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Cal in the NFL: Conference Championship Round

Well that was fun.

NFL: NFC Championship Game-Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

This past Sunday, I spent roughly seven consecutive hours watching football. After the first two weeks of the NFL were pretty underwhelming as far as providing dramatic, entertaining games, this week did not disappoint.

The two best teams in each conference battled it out and each game went to overtime, making it the first time in NFL history that two playoff games have gone into overtime in the same week, a tidbit that doesn’t even count for the fact that there were only two games this week. It was truly a blast to watch, and even better was that we got to see many former Cal players be given a chance to shine for their respective teams.

In this week’s edition of Cal in the NFL, since we only have two games to cover, I will be recapping each game individually as well as more in depth than usual. As always, the focus will be on our Cal players. Let’s start with the first game of the day.

Rams vs. Saints

It was the Saints who got off to a great start. After the Rams deferred on the coin toss, the Saints kicked a field goal on their opening drive, quickly forced an interception, and then added another field goal. The Rams went three-and-out on their next drive, and the Saints went down the field to score a touchdown to make it a 13-0 lead with 1:35 remaining in the first quarter.

It was a fantastic start, but it involved a lot of luck and quite frankly should have been an even better start. The Saints had a great first drive but stalled out right around the Rams 20-yard line for their first field goal. The interception was on a ball that literally went right through the hands of Todd Gurley, and the Saints turned that unlucky break into just three points despite starting at the Rams 16-yard line.

Luckily, the Rams were able to bounce back. They drove down the field to get on the board with a field goal, and then after the teams traded punts for a bit, they scored a quick touchdown right before the half to make it a manageable 13-10 deficit at half. The touchdown was set up by a beautiful deep ball thrown by our very own Jared Goff.

The second half began with a Rams quick three-and-out. The Saints then conducted a lengthy touchdown drive, but it was matched by a Rams touchdown drive that was capped off with a Jared Goff touchdown pass. The Saints then were forced the punt, and then the following Rams three-and-out would have been completely uneventful if not for the Cal-on-Cal sack that we witnessed when Cameron Jordan got into the backfield to sack Jared Goff.

Despite the sack, it was a relatively quiet day for Jordan, who had just two other tackles on the game.

Back to the game. After another Saints punt, the Rams went on a long drive that ended in a game-tying field goal. With 5:03 left in the game, Drew Brees led the Saints down the field and into field goal position. After a questionable first down call that resulted in an incomplete pass, they ran it for no gain. Timeout LA. Then, one of the most controversial plays in recent NFL memory took place.

Drew Brees threw a ball to Tommy Lee Lewis, and Lewis was hit by Rams Nickell Robey-Coleman before the ball even got to him. You can see the play below if you haven’t already seen it 1,000 times.

Obviously the call was blatantly missed. However, here are my quick thoughts. First, if you watch the play on full speed, the ball and the hit get there a lot closer together than in slow motion. Also, there were plenty of missed calls that should have gone against the Saints throughout the game. The refs wanted the players to decide the game, and although it was a very unfortunate ending, I believe the team who played the better game (and the better team overall) came out victorious. I believe that penalties like this should be reviewable in the future, but I think it is about time that we move on and accept the call for what it is.

Anyway, the Saints ended up having to settle for a field goal, and Jared Goff led the Rams back down the field in a perfect two-minute drill to tie the game and send it to overtime.

From there, the Saints won the toss. They elected to receive (obviously), but on the third play of their drive, pressure from Dante Fowler forced a Drew Brees pass to be tipped in the air and eventually intercepted by Rams John Johnson.

The Rams took over at their own 46. Goff completed a pass to Tyler Higbee for a first down but the Rams drive stalled from there. After that, Greg Zuerlein hit an incredible 57-yard field goal and the Rams were victorious. Goff to the Super Bowl! He finished with 25 completions on 40 attempts for 297 yards, one touchdown, and one interception in what was truly a remarkable performance for the young quarterback.

Goff isn’t the only Rams player heading to the Super Bowl, as we definitely can’t forget about C.J. Anderson. Due to reasons unknown, C.J. Anderson actually out-snapped Todd Gurley (35-32) and greatly out-touched him (17-5). Anderson finished with a modest 44 yards on 16 carries, but he will likely be greatly needed in the Super Bowl, whether we see more of Todd Gurley or not.

Patriots vs. Chiefs

This game only featured one former Cal player, as Brian Schwenke has been on injured reserve since November and Stephen Anderson was inactive despite being added to the 53-man roster prior to the Patriots post-season run. That left us with Mitchell Schwartz, who has been one of the best offensive linemen in the league this season.

Moving onto the game. It was a pretty boring first half, as the Patriots ran countless run plays and short passes to slowly move the ball down the field against the Chiefs defense. The Chiefs, on the other hand, managed very little on their only three drives of the half as they managed to establish any momentum. At halftime, the Patriots were up 14-0.

The Chiefs started the second half with the ball and put themselves right back into the game with a quick touchdown. The teams then traded punts before the Patriots kicked a field goal to make it 17-7. The Chiefs then responded with a touchdown to make it 17-14. The Patriots would try to convert a 4th and 1 at the Chiefs 25-yard line on the ensuing drive but failed to do so, turning the ball over on downs and giving it right back to the Chiefs.

The Chiefs then went three-and-out, but the next sequence of events was pretty insane. The Chiefs punted the ball, and it looked like Julian Edelman touched the punt before it went by him and was scooped up by the Chiefs. However, it was ruled that Edelman did not touch the ball and the Patriots took over. Just two plays later, a pass intended for Edelman went off his hands and into the hands of Daniel Sorenson of the Chiefs. Two plays later, the Chiefs were up 21-17.

The teams then traded touchdowns to make it 28-24. The Patriots turned a long drive into a go-ahead touchdown, but left 39 seconds left on the clock. That was all it took for the Chiefs to get into field goal range and force the second overtime game of the day. Overtime was less eventful, as the Patriots won the toss and marched down the field for the game-winning score.

Despite being another fantastic game, this was a lot less eventful of a game from a Cal perspective. The Patriots dominated the time of possession, doubling the Chiefs amount of plays run. This allowed them to accumulate nearly twice as many yards as the usually potent Chiefs offense. So, in terms of Mitchell Schwartz and the Chiefs offense, we were left with one of their lowest statistical outputs of the season and a game in which the offensive line allowed four sacks despite only being on the field for 47 plays.

Best of luck to C.J. and Jared in the Super Bowl! And if the Patriots do win, at least Stephen Anderson and Brian Schwenke will get rings.