logo 912by Dan Snapp

What the hell is going on?

The Patriots did play Sunday, right? Because suddenly I’m not so sure. Is it even September? Did they even start the season?

We should have been three days into a post-blowout celebration, but we’ve been cheated of that. The rumors that the Patriots are guilty of illegally recording Jets defensive signals, and the mass media fallout that’s resulted, have left us all feeling a little hazy.

It’s still early, and there’s only smoke so far (lots and lots and lots of smoke), but that’s not stopping people from yelling “Fire!” Some are way out ahead of themselves, like Terrell Davis on the NFL Network suggesting a two-year playoff ban. Mike Florio ponders whether Coach Bill Belichick will be fired or merely suspended. And LaDainian Tomlinson, already on record last winter as calling Belichick “classless”, is shooting his mouth off again.

“I think the Patriots actually live by the saying, ‘If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying,'” opined Tomlinson, sharing the results of his exhaustive investigation. You know LaDainian, he’s classy. Just ask him.

There’s still nothing definitive from the league yet, only reports from ESPN’s Chris Mortensen that Commissioner Roger Goodell has already determined the Patriots guilty. Mike Reiss, and Shalise Manza Young , however, have league spokesman Greg Aiello saying no decision has yet been rendered. And Mortensen’s sources have left him dangling recently on stories about Michael Vick and Eli Manning.

Nonetheless, Patriots fans should brace for the worst. Goodell’s the gunfighter hired to clean up Dodge, and neither the team’s reputation nor Robert Kraft’s influence will stop Goodell from making an example of them. Plus, they might just be guilty.

The damage already done to the Patriots reputation may be worse than anything Goodell could mete out.

There was an old novel, “The Good Soldier”, in which two couples enjoy the best of friendships over a nine-year period. The narrator comes to learn his wife’s been cheating on him with his best friend over that same span. He wrestles with the question of whether  this news negates all the good times enjoyed, since every memory has now been corrupted.

This is what Patriots fans have in store for them, whether they themselves will be rehashing the authenticity of the Super Bowl wins, or whether it’s being zealously done for them by pundits and opposing fans alike. It took the 2003 and 2004 wins to quell the “tuck rule” clarion calls, but now there’s gristle for the masses to call those into question as well.

Yeah, we’re never going to hear the end of this.

So are the Patriots victims of some breach of unwritten NFL etiquette? Everybody steals signals, everybody knows about it, but nobody says anything until some maverick whistle-blower decides he wants to take down the league’s elite? That sort of thing?

Even if there’s truth to the “Everybody does it” argument, it doesn’t wash here. The Patriots were so amazingly, arrogantly brazen with this, it’s almost as if they were trying to get caught.

We never thought we’d ever be saying this about Belichick, but how stupid can he get? The same assistant videographer got nabbed in Green Bay, they’ve been warned by the league about the practice, and oh yeah, his old assistant coach – a guy who knows how the operation runs –  is on the other sideline. Ya think they might be looking for it?

The punishment is going to leave somebody unsatisfied. Execs like Bill Polian and Bob Harlan smell blood in the air, and are going for the jugular. Will the loss of a second- and fifth-round pick (The speculation from Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks) appease them? Or will the sway of public opinion force more forfeitures of picks, a forfeiture of the game, or like Florio predicts, a suspension for Belichick?

The events of the last few days have also revealed the league-wide contempt for the Patriots. Remember the days of the Cowboys with the “America’s Team” crap, and how reviled they were for it? That’s the Patriots now.

Whatever Goodell’s decision, the Patriots should follow Rodney Harrison’s lead, cooperating with the league, accepting the punishment and moving on as best they can. We should have little doubt the first thing we hear out of Belichick’s mouth is, “I’m just concentrating on the next game.”

Here we thought it might actually be easy this season. Big free agent signings, huge trades for premier players, and nary a storm on the horizon, save for Asante Samuel’s contract talks.

We should have known better. The Patriots are at their best when facing adversity. Here’s hoping they’re at their best now.

Adversity’s here.