The drama and intrigue we were missing from the divisional round showed up in a big way during NFL Championship Sunday.
It started with the Los Angeles Rams winning in controversial fashion against the Saints in New Orleans. Jared Goff and the Rams might have come back from a two-score deficit, but it’s the officials who became the story in the Bayou.
Once the Rams punched their ticket to Atlanta, the New England Patriots did battle with the Chiefs in Kansas City. In a game that saw Tom Brady’s squad dominate early, the Chiefs came out like gangbusters in the second half. In the end, New England won by the score of 37-31 in another overtime affair and will now match wits with the Rams in next month’s Super Bowl.
Here are the top takeaways from NFL Championship Sunday.
Jared Goff proves skeptics wrong at every turn
With his star running back a non-factor in this one, Goff was facing an uphill climb. Taking on a future Hall of Famer in Drew Brees, he had to go tit-for-tat with one of the game’s best on the road in the biggest moment of his life.
Goff came up absolutely huge at the end — leading the Rams on three consecutive scoring drives to help the team to an overtime win. That span saw him complete 8-of-13 passes for 135 yards. New Orleans gained a total of 63 yards during this stretch of action.
It wasn’t just that Goff put up the numbers. He made crucial throw after crucial throw, including a bomb to tight end Gerald Everett with pretty much everything on the line. Yeah, Sunday represented a coming-out party for this former No. 1 pick. And many were left eating crow (raises hand) when we said the Titans fleeced the Rams during the 2016 NFL Draft.
Josh McDaniels’ game plan was perfection defined
McDaniels and the Patriots knew that going into Arrowhead in January would be a tough task for their offense. This unit is limited by a lack of elite play makers on the outside. Whether it’s statistically or on tape, Tom Brady has regressed to an extent this season. New England needed to change things up on offense after showing tremendous balance last week against the Chargers.
That’s exactly what we saw early and often Sunday against the Chiefs. We saw New England run multiple times on third and three-plus — picking up a first down with James White on a consistent basis. New England also utilized the passing game as an extension of the run throughout this game. That is to say, relatively easy throws from Brady out on the flat.
The end result was a workmanlike performance from an offense that converted on 13-of-19 third-down opportunities in New England’s narrow overtime win over the Chiefs. Despite the perception some might have of of McDaniels, there’s a reason he continues to be a hot head-coaching commodity.
Officials created a mess in New Orleans
It was pretty apparent throughout the NFC Championship Game that officials were going to let the defenses body their counterparts. Even in the first half alone, we saw this come to fruition multiple times. But it was this non-call on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman that left everyone in New Orleans stunned.
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) January 20, 2019
It was third down with New Orleans driving for a potential go-ahead field goal late in the fourth quarter. If this had been called, the Saints would’ve been able to run down the clock and kick said field goal with no time left. Instead, this gave the ball back to Los Angeles for an opportunity to tie the game. Once that happened, the Rams came out on top in overtime.
We’re not going to sit back here and say that officiating cost the home-standing Saints a shot at the Super Bowl. But they certainly did not help. That was about the most blatant pass interference we’ve seen go uncalled in a long time.
Patrick Mahomes is now a steady veteran?
One of the major stories heading into the AFC Championship Game was Mahomes taking on the GOAT that is Tom Brady. Would experience win out in this one or was it time for this second-year signal caller to announce his presence on the larger NFL stage?
It didn’t go too swimmingly for the Chiefs early on. They put up less than 50 total yards of offense in the first half alone. This is when Mahomes proved he’s not a wide-eyed young quarterback that crumbles under the pressure (hello, Dak Prescott, Mitchell Trubisky and Deshaun Watson).
Instead, Mahomes went tit-for-tat with Brady in the second half — tallying 250-plus passing yards in leading Kansas City into a close game after falling down 14-0 at the half. Unfortunately, he didn’t get an opportunity to touch the ball in overtime. That doesn’t take away from what he did as a sophomore this season.
Saints run game non existent
The Rams yielded north of five yards per rush during the regular season — by far the worst mark in the NFL. But for some reason, this unit stepped up against Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys last week. Most of that had to do with defensive coordinator Wade Phillips going all out against Zeke while not respecting Dak Prescott.
