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Conference Championship Takeaways: Rams Claw Back, Burrow Magic, Mahomes Disappears

Plus, Stafford survives a B-minus day, Rams pass rush shows up in time, the rookie kicker can’t miss, Chiefs lose the clock games, a cursed halftime show and more!

Welcome to the conference championship Sunday edition of the Sunday FreakOut, where we react and overreact to everything that happened in Sunday's games. For the full Sunday roundup podcast-style, be sure to subscribe to The MMQB Podcast, in your feed every Monday morning...

Things That Made Me Giddy

L.A.’s Pass Rush Shows Up in Time, With Help From Raheem Morris: It was not a great first three quarters for the Rams’ vaunted pass rush, but they took over on their final two defensive possessions thanks to some well-timed blitzes from Morris. That guaranteed one-on-one matchups for Aaron Donald and Von Miller, with those two and Leonard Floyd swarming Jimmy Garoppolo on the game-ending interception.

Matthew Stafford Brought His B-Minus Game: He threw behind receivers twice in the first quarter, the second one turning into a deflected end-zone interception on a third-and-goal throw. That was a bad break, but Stafford got incredibly lucky when his first-down arm punt was dropped by Jaquiski Tartt early in the fourth quarter. And still, he had enough to put up 13 fourth-quarter points to complete a comeback in the biggest game of his career.

Joe Burrow Maximum Escapability: This was the more spectacular of the two spectacular escapes he had on Sunday. He’s being tasked with operating a veteran offense in his second year in the league, and he doesn't always have the answers provided for him. But, frequently, he's creating his own answers.

Lou Anarumo Had Answers: Save for a shaky call on a third-and-1 around midfield on the final drive of regulation, the Bengals played coverage and velcroed onto the Chiefs’ receivers. This has quietly become a very good unit the past two seasons.

The Audacity of Evan McPherson: He’s 11-for-11 in the postseason now, with another 52-yarder and another walk-off make on Sunday.

Deebo Samuel Is a Modern Marvel: There’s not a whole lot else to say about him, except that his long catch-and-run TD was a reminder that, right, he is an elite power running back, but also he’s a really good wide receiver fast enough to run away from people.

Eli Apple Is Suddenly Everywhere You Want to Be: A seven-point tackle at the end of the first half following a defensive pass interference that seemed like it would be the key play on a Bengals scoring drive.

In the End, the Chiefs Offensive Line Held Up . . . Fine: Granted, the Bengals sprinkled in a few three-man rushes, but the worry all season that the offensive line would do them in again ended up being unfounded. Cincinnati played coverage, the receivers didn’t get open and Mahomes played poorly.


Chiefs Play Clock Games and Lose: The one at the end of the first half, when Patrick Mahomes insisted the offense stay on the field with five seconds left and no time outs, was entirely on Mahomes. If you know Tyreek Hill is coming in motion and will have to make the catch short of the end zone, he’s not an option unless there are no defenders on that side of the field with him. At the end of regulation, they first tried to bleed the clock to try to keep Joe Burrow from getting another possession by starting the series with a throwaway run. Then, they changed their tack with a play-action call that resulted in a coverage sack. That put them in third-and-goal from the 9, which was followed by another coverage sack.

Halftime in Kansas City: As bad as the final play of the first half was for Kansas City, bringing on the guy who does the off-brand Achy Breaky Heart song from the commercial everyone hates to play halftime (and drown out CBS’s halftime show) was much more a harbinger of doom for this organization. That cannot be your halftime show.

Sometimes Football Is Beautiful: Sometimes. This ended up being a seven-point drop, as Matt Gay pushed a long field goal two plays later. Twice in the first half the Rams were in scoring range and came away with zero points. (Also, on this play, man, Jimmie Ward ... )

Troy Reeder Has to Get Dudes on the Ground: He got dragged on a couple of plays during the 49ers’ third-quarter touchdown drive, once by Deebo Samuel (hey, it happens) and once on a key third-down conversion to Jauan Jennings, who fought through Reeder for the first down. Maybe the 49ers were going for it on fourth-and-1, but there’s a good chance that’s a four-point play.

Mecole Hardman Has to Relax: Things can get heated on the sideline, and Hardman has a right to say something if he thinks they’re missing him. But he’s a drop-prone third receiver on an offense led by an All-Pro quarterback and featuring arguably the best wide receiver and best tight end in the NFL. You can’t complain so demonstrably that the cameras pick it up.

Sean McVay’s Red Flag: The first one—challenging what was already a fairly generous spot when Matthew Stafford came up short on a fourth-and-short sneak—was a longshot. I’m not sure who was in his ear about challenging Kyle Juszczyk as down by contact on a third-and-short stop, but it wasn’t even close to a challenge-able play. Those are both challenges but, more importantly, two timeouts thrown away in the second half of a game the Rams trailed.

That Rams Offensive Line Had Issues: And it wasn’t just Nick Bosa doing the damage (Samson Ebukam put Andrew Whitworth in his quarterback’s lap a couple times). Sean McVay will have to scheme around that in two weeks.

Jaquiski Tartt’s Hands Team Membership Revoked: The dropped interception early in the fourth quarter will haunt him.

C.J. Uzomah Goes Down: Honestly, he seemed to be among the most pedestrian players in the NFL coming into this season, and then suddenly, in Year 4, emerged as a key component to this spread offense as a moveable chess piece. Seeing him carted off on Sunday, putting his Super Bowl availability in question, is a bummer.

The Rams Are Running Out of Tight Ends: Kendall Blanton stepped up as a hero on Sunday—which they needed because he was the last tight end they had available. Sean McVay needs the flexibility to use two–tight end personnel sometimes, and that was gone on Sunday.

The Michael Buffer Thing Is Way Too Corny: It’s a football game, not a discount car insurance commercial.

Moments We’ll Tell Our Grandkids About

Jessie Bates’s Perfection:

B.J. Hill Wasn't Even Supposed to Be Here!: Stepping up in place of an injured Larry Ogunjobi...

What We’ll Be Talking About This Week

Welcome to the Trey Lance Era: Thank Jimmy Garoppolo for his service. There were some glitches along the way; Niners fans will spend many hours over the remainder of their lives staring into the middle distance and thinking about the Super Bowl LIV overthrow, Sunday’s rocky fourth quarter or both. But he was a capable quarterback and system fit; his quick release and ball placement (when it was right) helped unleash a lot of that YAC over the years. But this offense is ready for something more, and that is Lance, who will open possibilities as far as field-stretching throws and designed runs that were never there with Garoppolo. As for Garoppolo's future, he should be starting somewhere in 2022 as a bridge option, and a fourth-round pick sounds about right for compensation.

Kyle Shanahan Was Right to Punt on Fourth-and-2: The third-down play was the one he had in his pocket, a tendency breaker with Trent Williams going into motion, like they put on film last week. It didn't work. He didn't have a second play in his pocket, and he doesn't have the quarterback to go win it for him.

Zac Taylor’s Offense: Everyone hates it, because it asks so much of its young quarterback (c’mon Zac, just do the Shanahan thing!). But, as with any offense, what the quarterback wants matters. Spreading things out, dictating matchups, moving safeties around postsnap and fitting in contested-catch throws isn’t easy, but apparently it is what Burrow is comfortable doing.

Rams-Bengals Preview: Raheem Morris vs. Zac Taylor on Rams D vs. Bengals O is a bit of a coaching edge in favor of L.A., and it’s difficult to comprehend how the right side of that Bengals offensive line will be able to deal with the Rams’ front four. Because of that, and because field goals are for nerds, that the final score will be Rams 27, Bengals 21.

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