Sports NFL Conference Championship Takeaways: Rams’ Stafford finally a playoff hero

Sports NFL Conference Championship Takeaways: Rams’ Stafford finally a playoff hero

Sports

| January 30, 2022, 11:45 PM

January 30, 2022, 11:45 PM

Matthew Stafford wanted it to happen just like this.

When he requested to be traded by the Detroit Lions, where he hadn’t won a playoff game in a dozen years. When he officially became a Ram, and was surrounded by his deepest talent pool to date. And, believe it or not, when he faced a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.

“I just want to play in big games, you know?” Stafford told ESPN in August. “I want to have opportunities to make big-time plays in the fourth quarter against really good teams, in big moments.”

With 121 passing yards and a touchdown in the final frame, Stafford scripted the largest fourth-quarter comeback in conference championship history. And in two weeks, the Los Angeles Rams will compete for a Super Bowl on their home turf.

In the win over San Francisco — L.A.’s first in their past seven meetings — Stafford connected twice in the end zone with Cooper Kupp, his favourite target since Calvin Johnson. Odell Beckham Jr., a mid-season signing who’d been cast off by the Browns, chipped in with nine catches for 113 yards.

Stafford and Kupp. All year long. #RamsHouse #NFLPlayoffs

: #SFvsLAR on FOX

: https://t.co/vywGt5Kgfz pic.twitter.com/WjevgUfylE

— NFL (@NFL) January 31, 2022

Players like Stafford, Beckham, Jalen Ramsey and Von Miller exemplify the Rams’ all-in attitude. The team doesn’t have a first-round draft pick this year or next, and they’re one of nine teams currently over the salary cap, according to Spotrac.

But who cares? They’re Super Bowl-bound, baby. And unlike the last time they ventured this far, the Rams now have a quarterback who can win games instead of just managing them (sorry, Jared Goff).

Now, let’s get to the rest of our takeaways from conference championship weekend:

Burrow’s Poise Charges Bounce Back

In February 2021, Joe Burrow was in the early stages of an arduous recovery for his reconstructed right knee. He was finally throwing again, spending grey winter days in Ohio delivering passes to Cincinnati Bengals’ trainers and equipment staffers. But his status for the following season was murky, as was the outlook of a Bengals team coming off a 4-11-1 season.

This February, Burrow’s plans will look a little different.

Thanks to an overtime upset against the reigning-conference-champion Kansas City Chiefs, Burrow and the Bengals are headed to the franchise’s first Super Bowl since 1988. And while Cincinnati’s defence had its paws all over the victory, Burrow’s outdueling of Patrick Mahomes was crucial down the stretch, too.

Sometimes, the quantity of a quarterback’s mistakes matters more than the quantity of his did-you-see-that plays. Burrow threw one interception to Mahomes’s two, and he only took one sack — while regularly scampering out of danger on that now-healthy knee.

JOE BURROW IS RIDICULOUS ‼️

(via @NFL)pic.twitter.com/vjvemXy8Xc

— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 30, 2022

When the Bengals took over near midfield in overtime, Burrow mixed handoffs and a couple of short throws to efficiently move his offence. The Bengals’ only negative-yardage play in their final four possessions was intentional: a slide by Burrow in the backfield to set up the winning field goal.

Every team depends on its quarterback, but the Bengals have been especially trusting of Burrow during his past five starts (all wins). He’s tallied 38.8 pass attempts per game in that span, versus just 31.1 attempts the rest of the season.

Cincy Stiffens In The Red Zone … Twice!

Despite what the common utterance suggests, lightning can strike twice. And the Bengals can strike down Patrick Mahomes more than once in crucial situations, too.

With nine seconds left in the first half, the Chiefs were one yard shy of their fourth touchdown in as many drives. That would’ve stretched their lead to three scores before they inherited the second-half kickoff (and encouraged some fans to reach for the remote).

But the Bengals stood firm, and the Chiefs bungled the chance. Mahomes threw a swing pass to Tyreek Hill, who was stopped short of the goal line as the final seconds ticked away.

Major kudos to Mahomes in this press conference. Admitting he got “greedy” on that pass at the end of the first half. Taking ownership of that mistake there. Mark of a good leader

— Taylor Rooks (@TaylorRooks) January 31, 2022

Cincinnati clawed back in the second half, forcing five punts and an interception while the offence inched ahead for a three-point lead. During a 14-play drive that consumed the final 6:09 of regulation, the Chiefs bent the Bengals — but couldn’t break ‘em.

Mahomes led Kansas City down to the five-yard line with 90 seconds left, raising an antithetical football question: Should the Bengals let them score?

Given their impressive stand in the first half, the answer was a resounding no. On first down, Jerick McKinnon rushed for one yard (and Cincinnati spent its final timeout). On second down, Sam Hubbard wrapped up Mahomes for a five-yard sack. Hubbard got home again on third down, forcing the Chiefs to settle for a field goal.

WOWOWOWOW. #NFLPlayoffs

: #CINvsKC on CBS

: https://t.co/dKNUFkxkbU pic.twitter.com/IorTo8FFPE

— NFL (@NFL) January 30, 2022

The Bengals possessed an average-at-best defence this season (18th in yards allowed, 17th in points allowed), but a pair of stops with their heels on the goal-line paint helped them eke out Sunday’s win.

49ers Can Finally ’86 Jimmy G

You don’t have to pity Jimmy Garoppolo. Most of us don’t clear $100 million at our day jobs or win two Super Bowls while riding the bench. But perhaps you can empathize with a guy who was asked to fulfill the high-stress, high-skill duties of an NFL starting quarterback with the knowledge that his predestined replacement was already in the locker room.

When the 49ers traded up to draft Trey Lance last spring, they telegraphed to the rest of the league that Garoppolo’s days in Bay Area were numbered. And though Garoppolo didn’t lose his grip on the starting gig this season, his unsightly post-season stats indicate that a change can (and should) be made.

In three playoff games, Garoppolo completed just 58.1 per cent of his passes for 535 yards (178.3/game), two touchdowns and three interceptions. On a day when the 49ers’ typically potent run game fell flat (20 carries for 50 yards), Garoppolo couldn’t come to the rescue.

AARON DONALD CREATES THE TURNOVER. #RamsHouse #NFLPlayoffs

: #SFvsLAR on FOX

: https://t.co/vywGt5Kgfz pic.twitter.com/pcltmPm9EP

— NFL (@NFL) January 31, 2022

So now, San Francisco should probably move on to Lance, in whom they sunk some serious draft capital.

Garoppolo still carries a cap hit of nearly $27 million for 2022, his final year under contract, but his dead cap hit is only $1.4 million. That means he can be traded or released at minimal cost to the 49ers, while they see what they’ve got in Lance.

The NFL’s biggest game lies ahead of us, but the off-season will arrive shortly thereafter. And Garoppolo will join a growing list of veteran NFL quarterbacks who we expect to have a new home for 2022.

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