NFL Championship Round Recaps
Tennessee Titans @ Kansas City Chiefs
After beating both the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens in previous weeks, the Tennessee Titans found themselves only one game away from reaching the pinnacle of their Cinderella story with only the Kansas City Chiefs in their way. To go the distance, they would need to go into Arrowhead Stadium and grind out a win against the high-powered offense that had previously put up 41 unanswered points after being down 24-0 against the Houston Texans last week. The game began in favor of the Titans as they got to an early 10-point lead in the first quarter. Then, with two minutes left in the first half, the Kansas City defense came up with a stop to force a punt, allowing Patrick Mahomes to embark on a touchdown drive to take the lead and steal the momentum going into the second half. The Chiefs continued with two more touchdown drives in the second half to put up a strong lead as their defense contained the running attack of the Titans to close out the game to propel the Chiefs to the Super Bowl they just missed out on last season.
The Start of the Patrick Mahomes Era?
For the second week in a row, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes has led the team in rushing yardage and continues to be the driving force behind the offense. While two seasons is an incredibly short span in the NFL and surely not enough to cement a young player into a Hall of Fame career, Mahomes has demonstrated everything one looks for in a franchise quarterback. Two weeks in a row, the Chiefs began the game playing from behind and Mahomes has yet to falter. He threw for 294 yards with 23 completions out of 35 attempts on his way to three touchdowns against the Titans, while also adding another touchdown on the ground with eight carries for 53 yards. On a 60-yard touchdown strike to receiver Sammy Watkins, Mahomes danced around outside of the pocket before heaving the ball deep off-balance to hit Watkins over 40 air-yards away, but the most impressive play of the day might have been his 27-yard touchdown scramble as he tightroped the sideline while traveling a total distance of 64 yards across the field.
Containing Derrick Henry
Early in the game, it appeared this would be another game in which bruising Titans running back Derrick Henry could run run rampant through the defense, but the Chiefs were able to come together to stop the run game, limiting Henry to 69 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. The strength of the Titans offense rode on Henry grinding out first downs and taking up time of possession, but as the offense faltered and the Chiefs began to put up more points, the running game was practically negated as the Titans were forced to use what little time they had left to attempt a comeback rather than hogging up the clock. Ryan Tannehill threw for 209 yards and two touchdowns, completing 21 of his 31 passes, but struggled in the second half other than a lone touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter that cut the lead to 11.
Green Bay Packers @ San Francisco 49ers
The Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers, both 13-3 in the regular season, met in Santa Clara for the chance to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. For Aaron Rodgers, the 49ers have been a constant after they picked Alex Smith over him in the 2005 draft, and this season marked the first time in two seasons that he has returned to the playoffs. Jimmy Garoppolo has been to both the postseason and the Super Bowl before but only as a backup to Tom Brady. The start to the game could not have gone any worse for the Packers as they found themselves punting four times and Aaron Rodgers turned the ball over twice to allow the 49ers to walk into halftime with a 27-0 lead. Even with three straight touchdown drives in the second half, the Packers still found themselves down 37-20 at the two minute warning as San Francisco kept pace and ultimately picked off Rodgers one last time to seal their win.
Pass Rush, Secondary Capitalize on Green Bay Mistakes
In just the first few drives, the pass rushers by the 49ers introduced themselves to Rodgers. It was a strategy that has worked throughout time against many great quarterbacks and even for an experienced veteran playmaker like Rodgers, it is hard to beat. Two sacks in the first three drives paved the way for three punts before a fumbled snap by Rodgers ended what was almost a sure scoring drive, and then an interception in Green Bay territory on the next drive wiped any hopes of scoring before halftime. The Packers came out of halftime having made adjustments to the passing game to get the ball out of their quarterback’s hands as quickly as possible and it showed as they drove down the field three consecutive times for touchdowns, but the lead by the 49ers was simply too great to overcome as San Francisco also continued to put up points along the way. Had the Packers had another quarter to play, Rodgers may have been able to pull through but as it was, the Packers offense found themselves in their own territory with less than two minutes left and down by 17 points. One desperate hail mary attempt later, 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman had come down with the ball to seal the win. Rodgers finished the game with 326 yards and 31 completions out of 39 attempts for two touchdowns and two interceptions, with most of his pass attempts (24) being thrown to within ten air yards of or behind the line of scrimmage to counteract the 49ers pass rush.
49ers Offensive Line, Mostert Roast DB-Heavy Packers Defense
Taking advantage of the defensive backs that the Packers put on the field to cover fast receivers Emmanuel Sanders, Deebo Samuel, and Kendrick Bourne, head coach and play caller Kyle Shanahan dialed up a heavy run attack that lasted through the entirety of the game. As a team, the 49ers ran 38 times, compared to only eight throws by Garoppolo. With a lighter, faster defensive unit on the field, the Packers could not stop the run and almost never stacked the box (14% of the time) against running back Raheem Mostert, who led the team with 29 carries for 220 yards and four touchdowns. Next Gen Stats logged him at over 15 MPH on all four of his touchdown runs and he was barely touched by the Packers on nearly all of them. It has been clear throughout the season that everyone on the offense has bought into the run game. Even with the linemen, tight ends, and fullback providing the biggest push, all of the smaller wide receivers and even Jimmy Garoppolo are throwing blocks for the running backs. In any game, any of the running backs or even the wide receivers can break out for big runs and it has added an incredible dimension to a team that already boasts a fierce defense.