More Patriots Cheating Allegations

Yesterday (the Saturday before Super Bowl XLII) the Boston Herald reported that a source alleged "a member of the [Patriots] video department filmed the Rams’ final walkthrough" before the 2002 Super Bowl in which the Patriots upset the heavily favored Rams. ESPN reported that the Rams stated the walkthrough primarily focused on plays they intended to run in the red zone.

Asked about the allegations yesterday, commissioner Robert Goodell answered, "I’m not aware of that.” NFL Spokesman Greg Aiello added, "We have no information on that."

Then later, on the same or very next day, spokesman Aiello told the AP, "We were aware of the rumor months ago and looked into it. There was no evidence of it on the tapes or in the notes produced by the Patriots, and the Patriots told us it was not true." (emphasis mine)

Well, that clears that up. Imagine if the movie Untouchables ended this way: Elliot Ness--"Your honor, there is no evidence of tax evasion in the documents provided by Mr. Capone, and he has told us the charges are not true." Judge--"Case dismissed."

Previous Research

I don't normally add my own opinions here at this site, but I'll make an exception here because of my previous look into possible statistical evidence that the Patriots benefited from unfair advantages. Specifically, the Patriots had won about 2 more games per year, every year, from 2002-2006 than their on-field performance would statistically indicate. In other words, other teams with similar performance stats win 2 fewer games in a season than Belichick's Patriots did. If the Patriots used knowledge of their opponents' play calls in primarily high-leverage situations (3rd downs or critical 4th quarter plays) we would see this kind of result.

My own interest in statistics began when I did my masters thesis, a research paper on midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy who violated its Honor Concept. It was basically research on cheaters at an elite institution in highly competitive and stressful environment. Although not the primary focus of my research, along the way I learned that cheaters are recidivists. Once they are able to rationalize their behavior, they will continue to cheat. Additionally, those who are caught are rarely nabbed on their first attempt, most likely because they select methods and opportunities hard to detect. They go out of their way to hide their cheating activity. No surprise there.

(Coincidentally, it was at Annapolis where Belichick learned his football under his dad, an assistant coach for Navy.)

So when we saw first hand how the Patriots violated league rules, I surmised it was highly unlikely that their activities were limited to taping defensive signals in isolated games. I think it would be naive to believe otherwise. Several very smart commenters (with very good points) accused me of making "assumptions" about the Patriots' cheating. So if the recent allegations have any merit, I'd feel somewhat vindicated.

Super Bowl XXXVI

Then, just as I was thinking of writing this post this afternoon, I channel-surfed onto the NFL Films highlights of the Patriots-Rams 2002 Super Bowl on ESPN2. Immediately prior to the drive in which Ty Law jumped a quick out route to intercept a Kurt Warner pass and return it for a touchdown, there was a sideline shot of three Patriot defenders discussing signals. (My thanks to TiVo, by the way.)

In the shot, Safety Lawyer Malloy runs up to cornerbacks Terrel Buckley and Terrance Shaw and says,
"Listen! Listen!
We got 'Sloop.' (makes a hand signal)
We got 'Move'...you know the move signal. (makes a different signal)
We got 'Marine 5'...'Marine.' (makes signal)
We got 'Seagull.' (another signal)
We got, this is...this is 'Double Out' right here. (making signal)"
Buckley and Shaw mimic the signals and nod each time.

My guess is these would not be their own signals--they would know them already and Milloy's words "we got" and "you know" plus the names for each signal suggest the signals are somewhat but not entirely new. Additionally, "double out" sounds like an offensive call. They appear to be rehearsing the Rams' signals, although possibly Warner's QB signals and not sideline signals. But the main point is that knowledge of some of the Rams' offensive signals was widespread on the Patriots defense, it was a priority to them, and it apparently didn't hurt New England's performance.

On the other hand, I'd guess that all teams try to read QB signals, but if they could do it reliably well, offenses wouldn't use them. Offenses would also be able to use countermeasures or easily spoof a defense. The Patriots may just play this part of the game better than other teams. If so, we'd see the same statistical results I found in my earlier post. It also underscores that outsiders like myself really don't have a any idea of what really goes on inside the film rooms and coordinator booths in the NFL.

Belichick's Focus

Perhaps Belichick had an intense focus, within the rules, on exploiting opponent's signals and deceiving them with his own. In the military we call this 'SigInt' for signals intelligence, a critically important part of modern warfare. The advantage from signal exploitation may have encouraged the Patriots to pursue it beyond permitted means. Jets coach and former Belichick assistant Eric Mangini would have been aware of the importance of this part of the game to the Patriots, so It's no surprise he was the one to blow the whistle.

A Real Investigation

The other point is that if the NFL really wanted to investigate these things, there is ample evidence in the NFL Films archive. There are probably hours upon hours of sideline film from just the Patriots' Super Bowls alone, not to mention playoff games or regular season games. An honest investigation would have taken weeks, not the couple of days the NFL took before destroying the evidence.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a Belichick hater. I appreciate his cerebral approach to the game. I like how he goes for it on 4th down and focuses intensely on details, and I don't find him arrogant at all. But I do have a strong intolerance for cheating, and I believe these things deserve to be investigated.

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4 Responses to “More Patriots Cheating Allegations”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great post. I caught the exact same moment this morning (in between Specter quotes on the bottom scroll!), and had to surf around to see what people smarter than me thought. I guess it turns out they're busy trying to figure out what people smarter than them think. It sure would be nice if those people would bother spending more than a few token days pretending to look into things. Oh, well

  2. bill says:

    I like your comment that we don't know what goes on behind the curtains that NFL teams throw over their operations.

    Who knows how many people teams have looking at real-time game film between series. I can see a team looking at the previous off series and comparing what the defense did with the signals coming in from the sideline.

    Maybe some day we will find out

  3. Anonymous says:

    I agree with what You're thoughts on these matters are. However, I believe much stronger consequences must be taken. these cheaters have manipulated the entire NFL, the entire world for that matter, into believing they are the next dynasty, when really they are nothing but pathetic cheaters. It's unbelievable how this could be bypassed so easily. It's a shame and is the opposite of everything America and the NFL stand for. They are NOT a dynasty. THEY ARE PATHETIC CHEATERS AND DESERVE TO BE REVOKED OF ANY HIGH REIGN THEY'VE BEEN GIVEN!!!

  4. Anonymous says:

    "They go out of their way to hide their cheating activity. No surprise there."

    Wouldn't that statement run counter to what actually happened though? The videotaping was done in full view of everyone, including the opposing team, NFL officials, and the entire stadium. There was no attempt at all to hide what they were doing. Despite the name given to the event - spygate - there was no spying and nothing secretive about the videotaping.

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