Post NFL editor Keith McMillan recruits a few coworkers to see if they can tell which football has been under-inflated by 2 PSI, the amount the NFL claims the New England Patriots' game balls were deflated. (Davin Coburn and Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)

Tom Brady held a press conference Thursday, in which he said, “I didn’t alter the ball in any way,” and also denied having any knowledge of how 11 of the 12 footballs used by the Patriots in the AFC championship game could have become significantly deflated, as has been reported.

Immediately after Brady’s appearance before reporters, ESPN convened a panel of ex-players to offer their thoughts. And it quickly became clear that no one among Mark Brunell, Jerome Bettis and Brian Dawkins was buying the Patriots quarterback’s story.

Brunell spoke first, and he was startlingly clear about where he stood on the issue of Brady’s truthfulness:

“I did not believe what Tom had to say,” Brunell told host Trey Wingo.

“Those balls were deflated, someone had to do it,” Brunell added, “and I don’t believe there’s an equipment manager in the NFL who would, on his own initiative, deflate a ball without the starting quarterback’s approval.”

Wingo noted that Brunell, who played quarterback for the Jaguars, Redskins, Saints, Jets and Packers over a 17-year career, seemed “pretty emotional about this.” Brunell replied, “Well, it’s disappointing because my experience is — listen, I started 151 games — there wasn’t one game ball I didn’t put my hands on.”

Brunell then spoke about the care he would take in the week leading up to games, making sure that the footballs he was going to use fit his specifications. “That football is our livelihood!” he exclaimed, expressing high skepticism that Brady could have just blithely played with under-inflated balls.

Then Bettis jumped in. The former running back, who played for the Steelers and Rams over a 13-year career, told Wingo, “I could not believe what I heard, I was so disappointed.”

Bettis said that Brady should have owned up to his “mistake,” adding, “It’s clear that the equipment managers are doing what you want them to do.” Bettis noted that the Patriots quarterback had said that he liked his footballs inflated to 12.5 PSI, the lowest end of the NFL’s mandate range, and that a scenario in which Brady played with balls that didn’t meet that specification “would never happen.”

Dawkins elaborated on the theme that all NFL players like to have all their equipment, including shoulder pads and cleats “a certain way.” The former safety, who played for the Eagles and Broncos over a 16-year career, asserted that the notion that the equipment manager “took it upon himself” to doctor the balls defied credibility.

Even Wingo took a shot, pointing out, “How do you know you like [the football] at 12 and a half if you can’t feel the difference?”

On Wednesday, Brunell and Bettis demonstrated that they had no difficulty telling the difference between a football inflated to 13 PSI, one at 11 and one at 15.

Here is video of ESPN’s panel: