8 biggest standouts from NFL Championship Sunday
It may be for any number of reasons, but Sunday’s Conference Championships will be memorable for a long, long time. There will be a lot of talk about referees and rules and other controversies, but it would be silly to ignore the fact that there were some standout performances on Sunday that don’t deserve to be forgotten.
Here’s a look at the eight biggest standouts of NFL Championship Sunday.
Tony Romo, CBS analyst
If anyone still doubted whether Romo is the best game analyst in the business right now, they need only listen to him essentially calling out every New England play during the fourth quarter and overtime. He spotted when the Patriots were going to open things up and go to the right on a 4th and short, which they did for a touchdown. He noted when Rob Gronkowski was put out wide, where the Patriots targeted him virtually every time. He pointed out when New England was setting up for their constant passes over the middle to Julian Edelman as well. He simply has a great football mind and sees the game incredibly well. He was all over what the Patriots were doing on Sunday and completely shined as an analyst.
Greg Zuerlein, K, Rams
Zuerlein was kicking in a dome, but it’s not easy to make a field goal from 57 yards in any venue, especially when a Super Bowl berth is riding on it. The Rams kicker did so, however, and seemingly with plenty of room to spare. In addition to the 57-yard game-winner, Zuerlein tucked a 48-yarder inside the upright late in the fourth quarter to tie the game. In a year where a lot of kickers have failed, Zuerlein came up huge in a big moment and deserves the plaudits in a big way.
Julian Edelman, WR, Patriots
The AFC Championship so easily could have gone wrong for Edelman, who narrowly averted disaster on a punt before an interception went off his fingertips moments later that looked like it might cost New England the game. It didn’t. Edelman has been here before and recovered to become Brady’s favorite target down the stretch and in overtime, ultimately leading the team with 96 yards on seven catches as the Patriots just kept going to him over the middle.
Los Angeles Rams’ defensive front
The Rams struggled to contain Drew Brees early in the NFC Championship, and they needed their defense to step up and make some plays. It was their defense that ultimately did so, with their monstrous front of Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald contributing to the turnaround after their team trailed by 13 points. Suh had a dominant stretch late in the second half where he had a hand in back-to-back sacks, forcing a punt that set up a Rams touchdown. Donald didn’t get a sack, but he did have three QB hits and a tackle for loss. At minimum, they helped hurry Brees up, which was a factor in his diminishing second half production.
New England Patriots’ run game
For the second consecutive week, the Patriots used their ground game to gash an opponent. The Chiefs had no answer for Sony Michel, who racked up another 113 yards in what is quickly turning into a breakout postseason for him. He had two touchdowns, as did Rex Burkhead, who was a good short-yardage option aside from one bad moment on fourth down. In total, the Patriots scored five touchdowns, and four of them came on the ground with a stubborn attack the Chiefs struggled to slow down.
Brandin Cooks, WR, Rams
The former Saint made his old team suffer on Sunday, catching all seven of his targets. He really only contributed on two drives, setting up a touchdown with two big catches while making three grabs on a second touchdown drive. Those were the only two touchdowns the Rams managed on the day. It was no coincidence that Cooks and his 107 total yards were heavily involved in both of them and not really involved otherwise.
New England Patriots’ gameplan
Teams have struggled all season long to shut down the high-powered Chiefs offense, but New England shut them out completely in the first half of the AFC Championship. The key was an effective pass rush on defense that didn’t allow Patrick Mahomes any time to breathe or find an open receiver. On offense, the Patriots were in total control of the ball, running relentlessly and hoarding possession. In the end, New England had 234 more total yards and more than double the time of possession of Kansas City, keeping the dangerous Mahomes off the field as much as possible — including in overtime.
Sean McVay, coach, Rams
McVay had a very controversial moment when he kicked a game-tying field goal at the one instead of going for a 24-20 lead, but one call he made definitely changed the game. His decision to run a fake punt early in the second quarter while facing a 13-0 deficit while at their own 30 took guts, but it worked in much the same way it did for the Saints a week ago. The Rams only got a field goal on the drive, but after the fake, they outscored New Orleans 26-10. It’s hard to see that as a coincidence.