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NFL Sunday so filled with potential left many feeling flat


The 49ers lost too many quarterbacks. The Bengals, in the game’s most critical moment, lost their wits. New York football fans, by the end of a long Sunday, likely felt they had lost a day that began with such promise.

The NFL had it all set up, with arguably the four best teams it could offer pitted against each other for the conference championships. What might have been an electric day of football instead was filled with a blowout, a good game that deserved a better ending and, locally, a bizarre building controversy.

Let’s start with the poor 49ers. A matchup of defensive powerhouses and brilliant offensive minds was doomed nearly from the start. Perhaps the play that the game will be remembered for — Devonta Smith’s leaping, one-handed grab down the left sideline on a fourth-and-3 — should not have counted: Replays later showed the ball was bobbled and hit the ground. The best angle of the catch was not seen soon enough, which set up the Eagles’ first touchdown, creating a lead the 49ers would never approach because of their quarterbacking disaster.

Brock Purdy — the third quarterback they have trusted this season — suffered an elbow injury in the first quarter that essentially prevented him from making a pass the rest of the game. Head coach Kyle Shanahan turned to fourth-string journeyman Josh Johnson, who quickly sustained a concussion that kept him out for the game. Without an arm that could throw the ball downfield, the 49ers had no hopes of escaping a hole and slogged to a 31-7 defeat in a contest that was barely watchable.

Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick (7) sacks San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) during the Championship game between the San Fransisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles on January 29, 2023.
Haason Reddick essentially ended the 49ers chances in the NFC title game when he knocked Brock Purdy from the game with a first-quarter sack.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Perhaps you are a Giants fan living in New York. Maybe you, frustrated by the Eagles’ punching their ticket to the Super Bowl, decided to take a walk rather than watch Philly celebrate. You might have glanced up and seen you could not escape a reminder that the hated Eagles are a win away from a title: The Empire State Building was aglow in Eagles green and white to honor the NFC champs.

“Fly @Eagles Fly!” the building’s account tweeted Sunday night, to the dismay (or fury) of much of the city in which the building resides.

Granted: It’s a building that lights up in different colors all the time. It is not a big deal. Still, a lot of Giants fans did not appreciate the gesture.

Perhaps you then retreated to your home, hoping a pair of aces, Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow, would rescue what had become a disappointing day of football. Despite a lot of noise and strange calls, the duel was often thrilling.

Mahomes, somehow playing with a high ankle sprain, hobbled around without his usual mobility but still could navigate the pocket and still could unleash darts. He guided the Chiefs 75 yards down field in the second quarter, coming up largest in the largest moment. On a fourth-and-1 in the red zone, Mahomes rolled right, bought time and finally found Travis Kelce in the end zone for a touchdown that gave his Chiefs a 13-3 lead and the early makings of a going-away victory.

Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs throws a pass against the Cincinnati Bengals during the fourth quarter in the AFC Championship Game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on January 29, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Limited by a high ankle sprain, Patrick Mahomes still led the Chiefs to a win thanks to 326 yards passing and two touchdown passes.
Getty Images

But Burrow answered. He led a drive that ended in a field goal before the half. In the Bengals’ first second-half possession, Burrow showed no nerves and full faith in his receivers, eventually lobbing a pass down the right sideline. Tee Higgins was double-covered, but it didn’t matter as he leapt, stabbed the ball and came down with the touchdown to tie the game.

Mahomes guided a touchdown drive. Burrow guided a touchdown drive. A tie game with building emotion and stakes instead got sidetracked by exceptionally strange officiating.

An early fourth-quarter drive appeared over, the Chiefs failing on a third down, when they magically were awarded another try. As it turned out, the original play should have been halted — one referee was attempting to shut down the play — because the clock was running when it shouldn’t have been. The previous play was an incomplete pass. The clocks had to be reset, so Mahomes was allowed another try. The Chiefs again failed as Mahomes was sacked, but Cincinnati’s Eli Apple was called for holding, giving the Chiefs a fresh set of downs.

