NFL Conference Championships Recap
The worst part about the NFL Conference Championship games finishing up is the fact that we now have to wait two weeks until we get another meaningful NFL game. Yes, I specifically said meaningful and for a good reason. The Pro Bowl is this week, but let’s be honest here, there’s nothing really “meaningful” in the game itself. It is a huge honor to be named to the Pro Bowl for the players and getting to see dream team ups like Russell Wilson throwing to Julio Jones and Michael Thomas, or Stephon Gilmore and Tre’Davious White being on the same defense, is always a treat for the eyes and imagination. At the end of the day though, it’s another all-star game, and what we’re really craving is the game the following week.
The stage in Miami is now set, and the constant, 24/7 buildup from the sports media, for the biggest football game of the year can begin. Before we begin to examine the Super Bowl itself, we need to break down the games that led to the matchup itself.
Chiefs Derail the Run of the Titans, Earn Their First Trip to the Super Bowl in 50 Years
When you put an RB, who is averaging 188.5 rushing yards per game against the 25th ranked rush defense in the NFL, the question really comes to being, “How badly will they gut this defense on the ground?” If your answer was something along the lines of, “He won’t even gain 70 yards,” then we need to speak because your prophetic abilities could be useful in Las Vegas. After slashing through two rush defenses that were ranked in the top 6 at the end of the regular season, Derrick Henry was kept in check by the Chiefs, only managing 69 yards on 19 carries, with 1 TD. His 3.6 yards per carry was his third worst this season and came at a time when the importance of a strong performance couldn’t be understated.
Keeping Henry in check was priority number one for the Chiefs, which would force the Titans to rely on QB Ryan Tannehill and his arm, as the way to keep pace with the Chiefs juggernaut of an offense. The evidence of this at work was apparent by the first half, in which Tannehill was already above 100 passing yards for the game, his highest total thus far in the post season. The first half did see excellence by the Titans offense, especially their 15-play drive of 75 yards which led to a touchdown and a 17-7 lead. By eating up 9:07 of game clock, the Titans knew that the best way to beat the Chiefs, was to prevent QB Patrick Mahomes from getting the ball entirely. Of course, the best part of this drive was watching OT Dennis Kelly snag the 1-yard TD pass from Tannehill while falling backwards. Icing on the cake: Kelly is now the biggest player to catch a TD in NFL postseason history.
After this drive though, Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo found the needed adjustments, and force the Titans to punt or turn the ball over on downs on four of their next five possessions. (I didn’t count the Titans possession in which they simply took a knee to end the half for this total.) Even better, was that of those five drives, only one of them ended up being longer than 4 minutes, which helped to provide enough time for Mahomes to work his magic.
The running game for the Chiefs is non-existent, and we knew that going into the game. Ironically, Mahomes has tapped into the game plan of Ravens QB Lamar Jackson this postseason, by being the team’s leading rusher thus far with 106 yards, and a 7.1 average rushing yards per carry. The most iconic moment of this, was Mahomes’ 27-yard rush near the end of the 2nd quarter for a TD, that put the Chiefs up on the Titans for good.
Mahomes has been on a different level so far this postseason. In two games, Mahomes has thrown for 615 yards, 8 TDs, and no interceptions. He’s made completions to eight different receivers, and is proving that he can not only dissect a zone defense with his arm, but that man-to-man coverage is also a poor choice, since he can reach back to his season long understudy during his first year in the NFL with former QB Alex Smith, and get the job done with his feet as needed. All in all, this Chiefs team is on fire right now, and at the exact perfect time as they head to the Super Bowl.
Let’s not discredit the Titans either. The run that they had was amazing to watch, and there were moments where it seemed like it could continue, as they held a 10-point lead twice in the first half against Kansas City. Granted, we know that any lead isn’t safe when playing the Chiefs, but at the end of the day, it seemed like the constant grind for this Titans team proved too much. After having to play on the road for the fourth straight game, and Derrick Henry coming close to 400 carries during the season, which is generally considered a “danger zone” for RBs, the odds were stacked against them.
49ers Continue Their Dominance by Decimating Packers, Punching Their Ticket to Miami
One thing that the Chiefs have taught us so far this postseason is that regular season games played between two teams shouldn’t indicate what the final score of a postseason matchup can be. Well, what may work in Kansas City doesn’t translate to San Francisco. You’d imagine that the Packers would have a different plan in mind when they traveled back to the west coast for the NFC title game. In a sense, it was a bit different. While their Week 12 loss to the 49ers showed us a wonderful performance by 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo, the NFC title game belonged solely to RB Raheem Mostert.
In week 12, Mostert racked up 45 yards on 6 carries, with a rushing TD to add to it. His 7.5 yards per carry in a game in which he had at least 6 attempts was his second highest of the season, and this may have been a clue into what kind of game plan Head Coach Kyle Shanahan and crew would end up calling. At the end of the game, Mostert had gashed the Packers 23rd ranked rush defense for 220 rushing yards on 29 attempts with 4 TDs. His 7.6 yards per carry is his second highest total of his career, and his 4 rushing TDs tied an NFL record for most rushing TDs in a playoff game. Pretty spectacular for a player who went undrafted in 2015, has been cut by six teams, and spent most of his times primarily on the practice squad or as a special team’s specialist.
When your RB is toasting the defense, there’s little reason to work your QB to hard, and Kyle Shanahan had this exact thought in mind, seeing as Garoppolo went 6 of 8 for passing for 77 yards. Outside of Mostert, the real key to the 49ers win was the defense, which kept the Packers offense from finding any momentum. Don’t be fooled by QB Aaron Rodgers’ stat line for this game. His 326 passing yards is a bit padded, with 92 yards coming in the 4th quarter when the 49ers already had a 34-13 lead. While this did have some “vintage” Rodgers to it, the timing of it was much too late. The first half drives for the Packers ended like this: Punt, Punt, Punt, Fumble (which was from Rodgers losing a snap from under center), interception, and a punt.
The first three drives for the Packers in the second half did end with touchdowns, but the inability to stop Mostert by the Packers defense made any comeback near impossible. What the Packers did manage to reveal though was how well the 49ers are able to adjust to their opponents. While Shanahan mainly stuck with a pass attack during their Week 12 matchup, he was able to discover new weaknesses in the Packers defense and expose them in their next matchup with the chance to play in the Super Bowl on the line. Shanahan has had a strong reputation for being able to plan offensive schemes that suit the team perfectly for the team that they’re up against, and his plan against the Packers this past week helped to support this claim.
Now, a team that had four straight seasons of at least 10 losses prior to 2019, is now heading the Super Bowl. This defense is outstanding and has been all year long. With another week of rest on the docket prior to the Super Bowl, this matchup between an offense being led by the best QB in the NFL today, against a defense that has been nearly lights out all season, could end up being one of the best games in the Super Bowl era. The best part of this matchup is that they never saw one another during the regular season. Then again, as the Chiefs have shown us, it possibly wouldn’t matter. Then again, like the 49ers are proven, lightning can strike twice.
The Super Bowl awaits us!
Sunday, February 2nd
Kansas City Chiefs vs San Francisco 49ers (3:30PM PST/6:30PM EST on FOX)
Comments? Complaints? Praises? What bold claim will Frank Clark make this time? Hit me up! Find me on Twitter: @ThatBankaiLife