NFL Playoffs: Championship Monday – A day of emotion, a display of Super Bowl football

 

In a playoff series doing justice to the NFL’s 100th season, the Conference Championships loomed as another notch for the contests to rise to. With a Superbowl ticket waving in front of their eyes, four teams took to packed stadiums in an effort to make history for their franchise.

 

First up was the AFC Championship game, where the Kansas City Chiefs sought to go one further than their heartbreaking overtime loss to the Patriots’ juggernaut at the same stage of 2019. In 2019, the Patriots were welcomed to Kansas with a blustery snowstorm. In 2020, the Tennessee journeyman, embarking on a fairy tale streak, were greeted by a sunny winter’s afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium.

 

Looking to put a better foot forward than their dismal start to the Divisional match-up a week ago, star quarterback Patrick Mahomes couldn’t get his dangerous side going early. Experienced quarterback Ryan Tannehill continued his prosperous form, passing exquisitely early. The Chiefs’ defence holds the key to Kansas’ Superbowl picture, and they did enough to force the Titans into only a field goal.

 

Giving Mahomes a key chance to find his star offensive line in the opening minutes, a sack and a dropped catch from tight-end Travis Kelce only quietened the eager crowd. It had been 59 long years since the proud club’s last Superbowl appearance, and here was a meagre Titans side outclassing them early. The match see-sawed – Tannehill was picked, yet a quick stop of Mahomes and his offence meant Tannehill could save the day by first converting a crucial fourth down and then working forward so explosive rusher Derrick Henry could waltz in for the game’s first touchdown.

 

Nerves were jangling, heavy breaths were panting in the winter air. The sea of red wasn’t happy – only some smart Mahomes passing and some brutal Tyreek Hill rushes could simmer their fears. A touchdown to the latter exorcised some demons from the week before.

 

None of this phased the Titans. Already having faced the worst of scenarios (such as the Patriots away), they held steady to extend their lead. Out of all ways, it came from a trick Tannehill pass to offensive tackle Dennis Kelly, who celebrated in sheer disbelief that he had received a touchdown in such fashion. Everything was going Tennessee’s way. Only one man could stop it.

 

Mahomes, pressured into poor performance so far, lifted. With the minutes dwindling until half-time, he cut a dagger through a Titans defence that had been firm and miserly. His spear flew onto Hill’s chest, allowing the premier receiver and rusher to score a second touchdown.

 

From this point on, the Chiefs’ quarterback lifted into a gear of his own. In just a couple minutes of football, he took his team to a score and a half behind to in front at the main break. Following up from that gorgeous pass, he continued to find receivers even when harried off balance. Taking his game to a new level came just plays later when a tense quarterback rush resulted in him spinning off two Titans and falling into the end zone.

 

This was the turning point. An even contest was slowly blown apart after the break. Tennessee were flawless in their efforts but, with Henry nullified as a threat, Tannehill’s proud effort was never going to be enough. Mahomes took his side to a new level – he continued to throw with precision and rush smartly when required. At times receivers would drop his fierce chucks, but with Hill in the side everyone knew they had enough firepower to score consistently.

 

The second half was a study of Kansas, and how their defence could straighten up to produce Championship winning football. They stopped Henry – no mean feat when you see the Patriots’ attempts to. Tannehill had no help despite his stellar efforts. Mahomes just kept on motoring along, producing four touchdowns and nearly 400 yards of scintillating play from the sport’s premier position. The Chiefs’ motored on into the Superbowl with ease, erasing the years of pain. Kansas soon turned to celebration – a time they had waited long for now spurs them onto greater hopes in Miami. Tennessee’s glorious run was cruelly crushed – there would be no Superbowl appearance for them.

 

Emotion was spilling out of the TV set when the scenes showed Kansas City revelling in their cleansing victory. Snap. Now it was time for San Francisco to write their own story for their desperate fans. Heavily underrated all year despite their wonderful season, they were now facing Green Bay and the might of Aaron Rodgers.

