Report: AFC Championship footballs were approved 2 hours before kickoff

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In the wake of a report on Tuesday that 11 of the 12 footballs allotted to the New England Patriots in Sunday’s AFC Championship victory over the Indianapolis Colts were under-inflated, ESPN is reporting that the footballs were properly inspected and approved by referee Walt Anderson prior to kickoff.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, citing “league sources,” reported that the footballs were reviewed by Anderson and approved two hours, 15 minutes before the scheduled 6:40 p.m. ET kickoff, which was later moved by the NFL to 6:50 p.m.

NFL rules stipulate that no footballs are allowed to be altered once they are approved by the referee.

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Sources told Mortensen on Tuesday that 11 of the 12 footballs contained 10.5 pounds per square inch of air, two PSI below the minimum standard of 12.5 PSI.

There is also an upper limit of 13.5 PSI.

“We are not commenting at this time,” said NFL senior vice president of communications Greg Aiello.

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According to league policy, game balls are marked with a dot once approved and placed in a bag that is set on the sideline for each team.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady told WEEI radio in November 2011 he prefers to use under-inflated footballs.

This would not be the first time the Patriots have run afoul of NFL policies during the tenure of head coach Bill Belichick, who was fined $500,000 in 2007 for having an assistant illegally videotape the defensive signals of the New York Jets. The Patriots also lost their first-round draft pick in 2008 and were fined $250,000.