The New England Patriots are officially eliminated from Super Bowl contention, and it was an old Bill Belichick clock trick used by one of his old players that helped bury them.
That old player was Titans head coach Mike Vrabel, and the trick came midway through the fourth quarter with the Titans up 14-13. After driving into Patriots territory, Vrabel made the (somewhat questionable) decision to punt on 4th-and-5 on the 36-yard line with 6:39 left in the game.
However, Vrabel wanted to kill some clock, and had plenty of his own yardage to work with thanks to All-Pro punter Brett Kern.
The Titans used a clock-burning trick out of the Patriots’ playbook
The Titans took a delay of game penalty to milk a full 40 seconds off the clock to 5:29. With the clock running again after the penalty, the Titans couldn’t take another delay of game without drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
So they committed a false start.
PLAYOFF FOOTBALL BABY! LMAOOOOOOOOO pic.twitter.com/pN7MZy8C0e— Boo Boo Shoester (@FTBeard11) January 5, 2020
Another 40 seconds off the clock, at the low, low cost of five yards. NFL rules dictate that penalties will stop the clock in the final five minutes of regulation, so the Titans’ clock milking should have ended with just under five minutes left on the clock.
Except Patriots special teamer Justin Bethel committed a neutral-zone infraction before the next play, with 5:14 remaining. Kern eventually punted, just five yards back from the Titans’ original fourth-down position and 4:44 left on the clock.
Belichick was less than happy as the whole thing played out.
Those two minutes of penalty time burning ended up being quite significant, as the Titans found themselves punting the ball for the final time with 15 seconds left. The Patriots had no timeouts, and Tom Brady threw a game-sealing pick six. It could have been a whole different ballgame with more time on the clock.
However, Belichick probably shouldn’t have been too mad. He might have been the one who gave Vrabel the idea.
Rewind back to Week 7, and it was the Patriots using the same delay of game/false start trickery on the poor New York Jets while up 33-0. Belichick was a little happier as that played out.
When you think about the joke you're going to tell at the party later pic.twitter.com/hKeMwx27PE— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 22, 2019
“It’s probably a loophole that’ll be closed and probably should be closed, but right now it’s open,” Belichick said after the game.
Odds are his opinion hasn’t changed on the matter.
More from Yahoo Sports: