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Here is What Have We Learned from Divisional Weekend of the 2019 NFL Playoffs, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.
- Patriots-Chiefs, Saints-Rams in conference championships-Tom Brady versus Patrick Mahomes. Drew Brees against Jared Goff.
Two high-profile rematches with the Super Bowl on the line.
The NFL’s highest-scoring offenses face off in the conference championships next Sunday. Brady leads the New England Patriots into Kansas City to take on Mahomes and the Chiefs, and Brees and the New Orleans Saints host Goff and the Los Angeles Rams.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Well-coached, they have a lot of explosive players. We had a tremendous game with them here earlier. That was a long time ago. We’ll see where we are now, see where they are.”
New England hosted Kansas City way back on Oct. 14, and Brady passed for 340 yards and a touchdown in a 43-40 victory that was the Chiefs’ first loss of the season. Mahomes’ 75-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill tied it with 3:03 left, but Brady drove the Patriots to Stephen Gostkowski’s 28-yard field goal as time expired.
The AFC championship game is Brady’s first trip to Kansas City since he threw two interceptions and was sacked twice in an ugly 41-14 loss on “Monday Night Football” on Sept. 29, 2014.
“It’ll be a tough game,” Brady said. “They’re well-coached. They’ve got a good offense. … It’s going to be a lot of fun to go back there and play in a championship game and try to advance.”
New Orleans (14-3) and Los Angeles (14-3) played their own wild shootout on Nov. 4. Wil Lutz’s 54-yard field goal got the lead for the Saints with 6:23 left, and Brees found Michael Thomas for a clinching 72-yard touchdown in a 45-35 victory.
“When we come out there, we feel like no one can stop us,” Thomas said of his connection with Brees. “I just feel like we keep building every week. We have a thing, and it’s hard for the other team to stop.”
The Saints averaged 31.5 points this season on their way to the NFC South title, ranking third in the NFL behind the Chiefs (35.3 points per game) and Rams (32.9) and ahead of the Patriots (27.3).
It’s the first time in the Super Bowl era that the NFL’s top four scoring offenses all reached the conference championships.
But New Orleans’ defense played a crucial role in its 20-14 win over Philadelphia in the divisional round on Sunday. Marshon Lattimore had two interceptions, including one on the Eagles’ final drive, and the Saints erased an early 14-0 deficit.
“We were real calm and poised and we knew we were going to get things done,” Brees said.
Los Angeles advanced by powering its way to a 30-22 win against Dallas on Saturday. C.J. Anderson had 123 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, and Todd Gurley rushed for 115 more yards and another TD.
“Our sense of focus and the sense of urgency have gone up tremendously,” guard Rodger Saffold said.
New England (12-5) also showed off its rushing attack in a 41-28 win against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. Sony Michel rushed for 129 yards and three TDs.
The Patriots scored on their first four possessions on their way to a 35-7 halftime lead.
“The ability to execute early and get things going sets a lot of things up,” wide receiver Julian Edelman said. “It shows that we had a good week of practice, executed well in practice and it carried over and went into the game.”
Kansas City (13-4) is headed for its first AFC title game in 25 years after rolling to a 31-13 victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday. Mahomes, who is one of the favorites for the NFL MVP award, passed for 278 yards and rushed for a score in his playoff debut.
“This is what we work for,” Chiefs linebacker Dee Ford said. “We just want to keep this thing rolling. Enjoy it now but keep it rolling.”
- CJ Anderson shines after rejected by 3 non-playoff teams-As the top four point-producers in the NFL were advancing to the conference championship round for the first time ever, Dak Prescott was getting sacked by his own teammate, Tom Brady was embracing the underdog role a little too tightly and C.J. Anderson was making the most of his second, third … no, fourth chance.
The Patriots (12-5) reached their eighth straight AFC championship and 13th in the Brady-Bill Belichick era. Yet, there was Brady after New England pulverized the Chargers telling CBS’ Tracy Wolfson, “I know everyone thinks we suck, and, you know, can’t win any games. So, we’ll see. It’ll be fun.”
Brady will try to get to his ninth Super Bowl on Sunday when the Patriots visit the Kansas City Chiefs (13-4), who walloped the Colts 31-13 behind Patrick Mahomes for their first playoff win at Arrowhead since 2004.
Maybe Brady was miffed that his team was installed as an underdog (three points) for the first time in 67 games.
Or maybe he’s just not too thrilled about hitting the road, where the Patriots went 3-5, instead of staying home where they went 9-0 and trailed for just seven minutes total — all against the Chiefs, whom they beat 43-40 on Oct. 14.
