It’s a Rams-Patriots Super Bowl, and an Officiating Nightmare

It’s a Rams-Patriots Super Bowl, and an Officiating Nightmare

After dramatic overtime wins, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are headed to their ninth (!) Super Bowl together, to face off against young Jared Goff and Sean McVay. But the talk today is all about an obvious, game-deciding blown call, and what the NFL must do to address an officiating crisis.
January 21, 2019

The story this morning should be, would be, Rams coach Sean McVay taking a franchise that had missed the postseason 12 consecutive times to the Super Bowl in just his second year, and going right through the raucous Superdome to do it. The story this morning should be, would be, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s incomparable brilliance in the face of a worthy young challenger at Arrowhead.

But that’s not where we are on this Monday morning.

As has been the case, to a lesser degree, on other Monday mornings this year, you woke up today to more talk about a bad call in a football game. And you should. Because what happened in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday was as bad as it gets, the NFL’s worst nightmare come alive after a year in which the officials were criticized constantly. A terrible officiating failure cost a team a trip to the Super Bowl.

That’s no exaggeration either. There was 1:48 showing when Saints quarterback Drew Brees feathered the ball down the right sideline to Tommylee Lewis, who looked back for it, only to take a crushing head shot from Rams corner Nickell Robey-Coleman, who was on time for the hit like the Giants used to be on time for Tom Coughlin’s meetings: about five minutes early.

It was pass interference. It was helmet-to-helmet, too. And if the officials call it, the Saints have first-and-goal at the 5 with 1:45 left. From there, the Rams would have been forced to burn their final timeout, and the Saints could have bled the clock dry and kicked a field goal to win the game with no time left. Instead, they kicked the field goal with 1:41 remaining, leaving plenty of time for the Rams to tie the game, which they would.

We’ll get to the rest of the game—the Rams are deserving conference champions, to be clear—but somehow, the league managed to make a bad situation at that point even worse. Here’s how an exchange between referee Bill Vinovich, the head of the crew, and pool reporter Amie Just of NOLA.com went:

Q: What was the reasoning for no penalty flag being thrown on the play involving Drew Brees’ pass attempt to Tommylee Lewis?

BV: It’s a judgment call by the officials. I personally have not seen the play.

Q: You said you didn’t see the play, correct?

BV: Correct.

OK. This would be easier to swallow if it was 1985. Back then you couldn’t hand Vinovich a phone or an iPad to prepare him for this exchange. You can now, and the reason he was being made available was to answer questions on this particular call, so I have to assume that his not seeing the play before meeting with Just was willful. Either that, or the league folks on hand didn’t properly prepare Vinovich.

BASKIN: Saints left in a state of disbelief after missed pass interference ends their magical season 

So we’re back in another spot where the NFL, in the face of something controversial, was feigning ignorance, and the only explanation is that this was a delay tactic (to afford time for everyone to get their story straight) or just plain dumb by the league. Neither conclusion is great, either from an optics standpoint or for the public’s trust in the NFL to do the right thing.

Someone needed to fall on the sword immediately. Instead, what we got was a phone call with Sean Payton, and reports that the league was really sorry. What actually is sorry here is how this was handled, taking simple human error and metastasizing the problem by—and this is something we’ve seen over and over and over again—attempting to manage an issue rather than just confronting it.

The upshot? Generally, once the PR hit comes, the league will react. And so I’d expect some reform. My hope is that they follow Bill Belichick’s idea to make all plays reviewable, and modernize how the replay system works by using technology to streamline it (and maybe take it off the field). It would certainly have been nice to have that system in place on Sunday.

MORE: The biggest officiating controversies of Championship weekend 

Instead, the NFL is back in a familiar place.

I did reach out Sunday night to try to get officiating czar Al Riveron on the phone, and I didn’t hear back. Whatever he would have said, though, probably wouldn’t change my opinion much.

Alright, now I’ll climb off the soapbox and look at Sunday.


