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NFL News and Notes: January 21, 2019

Super Bowl Matchup Is Set

And then there were two! After a wild Sunday of Conference championship games, the Super Bowl is set. The Los Angeles Rams (13-3 during the regular season) will be taking on the New England Patriots (11-5). The big game will take place on Sunday, February 3, with kickoff scheduled for 6:30 pm ET. The venue for Super Bowl LIII will be the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

For the Rams, they made it on the heels of a 26-23 overtime win over the New Orleans Saints. In the game, Jared Goff threw for 297 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Brandin Cooks (7 catches, 107 yards) and Josh Reynolds (4 catches, 74 yards) were the go-to targets for Goff. Notably absent from the stat sheet was Todd Gurley II. The dynamic running back was held quiet, only rushing for 10 yards on 4 carries, although he did have one touchdown. The leading rusher for the Rams was CJ Anderson, who went for 44 yards on 16 carries. Possibly the offensive player of the game was kicker Greg Zuerlein, who went 4 for 4, including a game-winning 57-yarder in overtime. For the Saints, Drew Brees threw for 249 yards and 2 touchdowns, although he had a costly interception in overtime. Alvin Kamara had 11 receptions for 96 yards.

In the AFC, the Patriots also required overtime in order to steal a win from the Chiefs on the road. In the game, Tom Brady threw for 348 yards and a touchdown, although he did have 2 interceptions. Julian Edelman (7 receptions, 96 yards) and Rob Gronkowski (6 receptions, 79 yards) led the way in the air. The Patriots did most of their scoring on the ground, though. Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead each had two touchdowns, with Michel having rushed for 113 yards on 29 carries. In the loss, Patrick Mahomes played well, throwing for 295 yards and 3 touchdowns, although he was sacked 4 times. Sammy Watkins led all receivers with 114 yards while Damien Williams had 2 touchdown receptions.

Controversial Calls Rock Conference Finals

Unfortunately, despite some very entertaining games, these two games will be remembered mostly for some very controversial calls. In the Patriots game, the actual calls on the field were questionable but may not have been game-defining. There was a roughing the passer call against the Chiefs that was clearly a blown call, and there was a lot of consternation over whether Julian Edelman touched what was initially ruled a muffed punt, but the biggest issue with this game may be in the archaic overtime rules in the NFL. With two of the best offenses in the league squaring off, many expected that whoever won the coin flip would win the game. That is exactly what happened as the Patriots won the flip, received the ball and marched down the field ultimately scoring a touchdown. In a game that saw two teams battle, the likely MVP of the league, Patrick Mahomes, never even got an opportunity to step on the field in overtime.

The controversial calls in the Saints/Rams game was far more egregious. With just under two minutes left in the game and the Saints driving, Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman was beaten by Tommylee Lewis, and instead of making a play for the ball he just completely took out Lewis. Unfortunately, there were no flags for defensive pass interference, no flags for helmet to helmet, no flags for any penalty. Instead, the refs called this a legal play.

In looking at replays, in no way, shape, or form was this legal. In fact, after the game, Robey-Coleman admitted that he opted to take him out so that the Saints wouldn’t score a touchdown. Where this has the biggest impact is that it would have given the Saints a new set of downs and could conceivably, since the Rams only had one timeout remaining, have allowed the Saints to run the clock down to just seconds left. Worst-case scenario, they could have been more likely to have scored a touchdown, making it more challenging for Goff to drive the field for a tie.

Instead, the Saints had to settle for a field goal, the Rams were able to tie it and force overtime, and the rest is history. This is to take nothing away from the Rams, who have been easily one of the best teams in the NFL this season, but no one wants to see such a pivotal game be decided on a no-call by a referee.

Interestingly, there has been some clamor for the commissioner to invoke Rule 17, Section 2, Article 1 of the NFL rulebook, which would give the commissioner the authority to essentially overturn the non-call and have them replay the game from that time. Will it happen? There is likely not a chance; however, it is interesting that a rule like this exists for a play that the “Commissioner deems so extraordinarily unfair or outside the accepted tactics encountered in professional football that such action has a major effect on the result of the game.” While the commissioner would be opening a huge Pandora’s box if he were to invoke this, this does seem like the type of situation that this rule could have been made for.

Brees Coming Back For Another Season

After the sting of losing to the Los Angeles Rams, Drew Brees knew what he wanted, and that was another shot. The Saints quarterback and future hall of famer told Luke Johnson of the New Orleans Times-Picayune that he planned on being back next year and making another run at a Super Bowl. This season, Drew Brees was dynamite, throwing for 3,992 yards, 32 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions. In his career, he has thrown for 74,437 yards, 520 touchdowns versus 233 interceptions. For the Saints, they had a dynamic season, going 13-3, before losing to the Rams 26-23 in overtime, a game that has been marred due to a controversial call that could have secured a victory for the Saints. Still, with Brees under center again next season, the Saints will be favorites to return to the playoffs, this time hoping to return to the Super Bowl.

Extensions Could Be Plentiful

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, it appears that the Kansas City Chiefs have intentions of extending several players both this offseason and next. Next offseason it will be all about Patrick Mahomes, and the Chiefs apparently appear ready to make him a very wealthy young man. The contract could be the first $200+ million contract in the NFL and could set records for both total amount and for average annual value. Before that, the Chiefs would like to sign both Tyreek Hill and Chris Jones to extensions, likely frontloading them to fit Mahomes contract once he is extended.

Another playoff team is also looking at an extension, but this time for a coach. The Los Angeles Rams are reportedly ready to discuss extensions with Sean McVay this offseason, despite the fact that he has 3 years remaining on his current contract. With other teams trying to emulate him, and already picking from his “coaching tree,” this might be wise on the side of the Rams, who have seen unprecedented success out of such a young coach.

Another coach nearing a completed extension is the Ravens’ John Harbaugh. According to Chris Mortensen of ESPN, the principle of a deal has been agreed to, but they are still working through some issues and details of the contract.

Could Kareem Hunt Be Back Sooner Than Later?

It appears that teams will have some resolution on the Kareem Hunt investigation by the time free agency opens up. Hunt, who is being investigated after a video surfaced of him attacking a young woman, was released by the Kansas City Chiefs and placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. It is likely that he could start the 2019 season suspended, but that won’t necessarily deter teams from signing the talented running back. The Chicago Bears have been linked to him, but it isn’t hard to imagine that others will too once his picture becomes a little clearer.

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