The NFL has suspended Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady without pay for the first four games of the season, fined the New England Patriots $1 million and taken away two draft picks as punishment for deflating footballs used in the AFC title game, the league said in a statement Monday.
The NFL also indefinitely suspended the two equipment staffers believed to have carried out the plan, including one who called himself "The Deflator."
Brady will miss the season's showcase kickoff game Sept. 10 against Pittsburgh, Week 2 at Buffalo, a home game against Jacksonville and a game at Dallas.
He will return the week the Patriots face the Colts in Indianapolis.
The Patriots will also lose a first-round pick in 2016 and a fourth-round pick in 2017.
In a statement released Monday night, Patriots chairman and CEO Robert Kraft criticized the investigation on which the punishment was based and said Brady had the team's "unconditional support" and that its "belief in him has not wavered."
"Despite our conviction that there was no tampering with footballs, it was our intention to accept any discipline levied by the league," Kraft said. "Today's punishment, however, far exceeded any reasonable expectation. It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence.
"We are humbled by the support the New England Patriots have received from our fans throughout the world," the statement said. "We recognize our fans' concerns regarding the NFL's penalties and share in their disappointment in how this one-sided investigation was handled, as well as the dismissal of the scientific evidence supported by the Ideal Gas Law in the final report."
Brady's agent said he would appeal the suspension to commissioner Roger Goodell, which the quarterback has three days to do.
The punishment was announced five days after the release of the lengthy Wells report that found that Patriots personnel deliberately deflated footballs before the AFC Championship Game on Jan. 18, 2015, and that Brady "was at least generally aware" of the violations.
"With respect to your particular involvement, the report established that there is substantial and credible evidence to conclude you were at least generally aware of the actions of the Patriots' employees involved in the deflation of the footballs and that it was unlikely that their actions were done without your knowledge," NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent wrote in a letter to Brady.
The 243-page report by league-appointed attorney Ted Wells said it was "more probable than not" that Brady was aware of plans to prepare the footballs to his liking, below the NFL-mandated minimum of 12.5 pounds per square inch.
The report identified two Patriots employees -- officials' locker room attendant Jim McNally and equipment assistant John Jastremski -- as the ones who executed the plan. The Patriots suspended both indefinitely last week. Neither can be reinstated without the approval of the NFL, the league said.
New England defeated Indianapolis 45-7 in the AFC title game before beating the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl two weeks later.
Brady said last week the scandal hasn't taken away from the team's Super Bowl win -- its fourth NFL title since the 2001 season.
"Absolutely not," he said at a previously planned appearance in Salem, Massachusetts, last Thursday night. "We earned everything we got and achieved as a team, and I am proud of that and so are our fans."
Fans chanted "Brady" and "MVP," then gave him a standing ovation as he entered the arena in the town made famous by the colonial witch trials. Since the airing of the scandal in the hours after the Colts game, New England fans have been unwavering in their support for the team, blaming the investigation on grudges by opponents jealous of the team's success.
The NFL allows each team to provide the footballs used by its offense -- a procedure Brady played a role in creating -- but it requires them to be inflated in that range of 12.5-13.5 pounds per square inch. Footballs with less pressure can be easier to grip and catch, and Brady has expressed a preference for the lower end of the range.