AROUND THE NFL

They shuffled around a bit in college in terms of their NFL “Class” but the high school class of 2015 was stacked with QBs.  Ben Baby of ESPN.com reminds us in this tweet:

 

@Ben_Baby

The QBs in the 2015 recruiting class were absolutely insane: Lamar Jackson, Sam Darnold, Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow, Jarrett Stidham, Kelly Bryant, Drew Lock, Josh Rosen, Daniel Jones, Tommy Stevens.

 

Here they are by NFL draft year (first round picks in Bold):

 

2018 – Lamar Jackson, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen

2019 – Kyler Murray, Jarrett Stidham, Drew Lock, Daniel Jones

2020 – Joe Burrow, Kelly Bryant, Tommy Stevens

– – –

The DB heard over the weekend from some folks who might know, possible answers to questions we’ve posed here.

 

When, and it appears not if, that 49ers DC Robert Saleh gets his head coaching job, the Lebanese-American will be counted, like Ron Rivera, as a minority head coach.

 

And, the NFL’s latest proposal to the NFLPA for an expanded schedule does include an extra bye week, plus the extra game.  So 19 weeks for 17 games.

 

– – –

The DB doesn’t have a very good record picking winners, but we usually are pretty good at anticipating the odds.

 

But we were a bit off for the open of Super Bowl 54.  We thought the Niners would be a favorite by 3 to 5 points, but the Chiefs have opened up giving the points per Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The 49ers dominated on Sunday night. Las Vegas thinks that won’t be the case in Miami two weeks from now.

 

The Chiefs have been installed as the early favorite for Super Bowl LIV, with the line starting at minus-1 and already moving to minus-1.5.

 

There’s still two weeks for this one to move some more. If the Chiefs remain the favorites, the 49ers surely will use that as motivation. They have three losses all year, and each one was very narrow. With the Chiefs starting slowly in both of their postseason wins and the 49ers blowing the doors off the Packers out of the gates on Sunday, it’s hard not to have faith in the 49ers to build a lead, and maybe to hold it.

 

But the next two weeks will be for dissecting the two teams and discussing all the angles and wondering if the Chiefs can shut down San Francisco’s meat-grinder running game and whether the 49ers’ defense can confuse Patrick Mahomes long enough for the pass rush to get to him and however it all plays out here’s hoping for an exciting, close, and memorable Super Bowl as the 49ers go for their sixth trophy, which would tie the Steelers and the Patriots for the most ever.

 

The NFL has to be pleased with how close the anticipation is for the final result.  More from David Perdum of ESPN.com:

 

The Kansas City Chiefs are tiny favorites over the San Francisco 49ers as the two-week lead-up to Super Bowl LIV begins.

 

The consensus opening line at sportsbooks around the nation was pick ’em. The point spread had grown to Kansas City -1 late Sunday night at most shops.

 

According to ESPN Stats & Information’s line archive, no Super Bowl has ever closed with a point spread of pick ’em. Four Super Bowls have had a line of fewer than two. This year’s Super Bowl appears destined to be the fifth.

 

Caesars Sportsbook opened the Chiefs at -1.5 on Sunday and took early bets on the 49ers.

 

“We had the Chiefs a little higher than the 49ers in our power ratings,” Alan Berg, senior oddsmakers for Caesars Sportsbook, told ESPN on Sunday night. “You can make a case for either team, and I expect decent, balanced action from the public.”

 

Bookmaker William Hill reported taking an early $33,000 bet on Kansas City at pick ’em. At the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, more than 70% of the early bets were on the Chiefs, who, for now, are Super Bowl favorites, just the way they started the season.

 

The Chiefs kicked off the season as the consensus favorites to win the Super Bowl, overcame a midseason knee injury to quarterback Patrick Mahomes and mounted consecutive playoff comebacks in wins over the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans to reach the franchise’s first Super Bowl since 1969.

 

The 49ers were considered middle-of-the-pack contenders to start the season, with 40-1 Super Bowl odds at Caesars Sportsbook. They secured their spot in Miami with a 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship.

 

Super Bowl LIV is slated for Feb. 2 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

 

The favored team has won 34 of 53 Super Bowls. However, favorites of three points or fewer are 8-7.

 

The over/under total opened at 51.5 and had grown to 52.5 late Sunday.

– – –

This from Darren Rovell:

 

@darrenrovell

Super Bowl LIV will be the first Super Bowl between two teams with red prominently in their logo.

 

The Chiefs Red is Pantone 186C.

