After 283 games, the 2022 NFL season will still come down to a battle of No. 1 seeds with 16-3 records. The Philadelphia Eagles crushed the San Francisco 49ers 31-7, and the Kansas City Chiefs outlasted the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20.
I hate going against my gut – 49ers-Bengals was last Sunday’s initial pick – but working on these games all week changed my mind multiple times. By Saturday when I posted my final score predictions, I was able to nail the proper framing too.
Turnovers from the quarterback position did in the 49ers on the road, though I never imagined Josh Johnson to be part of the story. San Francisco finishes the season 0-5 with multiple turnovers and 15-0 without multiple turnovers.
The Chiefs exposed the backups on Cincinnati’s main weakness, the offensive line, and they made Joe Burrow pay with five sacks and shut down the run. Chris Jones stepped up with his fair pair of playoff sacks and even the special teams showed up late to help Patrick Mahomes and the offense on a day where health was in short supply.
What does it mean for Super Bowl 57?
- We will not see the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to start a Super Bowl after Brock Purdy injured his elbow on just his third dropback of the game.
- We will not see a team on a 13-game winning streak (49ers) take on a team on an 11-game winning streak (Bengals) as both teams lost on the road.
- We will get the Andy Reid Bowl. The Kelce Bowl. The best quarterback vs. the No. 1 pass defense. Plenty of time to talk about that one the next two weeks.
So, let’s recap a Championship Sunday that had one massive disappointment and one great game that really cements Bengals-Chiefs as the top rivalry in the NFL right now.
This season in Stat Oddity:
- Divisional Round
- Wild Card Weekend
- Week 18
- Week 17
- Week 16
- Week 15
- Week 14
- Week 13
- Week 12
- Week 11
- Week 10
- Week 9
- Week 8
- Week 7
- Week 6
- Week 5
- Week 4
- Week 3
- Week 2
- Week 1
Bengals at Chiefs: The Rivalry Is On After Chiefs Survive Thriller
After how terrible the NFC game was, you had to hope we were in store for something good here as these teams only seem to know how to play 3-point games against each other.
This was the least-efficient offensive game between the two, but the intensity and stakes were never higher. Last year, the Bengals were more of a curiosity than a confident team playing in the championship game. They proved they could come back again from a big deficit against these Chiefs. Then for the first time in this series in Week 13 this year, they showed they can control the game too and again close out the win by outplaying the Chiefs in the fourth quarter.
But this time, the Bengals outscored the Chiefs in the fourth quarter and still lost after Kansas City got the full team effort it needed to survive this one. While I still would have drafted wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase over offensive tackle Penei Sewell, a game like this does push the needle in favor of the line over receivers when it comes to building around a great quarterback talent.
The Bengals were unfortunately down three offensive line starters for the second week in a row, but unlike in snowy Buffalo without Von Miler, those chickens came home to roost again with Burrow taking five sacks and the running backs held to 13 carries for 41 yards. When your offense is one-dimensional and the protection is that bad, it gets harder to take advantage of the injuries the Chiefs suffered on defense, including their best corner (L’Jarius Sneed) four plays into the game and linebacker Willie Gay.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs came into the week with Mahomes’ high-ankle sprain hogging all the injury coverage, then a Friday practice back injury for Travis Kelce popped up, and during the game, the Chiefs lost JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kadarius Toney, and Mecole Hardman at wide receiver. The Chiefs only gave Mahomes 17 carries for 34 yards in run support in this game.
This team was running on fumes by the end of the game, but Mahomes and Kelce are just exceptional talents and they got just enough help from the rest of the team to pull this one out.
The First Quarter: Lucky It Wasn’t KC 14-0
The Chiefs came out hot with three sacks on the first two drives, including the first sack of Chris Jones’ postseason career. Somehow it took him 14 games to break through, but he picked the best time as I thought he might with the deficiencies the Bengals have. He even did it on a third down and made sure to hold Burrow up and not take him down to draw an egregious penalty.
On offense, things were looking like business as usual for Mahomes and Kelce, who showed no glaring signs of injury like you may have expected after last week and Kelce getting a game-time decision tag. Kelce even tried a designed lateral to Jerick McKinnon in the field of play in the first quarter. The ball was a little off, but McKinnon fortunately got on it for the recovery.
But missed opportunities were a big theme for the Chiefs early. Kadarius Toney could not come down with a 25-yard touchdown on a third down on the opening drive on a well-thrown ball, and the Chiefs wasted a challenge on that call.
