In Sunday’s dramatic 42-36 overtime win over the Houston Texans, the Tennessee Titans’ head coach Mike Vrabel showed once again why his name deserves to be mentioned among the NFL’s best coaching minds.

For the entirety of the game, quarterback Deshaun Watson and his Texans’ offensive unit had been marching up and down the field at will against a porous Titans defense.  With under 3:30 to play in the fourth quarter, the Texans had a 2nd and 1 at the Titans’ 25-yard line. With Houston leading 30-29 at the time, the Texans were looking to chew as much clock as possible before scoring.

With every second becoming increasingly valuable as the game clock winded down, Vrabel spotted a loophole in the NFL’s rulebook that could potentially save the Titans anywhere in approximately 40 seconds of game time.

With the play clock ticking down on Watson and the Texans, Vrabel shuffled Joshua Kalu out onto the field with just under 20 seconds before the Texans had to get the snap off. Head Referee Alex Kemp spotted Kalu as the 12th member of the Titans’ defense, resulting in a five-yard penalty. While this penalty gave Texans a fresh set of downs, it also stopping the clock.

With Houston at the 20-yard line, the Texans then had just one more opportunity to get a first down. In turn, this would prevent Watson from running the necessary amount of plays to drain the play clock as much as Texans’ head coach Romeo Crenell would have liked.

Watson would find Brandin Cooks in the endzone six plays later to take a 36-29 lead after a failed two-point conversion attempt, which left 1:50 on the clock. That proved to be just enough time for Ryan Tannehill to connect with A.J. Brown on a game-tying touchdown pass with just four ticks left on the clock. The Titans would go on to win the coin toss in overtime and the rest was history.

Vrabel’s savvy clock management saved the day for the Titans. And this wasn’t the first time Vrabel’s extensive knowledge of the NFL rulebook played a factor in a Titans’ win. Everyone remembers Vrabel one-upping his former head coach, Bill Belichick, in the AFC Divisional Round last season after taking a delay of game followed by a false start to eat up over one minute of game time as the Titans led late in the fourth quarter against the Patriots.

Vrabel’s late-game clock manipulation against the Pats even prompted an offseason change in the NFL’s rules and bylaws.


Sunday’s ploy wasn’t even the first instance Vrabel masterminded this identical penalty. In 2018, with the New York Jets in town, Vrabel sent out a 12th defender on a similar 2nd and short scenario to stop the clock. After forcing a stop, the Titans got the ball back and Marcus Mariota subsequently drove the team down the field to score a game-winning touchdown.

Prior to the season, BetMGM listed Mike Vrabel’s odds to win the NFL Coach of the Year honors at 14/1. Vrabel was tied with Buffalo Bills’ coach Sean McDermott and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ offensive mastermind, Bruce Arians, to bring home the award.

Kyle Shanahan | 49ers – (+1000)

Frank Reich | Colts – (+1000)

Bill Belichick | Patriots – (+1200)

Sean McDermott | Bills – (+1400)

Bruce Arians | Bucs – (+1400)

Mike Vrabel | Titans – (+1400

Vrabel has made gutsy moves early on in this young 2020 campaign so far. Trusting kicker Stephen Gostkowski to win the game in the season opener at Denver after Gostkowski had already missed four kicks is one example.

Turning around after missing two weeks of practice with a decimated roster due to COVID-19 and utterly dominating an undefeated Bills team is another. On a short week against a divisional foe, Vrabel added another gem to his already impressive resume.


Featured image courtesy of AP Photo/Mark Zaleski
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