Wow. What a Sunday of football. We saw more Mahomes magic, Burrow’s breath-taking brilliance, an ever-sturdy Stafford and a gritty Garappolo performance, but it was the Cincinnati Bengals and the Los Angeles Rams who progressed to Super Bowl LVI at the SoFi Stadium on February 13th.
Here’s a rundown of the action as we now commence our build up to the NFL grand finale in two weeks time.
AFC Championship: Bengals 27-24 Chiefs
This was the first game of the night and it was an incredible start to the Championship Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium as Cincinnati Bengals, the self-denounced underdogs, came to take on last season’s Super Bowl runners up, the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs came out of the blocks firing and forced a three and out for the Bengals before driving down the field where Tyreek Hill made a great effort to make the grab at the back of the endzone. Kansas’ defence looked like they meant business and held the Bengals to a field goal on their second drive. Mahomes drove the Chiefs 75 yards before connecting with Travis Kelce to extend their lead to 3-14 heading into the second quarter. Kansas scored their third touchdown of the game shortly after the start of the second and that looked like that would be that. The Bengals weren’t clicking on offence and defensively looked vulnerable.
That was until Joe Burrow found Samaje Perrine who went for 41 yards to get the Bengals back into the game. Inspired by their offence, the Bengals defence put up a heroic goal line stand to close out the half and keep it a two score game. HT score 10-21.
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Oh to be a fly on the wall in the Cincinnati dressing room at half-time. Whatever was said, it certainly worked. The Bengals forced two punts and a momentum changing interception. It was Patrick Mahomes’ first in 132 pass attempts in an AFC Championship game. The Bengals had their tails up and used the short field to their advantage as they scored with the young starlet, Ja’Marr Chase getting on the board with a two yard reception.
A two-point conversion closed the gap to make it 18-21 with one quarter left. The final 15 minutes of regulation flew by as Burrow was intercepted. The Bengals defence once again made a stand and then Evan McPherson, who holds the record for most successful field goals, stepped up and converted to give the Bengals the lead before Chiefs kicker, Harrison Butker, repeated the feat at the death to take the game to overtime. This 18-point comeback by the Bengals tied the record for the largest comeback in Conference Championship history.
Tails never fails so of course, Joe Burrow picked heads and lost the toss. The Chiefs chose to receive the ball and many thought that would be that. However, just 13 seconds into OT and Mahomes looked to find Tyreek Hill but a crucial break up from Jessie Bates landed in the arms of Vonn Bell and the Bengals now just needed a field goal to win the game.
Methodically driving towards the goalposts, the Arrowhead faithful gradually faded out. The Bengals offence left the field on Kansas’ 13-yard line, leaving Evan McPherson with a 31 yard attempt to send the Bengals to their first Super Bowl since 1988. And, that is why you draft a kicker.
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NFC Championship: 49ers 17-20 LA Rams
The second game of Championship Sunday was a hotly anticipated clash between two strong sides, with the LA Rams heavily favoured to come out on top. The game began with punts from either side before the Rams started ticking over and looked like they were getting in the groove. That was until Matt Stafford gave up an interception with LA on a third and goal situation, with the pass slightly behind Cooper Kupp and ended up being batted into the hands of Jimmie Ward.
San Francisco were unable to take advantage of the turnover and were made to pay, as the next time the Rams got the ball they marched in for the first score of the game with Kupp inevitably scoring the opener. The 49ers hit straight back though through Deebo Samuel’s 44 yard touchdown, which is the second longest receiving touchdown for the 49ers in a play-off game since a certain Terrell Owens in 2002.
The Rams looked to get back into the game but kicker Matt Gay pushed his 54 yard attempt wide of the posts. San Francisco kicker Robbie Gould didn’t make the same mistake and with just over a minute left of the first half, giving the 49ers the lead at the half. 10-7 at HT.
LA’s tough day at the office continued as the San Francisco defence came up with a monstrous stop on 4th down, forcing a turnover on downs and giving Kyle Shanahan and Jimmy Garappolo the ball on their own 43 yard line. The following drive resulted in jubilation for the visitors as a 11 play, 58 yard push down field ended with a George Kittle touchdown and put the Niners in a strong position with a 17-7 lead.
Although, in typical Sean McVay fashion, the Rams hit straight back with a 3:29s drive that ended with, you guessed it, a Cooper Kupp touchdown. The scoreboard read 17-14 going into the fourth quarter. This was yet another historic moment for Kupp, as he became just the third Rams player to record 2+ receiving touchdowns in a play-off since 1950.
The pressure of the occasion started to seep into the Niners and like an aging wall, cracks began to appear. The offence buckled and fell to back-to-back punts while the Rams kicked two field goals in response to both. The second of those gave the Rams the lead for the first time since the first quarter. 17.20 with 1:49 left on the clock. The game was ended 30 seconds later, as 49er QB Jimmy Garoppolo tried to flick the ball away while he was tackled by the onrushing Aaron Donald. Instead of finding his own player, he found Travin Howard of the Rams defence.
It was a heartbreaking way to lose the game, but the continuous rushing of Aaron Donald and Von Miller on defence, combined with a lethal attack of Odell Beckham Jr. and Cooper Kupp, proved too much for San Francisco on the day. They did incredibly well to make it as far as they did but it just wasn’t meant to be.
*18+ | BeGambleAware