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 Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Lions 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.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31 at Green Bay Packers 26
Scott Spratt: The Bucs love to throw deep on third-and-short. But on the first set of downs on the first series, it actually worked! Mike Evans puts the Bucs in Packers territory.
Aaron Schatz: Chandon Sullivan has been the Packers cornerback in coverage on both of the third-down conversions to start this first drive. Cornerback depth is not a Green Bay strength.
Aaron Schatz: At least the touchdown to Mike Evans wasn't on Chandon Sullivan. That was on Kevin King, the other cornerback who is not Jaire Alexander.
Bryan Knowles: First drive for the Buccaneers, Leonard Fournette was the target man on five plays. Result: 10 yards and two dropped passes. The Packers are fine if Fournette keeps getting that sort of usage.
Sullivan is going to be a problem, though -- that was a very poor start, and it led to a quick seven.
Scott Spratt: Good call, Bryan. Including the playoffs, Leonard Fournette had the sixth-highest drop rate of 15.1% among running backs with 20-plus targets. Sadly for Tampa Bay, Ronald Jones is fifth at 15.2%
Cale Clinton: The difference in performance between early downs and third downs was staggering on that first drive.
- Early downs: 6 plays, 10 yards, -0.44 EPA/play (per RBSDM)
- Late Downs: 3 plays, 56 yards, 2.76 EPA/play (per RBSDM)
Leonard Fournette being as involved in Tampa Bay's passing attack as he was on that drive really made for some head-scratching moments. Two targets, both bouncing squarely off his hands.
Vince Verhei: Bucs converted each of their first five third-down plays, which is a very good way to win football games. On the sixth, Kenny Clark picks up a sack on a bull rush to force a punt. That's the first time in 11 dropbacks the Green Bay pass rush has even sniffed Brady.
Scott Spratt: It could continue though, Vince, since the Bucs are stuck playing Aaron Stinnie at right guard with Alex Cappa out with a fractured ankle. That would be huge for the Packers defense since Brady doesn't have a ton of mobility and struggles with interior pass pressure.
Vince Verhei: Packers are pinned deep late in the first quarter when Jason Pierre-Paul beats Not David Bakhtiari for a sack to set up third-and-long. No matter -- Green Bay uses the NFL's most underutilized play, the designed rollout, and Aaron Rodgers runs away from Not David Bakhtiari and finds Allen Lazard for a big conversion. Green Bay is throwing a ton of smoke/screen routes to beat that Tampa Bay pass rush, and Davante Adams gets a 15-yard catch-and-run has them threatening to cross midfield at the end of the quarter.
Scott Spratt: Speaking of third-and-shorts, Marquez Valdes-Scantling just beat Carlton Davis for a 50-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.
Bryan Knowles: That third-down conversion feels like it's going to be a significant turning point in this game, Vince. The Adams play gets them just about to midfield, and then Rodgers finds Marquez Valdes-Scantling in one-on-one coverage on third-and-short and throws a beautiful deep ball -- Valdes-Scantling had to slow down maybe a half-step, but you can't throw it much more accurately than that. 50-yard touchdown, and we have a tie game.
Vince Verhei: This is a sick, sick, sick throw by Rodgers. Accuracy like this is cheating.
— NFL (@NFL) January 24, 2021
Aaron Schatz: What a play by Chris Godwin to nudge Darnell Savage out of the way and catch a 52-yard bomb on third-and-9. Then Leonard Fournette spins out of early tackles and gets a lane on the right side to go 20 yards for a touchdown. Two plays, 72 yards. This third-and-long performance by the Bucs is miraculous and unsustainable, but it has given them a 14-7 lead.
Bryan Knowles: This is becoming a bit of the battle of heavyweights, at least on third-and-longs. After Chris Godwin drops an easy slant, Brady goes back to him on third-and-9 and hooks up for 52 yards, with Godwin making a great leaping catch and boxing out Darnell Savage. Leonard Fournette gets the ball the next play, the entire Packers defense forgets how to tackle, and it's a 14-7 Bucs lead.
Good show, so far.
Aaron Schatz: Video on the Godwin catch:
Chris Godwin is going to get paid this off season pic.twitter.com/5yrXGXSRKx
— National Football Post (@FootballPost) January 24, 2021
Dave Bernreuther: I was worried that the first-down incompletion that preceded the Bucs' punt would reinforce Bruce Arians/Byron Leftwich's love for first-down runs, and on the ensuing drive, they went straight back to it for nothing. But given this third-and-long performance so far, maybe they're just aiming for style points.
Scott Spratt: What an awesome kickoff there by Ryan Succop! It landed right on/near the front line of the end zone with golf wedge-like backspin. Jamaal Williams thoroughly planned to let it bounce through the end zone, but he was so surprised by the action, he caught it off the bounce and advanced it barely past the 10-yard line. The question will be whether it actually hit the line now since that would make it a touchback.
