Busi­ness as un­usual

New England says it has no ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion in matchup with In­di­anapo­lis, but com­pet­i­tive­ness of Brady and Belichick in­di­cates oth­er­wise

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY MARK MASKE

The New England Pa­tri­ots say they’re pre­par­ing for Sun­day night’s game in In­di­anapo­lis just like it’s any other game. Coach Bill Belichick and quar­ter­back Tom Brady are dis­miss­ing sug­ges­tions the Pa­tri­ots will be out to ex­act their De­flate­Gate re­venge on the Colts. Yeah, right. In a sport of ruth­less com­peti­tors, no tan­dem is more ruth­lessly com­pet­i­tive than Brady and Belichick. They had to en­dure an off­sea­son in which the va­lid­ity of their four Su­per Bowl tri­umphs, ap­pro­pri­ately or not, again was ques­tioned. Brady had to go to fed­eral court to have a four-game sus­pen­sion by the NFL over­turned. The league’s ap­peal of that rul­ing con­tin­ues to hang over his head.

Now they get their chance to take it out on the Colts, the fran­chise that alerted the league of­fice to be on the look­out for un­der-in­flated foot­balls in last sea­son’s AFC ti­tle game in Foxborough, Mass.

The Pa­tri­ots didn’t have much use for the re­port by NFL in­ves­ti­ga­tor Ted Wells. But they might find this pas­sage from pages 44 and 45 of the Wells re­port use­ful this week:

On Jan­uary 17, 2015, the day be­fore the AFC Cham­pi­onship Game, Colts Gen­eral Man­ager Ryan Grig­son sent an email to the NFL rais­ing con­cerns about the air pres­sure of game balls used by the Pa­tri­ots. Grig­son sent his email to David Gardi and Mike Ken­sil, both se­nior mem­bers of the NFL Foot­ball Op­er­a­tions Depart­ment. The email from Grig­son at­tached a mes­sage from Sean Sul­li­van, the Colts Equip­ment Man­ager, de­scrib­ing th­ese con­cerns. The Grig­son email de­scribed the Sul­li­van mes­sage as an “FYI” and stated: “all the In­di­anapo­lis Colts want is a com­pletely level play­ing field. Thank you for be­ing vig­i­lant stew­ards of that not only for us but for the shield and over­all in­tegrity of our game.” In rel­e­vant part, the at­tached mes­sage from Sul­li­van stated:

[“]As far as the gameballs are con­cerned it is well known around the league that af­ter the Pa­tri­ots gameballs are checked by the of­fi­cials and brought out for game us­age the ball­boys for the pa­tri­ots will let out some air with a ball nee­dle be­cause their quar­ter­back likes a smaller foot­ball so he can grip it bet­ter, it would be great if some­one would be able to check the air in the game balls as the game goes on so that

they don’t get an il­le­gal ad­van­tage.[”]

The Pa­tri­ots are the team that went un­beaten in the 2007 reg­u­lar sea­son and AFC play­offs, fall­ing one Su­per Bowl mis step against the New York Gi­ants shy of a 19-0 sea­son, in the wake of the Spy­Gate scan­dal. They are the team that has won its first four games this sea­son, post De­flate­Gate, by an av­er­age of 18.3 points. Yet they say it’s busi­ness as usual this week. “I’m al­ways pretty mo­ti­vated re­gard­less of the op­po­nent, re­gard­less of the team or the week, whether it’s a pre­sea­son game, whether it’s a reg­u­lar sea­son game,” Brady said dur­ing his weekly meet­ing with re­porters. “They’re all im­por­tant be­cause there are so few of those where you get an op­por­tu­nity in your life. So I don’t take it for granted. I think it’s ex­cit­ing to go out there and do some­thing that I love to do, to go out there and do it with team­mates who I love to play with. We all put a lot of ef­fort in — the coaches, play­ers. So it’s an­other op­por­tu­nity for us to go out there and see if we can be a good foot­ball team.”

Be li chicks aid at a news con­fer­ence :“I mean, look, it’s the same ques­tions ev­ery week. We’re get­ting ready to play a game on Sun­day. We’re go­ing to do the best we can to pre­pare for it and be ready to go and per­form well on Sun­day night. That’s what we do.”

The Colts un­doubt­edly know bet­ter. But they also have other is­sues about which to fret. They were off to a 1-2 start un­der fourth-year quar­ter­back An­drew Luck be­fore he missed two games with an ail­ing right shoul­der. Vet­eran backup Matt Has­sel­beck took over and beat the Jack­sonville Jaguars and Hous­ton Tex­ans to im­prove the Colts’ record to 3-2. Now it could be back to Luck for this game.

“I’ve said it be­fore and I’ll say it again: We’ve moved on, ob­vi­ously, just like ev­ery­body else has moved on from that ball­game,” Colts Coach Chuck Pagano said of the re­match in a con­fer­ence call with re­porters this week. “We got beat. They out­played us. And that’s the end of that.”

De­flated foot­balls or not, the Colts lost the AFC cham­pi­onship game to the Pa­tri­ots by a mar­gin of 45-7. That is not eas­ily dis­missed.

“I don’t think you ever for­get, ob­vi­ously, games like that, cer­tainly one that was one game away from go­ing to a Su­per Bowl ,” Pa ga no said.

Tom Brady drops back to pass dur­ing last week’s win at Dal­las. Brady had to go to fed­eral court to have a four-game sus­pen­sion by the NFL over­turned. The league’s ap­peal of that rul­ing still hangs over his head.

Com­ing off the De­flate­Gate scan­dal, the Pa­tri­ots have won their first four games of the sea­son.

CHRIS­TIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES

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