Seth Wickersham’s new Patriots story isn’t “fake news.” He didn’t just sit in a room and make the whole thing up. His sources are real and no, he’s not obligated to cite any of them. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean his whole story is bulletproof or that it’s not sensationalized.
Bruce Allen, who teased the story’s arrival on Thursday night, didn’t reveal his source either. Nor should he. So stop it with the anonymous sources. They are standard for most journalistic enterprises.
That being said, that doesn’t mean Wickersham’s story on ESPN isn’t filled with details that are at best exaggerated or unnecessarily amplified. At worst, they paint (in my opinion) an inaccurate picture of the events detailed in the report.
ESPN’s Patriots Story: The 10 Most Overblown Details
The Patriots’ joint statement acted as something of a tacit acknowledgment that Wickersham’s Patriots story isn’t entirely false. But at the same time, the statement also cited “unsubstantiated, highly exaggerated or flat out inaccurate” parts of the story that I’ll rank below. Even the most cynical readers would roll their eyes at some of the passages in the story. Some of which have already been refuted by the team or local reporters.
For one thing, many reporters quickly disputed some of the story’s details of the Jimmy Garoppolo trade. Likewise, Brady and Garoppolo’s shared agent Don Yee also warned not to believe everything you read.
So with that in mind, let’s rank the most overblown aspects of the Patriots story…
10. “Palpable sense” that 2017 is last year together for Belichick/Brady/Kraft
Hey, maybe it is. But that’s the point in the story that people will most gravitate toward, and it’s in the headline. That’s in spite of the fact that it’s all based on feelings and no real facts that could back that up. Even the most ardent Patriots detractor wouldn’t believe Kraft is about to sell the team. Or that Brady is about to leave, even though he just got what he wanted (Garoppolo traded). Or that Belichick is going to jump ship.
That last one, admittedly, is still possible. But at this point, the other two are nigh impossible. It’s possible but not terribly probable that the end of the road becomes a reality in the coming months.
9. Brady yelled ‘[Expletive] you!’ at Josh McDaniels in front of his father
Now this isn’t necessarily a complete non-story. Mainly because Brady went out of his way to publicly apologize to McDaniels for that incident. But to lead the story off with that just stinks of an aggressive shot at Brady over something that I seriously doubt truly offended McDaniels’ dad. These are adults we’re talking about and it’s far from the first time Brady hurled an F-bomb at a coach.
8. Meeting between Belichick, Brady ended in “a little blowup”
Yes, it says just a “little” blowup. Not exactly the chair-flinging type of explosion you might see when the movie comes out. But on the contrary, the inclusion of that quote can only insinuate that there’s serious trouble between the coach and the quarterback.
It’s not that such trouble doesn’t exist, but it’s hard to believe that it’s gotten as bad as the story suggests.
7. Belichick became good friends with Goodell
Oh come on now. This was just a blatant attempt to troll Patriots fans. It also transforms the story from a Patriots hatchet job to one aimed squarely at Brady. His coach is sleeping with the enemy?
You can couple this with the passage that essentially says people within the Patriots believe Brady was guilty in DeflateGate. Regardless of how you feel about that one, it’s hard to deny that someone was doing something. It was still the most overblown “scandal” in sports history. But like the leaked emails from Brady’s assistant said, this Patriots story dumped DeflateGate right in Brady’s lap. And to bring it up three years later is to rub some salt in some already exaggerated wounds.
6. “Lingering sadness” hangs over team
There could definitely be some major changes coming for the Patriots. In particular, on the coaching staff. Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia could be on their way out for head coaching gigs. And now there’s the specter of Belichick possibly retiring – or doing the unthinkable and coaching another team.
But to describe the Patriots locker room as enveloped in sadness is to ignore that we’re talking about a 13-3 team. A team that has a chance to win yet another Super Bowl. A team that will most likely use this story as a rallying cry and an extra reason to blow the doors off the NFL in this year’s playoffs.
