Former New England Patriots player, current Tennessee Titans head coach, and Bill Belichick disciple Mike Vrabel used one of his teacher’s tricks against him in the 2020 postseason. Now, the tactic has been banned by the NFL.
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The 2020 postseason meeting between the Titans and the Patriots was a relatively grinding, low-scoring affair, which is exactly what Vrabel wanted heading into his old stomping grounds to take on his former team.
With the Titans leading 14-13 late, and his team wanting to run some clock, Vrabel decided to employ a stalling tactic that Belichick had used earlier in the season during a victory over the New York Jets.
Instead of running a play on fourth down, which would have been a punt, Vrabel elected to go take a delay of game penalty, and then the Titans seemed to deliberately commit a false start. Per Dan Martin of the New York Times, Vrabel was prepared to take another delay of game penalty, but the Patriots jumped offsides.
Perhaps it was Belichick sensing what his former player and now rival was doing, and he instructed his players to take a defensive penalty which would automatically stop the clock, but cost them field position. When the Patriots did finally get the ball back, the clock had dipped under five minutes remaining, and Tom Brady threw a pick-six to cement the Patriots’ upset defeat.
Vrabel’s assistant John Streicher reported back to the head coach that Belichick was none too pleased on the sideline with his opponent’s tactics.
“He’s [Streicher] committed to being my eyes upstairs,” Vrabel said on the NFL Network’s “Helliepod” podcast. “He’s like, ‘You’ve got to see Bill. Bill’s losing his mind.’”
“It’s all relative, you know what I mean?” Vrabel said. “I was like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to finish this game off and we’ll see what happens.’ It was only done four times last year. It’s got to be the right situation. I would have gone for it [on fourth down] but we lost like five yards on third down.”
If you don’t care for this kind of manipulation of the rules, don’t worry. The NFL banned teams taking back-to-back offensive penalties beginning in the 2020 season. Well, it was useful while it lasted, and an ingenious way to get a rise out of Belichick.
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