What Have We Learned From Championship Sunday of the 2018 NFL Playoffs

Demarus Dye| BKD TV Insiders

Robert Kraft, Tom Brady, Patrick Chung

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, center, carries the trophy between quarterback Tom Brady, left, and safety Patrick Chung as they leave the field after the AFC championship NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, in Foxborough, Mass. The Patriots won 24-20. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Here is What Have We Learned from Championship Sunday of the 2018 NFL Playoffs, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • The Patriots and Eagles will square off in Super Bowl 52-Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are going back to the Super Bowl in search of a sixth title.

    They’ll face a Philadelphia Eagles team looking for their first Lombardi Trophy.

    Brady led the Patriots (15-3) back from a 10-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 24-20 in the AFC championship game Sunday.

    Starting his 36th playoff game, Brady shook off an injury to his right hand and the loss of top target Rob Gronkowski to rally the Patriots to their record 10th Super Bowl appearance.

    The Patriots will try to match the Pittsburgh Steelers’ six Super Bowl trophies when they face the Eagles (15-3) on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis.

    Nick Foles, the backup QB who was thrust into the starting role when Carson Wentz blew out his left knee last month, led the Philadelphia to a 38-7 rout of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game.

    Foles threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns, showing poise and moxie in going 26 for 33.

    The Vikings were hoping to become the first NFL team to serve as host to a Super Bowl in its own stadium, but they followed up their “Minneapolis Miracle ” with a “Flop in Philly.”

    So, they’ll clear out their lockers long before the Eagles and Patriots and their fans take over U.S. Bank Stadium for Super Bowl 52 in two weeks.

    Oddsmakers like the chances of Brady winning a sixth Super Bowl ring , making the Patriots nearly a touchdown favorite to beat the Eagles.

    The Patriots and Eagles, who last won an NFL title in 1960, several years before the first Super Bowl, met in the Super Bowl after the 2004 season with the Patriots prevailing 24-21.

    Hours after Brady’s game-winning 4-yard TD pass to Danny Amendola with 2:48 remaining in Foxborough, the Eagles won for the fourth time in five tries under Foles.

    It started out ominously, however.

    The Vikings celebrated Kyle Rudolph’s 25-yard touchdown catch from Case Keenum on their opening drive by mimicking the Olympic sport of curling for their TD celebration.

    It was the Eagles who had all the fun after that.

    Patrick Robinson’s spectacular 50-yard interception return got Philadelphia started. Then Foles and his offense tore up the league’s stingiest scoring defense, with long TD throws to Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. LeGarrette Blount had an 11-yard scoring run when things were decided in the first half, and the Eagles were headed to an NFL title game the Vikings (14-4) hoped to be in at their own stadium.

    “You know everyone was against us,” Foles said. “Coming out here and stick together and (we) come away with an amazing victory against a great team.”

    Blake Bortles and the stingy Jaguars (12-7) led New England 20-10 early in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t hold against the defending champions.

    The NFL’s second-ranked defense kept Brady and the Patriots at bay for most of the game, but lost linebacker Myles Jack and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus on consecutive plays on New England’s winning drive.

    It was New England’s 13th win in 14 games since their 2-2 start. Their only stumble since September was a 27-20 loss at the Dolphins on Dec. 11.

    Brady, wearing a black bandage on his right hand after needing stitches to close a cut that happened on a play during practice earlier in the week, showed no signs of being hampered.

    And, with the game — and the season — possibly on the line, the Patriots star came up big again.

    “I’ve had a lot worse,” Brady said. “I didn’t know that on Wednesday. It was a crazy injury. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday was a little scary. Then I started getting some confidence and today we did just enough to win.”

    Brady finished 26 of 38 for 290 yards and two touchdowns to Amendola.

    It’s the eighth Super Bowl appearance for Brady and coach Bill Belichick, who have won five times — including last year’s 34-28 overtime rally against the Falcons.

    “It’s pretty amazing,” Brady said. “Just to be on a team that wins these kinds of games, it’s just a great accomplishment.”

 

  • Nick Foles goes from backup to championship game hero-Nick Foles stood tall in the pocket, ignored the pressure and made one big throw after another.

