The Patriots have been accused a few times over the years, most recently after the 2015 season opener against the Steelers, of messing with opponents’ headsets and frequencies at Gillette Stadium.
So when coach Bill Belichick arrived at the podium Sunday after the Patriots’ 36-20 win over the Saints, he made sure everyone knew that the Patriots had headset issues at the Superdome in New Orleans.
“Thought Matt [Patricia] and Josh [McDaniels] did a real good job on the sideline, with the communication issues that we had to work through during the game,” Belichick said, unprompted, during his opening remarks. “That was challenging, but they handled that very well. We didn’t have, all things considered, too many problems.”
But Belichick didn’t provide much more than that. He was asked directly if the Patriots had headset issues, and he responded, “Communication was difficult. Before the game, and all the game.”
Asked another follow-up question, he answered, “I’m done talking about it. I said what I have to say.”
But Belichick had a lot more to say about the headset issues Monday on his weekly WEEI appearance. Asked by the hosts about the problems, Belichick spoke for 4 minutes and 7 seconds about the issues the Patriots had with the headsets and the NFL’s rules and procedures for wireless communication.
And believe it or not, it was pretty interesting!
“It happens all the time,” Belichick said. “Sometimes more than others, but very seldom do you go through a game without it being either a press box communication or a coach-quarterback communication.”
Right before kickoff, Belichick told safety Devin McCourty to bring referee Craig Wrolstad over to the sideline, and the kickoff was delayed for a moment while everyone looked at the Patriots’ electronic box behind the bench.
Belichick explained that getting the referee’s attention before the game was crucial. The NFL has an equity rule when it comes to headsets. If one team’s headsets malfunction before the game, then the other team can’t use its headsets. But if it happens during the game, then the team with the malfunction is out of luck.
The quarterback and one defensive player are allowed to have earpieces in their helmet and can listen to the coaches’ instructions until about 15 seconds remain on the play clock.
“If [a malfunction] happens during the game, that’s tough luck,” Belichick said. “But if it happens before the game, then that’s not tough luck. It was never right in the first place. So that kind of changes the ground rules of it.”
Belichick mentioned that the same thing happened before last year’s Week 17 game at Miami — again, pointing out that it happens at other stadiums — and said that the Patriots’ problems at the Superdome continued at halftime.
“Which isn’t before the game, but it’s kind of the same thing — it’s before things really get started and get going,” Belichick said. “Then that kind of brings things under a little bit different umbrella of rules or policies, however you want to look at it.”
Belichick then explained that the equipment used for the wireless communications is provided by the NFL, not the teams, and that a lot of things can go wrong.
“There’s a lot of different components to it,” he said. “There’s the receiver in the player’s helmet, there’s all the technology, then the Internet or the connection, then there’s the actual hardware that’s used.
“But the league handles all the other things, and there’s a lot of equipment that we have that isn’t our equipment. It’s league equipment that we don’t get until the game. So there’s no way for us to test it or repair it or anything.
“So what the functionality of it is, you’re not sure of until you actually get to the game and take it out of the case and open it up and start using it. And of course, game day, you have a lot of other events going on with marketing and radio, TV, and many other frequencies being used and so forth.
“There’s a lot more going on game day. You just go out and test it on Saturday afternoon, yeah, sure, it’s fine. But that’s because nothing’s going on.
“Internally we control what we can control. That’s rarely an issue. A battery might go dead or something, but we fix that, that’s fairly easy. The hard part is the network and the cutoffs and so forth, especially on the coach-to-quarterback. If they click the button and cut you off when you think you’re on, that’s a problem. That’s just another element of it.
“But from my standpoint, if something’s wrong before the game, that’s different than if something is wrong during the game, and it was right at the start of the game. I felt like that needed some clarification. It’s really between the teams and the league.”
Despite Belichick’s lengthy answer, he did not offer clarification on how it all played out Sunday. The hosts didn’t ask a followup question, and Belichick never revealed whether the Saints were required to turn off their headsets or whether the Patriots were at a communication disadvantage.
But Belichick again praised McDaniels and Patricia for how they handled the issues.
“I just thought that Matt and Josh did a great job of handling multiple situations that came up over the course of the game,” Belichick said. “And it started actually before the game, but I thought they did a good job working through it.
“I’m not even talking about the tablets. That’s a whole other story.”
Follow Ben Volin on Twitter @BenVolin.