By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — You have got to be kidding me.

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On Thursday — in March of 2016, in Month 15 of an all-out war waged over allegedly underinflated footballs — an NFL executive has claimed that the league didn’t even check for air pressure in footballs during the 2015 season.

Nope, Troy Vincent said. They weren’t worried about air pressure. Just protocol.

“We focus on procedure, balls being brought to the stadium,” Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president, told The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin in a conference call Thursday. “There was no violation of game balls being checked in at the appropriate time. There was no violation of game balls being in the officials locker room, being brought to the field, back to the locker rooms at halftime, and then the balls being brought back to the locker room post game. So it’s the procedure of the balls themselves.”

This all goes back to commissioner Roger Goodell stating at his Super Bowl press conference that in the “spot checks” at randomly selected games throughout the season, “no violations” were found.

Of course, every scientist who was not receiving a paycheck from the NFL has noted in the past 15 months that science dictates that footballs would lose air pressure when taken from a warm environment into a cold environment. In fact, even the NFL seemed to acknowledge this when ESPN reported prior to a playoff game in frigid Minneapolis that the footballs would be switched at halftime to avoid playing with footballs with low air pressure.

But, apparently, even though the NFL was worried about PSI that day in Minnesota, the league is claiming it was not worried about it. The league was just worried about protocol. What are you going to do about it?

As a reminder, that protocol did not exist when Jim McNally took the bag of game balls out of the officials’ locker room and into a bathroom. That protocol was established last July.

And, of course, the central attack on the Patriots and Tom Brady focused on the PSI of footballs. A bunch of folks who had no clue what they were doing stuck some gauges in footballs at halftime in January in Massachusetts and automatically declared the team to be guilty of illegally taking air out of them. In the league-sponsored investigation, Ted Wells included 100 pages of highly questionable and downright deceptive science from the consulting firm Exponent.

In a “scandal” dubbed “DeflateGate,” it was essential that actual illegal deflation took place. Otherwise, what are we really talking about?

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The science was key all along … until the NFL could no longer control the science. And more than likely, when the NFL tested the PSI of footballs at “random” games throughout the year, the league found that — gasp — science actually exists. PSI numbers fluctuate. MIT professors weren’t inventing basic science.

So, as has been the case throughout the whole mess, the NFL is moving the goalposts. Now, only violations of the pregame protocol were being checked in 2015, and unsurprisingly, no ball boys went gallivanting around stadiums this year after seeing World War III play out between the NFL and the Patriots.

And, just as has been the case all along, Vincent and the NFL made no note of the NFL actually violating protocol themselves. You may remember that Scott Zolak reported that the officials for the Chiefs-Patriots playoff game forgot their air pressure gauges AND THE KICKING BALLS FOR THE GAME back in their hotel room in Boston. Whoops! No violation there, though. NFL employees have never acted improperly, according to the NFL.

It’s all startling but entirely unsurprising. If you get a chance, go back and read Jeffrey Kessler’s questioning of Troy Vincent back at Tom Brady’s appeal hearing in New York last June (it begins on page 228). Kessler ran mental laps around Vincent, getting the executive in charge of “integrity of the game” to admit that there was literally no basis of knowledge on which the NFL could have leaned to conclude that the Patriots had illicitly deflated footballs.

Yet, the PSI issue remained the NFL’s linchpin. The NFL leaked false PSI numbers to ESPN and even provided false PSI information to the Patriots in order to get them to open their doors to the investigation and put them on their heels from the very get-go. Of course, after the Chris Mortensen story was proven to be completely wrong by the NFL’s own Wells report, the NFL had to change the story. “General awareness” turned into involvement in a scheme, lies were told in official rulings and then later repeated in a federal appeals court, and a destroyed cell phone was used to distract from the matter at hand. Namely, were the footballs actually deflated?

Scientists say it’s more probable than not that the footballs were not deflated by a human. Now, the NFL is basically saying that it doesn’t even matter.

It’s essentially a case that the Patriots can never win, because the NFL constantly changes the charges.

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You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.