For the past two weeks, we’ve suffered through some incredibly boring and no fun games. During Wild Card weekend, only one game was close the whole way through. And last week, we got one good game overall.
Whether it was the bad luck of the past two weeks or Drake reverse jinxing all four teams, we finally got a good day of football this postseason. And it was the best day we could of asked for.
Rams-26 Saints-23 (OT)
Similar to the Bears during Wild Card weekend, it is hard to figure out how the Saints lost this game.
Sure, they blew a 13 point lead, but it was early, and the Rams weren’t at their full potential yet. The Rams came out a complete mess offensively. Drops by Todd Gurley and bad throws by Jared Goff plagued Los Angeles, and somehow it was CJ Anderson who once again was running better than the All-Pro.
It felt like Goff and the Rams were caving. New Orleans had the ball the entire first quarter, and two drives that went nowhere by LA put them in a 13-0 hole. It wasn’t like New Orleans’ defense was playing extremely well; most of it was self-inflicted. The first Gurley drop, then the drop which turned into the interception, and stupid screens to Robert Woods could explain a lot of it. I didn’t like those LA play-calls; you have Brandin Cooks; if you’re going to run a play for someone that is based on getting yards after the catch, you run it for Cooks, not Woods.
New Orleans was dominant offensively. They had a few bad drives (Which LA capitalized on well), but when they were on, the Rams defense couldn’t stop them. Alvin Kamara was open all game, and New Orleans got huge plays out of Ted Ginn Jr. and Josh Hill. Taysom Hill got involved as well, and at halftime, it felt like exactly how it did in Week 9: The Rams were stuck playing catchup.
But this time, LA came back. After New Orleans went up two possessions again right after halftime, the Rams found themselves. Brandin Cooks and CJ Anderson torched the Saints, and Tyler Higbee scored to make it 20-17.
LA never turned back after that drive. That doesn’t mean it was all positives, but it was enough. If New Orleans went three and out or punted, the Rams did too. If New Orleans scored, so did LA. The anomaly in that formula came early in the 4th, when the Rams got big plays out of Gerald Everett and Josh Reynolds to tie New Orleans at 20.
That’s when things really got started.
LA’s comeback was subtle. This was a great game not because of what happened before the tie, but because of what happened after it.
In big games like this, all you can ask for is a good ending. The Rams and Saints got us to the point of making that possible, and then made it happen.
Brees and the Saints got the ball back with five minutes left. Kamara gave them a big return, and because of that it was clear the Saints were doing their best to take their time.
But then LaMarcus Joyner decided to sag off of Ted Ginn Jr, and the Saints were at the Rams 13 yard line with 2:08 left. Now they could take their time and not have to deal with any pressure.
But the Saints wasted first down by throwing and then had Kamara swallowed up (like he was all night on the ground), leading a crucial 3rd down.
In the moment, it didn’t even feel like pass interference. It looked worse. Nickel Robey-Coleman didn’t used his hands to interfere or hold back Tommylee Lewis’, he straight-up mauled him, running with his head up and extended his arms into Lewis’ head and neck area to push Lewis into the ground. It would have been an excellent block had Lewis not been a defenseless receiver and if Robey-Coleman was on offense.
The correct call would have given the Saints a fresh set of downs on the six yard line, allowing them to score in either way and more importantly run the clock down. It’s almost improbable that LA would have gotten the ball back if New Orleans executed properly. They only had one timeout, but by a possible 4th down field goal attempt, only 10 seconds or so would have been left on the clock.
I’m usually the type of person that discredits how big of an impact calls have on games. I usually believe that no matter how egregious some calls are, you can always do things to make up for them. This more true in basketball, as calls can be made up for by playing faster and recovering possessions that way. In football, it’s harder because there’s not many possessions.
Sure, the Saints could have stopped the Rams from kicking the game-winning field goal, but it’s not like LA went “down the field” on New Orleans. The game-tying kick was 48 yards and that Rams drive to tie was typical Rams football: Deep throws across the middle of the field and methodical movement. The Saints were never going to be prepared to stop it, but they were going to be prepared to answer it. That type of game, that absolute shootout type of game where the Saints don’t have to worry about defense, never really came.
