The NFL promised to investigate fully and ”without compromise and delay” the recent accusations that the New England Patriots used under-inflated footballs, officials said Friday in a statement about the controversy.
The league is still investigating the issue, but it said in the statement, “While the evidence thus far supports the conclusion that footballs that were under-inflated were used by the Patriots in the first half, the footballs were properly inflated for the second half and confirmed at the conclusion of the game to have remained properly inflated.”
It was the first time the NFL has spoken out about so-called “Deflate-Gate,” nearly a week after questions arose about the balls used during the championship game the Patriots played against the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday.
Patriots players and staff have gone on the offensive after being accused of under-inflating 11 of the 12 balls the team used in the game. It is widely known that an under-inflated football can be easier to grip in the rain, which poured down on Gillette Stadium last Sunday when the Patriots beat the Colts 45-7. The NFL’s rules require game balls be inflated to between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch.
ESPN reported 11 of the 12 balls were under-inflated. But a source from the NFL told NBC Sports that the balls were checked four hours before the game began, and met the standards for air pressure. The source did not confirm to NBC that 11 of the balls were under-inflated.
Before each game, league officials inspect the balls each team plans to use. “The goals of the investigation will be to determine the explanation for why footballs used in the game were not in compliance with the playing rules and specifically whether any noncompliance was the result of deliberate action.”
Officials said they began the investigation on Sunday night, and they have since conducted almost 40 interviews, including of Patriots personnel, game officials, and third parties with relevant information and expertise. They expect to conduct additional interviews and examine forensic and physical evidence in the next few days to determine an outcome. NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash is working on the investigation with Ted Wells, an attorney.
“We have not made any judgments on these points and will not do so until we have concluded our investigation and considered all of the relevant evidence,” NFL officials said in the statement.
Earlier on Friday, three players with leadership roles for the Patriots addressed the media, each expressing anticipation for the upcoming Super Bowl and declaring their intent to remain focused on victory despite the allegations.
“We can’t let anything take our excitement away. We’ve worked hard to get here,” defensive co-captain Vince Wilfork told reporters at Gillette Stadium. “You can’t take our joy away from us.”
“There’s always distractions for players that will draw you away from the game,” offensive co-captain Dan Connolly said on Friday. “We have to keep focusing on the game and just do our job.”
Head coach Bill Belichick told the media on Thursday during a press appearance that he had “no knowledge” about the ball under-inflation. Hours later, the team’s star quarterback, Tom Brady, told reporters that he “didn’t alter the ball in any way.” On Friday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest poked fun at Brady’s news conference, saying, “For years it’s been clear that there is no risk that I was going to take Tom Brady’s job as quarterback of the New England Patriots; but I can tell you that as of today, it’s pretty clear that there’s no risk of him taking my job either.”
During his media appearance, Belichick noted the team’s full cooperation and quick responses to requests by NFL officials during the ongoing investigation. The NFL echoed Belichick’s comment in the league statement Friday.
Robert Kraft, Patriots CEO and chairman, said in a statement on Friday that the the team provided access to every full- and part-time employee the NFL requested to speak with and provided every communications device they asked to search.
“Competitive balance and the integrity of the game are the foundation of what makes our league so special and I have the utmost respect for those principles. Our organization will continue to cooperate throughout the league’s investigation,” Kraft wrote in the statement.
Ryan Grigson, Indianapolis Colts general manager, briefly addressed the controversy during a scheduled season-ending news conference on Friday.
“It’s obviously, as I’ve told you guys, in the league’s hands,” he told reporters at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. He declined to comment further on the situation.
The Patriots are preparing to face off against the Seattle Seahawks, the defending Super Bowl champions, on Feb. 1 in Glendale, Arizona.