The 49ers Red is Pantone 187 C.

 

Which got us to thinking, the only team in the AFC that would qualify is the Chiefs – at least if you think of red as primarily. 

 

Some others – Patriots, Bills, Texans, Titans – would seem to have red less prominently in their uniform or logo.

 

Red teams are more common in the NFC – Cardinals, 49ers, Falcons, Glazer Buccaneers and Redskins (although not a classic “red”). The “Big Blue” Giants have secondary red.

 

We assume he’s not counting Patriots-Falcons or Bills-Redskins – and we would not.

 

So you need a Chiefs games, and in their first two appearances they played green and purple.

 

Are you surprised there are only six “red” teams in the NFL?

 

We count 14 “blue” teams – Giants, Cowboys, Panthers (light), Lions (Honolulu), Bears (navy), Rams, Seahawks (green accents), Patriots, Bills, Colts, Texans (navy), Titans (navy), Broncos (navy), Chargers (light). If you had to choose between only blue and green – maybe the Dolphins.

 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

QB AARON RODGERS does NOT think this was his last gasp chance for another ring.  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is far closer to the end of his career than the beginning of it, and he seemed to be keenly aware of his football mortality last weekend, when the Packers advanced to what became his fourth career NFC Championship. But even that he’s now 1-3 in the game that has a Super Bowl berth riding on it, Rodgers expressed optimism about the future in Green Bay.

 

“The window is open for us, and that’s the exciting thing,” Rodgers told reporters after the 37-20 loss to the 49ers. “I think we’re gonna be on the right side of one of these real soon.”

 

He pointed to the moves made by G.M. Brian Gutenkunst and the willingness of coach Matt LaFleur to empower his players to lead. And even though the season ended in disappointment, Rodgers seems happy with the outcome.

 

“This one is special because it became fun again,” Rodgers said of the 2019 campaign. (This means that it wasn’t fun for him in prior seasons. Which further confirms that something significant was amiss in the latter years of the Mike McCarthy tenure, no matter how hard Rodgers may have tried to push back against that reality as it was unfolding.)

 

“I wouldn’t say this was our most talented team,” Rodgers added, “but neither was 2010. And we just found a way.”

 

In 2010, they found a way to win the Super Bowl, despite being the No. 6 seed. In 2019, they made it to the No. 2 seed, with a few screwy moments at the end of the 49ers-Seahawks regular-season finale keeping the Packers from being the No. 1 seed.

 

Rodgers acknowledged that plenty will happen between now and the start of the next season, and he emphasized that his teammates will do what they need to do to get ready for 2020. Still, at a time when many would regard 2019 as Rodgers’ last, best chance at adding a second Super Bowl win to his permanent record, he believes that it’s coming soon.

 

NFC WEST

 

SAN FRANCISCO

Considering the stage and the combination of yards and TDs, 49ers RB RAHEEM MOSTERT had the greatest game by a running back in NFL postseason history.  Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com:

 

To take the biggest step toward completing one of the most dramatic turnarounds in NFL history, the San Francisco 49ers did what they’ve done so often throughout the season: They rode the wave provided by an unlikely hero.

 

With Raheem Mostert, the journeyman running back/accomplished surfer putting together one of the most dynamic rushing performances in playoff history, the Niners on Sunday throttled the Green Bay Packers for the second time this season, this time 37-20 on their way to their first NFC championship since 2013.

 

The 49ers’ dominant performance earned a spot in Super Bowl LIV against the Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 2 in Miami.

 

In the eighth postseason meeting between these storied franchises, the Niners leaned on the formula they used to dispatch the Minnesota Vikings last week, with a different star in the lead role.

 

Last week it was running back Tevin Coleman carrying the freight. This game belonged to Mostert, who ran over, around and through Packers defenders on his way to 220 yards on 29 carries and four touchdowns.

 

The rushing yards are the second-most by a player in postseason history and the most in 49ers franchise history. His quartet of touchdowns ranks as the second most by an individual in a playoff game.

 

Putting things together, Mostert had the only postseason game in NFL history with the combination of 4 or more rushing TDs and 200 or more rushing yards. 

 

Only one back, Ryan Grant of the Packers in 2003 against Seattle, had a combination of 200+ and 3 rush TDs – that was just 201 rushing.

 

Mostert is from New Smyrna Beach, Florida.  Although he was useful player at Purdue, he only rushed for 759 yards in his four-year career.  He was cut by six teams in less than two seasons, before latching on to the 49ers practice squad late in 2016.  He entered this season with 41 carries in his first 34 NFL games, spent mainly as a special teamer.  He entered Sunday’s game with 1 career 100-yard rushing game and just over 1,100 career rush yards (playoffs included) despite something of a breakout 2019 season.

