NFL clears Patriots of headset suspicion in opening game

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly has heard air traffic control coming in over the headsets he uses to communicate with his staff. Former Ravens coach Brian Billick said he once heard a pizza delivery guy.

So when the Pittsburgh Steelers coaches started picking up the home radio broadcast on their headsets, there shouldn't have been any cause for suspicion.

Except they were at the home of the twice-convicted New England Patriots.

"The whole world sees it," Cleveland Browns linebacker Karlos Dansby said on Friday, a day after the Steelers' headsets went out in the Patriots' 28-21 victory. "Everybody (saw) it last night. You're like, 'What? The headsets? What?' C'mon, man. You've got to be kidding me."

On the night the Super Bowl champions were hoping to turn from "Deflategate" to their title defense, the Patriots instead found themselves denying new allegations of shenanigans from Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and a chorus around the NFL complaining that the headset technology seems to fail more often in New England.

Tomlin's clenched-jaw postgame news conference gave new life to league-wide suspicion that something sinister is at work whenever something goes wrong against the Patriots. After describing the problem with the headsets on Thursday night, Tomlin told reporters, "That's always the case."

"Here?" he was asked.

"Yes," Tomlin said.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick responded on Friday that "it's just not right" for opponents and their fans to attribute the team's success — six trips to the Super Bowl, and four NFL titles — to dirty tricks involving videotaping, deflated footballs and now headsets.

"I think it's just sad commentary and it's gone to a pretty low level. It's sunk pretty deep," Belichick said, breaking his silence on the "Deflategate" scandal and an ESPN report last week citing 90 sources around the league — many of them anonymous, and many of them suspicious of the Patriots' techniques.

"To take away from what those teams accomplished ... it's just not right," Belichick said.

The league agreed with the Patriots — at least in this case.

NFL spokesman Michael Signora said in a statement late Friday afternoon that the audio interference was "entirely attributable to an electrical issue made worse by the inclement weather."

"It involved no manipulation by any individual," he said. "The Patriots had nothing to do with it."

The latest accusations came just as the Patriots were trying to celebrate their fourth Super Bowl title and change the subject from the deflated footballs scandal that dominated the last seven months.

Patriots quarterback — and reigning Super Bowl MVP — Tom Brady was originally suspended four games in connection with the deflated footballs. A federal judge vacated the suspension last week, ruling that the penalty wasn't allowed by the union contract and clearing Brady to play in the opener.

"They get away with it. He got off," Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons said.

It was the second time the organization has been penalized by the league for taking liberties with the rules, following the 2007 "Spygate" brouhaha in which Belichick was caught illegally videotaping opponents' signals.

"Don't forget about Spygate now. That's Real Deal Holyfield right there. It doesn't get any bigger than that," Dansby said. "At this point, nothing is going to happen to these guys. They're 'Teflon Don' all the way across the board."

Former NFL assistant coach and player Steve Jackson said he recalls headsets failing to work at New England when he was working for the Bills and Redskins, dating back to 2001. "It has been going on for a long time," he said.

"I guess after 'Deflategate' and 'Spygate' people are like, 'Enough is enough,'" Jackson said.

But others weren't willing to blame the problem on the Patriots.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said on Friday that reception is so bad in parts of the Superdome in New Orleans he knows what dead spots to avoid. Saints coach Sean Payton has the same problem — even though he's at home.

But that doesn't mean he doesn't try to find someone to blame.

"Generally it's some frequency issue. Oftentimes it's not our guy's fault," he said. "And yet I would say 100 percent of the time, I yell at him."

Browns coach Mike Pettine said New England is no worse than other places, but the fact that the Patriots have won so much makes people wonder about the reason for their success. He said he is aware of areas in Miami where "you're marking spots on the ground, 'Do not stand here.'"

"You just you learn each stadium and there are issues, there are dead spots," he said. "If the Dolphins had built a dynasty somehow, would people then be accusing them of it? Probably.

"I do know (the Patriots) have one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game, one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game. ... Their teams are always very fundamentally sound," Pettine said. "That's why they win."


AP Sports Writers Tom Withers, Dennis Waszak, Brett Martel, Janie McCauley, Rob Maaddi, Will Graves and Larry Lage and freelancers Dale Grdnic and Gethin Coolbaugh contributed to this story.


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