Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships
compiled by Andrew Potter
Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).
On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.
While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren't going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team's game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Steelers or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we're personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.
Los Angeles Rams 26 at New Orleans Saints 23 (OT)
Bryan Knowles: I'm not entirely sure "John Franklin-Meyers in coverage on Alvin Kamara" is something the Rams want to be doing.
Aaron Schatz: Well, they're stuck, right? Someone has to cover the running back coming out of the backfield. I guess they could make sure it's a safety.
I wrote a lot in the preview about how the Rams tend to leave their cornerbacks by sides, and that's what they're doing early here. Not shadowing Michael Thomas with Aqib Talib. Usual setup: Marcus Peters offensive left, Talib offensive right, Nickell Robey-Coleman slot.
Scott Kacsmar: Getting Kamara in motion definitely seemed to be part of the Saints' early plan. Maybe they anticipated something with Aqib Talib on Michael Thomas, but Kamara's already up to 35 receiving yards. He had 34 in Week 9. Drive almost ended with a touchdown, but Dan Arnold couldn't hang on in the end zone. Saints go up 3-0, but Rams played some shaky third-down defense on that opening drive.
Vince Verhei: If the Saints lose this close, we're going to remember that third-down incomplete in the red zone. Drew Brees makes a brilliant, Hall of Fame-caliber throw into double-coverage, but Dan Arnold can't reel it in. Which begs the question: why are you throwing to a double-covered Dan Arnold on third down?
Derrik Klassen: The interception was not really on Jared Goff, but he looks shook already. A little jittery, only checking down. The first throw on the second drive, the behind-the-line-of-scrimmage throw, was well behind the receiver and allowed a Saints linebacker to make a tackle for loss. Goff then proceeded to miss a wide-open Robert Woods on third down. He needs to settle down and put up points before New Orleans starts converting their drives from field goals into touchdowns.
Bryan Knowles: I still don't get putting Drew Brees on the sideline on third-down situations. Full credit to the Saints for going for it on fourth down after the failed attempt in the red zone, but honestly ... just do two plays with Drew Brees! He's pretty good at quarterbacking.
Aaron Schatz: I sort of understand, only because I'm a big proponent of read-option on third-and-short. Although a) Taysom Hill made the wrong read, and should have kept it, and b) it only makes sense to take Brees off the field on third if you are going to go for it on fourth, which the Saints did. And got an encroachment! Followed by a touchdown to the fourth-string tight end. They're dominating this game so far.
Derrik Klassen: Rams switched up their defense on that series with more following (from Marcus Peters) and man coverage, but to no avail. Michael Thomas beat Peters on a drag, Alvin Kamara still got open a couple times, and Peters collided with safety John Johnson in the end zone to give up a Saints touchdown. Does not look like they have any answers right now.
Vince Verhei: Dude. You've already kicked field goals on your first two red zone drives, now you've got third-and-4 in the red zone again, and you take Drew Brees off the field entirely? I can't tell you how much I hate that.
But then the Rams bail them out by jumping offsides on fourth-and-2, and then Brees gets a touchdown and the Saints lead 13-0.
Dave Bernreuther: Exactly. And then they came out on fourth in an obvious "draw them off" situation ... and it worked.
Although it looked like Brees moved quite a bit.
At 13-0 and Goff looking poor already this is exactly where the Saints want to be. Even with the "failure" of getting only a field goal after the turnover. There's already a bit of a sense of urgency here for the Rams.
Scott Kacsmar: I'm not convinced the Saints would have actually snapped the fourth down. Looked to draw them offsides and probably kick the field goal there. Didn't like that one bit, but Rams look shook so it's 13-0 and getting worse by the drive. Discouraging graphic by FOX to show that this is the first time all year the Rams didn't get a first down on either of their first two drives.
Dave Bernreuther: I agree 100 percent, Scott. Call it instinct about how they left the huddle.
Speaking of leaving the huddle, is it just me or did the end of the first quarter appear to completely surprise Jared Goff?
Andrew Potter: Johnny Hekker, Rams QB1.
Dave Bernreuther: Somehow people remain surprised by Hekker fake punts. I don't understand how that's still possible.
Carl Yedor: The Hekker fake punt ends up leading to three points, but I'm agreeing with Dave in that I can't believe teams still get fooled by Hekker fake punts. He was a high school quarterback before moving solely to special teams in college, so he clearly can throw (although I wouldn't give quite as much credit to his arm as Aikman did after the completion). They've been making use of him that way since Jeff Fisher was still the head coach for the Rams, though that's probably more of a function of his special teams coach John Fassel being with the Rams continuously since 2012.
Scott Kacsmar: The Rams have gone to Todd Gurley four times. He's lost 2 yards, tipped an interception, and dropped a third-down pass that probably would have been a first down if he caught it and ran. He's killing the offense so far and I'm not convinced it's injury-related unless someone turned his hands to stone.
Dave Bernreuther: Did they really just call Cooks for holding Apple and not the other way around? That's as bad as the Smith hold that Ben highlighted in his Colts article from last week. That's absolutely ridiculous.
