Guest of the League
THIS LEAGUE IS LAST YEAR'S OLD Est. 2017
One and Done - FFL: Week 4 | NFL: Superbowl

Analysis: Brady's NFC championship turned on 2 crucial calls

Tue Jan 26 2:21am ET
By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Pro Football Writer

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians holds the championship trophy after winning the NFC championship NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. The Buccaneers defeated the Packers 31-26 to advance to the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)


Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) walks off the field after the NFC championship NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Green Bay, Wis., Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021. The Buccaneers defeated the Packers 31-26 to advance to the Super Bowl. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)


Tampa Bay's victory in the NFC championship was one for the aged.

Outdueling Aaron Rodgers set up the ageless Tom Brady (OK, he's 43) to become the oldest player ever to play in a Super Bowl.

Bruce Arians, 68, earned a shot at becoming the oldest head coach ever to win a Super Bowl after he outcoached 40-year-old Matt LaFleur in the Bucs' 31-26 victory at Lambeau Field on Sunday.

The Bucs' victory over the Packers that sent them home to Raymond James Stadium for Super Bowl 55 against defending champion Kansas City came down to two pivotal calls, one by each coach.

The first one came with 13 seconds left in the first half following a Green Bay turnover when Arians summoned his punt team back to the sideline and sent Brady and the offense back out to go for it on fourth-and-4 from the Green Bay 45.

''We didn't come here to not take chances to win the game,'' Arians explained.

Brady hit Leonard Fournette for 6 yards with 8 seconds remaining and Tampa Bay leading 14-10.

On the next play, cornerback Kevin King inexplicably allowed Scotty Miller to race past him in single coverage and Brady hit his receiver for a 39-yard touchdown with 1 second left for a 21-10 halftime lead.

''We were going to try to heave it like a Hail Mary type thing,'' Miller said. ''They played me pretty much man-to-man and my guy didn't get too much depth, so I was able to just run right by him. Then Tom put a great ball on me like he always does. It was a special moment. I don't even know if I could have dreamed of it as a kid. It's just so crazy.''

''Yeah, it was man coverage. Definitely not the right call for the situation,'' LaFleur said.

The aggressive move by Arians was in line with what the Bucs' coaching staff had promised the players.

Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich ''told us all week we're going to be aggressive, we're going to go at them, we're going to take chances,'' Miller said. ''That's what we do. We've got so many playmakers. We've got Tom at the helm.

''It was a risk at the time,'' Miller added, ''but there was only 13 seconds left, so if we ran a play and didn't get it, we probably waste six (seconds). Then they probably have to throw a Hail Mary as well, so why not us do it?''

The second critical call was LaFleur's head-scratching decision to kick a field goal rather than go for the tying touchdown and 2-point conversion on fourth-and-goal from the 8 with 2:05 remaining and the Packers trailing 31-23.

With a spot in the Super Bowl on the line, he chose to put the game not in the hands of his All-Pro quarterback who's the MVP favorite, but in those of his defense.

''The way our defense was playing, it felt like the right decision to do,'' LaFleur said. ''It just didn't work out.''

Rodgers never got the ball back as Brady clinched his 10th trip to the Super Bowl and sent Rodgers to his fourth straight conference championship loss one week after ending Drew Brees' season and probably his career with a win at New Orleans.

The Packers had rallied from 18 points down and were in position to tie it with a touchdown and a 2-point conversion. On first-and-goal, Rodgers threw an incomplete pass to Allen Lazard followed by a misfire to Davante Adams.

Rodgers might have been able to run it in himself on third down, but pulled up and misfired again to Adams.

No worries, he thought, figuring he'd get a fourth crack at it.

Fail, and at least Brady and the Bucs would be backed up.

Rodgers, however, turned to see Mason Crosby trotting out for a field goal instead.

''That wasn't my decision,'' Rodgers said as diplomatically as he could. ''But I understand the thinking ... .''

Bucs edge rusher Shaq Barrett sure didn't.

''I couldn't believe it, honestly,'' Barrett said, ''because there's no guarantee they're going to make it back down there again.''

After all, Brady is one of the game's greatest closers, especially when all he needs is a first down or two to go into victory formation.

''Our offense has been pretty amazing in four-minute offense this year, not giving the team back the ball so I had the utmost confidence in them,'' Barrett said. ''If he could take it back he probably wouldn't do that next time but I appreciate it.''

Yes, LaFleur was kicking himself for kicking it.

