The report that came out Sunday night from longtime Indianapolis sports journalist Bob Kravitz, indicating that the New England Patriots may have intentionally deflated several of the footballs used in their 45-7 AFC championship win over the Indianapolis Colts has gained traction.
Which is to say, it's sounding more and more like the truth.
According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, the Patriots had 11 of their 12 allotted footballs under-inflated by two pounds of air (PSI) less than league regulations allow. Sources told Mortensen that the balls, which are required by the NFL to be inflated to a measure between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch, and to weigh between 14 and 15 ounces, were not within the standard.
The controversy began when Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson intercepted a Tom Brady pass in the second quarter, and gave the ball to a Colts equipment manager, who noticed that the ball was under-inflated. NFL director of football operations Mike Kensil was told after Colts head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson were informed.
Game officials are supposed to check all balls available for use in a game about two hours before the game begins, so the question remains: If the report is true, how is it that either Walt Anderson's officiating crew missed the boat, or how is it that the Patriots deflated the balls before or during the game?
"I think I've heard it all," Brady told WEEI Radio Monday morning with a laugh. "Oh, God. It's ridiculous ... That's the last of my worries. I don't even respond to stuff like this."
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was more circumspect when asked about it during his Monday press conference.
"We’ll cooperate fully with whatever the league wants us to; whatever questions they have for us, whatever they want us to do," he said. "I didn’t know anything about it until this morning ... whatever we need from the league then that’s what we’ll do."
Asked again about it on Tuesday, Belichick simply said that any questions on the matter should be referred to the league, and the league has made no official comment at this point.
After the Colts report came out, the Baltimore Ravens, who lost to the Patriots in the divisional round, expressed concern that some of the footballs used in that game might have been deflated as well -- this according to CBS's Jason La Canfora.
Why would a team intentionally under-inflate footballs? Some players believe that a ball not inflated to its required size and weight is easier to throw and catch.
Whether the Patriots did this or not, they won't get the benefit of the doubt, due to the Spygate scandal, which rocked the league a few years back. In that scandal, the Patriots were found to have illegally videotaped opponents over a period of time from 2002 through '07. New England lost its 2008 first-round draft choice, Belichick was fined $500,000, and the team was fined $250,000. It was the largest financial sanction against a coach in NFL history.
According to NFL rules, the standard punishment for any intentional alteration of game balls could result in a $25,000 fine. That's just a guideline, though, and if Mortensen's report that the NFL is "disappointed ... angry ... distraught" over the findings is correct, the Patriots could find themselves in quite a bit more hot water.
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