You gotta give Mike Florio credit. For a guy who has consistently been aligned with the NFL because of the inside scoops he gets from the league, in the past few months Florio has objectively looked at the Deflategate BS and called out how ridiculous it is. He knows that the NFL drummed up a controversy that was not only insanely stupid but also made the league look insanely stupid.
Earlier today, Florio wrote that the Bills clearly went over the line in terms of when their PA system blasted a train horn in the stadium. He explains the rule and how the Bills broke it perfectly, and his opening paragraph sums up the state of the Patriots standing in the league thanks to the pettiness in the NFL:
“In the aftermath of the odyssey known as #DeflateGate and the short-lived phenomenon known as #HeadsetGate, two things were clear: (1) anyone who loses in Gillette Stadium can try to blame it not on their own failure to perform but on cheating; and (2) anyone who hosts the Patriots can take liberties with the rules and there’s nothing the Patriots can say about it.”
Those words were about as accurate as this pass from Tom Brady yesterday. While Patriots Twitter is up in arms over the fact that the Bills should be docked a draft pick, that’s not the big takeaway from Florio’s analysis, if only because Pats fans are mainly calling for the Bills to lose a pick so that they can whine, which is honestly kind of annoying. The big deduction that we can take from Florio goes back to Bill Belichick’s intentions with all the “rampant” cheating that the Pats have supposedly done over the years.
in Don van Natta and Seth Wickersham’s Outside the Lines report on the rule bending that broke the relationship between the NFL and the Patriots, they shed light on two points that received way too little media attention:
“The shared view of Belichick and [Ernie] Adams, according to many who’ve worked with them, is this: The league is lazy and incompetent, so why not push every boundary?”
“He had spent his entire adult life in professional football, trying to master a game no coach could control. Since he entered the league in 1975, Belichick had witnessed the dark side of each decade’s dynasties, airbrushed away by time and lore. Football’s tradition of cheating through espionage goes back to its earliest days, pioneered by legends such as George Halas. And so when it came to certain tactics — especially recording signals of a coach “in front of 80,000 people,” Belichick would later say, a practice that he claimed other teams did and that former Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson once confessed to trying himself — Belichick considered it fair game.”
You may remember past press conferences when Belichick had been asked about whether or not the Patriots deserve a cheating legacy, and Belichick responds in a semi exasperated manner because he thought that what he did wrong wasn’t that much of a big deal and anyone could have done it.
In all of this, we find the context that nobody was willing to try and find since the AFC Championship game last year. Throughout the history of the league, there have always been teams pushing the envelope in small ways. The Bills didn’t turn off their horn yesterday. The Falcons pumped in fake crowd noise recently, and the Chargers used grip-improving towels that earned them a fine. Jerry Rice admitted to using stickum, and his defense was that all players did it. John Madden said during a live broadcast that almost all teams did exactly what the Patriots were punished for in 2007:
The Patriots did a lot of rule bending through 2007, and anyone who denies that is a Patriots homer to a fault. They may have even pushed the envelope to a higher degree than other teams. But that’s all we’re talking about — a matter of degree. They were better and more sophisticated at it, according to the OTL piece itself. Because of that, and because the Pats were winning all the time, the NFL took notice and demanded that teams stop with little tricks like videotaping the NFL signals, which they have every right to do. But when something is a matter of degree, don’t try to tell me that only one team is the sole problem. Teams often break rules in dumb, minor ways, just as the Bills showed yesterday. Bill Belichick knew that, and tried to do the same. Bill Belichick is a trailblazer in many ways, but this isn’t one of them.