Conference championship Sunday both started and ended weirdly. The opener between the Eagles and 49ers was all but decided in the first quarter, once San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy was injured on a strip sack and rendered unable to throw the ball more than a few yards downfield. The NFC game turned into a blowout, but the matchup between the Bengals and Chiefs was a nail-biter likely heading for overtime before Bengals defender Joseph Ossai hit Patrick Mahomes late running out of bounds, setting up a game-winning field goal.
Let’s take a look at all the bizarre things we saw during Sunday’s games, what exactly happened and what they meant for each matchup as the Chiefs will now face the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII. Some were inexplicable, but I’ll do my best to break down a day that had most of us looking quizzically toward the television once every few minutes.
I’ll go chronologically through the timelines, but since the late game was more competitive, let’s start with that one:
Jump to a matchup:
Andy Reid challenges a clear incompletion in the first quarter.
It’s one thing when coaches make a desperate challenge late in game or to try to stave off a big play from the other team as it rushes to the line for a snap. It’s another to make a foolish challenge on a play in which you control the clock and can ask your players what happened. The Kansas City coach made the latter decision, and it hamstrung him for the remainder of the game.
At the very least, you can understand why Reid wanted to try to win a challenge. Facing a third-and-5 from the Cincinnati 25-yard line, Mahomes felt a blitz and tossed up a perfect fade to wideout Kadarius Toney. The midseason acquisition briefly caught the ball before losing it on the way down, seemingly setting up a field goal try on fourth down.
Instead, Reid bizarrely chose to challenge. For one, the Chiefs had the ability to control the clock and see replays, which would have allowed Reid to get a definitive look before using a challenge. Furthermore, he had the ability to ask Toney himself what had happened, and it was by the wideout’s reaction no catch had occurred. If Toney had steered Reid wrong, it would have been one thing, but it was clear this was not a catch and wasn’t worthy of a challenge.
Reid cost himself a timeout, but more distressingly, he limited himself to one challenge over 50 ensuing minutes of football. When Reid successfully reversed a spot later in the game, the Chiefs were then unable to challenge for the remainder of the contest before the two-minute warning. Reid didn’t end up needing to throw his flag onto the field for a third time, but he couldn’t have known as much at the time.
Toney’s drop was one of his final contributions of the game, as he suffered an ankle injury on his next offensive snap and didn’t return. Toney hasn’t been playing many snaps, but Kansas City has given him remarkable target shares when he’s on the field, including a 50% rate Sunday.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, Toney wasn’t the only receiver to suffer an injury. Mecole Hardman aggravated a pelvic issue in the third quarter and didn’t return, while JuJu Smith-Schuster left with a knee injury three minutes later. With Justin Watson inactive, the Chiefs were forced to use special-teamer Marcus Kemp as a regular in their three-wideout sets. Kemp played more offensive snaps Sunday (21) than he did during the entire regular season (10).
Ronald Jones takes a second-and-1 carry for no gain.
Maybe this was weird to only me, but I did a double take when I heard who carried the ball on this play. Jones played just 38 offensive snaps all season, 17 of which came in the Week 18 win over the Raiders. Ten of his 17 rush attempts came in that Raiders contest, mostly with Kansas City’s backups in the game during the fourth quarter. The former Bucs second-round pick was active for the divisional round win over the Jaguars but didn’t take a single snap. His role on the team has been quiet enough that he was Photoshopped into the playoff squad photo.
To my surprise, Jones popped up in the first quarter of the conference title game, getting stuffed on a second-and-1 attempt. He was on the field for the ensuing third-and-1 conversion on a Hardman jet sweep and did not play another offensive snap. Everyone has their role to play — and Jones would likely have been a healthy scratch if Clyde Edwards-Helaire was ready to return from his ankle injury — but I was surprised to see him get a first-quarter carry.
I’d also like to use this as an opportunity to beg Reid to run the ball under center. The Chiefs had little success running the ball throughout this game, as their three backs carried the ball 16 times for just 34 yards. Isiah Pacheco had a touchdown called back correctly for a holding call on Andrew Wylie, but they weren’t able to run the ball and mostly abandoned the tactic in the second half.
It’s possible Kansas City didn’t want to exacerbate Mahomes’ ankle injury by having him drop back, but that’s an essential part of their rushing attack when he is healthy. During the regular season, the Chiefs averaged 0.01 expected points added (EPA) per rush attempt under center by their halfbacks, the sixth-best mark in the league. Those same backs averaged minus-0.04 EPA per rush attempt out of the shotgun or pistol, which ranked 20th. If we assume Mahomes’ ankle will be in better shape when he plays the Eagles in two weeks, the Chiefs need to reintegrate their rushing attack from under center.
Travis Kelce tries to push the game 40 years into the future with a designed lateral to Jerick McKinnon.