Aaron Schatz: Nope. They called neither.
Scott Kacsmar: Goff has eight completions for 39 yards. Everything is so short, even when he goes to Woods or Cooks. You have to attack the Saints deep, but that hasn't happened yet.
Derrik Klassen: Agree with Scott. If you're going to beat the Saints defense, it'll be down the field. Have to be more willing to risk it, maybe they will in the second half.
Bryan Knowles: And the Rams finally do go deep -- I think they've hit their "biggest play of the game" four times on this drive, including a bomb to Brandin Cooks that sets up a touchdown.
The Rams, and this game, needed that.
Vince Verhei: I was also thinking the Rams needed to force a deep ball, even an incompletion, just to force the Saints to worry about the deep pass -- but then Goff finds Cooks down the left sideline for a 36-yard gain. Gurley carries it in from there to cut the lead to 13-10.
The Rams have used some no-huddle in the second quarter, which looks like it has helped with the crowd noise.
Aaron Schatz: Saints No. 32 in DVOA against deep passes this year. Since Week 8 when their defense started to improve after the Eli Apple trade, still down at 26th against deep passes. That bomb to Cooks was long overdue. Meanwhile, the Rams are 22nd against deep passes and sixth against short passes, but Brees has thrown only one deep pass in the first half, the one Arnold couldn't hold onto in the end zone.
Andrew Potter: Before that drive, I thought that if the Rams could just get a field goal, they could actually go in at halftime quite encouraged, because it's hard to see them playing that badly on offense again in the second half. Instead, it's a three-point game and they're getting the ball first in the second half. That's a tremendous result for them. I think they would have been OK knowing they would face a three-point halftime deficit with them getting the second-half kickoff prior to the start of the game, and they certainly would have if they'd known how poor the offense would be in the first 28 minutes.
Scott Kacsmar: I don't think the Rams should feel great at halftime, but it's definitely more optimistic at 13-10 and getting the ball next after the way they spent most of that half. The Saints really only had two good offensive drives out of five, and the Rams finally got two sacks on Brees (first sacks in this matchup this season). So the defense looks pretty good, and they survived those early scares with the Arnold dropped touchdown and the field position they gifted them on the Gurley tipped pick. So 13-10 isn't bad, but they definitely need to let the ball rip more with Goff. I don't think the protection has been bad so far. Also need to make a decision on Gurley vs. C.J. Anderson in the backfield. Anderson has looked better, but Gurley did look good on the touchdown run. I still think more passing in general is what the Rams are going to need to pull this one out.
Vince Verhei: Honestly, both teams need to pass more in the second half. Neither team ran for crap in the first half -- a combined 20 runs for 53 yards, no 10-yard runs. The Rams have run for four first downs, so at least they've been good in short yardage. But if this does come down to a passing duel in the second half, that probably favors the Saints on both sides of the ball.
Carl Yedor: I wouldn't be surprised if the emphasis on quick passing by New Orleans is an attempt to prevent Aaron Donald from having a big impact on the passing game through scheme rather than just by blocking him. Not sure that's the best approach, but we did see back-to-back sacks on New Orleans' last real drive of the first half so maybe the Saints are worried about their interior line's ability to hold up against the pass rush.
Tom Gower: 13-10 at the half. Minus some Sean Payton being Sean Payton, a great start to the game for the Saints with sustaining offense and taking a three-score lead. The fake punt by the Rams was obviously coming, but do you double the gunners and potentially leave a light box or not put a returner deep and double up on defense? It's too early for me to expect a team to go with that strategy, even given the Rams' tendencies.
The story of the first 28 minutes for me was how effective New Orleans was in limiting the Los Angeles pass game. A couple notes there. First, we've noted the deficiencies the Saints have had with deep passes, even with their overall improvement. And what stood out about last week's game was how effective Sean McVay was at manipulating second- and third-level defenders to create those deeper throws for Goff. That simply didn't happen early in the game. Yes, I've (privately) made my share of New Andy Dalton jokes about Jared Goff and he did look awful with the crowd noise early in the game. But aside from one Robert Woods throw, it wasn't like he was missing downfield throws early. He just wasn't being handed them (maybe they were there and another, more aggressive quarterback would have hit them; not like FOX would tell us either way like I expect Tony Romo to later today) the way he normally was. I can't help but link that to the Rams not sticking with their traditional outside zone run game. The Saints have been good at attacking that upfield this season, and I think the Demario Davis tackle-for-loss on the second Rams play of the game came from one of those outside zone looks. Without that action, their pass game doesn't create the same sort of looks for Goff, and he's not getting the same presnap coaching from McVay. But he rebounded terrifically well in the two-minute drill, hitting the big third-down throw for 17 yards once they picked up the blitz and then the gorgeous deep throw to Brandin Cooks in favorable alignment against P.J. Williams to set up the Todd Gurley touchdown. The Saints moving out in control early was more of what I expected from this game, which means I think the Rams are in terrific position down just a field goal and getting the second half kickoff.
