In the end, Coaching Matters

On Sunday afternoon and evening, two very different but equally interesting football games were played to determine the combatants in the next Super Bowl game in less than two weeks.

The NFL, of course, will come out the big winner once again.  Perhaps more than 50 million television viewers watched seven hours of back-to-back championship football games on Sunday.

The action on the field yesterday was compelling.  Both games were decided by seven points or less.  All four teams played well and entertained football fans with a valiant effort.

First, the AFC title game

The AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs took to the road for the second week in a row and beat the top NFL team during the regular season, the Baltimore Ravens.  If you only watched the opening quarter of this game, the final score of 17-10 was quite surprising.

Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes completed every pass attempt in the Chiefs’ opening drive of the game as KC jumped to a 7-0 first quarter lead on a touchdown catch by Travis Kelce.

Not to be outdone, Baltimore’s electric quarterback Lamar Jackson dodged and weaved several oncoming tacklers and heaved a 40-yard dart to wide receiver Zay Flowers as the Ravens quickly tied the score at 7-7.

Wow!  This is going to be a “First team to 30 points wins” type of game.   As usual, I was wrong.

The remainder of the AFC championship game was a chess match featuring two underappreciated defenses attempting to stymie a couple of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

Baltimore had plenty of chances to mount a comeback.  However, Lamar Jackson (as he has been prone to do in playoff games) fumbled early in the game to end a drive.

He later threw a “What was he thinking?” pass interception into a crowd of defenders in the end zone during the fourth quarter.  That pick-off effectively ended the season for the hometown Ravens.

Final score – Kansas City 17, Baltimore 10.

Next, the NFC Championship game

I was pleasantly surprised that the weather conditions in San Francisco for the late game against Detroit were so pleasant.  There were even a few rays of sunshine along with pleasant temperatures in the 60’s for this title match.  The Lions certainly can’t blame the weather.

However, they can blame their head coach!

The Detroit Lions (one of the four NFL teams never to have appeared in a Super Bowl) completely dominated the first half of play in taking a 24-7 lead into the locker room.  The Lions ran the ball right at San Francisco’s defense.  The one-two running back punch of David Montgomery and rookie sensation Jahmyr Gibbs led the Lions to 18 first downs in the opening half.  The dynamic duo ran for 148 yards as Detroit controlled the ball for nearly 75% of the first half.

Playing in its fourth NFC Championship Game in five years and third in a row, San Fran rallied to score 27 straight points in the second half to earn a spot in the upcoming Super Bowl game against Kansas City.   Quarterback Brock Purdy keyed a few of those drives as he surprised everyone with a couple of lengthy runs for first downs.

For some reason, the Lions abandoned their running attack in the second half.  They clawed back to score a late touchdown in the final minute to get within three points.  However, Detroit was unable to recover an onside kick to get the ball back one final time.

Final score – San Francisco 34, Detroit 31. 

In two weeks, the Big Game will feature the familiar 49ers and Taylor Swift’s favorite team, the Chiefs!

Coaches have to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em

Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell did a tremendous job in leading his team into the NFC Championship game for the first time since 1991.  However, the coach’s decisions to gamble on fourth down during the championship game instead of attempting a couple of long field goals would come back to haunt him and millions of Detroit Lions fans.

During the third quarter, Detroit could have attempted a field goal to extend their lead back to 17 points.  Instead, the Lions coach went for it on fourth down and three yards to go.  Detroit failed on the fourth down attempt.  With that spark, San Francisco seized the game’s momentum and went on to victory.

Coach Dan Campbell had another decision to make in the fourth quarter, too.  Once again, Detroit’s beloved head coach rolled the dice on a fourth down play rather than kick a 40-yard field goal which could have tied the game.  Just like before, the Lions failed to convert.  The 49ers gladly accepted the ball and went on to extend their lead to ten points.

Game over.

All season long, Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell attempted to convert more fourth down plays than any other NFL coach.  After Sunday’s NFC Championship game, he might want to reconsider his strategy – at least as it applies to win-or-go-home playoff games.

Meanwhile in the AFC Championship game, future Hall-of-Fame coach and part-time State Farm Insurance salesman Andy Reid surprised everyone with a very gutsy call of his own.

