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Did the Patriots cheat by videotaping Bengals? Examining evidence on both sides of the NFL's investigation

Sporting News — (Tadd Haislop)

The Patriots, who in 2007 were fined $250,000 and docked a first-round draft pick as a result of the infamous Spygate scandal, do not get the benefit of the doubt as the subject of illegal videotaping allegations.

Then again, New England can't be foolish enough to do this again, can it?

The NFL is investigating footage confiscated from a Patriots staffer who was seen filming the field area from the press box during a Week 14 Browns-Bengals game. The Patriots, who were scheduled to play the Bengals the following week, claim they were not recording Cincinnati coaches' signals as suspected; rather, the Pats say they were shooting background footage for a video feature about the day-to-day work of their advanced scouting department.

MORE: What we know about NFL's investigation into Patriots film crew

Both the Bengals and the NFL, neither of whom were notified about the Patriots' presence at the game in Cleveland (the Browns credentialed the film crew for the game), have a copy of the tape, which is now out of the hands of New England as the league investigates.

The tape should make clear that New England violated the NFL's policy on filming opponents' sideline; the Patriots already admitted as much in a statement issued Monday night. So the question becomes why they did it, and to what extent?

Is this a sequel of sorts to the Spygate scandal in which the Patriots deliberately cheated, or simply a misunderstanding and, as New England claims, an unintended oversight on the part of the film crew?

Regardless, there will be a punishment of some sort, as New England did break a rule. ESPN reported Saturday that discipline is "likely to come in the next two weeks."

Below are both sides of the story, pieced together with various accounts reported in the media and a statement from the Patriots.

DECOURCY: Patriots facing a credibility problem in defense of videotaping

Why the Patriots might be guilty of cheating

Fox Sports' Jay Glazer released footage of the confrontation in the press box between the Patriots videographers and Bengals security. It confirms reports that the Patriots videographers attempted to delete the footage upon being noticed by security.

A source told ESPN "a Bengals employee was watching the videographer/cameraman who identified himself as a Robert Kraft employee. The Bengals employee kept an eye on that monitor, (and) the shot was of the Bengals coaches and staff on the sidelines for the entire 1st 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. This isn’t an over-the-shoulder of the advanced scout who is doing his job stuff. This is shooting the sideline. For an extended period of time. The egregious nature of the video is why it set off the firestorm it did during the game with the Bengals executives in the press box."

When the videographer/cameraman was confronted and interviewed by Bengals/NFL security, he "asked if they could just delete the footage and it all be forgotten," according to ESPN.

In a statement, the Patriots admitted the production crew "inappropriately filmed the field from the press box."

The incident occurred a week before New England was scheduled to play Cincinnati, which has a first-year coach in Zac Taylor. As ESPN notes, there are advantages to be gained in filming signals used by a first-year coaching staff.

While the Browns approved credentials for the video crew, the Patriots failed to notify the NFL and the Bengals of their intention to gain footage in Cleveland.

These specific allegations of cheating bear a striking resemblance to the 2007 Spygate scandal for which the Patriots were punished. The following quote is from a 2015 ESPN investigative piece that breaks down the measures New England took to film opponents' signals and plays: "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."

MORE: A timeline of Patriots scandals under Belichick

Why the Patriots might be innocent

The Patriots claim the video crew was at the Browns-Bengals game "to capture one part of a longer feature on the Patriots scouting department, in this case a Patriots pro personnel scout while he was working in the press box." The seven previous episodes of the video feature series, titled "Do Your Job," are archived on patriots.com.

While the Patriots admitted the video crew inappropriately filmed the field from the press box, they said 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."

During a radio interview, New England coach Bill Belichick claimed he and the football operations staff have nothing to do with the team's video production staff. "We have never seen anything that they've shot," he said, "other than what has come down on TV."

David Mondillo, the Kraft Sports Entertainment producer who was on site in Cleveland and has since been suspended, released a statement that explains his actions.

According to The Washington Post, severe punishments are not expected as a result of the NFL's investigation, which suggests the league in its review of the footage has not seen anything that resembles deliberate cheating.

• The Bengals were worst team in the NFL this season. Why would the Patriots need the advantage of taped signals ahead of their game, which ended up being a New England blowout victory?