The Patriots have been around since 1960, but it is really the last 15 years that make them relevant. In 2000, New England drafted a quarterback out of Michigan by the name of Tom Brady. Brady was not considered much of a pro prospect in those days but very quickly, he proved that he absolutely had what it takes to compete at the highest level. The mastermind behind it all: Bill Belichick. These two have since gone on to become the winningest quarterback-coach tandem in NFL history with 117 regular season wins and now 20 postseason wins. The issue has been the various speed bumps that the organization as a whole has hit along the way.
Spygate came about in 2007 after the Patriots were caught taping signals used by the New York Jets. The incident involving the Super Bowl against the Rams is unimportant because after further probing the NFL found that the video of the walkthrough tape supposedly filmed by the Patriots film staff does not exist. To the 2007 issue, the whole issue was overblown and largely carried away by the media. However, the reality is that the Patriots were filming the Jets illegally, following a league memo informing teams that the practice was not to be practiced. Belichick said following the allegations that he misinterpreted the rule but either way it was clear that the Pats were looking for a loophole. It also does not help that the memo came only weeks before the incident. Belichick was punished though with a then-record $500,000 fine and a game suspension. The issue here for me here is not why they were filming the game signals, because the film was not used for that game, it is that the Patriots were filming at all. It was a violation of NFL rules, albeit a rather insignificant one.
Over the weekend, the Colts accused the Patriots of deflating game balls for the AFC Championship to the point where they were no longer of regulation size. The NFL announced last night that those allegations were in fact correct, and that of the twelve footballs each team has, the Patriots had eleven that did not meet standards. The other aspect is that it was deliberate as it was recorded that NFL official Walt Anderson checked every ball before the start of the game, more than two hours before kickoff, yet the balls were deflated by the time the game started. It would be possible to consider that some outside force tampered with the balls, such as the cold or such, but that would not explain why there was one ball still at regulation size. A deflated football can be kicked further and gripped better which would give the Patriots a clear advantage. What also needs to be noted it the Colts had different footballs they were using when their offense was on the field. However, it probably does not account for the fact that New England routed Indianapolis. If you want to maintain that the Patriots would never have had a passing touchdown or a converted field goal playing with regulation balls (which is extreme) the Pats still scored three rushing touchdowns, more than enough to beat Indy's one score.
This newest smudge against the Patriots franchise is much larger than that of Spygate. The Pats might have just been looking for a competitive edge, but found it illegally. The bigger deal too is that this absolutely had an impact on the game being played, unlike Spygate. Several Baltimore Ravens' players have voiced similar complaints regarding the footballs used in their Divisional round playoff game with the Pats. I would not be surprised to see that investigated as well. Once again, one of the premier franchises in the NFL will have an asterisk next to it. This time it seems a little more deserved. Spygate was overblown but what many are now calling deflategate has much more serious implications. The Pats will definitely be fined by the league, if it turns out that this was something orchestrated by more than just one individual, the league would have precedent to penalize the organization with a loss of draft picks.
As a football fan, you have to wonder why the Pats keep doing this to themselves. They clearly are a premier team in the league and do not need an unfair advantage to ensure a victory. According to FiveThirtyEight, the Patriots have actually won more games in the time since they stopped filming team's signals. The reality is that New England has been the most dominant football franchise likely in league history with Brady and Belichick running the show. The problem these continual incidents pose is that it takes away from the motto of doing things "The Patriot Way," a saying that Belichick has embodied in his time in New England. Sure, deflategate probably did not change the ultimate storyline of the game, but the Patriots cheated. It is as simple as that. I think only now does that phrased truly have any merit. I still view them as the best team in the AFC without a doubt this season but this definitely tarnishes everything that the Pats have spent so long building up. It is sad that this franchise now has another label to shake. The likelihood is that it was one person within the organization who took matters into his own hands but in reality that does not matter because it is a representation of the team as a whole. I sincerely hope that the Patriots are punished for this but then it can be forgotten. This is still a phenomenally talented team with the potential to beat any team on any day in any game. The Patriot Way has served this organization so well for the last decade and a half but it will take some image reconstruction for that saying to have the same meaning again.