The league said the bizarre tactic, which involved the Patriots lining up only four offensive linemen and declaring normally eligible running back Shane Vereen as an ineligible receiver, was "legal from a formation and reporting standpoint," according to the report. Ravens players appeared confused at the formation during the third quarter, while Baltimore coach John Harbaugh was visibly upset, running onto the field to protest the move.
After the 35-31 New England win, Harbaugh took objection to the substitutions, labeling them a nefarious act of deception.
"They would announce the eligible player and [New England quarterback] Tom [Brady] would take it to the line right away and snap the ball before [we] even figured out who was lined up where. And that was the deception part of it. It was clearly deception," Harbaugh said after the game.
"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," Patriots coach Bill Belichick explained.
The win sent New England to the AFC Championship game for the fourth straight year and ninth time in the last 14 seasons. The Patriots will face the winner of the Denver Broncos-Indianapolis Colts divisional-round matchup.
- Will Green