Cowher: Patriots are team of decade

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Bill Cowher believes even if the Indianapolis Colts win the Super Bowl on Sunday, the New England Patriots should be considered the best team of the past decade and scoffed at the idea the Spygate scandal had any impact.

The debate about the best team of the aughts includes three teams. Only the Patriots and Cowher's former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, won multiple championships. The Colts would win their second with a win over the New Orleans Saints.

"I think the decade still has to go to New England," Cowher said Tuesday at a CBS Sports news conference to preview the Super Bowl. "But the Pittsburgh Steelers went to a lot of championship games, won two Super Bowls. The Colts I'm not so sure within the last five years they haven't been the most consistent football team.

"But you go back to the body of work and the consistency, and I think New England clearly is above everybody else. They never had that one down year. They've been on the brink from when they first won in 2001 until this past year they were in the playoffs. They've been the most consistent team."

The Patriots went to four Super Bowls and won three. The Steelers went to two Super Bowls -- one with Cowher and another with Mike Tomlin -- and won them both.

Cowher gushed about Patriots coach Bill Belichick, citing him as influential to philosophies Cowher applied to the Steelers. Cowher attributed the Steelers' ability win 16 straight regular-seasons games in '04 and '05 to lessons learned from how the Patriots conduct themselves.

"The humility that they won with, that's what set them apart," Cowher said. "I learned a lot from their ability to respect an opponent every week, to not get caught up with it.

"I remember taking a lot from the way the New England Patriots handled success. To me, they epitomize that. How you handle success and not get caught up in it makes them role models."

The primary objection to any discussion about the Patriots' greatness is the videotaping scandal that entangled the organization in 2007. I asked Cowher whether Spygate should taint what the Patriots accomplished.

The Spygate investigation included two victories over Cowher's Steelers in the '01 and '04 AFC Championship Games.

Cowher seems to absolve the Patriots for any wrongdoing.

"Listen, there's people stealing signals all the time before that," Cowher said. "You have ways to hide those things. We had wristbands for our defense. I remember trying to get offensive plays and see what the formations were. Everybody knows.

"You're trying to gain a competitive edge. Did that go beyond it? To a degree. Do I think that helped them win football games? No. You still have to go out and play the game. I still have a hard time believing that was a difference in a game."