We do have a lot to get to …

• Tom Brady’s dad explains where his son is at right now mentally, and why he keeps going when he could’ve left football, legacy secure, a long time ago.
• Dante Fowler explains the game-changing play he made to get his new team to the Super Bowl—and the difference that he’s felt since getting to LA three months ago.
• We go in on Cleveland with Freddie Kitchens, and tell you about the unexpected text he got when he landed the job there, and what it can explain about his road to this destination.
• Bruce Arians and Jason Licht, reunited! And a possible succession plan in Tampa for down the road.

And we’ll hit the coaching carousel, and the Senior Bowl, and lay out a little more on the future of the teams that lost Sunday, and much, much more. But let’s start with a legend, and what keeps his fire burning.


LET’S APPRECIATE WHAT THE PATRIOTS, AND TOM BRADY, HAVE DONE

Just so you know, Tom Brady’s family knows this isn’t normal.

“It’s beyond anything that anybody could ever imagine,” Tom Brady Sr. said from his Northern California home. “Because this is something nobody could ever imagine in our wildest dreams. It’s not even something that you think about because it’s so bizarre. And yet, it still keeps happening. And in the middle of this year, coming out of Tennessee, many of us kind of thought that the Patriots were stumbling and bumbling and not destined for greatness.

“And lo and behold, as we saw the last couple, five or six weeks, they have done nothing but play spectacularly well and peak at the right time.”

Jeff Roberson/AP/REX/Shutterstock

I compared the Brady-led Patriots to a proud old prizefighter in late November, and I stand by it—this one is just exceedingly difficult to knock out, as a feisty Chiefs team found out for the second time this year, in the biggest game Arrowhead Stadium has ever hosted.

Patriots 37, Chiefs 31 in OT.

The Patriots looked like like they were on the verge of choking their hosts out in the first half. And then, down 14-0, the Chiefs rallied, and it took everything the two-time defending AFC champions had to fight them off. The 14-0 deficit became 14-7, then 17-14. And after a big fourth-down stop and a pick (off of Julian Edelman’s fingers) on consecutive possessions, Patrick Mahomes gave the Chiefs their first lead, 21-17, with a 23-yard touchdown pass to Damien Williams midway through the fourth quarter.

VRENTAS: The end is not coming anytime soon for Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots 

And then, Brady asserted himself.

The Patriots went 75 yards in 10 plays to take the lead back, 24-21. Mahomes and the Chiefs answered with a 68-yard drive of their own.

The Patriots covered 65 yards in six plays to make it 31-28. Mahomes took the ball back with 39 seconds left and drove 48 yards to set up the tying field goal.

And finally, on the first possession of overtime, Brady slammed the door shut with a 13-play, 75-yard epic. On that drive, the quarterback converted three third-and-10s—two to Edelman and another to Rob Gronkowski—and set up the Patriots’ now vaunted run game (they’ve rushed the ball 82 times in two playoff games) to finish off the Chiefs, with three Rex Burkhead runs that accounted for the final 15 yards.

David Eulitt/Getty Images

“I’ve been fortunate to see so many successful conclusions to situations like that,” Brady Sr. said, “that I truly didn’t have any second thoughts as whether or not this was going to be successful.”

After it was over, Brady Sr.’s 41-year-old son called him over Facetime and “he just smiled so big it took up the entire frame of our iPhone.” This one meant plenty.

GRAMLING: Brady slightly more unstoppable than Mahomes, Goff delivers, bad officiating, bad OT rules and more takeaways

“To be able to be the elder statesman who is stepping in and having to compete with someone like Patrick, who’s got so many talents and is going to be so awesome for years to come in the NFL, was kind of a definitive thing for him,” Brady Sr. said. “He’s got so many terrific young quarterbacks in the league, and he doesn’t want to be left out of the conversation, even though some people have discounted him this year, as if his season wasn’t worthy to be in the same conversation.

“And I believe this game, it speaks of what his reaction to it is. And the fact that he’s not giving up the throne easily.”

