It seemed too dumb to be real.

There was no way the Patriots could get embroiled in shenanigans about recording video, right? Spygate II? That’s a sequel idea too dumb even to land in theaters and a football idea too dumb for New England. Or so it would have seemed.

When the news first came out that the NFL was investigating New England for something video related, the logical reaction was to think the league was being extra cautious because of the franchise’s history and reputation. Even people who think the Patriots are sketchy have to believe they aren’t stupid.

The Patriots acknowledge that they sent a video crew from their content team to Sunday’s game between the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals to document the work that an advance scout does. The Patriots play at Cincinnati this coming Sunday. The video crew was credentialed by the Browns to document the scout in the press box as part of the team’s “Do Your Job” series on Patriots.com, but the Bengals say they were never alerted.

Everyone who works for the Patriots – from the Gillette Stadium parking attendants to the Krafts – should be well trained on two things. 1. Don’t mess with the air pressure of footballs. 2. Don’t take a video of anything without clearing it multiple times with both teams, the NFL, the FCC, whoever. There’s no such thing as too cautious. It doesn’t matter if it’s an independent film crew. They’re working for the Patriots.

Repeat offenses aren’t received well. But the Patriots admitted in a statement Monday night that the crew “inappropriately filmed the field from the press box.” The filming took place “without specific knowledge of league rules,” the statement said.

Bill Belichick denied involvement or even knowledge of that was going on.

“This is something that we 100 percent have zero involvement with,” Belichick said on WEEI. “I’ve never seen anything that they’ve shot other than what we’ve seen on TV.”

That sounds plausible except it appears they invoked the planned alibi reported from the original Spygate. In ESPN’s investigation, Matt Walsh, a former videographer for the Patriots, described a plan to pretend they were working for Patriots TV as an alibi if they got caught. From that story:

“During games, Walsh later told investigators, the Patriots’ videographers were told to look like media members, to tape over their team logos or turn their sweatshirt inside out, to wear credentials that said Patriots TV or Kraft Productions. The videographers also were provided with excuses for what to tell NFL security if asked what they were doing: Tell them you’re filming the quarterbacks. Or the kickers. Or footage for a team show.”

The Bengals sound skeptical, according to ESPN’s Dianna Russini.

The best evidence working in the Patriots’ favor is that it happened during a Bengals-Browns game. New England already played Cleveland and the Browns aren’t going to the playoffs. While they play the Bengals next, even in the midst of their struggles, it would be monumentally dumb to risk NFL punishment to get an advantage over Cincinnati. Every NFL team wakes up each morning with an advantage over the Bengals.

If this had happened before games against Baltimore, Philadelphia, Houston, Dallas, Buffalo or Kansas City, this is a much larger story. But the fact that it came against the Bengals makes the explanation that it was all for the “Do Your Job” show believable. While many people around the NFL might THINK the Patriots cheat, they KNOW the Bengals are terrible. Even the Astros wouldn’t bother stealing their signs.

Still, that’s not going to get the Patriots off the hook, nor should it.

The NFL has an interesting choice. The league was more than fair with Josh Gordon and hasn’t rushed to punish Robert Kraft for his spa entanglement. In other words, they haven’t been out to get the Patriots, as some fans will imply.

But what punishment does this warrant? Spygate I cost the Patriots $250,000 and a first-round pick in 2007. If there’s nothing especially damning on the video, which the NFL now has possession of, at least their intentions will seem innocent. Even if Patriots didn’t have sinister motives, they certainly have culpability in not making sure all their T’s were crossed when it comes to videoing anything. They need to know better.

Do your job? Somebody’s should be making sure this doesn’t happen.


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