NFL 2023-2024 Conference Title Games Recap

The Conference Title Games were Sunday, January 28th.

AFC Title Game: (3) Kansas City Chiefs at (1) Baltimore Ravens at 3pm on CBS.

The Chiefs were in the AFC Title Game for the 6th straight season. Yet after hosting the game 5 straight year at Arrowhead, this year the Chiefs were on the road. The Ravens were in their 3rd AFC Title Game in franchise history, but this was the first time they hosted the game. Despite Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson both being great quarterbacks, this game belonged to the defenses. 

The Chiefs took over at their own 14. Mahomes came out throwing, hitting Travis Kelce for 4, Isaiah Pacheco for 10 and Rice for 11. Pacheco ran for 12. Walrus Andy Reid gambled on 4th and 2 from the Baltimore 41 rather than try a 59 yard field goal or punt. Mahomes hit Kelce for 13. Mahomes went to Kelce for a 19 yard touchdown to cap the 10 play, 86 yard, 6 minute drive and make it 7-0 Chiefs. John Harbaugh took an even bigger gamble on 4th and 1 from his own 34. Jackson broke through for a 21 yard gain. Gus Edwards gained 15. Jackson went to Zee Flowers for a 30 yard touchdown for a 7-7 game.

After a touchback, Mahomes went to Rice for 10. Mahomes ran for 11. On 3rd and 4 from the Baltimore 41, Mahomes hit Rice for 9 to end the first quarter. The second quarter began with the Chiefs facing 3rd and 5 at the Baltimore 27. Mahomes hit Kelce for 10. On 3rd and 3 from the Baltimore 10, Mahomes gained 4. Pacheco ran for 4 and then for a 2 yard touchdown to finish the staggering 16 play, 75 yard, 9 minute drive to make it 14-7 Chiefs. The game despite rain coming down started as a track meet. Yet after 19 minutes of offense, the next 41 minutes were all defense. Neither team would reach the end zone again. 

After a touchback, the Ravens were soon at their own 36. Jackson went back to pass and loaded up for a bomb. Before he could unleash the ball, it was chopped out of his hands. The Chiefs recovered the fumble at the Baltimore 33. Yet on 4th and 1 from the Baltimore 13, Walrus Andy Reid went for it and Pacheco got stopped cold for no gain. The defenses dug in and with 1:46 left in the half the Chiefs were pinned at their own 11 yard line. Yet a pair of defensive personal fouls for unnecessary roughness and roughing the passer gifted the Chiefs 30 yards. Mahomes went to Kelce for 21 more. Harrison Butker hit a 52 yard field goal to make it 17-7 Chiefs at the half. The Chiefs would score zero points in the second half.

The Ravens would suffer multiple self-inflicted wounds in the second half. Late in the third quarter the Ravens moved from their own 20 to a 3rd and 9 at the Kansas City 41. Justin Tucker is the best kicker of the game, and 59 is in his range. Yet Jackson was sacked and the Ravens had to punt. The Ravens got it back at their own 36 and Jackson immediately threw a perfect bomb to Flowers for a 54 yard gain. It should have been 1st and goal at the 10. Yet a mindless taunting penalty on Flowers after the play pushed the Ravens back 15 yards. After a scoreless third quarter, the Ravens began the fourth quarter facing 2nd and 8 at the Kansas City 9. Jackson went to Flowers, who could have just gone down at the one yard line. Yet like so many players, Flowers made the mistake of trying to stretch the ball over the goal line. The ball got knocked out of his hands at the one and the Chiefs recovered in the end zone for a touchback. 

The Chiefs offenses did nothing, but a perfect punt pinned the Ravens back at their own one yard line. They moved 74 yards in 12 plays. The Ravens moved the ball the entire second half but turnovers killed them. From the Kansas City 25 midway through the fourth quarter, Jackson got greedy and threw into triple coverage. He was intercepted in the end zone for a touchback. The Ravens got the ball back in much better field position at their own 46, but they needed 2 scores and only 5 minutes remained. The Ravens moved to a 2nd and 5 at the Kansas City 25. Jackson threw incomplete twice. Justin Tucker hit the 43 yard field goal to get the Ravens within 7, but only 2 1/2 minutes remained. 

