) (14) of the Constitution and Bylaws of the NFL (p 39 of this pdf): No member shall: "Use at any time, from the start to the finish of any game in which a club is a participant, any communications or information-gathering equipment, other than Polaroid-type cameras or field telephones, including without limitation videotape machines, telephone tapping or bugging devices, or any other form of electronic devices that might aid a team during the playing of a game.”

The key to this rule is underlined just at the end. The Patriots had never used their filming to aide them during a game, something that was reiterated by Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, himself. In fact, all teams film their games in order to practice and prep for their opponents again in the future. That's literally what "going over the film" is when you hear coaches and players reference that phrase.

This seems as if the rules don't allow filming at all, however, the league rules actually embrace filming and have rules on sharing the films with other teams! In fact, Article XIX Section 19.21 (page 106) states that teams that film their games from different vantage points must share the preferred angle with their opponents. So which is it, does the league allow filming or not?

In actuality, the league allows, promotes, and has never had a rule against filming games or hand signals. The issue of Spygate comes into play from a 2006 memo that was sent out to all NFL teams. Ray Anderson, the NFL head of game operations, stated, “Videotaping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent’s offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches’ booth, in the locker room, or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game.” The problem with this is that it does not coincide with the rulebook, something that a memo wouldn't be able to change without a vote from the 32 owners of the league.

So technically Bill Belichick did go against what the league told him to do, but he only did so because he technically wasn't breaking any rules in the official NFL rulebook. In fact, the Jets had a similar incident that went entirely unpunished the same year the memo was sent out. Even the memo didn't state that filming was ever illegal, simply which locations the filming could take place from. It was meant to imply that those locations could use the film immediately in the game, which we found later during the investigation that they never were.

So in conclusion, Bill Belichick and the Patriots were ultimately fined and disciplined for breaking a rule that wasn't really a rule. Belichick was told not to do something and did it anyway because the true rulebook said he could. The investigation and strong disciplinary measures aided the public's ideas that the Patriots had a filming scheme that aided their winning, something that wasn't helped by the fact that they were undefeated that same year. All of the recent success, an undefeated season, and an overblown witchhunt led to a smear on the Patriots reputation that couldn't be removed.

Do you think the Patriots cheated in Spygate?

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What Was Deflategate?

While the Patriots have been accused of help from the NFL, and then Belichick was accused of cheating, the trifecta didn't come full circle on the dynasty until Tom Brady was accused of directly cheating in 2015. During the 2014-2015 playoffs, the Patriots routed the Indianapolis Colts 45-7. During the first half of the game, Tom Brady threw an interception to D'Qwell Jackson. Jackson took the football to the sideline as a souvenir and gave it to the Colts' equipment manager. While it was reported by some that he took it to the sideline because he felt something was wrong with the ball, it was later disproven when Jackson said "I'm a linebacker, I'm a defensive guy. If anybody recognized anything it definitely wouldn't come from me." Allegations followed soon after that the Patriots had underinflated balls in order to help Tom Brady grip them in the wintry conditions, as well as allow their receivers to catch the ball easier. Tom Brady would go through a year-long legal battle over the accusations and eventually serve a four-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the league. The Patriots were fined one million dollars and had their 2016 first round pick and 2017 fourth round pick taken away.

Had Brady actually deflated the balls or had someone do it for him then he would absolutely be branded a cheater. The problem is that no evidence was found to concretely prove that Brady had anything to do with it. In fact, the weather is believed to have had a large part in the pressure. The pressure of an NFL football must be 12.5-13.5 pounds per square inch. Before the game, the Patriots had filled their balls to 12.5 and the Colts had filled theirs to 13.0. When the Colts brought the issue to the officials at halftime, the Patriots' twelve balls were checked, as well as four of the Colts' balls. The Colts didn't have all their balls checked because, according to the investigative report, they were running out of time before the second half. Below are the results of the pressures taken.

Why Tom Brady Didn't Deflate the Balls

As you can see, if the Patriots started at 12.5 psi and the Colts started at 13 the weather had affected all of the balls drastically. Had the balls been inflated inside the stadium at room temperature and then been taken into the winter air, the pressure would have decreased and the balls would naturally deflate. The fact that the Patriots just filled their balls on the lower spectrum of the legal limit versus the higher spectrum is the only reason their deflation seemed more extreme.

