This Season’s Patriots Coverage Part I

It may not seem possible, but this season has seen new lows in the already contentious coverage of Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. For years we’ve put up with snide comments and shots from the likes of Ron Borges, even in the two year span when the Patriots were going 34-4 with two Super Bowl titles. Now that the Patriots have in the eyes of many, taken a step back from that level, it seems that some members of the media can hardly wait to kick them on their way down.

In general, the coverage just feels more negative and nasty. Part of that is course the recent struggles of the club, which has emboldened some of the pundits to come out of the closet and feel more bold in criticizing the coach and organization. Some of the criticism of course could be warranted. The team’s offseason moves, or lack thereof were highly publicized. The playcalling in certain games has been curious. These have led to a more combative media in some respects. The personal life of coach Bill Belichick has been fodder for the gossip columnists, whether warranted or not. The general feeling has not been that of the media “blowing sunshine” regarding the Patriots. (I don’t think “Patriots Monday” should count as real media coverage.) In many ways, I think the coverage has gone downhill. Here’s a few examples that have riled me up:


The Obsession with the Belichick/Mangini Relationship

During the weeks leading up to the two Patriots/Jets matchups this season, and for a good portion of the following week, we had endless speculation about about the relationship between Bill Belichick and his former assistant coach Eric Mangini, who left the Patriots after just a single season as a defensive coordinator to become head coach of the Jets. Hours of airtime and thousands of trees were wasted as the media analyzed their words, their handshakes after the games and following the second game, a Jets victory, many seemed to gloat over Belichick being beaten by his former “muted underling”. There was endless speculation over the possible causes of the strained relationship, but very few arguments that made sense. Members of the media, as some are wont to do around here, became little more than gossip mongers. It was embarrassing. We had Tony Massarotti and Gerry Callahan each basically saying that Belichick’s grudge cost the Patriots the game. All the endless comments and speculation never touched on the fact of whether Belichick actually had a valid reason for having a grudge against Mangini.

Then Tom E Curran reported on his NBCSports.com blog during the week of the second Jets/Patriots game the following item:

Speculation initially had Belichick peeved at Mangini for taking a job against Belichick’s advice. But there have since been whispers that Mangini was courting Patriots employees to go with him to New York while he was still on the Pats payroll.

That seems to change things up a little bit. Why was there no mention of this previously? When you add that to the fact that 1) Mangini apparently did leave against Belichick’s advice, (I personally think Mangini could’ve been Belichick’s eventual successor here in Foxboro – not basing that on anything but my own opinion.) and 2) Went to a division rival, a franchise that Belichick already hates, you start to have more of a perspective. Then when you add in the fact that 3) The Jets tried to jump in on the Deion Branch negotiations…apparently with no other intention than of tweaking the Patriots…the picture is even more clear. In all of the Boston accounts, Mangini is being painted as the good guy being wronged by the evil Belichick. When talking about Belichick, Mangini plays the role of the grateful student, respectful of the master. The media falls for it. Behind the scenes, it seems that things are quite different, but you’d be hard pressed to find any evidence about reading most of the articles around here.

Michael Felger’s Decline

This is probably the most shameful example. The formerly respectable Michael Felger has largely turned into a buffoon in his effort to be the next Glenn Ordway on the radio waves. I’m very disappointed in the turn he has taken. I had previously put him on my list of 10 People Whose Work I Enjoy in the Boston sports media. Things are a lot different now. Felger has had an ongoing feud with Corey Dillon for some time now. It’s no coincidence that Dillon singled out Felger early in training camp and handed him the sheet listing his career accomplishments. Felger has often been critical of Dillon, and that criticism came to a head a few weeks ago when the Herald writer criticized Dillon for emotionally flinging the ball after a first down in Minnesota. That apparently led to another couple confrontations in the locker room, which Felger then bragged about on his radio show. His Herald colleagues also made reference to the incidents, (without naming Felger) and the whole situation seemed to worn as a badge of honor for Felger. Why? It just seemed like another ploy to bring attention to himself and his radio show, which hasn’t taken off as Felger would like. This type of stuff has been going on all season with Felger, who has seemed to take intentionally controversial stands just for that reason, and in doing so has sullied his own reputation.

Is it possible to get FieldTurf then not get it, and then get it?

NESN was the first to report that the Patriots would be installing the synthetic FieldTurf surface in time for the game with the Bears on November 26th. That report was big news, but then was shot down as denials were issued, the team resodded with grass prior to the Colts game, and it was widely reported that NFL rules prohibited teams from changing playing surfaces in the middle of the season. That explanation was the one that was widely circulated as fact.

However, it turns out that it simply wasn’t true. We can’t blame the media 100% here, because an NFL spokesperson mistakenly confirmed that rule existed, when it fact it did not. You would think you would be able to trust what the spokesperson had said. Jonathan Kraft appeared on Michael Felger’s radio show and said that the rule did not exist. I didn’t hear anything about that, until Felger wrote it in his column last week – after the announcement had been made that the team was switching to FieldTurf. Shouldn’t someone have at least double-checked to see what the rule really was?

Then the announcement came last Tuesday that the Patriots would be installing FieldTurf…in time for the Bears game. The NESN scoop, which had been dismissed as bad reporting, turns out to be true…though not really. The bigger issue in my mind is, why was the story not really followed up on? If Kraft stated that the rule didn’t exist, why didn’t we hear about it? The announcement shouldn’t really have come as such a surprise. But it did. So we had the media all over this story when it wasn’t a story and then surprised when it actually was a story. Go figure.

Borges Reveals Role as Drew Bledsoe Advisor

I think this segment on ESPN Boston (transcript) really showed once again the lack of professionalism with which Ron Borges has conducted himself over the last few years on the Patriots beat. It also really shows you why Borges doesn’t like Bill Belichick. He’s a Bledsoe guy.

Way to be an objective reporter, Ron.

Tom Curran to NBCSports.com

This isn’t a criticism of the media, its more about lamenting the loss of one of the best guys on the Patriots beat. Sure, Curran is still around, taking his turns on the Big Show and being a presence on television. But his departure to the national beat at NBCSports.com, while a great move for him personally, is a loss for Patriots fans.

Five guys I don’t want anywhere near the Patriots

  1. Steve Buckley
  2. Dan Shaughnessy
  3. Nick Cafardo
  4. Jon Meterparel
  5. Butch Stearns

Conclusion

These are some of the larger examples of what I think have been shoddy, biased, and mean spirited coverage of the Patriots. On a daily basis, I’ve just noticed more little shots, comments and one liners that are out of place, especially for those who are simply supposed to be reporting, not giving their opinion. I’ve actually gained some respect for Nick Cafardo, who reputedly felt that he could no longer cover the Patriots because of the environment and requested to be taken off their coverage. Nick does a good job covering baseball, and that’s where he should stay. (Of course his Roger Clemens obsession is now bordering on frightening.) If others who feel that covering the Patriots is just too much work and too much of a hassle would do the same, we’d have better coverage of the Patriots.

Was I too negative about the media? (Ironic question, huh?) Well tomorrow I’m going to turn the tables and look at things that I’ve found to be positive about the Patriots coverage this season.

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