Have you ever seen a better weekend of playoff football from this past weekend?
Every game was better than the previous one.
It didn’t seem that would be possible. But it was.
And that last one.
Wow, that last one.
I can say this.
I’ve been watching the NFL for over 70 years, and I’ve never seen one like the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills staged into the night at Arrowhead Stadium.
There have been dramatic finishes, amazing comebacks, improbable winning touchdowns and shocking upsets, but nothing like those two heavyweights displayed last Sunday evening.
It was a classic back-and-forth shootout that reached a crescendo with 25 points scored within the last two minutes of regulation thanks to the remarkable brilliance of the two quarterbacks, Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs, and the Bills’ Josh Allen.
Mahomes moves on
Josh can only watch
But the punch-counter-punch thrilling battle came to a sudden end when the Chiefs, winning the coin toss for overtime, marched down the field to score the deciding touchdown.
It brought cries citing the inability of the Bills to have yet another answer, owing to the NFL rules of overtime.
It was sad to see, in a way, Josh Allen sitting on the Buffalo bench, helmet on, seeing it unfold, helpless to respond the way both teams had done, especially down the stretch.
What looked like an impossible task for both teams, proved to be just another hurdle to be surmounted.
It would have been something to see, if Allen could lead yet another scoring drive to keep the game going.
But those are the rules. The first team scoring a touchdown wins.
Of course, in these times, people are quick to clamor for rules changes in all walks of life.
In this case, because of the way the contest evolved, the natural reaction would be a demand the game would continue.
Of course, you wouldn’t get that demand from the Chiefs.
No, you wouldn’t.
Remember, it’s called sudden-death overtime.
Earlier, the end came for Tom Brady, and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In a game, the Los Angeles Rams controlled, and nearly blew, the Bucs saw their hopes of a repeat dissolve, when the Rams, exhibited great poise in holding on to win on a field goal as time expired.
In all his greatness throughout his career, the 44-year old quarterback whose record is likely to be unmatched, was always vulnerable to defensive pressure which forced him to be uncomfortable, rushing passes, and missing the mark.
That’s the way it has always been.
For all quarterbacks, including Tom Brady.
It’s just that opponents have been unable to execute that strategy most of the time due to outstanding protection and Brady’s uncanny ability to get rid of the ball quickly.
Brady under pressure
So, the boys from the west coast took command, leading 27-3 with seven minutes left in the third quarter.
Then a devastating fumble after a catch by the Rams’ Cooper Kupp with three minutes to go in the 3d, opened the floodgates for the Bucs, and Brady to stage a comeback with 24 unanswered points to get them even with :43 remaining in the regulation.
No surprise, really, since we all saw The Great One lead the Patriots, down 28-3 midway through the third quarter in Super Bowl 50 against the Falcons only to triumph in overtime 34-28.
It was the biggest comeback in the history of the Super Bowl, and by the way, a game in which the Patriots won the coin toss, and scored a touchdown to win.
I don’t recall many people saying the Falcons should have had an opportunity to answer.
Back to the Rams-Bucs.
That fumble by Cooper Kupp was one of four turnovers committed by LA.
It’s rare that a team can win making so many mistakes.
But that big advantage early proved to be somewhat of a cushion.
I loved the ability of the Rams to withstand losing their momentum, and have the heart to strike the final blow to advance.
It was Matthew Stafford, the veteran quarterback, finally able to perform with a winning team, who led the critical drive. Stafford hit Kupp on two plays, one for 20-yards, followed by a huge 44-yard gain to set up the game winning field goal.
You could say that Kupp redeemed himself with those catches.
But that would be unfair to the receiver who proved to be the best in the game this season.
He’s never had to redeem himself for anything in the 2021 campaign.
For the man who got Cooper Kupp the ball, Matthew Stafford, proved that his acquisition from the Lions was the key to the Rams season.
The Rams front office rolled the dice with that trade with the Lions, as well as late season pickups of veterans Von Miller and Odell Beckham.
If they play their cards right, the LA Rams won’t have to leave home the rest of the way.
They host the San Francisco 49ers for the NFC title, and a victory vaults them into the Super Bowl on their home field two weeks later.
