From the Bleachers: Quadruple Blockbuster
Baily Deeter looks back on “the greatest weekend of football” he has ever witnessed and predicts that the 49ers and Chiefs will meet in Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13.
In last week’s column, I promised a Divisional Round weekend full of exciting matchups, “perhaps even a classic Divisional Round moment like the Minneapolis Miracle, the Vernon Davis catch, or the Joe Flacco Hail Mary.”
I'd like to say I called my shot, but I saw none of Saturday and Sunday’s absurdity coming. My predicted Super Bowl teams are both eliminated (again). I got only one of my four picks right, the one I was least certain of — the Cincinnati Bengals over the Tennessee Titans.
But this time, I don’t feel alone. No one saw last weekend coming. How could you have? Jan. 22 and 23 was the greatest weekend of football I have ever witnessed, and the Kansas City Chiefs-the Buffalo Bills Sunday night matinee was the greatest football game I’ve ever seen. The other three were all close to the top. We may never see another weekend like it.
Where do I begin? Kansas City and Buffalo changed leads four times and scored a whopping 31 points after the two-minute warning, including overtime. Tom Brady orchestrated another 24-point comeback… and lost. Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers lost a home game to a 49ers team that didn’t score an offensive touchdown. Joe Burrow got sacked nine (nine!) times and still won a road playoff game against the top-seeded Titans. Every game ended on a walk-off field goal or touchdown. Not a single one had already been decided with five seconds left in regulation. No matter who it is, the eventual Super Bowl champion will have been on the brink of elimination on Divisional Weekend.
The Bengals-Titans game was a fantastic back-and-forth affair to kick off the weekend and somehow the least exciting game of the four. It featured a last-second Ryan Tannehill interception that set up Evan McPherson’s 52-yard game-winning field goal. McPherson drilled the kick for his fourth three-pointer of the night, leading to many pundits on Twitter admitting that drafting a kicker in the fifth round may not be a bad call if he can score two-thirds of your team’s points in a playoff game.
Then, the Niners and Packers played a classic Lambeau Field playoff game in the zero-degree wind chill. It was an ugly game, but if you made the trek from the Bay Area like myself, my dad and my brother, it had a beautiful ending. I was fortunate enough to witness one of the biggest playoff upsets in recent memory. And I will always be able to say that I saw Nathaniel Hackett, Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams play their last game as Packers before they became the Denver Broncos head coach, starting quarterback and wide receiver.
The first half was a sluggish, 7-0 contest that, quite frankly, should not have been that close. As the frostbite began to kick in, we huddled in the pro shop for warmth and for a toe warmer pit stop at halftime. As we walked back out to the stadium, we did a double-take as we saw snowflakes. There was no precipitation in the forecast, but the football gods had other plans to make sure America hadn’t seen the last of Jimmy G.
An hour later, we witnessed the decibel count in one of the loudest stadiums in America drop from triple digits to zero digits as Talanoa Hufanga’s scoop and score tied the game. We saw it again when Robbie Gould’s clutch triple gave the 49ers their first lead of the game, right when it mattered most at 0:00.
San Francisco’s opponent was going to be the Los Angeles Rams right up until Tom Brady happened. TB12 read my ode to the GOAT while trailing 20-3 at halftime, and he then decided to orchestrate three second-half touchdown drives to bring Tampa Bay back from down 27-3. But this time, Matt Stafford did what Matt Ryan couldn’t do: answer Brady’s magic with some of his own. Cooper Kupp’s two catches for 64 yards set up injured kicker Matt Gay to squeak the game-winner through the uprights in what might turn out to be Tom Brady’s last game.
Now onto the best of them all weekend, all year and all time. This was a “you had to be there” type of game, so I’m just going to throw some absurd stats out there to try to capture the game’s greatness. Patrick Mahomes threw for 177 yards after the two-minute warning and into overtime, more yards than Jimmy G threw for all game (by far)! Gabriel Davis caught four touchdowns! The Chiefs moved the ball into field goal range from their own 25-yard line with 13 seconds left! Josh Allen had the second-most passing touchdowns in a single postseason in NFL history… in two games! And Buffalo still hasn’t won a Super Bowl!
There’s so much more to unpack from Divisional Weekend, but given that it’s now Friday, it’s time to look ahead to our two conference championship rematches. Kansas City hosts the AFC Championship for the fourth consecutive season, which coincides with the seasons that Mahomes has started at quarterback. The Rams will host LA’s first conference championship since the Raiders hosted one in 1983, the year “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson came out. Both home teams have lost to their road opponents this month, but both are favored on their home turf.
Speaking of the best football games I’ve ever seen, the Chiefs-Rams 2018 Monday Night Football clash, which saw both teams drop more than 50 points, is near the top of the list. Until Kansas City fell to the GOAT in overtime, fans were clamoring for a rematch in Super Bowl LIII. But with No. 12 out of the picture, the stage is set for the rematch. Cincinnati doesn’t have the firepower to stop Kansas City’s offense, and its pass protection, play-calling and inexperience will hold it back. This time, Kansas City will hold up its end of the bargain.
On the flip side, there’s something magical about these 49ers. This team has a 2007/2011 New York Giants feel, where a normally mediocre quarterback somehow finds a way to win clutch games on the road. Jimmy G may make some of the most inexplicable throws you’ll ever see from an NFL quarterback, but he’ll always follow them up with moments of brilliance (he doesn’t get enough credit). San Francisco’s defense is also playing its best football since that 2019 season where the 49ers were clearly the best team in the NFC. We will see a rematch on Super Bowl Sunday, but it will be a rematch of Super Bowl LIV instead of the Chiefs-Rams Monday Night classic.
The GOAT is out, the MVP is out, the best quarterback in the playoffs is out and Ryan Tannehill is out. But while we may not have seen the final four bracket consisting of mid-majors like the 49ers and Bengals coming, we’re better for it. It’s now time to see if the Cinderella stories can bring it home.