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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

Just When You Thought Deflategate Couldn't Get Any Dumber

This is the point where the NFL could candidly admit that it has nothing; that the league’s investigation into whether or not the New England Patriots used deflated footballs in last month’s AFC Championship game has gone (ahem) flat.

This is not what the NFL has decided to do.

Thus, the witch hunt continues, with ESPN making it clear that the network is not going down into the background of Deflategate’s banality without making a few jabs on its way down. Not surprisingly, like every “development” in the “scandal” over the past four weeks (we’ve spent a month on this, folks), the swings missed their mark.

A new report under ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” brand claims that locker room attendant Jim McNally, a 48-year-old Granite Stater, attempted to give officials an unapproved football at some point during the first half of New England’s 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

The ball was not used.

Up next, the menu items that Bob Ley didn’t order at dinner last night.

As far as plot twists go, Kelly Naqi’s report is about as riveting as that time somebody sneezed in “The English Patient.” But the network has a lot at stake here. It was, of course, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen that reported that 11 of the 12 balls used in last month's championship game were underinflated by two pounds under the 12.5 PSI minimum. That was refuted by the NFL Network’s Ian Rappaport, who reported on the morning of the Super Bowl that only one of the footballs was deflated to such a level.

We haven’t heard much from Mortensen concerning his report since the Super Bowl, but whether that means he’s on a well-earned respite after the grind of the NFL season, or he’s locked in some cavern of shame in Bristol, Conn. is unclear. What is also vague is Naqi’s referencing the original ESPN report, claiming that 11 of the 12 balls were off by "one to two pounds” instead of the “two pounds each” that Mortensen originally reported on Jan. 20.

Maybe that’s an oversight. Or maybe it’s just the latest proof that Deflategate is all a bunch of random sources throwing bleep at the wall in the hopes that something, anything, sticks to the Patriots.

ESPN went all in with its accusations against the Patriots and their purported actions, and now it is left dangling with the ancillary actions of a ball attendant as the only proof that it has been able to unearth. That’s the smoking gun that the network is somehow trying to connect to a litany of deceit in Foxborough? Good luck.

“It raises questions, was this a rogue action by a guy who has been a locker room assistant for the officials for the Patriots for years,” Naqi said in an interview (see above) on ESPN.com. “Is this guy just doing this on his own? They’re going to have to ask the question was this a rogue action by a guy who has been working for the Patriots for over a decade in the AFC Championship, or was this something that he was directed to do?”

Please.

According to the report, “the alternate official, Greg Yette, became suspicious when he noticed that the football McNally handed him did not have the proper markings on it, three sources said. One of those sources added that Yette found it surprising that the officials' locker room attendant was on the field, trying to hand him a ball, because officials' locker room attendants don't typically have ball-handling responsibilities during NFL games. Once McNally tried to introduce the unapproved football into the game, the source said, Yette notified the NFL's vice president of game operations, Mike Kensil, who was at the game in the press box.”

Now, we’ve heard a lot of reports about the ways things eventually unfolded in Deflategate. A pair of reports stated that Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson questioned whether the ball he intercepted off of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was underinflated, a fact that Jackson, himself, refuted the following week. There’s the theory that Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay was at the center of the scandal, alerting ol’ pal Bob Kravitz to the possibility the opposition was monkeying with the footballs.

But there is one, seeming constant among all the sordid allegations.

Kensil.

CSNNE.com’s Tom Curran was one of the first to acknowledge that the former New York Jets director of operations was the “driving force” behind the investigation, with the suggestion that he might have an axe to grind with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. We had previously been led to believe that Kensil was the one to inform the officials, but the latest in the saga from ESPN details how Yette was, according to a “source,” in fact, the one to inform Kensil that the Patriots apparently attempted to use a kicking ball during play.

Another source (maybe the same one, we’ve lost track at how many there are at this point) told Outside the Lines that Kensil then personally checked the levels of all the footballs, which is where we end up at the 11 of 12 being below league standards. So, why is Kensil checking the levels and not the referees, as we were originally led to believe?

And mind you, none of this explains why the officials halted play at the start of the second half, calling for another football to be used. ESPN’s report doesn’t even put into context when McNally tried to utilize the special teams ball. For all we know, it could have been just before - brace yourselves - a special teams play.

What a mess. When it gets to the point where it's impossible to know who to believe, how can you put faith in any of it?

The NFL could end all this by releasing, or at the very least, commenting on Ted Wells’ investigation, but instead it has allowed more leaks and sources to pen the narrative rather than deliver any findings on the issue. It also lends credence to the theory that the league is reveling in all this, with the focus on a controversy it knows America will eat up - the hated New England Patriots in a cheating scandal - rather than address their own skeletons.

Deflategate isn’t exactly high on the list of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s embarrassments, but the incompetency with which it is reported suggests nothing less than fiction.

Where there’s smoke there’s fire. But when there are more leaks from the league office than there were from the actual pigskins in question, we get Jim McNally.

Which ultimately means Kensil and the NFL either royally screwed up the investigation, or they have absolutely nothing on the Patriots.

So when’s the apology that Bob Kraft demanded coming?

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