Titans coach Mike Vrabel showed some quick thinking and a thorough knowledge of the NFL’s timing rules late in Tennessee’s comeback win over Houston on Sunday.
With the Titans trailing 30-29 and Houston having the ball on second-and-1 with 3:28 to play, Vrabel sent safety Josh Kalu onto the field, making him the 12th Titans defender. Video from the TV broadcast shows Titans cornerback Johnathan Joseph questioning whether this was a mistake, and Vrabel seeming to understand what he was doing.
Sure enough, the officials blew the play dead and flagged the Titans for having too many players on the field. That gave the Texans a first down, and stopped the clock.
The announcers called it an error, but it didn’t appear to be. It appeared that Vrabel knew exactly what he was doing: By giving the Texans the first down on a penalty, Vrabel had stopped the clock without calling timeout. If the Texans had run the ball, there’s a good chance they would have picked up the first down anyway, but the clock would have kept running. Vrabel saved about 40 seconds with the penalty.
Those 40 seconds made a huge difference, as the Titans ended up scoring the game-tying touchdown with four seconds left, and then winning the game in overtime.
This wouldn’t be the first time that Vrabel used the clock rules to his advantage. In the Titans’ playoff win over the Patriots, Vrabel had the Titans take a delay of game penalty, and then follow it with an intentional false start penalty with one second remaining on the play clock, a combination of penalties that allowed the Titans to take one minute and 19 seconds off the clock between snaps while protecting a late lead. That was a move that Vrabel’s former coach, Bill Belichick, had previously used — and that the NFL made impossible with a rules change over the offseason.
Perhaps another rules change is coming after this season, as Vrabel has once again figured out a way to use penalties to manipulate the game clock.