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KRYK: NFL conference title games both Week 6 rematches

On back-to-back days in mid-October, NFL schedule-makers gifted us with conference championship-game previews.

Yeah, on the same weekend. Crazy.

On Sunday, Oct. 18, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers rallied to thump the visiting Green Bay Packers, 38-10.

A night later, on Monday, Oct. 19, the Kansas City Chiefs grounded-and-pounded the host Buffalo Bills, 26-17.

This Sunday we get a rare double: Rematches of non-divisional, regular-season combatants in both conference title games: Bucs at Packers on the NFC side and Bills at Chiefs on the AFC side.

The first Bucs-Packers game was strange. Two games in one, really.

The first Bills-Chiefs game was atypical of each team’s season, at least offensively.

Let’s take a closer look at those Week 6 matchups, for takeaways:

NFC: Bucs-Packers

Any bookies taking bets on who’d win this game after one quarter of play at Raymond James Stadium wouldn’t have got much action on the Bucs.

Green Bay led 10-0 and dominated in almost every facet. QB Aaron Rodgers began by piloting the Pack 54 yards in 10 plays for a 39-yard Mason Crosby field goal.

The Bucs and QB Tom Brady opened with a three-and-out, a too-common occurrence this season.

Rodgers and the Pack then chewed up most of the last 8:20 of the opening quarter, slow-marching 90 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown — a one-yard Aaron Jones plunge.

At the quarter-changeover TV break, the Packers had 144 total yards and nine first downs to the Bucs’ 22 and one.

Then WHOMP. Everything changed.

On Green Bay’s next possession, following a second Bucs punt, Rodgers was pick-sixed by cornerback Jamel Dean, who smelled out and jumped a pass in the short flat to Rodgers’ go-to third-down target, all-pro wide receiver Davante Adams.

For whatever reason, Rodgers and the Pack could do little right thereafter, while Brady and the Bucs could do little wrong. A 28-point second-quarter blew the game open in Tampa Bay’s favour.

Ten more Buccaneers points in the third quarter made it 38-10 and rendered the fourth quarter just garbage-time tedium.

Rodgers took his last snap with most of the final quarter yet to play.

After that opening quarter, Rodgers wound up completing just eight of his last 23 throws for a paltry 53 yards, and nearly was pick-sixed a second time. On the day, Rodgers was blitzed 18 times, pressured 12 times (or on 29% of his drop-backs), hurried into throwing early once, hit seven times and sacked four times.

Brady, meanwhile, was blitzed 12 times, pressured only four times (15%), was never hurried into throwing early, hit only four times and wasn’t sacked.

Such discordant pass-rush stats are typical when one’s team QB is far ahead in the second half. No matter how good you are, if the opposing defence knows you MUST throw, usually you’re doomed.

The Bucs defence was the primary author of the massive turnaround.

“We just took control of the game,” Bucs linebacker Lavonte David said.

AFC: Bills-Chiefs

Whether playing football or watching it from the sidelines or stands, nothing makes it more miserable than unrelenting cold rain.

Such as after dark, on Oct. 19, when the Chiefs won at Bills Stadium.

Atypical weather often begets atypical game-plan adjustments. And a Chiefs team that on the season passed 61% of the time and which gained 73% of its yards by passing, adjusted to the conditions and the concentration of Buffalo’s defence on preventing deep pass completions by mostly running it.

And successfully.

Patrick Mahomes handed off 46 times and the Chiefs gained 245 rush yards — led by rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s 161.

Mahomes passed only 26 times, for 225 yards.

Some coaches who claim to be run/pass agnostic actually aren’t. But the Chiefs, much like the 2010s New England Patriots, are. Gotta pass it 60 times to win? Fine. Gotta run it 46 times? Fine.

Whatever it takes.

Edwards-Helaire “was able to fill in the blanks” against the Bills, K.C. head coach Andy Reid said afterward.

The Chiefs defence, meanwhile, stymied the high-powered Bills passing attack, holding Bills QB Josh Allen to a season-low 122 yards on 52% completions. Even still, Allen threw two touchdowns in willing the Bills back into the game.

Since then, Allen is averaging 280 yards per game and has tossed 24 touchdowns against only six picks.

And since then, largely as a result, the Bills have lost only once — the “Hail Murray” game at Arizona, on a last-snap fluke deep heave by the Cardinals, after Allen had capped a desperation 78-yards, 12-play go-ahead drive with 34 seconds left, with a 21-yard TD pass to all-pro receiver Stefon Diggs.

When the Bills faced the Chiefs, they were coming off only five days’ rest, after having got blown out at Tennessee the Tuesday before — while K.C. had seven days to stew on its first loss in nearly an entire calendar year, to Las Vegas.

And the Bills were wobbled by injuries at the time (including to Allen, bugged at the time by a dinged left shoulder).

“All in all,” Reid summed up, “a good win against what I think is a good football team. They’re banged up a little. They played a lot of games here.

“We’ll probably have a chance to see them again somehow down the road. They’ll be healed up by then.”

They are.


Remember the following next year come mid-October, if tempted to be mesmerized by some team’s red-hot start.

After Week 6 this season, the following seven NFL teams had a record of 4-1 or better:

In the NFC, Seattle (5-0), Chicago (5-1) and Green Bay (4-1);

In the AFC, Pittsburgh (5-0), Tennessee (5-0), Baltimore (5-1) and Kansas City (5-1).

Tampa Bay and Buffalo were both 4-2 at the time.

Well, as you no doubt know, the three remaining undefeated teams as of Oct. 20 — the Seahawks, Steelers and Titans — all got bounced in the first round of this month’s playoffs. The one-loss Bears, too, while the one-loss Ravens fell last weekend in the divisional round.

It ain’t how you start. It’s how you finish.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021

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