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Hines Ward: If guilty in Deflate-Gate, Patriots' punishment should be 'very harsh'

If the Patriots are found guilty of underinflating footballs in the controversy dubbed Deflate-Gate, NBC Sunday Night Football analyst Hines Ward believes the NFL should come down hard on the franchise. 

"I don't think they're going to do anything before the Super Bowl, but the punishment has to be very harsh on the Patriots,'' Ward told Matt Lauer on TODAY Thursday. "This is their second time around getting found guilty for cheating." 

An investigation by the NFL found that 11 of the 12 footballs used by the New England Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady in their 45-7 win over the Indianapolic Colts in the AFC championship game were underinflated, according to a report by ESPN. On Thursday, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick told reporters he had "no knowledge whatsoever" of the underinflating of footballs.

This marks the latest allegations of cheating involving the Patriots, who were disciplined by the NFL in 2007 for the "Spygate" controversy in which they were found to have videotaped an opposing team's sideline signals against NFL rules. 

Underinflated footballs can be easier to grip and to catch in cold weather, according to Ward, who was a two-time Super Bowl champion as a star receiver in 14 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

More from Ward:  

  • On the severity of the accusations: "It's cheating, regardless of how you may want to spin it,'' Ward said.

  • On whether Belichick may have known about it: "No, it's probably only Tom Brady and the ball boy because every week, for a quarterback in the NFL, they scuff the football or take that new film off the football because it becomes real slick,'' he said. 

Tell us what you think about how the Patriots should be punished if found guilty. 

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter and Google+.