As Brady shoots for his third consecutive trip to the Super Bowl, Mahomes will try to get the Chiefs into their first one since 1970.
A random act of kindness has netted AFC Championship tickets for a man called Dave who helped dig a Chiefs backup guard Jeff Allen out of the snow Saturday as he was headed to the game.
Allen tweeted that “a nice guy named Dave” got him back on the road and asked his followers to help him find the man so he could give him tickets to the conference championship.
Hundreds of people replied — many claiming to be Dave — and thousands retweeted the plea.
On Sunday, Allen tweeted that he has found the real Dave “despite the recent influx in people changing their name to Dave in the KC area lol.”
Prescott didn’t have to look far for the player who bear-hugged him on his only sack in Dallas’ 30-22 loss to the Rams on Saturday night — it was his own right tackle La’el Collins.
Dante Fowler was credited with the 8-yard sack that pushed Dallas out of field goal range late in the first half. What made the play unusual was that Fowler barely got a hand on Prescott — OK, he slapped him four times — but Prescott somehow ended up with Collins draped all over him.
Prescott spun free and ran to his right. But as Aaron Donald closed in, officials blew the play dead.
“From my view the quarterback’s progress had stopped moving forward,” referee John Parry explained. “There were hands around him and another defender was coming, so we went in the grasp to protect the quarterback.”
The Rams (14-3) won thanks to a 273-yard rushing effort that included 123 yards and two touchdowns from Anderson, who howled afterward, “I’m just old and fat.”
The Broncos jettisoned his fat contract in the spring with Anderson coming off his first 1,000-yard season, even though the running back that helped them win Super Bowl 50 had relatively few miles on his football odometer.
The Panthers picked him up but then decided not to share many of Christian McCaffrey’s snaps with Anderson before cutting him late in the season. Anderson signed with his hometown Oakland Raiders but he was inactive for one game before they, too, waived him.
The Rams needed a fill-in after star Todd Gurley II buckled a knee in December, and Anderson quickly picked up his phone and L.A.’s playbook.
He rumbled for 299 yards and two TDs on 43 carries for a whopping 7-yard average over the final two regular-season games. Then, with Gurley back, Anderson ran all over the Cowboys, giving him 422 yards and four TDs on 66 carries for a 6.3-yard average.
“I think the last two weeks without Todd, he showed what he can do,” Rams quarterback Jared Goff said. “Then, this week, having both of them is special and it gives you a real dual-threat of backs and different backs. … It’s just been a really good combo.”
Anderson allows the Rams to take their own 1-2 backfield punch into the NFC championship against the Saints (14-3), who have running backs Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram to share their rushing load.
“I think C.J.’s done a great job since he’s gotten here and then, obviously, we know what a special player Todd is,” Rams coach Sean McVay said after Gurley ran 16 times for 115 yards and a TD against Dallas. “… I think they are a nice complement to each other.”
Anderson, 27, could have given up after three teams that didn’t even make the playoffs gave up on him in 2018.
Instead, he’s salvaged a career and surely has general managers salivating at the thought of his impending free agency this spring.
“I guess it was a good thing I got hurt,” cracked Gurley.
- Steve Harvey to host NFL Honors when AP awards are announced-TV personality Steve Harvey will host the NFL Honors show on Feb. 2, when The Associated Press hands out its individual league awards.
The two-hour prime-time show airing on CBS will be held at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta.
Harvey hosts the daytime talk show “Steve,” the children’s variety series “Little Big Shots” and the game show “Family Feud,” as well as a syndicated radio show. While hosting the Miss Universe pageant in 2015, Harvey accidently named the wrong woman as the winner during the live broadcast.
NFL Honors, which debuted in Indianapolis in 2012, is held in the Super Bowl host city the night before the AFC and NFC champions meet. The 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame class will be introduced during the program.
- Chargers, Cowboys coaching staffs to lead Pro Bowl teams-The coaching staffs of the Los Angeles Chargers and Dallas Cowboys have been selected to lead the Pro Bowl teams.
Anthony Lynn and his Chargers’ staff will coach the AFC team while Jason Garrett and his Cowboys’ staff coach the NFC team.
The Chargers finished 12-4 in the regular season and lost to the Patriots 41-28 in the divisional round on Sunday. The NFC East champion Cowboys were 10-6 in the regular season and were defeated 30-22 by the Rams on Saturday night.
