After an offseason of manufactured scandal and endless stories of organizational ineptitude, the NFL finally returned Thursday night with an actual football game. But before the first quarter could even end, there it was again—cheating accusations leveled at the New England Patriots. It’s like a bad dream.
This time, the supposed cheating has to do with faulty communications systems for the visiting Pittsburg Steelers. According to head coach Mike Tomlin, the team's coach-to-coach headsets were broadcasting the Patriots radio feed and wouldn’t allow the coaches to talk to each other. Typically, a malfunctioning communications system for one team leads the league to shut down the other team’s to make things equal, but that didn’t happen Thursday night. The NFL said the issues with the Steelers headsets were “intermittent,” and therefore didn’t require a shut down on the other sideline.
Here's how the Steelers' official website characterized the problem:
The broadcast was so loud that the Steelers coaches were unable to communicate, and the NFL rule is that if one team’s headsets are not working the other team is supposed to be forced to take their headsets off. It’s what the NFL calls the Equity Rule. Strangely enough, whenever an NFL representative proceeded to the New England sideline to shut down their headsets, the Steelers headsets cleared. Then as the representative walked away from the New England sideline, the Steelers’ headsets again started to receive the Patriots game broadcast.
At this point, it’s pretty unclear exactly what happened with the headsets. What’s clear though is that Tomlin is pissed and also, not very surprised. “That's always the case,” he said after the game, explaining that headset issues crop up each time they visit Foxboro.
Indeed, this isn't the first time the Patriots have been accused of tampering with headsets. As far back as 2005, former Jaguars head coach complained that headsets "mysteriously malfunctioned" while playing the Patriots. Former Cardinal Karlos Dansby complained about the same issue in 2008 and the Browns and Lions have leveled the charge too. The Steelers are planning to file an official complaint with the league office regarding the headsets.
Meanwhile, they're just planning to seethe about the other way they think Patriots cheated. After the game, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger brought up a key goal line play in which the Pats defensive line shifted and caused a Steelers line man to false start. The call went against the offene. At the time of the call, Roethlisberger lost in the field, because, as he said after the game, “I thought that there was a rule against that."
There is not. As Yahoo notes, there is a rule that bans the defense from trying to draw the a false start with "words or signals," but this play involved neither. Instead, it involve the Patriots walking right up to the edge of the rule, but ultimately remaining on the right side of it. Given the team's history, maybe they should be praised for that.
Photos by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images