Vince Verhei: Green Bay challenges the play and wins, so they start at the 25, but ... I'm still torn on whether that's a good challenge. It's first-and-10 either way. I guess the play was obvious enough that you go ahead and review it, but if they HAD lost that would have been disastrous.
Carl Yedor: So this is a somewhat weird challenge by Matt LaFleur here. I get that the ball bounced on the end line, but is 12 yards of field position at the start of a first-half drive worth using one of your two challenges for the entire game? My gut is telling me no, though I can sympathize with being frustrated that the correct call was not made originally. Green Bay now needs to get its next challenge correct if they want to have access to two challenges from this point forward.
I guess that also raises a larger question about challenges: how much is each challenge worth? Some are obviously much more influential (spot challenges on fourth down, receivers getting both feet down in bounds on third down, etc.) than others, but I haven't personally seen anything recently. (Kevin Meers, formerly of the Browns analytics department, did some research ages ago looking at the 2012 season.)
Vince Verhei: Interesting note about both teams: the secondary running backs during the season have taken over during the playoffs. Leonard Fournette has just taken over Ronald Jones' job as the lead rusher in Tampa Bay. For Green Bay, the split between Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams has been more even, but Williams has been the more consistent performer -- Jones has more yards, but outside of the 60-yarder last week hasn't done much. And then he had a fumble on a reception that Green Bay was fortunate to recover.
And then something very weird happens: Rodgers throws three straight goal-to-go incompletions. Two of them should have been caught by Davante Adams for touchdowns, but the first one he dropped, and the second the throw was late and he couldn't get down in bounds. So Green Bay kicks the field goal to make it 14-10. Aside from that Jones fumble, feels like every close play has gone Tampa Bay's way so far.
Bryan Knowles: The number-one offense in the red zone -- 55.2% DVOA! -- can't get in from the 6-yard line. Three Davante Adams targets, all of them close, but the Packers have to settle for a sub-30-yard field goal instead. I'm not saying they should have gone for fourth-and-goal from the 6, but settling for short field goals like that is a killer.
Scott Spratt: Davante Adams' first-down touchdown drop may be the story of that disappointing Packers field goal, but watch him burn safety Mike Edwards on a third-down catch that he couldn't keep in bounds.
Bucs again bracket Davante Adams on 3rd down and the Packers are ready for it with a designed double-move to split the double-team. Near miss on the TD. pic.twitter.com/742XybSbMj
— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) January 24, 2021
He's amazing even when it doesn't count.
Dave Bernreuther: That's a horrible missed opportunity for the Packers. That first-down "drop" was mainly a function of Rodgers throwing what would've been a perfect ball if Adams had spun the other direction, and the next two plays were better defended.
Given the lack of pressure the Packers have been getting, those lost points could be huge.
Vince Verhei: Bucs get yet another third-down conversion, this one a sweet play-fake on third-and-2 that lets Godwin slip into the flat virtually uncovered for a 19-yard gain. Next third-and-10, though, pressure finally gets to Brady and he basically throws the ball away to set up a punt. Bucs are now up to Star Trek: Voyager on third downs, converting seven of nine.
Bryan Knowles: And, much like Star Trek: Voyager, the Buccaneers' offense has been inconsistent today, with occasional splash plays making the whole feel better than the sum of its individual parts.
Aaron Schatz: Refs are clearly letting them play today. Billy Turner just jumped early, and there was no false start whistled, and Jason Pierre-Paul beat him for a sack on Rodgers anyway. Next play, Sean Murphy-Bunting is holding Allen Lazard, no call, and Murphy-Bunting gets the rare pick of Aaron Rodgers.
Scott Spratt: I like that the Bucs are going for this fourth-and-4 near midfield with 13 seconds left. But it does open the door for the Rodgers Hail Mary if the Bucs can't convert.
Dave Bernreuther: That's Jets vs. Henry Ruggs-level bad defense. In the playoffs against Tom Brady. Goodness.
Bryan Knowles: No risk it, Scott, no biscuit. And, after converting fourth down, Scotty Miller just runs right past Kevin King to convert the bomb of their own for the touchdown. I don't know WHAT King was doing there, but it wasn't pass coverage. 21-10 Bucs, and the Packers are a little woozy here.
Aaron Schatz: I feel like King actually slowed down a little. I don't understand how you can let the Bucs receivers get deep on you in that situation.
Vince Verhei: My goodness, what a collapse for Green Bay at the end of the half. Rodgers gets sacked, which leads to the Murphy-Bunting interception, which leads to the fourth-down conversion, which leads to the "How do you let that happen?" touchdown, all in the last 40 seconds of the second quarter.
