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Jerry Rice softens stance on Tom Brady, Patriots

Jerry Rice was one of the more outspoken critics of Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the wake of Deflategate. After all, it was the San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame receiver who said before the Super Bowl the Patriots deserved an asterisk if they were to win the game.

The Patriots did upend the Seattle Seahawks, and, a few months later, the NFL slapped Brady with a four-game suspension and the Patriots with a $1 million fine while stripping them of two draft picks.

It should also be noted, though, that Rice took a lot of heat since he had also said he used Stickum in his playing days, even though it was illegal in the NFL.

So, with a chance to pile on the Patriots this weekend, Rice instead stayed out of the fray when asked by the NFL Network if the four-game suspension Brady received was justified or if it should be reduced.

“It’s going to be up to Roger Goodell to make that decision,” Rice said. “We just have to wait and see what happens.”

In January, Rice said on ESPN radio affiliate 95.7 The Game, “We already know that in 2011, Tom Brady said he liked his ball under-inflated. He felt like he could grip the ball better and also, the ball the came out of his hands with a lot more velocity and stuff like that.”

Rice was much more magnanimous regarding Brady for the NFL Network.

“Still, to win four Super Bowls, that’s just tremendous for him and what he’s accomplished throughout his career,” Rice said. “But Roger Goodell’s going to have to make that call, and we’re just going to have to wait and see.”

Rice, though, could not wait to see an improved 49ers team this upcoming season, despite so much turnover, both on the roster and in the coaching staff with Jim Tomsula replacing Jim Harbaugh.

In fact, without going into details, Rice said he expects to see a different quarterback in Colin Kaepernick.

“Even though we’ve got a new head coach, I think that team is going to rally somehow because last season they had about five guys to really step away from the team,” said Rice, who acknowledged the team replacing Patrick Willis will be a chore.

“I think the Niners, they’re going to come out, they’re going to represent the Bay Area the right way," Rice said. "But I’m really expecting great things from Colin Kaepernick.”