NFL conference championship winners, losers: Patrick Mahomes toughs out win, Eagles thrive on ground
The matchup for Super Bowl 57 is set and it's one that offers no shortage of storylines.
The Kansas City Chiefs will face the Philadelphia Eagles in Glendale, Arizona, on Feb.12 in a game that will showcase a pair of brothers on opposite teams, a head coach going against the team that fired him a little more than a decade ago and two of the best young quarterbacks in the sport.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid led Philadelphia to a berth in Super Bowl 39 in 2004 but came up short in a loss against the New England Patriots. Now, Reid will have the chance to avenge his dismissal from the Eagles with a Lombardi Trophy. To do so, he'll need another big game out of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who will face off against Jalen Hurts of the Eagles. And Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Eagles center Jason Kelce will become the first set of brothers to play against each other in Super Bowl history.
Here are the winners and losers from conference championship Sunday.
The most gifted passer of all time
He’s not yet the G.O.A.T. — he’ll need many more years in the league to compete with Tom Brady —but Patrick Mahomes has left no doubt that he is a magician with the ball in his hands and is the most talented passer we have ever seen.
Mahomes. Kelce. Every time.
📺: #CINvsKC on CBS
📱: Stream on NFL+ https://t.co/fM5ertlhHi pic.twitter.com/kx2V7tBfjO
— NFL (@NFL) January 30, 2023
Throwing for 326 yards and two touchdowns eight days after sustaining a high ankle sprain is as tough a performance as we have seen in recent memory. That Mahomes fought through the pain and made some of his biggest plays while on the move speaks to the value his mobility brings. He earned his second all-pro berth and is the overwhelming favorite to win the MVP award. What’s absurd is that he’s only 27 and just getting started.
Philly found another playmaker
You know things are going well when your third-string running back blossoms into an impact player in the postseason. Eagles running back Kenneth Gainwell, a second-year pro, led Philadelphia in rushes (14) and rushing yards (48) and also added two catches for 26 yards.
Kenneth Gainwell had 240 rushing yards in the regular season. He has more than half of that total through 6 quarters in the playoffs (133 yards).#NFL | #Eagles pic.twitter.com/YD6C3BddIh
— Pro Football Reference (@pfref) January 29, 2023
Gainwell actually has 160 combined rushing yards in Philadelphia’s two playoff games and has showed he can be yet another playmaker on the Eagle offense.
Kansas City D-line feasted
Patrick Mahomes will draw the buzz and coverage, but Kansas City’s defense deserves just as much love for pushing the Chiefs past Cincinnati. Kansas City’s defensive front set the tone, sacking Joe Burrow three times in the first quarter and five times in the game. In fact, those came on consecutive dropbacks and were why the Bengals were held to 0 net yards in the period.
Chiefs defense stood up. Joe Burrow got the ball twice in 4th quarter in a tie game:
1st drive: 1 first down, INT
2nd drive: 2 first downs, punt
— Gregg Rosenthal (@greggrosenthal) January 30, 2023
Kansas City defensive tackle Chris Jones, whether he was feasting on backup right guard Max Scharping or whether he was moved outside on third downs and passing situations, impacted the game and disrupted the timing of Cincinnati’s offense. His sack of Burrow on third-and-8 with 44 seconds left in the game was the catalyst that got Kansas City the ball back for the game-winning field goal.
Better days ahead for San Francisco
Though this is as dismaying a loss as a team can take, the 49ers should be set for plenty of future success in the years to come. This assumes that Trey Lance can return to full health and that coach Kyle Shanahan can develop him. But having a defense this talented, offensive weapons all over the field and a quarterback on a rookie contract, the Niners can afford to be aggressive in free agency to flesh out the roster.
The Niners will need to navigate the impending free agency of right tackle Mike McGlinchey and safety Tashaun Gipson among a handful of key contributors, but with young stars like two-time all-pro linebacker Fred Warner in place, the Niners should expect to be competing for NFC titles for years to come.
Similarly, Cincy will be back, too
Along the same lines, the Bengals have the luxury of two more years of Joe Burrow at below market value with the fourth and final season of his rookie contract, as well as his fifth-year option for 2024. Cincinnati will likely look to begin negotiating his contract well before Burrow is set to hit free agency, possibly at the end of next season. Cincinnati also has a similar situation with star receiver Ja’Marr Chase, whose fifth-year option comes in 2025.
Kansas City's training and medical team
As good as Mahomes was, the work the Kansas City training staff did behind closed doors needs to be lauded. Though the team won’t reveal details of exactly what it did to get Mahomes’ ankle ready, there undoubtedly were hours of treatment and rehab that helped mend the injury.
