The Elephant in the Locker Room: Hawks Won’t Be Throwing Stones at Patriots

Hawks-150Expectations are high, and everyone’s paying attention… But every week it seems like there’s some key issue that’s getting glossed over. It’s the elephant in the locker room, if you will, and gosh darn if I’ll let that ride. Join us on Saturday mornings for a little closer look at our World Champions.

By Greg Wright

Kind of lost in the ballyhoo over the Hawks miracle win against the Packers on Sunday was a rather stunning first-down completion from Wilson to Baldwin on 3rd and 19 (remember those numbers, Cowboy fans?) with 6:30 left in the third quarter.

And that play illustrated another fact about Sunday’s game that was kind of lost. Take a look at where Wilson took the snap from Max Unger on that play:


I know I wasn’t the only one who noticed the trouble Unger was having getting the ball to Wilson on shotgun snaps. With the rain and the wetness, Unger often shot the ball out to Wilson’s right on Sunday.

Sure would have been nice to get a better grip on the ball, wouldn’t it?

If you’re quick on the uptake, you should be thinking what I’m thinking.

Another team was playing in the wet and rain on Sunday, and somehow somebody got to at least 11 out of 12 footballs and took significant amounts of air out of them–presumably to be able to get a better grip on them.

Bill Belichick’s been accused of cheating already and, I think, plausibly denied knowledge of tampering… though I do agree that he threw Brady under the bus in passing the buck.

Tom Brady’s story about having no idea the pressure was off frankly doesn’t wash. Why is he so particular about 12.5 psi if he can’t tell the difference when he’s handling the ball during a game?

But it doesn’t make sense to think that Brady has anything to gain by taking chances with tampering, even if he could tell something was off. And it did feel to me like Brady was passing the buck as well, taking a cue from his coach.

So who might have something to gain by risking such tampering?

How about Ryan Wendell, who hadn’t played center all season until Sunday, when injury forced rookie starter Bryan Stork to sit out? Wendell’s relationship with the Patriots, after all, has been on-again-off-again after the team initially declined to re-up Wendell as a free agent in the offseason. When Wendell didn’t get a free-agent offer from another team, the Patriots re-signed him. But not as a center. Instead they drafted Stork as their center of the future.

So how many more games as a Patriot–or a professional–do you think Wendell has in him? With the AFC Championship on the line, how many more chances do you think Wendell has at a Super Bowl ring?

How badly do think Wendell might want to have an edge when snapping the ball to Brady 78 times in the driving rain during a championship game, knowing how important Belichick finds the center-QB exchange?

The Worcester Telegram & Gazette ran the following two years and three weeks ago about Wendell:

“The center-to-quarterback exchange is just the most critical part to any play,” coach Bill Belichick said recently. “You can’t have a good play without that. But that’s been a great strength of Wendy’s throughout his career here. Shotgun snaps, under-center snaps, wet games, snow, whatever it is, he’s been very dependable there. It all starts with that.”

The potential pitfalls are many. Sometimes Wendell has to execute a traditional snap and then reach block. Other times, it’s a shotgun snap and then immediately trying to tie up a pass rusher.

“He does a good job of that,” Belichick said, citing Wendell’s discipline and concentration. “You can’t underestimate that part of the center’s job. You take it for granted until you have a bad one, and it’s all bad after that.

Emphasis mine.

But that was two years and three weeks ago. Belichick’s obviously not so hot on Wendell at center these days, having moved him over to guard at the beginning of the season. I wonder why. Actually, no I don’t. It’s pretty clear why. As far as handling the ball goes, Wendell has clearly been in Belichick’s doghouse.

Already on the hot seat, you wouldn’t want to blow your chance on Sunday with off-target snaps, now would you?

So what did Wendell have to say about handling those deflated balls on Sunday? According to the Tampa Bay Times, “Just felt like any other game,” Wendell said. “Felt the same throughout the game. So I don’t know what the difference would be.”

Yep, just felt like any other game… playing guard, handling the ball not at all, much less 78 times.

If it’s not plausible that Brady wouldn’t notice a difference in pressure, how less plausible is it that Wendell wouldn’t? After all, who squeezes the pigskin more regularly than the center?

Now, listen to me clearly on this topic.

Given the not-so-distant chronic history of Seahawks being suspended for the use of various performance-enhancing drugs, no Seahawk or Seahawk fan has any room to be casting stones at the Patriots for being “cheaters.” Seriously.

But if the NFL finds that something fishy did happen, and deliberately so, with those footballs on Sunday, it won’t be Belichick or Brady on the hook.

It will be somebody who had a lot more riding on a single game’s performance.

Somebody like Wendell… or LeGarrette Blount.

You heard it here first.

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