Facing third down with a little more than two minutes remaining and his Chiefs clinging to a 17-10 lead, Coach Reid opted to pass the ball downfield rather than run the ball again even though Baltimore had no remaining time-outs.

Patrick Mahomes lofted a 33-yard pass completion to squash Baltimore’s last chance to regain possession and attempt to tie the game.  Afterwards, Coach Reid downplayed the risk in making the decision to try a downfield pass in that situation.

“It wasn’t hard to call,” Andy Reid told the assembled press“Just a couple of words. It was zero blitz. We knew it was going to be zero blitz or at least had a good idea. You never really know, but we thought we knew, and it was and it got us in a great position to make the play.”

Coach Andy Reid understood the game situation, the odds of success, and his team’s strengths.  He factored all of those issues to take a chance which ultimately succeeded.  His Kansas City Chiefs will now move on to the Super Bowl to play San Francisco.

Sadly, the Detroit Lions head coach gambled twice, lost both times, and now has an entire off-season to ponder, “What if…?”

There was someone else on Sunday who would benefit from better coaching

First, let me admit that I was never a fan of quarterback Tony Romo while he played for the Dallas Cowboys.

A four-time NFL Pro Bowl quarterback, Romo displayed a lot of talent at times.  However, he had a tendency to make key mistakes at the worst possible time in some Dallas Cowboys games.   While Tony Romo quarterbacked Dallas from 2003-2016, the Cowboys never made it into a single NFC Championship game.  Sadly for Blue Star fans, that streak still continues at 28 years and counting.

Upon retiring from the NFL, Tony Romo signed a contract in 2017 to work for CBS Sports.

Romo quickly became (in the eyes of some) a hot commodity as a television broadcast analyst.  During his first few seasons on CBS, Romo’s uncanny ability to predict a team’s next play call was quite intriguing.  His raw enthusiasm in the booth also brought some new energy to his well-prepared but oft-times stoic play-by-play partner, Jim Nantz.

In 2020, CBS rewarded Tony Romo with a new ten-year contract through 2030 which made him the highest paid television sports commentator in history.

For $17 million per year, Romo was being paid more money than his loyal partner Jim Nantz (who worked NFL football games plus the NCAA tournament basketball games and several months of PGA golf tournaments for CBS).

After getting this splashy new contract, many have noticed that Tony Romo’s job performance as lead analyst for CBS Sports has been slipping in recent years.

On Sunday afternoon in the AFC title game in Baltimore, Tony Romo struggled to accurately articulate the action on the field.  His observations on key plays sounded to me like what you might expect to hear from an inebriated guy sitting next to you at the ball game.

Here’s an example.  On a forced fumble by Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, CBS analyst Tony Romo added, “In games like this, the ball matters more than any game.”

Sure, Tony!

During important instant replays during this season, Tony Romo has frequently been proven wrong after his initial assessment of a play.  In television, talking less can be best.  Romo seems to have lost sight of that – especially when he has been wrong.

Fox Sports’ Greg Olsen clobbered Tony Romo on Sunday

On the other hand, second-year analyst Greg Olsen of Fox Sports handled the NFC Championship game on Sunday evening in San Francisco.  A former NFL tight end for the Carolina Panthers, Olsen’s ability to add to viewers’ understanding was in sharp contrast to “Rah-Rah” Romo yesterday.

Greg Olsen’s work during the Lions vs. 49ers game added significant context during important moments.  His observations were generally spot-on.  Television viewers enjoy learning insights from a former professional football player sitting in the booth.

Greg Olsen delivers on most weeks.  Tony Romo has been sinking fast again this season.

One thing was crystal clear on Sunday.  Fox analyst Greg Olsen proved that he had been doing his homework and working to become better at his new craft.  When compared to Tony Romo’s lackluster performance during Sunday’s Chiefs vs. Ravens game, Olson scored a unanimous decision with millions of judges sitting at home.

By the way, guess who will be broadcasting the Super Bowl game for CBS in two weeks?  Yes, indeed!  This time, Tony Romo will have two weeks to prepare for the telecast.

Romo would benefit from improved coaching in the off-season if he truly wants to become better in his current job.

Earning $17 million per year, Tony Romo can certainly afford to hire a good tutor!