As Kim Wilson and The Fabulous Thunderbirds queried “Ain’t that tuff enuff?”
Tough. That’s my takeaway adjective from Championship Sunday.
The Bengals and Rams were more than tough enough.
One week after what is universally regarded as the greatest divisional championship round in NFL history, we were treated to two more classics, this time with Super Bowl berths on the line.
Cincy comes from 18 down on the road to win in OT. LA erases a 10-point fourth quarter deficit with three scoring drives to take down its archnemesis from the North.
Tough. The Bengals were tougher than Arrowhead. And the Rams out-Ninered the Niners, who had tormented them and frankly whipped their fannies in their previous SIX meetings.
It will be Tough on Tough in SB 56. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Mahomes is at a career crossroads. No, I’m not jumping off his bandwagon. I am not abandoning him, or in any way kicking him to the curb. His talent is breathtaking, and it was on full display as he threw three dazzling early touchdown passes to put KC up 21-3.
But here’s what has happened. Mahomes is so certain of and dependent on his freakish ability to do the impossible that he has untethered himself from the routine. There’s a reason why even world-class musicians start every practice session with simple scales. Fundamentals. Patrick has taken the “fun” out of the basics.
It began with that startling lapse right before halftime. Up 21-10 and with a first-and-goal from the Bengal one, he flatlined. At the very least, he had three in his back pocket. I’m hearing and reading that the Chiefs should have just kicked the FG with five seconds left in the half. NO! Five seconds is a freaking eternity. The obvious play is to throw quickly into the end zone. You either throw a touchdown (in which case you have thrown a touchdown!), or you throw an incomplete pass that stops the clock with at least two seconds remaining, and you get your trey.
Duh. But instead, Mahomes lays it off to Tyreek Hill outside the five-yard-line. Not even Tyreek F. Hill can get in. Clock expires. Game turns.
KC got the ball first in the second half, with a chance to atone for that gaffe. Instead, the Chiefs went three-and-out, and at that point you knew it was ON.
Late in regulation, now down 24-21, Mahomes’ recklessness resulted in a fumble that almost ended the game. A KC offensive lineman got back on the ball to preserve a game-tying FG opportunity and send yet another playoff game in OT.
But then look what Mahomes did. He immediately threw what should have been an instant-death Pick-6. He got bailed out only because defensive backs are generally converted receivers who can’t catch. (Foreshadowing a key event in the NFC game later.) Still, his death wish was fulfilled when he threw an ACTUAL interception on the next play. And you knew what was going to happen after that.
This game was not just a product of Kansas City failures. The Bengals were brilliant. Brilliant. Burrow’s performance was a museum piece. But the Cincy defense was the key, especially on the back end. Mahomes frequently had “all kinds of time.” But he had no place to throw the football.
Best meme I saw after the Bengals punched their ticket to LA? “Joe Burrow is so cool, he can divide by zero.”
We jump two time zones to the West. Matthew Stafford looked like he was falling back into time when he just threw up a duck with the Rams down 17-14 with under ten minutes left in the fourth. Same old Stafford, right? Detroit Matt, correct? That narrative would have been revived and put on steroids immediately.
But remember how we were talking about defensive backs who have their hands on backwards? Niner safety Jacquisky Tartt not only dropped a certain and maybe game-sealing INT with his hands, he dropped it with his stomach, his crotch, his knees and his mortal soul. That was one sour tartt, but it wound up being a sweet dessert for a Ram team that is now going to “dine at home” on February 13.
The Rams are going to play one more time in their crib because they beat the Niners at their own game. They out-toughed SF. They ran the rock. They controlled the clock.
They were “tuff enuff.” And it probably doesn’t hurt to have Cooper Kupp wearing your team’s jersey.
And in the process they ended the Jimmy G. era by the bay.