Championship Weekend Recap, Super Bowl Preview

Here we go again. For the third straight year, and four out of the last five, the New England Patriots have managed to outcoach their way to yet another Super Bowl. This year they will be facing off against the talented Los Angeles Rams — a rematch of the 2002 Super Bowl. It was just a week ago that the Patriots and the Rams were both underdogs on the road, playing in some of the toughest and most disruptive atmospheres in the league at Kansas City and New Orleans, respectively. Although both games garnered some controversy surrounding the officiating and overtime rules, each matchup had fans glued to their seats for the entirety of the game.

For the first slated game on Sunday, the Rams visited the Saints, who were favorites to win the Super Bowl. After jumping out to a dominating 13–0 lead early in the first quarter, it seemed the Saints were on their way to Super Bowl LIII, as they had all the momentum while the home crowd wreaked havoc on the Rams’ offense. The Rams’ rising star quarterback Jared Goff, NFL touchdown leader Todd Gurley, and kid-genius coach Sean McVay were held to a mere 15 yards in the first quarter, their lowest total in the past two years. Goff often struggled to relay plays to the huddle and visibly had trouble receiving play calls through his helmet as the noise in the Superdome was just too deafening.

However, all momentum began to shift when McVay fearlessly called a fake punt from his own 30-yard line. Punter Johnny Hekker threw a missile to veteran Sam Shields, who successfully evaded a tackle, and the Rams picked up their first first down of the game. The Saints’ Swiss Army knife Alvin Kamara racked up 111 yards on 19 touches, and former Patriots and Saints receiver  Brandin Cooks notched a key 107 yards for the Rams to set up an intense, season-defining fourth quarter of action. After the Rams marched down the field and tied the game at 20–20, Drew Brees led the Saints deep into Rams territory. With just 2 minutes to go, it seemed the game was over, as the Saints could simply run the ball to eat clock. Saints coach Sean Payton, however, questionably decided to pass on first down, which resulted in an incompletion, but more importantly for the Rams, a stopped clock.

Two plays later, the Saints were faced with a third and 10 from the Rams 13-yard line. Brees dropped back to pass and tried to get the ball to Tommylee Lewis on a wheel route, but corner Nickell Robey-Coleman unloaded, hitting Lewis right before he could make a play on the ball. By rule, this should be a penalty for pass interference; however, officials kept the flags in their pockets, only ruling the play an incompletion. This has become an infamous call, as this penalty would have given the Saints the ball with a first down, allowing them a chance to advance to the Super Bowl. Instead, after a Will Lutz field goal, the Rams received the ball down 23–20 and stormed down the field as receptions by Josh Reynolds and Robert Woods set up a Greg “The Leg” Zuerlein field goal, sending the game to overtime.

Although the Saints won the overtime coin toss and could have won the game with a touchdown, newly crowned NFL passing yards leader Drew Brees had a pass tipped by the Rams’ Dante Fowler, leading to an interception by safety John Johnson III. With the ball at midfield, the Rams only needed a first down to get into field goal range and win the game. And after a big throw from Goff, Zuerlein connected from 57 yards out to win the game. Even though many football fans across the country certainly enjoyed this playoff game, New Orleans fans will forever remember it by a blown call that cost them a ticket to the Super Bowl.

