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Colts prepare for first meeting with Patriots since Deflategate

Mike Adams' interceptions of passes thrown by Tom Brady last November led to one of the most publicized controversies in NFL history. AP Photo/Darron Cummings

INDIANAPOLIS -- To Mike Adams, it was just like the other 15 times he intercepted a pass. The Indianapolis Colts safety tossed intercepted balls No. 16 and 17 of his career to the equipment staff so they could put them in a safe place for his home collection.

That was Nov. 16, 2014, against the New England Patriots. Adams had no idea his two interceptions of Tom Brady would be the unofficial start of one of the biggest offseason stories in NFL history.

That night Colts equipment managers Sean Sullivan and Brian Seabrooks noticed that the balls the Patriots used “appeared to be coated in a tacky substance and seemed spongy or soft when squeezed,” according to statements they gave in the Ted Wells report, a four-month investigation ordered by the NFL after the AFC Championship Game in January 2015.

The scandal eventually became known as Deflategate.

And after nearly nine months of numerous court hearings, discussions about ball pressure and Brady’s legacy being questioned, the two teams will meet this Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for the first time since the AFC title game.

“I didn’t think it would be a big deal or take off the way it did at first,” Adams told ESPN.com. “It was national news. I understand why, because of Spygate and all the other stuff that people had concerns with them.

"People have been talking about this game since the schedule came out in April.”

Adams had to deal with the wrath of angry Patriots fans over Twitter after the Deflategate news broke, because they thought he was the one who informed the equipment staff about the air pressure of the balls from that November game.

Not true, he said.

“There weren’t death threats or anything like that, so I didn’t really pay attention to the tweets,” Adams said. “I wasn’t the one who said anything. I was on cloud nine that I got two interceptions to help our team against a future Hall of Famer. I was more worried about trying to stop them from scoring.”

Brady originally was suspended by the NFL for four games after it was determined from the Wells investigation that he had been "at least generally aware" the Patriots' footballs used in the AFC Championship Game had been deflated to air pressure levels below what the league allowed. A federal judge overturned the four-game suspension in September.

Had Brady's suspension been upheld, the upcoming game against the Colts on Sunday would have been his first of this season.

When it comes to the Colts’ role in Deflategate, you won’t hear much from the organization. Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano was asked Friday about the challenge of facing the Patriots.

“I love the challenge of coming here every day as a coach,” he said. “Our players love the challenge of coming in every day as players coming in and challenging themselves to get better.

“We’re about us.”

Pagano’s players have followed his lead. Following the Colts' victory over the Houston Texans last week, several people with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com that Pagano encouraged his players not to get caught in the “hype” surrounding the Patriots game.

But there is no denying the magnitude of the game.

The Colts, the team that has yet to figure out a way to beat the Patriots in four meetings since drafting Andrew Luck in 2012, were the ones who notified the NFL of the possibility of underinflated footballs, because general manager Ryan Grigson said in an email to the NFL on Jan. 17 that he wanted a “completely level playing field.” The Patriots spent the offseason waiting for the results of the Wells investigation and dealt with the fallout of the report.

“When [Deflategate] did come out, things did start flashing in my head,” Adams said. “It made me go back and look at those balls for the first time since that game [in November], because I keep every ball. I checked them, but they had been sitting there for a while. But it made me think during the game if somebody made a one-handed catch in the rain, when they’re running with the ball and holding it with no problems. But I can’t think of a specific time when they were doing that.”

After Spygate, Deflategate led to additional questions about New England’s credibility. Adams said he doesn’t believe the Patriots cheat but that they do what they can without breaking rules.

“I’ll tell you straight up, that’s a great organization,” Colts linebacker D’Qwell Jackson told ESPN.com. “They win, and when you win, people try to nick and pick and pry to find the weakest one on the chain. Those guys have done a great job of winning. When you win, all the negativity comes out. It’s hard to walk into every game with a bull’s-eye on your chest and still be able to dominate games. I did not expect the story to go as far as it did. Crazy that it took off the way it did with some interceptions by me and Mike. It’ll be a story to tell whenever I have kids and grandkids.”