Conference Title Games Takeaways: Brady’s Bucs Going Home to Super Bowl, Packers’ Day of 1,000 Bad Decisions, Chiefs Utterly Unstoppable

Matt LaFleur plays it safe at all the wrong times, more issues for the Green Bay defense, one missed pass interference call and one correct one, Tampa gets the big plays, Rodgers's future, and much more.
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Reacting and overreacting to everything that happened in the conference championship games...

Things That Made Me Giddy

Tom Brady Is the Highlander: Or something like that ...

A Well-Deserved Thumbs Up for Todd Bowles: By the third quarter the Bucs were without both starting safeties and it seemed like this one might fall apart. Instead, Aaron Rodgers's three fourth-quarter possessions went: three-and-out punt, three-and-out punt, field goal.

The Chiefs’ Weapons Are Unstoppable: You can’t get a hand on Tyreek Hill at the line of scrimmage. You can’t guard Travis Kelce with fewer than two people. If you don’t get Patrick Mahomes on the ground—and the Bills couldn’t do it despite repeated Chiefs protection breakdowns and Mahomes playing through a toe injury that might require surgery next month—you can’t stop this offense.

Red Zone Makes All the Difference: The Chiefs made five red-zone trips and scored 35 points. The Bills made five red-zone trips and scored 18 points.

As Bruce Arians Says, ‘No Risk-It, No Bread Products of Any Kind’: And if the Packers, after not trying to score points of their own at the end of the first half, are going to offer up a scoring opportunity to their opponent, Tom Brady will take it.

The Much-Maligned Marquez Valdes-Scantling: Nothing gets fans up in arms more than bad drops—and Valdes-Scantling had a couple of bad drops this season. But you’d rather have a guy who gets open and is drop-prone than a guy who can’t get open at all. With the safety help devoted to Davante Adams inside, MVS torched Carlton Davis, Tampa Bay's best corner, one-on-one for a 50-yard TD. He’s a good player, and the Packers are fortunate to have him.

Steve Spagnuolo Taking Away Stefon Diggs:

The JPP-Shaq Barrett Duo: The Bucs’ edge-rushing tandem was difference-making good on Sunday, as they’ve been a few times over the past two seasons.

Carlton Davis Won’t Get Fooled Again—or for a First Time by Davante Adams Goal-Line Motion: That’s what Roger Daltrey wanted to name that song, but Townshend overruled him—too wordy. On a third-quarter second-and-goal, the Packers ran a wrinkle off the sprint-motion TD they scored against the Rams last week. Adams started to motion right to left, did a 180 pivot back to the right, only Davis stayed right with him, forcing Aaron Rodgers to throw it away. Great work by Davis, and great preparation by Todd Bowles (it looked like the Bucs were prepared to pass Adams off if he came across the formation).

Cole Beasley’s Three-Point PBU: The slot receiver turned into a defensive back to break up a Josh Allen force (there were a few of those in the first half). Instead of a turnover, Tyler Bass converted on a 51-yard field goal to open up the scoring in Kansas City.

This Is Pass Interference: This is also bad acting, and the officials had let them play all game. But, also, this is a penalty.

Tyler Bass Is a Stud: Two makes from 51 yards and a perfect onside kick. I blame the missed PAT on the upright.

I’m Not Praising Any More Patrick Mahomes Underhand Touchdown Throws: Until he has a season where he only throws underhand touchdowns.

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Regrets

LaFleur Settling for Three: Just a devastating game-management mistake by a young head coach, settling for the field goal inside the 10 when trailing by eight with two minutes left. The Packers were still unlikely to win the game had they gone for it, but to put the game in the hands of your defense, which would only get you a chance for a long TD drive to win it… this was one to learn from.

Someone Get These Coaches a Watch With a Calculator on It: With 2:05 left on the clock and the Packers down five, why are they kicking short instead of trying to preserve the two-minute warning timeout? And when they did, why is Jaydon Mickens giving himself up immediately rather than running the clock under two minutes and taking that timeout away? And all this after the Packers, down eight, settled for a field goal! (The game mismanagement in this one was too much for my poor heart to take.)

