Patriots' Ineligible Receiver Trick Under Rule Change Review

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After the New England Patriots used deceptive ineligible receiver plays to help mount a come-from-behind victory over the Ravens in the divisional playoffs, quarterback Tom Brady said Baltimore needed to "study the rule book and figure it out." 

Well, the rule book might change.

The NFL's Competition Committee – not the Ravens – proposed a rule change to be discussed at next week's owners meetings.

The rule change would make it illegal for an offensive player with an eligible number to report is as ineligible and line up outside the core of the formation.

If passed, it would make what the Patriots did that night illegal. In the future, it would be a penalty and 5-yard loss for illegal substitution.

The plays in question, occurred when Patriots running back Shane Vereen checked in with the referees as an ineligible receiver, but lined up as a wide receiver outside the tackle box. Then an eligible receiver inside the box posing as the left tackle, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui, caught a pair of passes. The Patriots later scored on the drive to cut in half Baltimore's 14-point second-half lead.

They were formations that were meant to disguise who was eligible and ineligible to catch a pass.

After the game, Head Coach John Harbaugh said, "I'm sure that [the league will] make some adjustments and things like that."

The NFL's official reason listed for the rule proposal is "competitive fairness."

Competition Committee member and St. Louis Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher was asked if the rule proposal stems from the Ravens-Patriots playoff game.

"A lot of these proposals are generated from surveys from clubs and there was a concern on behalf of a number of clubs and a number of coaches and Coach Madden's subcommittee that unless we had some guidelines in place, that this thing may get out of hand," Fisher said.

There's also another rule proposal that seems to be the result of a play from a Ravens game last year. Tennessee proposed a rule change that would allow referees to enforce a foul for an illegal hit against a defenseless receiver when the on-field ruling is reversed from a catch/fumble to an incomplete pass.

Sound familiar? That exact scenario played out when Ravens safety Terrence Brooks crushed Titans tight end Delanie Walker over the middle. The play was originally ruled a catch and fumble, recovered by Tennessee. But Harbaugh challenged and it was reversed to an incomplete pass.

The Titans want officials to be able to rule that an illegal hit on a defenseless receiver, which was not called on that play, could be added on after viewing the replay.

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