The moment Travis Kelce leaned into the end zone, stretching the ball out like a sprinter trying to shave milliseconds from a 100-meter time, the Chiefs-Rams circus was on the verge of hitting the 60-point mark with half the third quarter remaining.
It was just a few minutes from eclipsing the Vegas over/under of 64—a number ESPN research tabbed as the largest for an NFL game in at least 32 years—before the start of the fourth. Not long after that, Patrick Mahomes uncorked a 74-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill, a player who could almost certainly place in an Olympic sprinting event, on a ball that traveled more than 60 yards in the air alone. That made it 40-37 with more than 10 minutes to go in the final quarter.
47-44 with 9:38 to play
51-47 with 2:47 to play
54-51 with 1:49 to play
The highest-scoring Monday Night Football game in its 773-game lifespan.
When something operates at the pace of an AAU basketball game between tireless children, there may not have been enough stoppage time to recognize the strength and direction of the undercurrent surging beneath. Football, after years of being chopped up, hacked into pieces, broken down and frantically welded together, was officially remade on Monday night. And it’s never going back.
At the beginning of the season, one of our 10 predictions for 2018 was that unimaginative, stick-to-my-offense coaches were going to get weeded out at a record pace. These one-time gatekeepers who sat around clutching their static playbooks, hoping that “everything comes around,” were going to get blown away while Sean McVay, Andy Reid, Sean Payton, Frank Reich and a few up-and-comers started grabbing hold of every extra inch the rulebook allowed them.
The truth? It’s far more significant than that.
Think of all the political machinations and red tape that have gone into creating something like we saw on Monday Night Football. All of the rule changes. All of the subtle winks and nods to the fantasy football crowd. The arms-wide-open stance as the legal sportsbooks start rolling in. Think of all the strides in health and exercise science. Everyone maximizing their potential. Everyone being bigger and faster and stronger than they’ve ever been. The landscape was ripe for a game that could facilitate a fireworks grand finale every week, on every play, in every stadium. Monday will be remembered as the night that changed everything.
Some of this is schematic evolution, make no mistake. Coaches are smart and have figured out ways to prey on years of habitual defensive thought. Lure players into doing what they’ve been taught since grade school and then bang a wide-open slant pass behind their backs. But some of this is a fast lane years in the making, paved by people who decided long ago that we like points. We like long touchdowns. We like the reality we’re seeing to unfold like it does in the improbable universes we spent our childhood creating on a PlayStation 2. They aren’t wrong either. Monday left us all slack-jawed, babbling Twitter nothingness just to tether ourselves to reality.
What’s next? This offseason will be catastrophic. As team owners trip over each other to recreate this, coaches will be fired. Schematic soothsayers will emerge from every corner of the football universe trying to get in on the fracas. The draft will ebb and flow with the vacillations of panicked game-plan architects trying to figure out how the hell they’re going to build a team good enough to score 40 points a game, but stout enough to keep the opponent under 35.
It will produce more games like this in 2019 because, ultimately, that’s what owners will want. And it will produce more teams falling flat on their face in a desperate attempt to try.
Will that be a good thing? That’s a question the NFL, and all of us really, should have asked ourselves years ago. It’s too late to turn back now, but there's nothing like watching it unfold.