Scott Spratt: Just to add a bit of color to Aaron's and others' points about the Packers' lack of cornerback depth: Jaire Alexander allowed 4.4 yards per target, Chandon Sullivan allowed 6.3 yards per target, and Kevin King allowed 8.4 yards per target this regular season.
Bryan Knowles: I would really like to know what the heck the Packers' defensive call was on that last play. With only eight seconds on the clock, you don't really care about any completion in the field of play -- sure, it might make a field goal easier, but meh. The one thing, the only thing you can't do is let someone get behind you -- and King stumbles, and there's no safety help behind him. What on earth is the idea?
Dave Bernreuther: Ordinarily I'd be jumping up and down with excitement because Arians sent the offense back out on fourth-and-4 (and I'm proud to say that I have enough friends that are wise that only one person looked at me sideways when I said "put the offense back on the field" before they did) and say that they deserved points for that call ... but after that egregious non-call on the interception (which reminded me a LOT of 2008 Rashean Mathis yanking Marvin Harrison out of the way to steal a game for the Jags in Lucas Oil Stadium's inaugural season), I'm not sure that one was entirely deserved. Still, a tip of the Kangol to Bruce Arians. Absolutely the right call there.
Vince Verhei: Kevin King's first half was, um, bad.
what a game for Kevin King pic.twitter.com/ioj4S9YfQ4
— Rodger Sherman (@rodger) January 24, 2021
Gonna be tough for Green Bay to pick themselves up after that. We're all sitting here gobsmacked -- they have to go out and play football.
Scott Spratt: Did the Bucs call a superfluous timeout with the clock stopped on fourth-and-4 with 13 seconds left? I mean, I guess you can argue that's an important fourth-down decision, but I feel like coaching staffs should be prepared for those scenarios. If that hadn't happened, I bet the Bucs would just have tried to gain 5 or 10 yards for a field goal there. And honestly, that makes that coverage decision even worse for the Packers. The Bucs could only really work the sidelines, shallow or deep.
Bryan Knowles: There's plenty of time left, of course, and we shouldn't expect Tampa Bay's third-down success to necessarily continue -- the Bucs have seven third-down conversions for 143 yards -- but man, that's a back-breaking end of the half for the Packers. The win probability graphs basically have a straight line.
And yeah, Dave, the non-call on the hold kind of sours that last sequence a little bit, but it's not like they have been throwing flags all over the place. Zero flags in the first half.
I guess if you're the Packers and Ricky Wagner, that means you should try holding a little bit more -- the refs clearly don't want to call anything today!
Vince Verhei: Dots on that last touchdown. King definitely played it badly, but what the hell is going on with the rest of the defense? He's out there one-on-one with Miller while Godwin is triple-covered in the middle of the field, and there are two defenders left picking their noses with nothing else to do in the hook zones.
Tom Brady finds Scotty Miller deep for a 39-yard TD with one second left in the first half!
Air Distance: 54.1 yards
Completion Probability: 25.2%
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 24, 2021
Carl Yedor: I mean, I can understand keeping at least one of the two hook defenders near the line in case the back leaks out for a short gain to the sidelines, but that doesn't seem like a two-person job. The good news for Green Bay is that they're getting the ball now with a chance to immediately take a bite of their deficit.
Tom Gower: Bucs up 21-10 at the half.
Some teams do what they do. Some teams hammer the opponent's weakness over and over again. The Packers are much worse at CB2 and CB3 than they are at CB1, so it makes sense to repeatedly attack Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan in coverage while regularly avoiding Jaire Alexander. That's exactly what the Buccaneers have done, and they have gotten three touchdowns in five possessions out of it. That includes, yes, whatever King was doing in coverage on Scotty Miller on the touchdown, and notwithstanding Bruce Arians' continued insistence on normally ineffective runs on early downs. And, yes, kudos to Arians for actually trying on fourth down instead of playing scared and punting to remove the threat of an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary that could have given the Packers an ineffective halftime lead.
The Packers offensive line, outside of Billy Turner, has been OK, better than I thought they were back in Week 6. But that "outside of Billy Turner" caveat is an important one. It has been a noticeable and significant downgrade from David Bakhtiari in pass protection, to the Packers' detriment. In a different sort of game, we'd be talking a lot about Rodgers converting that third-and-15 from his own end zone after a Turner-caused sack. But the Packers failed in goal-to-go, Rodgers got picked in the two-minute drill (we're playing this game under playoff rules, with almost no post-snap flags and -- given Turner's movement -- maybe not any pre-snap flags either), and the Bucs cashed in their extra possession in the most dramatic way. Monumental possession to start the second half, and on third down, Aaron Jones fumbles and the Bucs have the ball inside the 10, so that might be about that barring a sudden change.
