The New England Patriots’ long-time head coach Bill Belichick gets in opposing coaches’ heads. In his 22 seasons in Foxborough, the former Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, and New York Giants coach has turned coaching football into psychological warfare. Sometimes his methods go outside the laws of football (Spygate). But often, it’s just good old-fashioned gamesmanship. That is what happened in a 2015 playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens. The crafty coach pulled out a formation so obscure, it made opposing coach John Harbaugh lose his cool, and maybe the game as well.
Bill Belichick pulled out the wacky ‘Ravens Formation’ in the second half of the 2014 AFC Divisional game
Bill Belichick is nothing if not a student of the game of football. His maniacal preparation and deep knowledge of the sport are two of the things that made him one of the best NFL coaches of all time.
In the 2014 playoffs (in January of 2015), the 13-4 Patriots hosted the 11-7 Ravens in the second round. The Ravens jumped out to a 14-0 lead. Tom Brady led the Pats back, but the team was down two scores once again in the third quarter.
In danger of letting the game slip away, the Patriots had to score on the drive down 28-14, so Belichick reached deep in his bag of tricks and pulled out two wild formations he named “Baltimore” and “Ravens.”
A 2015 SBNation article by Rodger Sherman explains the formation in-depth. The basic idea, though, is that the Pats put a tight end at tackle. Based on the way they lined up, the player in that tackle spot is an eligible receiver, and the running back in the slot becomes basically an ineligible tackle.
The plays moved the Patriots down the field, and the Ravens’ John Harbaugh went apoplectic about what he deemed to be illegal formations (although they were completely legal at the time). The head coach was so upset with the officials, he ran on the field to yell at them and drew a 15-yard penalty.
The Patriots would score on that drive on a five-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski and ultimately beat the Ravens 35-31.
Seth Wickersham explained how Belichick loved messing with certain NFL coaches, especially Harbaugh
ESPN writer and New England Patriots insider Seth Wickersham recently joined the Bill Simmons Podcast. He went on to talk Pats and to promote his new book about the Patriots Dynasty, It’s Better to Be Feared.
On the pod, he told Simmons that he spends a lot of time delving into that 2014 playoff game in his book. What he found is that Bill Belichick saved those plays for the Ravens not only for the on-field results but because he knew Harbaugh would lose it:
After that game, John Harbaugh’s just livid. And, remember, Bill Belichick ran the no-huddle and used the ‘Baltimore’ formation and the ‘Ravens’ formation knowing that John Harbaugh was going to lose his cool. He knew that John Harbaugh had a temper that he couldn’t control, and he set this trap for him. And one of the things I get to in the book is just how he wrecked certain coaches — Mike Martz, Mike Shanahan with the intentional safety — and John Harbaugh. He knew that John Harbaugh would flip a lid, and he eventually got a 15-yard penalty in that game because he was so upset about this.Seth Wickersham on Bill Belichick and John Harbaugh
Wickersham also shared that ‘Fight Song’ was the original name of the play. Former Oakland Raiders and current Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin was the one who invented it. Belichick changed the name because he knew he would use it to tweak Harbaugh.
The extra mile that Belichick goes not just to win but destroy his opponents in the process is what turned the 69-year-old Wesleyan grad from the failed Cleveland Browns and (almost) New York Jets coach into one of the greatest of all time.
Tom Brady was not the only GOAT in New England
As the Patriots and Buccaneers get ready to face off in Week 4 of the 2021 NFL season in Brady’s return to Foxborough, there is a lot of history talk. Most of it centers around Brady — who needs just 68 yards to become the NFL’s all-time leading passer — but Belichick should get some of the adoration as well.
Belichick’s record in New England is 245-94 for an incredible 72.3% win rate. Taking away the L’s without Brady, the duo only lost 70 games between 2000 and 2019.
Adding in his five seasons at the helm in Cleveland, the coach’s career record is 281-138, which is the third-most wins in NFL history. Belichick is 59 wins ahead of the next-highest active coach (Andy Reid, 222) and only behind legends George Halas (318 wins) and Don Shula (328 wins).
He also has two more Super Bowl wins (6) than the next highest coach (Chuck Noll, 4), and no active coach even has a pair of Lombardi Trophies yet.
NFL aficionados can make arguments for Shula or Halas or even Lombardi himself being the greatest pro football coach of all time. However, there is no argument that Bill Belichick is the best of the new century and will likely go down as the ultimate coaching GOAT.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference