The Patriots may be in trouble for illegally filming an opponent they were slated to face in the regular season. Again.
Bengals head coach Zac Taylor told reporters a Patriots employee had been spotted in the Cleveland press box along with video equipment during Cincinnati’s 27-19 Week 14 loss to the Browns. That information was quickly relayed to the league, raising questions about whether or not Bill Belichick was skirting NFL rules in order to find an extra, possibly-forbidden edge over an upcoming foe.
Watching Bengals HC Zac Taylor’s press conference. A reporter just asked if he could confirm if a Patriots employee was videotaping their play calls at the last game? Coach said “No comment and they are aware”— Dianna (@diannaESPN) December 9, 2019
Why are the Patriots at the center of an NFL investigation related to taping the Bengals Week 14 loss to the Browns?
Cincinnati’s concern comes from the fact a man in Patriots-branded gear was in the press box with a film crew whose camera was at least briefly pointed toward the Bengals’ sideline. The team and the NFL had no knowledge of this — but the Browns reportedly did.
The employee in question was one of New England’s advance scouts. The filming taking place was part of a webseries called Do Your Job, which aside from sounding like Belichick’s autobiography, is a program that profiles the behind-the-scenes staffers who make the Patriots’ machine work. An upcoming episode called for an in-depth look on the team’s scouting efforts. The Browns, according to sources, gave their blessing and credentialed a film crew to follow the yet-unnamed scout into the press box.
Patriots’ advance scout was not filming but being filmed, per a league source. He was being filmed for a feature the team produced called, "Do Your Job." The video crew was credentialed by the Browns to shoot video in the press box and their PR person was aware, per the source— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 9, 2019
That’s the same story Belichick had when he was asked about the story on WEEI shortly after it broke.
“I heard about this, and evidently this is our production people on the TV show that were there,” Belichick said, via Pats Pulpit. “I have absolutely nothing to do — we have absolutely nothing to do with anything that they produce, direct, shoot or anything. I’ve never even seen any of their tapes or anything else. So this is something that we 100 percent have zero involvement with. This is something that you would have to talk to the production people about and what they were doing and whatever it was.”
If this explanation holds true, the conflict between the Pats and Bengals appears to be a communication issue rather than any kind of espionage between a 10-3 team looking for an extra edge against a 1-12 opponent. New England failed to update Cincinnati and the league with its plan to film a scout as he watched the Bengals from the press box Sunday. Bengals brass — knowing all about New England’s past and the unremitting gamesmanship of Belichick — played it safe, confiscated the video, and asked the league to weigh in.
One week later, minutes before the two teams were set to meet on the field in Week 15, Fox reporter Jay Glazer showed clips from the film confiscated by the Bengals. It ...looked a lot like the view of an NFL sideline a fan would have from the stands.
FOX SPORTS EXCLUSIVE: @JayGlazer reveals footage of Patriots filming Bengals. pic.twitter.com/C7U7mopaEm— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) December 15, 2019
What are the Patriots (and Belichick) saying about the incident?
The issue at hand now is that this crew also filmed the Bengals’ sideline from the press box — something the organization admitted hours after the story broke Monday.
In addition to filming the scout, the production crew – without specific knowledge of League rules – inappropriately filmed the field from the press box. The sole purpose of the filming was to provide an illustration of an advance scout at work on the road. There was no intention of using the footage for any other purpose. We understand and acknowledge that our video crew, which included independent contractors who shot the video, unknowingly violated a league policy by filming the field and sideline from the press box. When questioned, the crew immediately turned over all footage to the league and cooperated fully.
The production crew is independent of our football operation. While aware that one of the scouts was being profiled for a “Do Your Job” episode, our football staff had no other involvement whatsoever in the planning, filming or creative decisions made during the production of these features.
We accept full responsibility for the actions of our production crew at the Browns-Bengals game.
According to reports, there are roughly eight minutes of sideline footage on the tape that could potentially incriminate the team:
Reporting from @pauldehnerjr: "According to sources who have viewed the tape, it shows about eight minutes of footage focusing on recording the Bengals’ sideline. It’s a direct view of the sideline as coaches make signals for plays." https://t.co/kLvekJpgud— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) December 10, 2019
Belichick, as is tradition, was tight-lipped about the possible violation. He did, however, absolve his advance scout of responsibility for the incident — at least internally.
After a nearly 4-minute opening statement on the Bengals, Bill Belichick answered questions Wednesday, and this was the Q&A specific to the videotaping/Bengals story: pic.twitter.com/OPd4UMMHaE— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) December 11, 2019
The videographer who shot the film wasn’t as fortunate. That staffer was suspended by the organization one week after the incident took place.
What was the NFL’s response?
The NFL has yet to issue an official statement about this potential controversy, but is investigating the matter. The Bengals have the original video of the material filmed by New England’s media team, while the league has been forwarded a copy. If reports are to be believed and the footage turns out to be three hours of a mid-level assistant furrowing his brow and trying to figure out what the hell Cincinnati is doing alongside a few innocuous B-roll shots of the Bengals, the Patriots may not face discipline. If there’s a focus on Cincinnati’s sideline signals, commissioner Roger Goodell could direct his wrath toward New England once more.
Goodell has promised a thorough investigation into the matter — one that takes the team’s past transgressions into account as well.
Asked about the #Patriots history, Goodell said, “That’s a factor. But most important is this incident.” https://t.co/KjYnyOEEI7— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 11, 2019
The Patriots’ excuse is plausible, if not especially sensible coming from an organization that prides itself on its thoroughness. The league appears inclined to believe it, though that doesn’t mean New England is off the hook just yet.
On Jan. 1, a report from the Washington Post stated that the league has yet to find any evidence linking Patriots football staff to the video recording and that a decision could come down soon, one that includes penalties “consistent with those handed out in recent years in other cases of game-day infractions.”
This Patriots’ reasoning for their actions does, however, sound an awful lot like the kind of racket that former team videographer Matt Walsh told NFL investigators about in the past. Here’s an excerpt from a 2015 article from ESPN about New England’s reputation for cheating:
During games, Walsh later told investigators, the Patriots’ videographers were told to look like media members, to tape over their team logos or turn their sweatshirt inside out, to wear credentials that said Patriots TV or Kraft Productions. The videographers also were provided with excuses for what to tell NFL security if asked what they were doing: Tell them you’re filming the quarterbacks. Or the kickers. Or footage for a team show.
If that ends up the case and Belichick was indeed looking for an edge against a Bengals team careening toward the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, it’ll somehow be the dumbest Patriots scandal yet.