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Tom Brady says he didn’t alter Patriots’ underinflated footballs

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said he didn’t alter footballs that were found to be underinflated in last week’s conference championship game and that he was as surprised as anyone to learn about the controversy.

“Everyone is trying to figure out what happened,” Brady said at a televised news conference. “That’s the main thing over the last couple days. I was as surprised as anyone when I found out Monday morning what was happening.”

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RELATED: Bucky Gleason calls ‘Deflategate’ much ado about nothing

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Patriots coach Bill Belichick said earlier that he was “shocked” to learn that a National Football League investigation found 11 of the 12 balls supplied by the team last week weren’t inflated properly and that he didn’t have an explanation.

The Patriots face possible fines, suspensions and could be stripped of draft picks if the NFL finds they broke rules by deflating footballs used in its 45-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts in the American Football Conference championship game. The incident has become known as “Deflategate” on social media and the NFL is trying to determine whether the Patriots deliberately sought to gain a competitive advantage or compromised the integrity of the most popular U.S. sport.

“In my entire coaching career I have never talked to any player, staff member about football air pressure,” Belichick said at a news conference. “That is not a subject that I have ever brought up. To me, the footballs are approved by the league and officials pregame and we play with what’s out there.”

The NFL’s game operations manual says if a game ball is altered after it has been approved by the referee, the person responsible “and, if appropriate, the head coach or other club personnel will be subject to discipline, including but not limited to, a fine of $25,000.”

NFL probe

The NFL has confirmed its investigation into allegations the Patriots used underinflated balls in the AFC championship, yet won’t comment further on its findings. Brady said he hasn’t yet met with league investigators.

“I have a process that I go through every game where I go in and pick the balls that I want to use,” Brady said. “Our equipment managers do a great job of breaking the balls in. When I pick those footballs out, at that point, to me they’re perfect. I don’t want anyone touching the balls after that, I don’t want anyone rubbing them, putting any air in them, taking any air out. To me those balls are perfect, and that’s what I expect when I show up on the field.”

Brady said that he’s never knowingly broken the rules.

“I feel like I’ve always played within the rules,” he said. “I believe in fair play and will always believe in it as long as I’m playing.”

Footballs that are underinflated can be easier for a quarterback to throw and receivers to catch, particularly in wet or cold conditions. A steady rain fell throughout the Patriots’ win that sent New England to next week’s Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks.

Each team supplies 12 balls to the referee two hours and 15 minutes before each game. Those balls can be rubbed down by equipment managers, but can’t be altered once approved by the referee and given to the ball attendants for each team.

The balls supplied by the Colts for the AFC title game fell within the required levels, according to ESPN. All of the balls had been inspected and approved by referee Walt Anderson before the game, ESPN said.

Belichick said now that he knows about the inflation specifications for game balls, the Patriots would take steps to avoid a similar situation in the future. Jim Daopoulos, who spent 11 years as an on-field official and 12 years supervising referees, has said footballs can deflate a bit in cold weather during the course of a game.

“Obviously with our balls being inflated to the 12 1/2 pound range, any deflation would take us under that specification limit,” Belichick said. “Knowing that now, we will certainly inflate the footballs above that low level to account for any possible change during the game.”