 

The DB was trying to figure out Mostert’s rushing style, and then we saw that he is an expert surfer – and that may explain his smooth, forward body lean that seems to let him slide ahead off tacklers.

 

Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com:

 

Mostert is the only player since ESPN tracking began in 2001 to lead his team in rushing yards (772) and special-teams tackles (14) in the same season.

 

“The effort that he plays with throughout all facets of his game is something that everybody should try and match on our football team because it’s special,” right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “It’s meant the world to us and been a huge reason for our success this year.”

 

Growing up in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, a surf town tabbed as the “Shark Bite Capital of the World,” Mostert found himself attracted to boards.

 

Mostert’s first love was a skateboard, but the pull of the ocean eventually got him, and by the time he was 12, he was doing his best Kelly Slater impersonation. A few years later, Billabong was intrigued enough to offer him a professional surfing contract, which he rejected.

 

While he didn’t end up turning surfing into a career, Mostert was able to refine some of the skills that would help him excel in football. The body control required to ride a wave or perform an Ollie came as second nature for Mostert, who had shown enough on the field to earn a scholarship to Purdue.

 

There, Mostert didn’t move to running back until his junior season, when he requested it. Along the way, he picked up an affinity for special teams. As a freshman, he knew his best chance to contribute was as a returner. Secretly, Mostert was also capable of running and tackling after playing safety in high school.

 

That little secret was why he went undrafted despite the turf-burning speed that usually has teams salivating. He won gold in the 60- and 200-meter sprints at the 2014 Big Ten Indoor Championships for the Boilermakers and clocked a 4.38-second 40-yard dash at his pro day.

 

Mostert signed with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and made a strong first impression on coach Chip Kelly, who praised him until the day he released him. Mostert remembers the phone call in detail, recalling Kelly telling him how tough a decision it was and how he needed to be patient.

 

To this day, Mostert says that call from Kelly was the most difficult of his career, but it wasn’t the one that had him pondering walking away from the game. That came later in 2015, when the Browns released him after three games. He sat down with his wife, Devon, convinced he was ready to leave football behind.

 

“I told her, ‘What do you think we should do?'” Mostert said. “She told me, ‘Hey, just keep pushing.'”

 

Mostert landed with the Niners in 2016 after the team hired Kelly as head coach. Mostert quickly took to his role on special teams, becoming a roster staple and earning praise from teammates as one of the best gunners in the league.

 

Carries were sparse, but when they came in 2018, Mostert averaged 7.7 yards on 34 attempts before a broken forearm ended his season. Still, he had showed enough that the Niners signed him to a three-year, $8.7 million contract in March and left coaches privately discussing ways to get him more involved despite the presence of Tevin Coleman, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida at running back.

 

Injuries eventually created enough opportunities for Mostert to get his chance, and he’s been riding the wave ever since. He finished the regular season with 772 yards on 137 carries, a 5.64-yard average that was the best among all qualified running backs. He scored eight rushing touchdowns, including one in each of the final six games, making him the third player in franchise history to accomplish that feat.

 

Watching him run, it’s not hard to see how Mostert’s history as a surfer and a gunner have melded together to form a fast, well-balanced runner with no fear of contact. In some ways, it makes him the ideal runner for 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan’s zone-heavy run scheme. According to NFL Next Gen Stats data, Mostert was the fastest running back in the league when hitting the line of scrimmage, reaching an average speed of 11.3 mph before accelerating into the teeth of the defense.

 

“When he finally gets his opportunity, he just sprints through people’s faces,” tight end George Kittle said. “Guys takes angles at him and they realize angles aren’t good enough because he’s so fast.”

 

While Mostert runs through those angles and faces, he finds himself doing more than racking up yards and tackles. He has become the Niners’ X factor at the most important time.

 

Through it all, he hasn’t forgotten what he went through to get here. He has stayed true to his roots, both in the water and on the field. After touchdowns, he often drops to his stomach, mimics paddling and then jumps to his feet as though he’s surfing. As for his special-teams beginnings, one need look no further than his son’s name, Gunner, to see its importance.

 

“What’s been most exciting is the actual journey to where he is right now,” left tackle Joe Staley said. “He’s never complained about his role … It was always about doing what he can do to help the team. That’s a message for a lot of young guys. Not complaining about your role, what your role is currently, just try to be the best player you can be for the football team. You never know what’s going to happen, what opportunities are going to arise. He’s made the most of it.”

