Ron Agostini

Ron Agostini: Belichick insults our intelligence, leaves NFL, fans deflated

AP

The New England Patriots always impress by 1) how many games they win, and 2) how many ways they can insult your intelligence.

To say they have a credibility problem is to concede they have any remaining credibility. Honestly, do you have any reason to trust the words mumbled by coach Bill Belichick? Has he proven to you over the years that anything he states for public consumption veers close to the truth? He virtually slaps fans’ faces during every postgame presser.

Belichick and Tom Brady, one of the most successful pairings of coach and quarterback in NFL history, were joined at the hip Thursday during uncomfortable day-night media sessions. The issue was “Deflategate,” picking up momentum hourly as the latest example of wrongdoing by the Patriots.

NFL investigators have discovered that 11 of the 12 New England footballs used for last Sunday’s AFC Championship Game were deflated after they were inspected by league officials. The last time I checked, 11 of 12 is a mandate, one fascinating little coincidence. Something happened here.

Early on Thursday, Belichick said he “has no explanation.” Later, Brady said, “I didn’t alter the ball in any way.”

See what I mean about insulting your intelligence?

Are they serious about throwing some equipment manager under the bus? Let him take the fall while they skate into another Super Bowl?

There may not be a more intense micromanager in NFL history than Belichick. He invents formations each week. He scouts his opponents down to their teeth fillings. No one in the game does a better job of fitting a player’s unique talent into his system. His teams have won three Lombardi trophies for a reason.

That said, are we supposed to believe his head is plunged three feet into the sand about the football? The man lost all remaining benefit of the doubt during Spygate in 2007, when his team was caught filming the signals of opposing coaches. Buying his story now is a leap no reasonable person can make.

When the issue broke Monday, I thought it was laughable. The Patriots humbled Indianapolis 45-7. If the teams played for 10 straight days, New England would have swept. With ease. Had they used a beachball, Brady would have whistled it past the Colts.

But that’s not the point. What’s important here is the game’s basic integrity, the trust that the teams are playing by the rules outlined by the NFL. It is a game only by title. It’s actually a billion-dollar industry and must be treated as such.

The Colts voiced suspicion about the footballs during the game – they even questioned them during an earlier game against the Patriots – and asked the referees to check them. There is evidence the balls were deflated 2 pounds per square inch below what the league mandates. A “softer” ball gives Brady a better grip, especially during cold and wet days like Sunday.

Again, it hardly mattered during the title game. But if you don’t have two teams following the game’s most basic rules, what’s left? I’ll tell you what’s left – a final score you can’t totally believe. And if that’s the case, let’s lock the gates, tear up the tickets and go home.

At the core of it all is Belichick. He takes great satisfaction at poking the NFL in the eye by wearing his cutoff hoodies and gaming the weekly injury reports. He is brilliant and devious all at once, which makes him not unlike other successful head coaches. But he goes a step further by almost always blurring or downright crossing the lines of legality. The public record proves this.

Belichick’s deportment Thursday, however, revealed a man who suddenly realizes this isn’t a laughing matter. His team has tampered with something that is small to most observers but actually huge in the overall scheme. Someone will answer to this, and the Patriots once again are battening down the hatches.

Look, we may never completely know what went down about the footballs. Nevertheless, the NFL will act and most likely fine the Patriots and take away draft picks. And Belichick will switch the affair into an “us vs. them” thing and use it to energize his team against Seattle. That last point is a mortal lock.

Yet in the end, Belichick and the Patriots already have lost. The court of public opinion has rendered a verdict. And fans have had their intelligence insulted one too many times.

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or (209) 578-2302. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeeSports.

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