By: Henry McKenna |
January 5, 2020 12: 10 pm
Mike Vrabel didn’t stop taking notes on Bill Belichick’s football wisdom after the former New England Patriots linebacker left the organization. Even as the Tennessee Titans coach, Vrabel is apparently attentive to what his former coach has to say. It seems one lesson paid off.
Vrabel exploited what Belichick called a “loophole” earlier this season. Belichick used the loophole in a Week 3 blowout over the New York Jets, and he smirked devilishly on the sideline. When Vrabel benefitted from it, Belichick was furious, yelling at officials.
In the final minutes of the Titans’ 20-13 win over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Saturday, Tennessee was set to punt after quarterback Ryan Tannehill took a sack with roughly 6: 30 left on the clock in the fourth quarter. But New England wouldn’t get the ball on a punt until 4: 44. How? The Titans intentionally committed a series of penalties (delay of game and offsides) to drain clock. That’s the loophole. Teams can use those penalties to reset the play clock and drain the play clock all the way to the final five minutes of the game, per NFL rules. That’s when officials must stop the clock for a penalty. Then the Patriots’ committed a costly infraction, an encroachment penalty, to bleed the clock even further.
Belichick didn’t want to address the moment during a postgame press conference: “It’s the same thing we’ve talked about before, there’s no change.” On Sunday morning, he clarified his frustration stemmed from how the officials handled the sequence of events, but he wouldn’t say where they went awry. He referred those questions to the NFL. So let’s look back at what Belichick said about the rules on Oct. 22 after beating the Jets.
“No, no. It was just the way the rules are set up,” Belichick said. “We were able to run quite a bit of time off the clock without really having to do anything. It’s a loophole that’ll be closed and probably should be closed. But right now, it’s open.”
Vrabel hasn’t faced questions about the punt, perhaps in part because it proved somewhat inconsequential. Quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots offense went 3-and-out when they got the ball at 4: 44. Brady touched the ball just once more with nine seconds left, and he threw a pick-six. Would the Patriots’ final drive have been different if they’d had more time? Perhaps.
Prior to the pick-six, it was a one-possession game. Brady couldn’t muster another special comeback — he ran out of time.