(SportsNetwork.com) - It's no "Perry Mason moment," but it's becoming pretty clear that those dastardly New England Patriots got their hands caught in the cookie jar again.
"Deflate-gate," though, is a less-than-inspiring sequel to the blockbuster that was "Spygate."
Nonetheless 11 of the 12 footballs the Patriots provided for this past Sunday's AFC Championship Game rout over Indianapolis were underinflated, according to the preliminary findings of an NFL investigation.
ESPN, citing league sources close to the inquiry, reported the balls were each two pounds below the league-mandated 12 1/2 to 13 1/2 pounds per square inch (PSI).
"We are not commenting on the matter at this time," NFL spokesman Michael Signora told SportsNetwork.com in an email late Tuesday evening.
Those comments are coming, though, and here's what we know:
The Patriots defeated the Colts, 45-7, in rainy weather to earn their eighth Super Bowl berth in franchise history.
Indianapolis was tipped off to the Pats' shenanigans with the footballs in the second quarter when veteran linebacker D'Qwell Jackson picked off Tom Brady.
Jackson noticed an abnormality and gave the ball to a member of the Colts' equipment staff, who brought it to the attention of coach Chuck Pagano. Pagano then relayed the information his general manager, Ryan Grigson, in the press box and Grigson alerted NFL director of football operations Mike Kensil, who in turn told the on-field officials at halftime.
On the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter, the officials held things up and eventually switched out the game ball. Of course, the Patriots led, 17-7, at halftime with the "advantage" and blitzed the Colts, 28-0, after the officials became aware of the issue.
So what's the problem?
In theory, a softer football is easier to throw and catch, especially in poor weather conditions, although everything really relates to the quarterback in question.
Aaron Rodgers, for instance, prefers an overinflated football, something CBS broadcaster Phil Simms said during a Packers-Patriots game in November, and A- Rod himself confirmed at his season-ending press conference on Tuesday.
"(Rodgers) said something (that) was unique," Simms said. "(Rodgers said) 'I like to push the limit to how much air we can put in the football, even go over what they allow you to do and see if the officials take air out of it.' Because he thinks it's easier for him to grip. He likes them tight."
Rodgers, who has very big hands, is the exception to the rule, however.
"There is no advantage in a maximum amount of air in the football," Rodgers claimed. "There is with a minimum. A soft football is an advantage if you have smaller hands to throw the football."
Simms agreed with that take.
"Everybody wants it smaller and soft so they can dig their fingers into it," the ex-Giants QB surmised.
Including Brady, who tried to laugh off the controversy on Monday.
"I think I've heard it all at this point," Brady said. "It's ridiculous. I don't even respond to stuff like this."
Unfortunately for Tom Terrific, there is a "gotcha" moment when he discussed his love of a deflated ball when talking about a Ron Gronkowski touchdown on WEEI Radio in Boston back in 2011.
"When Gronk scores, he spikes the ball and he deflates the ball. I love that, because I like the deflated ball," Brady said at the time.
The real question is how did the underhanded, evil genius that is Bill Belichick actually pull off his latest caper.
Well, it's not all that hard to do.
Here's the mechanics of game day when it comes to the actual footballs being used:
The NFL rule book states that each team must provide game officials with 12 footballs before every game, and the balls are required to be inflated between the 12 1/2 and 13 1/2 PSI.
It's the referees' responsibility to inspect the game balls just over two hours before kickoff and he places a special marking on each ball which passes inspection before giving the approved balls to attendants on each team, who are supposed to maintain custody of the balls on each sideline.
Each team uses its own footballs on offense and clubs are permitted to slightly doctor them to their QBs preference. Things like rubbing up the football with dirt to make it less slippery are commonplace as is adjusting the inflation levels.
Former quarterback Brad Johnson even admitted to bribing attendants to have the footballs doctored to his specifications before the 2003 Super Bowl.
Johnson's Buccaneers beat the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII and the Florida State product claimed he paid $7,500 to have 100 different balls scuffed.
"I paid some guys off to get the balls right," Johnson told the Tampa Bay Times. "I went and got all 100 footballs, and they took care of all of them."
Before you kill Walt Anderson, the AFC Championship Game referee, understand the difference between say 10 1/2 PSI and 12 1/2 isn't all that noticeable unless you're tipped off.
And for those questioning how the Pats could possibly underinflate that many footballs under those "strict" guidelines, understand it's as simple as sticking an inflation needle in the football for a few seconds.
The reality here is this is much ado about nothing and a convenient excuse for those jealous of the Patriots' success to pounce.
And green is never the most flattering color for the envious.
"Cheating" in the NFL didn't start with a disgruntled Eric Mangini skirting omerta to reveal "Spygate" and it certainly didn't end there as well.
Johnson was pretty up-front with his bribery technique on the game's biggest stage and to this day Bill Parcells claims the Bill Walsh 49ers used to play games with the communication system in the playoffs.
"This kind of stuff has been going on in the NFL for quite some time, but it takes different forms," Parcells said on ESPN back in 2011. "I know from past history in two playoff games, one of these teams that was famous for using a script, which they rehearsed with their team prior to the game -- they knew exactly what they wanted to do -- mysteriously, two years in a row, when the game started, their phones went down, which mandates that the other side put their phones down.
"Now, let me get this straight. You've got your script rehearsed, you know what you're going to do, the defense doesn't know what's coming, but they have to take their phones off?"
Parcells, himself, was known to play games at the old Giants Stadium and open or close the end-zone gate on windy days in an effort to help his own kicker or hinder the opposition's.
There aren't many people in this league who believe the Saints' side of the things when Mickey Loomis was accused of bugging the opposition's coaching box at the Superdome, and both the Cowboys and Redskins were heavily punished for blatantly skirting salary-cap rules a few years ago.
Remember Norv Turner's Chargers and Stickum? Or how about Bill Romanowski's revelation that he spent an hour before games using a Q-tip to apply silicone to his gloves for added grip, and Vaseline to his uniform so blockers would hit him and slide off.
And don't even get me started on PEDs.
Despite all of that, Belichick is the only guilty party when it comes to public opinion and Roger Goodell's lack of credibility from all the league's previous peccadilloes this season almost forces the commish to be heavy-handed in doling out a punishment for this crime.
And that just plays into the narrative of the uneducated who believe "Beli- cheat" is the only scourge among his noble peers, an aberrant who has stained the Patriots' legacy.
The truth is far less sexy.
NASCAR rules have always applied in the NFL -- if you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'.
And the Patriots? Well, they are always trying.