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Spygate not over

Goodell still investigating Pats; full Week 2 analysis

Posted: Monday September 17, 2007 1:54AM; Updated: Monday September 17, 2007 1:01PM
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According to reports, the Patriots and Bill Belichick have agreed in principle to a contract extension.
According to reports, the Patriots and Bill Belichick have agreed in principle to a contract extension.
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• Also in this column: news from First Sergeant Mike McGuire.

NEW YORK -- Here's the one thing I feel sure about in the wake of Spygate: If Roger Goodell thought Bill Belichick wasn't going to be around to clean up the mess he's made, there's a good chance the penalty would have been different -- and it almost certainly would have included a suspension.

In other words, if Goodell had any inkling Belichick was leaving the Pats after this year, I feel strongly the commissioner would have banned Belichick. For how long, I don't know. But I think the knowledge that Belichick will coach this team well into the future played into the commissioner's decision.

In my talks with Goodell before and after his appearance on NBC's Football Night in America on the eighth floor of 30 Rockefeller Center, the second-year commissioner was crystal-clear about the seriousness of his investigation. If he thinks the Patriots are pulling some sort of Rose Mary Woods and erasing video or withholding the video he's asked New England to provide, he could easily increase the penalty on the hooded one. Goodell wants all coaching video made available to him, and if the Pats don't cooperate, he'll increase the penalty. "They'd better comply,'' Goodell said, just before walking into the studio for his interview with Bob Costas, "or there could be more penalties.'' I might describe his utterance as "ominous,'' but that would be overstating it a bit.

In other words, this story is not over.

This week, the Patriots will have to make available all the tape the NFL demands to see. How much tape is that? It could be boxes and boxes. I have no idea how Goodell can be sure he's getting it all, and I have no idea how he can figure out whether Belichick is hiding any illicit tape he's had his video guys shoot over the past seven years, if indeed there is some. I'm dubious about the chances of Goodell finding anything else wrong, but we'll see. The most important thing is to draw a line in the sand and tell every team in the league that the next one to be caught in low- or high-tech cheating is going to get whacked just as badly as Belichick, or worse.

Cris Collinsworth made the point on our show Sunday night that Goodell should have waited before issuing his ruling, because Goodell could find other teams cheating. Why the rush to judgment? When I saw Goodell, I pressed the comparison to Wade Wilson's HGH-related suspension -- five games and a third of his salary, versus zero games for Belichick, 12.5 percent of his salary and a first-round draft choice.

Goodell's responses:

• Re the rush to judgment: He said he was finished with his deliberations and meetings early Thursday night, and he knows that nothing stays secret for very long in this business, so rather than wait until Friday, he got it out Thursday night.

• Re waiting until every part of the league's investigation was complete: Goodell said on and off the air that he wanted all 32 teams to enter this weekend's games knowing exactly what the sanctions were, to deter teams from any video tomfoolery.

• Re the perceived softness of the penalty: I said to him, assuming New England makes the playoffs, "The Patriots still have a first-round pick, and they still have four first-day picks in the draft.'' Said Goodell: "Right. But what about the pick they don't have? What if that pick turns into Dan Marino or Darrell Green?'' He said football people and those on the Competition Committee say the loss of that draft choice is as serious a sanction as you can hand a team.

• Re the Wade Wilson comparison: "He was involved in criminal activity,'' Goodell said. Wilson bought HGH illegally and was caught in the sting run by the Albany (N.Y.) district attorney's office.

Goodell did not seem particularly embattled Sunday night. Feisty, yes. A little defensive, yes. But he wanted to come in and explain his sanctions, even to a group of studio types (the NBC crew was five for five in thinking Belichick should have gotten some sort of suspension) who disagreed with how he disciplined the Patriots.

I favor Goodell's method over Belichick's in dealing with Spygate, or with anything controversial. Why hide? Disagreements are healthy, and the game is too important to too many people to sweep things under the rug and wait 'til they go away. That's what Belichick is doing. When he talked to his players a few days ago about this, he told them it takes two people to argue, and if he simply didn't engage the arguers, the problem would go away.

As Goodell knows, those kinds of problems don't go away. They bubble beneath the surface and fester, and they tick off 31 other teams (and, I presume, quite a lot of people in Belichick's organization who don't like living under a dark cloud). Belichick will discover this thing won't go away just because he wants it to as he winds his way through what has the potential to be a phenomenally successful season for the Patriots.

New England has beaten two 2006 playoff teams, the Jets and Chargers, by identical 38-14 scores. Both games were routs by the middle of the third quarter, pretty impressive against teams with great expectations. The Patriots led the Jets 28-7 after 40 minutes, the Chargers by 24-0 after 30 minutes. All the moves the Pats made in the offseason have turned to gold -- Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Adalius Thomas. The quarterback this staff practically invented, Tom Brady, has been lethal so far, an 80 percent passer (12 incompletions in eight quarters) with one interception in 59 throws. Unless ravaged by injury, this team has a very good chance to be the best one Belichick's ever had and one of the best in recent history.

It'd be a shame if this team, like New England's three previous Super Bowl winners, had its accomplishments tarnished by Spygate. I hope Belichick has either had a come-to-Jesus moment since Goodell's discipline came down (which I doubt), or at the very least he's going to eliminate the unethical stuff out of respect to his team and the game.

We're watching the games, Bill. You don't need the funny stuff. You're good enough without it. (Click here for Page 2)

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