Vince Verhei: It's funny that the narrative is the Saints have a narrow lead despite dominating the first half. The Rams had more first downs (9 to 8) and yards (166 to 138) in the game's first 30 minutes.
Tom Gower: To illustrate Vince's point using my favorite "game dominance" stat, the Saints ran 21 plays to the Rams' eight in the first quarter. Total plays through halftime were Rams 32-Saints 31, so the second quarter was basically a complete reversal of the first. The Saints just got three scoring drives to the Rams' two (granted, one of them not really a "drive" at all), and the Rams' second scoring drive, the one not requiring a fourth-down conversion by the special teams, occurred after the two-minute warning.
Vince Verhei: For the second week in a row, New Orleans' first drive of the second half gives us plenty of talking points.
- Four catches for Kamara on that drive alone, each a productive play. He's up to 10 catches for 88 yards now.
- Saints running game finally works -- no rushing first downs in the first half, three on that drive.
- WHY IS TAYSOM HILL TAKING SNAPS IN THE RED ZONE?
- You want to throw a bubble screen to Hill at the goal line, that's fine. And it results in a touchdown and a 20-10 lead.
Bryan Knowles: I have, like, 90 percent of the Saints' skill position players in the Staff Fantasy League, and I can't buy a touchdown from them -- Taysom Hill just picked up his first career receiving touchdown. Keeping Brees on the field is a better way to use Hill.
That drive, though, was mostly about Kamara and Mark Ingram. The first quip in this email chain was about the Rams having trouble matching up with Kamara; they have not really found a better way to do it yet! It doesn't matter which linebacker they put out on him; Kamara is finding ways to get open and make plays. This is a problem!
Scott Kacsmar: Possessions matter, and they matter even more when you're playing a top scoring offense. The Rams had success throwing deep to end the second quarter, yet they came right out of the half going with the horizontal game again to bring up third-and-14. That was a quick three-and-out, and then Brees picked them apart with Kamara for another long touchdown drive. Now it's 20-10 and while the game isn't over, you can't just waste a possession like that against this opponent.
Vince Verhei: Rams answer that with a touchdown drive of their own. Aside from a fumbled snap at the goal line, Goff is starting to really look comfortable. Completed all six passes on the drive, including the touchdown to a wide-open Tyler Higbee. He hasn't been sacked and has hardly been pressured, and I think that protection is giving him confidence.
Tom Gower: Four of Jared Goff's five completions on the touchdown drive to cut it to 20-17 came no more than 4 yards downfield, and the other one was 14 yards downfield. The first drive stalling out was about specific plays and execution, like the big gainer to Cooks on the touchdown drive where they brought him down as the YAC receiver instead of sending him deep on a clear-out route. I think the specific strategy in the two-minute drill about throwing downfield was in response to Dennis Allen's repeated blitzes, and the game plan as long as New Orleans continues to not bring extra guys repeatedly will be to create those short throws with YAC.
Bryan Knowles: So, the field goal attempt from the 1-inch yard line (ignore the delay of game penalty). Down three, 5:16 left in the game ... we don't like that, right? It's more defensible here than it would be in the first quarter or something, but ... you play to win, not to tie. I get that your running game hasn't been great today, but surely Goff could get an inch on a sneak.
Tom Gower: Cowardly move by Sean McVay, kicking the field goal to tie on fourth-and-a-foot instead of going for it to try to actually, y'know, win the game.
Vince Verhei: Plenty of twists and turns in the fourth quarter. Saints get the ball in Rams territory with a chance to put the game away, but a penalty moves them back to their side of the 50, and Drew Brees badly misses an open Ted Ginn for what would have been a third-and-20 conversion. Rams drive 90-some yards to the 1-yard line ... and then KICK THE FIELD GOAL FROM THE 1. Are you kidding me, Sean McVay? You just set yourself up to let the Saints kill some clock and beat you with a field goal.
Aaron Schatz: EdjSports Game Winning Chance: 46.9 percent with a run, 34.5 percent with a field goal. That's a big error.
Dave Bernreuther: Jared Goff cost the Rams a touchdown twice in that sequence- first by underthrowing Josh Reynolds enough to slow him down and lead to a tackle near the 5, and then again with his indecision when he could have run it in when flushed to the left.
And then the real fun began. On third-and-goal, creative genius McVay ran into an 11-man box. Which must mean he was planning to go for it on fourth-and-goal from inside the 1, right?
Even the old-fashioned football fans around me were astounded and appalled by the decision to send out the field goal unit. Playing to tie on the road against Drew Brees when you have *one of the best offensive lines in history* by ALY and need less than a yard? Shameful.
Aaron Schatz: Let the record also state that if Jared Goff hadn't hesitated on the second-down scramble, he would have had the touchdown.
— Cameron DaSilva (@camdasilva) January 20, 2019
Andrew Potter: And if the facemask when tackling him had been flagged, it would have been first-and-goal from the 1-yard line instead of third-and-goal from the 2. Fine margins.