 

Chris Biederman in the Sacramento Bee:

 

Mostert as a 14-year-old turned down a sponsorship deal from the popular surf wear brand, Billabong, instead choosing to focus on football and becoming the first member of his family to get his college degree.

 

“Football’s always been in my heart no matter what,” Mostert said. “It was one of those things where I just took it for what it was. I still enjoy it, skateboarding and surfing.”

 

Mostert hasn’t been surfing since attending the wedding of his teammate DeForest Buckner in Hawaii during the summer of 2018. That’s largely because Mostert spends his offseasons living in Cleveland — where Lake Erie is known for pollution and eutrophication, not hanging 10.

– – –

Mostert is one of the team’s most active players in community events. He’s also one of the most affable players in one of the league’s most welcoming locker rooms. He recently started giving touchdown balls to offensive linemen to spike in celebration, providing a snapshot into his unselfishness that’s endeared him to teammates.

 

But by watching him play, whether he’s running by defenders or hitting punt returners, you wouldn’t guess he spent so much time riding waves or skateboarding.

 

“If I just saw him on the football field, I’d be surprised because I just don’t think of running backs as big surfers,” Shanahan said. “But I’m with him every day and I get to talk to him and stuff, and it doesn’t surprise me at all, the way he talks.”

 

Matt Barrows in The Athletic:

 

If you think Raheem Mostert is itching to give up special teams and expand his role as a running back, consider this: He named his son Gunnar.

 

It’s not a coincidence. The name actually was his wife’s idea. If his wife had been a boy, her parents would have named her Gunther, Mostert said. Before they had their first baby in June, she suggested they tweak it a bit to fit what Mostert was best known for at the time — being a top-end gunner on the 49ers’ punt-coverage unit.

 

“It was one of those things where she picked the name and it suited everything so well because of how I was playing,” Mostert said.

 

Mostert has been the 49ers’ best special teams player over the past three seasons and he led the team with 14 coverage tackles in 2019. This season, however, that role has been superseded — at least in the eyes of fans and observers — by what he’s done on offense.

 

Part of Mostert’s emergence came due to the injury to RB TEVIN COLEMAN.  Jeremy Bergman of NFL.com:

 

Just before Raheem Mostert ran into the end zone for the second time Sunday, his fellow San Francisco 49ers running back was carted off the field.

 

Tevin Coleman exited San Francisco’s 37-20 NFC Championship Game victory over the Green Bay Packers after suffering a shoulder injury in the second quarter. The team ruled him out for the remainder of the game to start the second half.

 

Coleman was splitting carries with Mostert throughout the first half and left with 21 yards on six carries.

 

The fifth-year running back fell awkwardly on his right arm at the tail end of a 4-yard run in the red zone with 9:44 left to go in the first half. San Francisco scored on the very next play to go up 17-0. The 49ers ended up winning, 37-20.

 

Coleman led San Francisco on the ground in last week’s win over the Minnesota Vikings, gaining 105 yards and two TDs on 22 attempts. Without Coleman, San Francisco relied heavily on Mostert, who set multiple records in rushing for 220 yards and four rushing touchdowns; Matt Breida added one carry for two yards.

– – –

Of the three playoff games so far, three have been won by a QB who threw for less than 100 yards (RYAN TANNEHILL twice).  The defeated QBs in those games were future Hall of Famers TOM BRADY and AARON RODGERS and 2019 MVP-in-waiting LAMAR JACKSON.

 

Jason Owens of YahooSports.com:

 

This is not what championship football is supposed to look like in 2020.

 

But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And the San Francisco 49ers didn’t need to fix a thing in a 37-20 rout of the Green Bay Packers in Sunday’s NFC championship.

 

They did it with a total of eight pass attempts from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in a throwback performance like the NFL hasn’t seen since the 1970s. And even then, it was old-school football.

 

According to Pro Football Reference, the last time a team won a conference championship game when throwing 10 or fewer passes was the 1973 AFC championship game when the Miami Dolphins beat the Oakland Raiders on a 3-of-6, 34-yard effort from Bob Griese, the fewest pass attempts ever by a conference champion quarterback.

 

Garoppolo’s performance ties Griese for the second-fewest championship-game pass attempts in Miami’s defeat of the Baltimore Colts in the 1971 AFC championship where he completed 4-of-8 attempts. Griese was efficient that day, throwing for 158 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

 

Prior to 1971? The last and only other time a championship team threw fewer than 10 attempts was in 1949 when the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL championship. Tommy Thompson completed 5-of-9 pass attempts for 68 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions that day.

