UNDERDOGS, OVERTIMES, BAD REFFING DICTATES SB 53 TEAMS
The Super Bowl teams are decided by the winners of the two Conference Championship Playoff games which always takes place on Sunday two weeks before the National Football League’s biggest day.
Normally, at least one of the No. 1-seeded teams in the Conference Championship game earns a berth in the Super Bowl. Often times, both No. 1 seeds win the right to play in the Super Bowl. But Super Bowl LIII, set for Feb. 3, will be much different, not because the two conference champs won’t be there, but because both No. 1 seeds got ousted after some blatantly-poor decisions (or non-decisions) by the game officials in both contests. Both losing teams battled the 22 opposing players plus the group of referees to overcome their ineptness and managed to tie the score and send their respective games into overtime. It marked the first time in NFL history that both conference championship games went into overtime to determine who will be in the Super Bowl. The winning teams seemed to have gotten favorable calls in the fourth period to keep them from losing. An article appeared in this week’s edition of the USA Sports Weekly magazine with the headline “Doubt Patriots in Playoffs at your own Peril” after the Kansas City Chiefs were made an early 3-point favorite over the Patriots. The USA headline must have prompted millions of football bettors to grab those three points and New England quickly because by the time the game kicked off at 5:40 p.m. the Patriots were favored by 1½ points. New Orleans also was favored over the Los Angeles Rams by three points throughout the entire week and also when the game started at 2:05 p.m. Although the final statistics were almost identical, it was the Saints who came out of the box hot. They had a pair of field goals and a touchdown on all three of their first-period possessions, with the Rams stymied on theirs. The game tightened after the Rams scored a touchdown and a field goal in the second quarter and went into the dressing room only trailing 13-10. With less than two minutes remaining and the game tied at 20-20, Saints quarterback Drew Brees lofted a pass intended for receiver Tommylee Lewis who suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit by LA cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman before the ball arrived. Not one of the eight-official crew threw a yellow hankie after the obvious hit. And more ludicrous was the fact NFL rules prohibit any replay of a non-call in the final two minutes of a game. If the play was called correctly, the Saints would have gotten the ball on the Rams 3 and could have run dive plays to bring the clock under 10 seconds and then kick a gimme field goal for the victory. The Saints did kick a field goal to go ahead 23-20, but Rams young kicker Greg Zuerlein booted a 48-yarder with 15 seconds left in regulation to tie the score at 23-23 and in the overtime period kicked a playoff record-setting 57-yard field goal giving LA a controversial 26-23 win and a ticket to Super Bowl LIII. Monday’s edition of the New Orleans Times-Picayune sported the headline “Brutal Loss for Saints—Reffing Was Unbelievable.” The officiating was no better Sunday night between New England and Kansas City at frigid Arrowhead Stadium, especially late in the fourth period when the Patriots benefited from two replay reversals. One was on a kickoff when usually-reliable Julian Edelman let the bouncing ball go right through him with the Chiefs recovering the ball. The call was a muffed punt that was overturned when it couldn’t be verified that Edelman really touched the ball. Another big break New England benefited from was a roughing-the-passer call that wasn’t. The game official claimed Brady was hit in the helmet when all replays show he was hit in the shoulder pads and not hard enough to draw a flag. So instead of fourth- and-long, it was first-and-10 that resulted in an eventual touchdown. It seemed like whenever Brady led the Patriots to a lead, 23-year-old Patrick Mahomes would counter with a score that put the Chiefs ahead. This went on until the final gun when the score was tied at 31-31. New England won the coin toss, elected to receive and turned to Brady to work his magic, using some plays from Head Coach Bill Belichick that never were seen during the regular season. Brady completed three third-and-10 passes for first downs. Rex Burkhead scored the winning touchdown on a counter-play never seen before giving the Pats a 37-31 victory and their third-straight trip to the Super Bowl. New England joins the Miami Dolphins (1972-74) and the Buffalo Bills (1991-94) as the only teams making three straight Super Bowls. It’s a crying shame that Mahomes didn’t have an opportunity to match the Patriots because his team didn’t even see the football in the overtime period. That’s a situation that might have to be looked at by the Rules Committee this spring. The last time New England met the Rams (from St. Louis then) was in 1986 when the Patriots eked out a 20-17 win with Brady and Belichick were together for the first time. Brady was named the Most Valuable Player. So, what could (should) have been Drew Brees and Sean Payton’s New Orleans Saints vs. Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs, it really is Tom Brady and Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots against Jared Goff and Sean McVay’s LA Rams in Super Bowl LIII. KWICKIES…The Rams haven’t won an NFL title in Los Angeles since 1951 which was well before the Super Bowl era. But they did advance to their first Super Bowl since the 2001 season when they were in St. Louis. This will be the 11th Super Bowl appearance for the New England Patriots, including nine with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Many of the network commentators for the NFL come out with unnecessary observations during a game, especially when the action on the field slows, but the twosome of Jim Nantz and newcomer Tony Romo were excellent Sunday night on CBS announcing the New England-Kansas City championship game. Romo can tell what’s going to happen and is right most of the time. Rookie Adam Long rolled in a 14-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday to win the Desert Classic by one stroke over Phil Mickelson and Adam Hadwin for his first career PGA Tour victory. The three golfers were tied going into the 72nd hole. Mickelson was the leader in each of the first three rounds, but ran into putting problems Sunday. JUST BETWEEN US…Wade Phillips, who was born in Orange and returned to our city to briefly coach at Stark High School in the early 1970’s, will be coaching in his third Super Bowl. Known in the NFL circles as the “Son of Bum,” Phillips led the Denver defense twice and will be back as the Defensive Coordinator of the Rams. The 71-year-old’s resume also includes three seasons as the Houston Texans’ defensive coordinator.