FOXBOROUGH - The NFL is investigating the Patriots for possible improper use of video equipment during Sunday's game against the Jets to catch signals being sent by New York coaches to players on the field.
"We're looking into it," said NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, who confirmed that the league had physical evidence.
NFL guidelines prohibit the use of any video recording device on the field for the use of coaches during the game, and the league policy manual states that teams are specifically barred from taping an opponent's offensive or defensive signals.
If the NFL investigation yields a guilty finding, the punishment is at the discretion of commissioner Roger Goodell. It could range from fines to suspensions to the loss of draft choices.
On his weekly appearance on WEEI radio, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said he had heard about the issue at the game but declined any further comment.
"I don't have any comment on league matters," he said. "It's a league thing. Whatever the deal is, which I don't really know the details of it, a lot of it, we'll comply."
ESPN.com reported that a camera and videotape were seized from a Patriots employee who was stationed on the New England sideline and suspected of filming New York defensive coaches who were relaying signals during the Patriots' 38-14 victory at Giants Stadium.
Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs was stunned by accusations that his team cheated.
"We put too many hours in as individuals and as a team to have to go out there and cheat," said Hobbs. "We take pride in what we do. We know the rules of the game. By no single form have we ever tried to cheat or anything like that because we don't need to. I'm not saying that we're that good, but we take pride in what we do.
"We go in, day in and day out. We get here early in the morning and we leave late at night, trying to get the best jump on anything we're playing, so I just throw that out the window."
Defensive end Ty Warren said teams will try to decipher signals from the coaches' films sent around the league - that's part of the game - but he was totally unaware of the Patriots having additional digital eyes on the sideline.
"The [coaches'] film is passed around every year, every week," said Warren. "If you're referring to that film, I can relate to that. Anything else, my hand is in the dirt."
However, this isn't the first time the Patriots have been linked to such subterfuge. Doug Collins, who is in his first year as director of security for the Green Bay Packers after serving as an assistant for five years, said he removed the same Patriots employee, who has not been identified, from the sideline during New England's 35-0 victory over the Packers at Lambeau Field on Nov. 19 of last season.
"We monitor our sidelines with two security people, checking credentials to make sure the appropriate people are on the sidelines," Collins said. "This particular incident last year, an official noticed a cameraman who was not a [media member]. We checked his credential and it was a bench credential. He had a camera and we asked him to put the camera away and proceed to the bench area."
Collins said Packers security did not seize the camera, and that the incident was the result of routine procedure, not a tip.
"It was strictly by checking credentials and seeing a guy in Patriots gear, away from the bench, with a hand-held camera," he said.
But Packers president Bob Harlan told ESPN.com that Green Bay had been tipped off.
"We had gotten word before the game that they did this sort of thing, so we were looking for it," Harlan said.
Last season, former NFL general manager Charley Casserly referenced New England being caught in the act on CBS's "NFL Today" pregame show.
"The Patriots got caught doing something early in the year they weren't supposed to be doing," said Casserly. "They had a man on their sideline dressed in coaching attire with a video camera who was presumably videotaping the other team's signals. You can't do that. They were warned. If it happens again, they're going to be disciplined."
When reached yesterday, Casserly stood by those comments, but he said he was referring not to the Green Bay game but a game earlier in the season.
The Jets were almost as mum as the Patriots on the subject. Team spokesman Bruce Speight referred all inquiries to the NFL, and Jets coach and former Patriots offensive coordinator Eric Mangini turned laconic when asked in his daily press conference whether his team had turned in the Patriots.
"It's all a league matter," said Mangini.
Is this just the latest salvo fired by the Jets in their bitter rivalry with the Patriots?
"I don't know what it is," said Hobbs. "If it's true, it's true, then obviously we're in the wrong. Like I said, I'm standing behind my team, my coaches, my personnel, our staff. I don't believe we do those type of things."