Patriots Videotaping Incident: What we Know About NFL’s Investigation into Film Crew at Bengals-Browns Game

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The NFL is investigating a Patriots staffer who was seen filming from the press box during Sunday’s Browns-Bengals, an incident New England said was the result of an “unintended oversight.”

The Patriots, who are preparing to play Cincinnati on Dec. 15, claim they were shooting background footage for a video about the day-to-day work of their advanced scouting department for an installment of a “Do Your Job” documentary feature — not recording Bengals play-calling signals. The team said it informed the Browns of the plan beforehand, but neither the Bengals nor the NFL were made aware of the three-person crew, all of whom were independent contractors, according to the Patriots.

The Bengals are in possession of the original Patriots tape, and the NFL obtained a copy as part of a probe to determine whether New England violated league rules against videotaping opponents.

While this would be news for any team, it is particularly notable that the investigation involves New England, which in 2007 was hit with substantial fines and the loss of a 2008 first-round draft pick as punishment for the Spygate scandal.

Here are the known details of the incident, based on media reports and statements from Patriots, Bengals and NFL officials. This story will be updated with further developments.

Why is the NFL investigating the Patriots?

A person identified as a Patriots employee in the Cleveland press box was spotted filming a member of the team’s scouting department during the Browns-Bengals contest. When a Cincinnati official noticed a Patriots logo on the videographer’s shirt, they raised a concern to the NFL. The league then confiscated the footage and plans to review it further, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The Bengals official reportedly said the Patriots staffer had their camera pointed at the Cincinnati sideline for the entire first quarter.

According to The Athletic’s Paul Dehner Jr., who cited sources who have seen the footage, it shows about eight minutes of footage focusing on recording the Bengals’ sideline. It’s a direct view of the sideline as coaches make signals for plays.”

Per Mark Maske of The Washington Post, severe sanctions are not expected, and a resolution of the NFL’s investigation is possible by the end of the week.

Goodell on Wednesday, however, indicated the probe would be thorough and did not offer a timetable.

“I’ve actually been down here almost the entire time,” Goodell said. “I only had an opportunity to spend some time with a couple of our staff. Obviously, it’s under review. We’re going to be thorough. We’ll take our time and make sure we look at everything that’s pertinent here, and then we’ll make a decision.”

What are the NFL’s rules regarding videotaping?

Teams are not permitted to film other teams’ play signals on the sideline, something the Patriots were punished for in 2007. On Monday night, though, New England acknowledged in a statement that members of its content team, which had not informed the Bengals of their presence, “inappropriately filmed the field from the press box.”

“The sole purpose of the filming was to provide an illustration of an advance scout at work on the road,” the Patriots said. “There was no intention of using the footage for any other purpose.”

What evidence does the NFL have of New England filming at a Bengals game?

The NFL has a copy of the film, which the Patriots turned over after being confronted by officials. The league is presumably reviewing the footage this week as part of its ongoing investigation.

The NFL has not yet released a statement corroborating the Patriots’ claim about the contents of the confiscated film.

What have the Bengals said about the incident?

Cincinnati avoided weighing in publicly Monday when asked about its perspective. Other than informing the league of the Patriots staffer’s actions, the team has not signaled whether it suspects nefarious actions on the part of the Patriots.

“I’m aware that there was an incident but the league is investigating it,” coach Zac Taylor told reporters, “so I’ve got no comment.”

The Bengals also released a statement declining comment.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reported the Bengals believe the Patriots were stealing signals.

How have the Patriots explained the incident?

New England on Monday called the filming incident a misunderstanding and explained its staffer was assigned to work on a feature for a team video series. The employee took video of a co-worker, not the Bengals, according to the Patriots. And the team tried to distance itself from the video crew, calling it a group of “independent contractors” while still accepting “full responsibility for the actions of our production crew at the Browns-Bengals game.”

During a radio interview Monday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he and his coaching staff “100 percent have zero involvement with” the team’s video production staff, which functions in a department separate from football operations.

Late Monday night, the team released the following statement, including the below excerpt outlining what it admitted was a violation of league policy:

While we sought and were granted credentialed access from the Cleveland Browns for the video crew, our failure to inform the Bengals and the League was an unintended oversight. In addition to filming the scout, the production crew — without specific knowledge of League rules — inappropriately filmed the field from the press box. The sole purpose of the filming was to provide an illustration of an advance scout at work on the road. There was no intention of using the footage for any other purpose. We understand and acknowledge that our video crew, which included independent contractors who shot the video, unknowingly violated a league policy by filming the field and sideline from the press box. When questioned, the crew immediately turned over all footage to the league and cooperated fully.

Author: Dan Bernstein

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