This past Sunday hosted possibly one of the best Conference Championship Weekends in NFL history.
But after two overtimes (for the first time ever on Championship Sunday), some controversial and blatantly terrible officiating and a few miraculous performances both the Patriots and the Rams are headed to Atlanta for the 53rd Super Bowl of all time.
How it Happened: NFC
Practically the only play being mentioned from this game is the obvious blown pass interference call against Rams’ cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, which would have set the Saints up in position to run out the clock and kick a field goal to advance to the Super Bowl. Instead, everyone knows what happened by now- the Rams tied the game, forced a turnover in overtime, and kicked an incredible 57-yard field goal that may have been good from 70 to win the game.
But was it that one non-call that cost the Saints the game? Technically, kind-of, maybe, but not really. The Saints were up 20-10 at one point in the second half. Their first two possessions of the game were half-empty red zone trips, both resulting in field goals. After the blown call, New Orleans was able to bring the ball within the 20-yard line again, this time with less than 2 minutes to play. So what did Sean Payton do? The same thing coaches in the playoffs do, over and over again, in obvious run situations late in the game. He called two passes, resulting in two incompletions, and eventually kicked a field goal to put the Saints up 23-20, but leaving Los Angeles with time and timeouts.
There were a few other moments where the Saints shot themselves in the foot, as well. Up 13-0 in the first half, they gave up a first down on a fake punt and eventually Los Angeles would put their first points on the board that drive. They failed to stop CJ Anderson, as Gurley rested much of the second half, and the Rams’ offense sparked late in the game to send them to their first Super Bowl since the early 2000’s when they played- guess who?- Tom Brady and the Patriots.
How it Happened: AFC
In the end, Tom Brady advances to his 9th Super Bowl in 17 seasons as a starting quarterback. However, characteristic of New England’s postseason victories as of recent years, this one came down to the wire.
New England led 14-0 to start the half, but Patrick Mahomes and the Chief’s high caliber offense wouldn’t stay quiet for long. They would eventually erase their deficit and lead 21-17 in the fourth quarter. The fourth quarter, by the way, that experienced 38 total points from both teams. New England and Kansas City traded blows for most of the second half, and it ended with a last second field goal from Harrison Butker on the Chief’s last offensive drive of the game.
The last 15 minutes of play had some moments that would cause a fan of either team to come within inches of busting their TV screen or punching a hole in the wall. With just under 9 minutes to play and New England leading, the Chiefs were forced to punt after a three-and-out following a fourth-down stop. Julian Edelman appeared to muff the punt, and Kansas City returned it for the score and the lead. However, upon review, the referees deemed that the ball nearly missed both of Edelman’s thumbs, as well as his forearm and shoulder, and showed irrefutable evidence that the play should be overturned. I’m not saying they were right, I’m just saying what they said.
Just a few minutes later, Chris Jones appeared to briefly make contact with Brady’s left shoulder as he was throwing, leading the officials to call a roughing-the-passer penalty, extending New England’s drive. They would eventually score a touchdown, and go on to lead 24-21.
The Chiefs scored with just over 2 minutes left, taking a 28-24 lead, before New England went down the field for a touchdown on a Rex Burkhead rush. The Chiefs used their 39 seconds and marched down field for a game tying field goal in the final seconds. The Patriots won the overtime coin toss, and then Brady did what Brady does best. He converted on three separate 3rd-and-10’s in the overtime period, and eventually led his team to the endzone and the Super Bowl after Burkhead punched it through for his second touchdown of the game.
Super Bowl Preview
Surprisingly, the Chiefs put ZERO pressure on Brady. He was sacked a total of zero times, hit once and pressured on 10.9 percent of his dropbacks throughout the entire game. New England did a great job at wearing down the Chiefs defense, as they ran 94 offensive plays to Kansas City’s 47. The Rams boast a better, more physical pass rush with Aaron Donald and co., and prove to be a much better defensive team than Kansas City.
Los Angeles will be the toughest defense New England has faced since their matchup against Chicago in the regular season. They finished the Saints game with 7 QB hits, and allowed only 3 points in the last 20 minutes of play.
However, the Rams offense is nothing to the caliber of Kansas City. Mahomes is much more mobile and an all-around better playmaker than Jared Goff. Something is up with Todd Gurley, as his role has basically been the secondary back to CJ Anderson all postseason. He sat much of the third quarter, and finished the game with only four carries for 10 yards.
Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods offer a similar WR matchup that New England beat on Sunday, with Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins. The only thing Los Angeles doesn’t boast is a top-tier tight end like Travis Kelce.
As of right now, New England enters the Super Bowl as 1.5 point favorites- an extremely narrow spread. They have an advantage on the offensive end, as well as the coaching side, as McVay has struggled with strategy and in-game management all season. Brady benefitted from a quick, 2.54 second release on average on Sunday, and needs to retain that to win against the Rams pass rush, but the Belichick and Brady have a very good chance at starting a ring collection on their second hand in a few weeks.
Prediction: Patriots 33, Rams 31
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