The whole fatuous episode began 623 days ago, on the evening of Jan. 18, 2015, when the New England Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship. In those 20-plus months, the Patriots have won a Super Bowl, lost a first-round draft pick, fallen in another AFC title game and dodged one four-game suspension of their star quarterback, only to incur it on appeal in federal court.
And where did the NFL's judicial misadventures in the case of Tom Brady and the Missing Air leave the Patriots? Brady's suspension ended Sunday with the final seconds of New England's unsightly 16-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills. When he returns, he will inherit a 3-1 record and a one-game lead over those Bills in the AFC East. He will be rested, tanned (all over, apparently) and vengeful.
The Patriots surely would have signed up for 3-1 behind Jimmy Garoppolo, let alone behind Garoppolo and two-and-a-half games with third-string rookie Jacoby Brissett. They played an atrocious, burn-the-tape game Sunday, but they will emerge from Brady's suspension in good shape. And into their huddle will walk a ticked-off Brady, and ticked-off is just how you want him.
In the bigger picture, the four weeks without Brady may provide the Patriots a benefit to counteract the more damaging penalty stemming from Delfategate. The lost first-round pick, which owner Robert Kraft accepted in the misguided hope that Roger Goodell would drop his hunt of Brady, was always going to sting more than forcing Bill Belichick to come up with Brady-free game plans.
But Garoppolo's emergence in the six quarters he played could undo that part of the Deflategate fallout. The Patriots have the option to deal Garoppolo to recoup the pick the NFL took away. If Sam Bradford could net the Eagles a first-rounder, a quarterback who flashed the potential of Garoppolo should be able to bring at least two. Maybe Garoppolo could have been exposed if he played more. The Patriots don't have to worry about that.
New England could also keep Garoppolo, and it would also be a prudent choice. They know what they have in a potential Brady successor, and they can also feel comfortable they have a capable backup in case their starting quarterback — who, despite his durability and excellence, is pushing 40 — suffers an injury. They even have a rookie who may or may not factor into their plans.
The NFL worked for more than a year to ensure the Patriots would feel the sting from Deflategate, from whatever it is the league thinks the Patriots did in the first place. In the end, they have a 3-1 record and a quality backup who proved himself a valuable trade chip. The Patriots win more than any team in the NFL. It's possible no victories could be as satisfying as all that.
— Washington Post