Bruce Arians Must, Must, Must Decline The Packers’ Intentional Offsides Penalty: Facing a second-and-short right after the two-minute warning, the Packers, smartly, jumped offsides rather than give the Bucs two plays to get one yard and seal the game (don’t give them too much credit, Mike Vrabel already set this precedent earlier this year). The Bucs let them off the mat when there was no reason to.

Packers Play It Safe in the Two-Minute Drill: There’s no other way to say it: This was a rough day for Matt LaFleur. They got the ball back with 2:10 left in the first half, at their own 13, with a chance to put up points before getting the second-half kickoff. Instead, they ran it on first down, threw short on second down and then bled the play clock down to one second before a third-and-medium play. Even after converting the third down they took another 22 seconds between plays. It was shades of the 49ers passing up a chance to get points at the end of the first half in Super Bowl LIV, and it’s understandable if you don’t trust your quarterback. But your quarterback is Aaron Rodgers, so go score points…

Mike Pettine in Conference Title Games: Pettine, Green Bay's defensive coordinator, has done a nice job with a young secondary, but the last two conference championship games have been serious low points. Last year, it was the 49ers gashing them in the run game in an almost comedic manner. This year featured a Gregg Williams-type blown coverage to give up a long TD at the end of the first half, and twice in the fourth quarter they got penalized for 12 men on the field not because the Bucs went fast, but because they were frantically trying to substitute late.

Bills Settling for Three at the End of the First Half: I get it: Should you not get the touchdown on fourth-and-goal you also miss out on the consolation prize, which is having your opponent pinned deep in their own territory (the Chiefs would have knelt and gone into halftime). But...

Buffalo’s Short Field Goals: It’s frustrating to see the field-goal unit come out on fourth-and-goal from the 2 and fourth-and-3 from the 8, on back-to-back drives, from any team. But it’s even more frustrating considering the Bills have rolled out so many neat short-yardage designs this season. Let your offense try to win the game, Sean McDermott.

The Bright Neon Arrow Following Kevin King: This was, to put it in the kindest terms possible, a nightmare performance for the fourth-year cornerback. He allowed two touchdowns—one when he let Scotty Miller run past him in what seemed to be a Cover-3 look (as in, King knows he doesn’t have help) at the end of the first half. And he committed pass interference against the Bucs’ rookie No. 4 receiver on what became essentially the game-clinching third-down conversion.

Yup, This Is a Missed Call: That is a significant tug of the shoulder but subtle enough (just subtle enough) for Sean Murphy-Bunting to get away with it.

Bills Can’t Get Mahomes on the Ground: He was supposed to be limping through a turf toe injury, but it didn’t look like it when Bills pass-rushers had clean shots at him on back-to-back plays in the second quarter and failed to finish the play. Both were blown protections up front. On the first one, Mahomes, with Matt Milano hanging from his waist, hit Travis Kelce for 11 yards to convert a third-and-6. On the next play, A.J. Epenesa was in the backfield immediately but swung and missed at Mahomes, who stepped up and hit Tyreek Hill for 33. Two plays later the Chiefs were in the end zone.

Jaire Alexander Not Traveling With Evans of Godwin: In the first meeting with Tamps, he mostly traveled with Evans. On Sunday, he was too often marooned out at left corner, opposite Tyler Johnson or Scotty Miller. On the game’s first score, Alexander was relegated to spectator status as Evans and Godwin were bunched on the other side of the formation, working against Kevin King and Chandon Sullivan, respectively. Evans got the layup of a touchdown against King.

Find a New Approach Against Travis Kelce: Tony Romo was all over it. And if your pass rushers aren’t going to get Mahomes on the ground anyway, why not have one of them make Kelce’s life more difficult?

Billy Turner’s Long Day: Really, it was a long day for the entirety of the Packers’ offensive line, who very much missed David Bakhtiari in this one. But Turner opened the door for Jason Pierre-Paul a couple of times.

Chris Jones Somehow Avoids an Early Exit: I have no idea what he’s thinking here, besides, “I am going to get ejected in the second quarter of the AFC title game.” He takes a look at Jon Feliciano and then punches him in the head. That he wasn’t caught was stunning.

