NFL Notes, Sarah Thomas, Redbox Ratings
Last weekend’s NFL playoff games were an interesting mix. New stars emerged, myths were destroyed, big plays abounded, and two exciting matchups were set for next week.
Not Dead Yet: Reports of New England’s and Tom Brady’s demise were greatly exaggerated. Brady was nearly flawless—34 of 44 for 343 yards—as the Pats destroyed the LA Chargers 41-28 (it was 35-7 at halftime).
Committee of One: Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick typically uses a “running back by committee” approach. But rookie Sony Michel from Georgia has come on strong in the second half of the season and carried 24 times for 129 yards and three touchdowns.
Rams Double Down: Speaking of running backs, with superstar Todd Gurley hampered by injuries, the Rams signed former Cal star C.J. Anderson last month to fill in. On Saturday against the tough Cowboy defense, in only his third game with the Rams, Anderson rushed for 123 yards and two TDs, leading his team to a 30-22 win. Gurley, still not at 100%, added 115 and a score of his own.
Luck Runs Out: After a brilliant performance a week earlier against Houston, Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck was handcuffed by Kansas City on Saturday. The former Stanford Heisman Trophy runner-up (don’t get me started!) didn’t complete a pass until the second quarter and finished with only 203 yards in a 31-13 loss.
Saints Hang On: In a surprisingly low-scoring game, Drew Brees and New Orleans came back from an early 14-0 deficit to beat Philadelphia 20-14. New Orleans’ receiver Michael Thomas was brilliant throughout, catching 12 passes for 171 yards. The Eagles and super sub quarterback Nick Foles had a chance to win it at the end, but a Foles’ pass was muffed by usually sure-handed receiver Alshon Jeffery and intercepted by the Saints’ Marcus Lattimore to seal the victory.
Terrific Matchups: This weekend’s games, featuring the NFL’s four highest-scoring teams, should be entertaining affairs. The Saints host the Rams for the NFC championship and the Chiefs host the Patriots for the AFC crown, with the winners advancing to the Super Bowl in Atlanta on Feb. 2. Odds makers have installed the two home teams as 3-point favorites, meaning the games are essentially toss ups, differentiated only by home field advantage.
Both games are rematches, and both feature top quarterbacks. On Oct. 16, Brady and host New England handed Patrick Mahomes and KC their first loss of the season in a 43-40 thriller. On Nov. 4 Brees led host New Orleans to a 45-35 win over Jared Goff (another Cal guy!) and the Rams.
On Sunday I think the home teams will prevail again, with KC’s Mahomes working just enough magic to beat Brady and the Saints’ Brees pulling out a win over Goff.
First female: Sarah Thomas became the first woman to officiate an NFL playoff game when she worked the Patriots-Chargers contest yesterday. I mention this because Sarah was the line judge at our 2012 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl game. I had the chance to spend a little time with her and can attest that she has the professionalism, presence, and poise needed to handle the assignment.
Good Ratings for Redbox: We’ve commented many times about the difficulty that non-ESPN bowl games have in attracting good TV ratings. When your lead-in is “The Young and the Restless” rather than another football game, you’re at a big disadvantage when it comes to building an audience.
But the Oregon vs. Michigan State matchup on New Year's Eve proved that two “name” participants can overcome the lack of network promotion, as the Redbox drew a very respectable 2.3 rating and 3.8 million viewers on Fox.
The other two non-ESPN bowls played that day didn’t fare as well. The once-proud Holiday Bowl (Utah vs. Northwestern) had an embarrassing 0.9 rating and only 1.8 million viewers on FS1 and the Sun Bowl (with Stanford vs. Pitt) had a disappointing 1.8 and 2.6 million on CBS.