Carl Yedor: Um. So, never mind. Green Bay runs a pick play that looks similar to mesh (though not identical) to free up Aaron Jones in space on a third-and-medium. Tampa Bay covers it up well, and Jordan Whitehead delivers a strong hit on Jones that ends up knocking the ball free. The Bucs recover and return it to the Green Bay 8, setting up a first-and-goal. So much for cutting into Tampa Bay's halftime lead right away.
Aaron Schatz: First play after the fumble, play-action, nobody covers Cameron Brate, easy touchdown. Whoever was supposed to cover Brate (Adrian Amos, it looks like) jumped the fake.
Bryan Knowles: And, on the ensuing play, the Packers decide covering Cameron Brate is overrated, and it's an easy pitch-and-catch for the touchdown -- Adrian Amos just sort of ushed Brate past him into the end zone.
At 28-10 ... I mean, there's plenty of time left, but I'm not sure I trust the Packers' defense to put up enough stops for the offense to come back.
Scott Spratt: I know, Carl. When the Packers took possession with just over two minutes left in the first half, I thought they might do the classic Brady Pats move and score 10 or 14 unanswered getting the ball to start the second half. Instead, the Bucs just scored 14.
Carl Yedor: That drive was more in line with what I was expecting. Green Bay responds to the quick Tampa Bay touchdown with an efficient drive down the field, with Robert Tonyan capping off the drive with the touchdown reception after finding a hole in the zone coverage. 28-17 now with a long way to go in this one.
Aaron Schatz: Well, now we've got a game. After a deep pick by Brady throwing to a covered Mike Evans, the Packers don't panic and they don't just take deep shots. They play their game and matriculate the ball up the field in small chunks. Davante Adams can't get away from Carlton Davis on second-and-goal, but he slants in and gets the pass on third-and-goal for the touchdown. Equanimeous St. Brown drops the ball on the two-point conversion so we're now at 28-23 Bucs.
Bryan Knowles: I think we were all waiting to see what the Packers would do with it, but Green Bay has now clawed their way back into the game.
After the Tonyan touchdown, Tom Brady floated a fairly ugly pass in the direction of Mike Evans; Adrian Amos makes up a bit for the olé! play on Brate earlier in the half by coming down with the ball. That's a stop, boys and girls, and a rare one for the Packers defense today.
As Aaron said, it wasn't big plays that brought Green Bay out, which surprises me -- now both Buccaneers safeties are out, with Jordan Whitehead headed for the locker room, so I was assuming the Packers would test the Bucs deep. Nope, lots of short gainers. Hey, whatever works!
And, sorry Cleveland fans -- the refs are calling helmet-to-helmet today, with the Bucs getting flagged for hitting Davante Adams around the goal line in one of those "both players dropped their helmet" plays. That put the ball at the 2-yard line, and the Packers got in three plays later. 28-23.
Vince Verhei: Indeed. you don't see a lot of touchdown drives with eight completions for only 51 yards.
Success rate would tell you the Packers have been by far the better team today -- at the end of the third quarter, they're up to 21 first downs to only 12 for Tampa Bay, and eight of those 12 have come on third or fourth down.
Bryan Knowles: The Buccaneers are up to eight third-down conversions this game.
Just for the record, there have been 12 playoff games since 1991 where a team converted at least 11 third downs. Six of them were quarterbacked by Tom Brady.
Bryan Knowles: But the Bucs don't get a chance to attempt third-down conversion No. 9, because Brady overthrows Mike Evans, Jaire Alexander comes down with it, and the Packers have the ball down one score.
The Packers were in trouble there, too -- giving up a long kickoff return, some bad tacking and coverage; it looked like the Bucs were in great shape to at least make this back into an eight-point game. Good time for a big play, that.
Vince Verhei: Terrible drive for Brady and Evans. Evans burns King (naturally) for what should have been a big gain, but Brady's pass is slightly underthrown and Evans can't react and ends up dropping the ball. Bucs convert anyway and reach field goal range. They pick up a Green Bay stunt perfectly and Brady has plenty of time in the pocket, but his pass to an open Evans is touch too high. Evans can't bring it in, and it's tipped to Alexander for the interception. Packers now have the ball down 28-23, early in the fourth.
Vince Verhei: Re-watching that interception -- Brady's pass isn't perfect, but Evans absolutely should have caught this.
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) January 24, 2021
Bryan Knowles: I have to disagree, Vince. I don't think Evans couldn't have caught it, but he had to stretch to even get his fingertips on it.
Scott Spratt: I wouldn't call the Evans-deflected interception a definite drop, but the first incompletion that hit his hands that drive certainly was. Drops have been a huge story on both sides of things today. I'm surprised about that for non-running back Bucs. Evans and Chris Godwin had just four drops apiece this regular season. Godwin has had that many the last two weeks.
