Yikes: Another Patriots videotape cheating scandal?

History repeats itself, the saying goes, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce. Nothing could get more farcical than having the New England Patriots spy on the hapless, 1-12 Cincinnati Bengals, but … here we are. In a replay of 2007’s “Spygate” scandal, the Patriots admit that they had an employee videotaping the Bengals’ sideline while in Cleveland, but the team says it wasn’t to steal signals:

The New England Patriots acknowledged that their production crew inappropriately filmed the field and sideline during Sunday’s game between the Bengals and Browns in Cleveland and accepted full responsibility in a statement released Monday night.

The crew was credentialed by the Browns to shoot video for a Patriots web series called “Do Your Job,” but the Patriots did not inform the Bengals or the NFL, which they called “an unintended oversight.”

“The sole purpose of the filming was to provide an illustration of an advance scout at work on the road,” the Patriots statement read. “There was no intention of using footage for any other purpose.”

The Patriots also said the production crew, which included independent contractors who shot the video, is not part of New England’s football operation.

This may sound like much ado about nothing, but … guess who’s next on the Patriots schedule? Why, it’s the Cincinnati Bengals, who snapped a (one-game) winning streak in Cleveland on Sunday.

Lest this be seen as something less than the 2007 scandal, let’s recap the context for the original Spygate scandal. The Patriots would go 16-0 in 2007 and only miss out on the getting the NFL’s second modern-era perfecto by losing to the New York Giants in an upset in the Super Bowl. The New York Jets, by contrast, went 4-12 that season. In that case the violation occurred in early September, but no one seriously thought that the Jets would be a competitive threat to the Patriot juggernaut that season. Belichick admitted to seeking the competitive advantage anyway, arguing that it was technically within the rules, but the NFL disagreed, hitting Belichick with a $500K fine, the Pats for $250K, and stripping them of their first-round draft pick the next season.

This instance may or may not be as problematic, however. Is it just a coincidence that the Patriots decided to videotape this entry of the Do Your Job series at a game featuring the next opponent on their schedule? Not a coincidence so much as an explanation. The only way to feature an advance scout for that series is to have a film crew watch him do his job, which would be … at the team’s next opponent’s game. The Pats apparently cleared the project with the Browns to get credentialed for the stadium but never alerted the Bengals to what they were doing.

That may be because Belichick wasn’t involved … or so he says. The film crew has nothing to do with football operations, Belichick told a radio host yesterday, and he was unaware of the project entirely:

Asked about the reports during his radio show on Monday, Belichick told WEEI radio that the video crew was completely separate from the football staff.

“We have absolutely nothing to do with anything that they produce or direct or shoot,” said Belichick, who did appear on camera in an earlier episode of the series, on the equipment manager. “I have never seen any of their tapes or anything else. This is something that we 100 percent have zero involvement with.”

This would be easier to believe if Belichick and the Patriots didn’t have their Spygate history as well as the Deflate-gate scandal that cost Tom Brady four starts three years ago. On the other hand … the Cincinnati Bengals? Come on, man. Now, if the Do Your Job series has a film crew in Buffalo to tape their assistant accountant doing his work right behind the home-team sidelines, maybe. The only thing the Pats would want to steal from the Bengals is their first-round draft pick in the spring.

Right now the league has all the videotape, and they’re not commenting — yet. The Pats admit that this violated league policy but that it was “inadvertent.” ESPN’s Dan Graziano thinks the league will have to issue some sort of punishment, but that it will depend on what the videographer captured on the tape. If they happened to capture the secret signal for throw an interception or give up a 40-yard play, then the Pats are in real trouble … again.