So Brady’s off to his ninth Super Bowl in his 16th full season as Patriots starter, and his 18th year in the league, which is four more Super Bowl appearances than the quarterback who’s second on that list (John Elway has five). And bad news, everyone—Dad doesn’t see son slowing down soon. When I asked if he knows how long Tom Jr. will keep playing, Brady Sr. answered, “I don’t. I’m shocked that he’s even playing today. But he says he wants three or four or five more years.”

JONES: For the Chiefs, so close yet so far in the AFC Championship Game 

“He loves every part of the process to play in a game like this,” Brady Sr. said. “He loves the practice. He loves the camaraderie. He loves the team-building. He loves the offseason. He even loves his diet. He loves taking care of his body. The entire process is something he would partake of until he was 65 or 70 or 75 if he had the ability to do that. That being said, going on that, everything that he is doing is something that fits his desires—to be able to work out and eat well and feel good.

“So as many people have said, different people play football because they like to play football. He’s a football player because the whole lifestyle fits exactly to what he plays and desires and enjoys. And that’s all that I could say: There’s nothing that he would rather do in his life than participate on a week-to-week basis and a year-to-year basis as he’s doing.”

And it sure shows in how that passion comes out every Sunday, every season, even after all these years.


LET’S ALSO APPRECIATE THE RAMS, BLOWN CALL OR NOT

Again, the shame of the missed pass interference is what it overshadowed in the Superdome—a perfectly imperfect game that paid off so many of the bets that the Rams have made since arriving in Los Angeles.

Former first overall pick Jared Goff wasn’t off the charts but showed the kind of toughness that some have questioned in him. The trade of a first-round pick for receiver Brandin Cooks showed up in a game-changing 36-yard catch from Goff that set up the Rams’ first touchdown. Deals for corners Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters showed up in Saints star Michael Thomas’ quiet afternoon (four catches, 36 yards).

And the big swing in midseason for Dante Fowler—the Rams sent a third-round pick to the Jaguars to fill a big need, with no guarantee that Fowler would be back in 2019—cleared the fences at the biggest moment imaginable at the Superdome.

ORR: Perfectly imperfect Rams celebrate bizarre NFC championship

Post-seismic penalty, the Saints actually got the ball first in overtime. After a pass interference call gave them a first down, Aaron Donald dropped Mark Ingram for a six-yard loss. Then, on second-and-16, Fowler came screaming off the edge and forced Brees to pop the ball into the air—a ball that Rams safety John Johnson intercepted as he was falling backward onto his butt.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

“The offensive lineman gave me a good set,” Fowler said over the phone, from the team plane. “And I went inside on him. And he rolled me, so I did a spin back outside, and I was able to get to Drew Brees, who’s still holding the ball. And he’s looking down the field, of course, trying to find somebody that’s open. He saw me last minute, and I was able to hit the ball and hit his arm, get the ball in the air.”

Johnson’s pick put the Rams at their own 46, and they only needed one first down from there to set up Greg Zuerlein’s 57-yard game-winner, which followed the 48-yarder he hit with 19 seconds left to send the game to OT in the first place.

And that illustrates how many hands were in the pot of this win for the Rams. Goff’s part in this act was obvious, and he had four receivers with at least four catches. One of those was Josh Reynolds (five touches, 90 yards), the ex-fourth-rounder replacing the injured Cooper Kupp, kind of like street free-agent pickup C.J. Anderson (16 carries, 44 yards) is grinding out the tough yards with Todd Gurley hobbled.

On defense, it was Donald, of course, but also those corners, and Ndamukong Suh and Fowler, and Johnson, and the list goes on.

SUPER BOWL 53 PREVIEW: Andy Benoit’s early look at the keys to Rams-Patriots

Then, there’s McVay and his staff, who have done something that seems borderline impossible, and did it by taking a core that GM Les Snead helped to cultivate even before they arrived, and refining it to what he’s trying to do between the lines. And, course, there’s plenty more to McVay than just calling plays or building a roster.

“He’s a true leader and a genuine leader,” Fowler said. “He does it with lots of heart, because that’s who he is. He doesn’t [have to] even try. He loves the game of football so much. He can’t help it. He can’t hide it. He’s a great leader, a great coach. Great coach, a great situational coach.

Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

“It’s kind of scary when you got a young guy like that just bringing a group of guys in, a group of vets in there, and changing the coaching and getting everyone to buy in. Especially grown professionals to buy in. And our main thing is, ‘We, not me.’”

In that we, there were a lot of risks taken. And a lot that look pretty smart now.


FREDDIE KITCHENS AND THE BROWNS ARE SET UP FOR SUCCESS

New Browns coach Freddie Kitchen received more than 700 texts after winning the job, and as he got through a couple hundred, a couple hundred more came. He’s painstakingly tried to answer all of them, and about 150 were left as of Friday afternoon.

Two of those messages stuck out.

One was from his high school coach, Raymond Farmer, who said seeing Kitchens become an NFL head coach made him emotional. As for the other text …

“Out of nowhere, Adrian Peterson texted me and said, ‘Man, I always believed in you, and trusted you, and it’s so good to see people get what they deserve,’” Kitchens told me. “And you know, Adrian and I weren’t together but for three or four months. That was pretty cool.”

There’s a lot to dig through on the future of the Browns, of course, and Baker Mayfield’s presence is just the starting point. There’s a deep and talented young core that includes 23-and-under studs like Denzel Ward, Myles Garrett, Nick Chubb and David Njoku. There’s more than $80 million in cap space to play with. There are eight picks in the first five rounds of the 2019 draft.

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There are reasons that head coaching job was attractive, and there are reasons why Kitchens was attractive to fill it, which I really believe that single text from Peterson can help illustrate.

First, there’s the period of time during which the running back and coach got to know each other—over the last three months of 2017 in Arizona. Like Peterson, Kitchens had hit a setback in his career and was fighting forward.

In the summer of 2016, then-Cardinals coach Bruce Arians had brought in Byron Leftwich, who played QB for him in Pittsburgh, as a coaching intern to work with Kitchens, Arizona’s quarterbacks coach at the time. Six months later Arians hired Leftwich to take Kitchens’ spot, and moved Kitchens to running backs, a bitter pill for the ex-Alabama quarterback to swallow after four years in the QB role. That’s when he met Peterson, and it’s also how he’s since learned to have faith in his ways.

“Depends on who you ask—if you ask Bruce Arians, he’s gonna take credit for it,” Kitchens said, laughing. “But you know what it made me do, Albert? It reinforced the fact that you just keep your head down, you keep working, no matter what situation you’re put in. And you’ll come out better for it on the other side.”

Second, the text is emblematic of who Kitchens is as a coach, and who he swears he’ll continue to be. He’s pretty simply himself. So when I asked him if 2018—when he was hired as running backs coach in Cleveland, then took over as offensive coordinator after Hue Jackson was fired—changed much of the way he’ll be as a head coach, the answer was that he evolved through the experience of being promoted and calling plays for the first time, but he really didn’t change.

And he’ll tell you his résumé shows that: “Everybody likes to say that I’ve come from out of nowhere, but I don’t know where those people have been. I’ve always put a good product on the field.” Whether it was running backs or tight ends or quarterbacks or calling the offense, Kitchens has seen the job as being about getting the most out of people.

Peterson clearly saw that. So did Mayfield. So have others.

“I don’t see myself changing at all,” Kitchens said. “I’ve seen people change, I definitely have. And for the worse. It’s never worked out good, when they’ve changed, and I’ve seen it a lot. So I’m gonna be the same person. That’s the beauty of getting this job in particular at this time. I got this job for being myself, and not changing for anyone. And I’m not changing moving forward. I can assure you that.”

Given the quarterback and the young talent, there’ll be expectations in Cleveland like we haven’t seen in a long time. So in a way, it’s probably good to have someone who doesn’t see taking the job as overly complicated.

And if he can do as well with this challenge as did all those that have faced him in the last couple years, he and the Browns are going to be just fine.


