By Steve Silverman
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The NFL had a chance to get “Deflategate” right, but Roger Goodell blew it again.

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The commissioner and disciplinarian Troy Vincent got part of it right with a four-game ban for Tom Brady and the team’s loss of two draft picks, including next year’s first-round choice.

But Goodell chose to ignore Bill Belichick, and therefore go against the precedent he set in 2012. That was the year the league came down hard on the New Orleans Saints for its pay-for-pain/injury scheme known as “Bountygate.”

The architect of that plan was deemed to be defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and he was given an indefinite suspension for his actions that was lifted prior to the 2013 season. But the NFL also made head coach Sean Payton sit on the sidelines for a year, even though there was no evidence connecting him with the scandal.

However, Goodell ruled that ignorance was no excuse, and Payton had to pay a huge price.

But three years later, ignorance has turned into a workable excuse. Belichick claimed ignorance of the whole affair, and his denials have all had the smell of hot garbage.

First of all, anyone who even closely follows the sport knows that Belichick rules the roost in Foxboro, and if any of his coaches or players do anything to impact his game plan, strategy or preparation, he knows about it. He is a control freak’s control freak.

Words may not have been spoken about deflating footballs, but to think that the quarterback and two of the team’s equipment personnel knew what was going on and he didn’t is unfathomable.

Here’s the other aspect that will likely have a long-term impact on the Patriots: Belichick left his quarterback out to dry when this whole mess came to light.

When Belichick was first asked about the issue hours after the Patriots had routed the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship, his response pointed the finger at Brady.

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“You’ll have to ask the quarterback about that,” he said.

If ever there was a situation that called for loyalty, this was it. Owner Robert Kraft has certainly been on Brady’s side throughout this mess, but Belichick has had no such inclination.

As this situation plays out — Brady’s agent, Don Yee, says that an appeal will be forthcoming — a festering resentment could develop between the quarterback and coach. They have had one of the most successful partnerships in the history of the game, but when the mess hit the fan, Belichick said that the quarterback had the answers and he denied any knowledge.

Later on, Belichick came out with his attempted scientific explanation about why the footballs the Patriots used were underinflated. Investigator Ted Wells didn’t buy that hogwash.

That Nixonian lecture – designed to confuse and deflect the spotlight – came from someone who did not want to be caught.

“Spygate” was also a Belichickian device, and that cost the Patriots money and hurt their reputation. Vincent said the Patriots’ past indiscretions had an impact on the penalties delivered this time around, but the failure to level punishment on Belichick is beyond curious.

Why didn’t the NFL follow its own precedent and decide to sit down the head coach for four games?

While Deflategate is not as bad as the plan by the Saints to injure opponents, it is still cheating. They wanted to get an illegal edge on their opponents and they went to great lengths to hide their activity. The league should not look the other way at this type of behavior from one of the most accomplished head coaches in the history of the game.

As the process goes along, how can Brady not resent Belichick over the way this has played out? His reputation is taking a hit – and it should – but why should his coach get away untainted? This needs to be on his record as well.

The Patriots may well survive four games without Brady. Backup Jimmy Garoppolo is a talented prospect who could prove to be a decent short-term alternative.

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However, there is a division between Brady and Belichick that is likely to fester in the months and years ahead. This will not end well for two men who have been joined at the hip since Brady was drafted by the Patriots in 2000. The seeds of discontent have been planted, and some very ugly vegetation will grow.