Here we go again. The New England Patriots are reportedly the subject of another league investigation into whether they illicitly filmed a team—this time their Week 15 opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals.
The issue came to light during Bengals head coach Zac Taylor’s Monday press conference, when he was asked by Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham about whether “the Patriots had a videographer up in the Bengals’ press box area, working with an advance scout that was taping video of the Bengals’ sideline” during Sunday’s Cincinnati-Cleveland game. Taylor responded that he was “aware there was an incident” and that the NFL was investigating. League officials have not yet commented.
The Patriots released a statement Monday evening that echoed earlier reports that the organization’s production crew had been filming a video for their team website, not spying on Cincinnati. The Patriots site has a video series called Do Your Job, named after the team motto, which spotlights football operations employees, equipment managers, trainers, and video operators. This episode was on advance scouts, the coaching staff members who study upcoming opponents. The statement said that the production crew—which included independent contractors—inappropriately filmed the FirstEnergy Stadium field because it didn’t have “specific knowledge of League rules,” but that the recordings were not intended for any use other than the feature video.
“While aware that one of the scouts was being profiled for a ‘Do Your Job’ episode, our football staff had no other involvement whatsoever in the planning, filming or creative decisions made during the filming of these features,” the statement said. “We accept full responsibility for the actions of our production crew at the Browns-Bengals game.”
The Patriots said that they obtained permission from the Browns to record at the stadium, but failed to alert Cincinnati or the league. That apparently caused the confusion within the Bengals organization. Tom Pelissero reported that a Bengals staffer noticed the filming and told a Bengals executive, who alerted league security. ESPN’s Dianna Russini reported that one videographer had identified himself as a Robert Kraft employee and then asked whether the video could be deleted and everything could be forgotten. These explanations suggest this is one big misunderstanding over in-house content, though Patriots employees have reportedly been prepared to use similar explanations to cover up wrongdoing before.
New England’s infamous Spygate scandal began when Jets head coach (and former Patriots assistant) Eric Mangini’s staff caught a New England employee taking video of Jets coaches relaying hand signals on the New York sideline in Week 1 of 2007. Belichick and the team were both fined and New England was docked a 2008 first-round draft pick after the NFL’s investigation into the incident, though the league’s findings were never made public and the evidence was destroyed by commissioner Roger Goodell’s office. In a 2015 piece investigating both the Patriots’ taping practices and a separate New England scandal commonly referred to as “Deflategate,” ESPN’s Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr. reported that the team had illicitly recorded 40 games from 2000 to 2007 and that one former employee said that staffers in full Patriots gear had watched the Rams’ walkthrough practice before Super Bowl XXXVI. (Goodell said in 2008 that he was not aware of any recordings the Patriots made of the walkthrough, and the Patriots deny the former employee’s account.)
Staff members were given ready-made excuses if they got caught, including that they were shooting content for a team show, according to Wickersham and Van Natta Jr.’s report. As Van Natta and Wickersham wrote:
The Patriots’ videographers were told to look like media members, to tape over their team logos or turn their sweatshirt inside out, to wear credentials that said Patriots TV or Kraft Productions. The videographers also were provided with excuses for what to tell NFL security if asked what they were doing: Tell them you’re filming the quarterbacks. Or the kickers. Or footage for a team show.
Van Natta and Wickersham also reported that commissioner Roger Goodell’s harsh response to Deflategate, a dispute over the air pressure in footballs New England used in the January 2015 AFC championship game, was intended to placate owners who thought the Patriots were given a light punishment for Spygate. According to Van Natta and Wickersham’s piece, some owners also resented Goodell’s decision to destroy the Spygate evidence and the fact that Kraft sits on the three-owner committee that decides the commissioner’s salary. For Deflategate, the Patriots were docked a first-round draft pick and Tom Brady was given a four-game suspension for his alleged role in the incident. The quarterback’s appeal of the penalty nearly reached the U.S. Supreme Court. One team owner told Van Natta and Wickersham that Goodell’s handling of Deflategate was “a make-up call” for Spygate.
The 10-3 Patriots play at the 1-12 Bengals this week.
An earlier version of this piece incorrectly stated that ESPN’s 2015 investigation into the Spygate scandal said that the Patriots had recorded the Rams’ walkthrough practice before Super Bowl XXXVI. According to the piece, a former staffer told Senator Arlen Specter that three New England videographers watched the practice, but that no evidence of a recording exists.
This piece was updated Monday evening with details of a statement from the Patriots.