This was referenced in the Wells Report, the official investigation, but was simply overlooked. In fact, after a year of investigation and building a report against Brady and the Patriots, the report concluded with statements that were vague and absolutely not incriminating. The report had statements such as:

  • "For the reasons described in this Report, and after a comprehensive investigation, we have concluded that, in connection with the AFC Championship Game, it is more probable than not that New England Patriots personnel participated in violations of the Playing Rules and were involved in a deliberate effort to circumvent the rules."
  • "We nevertheless believe, based on the totality of the evidence, that it is more probable than not that Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls."

The Wells Report uses the words "more probable than not" seven times. It uses the words "generally aware" five times. These statements are hardly definitive. In our justice system, we believe that a jury should keep an innocent verdict unless they are sure of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Probabilities and general awareness leave plenty of room for reasonable doubt, but because this wasn't a legal battle and it was more of a witchhunt by Roger Goodell, this didn't matter. Brady even had the suspension thrown out by Judge Richard Berman because of a lack of evidence and lack of due process for Brady. The NFL appealed and Brady ultimately lost the battle to the US Court of Appeals that reinstated his suspension and denied his wish for an appeal. Brady consented to his suspension having never admitted guilt, and with zero concrete evidence proving he ever did anything wrong. The strongest evidence Goodell had against Brady was a destroyed cell phone that Brady had during his investigation. Brady had made it clear that he would not be turning over his private conversations, information, and any other content on that phone four months prior to him replacing his old Samsung phone for a new iPhone. When he was suspended initially Brady posted this message on Facebook:

  • I am very disappointed by the NFL’s decision to uphold the 4 game suspension against me. I did nothing wrong, and no one in the Patriots organization did either. Despite submitting to hours of testimony over the past 6 months, it is disappointing that the Commissioner upheld my suspension based upon a standard that it was "probable" that I was "generally aware" of misconduct. The fact is that neither I, nor any equipment person, did anything of which we have been accused. I also disagree with yesterdays narrative surrounding my cellphone. I replaced my broken Samsung phone with a new iPhone 6 AFTER my attorneys made it clear to the NFL that my actual phone device would not be subjected to investigation under ANY circumstances. As a member of a union, I was under no obligation to set a new precedent going forward, nor was I made aware at any time during Mr. Wells investigation, that failing to subject my cell phone to investigation would result in ANY discipline.

    Most importantly, I have never written, texted, emailed to anybody at anytime, anything related to football air pressure before this issue was raised at the AFC Championship game in January. To suggest that I destroyed a phone to avoid giving the NFL information it requested is completely wrong. To try and reconcile the record and fully cooperate with the investigation after I was disciplined in May, we turned over detailed pages of cell phone records and all of the emails that Mr. Wells requested. We even contacted the phone company to see if there was any possible way we could retrieve any/all of the actual text messages from my old phone. In short, we exhausted every possibility to give the NFL everything we could and offered to go thru the identity for every text and phone call during the relevant time.

    He dismissed my hours of testimony and it is disappointing that he found it unreliable...I will not allow my unfair discipline to become a precedent for other NFL players without a fight.

In conclusion, Brady never had any evidence against him that proved he had anything to do with underinflated footballs. The weather clearly played a part in the deflation of the balls and was backed up by the study in the Wells Report that the NFL conveniently ignored. The suspension was carried through despite there being room for reasonable doubt, and Tom Brady's name was slandered by the NFL once again, this time directly to him as a person. Brady went on to win the Superbowl that year.

Brady's Last Laugh

Did the Patriot's Cheat?

In conclusion, the Patriots were never cheaters the way the media makes them out to be. Often times they've been victims to public perception and hate in the wake of their dynasty years, with the idea that no one can be that good without cheating poisoning their legacy. They were wrongfully criticized for being on the right side of an NFL rule in the Tuck Game, they were wrongfully dragged through the mud for breaking a rule that wasn't even official in Spygate, and they were crucified for cheating without any evidence at all in Deflategate. Ultimately dynasties aren't good for football. People want to see new teams win and the Patriots have been winning for over fifteen years. The NFL has been trying to discipline and take draft picks from the Patriots to level the field, and it simply hasn't worked. So next time you hear someone say the Patriots are cheaters, refer them to this article so they can see just how wrong they are.

Do you think the Patriots are cheaters still?

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Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Jesse Unk

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