The Top Controversies in Patriots' History, Ranked
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick. (Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty)
By Evan Bleier / August 30, 2019 6:00 am

When a brutal Moe Lewis hit on Drew Bledsoe left the veteran quarterback with internal injuries and forced backup Tom Brady into action in a Week 2 game in 2001, a dynasty was born.

Over the course of the 18 seasons since that hit, the Patriots have gone to the Super Bowl nine times — and been involved in even more controversies.

Below, you’ll find the top 10 most notable the Patriots have been involved in while they went from being the lovable Little Team That Could in ’01 to the institution of NFL dominance and object of scorn they are today.

10. Wes Welker’s Footgate Press Conference in 2011

Prior to a divisional-round playoff game against the hated Jets, the New England wide receiver gave a press conference in which he made references to feet in order to get under the skin of New York head coach Rex Ryan, a well-known foot fetishist. Upset with Welker for the not-so-subtle stunt, New England coach Bill Belichick benched him to start the game, a move which may have backfired as the Patriots ending up losing 28-21. “Wes always brought a lot of life to things and he had a great personality, always keeping things light for everybody,” Brady said of the incident in 2017. “Who cares if it got him in trouble? Nobody really gives a sh*t about that.”

9. Fourth-and-2 vs. the Colts in 2009

In New England, the motto is generally “In Bill We Trust.” However, even diehard Belichick bobos had to question their coach’s decision to attempt a 4th-down conversion from his own 28 with a six-point lead and less than two minutes remaining on the clock. Brady’s pass on fourth-and-2 was complete to Kevin Faulk and he appeared to pick up the first down, but he was marked short. Peyton Manning got the ball on a short field and led the Colts to a 35-34 win. “We thought we could win on that play,” Belichick said afterward, via The New York Times. “I don’t know how we could not get a yard on that play.” Belichick was then reminded it was a fourth-and-2, not a fourth-and-1. “One yard, two yards … ” he replied. At the time, ex-Patriot Rodney Harrison called it “the worst coaching decision I’ve ever seen Bill Belichick make.”

8. Bill Belichick Resigns as Head Coach of the NYJ in 2000

The day after he accepted the role of Jets head coach after Bill Parcells stepped down from the position, Belichick stepped to the podium with a cocktail napkin containing seven words: “I resign as HC of the NYJ.” Not a big talker, Belichick didn’t really elaborate as to why he was spurning the Jets for the Patriots. “I’ve been in situations, and more importantly my family has been in a situation, where I was the head coach of a team in transition,” Belichick told the media at what was supposed to be his introductory press conference. “Frankly, it wasn’t a really good experience for me or for them.”

7. Questionable Formation Against the Ravens in 2015

During New England’s 35-31 comeback win in the AFC divisional round against the Ravens, the Patriots got creative with their offensive formations and their reporting of which players were eligible or ineligible receivers. Though legal, the tactics enraged Ravens coach John Harbaugh and led to him complaining after the game. After hearing of the Harbaugh’s complaints, Brady trolled him. “Maybe those guys got to study the rule book and figure it out,” he said. “We obviously knew what we were doing, and we made some pretty important plays. It was a real good weapon for us. Maybe we’ll have something in store next week. I don’t know what’s deceiving about that. [The Ravens] should figure it out.” Prior to the start of the following season, the NFL passed a rule that makes it illegal for an offensive player wearing an eligible number — between 1 and 49, or 80 to 89 — to report as ineligible and line up outside the tackle box.

6. Robert Kraft’s Massage Parlor Visits in 2019

Orchids of Asia Day Spa
The scene at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa in Florida. (Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty)

Less than a month after the Patriots won Super Bowl LIII, Florida officials revealed that Patriots owner Robert Kraft was facing charges of soliciting prostitution after visiting a Florida spa on multiple occasions and allegedly paying for sexual favors. Though the case initially looked really bad as human trafficking was reported to be involved, that turned out to be inaccurate. Kraft, 77, has pleaded not guilty but did issue a public apology on the matter. As of now, the NFL has not taken any disciplinary action. Regardless, it was a bad look for Kraft if for no other reason than he resorted to using one of the same lawyers who repped Jeffrey Epstein, Jack Goldberger, to get him off on the solicitation charge.

5. Spygate involving the Jets in 2007

Spygate game
Jets quarterback Chad Pennington speaks to head coach Eric Mangini. (Al Pereira/Getty)

During a game against the Jets — who were coached by former Belichick assistant Eric Mangini at the time — Patriots video assistant Matt Estrella was caught on the team’s sideline videotaping the New York’s defensive signals. Afterward, it came to light that Mangini had tipped off security beforehand. Belichick apologized, but the league investigated the team because videotaping on the sidelines is clearly prohibited by NFL rules. When all was said and done, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed down a $500,000 fine to Belichick and a $250,000 fine for the organization along with the loss of their first-round draft pick. “I didn’t think it was any kind of significant advantage, but I wasn’t going to give them the convenience of doing it in our stadium, and I wanted to shut it down,” Mangini said of filming signals. “But there was no intent to get the league involved. There was no intent to have the landslide that it has become.”

4. Malcolm Butler’s Benching at Super Bowl LII

Malcolm Butler
Malcolm Butler (21) on the sideline at Super Bowl LII. (Barry Chin/Boston Globe via Getty)

In what is probably Belichick’s most-hated coaching decision, among New England fans anyway, he benched defensive back Malcolm Butler against the Eagles in a game where the Patriots defense gave up 41 points to backup quarterback Nick Foles. Butler played a single snap on special teams, but otherwise spent the game on the sideline. Neither Belichick nor Butler has ever shared a reason as to why cornerback, who was a hero for the Patriots in their Super Bowl win over the Seahawks just three years earlier, rode the pine against Philadelphia. However, the scuttlebutt on Boston sports radio is that it has something to do with Butler and Belichick’s son Stephen, who is currently a safeties coach for the Patriots.

3. Videotaping the Rams Walk-Thru at Super Bowl XXXVI

Patriots/Rams Super Bowl
Rams running back Marshall Faulk at Super Bowl XXXVI. (Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

In the wake of Spygate, The Boston Herald reported that a Patriots employee filmed a walk-thru by the Rams’ offense prior to Super Bowl XXXVI. “The suggestion that the New England Patriots recorded the St. Louis Rams’ walkthrough on the day before Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002 is absolutely false,” the Patriots declared. “Any suggestion to the contrary is untrue.” The NFL investigated the matter but couldn’t find any “credible” information that substantiated the paper’s claim. Eventually, The Herald even retracted the story. Regardless, the damage was done, and former Rams running back Marshall Faulk complaining about this has become an annual occurrence.

2. The Deflategate Saga of 2015-16

A Cardinals fan holds up a sign referencing Deflategate (Ethan Miller/Getty)

There are too many details to rehash in this multi-year drama, but it ended with an NFL investigation finding it was “more probable than not” that the Patriots deliberately used under-inflated footballs during their AFC championship game victory over the Indianapolis Colts, a decision that was ultimately upheld by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Brady was suspended for four games for the offense and the guys who were responsible for dealing with his footballs, Jim McNally (Patriots locker room attendant) and John Jastremski (Patriots equipment assistant), vanished to parts unknown. A few years ago, comedian Jim Breuer claimed he ran into Jastremski in Cancun. “He said they were getting death threats, the Patriots fired him, said they were going to take care of him,” Breuer said. “I remember he said he was waiting for them to get back to him soon, but every time they say that, they don’t do anything about it. He’s jobless. They said they were going to take care of them. He kept saying, ‘Tom Brady was my guy, he has always been so good to me.’”

1. The Tuck-Rule Game vs. the Raiders in 2002

The controversy that launched a thousand ships. In Brady’s first-ever playoff game at a snowy Foxboro Stadium, he dropped back to pass in the fourth quarter with his team down three points and seemed to fumble the ball when he was hit by Charles Woodson of the Raiders. Oakland recovered and seemed to have the win locked up. But, upon review, officials reversed this call and declared the play an incomplete forward pass because Brady had been attempting to “tuck” the ball and stop his throw when he was hit by Woodson. With the ball back, the Patriots were able to tie the game and then win it in overtime courtesy of an Adam Vinatieri field goal. Two games later, the Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI, New England’s first — and, as we know, far from their last.

Editor’s note: Out of respect to the family of Aaron Hernandez and families of his victims, he’s omitted from this light-hearted Labor Day weekend read.