landscape view of memorial stadium from the 50 yard line on the field
Photo Credit: John Peterson

Padding the Stats: Quarterbacking of the Highest Level

January 26, 2022

Sunday night provided the most bonkers two minutes of football that I’ve seen in a long, long time.

I was actually watching the end of the Buffalo-Kansas City playoff game on my phone, sitting in the bleachers at Concordia High School ahead of my weekly Sunday night pick-up run. A handful of guys were out warming up, but more were alongside me in the bleachers with their own phones, captivated by the game. Hoops could wait.

The teams combined to score 25 points after the two-minute warning, which is more than both teams scored combined in 60 minutes in another game I was unfortunately vested in. Some poor coaching decisions and some bad defense certainly played into it, but the overriding theme was phenomenal quarterbacking.

Josh Allen started the party with a 27-yard go-ahead touchdown to Gabriel Davis on the first play after the two-minute warning. In total, Allen went 5-for-6 for 102 yards, two scores and a two-point conversion in the final two minutes. Patrick Mahomes countered by going 4-for-7 for 119 yards including a 64-yard touchdown by Tyreek Hill. The Chiefs got the ball back via a touchback after the second Buffalo touchdown down by three with 13 seconds left, and two passes later the Chiefs were in field goal range.

Mahomes got the ball first in overtime and completed every pass he attempted, including an 8-yard game-winning touchdown to Travis Kelce. But I’m sure you’ve heard and read plenty about the NFL’s overtime rules over the past few days; that’s not what I’m going to focus on here.

Mahomes finished 33-of-44 for 378 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions and ran the ball seven times for another 69 yards and one touchdown. Allen went 27-of-37 for 329 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions and ran the ball 11 times for 68 yards. 

I know “run the ball” is the unofficial state motto here in Nebraska, but I’ve always been partial to the passing game. Perhaps coming up as a football fan watching nearly two decades of uninterrupted Hall of Fame quarterbacking with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers played a part in that, but while I enjoy a good running back highlight reel as much as the next guy, there’s nothing I can appreciate more than a quarterback dicing up a defense.

As much fun as experiencing that game was, having to watch it one day after seeing that disgrace of a performance by my Packers and Rodgers served as a second gut punch. The special teams disasters were painful but not unexpected. David Bakhtiari not being able to go was disappointing but the Packers had gotten by without him all season. After a second straight MVP season, however, I didn’t see that performance from Rodgers coming.

A lack of protection certainly played a big part, and I don’t understand the decision-making behind the five-man unit Matt LaFleur and his staff chose to roll with nor did I agree with the lack of adjustments when it clearly wasn’t working.

But Rodgers seemingly fell back into his old bad habits developed during the tail end of the Mike McCarthy era where he locked in on his favorites receivers (namely, Davante Adams) and sought out big plays at the expense of taking what was there and operating within the system. Rodgers playing in a rhythm within LaFleur’s offense made him the league’s most valuable player over the past two seasons, but we didn’t see that at all on Saturday. After so many postseason failures where everything around Rodgers came up short, this one was on him as much as the special teams or offensive line.

I have no idea what the future holds for Rodgers and the Packers, and that’s what makes this loss all the more painful. THIS was supposed to be the year they had everything they needed. They were the best team in the league, and now they’ll be watching the last two rounds of the playoffs from home (or their respective vacation destinations). There were so many cool stories and fun players too root for on this team, and a lot of those guys probably won’t be back next year even if Rodgers does return.

But that’s for another time. Rodgers is done and so is Tom Brady, which means this will be the first conference championship weekend without either of them since the 2009 postseason, which is insane to think about.

Unfortunately, one of Allen and Mahomes had to lose, and it ended up being Allen. That means Mahomes is still alive, and he’ll be facing off against another exciting young quarterback in Joe Burrow who has one of the most exciting players in the league to throw to in Ja’Marr Chase. The other quarterback match-up — Matt Stafford versus Jimmy Garoppolo — is less intriguing, but it is a divisional match-up which adds a little extra juice.

Beyond this final four and Allen, we have young stars like Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert and Kyler Murray, quality veterans like Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott and Derek Carr and intriguing rookies like Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. The league is in good hands no matter how much longer the likes of Brady and Rodgers decide to play.

It’s going to be almost impossible to top the final two minutes of that Buffalo-Kansas City game, but I’m excited to see what the last two rounds of the playoffs hold, even if it’ll be somewhat painful to keep watching without the Packers being in the hunt.

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