THE BUCS WANTED A BRUCE ARIANS TYPE, AND GOT HIM

I remember talking to Jason Licht about his hiring of Dirk Koetter three years ago, and how in so many ways the new Bucs coach reminded the GM of the coach he had in Arizona—an older guy who’d seen it all and had a rep for being a wizard in drawing up an offense and developing quarterbacks. So it hit me last week that in replacing Koetter, Licht’s chase to find his next Bruce Arians was finally complete.

Funny that it led him back to the old Bruce Arians.

It wasn’t by mistake, either. In fact, as Licht explained to me Friday, he actually blurted that much out when he sat down with the Glazer family after the season ended, to map out their coaching search.

“When we laid out the criteria for a head coach, I did say at one point to them, ‘Well, we want someone who’s really competent, ideally someone who’s been in the seat before so they know what they’re getting into, I want a guy who connects with people, I want a strong leader,’” Licht said. “And then I go, ‘Basically, we want Bruce Arians.’”

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At that point, Licht was pretty sure Arians was staying retired, but he planned on making a cursory phone call anyways. Then, the ball started rolling. Within minutes, a buddy sent Licht a link to an NFL.com story in which Arians told Ian Rapoport, “I know Jason. So I would listen.” Licht went with it to the Bucs owners and said, “I guess I don’t need to call him.”

When Licht did call him, Arians described the circumstances as a “perfect storm.” He loved (and knew) the quarterback, Jameis Winston. So many of the trusted confidants he’d want on his staff were available. And of course he and Licht had a relationship that started when Licht was GM Steve Keim’s top lieutenant in Arizona in 2013, and had been maintained in the time since.

Licht also thought back to the birth of that relationship—in the interview room that they shared with Keim and Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill in January 2013—and how so much of what he loved then would apply again.

“It was just confidence—‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do, this is how I’m going to do it, and these are the guys that I’m gonna hire,’” Licht said. “It was the only coach that we’d interviewed at that point that had his list of guys, and you legitimately could get all of them, because some of them didn’t have a job or were coaching high school or whatever it was. But it was impressive—these are my guys.”

What’s crazy is eight of those guys—Todd Bowles, Harold Goodwin, Kevin Garver, Kevin Ross, Rick Cristophel, Nick Rapone, Mike Chiurco, Mike Caldwell—five years later, are now on the Bucs staff. Very rare that would happen.

Here are three other points of interest from Licht on the Arians hire:

What most impressed him in 2012: “Just how quickly he can connect with everyone, get everyone on the same page. I know that sounds clichéd, but just how quickly it happens. He has a unique way of connecting with anybody. And I wouldn’t say necessarily that he’s a player’s coach , because he will motherf--- the s-- out of you. But he knows how to pat them on the back and prop them up again.”

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Why the Bucs fit Arians: “He likes playmakers on offense, and he really likes our tight ends, and he likes our receivers group. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Adam Humphries. We all realize we have some work to do to tweak the offense. But he loves the quarterback. In his words, and this is right when we first offered him the job, I called him and said, ‘Are you ready for this?’ He said, ‘Hell, we got the quarterback, head coach, GM. Let’s roll. The rest will fall into place.’” (Personal note: Love that he basically said ‘we got the head coach’ about himself. Just fantastic.)

Given Arians’ age (66), do you need to have a succession plan? “It’s off the radar right now. Right now, we’re just focused on Bruce and this season. I will say that Bruce feels very, very strongly that he’s got three coordinators and an assistant head coach that are all very worthy of being a head coach. He feels very, very strongly about Todd Bowles, and we do too. We’re really fortunate to have Todd. He wouldn’t have come here if it weren’t for Bruce. And he and I have a strong relationship too. I don’t want to say Todd is the next guy right now because we’re all focused on Bruce. But I do feel good about who he’s got.”


… OF THE WEEK

TWEET

Something else that didn’t exist when Brady played in his first Super Bowl: My college degree. I was still eight months out from graduating from Ohio State. And to sum up the day …

Figured that’d put a bow on it. And this too …

QUOTE

“I don’t even eat gumbo. I was just bulls---ing. I like goulash, really, though. I like red sauce. I like goulash, no seafood, just a little bit of shrimp. . . .Maybe goulash will be my bowl for the night.” —Rams CB Marcus Peters to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

This was minutes after Peters was reportedly running around the field yelling “Let’s eat gumbo,” and confronting Sean Payton (he had to be pulled away). Finding out Peters prefers goulash is a pretty weird conclusion to a pretty weird situation.

