The NFL released its annual list of rules that have been approved to implement or change for the 2020 season. And, as seems to be the annual tradition, Bill Belichick caused one of the rule changes.
Right there in point 9 is the NFL’s admittance that, once again, one of Beliechick’s strategies, which he pulled from the depths of the rule book, needs to be put to pasture.
9. By Competition Committee; prevents teams from manipulating the game clock by committing multiple dead-ball fouls while the clock is running.
Where Did This Rule Change Come From?
As a refresher, this all stems back to the Patriots vs. Jets game on October 21, 2019. With roughly 10 minutes left to go in the game, and the Patriots up 33-0 on the Jets, Belichick decided to punt looking at 4th-and-2 from the New York 33.
Before letting special teams weapon Jake Bailey unleash the fury of his right foot on the ball, the Pats committed a delay of game penalty, which the Jets declined. New England then committed an intentional false start, which the Jets also declined.
Now, penalties like this are usually committed to give a punter like Bailey more room to operate. It lets them really lean into the kick to pin the opponent deep. But that is rarely done in a 33-0 blowout. And since the Jets declined the first penalty, the chances of them accepting the second were slim. So, what were the Patriots up to?
Bill Belichick Finds Another NFL Glitch
Well, Belichick found another loophole in the NFL rule book. The same rule book he dug into to infuriate the Ravens in the 2015 AFC Championship. Remember those plays that only used 4 down OLs and got Hoomanawanui and Vereen open? Good times.
But this time he cracked the code on how to run clock, “without really having to do anything.”
“It’s probably a loophole that’ll be closed and probably should be closed, but right now it’s open.”-Bill Belichick
He realized that if the clock is running when the first penalty is committed, it resets. Therefore, he was able to run more than one full minute off the game clock by just having the Patriots commit penalties. He was so proud of himself, he actually smiled.
You could say Belichick did the NFL a favor by calling their attention to this glitch of a rule to get it changed, which he lobbied for in the post game press conference. But, what he didn’t realize was this same maneuver would come back to haunt him in the playoffs.
The Final Execution of the Loophole
Enter Mike Vrabel, head coach of the Tenessee Titans and former LB-that-also-caught-TDs-in-Super-Bowls for the Patriots. The student quickly became the master, as Vrabel executed the same strategy Belichick used against the Jets.
With the Titans clinging to a 14-13 lead in the fourth quarter, Vrabel bled the clock with the, “pretend to punt but just commit penalties and infuriate the other coach” method. Vrabel was so good at it he was able to push the clock from 6:39 to 4:44. That is an eternity in the fourth quarter of an NFL playoff game.
And due to the league’s announcement today, that is the last time the strategy will be used. When Vrabel slayed the two-headed-dragon that was Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, handing them a loss in their last game together before Tompa Bay *shudder* became a thing.
I’m already excited to see what rule Belichick changes next year, assuming it doesn’t result in Stidham leaving for Jacksonville.
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