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Ten Things I Liked About The NFL Conference Championship Games

The Nickell Robey Coleman Debacle, Game Plans, Second Level Blocking, and Buzzing.

AFC Championship - New England Patriots v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

1.) Alvin Kamara Swinging To The Sideline

2.) The Saints’ Run Defense

3.) Ndamukong Suh Doing It Again

4.) Drew Brees Finally Throwing It Downfield

5.) Jared Goff Play Action

How could anyone care after Jared Goff no huddled and completed quick inside breaking passes to get the Rams in field goal range, after Dante Fowler Jr had a sick spin back inside to beat Ryan Ramczyk to float Drew Brees’s pass way up high, and after Greg Zuerlein kicked a kick that could have detonated the moon if it wasn’t for those pesky nets?

Ultimately it doesn’t matter. In the future I won’t think about any of these things. I won’t think about Alvin Kamara swing receptions, the Saints’ run defense, Suh playing another great game, Brees’s noodlely arm, or the wild throws Jared Goff made after play action. These moments won’t come crawling out of the crevasses of my mind and into my brain stem. Joyful memories won’t spring and bubble, the nightmare will instead lurch out with morning stars and pick mattocks. The lasting impression from this game will forever be the non-call.

If you spend all your time lauding the refs while watching the game, you’re doing everything completely wrong. These are people making complicated decisions through distorted angles. You make mistakes. They make mistakes. It happens. Instead look at the referees as members of a necessary evil organization who will screw up, not because they hate you and your little corn colored teeth and the team you love and cherish, but because it’s really hard to make subjective decisions that quickly.

Yet, this call, this call is as egregious as it gets. There are two referees standing right there to make a call on a play like this. Nickell Robey-Coleman is running across the formation. He never turns and looks for the ball. Not only that, but he hits Tommylee Lewis high and in the helmet. It’s pass interference. It’s unnecessary roughness. It’s blatant and right there in the forefront.

Robey-Coleman knew it was a penalty too. Look at his reaction. Confused arms bent in front of him. The flag never arrives. A free man he clasps hands with his fellow defenders and walks off the field. He didn’t have to, his reaction says it all, but after the game he admitted he was beat and it was a penalty. He was trying to save the touchdown to help his offense only require three whenever they got the ball back.

This wasn’t the only time he was beat either. Michael Thomas jabbed past him on a redzone fade. Brees threw it short and Robey-Coleman was able to scamper back and let the ball bounce off his helmet. Not enough contact for a call here. Fortune, and a terrible throw from Brees.

This wasn’t the only time he got away with one either. Earlier in the game he wrapped both arms around the receiver before the ball arrived. An easy defensive holding penalty to elongate the drive. It too ignored.

New Orleans had other opportunities to win this game. They could have stopped Jared Goff on the following possession. Ramczyk could have kept his feet moving when Fowler spun inside. Brees could have taken the sack. Michael Thomas could have played the ball in the air instead of jostling for a pass interference penalty. They didn’t and they lost.

Yet, at the same time, this play was the monumental reason why the Saints lost. If it was called correctly it would have been first and ten at the eight with 1:45 remaining. The Rams had one timeout. New Orleans could have trickled the clock down to 25 seconds or so and kicked a game leading field goal, leaving the Rams with zero timeouts to get into field goal range.

Who knows what would have happened from there. We should have known though. Instead of walking out from under a super blood orgy wolf overtime moon we’re hollering about referees and the legitimacy of the game.

6.) Game Planning

From the Patriots’ perspective everything went exactly how they wanted it to go. New England’s time of possession was 43 minutes and 59 seconds. They ran 94 total plays. Their 48 rushes went for 176 yards and 4 touchdowns. The 46 pass attempts created 348 yards. The road team gobbled up yards and hogged the football keeping it away from the wonderkid. The only thing they did that they never do was turn the ball over. A nose away from the endzone Reggie Ragland dropped under Rob Gronkowski to steal one. A ball bounced off Julian Edelman’s hands to create another. Other than that, everything went exactly how Bill Belichick wanted it to.