Each team also will have two “Legends Captains” — one offensive and one defensive. Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly (offense) and linebacker DeMarcus Ware (defense) will lead the AFC. Hall of Famers Emmitt Smith (offense) and Brian Urlacher (defense) will lead the NFC.
The Pro Bowl is Sunday, Jan. 27, in Orlando, Florida.
- Arctic blast due to hit KC for AFC championship game-KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Break out the parkas for Sunday night’s AFC title game at Arrowhead Stadium.
The National Weather Service is projecting an arctic blast to settle over Kansas City for the Chiefs’ game against the New England Patriots. Temperatures at kickoff could range from 10 degrees to well below zero, potentially making it the coldest game in Arrowhead Stadium history.
Twice it has been 1 degree at kickoff, including a December 2016 game against Tennessee.
Both teams are accustomed to cold, inclement weather, though.
The Chiefs experienced some of it this past weekend, when heavy snow blanketed Kansas City and knocked out power to thousands of people. The snow stopped just before kickoff, though, and the field was in good shape for their 31-13 victory over the Colts.
The wind chill was in the teens for the Patriots’ win over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday.
- Eagles face tough offseason decisions, starting with Foles- PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Nick Foles fell 27 yards short of leading the Philadelphia Eagles to a third straight comeback win in the postseason.His next opportunity likely will come in a different uniform.
The Eagles (10-8) were eliminated with a 20-14 loss at New Orleans on Sunday, ending the team’s bid to repeat as Super Bowl champions. The front office faces several difficult decisions in the offseason, starting with Foles.
Carson Wentz is the team’s quarterback going forward and Foles is looking forward to exploring his options. The Eagles must decide by mid-February if they want to exercise a $20 million option to keep Foles for 2019. But Foles could decline it and pay back $2 million to become a free agent. Philadelphia could put a franchise tag on Foles, though $23-25 million is a hefty price for a backup.
“The starter thing, leading a team, impacting a locker room, that’s why we play the game,” Foles said Monday. “Everything is open. I love this city. I love this locker room. It’s special. We’ll see.”
It’s possible the Eagles could use the franchise or transition tag to trade Foles rather than allow him to walk away for only a compensation pick. Foles isn’t a me-first guy and it’s not unreasonable to think he would work something out that’s beneficial to both sides.
“Having the option to be a free agent is extremely important,” he said. “Technically, I’m really not under contract right now and that’s something we’ll discuss in the future. It’s a unique situation, it’s a good situation for this team to have. … I have a great relationship with this team and that’s genuine. Ultimately, we’ll make the best decision for both sides and it’ll work out.”
Wentz missed the first two games recovering from knee surgery that forced him to watch from the sideline last season as Foles led Philadelphia to its first NFL title since 1960. He started 11 games before a back injury ended his season again. Wentz finished third in NFL MVP voting last season and had career-highs in passer rating and completion percentage this season.
But Foles’ success in the postseason and his clutch performance down the stretch to help Philadelphia reach the playoffs as a No. 6 seed created a debate among fans and media. There is no quarterback controversy within the organization, however. Coach Doug Pederson reiterated several times Wentz is the starter when he’s healthy.
“It’s super frustrating,” Wentz said about his injuries. “I still have zero games of postseason football under my belt. I realize I have a lot to prove in that regard. I’m confident I will get the chance to do that.”
The Eagles have a lot of work to do to get back to an elite level in the NFL. They overcame several key injuries — three starting defensive backs, a starting running back and starting defensive end were among 17 players on injured reserve — and upset Chicago in the wild-card round. But their run ended against the top-seeded Saints.
The importance of earning a first-round bye — the Eagles were a No. 1 seed last year — is evident by the fact the top two seeds are meeting in the conference title games in the AFC and NFC.
Beyond Foles, management has many important decisions.
Defensive end Brandon Graham, linebacker Jordan Hicks, cornerback Ronald Darby, running backs Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles, wide receivers Golden Tate, Mike Wallace and Jordan Matthews, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and safeties Chris Maragos and Corey Graham will be free agents.
Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks tore his right Achilles against the Saints. All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox finished the game but wore a boot on his foot afterward. All-Pro center Jason Kelce and veteran defensive end Chris Long haven’t committed to playing next season.
“It’s tough,” Pederson said about roster turnover. “You build relationships with these guys. You spend so much time together. You build your roster. Every year your roster is going to change, that is just the way that it is. There are people who are going to come. There are people who are going to go. Obviously, we will talk more about it in the next few days. We will see where we go again.”