NEW YORK >> An NFL investigation released Wednesday concluded New England Patriots employees likely deflated footballs used in the AFC Championship and that quarterback Tom Brady was “at least generally aware” of the rules violations.
The NFL began investigating what’s now known as “Deflategate” after the Patriots defeated the Colts 45-7 on January 18. The Colts complained that several footballs were under-inflated and the NFL confirmed that 11 of the 12 footballs were under the limit. The investigation started as the Patriots were preparing for the Super Bowl — which they won two weeks later.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice president of football operations, would review the 243-page report on attorney Ted Wells’ investigation and consider what steps to take next.
“We will continue our efforts vigorously to protect the integrity of the game and promote fair play at all times,” Goodell said.
The NFL requires balls to be inflated between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch, and each team is responsible for the balls it uses on offense.
Footballs with less pressure can be easier to grip and catch. Some quarterbacks prefer footballs that have less air.
Brady said he prefers footballs inflated to 12.5 pounds per square inch. On many occasions, Brady said he never asked for balls to be deflated outside of the rules.
But the NFL report concluded “it was more than probable than not” that Jim McNally, the officials’ locker room attendant, and John Jastremski, an equipment assistant for the Patriots, were involved in “a deliberate effort to release air” from the footballs in the moments before kickoff of the AFC title game — and after they were examined by the referee.
The report cites evidence that McNally took the game balls into a bathroom adjacent to the field at Gillette Stadium, and stayed there for about 100 seconds — “an amount of time sufficient to deflate thirteen footballs using a needle.”
Other evidence included referee Walt Anderson’s inability to locate the previously approved footballs at the start of the game — the first time that had happened to him in 19 years.
The report includes salty text messages between McNally and Jastremski — sent in October and January — that imply Brady was requesting footballs deflated below 12.5 pounds per square inch. They also imply that Brady had previously been upset with the quality of the game balls.
The texts described requests from McNally for shoes and signed footballs from Brady in exchange for deflating the balls.
“Remember to put a couple sweet pig skins ready for tom to sign,” one said.
“Nice throw in some kicks and make it real special,” another said.
The report says there’s no evidence that owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick or anyone on the coaching staff knew about the scheme.
Kraft, who strongly defended his team and said the NFL would owe the Patriots an apology if the investigation turned up no culpable evidence, called the conclusion “incomprehensible.”
But, he said the Patriots would accept the findings of the report “and take the appropriate actions based on those findings as well as any discipline levied by the league.”
AP Sports Writers Jimmy Golen in Boston and Mike Marot in Indianapolis contributed to this report.