SpyGate 2.0? Let the tape speak for itself

Dan WetzelColumnist
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor argues a call against the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/teams/cleveland/" data-ylk="slk:Cleveland Browns">Cleveland Browns</a>. The Bengals have accused the <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/teams/new-england/" data-ylk="slk:Patriots">Patriots</a> of filming their sideline during the game. (Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Cincinnati Bengals head coach Zac Taylor argues a call against the Cleveland Browns. The Bengals have accused the Patriots of filming their sideline during the game. (Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

When it comes to SpyGate 2.0, let’s start with this:

The NFL needs to not just preserve any tape that it confiscated Sunday in Cleveland, it should release it publicly as quickly as possible. NFL investigations involving New England, or any other franchise or player, have lacked credibility in the past. 

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On this one, the tape should tell the story. Or at least most of it.

Namely, did the Patriots send a videographer to Cleveland on Sunday to innocently produce a fan feature about the job of an advance scout, or were they secretly filming the Cincinnati Bengals’ sideline and coaches’ signals ahead of this weekend’s game between the two teams?

Here is a synopsis of the accusation as we now know it: 

The Patriots’ in-house media produces a series called “Do Your Job.” This week’s job: advance scout, which sits in the press box and scouts upcoming opponents. The Patriots say that’s why a guy with a camera was at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Browns even credentialed him. 

However, a source told ESPN’s Dianna Russini that after the videographer conducted a pregame interview with the Patriots scout, a Bengals employee watched a “monitor” that showed the Patriots’ camera “shot was of the Bengals coaches and staff on the sidelines for the entire first quarter.”

Doing so would allow New England coaches to memorize any signals Cincinnati coaches make to players. Most play-calls are communicated via radio speaker inside a player's helmet, so it's debatable exactly what could be learned or what advantage it would bring.

Concerned, “the Bengals employee flagged media relations,” per Russini. “Bengals security then interviewed the [Patriots] videographer. This was also taped. The cameraman asked if they could just delete the footage and it all be forgotten.”

The Bengals confiscated the tape and sent a copy to the NFL, which is reportedly conducting an investigation. The Patriots don’t have a copy of the tape, per Russini.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the Bengals believe the Patriots were stealing signals. On Monday, coach Zac Taylor would only say, “I’m aware that there was an incident. But I know the league is investigating it, so I’ve got no comment.” 

New England coach Bill Belichick, appearing on WEEI in Boston, completely denied he had anything to do with it or anything that the in-house video crews do. He said the advanced scout did not film the sideline.

“A scout can’t film the opponents as an advance scout, and our video people aren’t even allowed to point a camera at our opponents in pregame warmup or their side of the field or anything else to test out their equipment,” Belichick said. “They 100 percent know – all of our scouts, all of our video people and everything – they absolutely know what that is. And again, I have nothing to do with the TV production shows. I have no idea what they do or what their projects are or anything else.”

Bill Belichick denies the Patriots had anything to do with "stealing" signals from the Bengals. (AP)
Bill Belichick denies the Patriots had anything to do with "stealing" signals from the Bengals. (AP)

What’s the truth? Who knows right now?

The allegation is significant because it comes against the Patriots, who were punished by the NFL for videotaping the defensive signals of the New York Jets from an unauthorized area during a 2007 game.

The scandal, known as SpyGate, resulted in the NFL stripping the team of a first-round pick, and fining the Patriots $250,000 and Belichick $500,000. It included lawsuits, congressional intervention and claims the NFL tried to cover it up by destroying the original video. 

SpyGate has haunted Belichick and the Patriots which, despite (or because of) their enduring success and six Super Bowl championships, have struggled to shake claims from some fans that they cheat. Belichick has bristled about SpyGate, which he believed was overblown. It has, however, impacted his reputation.

Suspicion of the franchise also helped fuel the deflate-gate scandal, which stemmed from the 2015 AFC championship game and remains a point of high contention in Foxborough. Quarterback Tom Brady was eventually suspended four games due to deflate-gate but has maintained his innocence. The team, leaning on science, dispute that the footballs were even deflated in the manner the NFL claimed. 

In both cases, initial media reports, including information that came from the league office, proved inaccurate yet established the public narrative before facts could add perspective.

Now here we are with another potential scandal with New England.

At least this time, if the reports are to be believed, the tape that the NFL and the Bengals have should tell the story. If there is, indeed, footage showing the Cincinnati sideline for the first quarter, then this is a serious case. 

If not, then it might be just a big misunderstanding. 

There are numerous questions on each side. 

First off, would New England risk the significant fallout that could occur from this so it could steal the signals of the 1-12 Bengals? 

Such an act is so profoundly bold, especially done right from the press box. If the Patriots were going to do such a thing, wouldn’t it be safer to have someone (without a Patriots logo on his shirt) sitting in the stands using a cell phone?

While New England doesn’t exactly get the benefit of the doubt from many people, the absurdity of this story creates some pause. 

Really? They’d be this reckless? SpyGate remains a painful subject for Belichick. The risk/reward here is way off.

That said, the Bengals are convinced enough that they’ve flagged the video for an NFL investigation. Moreover, would a source describe to ESPN the very suspicious conversation where the Patriots videographer asks to “delete the footage and it all be forgotten” and note that it was videotaped by the Bengals, which would make it easy to prove or disprove?

Cincinnati looks all in on this. New England is fighting back, but it apparently doesn’t have the tape.

The NFL reportedly has it and is investigating. Go ahead and get to the bottom of it, quickly. Then, in the spirit of much-needed transparency, release the entire thing to the public.

If New England was cheating, then it deserves to get hammered. If it didn’t and this isn’t what the initial reports are claiming – maybe the videographer innocently made a mistake – then the franchise and Belichick deserve full exoneration. 

Let the tape speak. Not unnamed league sources.

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