By Matt Romeling - Bill Belichick has perhaps put a new twist on the cliché “it’s a fine line between genius and insanity.” For the Patriots coach though perhaps substitute the word deception for insanity, and I’m sure he and his family would prefer we use the former. On Saturday night the rule book master head coach of the Pats once again struck with his seemingly innate skill to read the rule book, interpret it and then find a way to take a perceived limit or rule right to the edge of what some would consider legal or even fair.
I’m referring of course to the 3 plays the Patriots executed on Saturday night when they fielded just 4 offensive lineman and declared a skill position player ineligible. The most notable of these included Shane Vereen reporting as ineligible which in part aided by Ravens mass confusion and a very quick snap of the ball by Brady allowed the Patriots in pick up 11 yards on a wide open throw to Michael Hoomanawanui. This caused a nuclear meltdown by Ravens coach John Harbaugh and a rarely seen 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a coach. After the game coach Harbough cited the quick snap by Brady, the late report by Vereen and tardy notification by the officials to the Ravens which he said necessitated him having to take the field and risk the penalty. Harbaugh didn’t quite go as far to call the play illegal after the game but basically did referring to the plays as “an illegal type of a thing and I'm sure that [the NFL will] make some adjustments and things like that." He also called the formations “deceptive” and “not something that anybody has ever done before.” However, on Sunday former Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson disputed that notion saying he used similar plays in his time as a High School coach and also seemed to indicate he believed Harbaugh’s statements to be more about whining than merit. In the interest of full disclosure Jimmy Johnson and coach Belichick have been known to fish together in Florida from time to time.
Certainly we can all understand some of Harbaugh’s frustrations after the game as the Ravens were reduced to just another victim of Belichick’s supposed spinning and massaging of the NFL rule book. Harbaugh’s complaints may have more strength if he builds is argument less around the use of the formations and more on the late notification by the officials and quick snap by Brady. I’m sure the Ravens will better synthesize those aspects of their argument when they sit down to call the League office later this week. In the meantime the Patriots march on to yet another AFC Championship game and coach Belichick further entrenches himself as perhaps the smartest and well prepared coach ever to pace an NFL sideline. Take that Don Shula.