The “Deflategate” scandal involving the New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady—one that dominated NFL headlines for well over a year, involved multiple levels of the American legal system, instilled in every football fan a keen interest in air-pressure physics, and finally ended in a four-game suspension for Brady to start the 2016 season—has ended up having little effect on the field. The Patriots beat the Houston Texans Thursday night in Foxborough, Massachusetts, improving their record to 3-0 with only one game left before they get their starting QB back. The win against the Texans, a team that entered the game undefeated itself, was a 27-0 shellacking, New England besting them in every category of play.
For the football junkie, there has even been a kind of rare fun to seeing what this decorated team, one that has won four Super Bowls and reached two others over Brady’s 17-year career, can do without its best player. The backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo played ably in the first game and a half of the season, throwing touchdowns in bunches before a shoulder injury forced him out of the Week Two game against Miami. The third-string rookie Jacoby Brissett held on to the lead Garoppolo had built in that game, but against the Texans he would have to play from the start, and analysts wondered how ready even an excellent coach like Bill Belichick could make him. New England answered those doubts with a game plan that leaned on college-style plays familiar to Brissett, quick passes and quarterback runs, executed well enough to pick the Houston defense apart. The effect was like that of hearing an alternate take of a hit song, a glimpse of the tinkering behind the team’s usual Sunday sheen.