Bryan Knowles: Finally, Drew Brees connects on a deep pass for the first time all game and it goes 43 yards on a jump ball to Ted Ginn. And we should be running out clock, kicking a field goal, and sending the Saints to the Super Bowl from here.
Vince Verhei: Oh, man. The Saints finally hit a deep pass when the Saints blow coverage on Ted Ginn and leave him wide open ... and even then, Brees' pass hangs in the air and Lamarcus Joyner should have broken it up. Instead, he went for the interception (which wouldn't have been a great play anyway, because it would have left the Rams inside their own 20 again). By waiting for the pass to come to him instead of reaching out to knock it away, he gives Ginn a chance to make the big reception.
Dave Bernreuther: Deep ball to Ted Ginn puts the Saints in easy field-goal range at the two-minute warning with the Rams down a timeout after that ridiculous sequence earlier. Wonder if all those teams hiring McVay buddies are starting to second-guess themselves after that sequence. Another first down kills the clock, and at best the Rams might have 1:10 left to score a touchdown in New Orleans with Jared Goff at quarterback.
Oh, wow. On first down Brees THROWS. And into the ground! The odds don't improve THAT much for the Rams, but that was not optimal.
Vince Verhei: Oh, that incomplete was a huge play for the Rams. Realistic worst-case scenario, they're going to get the ball back with about 1:40 to go, down one score. A completion (or, you know, a run) would have killed another 30-plus seconds.
On third down, Nickell Robey-Coleman makes no attempt to play the ball, targets the receiver, hits him way before the ball gets there, somehow doesn't get the pass interference flag. I have no idea what the refs were looking at. That should have been a first down, which would have let the Saints kneel out and kick a field goal with seconds to go. Terrible call against the home team.
Bryan Knowles: Woah woah woah, I know this official group is among the most lenient in the game, but that third-down hit by Nickell Robey-Coleman was pass interference all day long.
Aaron Schatz: On third down, wild missed DPI on Nickell Robey-Coleman. Made contact with Tommylee Lewis before the ball was there. Really obvious DPI, and pretty shocking no-call that essentially keeps the Rams in the game.
Dave Bernreuther: Nickel Roby-Coleman de-cleating Tommylee Lewis early on the third-down pass and not being flagged was such an egregiously bad no-call that even people in Rams jerseys were screaming at the TV. Wow. That is in the pantheon of bad officiating.
Aaron Schatz: Big pass to Robert Woods -- if it had been more on the money, Woods could have gone all the way to the end zone. Instead, Greg Zuerlein comes in and hits a 48-yard field goal. Let's have some extra football.
Bryan Knowles: I don't like Kamara taking the ball out of the end zone -- rather have the extra six seconds on the clock. I REALLY don't like the Saints kneeling on it with eight seconds and a timeout; throw a 15-yard pass, call a time out, and then go for the Hail Mary.
Vince Verhei: I'm not sure I trust Brees to hit a 15-yarder, the way he has played today.
Dave Bernreuther: If (err... when) the Rams end up winning this one I'd love to be in the front row for the Sean Payton presser. Because he should be so over-the-top critical of the officials in this one that it should be daring the league to suspend him.
This game should have been over 20 minutes ago. What a travesty.
Bryan Knowles: The third-longest field goal in playoff history sends the Rams to the Super Bowl, and it sucks, because all we're going to talk about for a week is the Pass Interference Penalty that Should Have Been. It makes it feel like the wrong outcome, and that's not the feeling we should get for this exciting young Rams team headed to the championship.
Andrew Potter: I cannot believe this Saints team had its season ended by a 15-yard field goal drive, after Drew Brees threw an overtime interception on probably his worst throw of the season: a blind heave down the middle with a pass rusher shoving him backward.
Aaron Schatz: Dante Fowler hit his arm and caused that ball to go awry but I agree with you that it was a bad-decision blind heave.
Tom Gower: I'm already tired of talking about the pass interference penalty that should have been instead of, say, Los Angeles' resilience after going down early, only leading at the end of the game, how we have to stop making the New Andy Dalton jokes about Jared Goff, Sean Payton throwing on first down after the big completion to Ted Ginn, Sean Payton deciding to just burn as much time off as possible on a drive that started with five minutes left, how the game was practically even (the Rams finished with 68 plays to the Saints' 64) despite New Orleans' early control, kicking field goals the first two drives, all the wide receiver screens on third-and-medium or -long (by both teams), and, oh yeah, Greg Zuerlein murdering a football to bail out his coach.
Andrew Potter: The one stupid, worthless consolation of a great team losing the way the Saints lost last year is supposed to be "well at least it can't be any worse than that".
Dave Bernreuther: One pragmatic takeaway from this all is that even independent of the final result, had the Saints won this one, they'd still be massive dogs in the Super Bowl given the way that they (and Brees) actually played in this one.
Which would be a fitting end to the season wherein we all laughed at the AFC and assumed that six or seven of the top-ten DVOA teams would all be in the NFC, I guess.
Not that that should be of any comfort to Saints fans or Payton, of course.