Isiah Pacheco showed great effort on a 9-yard touchdown run that was wiped out by a holding penalty, and the Chiefs had to settle for a second field goal and 6-0 lead one play into the second quarter.
The Second Quarter: More Missed Opportunities for Chiefs
Maybe Burrow needed to warm up his LOAT magic on a very cold night, because he took his fourth sack on a ninth dropback and was facing third-and-14. But he converted to Tyler Boyd, who also had a 24-yard catch two plays later before eventually leaving the game with an injury too.
But that drive also ended with a field goal after Hayden Hurst was unable to come down with a nice pass in the end zone not much unlike the Chiefs’ miss with Toney on their first drive. It was 6-3.
The Chiefs ended up getting a fantastic, season-best game out of Marquez Valdes-Scantling, the mistake-prone No. 2 receiver from Green Bay. He had back-to-back plays gain 40 yards, and he finished with 116 yards and a touchdown.
But after Mahomes took a sack he may have normally escaped, it was fourth-and-1. Instead of throwing into the flat, Mahomes held the ball and was able to find Kelce in the end zone for a 14-yard shot to take a 13-3 lead.
Just when you think it may not be Cincy’s day, Burrow threw a pick and the Chiefs could have gone up 20-3 in the first half not much unlike last year’s game before losing it in overtime. But Mahomes threw three incompletions from the Cincinnati 39 and the Chiefs punted on a surprisingly weak three-and-out.
Burrow then tried to throw deep and it was intercepted on a deflection, but that was negated by a 20-yard penalty on the defense. Was this the beginning of the comeback? The Bengals got a two-minute drive going and Tee Higgins was the big target with a 21-yard catch down to the Kansas City 5 with the clock going under 20 seconds.
This is where I think Burrow screwed up. Instead of quickly lining up for a spike and saving a solid 10-11 seconds for two shots into the end zone, he went for the fade on first down, and it was a rushed, poor throw that had no shot of scoring. That wasted too much time, and Burrow’s next pass was also incomplete with 4 seconds left. They had to kick the field goal at that point and trail 13-6 at the half. I think either spike on first down or save the timeout he used earlier in the drive. Somewhere, a spike should have happened to give them more valid shots at the end zone.
But it was only 13-6 and you could sense some disappointment that the Chiefs were not up much more after all the opportunities in that half.
The Third Quarter: The Turning Point (Burrow Willed It)
So much for the Chiefs coming out hot to make up for the last offensive series. They went three-and-out again.
Like he did last year in the title game, Burrow, who led the game with 30 rushing yards, showed some good scrambling skills on a third down, then he finished the drive with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Tee Higgins to tie the game. Just a perfect throw to a spot where only the best No. 2 wideout in the game could get it over two defenders.
Now we had a game, and the game had a turning point. The Chiefs had gone 60 minutes of real time without a first down before Mahomes scrambled and found Hardman on a third-and-4 with a strike for 11 yards. But not only did Hardman get injured and left the game on this play, but Mahomes likely aggravated his ankle injury and was hobbling around after the play:
Ouch. Two plays later, Mahomes hung in the pocket with good protection and threw to an uncovered MVS, who charged ahead for 25 yards. MVS would later stretch the ball out on a third-down play to get just enough forward progress to convert and extend the drive after the Chiefs used their final challenge.
After Mahomes took a sack, it was third-and-10. He hung in there and delivered perhaps his best bullet of the night with a 19-yard touchdown strike to MVS in the end zone to give the Chiefs a 20-13 lead.
Mahomes gutted it out on that drive, but after the Bengals went three-and-out, the Chiefs blew another golden opportunity to go up two scores going into the final quarter.
First, you rarely ever seen an offensive lineman penalized for taunting, but that happened to Andrew Wylie, which wasted 15 of the 25 yards the Chiefs gained on another third-down conversion to MVS. But after reaching the Cincinnati 46, Mahomes had his worst moment of the game when he mishandled the ball on a throw, and it fell out of his hands for his first career playoff fumble lost:
This is when you really do start believing that Burrow has that Brady luck in him after seeing such an unforced error like that at midfield. Playoff hero Sam Hubbard got on the ball of course.
But the Bengals had a decision to make after the Chiefs massacred Samaje Perine on a third-down catch to end the quarter and bring up a fourth-and-6 at the Kansas City 41.
The Fourth Quarter: Frantic Finish
Hard to disagree with going for it here, and Burrow just threw it up for Chase, who came down with it in coverage for 35 yards, the only 30-yard play in the game. Just a great receiver and a confident quarterback. Perine finished the drive in the end zone and the game was tied at 20. It is the first fourth-quarter touchdown drive led by Burrow in a playoff game.