And sure, Brees could have not thrown an interception early into overtime, but that was a bang-bang play between Brees and Dante Fowler Jr. It wasn’t necessarily a bad decision by Brees, it was simply a good play by Fowler. By the time Brees had made the decision to throw, Fowler was right on top of him. Fowler’s arm hit Brees’ right at the perfect time and angle, and that’s why the ball took such a wild trajectory in the air. Are we really going to blame Brees when an excellent defensive play caused his first overtime interception ever?
It’s possible I’m just making excuses for New Orleans and am blaming the refs too much. But there’s a chance that’s the most egregious call ever given the stakes, and given how prominent and explosive the play was. There was no hand-fighting, someone got laid out. And could have been seriously hurt.
So yeah, the Saints may have blown their chances to make that call less impactful. But they also should have never been put in that position in the first place.
Patriots-37 Chiefs-31 (OT)
While the NFC Championship Game unfortunately was decided on a brutal no-call, the AFC came down to execution and big plays late. This game honestly could have decided who the best team in the league really was.
A perfect example of that came after Chris Hogan “dropped” a pass from Tom Brady with 1:05 left in the regulation. The call of incomplete was probably the right one; I honestly had no idea; no camera angle was sufficient for me, which meant the call probably should have stood as a catch, but giving such an iffy call like that to New England was going to make the world explode after what everyone had already been through Sunday.
But Hogan’s “drop” didn’t matter. New England survived it and a drop by Gronk that ended up in Charvarius Ward’s hands, which looked like the game-sealer for the Chiefs until Dee Ford was called not offsides, but lined up offsides, a somehow even more egregious penalty in that situation.
Despite the breaks, how many teams come out of that Hogan incompletion and aren’t bothered by it? Or aren’t totally rattled by the fact that they came within an inch (literally) of losing the game? That two play sequence, even with the breaks, throws off every other team in the league.
Not this one.
New England, like the Saints, came out on fire. They did exactly what they did to LA to the Chiefs. The Patriots grinded KC down, using Sony Michel and James White as receivers and backs. New England ran Michel right up the gut (A ballsy proposition considering his size) and spaced White out and let him do his thing. They used eight minutes of the clock, and the next possession felt like a must score for KC.
They went nowhere. Mahomes took a brutal sack on 3rd down after holding onto the ball too long (He was really bad about not getting rid of it Sunday in addition to just looking a little off/rattled).
KC got a break though. After another fantastic drive by New England, Brady threw a ball right to Reggie Ragland in the end zone. It was one of those old man mistakes we’ve seen from Brady this season, and felt like it cost them much more than it did. It should have; it was a completely bone-headed throw by Brady. Ragland did a good job of making an athletic play by going up and getting that ball, but Brady could have put a little more mustard on it and put it towards the back of the end zone for Gronk to go and get. Or, why not just run the ball?
The interception didn’t do anything for the Chiefs besides keep it a one possession game, but even that advantage went away as New England went up 14-0 at halftime after another methodical drive that featured more James White and a ridiculous TD throw and catch by Brady to Phillip Dorsett. Brady fit it in an incredible window, and with tight coverage Dorsett did a nice job coming toward the ball.
The Chiefs getting the ball to start the 2nd half was the best thing that could have happened to them. If New England gets it and goes up 21-0, then this game probably turns out a lot differently.
KC finally looked like the team we saw all year. Mahomes flung a ball downfield to Sammy Watkins and then fired a rocket to Travis Kelce for a touchdown, and the whole game shifted. If this Chiefs team was going to start showing up, New England’s task was going to get a lot harder.
Still, it was a matter of playing catch-up. The Chiefs were in the Rams spot. New England had went up 10 again, and KC answered thanks to the speed of Damien Williams, who gained 33 yards on a wheel route along the right side of the field and then caught a touchdown later in the drive. The Chiefs just shouldn’t be allowed to run the wheel; they have too many guys who can score on it. It’s just unfair.
