The NFL is investigating whether the New England Patriots intentionally deflated footballs used Sunday in its Super Bowl-qualifying win over the Indianapolis Colts. NFL spokesman Michael Signora told ABC the organization was looking into the issue, which fans on social media have dubbed DeflateGate.
Footballs have to be inflated from 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch, according to ABC. If a ball is missing air, it could be easier -- or harder -- to catch.
The Patriots beat the Colts 45-7 on Sunday, gaining the former a berth for the Feb. 1 Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks.
"Nobody is suggesting the footballs had any appreciable impact on the game; it was a butt-whooping," said WTHR, Indianapolis, sports columnist Bob Kravitz, who first tweeted about the issue. "But if the league believes the balls were deflated, expect the Pats to be fined or be forced to forfeit draft picks. Or both."
NFL officials check balls to make sure they're properly inflated before they enter the game, ABC reported, but they can lose air during play. Kravitz tweeted an official took a ball out of play at one point Sunday to examine it.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady disputed the claim. "I think I've heard it all at this point. ... It's ridiculous," he told WEEI, Boston. "That's the last of my worries. I don't even respond to stuff like this."
No NFL team has been found deflating footballs recently, Yahoo reported, but then-University of Southern California Coach Lane Kiffin came under suspicion for the practice in 2012. A student manager was fired as a result.
Sunday's DeflateGate inspired thousands of innuendo-laden tweets Monday on the subject. See a few of the best below:
Refs hold the ball every play. And are supposed to inspect every ball pre game. #DeflateGate needs to be deflated. Pathetic.
— Cole Real (@Criel62) January 19, 2015
— Mal the Sports Gal (@malsportsgal) January 19, 2015
Wouldn't guys know if their balls were smaller than usual when they started playing with them? #DeflateGate
— Colleen Grimes (@collgrimes) January 19, 2015
Dear Colts: When you get defeated 45-7, the only balls that have been deflated are the ones between your legs. #DeflateGate
— joepalen (@joepalen) January 19, 2015