By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- John Harbaugh is a very good NFL coach, likely one of the five best currently working at his profession. But he is a world-class hypocrite.
On Monday night, during the Ravens' first offensive drive of the game, offensive lineman John Urschel checked in as an eligible receiver. Joe Flacco threw a pass to the lineman, who had lined up in the spot normally reserved for the left tackle. It caught the Cardinals off guard, and Urschel hauled in the pass for a gain of six yards.
Except referee Ron Torbert was apparently day-dreaming when Urschel checked in, and so he never made an announcement that No. 64 was an eligible receiver. So the Ravens were called, wrongly, for a penalty, even though the officiating crew kind of had no choice after not announcing to the Cardinals that the lineman was an eligible receiver.
Harbaugh threw an absolute nutty on the sideline, calling over each official one-by-one with an angry bent finger to berate them for ruining his grand plan.
In a vacuum, it's mostly a harmless situation. But unfortunately for John, we all have memories.
It was just nine short months ago that Harbaugh was pitching another fit on the sideline, this time in Foxboro. The tantrum came as a result of the Patriots' running a trick formation that confused both the coach and the defense. The Patriots followed the rules, and referee Bill Vinovich followed proper protocol in announcing ineligible receivers, yet the Ravens were completely dumbfounded. The Patriots successfully ran three plays with the trick formation before Harbaugh stomped on the field, stopped the game, and got penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.
After that game, I asked the first question of Harbaugh's press conference. I said, "Hey, Johnny Boy, what was going on with those four linemen formations? Champ - your charges looked like chickens with their heads cut off! Hey skip -- they looked like a bunch of blind bats bounding about! Like a bunch of lost dogs out on the prairie! What's the story here, boss?"
(I'm paraphrasing my question. I may have gotten some of the phrasing wrong in my efforts to recount this story.)
Anyway, here was Harbaugh's response, in full, with emphasis added by me.
"Yeah, it's a substitution type of a trick type of a thing. So they don't give you the opportunity, they don't give you the chance to make the proper substitutions and things like that. It's not something that anybody's ever done before. The league will look at that type of thing and I'm sure that they'll make some adjustments and things like that.
"We wanted an opportunity to be able to ID who the eligible players were, because what they were doing was they would announce the eligible player and then time was taken and they would go over and snap the ball before we even had the chance to figure out who was lined up where, and that was the deception part of it. And that was where it was clearly deception. So the officials told me after that they'd give us the opportunity to do that, which they probably should have done during that series but they [the officials] didn't really understand what was happening. That's why I had to go and 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. And they said that that was the right thing, that they'd give us the chance to ID the eligible receivers so we could actually get them covered. That's why guys were open, because we didn't ID where the eligible receivers were at. So, that's the nature of that particular thing they were doing, that's what made it so difficult.
"Nobody's ever seen that before."
Harbaugh was then asked if he considers such a tactic to be cheap or dirty.
"I'm not going to comment on that," he boldly declared.
Harbaugh's goal was clear: Paint the Patriots as sneaky, deceptive cheats. It's a story that most people eat up hook, line and sinker without any additional information, and it simultaneously takes the blame off his shoulders for being badly outcoached in a win-or-go-home playoff game. Two birds, one stone.
(Side story: In Tom Brady's press conference, he said "maybe those guys gotta study the rulebook and figure out," and he then queried the media if anybody asked Harbaugh about it. I politely told Tom that Harbaugh called it "clear deception" and said that the league would investigate. Tom's smiling face turned rather icy and he muttered, "They'll look at it then. I don't know what's deceiving about that. Should figure it out." My brother often jokes with me that I started DeflateGate, and I laugh about it. But then I wonder, and I feel a deep, deep, shameful regret.)
It's been well-documented by now that everything the Patriots did that night was in line with the rules, and Harbaugh's version of events has hopefully been cleared up. Being in the stadium that night, I heard Vinovich's announcement with my own two ears as he announced the ineligible receiver plainly and clearly all three times. The Patriots huddled all three times, despite Harbaugh's declaration that the Ravens had no time to adjust and despite later accounts describing the Patriots' strategy as a "no huddle." And on the last announcement, Vinovich pointed at Shane Vereen and actually said "Number 34 is ineligible. Do not cover Number 34."
Suffice it to say, the Ravens had plenty of warning. They just didn't have the better coach that night.
Fast-forward to the offseason (and skip the part where the Ravens dropped a dime on the Patriots to the Colts about deflated footballs), where the Ravens' complaints made their way to the league's competition committee. The group voted to change the rules, so that any ineligible receiver must be lined up inside the tackle box.
It was too little, too late to save the Ravens' season, of course, but it helped Harbaugh keep up whatever "dirty rotten sneaks" narrative he wanted.
Except, well, Harbaugh has no leg to stand on anymore. He lost it in Week 2 of this season, when he put his own spin on the Patriots' trick formation and used it to score a first-quarter touchdown against the Raiders. And he went back to the deception well on Monday in order to gain six yards in the first quarter of a Week 7 game.
And really, that might be the most offensive part of what Harbaugh's doing. Have some tact, John. Save it for when you need it. Don't employ the strategy in the first quarter of games in Oakland and Arizona. Especially when you lose both games in Oakland and Arizona. Read a book for me, one time.
Also, for as much as Harbaugh was right to tell Torbert that he screwed up, the coach has to admit that Bruce Arians' and James Bettcher's defense did not get proper warning that No. 64 was an eligible receiver. Yes, the referee should have done his job better, but if letting a left tackle run a route and catch a pass is not clear deception, then, by golly, I don't know what is. We can't have clear deception in the game, right John?
Of course, the 1-6 Ravens can't ever lose a game fair and square. In the fourth quarter on Monday, officials ruled that running back Chris Johnson's forward progress was not stopped, even though it clearly was, and the veteran made the most of it by bursting up the left sideline for an extra 50-plus yards.
Ravens fans were mad, and they were right to be. Johnson's forward progress had clearly been stopped. The officiating crew simply blew the play but not their whistles.
That being said, the Ravens Twitter account didn't look very professional with these salty-as-all-hell tweets:
And after the game, the Ravens dedicated a full story on their official team website about how bad the officiating was. The 825-word article dives deep into the mistakes made my the officials, and it includes quotes like this one from Harbaugh:
"The forward progress was stopped. If you hit him in that situation, then you're going to get fined and stopped. For three seconds it was stopped. He had called himself down and was sitting there. We shouldn't hit him; it would have been a dangerous play.
"Games in this league are going to be close. They're going to come down to a play just like that and turn on calls like that, many times. And you expect them to be consistent and fair. That's what you ask for. Our guys are just going to have to overcome it. It's not the first time this year, but it's OK. We've got to be good enough to overcome those things."
As Pro Football Talk noted, the league sent out a memo this year telling teams to not publicly complain about officials. But Harbaugh and the Ravens can't help themselves.
(Granted, that's far from the most offensive story ever posted on BaltimoreRavens.com. Farrrrrr from it.)
In any case, the past nine months have not gone too well for John Harbaugh. From getting the pants coached off him by Bill Belichick, to swearing that his organization had nothing to do with alerting the Colts about any funny business with the footballs, to proving himself to be a first-class hypocrite, and to dialing up the excuse meter for his 1-6 team, the 2015 calendar surely won't be remembered fondly in the Harbaugh household.
But hey, on the positive side, at least he won't have to worry about getting deceived in a playoff game in January 2016.
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