Cowher also had a couple of near misses, losing four AFC Championship Games, including two against the New England Patriots. Both losses, in 2001 and 2004, came at home.
Given all that we know about Spygate and what the Patriots were found to have done during that era of the dynasty, one might expect Cowher would be bitter about his playoff failures against New England. It seems like just the opposite though.
Cowher’s new autobiography is out today, and in it, there are no mentions of Spygate, according to The Athletic’s Ed Bouchette. In an interview with Bouchette, the Hall of Fame head coach downplayed the impact the Patriots’ subterfuge had in those two postseason matchups.
“It’s only cheating if you get caught,” Cowher said. “Like any player, if you’re going to hold him, don’t get caught. If you get caught you’re wrong, if you don’t you’re right. I always thought we never lost the games to New England because of Spygate. If [Belichick] got the [defensive] calls because we didn’t do a very good job of making sure we signaled those in, that’s on us, it’s not on him. Because we’re always looking for competitive edges. I think as any coach whether it’s someone’s stance, someone’s split, someone’s formation [that tips off a play]. You’re looking at someone’s eyes, how are they coming out of a huddle? You’re always looking for those little things that give you a competitive edge and that to me is what that was.”
Cowher is correct that teams are always trying to pick up tells and keys from their opponents. What makes what New England did problematic is they were found to have used illegal means to do this.
Still, Cowher was unwilling to blame Spygate and throw Patriots head coach Bill Belichick under the bus, instead saying he considers the longtime New England leader to be a friend.
“We go back pretty far,” Cowher said. “I have a lot of respect for him. He loves the game.”