There was a noticeable decline in Mahomes’ quality of play after he aggravated the injury in the third quarter. He was not immobile or worthless, but he was not as accurate and under control like he was early in the game. I counted at least three plays in the second half where he really flirted with a backwards lateral or a pass that was barely forward as he tried to get the ball out to someone in the flat.
One of those plays was a pass to McKinnon, who dropped it upon quick review. That should have stopped the clock to bring up a third-and-9, but the clock was told to run at the ready for play, and a few seconds did erroneously come off before the third down was snapped, which was a short completion, I believe. The Chiefs were going to punt, then we were told the play was blown dead and never should have counted, which gave the Chiefs another crack at it.
I guess they technically got it fixed, but that was not a good look for the officials, and not a good break for the Bengals. Sure enough, a Mahomes sack was wiped out by defensive holding on Eli Apple of all people, and the Chiefs had a first down.
However, Mahomes was off again, and the drive stalled. Burrow had his chance to take the lead, but his third-and-3 arm punt was intercepted way down at the Kansas City 14 with 6:53 left. It effectively served as a 50-yard punt, though I think he could have got the first down with a safer, smarter play.
But for the third time in the game, the Chiefs drove into Cincinnati territory and came away with no points and not even a field goal attempt. The Bengals had an interesting choice after the Chiefs were penalized for holding. They could either put the Chiefs in third-and-22 and out of field-goal range, or decline the penalty to make it fourth-and-8 at the Cincinnati 37. I think Zac Taylor made the right call to decline as you hate to give Mahomes another shot on third down. From the 37, a 55-yard field goal would be tough in those cold conditions.
I think Reid surprised a lot of people when he chose the punt, which felt like the worst option, which is backed up by at least one set of data:
When you risk the potential of never seeing the ball again, I think a long field goal or letting Mahomes throw is viable. Tough decision, and it was not looking good after the way the defense was approaching the drive.
After Burrow was hit with a questionable intentional grounding penalty, it was third-and-16. You do not expect them to convert, but Hurst was left wide open for 23 yards after a blown coverage.
Was Burrow really about to do this on the road?
No, false alarm. The drive stalled after Burrow was sacked by Chris Jones on third-and-8 for the fifth sack of the game. That tends to be the magic number for playing Cincinnati.
In the last 31 games, Burrow is now 21-1 when he takes fewer than five sacks and 1-8 when he takes at least five sacks. There was a long gap between sack No. 4 and sack No. 5, but Jones made the biggest play when it was needed the most.
The defense did its part. Then it was the special teams’ turn. After an underwhelming rookie season for Skyy Moore with some big fumbles on returns, he almost doubled his longest punt return of the season with a 29-yard return to set up Mahomes at his own 47 with 30 seconds and one timeout left. It was the longest punt return of the season for the Chiefs, so good timing there.
We know Mahomes can set up a field goal in record time, but this drive was not going great, and you had to start thinking about seeing the new overtime rules in effect. But on a third-and-4, Mahomes scrambled the best he could and was able to get out of bounds after the marker for a first down. Unfortunately for the Bengals, Joseph Ossai, a second-year linebacker, let his instincts take over and he pushed Mahomes while he was clearly out of bounds and that resulted in a 15-yard flag.
It was not a smart play, but I don’t think I can crucify the player for this one. These quarterbacks are getting tricky with the way they slide down late or decide to stay in bounds sometimes and get more yards. But that was definitely a killer as it made the field goal 45 yards instead of 60 if they would even try it from that far. There also would have been a little time to get closer with a fresh set of downs, but the Chiefs were out of timeouts, so play calls would be very limited there. Just a massive penalty, and probably a gift.
I keep waiting for Harrison Butker to screw the Chiefs in a big game since he misses enough makeable kicks in the regular season to think he might be untrustworthy, but he keeps getting the job done in the playoffs. He was good from 45 yards and the Chiefs led 23-20 with 3 seconds left. That was only enough time for the Bengals to try a lateral play on the kick return that never went anywhere.
Three of the NFL’s last four drives in the final 40 seconds of a playoff game to win it or force overtime with a field goal have been led by Mahomes with Butker kicking a field goal:
In every sense of the word, the Chiefs survived this game, which is what they were going to have to do with the health situation this week. Now they hopefully can get some good rest and be fresher for the Super Bowl in two weeks, because the Eagles are going to be a difficult opponent.
As for the Bengals, that is now all seven playoff games in the Burrow era ending with the Bengals scoring 19-to-27 points and not allowing more than 24 points. Only Joe Montana (five games in 1981-84) in the early days of the 49ers dynasty had a streak anywhere near that in playoff history.
