3 winners and 2 losers from the NFC and AFC Championship games

So much has changed in the last year, but with all the world turmoil there remains an ever-present constant: Tom Brady will be in the Super Bowl. Sure, he might have missed last year, but 2021 will mark Brady’s 10th appearance in the game since entering the league 20 years ago. That’s mind-bogglingly absurd. Most players wait their entire careers to play in the Super Bowl, some (like Philip Rivers) can have incredible careers with out experiencing the pageantry once. Brady averages an appearance every other year.

This is different, and Brady made it to the Super Bowl in a very different way. Unless you’re blinded to the game, he really didn’t play very well against the Packers. There was a concerted effort to turn this into a story of Brady conquering the No. 1 seed in the NFC, but in the end it was, much like the prior week against New Orleans, a case where the Tampa Bay defense prevailed. It wasn’t so much that Brady got “bailed out,” as much as the defense ensured that Rodgers couldn’t make a concerted comeback.

Davante Adams, the NFL’s best receiver this season, was held to 67 yards and 9 catches. They reduced his average yards per reception from 11.9 yards in the regular season, to 7.4 yards. While that might not sound like a lot, it’s a huge drop off — and even more astounding considering Tampa Bay was without their two starting safeties for the majority of the game. Antoine Winfield was ruled out before kickoff, and Jordan Whitehead left in the first half. This was destined to be a game where Adams ate the secondary alive, but players stepped up, filled gaps and made the difference.

It’s why it’s okay that Brady threw three touchdowns and three interceptions on the day. Which is hilarious when you think about it, because the Buccaneers moved on from Jameis Winston precisely because he threw as many picks and touchdowns last season. No, obviously Brady and Winston aren’t the same player — it’s just humorous.

Tampa Bay was bad last season because they were close in so many games, and Winston let them down. Brady doesn’t need to be the hero this time around, he just needs to be good enough to be part of the team, not the team. It’s probably a role he relishes a little bit, where he can sit back and be a sounding board for younger players who are bound to be intimidated by the moment. That’s what Brady brings to the table at this point in his career, and honestly, before Sunday I didn’t know if it would be enough — but the Buccaneers proved me wrong. They are a complete football team ready to make a run at the Super Bowl, and while that will be tough against the Chiefs, it’s not impossible.

Loser: Everyone on the Packers except Aaron Rodgers.

A week ago I offered effusive praise for the Packers for how much fun they were having on the field. All of that seemed gone on Sunday. Perhaps it was the pressure of playing at home in front of fans for a berth in the Super Bowl, but everything just looked difficult for a team that made everything appear so easy for much of the season.

The end to this story is the same familiar refrain: Aaron Rodgers was let down by his teammates and coaches. There were a few pivotal moments that Rodgers couldn’t do anything about, that either took the momentum away from Green Bay, or never gave him a chance.

  1. Davante Adams drops a pass in the end zone that’s right on target. The Packers settle for a field goal.
  2. Rodgers throws an interception after referees no-call holding on Sean Murphy-Bunting. It ends a drive at the GB 33 yard line, two plays after a 23 yard completion that had the Packers marching.
  3. Aaron Jones fumbles following a reception at the 25 yard line. Tampa Bay get the ball and score a quick touchdown.
  4. Matt LaFleur elects to kick a field goal with 2:09 left on the clock, instead of letting Rodgers attempt to score and tie the game.

That last point is a little up for debate, because either way the Packers would have needed to stop the Buccaneers in order to win, but it’s the pervasive feeling that the game was taken out of the hands of Green Bay’s best player, and it happened multiple times.

Now Rodgers is sounding pensive about his future, and honestly, who can blame him.

Loser: The referees in Bucs vs. Packers.

I’m not one to complain about refs. I think it’s an easy cop out to single out a missed call and blame a game for it. However, in this case there’s a lot of warranted criticism. The officials decided early on that they were going to let the Buccaneers and Packers go in the secondary. Both teams were jostling, holding, impeding each other all game long.

It benefitted Tampa Bay, it benefitted Green Bay. There were numerous times each team was helped by the lax attitude of officials towards contact in the secondary. The problem arose on the game’s final drive, in which officials called pass interference on Kevin King for grabbing the jersey of Tyler Johnson.

The call came on a 3rd and 4, the last chance for the Packers to get a stop. Instead of seeing a player win the game, we witnessed it taken away by inconsistency. Again, King definitely committed a penalty — on that there’s no question, but there needs to be some form of accountability when players are led to believe they can get away with stuff in coverage, only to see it altered at a pivotal moment.

It was an unfair way to end the game.

Winner: Gutless-ass football.

Big week for fans of conservative boring football, courtesy of the Packers and Bills. We’ve discussed the Packers’ decision to kick a field goal and how it may have led to their loss, but Buffalo’s decision was even more mystifying.

If you watched Bills vs. Chiefs then you know the game wasn’t nearly as close in the first half as the score showed. The only scoring success Buffalo had was courtesy of a muffed punt, which they recovered for a touchdown. Outside of that there really wasn’t much to write home about.

Sitting at 4th and 1, the Bills elected to kick a 20 yard field goal, rather than try for a touchdown. There were 14 seconds left on the clock, and they still had a timeout in hand. This meant they could run a safe play, pick up a yard, and give Josh Allen a few chances at the end zone. Instead they kicked, taking the game to 21-12. It was going to be a two-score game either way, it was just a cowardly move.

Then, without any sense of urgency, the Bills elected for ANOTHER field goal with 5:50 left in the third quarter, cutting the Chiefs to a 24-15 lead. Yep, another two score lead. I know there’s logic about slowly chipping down the lead, but this format just meant Kansas City needed to keep on par by hitting field goals of their own. In totality the Chiefs were out-driving Buffalo, so a field goal made no sense.

The Chiefs scored on the next drive and ended the game.

Winner: The Chiefs.

There is perhaps nothing more difficult than the weight of expectation, and living up to those expectations is so difficult in the NFL. From the first snap of Week 1 everyone predicted the Chiefs would return to the Super Bowl, but actually doing it is an entirely different story.

Patrick Mahomes was incredible on Sunday, but he’s a known quantity at this point. Where the Chiefs really shined was on defense, where they managed to mitigate all the Bills’ weapons and turn them into a shadow of themselves. The biggest regret in football isn’t losing, it’s not living up to your potential — and nobody on the Bills will be happy with how they were unable to move the ball against the Chiefs.

Kansas City is just so dangerous in so many different ways. Their defensive line is stout, their secondary is athletic, they have offensive weapons for days — and every week they’re so well coached they find new ways to needle opposing teams, finding their weaknesses and opening them wide up.

That’s why in two weeks time we’re going to have one hell of a Super Bowl. It’s going to be so fun to see Mahomes and Co. try to work against a tough Buccaneers defense, while seeing one of the greatest minds in NFL history in Tom Brady try to find gaps in Kansas City’s defense.

It’s going to be a blast.

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