Aaron Schatz: Tampa Bay's protection has been absolutely outstanding. Brady had forever to throw on that interception and overthrew it anyway. But not his offensive line's fault. On the other hand, the Bucs pressure has gotten to Aaron Rodgers plenty today, and the Bucs just sacked Rodgers on third-and-5 when three different Bucs pass-rushers beat the Packers blockers.
Aaron Schatz: From Seth Walder: Packers pass block win rate is 57% today. That's about league average, and a huge departure from their league leading 74% in the regular season.
Vince Verhei: OK, THAT interception is 100% on Brady. Darnell Savage is unblocked off the edge, but Brady is looking right at him and chooses to throw up an absolute duck down the sideline, Evans keeps running downfield where the ball is supposed to go, and Alexander gets a very easy interception. Brady looked like Drew Lock or something there the way he panicked under pressure.
But then yet another sack for Tampa Bay leads to yet another punt for Green Bay as the defenses have suddenly taken over.
Scott Spratt: I seriously hate how many deep shots the Bucs take on third-and-short.
Bryan Knowles: Under pressure, Brady throws up another duck, and it's intercepted. This is only the second time in his career Brady has thrown interceptions on three consecutive drives; you have to go back to Week 7, 2001, to find a streak that bad for him.
And again, it doesn't hurt the Buccaneers -- in the time it takes me to look that up, the Pack go three-and-out again.
Rivers McCown: Sean Murphy-Holding picked a hell of a game to be in the big spot for some officiating non-calls.
Scott Spratt: Why did Brady spike that pass so quickly on the third-down screen?
Aaron Schatz: Fantastic play call on second-and-11 with a screen to Rob Gronkowski, taking advantage of the fact that Gronk has been blocking most of the game. And then third-and-8 on the next series... uh, I have no idea what the Bucs were trying to do and why Brady threw it into the ground almost immediately. A screen to Chris Godwin that didn't set up right? Ryan Succop hits the 46-yard field goal and now we're at 31-23 and we can have some debates about whether the Packers should have gone for two after their last touchdown. (EdjSports model says yes, and they had the right play call except St. Brown dropped the pass.)
Vince Verhei: And that's after air-mailing a wide-open receiver on a crossing route that would have moved the sticks on second down. Brady looks totally rattled.
Scott Spratt: I guess the Packers are doing the football equivalent of the basketball two-and-one here. Just score outrageously quickly so they can get another possession after another possible Bucs scoring drive.
Aaron Schatz: Honestly, they aren't going quick ENOUGH given that they're only 50-50 to get the two-point conversion if they score a touchdown.
Vince Verhei: And they end up kicking the field goal just before the two-minute warning. That's two goal-to-go field goals and a dropped two-pointer for Green Bay -- if they lose, that's the biggest reason why.
Bryan Knowles: ... a field goal. Down eight points. With 2:05 left in the game. Inside the 10-yard line.
A field goal.
Aaron Schatz: I understand the idea that you want to get the ball back and be able to win without having to worry about a two-point conversion but the chances you can stop Brady AND get the ball back close enough to the end zone again are not good.
Scott Spratt: I loved the idea of the Jaydon Mickens slide to avoid the possible fumble. But if he could have stayed upright for two more seconds, he could have gotten to the two-minute warning on the kick return.
Aaron Schatz: EdjSports has the field goal as a -3.0% Game-Winning Chance error, going from 10.8% to 7.8%.
Bryan Knowles: Love the encroachment coming out of the two-minute warning. Second-and-1 is terrible; it allows the Buccaneers to burn an extra timeout with a new set of downs. The 5 yards and the first down are not nearly as important as the timeout.
Carl Yedor: Tampa Bay does a goofy thing and then a smart thing in quick succession. First, Jaydon Mickens slides down while returning the kick before the two-minute warning, resulting in the clock stopping at 2:02 and effectively giving Green Bay an additional clock stoppage. However, it also allows Tampa Bay to throw on first down without worrying about an incompletion stopping the clock because there is no way that the play would finish that fast. They take advantage of that freedom with a 9-yard completion to set up second-and-1. However, Green Bay then one-ups them by intentionally going offsides to give Tampa Bay the first down without having to burn a timeout. Tampa Bay chose to accept the penalty, as the broadcasters mentioned, which seems like an oversight in that situation.
Scott Spratt: Couldn't the Bucs have declined that though, Bryan? I wonder why they didn't.
Bryan Knowles: They could, Scott. Doesn't matter, of course, because the Buccaneers throw an incomplete pass on third down, and the Packers are going to ge...
... wait, what? The refs call pass interference on Kevin King, on a really late flag, on a day when they just aren't calling anything. What the hell?
Rivers McCown: Wouldn't be an NFC Championship Game without one.
Scott Spratt: Kevin King did a pretty major jersey pull there on Tyler Johnson though. It just seemed weird because it was so late.
