FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — By the time John Harbaugh figured out what Bill Belichick had up his hoodie sleeves, New England was one play away from cutting a 14-point deficit in half.
And by the time the Ravens realized what the Patriots were up to on their next possession, it was too late to stop a double-pass for a 51-yard touchdown that erased Baltimore’s lead entirely.
The Ravens were confused by some of Belichick’s new tricks in their second-round playoff game on Saturday, and the Patriots rallied from a pair of two-touchdown deficits to win 35-31 and advance to the AFC championship game.
“They pulled out every trick play in the book,” Ravens defensive end Chris Canty said. “They threw a lot of different formations at us — guys eligible, guys ineligible. They did a lot of things to keep us on our heels.”
Some of New England’s tricks weren’t even in the book, including a three-play series in which Belichick sent out only four offensive linemen. One of the ball-handlers was announced as an ineligible receiver as the Patriots broke the huddle for the snap, leaving Baltimore no time to substitute.
Asked if he had ever seen it before, Harbaugh said, “Nobody’s ever seen that before.”
“It’s not something anybody’s ever done before,” he said. “The league will look at that type of thing and I’m sure that they’ll make some adjustments.”
Eventually, Harbaugh ran onto the field — drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty — to argue that the referees should give him a chance to send in subs once the ineligible receiver was announced.
“The officials told me after that they’d give us the opportunity to do that, which they probably should have done during that series,” he said. “That’s why guys were open, because we didn’t ID where the eligible receivers were at.”
After the Ravens were caught with 12 men on the field, the Patriots followed with three completions and the penalty on Harbaugh that put the ball on the 5. One play later, Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for a 5-yard score that made it 28-21.
Harbaugh declined to comment when asked if the ploy by Belichick, whose reputation is still stained by the revelations that he illegally videotaped opposing coaches’ signal-calling in 2007, was “cheap or dirty.”
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was unapologetic.
“Maybe those guys (have) got to study the rule book and figure it out,” he said. “We obviously knew what we were doing.”
But it was another trick play — and one that was indisputably legal — that finished off the Ravens.
On a first-and-10 from his own 49, Brady threw a backward pass wide to his left to wide receiver Julian Edelman, a college quarterback who turned and found Danny Amendola behind the coverage for the touchdown.
“At that time of the game, it was a great play call on their part,” said cornerback Rashaan Melvin, who was burned on that play and the go-ahead touchdown to Brandon LaFell. “You always have to make sure your head is in the game, and make sure you don’t get beat.”
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