Lawdy, what a weekend of football. Four intense walk-off jobs that raised the blood pressure, messed with emotions, and reminded us why the NFL is the most popular viewing sport in the nation.
The four games were decided by a total of 15 points. Pints were lifted in Kansas City, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Hearts turned cold and the mood went dark in Green Bay, Buffalo, Tennessee, and Tampa Bay.
There was a shift in the quarterback paradigm. Legends Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers were booted out, next-generation star QB Joe Burrow moved in and up, The Fable of Jimmy G continued – and most of all, Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes gave us the show of all shows on a Sunday night in the big barbeque pit at Kansas City.
We were reminded – again – that coaching really matters at a time of year when most weaknesses cannot be concealed.
Sunday we’ll do it again. Throw some St. Louis style ribs in the smoker and make some mac-and-cheese for the annual AFC and NFC Conference Championship games.
Cincinnati at Buffalo in the AFC.
San Francisco and Los Angeles in the NFC.
And given Our Town’s vitriol for the franchise in Los Angeles, please allow me to declare two things: (1) you’re on thin ice, Gretzky; and (2) we are all Jimmy Garoppolo fans this week.
Thoughts from the wild and wonderful weekend:
1) Have we seen the last of Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback in NFL history?
So much media buzz over the weekend, with reports of Brady pondering retirement after 22 seasons. And those who follow the Brady-media way of doing business, this speculation wasn’t gratuitous. Brady isn’t ready to talk about his plans; he hasn’t made a decision. But with Tampa Bay’s 30-27 playoff loss to the Rams, Brady failed to make it to a conference championship game for the first time in 10 years. The game was classic Brady; he took a beating from Rams pass rushers, never wilted, and led a thrilling comeback made possible by himself and four LA turnovers.
At 44, Brady passed for 329 yards and a touchdown and brought his team back from a 27-3 deficit to tie near the end. If only the Tampa Bay defense hadn’t screwed up in the final seconds … hell, we’d be planning a parade for Brady in The Lou just for knocking the Rams out. Didn’t happen. And now the wait begins. Is the G.O.A.T. really ready to call it a career after passing for 4,633 yards, 40 touchdowns this season and winning his 35th career postseason game? It’s up to Tom. But even a high-profile opponent, Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, refused to believe that Brady was ready to go. Ramsey doesn’t want Brady to go, simply because he is inspired by the quarterback’s greatness.
2) The Aaron Rodgers reality show in his own mind is about to begin again.
First of all, I don’t believe Rodgers lost Saturday’s game to San Francisco. The culprit was his own head coach (more on that later.) But Rodgers didn’t make enough plays to win it, and the Packers’ special teams collapse set up the Niners for the winning field goal and a 13-10 win. Another numbing loss left Rodgers with a 12-10 postseason record – and an 8-10 mark if we exclude 2010 Green Bay’s four wins to capture his only Super Bowl title. For his ninth consecutive postseason Rodgers failed to reach the conference championship round. The futility is remarkable.
I don’t dislike Rodgers. But I don’t understand him. Why would Rodgers call an ESPN reporter the day before Saturday’s game to go off on COVID and White House policies and president Joe Biden? Look – I don’t care one iota if he has objections to vaccine policies, and I don’t care if he blasts Biden. Rodgers of course is free to share his views. This isn’t about politics to me. It’s about common freaking sense. Why do this THE DAY BEFORE A POSTSEASON GAME? Where was his head, and why wasn’t he 100 percent focused on a critical game that had so much on the line for him and his team?
Rodgers, 38, says he doesn’t want to go through a rebuild in Green Bay, and the Packers have a hefty salary-cap problem to deal with. But teams solve cap crises all the time; it isn’t as difficult as it seems. And does Rodgers really want to start over? Why go someplace else when his easiest path to the playoffs is in Green Bay and the weak NFC North?
3) OK, let’s talk about the coaches … bad coaches.
– Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur has used Rodgers’ Hall of Fame talent and a soft NFC North to shape an impressive 39-9 regular season over his three years. But is he a head coach, or a play caller? If Rodgers isn’t making plays in the postseason, then what? LaFleur doesn’t seem to have a clue. The 49ers weren’t going to let the league’s best receiver, Davante Adams, burn them. So they made sure he’d have a hard time getting open. Rodgers kept targeting Adams, anyway. And LaFleur and the Packers never implemented a strategy to make the Niners pay. Why not, well, you know, take advantage of what the Niners were doing by throwing the ball to other receivers? What is the point of having LaFleur as coach if he can’t make crucial offensive adjustments?
More than that, the Packers were gross all season on special teams – rated dead last in the NFL. What did LaFleur do about it? Nothing. If you’re a head coach you are in charge of everything. You may not literally take the step of taking over the special teams – but you make damn sure that the chronic lapses get resolved, cleaned up. And Green Bay never did that. And because of LaFleur’s negligence, the Packers have been evicted from another postseason in a game they should have won. In three seasons LaFleur has a .769 winning percentage in the regular season – and is 2-2 in the postseason despite having NFC homefield advantage twice in three years. Not a coincidence.
By the way … why did Lafleur spend so much time waving his hands Sunday night, encouraging the Green Bay crowd to crank up the noise? I don’t think Green Bay fans required his help. So instead of coaching his team through a tense and dangerously contested game, Matty wanted to be a cheerleader.
– Buffalo’s Sean McDermott knows better. After your dynamic and fearless quarterback put a miracle win in Buffalo’s pocket, you have to squib the kick with 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Kicking it out of the end zone gave the Chiefs the full 13 seconds to work with, and you always have to assume that Mahomes and his gallery of playmakers are still a threat no matter how dire the circumstances. Have your kicker squib the football on the ground and eat up six or seven seconds. That would have made it much harder for Mahomes to have the time to rescue the KC season. And the Bills weren’t smart in how they set up their defense on that final fourth-quarter possession and then overtime … one more thing: the Bills were more conservative than they should have been offensively in the earlier parts of this game, and found themselves having to make up a 23-14 deficit. You have Josh Allen: go for the throat, OK? What, do you think the Chiefs are gonna score 17 points and you’d notch a 20-17 win?
McDermott is 3-0 at home in the postseason as Bills coach. On the road he’s 0-4.
– Todd Bowles? What the heck were you doing, man? With a chance to put up an obstacle that would get the 27-27 tie into overtime, the Tampa Bay defensive coordinator called an all-out blitz, leaving an incapable defensive back all alone to cover Cooper Kupp. This was severely problematic for two reasons: (A) Kupp led the NFL this season in receptions, receiving yards and TD catches for the “Triple Crown,” and (B) Rams QB Matthew Stafford was the best in the NFL when blitzed this season. It was such a foolish call by Bowles.
4) Look, I don’t hate on Rams players just because they play for you know who.
In that context, I admire Matthew Stafford for coming through … there was a lot of pressure on that dude after a late-season haywire phase when he forced throws and threw reckless interceptions. That raised legitimate questions over Stafford’s poise in big games after so many losing, non-pressure seasons as Detroit’s quarterback. But he’s been terrific in winning two postseason games for the Rams, completing 74.5 percent of his passes for 568 yards, four touchdown throws, two rushing TDs, no interceptions and a 131.5 passer rating. The Rams can’t afford to lose yet another game to the 49ers, and Stafford’s performance against a tough Niner defense will be a crucial factor on Sunday – either way.
5) Speaking of the Niners — back to Jimmy G, the proud son of the Midwest.
Here’s a headline Monday on Pro Football Focus: “San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo does less than just about any NFL playoff QB in recent memory.”
Nailed it, right? Jimmy G doesn’t have to pass for 400 yards and five touchdowns in a game, and PFF pointed out his rather modest statistical contributions he’s made while going 4-1 in the postseason for the 49ers.
