As Deflategate closes, Patriots miss Ryan Mallett

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As thoroughly prepared as Bill Belichick always is, the New England Patriots coach never expected to be without his Hall of Fame quarterback, Tom Brady, for four games of Deflategate exile.

It’s not like 2008, when Matt Cassel stepped in for an injured Brady and won 11 games.  In ’08, the Patriots had a backup QB in his third professional season who already had played in 15 games before being asked to win one.

But last year Belichick drafted Jimmy Garoppolo on the second round and traded the rocket-launching Ryan Mallett to Houston for a 6th-round draft pick.  Mallett was considered not brainy enough for the most multiple of offenses.  When named starting quarterback of the Texans last November, he felt compelled to announce, “First thing, I’m no dummy.”

Whatever his football IQ, Mallett won his first start and is likely to be Houston’s starter this fall.  At this point he’s probably more NFL-ready than Jimmy Garoppolo.

Belichick knew that Garoppolo, from low-echelon Eastern Illinois, would need a couple of years of training.  In college he fired from a shotgun, and it’s not easy to transition from that to a pro offense.  See Geno Smith and Robert Griffin III. 

Belichick sees Garoppolo as the franchise quarterback post-Brady, which is why he tossed Mallett.  Now the Patriots contemplate playing Garoppolo or offering the job to someone who doesn’t have one, such as Mike Vick, Jason Campbell, Matt Flynn.  Not much out there.  Even Tim Tebow is taken.

Flynn adequately ran the Aaron Rodgers offense in his absence.  But the Green Bay Packers preferred a 5th-round draft pick, Brett Hundley, to Flynn, which probably tells Belichick all he needs to know.  Flynn is far from in.

By the way, the Packers hope the league doesn’t get as concerned about overinflation as underinflation.   

Rodgers prefers footballs filled to the bursting point, so they spiral better and are more accurately hurled deep, resisting the wind.  While the Pats are a ground-control, short-pass team built around All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, the Packers are bomb-throwers.

“I like to push the limit on how much air we can put into the football,” Rodgers has said.  “Even go over what they allow you to do and see if the officials take air out of it.” 

I’m not sure that sort of ball-tampering is worse than what Brady did prior to the AFC title game against the Indianapolis Colts.  But the difference is that Rodgers is up-front about it. 

Brady has indicated interest in running for Senator, so he should know the first rule of scandal:  the cover-up is worse than the crime.

It’s tough enough for a Republican, which Brady is, to get elected dogcatcher in Massachusetts, or New Denmark.  Brady’s refusal to cooperate fully with Ted Wells may hurt his political career more than it does his football life.

In his few media appearances since the drama of Deflategate began, Brady has made Belicheat seem like the voice of candor.  Brady said he wasn’t sure he wasn’t cheating.  But he was sure he never told anyone else to deflate footballs and had no knowledge of anyone doing it.  Too bad e-mails and cellphone calls indicated quite the contrary.

This was not a matter of more probable than not, it’s dead certain that locker-room attendant Jim McNally (since fired) wasn’t letting air out of footballs just because balloons make too much noise.  Brady was pulling his strings, and McNally didn’t much like it.

“F— Tom,” he says at one point in the 243-page Wells report. 

Patriot Nation likes to point out that PSI had less to do with the Colts losing than INT’s.  But tampering was not limited – more probable than not — to that one 45-7 game.  Consider the division playoffs.  New England beat Baltimore 35-31, in cold and wet that are conducive to a soft underinflated football, less likely to be dropped.

Roger Goodell finally got something right.  Maybe he’s not a Patsy after all.  His pal Bob Kraft pays a $1 million fine for lack of organizational control – breeding a culture of cheating.  He was warned after Spygate in 2007 that any more assaults on the integrity of the game would be treated harshly.  He deserves to lose a first-round draft pick next year, plus a fourth in 2017.

The knock on the commish is inconsistency:  Ray Rice initially losing two games for punching his fiancée harder than Pacquiao hit Mayweather, Browns GM Ray Farmer drawing four games for text-messaging from the press box to the sideline.  

There’s some logic to Goodell’s most recent verdict.  A four-game penalty is assessed the first time a player is caught using performance-enhancing drugs.  This offense is comparable: breaking the rules to obtain a competitive advantage.

Tough as the sentence is, it’s not devastating to a coach as resourceful as Belichick.  Nobody is beating the Patriots out of the AFC East, where Ryan Tannehill is the best quarterback not named Brady.

But this scandal stains a legacy tied to four Super Bowl rings.  It may mark the beginning of the end of the Brady era.  He will be 38 when he returns from Elba, even if time gets shaved a bit on appeal.

John Elway won a Super Bowl at his age, Kurt Warner made the playoffs, but both retired at 39, same age as Peyton Manning, whose wheels are wearing out, along with the arm.  Brady hopes to be another Brett Favre, playing in the NFC Championship Game at 40.  That looks like the ceiling.

As for crown prince Garoppolo, he showed enough as a rookie to justify a second look.  He completed 70 percent in six appearances.  But he was sacked five times in 32 drop-backs.  No NFL starting quarterback — not RG3, not Geno – is sacked at that rate.

It was clear Garoppolo needed to quicken his footwork and his reading of defenses.  Jay Gruden would have burned his jersey in the parking lot.

But Belichick, more probable than not, will win at least a game or two with Garoppolo, who won’t be Cassel holding the fort.  In the AFC East, he doesn’t need to be.

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