The New England Patriots are in trouble again.

Sort of.

Less than a week after Tom Brady’s four-game suspension was overturned by a U.S. District Court judge, ESPN has published a report detailing the Patriots’ attempts to bend the rules, from Spygate to Deflategate and beyond. According to the report, former Patriots employees admitted that the team would often send low-level employees into opponents’ locker rooms to try and steal play sheets and general game-plan information.

For Scott Ferrall, the fact that this report came out two days before the season is not a coincidence.

“You’ve got me laughing because that’s what I did when I saw the story,” Providence Journal sports columnist Jim Donaldson said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “As you said, not exactly a revelation. The Patriots were guilty in Spygate. Guilty, guilty, guilty. Belichick acknowledged that he, ahem, misinterpreted the rule about taping signals. Once again, he was given the highest fine in NFL history ever given a coach. They lost the first-round draft pick. The team was fined a quarter of a million, Belichick half a million. They were punished severely for it. The story today obviously is trying to make a connection that Deflategate was sort of payback for people who felt it was time somebody stopped the Patriots. I got some laughs out of it.”

The Patriots reportedly stole the signs and play sheets of dozens of teams.

“There are two aspects to that,” Donaldson said. “They did accumulate the signals of a large number of teams. The Spygate stuff began in 2001 or (2002), I believe. They taped extensively, particularly division teams, but any opponent that they could over a number of years – so that part of it was real. However, the paranoia that teams have – it was just last month that Peyton Manning said he used to go outside the locker room in Foxboro when he talked about specific plays or specific offensive plans because he thought the Patriots had bugged the locker room. A story in Sports Illustrated talked about how teams would literally empty the trash baskets in the hotels when they stayed in Boston or Providence or Foxboro because they felt the Patriots sent people in to go through the trash to see if anyone left anything. One coach was quoted as saying he didn’t run his real plays on the walk-through because he was sure somebody was spying on them. What value that made the walk-through, one could certainly question. Paranoia strikes deep, into your heart it will creep – which I thought of turning into a song at some point.”

Given this report, it’s easy to imagine why Roger Goodell and the NFL seemed so hellbent on punishing the Patriots. Yet, while some owners may have been happy that Goodell tried to drop the hammer on the Patriots, others might not have been, especially since those attempts were thwarted by Judge Richard Berman and left the NFL without a leg to stand on.

“He’s not protecting the shield; he’s tarnishing the shield,” Donaldson said of Goodell. “I’ll put it to you this way: How many people could turn the Patriots and Tom Brady into sentimental favorites outside New England? By the end of Deflategate, I think that’s what Goodell had largely done.”


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