The NFL's investigation into whether the Patriots deflated footballs during their AFC Championship Game victory over the Colts was triggered by Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson's second quarter interception, according to reports from both WCVB's Mike Lynch and Newsday's Bob Glauber. Lynch reports that Jackson felt the ball was underinflated and notified the equipment manager, while Glauber says a Colts equipment staffer noticed the supposed underinflation. That set off a cascade of events that eventually reached the league office. Via WCVB:
According to sources, the equipment manager then informed the Colts' head coach, Chuck Pagano, who then informed the team's general manager, Ryan Grigson.
Grigson then called the National Football League's director of field operations, who then called the locker room and spoke with the officials on the field at halftime.
Each team supplies the officials with 12 game balls, with the home team providing an additional backup 12. But importantly, each team gets to use the balls that they provide on offense. From a New York Times piece on how the Giants prepare balls for Eli Manning:
For every N.F.L. game, each team has 12 to 20 balls that it has meticulously groomed and prepared according to the needs of its starting quarterback. The balls, brushed and primed using various obvious and semisecret techniques, bear the team logo and are switched out from sideline to sideline depending on which team is on offense.
That means that from series to series, the ball in play can feel wholly different, but each team's quarterback always has a ball prepped by his equipment staff the way he likes it.
This is where Jackson's interception comes into play. If we assume that the Patriots only tampered with the balls they provided—deflating them so that Tom Brady could better grip them in rainy conditions—they wouldn't ever be touched by a Colts player to be able to notice that they were underinflated, except in the case of a turnover.
Of course, this still assumes that no official—especially the umpire who places the ball before every play—felt the underinflation, nor did a Colts player while picking up a ball to toss to an official, and that none of the (Patriots hired) ball attendants noticed and then notified an official. The Patriots also would have had to find a way to deflate the balls between the officials test a couple hours before the game and its start. But, if the Patriots did pull some shenanigans, it makes sense that it was D'Qwell Jackson or a Colts equipment staffer that noticed.
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