CLIP

I’m sorry, New Orleans. This is too good not to post.

MEME

So there are two sides of it. The first is from the Pontchartrain Causeway and WWL in New Orleans roughly a half-hour after the Saints lost to the Rams, meaning the message went up over the freeway lightning fast. And the Falcons were even quicker on the draw, putting that piece of trolling up as the final gun sounded, with the team dodging the bullet of having its archrival celebrating in its backyard for the week leading up to the Super Bowl. Petty? Maybe, but New Orleanians haven’t been shy about parading 28-3 around the last two years. And that old-school Rams video is fantastic on its own.


SIX FROM SATURDAY

This week is the unofficial start of draft season in the NFL scouting community—yes, there have been all-star games already, but the Senior Bowl is the one that annually brings the league together, and to one place. Here’s what to look forward to.

1. Quarterbacks normally carry the week—Baker Mayfield did last year, as Carson Wentz did in 2016—and that guy this week will probably be Duke’s Daniel Jones, a 6’5”, 220-pound three-year starter with good physical skills, who’s been pushed up the board a little because of the relative weakness of the position in this year’s class. A big week could position him to make a run at Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins’ presumed spot as first quarterback to be drafted.

2. While no one’s going to dub 2019 the Year of the Quarterback, there’s really good depth at the position in this year’s Senior Bowl. Penn State’s Trace McSorley, a bona fide star in college football, is probably most lightly regarded prospect of the nine quarterbacks set to go, which is saying something. Missouri’s Drew Lock, West Virginia’s Will Grier, Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham, and NC State’s Ryan Finley have all been on scouts’ radars for quite some time.

3. This year’s draft isn’t great for skill players, but there is one to watch in Mobile—UMass receiver Andy Isabella, whom some might be fooled into pigeonholing as a slot. Isabella beat Browns rookie Denzel Ward to win the Ohio state championship in the 100-meter dash as a high school senior (his time was 10.51, Ward’s was 10.62), and Ward ran a 4.34 at last year’s combine, leading some to believe the 5’8”, 186-pound dynamo could clock in the 4.2s. And he was productive. Isabella finished last year with 102 catches for 1,698 yards and 13 touchdowns, managing 15 catches for 219 yards and two TDs against a loaded Georgia defense with a first-round pick, in Deandre Baker, at corner. So it’s safe to say Isabella’s star is pretty likely to rise in the coming days.

4. There’s depth in draft-eligible edge rushers this year, but really, the group can be summed up like this—Nick Bosa and everyone else. So Louisiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson (compared by some to Marcus Davenport), Georgia’s D’Andre Walker, TCU’s Ben Banogu, Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat and Old Dominion dark horse Oshane Ximines all should have a chance to make up ground on the No. 2 spot at the position.

5. Similarly, there’s an uptick in offensive linemen—some expect a huge week from Washington State LT Andre Dillard. And there are a lot of interior guys who should have a shot at being Day One starters in the NFL, with Wisconsin’s Beau Benzschawel and Michael Dieter, Boston College’s Chris Lindstrom, and Oklahoma’s Ben Powers and Dru Samia in that category.

6. This is the end of Season 1 for executive director Jim Nagy, who came over from the Seahawks to succeed Phil Savage in the spring. I asked him the other day how he feels about everything a week out: “I will say that I really credit our scouting staff— they did a great job. The most rewarding thing was that, over the week of Thanksgiving, we went through our board with 17 teams. At that point we’d invited 60 kids, and we were working on where the cut line was —‘Here’s the six or seven kids we’re torn over.’ And through that process, to see how aligned we were with the team, there was not a lot of variance there. And the teams all said how we nailed it as a staff. That was really rewarding, because we’re doing this for them. In the end, we’re trying to bring them the best players, regardless of school or conference. So we still gotta get to game day. But it’s been really good.”


