The Patriots are once again under investigation by the NFL for illegally taping an opponent’s sideline after a video team from Kraft Sports Production was caught filming the Bengals sideline from the press box during Sunday’s Bengals-Browns game in Cleveland.
The Patriots admitted that their videographers broke NFL rules and characterized it as a misunderstanding involving independent contractors who didn’t know the rules. However, the Bengals are “livid,’’ according to multiple league sources, and the Patriots may be hard-pressed to avoid a punishment, given their history.
“They’re not getting out of this one,’’ said one league source with close ties to the Bengals. “They got caught red-handed. I mean, dead to rights. Too much of this stuff is on tape.’’
The Patriots sent a scout to the game to observe the Bengals in advance of this Sunday’s matchup in Cincinnati, as is customary across the NFL. Late Monday night, the Patriots acknowledged in a statement that they had sent a three-person video crew to follow the scout for a web video that would give an inside look at how scouts perform their jobs.
A league source said the Patriots requested and were granted the extra access from the Browns about two weeks prior to the game. But the Patriots acknowledged that they never informed the Bengals of the project.
NFL rules allow teams to shoot scenes inside the press box but are explicit about not allowing them to film the field from there. According to league sources who were present in the press box, Bengals personnel were shocked when they saw the Patriots videographer sitting in the first row, filming the Bengals sideline during the first quarter. The video conceivably could have captured the Bengals giving signals to signify substitutions and different personnel packages.
According to multiple sources, a Bengals employee got out his own camera and filmed the Patriots videographer shooting his video, which lasted approximately eight minutes, according to The Athletic.
“There is video of the video,’’ one of the sources said.
Between the first and second quarters, the Bengals employee then got several people involved — Bengals security, the NFL representative on hand, and Bengals executives, including director of player personnel Duke Tobin, the team’s de facto general manager.
The matter was moved without incident to the back of the press box in the dining area, where the Kraft videographer was further questioned. The videographer offered to delete the footage on the spot, but the NFL instead took his video card as evidence.
Multiple sources described Tobin and Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor as “livid’’ over the incident, and one source said owner Mike Brown is upset as well. The Bengals may be 1-12, but Taylor and his coaching staff are new this year, and the footage could have been useful for the Patriots as they prepare for Sunday’s game.
“This is just bold and reckless,’’ one source said.
The Patriots statement said in part, “The production crew — without specific knowledge of League rules — inappropriately filmed the field from the press box. The sole purpose of the filming was to provide an illustration of an advance scout at work on the road. There was no intention of using the footage for any other purpose.
“We understand and acknowledge that our video crew, which included independent contractors who shot the video, unknowingly violated a league policy by filming the field and the sideline from the press box.
“The production crew is independent of our football operation. 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 production of these features.’’
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday that he had nothing to do with the filming.
“I have no involvement in this and no knowledge of it, and so I really don’t have any idea what exactly is going on,’’ Belichick said. “I can tell you that we’ve never — as a coaching staff and me personally — have never viewed any video footage at all of anything that those production people have done, other than what’s shown on public television or something like that.’’
The Patriots did not respond to a request for further comment Tuesday.
A league source said the Patriots’ explanation is plausible, but they were reckless in not being clear with the videographer about the league rules — especially considering their history.
In 2007, Belichick was fined $500,000, and the team was fined $250,000 and docked a first-round draft pick when the Patriots were caught illegally videotaping the New York Jets sideline.
In 2015, the team was fined $1 million and quarterback Tom Brady was suspended four games when the NFL determined that the Patriots were illegally taking air out of the footballs they used in games.
It is unclear whether the Patriots will be punished this time, but several league sources expect that they will be, considering their history. Even if the videographer didn’t know the rules, he still broke them, and it’s all on video.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the 32 team owners are in Dallas this week for the league’s quarterly meetings, and a punishment could come down before the Patriots face the Bengals this Sunday in Cincinnati.
“The Patriots have the history they have, and some people may be more paranoid than they normally would be,’’ a source said. “Honestly, a lot of media shoot first and ask questions later.
“But if you’re a member of the team, you’ve got to know the rules. I’d make sure we explain what the rules are, to make sure we don’t go in and break the rules, and make sure no one thinks we’re cheating.’’