PHOENIX -- A much-deconstructed formation led to a New England Patriots touchdown drive in the playoffs. Next season, it will lead to a 5-yard penalty.
The NFL passed a rule Wednesday that makes it illegal for an offensive player wearing an eligible number -- between 1 and 49, or 80 to 89 -- to report as ineligible and line up outside the tackle box. Now, if a player is declared ineligible yet lines up outside the tackle box, the offense will be penalized for illegal substitution.
The rule, proposed by the NFL's competition committee, resulted from a successful series of plays by the Patriots during a 35-31 playoff victory over Baltimore in January.
In that game, Patriots running back Shane Vereen was ineligible yet lined up as a slot receiver on three separate plays. That left the Ravens' defense confused about whom to cover, and the Patriots used it as impetus for a touchdown drive. Vereen ran a route backward because he could not cross the line of scrimmage, but it forced the Ravens to still account for him.
Next season, if Vereen declares as ineligible, he would have to line up in the tackle box.
"Whatever it is, it is," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday. "It would affect a lot of other plays, the spread punt formation and stuff like that. Whatever the rule is, it is."
Before the owners meetings, competition committee co-chair Jeff Fisher said several teams had brought up the Patriots' formation as an issue that needed resolution.
"Unless we had some guidelines in place, this thing may get out of hand," Fisher said.
Changes to the extra point also are likely for next season but weren't voted in at these meetings. The issue will be the main focal point at the next set of meetings in May and Rich McKay, co-chairman of the competition committee, said there's a clear movement to change the play in some form for the 2015 season.