Did the New England Patriots tamper with the footballs used in the AFC Championship Game? The NFL is asking that question, after the host Patriots beat the Indianapolis Colts, 45-7, in rainy conditions Sunday.

Under NFL rules, the home team supplies most of the balls used in games; the visiting team brings footballs for its own offense to use. All the footballs must be inflated within a range of 12.5-13.5 pounds per square inch and weigh between 14 and 15 ounces.

In wet and slippery conditions, an under-inflated ball could be easier to grip and catch. And in last night's game, an NFL official reportedly took at least one ball out of circulation after suspecting it didn't meet league requirements.

The story was first reported by Bob Kravitz of Indiana's WTHR TV, who tweeted last night, "A league source tells me the NFL is investigating the possibility the Patriots deflated footballs Sunday night."

The NFL confirmed the reports Monday morning — even as Kravitz and others acknowledged that the Patriots' win was a convincing one, built on a stout defensive performance and an offense that operated at will. The Patriots ran the ball 40 times for 177 yards.

The controversy is sure to be discussed in the two-week gap before the Super Bowl. The Boston Globe's story on the report begins, "Here we go, again."

Immediately, two names began competing to label the episode. Some on Twitter called it "Ballgate" and others used the more accusative "Deflategate" — echoing the infamous "Spygate" episode of 2007, when the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick were found to have videotaped the New York Jets' signals.

The spying incident resulted in the NFL stripping the Patriots of a first-round draft pick and fining Belichick.

New England will now prepare for its sixth Super Bowl appearance with quarterback Tom Brady, who called the game-ball allegations "ridiculous."

"I think I've heard it all at this point," Brady said on WEEI's morning show today, after laughingly saying he had just heard about the claims. "Oh, God."

"It's ridiculous," he added, saying the allegations are "the least of my worries. I don't even respond to stuff like this."

The NFL's rulebook requires that teams give game balls to officials more than 2 hours before kickoff, and that they "shall remain under the supervision of the Referee until they are delivered to the ball attendant just prior to the start of the game."

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