John Harbaugh decided to kick it deep and trust his defense rather than go onside kick. The Chiefs offense was being stopped cold the entire half. The Ravens defense started by jumping offside and then committing an unnecessary roughness penalty. The Ravens took their timeouts on defense. With 2:19 to play, the Ravens took their last timeout. The Chiefs faced 3rd and 9 at their own 46. One more stop would give the Ravens a chance. Walrus Andy Reid has been criticized in the past for being too conservative. This time Reid went for all the marbles. Mahomes rolled out, avoided the pressure, and threw a bomb to Marques Valdes-Scantling. A diving Valdes-Scantling caught the ball in the rain for a 32 yard gain at the 2 minute warning. The Ravens were now dead as Mahomes took 3 knees. 

For the 2nd time in 5 years, the Ravens had the best regular season record only to blow up at home in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Chiefs are going to their 4th Super Bowl in 6 years. They won it all in 2019 and last year. A win this year would make them a dynasty. For the second straight year, the Chiefs won the Lamar Hunt Trophy named after their late owner and founder. This makes Andy Reid a most happy Walrus indeed. 17-10 Chiefs

NFC Title Game: (3) Detroit Lions at (1) San Francisco 49ers at 6:30pm on FOX. 

The Lions were the feel good story in sports. They were in the NFC Title Game for the first time in 32 years. The Lions have never reached the Super Bowl, winning their last NFL championship in 1957. The 49ers were in the NFC Title Game for the 3rd time in the last 5 years. The 49ers were seeking their first Super Bowl win in nearly 40 years. The Lions came in with the tough identity of their head coach Dan Campbell.

Despite an explosive passing attack, the Lions came out playing smash mouth. David Montgomery ran for 4 and 15. Jared Goff hit Sam LaPorta for 14. Williams broke tackles for a tough 42 yard touchdown run. After only 4 plays, the Lions went 75 yards and led 7-0 less than 2 minutes into the game. The 49ers after a touchback moved to a 4th and 6 at the Detroit 30. Yet Moody missed a 48 yard field goal try. The Lions took over at their own 38. Goff hit LaPorta for 6. Gibbs ran for 7. Goff went to Montgomery for 14. On 3rd and 9 from the San Francisco 30, Goff went to Amra St. Brown for 13. Gibbs ran for 10. Montgomery ran for 6 and then for the one yard touchdown to make it 14-0 Lions. 

After a touchback, Brock Purdy went to Deebo Samuel for 6 and Kyle Juszczyk for 23. Christian McCaffrey gained 4, 4, and on 3rd and 2 from the Detroit 38, 5 more. On the first play of the second quarter from the Detroit 33, Purdy went to McCaffrey for 28. McCaffrey ran for a 2 yard touchdown to get the 49ers within 14-7. The 49ers got the ball back at their own 12. On 3rd and 10 from their own 24, Purdy was intercepted t give the Lions a short field at the Detroit 46. Goff went to LaPorta for 16 and St Brown for 17. Gibbs got around the end for a 15 yard touchdown to make it 21-7 Lions. The Lions got it back at their own 29 with 5 minutes left in the half. A mind-numbing 17 play drive moved them 68 yards. With 17 seconds left on 3rd and goal at the 6, Goff went to Gibbs for only 3 yards. Mike Badgley hit the 21 yard field goal to put the Lions up 24-7 at the half in front of a disbelieving home San Francisco crowd. The Lions magical season was 30 minutes from the Super Bowl, but now this inexperienced team had to show they could close out their biggest game in decades.

After a third quarter touchback, the 49ers moved to a 2nd and 8 at the Detroit 25. Purdy threw incomplete twice. Moody hit a 43 yard field goal to get the 49ers within 24-10. After a touchback, the Lions moved to a 4th and 2 at the San Francisco 28. Dan Campbell has been gambling all year, more than any other coach. Yet a 46 yard field goal try if good would put the Lions up 27-10. Yet Campbell went for it on 4th down. It’s who he is. He trusts his players. They reward that trust. Yet this time, Goff threw incomplete. Purdy then hit Samuel for 17. Then came the play of the game that will be played on NFL Films bloopers forever. Purdy went for a deep bomb that was overthrown. The receiver Brandon Aiyuk had no chance at the ball. The defender Vildor was in perfect position to intercept the ball or at worst have it fall incomplete. Instead, it bonked off Vildor’s helmet into the air backward. It landed straight into the hands of a diving Aiyuk for a 51 yard gain.