Aaron Schatz: It was clearly pass interference on King, if they had been calling things all game. But they haven't been calling anything all game, and now they're going to end the game with a jersey tug?
Bryan Knowles: Yeah, it was pass interference, but they have been letting everything go in the secondary. That's ... I mean, I don't know how you call that after letting everything else go all day.
Vince Verhei: Stathead lists 40 field goals this century by teams that were down by seven or eight points in the fourth quarter and came back to win. The latest of those was kicked with 2:50 left in the game. Green Bay kicked theirs with 2:09 left. Green Bay kicking a field goal there, getting the ball back, and scoring a touchdown would have been unprecedented.
Scott Spratt: I don't know, Bryan. Johnson had no chance to catch that pass with the interference.
Bryan Knowles: I'm not arguing it's not interference, Scott. I'm just arguing that in a game where Murphy-Bunting got away with holding on his interception, calling that is odd. Consistency, is all I ask.
And yes, I'd argue that King's hold was longer than Murphy-Bunting's. I'm not sure I'd argue it did more to obstruct a reception, though that's very much in the eye of the beholder.
Tom Gower: Congrats to 345 Park Avenue. They got 58 minutes of murther most foul not being an infraction, and wait, hey, let's throw a flag on something blatant but no more blatant than many things that have gone uncalled to decide the game. This is why you set the rules before the game and then enforce them consistently once the game starts, for the entire game.
I need to cool down before I say anything else. What a terrible way to end an interesting game.
Tom Gower: OK, another game coming up soon, so bullet points:
- One of Bill Walsh's keys to a winning team was a fourth-quarter pass rush. The Bucs got that today, beating both Packers offensive tackles to help shut down Green Bay's offense after Tom Brady interceptions that could have really changed the game.
- Davante Adams' first-half drop on that back-shoulder that Troy Aikman called looms large.
- I really doubted the Packers would come back, expecting something like a 45-31 final after 28-10, and the Packers success cutting the deficit later didn't make me think more of Green Bay's defense. But those three interceptions all count.
- Troy Aikman loves quarterbacks, all of them, and they can do almost no wrong in his eyes.
- How much of the second half comeback featured the Packers' base offense? It didn't seem like much.
- The Bucs playing with two backup safeties could have been big. Todd Bowles ended up playing much more Man-2 coverage to protect them. That had a couple of implications. I've already noted one, that it puts more pressure on the front four to create, well, pressure on their own without blitzing. Second, it forces the Packers receivers to win more against man coverage. I've been highly critical of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, but he had a strong game. But I think that was until the Bucs changed how they were covering. After that, I didn't see him win, aside from maybe Rodgers' outstanding seam throw over, I believe, Murphy-Bunting.
- The Bucs continually donating downs by running the ball didn't really matter much, did it?
- I'd fully react to Matt LaFleur's decision to trust his decision and kick the field goal down 31-23, but there may be preschool toys present. Even the generally more anti-analytics people I've seen haven't tried to defend that decision, and the most analytics-friendly defense is "that decision probably wasn't as bad as you thought, which isn't to say it was correct."
Tom Gower: We talked about updating Guts and Stomps earlier in the season as something to do, but the Bucs are a heck of an endorsement for Stomps being what matters. They crushed a bunch of bad teams, lost some mostly (but not all) close games against the better teams they played, and they have won three straight road games to make the Super Bowl.
Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs
Vince Verhei: The Bills had zero handoffs in their first 20 plays last week. They handed off twice on their first drive, and nearly had a third on the fourth-and-1 RPO before Josh Allen pulled the ball away and threw to Dawson Knox for the conversion. But later in the drive, Allen's play-action pass on third-and-3 is nearly intercepted, and the Bills settle for a field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Bryan Knowles: Woah, shades of Kyle Williams. The Bills are forced to punt after Josh Allen sprints backwards for 20 yards before taking a sack -- but the ball bounces in and out of Mecole Hardman's hands. That's a killer -- Bills get the ball on the 3-yard line and throw to Dawson Knox in the flat for a score and a 10-0 lead. HUGE play.
Err … 9-0 lead. Tyler Bass misses the PAT. He's good on the long kicks; not so good on the shorter ones!
Scott Spratt: The fumbled punt return was the big play there, but the Chiefs are the No. 31 DVOA defense against tight ends. Dawson Knox caught the touchdown, and he could be involved the rest of this game.
Vince Verhei: Drops hurting Kansas City early. Tyreek Hill drops what would have been a big gain into Buffalo territory on third down. Bills get the ball back, but have to punt after a mega-sack on a defensive back blitz ... but Mecole Hardman muffs the punt, Bills take over at the 2, and Allen hits Knox for the touchdown. PAT is no good, Bills up 9-0.
