Brady, again. And an LA team heads to the Super Bowl for the first time in 35 years. Breakout Live breaks down the top storylines from the conference championships in the NFL.
Max Kellerman might want to find a different talking point.
ESPN’s Max Kellerman has become the spokesman for everyone who believes the Tom Brady era of domination is finally over. How does Tom answer? By tossing for 348 yards in raucous Arrowhead Stadium and engineering three touchdown drives in the late fourth quarter and overtime to lead his Patriots to their third straight Super Bowl – the first time that’s happened since the Bills in the early 90s.
Brady did throw two interceptions, although his fourth quarter pick careened off the hands of Julian Edelman and wasn’t his fault. A potential third pick – and one that might have ended the game – was nullified due to a Chiefs’ offside penalty, but that too bounced off a receiver’s hands (Rob Gronkowski). So Brady’s only real sin was an early second-quarter pick on 3rd and goal from the one when he tried to force a play-action pass to Gronk in the end zone.
Otherwise, Brady set the tone from the first drive to the last, taking control of the game early and carrying the Patriots on his back when they fell behind twice by 4 points late in the fourth, and then putting it away in overtime with several clutch 3rd down strikes. As much as it’s a cliché to document the greatness of Tom Brady, it’s even more tiring hearing commentators and fans continually reporting – prematurely – of his demise.
This probably won’t be Patrick Mahomes’ last rodeo.
No fan wants to hear about silver linings when their team just lost a championship game. And I’m sure Chiefs fans don’t care much right now about how bright the future is with Patrick Mahomes at the helm. But that’s exactly the case. Mahomes was already the presumptive NFL MVP heading into the AFC Title game, and his second-half performance vs. the Patriots was legendary.
Mahomes passed for 295 yards and 3 touchdowns, almost all of which came after intermission. The Chiefs put the entire offense on Mahomes’ shoulders, only calling ten – TEN – running plays the entire game. And despite falling behind by 14 and laying a goose egg in the first half, Mahomes never quit. He led the Chiefs to a staggering 24 fourth-quarter points, including a 48-yard, game-tying field goal drive that started with only 39 seconds left on clock.
Unfortunately for Mahomes (and all of NFL fandom), an arcane NFL overtime rule meant that Mahomes never saw the field during overtime. Yet while Mahomes and Chiefs Nation will be upset about the outcome, they can’t be anything but proud about the way their second-year star led the team throughout the season.
And hopefully no one will remember that the great Dan Marino won the MVP and led his team to a Super Bowl in just his second season, only to never return to the Big Game the remainder of his career. And I guess that’s part of the sting, because you never really know if you’ll get that close again.
Los Angeles is a little bit lucky, a little bit clutch, and a lot of leg.
105 yards. That’s the combined distance of Greg Zuerlein’s game-tying and game-winning kicks with the NFC Championship on the line. Zuerlein’s 48-yarder with 15 seconds in regulation sent the game to overtime, and it took a 57-yard boot to win it just minutes into overtime. Regardless of anything else that happened at the end of the Saints-Rams title game, that is some of the greatest clutch kicking we’ve ever seen from an NFL kicker.
But yes, the Rams had a bit of luck even getting the chance for Zuerlein to work his magic. First, Sean Payton’s questionable play-calling after the two-minute warning ended up giving the Rams nearly two full minutes and a saved timeout to engineer the game-tying drive at the end of regulation. Three runs in that situation would have burned the Rams’ final two timeouts and wound the clock down to under a minute remaining when the Saints kicked the field goal. I’m not sure Goff gets the Rams into field goal position with that little time left and no timeouts remaining.
And then, of course, there’s the missed pass interference call on third down that would have given the Saints a first down and allowed them to drain the clock before kicking the game-winning field goal. Look, it was a blown call. But you’re asking an out-of-position referee to decide whether a downfield pass was beyond the receiver when the contact took place. Referees don’t like to decide playoff games with flags. The point is, the Saints should never have been in that position. Again, three runs and a field goal would have put the Rams behind the 8-ball with a long-shot to get the game to overtime. But yes, it was a bad non-call.
The short of it is, the Rams head to the Super Bowl as the representative of Los Angeles for the first time since 1980. LA’s last Super Bowl participant was the Raiders in 1984. The Rams, as a franchise, won the Super Bowl as the St. Louis Rams in 2000 and made their last appearance in 2002 against the upstart New England Patriots — a game that started the Brady/Belichick legend.
Unlike the Chiefs, there really isn’t a silver lining for the Saints.
While the Chiefs can look to a bright future with an MVP 23 year-old quarterback, for the Saints it was all about winning now. Drew Brees just turned 40 years old, and despite the age-defying heroics of today’s NFL quarterbacks, Saints fans know this can’t go on much longer. New Orleans had a magical season that culminated in the league’s best record and the road to the Super Bowl going through the thunderous Superdome.
But a devastating loss compounded by dubious late play-calling and an unconscionable missed call will no doubt leave Saints fans reminiscing about the heartbreaks of the past. Prior to their cathartic Super Bowl run a decade ago, Saints fans always expected cruel fate to foil all hope just at the brink of triumph. Sunday’s loss felt a lot like the failures of yesteryear, especially on the heels of the devastating Minneapolis Miracle one year ago.
But hey, the great thing about silver linings is that you can spot them even in the darkest of places. The Saints have the most prolific 1-2 run combination in the league, and father time still hasn’t handed Brees his pink slip. Even in his 40th year, Brees put up 32 touchdowns against only 5 interceptions and nearly 4000 yards passing. As long as he keeps his drinking water out of the Brady well, there’s no reason to believe the Saints can’t be right back here next year.