Hurley’s Picks: Power Ranking Patriots’ Cheating Accusations Through The Years

By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — It probably says something about my character that I tend to pop into the losing locker rooms more often than I do the winning locker rooms after games. You just tend to get more emotion and more substance from a team that just lost a hard-fought football game than you do from the team that won.

And you can bet that on Sunday night, after the Falcons tiptoed into Gillette Stadium looking for some semblance of atonement for the calamities of Feb. 5, only to get waxed by the Patriots, I headed straight for that Atlanta locker room to see what their immediate reaction would be.

Veteran center Alex Mack was composed, thoughtful and honest about what the Falcons need to start doing. Boring!

Head coach Dan Quinn was like a robot, repeating over and over again that he’s confident in his players and they’re confident in themselves and confidence confidence confidence confidence. Oooooookay.

Matt Ryan was the perfect politician, as NFL quarterbacks tend to be. Yawn!

And then, one of the final players available to talk was Julio Jones. He got a bit frustrated with all the questions about last year, and he was clearly not in the happiest of moods. Understandably. The media relations employee standing nearby announced that Jones would take one more question. A reporter asked the receiver about the Patriots’ young cornerback, Johnson Bademosi. Jones gave a really short answer with little detail.

Thankfully, another reporter asked the media relations employee if there could be one more question about the crazy fog that filled the stadium. And thankfully, the request was granted.

Here’s what came out of Jones’ mouth:

“It didn’t affect me, but it’s crazy though, like, they score and they shoot fireworks off and then it sits high, kind of in the stadium. So it’s kind of hard, like, if you do get behind, like how can you throw deep balls and things like that, because it’s foggy?”

It was, as the youths say online, gold. Pure, unadulterated gold.

We’ve heard countless cheating accusations levied against the Patriots over the years, some with more merit than others. But by insinuating that Bill Belichick, Ernie Adams and the rest of the Patriots’ evil mastermind group have the power to influence a freak meteorological event seamlessly in prime time to help their team to victory? We’ve officially reached new grounds.

We are, truly, living in a repeat of the days of Red Auerbach’s Celtics, where opponents became so convinced that the Celtics were screwing with them in the Boston Garden that they’d often beat themselves once the game started.

As Auerbach himself said about the strange suspicions: “If the other team thought that? Hey, good for us.”

Jones’ concerns about the fog may very well have just been his own. Maybe some of his teammates felt similarly. But the fact is, it came so freely and quickly after this simple question: “Have you ever played in a game like that weather-wise, and did it affect anything?”

He could have answered any number of ways without so much as raising anyone’s eyebrow. Instead he suggested tomfoolery with the celebratory fireworks.

That is awesome.

The insinuation immediately joined the ranks of the most outstanding and amazing cheating accusations levied against the Patriots during the Belichick era. And because my NFL picks are an ABSOLUTE MESS THIS YEAR (thanks a lot, stupid parity) and nobody wants to hear what I have to say about them, I’ve decided to write about a true area of expertise. So please allow me to go ahead and rank the greatest, most fantastic, most wondrous Patriots cheating accusations we’ve been exposed to over the years.

8. The Psychic Scoreboard Operator

This one’s not well known — only the die-hards have even heard of it — but it really packs a punch. It came after Billy Cundiff shanked a field goal to send the Patriots to the Super Bowl in 2011. And like many of the cheating accusations, it came as sort of a half-hearted, “I’m just saying” type of comment.

You might remember there was great confusion on the Ravens sideline prior to Cundiff’s game-tying attempt, as the field-goal unit had to rush onto the field, thus making the 32-yard field more difficult.

Part of the confusion came because Anquan Boldin fumbled a ball out of bounds with less than a minute to play. He was a yard shy of the sticks when he fumbled, and he fumbled the ball forward. So the scoreboard operator was apparently confused and put “First Down” on the video boards. However, it was second-and-1. Cundiff later said he thought it was only third down when it was actually fourth down, leading to him rushing onto the field.

When asked if he believed the Patriots organization did this on purpose, Ravens kicking consultant Randy Brown said, “I don’t think you can rule anything out in New England, can you?”

It was a suggestion of magnificent proportion.

The suggestion here is that the fellow or madam in charge of the video board display in some room at Gillette Stadium cooked up the devious plan to throw up FIRST DOWN on a fumble out of bounds. Perhaps he or she had been waiting for that opportunity for a lifetime. Finally, it came!

That operator was clairvoyant enough to foresee Sterling Moore stripping the ball out of Lee Evans’ hands in the end zone on the very next play. The operator also knew that Joe Flacco would throw incomplete on third down, thus making the plan actually work.

