It looks like the New England Patriots are going to have to find a new rule to bend next season.
The NFL owners have passed a rule change that now makes it a five-yard penalty for the Patriots ineligible receiver trick that ended up costing the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens are clearly still feeling bitter over the incident and were the first to release the news via twitter:
The controversy stems over a formation New England used three times in the Patriots win over the Ravens in the AFC divisional playoffs. Shane Vereen was lined up at what is presumably the slot receiver. However, he declared himself ineligible which caused confusion for the Ravens defense in coverage.
The final play was the most damaging of them all as tight end Michael Hoomanawanui was lined up what looked to be as the left tackle. Instead, New England used four blockers on the line of scrimmage and Vereen was ineligible as the slot receiver. Tom Brady connected with Hoomanawanui for a 14-yard gain to the Ravens 10-yard-line.
John Harbaugh was going bananas over the incident, drawing himself a five-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Brady found Rob Gronkowski two plays later for a touchdown that brought the Patriots within a touchdown.
After the Ravens’ loss, Harbaugh explained to Chris Wesseling of NFL.com why the formation was illegal:
"“We wanted an opportunity to be able to identify who the eligible players were, because what they were doing was they would announce the eligible player and Tom (Brady) would take it to the line right away and snap the ball before (we) even figured out who was lined up where. And that was the deception part of it. It was clearly deception.”"
The new rule requires that a player with an eligible receiver number (No. 1 and 49, or 80 to 89) that is reporting ineligible must line up in the tackle box. Usually this has always been the case, with tight ends being the player on the line. The Patriots took it a step further by moving the player to the slot.
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The rule does not mean that typically ineligible receivers cannot be ruled eligible. Basically, there is still the possibility to watch JJ Watt catch touchdowns. (Side note: I wish Watt played in Baltimore. I would love to talk about that guy regularly)
Of course, the Patriots have said the entire time that they did not doing anything illegal with the formation. Patriots owner Robert Kraft defended his team when asked about the rule proposal. In fact, he took it a step further by saying that he commends his team for its schemes.
"“We didn’t take advantage of anything. We played by the rules,” Kraft said. “If you read the rulebook, you’d see that. We didn’t take advantage. We executed according to the rules, and we’ve always tried to do that."
"“However you can get an edge within the rules, I compliment that.”"
Bill Belichick, always trying to stay ahead of the rest of the league, had his own interesting take on the rule change.
"“It would affect a lot of other plays, the spread punt formation and stuff like that,” Belichick said. “Whatever the rule is, it is.”"
While the Ravens were the ones to suffer the consequences of the Patriots’ tactic, they were not the ones to propose the rule change. The change was actually proposed by the legendary John Madden, who is now the leader of the competition committee.
Even the Pittsburgh Steelers came to the defense of the Ravens as Steelers owner Art Rooney said he agreed that the Ravens had a serious gripe with how everything came to be.
We all remember how upset Harbaugh was when the whole thing as going down. We have never seen the man act like that. Sure, Harbaugh is known for his usual chirping with the officials, but for him to run onto the field and draw a flag is not like him. Coaches know when they are getting shafted.
"“It’s not something that anybody has ever done before,” Harbaugh said after the Jan. 10 game in Foxborough, Mass. “The league will look at that type of thing, and I’m sure they’ll make some adjustments and things like that.”"
The NFL owners agreed with Harbaugh. At least he will get this small victory over the Patriots.
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