I have been an outspoken critic of Tom Brady for a long time. My argument has been one based on statistics: he plays in an offense in which it is nearly impossible to complete fewer than 60 percent of passes; his best numbers -- by a long shot -- came during the time he could chuck it anywhere he wanted and let Randy Moss run under it; and Matt Cassell, a consistent back-marker everywhere else he went, put up good numbers and 11 wins when he replaced Brady for all but half of the first game of the year in 2008.
I've also been pretty hard on him during this whole "DeflateGate" fiasco, and rightly so. The evidence, when you wipe away all the Kraft, is pretty damning -- especially since this may have been going on since as far back as 2007. If you run the numbers, it strongly hints that to be the case.
I called for Roger Goodell to do the right thing by coming down hard on Brady (and the Patriots as a team). I applauded him for suspending Brady for four games. I hope that doesn't get reduced on appeal.
At the same time, Brady's suspension is a no-win situation for -- for everyone else.
There are only two possible outcomes during the suspension: the team's performance drops off markedly, or they continue at their normally high level. Either way, we all lose.
Let's start with the second case. If it looks like business as usual for the first four games of the year, it does validate my argument that Brady is a product of the Belichick system. That's fantastic, because it backs up the evidence that Matt Cassel keeps on generating with every snap he doesn't take, behind such quarterback stalwarts as Brady Quinn, Christian Ponder and, now, E.J. Manuel.
But it's bad, because it just means the Patriots will keep on rolling. Despite the effect that the deflated footballs may have had on the team over most of the last decade, it likely hasn't been the difference between winning the Super Bowl and missing the playoffs. More than likely, it played a role, but few would ever doubt that Bellichick teams run like a machine. There is something inhuman about how rarely guys are out of position. Which, of course, lends further credence to my argument that Brady is a product of the system, but doesn't do anything to decrease the value of wins the Patriots could continue to pile up, even under an average backup. A win is a win.
On the other hand, the Patriots could play like absolute garbage during the suspension. Assuming they don't continue to play like a hot mess after Brady comes back, it would completely invalidate the argument that I -- and many others -- have long held about Brady not being nearly as good as the stats would indicate. And that, in turn, would mean that the guy really is a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame, despite the asterisks on his stats sheet. For those of us who have spent his career trying to convince people otherwise, it would be a huge blow to a lot of egos. Mine may take the biggest hit of all.
If New England comes out of the gates like a drunk horse on downers for four games, and then continues to play like Angola against the U.S. Men in 1992's Olympic basketball tournament -- Angola lost, 116-48, and at one point gave up a points run of 46-1 -- then this all becomes a moot point. I don't expect properly inflated balls to have quite that much effect, though, so I'm not really all that hopeful. Even if, in the long run, I'm proven right about Brady being a system quarterback, the fact remains that he was still good enough to be drafted into the NFL. Regardless of how good the system is, he's still got more skill than 95 percent of the guys who have played the position in college.
I'm glad Brady was suspended. And it's probably going to suck.