Conference games didn’t fail to deliver

Austin Svehla, Assistant Sports Editor

The AFC and NFC Championship games provided pro football fans with a day full of drama, questionable calls, and ultimately, two great football games that any fan would want to see on some of the biggest stages in football. The only fans who likely find themselves not as satisfied as the neutral fan are Saints and Chiefs fans, but even those fans can say they got to watch excellent football games. Here’s my take on each game.

Let’s start with the NFC Championship game, where the Rams prevailed in overtime, 26-23. Most fans will remember this game for the obvious missed pass interference call when Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman launched himself into Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis well before the pass from Drew Brees found itself in the area of the two players with under two minutes left. A PI call would have given the Saints a first down and an opportunity to melt the clock and kick the game-winning field goal.

Yes, had a flag been thrown on the play, the Saints likely would have been able to do exactly what I just mentioned to earn a trip to Super Bowl LIII, but let’s give the Rams some credit for digging themselves out of a 13-point deficit on the road in one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL. The Saints had a 23-20 lead, but their defense could not keep Jared Goff and the Rams offense from driving down the field in the last 1:41 to tie it up at 23 apiece. New Orleans also got the ball first in overtime, but failed to do anything with that possession, throwing an interception on their fourth play of the drive. Despite the egregious call, the Saints still had multiple opportunities to win the game and did not convert.

Lastly, Nebraska native Greg Zuerlein deserves some credit as well for his extremely clutch kicking. In a sport where kickers are often bashed for their inability to put the ball through the uprights in clutch situations, the former UNO kicker nailed a game-tying 48-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in regulation and the game-winning 57-yarder in overtime to send the Rams to the Super Bowl.

The AFC title was just as gut-wrenching as the NFC title game, with the Patriots defeating the Chiefs in overtime, 37-31. This game also featured some controversial calls, none of which I believe directly affected the outcome of the game. I don’t agree with all of the penalties called or all of the catch/no catch calls, but I believe in the end, the Patriots made just a few more plays than the Chiefs that resulted in another trip to the Super Bowl for New England, which is Tom Brady’s ninth. The true heartbreaker for Kansas City came with 54 seconds left in regulation, with the Chiefs leading 28-24, when KC defensive end Dee Ford was lined up offsides on a play where a pass from Brady deflected off Rob Gronkowski’s hands and was intercepted by Charvarius Ward with 54 seconds remaining. An interception at that point would have effectively won the game for Kansas City.

Much like the NFC title game, the AFC Championship ended with a Nebraska native delivering the game-winning score when UNL graduate Rex Burkhead waltzed into the endzone from two yards out to seal the game for New England.

It may take a long time for Chiefs and Saints fans to get over Sunday’s results, but the quality of football played from the game’s best players did not disappoint.