Newly revealed evidence in the "Deflategate" scandal suggests the Ravens might have tipped off the Indianapolis Colts about the inflation of footballs used at Gillette Stadium before the AFC Championship Game between the Colts and New England Patriots, something coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens have strongly denied.
Great. This is just what the Ravens needed at the end of a refreshingly uneventful offseason – another reason to wonder about their integrity.
In an email released by the NFL Players Association, Colts equipment manager Sean Sullivan informs general manager Ryan Grigson that Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg called Colts coach Chuck Pagano to warn him about the special teams footballs given to the Ravens before their divisional round loss to the Patriots.
The Ravens released a series of statements on Wednesday to support their original denial and clarify the intent of the phone conversation between Rosburg and Pagano. They also released what they say is a text message from kicking consultant Randy Brown to Pagano that dovetails with their account of the Rosburg/Pagano phone call. And then, Harbaugh passionately defended the organization during a news conference.
The Ravens claim the call concerned a punt-field goal substitution that Pagano was curious about and did not involve any accusation of wrongdoing by the Patriots.
So, why is this important? There were irregularities at Gillette Stadium when the Ravens played there in January and they obviously continued the following week when the Patriots ran over the Colts on the way to their Super Bowl title. If the Ravens were concerned about that, it would have been no crime to warn Pagano -- the former Ravens defensive coordinator – to look out for questionable footballs.
The problem for the Ravens is that that they worked so hard to distance themselves from the scandal that it looks like they were not being truthful when speculation surfaced that they were involved in unmasking it.
Whatever actually happened, they played it all wrong. Perhaps in an attempt to make sure they did not look like sore losers after their 35-31 playoff loss to the Patriots, Harbaugh pointedly told NBC before the Super Bowl that attempts to tie the Ravens to "Deflategate" were "ridiculous."
"It never happened,'' he said. "I never made any call. Nobody in our organization made any call. Just to make sure I had all the facts, I called Chuck Pagano this week and asked him, 'Did anybody else in our organization tip you off about any deflated footballs?' And he said, 'No way.'"
Now, it's certainly possible that Rosburg told Pagano about the questionable kicking game balls and that Pagano simply denied it when Harbaugh called him, thinking that he was protecting Rosburg from being reprimanded by his coach.
In that case, Harbaugh and Ravens executives might have been insulated from the truth, not hiding it.
It's also possible that it happened exactly as the Ravens claim and that there was a miscommunication on the Colts' end.
Harbaugh has been careful not to criticize Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who recommended Harbaugh for the head coaching job in Baltimore. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti also has been deferential to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, recently denying a report that the Ravens were one the teams pressuring commissioner Roger Goodell to stand firm on the disciplinary action levied against Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
That might be understandable in the highly political inner circle of the NFL, but the Ravens blew their chance to be rightfully viewed as a victim of "Deflategate" and instead have to waste more time trying to re-polish their image a year after the organization was badly sullied by the Ray Rice scandal.
Once it became apparent that there was more funny business involving the footballs during the AFC title game, the Ravens should not have worked so hard to hide their outrage when it's possible that the Patriots illegal gamesmanship might have cost them a chance to reach the Super Bowl.