Moving on to rotten news, the Cal-free Tennessee Titans upset the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens and OL Patrick Mekari. Though he was undrafted and started this season on the bench, Mekari played well in the preseason and seized an opportunity at center following an injury to Baltimore’s Matt Skura, where he has been praised for a mostly seamless transition and a “true blessing” for their “championship-caliber” offensive line (though a wee bit of homerism is a strong possibility for that “championship-caliber” assessment); Pro Football Focus graded him as the 20th-best rookie and 11th-best center.
The AFC Championship will see the Titans will face the winner of an absolutely bonkers game between the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs—fitting that the best games this weekend should involve the most Cal involvement. Midway through the second quarter, the Texans were up 24–0, with Patrick Mahomes (last year’s NFL MVP) and OL Mitchell Schwartz unable to score any points. Cue up the insanity as the Chiefs would go on to outscore the Texans 51–7 for a 51–31 victory. Schwartz was lauded for his magical performance in mostly silencing pass-rushing nightmare J.J. Watt
Unfortunately, this means Houston’s P Bryan Anger (and WR Chad Hansen on the practice squad) will see their Super Bowl dreams come to an end. On the bright side, Anger hit three punts for an average of 45.7 yards per punt with two falling inside the 20-yard line. Anger signed a three-year extension with Houston in December and has been an asset for the team, “netting the fifth-highest net average in the league” and grounding a league-leading 52.5% of his punts inside the 20. Moreover, he proved to be an absolute weapon for Houston with one of his punts being fumbled by KC’s Tyreek Hill, resulting in great field position for Houston that they converted to their third touchdown of the game.
What a start for the @HoustonTexans.— NFL (@NFL) January 12, 2020
They come up with the loose ball on the punt! #WeAreTexans #NFLPlayoffs
: #HOUvsKC on CBS
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Watch free on mobile: https://t.co/ytW9g3rQZM pic.twitter.com/jyBmkS69IL
Hill is in great company with former CGB writer Trace Travers as being incapable of fielding Anger punts and it’s of utmost importance to note that social media deemed this kick to be game ball–worthy at the time. (Also, my apologies to Anger as I missed this great punt he had last week against Lorenzo Alexander and the Buffalo Bills with Davis Webb.)
The other exciting game this weekend ended close rather than with a blowout—the Seattle Seahawks (with LB Mychal Kendricks and RB Marshawn Lynch) vs. the Green Bay Packers (with TE James Looney and QB Aaron Rodgers). This game ended with a 28–23 Packers win thanks to a clutch game-clinching drive orchestrated by Rodgers the Maestro. Lynch only rushed for 26 yards on 12 carries, but made it into the endzone twice.
On the other sideline, Rodgers threw for 243 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, continuing Rodgers’s stellar record for protecting the ball. Most masterful was Green Bay’s ability to bleed the clock on their two final drives of the game. Rather than simply running the ball to guarantee the clock would keep running, Rodgers was entrusted with safely throwing the ball to keep the chains moving—which he did with ease. And it was on this drive that—as noted by Cal alumnus and friend of the site Mike Silver—Rodgers expertly called an audible to get his receiver open downfield and then deliver with a great pass on a “high-difficulty” pass
In the postgame press conference, Russell Wilson took some time to share some effusive praise for the “warrior” that is Marshawn Lynch and how much it meant for him to return to the team and help the young players. (Hint: this will recur.)
In news that will shock no one, one of Lynch’s biggest highlights was his post-game presser, where he avoided giving meaningful answers about his self-assessment for this truncated season and the possibility he’ll return next season while giving great advice to younger players and dropping the best line about chicken ever spoken (don’t @ me, Sandor). And no—it has nothing to do with Popeye’s sandwiches.
The response to Lynch’s advice was largely positive, including from Cal alumnus Cameron Jordan.
For a further heartwarming note, Rodgers and Lynch reportedly shared a moment in the locker room. As discussed in the Silver story (linked above) and covered all over social media, the two former Cal teammates had a little chat and traded jerseys.
As Rodgers dressed at his locker following Sunday’s game, he already had Northern California on his mind.
”Is ‘Money,’ gonna keep playing?” Rodgers asked me, in reference to Lynch, his former Cal teammate.
A few seconds later, Lynch, still wearing his Seahawks uniform, appeared near the entrance to the Packers’ locker room.
”Gimme your f-----’ jersey!” Lynch yelled, laughing.
”Hey,” Rodgers said, “gimme your f-----’ jersey!”
As they prepared for the swap, I asked Lynch, 33, what he thought of his own performance in his third game since coming out of retirement.
”Man, I look old,” he said. Then, turning to Rodgers, Lynch exclaimed, “Dude, how you still do this? How you still? You’ve been cheating, man.”
Rodgers laughed, but he didn’t try to argue. He had no need to brag, humble or otherwise.
In the Packers’ biggest game of the season, he’d come up huge -- that was just a fact.
Marshawn Lynch just walked into the #Packers locker room with his jersey. He gave fellow Cal alum Aaron Rodgers a big hug. Rodgers took his jersey from his locker and they just went down a hallway to presumably exchange and share some words.— Matt Schneidman (@mattschneidman) January 13, 2020
I don’t think anyone in the world (possibly including Lynch himself) knows his next move on the gridiron. But we do know one of his next moves in life will be appearing on Bar Rescue to (apparently) help fix up his bar/restaurant.
As for football, Green Bay now moves on to the NFC Championship to win the irrelevant Cal-free winner of the Minnesota–San Francisco game.
Your assignments this week are ASU-caliber easy—both the AFC and the NFC Championship games feature a Cal-less team going up against a team with Cal representation. Clearly the correct answer here is for us to all root for Schwartz & the Chiefs and Rodgers, Looney, & the Packers.