The Patriots are guilty.
Of what, exactly, is where the verdict is up for debate.
Just when it seemed as if the Patriots’ biggest problems heading into the final, few weeks of the NFL season amounted to their anemic offense and a disgruntled, veteran quarterback who might have one foot out the door, here we are; embroiled in another off-the-field controversy that does little to moderate the broad wariness of the franchise and its shady practices.
The indisputable fact is this: The Patriots were caught taping the sidelines of the Cincinnati Bengals. No ifs. No buts. No paranoid affirmations of New England vs. the world.
If there were any doubt about the validity of such footage last week underneath whispers of the imminent “Spygate 2,” they were washed away on Sunday. Fox’s Jay Glazer obtained the video along with a somewhat-damning exchange between a Cincinnati security employee and longtime Kraft Sports and Entertainment producer Dave Mondillo, who just a week ago was classified as an “independent contractor” in the team’s first CYA press release.
Mondillo said in his own statement on Sunday afternoon that he has worked for Kraft TV for more than 18 years.
In any case, the video in question features more than eight minutes of Bengals footage, fixated on the sideline coaches and substitution procedures. According to the Patriots’ excuse-making 8-ball, Mondillo and friends were just getting B-roll for a “Do Your Job” production detailing the road preparation techniques of an advance scout. The footage seems about as well-suited for that project as would a glance at a Patriots employee legacy award for the Jim McNally episode.
Mondillo, in fact, who has worked for the Patriots for “more than 18 years” was channeling his inner McNally when he claimed he went to the bathroom during the time his cameraman was caught illegally filming the Bengals sidelines. I mean, this is all verbatim out of the Patriots Escape Clause Playbook, which has, reportedly, in the past, had staffers just claim they were getting footage for a TV show if anybody caught wise. The whole bathroom angle though is a fascinating consistency to be included in consecutive cheating accusations.
The first moment this all felt legitimately dirty was when the Patriots came right out and immediately copped to the incident last Monday night. In a statement that admitted that the film crew gathered inappropriate footage, the team also claimed that Mondillo, who has worked for the team for “more than 18 years” was part of a video crew that included “independent contractors” and how they “unknowingly violated a league policy.”
In his own, personal statement, made without the consent of the New England Patriots, Sunday night, Mondillo, who has worked for the team for “more than 18 years,” claimed that he was never asked to provide footage to any members of the football operations.
Which is where the whole thing gets murky.
Head coach Bill Belichick has been adamant about the coaching staff’s distance from the Kraft TV people. Bill doesn’t direct the “Do Your Job” series, except, presumably, when coverage might include a member of his staff. At that point, you can bet Belichick has editorial approval of whatever episodes hit Patriots.com.
But the video is bad, and sure looks a lot more like something related to the football operations staff than it does Kraft’s faux-journalistic wing. Did Bill order the footage? No. We’ve been way too far down this road in the original Spygate to understand the ramifications should Belichick get caught again filming the opposition.
But might Bill come across the footage by happenstance? Let’s imagine Mondillo is editing the “Do Your Job” episode in the Gillette Stadium editing suite last week, the one adjacent to the football operations break room. So, here comes Bill around the corner, grabbing a danish, when he strikes up a convenient conversation with Mondillo. It would make sense. Mondillo has worked for the organization for “more than 18 years,” or slightly less time than Belichick has been in the building.
Maybe Belichick inadvertently sees this footage playing while he and Mondillo talk about that weekend’s Nantucket Stroll. Heck, maybe they’re even brazen enough to discuss the signals being given in the tape since he’s there anyway. Just, you know, “I never saw this.”
Just because Belichick never ordered the recordings doesn’t mean the tape was never meant for his eyes.
That’s all hearsay, a fictional situation based on nothing more than supposition. Neither Belichick nor Ernie Adams were likely to be involved in ordering the footage. But they won’t get the benefit of the doubt seeing as this is now the third time we had to lazily attach the -“gate” suffix to describe how the Patriots cheated. This time.
Meanwhile, Mondillo, who had worked for the Patriots organization for “more than 18 years” was reportedly suspended last week. No word on how the “independent contractors” fared.
But Mondillo also wasn’t going to go into the vortex of silence with the ease that claimed such former offenders such as Matt Walsh, John Jastremski, and McNally. His statement reiterates his bathroom trip, the confrontation with a tough-guy Bengals security guard, and ends with a sense of “Yup, we did it, but we didn’t mean to, even though our organization is widely ridiculed for doing so. Oops.”
Whatever the true intent, the Patriots look like bumbling teens, desperately trying to get their ducks in a row after getting busted.
It won’t matter though. Maybe the NFL will fine the team a draft pick. Like they would have done something worthwhile with that anyway.
The only thing this whole charade is really going to hurt is their perception as cheaters. Like that was going to improve anytime soon.
The Patriots got caught. Busted. Guilty.
Mondillo appears to have the red hand this time, which means the procedural rules instituted in the Patriots Fall Guy Handbook are still a valid workaround.
Ah, it wouldn’t be a true Patriots postseason run without a cheating scandal every now and then.
Do your job.
The Patriot Way.