(Reuters) - With the Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots engulfed in a scandal over the use of under-inflated balls, some of the team’s players were trying on Friday to get the focus back on the NFL’s showcase game.
The team has faced intense media attention since clinching a Super Bowl berth with Sunday’s win over the Indianapolis Colts and the NFL said on Friday the team used balls that were under inflated during the game.
“We went out there and won a game in the AFC championship and got the right to play in the Super Bowl,” said Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty. “That should be the focus and the topic so that’s what I want to talk about today, the Super Bowl and the opportunity to go out there and win a big game.”
New England dominated Indianapolis 45-7 during a rainy AFC championship game where a firm grip on a slippery ball could have helped.
The NFL’s ongoing probe has ruled that illegal balls were used by New England in the first half, where they established a 17-7 lead, but were properly inflated for the second half, during which the Patriots outscored the Colts 28-0.
The team leaves for Arizona on Monday ahead of the Feb. 1 Super Bowl versus the defending champion Seattle Seahawks, who have been flying under the radar all week while their upcoming opponent deals with fallout from the ‘deflate-gate’ controversy.
“(We‘ve) got to be able to eliminate all distractions right now,” Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork told reporters.
“We can’t let anything take our excitement away. We worked hard to get here and everybody in that locker room is excited to play this game, and we need to be, we should be. You’re not going to take that away from us.”
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who threw three touchdown passes during Sunday’s game, and head coach Bill Belichick have professed innocence regarding the deflated ball issue.
Appearances by Brady, who calmly spent his entire 30-minute news conference on Thursday answering questions about the ball scandal, and Belichick, who did the same during his 11-minute stint with media, were applauded by the team.
“They did a good job of handling it and I think everything that needs to be talked about on that subject has been discussed,” said offensive lineman Dan Connolly. “I’d like to focus on the game we have next week against Seattle.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Gene Cherry