''Yeah, any time it doesn't work out, you always regret it, right?'' LaFleur said. ''But it was the circumstances of having three shots and coming away with no yards and knowing that you not only need the touchdown, but you need the 2-point (conversion). We essentially had four timeouts with the two-minute warning. We knew we needed to get a stop.''

They couldn't.

King was called for pass interference on third down with 1:41 left and Tampa Bay sealed the win moments later on a third-down run by Chris Godwin.

That left Brady with one NFC title to go with the nine AFC championships he won in New England. Rodgers has one NFC championship in 13 seasons as a starter in Green Bay and Brees has one in 15 seasons as the Saints starting QB.

''This one does sting,'' LaFleur said. ''It's going to take a long time getting over this one.''

Rodgers admitted he wasn't sure how to move on from the disheartening defeat, saying, ''A lot of guys' futures are uncertain, myself included.''

''There's a lot of unknowns going into this offseason now. I'm going to have to take some time away for sure to clear my head and see what's going on with everything,'' Rodgers said. ''But it's really tough right now, especially thinking about the guys who may or may not be here next year.''

LaFleur is praying that doesn't include Rodgers.

Asked if he thinks he'll get another chance to work with Rodgers next season, LaFleur said, ''I sure as hell hope so. I mean, the guy's the MVP of this league. He's the heart and soul of our football team. So, hell yeah, he better be back here. He's our leader.

''Just so appreciative of him buying into what we're trying to get done around here and leading that group. His voice carries a lot of weight in that locker room. And just you know, I feel for him, to be in this situation and for us not get it done, man, that hurts.''

Top Headlines
The Paur Report

Interview with a Champ

Player Notes
Martavis Bryant Jan 26 3:13am ET

Free-agent WR Martavis Bryant (Raiders) signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League Monday, Jan. 25.

From TheHuddle

Cordarrelle Patterson Jan 25 10:53pm ET

Chicago Bears impending free-agent RB/WR Cordarrelle Patterson is likely a player the Bears will look to re-sign this offseason.

From TheHuddle

Marvin Jones Jan 25 10:13pm ET

Detroit Lions impending free-agent WR Marvin Jones could be an option for the Tennessee Titans if the Titans decide not to re-sign impending free-agent WR Corey Davis this offseason, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Turron Davenport.

Fantasy Spin: Jones is coming off a terrific season and should receive interest from multiple teams in free agency. He would be a starter if he signed with the Titans and can be at least a No. 3 fantasy receiver no matter where he signs.

From TheHuddle

Jordan Whitehead Jan 25 6:53pm ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers S Jordan Whitehead's (shoulder) availability for Super Bowl LV is uncertain at this point because of the shoulder injury he suffered during the NFC Championship game, according to head coach Bruce Arians.

From TheHuddle

Mark Andrews Jan 25 6:33pm ET

Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews is one of the players the team will try to sign to a contract extension, according to general manager Eric DeCosta.

Fantasy Spin: Andrews is a big part of the passing game for the Ravens and probably will receive a new deal at some point this offseason. He should be a weekly starting option in fantasy leagues in 2021.

From TheHuddle

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jan 25 4:30pm ET

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense was shredded by Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill in the first quarter of their Week 12 matchup, as Hill went off for 203 yards on seven catches and two touchdowns. Cornerback Carlton Davis was left on an island with Hill, and it didn't yield pretty results. "We'll help a little bit more than we did in that ballgame," Bucs head coach Bruce Arians said. Tampa's D allowed 462 yards passing to quarterback Patrick Mahomes and three touchdowns. Hill finished with 269 yards and three touchdowns on 13 catches (only 59 yards in the second half). Tight end Travis Kelce had eight catches for 82 yards. With offensive tackles Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz out, Bucs pass-rushers Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul must get pressure on Mahomes to have a chance at getting last year's Super Bowl MVP out of his rhythm.

From RotoBaller

Cole Beasley Jan 25 4:20pm ET

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley (leg) suffered a broken fibula in the Week 16 game against the New England Patriots. Beasley sat out the regular season finale in Week 17 before catching 14 passes for 145 yards in three postseason games against the Colts, Ravens and Chiefs. "It was bad the first game I played but after that, you take a few meds and suck it up," Beasley said with a chuckle. The injury wasn't a full break, but Beasley said it was painful in the wild-card win over the Colts. The 31-year-old veteran hauled in seven of his nine targets for 88 yards in the AFC Championship loss to the Chiefs on Sunday. Beasley set career-highs in catches (82), targets (107), receiving yards (967) and yards per catch (11.8) while visiting the end zone four times in 15 regular season games in 2020. He'll be back as Josh Allen's most trusted third-down weapon in 2021 and will be more expensive in PPR leagues as a result of his career-best season.