PFF wrote: “Objectively speaking in the playoffs: Garoppolo has worked as a below-average quarterback in terms of most efficiency metrics while not making a habit of testing defenses downfield and simultaneously trading a low rate of big-time passes with a higher rate of turnover-worthy plays. This is probably why the 49ers felt the need to trade *three* first-round picks to acquire the services of Trey Lance all the way back in *checks notes* 2021.”
But PFF added: “And yet: the 49ers just keep on winning. Which is great! That’s the goal of football, after all; just realize there’s a difference between the 49ers winning *because* of Jimmy vs. “with” him.
Hey, listen up: In his last three games Garoppolo has done his part in upset wins over Stafford, Dak Prescott, and Aaron Rodgers — and all three victories were on the road. This story makes me smile. The 49ers have defeated the Rams in the last six games between the NFC West rivals … and now Jimmy G can make it seven straight.
6) Not an original thought, but I agree with it: Josh Allen vs. Patrick Mahomes is this generation’s Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady.
Mahomes is 26; Allen is 25. Their talent is wondrous. They win. Their teammates revere them. They’re fearless. They can put at end to your team with their arms, and with their athleticism that makes them better runners than many running backs. They’re entertaining as quarterbacks can be. This is going to be great fun to watch them going at it for a very long time.
7) And oh yeah, add Joe Burrow to that rock-star lineup.
It’s almost unfair to have three young guns in the same conference, but here we are. Mahomes defeated Allen on Sunday night, and now he’s set to take on Burrow and the Bengals.
The night before Cincinnati’s upset of No. 1 AFC Tennessee, Burrow stood up in a hotel ballroom during a scheduled team meeting and had a pointed question for his teammates: “Why Not Us?”
And after a grinding 19-16 victory over the presumably tougher and more mature Titans, Burrow expressed his fatigue with the cute-little-upstart image of his Bengals.
“I’m tired of the underdog narrative,” Burrow said. “We’re a really, really good team. We’re here to make noise and teams are going to have to pay attention to us. We’re a really good team with really good players and coaches and we’re coming for it all.”
They’re going to Kansas City, and it should be a marvelous matchup – between the teams, and between Burrow and Mahomes. The Chiefs will be hosting the AFC Championship game for the fourth consecutive year – that’s never been done before. And Mahomes is aiming for a third straight start in the Super Bowl, with Burrow standing in his way.
It’s a magical time in KC. Mahomes is 8-0 in the playoffs vs. everyone except Tom Brady. He’s 0-2 vs. TB12, but doesn’t have to worry about that this time around. But Burrow and the Bengals did beat Mahomes and the Chiefs in Kansas City late in the regular season.
8) All of these fine people moaning about the NFL overtime rules … wanting to each side to have at least one possession no matter what.
This was a response to KC’s 42-36 overtime win; the Chiefs won the toss, scored a TD, and Josh Allen never got on the field.
Sorry – but you can’t complain about overtime on Buffalo’s behalf when a team can’t defend a lead with 13 seconds on the clock and the Chiefs starting from their own 25 yard line.
9) More on Allen …
In his two games this postseason he had nine touchdown passes, no turnovers, and 771 combined passing-rushing yards. And only 14 incompletions. And yet his team couldn’t advance past the second round. Tough conference.
Those 552 yards, 30 first downs and 42 points the Chiefs laid down were against the NFL’s No.-1 ranked defense. I don’t care what the over is next Sunday. I want it.
10) Yo, Mike Vrabel!
Get yourself a quarterback. Ryan Tannehill can’t take your Tennessee squad where you want to go. Tannehill lost Saturday’s game by lobbing three interceptions to the Bengals. In a conference that has Allen, Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Lamar Jackson capable of tearing apart defenses every week, the Tannehills are getting left behind.
Thanks for reading …