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Report: Patriots QB Tom Brady probably knew about deflated footballs

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady probably was aware that footballs used in the team’s conference championship game were intentionally underinflated, according to a report commissioned by the National Football League.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick, owner Robert Kraft and other staff members didn’t know about it, the report said.

The investigation concluded it was more probable than not that two Patriots’ staffers – officials locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski – participated in a deliberate plan to circumvent the rules by releasing air from Patriots game balls after the examination of the footballs by NFL game officials at the American Football Conference Championship Game on Jan. 18.

Brady was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls, according to the report, which based its findings on tests, interviews and text messages.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent will determine discipline in the case and what changes in protocols may be needed to avoid similar future incidents.

“Throughout the process of this nearly four-month investigation, we have cooperated and patiently awaited its outcome,” Kraft said in a statement. “To say we are disappointed in its findings, which do not include any incontrovertible or hard evidence of deliberate deflation of footballs at the AFC Championship Game, would be a gross understatement.

‘‘We understand and greatly respect the responsibility of being one of 32 in this league and, on that basis, we will accept the findings of the report and take the appropriate actions based on those findings as well as any discipline levied by the league.”

The probe began after several footballs supplied by the Patriots were found to be below the league’s 12.5 to 13.5 PSI requirement. Balls inflated to less than the required weight may be easier for a quarterback to throw and receivers to catch, particularly in wet or cold conditions.

A steady rain fell throughout the Patriots’ 45-7 win against the Indianapolis Colts in the American Football Conference title game that sent New England to the Super Bowl for a record-tying eighth time. The controversy overshadowed the two weeks ahead of the Feb. 1 Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, where the Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 to win their fourth Super Bowl title in the past 14 years.

In addition to the possible competitive advantage, the NFL’s investigation sought to determine whether the Patriots compromised the integrity of the most popular U.S. sport. The NFL has $9.7 billion in revenue and the Super Bowl is annually the most-watched television program and drew a record audience of 114.4 million in the U.S. this year.

Investigators waited until after the Super Bowl to meet with Brady and other Patriots players.

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.”