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Three Theories to Explain the Patriots’ Sideline Tape

Does footage released over the weekend prove that the Pats tried to cheat against the Bengals? Presenting a very serious Ringer investigation.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Last week, news broke that Patriots videographers were caught filming the Bengals’ sideline during a December 8 matchup between Cincinnati and Cleveland. This seemed like the beginning of Spygate 2.0: The Patriots, an organization known for pushing the limits of what’s acceptable to gain an edge, were involved in a cheating controversy yet again. However, the Pats delivered a quick and somewhat reasonable explanation: The cameramen at the Bengals game weren’t with New England’s football ops, but rather part of a crew that was producing a video series for the team website. The series, entitled “Do Your Job,” shows how behind-the-scenes members of the Pats’ infrastructure go about their days. That week, it was following one of the team’s advance scouts as he analyzed New England’s upcoming opponent.

This explanation for the sideline video was plausible—significantly more plausible than, say, the guy accused of illegally deflating footballs calling himself “the Deflator” in a text message because he was proud of his weight loss program. I can totally imagine a video series being pitched, approved, and executed without the people in football operations being informed of the details. (This happens in media companies that don’t even have football teams attached to them!) After the Pats offered up their explanation, talk of Spygate 2.0 briefly subsided; one beat writer went so far as to call the incident “the shortest-lived cheating scandal I’ve ever covered.”

However, reports soon surfaced that the video filmed by the Patriots staffer was not exactly exculpatory—it was minutes of continuous footage of the Bengals’ sideline. Jay Glazer obtained the video and Fox broadcast it on Sunday. It was exactly as described—a long shot of the Bengals’ sideline:

It is hard for me to believe that a videographer assigned to gather B-roll for a video about an advance scout would shoot such extensive footage of one specific thing—not the scout in question, not the game, just the sideline, at length, with no breaks. I’m skeptical of the value of a wide shot of a sideline in a league where coaches communicate directly to players on the field via headset, but I’m very skeptical that this footage was shot for the explicit purpose of a web series.

What makes this one of the funniest NFL documents in recent memory, though, is that it includes the interaction between the Pats representatives who shot the video and the Bengals staffers who caught them. The Bengals staffers are incredulous after watching the footage, while a Pats cameraman attempts to argue that he was trying to capture “a field perspective” before repeatedly urging everybody involved to delete the video. He really wants the video to be deleted. He sounds less like someone surprised to learn that he was breaking a rule and more like someone doing damage control.

Regardless of whether the video is incriminating evidence or simply a clip of an entertaining misunderstanding, it invites further questions. And while the NFL is investigating the incident, I don’t have faith in that, considering that the league inexplicably destroyed all of the tapes in its first Spygate investigation and then failed to account for footballs losing air pressure in cold weather during its Deflategate probe.

So what actually happened? Here are three possible theories.

The Patriots Intentionally Got Caught to Boost Viewership for Their “Do Your Job” Series

In my attempt to make sense of the Pats’ explanation for this footage, I began watching the “Do Your Job” series on YouTube. (Sponsored by Bose headphones!) How would the feature about the advance scout fit in with the rest of the episodes? Do previous installments showcase footage similar to the tape that Glazer leaked?

To find out, I sat through a video about the Patriots dietitian, who briefly takes off his Bose headphones to explain that he’s in charge of how and when snacks and candy are put out for the players to eat.

Once this ended, YouTube automatically began playing a video about the team’s training staff. Much like the dietitian, New England’s trainers also spend lots of time staring at computers while wearing Bose headphones.

Before long, I’d watched all six episodes, revealing that people in every department of the Patriots organization put in hard work while using Bose headphones. And while these videos provided behind-the-scenes glimpses of things I hadn’t thought about much—did you know that football players eat food?!?!?!—I would not have voluntarily watched them if they hadn’t been associated with a scandal. I suspect I’m not the only person who binge-watched “Do Your Job” because of this story.

Maybe the Patriots got caught filming something they weren’t supposed to and then used their online video series as cover. Or maybe getting caught was precisely what the Patriots wanted, a way to draw attention to their online video series that is sponsored by Bose headphones.

You can’t put a number on the hit the Pats’ reputation will take as a result of this news. You can, however, put a number on those sweet, sweet “Do Your Job” video views.

The Patriots Have Made It Their Mission to Demolish the NFL’s Worst Teams

After the initial story about the Patriots videographer came to light, some tried to discount the possibility that New England was cheating by pointing to the other franchise involved. Cincinnati is 1-13, the worst record in the NFL. Why would the Pats need a competitive advantage in a game against the league laughingstock?

But maybe that’s the wrong question. I’m starting to suspect that winning Super Bowls has become boring for New England. Winning one must be a high unlike any other in the world; winning two puts a team in rarefied air; winning three cements certain players as all-time greats. But what does it feel like to win six? What about chasing no. 7?

Perhaps what’s keeping the Patriots going in 2019 is not the prospect of winning a championship, but the adrenaline high that comes with crushing the league’s worst teams into the dirt as viciously and violently as possible. Right now New England is 2-3 against teams that seem likely to make the playoffs and 7-0 against sub-.500 teams. The combined score of those seven games: 235-61.

The Patriots have shown they’re willing to go to great lengths to destroy the weak. Remember when the Pats signed seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown in September, played him in one game, and repeatedly fed him the ball before promptly cutting him loose? That game—a 43-0 Patriots win—came against the now-3-11 Dolphins.

It was risky to take on a player who had just been cut from his previous team after some combination of “fighting with the general manager” and “demanding to play in an illegal helmet,” but to truly crush the Dolphins, New England decided it was worth it.

And the “Do Your Job” series takes exactly one other visit to an opposing NFL stadium—FedEx Field in Washington, D.C. An episode detailing the Pats’ film team shows how on-field snapshots of gameplay are taken from cameras on top of the stadium, printed at field level, and handed to coaches during what turned out to be a 33-7 rout. Who’s to say if the cameramen also did something illicit during their time in Washington’s stadium?

That this scandal involves the Bengals isn’t evidence that the Pats weren’t spying. It’s just evidence that the motivations for spying have changed. New England is now an organization whose primary goal is to mercilessly destroy the poor souls at the bottom of the NFL standings.

The Patriots’ Entire Film Series Is a Front

The Pats’ statement made clear that their football ops team has nothing to do with the planning or execution of these videos. But having watched all of them, I call BS. As evidence, I present these screenshots from a “Do Your Job” video earlier this year, profiling the team’s college scouting department.

The video is called, “How the Patriots Scout Top NFL Prospects,” but it doesn’t feature top NFL prospects. Instead, it features New England special teams coach Joe Judge taking a trip to Rutgers, where he puts a left-footed punter through a one-on-one workout while the two stand in front of a random lacrosse net.

So far as I can tell, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick cares about only three things in life. One is left-footed punters:

Two is Rutgers:

And the third and final thing is lacrosse:

You expect me to believe that the Patriots filmed extensive footage of a left-footed punter at Rutgers standing next to a lacrosse net and Belichick had nothing to do with it? Absolutely not. Clearly, the “Do Your Job” series is a front to send credentialed Patriots staffers to take a closer look at stuff that Belichick wants filmed. Sometimes, that’s a left-footed punter from Rutgers. Sometimes, it’s the Bengals’ sideline.

I’m not sure why it’s against the rules for one team to film an opposing team’s sideline—It’s not like breaking into an opposing practice facility! The sideline is in broad public view!—but it is. The Patriots may now suffer the consequences, probably while wearing a pair of Bose headphones.