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Putnam: In a game of inches, Goodell can't afford to give Belichick any
0122 Belichick
New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick watches from the sideline in the first half of an NFL divisional playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday in Foxborough, Mass. - photo by Elise Amendola | Associated Press

Bill Belichick would use a Ferrari to win a soap box derby if he thought he could get away with it.

That’s an assertion I’ll stand by regardless of what the NFL’s investigation into deflate-gate ultimately reveals.

For all his brilliant personnel packages on the football field, his remarkable ability to turn average players into stars, and his knack for fielding the most consistent team in the NFL year to year, the New England Patriots coach can’t seem to stop at winning through hard work and talent alone.

Tuesday’s ESPN report alleging that 11 of the Patriots’ 12 footballs were underinflated by 2 pounds in Sunday’s AFC championship game is a reminder of what we learned during Spygate more than seven years ago: Belichick will not hesitate to skirt, bend and outright break the rules to gain a competitive advantage.

Belichick was fined $500,000 and the Patriots were forced to forfeit a first round draft pick in 2007 following revelations that the coach secretly taped opposing teams’ signals.

To be fair, we can’t say with certainty that he is also behind Sunday’s controversy.

The league is reserving comment for now, but considering the man’s track record, no one owes him the benefit of the doubt.

And just as the Boston-area media declared — and were ultimately proven right — that the Patriots would destroy the Colts, we too can we make some reasonable predictions about the allegations now hanging over that game.

To believe that Belichick didn’t sign off on this would go against everything we know about him and the way he runs that organization. Does anyone really think that a player, assistant coach or equipment manager would take a step like that without assurances that, at the very least, Belichick was OK with it?


All we really need to know is what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell intends to do if he finds evidence that the Patriots intentionally deflated their footballs.

Goodell started the season fumbling his way through a pair of domestic violence scandals that called into question his own competency and character.

Now the commissioner has to deal a crisis that challenges the integrity of the results on the field.

On one hand, Goodell has no choice but to defend his product. He must act as if this scandal in no way decided which teams will be playing for a championship. The league can’t afford to have fans question the legitimacy of its results.

In that regard, Goodell is fortunate that the Patriots destroyed the Colts 45-7 last weekend.

Can you imagine the public outcry if New England had won by a touchdown? A field goal? One point?

That’s the kind of stuff Goodell’s nightmares are made of.

Instead, the Patriots thoroughly stomped the Colts. They would have won that game regardless of whether they were chucking a glazed ham or a Nerf ball across the field at Gillette Stadium.

But a week earlier, New England needed a second-half rally to defeat the Ravens 35-31 in the divisional round. Some Baltimore players believe their kicking balls were underinflated in that game.

Suppose Goodell finds evidence that the Patriots intentionally deflated their footballs against the Colts — or have even made it a common practice — and he slaps them with another $500,000 fine and loss of a first-round draft pick. That’s a worthwhile tradeoff for the Patriots considering they made it to the Super Bowl. What franchise wouldn’t cough up a six-figure sum and the 31st or 32nd overall pick in exchange for a spot in the Super Bowl?

The message will be clear: It pays to cheat in the NFL.

Goodell can’t afford that. He has to send a strong message not just to the Patriots, but to the entire league.

Strip the Patriots of their entire 2015 draft. Every single pick.

On top of that, don’t burden Belichick with those immediate consequences. Suspend him for a year, starting with the Super Bowl in 10 days.

Goodell was willing to do that with Saints head coach Sean Payton when his organization was found to have run a bounty system targeting opposing players. If the NFL finds enough evidence to determine Belichick was even complicit in this situation, give him the same punishment.

The commissioner has to make this hurt. A lot.

If those penalties seem like overkill for a controversy involving a little bit of air in some footballs, keep in mind that this is the sport we’ve dubbed “a game of inches.”

That concept has taken on a new, embarrassing meaning with this scandal focused on PSI, or pounds (of air) per square inch, in the Patriots’ deflated footballs.

It may also be a sign that for every inch you give Bill Belichick, he’s going to take a mile.

If that turns out to be the case, and Roger Goodell really cares about “protecting the shield” as he is so fond of saying, then he has to drop the hammer on the Patriots.

Goodell’s message should be clear.

When it comes to cheating, the NFL won’t give you an inch.

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