FOXBOROUGH – In his 12 years as a NFL game official, Tony Steratore recalls never having seen a formation like the one the New England Patriots ran against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional playoff game.
The formation of course, focused on the Patriots reporting usually eligible players as ineligible and vice versa as a means to confuse the Ravens defense. The package of plays worked, and caused the Ravens to burn a timeout to comprehend what Bill Belichick and the New England offense was doing.
But, according to Steratore in a meeting on Friday afternoon at Gillette Stadium regarding new rules and points of emphasis for the 2015 NFL season, everything the Patriots did during that sequence of plays was legal.
“Absolutely a legal play,” Steratore said. “A well coached play. And it was executed perfectly. From a legality standpoint it was absolutely legal… I had not, in my 16 years of experience, I had never seen an eligible player report as ineligible.”
While the play caused confusion amongst the Ravens defense, Steratore, the back judge during the game, was adamant in saying that the officials followed the rules in regards to reporting the players in question to the Ravens and also to the fans in attendance.
“The player reported as an ineligible with an eligible number,” he said. “The referee in the game announced and pointed to the player twice, and said ‘He is ineligible, he is ineligible,’ which is mechanically what our responsibility is. So we actually handled it on the fly very well. We addressed Coach Harbaugh’s concerns after the play and explained to him that in fact it was a legal play.”
After pulling the package out a couple more times in the game, Steratore was able to identify who was in fact deemed eligible and ineligible for the Patriots, and altered his position on the field to properly officiate the game.
“It’s a play that was deceptive,” Steratore added. “It’s a formation meant to confuse the defense. I mean I’m reading keys the same way as the defensive backs and linebackers are so it was somewhat confusing to me…Once I heard my referee make the announcement that he is not eligible, the message that I get as a back judge is the same one as a defensive back. Don’t cover me Tony, he’s not eligible. So I jumped to the other side of the …Read More