NFL clock loophole famously exploited by Bill Belichick, Mike Vrabel is now closed

An NFL loophole exploited by Bill Belichick that famously backfired in the playoffs is no more.

NFL owners voted on Thursday to close it.

Thursday’s vote concerned a strategy first implemented last season during an AFC East matchup between the New York Jets and New England Patriots.

Belichick’s giddy use of rules vs. Jets

With the Patriots up 33-0 in Week 7, Belichick decided to rub a little salt in the wound of his division rival and head coaching counterpart Adam Gase. Facing a punting situation with a running clock in Jets territory with around 10 minutes remaining, the Patriots took a delay-of-game penalty to give punter Jake Bailey more room to kick.

Gase declined the penalty.

Belichick, not interested in being one-upped, ordered an intentional false start on the next snap — after running down the play clock. Gase also declined this penalty, but Belichick came out ahead in the tit-for-tat, having burned more clock on the exchange.

The use of a false start instead of another delay-of-game also ensured that the Patriots would be penalized just five yards instead of a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that would have come from a second consecutive delay of game.

Belichick took obvious pleasure in his small victory on the sideline.

He then took a victory lap in his postgame news conference.

“We were able to run a quite a bit of time off the clock without really having to do anything,” Belichick said. “It’s a loophole that’ll be closed and probably should be closed. But right now, it’s open.”

Belichick’s strategy backfires in the long run

Those words would come back to bite him in a much higher stakes situation against the Tennessee Titans — who just so happened to be coached by former Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel.

Thursday's rule change came too late to save Bill Belichick from his own hubris in the playoffs.
Thursday's rule change came too late to save Bill Belichick in the playoffs. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

With the Titans leading the Patriots 14-13 in the fourth quarter of their AFC wild-card matchup in January, Tennessee faced fourth-and-5 at the Patriots’ 36-yard line.

Vrabel decided to punt. But before punting, the Titans took a delay-of-game penalty after burning 40 seconds of play clock.

Belichick — like Gase did in Week 7 — declined the penalty. Vrabel — like Belichick did in Week 7 — called for an intentional false start on the next play. After running off another 40 seconds of play clock.

Belichick was less pleased in this scenario.

Those 40 seconds were considerably more valuable for the Titans in what turned out to be a one-possession playoff win over the Patriots.

NFL shuts it down

On Thursday, Belichick’s prescience from his Week 7 news conference came to fruition.

Per the NFL in announcing new rules adopted by the league:

By Competition Committee; prevents teams from manipulating the game clock by committing multiple dead-ball fouls while the clock is running.​

So that’s the end of that. It just arrived a little too late to prevent Belichick’s hubris from backfiring in the playoffs.

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