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NFL Week 6: Move over, Bill Belichick. The NFL’s new genius is Mike Vrabel

Vrabel’s genius move is where we begin the Week 6 review:

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▪ The biggest stories in the Titans’ win were Derrick Henry’s 264 scrimmage yards and Ryan Tannehill’s 364 passing yards and four touchdowns. But the day likely would have ended in defeat if not for Vrabel’s decision to send little-used Josh Kalu onto the field with 3:05 left in the fourth quarter.

Leading, 30-29, the Texans were facing second and 1 at the Titans’ 25. The penalty gave the Texans a first down at the 20, but chances were good that they were going to pick up a first down anyway.

The Titans players were confused at seeing Kalu run onto the field, and Vrabel sold it well, gesturing wildly for Kalu to come off. But the penalty stopped the clock, preserved all three timeouts for the Titans, and reduced the number of plays that the Texans could run the rest of the way. The Titans got the ball back with 1:45 left and scored the tying touchdown with just four seconds remaining.

This marked the third time in Vrabel’s two-plus seasons as Titans coach that he has shown an impressive mastery of the rulebook. He took a similar 12-men penalty to stop the clock in a 2018 win over the Jets, and in January he pulled one over on Belichick himself, using multiple intentional penalties to milk almost two minutes off the clock in a playoff win over the Patriots.

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Not only do the Titans have the NFL’s most efficient and explosive offense, they have the NFL’s smartest coach, too.

▪ Tom Brady had a clean day, throwing two touchdown passes and no interceptions in the Bucs’ 38-10 win over the Packers. And Rob Gronkowski finally made an impact, catching five passes for 78 yards and his first touchdown of the season as the Bucs improved to 4-2.

But the real story was that the Bucs have a heck of a defense. They held the Packers 28 points below their scoring average, allowed just 201 total yards, and forced Aaron Rodgers’s first two interceptions of the season.

It was Rodgers’s first multiple-interception game since 2017. And Jamel Dean’s 32-yard pick-6 was just the third thrown by Rodgers in his entire career.

The Bucs are seventh in points allowed (20.3 per game) and first in yards allowed. With a defense like that, Brady just has to manage the game and avoid turnovers.

▪ There were a few interesting 2-point conversion attempts.

I liked Ron Rivera’s decision to go for 2 at the end of Washington’s 20-19 loss to the Giants. It wasn’t successful, but Washington isn’t going anywhere this year, so there’s not much harm in going for the win and challenging your players.

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I also liked Belichick’s decision to go for 2 when trailing by 9 and 8:31 left. An extra point would have made the deficit 8, and kept the game within one score. But the Patriots were going to have to go for 2 at some point, and it’s smarter to do it earlier in the game, in case it’s not successful. Had the Patriots missed a 2-point conversion with, say, 1:30 left, they would have had to rely on an onside kick to get the ball back.

And I liked Romeo Crennel’s decision to go for 2 when up by 7 with 1:50 left. Yes, an extra point would have pushed the lead to 8. But a successful 2-pointer would have made it 9 points and sealed the win. Considering the Texans were 1-4, I have no problem with Crennel aggressively going for a win.

The one that didn’t make much sense was Eagles coach Doug Pederson going for 2 midway through the third quarter in a 17-6 game. It was a little too early to start chasing points, and missing this attempt meant the Eagles had to go for 2 again at the end of the game. The Eagles lost, 30-28, to the Ravens.

▪ Lesson learned the past two weeks: Pick the team playing its first game under an interim head coach. Crennel helped the Texans pick up their first win of the season last week, and Raheem Morris led the Falcons to their first win of the season, 40-23 over the Vikings this week. Since the 2015 season, interim coaches are 7-4 in their first games.

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Meanwhile, the Vikings aren’t getting the best return on investment on Kirk Cousins, who threw three first-half interceptions in the loss. The Vikings are paying Cousins $39.5 million this year on a new contract extension, yet he has a league-high 10 interceptions and the Vikings are 1-5.

▪ The Browns were exposed and Baker Mayfield was benched in a 38-7 loss to the Steelers, snapping Cleveland’s four-game winning streak. But at least the Browns are entertaining. They are 12th in points (27.2 per game) and 30th in points allowed (31.2 per game), and the 350 combined points scored in their games are the most in the NFL.

▪ Cool moment No. 1: Giants rookie linebacker Tae Crowder, this year’s Mr. Irrelevant as the 255th and final pick of the draft, scooped up a fumble and returned it 43 yards for the game-winning score in the victory over Washington. Players drafted late in the seventh round are usually just backups or don’t even make the team, but Crowder played 62 of 73 snaps and was second on the Giants with 10 tackles.

▪ Cool moment No. 2: Dolphins rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, shortly after making his NFL debut at the end of a 24-0 win over the Jets, coming onto an empty field in his uniform, sitting on the 15-yard line, and FaceTiming his parents.

“I think that’s what brings me the most joy — seeing how happy my parents get,” Tagovailoa said.

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▪ Niners QB Jimmy Garoppolo: Returned from an ankle injury to throw for 268 yards and three touchdowns in a 24-16 win over the Rams, but stalled in the second half with just 53 passing yards and no scores.

▪ Texans WR Brandin Cooks: Had nine catches for 68 yards and a late touchdown, and has scored in two straight games.

▪ Titans K Stephen Gostkowski: It’s boom or bust for Gostkowski, who made all four extra points but went 0 for 2 on field goals. Had a 27-yarder blocked and was wide right from 37.

▪ Broncos CB Duke Dawson: The Patriots’ 2018 second-round pick played 10 defensive snaps and had a half-tackle against his former team.

▪ Matt Patricia, Detroit: Saved his job for at least a few weeks with a big win over the Jaguars.

▪ Brian Flores, Miami: Gets the NFL’s first shutout of the season, and the Dolphins’ first since 2014.

▪ Joe Judge, NY Giants: Got a little lucky that Rivera went for 2 instead of playing for overtime, but congrats on the first win as a head coach.

▪ Titans RB Derrick Henry gained 181 yards on three plays.

▪ The Titans became the first team in NFL history with a 350-yard passer (Tannehill) and a 200-yard rusher (Henry) in the same game.

▪ Bucs center Ryan Jensen had his consecutive-snap streak ended at 3,726, dating to the start of 2017. Last week, Eagles safety Michael Jenkins had his streak of 2,651 consecutive snaps broken.

▪ The Broncos’ Drew Lock became the second quarterback to defeat Belichick in New England while throwing multiple interceptions (Kurt Warner, 2001).

▪ Lions QB Matthew Stafford has now thrown a touchdown against all 31 other NFL teams after tossing one against the Jaguars.

▪ The Ravens broke a tie with the 1999-2000 Rams by scoring 20-plus points in their 29th consecutive game. Only the 2012-14 Broncos have a longer streak (30 games).

Ben Volin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.

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