Patriots & Rams Win On The Road In NFL Conference Finals
Given that the top two seeds in each conference made it to the championship games it was not overly surprising that the games were close, however, it was the away teams that prevailed, and for the first time in history, both games went to overtime. This has set up an intriguing Super Bowl, however, The NFC Championship, in particular, was tarnished with controversy and even the Patriots win has led to questions as to how overtime should be dealt with. Anyway on to the results:
AFC Championship Game New England Patriots 37 Kansas City Chiefs 31
This game was billed by some as the changing of the guard, with the Chiefs expected to progress to their first Super Bowl since winning the trophy in 1969 (their only appearance in the final). With head coach Andy Reid leading them to their fourth consecutive playoff appearance and Patrick Maholmes looking like the next star quarterback, they started as favourites. However, writing off New England is never a good idea and things certainly didn’t go according to the script.
The game itself was played in freezing temperatures, but this was nothing new to New England and it was the old pretender and probably greatest quarterback of all time Tom Brady who adapted to the conditions and atmosphere better sending New England in 14-0 up at half-time. In fact, the game could have been over at the interval had Brady not thrown a red zone interception which was picked off in the end zone.
Fortunately for the neutral Kansas City wasted no time in getting back into the game. The Chiefs received the kick-off and Maholmes only needed four players to make the score 14-7. After exchanging punts, the Patriots extended their lead to 17-7, but Maholmes again struck quickly to make it 17-14. New England’s next two possessions ended with a turnover on downs when Belichick elected to pass on a short field goal attempt, and then Tom Brady threw his second interception of the game to hand momentum to the Chiefs.
Two plays after the interception Kansas City were in front and suddenly from looking down and out at half-time, it looked like they were going to take control of the game on their route to Atlanta. However, New England had other ideas and time of possession suddenly started to become a factor as Kansas City’s defence began to wilt. The exchange touchdowns again in the fourth quarter and when Brady put New England 31-28 up with 1:24 left it looked like it was all over. However, Maholmes had one last drive and Harrison Butker hit a 39-yard field goal with eight seconds left to send the game into overtime.
This is where the game became slightly controversial not for anything New England did but simply the rule which awards the game to the first teams to score a touchdown. The Chiefs defence had been on the field for nearly 40 minutes by this stage and were completely gassed, and with New England winning the toss as was almost inevitable he ended the game with a 75-yard drive.
So the New England dynasty continues as they move on to their third Super Bowl in a row and even the most biased of haters must agree that they deserved it. Belichick got his tactics just right, controlling the clock and the final stats don’t lie with New England racking up 524 yards of offence as compared to Kansas City’s 290 and the Patriots had twice as many first downs.
NFC Championship Game LA Rams 26 New Orleans Saints 23
Like the AFC game, this featured a classic clash of veteran coach and quarterback versus an up-and-coming partnership. Sean Payton and Drew Brees already had one Super Bowl win to their credit, while LA coach Sean McVay is the youngest in the league and the team is led by Jared Goff who was still in high school when the Saints lifted the trophy. New Orleans started favourites and had won their regular-season meeting 45-35 at the Superdome.
The Saints started the brighter dominating the first quarter, however, they were unable to capitalise on this, having to settle for field goals in the first two scoring plays. But when Brees threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Griffin it looked like it was going to be a long night for the Rams. The Rams defence stepped up in the second quarter, holding the Saints to only 10 plays and a net 13 yards. Offensively the Rams added 10 points and suddenly it was game on again.
The Rams received the ball first and the second half however after punting they were soon 20-10 down, but again the Saints defence were unable to stop Goff and it was a three-point game again. There were to be no more touchdowns, and the game would ultimately be decided by some controversial decisions.
The Rams levelled the game with a fourth-quarter Greg Zuerlein field goal, and that left the Saints with a chance to win the game with 3:22 left. The Saints thanks to a long pass from Brees found themselves at the LA 13-yard line inside the two-minute warning, however, this is where things started to go wrong. Sean Payton is known for his aggressive play calling, and although with little time left and the chance to run down the clock before kicking what would be effectively a chip shot field goal to win the game, one would have expected running plays for some reason he elected to have Drew Brees throw the ball on first and third down. This allowed the Rams to save one of the timeouts and following the field-goal get the ball back with 1:41 left, meaning the Saints only managed to take 17 seconds off the clock when they should have at least forced the Rams to burn all the timeouts and could have left Goff with less than a minute. Even more galling for them though was that there was a blatant foul on the third-down play which everyone in the stadium saw apart from the line judge who didn’t throw the flag. The NFL later admitted that this was a blown call and the Rams Corner Robey-Coleman could have been called for any one of – illegal contact, pass interference or unnecessary roughness. He was later fined heavily by the NFL for helmet to helmet contact on that play.
Goodell on the #Saints blown call: “We understand the frustrations of the fans. … But we also know our officials are human. They have to make snap decisions under difficult circumstances and they’re not going to get it right every time.”
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) 30 January 2019
Jared Goff and the Rams proceeded to take full advantage of this getting the ball to the edge of field-goal range before in my opinion man of the match Greg Zuerlein hit a 57-yard field goal sending into overtime.
The Saints won the toss but Brees was picked off on another aggressive deep ball play leaving the Rams in excellent field position. Greg Zuerlein duly kicked the winning field goal to send the Rams to Atlanta to face the Patriots in a rematch of Super Bowl XXXVI (36) the game which began the Belichick – Brady dynasty.
Despite the foul and the questionable play calling on the Saints final drive, the Rams did edge the game in terms of offensive yards and 10 possession, and possibly, more importantly, showed that their defensive line could stop the run the Saints only managed 48 yards rushing).
The questions which both games will raise now going into the next owners meeting will be should both teams be allowed at least one possession in overtime, and should fouls be challengeable. Although no one wants to see the game slowed even more by constant reviews of offsider holding penalties the blown call almost certainly cost the Saints a place in the Super Bowl.