 

49ers got it done on the ground

The 49ers didn’t avoid passing because Garoppolo was bad. He was effective when he threw, completing 6-of-8 attempts for 77 yards.

 

But like the Dolphins of the 70s leaned on Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris, the 49ers pounded the ground game in a 285-yard rushing effort against a helpless Packers defense. Raheem Mostert was the star of the show, tallying 220 yards and four touchdowns in a breakout performance.

 

The 49ers ran the ball on 42 of 50 offensive snaps.

 

“If it’s working you stay with it,” head coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game. “Our guys were running so hard. Our line coming out the ball, our backs. All eleven of our guys how they’ve been all year.”

 

Don’t look for a repeat vs. Chiefs

Will this strategy work in a Super Bowl matchup against the high-octane offense of the Kansas City Chiefs? Probably not.

 

San Francisco will likely need some big plays from tight end George Kittle and wide receiver Deebo Samuel to compete with Patrick Mahomes and Co. Whether a well-rested Garoppolo is up for the challenge could be the difference in the game.

 

@CharlesRobinson

#49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo is going to be the first QB to play the Super Bowl on three weeks of rest.

 

But it worked for Shanahan’s 49ers on Sunday. And it earned them a trip to the Super Bowl.

 

AFC WEST

 

KANSAS CITY

A note from Scott Kachsmar:

 

@ScottKacsmar

Playoff games leading team to 31+ points:

 

Dan Marino – 4 of 18

Joe Montana – 5 of 23

Peyton Manning – 5 of 27

Patrick Mahomes – 4 of 4

 

Garoppolo is 1 of 2.

 

But if you use 27 points – he is 2 of 2.

– – –

This from MySportsUpdate:

 

NFL Update

@MySportsUpdate

 

For the second time since 2002, a QB not named Brady, Manning or Roethlisberger will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

 

Brady

Brady

Roethlisberger

Manning

Brady

Roethlisberger

Manning

Roethlisberger

Brady

-> Flacco

Manning

Brady

Manning

Brady

Brady

Brady

-> Mahomes

 

Both of the games with arrows were against the 49ers, we might add.

– – –

Ian O’Connor of ESPN.com lays out Andy Reid vs. Kyle Shanahan:

 

Andy Reid and Kyle Shanahan can share a few cross-generational notes before they take their talents — and their talented rosters — to South Beach. Neither the 61-year-old Reid nor the 40-year-old Shanahan has won a Super Bowl ring, but both are living, breathing advertisements for how to lose one, and for how to handle the fallout with dignity and grace.

 

That fallout is considerable, of course, as the coaches of the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers will be constantly reminded between now and Feb. 2, in Miami Gardens, Florida — site of Super Bowl LIV. Back in the big game for the second time in his head-coaching career, and for the first time in 15 years, Reid did not have his Philadelphia Eagles ready to play four quarters in his one-and-done Super Bowl appearance against the New England Patriots. Philly’s bizarre bleed-the-clock strategy in the final minutes — while trailing by two scores — bewildered Bill Belichick, his players and the Fox broadcast team.

 

Shanahan? He was Atlanta’s offensive coordinator and the primary culprit during the mother of all Super Bowl meltdowns three years ago, gifting Belichick another ring in ways even Reid couldn’t fathom. His playcalling in the fourth quarter even angered his loyal quarterback, Matt Ryan, as the remains of a 28-3 lead were squandered in what would be a devastating overtime defeat.

 

“I remember every single play,” Shanahan would say after taking the 49ers’ job, “and I will go over those for the rest of my life. … Everyone tries to compliment you, make you feel better, and it doesn’t work.”

 

No, it does not. Shanahan has been accountable and honest when assessing his starring role in that Hollywood-size disaster. His next opponent, Reid, has been those same things when fielding questions about his inability to get to the big one, never mind his inability to win the big one. Only six men in pro football history have won more games than Reid, and those six combined for 29 championships. Reid has never acted bitter about his place on the outside looking in.

 

But his countless admirers around the league — all of them desperately wanting good ol’ Andy to disprove Leo Durocher’s theory that nice guys finish last, or at least not first — understand that Reid needs a ring to secure a lasting place among the true NFL greats. They understand that Reid didn’t bathe himself in glory in his first Super Bowl, when his Eagles walked back to their huddle and showed preseason urgency while trailing New England by 10, compelling Belichick to ask his assistants if the scoreboard was indeed correct.

