New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said he "didn't alter the ball in any way" at a Thurday afternoon press conference amid the "Deflategate" controversy.
"I feel like I've always played within the rules. I would never do anything to break the rules," he said. When a reporter asked if he were a cheater, he said, "I don't believe so."
The NFL is investigating after ESPN reported that the Patriots used under-inflated footballs in Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the Indianapolis Colts.
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Earlier Thursday, Belichick said at a press conference that he had "no explanation" for what happened, and that the first he heard of the controversy was on Monday morning.
Brady told reporters Thursday afternoon that he first heard about the under-inflated balls Monday morning during his regular weekly radio interview. At the time, he said, he laughed, thinking that it was just "sour grapes" on the Colts' behalf. "It ends up being a very serious thing," he said.
"Everyone's obviously trying to figure out what happened," Brady added. "I was as surprised as anybody when I heard Monday morning what was happening."
The quarterback said he goes through the same process before every game, choosing between 12 and 24 balls to use during the game. He said he did that Sunday night. "When I felt them, they were perfect," he said.
Much like Belichick, Brady said he has no knowledge of any wrongdoing.
"Obviously, I'd like to know what happened," he said. "In the meantime, I'm going to try to do the best I can to get ready to play against the Seahawks."
Asked if the controversy might serve as motivation for the Patriots, Brady said "We've got a lot of motivation as a team. I think our team's overcome a lot of adversity this year. Sometimes in life the biggest challenges end up being the best things that happen in your life."
Softer balls are generally considered easier to throw and catch, and quarterbacks, specialists and equipment managers are known to have very individualized preferences in how footballs are readied for games, The Associated Press reported. Belichick said he was unaware of the process for game balls until the accusations were raised.
"I think we all know that quarterbacks, kickers, specialists have certain preferences on footballs," Belichick said. "They know a lot more about it than I do. They're a lot more sensitive to it than I am. I hear them comment on it from time to time, but I can tell you and they will tell you that there is never any sympathy whatsoever from me on that subject. Zero."
Brady reportedly addressed his teammates behind closed doors at Thursday's team meeting. Per teammates, he told them he prefers the football "a certain way." He also told them to stay focused on next Sunday's game against the Seattle Seahawks.