But here’s the best part of all: THE RAVENS HAD A TIMEOUT. HEAD COACH JOHN HARBAUGH DIDN’T USE HIS TIMEOUT. HIS FIELD GOAL UNIT WAS SCRAMBLING ALL OVER THE PLACE TO GET ONTO THE FIELD, AND HE DIDN’T USE HIS TIMEOUT.

But, sure, the rogue psychic scoreboard operator is a possible explanation for this grievously poor execution in the most important moment of the season. The Ravens are not responsible.

7. Red Zone Spies

Maybe like 1 percent of America actually knows any information about the lovely period of time known as “Spygate.” Marshall Faulk is among the 99 percent who remains in the dark.

Basically, even though he’s in the Hall of Fame and many, many years have passed, the running back will never get over Super Bowl XXXVI. He’ll always feel cheated. Yet his reasoning is somewhat lacking.

Faulk said prior to Super Bowl XLVII that he knows the Patriots had spied on plays from the Rams’ walkthrough because of some red zone plays that hadn’t been run before. The Patriots appeared to be ready for these new plays when they were deployed in the red zone, and so it stands to reason — to Faulk, at least — that cheating is the explanation.

Here’s where we run into an issue with this one, Marshall: the Rams had just one red-zone trip all game, and it ended with Kurt Warner walking into the end zone untouched.

Whoops.

It’s OK. We’re sure** Marshall will get over it. Some day.

**Not actually true.

6. Zolak Overload

Everyone loves listening to Scott Zolak, right? Wrong! Mike Tomlin does not like listening to Scott Zolak — at least, not when he’s trying to coach a football game.

Unlike many of the accusations, this one seems to actually have taken place. It does seem as though the Patriots radio broadcast from 98.5 The Sports Hub somehow started playing in Tomlin’s headset during the season opening game of the 2015 season.

“That’s always the case [in Foxboro],” an angry Tomlin told reporters after his team lost.

It became a huge story, as stories involving the Patriots tend to do. Yet … the Patriots don’t control the headsets; the NFL does. And such issues crop up almost weekly in the NFL. Enter “[team name] headset issues” into Google and prepare to have your mind blown.

And the best part of Timlin’s fit? The Patriots had a lot of problems with their own headsets that night. Now that’s one devious cheating scheme. The perfect crime!

(The second-best part? Tomlin’s little rant covered up the fact that a receiver put himself out of bounds to negate a touchdown catch, that two offensive linemen committed false starts when the Steelers were on the Patriots’ 1-yard line, that Rob Gronkowski was left completely uncovered for the easiest touchdown of his career, or that the Steelers’ kicker missed two field goals. Instead of talking about the obvious reasons why Tomlin’s Steelers lost, the conversation shifted to some salacious cheating scandal. Smart.)

(Related: One time Karlos Dansby blamed a busted headset for the Cardinals’ 47-7 loss at Gillette in 2008. It was 47-7! Grow up, Peter Pan.)

5. Dumpster Diving

In September 2015, ESPN ran an 11,000-word story on how badly the Patriots cheat. It was based on the suspicions and accusations of roughly 90 anonymous sources. It was not very good!

But it sold, because people love that stuff. A Deadspin writer said he wanted to take the “bombshell” report “and take it out to a fancy dinner” before urging readers and urged everyone to “read the story immediately.”

Though there were many unsubstantiated claims, one stood out among the rest: “Numerous former employees say the Patriots would have someone rummage through the visiting team hotel for playbooks or scouting reports.”

The report didn’t specifically say that these employees were diving headfirst into dumpsters in the Best Western parking lot. But it’s a lot funnier if you imagine that to be the case.

4. Deflated Footballs

I believe everything that’s needed to be said about this topic has been said.

But I will reiterate this: Ryan Grigson and the Colts were always full of it when they said the suspicions started when the Patriots played earlier in the 2014 season in Indianapolis. Colts employees handled the footballs that night. Get out of town, Ryan Grigson. (I suppose, in the time that has passed, he has gotten out of town.) And take your “vigilant stewards of that not only for us but for the shield and overall integrity of the game” line and … actually, write that one again. That line was hilarious.

BRIEF TIMEOUT FOR BAD WEEK 8 PICKS

Miami (+3) over BALTIMORE
Cleveland (+10) over Minnesota (in London)
NEW YORK JETS (+4.5) over Atlanta
San Francisco (+14) over PHILADELPHIA
Oakland (+2.5) over BUFFALO
Indianapolis (+11) over CINCINNATI
Carolina (+2) over TAMPA BAY
Los Angeles Chargers (+7.5) over NEW ENGLAND
NEW ORLEANS (-9) over Chicago
Houston (+5.5) over SEATTLE
Dallas (-2) over WASHINGTON
Pittsburgh (-2.5) over DETROIT
KANSAS CITY (-7.5) over Denver

Last week: 4-9-2
Season: 42-60-4

OK, please disregard that record. Thank you. Back to work.