 

“How many Philadelphia fans are screaming at the TV, saying, ‘Hurry up?'” Joe Buck asked on the broadcast of Super Bowl XXXIX.

 

Now Reid, after winning his second conference championship in seven tries, finally gets a chance to make amends with an offense that doesn’t need to be told to hurry up. He has an incredible, fast-breaking point guard in Patrick Mahomes — “Magic Mahomes,” tight end Travis Kelce calls him — and this time, Reid doesn’t have to face Tom Brady, but Brady’s former understudy. Jimmy Garoppolo is a lot of things as a winning quarterback, but Patrick Mahomes he is not.

 

Mahomes is 24, and it would appear he is not facing nearly as much pressure as his coach is in this matchup. Then again, Dan Marino was 23 when he lost the Super Bowl after the 1984 season, his second in the league, to Joe Montana and the 49ers, before he was consoled by many who assured him he would return to the biggest stage in American sports at least a few more times. On cue, Marino never returned.

 

Aaron Rodgers appeared in one Super Bowl, after the 2010 season, and might never, ever get back. Mahomes is smart enough and mature enough to know the way sports works. The Chiefs hadn’t appeared in the big game in half a century, even though their founder, Lamar Hunt, was the elder who came up with the term “Super Bowl” way back when. Mahomes’ father Pat, the former big league pitcher, wasn’t even born the last time Kansas City won it all. Pat Mahomes was a clutch reliever during the New York Mets’ playoff drive in 1999, only to be (barely) left off their postseason roster in 2000 — costing him his only chance to pitch in a World Series.

 

Nothing is guaranteed in sports, other than eventual pain and heartbreak. This is an opportunity Mahomes needs to attack as if he’s about to be swallowed whole by Marino’s fate.

– – –

DT FRANK CLARK is feeling confident after surviving RB DERRICK HENRY.  Nick Shook of NFL.com:

 

Frank Clark found himself packing his bags for Kansas City in April before promptly filling those bags with plenty of new cash.

 

It was worth every penny for the Chiefs.

 

Clark and the rest of the Chiefs’ defense spent Sunday evening celebrating the franchise’s first trip to the Super Bowl in 50 years after shutting down the league’s top rusher in the second half of a 35-24 AFC Championship Game victory over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. Derrick Henry gained just 69 yards on 19 carries, scoring an early touchdown but failing to make much of a contribution in the game’s final two quarters.

 

The focus of the Chiefs’ defense was to stop Henry, who Clark said was “not hard to tackle” on Friday. Consider that achieved.

 

“Cause we’re the best defense in the world right now,” Clark told NFL Network’s James Palmer when asked how Kansas City was able to limit Henry. “They come in here, they say they’re gonna run the ball. I know exactly what they were gonna do, you watching that film, you know what they’re going to do. … Over 200 yards each game. I knew damn well we wasn’t going to win the game if we let that happen. They come in here, he runs for 70 yards, they call him the best rusher in the league. We sendin’ his a– home early.”

 

Despite trailing by a single possession in the third before the Chiefs pulled away late, Tennessee ran Henry a mere three times for seven yards in the second half. Those handoffs, stopped for little to no gain by a ferocious defensive line, helped prove the Chiefs were going to do whatever was necessary to keep Henry from beating them in the final two quarters.

 

“I think anytime you challenge our defensive line, challenge our front seven, I think those guys take it personal,” Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “I thought they did a great job of really bottling him up and like I said, I didn’t have to tackle him today, so that’s a good thing.”

 

With the Chiefs’ sell-out to stop Henry working, Kansas City dared Tennessee to try to beat them with the arm of Ryan Tannehill. Clark’s pass-rushing crew brought the pressure consistently, sacking Tannehill three times and keeping him from helping the Titans back into the game.

 

In the end, Clark was able to back his words not by taking down Henry, but Tannehill. The defensive end’s deft fake spin won his edge rush on fourth down with less than two minutes to play, allowing Clark to get around Titans tackle Taylor Lewan and trip up Tannehill for the takedown and turnover on downs. Because of that play and many more, the Chiefs are headed to Miami.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

Jim Harbaugh has some comments on QB LAMAR JACKSON, the presumptive 2019 NFL MVP but 0-2 in his career in the postseason. Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com:

 

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh defended Lamar Jackson’s playoff failure on Friday, highlighting the progress the quarterback has made in two NFL seasons.

 

“He’s 23 years old. He’s younger than Joe Burrow, OK?” Harbaugh said at his end-of-season news conference. “So he’s got a pretty good head start right now. I mean, he’s along the way.

 

“The Manning brothers combined to … they had five losses in their first five playoff games before they won one. [Joe] Montana, [Steve] Young and [Brett] Favre didn’t start a playoff game until their third season. [Drew] Brees and [Troy] Aikman until their fourth season, and [Aaron] Rodgers until his fifth season. Interesting.”

 

Jackson is the front-runner for NFL MVP after becoming the first player to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. But he wasn’t the same dominating force in Saturday’s 28-12 divisional playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans, throwing two interceptions and fumbling once.

 

In two seasons, Jackson is 19-3 in the regular season and 0-2 in the postseason.

 

Asked if Jackson has a tendency to be too self-critical, Harbaugh said, “I think he understands what it is to take responsibility. And he also has a great sense of urgency to be successful and what it takes to be successful. So no, Lamar doesn’t lack for confidence. He’s not doubting himself, if that’s the implication that those people are making.”

 

Jackson met with Harbaugh in his office “for a good while” Wednesday. Harbaugh asked Jackson where he needs to improve.

 

“Without getting into what they are specifically, he nailed it, the priority list, in the exact same order that [offensive coordinator Greg Roman] and I nailed the priority list when we were talking on Monday,” Harbaugh said.

 

At the start of the season, the biggest question surrounding the Ravens was whether Jackson could become a legitimate NFL passer. He led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes and finished third in passer rating (113.3).

 

Last year, Harbaugh acknowledged that some receivers might not be excited to play in Baltimore’s offense. Does he anticipate that not being an issue now?

 

“Yes I do,” Harbaugh said. “If you remember last year, I said it in a way like, ‘They’re going to find out.’ Yes, I absolutely believe players are going to be very excited to be here and part of this offense.”

 

 

CINCINNATI

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, you can quit compiling offers to the Bengals for the first overall pick.

 

With former LSU assistant Joe Brady taking over as the Carolina offensive coordinator, there has been mounting speculation that the Panthers are plotting to move up to the No. 1 pick to draft Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow.

 

But any speculation involving Carolina, Miami or any other quarterback-interested team should be quickly dispelled, because the Bengals have no intention of trading away the No. 1 draft pick, league sources familiar with the situation tell ESPN.

 

Cincinnati plans to stay right where it is, according to sources, and presumably fill the biggest need on its roster — quarterback. The Bengals, in the opinion of many, cannot pass on a potential franchise quarterback in Burrow, whose father already has said his son has no qualms about going to Cincinnati.

 

The Bengals had the No. 1 overall pick three other times — 1994, 1995 and 2003 — and they never have traded out of that slot before. They did move up to No. 1 in 1995.

 

Burrow, who led LSU to an undefeated season capped by a victory in Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship, has plenty of experience playing football in Ohio. He played high school ball at Athens High School, which is less than 160 miles east of downtown Cincinnati, and then spent three seasons at Ohio State before transferring to LSU for his final two years of college.

 

Burrow posted some of the best numbers in collegiate history this past season, setting the Football Bowl Subdivision single-season records for passing touchdowns (60) and touchdowns responsible (65). He thrived under the 30-year-old Brady, who spent this past season as LSU’s passing game coordinator before returning to the NFL this past week to join new head coach Matt Rhule at Carolina.

 

ESPN’s Mel Kiper has Burrow ranked as the No. 2 overall prospect in April’s draft, and ESPN’s Todd McShay projects he will go to Cincinnati with the No. 1 pick.

 

AFC SOUTH

 

HOUSTON

First Wade Phillips, now Romeo Crennel.  Michael Baca of NFL.com:

 

A coaching change is coming in Houston.

 

Romeo Crennel is not expected to return as the Texans defensive coordinator, sources tell NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero and NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport.

 

Crennel’s contract is up soon and the 72-year-old could return as a senior assistant or even retire, according to Pelissero and Rapoport. Defensive line coach Anthony Weaver is a top candidate for the Texans’ vacant DC position.

 

Crennel’s role varied since getting to Houston in 2014 with head coach Bill O’Brien, who are both derive from the Bill Belichick coaching tree. He served as a defensive coordinator and assistant head coach in his six seasons in Houston. O’Brien, who also serves as the Texans GM, initially said he expected Crennel to be back for 2020.