TEN TAKEAWAYS

1. I think you should look at how clean Tom Brady’s jersey is here and take it as another sign of the value of Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. When I broke down the rosters of the four conference finalists in my Thursday Game Plan, I noticed that three of the four had left tackles among their three highest cap numbers. The Patriots, conversely, let their left tackle of the last six years, Nate Solder, walk in the offseason, and replaced him 49ers castoff Trent Brown. Nine months later Trent Brown is going to start at left tackle in the Super Bowl, alongside a third-round pick, a fourth-round pick, a fifth-round pick and an undrafted free agent. Whatever the Krafts are paying Scarnecchia isn’t enough.

2. It’s going to be tough for Dee Ford to live down his big moment from Sunday night, even after a 13-sack season that should make him a very rich man later this year (either via the franchise tag or a long-term deal). And you have to wonder how fatigue might have played into his mistake to line up in the neutral zone, drawing a flag and negating what looked to be a game-clinching interception by Charvarius Ward. That was the 78th of 94 offensive snaps for the Patriots. The Chiefs, conversely, ran just 47 plays.

3. Both the Saints and Chiefs have some serious offseason business to attend to now. Kansas City will have to make a call on Ford and center Mitch Morse, and key cogs Tyreek Hill and Chris Jones are eligible for new deals and headed into the final year of their rookie contracts. With all that ahead, it seems like a good bet that second-tier free agents like Chris Conley and Allen Bailey won’t be back. Meanwhile, New Orleans tailback Mark Ingram is up, and 2016 draftees Sheldon Rankins (coming off an Achilles) and Michael Thomas are eligible for big second contracts.

4. Interesting point that was raised to me about the four conference finalists: Each come from a structure in which the head coach is very involved in personnel. Bill Belichick in New England and Sean Payton in New Orleans have on-paper power; Andy Reid gave it away when he got to KC but is still very influential; and Sean McVay and GM Les Snead work hand-in-hand in Los Angeles. As such, all four teams are distinctly reflective of the vision of their coaches—something that comes to life with individual players like Dont’a Hightower in New England, Alvin Kamara in New Orleans, Tyreek Hill in Kansas City, and Brandin Cooks in L.A. It’ll be interesting, in a copycat league, what effect this sort of success might have, since the league has moved away from the coach-heavy model over the last 15 years or so. What a lot of people might mis is that many of the coaches who’ve won long-term (George Halas, Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi, Don Shula, Chuck Noll, Bill Walsh, Jimmy Johnson, Mike Shanahan, Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick) did it while wielding a lot of say on the scouting side.

5. I’d expect the makeup of Zac Taylor’s staff in Cincinnati not to be all that different from the one Sean McVay put together in Los Angeles a couple years ago. On offense, that means having trusted hands on deck who understand what he’s looking for. That’s why Redskins line coach Bill Callahan’s name has come up—Callahan coached Taylor at Nebraska. And it’s why Raiders quarterbacks coach Brian Callahan, Bill’s son and a friend of Taylor’s, is in the mix too. If it were to go down that way (and nothing is certain there), you can think of Bill Callahan playing the role Aaron Kromer did and Brian Callahan the role Matt LaFleur did. And then, on defense, it would mean bringing in an experienced hand. That was Wade Phillips for McVay in L.A. And looking at the names I’ve heard linked to Taylor for the Bengals—Jack Del Rio, John Fox, Mike Nolan—it looks like it’ll be someone similar to Wade in Cincinnati.

BENOIT: The Taylor brothers, Zac and Press, are coaching’s next big thing

6. I believe this: If the Cowboys were to ever move on from Jason Garrett, there’d be two guys atop their list to replace him, with a good drop-off thereafter. One of those names is New Orleans’ Sean Payton, the other is Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley. And if you consider that, it should inform how you look at their approach in replacing offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Dallas wants innovation, and the kind that’ll fit Dak Prescott’s game, and quarterbacks coach Kellen Moore getting the call (I’m told he’ll likely be part of the equation there, regardless of who becomes OC) would actually make a lot of sense in that regard. Among the coaches in Dallas, Moore is known as a guy who knows how implement college concepts and can take quarterback-friendly ideas and apply them within different formations and personnel groups (leading to what McVay bases his offense on: simple for the offense, complex for the defense). Moore also has a solid understanding of trends and the rules, and how to attack a defense in the passing game. And he’s even-keeled and considered good for Prescott. Would it be a risk to just promote the 30-year-old? Sure. But the payoff in maintaining continuity while adding ingenuity could be big. We’ll see if that’s the road the Cowboys take.

