Patriots

Why believe Bill Belichick? The Mona Lisa Vito press conference

Why believe Bill Belichick? The Mona Lisa Vito press conference

So what, we’re supposed to believe that a guy in a New England Patriots shirt filming the sideline of an upcoming opponent from the press box wasn’t following explicit orders from Bill Belichick?

He was just innocently filming B-roll of the things an advance scout in the NFL looks at during a game, not there for something more … sinister? That if Bill Belichick had happened on the scene he would have tackled the guy rather than patted him on the head?

Well, yes.

And I’m basing a lot of that on Belichick’s response to a question about SpyGate that he answered during his epic "Mona Lisa Vito" press conference in early 2015, the day before the Patriots flew out to Arizona for Super Bowl 49.

The topic of the day was DeflateGate and Belichick — in a surreal 20 minutes — detailed how he’d run experiments to find how footballs lost air pressure and blah, blah, blah, see it all below.

But Belichick’s response to a question posed by Associated Press reporter Jimmy Golen about the videotaping scandal a decade earlier made everyone’s ears perk up.

"I mean, look, that's a whole other discussion," Belichick said. "The guy's giving signals out in front of 80,000 people, OK? So we filmed him taking signals out in front of 80,000 people, like there were a lot of other teams doing at that time, too. Forget about that. If we were wrong then, we've been disciplined for that. … The guy's in front of 80,000 people. 80,000 people saw it. Everybody [on the] sideline saw it. Everybody sees our guy in front of the 80,000 people. I mean, there he is. So, it was wrong, we were disciplined for it. That's it. We never did it again. We're never going to do it again and anything else that's close, we're not going to do, either."

There’s a lot of meat on the bone in that 120-word response — especially the sideswipe mention of a lot of other teams doing the same thing — but what I focus in on is the end of the statement.

“We never did it again. We're never going to do it again and anything else that's close, we're not going to do, either."

Taping opposing sidelines and deciphering hand signals was never, ever worth the time, effort, headache, scandal, fine, embarrassment and reputation stain it caused.

It just didn’t produce fruit. Belichick once told me, “If there were 100 things to do to get ready for a game, that stuff was about 99 on the list. It wasn’t a priority.”

So why did they do it? Because it was available intel that could be gathered. Before every game, you’ll see members of coaching staffs from both teams standing at the 50-yard line watching their opponents warm up. Staring. Gathering any last-minute intel on how injured players might be moving, which players are lining up where, anything. How much does it help? Probably not much. Why do it? Because it’s there.  

The idea that Belichick would stand at a podium, more than seven years removed from the day the Patriots had a videographer pinched on the Jets sideline and be that adamant, then four years later give the OK to have a guy in a Patriots shirt stand in a press box and film the sideline for team consumption?

Like nobody would notice? Like nobody would care? He’s smarter than that. I’m smarter than that. You’re smarter than that.

People will believe what they want to believe. The vast majority of football-watching America will believe the Patriots were cheating because that’s the narrative they’ve been fed for a decade and a half.

Anything requiring people with their minds made up to think critically about an allegation is going to be dismissed out of hand. That’s why this is swallowed whole and pooped out as truth the same way Mike Tomlin’s intimations the Patriots were jamming their headsets in early 2015 was accepted as truth and — after it was debunked by the NFL — left a dent.

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Patriots' Stephon Gilmore reflects on Defensive Player of the Year candidacy

Patriots' Stephon Gilmore reflects on Defensive Player of the Year candidacy

Stephon Gilmore has a strong chance to accomplish something only five cornerbacks have done before in NFL history: win a Defensive Player of the Year award.

The New England Patriots' lockdown CB is considered a favorite to become the first player at his position to take home the award since Charles Woodson did so in 2009. Gilmore would become the first Patriots player ever to win the award.

In Orlando, Fla. for the Pro Bowl, Gilmore took some time to reflect on his candidacy.

“It’s pretty cool. That’s a big award,” Gilmore told Jeff Howe of The Athletic. “The award speaks for itself, a lot of hard work, a lot of good teammates that put me in that position, a lot of preparation from myself. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates to even be in this position. I feel like I had a good year. Hopefully, I’ll win it.”

Gilmore tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with six and also topped the league in pass breakups (20). The 29-year-old was named Defensive Player of the Year by his NFL peers and also by the Pro Football Writers of America.

“Toward the end [of the season], people started saying it,” Gilmore said. “I didn’t really think about it because it’d be a big award to win. I think it’d be the first Patriot to win Defensive Player of the Year. I mean, that’s insane. Hopefully, I’ll win it.”

NFL Honors will be announced Feb. 1 on FOX starting at 8 p.m.

Curran: Carr the first QB to mark his territory

Picturing how Tom Brady would fit in another NFL offense

Picturing how Tom Brady would fit in another NFL offense

If Tom Brady leaves the New England Patriots, I think his new team's head coach, general manager and offensive coordinator would all understand they would have to make concessions.

They want him to feel comfortable. They want him to feel like he has ownership in the offensive scheme.

There would be some give-and-take. They know they'll only have so many more years with Brady, so why not try to maximize that potential? You don't do that by starting from scratch or making him learn a brand new system.

He’s had a lot of success in that system in New England, and there are a lot of positives for him being able to grow that offense the way he wants to see it.

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The closest example for Brady joining another team would be when Peyton Manning went to Denver. 

The Broncos allowed Peyton to put his touch on the offense and run a little bit more of what he was comfortable with. I believe any team bringing Brady in would also make those same concessions and say, “We want you to feel comfortable. We also want you to run an offense that you feel like you can have some success in.”

The offseason would be pivotal.

Brady would have to get in the building as soon as possible and have those conversations to understand what the offensive philosophy of that coordinator is, what kind of weapons they have and how to utilize those weapons.

For example: How do they run their checks on offense? Do they get out of certain plays or looks? Brady has been calling out protection schemes for the last 20 years; you always see him point to a linebacker and call out a certain protection. But some teams have the offensive line do that.

There’s a multitude of schematic factors that would go into Brady getting comfortable with a new team.

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But the biggest factor is terminology.

I had 12 offensive coordinators in 14 years, and everybody is a little different. When you are accustomed to the same word for a route concept for so many years, and then all of a sudden it’s a different word but the same route concept, it takes a second to process that in your brain.

When I had to learn a new offensive system, I would make flash cards, write down plays and watch film like I was cramming for a test. And that was before I even got onto the field.

Brady has never been a part of a different system. There has been nothing brand new that needs to be learned in the offseason; it's just building on what you did the year before.

That's going to be a factor for any team that brings Brady in: How much is their offensive terminology related to New England's? And how much leeway do they have to change what's already in place?

Because if you completely change what you did from the year before, it sets everybody back. The receivers, the offensive line, the running backs -- it’d be a learning curve for everybody.

If Brady leaves New England, I believe his best bet to be successful would be joining a team with similar offensive terminology.

He could be willing to go in there and start all over. He's a smart guy, so he could put it all on himself and say, “We’ll make some subtle adjustments, but I’ll learn your offensive scheme."

But that's asking a lot from a guy who’s been in the same system for 20 years.

Editor's note: Matt Cassel had a 14-year NFL career that included four seasons with the New England Patriots (2005-2008). He's joining the NBC Sports Boston team for this season. You can find him on game days as part of our Pregame Live and Postgame Live coverage, as well as every week on Tom E. Curran’s Patriots Talk podcast and NBCSportsBoston.com.