Patriots: No More Missteps

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 2, 2008

PALM BEACH, Fla., April 1 -- New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday that no further revelations of wrongdoing will emerge from the investigation of the videotaping scandal involving him and his team. Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft offered private assurances to other owners and coaches.

The owners also took a step toward reducing the need for the coaches' hand signals for defensive plays that the Patriots once taped, approving a proposal to connect one defensive player per team to a coach on the sideline during games via a wireless communication device. The measure, which had been endorsed by Commissioner Roger Goodell and the competition committee, takes effect this season.

During the course of the day at the annual league meetings, Kraft and Belichick addressed the other owners and head coaches privately. According to people familiar with the speeches, Kraft gave a heartfelt address in which he expressed regret over the scandal and Belichick explained his actions.

In his public comments at the AFC coaches' media breakfast, Belichick said he had participated in a follow-up interview with league officials after the Patriots' loss to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. That interview came after allegations surfaced that the Patriots had videotaped the St. Louis Rams' walk-through before the teams played in the Super Bowl in 2002. Belichick said Tuesday he'd never viewed a tape of another team's practice, including the Rams' walk-through.

"I've answered so many questions so many times to so many different people," Belichick said, "I don't know what else the league could have possibly done."

League officials confirmed that they'd conducted follow-up interviews with Belichick and other Patriots officials, some of which took place before the Super Bowl.

"We followed up on other things because certain things had been tossed out," Goodell said.

NFL officials say they have found no evidence to substantiate the allegation that the Patriots taped the Rams' walk-through. They also say they have uncovered no evidence of further rules violations by the Patriots other than the program of taping opponents' play signals that was in place, they have said, throughout Belichick's tenure in New England.

The league originally interviewed Belichick just before he and the Patriots were penalized in September for videotaping the defensive signals of the New York Jets' coaches in the opening game of last season. Goodell fined Belichick $500,000 and the Patriots $250,000 and stripped a first-round draft pick from the team. Belichick said Tuesday that the penalties forced the Patriots to make operational changes.

"We've taken some steps to make sure that anything approaching this won't happen again," Belichick said.

Belichick called his contact with former Patriots video assistant Matt Walsh "very minimal." Walsh has hinted that he might have information damaging to the Patriots. Lawyers for the NFL and Walsh have been attempting to negotiate an agreement to provide Walsh with legal protection against potential lawsuits as a precursor to Walsh being interviewed by the league.

"Whatever the allegations are, I'm confident that that's not true," Belichick said.

Belichick reiterated what he said in September -- that he misinterpreted the NFL rule banning a team from videotaping an opponent's play signals during a game. He said he thought the practice was permissible for future use.

"I interpreted it as you couldn't use it during the current game," Belichick said. "I've never done that."

He said he should have called the league for an interpretation of the rule after the NFL sent a 2006 memo to teams emphasizing what videotaping practices were prohibited. Belichick said the Patriots gained little competitive advantage from the taping, pointing out that they completed their undefeated regular season after their taping was uncovered. He and other team officials were "forthright and truthful" with the league's investigators, he said.

The coach-to-defense proposal was ratified by a vote of 25-7. It needed at least 24 votes to be enacted after narrowly missing approval the previous two years. The competition committee modified the proposal this year to allow a second defensive player to have his helmet outfitted with the communication device, to be used only when the originally designated player is not in the game. The defense will be on even footing with the offense, because the quarterback's helmet already is equipped with such a device.

The Patriots voted in favor of the proposal. The Washington Redskins were among the seven teams, all with offense-oriented head coaches, to vote against the measure. The other no votes came from the Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, St. Louis Rams, Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Goodell had backed the proposal as part of his promised crackdown on cheating within the league. He has vowed to enact a variety of other measures as well.

A proposal by the Kansas City Chiefs to restrict players' hair length was shelved until the owners' next meeting in May. The owners are scheduled to vote Wednesday on other prospective rule changes, including a revised formula for seeding playoff teams.

Also, a league representative said that one of the officiating points of emphasis for next season will be enforcement of "mutual respect" guidelines between players and game officials. The issue is being stressed after some on-field meltdowns by players last season, including a heated exchange between Baltimore Ravens players and an official at the end of a loss to the Patriots. Officials are being instructed to address players in a respectful manner at all times and to not tolerate disrespectful comments by players.

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