|GOLDBERG ON FOOTBALL: Pats acknowledge "Spygate" helped|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 10 November 2007 07:44|
At the end of New England's 38-14 win over San Diego in the season's second week, Bill Belichick's players hugged him with genuine emotion, something not often directed toward their unemotional and often distant coach.|
It was, of course, a reaction to ``Spygate,'' the confiscation of tapes the Patriots were making of the Jets' defensive signals a week earlier. That led commissioner Roger Goodell to levy fines of $500,000 against Belichick, $250,000 against the team and take away New England's first-round draft pick.
Is that emotion the reason the Patriots are 9-0 and were untested until last week's 24-20 win in Indianapolis?
No. They're too good for that. The addition of three quality receivers led by Randy Moss made them the favorite to win the Super Bowl before the season started and no one knew about the tapes.
But was the discipline a motivating factor for a team that in its first eight games hadn't won by less than 17?
``From the owner to the front office to coaches to the players, it helped bring everyone together even more,'' Robert Kraft, the team's owner, said this week.
In other words, Goodell's discipline seems to have motivated what already was the NFL's best team to play even harder.
Until the game against the Colts, the only team close to the Patriots in ability, New England hadn't scored less than 34 points in a game, and its average margin of victory was 25 points.
Beyond that, Belichick and his players seem to be enjoying running it up, leaving his starters in longer than necessary or trying for needless late touchdowns. That kind of thing happened in a 52-7 thrashing of Washington and it happened against Dallas, the second-best team the Patriots have faced, when New England scored with 23 seconds left to add seven points in a 48-27 win.
Belichick, as is his wont, is mum on the subject, even when pressed in a public forum.
``What did you want us to do, kick a field goal?'' he said after he went for a first down that led to a TD with the Patriots leading the Redskins 38-7 in the fourth quarter two weeks ago. That rout was an embarrassment to Joe Gibbs, a Hall of Fame coach who has won three Super Bowls, the same number as Belichick. The classy Gibbs said he didn't mind, but a lot of other people did.
Those New England Super Bowl wins, all by three points, are among the reasons Belichick has his foot on the throttle so late in the game.
That's because of the reaction to the disclosure the Patriots were illegally taping opponents on the sidelines. For a week after that, several opposing players questioned whether the Pats would have won titles after the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons if they hadn't cheated.
``Oh, they knew,'' the Steelers' Hines Ward said, referring to the New England defense in the two AFC title games it won in Pittsburgh. ``They were calling our stuff out. They knew, especially that first championship game here at Heinz Field. They knew a lot of our calls. There's no question some of their players were calling out some of our stuff.''
Reno Mahe of the Eagles, who lost the 2005 Super Bowl to New England, was even more emphatic.
``I think they should forfeit, man,'' Mahe said. ``We won the Super Bowl. I think we should get it. I'm going to go trade my NFC championship ring for a Super Bowl ring.''
Ward may have had a point. Mahe was over the top.
Remember that there are legal ways of getting signals: film study, lip-reading, guesswork among them.
After the Giants beat the Jets this season, Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said he could interpret the audibles being called by Jets QB Chad Pennington. Indeed, tapes of the game show Giants shifting just before several plays to the side to which the Jets ran - and stuffing the plays.
It's a thin line. Taping is illegal, but reading with the naked eye the signals sent in by a coach or interpreting the quarterback's signals is fair. There is plenty of suspicion but nothing to really prove that the Patriots weren't doing to the Steelers six years ago or the Eagles in that Super Bowl just what the Giants did against the Jets.
After the NFL destroyed the tapes, to the consternation of many, it said in a statement:
``The Patriots have fully cooperated and complied with the requirements of the commissioner's decision. All tapes, documents and other records relating to this matter were turned over to the league office and destroyed, and the Patriots have certified in writing that no copies or other records exist.''
If anything, the questions still being raised about New England's accomplishments are motivating the Patriots even more. The latest motivator is Don Shula, who coached the last unbeaten team, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, and suggested to the New York Daily News this week that there should be an asterisk placed next to the Patriots in the record book if they finish this season without a loss.
Kraft, who extended Belichick's contract shortly after the fines, reiterated that he isn't happy about the taping episode.
``Branding is important to us - doing it the right way,'' he said.
``We're not about cheating. That's not who we are. There are too many things that can go wrong in any game - injuries, bad calls, just a bounce or two - especially in a league where the system is set up to make everyone equal. We're winning because this is a team with a tremendous work ethic, a team that's proven itself. I'm proud to know that they are conducting themselves the right way.''
They're also conducting themselves the angry way because the allegations are still festering, as the Shula comment demonstrates.
Mark down Dec. 16. That's when the Jets, currently 1-8, visit Foxborough. Even before the tape episode, the relationship between Belichick and his former assistant, New York coach Eric Mangini, wasn't exactly warm and cuddly.
Given the disparity between the teams ...
A hundred points?
DIRTY DOZEN: The top six and bottom six teams based on current level of play:
1. New England (9-0). No contest, even though the Patriots finally had a contested game.
2. Indianapolis (7-1). Who knows what might have happened if Marvin Harrison had been healthy?
3. Pittsburgh (6-2). When Ben Roethlisberger starts getting multiple TD passes, look out.
4. Dallas (7-1). Starting to get cocky.
5. Green Bay (7-1). Winning on the road off a short week is impressive.
6. New York Giants (6-2). Strength of schedule goes up with Cowboys in town this week.
27. Atlanta (2-6). Beating the 49ers at home doesn't make the Falcons a playoff team. But a win is a win.
28. San Francisco (2-6). Spending doesn't guarantee victory.
29. Oakland (2-6) When do we see JaMarcus Russell? Al Davis' call.
30. New York Jets (1-8). Kellen Clemens showed enough against Washington to provide some hope for the future.
31. Miami (0-8). Sticking with Cleo Lemon over John Beck is an indication that someone thinks a win is possible this week against Buffalo.
32. St. Louis (0-8). Bad luck is bad luck. Even during a bye week, they put Leonard Little on injured reserve.
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