New England Patriots: Deflategate Debunked — Pats Still Fumble-Proof Despite NFL Checking Footballs

The New England Patriots 2015 season is in the books. Despite the fact that, due to the Deflategate affair, the NFL closely monitored football air pressure during the season around the league, the Patriots and accused quarterback Tom Brady nonetheless posted statistics at or near the top of the league in most offensive categories, including, most significantly, fumble rate.

Deflategate, of course, was the allegation that the Patriots and Brady cheated their way to a competitive advantage in last January’s AFC Championship game by illegally deflating footballs used in the game. The allegation erupted into a full-scale investigation by the NFL, resulting in a four-game suspension for Brady. That suspension was overturned by a federal judge in August, resulting in an appeal by NFL, which has yet to be heard.

But also last January, football statistics analyst Warren Sharp ran a study in which he claimed to have found evidence that the Patriots had been illegally deflating footballs not just in that one game, but for years.

New England Patriots Deflategate debunked Tom Brady
Tom Brady of the New England Patriots (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Sharp’s conclusions were based on what he said was a remarkably and unusually low rate of fumbling by Patriots ball carriers and receivers. In fact, Sharp claimed, the Patriots fumbled so infrequently from the 2007 season through 2014 that their apparent ability to prevent fumbles “was nearly impossible.”

While numerous statisticians criticized and dismantled Sharp’s analysis, pointing out what they said were numerous flaws in his methodology, his “fumble rate” study was picked up by national media outlets and widely perceived as kind of smoking gun, proving that ball deflation had been a longtime Patriots practice.

But starting in 2015, as a result of Deflategate, the NFL put new procedures in place to monitor game footballs and prevent any chance of illegal tampering by New England or, presumably, any other team.

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“As a result, if one initially made the link between the Patriots low fumble rates and deflated footballs,” wrote the Monday Morning Quarterback column on Tuesday, “the natural follow-up would be to assume that New England’s fumble rates would revert toward the league average in 2015.”

But the analysis performed by MMBQ showed that exactly the opposite happened. Even though they were playing with regulation-inflated footballs all season long, the Patriots again fumbled the ball at a remarkably low rate, leading the NFL in fumble rate, as well as fewest overall fumbles by any offense in the league.

Check out the top five moments of the New England Patriots season in the video below, courtesy of New England Sports Network.

Even counting strip-sacks suffered by Tom Brady, of which there were two in 2015, the Patriots offense fumbled the ball a mere seven times in the 16 games played in 2015. That total would tie them for second-fewest in the NFL.

Without including strip sacks, the Patriots lead the league with just five fumbles — one by Brady himself, one by running back LeGarrette Blount, two on pass receptions by running back Dion Lewis, and one on a pass reception by wide receiver Julian Edelman.

In addition, playing with verified regulation footballs in 2015 had no negative effect on Brady’s personal statistics; he led the league with 36 touchdown passes, the third-highest total of his 15-year career as a starting quarterback.

Brady also led the NFL in interception percentage, tossing just seven picks out of 624 pass attempts, a rate of just 1.1 percent. Despite a late-season slump, Brady also placed third in total passing yards and fourth in passer rating — all while throwing footballs that, due to the NFL’s new procedures, are known to have been inflated to legal levels.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell poses for a selfie with a fan (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Despite the fact that the issue of whether Tom Brady has accumulated his remarkable statistics over the years, including in last season’s AFC Championship game, due to cheating would now appear to be settled, the NFL continues with its Deflategate litigation against the New England Patriots quarterback. However, the league suffered a setback on December 30 when a federal appeals court forced NFL lawyers to refile their latest brief against Brady for submitting the materials with the wrong color cover.

[Photo By Al Bello/Getty Images]