By: Jack Nevins
With the AFC and NFC Championships concluded this past weekend, the NFL has crowned their AFC and NFC champions. We will see a rematch of Super Bowl LIII, between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers. But more importantly, how did both of these squads make it to the big game? The Chiefs took down the Baltimore Ravens, while the 49ers took care of business over the Detroit Lions.
Sunday started with the early window game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens. The Patrick Mahomes we know, was out in full display in the first quarter, finding Travis Kelce along with his other receivers, keeping the score tied, 7-7 with MVP candidate Lamar Jackson. The first half was the Mahomes and Kelce show, which continued for the remainder of the contest. Kelce went on to catch 11 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown. On the other hand, Mahomes went 30 for 39, for 241 yards, and a touchdown. Kelce also passed Jerry Rice’s playoff reception record. At halftime, the Chiefs led by 10, 17-7. Both teams were then yet to put any points on the board in the third quarter, having two donuts on the box score. Justin Tucker’s 43-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter was not enough for the Chiefs, as Mahomes connected with Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a 32-yard reception, sealing the deal. As we once watched Tom Brady dominate the NFL for the majority of the 2000’s, fans would say “don’t bet against Brady”. The saying now is “don’t bet against Mahomes.” Although Mahomes is nearly unstoppable, as he advances to his 4th Super Bowl in only 5 years, Lamar Jackson has had an MVP-caliber season. Jackson led Baltimore to the league’s best record, but that was no match for the Chiefs. They allowed two touchdowns on the first two KC possessions. Baltimore was even with legends Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in attendance, but they did not bring the energy needed. Down 10 in the third, Zay Flowers caught a 54-yard pass, bringing the Ravens to the KC 10 yard-line, but taunting was called on the play, leading to a fumble, and a Baltimore turnover. Lamar went 20 for 37, with 272 yards and a touchdown. Jackson also pulled a Marcus Mariota against the Chiefs, and when the ball was batted up in the air, he ran forward and caught his own pass for a first down. The explosiveness of the Ravens that was seen throughout the season was not present in the AFC Championship.
The late window consisted of the San Francisco 49ers and the Detroit Lions. The Lions held a shocking 17 point lead at halftime, 24-7. This was only a trick. Whatever goes up, must always come down. Brock Purdy and the Niners completed the improbable. They completed the comeback while down 17. Brandon Aiyuk, the third year receiver went up and caught the game-deciding reception, off a 51-yard Brock Purdy completion. In a span of eight minutes, the 49ers scored 17 straight points in the third quarter, tying the ball game. Late in the fourth, they took a 10 point lead with less than two minutes left on the game clock. After criticism that Purdy is not a “game-manager,” he defied all odds after showing he could tuck it and run, and even run plays that do not make sense in big moments. This is the second time in two straight weeks that Purdy mounted a comeback. Purdy ended with 267 passing yards, a passing touchdown, and 48 rushing yards, with two rushes for 20-plus yards. From once being “Mr. Irrelevant” in the 2022 draft, his teammates have loved him after taking over the starting job “All he’s done since he’s been here is play at an elite level,” said Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey had two touchdown runs, where his backup, Elijah Mitchell, added on another, to take a 10 point lead. Even with a 24-7 lead at half, the Lions could not hold on. This season ended the 56 year drought where the Lions have not won more than 2 straight playoff games. A series of unlucky events occurred, as the Lions assumed they had an interception, but Purdy’s pass hit Kindle Vildor in the face mask, and fell into the hands of Aiyuk. Jahmyr Gibbs then fumbled, setting up a CMC TD. The mistakes kept racking up, as Josh Reynolds dropped a huge pass on third down, causing the Lions to punt. Jared Goff said, “ Momentum certainly changed pretty quickly.” On fourth-and-3, Dan Campbell opted out of a game-tying field goal, and went for it, where Goff threw an incomplete pass. With 56 seconds left, Goff found Jameson Williams in the back of the endzone, giving the Lions hope on the onside kick. After the onside kick bobbled around Niners players, and nearly fell into the hands of the Lions, the 49ers recovered the ball. Jared Goff finished the game 25 for 41, on 273 yards, and a touchdown.
After these two electric games, the 49ers and Chiefs will look to have a classic “Mexican standoff” in Las Vegas. The Super Bowl logo curse is not true, as we will not see a purple and red team face-off against each other. The Super Bowl will certainly be exciting to watch, as Brock Purdy will make his first Super Bowl appearance, and Mahomes is now looking to go back-to-back.