But we need to chill on the Joe Cool nickname here. I hope Burrow changes his stance here on “Who cares about third-down sacks?” His season largely just ended on one.
An embarrassing Mahomes fumble, a conservative punt decision from Reid, and a blown coverage on third-and-16 – this could have been the unholy trinity to kill another Kansas City postseason short of a championship.
Burrow’s fifth sack on third down by Jones, the 29-yard punt return by Moore, and the 15-yard penalty gift from Ossai – this holy trifecta saved Kansas City’s season and has them in the Super Bowl for the third time in four years.
It took a full team effort for the Chiefs to win this one, and we do not always see that from their wins, but it was the right mix of all three units coming through this time.
I was going to make a section here at the end to describe the Chiefs Twitter brouhaha from earlier this week, but there are two weeks and then some to write about legacies and such things. More importantly, my motivation to write defensively over nonsense at 4:38 A.M. after the team I wanted to win won this dramatic game is just not there. So, I’ll only say be glad that the Chiefs did not fall to 2-3 in home title games, which the favorite wins 72.1% of the time now (62-24).
Be glad they are not 0-4 against these cocky Bengals. Be glad we don’t have to hear “Burrowhead” bullshit, and hopefully the Cincinnati mayor is given a gag order the next time they are in the playoffs.
The Chiefs came through this time, but in the words of Kobe Bryant, the job’s not finished.
49ers at Eagles: Purdy Got Hurt and Hurts Was Purdy Bad
Well, that fvcking sucked.
The NFC’s Game of the Year was a matchup I was looking forward to for a few months now, but it could not have gone much worse than it did in Philadelphia’s 31-7 win.
Rarely do you say a playoff game was decided by each team’s first possession, but that was basically the case here as everything spiraled from the Eagles getting a touchdown they didn’t deserve and Brock Purdy’s elbow injury.
- The Eagles got a fraudulent touchdown because the referees missed a catch that wasn’t a catch, and Kyle Shanahan was asleep at the wheel with his challenge flag.
- Purdy was injured (elbow) on his third dropback.
- The 49ers were sloppy and gave the Eagles a second touchdown drive on a drive that featured three defensive penalties for an automatic first down.
- Backup quarterback Josh Johnson apparently hasn’t done much two-minute drill work with his 13 NFL teams in his career as he fumbled a snap that led to a 30-yard touchdown drive.
- A weak roughing the punter was called to extend Philadelphia’s fourth touchdown drive and 28-7 lead.
- I guess you can only prepare so much on the fly with the Wildcat and using Christian McCaffrey as your emergency QB, but there was a terrible Deebo Samuel run on a fourth-and-2 that set up the Eagles for their final scoring drive (field goal), and even that one included an embarrassing unnecessary roughness penalty on Dre Greenlaw for punching at the ball.
- After a near fight and Trent Williams showing he had enough of this shit, Deebo had one more brutal fourth-down run where he tried to be Superman but just lost 7 yards and fumbled for technically the third lost fumble of the game for the 49ers.
- Eagles finally ran out the clock to end this stinker.
But back to that opening drive. You see the 49ers bring pressure on Jalen Hurts, he gets off a low but catchable ball to A.J. Brown for 10 yards on third-and-8, and you think this is going to be a very good game like it should have been.
Then the Eagles go for a fourth-and-3, Hurts is a little too far with the ball, but DeVonta Smith appeared to make this incredible diving catch for 29 yards down to the 6. You think with the way he reacted to hurry up to the line and run the next play that even he knew he didn’t catch it because the ball was loose on the ground, but there was no challenge from Kyle Shanahan. What the hell, man? It probably wasn’t going to get any bigger in the first half than a complete or incomplete call on a fourth down in scoring territory.
The Eagles scored a pretty easy 6-yard rushing touchdown two plays later with Miles Sanders to take a 7-0 lead they didn’t deserve. Maybe the official’s view of the ball was obscured, but where is the expedited review from the booth to correct that one? Where is the challenge from Shanahan? Just failure all around and good luck for the Eagles.
Who knows how the game plays out if the 49ers take over at their own 35 in a 0-0 game, but the Philadelphia pass rush was definitely an issue for what is a good line in San Francisco. I was worried about Brock Purdy making mistakes in this game, but little did I know it’d go down like this.
It’s such a shame too because what a story this rookie was. He completed his first two passes. Nothing that will blow your socks off, but successful gains of 9 and 10 yards to George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk (his only catch of the game).
