The NFL has interviewed members of the Indianapolis Colts' equipment staff as part of its investigation into the deflation of footballs used by the New England Patriots in Sunday's AFC Championship Game, a source told Newsday.
The source also said the Colts became aware of the possibility that the Patriots doctored the air pressure in footballs during a Nov. 16 game. Safety Mike Adams intercepted two passes off Tom Brady in that game and brought each to the sideline as a keepsake. That's when members of the Colts' equipment staff first noticed what seemed to be deflation.
ESPN first reported the regular-season incident. The source told Newsday that the Colts did not alert the NFL to the possible infraction at that time. The league first heard about the issue from the Colts during Sunday's game.
"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."
'This is cheating'
Two former NFL referees stated they believe the Patriots broke the rules.
"This is cheating and this is something the league doesn't want," said Mike Periera, the NFL's former head of officiating who is now a broadcaster for Fox. "It's bad enough that rules get taken advantage of and you work against the intent of the rule. But this is cheating, and it something that the league will deal with harshly."
Gerry Austin, another longtime referee, said he believes someone purposely let the air of out 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 [per square inch], 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. "I take away from that, somebody has let some air out of the balls. Do I have knowledge of whether they did or not? 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."
Luck sees little issue
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck downplayed the situation.
"Things in the media tend to be blown out of proportion a little bit,'' Luck said from Phoenix, where he is practicing for the Pro Bowl. "That's the nature of where we are today in society. But you can't take anything away from them being a heck of a team."
The man who started the inquiry, Indianapolis linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, is a Pro Bowl participant but didn't want to talk to reporters.
He told officials there was something wrong with the football after he intercepted Tom Brady's pass.
According to a report from WEEI radio in Boston, those underinflated footballs were removed and the Patriots used 12 backup footballs for the second half. Those backups were inspected by officials before the start of the second half.
The Patriots have been mostly mum on the allegations; Brady laughed them off in a radio interview Monday, and Bill Belichick said the Patriots were cooperating with the league in its investigation. Wednesday, though, cornerback Brandon Browner took to Twitter to defend his team — if not to deny the claims.
"For my 2cents 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 Seattle Seahawks, who will face the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX, they mostly downplayed the controversy.
"I don't know anything about that," quarterback 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," cornerback 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 greater."
Johnson paid for scuffing
Brady isn't the only NFL quarterback who got an edge. Former Buccaneers quarterback Brad Johnson, an ex-Viking, admitted Wednesday in the Tampa Bay Times that in 2003, he paid someone $7,500 to make sure the game footballs were scuffed to his liking before playing Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII. Johnson's team won.
A variety of news services contributed to this report.