From RotoBaller

Lamar Jackson Jan 25 4:10pm ET

Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta said that the team could reach a long-term contract extension with quarterback Lamar Jackson this offseason, and the GM plans to speak to the reigning NFL MVP in the next 10 days. Jackson just finished his third season and will command at least $40 million per season on an extension. He's scheduled to make $1.77 million in 2021 on the final year of his rookie deal, which currently ranks 25th among QBs in base salary. "[He] certainly deserves a contract," DeCosta said. Jackson has won more games (30) than any other QB since he took over as the team's starter in 2018 and became the fastest QB in history to reach 30 regular season wins (37 games). Jackson is also the first in NFL history to produce 5,000 yards passing and 2,500 yards rushing in his first three seasons. The young signal-caller has been more effective with his legs than his arm and has won just one playoff game, but Jackson should be locked up long term in Baltimore and will be a top-five fantasy QB yet again in 2021.

From RotoBaller

Leslie Frazier Jan 25 3:23pm ET

Buffalo Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier and Baltimore Ravens assistant head coach/wide receivers coach David Culley are expected to interview for a second time for the Houston Texans head coaching vacancy, according to multiple sources. Frazier is expected to interview Tuesday, Jan. 26, while Culley's interview date has yet to be disclosed.

From TheHuddle

Cole Beasley Jan 25 2:23pm ET

Buffalo Bills WR Cole Beasley (leg) told reporters Monday, Jan. 25, that he broke his fibula in Week 16 but that it wasn't a full break. He also added that he won't need surgery.

Fantasy Spin: Considering he was able to play with the injury throughout the postseason, Beasley should be ready for offseason work if the league allows teams to hold OTAs and minicamps. Otherwise, he should be fine well in advance of training camp. Beasley just finished the season in which he set career highs with 82 catches and 967 yards. He should be viewed as a low-end WR3/high-end WR4 in fantasy drafts this spring and summer.

From TheHuddle

Justin Herbert Jan 25 12:10pm ET

The Philadelphia Eagles agreed to terms with former Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator Shane Steichen on Monday as their new offensive coordinator, according to a source. Steichen was key in the development of rookie quarterback Justin Herbert in 2020. New head coach Nick Sirianni and Steichen worked together with the Chargers for four years until Sirianni left for the Colts in 2018. Steichen started coaching in the NFL in Cleveland in 2013 as a quality control coach. He left for San Diego the following season and was their quality control coach for 2014-15. The 35-year-old took over the Chargers offense last season and helped nurture Herbert to a record-setting rookie season. Steichen will try and help Carson Wentz rebuild after the worst season of his career.

From RotoBaller

Justin Herbert Jan 25 12:00pm ET

New Orleans Saints quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi is expected to become the new offensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Chargers, according to sources. New head coach Brandon Staley played under Lombardi for one year at Mercyhurst University in 2005 when Lombardi was the offensive coordinator. Lombardi is the grandson of Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi and was the offensive coordinator for the Lions in 2014-15, but he was fired after a 1-6 start in his second year. He started his NFL career as a defensive assistant with the Falcons in 2006 before being hired by the Saints as an offensive assistant in 2007. Lombardi spent 12 seasons working with head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees in New Orleans and has also tutored QBs Teddy Bridgewater, Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston in recent seasons. He'll be tasked with working with Justin Herbert, who became the youngest QB in history to throw 30 touchdowns in his rookie season.

From RotoBaller

Aaron Rodgers Jan 25 11:50am ET

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was uncertain about his future after the team's 31-26 loss to the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship on Sunday. The 37-year-old is expected to win the MVP this year and is under contract through the 2023 season via the $134 million extension he signed in 2018. But the Packers also drafted Jordan Love, Rodgers' possible replacement, in the first round last year. Rodgers threw 48 touchdowns and only five interceptions in the regular season in 2020, but he also became the first QB in NFL history to lose four straight appearances in a conference championship. If Green Bay were to move on from Rodgers this offseason, they'd save just $4.76 million on the salary cap and would have $31.556 million in dead money. Rodgers may be contemplating retirement, but the Packers want him back and he'd be a high-end QB1 if he does return after going 33-for-48 for 346 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in the loss to Tampa to end the season.

