Top takeaways from NFL Championship Sunday

The drama and intrigue we were missing from the divisional round showed up in a big way during NFL Championship Sunday.

It started with the Los Angeles Rams winning in controversial fashion against the Saints in New Orleans. Jared Goff and the Rams might have come back from a two-score deficit, but it’s the officials who became the story in the Bayou.

Once the Rams punched their ticket to Atlanta, the New England Patriots did battle with the Chiefs in Kansas City. In a game that saw Tom Brady’s squad dominate early, the Chiefs came out like gangbusters in the second half. In the end, New England won by the score of 37-31 in another overtime affair and will now match wits with the Rams in next month’s Super Bowl.

Here are the top takeaways from NFL Championship Sunday.

Jared Goff proves skeptics wrong at every turn

Jan 20, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) drops back to pass against the New Orleans Saints during the first quarter in the NFC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Taking on a future Hall of Famer in Drew Brees, he had to go tit-for-tat with one of the game’s best on the road in the biggest moment of his life.

Goff came up absolutely huge at the end — leading the Rams on three consecutive scoring drives to help the team to an overtime win. That span saw him complete 8-of-13 passes for 135 yards. New Orleans gained a total of 63 yards during this stretch of action.

It wasn’t just that Goff put up the numbers. He made crucial throw after crucial throw, including a bomb to tight end Gerald Everett with pretty much everything on the line.

Sunday represented a coming-out party for this former No. 1 pick, and many were left eating crow

Josh McDaniels’ game plan was perfection defined

Jan 13, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels watches warmups before a game against the Los Angeles Chargers
in an AFC Divisional playoff football game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

McDaniels and the Patriots knew that going into Arrowhead in January would be a tough task for their offense. This unit is limited by a lack of elite play makers on the outside. Whether it’s statistically or on tape, Tom Brady has regressed to an extent this season. New England needed to change things up on offense after showing tremendous balance last week against the Chargers.

That’s exactly what we saw early and often Sunday against the Chiefs. We saw New England run multiple times on 3rd-and-3-plus — picking up a first down with James White on a consistent basis. New England also utilized the passing game as an extension of the run throughout this game. That is to say, relatively easy throws from Brady out on the flat.

The end result was a workmanlike performance from an offense that converted on 13-of-19 third-down opportunities in New England’s narrow overtime win over the Chiefs. Despite the perception some might have of of McDaniels, there’s a reason he continues to be a hot head-coaching commodity.

Officials created a mess in New Orleans

It was pretty apparent throughout the NFC Championship Game that officials were going to let the defenses body their counterparts. We saw this come to fruition multiple times in the first half alone, but it was this non-call on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman that left everyone in New Orleans stunned.

It was third down with New Orleans driving for a potential go-ahead field goal late in the fourth quarter. If this had been called, the Saints would’ve been able to run down the clock and kick said field goal with no time left. Instead, this gave the ball back to Los Angeles for an opportunity to tie the game. Once that happened, the Rams came out on top in overtime.

We’re not going to sit back here and say that officiating cost the home-standing Saints a shot at the Super Bowl, but they certainly did not help. That was about the most blatant pass interference we’ve seen go uncalled in a long time.

Patrick Mahomes is now a steady veteran?

Jan 20, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) throws the ball during the first quarter of the AFC Championship game against the New England Patriots at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

One of the major stories heading into the AFC Championship Game was Mahomes taking on the GOAT Tom Brady. Would experience win out in this one or was it time for this second-year signal caller to announce his presence on the larger NFL stage?

It didn’t go too swimmingly for the Chiefs early on. They put up less than 50 total yards of offense in the first half alone. This is when Mahomes proved he’s not a wide-eyed young quarterback that crumbles under the pressure.

Instead, Mahomes went tit-for-tat with Brady in the second half — tallying 250-plus passing yards in leading Kansas City into a close game after falling down 14-0 at the half. Unfortunately, he didn’t get an opportunity to touch the ball in overtime. That doesn’t take away from what he did as a sophomore this season.

Saints run game nonexistent

Jan 20, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram (22) runs the ball against the Los Angeles Rams during the third quarter in the NFC Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

By: Vincent Frank

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Winners and losers from the Divisional Round of the 2019 NFL playoffs

The Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs got underway Saturday night with the AFC’s top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs in action against the Indianapolis Colts. A week off did nothing to slow the Chiefs’ offensive momentum.

Led by Patrick Mahomes, who did not find his first career playoff start nearly as intimidating as the pundits thought he would, the Chiefs jumped out to a 24-7 lead in the first half, and never looked back. The Colts hardly looked ready to play, nothing like the team that rode a 10-1 streak into the weekend. The Chiefs went on to win by a final score of 31-13.

The Cowboys and Rams met in LA for the late game on Saturday night to decide the first of the NFC Championship entrants. The Rams’ running game had no troubles against a usually stout Cowboys defense, and the home team rolled on for a 30-22 win.

On Sunday, the Patriots had no problems running around and through the Chargers, winning 41-28 to lock down their eighth consecutive appearance in the AFC Championship game.

The Saints turned aside the Eagles, sinking their hope of a Super Bowl repeat with a 20-14 win in New Orleans. The Saints will host the Rams there next weekend.

Winner: Michael Thomas

The postseason hasn’t been filled with inspiring performances from offensive skill players. But the Saints wide receiver changed that. He and Drew Brees single-handedly got the Saints offense rolling again after a slow start. His best catch of the day — and there were A LOT of them — was on the Saints’ go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. Just watch it.

https://twitter.com/NFL/status/1084599206159908864

He finished the game with 171 yards and a touchdown on 12 catches.

Loser: Nick Foles’ magic

You can’t impugn what the guy did prior to this game. The Eagles wouldn’t have been playing this weekend, or last, if Foles hadn’t stepped up as the team’s “closer” again this season with Carson Wentz hurt. But he turned into a pumpkin again, underthrowing his receivers and just unable to get the ball to his receivers when the Eagles needed it the most.

With free agency looming this spring, Foles may have cost himself some money with his performance this week, maybe not much, but enough to notice.

Winner: Time of possession

It feels like we haven’t had a good conversation about time of possession since the early days of the Chip Kelly experience in Philly. This time it was the Saints putting on the clock clinic.

It happened in the third quarter. Trailing 10-14, the Saints got the ball at their own 8-yard line. From there they put together a grinding 92-yard touchdown drive over 18 plays and 11:29 minutes, essentially monopolizing the entire third quarter.

Winner: The Patriots defense

Absent most of the season, the Patriots defense looked like one of the NFL’s most fearsome in the first half of the game. Philip Rivers never had a chance against a pass rush that was previously dormant.

Loser: Philip Rivers’ legacy

He’s got more yards, more touchdowns and fewer interceptions over the course of his career than either Eli Manning or Ben Roethlisberger, but unlike those other two first-round picks from the 2004 draft, he does not have a Super Bowl ring. Instead, he and J.P. Losman have something in common.

Winner: Patriots running backs

The Chargers defense put on a clinic for how to stop a creative running game in last week’s win against the Ravens. Apparently, Patriots OC Josh McDaniels was able to find some holes in their game plan.

Sony Michel rolled up nearly 100 yards and scored three touchdowns … in the first half. He’s the first rookie running back in franchise history to rush for more than 100 yards in a playoff game. He finished the day with 129 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries.

James White, who led the team in receptions during the regular season with 87, was Tom Brady’s favorite receiver on the day, catching 15 of 17 passes for 97 yards.

The Patriots chewed up the clock with their running backs, leaving little time for Rivers and Co. to put points on the board. It also helped keep the workload light for their defense, and teased out what their game plan might be next week against Kansas City.

Winner: C.J. Anderson

The Rams signed C.J. Anderson in mid-December, when Todd Gurley was dealing with a knee injury. Anderson had been released by both the Panthers and Raiders earlier in the season and was really just supposed to be a warm body while Gurley could heal up.

Instead, Anderson has bulldozed every defense he faced. In two games to end the season, he carried the ball 43 times for 299 yards and two touchdowns — that averaged out to 7 yards per carry. But that was against two of the worst teams in the NFL, the Cardinals and 49ers. Next up was the playoffs — and a Cowboys defense that ranked fifth in the league against the run during the regular season. Last week, they held the Seahawks’ top-ranked rushing offense to just 73 yards on the ground.

Anderson had more than that in the first half alone: 12 carries for 78 yards. Even with a healthy Gurley back in the lineup, Anderson was a force in the Rams’ first playoff win in 14 years. He used his, uh, rotund frame to help the Rams dominate the time of possession and scored what proved to be the game-winning touchdown.

Anderson was the leading rusher with 123 yards and two touchdowns. Plus, he did this:

All the Winners and Losers here