Tom Brady hasn’t won Deflategate yet. But on Wednesday in a New York City federal courtroom, he and the NFLPA certainly took a late fourth-quarter lead.

Now that one settlement hearing between Brady and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is in the books, the second is scheduled for next Wednesday, Aug. 19. That too will be overseen by U.S. District Judge Richard Berman, who continues to encourage both sides to agree on a settlement for Brady’s four-game suspension, which was upheld by Goodell on July 28.

Entering Wednesday’s hearing, the expectation was that Judge Berman would play “Devil’s advocate,” with lawyers for both the NFL and NFLPA in an attempt to talk each side into backing off their demands and meeting in the middle, so that everyone involved can move on with their lives.

But, a funny thing happened as Berman began to grill NFL lawyer Daniel Nash. Berman exposed the NFL for the Wells Report findings, getting the league’s own lawyer to admit that it lacks some much-needed “direct evidence” to hold up in a court of law.

While being pressed by Berman to provide proof that implicates Brady in the conspiracy to deflate footballs prior to the AFC Championship, Nash admitted there’s no text message that shows Brady instructed someone to put a needle in a football.

Berman attacked the Wells Report, telling Nash that he’s “having trouble” finding the “direct evidence of a scheme or conspiracy” that involves Brady and that one game.

In a perfect world for the NFL, Nash would have provided that direct evidence. However, in the world of Deflategate, there is no such direct evidence to provide. It doesn't exist.

At that moment, inside a federal courtroom, it became clear that this is no longer about theories or assumptions, or being “more probable than not” or “at least generally aware.” Deflategate is now about what can and cannot hold weight in a court of law. Nothing else matters. That’s why Brady’s lawyers and the NFLPA have advised him to keep fighting.

Whether you believe Brady or not, the fact is, once you enter that courtroom you’re innocent until proven guilty. Not the other way around.

So when it came time to simply show a judge some direct evidence to prove Brady guilty, the NFL realized that it had to come up with something a little bit stronger than just spewing the words “integrity of the league” or “protect the shield.” But that was impossible to do, because they have nothing.

Heck, Berman even rejected the notion that deflated footballs would give Brady a “competitive advantage” by pointing out that, in the second half of the AFC Championship Game, Brady played even better than he did with the “underinflated” balls the league has accused him of using in the first half.

While reminding yourself that Berman’s role was to play Devil’s advocate, the responses he was later able to get from Brady’s attorney, Jeffrey Kessler, were much less news worthy. Mainly because it was more of what we’ve already heard about Brady’s phone and his “lack of cooperation.”

To hear an NFL lawyer tell the judge he has no direct evidence that Brady instructed someone to deflate a football is a confirmation that the NFL cannot win this battle in a court of law.

So with one more settlement hearing remaining, and a four-game suspension still officially standing, Brady hasn’t won Deflategate yet.

But after Wednesday, it’s more clear than ever before that time is running out on Goodell.

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