    On the biggest stage of his life, Foles silenced the critics who thought the Eagles couldn’t get to the Super Bowl without MVP candidate Carson Wentz. Foles threw for 352 and three touchdowns to lead Philadelphia to a convincing 38-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC championship game Sunday.

    Now he’s headed to Minnesota to face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

    “Words can’t describe what I feel right now,” Foles said. “All glory goes to God. I’m grateful and humbled to be part of this team. No one in the locker room doubted me. We kept working, I got more reps in practice and it’s a rhythm thing.”

    While Wentz watched from the sideline, using a cane to walk following surgery to repair his torn left ACL, Foles picked apart the NFL’s top-ranked defense. He tossed a perfect 53-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery with the pocket collapsing around him to give Philadelphia a 21-7 lead in the second quarter.

    Foles then directed a 60-yard drive in 29 seconds to set up a field goal before halftime. He fired a 49-yard TD pass to Torrey Smith off a flea flicker to start the second half and tossed a 5-yard TD to Jeffery early in the fourth to make it 38-7.

    Foles was at his best on third downs, completing 10 of 11 for 159 yards and two TDs. The Eagles had been 0 for 13 on third-and-10 or longer after Wentz went down. On Sunday, Foles threw an 11-yard pass to Zach Ertz on third-and-10 on the Eagles’ first touchdown drive. His long TD pass to Jeffery came on third-and-10.

    The Eagles (15-3) have been underdogs in both playoffs games, mostly because Wentz was no longer playing. They were the first No. 1 seed not favored in a divisional round game, a 15-10 win over the Falcons. The Vikings (14-4) were 3-point favorites despite also being led by a backup quarterback — Case Keenum, Foles’ good friend and former teammate.

    “You know everyone was against us,” Foles said. “Coming out here, stick together and come away with an amazing victory against a great team.”

    Keenum congratulated Foles in the tunnel after the game.

    “He did a great job,” Keenum said.

    Foles walked into the X-ray room after the game, but told The Associated Press after he came out: “I’m good. I’m fine.”

    Foles put on a passing clinic, completing 78.8 percent of his passes (26 of 33). Not bad for a guy who contemplated retirement before the 2016 season.

    “I’m not surprised,” said Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who held the same position with the Eagles in 2013. “I’ve seen the best of Nick.”

    A third-round pick by former Eagles coach Andy Reid in 2012, Foles had tremendous success as a starter under Chip Kelly his sophomore season. He threw 29 TDs and only two picks in 11 starts, including playoffs in 2013. Foles posted a passer rating of 119.2, third-highest in league history. He tied an NFL record with seven TD passes in a game at Oakland in November 2013 won an offensive MVP award at a Pro Bowl.

    But Foles was traded to St. Louis for Sam Bradford in March 2015. He lost his starting job to Keenum and asked for his release after Jared Goff was drafted No. 1 overall. Foles considered hanging up his cleats before Reid persuaded him to go to Kansas City to be Alex Smith’s backup.

    After one season with the Chiefs, Foles returned to Philly to provide insurance behind Wentz.

    He’ll become a folk hero if he can deliver the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl title.

 

  • Patriots’ defense key to another postseason comeback-So many times during the Patriots’ run of success over the past two decades, the defense was watching as Tom Brady sealed another victory.

    In Sunday’s 24-20 AFC championship victory over the Jacksonville , the defense got its chance to secure the Patriots’ record 10th Super Bowl appearance.

    Jacksonville entered the game with the best red-zone scoring percentage in NFL, scoring touchdowns on 67.9 percent of trips this season (40 on 56 drives). The Jaguars scored touchdowns on both of their red-zone trips in the first half, as quarterback Blake Bortles had his way with short and intermediate routes to pile up first downs.

    It added up to a 20-10 fourth-quarter lead, and left Gillette Stadium in stunned silence as New England’s hopes of getting a chance to defend its Super Bowl title seemed to be dwindling.

    But Jacksonville got conservative over the final 30 minutes, much like the Atlanta Falcons did with 28-3 lead in last year’s Super Bowl collapse against New England. The Patriots seized on it and the Jaguars’ offense never got closer than the Patriots’ 25 in the second half.

    “We put ourselves in position to come back and just keep fighting,” defensive end Tray Flowers said. “We knew they were going to run the ball, but we kept fighting and it was a fourth-quarter game.”

