Wild Playoff Weekend Showcases NFL at Its Best
What a weekend of NFL football! All four playoff games decided on the final play, one in overtime.
The best game of the weekend, and one of the best games I've ever seen, was the Chief's 42-36 win over Buffalo. A dream matchup between two of the NFL's brightest stars, Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen, that lived up to its billing.
The Bills seemingly had it won by scoring the go-ahead touchdown to take a 36-33 lead with 13 seconds left. Everyone in the building, in the announcers’ booth, and watching on TV thought the Bills had won the game. But no lead is safe when Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are still playing.
The Bills’ coaching staff made a critical error, kicking the ball into the end zone and allowing the Chiefs to take over on the 25, instead of squibbing or pooching a kick that would’ve had to be returned and eaten up some clock.
That allowed Mahomes enough time to complete two passes for 44 yards and set up the tying field goal.
Then this otherwise perfect game—with incredible performances by two of the NFL's best players, no turnovers and only four penalties in the game—was decided by the NFL's ridiculous overtime rules, which allowed KC to win the toss, get the ball and end the game by scoring a touchdown, without giving Buffalo a chance to touch the ball.
Basically, the Bills lost the game because Allen called “tails” on the overtime coin toss and it came up heads.
49ers-Packers: The other highlight of the weekend, at least for those of us in the Bay Area, was the 49ers’ 13-10 win over Green Bay on a last-second field goal by the unflappable Robbie Gould (above), who has made 20 straight playoff field goals in his career.
It was ugly. It was beautiful. And maybe it was bad karma.
Perhaps Packers' quarterback Aaron Rodgers got his game plan from Joe Rogan. Or maybe Rodgers got “caught in the crosshairs of the woke mob", otherwise known as the 49ers defense.
Whatever the reason, Rodgers is fast becoming known as the best regular season quarterback in the league, but a guy who usually folds in the playoffs.
When the 49ers blocked that punt, and ran it in for the score to tie the game, I jumped higher than I have since my daughter Alyssa made a three-pointer at the buzzer to beat rival Menlo School.
Ye of Little Faith: The Chronicle asked its five writers/columnists who cover the 49ers to predict the outcome of the 49ers-Packers game. Surprisingly, columnists Scott Ostler, Bruce Jenkins and Ann Killion, and beat writers Eric Branch and Ron Kroichick all picked the Packers to win. In fact, Ostler said “it could get ugly.”
I can understand not wanting to be considered a "homer," but the fact that the Niners had been playing well and had beaten the Pack three straight times in the playoffs should have given at least one of the astute pundits a hint that SF was going to pull off an upset.
Our call was 49ers 24-20. Admittedly, we weren't feeling very good about that prediction until the blocked punt with five minutes left.
Quarterbacks matter: If there was ever any doubt, all four games reaffirmed the importance of having a good quarterback in the playoffs.
The Chiefs-Bills game, with the magician (Mahomes) and the bull (Allen) was a classic. The two quarterbacks combined to complete 60 of 81 passes for 707 yards and seven touchdowns, with no interceptions. Oh, yeah, they also led their teams in rushing, Mahomes with 69 yards and Allen with 68.
For my money, they are now the two best QBs in the league.
In Cincy-Tennessee, the Bengals Joe Burrow, another rising superstar, showed incredible poise, even when being sacked a record nine times. His coolness under pressure, ability to inspire confidence and deliver the clutch throws, were inspiring to his teammates and fans. On the other side of the field, the Titans' Ryan Tannehill committed three ghastly turnovers, costing his team the game.
In the Rams-Bucs game, both the venerable Tom Brady and the talented but heretofore unrewarded Matthew Stafford played very well. The Rams tried to give it away with some costly fumbles, but Stafford calmly led his team to the game-winning field goal with two long passes to the league's best receiver, Cooper Kupp.
As for the 49ers-Packers, Jimmy Garoppolo again gave his fans and critics plenty of ammunition. In the old days, Jimmy would be celebrated for his grit and toughness, playing well despite painful thumb and shoulder injuries. But in the social media era, he’s vilified for every mistake. Perhaps his teammate George Kittle put it best:
“Jimmy G, you can’t say enough about that guy,” Kittle said. “The shit that he takes, consistently people try to pull him down, and consistently all he does is deliver. He leads the team. He’s the sense of calm in the huddle. He’s the calm in middle of the storm.”
This week: Can the 49ers beat the Rams for the seventh straight time? Can Burrow keep up with Mahomes?
We’ll be rooting hard for SF and Cincinnati, but our crystal ball says the Rams and Chiefs will meet in the Super Bowl.