FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - This videotape needs no interpretation: New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick walked out of his news conference Wednesday when pressed repeatedly about the sideline spying scandal that landed him on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's crowded docket.
Ten minutes before his regular availability, Belichick issued a one-paragraph statement apologizing to his team and confirming that he has spoken to Goodell about an "interpretation" of league rules that ban videotaping of the opposing sideline.
"Although it remains a league matter, I want to apologize to everyone who has been affected, most of all ownership, staff and players," Belichick said. "Following the league's decision, I will have further comment."
It was not clear whether Belichick was apologizing for his actions or the distraction it has caused his team as it prepares for Sunday night's marquee game against San Diego.
But if he thought - or even hoped - that the standing-room crowd of media was there to talk about the Chargers, he failed to prepare in the manner that has made him one of the most successful coaches in the history of the league.
Never one to relish his interactions with the media, Belichick grimly refused to respond to a half-dozen questions about the scandal, possible punishments and the potential effect on his team. Begging for a football question, he seemed ready to abort the news conference after just a few minutes at the podium.
"Any questions about the Chargers?" he pleaded in his standard, other-things-to-do monotone. "Want to talk about the football game? If not, I think that statement pretty much covers it."
It appeared that there was none, before one reporter asked about Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
The prospect of defending against the reigning NFL offensive player of the year is not the sort of thing that usually cheers up opposing coaches.
But Belichick smiled.
"I think the Chargers are a concern. Their football team is a concern. That's what we're concerned about," he said. "Whatever happens out there Sunday night, out there on the field, that's when everybody will make their statement."
After another 15 minutes of football questions, though, the subject returned to the spying scandal.
"Is there any other question on the Chargers?" Belichick said before walking out. "OK. Yep. That's all. OK. Thank you."
"If they are in fact found guilty of this, it only shows that the steps the league has taken are good steps," Fisher said. "There's no place for it. Everybody clearly understands the rules. The competition committee's responsibility is to protect the integrity of the game. With technology the way it is right now, things could get out of hand in a matter of weeks if we don't protect the integrity of the game."
Jets coach Eric Mangini, a former Belichick assistant, declined to comment. Asked if he had any knowledge of such shenanigans while he was in New England, he followed the form of his mentor.
"As I said with this whole issue, it's a league issue and they are handling it," Mangini said. "And we are really focused on the Ravens."
Patriots players also tried to focus on their game.
"I'm the last person in the world to know any of that stuff, anyway," offensive lineman Matt Light said. "I could care less what happens outside of my little world."
But Goodell doesn't have that luxury.
In a busy year for his misbehaving minions, the commissioner has already banned Tennessee cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones for the entire season after repeated run-ins with police. Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick has been suspended indefinitely while he faces a likely jail term for his role in a dogfighting ring.
The Bengals had 10 players charged with crimes during a 14-month span, and both receiver Chris Henry and linebacker Odell Thurman are currently suspended. Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer wants Goodell to be consistent with his punishment, whether the offender is wearing a uniform or not.
"Hopefully there's a harsh enough penalty that it's not worth it to try to cheat and try to get any advantage that you're not allowed to get," Palmer said. "I hope the commissioner is just as harsh on them as he's been on individual players for making mistakes."
Other players reacted strongly.
"It just makes you wonder how long they've been doing this and has it really helped them win some games?" Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said on a conference call with Wisconsin media "That's no different from the cheating ref in basketball."
Last November during New England's 35-0 victory in Green Bay, the Packers caught Estrella shooting unauthorized video told him to stop.
"When you look back, it's scary," Packers cornerback Al Harris said. "I don't want to say anything wrong towards their organization, because I think highly of their coaching staff and their personnel, but if that's the case, that's not right. I would consider it cheating. I honestly would."
At stake is the legacy of the NFL's latest dynasty, one that memorably rejected individual on-field introductions before its first Super Bowl victory, instead "choosing to be introduced as a team." Stressing individual discipline and salary cap selflessness in a league where they tend to be in short supply, the Patriots won three NFL titles in four years and held themselves up as a model organization.
Now, they're being accused of cheating.
"That's not going to tarnish this team," running back Kevin Faulk said. "We know what we do and how hard we work."
Linebacker Chad Brown, who re-signed for a second stint with the team this week and landed in the middle of the tumult, acknowledged it would be embarrassing if the allegations turn out to be true. But he also said the videotaping is an offshoot of the gamesmanship all teams indulge in.
"I think that all the facts should come out before people judge this organization," Brown said. "I think we do things the right way."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved