In October, the Patriots exploited a loophole in the NFL rulebook and wasted over a minute of clock in the fourth quarter of a 33-0 blowout of the Jets. Three months later, that same loophole contributed to the Patriots getting eliminated from the playoffs.
The Titans committed back-to-back penalties to waste almost two minutes of clock in the fourth quarter. That significant chunk of time proved crucial when the Patriots only had 15 seconds to drive from the 1-yard line into field goal range on their final possession. After Tom Brady threw a pick-six to Tennessee, the Patriots had no time to try to climb out of a 20-13 hole.
Here’s how Tennessee was able to pull off some Belichick-esque gamesmanship.
Why were the Titans allowed to run the clock?
If the game clock is stopped after a down in which there was a foul by either team, following enforcement or declination of a penalty, the game clock will start as if the foul had not occurred, except that the clock will start on the snap if:
(1) the foul occurs after the two-minute warning of the first half;
(2) the foul occurs inside the last five minutes of the second half;
Because there was more than five minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Titans were able to start the clock over and waste more time by taking a penalty. Then they did it again with a false start to avoid an unsportsmanlike conduct for consecutive delays of game. A third penalty — this time committed by the Patriots for neutral zone infraction — wasted even more clock.
Altogether, one minute and 46 seconds came off the clock between third and fourth down.
Belichick had a much different reaction when the rule worked in his favor
New England did the same thing to the Jets with a delay of game followed by a false start. New York declined both penalties, but Belichick smirked on the sideline because he accomplished his mission.
Bill Belichick says he was just trying to “run a bit of time off the clock” late in the 4th quarter against the Jets when the camera cut to him smirking.— Guy Boston Sports (@GuyBostonSports) October 22, 2019
“It’s probably a loophole that’ll be closed and probably should be closed, but right now it’s open.” pic.twitter.com/S6mpX6Xb4L
He certainly wasn’t smirking when that same loophole was used against him. Instead, Belichick told officials that the rule was ... well, you can read his lips:
After the game, Belichick was asked if he had any further thoughts about the loophole that was exploited. He gave a one-word response: “No.”
Perhaps Titans coach Mike Vrabel wouldn’t have known to take advantage of the opportunity to waste clock if he hadn’t seen Belichick do it to the Jets. It’s especially fitting that Vrabel — a former NFL linebacker who won three Super Bowls in eight seasons playing for the Patriots — was the one who pulled it off.
Now New England’s season is over and the rulebook didn’t do them any favors this time around.