The second game of the day featured MVP-favorite Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs taking on four-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady and the Patriots. The Patriots jumped out to a 2-score lead, seizing the upper hand early on. From the get-go, the Patriots had control and set the tone by capping off an extended 15-play drive with a touchdown, taking the life out of Arrowhead Stadium. Standout rookie running back Sony Michel was instrumental in the Patriots’ success, propelling his team with 2 early touchdowns and 113 yards. Head coach Bill Belichick also displayed his great defensive mind once again in the playoffs by employing myriad schemes that limited speedy All-Pro receiver Tyreek Hill to 1 reception, and even more surprisingly only 3 targets. Mahomes and the Chiefs were able to rally back and take a 21–17 lead behind 2 touchdown receptions by unsung hero Damien Williams late in the third quarter. However, everyone knows how unstoppable Brady is during the postseason, and there was a feeling that no matter what plays the electrifying 23-year-old Mahomes made, or what stunts and coverages longtime defensive coordinator Bob Sutton threw at Brady, Brady was going to pull this one out. Brady kept Chris Hogan, Julian Edelman, and Rob Gronkowski, who quietly had one of his best games of the year, highly involved throughout the second half, constantly moving the chains down the field and winding up in the endzone. The Patriots regained the lead after Michel’s fifth postseason touchdown and sent the ball back to the Chiefs with just three minutes left. Despite the time remaining, this one was far from over.

The Chiefs got back to their identity on this drive — gaining yards in bunches and scoring fast — as Williams’ 2-yard rushing touchdown concluded a short drive and put the Chiefs back on top 28–24 with 2:03 left in the game.

It was now up to Brady. He marched his team right back down the field and scored, giving Mahomes and the Chiefs one final shot to make some magic happen to try to advance to the Super Bowl. The Chiefs had moved on from quarterback Alex Smith in the offseason partly due to his struggles in the playoffs, and they had hoped Mahomes could be the guy to push them over the hump into serious Super Bowl contention. Here was his chance.

Mahomes demonstrated his jaw-dropping MVP talent as he hit two 20-plus yard passes to Williams and Demarcus Robinson on a drive that was eventually topped off by a Harrison Butker field goal, sending the game into overtime. This marked the first time in Conference Championship history that both games ended regulation in a tie and proceeded to the overtime period.

Since the Patriots won the coin toss, it was up to the Chiefs’ defense to get a stop. The Chiefs, already a lackluster defensive team, had lost star defensive lineman Chris Jones for most of the second half and overtime due to injury. Missing Jones definitely hurt the Chiefs’ pass rush, and this was made evident by the Patriots’ onslaught of second-half scoring. Things were not looking good for the Chiefs.

Despite completing only 4 of 9 passes on the overtime drive, Brady was a surgeon in the pocket, picking apart the Kansas City secondary, completing 3 third downs and tossing a game-winning touchdown to Rex Burkhead. This game was an instant classic as Brady, at 41 years old, competed in a shootout with likely-MVP Mahomes, showing yet again that he is still elite while also continuing the greatest dynasty in the history of sports. Even though the Chiefs failed to advance to the Super Bowl, they had a tremendous season considering the holes in their defense, and with Mahomes at the helm of the team for the near future, this should not be their last chance to make a Super Bowl.

As the Super Bowl approaches, there are lots of intriguing storylines to delve into. The Rams look to win their first Super Bowl as a franchise in Los Angeles, while the New England Patriots hope to secure a record-tying sixth Lombardi trophy. This will be a battle between juggernaut coaches, as Rams coach McVay, a 33-year-old offensive mastermind who has constructed the best statistical offense in football, takes on perhaps the greatest coach in NFL history in Belichick, who at 66 years old remains able to consistently suppress high-profile offenses. If the Rams win the game, it would make McVay the youngest coach to win the Super Bowl. On the other hand, if the Patriots win, Belichick would be the oldest head coach to win it all.

Media week prior to the Super Bowl will also be the first time Patriots linebacker coach and defensive play-caller Brian Flores will get to speak since taking the head coaching position for the Miami Dolphins for next season. Bay Area natives Goff and Brady headline the quarterback matchup, as Goff hopes to usher in the NFL’s next dynasty, while Brady looks to win himself and the Patriots a record-tying sixth championship.

If the past two Patriot Super Bowl games are any indication of what’s in store, then Super Bowl LIII should live up to all the hype. Make sure to tune into CBS this Sunday, Feb. 3 to watch these two teams battle it out to build their legacies and make history.

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