By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
NFC, AFC Championships marred by 2 of NFL’s greatest recurring problem
GREEN BAY, Wis. – The NFC Championship Game was decided by a blown call. The AFC title game turned on a dime, or whatever the officials used to conduct the overtime coin toss.
How about a phantom roughing-the-quarterback penalty on the game’s decisive drive? Or a “no call” when a badly beaten defensive back blatantly blows up the intended receiver on a drive that would’ve sealed the victory?
Whatever the specifics, I suspect Super Bowl LIII’s outcome Feb. 3 will be determined in some like manner. If the NFL’s all-too-often farcical officiating doesn’t bury either the Rams or the Patriots, perhaps its arcane overtime rules will.
On a day when the NFC and AFC Championship Games should have been epic overtime battles, they disintegrated into one big question mark surrounding the refs and the rules.
CBS’s Tony Romo punctuated the point upon the Patriots’ overtime-winning touchdown drive when he blurted out, “What a critical coin toss that was.”
No kidding, Tony.
The Rams’ 26-23 victory in overtime Sunday at New Orleans left the Saints and their fans stunned, if not outraged. An obvious and game-sealing pass interference call was ignored, giving Los Angeles the opening it needed to KO the Saints.
The league has since offered a public apology. Isn’t that a bit like administering the morphine after losing the patient on the operating table? It does nothing to make the pain subside, or the outcome any less disastrous.
The Patriots’ 37-31 victory in overtime at Kansas City left the Chiefs and their fans with the question, “What if Kansas City had won the toss, and Patrick Mahomes had the football first instead of New England’s Tom Brady?”
Nobody will ever know because of an ineffective, unfair and outdated overtime rule.
So what are Packers’ fans to think?
Here are a few Packers-pertinent thoughts while watching the Rams and Patriots advance to Super Bowl LIII:
** In today’s NFL offense wins games. Defense can only lose them.
The Packers’ focus must be fairly distributed on both sides of the football. However, GM Brian Gutekunst and head coach Matt LaFleur need to take an “offense first” approach.
If Aaron Rodgers and the offense don’t regain their place among the NFL’s most potent attacks the rest won’t matter.
Let’s be real. The Chiefs’ defense did as well as might be expected against Brady and Co. It still wasn’t enough. It came down to a coin toss, and whether Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense would get one final chance to KO the Patriots.
It didn’t happen.
Overtime rules aside, the Packers need to rebuild the right side of their offensive line, add a tight end, and draft a third-down running back and a slot receiver.
Then, LaFleur and his staff need to coach them up fast.
The expectation here is simple: LaFleur and Rodgers need to have the offense clicking at a dynamic rate early and often.
The Rams were 4-12 two years ago. There is no reason to think the Packers (6-9-1) can’t reach double-digit wins in 2019.
** The Rams’ defense does many things well. Perhaps its finest attribute is its tackling. Even though Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense moved the football between the 20s it bogged down mightily in the red zone.
The Saints had a chance to demoralize the Rams early, but lost the opportunity when touchdowns turned to field goals. One reason is because the Rams’ defense tackled so well in the red zone. Another reason it tackled so well it didn’t allow any big plays. The Saints had to earn everything they got.
LaFleur’s description of his preferred defense included something to this effect: “I don’t want to give up the big play.” Translation: Tackle so well they have to earn it.”
The Rams did exactly that.
** With the Saints’ loss, the Packers’ first-round draft picks will be the 12th and the 30th overall.
Packers’ GM Brian Gutekunst owns six of the top 112 selections, in addition to an expected $50 million-plus in space beneath the salary cap.
That should be plenty of ammo to restock/rebuild the roster.
** Special teams’ play can’t be underestimated.
The Rams’ fake punt – something Packers’ fans could relate to – totally hoodwinked the Saints’ punt coverage unit. That shouldn’t happen, and especially not on fourth-and-5 near midfield when the opposing offense is struggling mightily.
It’s that type of play that has killed the Packers all too often.
** The Rams’ Corey Littleton and the Rams’ Demario Davis are the type of linebackers the Packers need to find between now and training camp. There is nobody on the roster like either of those two impact players. Clearly, Blake Martinez is a tackling machine, but this isn’t meant to criticize him. It’s more about raising the question, “How good could Martinez be with a Littleton or a Davis on the field next to him?”
I’m just saying. …
** Finally, I will make my Super Bowl LIII prediction next week. Today, I’m making a Packers-related prediction: If Green Bay follows the Rams’ blueprint, which includes running the football and playing in free agency, there is no reason to believe they won’t be in this year’s NFC Championship Game.
Then, if it comes down to a coin toss or a blown call so be it.
By Chris Havel