With KC’s offense now fully firing, it was New England who had to start scoring every possession. They looked like they were in decent shape to do that until Rex Burkhead got stopped on 4th and 1 at the Chiefs’ 25 yard line, a decision I was okay with until the play was actually ran. You have the best QB-sneaker of all-time and need one yard. Why give it to Burkhead? (He certainly made up for it later, though)
What then resulted was the most insane stretch of plays, scoring drives, reviews and calls I can remember. The Chiefs did nothing with the ball and were forced to punt, only for Edelman to not-but-maybe/possibly touch it; I thought there were clear angles that showed that the ball didn’t touch either of his hands, but it was close and, and if not for the drop by Edelman on the 2nd play of the drive, then that ruling in addition to the other 50-50 calls that went in New England’s favor again would have set the world on fire. I guess the ball didn’t lie.
For the first time all day, the Chiefs capitalized off a New England turnover. Mahomes put the ball in the end zone just as quickly as he did after halftime, and it was Damien Williams again. That guy was just too fast for the Patriots. Better him beat you than Tyreek Hill, I guess.
I mentioned it to start with New England, but Kansas City deserves just as much honor. The resiliency both teams showed in those final eight minutes yesterday led to some of the best football I’ve ever seen. Resiliency turns into execution, and the Pats and Chiefs did it at the highest level possible yesterday.
It was New England’s turn to execute first. Sure, they got some help with the unbelievable roughing the passer call on Chris Jones, but I truly believe the Pats convert on 3rd and 7 there and still go down the field. Was anything stopping them in that moment? I mean, just look at Chris Hogan’s one-handed catch later in the drive. What can you do against that?
The Patriots 2nd to last touchdown drive of regulation was a clinic. Brady picked apart Kansas City as he did all game (and as he still was about to do), and Sony Michel punched it in from the 10 yard line with another run straight up the middle. New England’s blocking for him was fantastic; he’s so small that he doesn’t need very big holes but is fast enough to shoot through them. Even though the hole is small, it’s hard for defenders to shed their blocks when the blocking is so well done.
But Mahomes wasn’t scared, and in the moment, it felt like they were going to go down the field once again. The level of trust in these two QBs was probably too high, but they had us convinced that they could do anything at that point.
KC got two huge breaks thanks to J.C. Jackson’s two defensive penalties in coverage (One was holding, one was interference. Also, Jackson was really bad overall Sunday), and Mahomes found Sammy Watkins on once again another wheel route for 38 yards. Williams again punched it in, but there was too much time.
Way too much time.
Somehow, each team got the ball and scored in the final 2:03. I covered the Patriots drive to take the 31-28 lead above, and how insane it was that they battled through the Hogan drop and through the Gronk drop/tip-drill pick. That drive was the most Pats thing ever. It was just turned out that they left enough time (Just 39 seconds, to be exact) for the Chiefs to do the most Chiefs thing ever.
That phrase certainly has taken on a different meaning this year.
Thanks to a huge play by Spencer Ware and great awareness by Mahomes to take a shot on a free play, the Chiefs were in position to tie, and like one of the best teams in the league should, and how fitting it would have been considering this game, they did. Because of course they did.
Due to how unstoppable the offenses were in the final eight minutes, it felt like the coin toss won the game. There was no way the Chiefs were stopping New England, but there was also no way New England was stopping the Chiefs. Brady’s final drive was probably the most impressive of the game. New England got 10 yards every play, and Brady picked KC apart in a way he hadn’t all day. Somehow, it was possible for him to improve on his performance.
That final drive was this game in a nutshell. The absolute and absurd display of execution and clutch plays between KC and New England was 2nd to no other game this season. No teams besides these two could put on that good of a show and not screw up in an impactful way. No game has been that good in awhile.
No day has had me asking for there not to be any more football. Sunday was too perfect for anything else.