Patriots Stealing Signals: More To The Story?

In what can best be labeled as an unusual incident, and at worst a case of industrial espionage, Patriots Insider learned from Jets Confidential editor Dan Leberfeld that the Patriots had reportedly tried to tape the Jets defensive signals on Sunday. If true, the Patriots reputation could take a serious hit from the league.

Black Eye For Patriots?
By Jon Scott, Patriots Insider
September 10, 2007

Security official: "What's that in your video camera sir?"

Cameraman: "Aw nothing officer."

Official: "You're going to have to come with us. You're in deep…"

Cameraman: It's not my fault, they made me do it."

How The Story Broke

According to an initial report by Dan Leberfeld of Jets Confidential, the hypothetical conversation above could very well have been the one that played out on Sunday when New York Jets security chief Steve Yarnell, ordered an employee of the Patriots to cease filming and turn his camera over for inspection.

According to Leberfeld's report, the cameraman had displayed an unusual amount of attention toward the Jets defensive coaching staff while the team signaled in plays from the sideline. Leberfeld cites a stadium source that said that the camera operator claimed that the Patriots had put him up to it [filming the Jets staff].

Trying to gain an advantage is a common occurrence among teams around the league, especially between division rivals such as the Patriots and the Jets. But actually filming the opposing team's coaching staff during the game is something else.

On Monday, ESPN's Chris Mortensen confirmed Leberfeld's initial report. The League's competition is in charge of investigating these types of matters and would be the governing body to recommend any punishments deemed appropriate.

"It's not their first time," a member of the committee, who did not wish to be identified, told Mortensen.

The report also indicated that the Packers knew it was the same cameraman who was thrown out of Lambeau Field from New England's 35-0 drubbing of the Packers on November 19, 2006.

Packers' president Bob Harlan took the accusations one step further. "From what I can remember, he had quite a fit when we took him out," Harlan said. "We had gotten word before the game that they [the Patriots] did this sort of thing, so we were looking for it."

Coaches Reaction

When asked about the situation on his weekly radio spot on WEEI, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick declined to comment: "I'm not going to comment on a league matter," Belichick said. When asked if he was surprised that the league was confiscating the camera, the coach indicated that he was aware of the issue on Sunday, but was too busy to pay attention. "Honestly I was just trying to concentrate on the game."

Jets head coach Eric Mangini also declined comment on the situation.

"With anything along those lines, those are all League related matters," Mangini said in his press conference on Monday. "Anything that deals with an issue like this or anything on a team-by-team basis, those all go to the League."

Gaining An Advantage

Gaining an advantage over opponents is nothing new in the NFL, teams try all types of methods to get the upper hand in these contests. Some coaches have accused the hosts at the Meadowlands (where both the Giants and the Jets play home games) of opening the double doors at the end of the stadium when opponents line up for field goals or kickoffs from the opposing end. The swirling winds inside Giants Stadium are well known for creating a difficult environment for field goal kickers, and opening the doors increases the difficulty of making those longer kicks.

Other teams have accused the Indianapolis Colts of pumping up the noise level inside their stadium when opponents are on offense, to increase the difficultly in hearing signals called by the quarterback.

While neither the Jets nor the Colts have had to face the proverbial "smoking gun", rumblings persist that teams will use whatever is at their disposal to create a competitive advantage. Such was the case when the Colts had to travel to Foxboro for a winter playoff game in January 2005. Days before the game the tarps were mysteriously left off the grass field in Foxboro as the Patriots prepared to play hosts to Peyton manning and the Colts' high-octane offense. During that time, precipitation landed on the unprotected field, turning what could have been average conditions into a sloppy playing surface on game day. That sloppy surface favored New England's slower, more methodical strategy.

Stealing Signals

The Patriots have been involved in signal stealing controversy before. In 2006, it was the Miami Dolphins who were the subject of a report indicating that the coaches and players were able to take advantage of Tom Brady in their December 10,2006 21-0 shutout, by implying that the Dolphins had purchased audio tapes of Brady's signals. Miami players and coaches denied the report.

Bill Belichick in Cleveland, January 1995 (AP Photo)

"This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen in my life," former Dolphins head coach Nick Saban said at the time. "I mean just because you guys [the media] don't know something goes on, doesn't mean it goes on. Every guy on our team that I talked to about this says, 'Yeah, we've been doing this for 10 years.' We did it in Cleveland . . . watch a TV copy of the game, trying to get the cadence. Now they got us stealing stuff, buying stuff, I mean, like we're in the mafia or something. It's unbelievable."

Interestingly, it was in Cleveland where Saban spent time as part of Belichick's coaching staff for the Browns.

Dolphins' linebacker Zach Thomas also denied the report.

"It's kind of frustrating because it takes away what we did in the game," said Thomas. "Everybody is thinking the only way we could beat the Patriots is if we steal their signals. There's no stealing signals. You watch tape. There are no bought tapes."

Nothing New For New England

CBS Analyst and former Texan GM Charley Casserly weighed on in the possibility of the Miami tapes, during a CBS NFL Pregame show on December 17, 2006.

"What the Miami Dolphins do is this - they have a coach who studies the game tapes, the television tapes, to pick up the signals from the opposing quarterback," Casserly said according to a network transcript. "In fact, you can go out and buy something called network iso-tapes that people at home don't see, to get additional audio."

When asked why New England wouldn't protest such a move if it were true, Caseerly implied the same thing Harlan admitted in the ESPN report.

"…there is nothing illegal about what Miami did," Casserly explained. "However, the Patriots, now, got caught doing something early in the year they weren't supposed to be doing. They had a man on their sideline dressed in coaching attire with a video camera who was presumably videotaping the other team's signals. You can't do that. They were warned. If it happens again, they're going to be disciplined."

Patriots' spokesman Stacey James denied Casserly's claims of league discipline to the Boston Globe the following day.

According to an NFL Spokesman, the League had no comment on the signal-stealing scandal. The Jets and the Patriots have also declined comment on the matter. Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs, however, did make a comment.


New England Patriots' Ellis Hobbs celebrates after returning the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown against the New York Jets duiring NFL football action in East Rutherford, N.J., Sunday, Sept. 9, 2007. Patriots won, 38-14. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

 

"We put too many hours in," said Hobbs. "We put too many hours in as individuals, as a team, to have to go there and cheat."

After accomplishing a record-setting 108-yard kickoff against New York on Sunday, Hobbs insisted the Patriots win was about performance more than any advantage gained through stealing signals. "We take pride in what we do. We know the rules of the game. By no facet or shape or form have we ever tried to cheat or anything like that because we don't need to."

The league's competition committee will review the confiscated tape and take appropriate action. Until then, all the Patriots can do is to get ready for their Sunday night match against the Chargers in Foxboro.

 

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