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The greatest NFL weekend in history? How the league reacted to blockbuster divisional round
The NFL playoffs continue this weekend when the Kansas City Chiefs host the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship game live on Sky Sports NFL from 7pm Sunday, followed immediately after by the San Francisco 49ers at the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship game at SoFi Stadium
Last Updated: 25/01/22 6:32am
"You can't score in 13 seconds, that just doesn't happen in real life," insisted a dumbfounded Tony Romo.
The Kansas City Chiefs just had, Patrick Mahomes crushing Buffalo Bills hearts as he marched his team downfield with completions of 19 and 25 yards to Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce to set up the Harrison Butker field goal that would send the game to overtime as time expired.
Buffalo had been 13 seconds away from the AFC Championship game when Josh Allen tossed a 19-yard strike to Gabriel Davis for a 36-33 lead at the death. The camera crews cut to Allen's emotional family celebrating in the crowd, before panning to the quarterback as he bear-hugged teammates on the sideline. Only Mahomes, Andy Reid and these Chiefs define 'the death' differently to most.
It capped two minutes of playoff heaven that panned out as follows…
- 1:54 - Josh Allen 27-yard touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis (Josh Allen pass to Stefon Diggs for two-point conversion) - 29-26
- 1:02 - Patrick Mahomes 64-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill (Harrison Butker extra point) - 29-33
- 0:13 - Josh Allen 19-yard touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis (Tyler Bass extra point) - 36-33
- 0:00 - Harrison Butker 49-yard field goal - 36-36
Mahomes proceeded to go six-for-six in overtime to dismantle the Bills' No. 1 ranked pass defense, eventually calling game with his touchdown pass to tight end Kelce. They had been 13 seconds from defeat, and here they stood. 13 seconds.
"To be in this moment in this game against that team, to make a play to walk off a game at Arrowhead, I'll remember this game for the rest of my life," said Mahomes."It was definitely special to win a game like this at Arrowhead. Obviously, the Super Bowl was probably number one for me, but this one is right up there.
"We just ended up on the wrong side of maybe one of the greatest games in postseason history," said Bills center Mitch Morse.
"It's just tough, you know? To be in that moment again," Allen said. "It sucks the way it happened, you know? We wanted to win that game. We had opportunities. Just, yeah, taking it all in, holding onto that feeling, and making sure we don't feel like this again - back-to-back years in the same spot. It's tough to take in."
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It was the Hollywood finale to a divisional-round slate that traded in Wild Card humdrum for the playoff bonanza Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL could have dreamed of.
By the end, the four divisional-round games that took place across the weekend had been decided by a combined 15 points. What's more, it marked an average margin of victory of 3.8 points per game, the lowest in playoff history in a round with at least four games.
Evan McPherson drilled a last-second 52-yard field goal to lift the Cincinnati Bengals to victory over the Tennessee Titans, Robbie Gould split the posts from 45 yards as time expired to lead the San Francisco 49ers past the Green Bay Packers, Matt Gay buried the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 24-point comeback with a last-gasp 30-yard field goal as the clock hits zero to send the Los Angeles Rams to the NFC Championship game, and the Chiefs rounded things off with a walkoff touchdown in overtime.
"Weekend for the ages," said Sky Sports NFL expert and former NFL offensive lineman Brian Baldinger. "This is really what the NFL wants, they want video game, they want quarterbacks with the ball in their hands, they don't want penalties called, and they want a passing academy and that's what we got."
Joe Burrow was pictured strutting around the Bengals locker room with cigar in hand after shrugging off nine sacks to sink the No.1 seed Titans and send the Bengals to the AFC title game for the first time since 1988. Here was Cincinnati's new hero, with the Joe Namath charisma, Joe Montana poise and Joe Burrow swagger, who could not have been more happy for his kicker - note, the only kicker drafted in 2021.
"Ice in his veins," Burrow said of McPherson. "Rookie kicker. Unbelievable. He came in and we knew exactly what we had in camp. You can tell how a kicker is when he walks in the building and how he walks, how he talks to people. That guy's unbelievable."
