Titans’ Mike Vrabel is the genius Detroit Lions thought they had in Matt Patricia

Detroit Free Press

Marlowe Alter
| Detroit Free Press

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Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel is the real genius. 

The book is still out on Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia.

Remember, the Lions had Vrabel as a finalist for their head coach vacancy in 2018, before they hired Patricia.

The two coaches come from the New England Patriots, where Vrabel played for eight seasons (2001-08). Patricia joined the staff as an assistant coach in 2004. Lions general manager Bob Quinn was in New England from 2000-16.

Vrabel, who showed last season what the Lions missed out on by taking the underdog Titans to the AFC Championship game, pulled off a Bill Belichick-like stunt Sunday to take advantage of an NFL clock loophole, and give his team extra time to make a comeback.

Let’s set the scene for Vrabel’s brilliance Sunday.

His Titans trailed the Houston Texans, 30-29, with about 3:30 left in the fourth quarter. The Titans had all three timeouts, but Houston had the ball at Tennessee’s 25-yard line and was set up for second-and-1. 

Let’s let Warren Sharp of Sharp Football explain what happened next: 

• Vrabel sends out reserve Josh Kalu as the 12th defensive player onto the field, which seconds later causes a five-yard penalty for too-many-men, giving Houston a first down. Most crucially, the penalty stops the clock.

• Vrabel fakes being upset and gets Kalu, who had played 10 defensive snaps all season, off the field.

• The tactic saved 40 seconds, which they desperately needed after the Texans ran six more plays after this incident and scored a touchdown.

• Tennessee scored the tying touchdown with 4 seconds remaining on a 7-yard strike from Ryan Tannehill to A.J. Brown to force overtime, where they won, 42-36.

The Titans are 5-0 this season, one of three undefeated teams.

Vrabel, 45, is 23-14 with the Titans (9-7 in 2018, 9-7 in 2019 with two playoff wins).

Meanwhile, the Lions are 11-25-1 under the 46-year-old Patricia (6-10 in 2018, 3-12-1 in 2019).

Here’s what Free Press columnist Shawn Windsor wrote in January, after the Titans demolished the No. 1 seed Baltimore Ravens, led by NFL MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson.

“Vrabel doesn’t carry himself like Belichick on the sideline. He carries himself like a former linebacker. And his players love him for it.  

The Lions — and general manager Bob Quinn — chose Patricia because of his strategic acumen and his spatial sense, but also because of his experience. When Vrabel interviewed with them two years ago, he’d been a defensive coordinator for only a year and his defense in Houston ranked near the bottom of the league. 

By the numbers, Patricia made more sense. Besides, it’s harder to calculate personality and relationships, the areas in which Vrabel excels.  

Yet to dismiss his impact as a strategist is a mistake. Just watch the tape of the Titans’ win in Baltimore last weekend.”

The Lions are 2-3 this season, blowing double-digit leads in each loss — an ominous trend in Patricia’s three seasons. They won in Jacksonville on Sunday, 34-16, and have an enticing schedule through Thanksgiving.

But there are far more bad signs (awful defenses, blown leads, little progress after taking over a 9-7 team, trading the best players, criticisms from former players and media members, etc.) than good since 2018.

The Lions visit the Titans on Dec. 20 in Week 15.

SHAWN WINDSOR: A Detroit Lions playoff push? Here’s why it’s not THAT crazy

Follow Marlowe Alter on Twitter: @Marlowe Alter.

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