Then at the 50-yard line, everything changed. Purdy was hit on the arm just as he was trying to release the ball, and Haason Reddick got him just in time for it to be a strip-sack with clear recovery by the Eagles. Nick Sirianni was not asleep at the wheel and got the challenge off, and he got the ball. Purdy was out with an elbow injury and Josh Johnson had to warm up.
The Eagles actually went three-and-out with a very conservative drive. Reddick sacked Johnson on his first dropback to welcome him to the game. Neither offense was doing much as this was starting to look like last year’s 17-11 matchup.
Eventually, the 49ers were winning the field position battle and used a short field (46 yards) to tie the game with Christian McCaffrey doing the heavy lifting on a great 23-yard touchdown run.
The 49ers stopped Hurts on a third-and-2 run, but the Eagles boldly went for it on fourth-and-1 at their own 35. It paid off as Hurts again converted on the sneak.
From there, the 49ers gave up three first downs via penalty, including a big one on third-and-7 that I really wasn’t feeling DPI on Jimmie Ward against A.J. Brown. The other calls looked more legit, and the marathon drive went on until Sanders again scored from 13 yards out, untouched to take a 14-7 lead.
I even said on Twitter that the 49ers had to be careful here. Going into the locker room at 14-7 would not be that bad when you get the ball to start the third. But they tried to go hurry up and that’s when Johnson just flat out dropped the ball on a horrible play that the Eagles recovered 30 yards away from the end zone. They only needed four snaps to cover that before Boston Scott ripped off a 10-yard touchdown run that also looked too easy against an elite run defense.
The Eagles led 21-7 at halftime and things looked bleak.
Just when you thought the 49ers still had a chance after converting a third-and-13 to start the third quarter, Johnson was knocked out with a concussion. Well, it sure does suck that Jimmy Garoppolo was just not quite healthy enough to get back this week as there was hope he’d be available for the Super Bowl.
The 49ers’ emergency option was CMC, and he just took a handoff from Purdy, who came back in the game, for a 4-yard gain and punt.
Could Purdy throw? Apparently not as he would throw just two short passes in the entire second half despite having to finish the game for Johnson. The 49ers really did nothing that unique or fun with Samuel and CMC, though you can hardly blame them for not preparing more offense beyond the third-string rookie quarterback they brought into this game. Just a disastrous year for quarterback injuries for this team.
Meanwhile, Donovan McNabb fvcking wept as Hurts was getting bailed out from a very weak performance in this game.
The 49ers had the top-ranked defense, but he did not even look under duress as much as the 49ers quarterbacks did (or Joe Burrow later in the day), and even the coverage was not all that tight on his receivers. But Hurts’ accuracy was poor, he got the 29-yard gain to Smith that should have been incomplete, and he finished this game with 121 passing yards on 25 attempts.
That is 4.84 YPA in a championship game the Eagles won 31-7. It’s the first time a quarterback won a conference championship game by 14+ points with a YPA under 5.0 since Steve McNair against the 1999 Jaguars with Tennessee (33-14 win with 4.9 YPA).
It wasn’t even that great of a rushing day for Hurts, who finished with 11 runs for 39 yards. It just so happens that 29 of those yards, and his 15th rushing touchdown of the season, came after the 49ers were penalized for a brutal roughing the punter penalty to negate a fourth-and-6 punt from midfield.
I felt like the defender was blocked into the punter. Either way, it should be a really unnecessary hit to count as roughing the punter, and that one was weak in my view. But the Eagles turned it into another touchdown and this was over at 28-7 late in the third quarter.
If Purdy could physically throw, I believe they would have tried more. But it just did not happen in this game. The fourth quarter was just watching the 49ers get more and more frustrated with themselves as Samuel and McCaffrey couldn’t sustain drives for them with zero passing game. This isn’t Army vs. Navy after all.
Then the ruckus late in the fourth quarter was a bad look with Williams and K’Von Wallace getting ejected.
That was just a trash game, and we’ll never know what Purdy would have did without the injury. Maybe he has a decent game and it puts more pressure on Hurts, who did not look good at all to me.
But this seems to be what happens when the Eagles face a good team. The health of the opposing quarterback is just not there, and sure enough, they are getting Mahomes in the Super Bowl after he appeared to aggravate his ankle injury. We know he’s going to play, and both these quarterbacks can use the time off before this one, but we’ll see how the Chiefs handle that pass rush.
I think they handle it better than the Bengals would have, but I have two weeks to overanalyze a game where both fan bases will think I hate their team when the reality is I have a clear rooting interest in this one.