This black-belt Belichick move by Mike Vrabel proves he might be the best head coach in the NFL right now

October 19, 2020

Alright, so here’s the scene. The Tennessee Titans are on the ropes. They’re down a point to the Houston Texans, who are driving. There’s just under three-and-a-half minutes remaining, the clock is running, and the Texans have a 2nd and 1 at the Titans’ 25. Houston is going to bleed either the clock or Titans timeouts, and barring a low-percentage play like a sack or a turnover, they’re going to kick a field goal, putting them a touchdown out of reach. Head coach Mike Vrabel knows he needs to find an extra timeout for his team—a bonus 30 seconds from somewhere, ANYWHERE—if the Titans want to move to 5-0, so he tears a dark, dusty, dogeared page out of the Bill Belichick book of black football magic: The intentional 12-man-on-the-field penalty.

Suffice to say, you don’t play for Darth Hoodie for years and not pick up a thing or two. As the video shows, Vrabel subs on Joshua Kalu late, much to the surprise of Titans players, who had no idea what was happening. Deshaun Watson runs the play clock down, snaps the ball, and the play is immediately blown dead. 12 men on the field. Five-yard penalty. First down Texans. But most important is the clock, now stopped dead at 3:05 due to the penalty. The Texans go on to kick the field goal, but Vrabel, feigning outrage on the sideline, found that fourth timeout he was looking for. Oh, and because it was north of the two minute warning, there was no 10-second runoff. Diabolical and genius.

As Warren Sharp points out, the subterfuge saved the Titans somewhere in the ballpark of 40 seconds. They then drove down the field and scored with four ticks left on the clock to win the game. You do the math, but we’re pretty sure it adds up. We’re also pretty sure it amplifies a low-frequency rumble that’s been quietly growing in Nashville for awhile now:

Mike Vrabel is now an elite NFL head coach.

During his first season in charge in Tennessee, he led the Titans to a 9-7 record. They missed the playoffs, but it was respectable. Last year, they went 9-7 again, but, buoyed by the second coming of Ryan Tannehill and the weakening of the AFC South, rolled all the way to the AFC Championship Game, eventually blowing a big lead to Patrick Mahomes, as everyone did. Unlike the Jaguars in 2018, however, it wasn’t a one-year wonder. The Titans have picked up where they left off and are now making a case as one of the three best teams in AFC, alongside the Ravens and Chiefs.

Vrabel, meanwhile, is operating at a black-belt level. The Titans chose to ride without a defensive coordinator this year, with Vrabel taking on much of the play-calling duties in addition to his head coaching responsibilities. And Sunday proves he’s not only scheming the defense and managing the clock and giving the halftime pep talks, but he’s also gaming the system in ways that are turning losses into wins . . . sound like someone you know?