A cheaters tag continued to swirl Wednesday around the Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots amid reports the NFL found they used under-inflated American footballs in a playoff rout last Sunday.
The Boston Globe and ESPN reported the ongoing league investigation has found the Patriots used the softer balls -- making them easier to grip, throw and catch in the prevailing cold and rainy conditions -- during a 45-7 home playoff romp over Indianapolis.
The Patriots, already infamous over the 2007 "Spygate" scandal in which they spied upon an opponent and lost a first-round NFL Draft choice as punishment, now enter the Super Bowl on February 1 against defending champion Seattle on the heels of "Deflate-Gate."
Each NFL team provides 12 footballs that its offensive unit uses in a game, balls that are checked by referees before the game to ensure they meet proper inflation levels and other NFL standards. They are then given to approved attendants for each club who maintain custody of the balls until they are needed.
The Globe said that it received a letter from the NFL saying officials inspected the balls used by the Patriots at half-time and found some that were improperly inflated, using different pressure gauges on each to confirm the finding. ESPN reported that 11 of 12 game balls were un-inflated by about 2 pounds (0.9 kg) below the 12.5-13.5 pound level mandated under NFL rules.
The NFL probe into just how the balls became deflated continues, league officials declining comment until the findings are complete, which is expected later this week before the Super Bowl teams head to Arizona for next week`s final workouts ahead of the annual championship spectacle.
The Patriots have vowed total cooperation with the NFL investigation.
Newsday reported that Indianapolis linebacker D`Qwell Jackson became suspicious about air levels after intercepting a pass from New England quarterback Tom Brady in the second quarter.
While some point to the lopsided final score and say the air levels did not impact the outcome, the Patriots led only 17-7 at half-time.
Before the first play from scrimmage in the second half, officials switched out game balls, as if noticing something were wrong. The Patriots went on to produce 28 unanswered second-half points.
The Patriots won the 2002, 2004 and 2005 Super Bowls but lost in 2008 and 2012 to the New York Giants. They have long been a title contender under coach Bill Belichick, but his tenure has not been without controversy.
In 2007, the Patriots were caught video-taping the New York Jets defensive coach`s signals. Belichick admitted a violation of NFL rules but said there was no intent to try and hide what was being done He was fined $500,000, twice the fine the team was hit with, but the Patriots also lost their next first-round NFL Draft pick in "Spygate."