If this team is sad, then I don’t want to be happy.
5. Brady, Kraft hugged in full view of the team
This happens after pretty much every win. Kraft and Brady hug all the time. But Wickersham describes it like the last scene of The Godfather, when the door shuts on Diane Keaton as she stares dumbfounded at Al Pacino’s final transformation into a cold, calculating kingpin.
There’s little doubt that the Garoppolo trade made Brady happy. “Liberated,” as the Patriots story described. However, Wickersham positioned this stupid hug as something waaay more than it really was.
4. The TB12 Center locked Garoppolo out of the facility
It’s quite possible that Garoppolo couldn’t get in to the facility at some point. It’s possible that he had to spend a day with Patriots trainers on a day he planned to go to TB12. But to suggest that Brady, Alex Guerrero, or anyone else deliberately locked him out? That’s some sinister stuff.
In fact, this detail has also pretty much been debunked. Both the Providence Journal’s Mark Daniels and the Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe tweeted that Garoppolo visited TB12 even before his shoulder injury. He even had his own key at one point.
3. Brady got blamed for Chris Hogan’s shoulder injury
This is actually the easiest one to dispute. Not long after the story came out, 98.5 The Sports Hub’s own Scott Zolak tweeted a photo of the play in question. The one that injured Hogan and, subsequently, dumped blame on Brady in Wickersham’s Patriots story. You can clearly see that Hogan was much more open than this mystery receiver that was open deep down the field.
Here's Brady on 2nd & 8 throw to Hogan prior to injury. Decision made to throw, open underneath, arm in motion. Cooks (circled at top) not wide open deep. Actually makes double move on safety too early. Should've threatened him more upfield. Correct read pic.twitter.com/7ChRaWXvq8— Scott Zolak (@scottzolak) January 5, 2018
2. Brady didn’t like that Belichick never named him Patriot of the Week
Brady has earned unprecedented accolades over his career. He’s a First Team All-Pro in 2017 and could very well win his third NFL MVP award. He has five Lombardi Trophies. There’s no doubt that he cares a lot about winning a lot of things.
Patriot of the Week???
Anyone who believes that such a thing would actually anger Brady – to the point of a serious rift, anyway – should contact me about a bridge. It’s not impossible that Belichick’s negativity is grating on Brady this season more than usual, but seriously. Patriot of the Week. An award nobody knew even existed. Get. That. Out of my face.
1. Brady wanted teammates to call him “sir”
This flies in the face of everything Patriots fans know about Brady. He usually tries to stay humble, despite having everything a man could hope for in life. For him to expect anyone to call him “sir” would be so wildly out of character that this detail is the closest one in the entire Patriots story to one that Wickersham (or his sources) completely made up.
Now that’s not to say that players don’t sometimes refer to Brady as “sir.” But it’s likely that occurred in a friendlier context. Not as a way of showing respect to a QB who had practically elevated to management, as the story purports. All in all, this part is the hardest to believe – certainly in the context that Wickersham presented it.
You’ll notice that most of these items were directly related to Brady. It’s pretty clear that Brady takes the biggest hit of anyone in the story. Belichick looks like a coach who got painted into a corner. In the case of Kraft, he’s the owner and can basically do what he wants. He clearly has loyalty to “Tommy” so it’s not surprising that he’d take his side.
Brady, however, comes out of this looking like a QB who has grown more entitled than in the past and ultimately drove Garoppolo out of town. And also as a player who is starting to show more cracks in the armor than others may realize. If this is a hit piece on anyone, it’s No. 12. But these particular details are at best exaggerated for dramatic effect. At worst, they’re out-of-context or wholly inaccurate.
There’s reason to worry about the Patriots’ future, especially Belichick’s, in the wake of this new Patriots story. It’s pretty obvious that there’s been some tension behind-the-scenes. But on the other hand, even the biggest cynic has to admit that a lot of this is sensationalized to the point of nauseating absurdity.
— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.