Report: Footballs in New England were deflated. But don't blame the Patriots this time

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New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, center, turns away after shaking hands with Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) following an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The special teams footballs used in Sunday’s game between Kansas City and New England were reportedly underinflated — not by the Patriots, this time — an ironic throwback to the Deflategate scandal that captivated the football world for parts of three seasons and led to penalties against the team and quarterback Tom Brady. reported on Thursday that the Patriots complained to the officials during the first half of the Chiefs' 27-17 victory that the balls used by the punters and kickers — which are specially marked, and referred to as “K-balls” — were too soft. They were tested at halftime and found to be inflated to 11 psi, the website reported, instead of the league-mandated range of 12.5-13.5 psi.

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After the 2015 Deflategate fiasco, when the NFL ruled that the Patriots were intentionally using underinflated footballs, the league took control of the game balls away from the teams.

“We were aware of it in the first quarter,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Friday. “You have to talk to the league what happened on that, because we don't have anything to do with that part of it. They control all that.”

An NFL spokesman did not respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment. Patriots kickers were not available during Thursday's open locker loom period. Chiefs coach Andy Reid said on Thursday that he hadn't heard of any issues but told reporters, “I'm not worried about all that.”

The website reported and Belichick confirmed that the Patriots sensed something was wrong when Kansas City’s Harrison Butker, who has put 87% of his kickoffs this season into the end zone for touchbacks, sent his game-opening kick only to the 3 yard-line. During the first half, both teams’ kickers missed field goals, including a 39-yard attempt that was Butker’s first miss of the season.

“I think you could see that by the kicks,” Belichick said. “Butker had a perfect season going."

The balls were checked at halftime and fixed. Butker made two field goals in the second half and every kickoff for both teams reached the end zone.

Belichick wondered why the balls weren't fixed sooner.

In the scandal that came to be known as Deflategate, the Patriots were fined $1 million and docked two draft picks and Brady was suspended four games for what the league found was a scheme to provide improperly inflated footballs for the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts in January of 2015. In a 243-page report, an NFL investigator zeroed in on two equipment managers — one who referred to himself in a text message as “The Deflator” — and concluded that Brady was “at least generally aware” of the illegal deflation plans.

The Patriots defended Brady, countering that the league's scientific evidence was flawed. Brady appealed to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and then the federal courts; after a 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel reinstated his suspension, Brady sat out the first four games of the 2016 season.

New England went on to win the Super Bowl. Despite playing only 12 games, Brady was the runner-up in MVP voting.

In response to the scandal, the NFL changed its procedures to put pregame control of the footballs in the hands of the officials, not the individual teams.


AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta in Kansas City, Missouri, contributed to this report.



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