The Patriots are once again under investigation by the NFL for illegally taping an opponent’s sideline after a video team from Kraft Sports Production was caught filming the Cincinnati Bengals sideline from the press box during Sunday’s Bengals-Browns game in Cleveland.
The Patriots admitted that their videographers broke NFL rules but characterized it as a misunderstanding. However, the Bengals are “livid,” according to multiple league sources, and the Patriots may be hard-pressed to avoid a punishment, given their history.
“They’re not getting out of this one,” said one league source with close ties to the Bengals. “They got caught red-handed. I mean, dead to rights. Too much of this stuff is on tape.”
A league source said the Patriots’ explanation is plausible, but they were reckless in not being clear with the videographer about the league rules — especially considering their history. The rules are meant to prevent sign stealing.
In 2007, coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000, and the team was fined $250,000 and docked a first-round draft pick, when the Patriots were caught illegally videotaping the New York Jets sideline.
In 2015, the team was fined $1 million and quarterback Tom Brady was suspended four games when the NFL determined that the Patriots were illegally taking air out of the footballs they used in games.
This past Sunday, the Patriots sent a scout to the Bengals-Browns game to observe the Bengals in advance of this Sunday’s matchup in Cincinnati, as is customary across the NFL. Late Monday night, the Patriots acknowledged in a statement that they had sent a three-person crew to follow the scout for a Web video that would give an inside look at how scouts perform their jobs.
The decision to feature the scout in the Web series was made in late November, and the Bengals-Browns game was the one the Patriots thought would get the most cooperation from the teams, according to a league source.
A league source said the Patriots requested and were granted the extra access from the Browns about two weeks prior to the game. But the Patriots acknowledged that they never informed the Bengals of the project.
NFL rules allow teams to shoot scenes inside the press box but are explicit about not allowing them to film the field from there. According to league sources who were present in the press box, Bengals personnel were shocked when they saw the Patriots videographer sitting in the first row, filming the Bengals sideline during the first quarter. The video conceivably could have captured the Bengals giving signals to signify substitutions and different personnel packages.
According to multiple sources, a Bengals employee got out his own camera and filmed the Patriots videographer shooting his video. The shooting lasted approximately eight minutes, according to The Athletic.
“There is video of the video,” one of the sources said.
Between the first and second quarters, the Bengals employee then got several people involved — Bengals security, the NFL representative on hand, and Bengals executives, including director of player personnel Duke Tobin, the team’s de facto general manager.
The discussion was moved without incident to the back of the press box in the dining area, where the Kraft videographer was further questioned. The videographer offered to delete the footage on the spot, but the NFL instead took his video card as evidence.
Multiple sources described Tobin and Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor as “livid” over the incident, and one source said owner Mike Brown is upset as well. The Bengals may be 1-12, but Taylor and his coaching staff are new this year, and the footage could have been useful for the Patriots as they prepare for Sunday’s game.
“This is just bold and reckless,” one source said.
The Patriots statement said in part, “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 the sideline from the press box.
“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.”
A league source said Tuesday that the incident was the result of a lack of communication between the public relations staffs of the Patriots and Bengals, and a video producer who didn’t know the rules.
The producer is a full-time employee of Kraft Sports Productions, according to the source, but he usually films only home games, and at Gillette Stadium he is allowed to stand and shoot near the bench area. This past weekend was the producer’s first road game, and he did not understand that he was not allowed to film game action from the press box.
Belichick said Tuesday that he had nothing to do with the filming.
“I have no involvement in this and no knowledge of it, and so I really don’t have any idea what exactly is going on,” Belichick said. “I can tell you that we’ve never — as a coaching staff and me personally — have never viewed any video footage at all of anything that those production people have done, other than what’s shown on public television or something like that.”
One source was adamant that Belichick would not risk his legacy and a possible suspension over something as trivial as filming the Bengals sideline — which can easily be done from the stands.
There was nothing covert about the incident Sunday, the source said.
“You would not go in wearing a Bruins shirt, put a camera on a tripod in the press box, and hope nobody notices,” the source said.
It is unclear whether the Patriots will be punished this time, but several league sources expect that they will be, considering their history. Even if the videographer didn’t know the rules, he still broke them, and it’s all on video.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are in Dallas this week for the league’s quarterly meetings, and a punishment could come down before the Patriots face the Bengals Sunday in Cincinnati.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin