FOr for the second year in a row, the Dallas Cowboys season was ended at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers after a failed final play. In 2022, Duck Prescott ran out the clock instead of trying Hail Mary. This time, their attempt to reach their first NFC Championship Game since 1995 ended in a trick play during which they were unable to gain a sideline. The 49ers beat the Cowboys 19-12 and there are already calls for Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy.
Would expelling McCarthy be an overreaction? Maybe. However, this was Dallas’ seventh straight loss in the divisional round (and that’s before we got to the wildcard round defeats) and Cowboys fans have legitimate reason to believe that the most valuable franchise in sports has established itself as a perpetual underdog. While McCarthy isn’t responsible for the vast majority of playoff losses, he didn’t turn the ship around either.
Not only does the last-minute play not work, or even have time to develop, it’s about Kyle Shanahan beating McCarthy during Sunday’s game. Now, the 49ers coach didn’t deliver a perfect game: The only reason the Cowboys had a winning chance of late was because the Niners had plenty of time left on the clock after their final possession. However, they only had that possession thanks to McCarthy’s inexplicable decision to punt on the fourth-and-10 with two minutes left in the game, something that looked dangerously close to giving up.
This was not a straightforward and well-played game. For most of the contest, it felt like the outcome would hinge on the struggle of Cowboys kicker Bret Maher after the first PAT of the day was blocked by the San Francisco defense. Not only did Maher miss four such tries during his final playoff game, but he also appeared to be struggling with his kicking accuracy during Sunday’s warm-ups. McCarthy apparently forgetting that the two-point conversion is an option in the NFL hasn’t spoken well of his game management skills either.
The main difference between coaches in soccer is not in these details, but rather in the overall results. Shanahan is now taking the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game for the third time in the past four years, and he’s been doing it without the benefit of a star quarterback (apologies to Jimmy Garoppolo). This year could be his most impressive season as he did it all with third-string QB Bryce Purdy, who was so overlooked that he was the last player selected in the 2022 draft.
Be prepared to hear this fact often next Sunday when the 49ers take on the Philadelphia Eagles for the right to play in the Super Bowl. The Cowboys will watch, as has been the tradition since the Clinton administration, at home. Those details alone should tell you that this organizational flaw predated their head coach. McCarthy is not the main problem here. But there is growing evidence that it will not be the answer either.
Player of the week
Cincinnati Bengals offensive line. Heading into Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills, the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive line was supposed to be their Achilles heel. Thanks to injuries, they were without right guard Alex Capa (who was replaced by Max Scharping) and starting left tackle Jonah Williams (who was replaced by Jackson Carman), all while Lyle Collins was already on injured reserve (and replaced by Hakim Adeniji). The only starters remaining were rookie left guard Cordell Fulson and center Ted Karras.
The Bengals, who have historically struggled to keep quarterback Joe Burrow afloat, have acquired those players now only available for high-pressure matches like this one. Now they had to rely on backups against Super Bowl favorites on the road in snowy conditions.
It turns out that the Bengals’ temporary O-line was able to neutralize the Bills’ on-paper advantage on defense. Burrow has been sacked only once, has been sacked twice and has not committed a single turnover decisively. Burrow deserves credit for a 27-10 win over the Bengals – and for shooting the ball Much faster than Josh Allen —but he’ll be the first to give credit to the Mariners who protected him throughout the game.
It also helped that the Bengals adjusted their game plan better for weather conditions than the home team did. Although usually a first-out passing offense, they seconded running back Joe Mixon, who rushed for 105 yards and a key touchdown in the second half. As much as we love individual awards, the Bengals’ victory on the road Sunday was the ultimate proof that this is a team sport. That team will now head to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC Championship. If Patrick Mahomes’ ankle holds, the Bengals will be underdogs, but it’s clear they are perfectly happy to be underestimated.
Video of the week
Perhaps summing up the New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles game, the Visitors’ most memorable moment came when New York QB Daniel Jones lost a contact lens and the team had to burn timeout. Things will not get better for the Giants.
It probably wouldn’t have made a difference if he left the contacts out for the rest of the game. The Eagles led 28-0 at halftime and never looked back, eventually winning 38-7. The Giants offense itself was doing no good by not exploiting its power and emphasizing the running game, but it probably wasn’t enough anyway. After all, the New York defense couldn’t stop the Eagles from scoring. Top seed Philadelphia will host the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
quote of the week
“I won’t get out of a playoff game unless they get me out. I love this game… Pain is pain, and you have to deal with it either way.” Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, explaining why he returned to action in the second half of their 27-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Jaguars had a solid chance to win on Saturday afternoon, especially when Mahomes left with an ankle injury in the first quarter. Backup Chad Henne entered the game to complete the first half, denying Kansas City the most important player on the team, and giving the Jaguars a clear shot on an upset.
However, the Jaguars defense couldn’t stop Travis Kelsey, who had 14 catches—the most of any tight end in playoff history—for 98 yards and two touchdowns. They also could not put pressure on Mahomes, who was limping when he returned, and the Chiefs advanced to the AFC Championship for the fifth year in a row.
The question now is whether Mahomes’ injury – ESPN reported he has a sprained ankle – will allow him to play next Sunday, and if so, at what level. Tony Romo, who suffered a similar injury during his playing career, said on CBS that he thought it would be a “huge challenge” for Mahomes to get back at 100% against the Bengals. Mahomes has an extra day’s rest as the Jaguars game was Saturday, not Sunday. But NFL players rely on adrenaline (and a whole lot of painkillers) to overcome injuries in the immediate aftermath of their struggles, only for the true extent of the pain to become apparent in the later days. If Mahomes can’t play, the Chiefs will have to rely on Henne. And had they been perfectly comfortable doing that, we wouldn’t have seen Mahomes return to the field against Jacksonville.
Jaguar season is over, but let’s praise them instead of bury them. This is a team that had the worst record in the league last season. It turns out that all it took was a much-needed change in coach and a drastic improvement from quarterback Trevor Lawrence for the Jaguars to become a playoff team. They outperformed expectations and could pose an even bigger threat now that they have some postseason experience under their belts.
Statistics for the week
11. That’s how many Philadelphia Eagles running back Boston Scott has scored in nine games against the New York Giants in his career, after his last game in the Battle of the Teams Saturday night. Meanwhile, the “Giant Killer” played 52 matches against other teams, scoring Only seven TDs total against opposing non-Giants. So, a player named Boston enjoys being attached to a New York sports team above all others. Go and deduce.
Elsewhere around the league
– The NFL season hasn’t officially started but – don’t make a mistake – it has started a lot. Sunday morning, reports came out that Lamar Jackson had turned down a fully guaranteed $133 million deal from the Baltimore Ravens. While the Ravens can still apply the franchise’s tag to the 2019 NFL MVP now that his rookie contract has expired, there’s a growing sense that Jackson could be on another team soon. In other words, expect mayhem this coming season, maybe even more than usual (which is saying something).
Was there some messing around off the field before the Giants-Eagles game? The Giants were given a rude surprise when their Philadelphia hotel left them without water for an “indefinite amount of time,” apparently as a result of a broken pipe. Just an unfortunate coincidence? Some Giants players were unconvinced.
– Some good news: The former Peyton Hills ex was released from the hospital this weekend. According to reports, Hillis, who rushed for 1,177 yards with the Cleveland Browns in 2010, was injured while saving his family from drowning. There were plenty of football winners this weekend, but it’s hard to think of a bigger one than this.