Brady Gets Reckless: As you know from Jenny Vrentas’s October cover story on T.J. Watt and the art of the turnover, teams that are leading commit half as many turnovers as teams that are trailing. (It makes sense, since the team in the lead typically takes fewer chances.) Two of Brady’s three second-half interceptions were very much on him—the first was a lob into coverage to the short side of the field when the safety hadn’t budged, the second he simply sailed in the middle of the field. (The third, effectively a punt, was a result of a well-timed blitz that Tampa’s poor protection design couldn’t handle.) A shaky day of quarterbacking in a shaky offense, but it was enough.

I Mean, Make This Interception: Two plays after this, the Bucs were in the end zone and headed to the locker room with an 11-point lead.

Leonard Fournette’s Hands: We’re still doing this thing where we throw it to Fournette and are satisfied with him catching it 40% of the time, eh Bucs?

Davante Adams’s Four-Point Drop: On first-and-goal late in the second quarter, he was one-on-one with Carlton Davis on the field side in the tight red zone, which is basically a free touchdown. If you ran a simulation of this play, against this coverage, 10,000 times, it would result in 10,000 touchdowns. Instead, the Packers were settling for a field goal three plays later.

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Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About

‘All Penalties Offset’:

Leonard Fournette Spins: This is a nifty run by a guy who had had some effective runs over the past couple years, but few that would be considered “nifty.” (And, yes, friend of the show RBC is correct about the Packers’ tackling.)

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What We’ll Be Talking About This Week

Eric Fisher’s Achilles: It seems very unlikely Mahomes's left tackle will be in the lineup two weeks from now. As Aaron Rodgers can attest, it’s not great having to go against those Bucs edge rushers without your starting left tackle.

Matt LaFleur’s Long Offseason: He’s had a great two seasons and there’s no reason to think this offense won’t do it all over again next year, but his in-game management was a huge problem on Sunday, as he inexplicably got conservative at all the wrong times. He'll learn from it (remember when Andy Reid couldn't manage the clock and couldn't win a big game?). Though with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine struggling again, you wonder what Green Bay’s future is on that side of the ball.

Aaron Rodgers Will Get Another Shot: Considering how he performed this year, and how this offense functioned, there's every reason to believe that. There is no chance he's going anywhere this offseason.

But Apparently We're Gonna Talk About Him Leaving Green Bay Anyway: Because there's a content hole to be filled, so... I say they trade him to the Chiefs and Andy Reid runs two-quarterback base personnel.

Will Aaron Jones Be Back?: It was a tough end to a great season, with Jones generally bottled up and fumbling twice, the second a devastating turnover, before watching the last 25 minutes from the bench. The Packers spent a second-round pick on AJ Dillon last spring and gave him an increased workload in January, but Jones's passing game value (in addition to his running) might be too valuable to let go. He could be looking at the free-agency cancelation tag, which is a reasonable number for running backs.

Josh Allen Still Has Work to Do: Which is fine—his development has come faster than anyone could have reasonably expected. But he had issues with the blitz on Sunday—early in the year his answer was tunnel screens, as the season went on it became a lot more roll right and create something. The Chiefs took that away on Sunday, and also took away his favorite weapon in general. But Brian Daboll is staying, and the quarterback and coordinator will have an offseason to brainstorm how to solve problems on days like this.

That Bills Team Was a Blast: It was a bummer of an ending, and while they'll likely be back these things are never guaranteed. But I have to say: The 2020 Bills were not only really good, but as entertaining as any team I've ever seen.

State Farm Is So Bummed!: Surely there's some way to CGI Tom Brady in place of Aaron Rodgers on those ads, right?

Bucs Survive and Advance: Maybe they weren’t beautiful victories, but Tampa just beat two elite teams on the road, and now get to play Super Bowl LV at home.

Is There Any Reason the Chiefs Won't Do This Again and Again and Again?: Honestly, is there anything that makes you think the Chiefs won't enter every season in the foreseeable future as heavy AFC favorites? It feels like this is going to be part of a 10-Super-Bowl-appearances-in-12-years type of run.

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