NFL passes proposal banning New England's ineligible receiver tactic


The “circus act” used by the New England Patriots in their divisional playoff win against the Ravens will be illegal moving forward.
On the final day of the league meetings in Phoenix, NFL owners passed a proposal forbidding players with eligible numbers to line up as ineligible outside the tackle box. Though the proposal was officially submitted by the league’s competition committee last week, head coach John Harbaugh has made his feelings about the tactic clear, reiterating his original protest that prompted an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the third quarter of the 35-31 loss on Jan. 10.
Patriots running back Shane Vereen reported as ineligible and split out three times — while covered up by an eligible receiver — during a touchdown drive in the third quarter. Under the new rules, Vereen would be required to line up as part of the offensive line if he were to report as ineligible.
“We have jersey numbers for a reason. Let’s use it, like they do in college,” Harbaugh said Tuesday in Phoenix. “That was John Madden’s proposal and I like that proposal. Certain jersey numbers are eligible numbers and certain jersey numbers are ineligible numbers. If you’re eligible, you put on an eligible number. If you’re ineligible, you put on an ineligible number. They do it in college and they did it in the NFL up until, I don’t know, I’m going to guess the 60’s. That’s why they created ineligible and eligible jersey numbers so you can look at them and say, ‘He’s eligible and he’s not.’
“Now, we through kind of a circus act where we have to identify who is ineligible and who is not with signals. That’s what got the referees in trouble in the playoffs.”
Harbaugh has said his point of contention was with the tardiness in which referee Bill Vinovich announced which player was ineligible, but many have simply taken the Baltimore coach’s objections as sour grapes after his defense was unprepared to handle Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s unconventional — but legal — tactic. With the rule change passing, it’s clear that the Ravens had plenty of support as even Pittsburgh Steelers president and co-owner Art Rooney II agreed over the weekend that his AFC North rival had a legitimate gripe.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady suggested after the game that the Ravens should “study the rulebook” when asked about Harbaugh’s objections.
The rule change now means such a tactic would result in a five-yard penalty as an illegal substitution.


  1. Once again NE is doing something to shirt the rules, the league really needs to come down hard on them SSO they don’t ever try acts like this. Make NE lose one year of draft picks or suspend the head coach for a year! NE just doesn’t get it!
    (L.J. — Issues such as Deflategate certainly fall into what you’re describing, but the Patriots did not break any rules with their ineligible tactic used against the Ravens in the playoff game. Coaches are always looking for an edge and they found one here. I’m fine with the league banning it after the fact, but I can’t fault New England for this particular one at all. You know the Ravens or any of the other 30 teams would have tried to do the same thing if they’d thought of it first.)

  2. Luke-
    Thanks for responding rationally to an idiotic, I’ll-informed opinion, unfortunately expressed similarly by way too many Baltimore fans.
    Belichik very brilliantly outsmarted the Ravens. Frankly, John Harbaugh looked like a buffoon during the game, and his comment following the game that the Patriots were using deception was embarrassing. The Patriots broke no rule. Harbaugh was unprepared. They ought to call the rule the “John Harbaugh Rule” as he was too unprepared for the play and uninformed on the rule book. The fact that the league actually changed the rule yesterday means it was legal in January.
    Sometimes, it’s hard to be a fan of the teams in Baltimore as seemingly so many people here are idiots.
    (L.J. — Disagreeing is fine, but name-calling isn’t necessary, either.)

  3. Maybe not Eli but calling us proud Baltimore sports fans idiots might not have been the best choice of words. Also, not sure you can Harbaugh ill-prepared for that sequence of plays since they had never been run before. No coach in the NFL would have been “prepared” for those plays. Even the refs were clearly caught off guard and confused as they weren’t alerting the Ravens as to who was or wasn’t ineligible until the “unprepared” Harbaugh stepped in and pointed it out to the refs. After Harbs stepped in they were no longer successful in running those plays because the refs began notifying us of the ineligibles.
    Just one “idiot” Baltimore fans opinion here.

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