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Sunday, December 15, 2019

8 biggest disappointments from NFL Championship Sunday

Dee Ford

In one sense, Sunday’s championship games hardly could have gone better for the NFL. Both went to overtime and were filled with drama, dramatic comebacks, and great performances. On the other hand, they were tinged with controversy, and some players were simply unable to perform their best on the biggest stage — including one Kansas City Chief whose brutal penalty may have wiped out his team’s win.

Here are eight big disappointments from NFL Championship Sunday.

Dee Ford, LB, Chiefs

Ford was the unlucky Chief to be caught in the neutral zone on what would have otherwise been a game-ending interception that would have sent the Chiefs to the Super Bowl. He wouldn’t have impacted the play, and had he just stayed onside, Kansas City likely would have won. Instead, the flag negated the huge play, leading to a Patriots touchdown. And though the Chiefs rallied to force overtime, they ultimately lost there. It wouldn’t have gotten that far if not for Ford’s error.

The referees

The name Bill Vinovich and his officiating crew will go down in infamy in the city of New Orleans for a truly awful non-call late in the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship. Had the correct call been made, the Saints would have gotten a first down and been able to run out the clock, clinching a trip to the Super Bowl as long as they made their field goal. There was no justification for getting this one wrong, and the NFL’s nightmare has come true: a pretty blatant officiating mistake cost a team a shot at a championship. It was always going to happen, and now it remains to be seen if the league will do anything about it.

Kansas City Chiefs’ pass rush

Tom Brady simply didn’t face enough pressure from Kansas City’s defense for it to make a difference. Brady wasn’t sacked at all and took only one quarterback hit, despite the best efforts of the Chris Jones-led Kansas City defensive line. The Patriots’ offensive line did a great job protecting Brady, and he has enough knowledge and football IQ to know when he’s about to get hit and avoid it. It was simply a very poor outing from a defensive front that was expected to challenge him, though.

New Orleans Saints’ clock management

The officiating will get the headlines and deservedly so, but New Orleans managed its final offensive drive of regulation very poorly. The Saints got the ball down to the Rams’ 13 yard line with 1:58 left, and Los Angeles had two timeouts remaining. With three run plays, even without a first down, the Rams would have used two timeouts, plus another 40 seconds or so on a third run, followed by the rest of the play clock on a field goal attempt. In other words, the Rams could have been left with 30 seconds and no timeouts to try to get into field goal range and tie the game. Instead, New Orleans threw two incomplete passes, ensuring the Rams had a full 1:41 — plus a final timeout — to set up Greg Zuerlein’s game-tying kick. Marcus Peters made reference to this after the game.

Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive line

There’s a good argument to be made that the Chiefs lost this game in the trenches. Patrick Mahomes was sacked four times and hit nine times, and that doesn’t count the amount of times he had to rush a throw or didn’t have time to find an open receiver because of New England’s blitzes. It’s hard to see an open receiver with a defender in your face, and Kansas City let that happen time and time again. It was a major factor behind the Chiefs’ inability to score in the first half.

Michael Thomas, WR, Saints

A week after a record-setting performance against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Rams successfully held Thomas in check. Much like the Saints offense, he was largely a non-factor after the first quarter, though Drew Brees underthrew him on what should have been a clear touchdown. While nobody would have expected Thomas to set another record, it’s fair to say that he needed to have a better game than this for the Saints to win the game and reach the Super Bowl.

Kansas City Chiefs’ key offensive weapons

Patrick Mahomes did all he could to make things happen, but the key weapons he’s relied on all season long were simply unable to make plays for him on Sunday during the AFC Championship. Sammy Watkins and Damien Williams did really good work, but the bigger names failed. Tyreek Hill had one 42-yard catch, but that was his only contribution to the game. Travis Kelce, such a reliable weapon, only caught three passes for a total of 23 yards, though one was a touchdown. Those were the big names that were going to be relied upon to get the Chiefs to a Super Bowl, but they weren’t able to step up against New England’s defense.

Todd Gurley, RB, Rams

What happened to Gurley here? The star running back got just four carries in the entire game, with C.J. Anderson heavily preferred to him in the running game. He made an early error by dropping a screen pass that led to an interception, and was completely marginalized after that, be it a coaching decision or an injury. This will end up being a subplot for the next two weeks as the Rams gear up for the Super Bowl, but nobody would have expected Gurley to be a total non-factor in a game Los Angeles won.

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