Sports

Sunday had the best and worst the NFL has to offer


Mahomes was incredible, but Allen deserved another shot.

Mahomes was incredible, but Allen deserved another shot.
Image: Getty Images

I doubt there will come a day when we regard the number of successful two-minute drills that a quarterback has authored as something all that special. It won’t ever become like pitcher wins in baseball, something we completely disregard now. The NFL and those who cover it will always pump it up to up the drama, and keep people tuned in. Which is fine, and I’m not here to try and deflate any buzz one might be feeling about the two playoff games on Sunday or even all four from the weekend.They were great theater, and the Bills-Chiefs game will probably go down as one of the best playoff games in history.

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Rightly so.

Because the level of execution from Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes and their cohorts in those simply hallucinatory last few minutes was off the charts. You really wouldn’t ask for much more from perhaps the two most exciting players in the game right now.

But the NFL certainly gives them a platform to do such things. Which again, is part of the reason the game is as popular as it is. Most people want to see Allen and Mahomes do great things, juice their fantasy numbers, which most will conflate with excitement in the playoffs. And even if it’s not fantasy or gambling related, it’s great theater. It makes for greater enjoyment.

But we saw teams try everything to keep teams from charging down the field with the last drive (or what we thought would be the last drive) and none of it worked. The Bucs didn’t simply play it conservative and go prevent. They brought some heat to Matthew Stafford. He found Cooper Kupp on a bomb and won the game. It’s been happening for years.

Both the Chiefs and Bills went with the usual two-minute defense, giving up anything in front of them and hoping to keep the clock running. They were chewed up too, including the Chiefs’ drive with just 13 seconds remaining. Had the Bills played up and tried to take away the middle of the field closer to the line, they very well may have been beaten deep. Not that they should be excused for giving up that many yards on two plays on what were pretty simple throws. But these days, if you hold teams to field goals on most drives, that’s a win. Except for when close games are decided, apparently.

It may just be the receivers are too fast, the schemes too good, and the rules just too bent toward offense for anyone to do much. And these weren’t grabass defenses getting burned. The Bills had the best overall. Tampa was fifth. Tennessee sixth. The Chiefs 8th. When you can’t do anything to impede receivers beyond the line of scrimmage, when good coverage is just as likely to result in a pass-interference call as it is a pass defended, there just might not be that many answers.

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That isn’t to claim that the last two minutes of any NFL game have become like NHL’s overtime, a fraudulent, manufactured stage for highlights that skews results and standings. It’s far away from there. But it does seem to be on that road. Rush three or four and just try and bleed the clock, and teams are happy to chew up the middle of the field. Try and vary it up and receivers with a free release off the line will beat you deep. Try and stop that and a defensive holding call awaits. And even if you can manage to negotiate all that, your line gets gassed in the hurry-up and doesn’t provide much of a rush. The TV coverage of these games wants you to believe every drive like this is Montana gunning to Rice and Taylor again, but it’s a different game now.

The OT rules were getting speed-bagged on social media after the Chiefs won without Josh Allen getting the ball again. It’s a fair point, but the OT rules are born out of a few things. One, the league’s fear of ties at all in the regular season, even though ties are generally greeted with glee by fans, though that’s due to their uniqueness. Two, the fear that OT games would spill out into endless farces like college games if they were played under a “penalty kick” structure, and also probably fuck with TV slots. Gotta get to that 4:25 ET Game Of The Week, y’know. Three, they come from a time when scoring for an offense wasn’t merely seen as holding serve.

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Proper OT rules would work to reward a team that can break serve, i.e. stop an offense. Each team exchanges drives from their own 25 until one outscores the other in a given frame/inning. But how long could that take? With these offenses?

The end result is that the number of game-winning drives a QB can author isn’t really much more than just a note. It’s almost an indictment if you can’t do it on the reg, given the advantages an offense has in the situation.

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I don’t know what the answer is, because the NFL is unlikely to ever bend the rules back toward the defense in any way. And there’s little urge for it to. It’s the country’s most popular game. We’ll be talking about this weekend for years to come. It was an advertisement for the excitement the league can achieve at its best. Does anyone care that it all might be in a booster seat? Probably not.

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