The 49ers ousted the top-seed Green Bay Packers in the ice and wind of Lambeau Field Saturday night.
It ended the championship hopes of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers once again, something that has been an on-going storyline in recent years.
As wonderful as he is as a quarterback, it seems there is usually a shortfall in Rodgers’, and the Packers bid to win another crown, after taking the Lombardi Trophy in 2011.
In their loss in the Divisional round, credit goes to San Francisco’s marvelous defense, limiting Green Bay’s offense to only 10 points.
If you want to place blame, that’s an easy one.
The Packers special teams could not have been worse.
A blocked field goal prevented the Pack from taking a 10-0 lead into halftime.
The Niners were blanked until a 45-yard kickoff return to start the third quarter set up a field goal for their first score.
The only touchdown scored by the 49ers came on a blocked punt, and there were only 10 men on the field when Robbie Gould kicked the game-winner at the buzzer.
A litany of special teams failures.
So, the NFC’s top-seeded Packers went down, as well as the number-one seed Tennessee Titans of the AFC in Saturday’s games, to Cincinnati.
How about them Bengals?
Two years ago, the Cincinnati Bengals were 2-14, worst record in the NFL. That was 2019.
It’s the playoffs for the 2021 season, and the Bengals are one game way from the Super Bowl.
I offer two names.
Joe Burrow, and Evan MacPherson.
Burrow is the quarterback drafted number one by the Bengals.
He was the only rookie QB in his class to start on opening week.
Burrow hugs Evan
He rapidly showed he would be something special, but in Week 11, tore his ACL and MCL in his left knee, among other damage.
Surgery and rehab followed. How tough is that?
Amazingly, Burrow was in the starting lineup Wee 1 this season, led once-lowly Cincy to the AFC North title, one of the toughest divisions in the league, and then engineered playoff wins over the Raiders, and last week the Titans, to reach the AFC championship against Kansas City.
Burrow knows no fear.
He can’t be intimidated.
He’s a winner.
If he doesn’t get it done this time, there will be others. Maybe, more than a few. Bet on it!
The other name is Evan MacPherson.
He’s a rookie place-kicker who connected on a 52-yard field goal as time expired to give the Bengals a 19-16 upset victory over Tennessee.
It’ll be the first AFC Championship Game for Cincinnati since 1988.
The fifth round draft pick has been perfect in his eight field goal attempts in post-season. He made a pair from over 50 against the Titans.
Joe Burrow and Evan MacPherson.
A second-year quarterback, and a rookie kicker.
Add to that, rookie receiver, Ja’Marr Chase.
Chase caught passes from Burrow when they were both at LSU.
Burrow, by the way, won the Heisman Trophy.
Chase set a multitude of rookie pass-catching records this season.
The foundation of the Bengals is established.
Whether they can overcome the powerful Chiefs is a major question.
Kansas City has that Super Bowl look as they had two years ago.
Patrick Mahomes looks like a magician out there. You can see with his expression how much he loves the game, and there may not be anyone as exciting to watch.
I was wrong about the Bengals against the Titans.
Just as I was off in my choice of the Packers over the 49ers.
The two top-seeds, playing at home, went down.
I will never underestimate Joe Burrow and company against anyone.
But their most grueling test is on tap.
The Rams and 49ers will be playing for the third time this season.
The Niners rallied from a 17-0 deficit on the final weekend to edge into the playoffs.
Anyone’s guess here.
And I suppose if we can no longer sell the Bengals short against anyone, how can we do that for the Niners?
Looking back, what an extraordinary weekend of football.
Every game decided on the final play.
The two top seeds knocked out.
Road teams took three out of four.
Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers are out.
Rodgers done for the year
Have we seen the last of them?
That’s for the hot-stove folks in the off-season.
I’ve seen a pattern.
Teams playing in the tougher, more competitive divisions were superior to those who hadn’t. Check it out.
49ers over Cowboys in the Wild-Card
49ers over Packers in the Divisional.
Bengals over Titans
Rams over Bucs.
Chiefs over Bills.
I’ve seen a pattern.
I’ve also seen great, thrilling games.
An unforgettable weekend.
Let’s savor it.