The New England Patriots dropped their 11th game of the season last Sunday, but the amount of air in some of the game balls raised eyebrows.
On Friday, six-time Super Bowl winning coach Bill Belichick confirmed that the kicking balls in the 27-17 loss to the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs had not been properly inflated. The underinflated footballs brought back memories of the 2015 Deflagate scandal.
At its core, the scandal suggested that the Patriots engaged in an illegal process to lower the inflation of game balls in an effort to provide quarterback Tom Brady with footballs that had a softer grip. The NFL sanctioned an inflation check during halftime of the 2014 AFC Championship Game and proceeded to spend millions of dollars on an investigation that lasted multiple years.
However, Belichick made it clear that the Patriots did not have anything to do with the status of last week’s kicking balls. “But we don’t have anything to do with it,” Belichick said. “Were we aware of it? Yeah, definitely.”
Both teams kickers had a shaky first half, which some viewed as a red flag. The Chiefs’ normally reliable kicker Harrison Butker missed a midrange field goal in the first quarter, while Patriots kicker Chad Ryland’s 41-yarder was no good.
“We were aware of it in the first quarter,” Belichick told reporters. “The officials handle that, and they were underinflated by 2-2.5 pounds. I think you can see that by the kicks. Both kickers missed kicks. Butker hadn’t missed a kick all year. Kickoffs, we had two almost went out of bounds.”
Under NFL policy, kicking balls should be inflated to between 12.5-13.5 pounds per square inch. The responsibility of managing the kicking balls falls on the game officials.
Touchbacks on kickoffs have become more common over the past decade after the league implemented a rule that moved the kickoff up to the 35-yard line from the 30. Butker has a touchback rate of just over 87% this season, but he failed to kick the ball into the opposite end zone on the opening kick last week.
There were some adjustments made to correct the issues with the balls at halftime, Belichick said.
“Then they fixed them at halftime, but didn’t do it before then, which is another question you can ask,” Belichick added. All of the ensuing kicking attempts were successful.
An NFL spokesperson declined to offer a comment on the situation.
Belichick doubled down on his position that the Patriots had nothing to do with the situation, and he referred other questions to the league.
“There were six balls, it was both sets of balls, it was all six of them,” Belichick said. “I don’t know, you’d have to talk to the league on what happened with that, because we don’t have anything to do with that part of that.”
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