Playoff Musings--Defense Wins, Good as Gould, Kittle's Gem, Sunday Matchups
The stage is now set for the NFL conference championship games that will determine the Super Bowl matchup on Feb. 12. The Bengals will meet the Chiefs for the AFC title and the 49ers will meet the Eagles for the NFC crown.
Sunday's divisional games lacked the dazzling finishes and comebacks from the previous weekend, but there were many highlights and points of interest.
* The 49ers defense was sensational in a gritty 19-12 win over Dallas, holding the Cowboys to 282 yards and one touchdown. The biggest stop of the game came when SF held Dallas to a field goal after the Cowboys recovered a fumbled punt at the 49ers' 21, which resulted in a 9-9 tie instead of a 13-9 lead that would've changed the game's momentum.
* 49ers kicker, "Mr. Automatic," Robbie Gould made field goals of 26, 47, 50 and 28 yards. He has now made 29 straight field goals in the post-season.
*He’s is also 38-for-38 on extra points in his playoff career. Including field goals and PATs, he's converted 67 kicks without a miss.
* The 40-year old Gould, unquestionably one of the greatest kickers of all time, has also made 86.5% of his regular-season field goal attempts (eighth on the all-time list).
* The play of the game was a circus catch by tight end George Kittle to jump-start the 49ers 91-yard touchdown drive.
*Kittle attempted a one-hand grab, juggled it, the ball hit his face mask and somehow he reached down and caught it before it fell to the ground.
* “I was just trying to be dramatic,” Kittle said of his wild, bobbling highlight catch. “It was all for TV. I was just trying to get ratings up. That’s all we’re here for.”
* Kittle understands football is supposed to be fun and that he's lucky to be playing a game for his livelihood. "Football’s a lot easier when you’re having fun. I don’t want anyone to get stressed out and jittery and anxious because we’re in a huge football game. At the end of the day, we are playing a kids game. Goodness gracious, if you have fun, it’s so much easier."
* His quarterback, rookie Brock Purdy, played a solid game. Purdy didn't throw a TD pass, but converted some big third downs and didn't throw an interception, unlike his counterpart, Dallas veteran Dak Prescott, who threw two costly picks.
* After the game Kittle high-fived half the stadium while Purdy went over and hugged his family.
* Sunday's matchup with the Eagles features two teams with a lot of similarities. Both teams have great defenses, strong rushing attacks, young quarterbacks (24 and 23 years old), big-play receivers, and young, offensive-minded head coaches.
* Speaking of which, can you name the Eagles head coach? I couldn't until very recently. Nick Sirianni.
* Eagles QB Jalen Hurts has been the breakout star in the NFL this year. Hurts passed for 3700 yards and 22 TDs, with only 6 interceptions, and also rushed for 760 yards and 13 touchdowns.
* Hurts isn't the whole show. The Eagles offense is loaded with wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, both with over 1000 receiving yards, tight end Dallas Goedert and running back Miles Sanders, who topped the 1,000-yard mark as a rusher.
* The Eagles have a fierce pass rush which will test Purdy. They had 70 sacks in the regular season, 15 more than any other team. Haason Reddick, Javon Hargrave, Brandan Graham and Josh Sweat all recorded double-digit sacks.
* 49ers will need a productive ground game to keep those aggressive pass rushers from coming after Purdy. Philadelphia gave up an average of 121 rushing yards per game, so there is some vulnerability there.
* In the AFC champ game, Cincinnati will attempt to return to the Super Bowl after surprising everyone last year by beating the Chiefs in the champ game.
* Quarterback Joe Burrow has led Cincinnati to 10 straight wins. On Sunday, the Bengals dominated the favored Bills, 27-10. Despite playing 3 backup offensive lineman, they controlled line of scrimmage. *The Bengals have a chip on their shoulder--everyone assumed it would be Chiefs-Bills.
* Meanwhile the Chiefs view this game as a chance for vindication. They've lost three straight to the Bengals, including a 27-24 overtime loss in last year's AFC Championship game and a 27-24 regular season loss this season.
* The key factor Sunday may be the health of Chiefs' quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who suffered a high ankle sprain in his team's 27-20 win over Jacksonville. Mahomes is generally considered the favorite to win the MVP award, but Hurts may be in the picture.
* I should probably retire my crystal ball after predicting that Georgia-TCU would be a close game for the CFP title, but I like the Bengals and 49ers on Sunday.