BOSTON (CBS) -- Many Patriots opponents have come into Foxboro during the Belichick-Brady era and gotten their doors blown off. Completely outplayed, out-coached, and outclassed in all phases. Sometimes it even happens in their own stadiums. Why do so many teams, even talented and well-coached ones, look so unprepared and under-coached when they come to Foxboro?
Many outside of New England will point to cheating. But for the most part, they're simply distracting themselves from the task at hand.
As something of a companion piece to ESPN's new investigative report resurrecting and detailing Spygate, Sports Illustrated today released a story on the extensive precautions that at least 19 teams have taken when they prepare to play the Patriots as opposed to other teams, for fear of spies and cheating. Many unnamed "people who worked for those teams" confirmed the drastic measures taking place.
None of the perceived transgressions have ever been proven, and teams mostly haven't found what they're looking for. So why are they putting so much time and effort into something they've never seen?
In the most recent example, the Seahawks enacted "Secret Service-like" measures to secure practice sessions leading up to Super Bowl XLIX. They hired extra security guards and checked "vantage points" for spies. They swept the parking garage and lots outside Sun Devil Stadium. They even checked "A" Mountain, which overlooks the stadium from afar.
This is just the beginning of the vigilant, if not paranoid, precautions taken by Patriots opponents over the years. At Gillette Stadium, teams have emptied trash cans, ran fake plays, and even latched their locker room door with a padlock to keep Patriots employees out - a fire code violation that the Patriots still allowed to happen. Echoing Peyton Manning's paranoia, "at least five" teams have routinely swept the visitors locker room at Gillette for listening and recording devices, which have never been discovered - yet amazingly, the suspicion remains.
One team even barricaded their locker room with trunks of equipment stacked on top of each other, which is only slightly less outrageous than what John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd did in The Blues Brothers:
Opposing teams also accuse the Patriots of engaging in subtle gamesmanship to make visitors uncomfortable. It's more of an old-school tactic that nowadays may be seen as "unethical."
For instance, one AFC team says the Patriots supplied their team with warm Gatorade. Others say they provided faulty headsets or messed with their signals, as then-Arizona Cardinals linebacker Karlos Dansby accused them of doing in a 2008 blowout. An anonymous team exec told SI: "Anybody who has gone in there in the last five years will tell you some sort of problem or snag they never hit any other place. They are the worst hosts in football."
The Patriots have had more complaints filed to the NFL's Competition Committee than any other team since 2007, mainly because of their propensity to "play fast and loose" with the rules. According to the ESPN report, the committee spent much of 2001-06 "discussing ways in which the Patriots cheated." Never mind that - and I can't stress this enough - almost all of these accusations were never proven.
The SI piece is summed up by this nugget: "You could say the rest of the NFL is paranoid, and you might be right. What's not debatable is that New England, because of that lack of trust, is inside opponents' heads, forcing other teams to devote time, brainpower and resources to protecting themselves."
Whether or not Belichick actually does these things his opponents suspect, he has to love this. It can only help you to know that your opponent simply thinks you are spying on them, and end up preparing more for protecting their gameplan than coaching & implementing it. Worrying more about perceived espionage off the field then prepping for the action on the field.
The harsh reality for these teams is, while they're running around scrubbing locker rooms and practicing fake plays, Belichick is busy coaching a football team. While they are focused on what the Patriots may or may not be doing, Belichick is focused on what the other team might do on the field.
Belichick learned how to prepare for opponents from his father Steve, among others with similar philosophies. The idea is to know as many details as possible and be prepared for everything. Leave no stone unturned. That, along with taking away an opponent's strength, which Belichick is easily the best in the league at doing.
Even Bill Polian, a longtime Patriots adversary, admitted that the Patriots "do the best job, week in and week out, of coaching all the little things that make a difference in winning and losing...There is no question in my mind about that."
Among those little things is the way Belichick and the Patriots have bent the rules to their advantage, exploiting loopholes to gain a competitive edge that wasn't against the rules, but toed the line. Their use of unusual (yet legal) formations with ineligible receivers is a prime example of that - and the latest rule that the Patriots have forced the NFL to change, sometimes at Polian's request.
Belichick's meticulous level of preparation and, um, creative interpretation of the rules forces teams to keep up, but opponents only make it harder for themselves when they lose focus on preparing for the actual game and devote too much time and resources to checking for spies.
If a team notices anything peculiar leading up to the game, they'll blame it on Belichick. "If the plane is late, they're going to accuse [Belichick] of air-traffic control," says one unnamed league source. Speaking of that, how does Belichick know what players made the flight to Foxboro the night before the game? Surely he has minions combing through Logan Airport.
"Belichick's coaching brilliance has never been in dispute—his ability to prepare and adapt are legendary," the SI article reads. "But he is not trusted. Even in a league filled with coaches who cover their mouths with call sheets and guard injury reports like nuclear codes, many teams view the Patriots as willing to cross lines others won't."
Belichick is probably fine not being trusted. If his opponents are going to spend more time worrying about what they're doing in the locker rooms instead of on the field, advantage Patriots.
No wonder so many teams have lost so badly on the field when they come to Foxboro: before a single snap is taken, they've already beaten themselves.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for CBSBostonSports.com and wishes he could prepare for trolls the way Bill Belichick prepares for opponents. Read more from Matt here and follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff.
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