Anyway, here's hoping for a well-played and well-officiated nightcap.
Vince Verhei: It's midway through the second quarter of the Pats-Chiefs game, and between the emotional finish to the early game and the fact I had to make chicken wings for guests, I'm only now getting a chance to put some final thoughts down here. We need more time between playoff games, dammit.
That said, I mainly want to echo what Tom said. The Saints spent about three and a half quarters trying to give that game away, and the Rams wouldn't take it, and finally the refs yanked it from the and almost forced the Rams to win.
That was dramatic and exciting, but a badly coached, badly played, badly officiated game.
Oh, I did want to add: credit Wade Phillips and the Rams for finally finding a way to neutralize Kamara. He only finished with 11 catches for 96 yards -- which is a ton, but it seemed like he was going to get twice that. Once he wasn't catching passes, the Saints had no reliable weapons. I think blitzing helped -- I noticed Kamara spending more time blocking and less time running routes late in the game.
New England Patriots 37 at Kansas City Chiefs 31 (OT)
Andrew Potter: One of the things that's already so impressive about the opening Patriots drive is how often the running backs are getting exactly yards-to-go plus-1. It's incredibly demoralising to watch, never mind actually play against. Just relentless.
Aaron Schatz: The Patriots have rookie cornerback J.C. Jackson covering Travis Kelce in man on the first drive, rather than using a safety. They also have Stephon Gilmore on Sammy Watkins again like the first meeting. I assume that leaves a double-team on Tyreek Hill, though it's hard to see on TV.
Andrew Potter: Well at least Brees didn't throw the worst interception of the weekend.
Aaron Schatz: It's not quite the same as doing it at the end of a Super Bowl, but hey, now the Patriots have their own interception throw from the 1-yard line in an important playoff game.
Bryan Knowles: I'm not sure any team at any point has needed a big defensive play like the Chiefs needed one right there. It felt like were about to get to 14-0 Patriots lead, and there was a feeling of "oh no, here we go again" beginning to dawn ... and then Reggie Ragland catches a "what the heck was THAT?" pass for the interception. Whoof.
Aaron Schatz: I just don't think Brady saw Reggie Ragland drop into coverage.
Dave Bernreuther: Gronk WAS open. Behind the guy. Not sure why Brady threw it on a line, and a bloop-like basketball shot to the back of the end zone would have been tough (but successful), but damn. This game just went from nearly game over to game on.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots' decision to punt on fourth-and-1 from the Chiefs 42 (later the 47 after a delay of game penalty) was a bad decision: 8.5 percent Game-Winning Chance difference in the EdjSports model.
Bryan Knowles: I would like to welcome Patrick Mahomes to this AFC Championship game.
Dave Bernreuther: 8.5 percent this early in the game seems massive.
Patrick Mahomes hitting Watkins on third-and-2 to extend the drive is one of those plays you just can't defend. From the grasp of an ankle tackle while moving left, he threw behind his momentum to a previously covered receiver. That's the kind of play very few quarterbacks can make.
So of course he follows it by missing Damien Williams on a wheel route for an easy touchdown...
Bryan Knowles: Mahomes follows up that great third-and-2 with a bomb to Tyreek Hill, and everything looks to be coming up Kansas City. However, he then misses a wide-open Williams for a touchdown and takes a 14-yard sack knocking the Chiefs out of field goal range. That is, I suppose, the flipside to all those great plays where he escapes the rush and makes those crazy throws across the field to make up huge plays -- if it doesn't work, it's a huge loss.
Vince Verhei: "Average yards lost per sack" is one of those things I've always thought about studying, but never done. Is it consistent for quarterbacks or defenses? Is there a connection between mega-sacks and deep-ball attempts, or rush attempts? Or is it all just random noise?
Bryan Knowles: For the record, Mahomes lost 6.6 yards per sack during the regular season, which was right in the middle of the pack.
Carl Yedor: Harrison Butker's career long field goal is 54 yards, so it makes sense that the Chiefs didn't attempt one there. That said, it's a killer that on a drive where you get a 42-yard deep completion and another for 12 yards that you can't even end up with a field goal try out of it. New England will likely try to drain the rest of the clock here while scoring at 0:00 to keep Kansas City from having a chance at getting a wrap-around score.
Aaron Schatz: The cold weather also plays a role in deciding not to try a 54-yard field goal.
The Patriots are really playing a super-David strategy of trying to condense this game to the fewest number of possessions possible, and running against the bad Chiefs run defense just makes that easier to do. But wow, they finally just tried the deep ball and Brady hits Phillip Dorsett on a 29-yard touchdown. A little underthrown but Dorsett comes back to the ball and makes the catch against Steven Nelson. Looks like we'll go to the half at 14-0 unless the Chiefs can do something in 27 seconds.
Andrew Potter: James White has been out of sync with Brady on a couple of screens but has otherwise had a ridiculous first half. A couple of magnificent, receiver-caliber catches in critical situations, and even his runs have been a key part of that churning, relentless ball-control offense.
