The NFL has yet to announce how it will punish the Patriots for their latest videotaping controversy, but whatever Roger Goodell deems appropriate, we can expect calm, cool, and even-tempered acceptance of the commissioner’s findings.
These are the Patriots, the mighty, dominant, defending Super Bowl champion, hated-everywhere-but-New-England Patriots. And this is about illegal videotaping, the same transgression that made ‘Patriots’ and ‘Spygate’ synonymous back in 2007 and, one would think, would have taught the franchise to stay as far away from anything remotely similar to that embarrassing chapter in its history.
But here we are, awaiting the results of an NFL investigation into the unthinkable, and admitted, decision by an in-house film crew working on a team-run web series to record extended footage of the Bengals sidelines, in clear violation of league rules. No matter what Goodell does — levy a fine, dock a draft pick, issue a public chastisement, impose a suspension — you know both sides of this aisle will (over)react, from those braying the Pats got off easy to those whining they were treated too harshly.
Call it the new Patriot Way.
This season already has been strange and unsettling by Patriots standards, mired in uncertainty despite a record that improved to 11-3 with Sunday’s win over the bungling Bengals. We know the on-field issues, from an offense so-long accustomed to leading the way moving aside for a defense that has to play near-perfect football for this team to win, from a playbook full of gadget plays and gimmick moves in an effort to score points to a special teams unit that also has to make at least a few impact plays every game for the team to win.
But another taping scandal brings an entirely different type of dark cloud over this season, and one that no amount of victories or championship runs can erase. That’s just the bottom line reality of Robert Kraft’s team in the wake of the original Spygate incident. This is one more distraction that a team with plenty of other issues did not need, even if it’s difficult to see how, if at all, such a video would have helped the Patriots and how, if at all, the football operations people would have gotten their hands on it.
Bill Belichick most certainly does not need the distraction. The master of the do-your-job mantra that inspired the episode of the ‘Do Your Job’ web series that got us here, one that was following a Patriots advance scout at last week’s Bengals game in Cleveland, Belichick has been consistent and insistent he has absolutely no knowledge and no affiliation with anything that happened under this Kraft Productions umbrella. I’ll go on record saying I believe him. As a man who values and respects his own legacy, as one who is on course to pass Don Shula as the NFL’s all-time winningest coach and is already considered by many as the best to ever coach an NFL team, I just don’t see any scenario where he would even risk another stain like the one left by Spygate.
But that doesn’t excuse the franchise for this bumbling error, no matter what the employee in question insisted in a personal statement he released during Sunday’s slate of games, explaining how he returned from a trip to the bathroom to find security personnel talking to his camera operators as they, in his description, gathered footage of the sidelines to show what a scout would be seeing through his binoculars.
“When I came back, my cameraman was told to stop shooting by someone from the NFL and he was joined by two others from the Bengals organization and an additional NFL security person,” wrote David Mondillo, the Kraft Sports and Entertainment videographer who has since been suspended by the team. “We stopped shooting immediately when asked to do so and cooperated fully. We had a detailed exchange about who we were and why we were there and what they wanted us to do. I gave the Sony SXS card to NFL security and we complied with their request, packed up, and went home. I had no intention to provide footage to football operations, I did not provide any footage, and I was never asked to do so.”
A portion of that exchange was aired Sunday on Fox Sports, which gained possession of an apparent cell phone recording of the confrontation. It does not reflect well on the franchise, whose employees are not only caught red-handed, but has one of them offering to delete the video immediately with the promise that it would then be erased permanently, no damage done.
As one of the security officials can be heard saying, “The damage is done my friend.”
The Patriots have spent too much time this season in damage control. Even their attempts to fix their offense have gone awry, giving us a revolving door of wide receivers that didn’t ultimately solve anything. There was Josh Gordon, released after injuries slowed him down, Demaryius Thomas, traded before the Patriots realized how much they might need him, and of course Antonio Brown, cut when he embarrassed the franchise one too many times, texting threats to a woman who is suing him in a civil court for her accusation of rape.
Dark clouds all, but ones clearable by winning. This latest one, however, won’t be so easy to escape.