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Titans used a Bill Belichick clock management tactic against him

Wild Card Round - Tennessee Titans v New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 04: Head coach Mike Vrabel of the Tennessee Titans is congratulated by head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots after their 20-13 win in the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 04, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

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In October, Patriots coach Bill Belichick acknowledged exploiting a loophole in the rules to run extra time off the clock in the fourth quarter of a win over the Jets. On Saturday night, the Titans did the same thing to the Patriots.

Thanks to NFL rules that re-start the game clock after a penalty, the Titans, while leading in the fourth quarter, took a delay of game penalty to take 40 seconds off the clock before punting, then false started with one second remaining on the play clock to take another 39 seconds off the clock. After that the Patriots helped the Titans by jumping offside, which allowed the Titans to run even more time off the clock. By the time the Titans finally punted, the clock had gone from 6:35 when the Titans initially faced fourth down to 4:50 when the ball was actually punted.

Belichick said after the game that the Titans’ strategy to use penalties to take time off the clock was the same one he had used.

“We’ve talked about this before. It’s the same thing we’ve talked about before. There’s no change,” Belichick said.

In October, Belichick pointed out that the way he had taken penalties was a loophole in the rules that should be fixed.

“It was just the way the rules are set up. We were able to run quite a bit of time off the clock without really having to do anything. That’s probably a loophole that will be closed and probably should be closed but right now it’s open,” Belichick said in October.

There are limits to how teams can exploit this loophole: With five minutes or less remaining in the fourth quarter, it doesn’t work because penalties always stop the clock inside five minutes. And if the Titans had done it a third time, they could have been flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, which would have cost them 15 yards of field position and stopped the clock. But until the rules change, it’s undeniably a smart strategy, one that Belichick has now both used successfully and had used against him.