After a week spent mostly on the defensive over the Deflategate controversy, the New England Patriots sent out the offense Monday.
The Patriots arrived in Arizona for Super Bowl 49 and opened their first press conference with an unscheduled guest as owner Robert Kraft took the stage ahead of the scheduled opening act, coach Bill Belichick.
Kraft defended his coach, quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots organization, while expressing disappointment in the way the issue has been handled by the media and even the NFL.
“I believe unconditionally that the New England Patriots have done nothing inappropriate in this process or in violation of NFL rules,” he said. “… It bothers me greatly that their reputations and integrity — and by association, that of our team — has been called into question this past week.”
Kraft said he has spent time talking with Belichick and Brady last week, and cited his long history with them as reason to believe their honesty. He said he has learned what he could about the science of football inflation and deflation and the process used to deliver regulation game balls into play.
He added that he welcomes the ongoing NFL investigation by attorney Ted Wells, seeing it as an upgrade over what he perceives as unfair speculation and conclusions until now. And if cleared of wrongdoing, he expects someone to say they’re sorry.
“If the Wells investigation is not able to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure in the footballs, I would expect and hope that the league would apologize to our entire team and in particular Coach Belichick and Tom Brady, for what they have had to endure this past week,” he said.
“I am disappointed in the way this entire matter has been handled and reported upon.”
Once Belichick appeared, he largely portrayed his owner’s statement as the final word. Otherwise, he dismissed questions about the deflation issue, repeatedly stressing that the team’s attention is forward to Sunday and the meeting with the Seattle Seahawks.
There was some movement in the basic story Monday, as it was reported that the NFL is zeroing in on a Patriots locker room attendant, whom surveillance videos showed taking footballs from the officials’ locker room into another room at Gillette Stadium.
However, that was not a development that Belichick was interested in visiting.
“I appreciate the questions,” he said. “But I have covered everything that I can cover in the previous week, and my attention is focused on the Seattle Seahawks. Our job is to get ready to play this game Sunday, and that’s where it’s going to be from here on out.”
In another part of the interview hall, four New England players — guard Dan Connolly, safety Devin McCourty, receiver Matthew Slater and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork — similarly brushed aside most questions on the topic.
“Needless to say, it’s a difficult situation we’re navigating through,” Slater said. “But as I’ve said all week, we just want to focus on the game. We don’t want this situation to take away from what we’ve accomplished as a team and where we are: the game we’re playing in. So I’ll leave my comments there.”
Brady acknowledged he is trying to get past any hurt or hard feelings that have come from the controversy.
“I’ve left those things behind and wanted to move forward because that’s what the team expects of me,” he said. “… We’ve got to pull it together. There’s a lot of potential distractions this week. There’s a lot of activities. A lot of things going on.”