You may remember that in 2007, the New England Patriots were heavily penalized by the NFL after it was determined that the team had illegally videotaped its opponents over a number of years. Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 (the most a coach has ever been fined in league history), and the Pats were fined $250,000 separately and docked their first-round pick in 2008. The "Spygate" scandal cast a shadow over New England's undefeated regular season that year and put the franchise's three Super Bowl wins in the early 2000s under serious doubt in the minds of some. That the Pats continue to be successful without such nefarious tactics is a tribute to Belichick, Tom Brady and the rest of the building, but one opponent isn't quite convinced that New England has put the cameras back in the box.
On Sunday, the 2-9 Houston Texans rolled out to a 10-0 lead over the 8-3 New England Patriots, but managed to throw that away with a 34-31 loss that gave Gary Kubiak's team its 10th loss of the season. It's a sharp and steep decline for a team that racked up 22 wins in its last two seasons, and defensive lineman Antonio Smith seemed to think that there was more than meets the eye to New England's comeback.
“You can tell they changed their scheme in the second half,” Smith said after the game, per the Houston Chronicle. “It’s miraculous they changed some things on offense that keyed on what we put on this week to stop what they were doing. They did things they never did all year before. It was a specific thing that was important to what we were going to do today, as to how we were going to call the defense. We [had never done] it before, and they never changed like that before. It just let me know that something wasn’t right."
Well, it could be that Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels found it relatively easy to adjust to a defense that came into this game ranked 19th in Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted defensive metrics. Whether defensive coordinator Wade Phillips put in new wrinkles or not, it's pretty clear that the wrinkles aren't working -- the Texans have lost 10 straight games.
Actually, Smith started to wonder if other teams weren't getting the scoop on what the Texans want to do. Could this team be the victim of a league-wide conspiracy?
“Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are among the best at their craft because they work so hard at their craft. But you have to be a descendent of ‘Tonestradamus’ to know what we put in this week to be able to change that fast. I got the only crystal ball in existence. I don’t know what it is. Either teams are spying on us or something’s going on.”
"Tonestradamus," by the way, is one of the loquacious Smith's aliases. It's one he likes to use when he predicts success for his teammates, such as when he foretold that linebacker Connor Barwin would put up a two-sack performance in late September 2012. Of course, that prediction was not accurate -- Barwin had three sacks all last season, and he didn't pick up his first one until Oct. 21.
We suspect that "Tonestradamus" newest statement is just as inaccurate, but the mind reels at the thought of what the league would do to the Patriots if they ever tried a Spygate sequel.
In a more serious moment, Smith gave credit to New England's offense for adjusting to whatever it was the Texans were doing.
“It seemed like they made some changes. They made some calls that freed the tight end [Rob Gronkowski] up a little bit, doing a lot to the tight end in the second half. They were just making plays in the second half. Without seeing the film I can’t tell you how it happened or why, but that was the target in the second half and they found ways that they didn’t find in the first half to get him open.”
And more humbling to Smith is what has happened to his team.
“It’s hard for me to fathom. It still isn’t reality to me. It might be to y’all, but it still ain’t reality to me. I think I’m in a dream. I might wake up and change or something man. I don’t know, but you couldn’t have told me this at the beginning of the season. A nightmare.”
Like it or not, that's the reality of the situation, folks.