Vrabel, in his first season as an NFL head coach, had his best years as a player with the Patriots. His relationship with Bill Belichick was temporarily strained after he was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs.
"I can’t deny the fact I played there for eight years and we had a lot of success. Bill [Belichick] was my coach. He traded me to Kansas City; we didn’t talk for a couple months, maybe a year," Vrabel said Tuesday.
Although they're back on good terms, Sunday gave Vrabel a chance to defeat his former coach. The Titans led throughout, and the Patriots surrendered midway through the fourth quarter when Belichick sent backup quarterback Brian Hoyer in to replace Tom Brady with six minutes left.
Tennessee built a 17-3 lead in the first quarter against a Patriots team that had allowed an average of 4.3 first-quarter points per game this season.
Tennessee attacked New England's best cornerback, Stephon Gilmore, mercilessly, starting with a 24-yard reception by Corey Davis on the first play of the game. Davis finished with seven catches for 125 yards and a touchdown.
Their contributions were among several for a number of former Patriots players on the Tennessee roster; ex-New England defensive coordinator Dean Pees, meanwhile, is now guiding Tennessee's defense.
The defense did an excellent job of smothering the Patriots' receivers and putting pressure on Brady. Former Patriots defensive back Logan Ryan ended the first half by sacking Brady for a 7-yard loss. Ryan also came up with a clutch pass breakup as Brady was looking for Julian Edelman on fourth-and-6 in the fourth quarter.
Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler had a controversial exit from New England after not playing in Super Bowl LII. He had been struggling this season, but he didn't allow a catch against the Patriots.
Vrabel downplayed the significance of going against Belichick and the Patriots, but this was likely the biggest victory of his coaching career. Tennessee (5-4) remains a game behind the Houston Texans in the AFC South. The Titans will carry the momentum into next week, when they travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts, followed by a Monday night showdown with the Texans in Week 12.