The ineligible receiver: How clear was it and what NBC didn't show you
Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
"Number 34 is INELIGIBLE, number 34."
Referee Bill Vinovich's voice rang loud and clear over the loud speaker at Gillette Stadium, announcing to everyone that Patriots running back Shane Vereen was unable to act as a receiver for the first down play from their own 31 yard line.
Vereen was lined up in the right slot. At the snap of the ball he sprinted backwards as if to catch a screen pass from Tom Brady. Brady never so much as looked in Vereen's direction and found Michael Hoomanawanui wide open down the seam for 16 yards and a first down.
"Number 47 is INELIGIBLE, number 47, do not cover number 47."
Three plays later Vinovich's voice announced that Hoomanawanui would be acting like an offensive lineman as the Pats lined up at the Ravens 39 for another 1st-and-10.
Hoomanawanui, like Vereen had before, lined up in the right slot. At the snap of the ball Hoomanawanui feigned to block for Vereen on a screen pass and again, Brady didn't so much as look in their direction, instead finding Julian Edelman for 11 yards and another Patriots first down.
"Number 34 is INELIGIBLE, number 34, do not cover number 34."
Two plays later it was again Vereen who was ineligible. He lined up in the right slot, and again he sprinted backward to catch a screen pass that never came. Brady locked onto Hoomanawanui in the seam and hit him for 14 yards and a first down at the Baltimore 10 yard line.
What transpired next was unbelievable and not shown on the NBC broadcast.
From my vantage in the press box, I watched Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh run onto the field screaming at the officials. After drawing what he dubbed an "intentional" penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct and an animated conversation with the officials, Harbaugh paced back up the sidelines with his back to the field.
Upon reaching the 35 yard line, Harbaugh turned toward the Patriots sideline and took several steps onto the field. Harbaugh started screaming across the field in the direction of Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick and Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels.
Harbaugh caught their attention and a cross field screaming match between the three ensued. It ended when Harbaugh threw his hands in the direction of the Patriots in disgust and both Belichick and McDaniels returned the gesture toward Harbaugh.
It was clear that Harbaugh was unhappy about the trickeration, but it was more clear that it was well within the rules and properly announced. As Brady said, "Maybe those guys gotta study the rule book and figure it out."