The NFL had its pressure gauges in hand before the Colts complained about the possibility of deflated footballs in Sunday's AFC Championship Game, according to a report.
Fox Sports reported Wednesday night that the Ravens, who played the Patriots the previous week, tipped off the Colts to the alleged deflation tactic. It's unclear who reported it to the league before the title game or when that happened, but the report said the NFL was prepared to inspect the pressure in the Patriots' footballs at halftime before any prompting by the Colts during the game.
The NFL interviewed members of the Colts' equipment staff as part of its ongoing investigation, a source told Newsday. That source also said the Colts were first aware of the possibility that the Patriots deflated footballs in a Nov. 16 game. Mike Adams intercepted two Tom Brady passes in that game and brought each to the sideline as a keepsake. That's when the Colts equipment staff first noticed what seemed to be deflation.
ESPN first reported the regular-season incident. The source told Newsday the Colts did not report the possible infraction to the NFL then. When D'Qwell Jackson intercepted Brady on Sunday and Colts staffers found a similarly soft football, though, the Colts alerted the league.
It now appears the NFL was already on the case.
"We are continuing our review and will provide information as soon as possible,'' NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Wednesday. NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent said Tuesday that the NFL is hoping to conclude its investigation "in the next two or three days.''
However, another league source told Newsday there is no timeline on the investigation, even with Super Bowl week looming. "We have to get it right,'' the source said. "So however long it takes.''
Two former NFL referees think the Pats broke the rules.
"This is cheating and something the league doesn't want,'' said Fox broadcaster Mike Periera, the NFL's former head of officiating. "It's something that the league will deal with harshly.''
Gerry Austin, another long-time ref, said he believes someone purposely let the air out of those footballs after they were inspected by the game officials and within the required range of 12.5-13.5 pounds per square inch of pressure.
"My understanding is all 12 balls were under the 13 pounds, but 11 of them were more than two pounds under the 13 pounds,'' Austin said of the halftime inspection on the "Mike & Mike'' show on ESPN Radio Wednesday morning. "Both teams' balls were brought in at halftime, to my understanding, and all 24 balls were checked. The Colts' balls were still up to 13 pounds and the Patriots' balls were not.''
WEEI radio in Boston reported that those under-inflated footballs were removed and the Patriots used 12 backup balls that the officials inspected before the second half began.
The Patriots have been mostly mum on the allegations; Brady laughed them off Monday, and Bill Belichick said the Patriots were cooperating with the investigation. Yesterday, though, cornerback Brandon Browner took to Twitter to defend his team -- if not to deny the claims.
"For my 2cents [LeGarrette] Blount scored 3 rushing touchdowns,'' Browner wrote. "He could've carried a beach ball. Also doesn't hurt we only gave up 7 points #inflatethis.''
As for the Seahawks, who will face the Patriots on Feb. 1 in Super Bowl XLIX, they mostly downplayed the controversy.
"I don't know anything about that,'' Russell Wilson said. "I don't think that's an issue, probably, but I have no idea.''
"It didn't have much effect on the game, if any,'' Richard Sherman said. "It's not going to have any effect on this game. Nobody is going to get suspended, nothing is going to happen. Whatever they did, the risk-reward was [worth it].''