If the New England Patriots are found to be responsible for deflating balls below the minimum pressure per square inch required by the NFL, they reportedly have their two AFC playoff opponents to thank for it.
Fox Sports reported Tuesday that the Baltimore Ravens tipped off the Indianapolis Colts that balls used by the Patriots might be under-inflated. The Ravens lost to New England 35-31 Jan. 10 in the AFC Divisional playoffs, while Indianapolis fell to the Patriots 45-7 in the AFC Championship game Jan. 18.
Much of the controversy after the Ravens game stemmed from head coach John Harbaugh's claim that the Patriots had used illegal formations during several plays while on offense. That claim was dismissed by the NFL, which confirmed that the formations were legal.
Late Tuesday, ESPN reported that 11 of the 12 game balls originally supplied by the Patriots for use on offense were found to be under-inflated by two pounds per square inch. Neither the NFL nor the Patriots has commented publicly on the report. The league's investigation is ongoing.
WEEI.com in Boston reported Tuesday that the Patriots used 12 backup footballs for the second half of Sunday's game after the game officials tested the primary balls at halftime and found them to be under-inflated. The station, citing a source within the Patriots organization, said that the alternate balls were tested, found to be inflated to the proper specifications, and put in play just before New England's first offensive play of the second half.
According to Fox Sports, the league was already planning to inspect the balls at halftime. Earlier reports had claimed that Indianapolis linebacker D'Qwell Jackson noticed something was amiss after intercepting a pass thrown by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
The Patriots led the Colts 17-7 at halftime, but outscored Indianapolis 28-0 in the second half to secure their sixth Super Bowl appearance since 2001.
NFL rules dictate that any team found to have tampered with the balls to gain a competitive advantage after inspection and approval by the game officials can be fined at least $25,000, though the rule does allow for stricter penalties to be imposed.