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Mike Vrabel’s sneaky intentional penalty that saved Titans in comeback win vs. Texans

Mike Vrabel, Titans

Mike Vrabel is a protege of Bill Belichick, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that no one has manipulated loopholes in the rule book to find minor advantages more effectively than the Tennessee Titans head coach.

In the 2019 AFC Wild Card round — against his former coach and mentor — Vrabel drained nearly two extra minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter without taking a snap by having his team commit multiple intentional offsides penalties outside of the 4:00 mark. The Titans defeated the New England Patriots, 20-13.

In Week 13 of the 2018 season against the New York Jets, Vrabel purposely sent a 12th man onto the field on a 2nd and 2 just prior to the two minute warning in order to stop the clock and trade the first down for time, as Paul Kuharsky observed.

On Sunday, Vrabel deployed a similar tactic in Tennessee’s 42-36 overtime win over the Houston Texans that helped set up QB Ryan Tannehill’s game-tying touchdown drive at the end of regulation.

With the Titans trailing 30-29 with just over three minutes remaining, Houston had the ball on Tennessee’s 25-yard line and was moving down the field. Houston faced a 2nd and 1 after a nine-yard completion to WR Brandin Cooks, meaning a successful run play would give Houston a fresh set of downs well into field goal range.

That’s when Vrabel got crafty. He sent out safety Josh Kalu — who had played just 10 snaps on the season, mostly in garbage time — to take an intentional 12-men-on-the-field flag. Vrabel then made a point to act like the whole thing was a mistake, earning the attention from the officials and confusing Texans interim head coach Romeo Crennel.

Vrabel correctly assessed that stopping a drive from 1st and 10 — a result of the penalty — is easier than 2nd and 1. Plus, moving the ball to the 20-yard line (via penalty) means Houston can only obtain one more first down before the end zone if another penalty isn’t committed.

Texans QB Deshaun Watson threw an incomplete pass on the next play, bringing up 2nd and 10 — already a much favorable position for Tennessee with only 9 seconds coming off the clock and without burning a timeout.

A David Johnson run gave Houston 1st and Goal from the nine-yard line, three more runs set up 4th and Goal from the one-yard line, leading to a Watson touchdown pass. However, Vrabel used only two of his timeouts during that stretch, due to the earlier penalty that essentially stole a down from the Texans and saved the Titans about 40 seconds.

Houston missed the two-point conversion try, and Tannehill drove the length of the field to score a game-tying TD with four seconds remaining. The Titans won the game on the first possession of OT to remain a perfect 5-0 on the season.

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