The New England Patriots’ deflated footballs scandal, explained – Updated by Joseph Stromberg on January 27, 2015, 9:32 a.m. ET

The footballs used by the New England Patriots during the first half of the AFC Championship were under-inflated, according to an NFL investigation. According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, 11 of the 12 balls used had less than the amount of air pressure mandated by the league.


Why might the Patriots want under-inflated footballs? In theory, it would have made the balls easier for quarterback Tom Brady to hold and for the team’s receivers to catch during the game’s rainy conditions. Because teams always use their own sets of footballs when they’re on offense, this wouldn’t have helped their opponents, the Indianapolis Colts. For better or worse, this scandal seems to have been unofficially named Deflate-gate.

11 of the 12 balls used were under-inflated

Both Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Brady have denied any involvement. The league’s ongoing investigation has reportedly uncovered video of a Patriots locker room attendant who briefly took the balls from the officials’ locker room into a bathroom before the game.

Still, it’s not been established that the under-inflation was the result of any coordinated action by the Patriots. If it was, though, it could mean serious penalties for the team — possibly including fines and lost draft picks. And given previous instances of cheating by the team, it could further tarnish their legacy, even if they win Super Bowl XLIX, giving Brady and Belichick a fourth ring together.

Here’s what we know so far about the situation.

What did the Patriots do?

bill belichick

Patriots coach Bill Belichick, on the sideline of the AFC Championship. (Elsa/Getty Images)

In their game on Sunday, January 18 against the Indianapolis Colts — a game in which the winner would advance to the Super Bowl — the Patriots played part of the game with balls that were under-inflated.

It’s unclear who tipped the Colts off to the Patriots’ under-inflated balls. Initially, it was reported that after catching an interception in the second quarter, Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson noticed the ball was less inflated than usual, but he’s since denied noticing anything.

Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer has reported, meanwhile, that the Patriots’ previous opponent (the Baltimore Ravens) told the Colts that the Patriots’ balls might be under-inflated before the game, and the NFL was already planning to inspect them.

In any event, officials checked the balls at halftime and reportedly found that 11 of the 12 balls the Patriots were using were indeed under-inflated — with about two pounds per square inch less pressure than the minimum 12.5 psi mandated by the league. At that point, they were re-inflated to the proper pressure, and stayed that way for the second half.

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