Amazing that a stupid Brady goal-line interception is the only thing keeping this from being 21-0 at halftime.
Bryan Knowles: The Chiefs managed just 32 yards in the first half. I would never have believed that. We all know what this team is capable of, so it's not "game over" now, but the Chiefs are being outplayed and outcoached on both sides of the ball right now.
Vince Verhei: Dorsett caught that ball despite being interfered with.
I'm absolutely gobsmacked at the way New England has just destroyed Kansas City's passing attack so far. The Chiefs have 22 net passing yards and a long gain of 42 yards -- which means their other 10 plays have lost a combined 20 yards. What is happening? This goes beyond scheme or weather. Mahomes looks horrible, panicky, un-prepared. It's just hard to even comprehend.
Scott Kacsmar: Halftime thoughts: the first game being dramatic does make it difficult to get into the next game. It's even harder when it has been a steady dose of the Patriots running backs doing what they want with a defense that was 32nd against the run. Reminds me of when the Colts would get shredded on third-down shotgun draws by Kevin Faulk for years. I don't think Brady has been sharp and his interception in the end zone is the only thing keeping this from being a hopeless blowout. Mahomes missed that touchdown to Williams, which was a huge miss, and he has been taking really deep sacks with New England's pressure again working like it did last week. We've never seen what bad Mahomes looks like in a game in the NFL, but we just got a half of it and it's really bad. Andy Reid wasn't aggressive on that fourth-and-1 too, and that's huge in a game where you just had four possessions in the half.
I don't feel good at all about the Chiefs here, but I guess maybe on the bright side, the third-highest scoring team ever can't stay shutout forever, right? They were down 24-9 at halftime in Week 6 and still got to a 43-40 final on the road. Of course, they had more positive plays than this that night. Just 32 yards of offense? It's shocking, but unless there's an epic comeback, it's just going to be another data point in NFL history that says high-scoring offenses crash and burn in the playoffs, and you can't win a championship with a defense this bad.
Tom Gower: Halftime. Patriots lead 14-0, it would be 21-0 had Brady not missed Gronk, and it feels almost like 140-0. The Patriots have run 42 plays to the Chiefs' 16. Sure, part of that is they only had a couple explosive plays, both on their touchdown drive right before the half. First was that screen to James White where the defensive lineman (don't recall which one) came oh-so-close to bringing him down quickly, but he scooted for 30 yards and go out of bounds, and then the touchdown throw to Dorsett on the double-move. The primary element of the game has been another huge dose of that great Patriots game plan, a combination of power running and short passing, which is fine when you're great at it and as effective as "going with where you have the advantage instead of what you want to be good at" as New England is.
The story I don't want to underrate, though, is just how effective the Patriots defense has been. Andy Reid may not be my favorite gameday coach, but he's absolutely one of the best Monday-through-Saturday coaches in the league and his early script was hugely effective against a Colts defense that had played much better than expected last week. This week? Three-and-out, three-and-out, a punt in "it's only 7-0, we don't need to kick or go for it already" territory, and, well, that's about it.
Dave Bernreuther: Surrounded by Patriots fans, I thought I had to duck and cover for mentioning that that was actually a bad throw, but they all actually agreed with me. It was definitely left short, but great job by Dorsett to fight through a grab to still win. As a Colts fan, I promise I am not annoyed by a Colts first-round draft pick's starring role for another team in the playoffs while my team dropped more balls than any team in history* (*- this is an exaggeration, albeit only slight). Not at all. Really.
For the second week in a row, the Patriots are mind-F-ing us by doing exactly what seems obvious and playing to their recent strengths. I thought that especially after putting the fullback-heavy run game on film last week they'd go a bit contrarian and go for more possessions this week, figuring that they're efficient on offense and the more chances they got to create a turnover by tricking the young quarterback, the better. Instead, they're doing the obvious and slowing it down and limiting possessions and keeping the Chiefs off the field. And it's working. And while their defense isn't as bad as in the past two years, it's not at all good enough that we'd expect them to shut the league's top offense down at home in decent conditions. But ... that is exactly what has happened. And with a two-score lead and no reason not to believe that they can continue to bleed the clock, it's starting to look a whole lot like we might see our second consecutive Patriots Super Bowl rematch unless Patrick Mahomes can start doing some MVP-type things.
...Which he did the exact second I hit send, bombing one deep to Watkins to set up a Kelce touchdown
Bryan Knowles: Well, that's the way to recover from a poor first half. Youch. The Patented Mahomes Bomb (TM) got the crowd back into things.
Vince Verhei: Mahomes went from undrafted rookie in the first half back to Hall of Famer in waiting at halftime.
Tom Gower: And that's what makes Kansas City so good, Patrick Mahomes' ability to throw the ball deep and make second-reaction plays outside of structure. Philip Rivers' couldn't do either last week, but Mahomes did both in the first half on their one good drive, which is how they got to the edge of scoring territory, and then you saw on the opening drive of the second half. Now if only the Chiefs can find some defense...
