After the New England Patriots shellacked the Indianapolis Colts 45-7 in the AFC Championship Game, deflated hometown TV station WTHR reported a rumor that genuine deflation of the footballs used in the game contributed to the drubbing.
The NFL acknowledged it would investigate the charge that the Patriots deflated some of the footballs used during the game. On Monday, Pro Football Talk quoted a source saying that some footballs were removed because they were underinflated.
According to former NFL official Jim Daopoulos, officials watch NFL footballs carefully; they examine 12 footballs from each team two hours and fifteen minutes before each game, mark them as approved, then hand them off to the ball attendant. Six more footballs specifically reserved for the kicking game are also marked and left with the officials for the game. He added that officials can jettison any football they deem unsuitable, and that under certain conditions footballs can lose air.
The NFL’s game operations manual delineates the penalty for tampering with the footballs as follows: “Once the balls have left the locker room, no one, including players, equipment managers, ball boys, and coaches, is allowed to alter the footballs in any way. If any individual alters the footballs, or if a non-approved ball is used in the game, the person responsible and, if appropriate, the head coach or other club personnel will be subject to discipline, including but not limited to, a fine of $25,000.” If the Patriots tampered with the footballs, the game’s outcome would not be affected, although they might possibly forfeit some draft picks.
The NFL requires footballs to weigh between 14 and 15 ounces and have an inflation of between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch. An underinflated football becomes easier to catch, but both teams use the same footballs. Tom Brady of the Pats completed 23 of 35 passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns while Andrew Luck of the Colts completed 12 of 33 passes for only 126 yards.
Tom Brady dismissed the rumor on Boston’s Dennis & Callahan Show this morning as “ridiculous … I think I’ve heard it all at this point. That’s the last of my worries. I don’t even respond to stuff like this.” Patriots coach Bill Belichick may address the rumor in his scheduled 3 p.m. EST conference call with the media.
This is not the first time others have accused the Patriots of cheating.
After New England’s win over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC playoffs this year, Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said the Patriots used “illegal” formations to confuse his defense. In 2007, the Patriots lost a first-round draft pick and $250,000 and the NFL fined Belichick $500,000 after the league found that they videotaped the New York Jets’ signals from the sideline.