Conference Championship week in the NFL. Essentially the “semi-finals” for the Super Bowl. We are now down to 4 teams, who are one match away from playing in the biggest match of the year.
So, let’s look back at what happened, and see who will be playing in Super Bowl LVII.
NFC Championship: San Francisco 49ers @ Philadelphia Eagles
All season long, the Philadelphia Eagles have been one of the, if not the, best teams in football this year. Apart from a minor slump near the end of the regular season caused by the injury to quarterback Jalen Hurts, the Eagles have been playing strong competitive football throughout the season. This gave them the number one seed in the NFC. Last week, the Eagles demolished the New York Giants. This week, they faced a far stronger test in the San Francisco 49ers, who with the help of Christian McCaffrey and Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy have gone on a 12-game winning streak. Could Philadelphia end this streak and book their place in the Super Bowl?
The first drive of the game belonged to the Eagles and it was interesting. It began with Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and company struggling to move the ball. They faced 3rd down on their first two sets of downs, with the second set seeing 4th down. On this 4th down, Hurts threw to DeVonta Smith, who would perform a stunning one-handed catch to move the ball into the San Francisco red zone. However, upon inspection, after the drive finished, this play would have been classed as an incomplete pass if the 49ers reviewed it. They did not do this, and 2 plays later, Eagles running back Miles Sanders ran the ball in for a 6-yard rushing touchdown.
In came 49ers Quarterback Brock Purdy. His offense began to move the ball up the field with the hope of scoring to start their challenge for a place at the Super Bowl. They made the 50-yard line, but on the next play, it looked like Purdy had thrown a poor incomplete pass, that due to the contact with an Eagles defender prior to the pass, could have been classed as a fumble. Unlike the 49ers in their previous drive, the Eagles did appeal this ruling. They were successful. Purdy had fumbled the ball which was recovered by the Eagles’ defense. Things got even worse for San Francisco soon after. They did not only just lose possession, they had lost their quarterback. Purdy was injured in this play, his return was questionable.
We then saw the return of our old friend. The “Festival of Kicking” had made its way to Philadelphia, PA, as the next 5 drives all ended in punts after offensive plays that went nowhere.
The poor streak would be broken by the 49ers, who were now quarterbacked by Josh Johnson. However, it was not Johnson who would score the points. It would be a 23-yard run by Christian McCaffrey which tied things up
The tie lasted 6 minutes. On their next drive, Philadelphia slowly moved the ball down the field. It was then left to Miles Sanders, who scored a 13-yard rushing touchdown, his second of the game. Things became even better for the Eagles soon after, as Josh Johnson fumbled the ball, which the Philadelphia defense recovered. From this, Boston Scott ran the ball into the endzone for a 10-yard rushing touchdown. This meant that at halftime, the Philadelphia Eagles had a 21-7 lead over the San Francisco 49ers.
The second half of this game was not great. With the majority of the San Francisco offense injured, they were never going to make a proper challenge to Philadelphia, who were already thinking about their Super Bowl appearance in two weeks’ time.
After opening the half with more punts, the Eagles would increase their lead. From a drive that started at their own 9-yard line, Hurts and company drove the ball down to the San Francisco one-yard line. Then, Hurts ran the ball in for another touchdown to all but secure the Eagles’ place at the Super Bowl.
The 49ers would be turned over on downs in their next drive. The subsequent possession by the Eagles would result in a 31-yard field goal. Purdy would return to the game late in the fourth quarter but would make no impact whatsoever. The 49ers would fumble the ball, and their Super Bowl chances on the game’s final drive, as it became official.
The Philadelphia Eagles had beaten the San Francisco 49ers 31-7 to win the NFC Championship game for the fourth time and booked their place at Super Bowl LVII. For the 49ers, if Purdy had not been injured, this game may have been closer. This team is definitely becoming stronger each year, and it would not surprise me if they returned to this game for the third year in a row next year.
The Eagles make the Super Bowl. But who would they face?
AFC Championship: Cincinnati Bengals @ Kansas City Chiefs
The Cincinnati Bengals and the Kansas City Chiefs are without a doubt two of the strongest teams in the league. Along with the Buffalo Bills, it was highly likely that two of these three teams would meet in the conference championship. This match was a repeat of last year’s AFC Championship game, where the Bengals won on a last-minute field goal to send them to the Super Bowl. More importantly, this is the fourth encounter between Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes, two of the best quarterbacks in the league. Burrows has never lost to Mahomes, Would he continue his streak, or would the Chiefs make the Super Bowl in their 5th consecutive appearance in this game?
The Bengals would have the first drive of the game, but would not be able to do anything with the ball. On the other hand, Kansas City would be able to do something. In typical Mahomes fashion, the ball quickly moved up the field. The Chiefs reached the Bengals’ 25-yard line before the drive stalled, resulting in a 43-yard field goal from Harrison Butker.
The following Kansas City drive was more of a success. On the Bengals’ 9-yard line, Pacheco ran the ball in for a 9-yard rushing touching. However, the Chiefs would be penalized for an offensive holding on the play. This not only forced them back 10 yards, but it also wiped the touchdown off the board. The drive did end in points, but again from the boot of Butker, who would kick a 24-yard field goal.
Not wanting to be left out of the field goal-kicking fun, the Bengals would score one on their next drive. Evan McPherson would kick a 30-yard field goal to keep the lead at 3 points.
But, as we have been throughout the season with the Kansas City Chiefs, once they concede, they score very quickly. The same thing happened again on their next drive. Mahomes and company drove the ball down into the Bengals’ red zone, and then on fourth down, Mahomes threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce.Embed from Getty Images
Joe Burrow would be intercepted in the Bengals’ reply to this score, but the Chiefs were not able to move the ball in the reply. Before halftime, it looked like Burrow would be intercepted again, but a defensive penalty overturned it. McPherson would kick a 23-yard field goal as halftime arrived. This meant that as the team went into the locker rooms, the Kansas City Chiefs had a 13-6 lead over the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals would be the first to score in the second half. Burrow would find Tee Higgins for a 27-yard touchdown pass to tie the game. This tie would not last long, however. On the next drive of the game, Mahomes would find Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 19-yard touchdown pass and the lead returned to Kansas City.
Then, a massive error on Kansas City’s behalf occurred. Patrick Mahomes was sacked and then fumbled the ball. This ball was then scooped up by the Bengals’ defense in a very decent field position for another game-tying touchdown. Burrow and company then moved the ball down to the Chiefs’ 2-yard line, and it would be Samaje Perine who would score the 2-yard rushing touchdown to tie the game again.
In the middle of the fourth quarter, Joe Burrow would be intercepted again by the Chiefs’ defense. In a similar response to his first interception, the Chiefs could not convert the gain into points. What they would do next would be somewhat controversial, and so typical of the Kansas City Chiefs.Embed from Getty Images
With only a field goal needed to win and with 30 seconds left on the clock, the Chiefs tried to move the ball. Then, on 3rd down, Mahomes scrambled for the first down, but this was still not in field goal territory. However, there was a penalty against the Bengals for unnecessary roughness on the play. This allowed the Chiefs to move into field goal territory. With the last kick of the game, Butker would score a 45-yard field goal to give the Kansas City Chiefs a 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals to send them to the Super Bowl to face the Philadelphia Eagles.
Last year, The Bengals won with a last-minute field goal. This year, the roles reversed, with the Chiefs scoring the winner. With this win, Patrick Mahomes gets his first victory over Joe Burrow, in what will hopefully be a strong and competitive rivalry between these two-star players.