    The most telling example came after the Patriots took their final lead of the game on Danny Amendola’s 4-yard touchdown catch in the back of the end zone.

    The Jaguars initially went back to their success in the first half , starting the drive with an 8-yard completion from Bortles to Marqise Lee, followed by a 29-yard pass to Dede Westbrook to set Jacksonville up on New England’s 38.

    But the Patriots reset, and after an incompletion by Bortles on first down, linebackers Kyle Van Noy and James Harrison got to Bortles for a sack, prying the ball loose. Jaguars tackle Cam Robinson recovered the fumble, but it set up a third-and-19.

    New England kept the pressure on Bortles and he could only manage a 4-yard completion to James O’Shaughnessy.

    “They had maybe one or two plays that we talk about this time of year,” safety Devin McCourty said. “Sixteen games, a play or two may have success, but (Patriots defensive coordinator) Matt (Patricia) said it best: It wasn’t a big adjustment that you needed to do; it was just needing to play aggressively.”

    With Jacksonville facing fourth-and-15 on its 43, cornerback Stephon Gilmore reached in front of Bortles’ pass to O’Shaughnessy to force a turnover on downs.

    It was a special moment for Gilmore, who battled injuries and inconsistent play after signing a five-year, $65 million contract in the offseason.

    “It wasn’t the biggest play I’ve made, but it was definitely one of the most important,” he said. “To come from where I came from last year, and be a part of this great team … I love it and that’s why I decided to come here.”

    For Bortles, it was his first loss this season when he didn’t commit a turnover. He was previously 8-0.

    “We had a two-minute drive at the end of the game to win the AFC championship, so there’s not a whole lot more you can ask for than that,” Bortles said. “You’ve got to take advantage of that and find a way to win the game.”

    And now the Patriots will have a chance at their sixth Super Bowl trophy, which would tie the Pittsburgh Steelers for the most ever.

    McCourty said the defense is invigorated by the opportunity.

    “This team is battle-tested,” McCourty said. “You go through ups and downs. You go through adversity. … We just keep giving ourselves a chance to win, and the hard work pays off.”

 

Middle

  • NBC’s Al Michaels prepares for 10th Super Bowl broadcast-Al Michaels has a similar level of anticipation heading into his 10th Super Bowl broadcast as he had the first time he worked the biggest stage on television 30 years ago.

    Michaels is set to join Pat Summerall as the only play-by-play announcers to call at least 10 Super Bowls when he works next weekend’s game in Minneapolis between New England and Philadelphia.

    “It’s every bit as exciting and even more so in a way,” Michaels said in a phone interview. “As you get older and you get the opportunities to do these events, you probably savor it more.

    “When I look at guys like Tom Brady and Drew Brees, as they get older, I think they begin to appreciate and savor the opportunities more because you’re closer to the end than you are to the beginning and you never know how many more you have left.”

    The 73-year-old Michaels is in no hurry to give up the microphone on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” broadcast, which is on target to be television’s highest-rated show for a record seventh straight year, passing the mark set by “American Idol.”

    With a comfort level with his broadcast team led by executive producer Fred Gaudelli, director Drew Esocoff and analyst Cris Collinsworth, Michaels is having as much fun as he ever had since becoming the lead announcer for ABC’s “Monday Night Football” in 1986.

    Michaels points to advice from former Buffalo coach Marv Levy about never considering retirement. He could be in position to stay long enough to match Summerall’s record of 11 Super Bowl play-by-play broadcasts.

    “If you think about retiring, you’ve already retired,” Michaels said. “That rings in my ears. I have a great amount of passion for what I do. I love what I do. I work with the greatest people I’ve ever worked with in this business top to bottom. I still get excited going to the games. I love walking into a stadium. I love sports.”

    It’s been a remarkable career for Michaels, who has called eight World Series, including the Earthquake Series in 1989; nine Olympics, including the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980; and now is preparing for his 10th Super Bowl.

    He still remains at the top of his game in his sixth decade of work.

    “Working with Al has been a professional highlight and all-out blast,” said Gaudelli, who will work his sixth Super Bowl with Michaels next week.

