Belichick Speaks With Goodell

Thursday, September 13th 2007, 7:48 am
By: News On 6

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) _ It's not just the NFL's players who are getting into trouble these days.

Commissioner Roger Goodell is investigating whether the Patriots illegally videotaped the opposing coaches during their Week 1 victory over the New York Jets. New England coach Bill Belichick apologized Wednesday _ for what, it wasn't clear _ and confirmed that he has spoken to Goodell about an ``interpretation'' of league rules.

``If they are in fact found guilty ... the rest of the member clubs are confident the league will take punitive action against it,'' said Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who is also a co-chairman of the league's competition committee.

``There's no place for it. Everybody clearly understands the rules. The competition committee's responsibility is to protect the integrity of the game. With technology the way it is right now, things could get out of hand in a matter of weeks if we don't protect the integrity of the game.''

NFL security confiscated a video camera and tape from Patriots video assistant Matt Estrella on Sunday when he was working on the Jets' sideline during New England's 38-14 victory. The league has confirmed that it is investigating whether the Patriots were taping the Jets' defensive coaches as they signaled to players on the field.

Belichick issued a one-paragraph statement 10 minutes before his regular Wednesday availability, saying he has spoken with Goodell ``about a videotaping procedure during last Sunday's game and my interpretation of the rules.''

``Although it remains a league matter, I want to apologize to everyone who has been affected, most of all ownership, staff and players,'' the statement said. ``Following the league's decision, I will have further comment.''

It was not clear whether Belichick was apologizing for his actions or the distraction it has caused his team as it prepares for Sunday night's marquee game against San Diego. But if he thought _ or even hoped _ that the standing-room crowd of media was there to talk about the Chargers, he failed to prepare in the manner that has made him one of the most successful coaches in the history of the league.

Never one to relish his interactions with the media, Belichick grimly refused to respond to a half-dozen questions about the scandal, possible punishments and the potential effect on his team. Begging for a football question, he seemed ready to abort the news conference after just a few minutes at the podium.

``Any questions about the Chargers?'' he pleaded in his standard, other-things-to-do monotone. ``Want to talk about the football game? If not, I think that statement pretty much covers it.''

It appeared that there were no takers, but then a reporter asked about Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

The prospect of defending against the reigning NFL offensive player of the year is not the sort of thing that usually cheers up opposing coaches.

But Belichick smiled.

``I think the Chargers are a concern. Their football team is a concern. That's what we're concerned about,'' he said. ``Whatever happens out there Sunday night, out there on the field, that's when everybody will make their statement.''

After another 15 minutes of football questions, though, the subject returned to the spying scandal.

``Is there any other question on the Chargers?'' Belichick said before walking out. ``OK. Yep. That's all. OK. Thank you.'' reported that Goodell has already determined the Patriots broke league rules and was considering severe sanctions, including docking New England ``multiple draft picks.'' Players around the league said they are watching the commissioner to see if his new personal conduct crackdown will be applied equally to non-uniformed personnel.

``Hopefully there's a harsh enough penalty that it's not worth it to try to cheat and try to get any advantage that you're not allowed to get,'' Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer said. ``I hope the commissioner is just as harsh on them as he's been on individual players for making mistakes.''

Palmer has seen 10 teammates charged with crimes during a 14-month span, and both receiver Chris Henry and linebacker Odell Thurman are currently suspended. Goodell banned Tennessee cornerback Adam ``Pacman'' Jones for the entire season after repeated run-ins with police. Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick was suspended indefinitely while he faces a likely jail term for his role in a dogfighting ring.

But now the commissioner is faced with punishing a potential Hall of Fame coach, the leader of the league's latest dynasty. The Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years with an emphasis on individual discipline and selflessness in a league where they tend to be in short supply.

Now the league's model franchise is being accused of cheating.

``You would hope that, during their run, when they were winning all their Super Bowls, all that stuff wasn't going on,'' Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward said. ``You look back ... and you kind of wonder. It seemed like they were a step ahead of us at all times.''

Patriots linebacker Chad Brown, who re-signed for a second stint with the team this week and landed in the middle of the tumult, acknowledged it would be embarrassing if the allegations turn out to be true. But he also said the videotaping is an offshoot of the gamesmanship all teams indulge in.

``I think that all the facts should come out before people judge this organization,'' Brown said. ``I think we do things the right way.''

But it's not the first time the Patriots' gamesmanship has irked opponents.

During a 35-0 victory over Green Bay last November, the Packers caught Estrella shooting unauthorized video and told him to stop.

``When you look back, it's scary,'' Green Bay cornerback Al Harris said. ``I think highly of their coaching staff and their personnel, but if that's the case, that's not right. I would consider it cheating.''

New York coach Eric Mangini, who worked for Belichick in New England before taking over the Jets, declined to comment. Asked if he had any knowledge of such shenanigans while he was with the Patriots, he followed the form of his mentor.

``It's a league issue, and they are handling it,'' Mangini said.

Patriots players also tried to focus on their upcoming game.

``I'm the last person in the world to know any of that stuff, anyway,'' offensive lineman Matt Light said. ``I could care less what happens outside of my little world.''