The NFL is investigating whether the AFC champions may have intentionally deflated game balls during New England’s 45-7 thrashing of the Colts in Sunday’s AFC championship game.
Deflated game balls can be easier to grip during bad weather such as the rainy conditions Sunday night at Gillette Stadium. The league has made no determination of guilt, but if the Pats are found guilty, they could be fined and/or docked draft picks.
The uproar around the investigation has grown over the past two days, becoming the dominant topic of conversation on sports talk shows and even network newscasts less than two weeks before the Patriots are set to play the Seahawks February 1 in the Super Bowl. That the investigation surrounds the Patriots — who were fined and docked a first-round draft pick after the Spygate scandal in 2007 — has only intensified the reaction.
Here’s what you need to know about the unfolding investigation:
1. ESPN Reported That 11 of the Patriots’ 12 Game Balls Were Underinflated
The NFL has began investigated the issue and found that 11 of the 12 balls provided by the Patriots were 2 pounds per square inch lighter than the league requires, according to ESPN’s Chris Moretensen. The requirement is 12.5 to 13.5 pounds. During the game, they took one ball out of play so they could weigh it. The Colts first detected that they were under inflated when Tom Brady threw his only interception of the game.
Bob Kravitz, a columnist for WTHR.com, an Indianapolis-based TV channel, was the first to break the news the night of the game.
The league has yet to announce if and how they will punish the Patriots.
2. The NFL Is Working to Wrap up the Investigation Any Day
With the league preparing for the biggest game of the year in under two weeks, Troy Vincent, the NFL’s vice president of football operations, told Pro Football Talk that the league is looking to have the investigation wrapped up within a matter of days.
We’re hoping to wrap that up in the next two or three days. The team is in place in New England now interviewing staff members.
He also said that the league has yet to decide on a punishment.
We obviously want to get that on the table, get that behind us so that we can really get back to the game itself. … For a fan, you want to know that everything’s equal. The integrity of the game is so important.
3. Each Team Is Responsible for Providing Game Balls
According to the NFL Rule Book, the each team is responsible for proving their own game balls two hours before kickoff.
Each team will make 12 primary balls available for testing by the Referee two hours and 15 minutes prior to the starting time of the game to meet League requirements. The home team will also make 12 backup balls available for testing in all stadiums. In addition, the visitors, at their discretion, may bring 12 backup balls to be tested by the Referee for games held in outdoor stadiums. For all games, eight new footballs, sealed in a special box and shipped by the manufacturer to the Referee, will be opened in the officials’ locker room two hours and 15 minutes prior to the starting time of the game. These balls are to be specially marked by the Referee and used exclusively for the kicking game.
This means that the 12 balls provided by the Patriots were used by their offense, and the 12 balls the Colts provided were used by their offense.
4. Quarterbacks Have Different Preferences for the Balls They Use
Deflated footballs can allow for a better grip, since it makes it smaller and therefore fits better in your hand. Due to the downpour in New England last night, this would have definitely been an advantage.
The smaller balls would have made it easier to throw, catch and hold onto. The smaller size would also prevent forced fumbles, as the runner — most likely LeGerrette Blount — could completely wrap his arms around it if carrying it correctly.
Since the Colts had the brought their own balls, they never used the ones provided by the Patriots, causing them to have never had the advantage of the smaller balls.
However, other quarterbacks around the league have said that they, too, have special preferences when it comes to the details of the footballs they use.
Aaron Rodgers told ESPN Milwaukee that his large hands make it easier to grip an over inflated football. He said that, in his experience, the refs often take air out of the balls when inspecting them.
I have a major problem with the way it goes down, to be honest with you. The majority of the time, they take air out of the football. I think that, for me, is a disadvantage. … I just have a hard time throwing a flat football. … My belief is that there should be a minimum air-pressure requirement but not a maximum. There’s no advantage, in my opinion. We’re not kicking the football. There’s no advantage in having a pumped-up football.
The New York Times reported that it takes months to get a football to Eli Manning’s preference, saying, “the ball has been scoured, scrubbed, soaked and seasoned, a breaking-in process that takes months and ensures that every ball used by the Giants in a game will meet Manning’s exact preferences. The leather will have been softened, the grip enhanced and the overall feel painstakingly assessed.”
5. The Patriots Say They’re Cooperating With the Investigation
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady laughed off the allegations during his weekly appearance on WEEI radio’s Dennis and Callahan show on Monday morning. (Listen to the audio here. The exchange about the allegations starts at the 9-minute mark.)
Asked by co-host Kirk Minihane if he’d heard about the story, Brady said he hadn’t. Asked by Minihane if he got the sense that he had a better grip on the ball than the Colts, Brady laughed and replied “I think I’ve heard it all at this point.”
Co-host Gerry Callahan then joked the hosts were trying to figure out whose job it was to take the air out of the ball and that Callahan was pretty sure it was Patriots owner Bob Kraft’s. Brady’s response: “It’s nobody’s.”
He later added: “That’s the last of my worries. I don’t even respond to stuff like this.”
Rob Gronkowski tweeted an image suggesting his post-touchdown spike could cause deflation in the balls.
Bill Belichick said in a conference call Monday that he intends to cooperate with the league throughout the investigation.
We’ll cooperate fully with whatever the league wants us . . . whatever questions they ask us, whatever they want us to do. … I didn’t know anything about it until this morning.