John Harbaugh famously was furious when the New England Patriots used unconventional formations to beat his Baltimore Ravens in a 2014 AFC Divisional playoff game. But as he’s proven in the years since, Harbaugh isn’t above using trickeration to win football games.
That was clear again Sunday, when more than a half-dozen members of the Baltimore punt team intentionally held Cincinnati Bengals defenders on what proved to be the final play of a 19-14 Ravens win.
While this was happening, Ravens punter Sam Koch lingered near his own goal line until the clock hit triple zeros, then took a safety. And because a game can end on an offensive penalty that does not occur in the end zone, Baltimore avoided having to kick off to Cincinnati with a few seconds remaining.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about Harbaugh’s bold play call Monday during an interview with WEEI’s “Dale & Holley.” He approved.
“I think that’s in everybody’s playbook,” Belichick said. “If you’re going to take the safety, then you don’t care about the holding penalty, so as much time as you can run off the clock, you run it off.”
Belichick pointed to a similar play that took place earlier this month during a game between the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints.
“I think that concept of taking a penalty when the penalty can’t hurt you is not a bad — it’s a good strategy,” Belichick said. “It’s kind of no different from when you’re backed up inside your own 1-yard line trying to come off the goal line. If you jump offside, it’s half the distance. Or defensively, same thing. The ball’s backed up on your 1-inch line, they’re trying to score, you try to beat the snap and try to make a play.
“Now, defensive holding in that situation is an automatic first down, so it’s a little bit different. But a play like an offside penalty or that kind of thing, if you can make the play, then that’s worth taking a shot on that.”
The NFL has since outlawed the stunt the 49ers pulled, which called for every defensive back to hold his receiver in the final moments of the first half in an effort to force a field goal. It remains to be seen whether the Ravens’ strategy will meet a similar fate.
“I think what the intent of the rules are is so you can’t take a penalty to gain an advantage,” Belichick said. “I’d say in those situations, you don’t gain an advantage. The other team doesn’t benefit by taking the penalty, but it doesn’t mean you really gain an advantage. So that’s fundamentally what the rulebook’s intents are.”
Thumbnail photo via Tim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports Images