What a wild weekend in the NFL.
Here's our Top Ten takeaways:
(1) What a horrible weekend for future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Aaron Rodgers choked in yet another playoff game (to be fair, he wasn't at fault for the loss). That's one Super Bowl win in 16 seasons, many as the top seed and/or team with the best record entering the playoffs. Meanwhile, Tom Brady did another Tom Brady, helping to orchestrate yet another miracle comeback, which fell just short. There will be no "Battle of the Bays" in the Super Bowl. Green Bay and Tampa Bay were eliminated.
(2) Offensive lines suffered a nightmare weekend. First, the Bengals OL was horrid, allowing 9 sacks. Still, Cincinnati pulled off the upset win. The Titans OL was far worse, unable to run block in critical short-yardage situations. The Tennessee OL should be blamed for the loss. San Francisco's OL play was a disaster, producing few yards and only 6 points. Still, the 49ers staged the week's biggest upset. And, the Packers OL shouldn't even collect a paycheck this week. Aaron Rodgers will get most of the criticism, but it was the Green Bay front five that cost them the game, particularly on the punt block that was the biggest play of the season for the 49ers. Tampa Bay's OL was just as awful, allowing the Rams to pressure Tom Brady most of the game.
(3) Tough guy of the week – Joe Burrow. He took nine sacks. No fumbles. One deflected interception. Last week, when the Bengals youthful QB was interviewed and was asked about Cincinnati's playoff win (the first in 31 seasons), Burrow confidently replied, "get used to it." Cincinnati is the Cinderella story of the NFL this season, largely thanks to a QB that appears to have all the skills and leadership abilities necessary to be a contender for a very long time.
(4) San Francisco's defence is for real. Many of us expected the 49ers defence to regress after coordinator Robert Saleh departed to take the NY Jets head coaching job. But somehow they've managed to keep the same high level of intensity most of the season and are now healthy again. San Francisco beat Dallas largely with defence, and then shocked the mighty Packers with a stellar performance on Saturday. Holding the Packers to only 10 points at Lambeau Field is almost unheard of. In fact, the 49ers tough defence might end up carrying this team all the way.
(5) The Rams suffered an epic collapse, and still won. Los Angeles fumbled on the Tampa 1-yard line, which would have likely ended the game and frozen any hopes of a comeback, possibly going ahead 34-13. Then, they committed a 4th quarter snap over the head of Matt Stafford that ended in a critical turnover. Next, they missed a late FG that would have made the game a 3-score margin. After a first down run, they fumbled with 3 minutes left and gave the ball back to Brady and Co. Then, they couldn't stop numerous 4th down plays. However, the Rams won late on a FG, 30-27 and will host the NFC Championship game.
(6) San Francisco's offence is offensive, but here they are in the championship. It's hard to remember any team with less impressive offensive numbers. The 49ers played a dreadful second half versus Dallas, and still won. Then, they stank for four quarters and miraculously won at Green Bay, thanks to defence and special teams. The 49ers need to fix this quick, heading into Los Angeles next week.
(7) Lesson Learned – kickers are important! Three of the four playoff games were decided by last second field goals. On each occasion, the kicker was money and nailed it under pressure. Kickers, especially accurate long-range kickers, are undervalued in the NFL. Show me a really good team, and you'll usually see a placekicker who is (1) accurate, and (2) has long range potential.
(8) Kansas City / Buffalo – Four games went down to the wire, including the nightcap in Kansas City. Was there any doubt the Bills and Chiefs would play a cliffhanger? After the incredible Rams-Bucs finish, no one expected the following game to match the drama. But true to their reputations, arguably the best two teams in the AFC delivered. This might have been the best football game of all time.
(9) Insane thought of the day: Since both legends are out of the playoffs, that opens up the futures of both Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers for speculation. Here's a thought – Tom Brady retires this off-season and Aaron Rodgers goes to the Bucs!
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