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NFL says Ravens’ drop kick was illegal, John Harbaugh says refs cleared it

After the NFL admitted to Zac Taylor that calls were missed in the Monday Night Football matchup between the Bengals and Steelers, Mike Florio analyzes if the calls determined the lopsided outcome.

The NFL says the drop kick the Ravens used late in their loss to the Chiefs two weeks ago was illegal. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh says he was specifically told otherwise.

The kick, which wasn’t flagged, was a late kickoff attempt on which Justin Tucker bounced the ball off the ground and then kicked it high, like a punt. The Chiefs fair caught it, which was advantageous to the Ravens because a fair catch doesn’t take any time off the clock, and the Ravens were trying to force the Chiefs to run an offensive play before the two-minute warning.

However, the NFL confirmed this week that the kick was illegal.

“By definition, a drop kick is a kick by a player who drops the ball and kicks it as, or immediately after, it touches the ground. If that does not happen, the play should be shut down and a flag thrown for a false start,” the league office said in a statement emailed to PFT.

Harbaugh, however, says the Ravens contacted the league as they were drawing up that play to make sure it was legal, and he was told that it was.

“We were in contact with the league officiating office all the way through,” Harbaugh said, via the Baltimore Sun. “We didn’t just pull it out and decide to try it and sneak it past them.”

Harbaugh accused the league of changing the rule after the fact.

“We explained exactly what we were doing and how it was going to go, and they said it was legal, we could do it,” Harbaugh said. “We talked to the officials before the game. They called the league office again. They had been in contact with the league office, the officiating office, and they said it was legal. Probably, the competition committee decided they didn’t want to see it, someone on the competition committee — probably the chairman [Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay] — decided with [senior vice president of officiating] Alberto [Riveron] he didn’t want to see it. So now, it’s not legal. So, that’s pretty much how it works and how it worked in this case.”

That’s not how it should work: The rules should be clear to every team, and the message from the officiating office shouldn’t change during the season. In this case, the rules have been clarified now, but the league says the Ravens got away with a kick that should have been penalized, while the Ravens say the league has changed its story.