7. One thing to respect about the Lions offensive coordinator search: Rather than just flipping through the contacts in his cell, like a lot of coaches do, it struck me that Matt Patricia’s focus was on coordinators who have given him trouble as a defensive coach. It applies with the guy he hired, of course. Darrell Bevell’s Seahawks units moved the ball on the Patriots when Patricia was in New England. And it applies with another guy he interviewed, in ex-Jaguars OC Nathaniel Hackett. Both those guys, too, have good track record in building a run game. Remember where we told you a couple weeks back that line coach Jeff Davidson had been in the interview room? This all fits together.

8. While we’re there, Arizona’s decision to bring in Tom Clements as pass game coordinator makes more sense when you consider the Cardinals’ previous move to hire Sean Kugler as line coach. Kugler may or may not get the title, but it’s a fair bet that he’ll be the de facto run game coordinator in Arizona. And it’s pretty easy to argue that’ll make him the most important offensive assistant Kliff Kingsbury has. Those who studied Kingsbury’s offense at Texas Tech would explain that it’s full passing-game ingenuity, but could use more variance in the run game and with its protections, which will be two areas that Kugler will have to major in.

9. There’s also fallout on the other end with these decisions, and Jim Bob Cooter is a good example of how circumstantial the rising and falling stocks of young coaches can be. A couple years back Cooter had Matthew Stafford rolling and, in his early 30s was seen as a future head coach. Then Jim Caldwell got fired in Detroit after consecutive winning seasons, Cooter was held over on Patricia’s staff, there was a philosophical divide, and now Cooter is approaching his fourth week on the market. He interviewed for the OC jobs in Cleveland and Arizona. And with Arizona’s job filled, if he can’t get the OC spot in Miami (not impossible that it happens, with Caldwell going as associate head coach), he’s like back to being a position coach.

10. While we’re all still waiting on Antonio Brown’s big interview, the for-now Steeler posted an appreciation for Pittsburgh fans on Twitter, which read: “One thing I understand about this fan base and that I’ll never forget and always appreciate is your passion. Know that it’s all love this way and I’m forever thankful for #steelernation! (this is not a goodbye, just a thank u).” What I found interesting is that he was being carried off the field to MVP chants in the video. As you might remember, we reported last month that Brown was incensed by not winning the team MVP award this year and had grown frustrated with some who he didn’t think were giving all that he was. So that video he posted checks both those boxes.


FIVE-DAY FORECAST

I forecast myself in Mobile, Ala., and you’ll be hearing a lot about age in the two weeks leading up to Super Bowl LIII. So here are four fun facts along those lines to get you ready to be hit about the head with info on who’s older than whom:

1. Brady and Goff went to Catholic high schools 39 miles—and nearly two decades—apart in Northern California. Goff was born during Brady’s senior year at Serra High in San Mateo.

2. When Brady won his first Super Bowl, McVay was a sophomore at The Marist School in Atlanta (where he’d end up beating out Calvin Johnson for Mr. Football honors as a senior).

3. Bill Belichick’s eldest child, daughter Amanda, graduated from high school at Phillips Andover in 2003. McVay graduated from Marist in 2004.

4. Belichick called his first playoff game as Giants defensive coordinator against the L.A. Rams on Dec. 23, 1984. McVay was born almost to the day 13 months later.

BENOIT: Early keys to Super Bowl 53

And I can promise you there’s more of this coming once we get to Atlanta, so long as you promise me to check in on the Monday Afternoon Quarterback in just a few hours.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)