Ben Roethlisberger, Jerome Bettis claim that Patriots cheated against Steelers in 2004 AFC Championship Game

"They had our signs and they called a timeout to get them ready for that play."

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady shaking hands with Pittsburg Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after the Patriots defeated the Steelers 55-31 at Gillette Stadium on Sunday November 3, 2013.
Tom Brady and the Patriots handed Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers multiple losses over the years. Matthew J Lee / The Boston Globe

Another day, another cheating accusation tossed out against the Patriots.

Close to two decades after the Patriots trounced the Steelers, 41-27, in the 2004 AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field, two key players on that Pittsburgh squad alleged that Bill Belichick and Co. conned their way to a trip back to the Super Bowl.

On the latest podcast episode of “Footbahlin with Ben Roethlisberger”, Ben Roethlisberger and Jerome Bettis discussed that conference title game. According to them, the Patriots seemed to always be one step ahead of the Steelers during pivotal sequences that night. 

“Hey, to be fair, the Patriots cheated,” Roethlisberger said. 


“For sure they did,” Bettis replied. “It’s not even a question in my mind.”

Bettis focused in on one play in particular, with the Steelers staring at a 4th-and-1 situation at New England’s 39-yard line. Before the key snap, Bettis said that New England called a timeout — and then promptly snuffed out Bettis’ run up the middle to force a turnover on downs.

According to Bettis, the Patriots were able to anticipate Bettis’ run during the timeout because they were aware of the Steelers’ signs.

“Who normally goes to the sideline on timeouts? The defensive captains, right? They told the nose guard, [Ted] Washington, they pulled him to the sideline,” Bettis said. “Big 400-pound guy, he don’t want to go to the sideline and come all the way back,” Betts said. “What he want to go to the sideline for? … They stopped us on fourth down. That’s a critical play in the game.“

“They had our signs and they called a timeout to get them ready for that play because they knew it was coming. No question in my mind. I remember vividly because I thought, ‘Why is this big dude going to the sideline?’”


On the very next play, Tom Brady connected on a 60-yard touchdown pass to Deion Branch, giving New England a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.

This is far from the first time that the Patriots have been accused of cheating in critical games. But Bettis’ recollection of the events does have some major discrepancies.

For the record, Ted Washington was not even on the 2004 Patriots roster, and Bettis actually fumbled on the play, as seen here (go to the 3:15 mark for the play in question).

Oh, and the Patriots didn’t even call a timeout before this 4th-and-1 sequence. As noted by Jeff Howe of The Athletic, the Patriots only called one timeout in the entire first half, and it came in the second quarter. 

Despite Bettis and Roethlisberger’s comments, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher said back in 2021 that he hasn’t used Spygate or any other cheating accusations directed at the Patriots as excuses for coming up short against New England over the years. 

“It’s only cheating if you get caught,” Cowher said in an interview with The Athletic. “Like any player, if you’re going to hold him, don’t get caught. If you get caught, you’re wrong, if you don’t, you’re right. I always thought we never lost the games to New England because of Spygate. If [Bill Belichick] got the calls because we didn’t do a very good job of making sure we signaled those in, that’s on us, it’s not on him. Because we’re always looking for competitive edges. 


“I think as any coach whether it’s someone’s stance, someone’s split, someone’s formation. You’re looking at someone’s eyes, how are they coming out of a huddle? You’re always looking for those little things that give you a competitive edge and that to me is what that was.”


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