- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Looks like good ol’ Bill Belicheat — er, I mean Belichick — is at it again.

I’m sure fans of the New England Patriots aren’t mad at him. Reaching nine AFC championships and six Super Bowls in a 14-year span tends to nip outrage in the bud.

But for everyone else, Belichick has been easy to hate ever since 2007, when the Patriots were caught illegally taping defensive signals. We later learned that the practice had been in place since 2000, casting a pall on his three Super Bowl titles (he’s 0-2 since then).

Would the Patriots have beaten St. Louis in 2001, Carolina in 2003 and Philadelphia in 2004 if not for “Spygate?”

There’s no telling.

Would New England have beaten Indianapolis last Sunday in the AFC Championship Game if not for the latest controversy surrounding Belichick?

Definitely.

Whether you call it “Deflategate” or “Ballghazi,” under-inflated footballs didn’t make the Deflatriots clearly superior to the Colts. It was more about LeGarrette Blount averaging 4.9 yards per carry en route to gaining 148 yards and scoring three touchdowns, while Indy had only two drives that last longer than went six plays.

According to an ESPN report based on league sources, an investigation found that 11 of the Patriots‘ 12 game balls were inflated significantly below the NFL requirements. The Colts brought it to the league’s attention, reportedly after making similar claims following a game against the Patriots on Nov. 16.

Again, there’s no way the balls were an overriding factor in the Patriots‘ victory, but they provide plenty of reason to question Belichick’s integrity. One source told ESPN that the league was “disappointed angry distraught” over its findings.

If that’s truly the case, commissioner Roger Goodell better issue a stiff penalty to prove it.

Spygate cost the Patriots fines and a first-round draft choice. This latest cheating caper — and that’s what exactly what it is — should include a suspension as well. Knowingly breaking the rules once is bad enough. Flaunting them yet again demonstrates utter contempt.

This is different than Belichick’s blatantly-deceptive-yet-perfectly-legal formations, where God-only-knows which players are eligible to catch passes and which players are forbidden from going downfield. In that case, Belichick found a hole in the rules and drove right through their spirit.

Here’s Rule 5, Section 3, Article 1: “An offensive player wearing the number of an ineligible pass receiver (5079 and 9099) is permitted to line up in position of an eligible pass receiver (149 and 8089), and an offensive player wearing the number of an eligible pass

receiver is permitted to line up in the position of an ineligible pass receiver, provided that he immediately reports the change in his eligibility status to the Referee, who will inform the defensive team.”

Belichick flummoxed Jim Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens with a series of confusing plays, including an ineligible halfback lined up in the slot and an eligible tight end lined up at left tackle. In another play, only four players in ineligible numbers were on the field.

The Ravens never figured out what was going on in the few seconds between the referee’s announcement and the snap. The Patriots‘ trickery was different against Indy (mostly runs) and it didn’t receive as much attention. But they used abnormal formations on nearly three dozen plays and were penalized once, when they confused themselves.

In addition to reviewing the rule that cost Dallas a huge gain and potential ticket to the NFC Championship Game, the NFL Competition Committee would be wise to reconsider the procedures regarding eligible/ineligible receivers. Tweaking might be order, thanks to Belichick’s creative application.

However, there’s no gray area when it comes to proper air pressure in balls. It wasn’t a coincidence, either — unless it’s also a coincidence that in 2011 quarterback Tom Brady told a Boston radio station that he prefers deflated footballs.

Belichick doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt, having forfeited that privilege when he turned on his spy cameras. We still don’t know the full extent of that rogue behavior because Goodell thought it was better to destroy the evidence rather than share it.

We can’t say that Goodell took it easy — the Pats were fined $250,000 and Belichick was docked $500,000 — but we also can’t quantify the advantage New England gained.

Conversely, the Patriots could’ve used medicine balls against the Colts and still won by three touchdowns. But that’s not the point. The sheer arrogance of willfully breaking the rules — again — must carry significant consequences.

If Belicheat thinks he’s above the law, Goodell needs to hammer him back down to earth.

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