ESPN report puts Patriots on defense again

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Just as New England Patriots fans, players and staff alike were starting to come down from the euphoria of superstar quarterback Tom Brady’s resounding defeat of his “Deflategate” suspension, the organization was once again forced to defend itself and its dynastic success in the face of a lengthy ESPN report released Tuesday.

The 11,500-word article entitled “Spygate to Deflategate: Inside what split the NFL and Patriots apart” alleges that head coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots engaged not only in the taping of opponents’ defensive signals – the 2007 “Spygate” controversy – but also in the real-time dissemination of that stolen information to their quarterbacks and other damning improprieties.

The story, written by Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham, also points to the league’s assistance in destroying the Spygate evidence – and an alleged plea from Commissioner Roger Goodell to the NFL’s other owners to go along with it – as a reason why Goodell levied such a harsh punishment on Brady for “Deflategate.”

“The widespread perception that Goodell gave the Patriots a break on Spygate, followed by the NFL’s stonewalling of a potential congressional investigation into the matter, shaped owners’ expectations of what needed to be done by 345 Park Ave. on Deflategate,” reads the article, which ESPN says includes interviews with more than 90 people ranging from league owners to former Patriots players.

The Patriots released a statement soon after disparaging the report, calling the allegations “unfounded, unwarranted and, quite frankly, unbelievable.”

The statement, which can be read in full here, goes on to say “The New England Patriots are led by an owner whose well-documented efforts on league wide initiatives — from TV contracts to preventing a work stoppage — have earned him the reputation as one of the best in the NFL. For the past 16 years, the Patriots have been led by one of the league’s all-time greatest coaches and one of its all-time greatest quarterbacks. It is disappointing that some choose to believe in myths, conjecture and rumors rather than giving credit for the team’s successes to Coach Belichick, his staff and the players for their hard work, attention to detail, methodical weekly preparation, diligence and overall performance.”

The league fined Belichick $5000,000, the Patriots $250,000, and the team lost its 2008 NFL Draft first-round pick as a result of Spygate. For last year’s ball-deflating controversy, Goodell fined the Patriots $1 million, took away two draft picks, and gave Brady his now-vacated four-game suspension.

Goodell, on an ESPN radio show Tuesday morning, said there was no connection between disciplines handed down between the two “-gates.” He also said he is willing to alter the role he plays in determining league punishments, but would still want final say on all disciplinary procedures.

The defending Super Bowl champions open the season, with Brady at quarterback, Thursday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.