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"Deflategate" rising, while Patriots talk it down

The Patriots crushed the Colts in the AFC Championship, but a growing controversy over deflated footballs leaves them searching for the right answer

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Brady has heard it all before.

"Ridiculous," said Tom Brady. "I think now I've heard it all."

This was the best Brady could do in trying to answer questions about "Deflategate" on the Boston-based Dennis and Callen Show, dodging the question about 11 of 12 game balls under the Patriots' control found by the NFL to be under-inflated by some two pounds each.  The Patriots beat the Colts 45-7 to win the AFC Championship.

Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots All-Pro tight end, tried the humorous approach, tweeting a photo of himself spiking a football, claiming his infamous "Gronk Spikes" were responsible for the deflated footballs.

Patriots' corner back Brandon Browner played defense, saying that "LeGarrette Blount could've scored with a beach ball, and it doesn't hurt that we only gave seven points."

Whether the members of the Patriots were downplaying the controversy as ridiculous, comical or by stating the outcome was never in question, the response of the New England players demonstrates one very clear issue: they're missing the point.

Brady has been at the center of several controversial issues as a member of the Patriots, while Gronkowski's lighthearted, party-boy attitude makes him a candidate to shake off rumors with a sense of humor.  Browner's opinion is probably the most commonly held notion among Patriots supporters, as a 45-7 score likely wouldn't have been affected much by a few deflated footballs. What the three outspoken Patriots are forgetting, however, is that if the accusations are true, then the importance of "DeflateGate," and the penalties that will come from it, are likely to increase.

By most measures, the New England Patriots have been the best team in the NFL over the last 10 years or so. Belichick and Brady are trying for their fourth Super Bowl victory together next Sunday, and it will be the sixth time the duo has made it to the big game, twice falling to the New York Giants. But with Spygate and now Deflategate, the Patriots may be building a legacy as villains, rather than the champions they showed they could be.

The idea of withholding Belichick's name from the Hall of Fame was tossed around after Spygate, and Defllategate is certainly not going to help make that talk go away. Instead, it just raises more doubts about the ethics of the Patriots organization. And some people still question how much the organization knew about the off-field activities of one Aaron Hernandez before they drafted him, and while he was a Patriot. None of that helps.

Nothing less than the legacy of the New England Patriots is at stake, Tom Brady turns 38 this August. Earlier in the season, people were questioning the velocity and distance of his throws. Not so much now. But how many more chances will the dynamic duo of Bellichick & Brady have at the Lombardi?

Of course, Deflategate hasn't been resolved yet. The league has only determined the balls had been deflated, but they've yet to name a culprit or dish out any punishment.  The Patriots, despite past transgressions, certainly deserve to be innocent until proven guilty in this matter, even though some people are already calling for their heads.

But if the Patriots are proven to be directly responsible for the alteration of those footballs, then the entire New England organization has something bigger to worry about than a fine or a loss of draft picks: Their place in football history.