Tomlinson vs. Maroney.
Brady vs. Rivers.
Merriman vs. Thomas.
Cinematography vs. Editing Technique.
The storylines for Sunday night’s showdown between San Diego and New England are plentiful, but the biggest buzz heading in surrounds the Patriots and their sideline cameras.
In last week’s rout of the Jets, a Patriots assistant was caught filming New York defensive coaches as they were signaling plays. In the days since, the media has been all over Bill Belichick and the Patriots, questioning their three Super Bowl championships and even the future of the winningest coach in team history.
At first, I was indifferent.
The Patriots, I figured, were doing what every other NFL team does—only with superior technology.
The tradition of stealing signs goes way back, and nearly every team still practices it today. Coaches cover their mouths when they call in plays so opponents can't read their lips. Multiple players signal in signs so teams can't key off of a particular sequence.
If the media is going to paint a scarlet A on the Patriots, they might as well draw lower-case ones on the 31 other teams.
And the more I thought about it, the more my indifference turned to pride.
Last weekend, my favorite team showed a commitment to winning that stretched the boundaries of legality and fairness. I appreciate that.
In fact, I would have been a little bit jealous if another team had been the guilty one.
The Patriots are trendsetters—lying, cheating trendsetters. In a copycat league, I can only imagine that this will spawn imitators everywhere. Only in the NFL would success breed HiDef signal-stealing.
So pride was fun for awhile...but my ultimate emotion regarding the whole ordeal finally landed on annoyance.
Discussing the Patriots' cheating at length took the focus away from one of the best games of the year, pairing two of the best teams in football.
Lost in the hoopla surrounding CheaterGate is just how insanely good the Patriots passing game looked last week. Tom Brady had all the time in the world, and he carved up the Jets secondary.
New York is a team that has given the Patriots fits, so the complete domination by Brady and Co. speaks volumes as to how great the offense really is.
The Chargers, meanwhile, are coming off a game in which they completely shut down the Bears, and won comfortably despite their offensive stars not having great days. The San Diego defense may be one of the best in the league, and the matchup with the Patriots offense will be fun to watch.
Knowing how Belichick loves to play mind games, it would be no surprise if the cheating saga were at least a little planned.
The Chargers pose big problems for the Pats, and I’m sure Belichick didn't want the focus of the week to be on how his team would handle one of the best squads in the league.
Here's just a sampling of the questions he missed:
"Coach, how will your line deal with the speed and power of the San Diego pass rush?"
"How will New England slow down LDT with no Richard Seymour and a linebacker corps featuring two players who have already retired once?"
"Which is the greater sin: Shawne Merriman doing steroids or Tom Brady having a child out of wedlock?"
Belichick, in all of his genius, avoided those stumpers by bringing disgrace and shame onto his franchise. Now there’s a coach willing to do what it takes to win the big one.
Three days from now, the talk of the league will be about Sunday’s results...and the only illegal videotaping will be my bootlegging a copy of the game “without the express written consent of the National Football League.”
Patriots 30, Chargers 28
For previews of all this week's games, go to www.kevanlee.com.