Fast forward a week, and it seemed highly problematic for the Rams. They had to respect Drew Brees and Michael Thomas through the air — potentially enabling Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram to run free on the ground.
It did not happen. Those two backs went for a combined 46 yards on 17 attempts. Sure Kamara put up 11 catches for 96 yards on 13 targets. Even then, the lack of balance on offense hurt these Saints in an absolutely huge way.
Sony Michel continues excellent postseason run
This rookie was somewhat of a question mark heading into the playoffs. He performed well during the regular season, but was pretty darn inconsistent in the process. He did put up 478 yards over the final six games. That was seemingly a harbinger of things to come.
Fresh off Michel gaining 129 yards in a divisional round win over the Chargers, Michel was right back at it in Arrowhead on Sunday. Helping create balance on offense, Michel went for 113 yards and two touchdowns on 29 attempts in the cold. It was his bruising ways that wore down the Chiefs’ defense and helped New England come away with the hard-fought victory.
Where in the wide world of the Bayou was Todd Gurley?
The official word from Los Angeles’ sideline on Sunday was that Gurley’s absence from the game had nothing to do with the knee injury that cost him the final two regular season games. Whether that stance remains undisputed moving forward remains to be seen.
What we do know is that Gurley was an absolute non-factor in this game. He didn’t touch the ball a single time in the third quarter and attempted four runs for 10 yards throughout the game. This came after an early-game drop led to a Saints interception and ultimately a field goal.
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) January 20, 2019
There’s absolutely no reason to believe that Sean McVay would somehow decide to bench Gurley. But we’re not 100 percent sure what happened behind the scenes. In the end, C.J. Anderson toted the rock 12 more times than Gurley. Ouch!
The never-ending dynasty
These Patriots just won’t go away. Even if Armageddon were to hit, they would be here partying with roaches. It really is something to behold. Whether it was a near muffed punt by Julian Edelman or other bounces that went the Patriots’ way, it really seems like the football gods were on their side Sunday evening at Arrowhead.
This isn’t to say that Tom Brady and Co. didn’t make their own luck. Down 28-24 with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Brady drove New England down 65 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. It culminated in a four-yard game-winning touchdown run by Rex Burkhead (of all people).
All of that came after New England seemingly lost the game on a fourth down drop from Rob Gronkowski — only to see Chiefs pass rusher Dee Ford lined up offside. Then, after Kansas City tied it late in regulation, Brady led the Patriots on a 75-yard game-winning touchdown drive in overtime. New England converted three third downs of 10-plus yards on said drive. Yeah, this team is never going away. Stop asking.
Marcus Peters quiets Sean Payton, Saints
A lot was made of Peters’ struggles against Thomas and the Saints during the regular year. He was the main culprit behind Thomas going for 12 receptions and 211 yards in New Orleans’ 45-35 win back in Week 9. It led to a war of words between Peters and Payton heading into the NFC Championship Game.
Peters did his talking on the field in this one. Thomas caught just four passes for 36 yards on seven targets. It actually represented the third-lowest yardage output of Thomas’ already stellar career. For a vast majority of the time, Peters was on him in coverage.
— Sportsnaut (@Sportsnaut) January 20, 2019
We’ll question Peters’ decision to go after Payton following the game. It showed a lack of maturity. Even then, his on-field play spoke for itself. What a way to bounce back after being humiliated just a few shorts months ago.
Super Bowl is set
The Los Angeles Rams’ thrilling overtime win over New Orleans has brought the Super Bowl back to that city for the first time since all the way back in 1984. Yeah, most of you readers were not even born then. It wasn’t without drama. But the talk of the NFL during the regular season came out on top in a stirring overall performance.
But it was the AFC Championship Game that sent everyone into a panic. Tom Brady’s late-game touchdown scoring drive in overtime sent the Patriots to their ninth Super Bowl under his watch.
We’re now going to see the old guard against the new guard in Atlanta next month. Can Jared Goff lead his upstart team to a win over a never-ending dynasty? That will be the storyline to follow over the next two weeks.