“We try to do everything right. We err on the side of caution. It's been that way now for many years. Anything that's close, we stay as far away from the line as we can.” – Bill Belichick, Jan. 24, the Mona Lisa Vito press conference.
Here’s an anecdote that works today. Back on December 2, 2013, after the Patriots beat the Texans in Houston, 34-31, Texans defensive end Antonio Smith said this, “Either teams are spying on us or scouting us . . . I don’t know what it is. We had some ways that we were going to play this week that just got put in this week, and it was just miraculous that they changed up some things that they did on offense and keyed on what we put in this week to stop what they were doing.”
That was the 10th straight game the Texans lost. The insinuation, I guess, was that somehow the Patriots went to Texas to spy on Houston as it practiced on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday of that week. Absurd.
But I saw the quote and knew how it was going to go.
Some nitwit drops an, “I’m not saying, I’m just saying...” insinuation about the Patriots and the next three days of coverage is devoted to cleaning up that particular turd.
Because how hard is it for any allegation to gain traction? Not too hard. Once it’s “out there” on Twitter and gets retweeted a time or 20, the media peer pressure is on and we’re all covering it. No matter how far-fetched, no matter if the source has a bald-faced agenda, things have to be “addressed.”
“That’s how they do things up there...” or “I’m not saying that’s why we lost, I’m just saying it makes you wonder...” or “They do have a history...”
I’ve seen every variation possible in the 16 seasons of Belichick – especially in the last 12 when the Patriots showed they were good and were not going away.
I will admit, I think my journalistic curiosity on these things has been worn to a nub so that – at this point – my first reaction is, “Here we go, what is the agenda behind this quote/story/10,000 word hot take time machine?”
Ironically, the last time I got sufficiently aroused was when Chris Mortensen reported in January that 11 of 12 footballs were two psi underinflated. That took the Colts accusations from sour grapes to team-wide conspiracy and I spent that Wednesday crafting a column saying Robert Kraft needed to consider throwing Bill Belichick overboard because of the arrogance and the shame of it all.
Annnnddddddd, they weren’t really underinflated.
So I don’t hop to it with as much vigor when an opposing coach, player, executive, owner or reporter drops an upper-decker in Foxboro. And when I do – I’m being candid here – my angle 90 percent of the time is, “Get a load of this b******* they’re saying now...”
I’m that way because, since Spygate, I do believe Belichick stays the hell away from anything the suits in New York can pinch him on because he knows the team is under constant suspicion and surveillance.
What about the footballs and the last eight months? I can only guess at how pissed Belichick really was when he saw the Wells Report and got a look at the texts flying back and forth between Jastresmki and McNally referring to needles, conditions of the footballs and “kicks” being snatched by Jastremski and given to McNally when equipment manager Dave Schoenfeld was away from the office.
Whatever did or didn’t happen, Belichick had to be enraged that the program and his reputation was at risk because of how that all looked. And it was a surprise that Ted Wells and the league – even when they clearly wanted a head on a platter – absolved Belichick. To me, that was confirmation that Belichick made them clearly understand how “far away from the line” his team is ordered to stay.
Which brings us to the wake of Mike Tomlin’s, “I’m not saying, I’m just saying...” hit-and-run insinuating the Patriots were behind the Steelers muddled headsets and not a rainy-ass night at Gillette. It’s jumping on the pile.
I told our guy Phil Perry that Belichick was going to go off in his conference call on this because it’s such a weasel move to whine after the game about something that Belichick himself deals with and references as being an issue for his staff on a semi-regular basis as well. He did.
We can dredge up all the occasions where teams have insinuated or flat-out accused the Patriots of jamming headsets.
Over the years, I’ve heard Belichick matter-of-factly point out or simply lament the NFL fact of life that the frequencies go bad frequently. It’s mostly under NFL jurisdiction.
That the NFL still hasn’t alluded to the fact that both teams experienced issues Thursday night nor gotten into what really seemed to rankle the Steelers – the game operations people not shutting down both teams’ communications entirely – is just another case of the NFL with its thumb in an orifice, Roger Goodell playing the fiddle while Rome burns.
Charles Robinson of Yahoo.com details the Steelers’ irritation a little more deeply.
The fundamental issue, it seems, is that neither team was totally unable to communicate. Patriots spokesman Stacey James explained to me during the game that both teams were having interference “bleed” into their communications. The Steelers – I’m theorizing here – thought it was more than they could stand; the Patriots did not and were willing to deal with it.
Give it five days or so and then NFL will likely come back with a “finding” that both teams had issues Sept. 10 and that the NFL is efforting to make sure it’s technological and infrastructure, state-of-the-art, vanguard, technological...snore...
And give it to the end of the day before Tomlin walks back his comments. Maybe he can give John Harbaugh a call on the best way to do that particular backstroke. If they still talk. They might not since Tomlin did the two-step in front of Harbaugh’s kickoff returner a few years back.
How can I be so sure this is how it’ll go?
Prior experience. From Antonio Smith, December 3, 2013:
"I'm sorry I said the word spying because of a prior engagement of them being caught spying. Though it may be something I was curious about, that kind of didn't seem right, like how all of a sudden the change here?" he said. "It wasn't a serious matter to where I was thinking, 'Aw man, they're spying on us, they're cheating.' "
We’ve had previous engagements with the life cycle of these stories. And we have upcoming engagements as well, to be sure.