New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said Thursday he "didn't alter the ball in any way" for the controversial victory in the Jan. 18 AFC Championship Game that propelled his team to compete in this year's Super Bowl.
"Those balls were perfect."'
Brady and his coach, Bill Belichick, are under intense scrutiny following a report from the NFL that 11 of 12 footballs used by the Patriots in the first half of their AFC matchup against the Indianapolis Colts were deflated below league regulations.
It is common knowledge among NFL players and experts that under-inflated footballs are easier to throw and catch in adverse weather conditions. The Patriots' lopsided 45-to-7 victory took place amid consistent rainfall. A source from the NFL told NBC Sports the footballs 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 12 footballs were under-inflated.
On Thursday, Belichick disavowed any knowledge of the Patriots' balls being tampered with and appeared to deflect attention onto Brady when he said the quarterback's "personal preferences on his footballs are something that he can talk about in much better detail and information than I could possibly provide." In his own separate appearance before the media, Brady said he was "as surprised as anyone" by the controversy and vehemently denied that he has ever knowingly played with a football that didn't meet the NFL standard.
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“I feel like I’ve always played within the rules and I would never do anything to break the rules,” said Brady. The three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback said that he understands the "integrity" of the game is in question and that he wants to get to the bottom of what occurred just like everyone else.
"I have no knowledge of anything," Brady said. He also claimed that he spoke to the Patriots' equipment staff, and they confirmed that they also didn't alter the footballs in question. He maintained that the Patriots beat the Colts last week "fair and square."
NBC Sports' Mike Florio and many other commentators have pointed out that Brady's performance in the second half, when the footballs were brought back up to standards, was superior to the first half. "Those balls were perfect," Brady said Thursday.
"This isn’t ISIS, no one’s dying."'
“Everyone is trying to figure out what happened,” Brady added. Still, he said "I can't do anything about what happened. I can really only do something about going forward," repeatedly saying his focus is on his upcoming Super Bowl battle with the defending champion Seattle Seahawks. Outspoken Seahawks' cornerback Richard Sherman dismissed the "Deflate-gate" story during a presser on Thursday. "It's not going to have any effect on this game," Sherman said, in reference to the much anticipated Super Bowl.
“I don’t like the fact that this has taken away somewhat from the accomplishment, from what we’ve achieved as a team,” Brady told reporters. Earlier on Thursday, NBC News' Peter Alexander reported that Brady addressed his team in a private meeting and confided that he likes his footballs "a certain way."
"You gotta feel them and you try to go out and use the ones you like the best," Brady told reporters Thursday. In the wake of the controversy, previous comments Brady has made singing the praises of deflated balls have received renewed scrutiny. Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada called on the NFL to deliver a swift and strong punishment if its determined that the Patriots deflated footballs in a premeditated way.
"As the Senator from the only state where sports betting is legal, it is imperative the integrity of the game never be questioned. When individuals break professional rules to gain unfair competitive advantages, everyone associated with the game is impacted. This type of behavior should never be tolerated. I'm calling on the NFL to work with the NFL Players Association to restore the credibility of the game before the Super Bowl kicks off on February 1. I am seeking decisive actions ensuring all teams are playing according to the rules," said Heller. An NFL investigation is currently underway and Brady said he had yet to be questioned formally by the league. Later, Brady clarified his statement and said he was "unsure" if the NFL had reached out to him.
Meanwhile, Brady poked fun at the hysteria over the controversy. "This isn't ISIS, no one's dying," Brady quipped.