Julie WAS the reason i was the guy i was on the field today! It takes everyone but she lead the charge all week!!! Now let’s get Super Bowl ready!! https://t.co/glPKlL9Qz3
— Patrick Mahomes II (@PatrickMahomes) January 30, 2023
Now, with the luxury of having a whole week off in the leadup to the game, the training staff will do everything it can to get Mahomes in even better shape.
Eagles roll on the ground
While no individual Eagle rusher dominated, Philadelphia's collaborative effort showed just how dangerous the team can be when it gets its rushing attack rolling. Philadelphia rolled up 148 yards — with four different players recording at least 20 yards each — against a San Francisco defense that ranked second in the NFL in the regular season, having allowed just 77 rushing yards per game.
Philly has a record-setting ground game 🦅
39: The most rushing TDs in a single season in NFL history (including playoffs)
15: The most rushing TDs in a single season by a quarterback (including playoffs)
Jalen Hurts and the Eagles 👑 pic.twitter.com/Viqg5uhWLO
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) January 29, 2023
This all, of course, wouldn't be possible without Philadelphia's offensive line, the most complete unit in the NFL.
Too many 49ers flags
Though it was an uneven day at the office for referee John Hussey and his crew, the 49ers lacked discipline and poise on key downs and committed far too many penalties. In a game when both quarterbacks who were dressed got injured, those unforced errors were devastating.
San Francisco had 11 penalties enforced for 81 yards. Seven of those penalties resulted in Eagles first downs. In fact, on the fifth Philadelphia drive, the one that gave it a 14-7 lead, the 49ers committed three defensive penalties that gifted the Eagles first downs and kept the drive alive. By comparison, the Eagles had only four penalties enforced for 34 yards.
San Francisco just can't catch a break
Coach Kyle Shanahan tenure in San Francisco had been marked by luckless injuries at quarterback. This, however, was on another level. Already down to their third-string quarterback, the Niners saw Brock Purdy exit the game midway through the first quarter with a right elbow injury. That brought in journeyman back Josh Johnson, who … left the game shortly after with a concussion. Purdy was forced back into action and clearly was not capable of throwing the ball down the field; San Francisco ran it 12 times after Purdy returned and threw the ball just three times. Running back Christian McCaffrey attempted one of those passes.
Today's disaster does underscore how impressive the healthy stretches from both Brock Purdy and Jimmy Garoppolo were this season. No QB job in the NFL is an easily replaceable position.
But the 49ers operated very, very well there until injuries finally finished them
— David Lombardi (@LombardiHimself) January 29, 2023
While Shanahan miscalculated at times — he should’ve challenged the Devonta Smith catch in the first quarter as soon as Smith was calling for a quick snap, for instance — this was a disadvantage no coach would’ve been able to overcome.
The critics of 'Burrowhead'
Let’s be clear: the Cincinnati Bengals did not lose because they were confident and brash and coined the term Burrowhead. They ran into a generationally dominant offense and a defense that brought pressure and forced turnovers. Being confident is part of Cincinnati’s identity. To strip that away would be to erase something integral to the way they operate.
KELCE 😂@tkelce @Chiefs pic.twitter.com/5KBCIsEzmK
— NFL (@NFL) January 30, 2023
And, frankly, the Bengals had the track record to back up the talk, previously going 3-0 against the Chiefs — including last season’s victory in Kansas City in the AFC title game — when Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes both started. As the league looks to cut down on taunting penalties and tamp down player celebrations, the Bengals-Chiefs rivalry is the most exciting one in football right now. The star talent and play of these teams is the main reason why, but don't discount the weight of the personalities on both sides.
How the 49ers handled Philly's best defender
Eagles linebacker Haason Redick is in contention for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year Award. He’s relentless in generating pressure off the edge. And, for some reason, the 49ers opted at times to chip or block him with a backup tight end and receivers.
The @Eagles generated a 61.9% pressure rate in the NFC Championship, their highest in a game in the Next Gen Stats era, and 3rd-highest by any defense this season.
The Eagles 8 highest pressure rates this season have come in their last 10 games.#SFvsPHI | Powered by @awscloud pic.twitter.com/tFMdGj7Iho
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 29, 2023
In fact, on the game-changing play, the one that injured Brock Purdy, San Francisco had reserve tight end Tyler Kroft in a one-on-one situation against Reddick (three tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery).
The FOX broadcast
This is not a comment at all on Greg Olsen, who is quickly becoming the top gameday analyst among NFL broadcast partners. But the Fox broadcast of the NFC championship game got off to a rough start. First, the production team was slow to show a replay of the one-handed Devonta Smith reception that shouldn’t have counted on a fourth-and-3 on the first drive of the game. Then, when Eagles punter Brett Kern booted a ball that traveled only 34 yards after it apparently hit the Skycam wire, Fox couldn’t provide any angles that would confirm that for the officiating crew.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL winners, losers: Patrick Mahomes toughs out win, Eagles run wild