From RotoBaller

Joey Bosa Jan 25 11:50am ET

The Los Angeles Chargers are hiring Denver Broncos defensive backs coach Renaldo Hill as their new defensive coordinator on Monday, according to sources. Hill worked with head coach Brandon Staley in Denver in 2019 and played in the league for a decade. Staley said last week that he will be making the defensive play calls in his first season as head coach in LA. Hill will be replacing Gus Bradley, who left to become the defensive coordinator for the Las Vegas Raiders. Hill will help oversee a defense that ranked 10th in the NFL last year and features three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Joey Bosa, rookie linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. and standout safety Derwin James, who missed all of 2020 with a knee injury.

From RotoBaller

Lamar Jackson Jan 25 10:23am ET

Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson could sign an extension this offseason, according to general manager Eric DeCosta, who will begin talks with Jackson in 10 days.

Fantasy Spin: Jackson ended up the QB10 in traditional leagues as he missed a game due to COVID-19. With the emergence of Josh Allen, Justin Herbert and others, the position has become pretty loaded. Dak Prescott (leg) is expected back to join the flux of QB1s. A midrange QB1 is probably where Jackson is supposed to be considering the plights he faces through the air. Don't overdraft him for the rushing numbers next season because the gap has narrowed.

From TheHuddle

Josh Allen Jan 24 10:33pm ET

Buffalo Bills QB Josh Allen completed 28 of his 48 passes for 287 yards, two touchdowns and an interception and rushed seven times for 88 yards in a 38-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game Sunday, Jan. 24. RB Devin Singletary was bottled up, rushing for 17 yards and six carries and gaining nine yards on two catches. WR Cole Beasley had seven grabs for 88 yards, WR Stefon Diggs had six receptions on 11 targets for 77 yards, and TE Dawson Knox caught six balls for 42 yards and a touchdown. WR Isaiah McKenzie caught a six-yard touchdown pass on his only reception, and RB T.J. Yeldon had seven touches for 56 total yards. S Jordan Poyer led the defense with eight tackles, including six solo stops.

From TheHuddle

Tyreek Hill Jan 24 10:30pm ET

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill put together another strong performance on Sunday versus the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game. Hill caught nine of his 11 targets for a team high 172 yards against the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game. Hill wasn't able to get a touchdown in this contest, but he was dominant nonetheless. Hill has had a phenomenal season and he will look to keep that going versus a tough Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense in Super Bowl 55. He remains one of the best at his position and will be a top option for those participating in DFS.

From RotoBaller

Patrick Mahomes Jan 24 10:23pm ET

Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes completed 29 of his 38 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-24 win over the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game Sunday, Jan. 24. WR Tyreek Hill had nine catches for 172 yards, and TE Travis Kelce had 13 receptions for 118 yards and two touchdowns. WR Mecole Hardman had two catches for four yards and a score to go along with a 50-yard run and a lost fumble on special teams. RB Darrel Williams rushed 13 times for 52 yards and a touchdown and added one catch for nine yards. Clyde Edwards-Helaire had six carries for seven yards and a score. LB Frank Clark recorded a pair of sacks, and S Juan Thornhill broke up four passes.

From TheHuddle

Clyde Edwards-Helaire Jan 24 10:20pm ET

Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire scored a touchdown in his return to action versus the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game. The rookie player a minor role on Sunday with Darrel Williams being the featured back and Le'Veon Bell (knee) inactive. CEH picked up just seven yards on six carries and caught one of his two targets for zero yards, but it was good to see him return to action for the first time since injuring his ankle and hip in Week 15. Edwards-Helaire will now have two weeks to rest up before facing a tough Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense in the Super Bowl and he should be avoided in DFS for that contest.

From RotoBaller

Darrel Williams Jan 24 10:20pm ET

Kansas City Chiefs running Darrel Williams rushed the ball 13 times for 52 yards and a touchdown versus the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship Game. Williams has performed well with Clyde Edwards-Helaire sidelined, but the rookie returned on Sunday and figures to play a bigger role in the future. Williams will also have to compete with Le'Veon Bell (knee) who was inactive on Sunday and could return for the Super Bowl. The Chiefs are a pass heavy team and will face a tough Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense Super Bowl 55. That will make Williams a risky option in DFS.

From RotoBaller