Green Bay Packers 28 Seattle Seahawks 23
They didn’t make it easy, but the Green Bay Packers are returning to the NFC Championship game for the first time since 2016.
It seems unfair to ask whether a team which is just one win from the Super Bowl is actually all that good, but this was another Packers win which raised as many questions as answers.
They led the Seattle Seahawks 21-3 at the half but took their foot off the gas - a hallmark of their season - and allowed the tilt to go down to the wire.
Russell Wilson (21 of 31, 277 yards, TD, 64 rushing yards) did his very best to single-handedly overcome poor coaching and a defense which couldn’t work out how to stop the Packers’ offense until the fourth quarter, but in the end the task was too great even for him. Get that man a massage, his back must be in agony from carrying the Seahawks all season long.
It’s hard to decide whether Seattle’s biggest crime was failing to utilise Wilson to his full potential until it was too late, or totally whiffing on covering Davante Adams.
Adams is pretty much Aaron Rodgers’ (16 of 27, 243 yards, 2 TDs) sole weapon in the passing game, and yet the Seahawks continuously refused to double cover him, and allowed him to haul in eight catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns. No other Packers wide receiver had more than one catch.
It was through a 20-yard shot to Adams over the left side that Green Bay took the lead on the opening possession, before Aaron Jones powered in a pair of scores from the one-yard line to give the Packers a commanding 21-3 lead at half-time.
Wilson took matters into his own hands in the second half, scrambling from the pocket and using his legs to generate key first downs.
The result was three Seattle touchdowns on successive drives, two finished by Marshawn Lynch - who was otherwise ineffective again - from the one-yard line, and another with a short pass to Tyler Lockett.
Those scores were broken up by Rodgers hitting Adams deep over the middle for a 40-yard score which should never have been, and had the Legion of Boom turning in its grave.
Wilson tried to play hero ball and snatch the win late in the fourth quarter, but was sacked by Preston Smith - Smith’s second of the night - as the Packers defense secured a rematch with the San Francisco 49ers in next Sunday’s NFC title game.
You may recall the first meeting did not go well for Green Bay - it ended in a 37-8 drubbing - and the Niners still appear to be a class above Matt LaFleur’s men.
Whatever happens next weekend LaFleur deserves huge credit for taking the Packers this far in his first season as a head coach, but they’ve never really looked like a 13-3 team. Don’t be surprised in Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers expose them for what they really are - a good, but not great, team with offensive limitations that benefited from a friendly schedule.
Kansas City Chiefs 51 Houston Texans 31
With all the talk about Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes has flown a little under the radar this season. On Sunday he made sure everyone remembered who really holds the title of the NFL’s best quarterback.
Mahomes (23 of 35, 321 yards, five TDs) dug the Kansas City Chiefs out of a 0-24 hole by leading seven straight touchdown drives and scoring 41 unanswered points, crushing the spirits of a Houston Texans team who were on Cloud Nine at the end of the first quarter.
That first quarter, in fact, was the best in the Texans’ 25-year history, and yielded 24 points with no response. Deshaun Watson (31 of 52, 388 yards, two TDs) kicked it off by hitting Kenny Stills for a 54-yard touchdown on the opening possession, before Barkevious Mingo blocked a Dustin Colquitt punt, which Lonnie Johnson returned for a touchdown.
When Tyreek Hill muffed a punt on his own six-yard line, which Houston recovered and quickly converted into a Darren Fells touchdown, Chiefs fans must have been fearing a repeat of Saturday’s Ravens meltdown. Even their mascot, KC Wolf, was banging its head against a locker room door in frustration.
But then came the Mahomes magic, and perhaps the defining game so far of what is destined to be an all-time great career.
For the second time this season Mahomes tossed four touchdown passes in the second quarter, as he totally ripped apart a Texans defense which looked bewildered by his brilliance.
Bill O’Brien showed his hand - one of abject terror - when he attempted a fake punt call from his own 36-yard line up 24-7, clearly not trusting his defense to be able to deal with Mahomes. The trick play failed, and three plays later Travis Kelce had the ball in his hands in the end zone.
It was O’Brien’s second bizarre play call in as many drives. On the final drive of the first quarter he settled for a field goal instead of running a play on fourth-and-one from Kansas City’s 13-yard line. A call which the Chiefs punished when Mahomes opened the second quarter by hitting running back Damien Williams in the flat for a 17-yard touchdown.
But while O’Brien made some dire mistakes, all the credit for this result deserves to go to Mahomes and Andy Reid’s offense. The Chiefs’ first three touchdowns took up less than three minutes of clock time, with the third - another short pass to Kelce - coming off a DeAndre Carter fumble.
And Kelce’s hat-trick came thanks to another miraculous Mahomes moment. The quarterback scrambled left out of the pocket from the five-yard line, almost reaching the line of scrimmage near the sideline, before dragging his back foot like a wide receiver to ensure his short toss was legal.
It was exactly the type of determination and awareness which makes Mahomes so special, and at that moment, when the Chiefs took a 28-24 lead, you knew the Texans weren’t coming back.
Damien Williams hammered in two short rushing scores and Mahomes flipped an eight-yarder to Blake Bell to make it a remarkable seven straight KC touchdown drives - no other team has done that in a playoff game since the 1970 merger.
Even more ridiculous is the Chiefs possessed the ball for just 17 minutes and 24 seconds on their eight scoring drives - the final one ending with a Harrison Butker field goal which took their tally over 50.
Houston’s Watson is a brilliant quarterback, but Mahomes almost made him irrelevant on Sunday. Before this game the Chiefs had only given up 30 or more points three times this season, and one of them was to Watson in a regular season defeat.
But Watson ended the Divisional Round as the only quarterback in the Super Bowl era despite having more than 300 passing yards, at least three total touchdowns and no giveaways. There’s nothing more he could have done outside of play defense too, and try to deal with Mahomes from that side of the ball instead.
The Chiefs will now face the Tennessee Titans in next week’s AFC Championship game, where they will be favourites to go one step further than last season, despite losing to Tennessee in a thriller back in November.
One thing we know for sure - the Chiefs won’t panic if they find themselves down early as the Ravens did. With No 15 calling the shots, why would they?