By HOWARD ULMAN and JIMMY GOLEN AP Sports Writers

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – The sides have bitterly argued in the court of public opinion. Now Roger Goodell plans to try to personally settle whether Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady deserves a four-game suspension for using deflated footballs.

The NFL commissioner decided Thursday night to take up an appeal for the New England Patriots quarterback, a move allowed under the collective bargaining agreement despite the wishes of union officials who wanted Goodell to appoint a neutral arbitrator for the case.

Goodell will review the punishment handed down by NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent. He’ll decide whether to keep the four-game suspension, reduce it or eliminate it.

Goodell’s denial of the union’s wishes was just the last power play on a day filled with outward campaigning on an issue that started months ago as a backchannel complaint.

Hours earlier, the club went on the offensive with a 20,000-word online rebuttal by its lawyers to the 243-page report that led to the suspension. It came two days after a conference call by attorney Ted Wells, who headed the NFL investigation, in which, in a sometimes rising voice, he challenged criticism from Brady’s agent, Donald Yee.

All that heated air over a few pounds per square inch of air inside some footballs.

Goodell was widely viewed as too lenient when he initially suspended Ray Rice for two games last season for hitting his fiancee, now his wife. So the public focus was sharp to see if the league would go easy on the Patriots, owned by Goodell’s close confidant Robert Kraft. Goodell attended a party at Kraft’s home the weekend of the Patriots’ 45-7 win over Indianapolis in which the Colts complained about the deflated footballs.

The punishment – including a $1 million fine for the Patriots – may have improved Goodell’s standing with 31 of the NFL’s 32 owners.

The team has not said if it will appeal its penalties, which also include losing a first-round draft pick next year and a fourth-rounder in 2017. The deadline to appeal is May 21.

Goodell remains in the middle.

The league’s collective bargaining agreement stipulates that he or a person he designates will decide the appeal. The players union said in a news release that “given the NFL’s history of inconsistency and arbitrary decisions in disciplinary matters, it is only fair that a neutral arbitrator hear this appeal.”

It must be heard within 10 days of its filing.

The union did not detail the basis for the appeal. But the online statement by Patriots attorney Daniel Goldberg disputed conclusions of the Wells Report on matters of science, logic and law.

He wrote that those conclusions are “at best, incomplete, incorrect and lack context.”

Goldberg represented the team and was present during all interviews of team personnel. Patriots spokesman Stacey James confirmed that the site wellsreportcontext.com was genuine and “approved/supported by the team.”

Wells concluded that Brady was “at least generally aware” of plans by two team employees to prepare balls to his liking, below the league-mandated minimum. The NFL requires a range of 12.5-13.5 pounds per square inch. Footballs with less pressure can be easier to grip and catch and some quarterbacks prefer those with less air.

The team’s rebuttal presented its own science to explain the loss of pressure in a more innocuous way.

It also says increased communication between Brady and the ballboys after the scandal broke were just normal expressions of concern, rather than evidence of the quarterback’s guilt.

Here are some more claims and counter-claims in the Wells report and the Patriots’ rebuttal:

THE DEFLATOR

The NFL says: Texts in which locker room attendant Jim McNally refers to himself as “the deflator” indicate he was taking air out of footballs after they were inspected by game officials. His texts with equipment assistant John Jastremski also include a reference to providing Jastremski with a needle.

The team says: McNally used the term “deflator” to refer to his desire to lose weight, as in the text, “deflate and give somebody that jacket.” The needle was necessary because McNally was sometimes responsible for getting an inflation needle to officials for pregame testing.

THE SCIENCE

The NFL says: Footballs provided by the Patriots lost more air pressure between the pregame test and halftime than could be explained by non-nefarious reasons.

The team says: The league cherry-picked readings from two different gauges to create the biggest gap between pregame and halftime measurements. That overshadowed a difference in air pressure in some balls that could be explained by atmospheric conditions.

“The most fundamental issue in this matter is: DOES SCIENCE EXPLAIN THE LOSS OF PSI IN THE PATRIOTS FOOTBALLS?” Goldberg wrote before concluding, also in all capital letters, that it does.

WHO IS “HE”?

The NFL says: It’s Brady. A text message from Jastremski to McNally says: “Talked to him last night. He actually brought you up and said you must have a lot of stress trying to get them done.”

The Patriots say: It’s a leap of logic to conclude that the stress was related to football deflation. The words refer, Goldberg wrote, to “Mr. Jastremski’s friend, as the investigators were told, and the conversation involved issues relating to Mr. McNally’s stress relating to reselling family tickets.”

AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi contributed to this report.

AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Updated May 15, 2015

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