(SportsNetwork.com) - There is a reason that Bill Belichick is the best coach in professional football and everyone else is fighting for second place.
Baltimore's John Harbaugh is among the scrum who can be considered for the runner-up spot but the chasm between those two positions only grew after the Ravens coach objected to what he called a "substitution trick" by New England in the third quarter of the Patriots' eventual 35-31 divisional-playoff win.
The wrinkle was unveiled on the Pats' second drive of the third quarter after rookie center Bryan Stork was forced to leave with a knee injury. New England kicked Ryan Wendell inside to the pivot and lined up just four natural offensive linemen, declaring a normally eligible receiver like blocking tight end Michael Hoomanawanui or running back Shane Vereen as ineligible, all in an effort to keep Baltimore off balance.
"There was a lot to the plays," Hoomanawanui said. "I have to report as ineligible. I can't go down the field. I can only block. So as hard as it is for them to figure out, there's a lot that goes into it on our side, too.
"You could see how frustrated they were on who to cover and this and that, so it turned out to be great plays for us."
The strategy worked as Ravens defenders were often confused when trying to substitute and match up, causing Harbaugh to blow his stack and draw an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
"(The officials) didn't understand what was going on," Harbaugh claimed. "We wanted an opportunity to be able to ID who the eligible players were. What (the Patriots) were doing was they announce the ineligible player and then Tom (Brady) would take them to the line right away and snap the ball before we had a chance to figure out who was lined up where. That was the deception part of it. It was clearly deception."
Predictably Brady disagreed with Harbaugh's description.
"Maybe those guys gotta study the rule book and figure it out," he said. "We obviously knew what we were doing and we made some pretty important plays. It was a real good weapon for us."
Belichick also explained the tactic, which he used on three different occasions.
"It's a play that we thought would work," the veteran coach said. "We ran it three times, a couple different looks. 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."
On the surface Harbaugh's objections seem like sour grapes. After all, a big part of football in general is about deceiving your opposition whether it's disguising a blitz or coming up with a trick play like Julian Edelman's touchdown pass to Danny Amendola is this very game.
So if most of you missed the memo where deception in football was disallowed, you're not alone and Harbaugh's true complaint reveled itself later when he blurted out "(it's a tactic) nobody has ever seen before."
"The league will look at that type of thing, and I'm sure that they'll make some adjustments and things like that," he continued.
Harbaugh has had plenty of success over the years, especially in the postseason. The arrogance to that, however, is the assumption that thinking what you did yesterday will be sufficient for everything that is thrown at you tomorrow.
Belichick was a power pitcher who pulled the string on Harbaugh on Saturday in Foxborough and the Ravens mentor froze in the batter's box, unable to react.
You can blame the officials and even trot out Don Shula to call Belichick Beli-cheat again but all the Pats' coach did was take advantage of an on-the- books rule that others have failed to utilize in the past.
So label the strategy as anything you want -- deception, a loophole -- but understand its real title is innovation.
And Harbaugh was under the learning tree on Saturday. Hopefully he figures that out.