FOXBOROUGH — Based on the math alone, Ravens coach John Harbaugh knew something was sketchy.
The Patriots only had four linemen in the game. Six players where eligible. By rule, seven players had to be on the line, but it was impossible for the Ravens defense to figure out who they needed to cover.
And the Patriots were in a hurry to capitalize on the confusion.
Harbaugh came onto the field pleading with the officials as much as he was arguing with them.
It cost him a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, but if it meant clearing up the situation, he’d take it.
“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 Tom [Brady] would take them to the line right away and snap the ball before we even had a chance to figure out who was lined up where. That was the deception part of it. It was clearly deception.’’
Harbaugh was able to straighten things out with the officials, but the penalty ended up being costly, putting the Patriots half the distance to the goal line and setting up a 5-yard touchdown from Brady to Rob Gronkowski that cut the Ravens’ 14-point lead in half.
“The officials told me after that they would give us the opportunity to do that, which they probably should have done during that series, but they really didn’t understand what was happening. That’s why I had to go 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.”
Asked if he thought the Patriots tactic was dirty, Harbaugh wouldn’t comment.
But he did say, “The league will look at that type of thing and I’m sure that they’ll make so adjustments and things like that.”
For his part, Brady said the Patriots weren’t using any kind of deception.
“I don’t know what’s deceiving about that,” Brady said. “[They] should figure it out.”
Still, the confusion was enough to catch the Ravens off guard.
“We haven’t seen it this season,” said defensive lineman Chris Canty.
All season, the Ravens made a hobby of harassing quarterbacks, but they knew getting to Brady would be crucial.
In the first half, when they sacked him on back-to-back plays (first by Tim Jernigan, then a two-man job by Pernell McPhee and Terrell Suggs), it was clear Brady was rattled.
Brady started a shoving matchup with Jernigan and got face-to-face with an official.
“Any time you’ve got big guys hitting a quarterback, he’s going to get frustrated,” Canty said. “We knew we had to hit him. We knew we had to affect him.”
But after those two sacks, the Ravens never got to Brady again. After going 15 for 24 for 202 yards a touchdown and a pick in the first half, Brady 18 for 26 for 155 yards and two touchdowns in the second half, getting comfortable in the pocket.
“I think in the second half, particularly in situations late in the third and in the fourth quarter, we didn’t hit him enough and that was the difference,” Canty said.
Smith bounces back
Torrey Smith left the game in the first quarter and had to be evaluated for a concussion after catching a 22-yard pass on the Ravens’ first drive and taking a hit from McCourty. Smith ran off the field under his own power and returned for the second drive . . . Steve Smith’s 9-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter put him over the 1,000-yard plateau for playoff receiving yards . . . The Ravens scored on their first two drives, something they hadn’t done all season. In the process, they put the Patriots in a 14-0 hole. New England hadn’t had a two-touchdown, first-quarter deficit all season. Their biggest first-quarter hole was 13-0 to the Packers in Week 13 . . . The Ravens had won four straight playoff games when they’ve scored a touchdown in the final minute of the first half.