This was not the Immaculate Reception or even Lynn Swann’s acrobatic magic, but it changed the game. On 3rd and goal at the 6, Purdy went to Aiyuk for the touchdown. Instead of being down 27-10, the 49ers only trailed 24-17. The Lions needed to settle down, but instead they collapsed. On the first play from scrimmage after a touchback, Gibbs fumbled. The 49ers took over at the Detroit 24. Purdy ran for 21. McCaffrey ran for a 3 yard touchdown. With 3 minutes left in the third quarter, the 49ers had erased a 17 point halftime deficit to tie the game 24-24. The 49ers got the ball back at their own 20 and moved to a 1st and 10 at the Detroit 13 early in the fourth quarter. A sack of Purdy killed the drive, but Moody hit a 33 yard field goal. With 10 minutes left in regulation, the 49ers had their first lead of the game up 27-24. 

After a touchback, the Lions quickly moved to a 4th and 3 at the Detroit 30 midway through the fourth quarter. The decision seemed simple. A 46 yard field goal try if good would tie the game. Yet it was time for another Dan Campbell gamble. This made no sense. He has been right so many times, but this seemed to cross the line from bold to reckless. Again, Goff threw incomplete. The Lions potential threw away 6 points. Instead of leading 30-27, they were still down by three points. Their offense moved at will in the first half but failed at key moments in the second half. Even worse, their defense was melting down. 

The 49ers took over at their own 30. McCaffrey ran for 7. Purdy hit Samuel for 8. On 3rd and 4 just past midfield, Purdy ran for 21. McCaffrey ran for 25. Mitchell ran for a 3 yard touchdown. With 3 minutes left, 27 unanswered points had the 49ers up 34-24. After a touchback, the Lions needed a miracle. They quickly moved 75 yards in 11 plays. On 3rd and goal at the one, Montgomery got blasted for a 2 yard loss, causing the Lions to have to burn their first timeout with one minute left. A field goal seemed the sensible move, but Dan Campbell does it his way. He went for the touchdown, and this time Goff hit Williams for the score to get the Lions within 3.

The onside kick failed. The 49ers took over at the Detroit 44 with 55 seconds left. The timeout the Lions wasted was a killer. A couple of short runs had the Lions taking their final timeout with 47 seconds left. On 3rd and 6, another run took the clock down to only one second. Although it was 4th down, the 49ers would not need to punt. Purdy took one knee long enough for the clock to take its final tick. Dan Campbell defended his decisions and took full responsibility for the loss. Kyle Shanahan has the 49ers back in the Super Bowl for the second time in 5 years. It has been nearly 30 years since the 49ers won it all. On this night, they won the George Halas Trophy. That is still more recent than the 67 year drought of the Lions. 34-31 49ers

Super Bowl LVIII (58) is set.  The AFC Chiefs and NFC 49ers have a rematch of their 2019 Super Bowl from 4 years ago. The game starts at 6:30pm Eastern time on CBS.           


Prediction: Walrus Andy Reid finally learned how to call a winning Super Bowl. He and Kyle Shanahan are both West Coast Offense disciples who have been too pass happy for their own good. Yet Reid finally learned to run the ball in the fourth quarter with a lead to close out games. Shanahan lost 2 Super Bowls by refusing to do this. He was the defensive coordinator for the 2016 Atlanta team that blew a 28-3 Super Bowl lead and lost 34-28 in overtime. He was the head coach of the 2019 49ers team that blew a 20-10 fourth quarter lead and lost 31-20. That was the year Reid finally got the monkey off his back. Purdy is a feel good story as Mr. Irrelevant, but this Super Bowl is about Patrick Mahomes. He is a Buck Rodgers 25th Century freak of nature who might be more bionic than man. The Chiefs will be the first team in 20 years to win back to back Super Bowls and establish their dynasty. 


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