Tom Brady has been suspended for 4 games. We have no idea what his role was in game balls being deliberately deflated. We have no idea if he cheated. However, since the Wells Report was released, we do now know that the balls the Patriots used in the first half were on the more deflated side, while the balls they used in the second half were more inflated, roughly around 13 PSI. So we went back and took another look at the AFC Championship Game to contribute to this conversation in the only way we can – through the All-22.
First, let us say this; Footballs are difficult to grip and throw with the same level of authority in wet and/or cold weather as they are in good-weather games. This is especially true the harder and farther the quarterback has to throw the ball. Footballs with less air are generally easier to grip and throw in these poor conditions than balls with more air.
With that in mind, here is what we found. In the first half with the deflated balls, Tom Brady attempted 21 passes. 16 of those passes (76.2%) were thrown 8 yards or less from the line of scrimmage. Brady attempted 5 passes that were thrown more than 8 yards from the line of scrimmage, completing just one for 30 yards to go along with an interception.
In the second half with the more inflated footballs, Brady attempted 14 passes. 12 of those (85.7%) were thrown 8 yards or less from the line of scrimmage. On his two passes thrown more than 8 yards, Brady was 1-2 for 22 yards.
Of Brady’s 35 passes in the game, 28 were thrown within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage. Most of these throws did not require Brady to grip and rip his passes, something that would necessitate a good grip on/feel for the ball. They were short throws to open receivers that did not call for expert precision. Brady could have been throwing rugby balls or watermelons, and his numbers on these 28 short passes likely would have been similar (he was 21-28, for 164 yards with 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions by the way).
This is part of what makes Tom Brady so great. Before he even gets to the act of throwing the football, he excels in so many other components of playing the position. He’s great in the pre-snap phase of the game, reading the defense, understanding his matchups, getting the ball to the right player at the right time, setting up with balance, avoiding pressure but staying on balance etc…This is also backed up by the fact that Brady actually put up much better numbers in the 2nd half with inflated footballs than in the first half with the deflated footballs:
1st half: 11-21, 95 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 60.6 rating
2nd half: 12-14, 131 yds, 2 TD, 0 INT, 145.2 rating
Brady was not very effective on any of his 7 downfield throws in the AFC Championship Game. However, his two downfield throws in the second half did stand out. All quarterbacks (even the best) miss throws. But these passes were uncharacteristically inaccurate. One was an incompletion 33 yards downfield to Brandon LaFell that Brady underthrew. It came out of his hand poorly and wobbled way short of his target.
The other pass was on a 22-yard gain to Julian Edelman. As you can see below, Brady had a clean pocket from which to throw, and Edelman was a good 5-6 yards behind the deepest defender to that side.
Brady normally makes this throw in his sleep. Average quarterbacks hit this throw for a touchdown 99% of the time. On this play, though, the ball came out of Brady’s hand terribly. It wobbled like an end-over-end punt, and Edelman had to adjust, turn around, and go to the ground to catch the pass instead of walking in for an easy touchdown.
To be clear, this was a tiny sample size. Still, Brady did not look comfortable throwing the ball downfield in the 2nd half. He was guiding his passes instead of ripping them, which suggests he did not have a good grip on the ball. This is where it makes sense that Brady would want his footballs to be on the low end of the inflation spectrum. He clearly is not comfortable gripping a more inflated football and throwing downfield in inclement weather. So if the balls were deflated to an illegal level, it definitely provided an advantage for Brady despite the fact that the stats from the game don’t quite support this theory. Just keep in mind, though, that there are a ton of factors that go into completing passes in the NFL that have nothing to do with the act of throwing the football.
So what does any of this mean in terms of Deflategate? Did Tom Brady cheat? Again, we have no idea, and watching the film over and over won’t offer any more answers.
If Brady did in fact cheat, is the 4-game suspension he received warranted? There are some in the media who called for 8 games or even a full season, which seems excessive. If Brady was actually involved, was what he did really any worse than Sammy Sosa corking his bat or a pitcher illegally using pine tar? Probably not. It’s clearly against the rules and should be punished. But there are varying degrees of bending the rules and cheating, and this one was not of the extremely severe type. It seems more likely that the greater part of his suspension was due to his lack of complete cooperation during the investigation than the actual act of deflating footballs.
As far as Brady’s legacy is concerned, Deflategate really shouldn’t have too much of an impact. Brady proved in this game that there is a lot more that goes into being a great quarterback than physically throwing the football.
However, the argument could be made that what makes someone like Tom Brady so great is his ability to play with the same level of effectiveness and precision regardless of the significance of the game or the weather conditions. This scandal does call into question how Brady has been able to play so well in poor conditions throughout his career, especially since we could clearly see how uncomfortable he was on his downfield throws in the 2nd half of the AFC Championship when the balls were on the legal, more inflated side.
Still, we can’t contribute to the discussion of whether or not Brady and the Patriots actually cheated in this game or in any other as it relates to football air pressure. We have no more of an idea than you do. Both those who want to call him a cheater and those who want to defend him have enough ammo to make a legitimate argument based on the Wells Report. But that’s all anyone has on this issue – argument and speculation. We may never know what happened. Regardless of the outcome, if you’re a fan of football, you have to hope that this saga doesn’t drag on for too long and hurt the NFL.