A game about quarterbacks and offenses suddenly was about whistles and fan suspicions. Fortunately, the Chiefs did little with the new set of downs, but the game would end senselessly regardless.

A fun, back-and-forth potential classic instead will be remembered for a terrible decision by Bengals defensive end Joseph Ossai.

Head coach Zac Taylor of the Cincinnati Bengals talks with referees during the fourth quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on January 29, 2023 in Kansas City, Missouri.
A puzzling, late call by officials and a late hit by defensive end Joseph Ossai left coach Zac Taylor looking for answers as to how his Bengals lost on Sunday.
Getty Images

In the last minute of a tie game, the Chiefs fought to get into field-goal position, and Mahomes scrambled and sprinted for the first time. He crossed midfield and stepped out at the Cincinnati 42-yard line, outside the range of kicker Harrison Butker. But Ossai, who ran a long way to get there, added a shove of Mahomes, who was clearly out of bounds, injuring himself in the process and earning a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness.

Butker nailed the field goal, and the game ended in a fashion no one wanted (except Chiefs fans, who will take any win they can).

Chiefs-Eagles sounds like a fun Super Bowl, a dominant, flashy offense against a hard-nosed, excellent defense. Chiefs coach Andy Reid, the former Eagles coach, will be a fun storyline.

Here’s hoping it will be memorable after a football weekend for New York to forget.

Today’s back page

New York Post

Read more:

🏈 SERBY: Jalen Hurts deserves this Super Bowl chance after challenging Eagles journey

🏀 Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau urges Quentin Grimes to keep shooting despite

🏈 Quinnen Williams appears to shade Jets in deleted tweet about 49ers struggles

City of brotherly winners

Fans celebrate as the Philadelphia Eagles win the NFC championship and head to the Superbowl following the NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States on January 29, 2023. Philadelphia defeated San Francisco 31-7.
It’s good to be a sports fan in Philadelphia these days.
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

It has been a good few months for Philadelphia sports, putting the Eagles in the Super Bowl three months after the Phillies advanced to the World Series (and lost to the Astros in six games).

It’s the first time since 1980 the two Philly clubs will play for a championship in the same year. That season, the Phillies won and the Eagles lost. The Eagles will hope it’s the opposite this time.

Meanwhile, outside of NYCFC, New York still hasn’t won a title since the Giants’ 2011 Super Bowl. A city looks to you, Rangers and Nets.

LeBron snubs Brooklyn

The Nets own the Knicks, on Saturday extending their streak to nine straight wins over the crosstown rivals. But they probably won’t ever own the most cachet in the city.

LeBron James wants to play against the Knicks and not the Nets.

LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers sitting on the bench prior to the game against the Sacramento Kings on December 21, 2022 at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California.
LeBron James will be watching the Lakers play the Nets from the bench on Monday so he can prepare to take the court against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden Tuesday.
NBAE via Getty Images

James and Anthony Davis are out for Monday’s game in Brooklyn, the Lakers announced, citing left ankle soreness and a right foot stress injury, respectively.

James has played in nine straight games, including logging over 44 minutes in Saturday’s controversial loss in Boston, and Davis has played in two in a row since returning from his foot injury. Apparently, both need a breather, and that breather would come on one end of a back-to-back at Barclays Center on Monday and then the Garden on Tuesday. LeBron, who has been open about his love of the Mecca, wasn’t missing a game on Broadway.

The Knicks are used to this and even believe the Garden’s allure is a factor in their poor home record (12-13): They say other teams are always eager to show off at the hallowed grounds in Manhattan. Brooklyn — especially while absent Kevin Durant, whom James would want to play against — doesn’t offer the same pull.

Good news for the Nets, who have a much easier game than expected. Bad news for Nets fans, especially those who have held tickets for months hoping to get a glimpse of Los Angeles royalty.


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