3. Two Words: Warm. Gatorade.

So, imagine this: You’re part of a football team and you’re trying like heck to beat the New England Patriots in Foxboro. Tough stuff!

But now, imagine this problem gets in your way: the Gatorade is warm.

You’re basically toast at that point. Might as well get on the bus and head home; you’ve already lost the dang game.

Yup, that’s the horrific cheating accusation levied against the Patriots by an unnamed AFC team in a 2015 Sports Illustrated article detailing all of the many ways the Patriots cheat.

“Another AFC team has brought its own sports drinks because the ones the Patriots supply are often late, warm or both,” the story said. “Unethical? Or just gamesmanship?”

HOW ABOUT BOTH?!

Imagine if your Gatorade was not only late but also warm?! How could you carry on?

2. Father Nature: Bill Belichick

Look, William Stephen Belichick is a powerful man. He’s smart, he’s competitive, and he’ll do anything to win. If that means controlling the dew point and the humidity and the wind, then he’s going to do what needs to be done.

This one really is hilarious. To be fair, you do sometimes see smoke take a while to clear at sporting events — generally at indoor venues, but every now and then at outdoor stadiums with little or no wind.

But that is not what happened at Gillette Stadium! What happened at Gillette Stadium was a meteorological event! The fog was fog. It was not firework smoke.

Look at this:

gettyimages 865213850 Hurleys Picks: Power Ranking Patriots Cheating Accusations Through The Years

Tom Brady throws as fog falls on the field.
(Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

gettyimages 865945306 Hurleys Picks: Power Ranking Patriots Cheating Accusations Through The Years

Patriots-Falcons in the fog (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

That’s step one.

Step two? The idea that such a plan could be employed to prevent a trailing team from launching a comeback? That’s next level. I love it so much I might start believing it’s possible.

Belichick: “All right, Ernie. If we score here, get the fireworks ready. I think our lead will be big enough.”

Adams: “You got it, Bill. The whole shebang?”

Belichick: “The whole shebang, Ernie.”

Adams: “You know that means we won’t be able to throw deep balls anymore, right?”

Belichick: “I SAID LAUNCH THE MISSILES, ERNIE!”

To suggest that such a thing might have happened is to believe that a scenario like this is possible. That’s the best part of these accusations. You stretch them out to the full extent, and you see just how absurd they are.

1. Belichick’s Secret Cheating Television

This is a personal favorite of mine. It came in the throes of DEFLATEGATE HYSTERIA, when every media outlet was scrambling to churn out as much Patriots cheating content as humanly possible in the two-week buildup to Super Bowl XLIX. Somehow amid all of that, the secret cheating television screen stood out the most.

Here’s the allegation from SI’s Michael Rosenberg. As a warning, it’s FANTASTIC:

If you sit behind the opposite end zone and look at the lighthouse, you will notice something else: An enormous television beyond the lighthouse, in the parking lot.

Officially, this allows people in the parking lot to watch TV. Is it a coincidence that you can see that TV from the Patriots’ sideline, but not from the opposing sideline, making it easier for the Patriots to watch replays and decide whether to throw the challenge flag?

Folks, you are a part of history right now. You’re reading the first story ever written by a man who’s deceased, because I am dead — DEAD! — from this accusation, even nearly three years later. I have passed away from this one.

The reasons? Wellllllllllll. For one, you can’t actually see the big video board from the Patriots’ sidelinewhich is kind of an important detail in this particular accusation. 

Writer: “There’s a TV in the parking lot. Maybe Belichick can see that, and opposing coaches can’t, so Belichick has an advantage with regard to deciding to challenge a play or not.”

Editor: “Yeah! Can you see the TV from the Patriots’ sideline??”

Writer: ” … ”

Editor: “AH WELL WHO CARES RUN IT ANYWAY!”

Writer: “Cool. By the way, I definitely know what the process of deciding to challenge a play is like.”

Editor: “Sure ya do, pal. Sure ya do.”

There were some other problems with this great theory. Like, for example, the fact that the video screen plays the game broadcast … on a 10-second delay. So by the time the screen shows a replay, the next snap is taking place on the field.

Oh, and also this: the screen is tiny. And far away. Like, really far away. Do you know what’s closer than the super secret cheating TV? The massive video boards inside the stadium. Do you know what they show on those video boards? REPLAYS! And they’re not on a 10-second delay, if you can imagine that.

Another problem? The picture stinks on that screen. Even if it were right in front of Belichick, the picture wouldn’t be clear.

Oh, this was the best. And unfortunately, it cost me my life. But at least I died doing what I love: devouring the greatest and most absurd cheating accusations ever made against the Patriots.

What will next week bring? The Chargers — who are 1-4 in Foxboro during the Belichick era — will really have to bring it if they want to top the Falcons.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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