The NFL says its investigation into whether the New England Patriots used underinflated footballs in the AFC championship game is ongoing after a report Tuesday night claimed the league found 11 balls were not properly inflated.
Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice-president for football operations, told The Associated Press that the "investigation is currently underway and we’re still awaiting findings."
Vincent was responding to an ESPN report that cited anonymous league sources saying 11 of the Patriots’ 12 allotted game footballs were underinflated by 2 pounds per square inch of air. ESPN did not say how that occurred.
Vincent said earlier Tuesday he expected the probe to be concluded by the end of the week. The last thing the NFL wants after a difficult season off the field is a potential cheating scandal that disrupts Super Bowl week. New England faces Seattle on Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona.
The Patriots, who beat Indianapolis 45-7 for the AFC title, said they were co-operating with the league, and a Seahawks spokesman said the team would defer to the league on the matter.
The NFL began looking into the issue not only because doctoring the footballs could provide a competitive advantage, but because it would compromise the integrity of the game.
Deflating a football can change the way it’s gripped by a player or the way it travels through the air. Some quarterbacks and receivers prefer balls with less air or more air than the standard.
Under NFL rules, each team provides balls each game for use when its offence is on the field. The balls are inspected before the game by the officiating crew, then handled during the game by personnel provided by the home team.
Social media responses were quick late Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning.
"11 of 12 balls under-inflated can anyone spell cheating!!! Just Saying" was the tweet from Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice.
"So we get to play the game again or nah? ??" tweeted Colts cornerback Darius Butler.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on ESPN radio in Milwaukee that he didn’t like how referees handle the balls. If balls come in over-inflated, the referees take some air out.
"I have a major problem with the way it goes down, to be honest with you," Rodgers said. "The majority of the time, they take air out of the football. I think that, for me, is a disadvantage."
Rodgers said referees have a set range in which they "like to set game balls," and that he always liked the higher end of the range because of his grip.
"I just have a hard time throwing a flat football," Rodgers said. He thought a slight majority of quarterbacks like footballs on the flatter side.
"My belief is that there should be a minimum air-pressure requirement but not a maximum," Rodgers said. "There’s no advantage, in my opinion. We’re not kicking the football. There’s no advantage in having a pumped-up football."
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said the investigation is the least of his worries. And tight end Rob Gronkowski tweeted a photo of himself spiking the ball with the words: "WARNING GRONKING MAY CAUSE DEFLATION."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick on Tuesday deferred questions about the investigation, saying reporters should ask league officials. Belichick earlier said he wasn’t aware there was an issue until Monday morning and promised to "co-operate fully with whatever the league wants us to, whatever questions they ask."
Belichick, of course, was fined $500,000 in 2007 for having an assistant spy on the New York Jets’ defensive signals.
Special teams captain Matthew Slater said the Patriots "try to do things the right way. We work hard at our jobs, our professions, to be successful and it’s unfortunate that things like this come up, but that’s life, that’s the world we live in."
Colts coach Chuck Pagano said he did not notice issues with the football and didn’t specify when asked whether the Colts had reported the issue to officials.
"We talk just like they talk to officials (before the game)," he said. "We have an opportunity to talk to the officials about a lot of things."
Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman said the balls didn’t feel different than usual.
And defensive tackle Vince Wilfork seemed amused by the matter and didn’t shed any light on it.
"I don’t know anything about that," he said. "I don’t touch footballs. I tackle people."