    “I’ve been watching sports all my life and in my opinion no one can capture the moment quite like Al can. It’s never rehearsed or predetermined — he sees it, calls it and somehow the words are perfect. He never ceases to amaze me.”

    Michaels’ first Super Bowl came following the 1987 season when Doug Williams led Washington to a 42-10 victory. Several of his others have included some of the most dramatic finishes in Super Bowl history, from Scott Norwood’s missed field goal for Buffalo in 1991, to Mike Jones’ tackle of Kevin Dyson at the 1-yard line on the final play to preserve St. Louis’ title in 2000, to Eli Manning’s second comeback drive to beat Tom Brady six years ago.

    But two stand out the most. The first was in 2009, when Pittsburgh’s James Harrison returned an interception 100 yards for a score on the final play of the first half, and then Santonio Holmes caught the winning TD for the Steelers in the final minute of a comeback win over Arizona.

    Then in the most-watched television event in U.S. history three years ago, the Patriots won their fourth title when Malcolm Butler intercepted a pass from Russell Wilson at the goal line when it looked as if the Seahawks were poised to score the go-ahead TD in the closing seconds.

    Those are the moments no broadcaster can ever prepare for, and only the most accomplished can handle as adroitly as Michaels has over the years.

    “John Madden once had a great line. We prepare like crazy. We prepare for any eventuality. But you get to the booth, and as John would say, all of a sudden a game breaks out,” Michaels said.

    “The game has to come to you. You can’t go to the game. We have a million things we can talk about, but if you start talking about them and they’re not germane to the game, the listener will find that cacophonous. You have to blend what you know with what’s going on in the game.”

    One aspect Michaels didn’t have to deal with for most of his career but has risen up this season has been social justice protests during the national anthem. He realizes it’s a delicate balance for an announcer because many fans will be offended by networks showing or talking about the protests, while others will be equally as upset if they are ignored.

    While no Eagles or Patriots are currently protesting, Michaels is prepared for any scenario.

    “We’re there to report what happens,” he said. “If there is something that does take place, you have to cover it. You don’t have to editorialize about it. You report here is what happened and you don’t lecture people on this is bad or this is good. People tune in to watch the game and we’ll bring them the game.”

     

    Downs

 

  • Vikings never were in NFC title game-The Vikings would have traveled anywhere to play in their first Super Bowl since 1977.

    This year, though, the game is in their stadium. They won’t be in it.

    “I mean, we would’ve loved to play in the Super Bowl if it was in China,” coach Mike Zimmer said Sunday night after the Philadelphia Eagles humbled Minnesota 38-7 for the NFC championship. “But we didn’t play good enough to win. I know that’s cliché, but it’s true.

    “We have to give them a lot of credit, they played great on defense, played good on offense. Some of our strengths they attacked on third downs, which was one of our strengths all along. They got after us tonight.”

    Sure did. After the Vikings (14-4) took a 7-0 lead on the game’s opening drive, it was all Philadelphia (15-3). One place the Eagles dominated was third downs, converting 10 of 14 against the league leader on defense in that category.

    Two of those conversions were for touchdowns on Nick Foles’ passes to Alshon Jeffery for 53 and 5 yards.

    Was Zimmer surprised by how his team couldn’t handle such situations?

    “No. Actually most of the things they did, we practiced,” he said. “They ran them just a little better than we covered them.”

    Well, a lot better.

    Philly also won the turnover battle 3-0, another significant contribution to one of Minnesota’s worst playoff defeats.

    “One of the things we preached coming in was turnovers,” said Case Keenum, who threw a pick-6 to Patrick Robinson that tied the game 7-7 and began the Eagles onslaught.

    “They took care of the football and we didn’t. We were still winning at that point, obviously, but we couldn’t execute on the critical situations that we needed to on third downs or scoring in the red zone.”

    The outcome pretty much was decided by halftime, when it was 24-7. Philadelphia was winning in the trenches, the Vikings couldn’t cover tight end Zach Ertz, and the secondary was torched for a 53-yard TD catch by Alshon Jeffery and a 41-yarder by Torrey Smith.

    It all made for a long night two weeks before Minneapolis hosts the Super Bowl that the Eagles and Patriots now have reached.

    “They’re all hard to swallow,” Keenum said of the loss. “Once you get a game away from playing in the Super Bowl, that’s going to be hard to swallow. The way it happened, I mean, they played really well and we didn’t. It’s unfortunate.”

