Coming off last week’s divisional round action, the Super Bowl is anyone’s for the taking. All four of these teams have played in the big game in the last 6 seasons, and two have won it. Three of them made it this far just last year, while the Eagles think they’re better than all of them. We got a repeat of last year’s Chiefs-Bengals title game with legacies on the line, and SF’s Brock Purdy tried to become the first rookie QB ever to reach the Super Bowl. If you want to see how injuries and officiating swayed this week’s critical games in my conference championship takeaways, continue reading and prepare to be enraged.
(1) Philadelphia Eagles 31, (2) San Francisco 49ers 7
What a dud. This game got off on the wrong foot for SF right away on Philly’s opening drive. On 4th and 3, Jalen Hurts threw a prayer to DeVonta Smith, who appeared to snag it with one hand. The Eagles went fast so the play couldn’t be reviewed, but Niners’ coach Kyle Shanahan had no chance regardless. The broadcast and Jumbotron never showed the play from the angle that clearly demonstrated that the ball came loose. The Eagles immediately scored a TD. Then, the 49ers line allowed OLB Haason Reddick through unblocked, and he hit Brock Purdy’s arm for a strip sack. On the play, Purdy’s elbow bent backwards (likely a hyperextension), and he came out of the game. Journeyman (by the definition of the word) Josh Johnson came in, and it was a disaster. Aside from an incredible TD run by Christian McCaffrey (15/84, 22 receiving yards), the 49ers got no traction on offense. Johnson passed for 74 yards and lost a fumble on a dropped snap before suffering a concussion himself. Purdy (4/4, 23 yards) was forced to return in the second half as a result, but he was a handoff bot as he could not throw due to his elbow.
Speaking of handoff bots, that’s pretty much what Hurts (15/25, 121 yards) was as well. He was mostly bottled up on the ground (39 yards, TD), and his passing stats would have been worse if the Smith catch had been overruled. San Francisco’s defense actually played well, limiting PHI to 3.4 yards a carry. The biggest issue was penalties. John Hussey’s crew throws the fewest flags in the NFL, but a lot of the side judges weren’t from his crew. SF did make some boneheaded mistakes, but a lot of the unnecessary roughness calls were pure Eagles love. The officials called 11 penalties on SF vs. just 4 against PHI. These penalties extended drives on 3rd and long and 4th down, and the result might have been very different if Purdy had been healthy and the Niners weren’t playing 11 on 12. The lack of discipline does not reflect well on DeMeco Ryans, however. It’s a shame that Purdy’s last audition for the starting job next season went down this way. He didn’t really have a chance, and he seemed like he would do ok if given a full game. Philadelphia is still vulnerable. While it’s good to be able to beat up on lesser competition, I’ve never seen an easier road to the Super Bowl than NYG and a Josh Johnson-led 49ers team. I’d favor Kansas City at this time.
(1) Kansas City Chiefs 23, (3) Cincinnati Bengals 20
Apparently the PHI/SF game WASN’T the worst officiated matchup this week. Told you the refs hate the Bengals. Did Burrow murder the head of the officials’ union’s wife or something? I have never seen such a rigged outcome in my life. This Detroit fan agrees with me. As an unbiased observer, if I had bet on the Bengals, I’d sue. I’ll give you some quick stats, and then the rest of this will be about what the officials screwed up…intentionally or not. Patrick Mahomes was brilliant despite his slightly hurt ankle, going 29/43 for 326 yards and 2 TDs. His only blemish was a lost fumble on which he lost the ball without being touched. After injuries to JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mecole Hardman, and Kadarius Toney, Marquez Valdes-Scantling (6/116/1) really stepped up. TE Travis Kelce (7/78/1) was great as usual. For the Bengals, Joe Burrow (26/41, 270 yards, TD, 2 INTs, 30 rushing yards) didn’t have his best game, but his line got destroyed all night. He suffered 5 sacks (including the first two in Chris Jones’ postseason career), and only one was marginally his fault. His first INT wasn’t pretty, but the second was essentially a long punt. As usual, Tee Higgins (6/83/1) and Ja’Marr Chase (6/75) did the bulk of the damage.
Now then, for the rant. I know I’ll forget stuff because there were just too damn many failures. The first whiff was giving MVS a first-down upon a KC challenge. He stretched the ball past the marker, but he pulled it back before he was down. At the goal line, you just have to break the plane, but in the field of play, doing that means you’re ceding forward progress. The second half was just insane. In one bizarre sequence, the Chiefs threw an incomplete pass to set up 3rd and 9. The refs stopped play to move the ball laterally by a half yard and reset the play clock to 10 seconds. Mahomes threw a 5-yard pass, and the punt team came out. Before the snap on 4th and 4, Torbert announced that the previous play had been blown dead due to an error by the play clock operator and that we would replay 3rd and 9. Clearly, KC hadn’t heard the whistle. Neither did the Bengals or the commentators. After that gift, Mahomes threw an incomplete pass…but they called defensive holding on Eli Apple. Zac Taylor nearly exploded on the sideline and for good reason. During another series, Frank Clark whacked Burrow well after he threw the ball, but of course no flag was thrown. A bit later, the refs moved the chains for KC again with a phantom holding call against Mike Hilton. CBS’s Gene Steratore and I didn’t believe it was a foul.
Finally, and perhaps most egregiously given the outcome, came on KC’s last drive. On 3rd and 4 at the CIN 47, Mahomes ran out of bounds for 5 yards with 8 seconds to go. At the 42, kicker Harrison Butker could not have tried a 60-yard FG in the frigid cold at Arrowhead. However, the refs called a late hit out of bounds on Joseph Ossai. I feel badly for him, because the second-year player had a great game to that point. More importantly, he wasn’t guilty of a foul. The contact began with Mahomes still in bounds (you want to force him out as a defender, don’t you?). Furthermore, he didn’t “hit” Mahomes but rather appeared to be trying to brace himself while falling. He slipped on the sideline and tried to stop himself from hitting the deck, and he was even hurt on that fall. Instead of a no call, the Chiefs got the ball at the 27 for a much easier game-winning FG attempt. Kansas City is a very good team, and they’re deserving of competing in this game, but they didn’t earn this trip to the Super Bowl. Would the Bengals have won this game in a fair fight? Quite possibly, but they didn’t even get that opportunity. It’s gut-wrenching for a season to end that way. The players/coaches will toe the line and say “we can’t put the game in the refs’ hands” or “we didn’t make enough plays to win”, but we all know the truth: the NFL wanted KC in the Super Bowl, or someone else with a lot of cash did. Sorry you all had to watch that unfold on live TV.