Blame NBC for the Latest Patriots Witch Hunt: ‘Headsetgate’

Sure, the Steelers' headsets weren't working right. The network failed to mention just who controls them, and that the Pats were having problems, too.

Photo via AP

Photo via AP

Surprise! As it turns out, there doesn’t appear to be anything to “Headsetgate.” The NFL controls all of the coaches’ headsets, and the Patriots say they were having problems communicating, too.

It would’ve been nice if NBC had decided to share those important pieces of information with its audience Thursday night.

In the first quarter of the Patriots’ 28-21 win, play-by-play man Al Michaels told viewers in a hushed tone that the Steelers’ headsets weren’t working. Sideline reporter Michelle Tafoya followed up after the commercial break, and instead of hearing each other, Steelers coaches were reportedly treated to the Patriots radio broadcast.

Color analyst Cris Collinsworth somberly told everyone opposing coaches expect these kinds of shenanigans at Gillette Stadium, and respond with an apathetic, “whatever,” whenever problems occur.

The NFL released a statement after the game, saying it provides all coaches’ communication equipment on game day for both clubs. Bill Belichick said in his postgame press conference that the Patriots were having headset problems as well. You would think NBC, which pays the NFL an average of $950 million per season to broadcast its games, would’ve been able to nail down those details at some point in its telecast. (A spokesperson for NBC Sports could not be reached for comment.)

One of the more unfortunate consequences of Deflategate is that it has provided every player and coach who faces the Patriots an impetus to complain. As ESPN and Sports Illustrated‘s recent investigative pieces on the Pats’ supposed subterfuge show, there are plenty of people around the league who have no problem doing just that. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin appears to be one of them, as he did everything short of stamping his feet in a terse postgame press conference best described as a loser’s lament:

REPORTER: “The radio went out? Communications?”
TOMLIN: “That’s always the case.”
TOMLIN: “Yes.”
REPORTER: “You’re saying that every time you play here you have radio…”
TOMLIN: “I said what I said.”

That wasn’t the only kvetching the Steelers did after the game. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was also upset about the Patriots’ defensive line shifting on a third-and-goal from the New England 1-yard line in the third quarter. Pittsburgh left tackle Kelvin Beachum was flagged for a false start after the movement, and the Steelers were backed up five yards.

“I thought there was a rule against that,” Roethlisberger told reporters. “Maybe there’s not. Maybe it’s just an unwritten rule…We saw it on film, that the Patriots do that. They shift and slide and do stuff on the goal line, knowing that it’s an itchy trigger finger-type down there.”

Of course, what Roethlisberger didn’t mention is that the Steelers then ran an inside hand-off on the ensuing third-down play. Unsurprisingly, running back DeAngelo Williams was stuffed at the line of scrimmage.

Thursday night’s game followed a familiar script: opposing team gets its brains beat in, promptly whines about Patriots trickery afterward. Maybe if Tomlin could hear his coaches in the first half, the Steelers would’ve covered Rob Gronkowski in the red zone, who finished with three touchdown catches on the night. Tom Brady dissected the Pittsburgh secondary, going 25-of-32 for 288 yards and four touchdowns. He had a quarterback rating of 143.8.

In the broadcast booth Thursday night, the script was familiar as well. The national sports media’s reporting on the Patriots has been riddled with inaccuracies over the last several months. NBC opting to not tell viewers who controls the headsets and whether the Patriots were also having problems is a continuation of that. Had those key details been included in NBC’s broadcast, Tomlin’s postgame rant would’ve probably fallen on deaf ears. The headline would’ve been who the Steelers couldn’t stop on the field, and not what their coaches were hearing in their headsets.

But NBC didn’t do its due dilligence, and now the false narrative begins. Patriots fans know about the power of the false narrative all too well, considering ESPN reporter Chris Mortensen’s erroneous story about 11 of 12 Patriots footballs being under-inflated by two pounds of air in the AFC Champsion Game first stoked the Deflategate flames.

It’s unlikely that “Headsetgate” will take off to that extreme. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Friday the Steelers won’t file a complaint with the league office, and the NFL released a statement Thursday night absolving the Patriots from blame.

But with 10 days between games for the Pats, the whispers will probably continue to persist in a post-Deflategate world.

Here we go again.