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In a strange way, Antonio Smith's spying implication is a compliment to Patriots

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  December 1, 2013 10:26 PM

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It's too bad the Houston Texans will have long since turned their attention to Teddy Bridgewater and Jadeveon Clowney rather than Tom Brady and Chandler Jones when the NFL playoffs fire up next month.

Wouldn't you love to find out whether a postseason rematch would tempt the Patriots to expose Antonio Smith like they did Anthony Smith, the smack-talking Steelers defensive back who ended up getting flame-broiled by a vengeful Brady so many years ago?

Smith, the Texans defensive end who contributed two solo tackles during the Patriots' come-from-behind 34-31 victory, rocketed to No. 1 on the Most Oblivious Opponent chart when he fell back on a familiar lament Sunday after his talented but depleted team suffered its 10th straight loss.

Smith implied that the Patriots, who never have entirely escaped the shadow of SpyGate among the NFL's more unaccomplished thinkers (see: Marshall Faulk), had some dubious help in solving the Texans' defensive game plan.

"Either teams are spying on us or scouting us," Smith told reporters.

He explained that the Patriots were ready for wrinkles that the Texans had just introduced this week and thus wouldn't have been identifiable on film.

"I'm very suspicious," Smith said. "I just think it will be a big coincidence if that just happened by chance. I don't know for sure, but I just know it was something that we practiced this week."

I don't think anyone doubts the Texans practiced it this week. Hell, they've probably practiced the same schemes and wrinkles for weeks, and Smith just happened to notice this week.

But given that Houston took a 17-7 lead into halftime, perhaps it was a matter of the Patriots making some necessary halftime adjustments rather than, oh, some dastardly Ernie Adams plot to take down a team that hasn't won since September? Smith is familiar with Wade Phillips's work, right?

"I'm saying it seemed like it," said Smith when asked if he thought the Patriots knew what was coming. "You can't never be for sure on anything because I ain't over there in their huddle, in their locker room, but it just felt like it."

Felt like it. OK then.

Some of the perception that causes players like Smith to "feel" like they're being cheated by the Patriots is self-inflicted. That's understood. The NFL did warn teams in 2007 to stop videotaping from the sidelines, and the Patriots kept doing it anyway. But it stinks that this is a talking point all these years later.

You still hear from timeline-oblivious Patriots-bashers that Belichick hasn't won a thing since SpyGate ... which is technically true when it comes to Super Bowls, a damn difficult thing to win in any year even under optimal circumstances.

But that completely ignores that the Patriots won 16 straight games in '07 after the spy cam hit the fan. They've never been better than after they were whacked with a severe punishment -- losing a first-round pick in the 2008 draft, most notably. That team played with a vengeance, and don't tell Roger Goodell, but the punishment may have made them better.

Eric Mangini, the former Patriots assistant and then-Jets coach who first called out New England for taping, later expressed regret through the years for the exaggerated magnitude that the story took on. He doesn't believe its relevant in the context of the Patriots' decade-plus run of extraordinary success.

"I think when you look at the history of success that they had after that incident, it's pretty obvious that it didn't play any type of significant role in the victories they had or the success that they had,'' Mangini said last year while working as an ESPN NFL analyst. His comments came after Ravens coach John Harbaugh suggested the Patriots' titles were tainted.

Man, I've been suckered into writing about this more than I ever intended to do. This is supposed to be an appreciation of the Patriots' consistent excellence on the occasion of their 13th straight winning season, an incredible feat in the salary-cap era.

It was supposed to be an acknowledgement that the Patriots, with their second straight 34-31 win, albeit over a much lesser opponent, have more than a puncher's chance of playing in that outdoor game in New Jersey come February 2, and wouldn't you love Tom Brady's chances if the weather is lousy?

It was supposed to be an appreciation of Brady and Belichick -- the constants -- as well as Rob Gronkowski, whose return has changed everything with the offense.

It was supposed to be a salute to Stephen Gostkowski and the special teams, and Julian Edelman (thank goodness he re-signed here), and a defense that hangs in there despite all of the attrition.

It was supposed to point out that Tony Dungy, of all people, is seeing what we're seeing.

"This [Patriots] team reminds me so much of our 2006 Super Bowl team in Indy,'' Dungy said on Sunday Night Football. "They're decimated on defense, but they've got a great quarterback who's making plays and keeping them in every game. Tom Brady is the reason they're winning."

Instead, that knucklehead Antonio Smith, an underachieving defensive end for a franchise that joined the league the year after the Patriots' 13-year run of winning seasons began, turns us in the direction of SpyGate.

It's gotten old, but if there's a blessing here, it's that the tired reference reminds us of something that never will get old:

Watching Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots frustrate and defeat envious opponents to the point that they can't help but feel cheated.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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