After his team lost to the New England Patriots during Saturday’s NFL playoff game, Baltimore Ravens Coach John Harbaugh criticized his opponent for an “illegal” play.

During the third quarter of the game, the Patriots used a formation that included four offensive linemen and a back split out. The back was an ineligible receiver.

That formation left the Ravens defense perplexed.

“It’s not something that anybody has ever done before,” Harbaugh said. “They’re an illegal type of a thing and I’m sure that [the NFL will] make some adjustments and things like that.”

The Ravens couldn’t figure out which member of the Patriots offense was the ineligible receiver. While they were working it out, the Patriots center snapped the ball to quarterback Tom Brady.

“We wanted an opportunity to be able to ID who the eligible players were,” Harbaugh said, “because what they were doing was they would announce the eligible player and then time was taken and they would go over and snap the ball before we even had the chance to figure out who was lined up where, and that was the deception part of it. And that was where it was clearly deception.”

However, it could be argued that deception is not illegal in an NFL play. In fact, some plays, considered perfectly legal, are based on deception. A fake hand-off play, frequently employed by offensive coordinators, is an example of a deceptive play that nobody would classify as “illegal.”

Harbaugh also took the officials to task for not understanding what the Patriots were doing. That earned his team an unsportsman like conduct penalty.

“They didn’t really understand what was happening,” Harbaugh said. “That’s why I had to go and take the penalty to get their attention, so that they would understand what was going on because they didn’t understand what was going on. And they said that that was the right thing, that they’d give us the chance to ID the eligible receivers so we could actually get them covered. That’s why guys were open, because we didn’t ID where the eligible receivers were at. So that’s the nature of that particular thing they were doing, that’s what made it so difficult.”

Patriots Coach Bill Belicheck was pleasantly surprised with the outcome.

“It’s a play that we thought would work,” he said. “We ran it three times, a couple different looks. We had six eligible receivers on the field, but only five were eligible. The one who was ineligible reported that he was ineligible. No different than on the punt team or a situation like that.”

[Image credit: Wikipedia]