FOXBORO – When the TV cameras found Chris Long on the Patriots bench in the second quarter Thursday night, he could have passed for a Game of Thrones extra. His long, sweat-matted hair dangling around a face smeared with black paint and dotted with tiny black FieldTurf pellets that looked like dirt. His focus was straight ahead.
Then the camera pulled back and the medieval vibe Long was giving off was updated significantly. He was looking at the blue Microsoft Surface tablet being held by defensive line coach Brendan Daly. The two men were going over video replay of some snaps from the Patriots previous defensive series.
The tablets have been kicking around sidelines for a couple of years now. Initially approved for viewing only stills, teams were allowed to access video in the Pro Bowl and during select preseason games in 2015. The NFL considered making video available on the sidelines for the 2016 season at the NFL’s Annual Meeting back in March but tabled the decision.
“Those video things are really cool for us,” said Long. “It’s something we haven’t been able to do before. There’s always adjustments you need to make and the quicker you can do that the better.”
The Patriots will get a couple of shots at using the tablets this preseason, said Bill Belichick.
“The first home preseason game for each team they use the video component of the Surface tablets, so since this was our first home game we used those last night. Coincidentally, as it works out, we’ll also use them in the Carolina game because that will be Carolina’s first home preseason game, too. So, we’ll actually get to use them twice,” Belichick explained. “I’d say it’s probably like a lot of things that are new. The concept is good, when it works it’s good, when it doesn’t work then it doesn’t work.”
The Patriots were in a “doesn’t work” situation during the AFC Championship Game last January in Denver. Their tablets went out on the sidelines during the second quarter.
It turned out to be a network issue, not the tablets, and the story faded into the ether.
That’s the issue with increasing technological access on the sidelines. The more that’s available, the greater the loss if the system goes kablooey.
The Patriots took it in stride. But there are always teams and coaches eager to use technological glitches as shields when they lose. After the season opener last year, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin – knowing he’d find a receptive national audience – chummed the “Patriots are cheaters” water by intimating the team screwed with the Steelers sideline headsets.
It was later established that moisture impacted the headsets and that New England’s sideline had outages as well.
So, it’s best the NFL keep using the video on a trial basis until it can get reliability up to nearly 100 percent. Because, as Bill Parcells said, you give some people a chance to make an excuse, they will take it every time.
“It’s probably a concept that may have some possibilities if the functionality is good or can be improved or whatever,” said Belichick.