Has the NFL found the smoking deflator?

A New England Patriots locker-room attendant has become a “person of interest” in the NFL’s investigation into the use of deflated footballs in the AFC title game, according to Fox Sports.

The unnamed attendant already has been interviewed by league investigators, according to the report, which emerged on Monday afternoon. Fox Sports cited unnamed sources saying the NFL is “trying to determine whether any wrongdoing by this individual occurred,” but also reported that there is surveillance video showing the attendant taking the footballs from the officials’ locker room into another room at Gillette Stadium before bringing them out to the field.

If the Fox Sports report is true and the video shows the footballs entering another area of the stadium between the officials’ inspection and the field, there is a chance they could have been tampered with at that point.

The report emerged while the Patriots were in the air traveling from Boston to Arizona for Super Bowl XLIX. The Patriots were scheduled to have their first media availability of the week on Monday night.

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have professed their innocence publicly in the matter. In a radio interview on Monday morning, Brady was asked if he ever requested any members of the Patriots staff deflate footballs below the 12.5 pounds per square inch threshold set by NFL rules.

“Absolutely not,” he said on WEEI. “No, I didn’t. And I haven’t. And I never will. I think that’s obviously how I feel and the kind of person that I am.”

Brady said last week that he also questioned members of the Patriots staff himself about the footballs to try to find out why they were deflated. He said they told him they had no knowledge of anyone deliberately taking air out of footballs. “And I believe them,” Brady said.

Belichick said on Saturday that the Patriots re-enacted their process of selecting and prepping gameday footballs in an effort to find out why they could have become deflated. Belichick claimed that the handling of the footballs along with atmospheric conditions indoors and outdoors could have led to a decrease in pressure.

The league found that the footballs used in the first half of the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts at rainy Gillette Stadium were deflated. According to the NFL’s statement last week, the footballs were re-inflated to proper specifications at halftime and returned to the game for the second half. At the conclusion of the game, the balls had retained their proper pressure.

There have been reports that the NFL was aware of the Patriots’ use of deflated footballs in the past – the Colts suspected it when they played them in the regular season, Newsday and others have reported – and that the league was prepared to inspect the footballs at halftime of the AFC Championship even if the Colts had not issued a challenge during the game.

The NFL’s investigation is being led jointly by NFL executive vice president Jeff Pash and Ted Wells of the law firm of Paul Weiss. The league also has retained Renaissance Associates, an investigatory firm with sophisticated forensic expertise to assist in reviewing electronic and video information.

Maybe this is why Tom Brady was the only Patriot on the team’s injury report last week. He had bruised feelings.

The New England Patriots quarterback opened up about his tumultuous week that included an awkward news conference, allegations of cheating and using deflated footballs, and being called a liar by television analysts.

“I personalized a lot of things and thought this was all about me and my feelings got hurt,” Brady said in his weekly WEEI radio interview from Boston on Monday morning (the same radio program during which, a week ago, he scoffed at the allegations as “ridiculous”). “And then I moved past it because it’s not serving me. I think what’s serving me is to try to prepare for the game ahead, and I’ll deal with whatever happens later. I’ll have my opportunity to try to figure out what happened and figure out a theory like everyone else is trying to do. But this isn’t the time for that, and honestly I’m not interested in trying to find out right now because we have the biggest game of our season ahead.”

Also on Monday, Fox Sports reported that the NFL has interviewed a Patriots locker-room attendant in connection with its investigation of improperly inflated footballs used in the AFC championship game against Indianapolis.

There is surveillance video showing the attendant taking the footballs from the officials’ locker room into another room at Gillette Stadium before bringing them out to the field, sources told Fox Sports.

The NFL responded that “we are not commenting on any aspects of the investigation.”

Brady was asked in the radio interview whether he ever asked members of the equipment staff or a ball boy to deflate the footballs once they were inspected by NFL officials.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “No, I didn’t. And I haven’t. And I never will. I think that’s obviously how I feel and the kind of person that I am.

“No one knows the facts,” he continued. “I pick 24 balls, that’s what I pick. Whatever happened after I did it, and whatever the situation was where they measured them, I have no idea any of those facts. So I try to stay really humble and deal with the facts that I know. When you don’t know something, that’s all you can say is, ‘I don’t know.’ I know that’s not always the answer that people want to hear, but that’s the reality.”

Brady said he and Coach Bill Belichick continue to have a strong relationship despite the appearance that the coach had shifted blame to his quarterback by telling reporters that they should ask Brady about the process of selecting and preparing footballs for game use.

“I’ve never once felt that we’re not on the same page,” Brady said. “He’s a great coach. He’s the only coach I’ve ever played for. He’s the only coach I’d ever want to play for. There’s a lot of people over the years that have criticized him, but I’d say there’s not one player who’s ever played for him who’s not had an unbelievable amount of respect for him and how he prepares and his diligence and his preparation.

“We always see things eye to eye. We both want to win. That’s what it’s always about for us, and I think that’s why we get along so well. There’s nothing that surprises me with him. When he puts his mind to something there’s nobody better at figuring it out.”

Despite the mostly negative backlash – perhaps the first time he has been attacked publicly in his Hall of Fame career – Brady said there were some positives that came from the past week.

“Everybody is entitled to their opinion,” he said on the radio. “Everyone will say, ‘God, it’s been a tough week for you.’ But it’s been a great week for me, to really be able to recalibrate the things that are important in my life and understand the people that support me, and love me, and care about me. I think that’s been the best thing to come out of this week.

“It’s all part of the business and you deal with the ups and the downs, the good and the bad, and I’m excited to play in the Super Bowl for the sixth time. It’s a pretty amazing accomplishment for our team based on where we started. That’s where I’m at; I’m in a great place. We’ve had a great week in practice. We’re going to go down and try to finish strong.”

Brady told ESPN Sunday night that he does not expect the NFL to interview him as part of its investigation into the deflated footballs until after Super Bowl XLIX.