New England Coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady took questions Thursday to try to make the situation around the Patriots better. Instead, their lack of answers may have made the matter only more muddled.
In separate news conferences, Belichick and Brady attempted to defuse the controversy over the Patriots’ improper use of under-inflated footballs. But each denied knowing how the balls they used in their AFC championship game victory could have been outside of NFL regulations, leaving the league to sort through the particulars as the Super Bowl looms in a little more than a week.
“I didn’t alter the ball in any way,” Brady said during an afternoon news conference in Foxborough, Mass., and added later: “I have no knowledge of anything. I have no knowledge of any wrongdoing. . . . I’m very comfortable saying that.”
Earlier in the day, Belichick said: “I have no explanation for what happened. That’s what they’re looking into. So I can’t comment on what they’re doing. That’s something that you should talk to [NFL officials] about.”
The NFL continues to investigate the matter after reportedly finding that 11 of the 12 footballs supplied by the Patriots in their 45-7 triumph over the Indianapolis Colts were under-inflated according to NFL specifications.
A person familiar with the league’s deliberations said Wednesday the NFL views the potential violation, if willful, as “very serious” but it was “too early” at that point to know what possible penalties the team might be facing.
On Thursday morning, Belichick seemed to shift the focus to Brady.
“Tom’s personal preferences on his footballs are something he can talk about in much better detail and information than I could possibly provide,” Belichick said. “I could tell you that in my entire coaching career I have never talked to any player [or] staff member about football air pressure. That is not a subject that I have ever brought up. To me, the footballs are approved by the league and game officials pregame, and we play with what’s out there. That’s the only way that I have ever thought about that.”
Each team supplies the footballs it will use on offense during a game, and the home team supplies an additional set of footballs to be used as backups. The game officials inspect the footballs 2 hours 15 minutes before kickoff to determine whether they comply with league specifications in terms of air pressure and weight. Once the footballs are approved and marked by the officials, they are returned to team-assigned ball attendants. Footballs must be inflated to 12.5 to 13.5 pounds per square inch of air pressure. Belichick said he stays out of the process of choosing the footballs.
“I’ve learned about the inflation range situation,” Belichick said. “Obviously with our footballs being inflated to the 12.5-pound range, any deflation would then take us under that specification limit. Knowing that now, in the future we will certainly inflate the footballs above that low level to account for any possible change during the game. As an example, if a ball deflated from 13.2 to 12.9, it wouldn’t matter. But if it deflated from 12.5 to 12.3, it would, as an example. We will take steps in the future to make sure that we don’t put ourselves in that type of potential situation again.”
During Brady’s meeting with media members, which was originally scheduled for Friday but moved to Thursday afternoon after Belichick spoke, the quarterback said he picked the footballs he wanted before Sunday’s game as he always does.
“It was the same process that I always go through,” Brady said. “I didn’t think anything of it. . . . Once I approve the ball, that’s the ball that I expect out there on the field.”
Brady said he thinks a football inflated to 12.5 pounds per square inch of air pressure — the low end of the acceptable range — is “perfect” to grip the ball to throw.
He added: “I would never do anything outside of the rules of play. I would never have someone do something that I thought was outside” the rules.
Brady said he had questions of his own about what happened. He called the matter “a very serious topic” related to “the integrity of the sport.” He said he had not, as of Thursday afternoon, spoken to NFL investigators.
“I felt like we won the game fair and square,” Brady said.
Former NFL quarterback Mark Brunell, now an NFL analyst for ESPN, said on the network’s coverage: “I didn’t believe Tom Brady.” Brunell added no equipment manager for an NFL team would alter the football without the approval of the starting quarterback.
The NFL’s competition committee is expected to review the chain-of-custody issues related to the pregame inspection of footballs that might have contributed to the incident. That review by the competition committee is expected to take place during the upcoming offseason, according to NFL spokesman Michael Signora. A competition committee member confirmed later that such a review will take place.
That review could result in league-appointed ball attendants taking possession of the footballs after they’re inspected by the game officials before games. Currently, the footballs are returned to team-appointed ball attendants.
That issue won’t be a factor in the Super Bowl, in which the footballs are placed in the possession of a third-party equipment manager beginning two days before the game.
According to Signora, each team still will supply the footballs that it will use on offense during the game, but Chicago Bears equipment manager Tony Medlin will take possession of the balls following each team’s practice on the Friday before the game.
The third-party equipment manager arranges for the ball-attendant crews, which are chosen before the Super Bowl-participating teams are determined, according to Signora, who added that this policy has been in place for years.