Vince Verhei: Chiefs start their next drive deep in their own territory after Tyreek Hill runs backwards on a punt return, and quickly punt after Mahomes gets sacked again. He has been under ridiculous pressure today. And then a bad punt gives New England the ball in Kansas City territory, but they fail to pick up a first down. Gotkowski nails the field goal to make it 17-7, but that's a win for the KC defense, holding them to a 47-yard field goal from there.
But we can add special teams to the reasons New England is winning so far.
Aaron Schatz: Mahomes is doing Mahomes things again on the next drive. Sidearm throw to Sammy Watkins with Adrian Clayborn bearing down on him, gets the ball around Clayborn and gets a 10-yard gain for conversion on third-and-3. Next play, design instead of Mahomes' personal ability, Damien Williams gets 33 on a wheel route out of the backfield. Chiefs are in the red zone.
DPI on J.C. Jackson, a good call I think, and then Mahomes finds Damien Williams and we've got a 17-14 ballgame. 14:51 left.
Next drive, fourth-and-1, Kansas City 25. Happy the Patriots went for it, unhappy they came out in big personnel and just handed off up the middle instead of spreading things out or going quarterback sneak. Great play by safety Daniel Sorensen to take out Rex Burkhead's legs.
Vince Verhei: OK, so, to recap, the Chiefs passing offense had a terrible first half and put the team in a big hole, and now in the fourth quarter the run defense makes a massive play to set them up for a possible game-winning drive.
You ever feel like watching the regular season is just a big waste of time?
Bryan Knowles: "Chiefs run defense comes up with a stop on fourth-and-1" may, in fact, be less likely than "Chiefs held to 36 yards of offense in the first half."
Football is weird.
Dave Bernreuther: Of all team,s the Patriots set our crusade back a bit by going for a fourth-and-less-than-1 on the opposing side, but stack the box and run into a 9-on-10 disadvantage and fail. Into the final nine minutes, we have a very tight game. And somewhat unusually, the team coached by Andy Reid has all its timeouts.
... which doesn't matter much after Mahomes airmails two throws and they immediately punt the ball back.
And whoa my god if Julian Edelman just touched that punt...
Wow. Even more improbably it looks like somehow he didn't ever touch that.
Aaron Schatz: He never touched it. I can't believe he didn't touch it, but it seems pretty clear he didn't touch it.
Just the act of trying to field that ball was pretty stupid though.
Andrew Potter: The fact that he even got close enough to make it a question is one the stupidest things I've ever seen a Patriots player do. Just an unbelievable, mind-bending brain fart. What was he even doing there?
Bryan Knowles: I dunno, I think it might have grazed the thumb. I can't tell.
If that bounce somehow missed him ... wow.
Vince Verhei: Holy shit, I think it brushed the strap of his glove on his left hand. If his strap is fastened, it doesn't touch. But it was loose, and I think it brushed against it.
Aaron Schatz: They called that it didn't touch him. Chiefs fans are definitely going to be talking about that if they lose.
Bryan Knowles: OK, THAT one hit the thumb. Tipped ball, interception.
Dave Bernreuther: So naturally after all that, a ball glances off of Edelman's fingers for an interception. One-half to two-thirds of America is now screaming about karma.
Aaron Schatz: It was the perfect play call too. Play-action, Edelman wide open for a first down against a zone. Brady very slightly overthrew him but that's totally on Edelman, you have to catch that ball.
Vince Verhei: Mahomes has missed the wheel route out of the backfield all night. Left a bunch of big plays and at least one touchdown out there. But he finally hits it on third down after the Sorenson interception, and Williams takes that for the touchdown, and suddenly Kansas City leads 21-17.
Tom Gower: Great design by Reid on that Williams touchdown, got him wide open with blockers in front. I kept waiting for him to slow down and use his screeners, up to the point where he strolled into the end zone without obstruction.
Carl Yedor: Beautiful throwback screen to Williams there. Got New England's linebackers flowing the wrong way and Williams coasts into the end zone. Fortunately for New England, they have plenty of time to move down the field for a touchdown.
Aaron Schatz: Terrible roughing the passer call against Chris Jones gives the Pats a free 15 yards on the next drive. Touched Brady's shoulder, barely if even touched the helmet. Refs would have better served calling DPI on whoever was covering Edelman on that play, at least that would have been less iffy.
Vince Verhei: And then Chris Hogan with the marvelous one-handed grab, which stands after our 93rd crazy replay review this quarter.
Dave Bernreuther: After the Williams caravan touchdown (one of the better designed behind-the-line throws I've seen in a while), the Patriots go to work from behind for the first time. It doesn't take long for our third game-delaying review of the last hour to happen, as Andy Reid foolishly throws the challenge flag on a maybe-not-quite-catch by Chris Hogan that had no prayer of being overturned. I take back what I said earlier about Reid's timeout management, as now he's down one.
Vince Verhei: Patriots finish the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run by Sony Michel on fourth-and-1. Big blocks by the tight end and fullback on the play. New England back up 24-21 with 3:30 to go.