 

The Texans defense gave up 51 points in their Divisional Round loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, after starting the game with a 24-0 lead. The defense struggled with consistency throughout the 2019 season, averaging 24.1 points allowed (19th) and 388.3 yards per game (27th).

 

Crennel has been a coach in the NFL the past 39 seasons.

 

 

JACKSONVILLE

The Jaguars have some interesting candidates for their OC vacancy.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Former Washington head coach Jay Gruden said early this month that he hoped to interview for head coaching vacancies with other teams, but this year’s game of musical chairs is over and Gruden never got asked to take part in the festivities.

 

It appears he’s set his eyes on a slightly lower goal. Mike Garafolo of NFL Media reports that Gruden is going to interview with the Jaguars for their offensive coordinator vacancy.

 

Gruden was the Bengals’ offensive coordinator from 2011-2013 before being hired in Washington. The Jaguars fired John DeFilippo after one year running the offense on head coach Doug Marrone’s staff.

 

Gruden will be the third offensive coordinator candidate with head coaching experience to speak with Jacksonville. Former Giants head coach Ben McAdoo and former Rams head coach Scott Linehan are also in the mix.

 

Gruden has said he is “itching to do something.”

 

 

TENNESSEE

Nothing but class for QB MARCUS MARIOTA on his way out the door in Nashville.  Peter Socotch of NBC Sports Northwest:

 

Benched in favor of Ryan Tannehill midway through the season, Mariota remained a consummate professional. He accepted head coach Mike Vrabel’s decision, even if he might not have agreed with it.

 

And rather than try to force his way out or become a disruptive teammate, Mariota took the high road. He stuck with it.

 

Now, it’s time to move on.

@JeffDarlington

Marcus Mariota is walking up to every player in the Titans’ locker room, one after another, now working through the defensive guys, to shake hands and hug them. A quiet, quick message for each one. Always classy.

 

Always classy, indeed.

 

Reflecting on this past season, Mariota said, “It’s been a true pleasure. The organization took a chance on me and I felt like I gave them everything I’ve got. We’re not sure what’s gonna happen but I know when it’s all said and done that I gave this organization everything I could.”

– – –

Until the end, Mariota showed how a professional is supposed to act.

 

“It’s been a gift, it’s been a true pleasure,” Mariota said. “The organization took a chance on me… Obviously, we’re not sure what’s going to happen, but when it’s all said and done, I gave this organization everything I got. “

 

So, what has Mariota learned throughout his career and this most recent experience of getting benched?

 

“Faith,” he said. “Having faith in things you can’t really see. No matter what happens, I know I gave it everything I got and we’ll see what happens next.”

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Was QB TOM BRADY making his first free agent visit over the weekend?  He was in Vegas for the UFC fights and a photo was snapped of him conversing with Raiders owner Mark Davis.  Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com:

 

For the first time in his NFL career, Tom Brady is prepared to discuss a future with teams beyond the New England Patriots, sources said, and for the first time since he took over as a starter nearly two decades ago, the Patriots are unsure of who will be under center in 2020.

 

It would be extremely surprising if Brady were to agree to any new pact with the Patriots prior to the start of free agency in March, I’m told, and while his process could still result in a return to New England it is far from certain at this point. Brady intends to take a methodical approach to his first foray into free agency, as, at age 42, this will be the final contract of his playing career.

 

Brady and his team will weigh all options available to determine which opportunity provides the best chance to continue competing for the Lombardi Trophy and to see what other organizations think of him at this late stage in his career. As one source put it, Brady will do his due diligence to assess all realistic possibilities, with it only “human nature” to explore this chance to embrace his free-agent status for the first time in his career.

 

Brady has long been contemplating his football mortality and continues to tell friends and confidants that he anticipates playing until at least age 45. His love for the game has not diminished. But there is some uncertainty about the Patriots organization — how much longer Robert Kraft will oversee the day-to-day operations, and how much longer Bill Belichick will coach, for instance — and also a need to upgrade the cast around Brady on the offensive side of the ball, where a lack of speed and young talent was a weekly hindrance in 2019.

 

Brady also is eager to take on the role of mentor to a young quarterback, no matter where he plays, hoping to leave any organization in good shape when he retires. Part of his legacy, he believes, could be tied to seeing future generations embrace the TB12 training and lifestyle regimen that Brady strongly believes has helped him play so long at such a high level.

 

It’s possible he ends up bringing part of The Patriot Way to another organization. Or he might decide that remaining a Patriot for his entire career is the way to go. Regardless, no decisions have even come close to being made and none is expected until the middle of March, when the market officially opens.