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NFL Hires Investigators, Says Patriots Used Underinflated Balls

In an update to a story that's become a central topic of the lead-up to the Super Bowl, the NFL says it has found evidence of footballs being underinflated at last Sunday's AFC Championship Game, hosted by the New England Patriots. The Patriots won, 45-7.

So far, the NFL says, its investigation has found that the Patriots used improperly inflated balls during the first half of their win over the Indianapolis Colts. The league says it has hired private investigation firm Renaissance Associates to provide "sophisticated forensic expertise."

NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash is leading the inquiry, along with attorney Ted Wells of the law firm Paul Weiss.

The league says its investigators have conducted nearly 40 interviews with officials, Patriots personnel and others. But we'll note that as of early Thursday afternoon, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said he hadn't been contacted about the issue many are calling Deflategate (since early Monday, the hashtag has been trending on Twitter).

It's the latest twist in a story that, to some, exemplifies the overhyped talking points that often get blown out of proportion during the two-week wait for the Super Bowl.

The Boston Herald says things have hit a "fever pitch," noting that some analysts are calling for Brady to be kept from playing in the Feb. 1 championship game.

The Herald's Eric Wilbur also wonders whether the Baltimore Ravens, whom the Patriots narrowly beat two weekends ago, might have helped to incite the controversy.

Wilbur asks, "Did the Baltimore Ravens tip off their former defensive coach, current Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, about the situation prior to last week's game?"

The league began its investigation after an official took a ball out of play under the suspicion that it was inflated below the required range of 12.5-13.5 pounds per square inch. Now, the question is what caused the discrepancy, and whether it was intentional.

Friday, the NFL said:

"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. 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."

On Thursday, Brady said he feels his team won the game fairly and that he has "no idea" of what condition the game balls might have been in after he inspected them before the game.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick also addressed the issue Thursday, saying, "In my entire coaching career, I have never talked to any player or staff member about football air pressure."

If that's not enough of a diversion for you, try this:

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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