Chandler, Ariz. — The Patriots, specifically quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick, have spent the past week defending themselves as accusations surfaced they deflated footballs below the NFL's legal limit during the AFC Championship victory over the Colts.
On Monday, Patriots owner Robert Kraft changed the team's stance from defensive to offensive, asking for an apology from league officials if the investigation led by attorney Ted Wells proves their innocence.
"If the Wells investigation is not able to definitively determine that our organization tampered with the air pressure in the footballs, I would expect and hope that the league would apologize to our entire team and in particular Coach (Bill) Belichick and Tom Brady for what they have had to endure this past week," Kraft said at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa.
Like most Super Bowl coaches, Belichick addressed the media Monday evening shortly after his team arrived. But before he took the podium, Kraft offered a statement he said he prepared during the flight. The Patriots play the Seahawks on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.
Kraft's comments came about three hours after Fox Sports reported the NFL has "zeroed in" on a Patriots locker room attendant who allegedly took the balls to a different location on his way from the locker room to the field. The report also said the NFL has interviewed the attendant and has video evidence.
"I've spoken with Coach Belichick, I've spoken with Tom Brady," Kraft said. "I have taken the time to understand to the best of my abilities what goes on in the preparation of game-day footballs, and I want to make it clear that I believe unconditionally that the New England Patriots have done nothing inappropriate in this process or in violation of NFL rules.
"Tom, Bill and I have been together for 15 years. They are my guys. They are part of my family. And Bill, Tom and I have had many difficult discussions over the year, and I have never known them to lie to me."
Kraft also said he welcomes the investigation and is confident it will uncover all the facts as well as "the science of how game balls react to changes in the environment."
In his statement, after which he didn't take questions, Kraft also said the story of the deflated balls has been driven by media leaks instead of facts, which has led to questions about Brady, Belichick and his staff.
After speaking about the issue a couple of times last week, Belichick declined to comment.
"My attention is totally turned now and focused on the Seattle Seahawks and our game Sunday," he said. "And that's where it's going to stay."
Brady wouldn't address the issue either, but did take a question comparing this to the "Spygate" scandal in 2007. New England lost a first-round pick and had to pay $750,000 total in fines after the NFL discovered the team illegally taped the Jets defensive signals.
"We'll see how this team reacts," he said. "We've done a good job this season. I think we have a very mentally tough group. We've got to be able to pull it all together."
And while Kraft's comments were stunning in an NFL environment in which few people question the league's actions, Patriots safety Devin McCourty said he wasn't surprised by what the owner said.
"Robert Kraft is always around this team, whether it be in team meetings, traveling down here on the plane just now," McCourty said. "I'm sure he was very offended, but his remarks don't surprise me at all because you always protect your family."
Super Bowl XLIX
New England vs. Seattle
Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. Sunday, University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Ariz.
Line: Patriots by 1