Championship Game Observations

It’s an odd feeling waking up, knowing only one of the Super Bowl teams when the entire world knows what happened in the second game. I watched the AFC contest via the condensed version this morning – that was a lot of drama in 43 minutes. I had the Chiefs minus three and was rooting for them, and while a few things went against them – the Edelman fumble overturn, the coin toss in overtime, the neutral zone infraction, the ticky tack roughing the passer, for example – they had plenty of chances to win. At some point, you have to stop a team from converting on 3rd-and-10.

The Patriots unbelievably shut out the Chiefs for the entire first half, leading 14-0 and controlling the clock. But Kansas City scored 31 points in the second half alone, despite the Patriots getting good pressure on Patrick Mahomes (four sacks) and shutting down the run (41 yards) entirely. The Chiefs never touched Brady, who had years to throw, against a weak secondary, and while he wasn’t at peak form (7.6 YPA, two picks, one TD), he made the throws into tight windows when he had to.

Mahomes (9.5 YPA, three TDs, no picks) was a wizard despite the constant pressure, but he did miss a wide open Damien Williams in the end zone in the first half and was out of sync with his receivers on a couple plays. Still, he made so many perfect throws, a couple from impossible angles, and bought time for big plays even though the Patriots shut down his two top targets. He’s by far the most valuable player in the NFL, and the gap between him and No. 2 is wider than No. 2 and No. 5.

It’s not surprising Sammy Watkins (8-4-114) and Williams (10-30-1, 8-5-66-2) had big games while Tyreek Hill (3-1-42) and Travis Kelce (5-3-23-1) did not. Bill Belichick is a master at taking away a team’s best players. It’s crazy the Chiefs scored 31 second half points anyway.

The Patriots attack was balanced with Sony Michel (29-113-2), Rex Burkhead (12-41-2, 4-4-43) and James White (6-for-23, 6-4-49) on the ground and Julian Edelman (10-7-96), Rob Gronkowski (11-6-79) and Chris Hogan (7-5-45) through the air.

The Patriots ran 48 times and passed 46 (94 total plays) while the Chiefs had only 12 runs and 31 passes (43 plays). The Patriots possessed the ball for 43:59 minutes, while the Chiefs had it for only 20:53. You can see why the Chiefs were so gassed on defense in overtime, and why Andy Reid (never the alert game coach) probably should have used his timeouts on that drive to give them a break.

Reid also called a timeout with a 1:13 left in the first half, when the Patriots had 3rd-and-4 at their 27-yard line, hoping for a stop, a punt and a shot at one last drive. The Patriots seemed to be letting the clock run, as they weren’t using their own timeouts, in case they had to punt. The Patriots converted the third down on the next play, then on 1st-and-10 got a 30-yard screen to White and eventually scored a TD to go up 14-0 at the half. It wasn’t necessarily a bad idea by Reid, but it cost them.

Reid also punted on 4th-and-1 from his own 29 in the second quarter. It didn’t cost the Chiefs as the Patriots punted it back to them on the next series, but in a game with a total of 55 when his defense was already on the field for far too long, it was the wrong decision.

RotoWire has the best daily fantasy football tools on the web.
Try Our NFL Lineup Optimizer Now

I was rooting for the Chiefs, but as someone who thought the first Rams-Chiefs matchup was overrated, I actually think whether the Patriots can build on an already impossibly historic dynasty is the more interesting story line.

The Rams-Saints game was dull until the end of the first half when Brandin Cooks caught a 36-yard pass and Todd Gurley (obviously not himself) powered into the end zone. Before that, the only TD was scored because the Rams jumped offsides on a 3rd-and-short.

The Saints went from an exciting, playmaking team to borderline unwatchable in half a season. Drew Brees (6.2 YPA, 2 TD, 1 INT, two sacks) seems to lack the requisite arm strength, relying instead on touch throws to Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. Every drive takes an hour, with too many opportunities for referee involvement and replay reviews. I found this comment to be on point:

The Saints loss also means we’re free of Taysom Hill for an entire offseason. Hill’s hyperbolic enthusiasm for routine plays and the announcers obsequious praise of Sean Payton for using him nearly drove me to defenestration.

Jared Goff (297 yards, 7.4 YPA, one TD, one pick, one sack) overcame a rough start in a tough environment and delivered. I still have no idea whether he’ll have a 15-year career as the Rams franchise guy or be on the backup circuit in five, though.

Of course, the Saints should have won this game because had Nickell Roby-Coleman been called for pass interference on their final drive (and he obviously interfered) the Saints would have been able to run down the clock and kick a chip shot game-winning field goal. But as bad as the non-call was, I still prefer an error of omission to one of commission (a ticky-tack foul where none should be called.) Moreover, instead of ending the game with a Saints win, as the correct call would have done, it extended the game with both teams having a chance. Again, the call was wrong, but in real time, I want the refs erring on the side of omission and on the side of not deciding the final outcome. The real remedy for this is to have PI be reviewable, but if they do that, we’re heading for “what is a catch” type territory but worse because it’ll be even more arbitrary and with longer and more frequent delays.

Sean McVay and Sean Payton are considered two of the better and more innovative coaches in the league, but the end game looked like a battle between Mike McCarthy and Jason Garrett. Not only did McVay choose a game-tying field goal on fourth and goal from inside the one with five minutes left, something that would have cost him the game had the refs not missed the PI, but Payton gave the Rams new life by throwing the ball and stopping the clock on his final regulation series rather than calling three run plays. McVay’s error was one of cowardice, while Payton simply failed to do the obvious.

It’s amazing the heartbreak and misery the Saints have suffered in the playoffs these last two seasons. First, the Stefon Diggs TD and now the non-call on obvious PI.

Even with the non-call, Payton not running clock and Brees throwing a pick (as he got hit) in overtime, the Rams only won because Greg Zuerlein hit a high-pressure 48-yarder to send the game to overtime and a real-man 57-yarder in overtime to seal it. Zuerlein made all four of his FG attempts, and both his PATs in arguably the greatest game for a kicker of all time, given the stakes, the pressure kicks and the distance from which he hit them.