To make this happen they ran the ball in a variety of ways against back to back worst run defense in football champs. Last season it was Derrick Henry cutting everything out wide to knock out KC and open up the Patrick Mahomes era. This time it was Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and occasionally James White galloping around. With a long run of just 14 yards they gained 176 and averaged 3.8 yards a carry. On their first drive they ran the ball on 10 of their 15 plays, picking up 80 yards in 8:05 to go up 7-0, starting things off exactly how they did the week before.

All this running set up easy and manageable third downs. New England staved off punts and brushed off them off throughout the game. They converted 13 of the 19 they faced. The key was that the average third down was only 5.32 yards. They picked up 7.02 yards on third down. The week before against Los Angeles (C) they needed an average of 5.57 to convert. In the AFC Championship game Brady went 9/11 for 119 yards and averaged 10 yards an attempt. Absurd. Following up last week when he converted four his first five third down attempts.

Kansas City has three great defensive players. Justin Houston, Dee Ford, and Chris Jones. All three combined for two tackles and one pass defensed. That’s it. It doesn’t get longer than that. They doubled Houston on the interior. And both Marcus Cannon and Trent Brown were too wide for Ford and Houston to get around. The Chiefs needed all three to have a great game. None of them did.

On defense they had two goals. Take away Tyreek Hill. Generate a pass rush. Throughout the game they bracketed Hill and were able to keep him from razing the field. One defender playing man, the other sitting over the top. Hill contorts time and distorts space with his legs. Throughout this season he was too fast even for double defenders, but the Pats played it perfectly, allowing him to get past two levels only one time. Hill had only 3 targets. He had 0 carries, something inexcusable from Andy Reid. And on his 3 targets he caught one pass for 43 yards. The Patriots turned Hill into a really fast decoy. A cheetah in a high fenced exhibit staring at the snack bar.

Their defense lacks any superstar players. The closest they have is Stephon Gilmore, who’s been great this year, and better than he was last year. Their mediocre defense is a collective do your job mind control effort. A bunch of good players who do the right thing every play. Lawrence Guy, Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts, Malcolm Brown, Adrian Clayborn, Dont’a Hightower, and yes I’m missing hundreds of others. Despite this, and going up against what was a really good pass blocking offensive line, New England was able to sack Mahomes 4 times and hit him 10 other times. The key to their pass rush was the timing. Their interior linebackers delayed and blitzed at the perfect moment while the edge rushers corralled him directly into them. Additionally, when New England was close they were usually able to bring him down. Mahomes made a few nice throws out of the pocket, but they were kept to a handful. Creating this much pressure without bringing more than five was integral to defending the deep pass.

It wasn’t all New England. Kansas City did a few things well. The Patriots’ offense entered a lull in the middle part of this game. The Chiefs pushed everyone they have with a belly onto the field, and put a defender into every gap, effectively going with a 5-1-4 defense. This starved New England’s running backs for space, and allowed Kansas City to climb back into this one. With an offense that needs only two plays to get into the endzone, every stop is crucial and valuable. Despite the final score, the Chiefs made enough of them.

Andy Reid had some wet and wild play designs to score the Chiefs’ last two touchdowns. The first was my favorite. Mahomes fakes the wide zone hand off. Travis Kelce was lined up behind the offensive line as a flexwing tight end. He comes across the formation and out into the flat to draw four New England defenders. Along with him, the rest of the pass catchers run outside breaking routes to the right sideline. Mahomes rolls that way to sell it, and turns back around at Williams. The best part is the offensive line’s patience. They hang around the line of scrimmage and chop their feet and wait. There isn’t any running upfield before it’s time to ruin a perfect play. Only one block is actually made. Williams strolls in with ease. It’s perfect.

The other was a tablet smashing pick play. Offensive pass interference is a lie. It’s a threat without backbone. Empty words fortified by inaction.