Bryan Knowles: The Bills really have been playing with a bit of fire -- the dropped interception on third down that allowed them to kick the field goal, the dropped third-down bomb from Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill that forced the punt, the muffed punt. I'd assume Kansas City's execution will improve from here, but these nine points count!
Aaron Schatz: Buffalo is back to its strategy from the first game, lots of zones with two safeties back to prevent the big play by Kansas City. Travis Kelce can live in these underneath zones all day but the Bills will take it as long as their offense can score too.
Vince Verhei: And they're getting pressure too, but Mahomes has escaped and made throws anyway, even overcoming yet another drop, this one by Kelce.
Second quarter ends with the Chiefs having a second-and-2 in the red zone. That went by quickly -- this is still just their second drive of the game.
Bryan Knowles: Hardman's touchdown will help make up for his muffed punt, but the story of the Chiefs so far has been Travis Kelce. Aaron said earlier that the Bills were fine with Kelce catching a few passes underneath, but he's up to five catches already and seems to be open whenever Mahomes is looking that way.
Aaron Schatz: Brutal drop just now by Devin Singletary on an outlet pass; he had a ton of yardage in front of him if he had caught it. Then Allen gets big-blitzed, pulls an intentional grounding, and the Bills have to punt.
Aaron Schatz: Dots on the Mecole Hardman end around, with two offensive linemen way downfield looking for someone to block.
50-yard end around dots!
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) January 25, 2021
Bryan Knowles: OK, between the touchdown and the 50-yard end around, I think Hardman has made up for his muffed punt at this point.
And, hey, there's Tracis Kelce open again, bringing the ball into the red zone after another 15-plus-yard gain. There are soft zones, and then there's what the Bills are allowing Kelce today. Buffalo was above average against tight ends in the regular season, but, well, Kelce's slightly above above average.
Aaron Schatz: Game is getting away from the Bills early. Allen is pressing and just had two inaccurate passes, one a dropped interception, to lead to a three-and-out.
Carl Yedor: Josh Allen just had back-to-back poor throws on a three-and-out. Combined with the terrible sack previously, he's having a rough time. Frankly, at 3.3 yards per attempt in addition to the sack, he's looking like his 2019 self more than the 2020 version that lit up scoreboards for most of the year. It could just be jitters, and he definitely has it in him to play better. But Buffalo needs to figure it out fast.
Scott Spratt: It's such a joy watching Mahomes play. Even with his compromised foot, he just avoided dead-to-right sacks on the last two plays and converted new first downs. The Chiefs are about to score again, and the Bills are in a precarious position.
Bryan Knowles: The playoff record for receptions by a tight end is 13, shared by Shannon Sharpe and Kellen Winslow. Travis Kelce has nine with four minutes left in the first half.
I think it's safe to say the Chiefs have cleaned things up after a shaky start, yes?
Aaron Schatz: OK, it looks like "Chiefs weren't really trying at the end of the season and were going to flip the switch in the playoffs" turned out to be true. No NFL team had ever really done that before, but the Chiefs right now are totally dominating in a way they never did over the last couple months.
Scott Spratt: I'm less surprised by the Chiefs' offensive success the last two weeks, Aaron. But both the Browns and Bills have sabotaged their own offenses against them, to a certain extent. Last week's fumble-touchback is the big one there. But Josh Allen has been off-target tonight, and Devin Singletary at least dropped a critical pass.
Scott Spratt: Do you go for it on fourth-and-goal? I think I would. I feel like the Bills need to try to score 40 points.
Bryan Knowles: Absolutely, Scott. I don't get this field goal attempt at all.
The Chiefs have had five drives. One ended at the half. One ended with a dropped pass. The other three ended in touchdowns. I just don't think you can expect to beat Kansas City with field goals, especially right on the goal line.
Vince Verhei: Alright, I'm just gonna bullet-point that first half:
- Chiefs lead 21-12.
- Not counting Kansas City's end-of-half knee, the Bills had six drives, the Chiefs only had four. Chiefs are still up by two scores.
- The only Kansas City punt came after a dropped pass on third down that would have moved the chains. It's one of several Kansas City drops tonight -- it doesn't even feel like they're playing very well.
- Josh Allen looks like the 2018 or 2019 version of himself. Looks totally flustered, taking bad sacks and missing throws, with a bunch of passes that could have been intercepted. In his defense, nothing else Buffalo is doing is working either -- all their good plays have been Allen runs or scramble-drill passes.
- Travis Kelce has nine passes. The Kansas City playoff record is 10, by Kelce last year in the win over Houston.
- Chiefs get the ball first in the second half.
