A Washington, DC statistician named Warren Sharp decided to examine the Patriots numbers, specifically comparing the years before the Tom Brady/Peyton Manning-led rule change that allowed teams to provide their own footballs for games. A deflated ball is easier to hold, so Sharp looked at fumbles–and a funny thing happened. In 2006 the Patriots fumbled every 42 touches. In 2007, after the rule change, they fumbled every 74 touches. That’s a big difference. It is highly unlikely, experts agree, that 2007 marked the year coach Bill Belichick started telling his players to hold on to the ball.
Numbers don’t lie, people will tell you. That truism is not true–numbers can be made to tell all sorts of fibs–but some numbers alter perceptions drastically. This finding doesn’t prove anything. But it adds to the perception the Patriots are now battling–that they don’t play fair. Another statistician, Brian Burke, confirmed Sharp’s numbers. Burke finds it hard to believe that New England “is better than the next best team by 20 plays per fumble.” But those are the numbers. And from them comes the perception.