Bill Belichick says he was unaware about alleged deflated footballs
FOXBOROUGH — Patriots coach Bill Belichick pledged to cooperate with the NFL in the league’s investigation into the footballs used in Sunday night’s AFC Championship game, and whether they were deflated.
“We’ll cooperate fully with whatever the league wants us . . . whatever questions they ask us, whatever they want us to do,” Belichick said Monday afternoon during a conference call.
Early Monday, reporter Bob Kravitz of WTHR in Indianapolis, a longtime Colts beat writer, tweeted that the NFL was going to look into whether New England had deflated balls during the game. Later Monday morning, league spokesman Michael Signora confirmed to the Globe that the NFL was looking into the matter.
There was at least one ball taken out of circulation during New England’s 45-7 win over the Colts, when the Patriots were on offense in the third quarter.
Channel 5’s Mike Lynch reported Monday night that Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, after making an interception at the end of the first half, told the team’s equipment manager that the ball he caught seemed underinflated. That information went up the Colts’ ladder, and general manager Ryan Grigson contacted the NFL’s director of field operations, who spoke with the game officials at halftime.
When the Globe contacted Signora Monday afternoon with some follow-up questions — such as whether it was the Colts or one of the game officials who alerted the league to a possible problem, how common it is for balls to be taken out of circulation during games, and whether there is a timetable for how long it will take to complete the investigation — he said there was nothing further to add.
Asked if he was given any indication during the game that there were concerns with the footballs — in wet conditions such as Sunday night’s, deflating a football could make it easier to grip or catch — Belichick said no.
“I didn’t know anything about it until this morning,” he said.
Another reporter asked Belichick bluntly: Were the Patriots using deflated footballs?
“As I said, the first I heard about it was this morning,” Belichick said.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano said he did not notice issues with the footballs. He did not specify when asked whether the Colts had reported the issue to officials.
‘‘We talk, just like they talk to officials [before the game],” said Pagano. “We have an opportunity to talk to the officials about a lot of things, things that you’ve seen on tape like the formations we talked about last week. Every coach in the league gets an opportunity to visit with the officials about that kind of stuff before the game.’’
The league’s vice president of officiating, Dean Blandino, was on NFL Network Monday to briefly discuss the situation, and was asked how potential impropriety could have been brought to the officials’ attention.
“It could come from the opponent, it could come from them noticing something, something clearly abnormal about the football,” Blandino said. “So there are a lot of different ways that it could come to their attention. But once it does come to their attention and they recognize it, then that ball is removed. It will be further investigated.”
Blandino also said it “was not unheard of” for a ball to be taken out of circulation during a game and then tested later in the week.
In the locker room shortly before Belichick’s conference call, players pleaded ignorance on the issue, which came to be known on Twitter as “Deflategate.”
“I don’t know anything about that,” offensive lineman Nate Solder said when asked if the ball he caught for a touchdown felt deflated. “I’m glad I caught it. Things happen, things get said all the time.”
Receiver Julian Edelman said the balls used in the game felt fine. He added, “I don’t know anything. It’s just a story. It’s whatever. I don’t know anything about it.”
Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork said, “I never heard nothing about that. I don’t know anything. I don’t touch footballs, I tackle people.”
During his weekly interview with WEEI, Tom Brady laughed when asked about the report. “I think I’ve heard it all at this point,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. I don’t even respond to stuff like this.”
Under NFL rules, each team gives the officials 12 balls to use in the game, but for games in which there will be inclement weather, as there was Sunday night, each team supplies 24 balls.
A little more than two hours before kickoff, several members of the officiating crew — Walt Anderson was referee for the AFC title game — take all the balls the teams have given them and inspect and weigh them, looking for irregularities in shape and determining whether they are of proper weight.
The NFL rulebook stipulates that all game balls must be inflated to a minimum of 12½ and maximum of 13½ pounds per square inch. Once it is deemed usable, each ball is then marked by a member of the officiating crew so it’s clear it can be used in game play, and to prevent it from getting mixed up with an unapproved ball, such as one the kicker or punter might use for warming up on the sideline.
The balls each team brings to officials have been conditioned to their players’ liking throughout the week; some players, such as Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, prefer the ball to be at the maximum allowable PSI. Others prefer a slightly softer ball, near the minimum.
Balls submitted by the Patriots were used when they were on offense and those submitted by the Colts were used when they were on offense.
For games, ball attendants are hired by the teams keep track of the footballs, but they are supposed to be tested periodically to make sure they are still usable.
The NFL game operations manual states that “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 league finds that the balls were tampered with during the course of the game, fines could be levied, though Kravitz also reported that the league could take draft picks from the Patriots.