    Zimmer praised his team’s performance this season, and rightfully so. For portions of the schedule, the Vikings were as good as anyone, particularly on defense, where they allowed a league-low 252 points.

    But they also were extremely fortunate to get to the NFC title game, winning on a last-play 61-yard TD pass to Stefon Diggs.

    “I love this football team, they’re great kids, great competitors,” Zimmer said. “I love how they go about their business. I love everything about this football team. I love the organization. We just didn’t get it done tonight.

    “I’m not going to grade anybody’s performance tonight. I think there’s a lot of performances that could’ve been a lot better, including myself.”

 

  • Ratings for NFL conference championships down 8 percent-More than 40 million people watched the NFL’s two preliminaries for the Super Bowl on Sunday, a drop of more than 8 percent compared to last year’s conference championship games.

    The Nielsen company said an average of 43.2 million people watched the games. While that’s down from the 47.1 million who watched the conference championships last year, it was a more heartening report than the NFL had gotten only a week earlier. This year’s divisional championship round had seen a 16 percent dip in audience size.

    Night games generally do better in the ratings than afternoon contests, but not this year. The New England-Jacksonville contest that ended around dinnertime was a better game featuring the league’s marquee player in Tom Brady. That game reached 44.1 million, compared to the 42.3 million who watched Philadelphia blow out Minnesota, Nielsen said.

    After seeing viewership erosion all year, the NFL will be anxious to see if that extends to the secular holiday of Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 4. The Super Bowl is the most-watched television event each year.

    The NFC game boosted Fox’s new medical soap, “The Resident,” which reached 8.65 million viewers for its premiere episode on Sunday. Television viewers had their stethoscopes handy, with medical shows “The Good Doctor,” ”Grey’s Anatomy” and “Chicago Med” also landing among Nielsen’s 20 most popular programs last week.

    With a prime-time football game, Fox won the week by averaging 10.6 million viewers. CBS had 6.9 million, ABC had 4.74 million, NBC had 4.69 million, the CW had 1.53 million, Univision had 1.47 million, ION Television had 1.3 million and Telemundo had 1.2 million.

    Fox News Channel was the week’s most popular cable network, averaging 2.65 million viewers in prime time. MSNBC had 1.95 million viewers, USA averaged 1.5 million, HGTV had 1.49 million and TNT had 1.46 million.

    ABC’s “World News Tonight” topped the evening newscasts with an average of 10.4 million viewers. NBC’s “Nightly News” was second with 9.8 million and the “CBS Evening News” had 7.4 million.

    For the week of Jan. 15-21, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: NFC Championship: Minnesota vs. Philadelphia, Fox, 42.3 million; “NFC Championship Post-Game” (9:39-9:47 p.m. ET), Fox, 26.53 million; “NFC Championship Post-Game” (9:47-10:04 p.m. ET), Fox, 18.88 million; “The Big Bang Theory,” CBS, 14.92 million; “Young Sheldon,” CBS, 13.33 million; “NCIS,” CBS, 9.88 million; “This is Us,” NBC, 9.82 million; “Blue Bloods,” CBS, 9.45 million; “The Good Doctor,” ABC, 9.34 million; “Mom,” CBS, 9.26 million.

    ___

    ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. CBS is owned by CBS Corp. CW is a joint venture of Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp. Fox is owned by 21st Century Fox. NBC and Telemundo are owned by Comcast Corp. ION Television is owned by ION Media Networks.

 

  • Ravens player Humphrey accused of stealing $15 phone charger– Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey has been arrested on a charge of stealing a phone charging cord from an Uber driver.

    Court records show the former Alabama player was arrested Thursday on a third-degree robbery charge in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

    The 21-year-old Humphrey is free on bond after being held briefly.

    The Tuscaloosa News reports that records show an Uber driver claimed Humphrey borrowed a $15 charger on a pre-dawn ride to a University of Alabama campus hotel on Jan. 13 but refused to return it.

    A charging document says Humphrey elbowed the driver and balled up a fist.

    A Ravens statement says Humphrey told the team there was a misunderstanding over a phone charger he thought was his.

    An attorney representing Humphrey didn’t immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

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