In contrast, what does defeat mean for the future of quarterback Ryan Tannehill in Tennessee? There's an added strand for you to monitor this offseason.
From unexpected quarterback questions in Nashville to familiar uncertainty in Green Bay, where Aaron Rodgers was non-committal over his future with the Packers after the NFC's No.1 seed crashed out to the San Francisco 49ers in the wake of a special teams disaster.
The Niners, against whom Rodgers is now 0-4 in the postseason, had stumbled to four consecutive three-and-outs to start the game and had scored just a field goal in eight drives until Talanoa Hufanga returned for a blocked punt for a touchdown to level the game with 4.41 left.
Gould followed up to finish it. Lambeau left shell-shocked, Rodgers left with food for thought once again as his search for a second Super Bowl ring goes on.
"I didn't think we'd be talking about this after this game," he told reporters. "I'm going to take some time and have conversations with folks around here, and then take some time away and make a decision, obviously before free agency or anything gets going on that front."
It will be the first time since the 2009 season that neither Rodgers nor Tom Brady will be featured in the Conference Championship games, the latter seeing his pursuit of ring No. 8 end in defeat after the Bucs had threatened one of the great playoff turnarounds when they came from 24 points down to level the score at 27-27 in the final minute before Matthew Stafford came up clutch to tee up Gay's winner.
"I haven't put a lot of thought into it, so," Brady told reporters when asked about his future. "You know, we'll just take it day by day and see, kind of see where we are at.
"Truthfully, guys, I'm thinking about this game. I'm not thinking about past five minutes from now."
Uncertainty over Rodgers' future, uncertainty over free agency-bound Davante Adams' future, uncertainty over Brady's future, uncertainty over a Bucs team that mastered cap acrobatics to re-sign all 22 starters from last year's Super Bowl-winning team. Could they do that again? Unlikely.
Jimmy Garopollo advances to a second NFC Championship game in three years with rookie understudy Trey Lance lurking in wait, leaving the NFL on the bring of a repeat of Super Bowl LIV when the Chiefs ousted Kyle Shanahan's side in Miami.
"You couldn't write that script," said Sky Sports NFL expert Jeff Reinebold.
Garoppolo over-threw a would-be, should-be touchdown pass to an open Emmanuel Sanders that would have given the 49ers the lead with under two minutes to play in that game.
Now with the Bills, Sunday's result means Sanders misses out on becoming the first player in NFL history to reach a Super Bowl with four different teams. And it's for reasons like that, among plenty others, which draw criticism of the overtime format that denied Allen and Buffalo a response to Kelce's winning score.
Among those other reasons being Davis' playoff-record four touchdown catches, and yet another faultless night for Allen.
"This is the postseason, this is sudden death, I believe Josh Allen deserves the chance to have the ball after that touchdown," said Baldinger.
"In this situation, where it's the playoffs and the finality of it, there are a number of players on that Buffalo offense that deserve to have that opportunity to answer," added Reinebold.
Bucs-Rams war left Brady bloody-lipped as he led a fightback that will only add to his glowing legacy, while showcasing the metahuman that is Aaron Donald and moving the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and Stafford closer to the stage they have waited so long to step foot on.
"What an interesting game. What an amazing sign of resilience. Teams picking each other up," said Rams head coach Sean McVay.
A Mahomes and Allen epic teased a potential Brady-Manning-esque rivalry to relish for years to come, though one a Burrow will also envision being part of down in a cloud nine-riding Cincinnati, and Shanahan took a dagger to Rodgers and Matt LaFleur with a 49ers outfit nobody wants to play.
"I can't believe what we just saw," added Romo after the Chiefs win.
That quotes applies to all we witnessed this weekend.
The NFL playoffs continue this weekend when the Kansas City Chiefs host the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship game live on Sky Sports NFL from 8pm Sunday, followed immediately after by the San Francisco 49ers at the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship game at SoFi Stadium.