I’m sure everyone in Kansas City feels brave and proud of their team, just as they should be. The Patriots did nearly everything right and it took overtime to steal this game back from them. Yet, it’s rare for the Pats to have two turnovers. It’s even rarer to lead New England this late in a postseason game. They weren’t able to fully vanquish them. This is the one that got away, but with Mahomes, it looks like they’ll have even more opportunities ahead of them. That being said, a lot of the same words were puked about the Jaguars and their all-time great pass defense last year. Who knows when they’ll ever get back.

7.) Tom Brady 3rd Down

As mentioned earlier, Brady was unreal on third down. Once again, he was 9/11 for 119 yards on third down. Insane. He made most of these throws by hitting open post routes. There was zip on the ball. It was in the right place in the right time. If it was third down the Patriots were throwing to the center of the field, and Brady was just about perfect every time.

He converted on 3rd and 9+ three times to end this game. Once again, he converted on 3rd and 9+ three times to end this game.

Two post routes to Edelman. The third they used Edelman as a decoy. Daniel Sorenson bites on the Edelman post. Gronkowski has man v. man coverage on his slant. The timing is exact.

I feel very dumb. This was the worst Patriots team since 2007. This was the worst Patriots team since 2007 in the regular season. Brady wasn’t dying. This wasn’t the beginning of the end. All that was just incubation. Brady was hibernating and waiting for the end of the regular season like a broken summertime heart watching for yellowed leaves. In an awful division, they tried to do the bare minimum to get a one seed and the rewards that come along with it. They were a Gronk stumble away, and it didn’t matter anyways.

8.) Patrick Mahomes Surrealism

Mahomes took some terrible sacks. He threw a bunch of incompletions. Reid schemed to create one of his three touchdowns, and set up another. These were throws so easy that Alex Smith would have made them. Yet, Mahomes is that talent. He’s surreal. He makes throws that I’ve never seen before, but throws I couldn’t even imagine someone making for me to ever even see. Even in a game where he “struggled” he’s crawling out of the grave after rolling left, throwing 43 yards with zip, staying patient without the rush coming and slinging it deep, curling side arm sliders around free rushers, and creating space on the move.

9.) Second Level Blocks

For years the most underrated part of New England has been their power run game. All everyone wants to talk about is Brady and Belichick. Yet, with their offensive line lacking blue blood talent, paying only Shaq Mason a top rate, they continue to churn out yards on the ground and murder front sevens with the combination of them and their great secondary blockers.

Throughout this one they blocked the second level perfectly. The first level gave them some trouble when Kansas City went super heavy, but the second level was handled with ease. They ran lead to start the game. James Devlin cleared out and cleaned the hole.

They pinned and pulled Shaq Mason around the edge to get him one v. one against a safety. Crushed.

They ran power with Joe Thuney pulling and had the same results.

They faked a screen play and had three blockers devouring the second level on a draw.

They ran that screwed up outside zone play where the center and guard pull around the edge to the second level, which removes the burden of having to reach outside shades.

Mason and Cannon had one of the most resounding Duece blocks you’ll ever see with Gronkowski sealing Justin Houston from making a play.

And they had success running zone to the weakside to counteract the Chiefs’ heavy boxes that had a safety pulled down toward the strongside of the defense.

10.) The Last 9:00

There’s this moment in every great game where it feels like the Earth is rupturing, everything is boiling, teeth clitter and clatter, and hearts push adrenaline infused blood. Usually this moment is accompanied by thoughts of “This is unbelievable” and expletives followed by man, prefixed with Oh, and names that summon higher powers. Rams and Saints was close, but it never reached this level. It was kind of sloppy and the play wasn’t there. Chiefs-Patriots lived in this zone in the fourth quarter.

In the last nine minutes of this one we saw: Julian Edelman a fingernail away from muffing a punt, a Brady interception off of the same hands, a Damien Williams screen pass touchdown, Brady rattling off third down conversions to answer, a perfect pick play to spring Williams once again, an interception off of Gronkowski’s hands overturned because Dee Ford was offsides, a Gronk fade to put New England back at the goalline, a game tying Mahomes drive, and ending with New England winning the coin toss and Brady converting three 3rd and 9+s that set up the three run plays needed to end this one.