FLOWERY BRANCH – The New England Patriots invaded the Falcons’ practice facility Tuesday, and they didn’t even feel the need to hide their video cameras.
“You mean a little Spygate?” tight end Tony Gonzalez joked when asked about the Patriots’ espionage tendencies. “I don’t think we’re really showing them too much. This is about as vanilla as it gets.”
“I think we’re running plays that you install on day one,” quarterback Matt Ryan said.
“No secret squirrel tapes,” said
Gerald Riggs, the former Falcon.
With the NFL expected to chop exhibition schedules down from four games to two, teams are expected to schedule practices against each other with increasing frequency. But it all seems, to use Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff’s word, “surreal.”
Understand that this league houses some of the world’s most secretive, paranoid and bunker-mentality individuals. Think of Spy vs. Spy with a billion-dollar TV package.
New England tends to be ahead of the espionage curve. It’s easy to justify when you win Super Bowls. This is the only team to get stripped of a first-round draft pick, fined $250,000 and have its coach (Bill Belichick) also fined $500,000 for videotaping opposing coaches hand signals. (The team also was accused of taping an opponent’s walk-thru before a Super Bowl, though the league found nothing to support the claim.)
The Falcons allow media members – and often advertising VIPs – to stand and watch practices in a designated area between two of the practice fields. The Patriots also have a designated area back home for the Boston-area media. It’s believed to be somewhere near Delaware.
“See up there,” Falcons owner Arthur Blank said, pointing up a hill, a couple of hundred yards away. “Thomas told me the Patriots have all of the cameras and media up there, behind the trees.”
It was a bit of a culture clash Tuesday, although Belichick downplayed the significance of the different surroundings and said it wouldn’t affect his practice plans.
“Just trying to get better,” he said. (I considered turning that into a Q-and-A).
Actually, this all was Belichick’s idea. He phoned Dimitroff two months ago with the thought of bringing his team here early before Thursday night’s exhibition at the Georgia Dome.
“You’ve got a chance to be up close and personal with a team which is not that easy to be up close and personal with,” said Dimitroff, and he should know. He worked for New England.
“Bill was very up front, [saying], ‘We’re coming there. Your rules. Your house,’” he said. “The media’s in the box. What do we do — serve you guys Mai Tais out there?” (Not true. Actually, that’s on Thursdays.)
The Falcons practiced against Jacksonville last week, but that wasn’t preceding a game between the teams, and, as Gonzalez said: “Nothing against Jacksonville or any other team, but when you go against New England you’re going against one of the best teams in the NFL. It’s good to see where you stack up.”
It was a little eye-opening, particularly for those of us who generally aren’t allowed to watch the other team practice.
I’ll break protocol here: No. 12 likes to throw to No. 81. That’s sure to get me banned from future New England practices.
Actually, Randy Moss (81) burned the Falcons’ secondary a couple of times, and made certain they knew it.
“What’s up? That’s two today,” Moss said as he jogged back behind Falcons’ defenders on the sideline after catching a deep pass.
There were no fights and no real heated moments (unfortunately for spectators).
Tom Brady didn’t bring Gisele Bundchen and Kroy Biermann didn’t bring Kim Zolciak. (Imagine the look on Belichick’s face with that potential TMZ moment.)
The Patriots were mildly amused when Falcons coach Mike Smith announced, “Everybody to the cool zone” (the players’ tented rest area).
“We’ll go over to the hot zone,” a New England aide said.
“They’ve got a cool zone, water breaks — we don’t have any of that,” Brady said.
Things will be back to normal Thursday night. Secrecy and normalcy return. Search the Pats at the door.
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