PHOENIX - The NFL's investigation into whether the Patriots purposely deflated footballs for their AFC Championship Game matchup against the Colts began only when the Colts raised the issue with an NFL game day operations official and was not the result of a sting operation, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.
"There was a situation that was brought up during the game, and it was looked into," a person familiar with the matter told Newsday. "That's when it first came up. It was not the result of something that was arranged ahead of time."
Another person familiar with the timeline of when the issue was raised said the NFL would not have gone to such lengths to try to catch a team doing something against the rules by running a sting and essentially laying a trap for one team.
"No way," he said. "That's just not how it works."
The NFL had no comment.
The Colts raised the issue of whether a ball that was intercepted in the second quarter by linebacker D'Qwell Jackson was under-inflated. Jackson didn't notice anything out of the ordinary, but the equipment staff member he gave it to thought it was not properly inflated.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano was notified and a call was made to general manager Ryan Grigson in the press box, according to a source familiar with the Colts' situation. Grigson then contacted NFL vice president of game operations Mike Kensil, who informed the on-field officials of the possibility of the use of under-inflated footballs.
The source said the NFL contacted the Colts' equipment staff last week during its investigation of the matter and that the league was told that the Colts suspected the Patriots used under-inflated footballs when the teams played in Indianapolis on Nov. 16. The Colts did not tell the officials of their suspicions before the game, raising the question only after Jackson's interception.
The league on Friday announced it has hired a private investigative firm, Renaissance Associates, and attorney Ted Wells has agreed to join NFL lead counsel Jeff Pash to oversee the investigation. Wells said in a statement Monday that the investigation will last "at least several more weeks" and that the results will be shared publicly.
Fox Sports reported Monday that the league has focused its investigation on a Patriots locker room attendant who was seen on video removing the game-day footballs from the officials' room before the game. NFL Network confirmed the story. The NFL had no comment on the reports.
There also has been speculation that Kensil, a key figure in the initial phase of the deflated football matter, might have a personal bias against the Patriots because of his association with the Jets.
Kensil was employed by the Jets as director of operations for 29 years. He was fired by the team in February 2006.
"The idea that Mike Kensil would have it out for the Patriots is just false," a person familiar with the situation said. "It was not an amicable parting."
Kensil's father, Jim, was a longtime Jets executive who served as team president from 1977-88.
Kensil declined comment. The Jets had no comment on Kensil's departure from the team.