Per ESPN, Tom Brady has thrown 32 passes and has not been hit once.
Bryan Knowles: ESPN is forgetting, of course, that brutal hit on the roughing the passer call.
15 yard penalty on the Chiefs for "roughing" the passer pic.twitter.com/taeqNFSLcV
— Ben Baldwin (@benbbaldwin) January 21, 2019
Aaron Schatz: 68-yard drive for the Chiefs, including a big 28-yard DPI call on J.C. Jackson (again). Damien Williams scores with 2:03 left. Did they leave the Patriots too much time?
Bryan Knowles: Way too much time, for sure.
Nice offensive pick on the Sammy Watkins play to set everything up. Man, if you ignore all the reffy bits, this has been a hell of a fourth quarter.
Vince Verhei: Deep ball to Hill is almost intercepted, but falls incomplete. Then Sammy Watkins gets the ball on a catch-and-run to the 2. Williams runs it in from there, before the two-minute warning. I don't think you can criticize them for clock management there. At that point, that's going to be your last drive, and then New England is going to get their last drive, and that's that. It's not like they were going to kill all two minutes.
Andrew Potter: It's absolutely nuts to say so, but the Patriots might have scored too quickly, too. 39 seconds and a timeout is more than enough to get into field-goal range.
Bryan Knowles: Like, thirty-seven things happened on that drive, and we'll wrap back to them I'm sure, but the Patriots score to take a three-point lead with 39 seconds left.
Is that too much time for Mahomes?! They wish they had that timeout back from the Andy Reid challenge earlier; just one time-out makes this dicey.
Aaron Schatz: Patriots score. This game is crazy tense. Pats get lucky when an offsides against Dee Ford turns over another interception tipped off a receiver's hands. Now we have to ask the question in the other direction. Did the Pats leave the Chiefs too much time? 39 seconds and a timeout to score just a field goal to tie it.
Dave Bernreuther: 39 seconds is never too much time to leave the other team when you are winning...
But man, that seemed like an eternity. Two quick completions and Buttkicker puts one through to tie and send it to overtime. Which I'm sure nobody except Patriots fan minds ... I, for instance, am thrilled.
Andrew Potter: It's so darn close to impossible to stop a modern offense when it knows it needs to score, rather than doing silly things like "controlling tempo" and "establishing the run," that any time that allows for more than a couple of plays is long enough for a field-goal drive.
Vince Verhei: Overtime again. This day is crazy. This season is crazy.
Bryan Knowles: First time in history both the AFC and NFC championships have gone to overtime. Here we go.
Dave Bernreuther: Oh wow. Edelman gets wide open for another third-and-long completion -- on this one he looked like he had a head of steam before the snap a la the CFL -- and the Pats are already in business in overtime's first drive.
Three plays later Gronk is wide open for a perfectly placed pass for another third-and-10 conversion and just like that we have first-and-goal.
Bryan Knowles: The Chiefs got the Patriots to three different third-and-10s ... and couldn't get off the field.
The Patriots take the opening overtime kickoff and march down the field to score. Patriots-Rams Super Bowl, and it's time to party like it's 2001.
Wow. Those last 20 minutes of game time had about ten-thousand stories to go through.
Tom Gower: Final, Patriots win 37-31. Tony Romo was on fire late in the game, especially New England's drive for the game-winning score. There's a lot to unpack about that game, which I'm going to do a little bit later. One note for now: I thought the difference in a close game might be Andy Reid making crucial game management mistakes. Not challenging Chris Hogan's catch would have given him another timeout at the end of regulation, and he had enough time to run another play before kicking a field goal with 11 seconds left after the first play only took five seconds. In a razor-thin game, there are always many situations you can point to, which is why a lot of people look at officiating like the Chris Jones roughing the passer nonsense and said "that changed the game." True, but so did what Reid did.
Vince Verhei: Patriots converted three third downs in overtime and finished 13-of-19 on third downs. They ran 94 plays to 47 for the Chiefs. This largely why Kansas City's defense was so gassed at the end there that the announcers were begging Andy Reid to call a timeout.
In the Super Bowl win over Atlanta, they went 7-of-14 on third downs and ran 93 plays to the Falcons' 46.
In the Super Bowl win over Seattle, they went 8-of-14 on third downs and ran 72 plays to the Seahawks' 53.
Even in the Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia, they went 5-of-10 on third downs -- but the Eagles went 10-of-16 and the plays were close (72 for New England, 71 for Philadelphia). Still, nobody plays keepaway in the postseason like New England.
Aaron Schatz: The Chiefs won the turnover margin, had fewer penalties, and gained more yards per play. The Patriots won with third-down conversions, which allowed them to have all those long, extended drives.
One other note: for much of the second half, the Patriots switched up their coverage from the first half. Now J.C. Jackson was on Watkins and Stephon Gilmore was on Kelce. And Gilmore totally shut Kelce down. Gilmore gave up that one huge pass to Sammy Watkins on the scramble play at the start of the third quarter but was otherwise phenomenal.