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NFL reportedly faults Patriots

Team is said to break rules by taping Jets' coaches sending signals

MATT ESTRELLA Camera is seized MATT ESTRELLA Camera is seized

FOXBOROUGH - The National Football League has determined that the Patriots violated league rules Sunday when they videotaped the New York Jets' coaches sending signals to players on the field during New England's 38-14 victory at Giants Stadium, ESPN and the NFL Network reported last night.

Before the league issues any sanctions - which could be severe, including suspensions, fines, and the loss of draft picks - Patriots coach Bill Belichick will present his team's explanation to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, likely by the end of the week over the telephone.

"There has been no decision rendered," said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello last night.

Today, Belichick released a statement acknowledging the league's accusations.

"Earlier this week, I spoke with Commissioner Goodell about a videotaping procedure during last Sunday's game and my interpretation of the rules," Belichick said. "At this point, we have not been notified of the league's ruling. Although it remains a league matter, I want to apologize to everyone who has been affected, most of all ownership, staff and players. Following the league’s decision, I will have further comment."

Before the league issues any sanctions - which could be severe, including suspensions, fines, and the loss of draft picks - Patriots coach Bill Belichick will present his team's explanation to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, likely by the end of the week over the telephone.

"There has been no decision rendered," said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello last night.

Patriots video assistant Matt Estrella was stationed on the New England sideline when he was approached by league security officials and had his camera and videotape seized in the middle of the first quarter Sunday. A native of New Bedford, Estrella is in his fourth season with the Patriots and his third year as a full-time video assistant. He helps edit game and practice tapes for use by team coaches, scouts, and players.

The official NFL rule regarding coaching video states, "No video record ing devices of any kind are permitted to be in use in the coaches' booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game."

The league's head of football operations, Ray Anderson, sent a memo to head coaches and general managers last September reiterating the policy and stating that "video taping of any type, including but not limited to taping of an opponent's offensive or defensive signals, is prohibited on the sidelines, in the coaches' booth, in the locker room, or at any other locations accessible to club staff members during the game."

Because a quarterback has an audio receiver in his helmet that allows coaches to communicate with him, a team potentially could gain an advantage by knowing defensive signals.

Because the camera and tape were seized in the first quarter Sunday, the taping most likely did not play a major factor in the outcome, a 38-14 victory.

This is not the first time the Patriots have been questioned relating to coaching video.

During a 35-0 victory over the Packers last Nov. 19, a security official removed Estrella from the sideline when it was determined that his credential did not allow him access to the area in which he was standing with a camera. However, Estrella's camera was not seized.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft did not address the issue yesterday during a charity appearance in Mansfield.

"There is an investigation going on now, and perhaps an adjudication of it, and I think it would be inappropriate at this time to make any comment," he said.

Kraft added, "When you're successful in anything, a lot of people like to try to take you down and do different things."

The Jets have numerous ties with the Patriots among the team's personnel, the most significant that their head coach, Eric Mangini, was a New England assistant from 2000-05. Steve Scarnecchia, the son of Patriots assistant coach Dante Scarnecchia, is in his second year as the Jets' video director. He was a member of the Patriots' video staff from 2001-04.

On Monday, Patriots players asked about the incident expressed hope that the allegations were false.

"We put too many hours in as individuals and as a team to have to go out there and cheat," third-year cornerback Ellis Hobbs said. "If it's true, it's true, then obviously we're in the wrong. Like I said, I'm standing behind my team, my coaches, my personnel, our staff. I don't believe we do those type of things."

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