The last time the Buffalo Bills faced the New England Patriots, they only saw a half of Tom Brady.
That was because, with their top seed in the AFC playoffs secured and nothing at stake, the Patriots sat their star quarterback (and other starters) for the final two quarters in what turned out to be a 17-9 Buffalo victory in the 2014 regular-season finale at Foxborough, Mass.
The next time the Bills play New England, they won’t see Brady at all, thanks to the NFL’s decision Monday to suspend him without pay for the first four games of the 2015 season for his role in violating rules by having footballs used in last January’s 45-7 AFC Championship Game victory against the Indianapolis Colts deflated below minimum league standards.
The rest of the punishment from the “DeflateGate” scandal calls for the Patriots to be fined $1 million, lose a first-round draft pick in 2016, and a fourth-round choice in 2017. If the Pats wind up with more than one selection in either of those rounds, the earlier pick will be forfeited.
Of course, the only punitive action that has the capacity to impact the Patriots the most is the absence of the NFL’s biggest star and the man who has led the team to four Super Bowl victories, the last of which came on Feb. 1 against the Seattle Seahawks.
Now, he will forever be recognized as perhaps its biggest cheater.
Barring any change via an appeal (which must be made within three days), Brady will be a spectator when the Patriots open the NFL season against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night, Sept. 10, at Foxborough; face the Bills in Orchard Park on Sept. 20; take on the Jacksonville Jaguars Sept. 27 at home, and, after a Week 4 bye, go against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 11 on the road. The suspension is expected to cost Brady, who is due to earn $8 million in 2015, nearly $2 million.
The Patriots aren’t due to play their first game with Brady until Oct. 18, when they square off against the Colts in the AFC title game rematch. The Colts were the team that blew the whistle on the Patriots to the NFL, which then commissioned an independent investigation by Ted Wells, a prominent criminal attorney based in New York. Wells issued his report on May 6.
Second-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who played in the second half of last January’s season-finale, is likely to open the season as the Pats’ starting quarterback, but that could always change.
The discipline was imposed by NFL Executive Vice President Troy Vincent and authorized by Commissioner Roger Goodell in accordance with the commissioner’s disciplinary authority under the NFL constitution and bylaws and collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association.
“Based on the extensive record developed in the investigation and detailed in the Wells report, and after full consideration of this matter by the Commissioner and the Football Operations department, we have determined that the Patriots have violated the NFL’s Policy on Integrity of the Game and Enforcement of Competitive Rules, as well as the Official Playing Rules and the established guidelines for the preparation of game footballs set forth in the NFL’s Game Operations Policy Manual for Member Clubs,” Vincent said in a letter to the Patriots released by the NFL.
“In making this determination, we have accepted the findings contained in the comprehensive report independently prepared by Mr. Wells and his colleagues,” Vincent said. “In determining that a violation occurred, we applied the standard of proof stated in the Integrity of the Game Policy: namely, preponderance of the evidence, meaning that ‘as a whole, the fact sought to be proved is more probable than not.’ This is a well-recognized legal standard, which is applied in courts and workplaces every day throughout the country.
“The evidence gathered during the investigation and reviewed in the report more than satisfy this standard and demonstrate an ongoing plan by at least certain Patriots’ employees to deflate footballs, to do so in a secretive manner after the game officials have certified the footballs as suitable for play, and to hide these activities even from their own supervisors.”
Patriots Coach Bill Belichick was exonerated of any wrongdoing, although the Patriots’ “Spygate” scandal in 2007 was a factor in the punishment the NFL levied for DeflateGate. “Under the Integrity of the Game Policy, this prior violation of competitive rules was properly considered in determining the discipline in this case,” Vincent said in his letter to the Patriots.
Last week, Patriots owner Robert Kraft informed Goodell that two Patriot employees involved with deflating footballs before the AFC Championship Game, John Jastremski and James McNally, were indefinitely suspended without pay, effective on May 6.
According to the league, they cannot be reinstated without the prior approval of Vincent. The NFL also says that if they are reinstated by the Patriots, Jastremski is prohibited from having any role in the preparation, supervision, or handling of footballs to be used in NFL games during the 2015 season. Additionally, the league has barred McNally from serving as a locker room attendant for the game officials, or having any involvement with the preparation, supervision, or handling of footballs or any other equipment on game day.
“Despite our conviction that there was no tampering with footballs, it was our intention to accept any discipline leveled by the league,” Kraft said in a statement released by the Patriots. Monday’s “punishment, however, far exceeded any reasonable expectation. It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence.
“We are humbled by the support the New England Patriots have received from our fans throughout the world. We recognize our fans’ concerns regarding the NFL’s penalties and share in their disappointment in how this one-sided investigation was handled, as well as the dismissal of the scientific evidence supported by the Ideal Gas Law in the final report.
“Tom Brady has our unconditional support. Our belief in him has not wavered.”
In a letter to Brady, Vincent said: “With respect to your particular involvement, the report established that there is substantial and credible evidence to conclude you were at least generally aware of the actions of the Patriots’ employees involved in the deflation of the footballs and that it was unlikely that their actions were done without your knowledge. Moreover, the report documents your failure to cooperate fully and candidly with the investigation, including by refusing to produce any relevant electronic evidence (emails, texts, etc.), despite being offered extraordinary safeguards by the investigators to protect unrelated personal information, and by providing testimony that the report concludes was not plausible and contradicted by other evidence.
“Your actions, as set forth in the report, clearly constitute conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the game of professional football. The integrity of the game is of paramount importance to everyone in our league, and requires unshakable commitment to fairness and compliance with the playing rules. Each player, no matter how accomplished and otherwise respected, has an obligation to comply with the rules and must be held accountable for his actions when those rules are violated and the public’s confidence in the game is called into question.”