 

The Packers looked to have the best of initial proceedings, only for Jimmy Garoppolo and his 49ers to start red hot. Deebo Samuel burst out of the blocks with some sparkling early carries and receptions. Garoppolo threatened to pass for big yards, but soon changed tack with San Fran intelligence. Using his supreme runners, Raheem Mostert burst through for another long carry, this time reaching the end zone for a massive touchdown.

 

If their offence looked imposing, the 49ers got to work with their defence. They proved they were the best defensive side in the league – a four-man rush brought down Rodgers and sent the Packers fourth and out very quickly. The Packers scrapped hard to only allow the deficit to be a field goal from the resulting drive.

 

But more pain was to come for perennial bridesmaids in Green Bay – Rodgers, for all of his Superbowl gloss and records, was stripped quickly. The San Fran red was an irrepressible wave, both on offence and defence. Another touchdown made a large statement. Aaron Jones tried to bulldoze his way into the end zone, yet more crucial fumbles while trying to snap to Rodgers only gave Mostert and the 49ers more opportunities for scores. Another field goal meant the 49ers sat 20-0, and thus on the precipice of an unlikely Superbowl spot.

 

Just minutes later and Rodgers was intercepted – what more could happen to Rodgers and the Packers? The answer: another rushing touchdown. The Packers had been blown away in just a half of football, and sat a long way from Miami. If the 49ers were out in the sun sipping cocktails, the Packers were freezing in a land far away from the sunshine of Florida. While daydreaming of this paradise, the 49ers let Jones slip through for a touchdown, and thus shone a glimmer of sunshine into Green Bay’s frozen hell.

 

This challenge required a response. So Jimmy G quelled his ego and fed the ball to his rushers. Cue touchdown. But Green Bay had settled their offence, and Rodgers threw with more confidence. When he becomes more confident, Rodgers usually gets touchdowns. This was no aberration – the Packers sat only 21-points behind.

 

The Packers held resolute on defence, and Rodgers was the quarterback with all of the chances now. He could throw long and high and rely on his receivers, and they soon found themselves only two touchdowns away from levelling the contest. Garoppolo refused to throw, yet finally came out of his shell to provide some crucial gains. Jimmy G had learnt from his former club – run the ball early, then let the quarterback throw into the open lanes up the field.

 

The Packers threw everything they had at the 49ers in the final quarter. They just had way too large a mountain to climb when coming up against the best offence going round. Despite losing the plot in the third quarter, the red-clad 49ers held firm. When former Seahawk Richard Sherman flew high for an amazing interception, his experienced head had booked his new club a Superbowl date.

 

As quickly as it started, the day had given us two Superbowl contenders. Once more, it’s a case of the best defence against the best offence. But the opposite sides for both teams provide a contest of some intrigue, and a Superbowl that is as highly anticipated as any we have seen before.

 

@SeanMortell1

 

 

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Comments

  1. Thanks Sean. Growing up the 49ers were the glamour team with Joe Montana at the centre of this enticing world. The late and unequalled Pat Summerall’s “Montana…Rice…touchdown.” remains the perfect commentary: sparse, theatrical, compelling. So this Superbowl will be a return to the past, of sorts. Hard to begrudge KC though.

  2. Hi Sean as one who had the chance for the first time in my life watch the championship NFL Sunday in real time Ie on Sunday afternoon Canadian Mountain time ( not early Monday like at home in Australia) it was interesting to see the contrast in game styles.
    The Chiefs who just have all kinds of offensive weaponry at Patrick Mahomes’s disposal against the running game of the Titans was literally unstoppable for the team in Red.I couldn’t believe the athleticism and the swagger of Patrick in action – the fact that he ran the ball time and time again was just a headache for the team in silver to combat.
    In the Bay area ( you can hardly call Santa Clara part of San Francisco when it is 40 miles south of Candlestick Park) it was the 49ers successful running game against the Packers much vaunted defense that meant the passing game of the Packers was always going to play catch up. Having only Devante Adams and a tight end option ( Jimmy Graham) for Aaron Rodgers to throw to is going to catch up with you eventually even if it has taken most of the season for it to happen.
    So we have red v red in the big one – who gets to wear the away white jumpers?

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