The US sports headlines this week have been filled with the drama of the NFL ‘Deflategate’ – the ongoing fallout from January’s AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts. In the aftermath of the game the Patriots were accused of deflating their match balls slightly, allowing better grip and therefore making them easier to catch and throw. In NFL games, each team have their own set of balls which they use on their plays only, so the discovery of potentially under inflated balls was seen by many as offering the Patriots an unfair advantage.
This week the NFL made their judgement on the situation, commenting that more likely than not the Patriots did indeed deflate their match balls. Punishment was deemed to be tough – Tom Brady, the Patriots Quarterback and ‘poster boy’ was suspended for four games at the start of next season, the Patriots lost two draft picks and were also hit with a $1 million fine. With the Patriots and Brady now appealing the judgement, ‘deflategate’ is likely to roll on for another few weeks but is this punishment really a major problem for them? The fine, although the largest in NFL history, is minimal to any NFL team. The loss of draft picks can be dealt with through transfers and trades which only leaves the loss of Brady for the first four matches of the season and this is where the NFL’s punishment may actually help the Patriots.
It is likely that Brady’s understudy Jimmy Garoppolo will be pitched in for the first four games of the new season. Home games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Jacksonville Jaguars with road trips to Kansas to face the Chiefs and Dallas to face the Cowboys await the Patriots, coach Bill Belichick will be aiming to go 3-1 from these games. Even 2-2 is no real issue to the Patriots – five times the Patriots have begun a season 2-2 and on three occasions they have gone on to be Superbowl champions. The game time offered to Garoppolo will allow the Patriots coaching team to see if he has what it takes to replace Brady long-term or, if not, it puts Garoppolo in the shop window for other teams to view. The truth is that losing Brady for the first four games of the season is no real punishment to the Patriots.
Brady, who is now 38, will enjoy an extra month off the pitch allowing himself to be fully refreshed and focused on the remainder of the season. John Elway is the only other Quarterback aged 38 to have won a Superbowl and if the Patriots have hopes of winning their 5th championship next February then a reduced season for Brady will do their chances no harm at all. Come the end of next season it could be that the Patriots again lift the Vincent Lombardi trophy, this time with a helping hand from the NFL.