It may be recency bias, but there was something quintessentially historic in the air about this Conference Championship Sunday. Tom Brady has meshed with the Buccaneers and they have peaked just at the right time. Aaron Rodgers is playing like a crazy man while staying cool and collected under the pressure of a first-round quarterback in the wings. Josh Allen has made vast improvements in his game all the way down to his throwing mechanics to propel the Bills and the entire Bills Mafia into a winning frenzy. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are right back in contention and scoff at the idea of a “Super Bowl Hangover”.
This was an all-star cast with heavy storylines to set the stage for an epic day of football.
Ultimately, it boiled down to the Kansas City Chiefs facing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium for Super Bowl LV. Mahomes will be the fifth-youngest quarterback to make an appearance in the Super Bowl behind Dan Marino, Ben Roethlisberger, Jared Goff, and David Woodley while Brady leads as the quarterback with the most Super Bowl appearances. If Mahomes wins his second consecutive Lombardi trophy, he will be the second-youngest quarterback (behind Roethlisberger) to win it while Brady would be the oldest. Plus, it will be the first time in the Super Bowl era that a competing team will be playing in the big game on their home turf.
Packers’ Missed Opportunities Cost Super Bowl Appearance
This game boiled down to small imperfections that turned into gaping chasms, namely missed opportunities to capitalize.
The Buccaneers entered this contest with a superior defense that managed to get after Rodgers five times for a loss of 32 yards with three of those sacks occurring in the first half. The Buccaneers marched down the field to score 21 points compared to the Packers' 10 in that time.
The momentum was on the Bucs’ side heading into the second half but a tiny crack appeared, this time with Tampa Bay. Brady threw three interceptions after the break, which should have been game over with someone like Rodgers and WR Davante Adams on the field.
Somehow, this wasn’t the case, even with Rodgers at the helm. The Packers could not capitalize on the gifts their defense busted their tails off to give them except for one drive out of three. Then, with 2:05 on the clock in the fourth quarter, Rodgers faced a mess in the red zone on third down. He threw a pass to Adams but it fell incomplete. Not only did Rodgers have a gaping hole he could have scrambled through, but head coach Matt LaFleur opted to kick a field goal down by eight points instead of going for it on the eight-yard line. A two-point conversion would have tied the game.
In his post-game interview, Rodgers described his future as “uncertain”. What that means is still unknown, but there is no doubt that this loss was disappointing for the Packers despite an amazing 2020 season.
The Chiefs Will Do Chief-like Things
The Bills struck first during the evening game, putting nine points on the board with a field and a touchdown to TE Dawson Knox. Did that phase Mahomes and the Chiefs? Pish. Of course not. Before the end of the first half, Kansas City had put up 21 points while the Bills were only able to kick another field goal.
That is the last thing that can happen if you want to beat the Chiefs.
Actually, after the first quarter, a lot of bad things happened to the Bills that they could ill afford in this game. The offense was erratic, a credit to the Chiefs’ defense, and the run game was nothing short of anemic. Allen was the rushing leader in the first half 42 of the 73 yards on three out of the 11 carries. He was barely over a 50% completion rate with 12 completed passes out of 23 attempts.
What seemed the most worrisome was that the Bills didn’t have the same gusto that we have seen in the past. There was another decision to kick a field goal instead of going for a touchdown on fourth down while trailing. Buffalo was too conservative and settling for field goals simply won’t cut it against an offense like Kanas City. Despite some errant throws and a few jitters, Allen did pull together some impressive drives, but a big interception out of WR John Brown’s hands seemed to seal the Bills’ fate and shift the momentum straight into the Chiefs’ favor to blow the game wide open.
The frustration for the Bills became glaringly obvious as the game turned more and more chippy as time elapsed. Eventually, it was flagged what felt like every play at the end of the game. The heartbreak was palpable.
I don’t care who you are. It’s going to be a chore for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to defend Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce while Mahomes seems to have the ability to teleport the football into his receiver’s hands.
Like the Packers, the Bills have had a season worthy of praise. Unlike the Packers, Allen is just getting started in his journey to ultimate stardom and the future is bright in Buffalo, even though they will seem rather dim for a bit.
Matthew Stafford Parting Ways with Detroit
Detroit is looking for a fresh start and QB Matthew Stafford is on the same page but reportedly doesn’t want that to happen with the Lions. This appears to be rather free of drama with a mutual understanding and desire to part ways via a trade.
It makes sense on many levels for both parties. Stafford may be as tough as they come, but he is no spring chicken. He is not quite in the elder statesmen category with QBs such as Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, or Tom Brady, but at 32, he’s not as fresh as he used to be. He is known for playing through multiple injuries and rarely misses time. A broken back was the only thing that kept Stafford from missing a majority of the season in 2019. Even though he’s been beaten up, he is a seasoned veteran who still puts his body on the line for his team and the win. Teams like the Denver Broncos and Washington Football Team are the first that spring to mind as excellent landing spots.
For the Lions, trading Stafford means freeing up some cap space and they have the seventh overall pick in the 2021 draft. Stafford is a bargain for teams who need a high-caliber, talented quarterback with $43 million left over two years. If the Lions can get a deal done before Stafford’s $10 million roster bonus in March, they would carry $19 million in dead money but ultimately save $14 million in salary-cap space and $20 million in cash.
Money aside, hiring new head coach Dan Campbell will give Detroit a new start for the next six years, the length of Campbell’s contract. I was excited to see how Stafford could embody the gritty new ideals of Campbell considering that is how Stafford plays anyway. It will be interesting to see how this new regime develops and who will take Stafford’s place. He has been with the Lions since he was drafted first overall by Detroit in 2009.