Tom Gower: Chiefs up 21-12 at halftime. Good callback to Neil Peart's passing during last year's playoffs. Bryan's email just stole what I was going to say: outside of a Tyreek Hill third-down drop, the Chiefs have scored a touchdown every possession, and without the benefit of good field position. Patrick Mahomes looks like the foot isn't bothering him too much. Their team speed is a lot to deal with. The Bills seem to be mostly successfully executing the "limit downfield passing plays" offense, and it hasn't mattered. The pigeon appears to be Tremaine Edmunds, with something like six targets in coverage, getting high-lowed between run support and pass coverage.
On the other side of the ball, well, the Bills scored a touchdown when they started at the Chiefs 3 after a punt. They had five other offensive possessions, all starting backed up, and once Sean McDermott made the decision to accept a two-score halftime deficit, they scored six points on those five possessions.
- Chiefs: four possessions on long fields, 21 points. Good.
- Bills: five possessions on long fields, six points. Not good.
OK, part of that comes down to red zone execution, which may be subject to short-run variance. But that's not a winning equation for Buffalo when Kansas City is set to get the second-half kick.
Aaron Schatz: Tony Romo has been pointing it out, but the Kansas City defensive pass coverage has been outstanding today. That's the surprise, not that the offense is firing on all cylinders.
Scott Spratt: If there was any question about whether McDermott went for the field goal at the end of the first half because of the lack of time in case they didn't convert, that question is answered. The Bills just kicked a field goal from another fourth-and-3 in the red zone. I don't love that at all.
Bryan Knowles: What on earth is Sean McDermott doing? That's Bass' second sub-30-yard field goal. There's only 20 minutes left in your season, Buffalo; you're going to need to find the end zone!
Dave Bernreuther: Not that the alternative was a great option, but you aren't going to beat the Chiefs by kicking a bunch of field goals. 24-15 with a quarter and a half to play doesn't feel like a big win for the Bills after getting that close.
The defense needs a big win here.
Scott Spratt: Wow, Jordan Poyer just ran down Tyreek Hill at near full speed! I mean, it was still a massive Chiefs gain, but still amazing.
Dave Bernreuther: Tyreek Hill proves my point with a 71-yard run wherein his legs in motion looked like a cartoon blur. We've talked about Kyler Murray and his scampering ... that run looked like a Murray scamper with the fast-forward button being held.
Bryan Knowles: Travis Kelce's 11th reception of the day makes this a 31-15 Chiefs lead, and I think that's all she wrote. I do not understand why Sean McDermott, who has been so good all year, has gone back into a shell on his decision-making here.
Rivers McCown: The cowards have been properly punished today.
Vince Verhei: Barely two minutes after that Buffalo field goal, Kansas City gets a touchdown. Bills now need six more field goals to take the lead.
On Kansas City's first drive of the second half, there was another one of those "Is this a good challenge?" plays. The Bills challenged a Hill catch-and-run and won the challenge ... but it was still a first-and-10 for Kansas City, just 15 yards further back. The Chiefs ended up kicking a 45-yard field goal on fourth-and-3 on that drive; they probably would have gone for it rather than try a 60-yarder.
Carl Yedor: One play after Kansas City narrowly misses a pick where an Allen pass just clears the reach of a diving defender, the Chiefs finally get their hands on the interception that he has been trying to throw all night. The actual interception was not a particularly bad throw, but the ball was tipped up in the air as Allen was trying to hit John Brown and picked off by Rashad Fenton. If Kansas City scores a touchdown here, we should be able to call it a night barring a miracle.
Bryan Knowles: Travis Kelce just caught his 13th reception, tying Kellen Winslow and Shannon Sharpe for most receptions by a tight end in a postseason game. Only 118 yards, so it won't be the most valuable day or anything (I imagine that still belongs to Vernon Davis against the Saints after the 2011 season), but that's a hell of a number. The Bills have just been unable to slow him down at all.
Chiefs-Buccaneers Super Bowl. The best quarterback of the 2010s versus the leader in the clubhouse for best quarterback of the 2020s. I can get behind that.
Vince Verhei: The DYAR record, regular season or playoffs, is Kelce last year against Houston (10-12-134-3).
Bryan Knowles: One thing that did go wrong for the Chiefs today -- they have ruled out Eric Fisher very quickly with an Achilles injury. That's very specific and may not bode well for his availability in two weeks. We saw in the Packers game what missing your starting left tackle means against Tampa Bay's pass rush.
Tom Gower: The Chiefs are in position to kneel this out at the two-minute warning. This is their ninth technical possession of the game. One of those was the single kneeldown at the end of the first half. So, basically, they have had the ball seven times to 10 for the Buffalo Bills. In those respective possessions, the Chiefs scored 38 points and the Bills scored 24. We've been waiting for the world-destroying Kansas City Chiefs to show up for an entire game. They did, today, and the Bills will lose by two touchdowns even with the muffed punt, onside kick recovery, and getting the last legitimate possession of the first half.