While most Chiefs fans might have screamed at their television, I loved the idea of what I saw from Kelce in the first quarter. The Chiefs tight end, who was questionable to play with a back injury, caught a curl for 12 yards and a first down. Immediately after catching the ball, he lateraled it to McKinnon, who had run a flat route before turning upfield:
Here’s the laterals play from the Chiefs pic.twitter.com/kZpmfzeRG8
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) January 30, 2023
I’m not sure this would have done more than gain a few extra yards — and an underthrown lateral required McKinnon to fall on the ball — but this likely will be the future of football in a few decades. Forcing defenses to stay disciplined and focused after the snap will be an opportunity for smart offenses, and while it will come with more risk, the ability to play option football after a catch will offer more significant rewards. I need to write a longer column on the idea, but it’s worth nothing that ahead-of-the-curve high school and college coach Kevin Kelley already has started implementing this into his offenses. The curl/flat quick game concept is one of the easiest ways to imagine this being implemented in real football.
We’ve seen some of the league’s most talented players get aggressive with laterals. Former Ravens safety Ed Reed, a football savant, created big plays with post-turnover laterals. Kelce ran the hook-and-ladder here and appeared to be setting up a similar play later on this drive before eating the football. It’s possible the Chiefs simply installed this to try to protect their star from taking hits, but I would expect nothing less from Reid.
The Bengals take timeouts on either side of a third-and-1 play during their two-minute drill.
This one flew under the radar, but it was certainly uncommon and might have cost the Bengals four points. With 43 seconds to go in the first half, Joe Burrow found Samaje Perine for a 4-yard completion, setting up a third-and-1. Bengals coach Zac Taylor took his first timeout and sent in a run for Joe Mixon, who converted for a first down. Taylor then used his second timeout immediately afterward with 39 seconds to go.
On the ensuing play, Burrow hit Tee Higgins for a 11-yard gain, and Cincinnati used its final timeout. Burrow then linked up with Higgins again for 21 yards to set up first-and-goal, but with the team out of timeouts, the clock ran. Burrow threw two incomplete passes to Higgins before the Bengals were forced to kick a field goal with four seconds on the clock.
Taylor can’t know how the timeouts will eventually be needed when he’s facing that third-and-1, but I was certainly surprised the Bengals didn’t send in two plays as they used that timeout. Doing so would have allowed them to pick up a first down, line up and then snap the ball immediately with a new play. (It also would have given them a fourth-down play if the third-down concept had failed.) Having an extra timeout on board would have allowed Burrow to use the middle of the field over the rest of the possession and likely netted them an extra play near the goal line.
Mahomes loses the ball on an attempted screen and the Bengals recover.
This one was pretty obviously one of the weirder plays you’ll see from the likely league MVP. With the Chiefs up by seven late in the third quarter, Reid called for an RPO where Mahomes had the ability to hand the ball to Pacheco or throw a screen to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who was being shielded by Kemp on the line of scrimmage. The Bengals had only one defender over the tandem wideouts, so Mahomes quickly abandoned the run concept and attempted to throw the ball to Valdes-Scantling.
Mahomes might have been excited to see the possibility of a big play for his wideout, because what happened will go down as one of the more embarrassing moments of his Hall of Fame career on a big stage. The ball fell out of his hands as he went to start his throwing motion, and Sam Hubbard made the latest in his series of big postseason plays by recovering it and handing the Bengals a short field.
Mahomes loses the ball for first career postseason fumble
The ball gets loose before Patrick Mahomes can throw, and the Bengals recover it.
This one is weird, but it’s not especially complicated. Mahomes is one of the league’s best ball handlers when it comes to fakes. Throwing to Valdes-Scantling was the correct read on the play. Everybody else did their job, but Mahomes simply lost the football. The high ankle sprain hindered Mahomes at times Sunday, but this didn’t seem to be one of those issues. It was just a mishandled football at one of the very worst times to do it.
The Chiefs get two cracks at converting a third down.
This was one of the weirdest moments of the entire season, let alone Sunday’s games. With the Chiefs facing a third-and-9, Mahomes threw a 5-yard pass underneath to Kelce, who was tackled short of the sticks. The Chiefs ran their punting unit onto the field, only for the referees to announce there had been a timing issue impacting the prior play, which should have stopped the snap before it occurred. As ESPN’s Kevin Seifert noted, the referees tried to whistle the play dead before it started, but neither the broadcast, players or coaches noticed.
Having rendered the prior play as null and void, the Chiefs sent their offense back onto the field and were allowed to attempt the third-and-9 play for a second time, which is generally frowned upon in electric football, let alone the real stuff. Mahomes was sacked, but the Bengals were flagged for a penalty in the secondary, handing Kansas City a new set of downs. Cincinnati’s coaching staff was understandably furious with the turn of events, but the Chiefs then punted after three plays.
This actually wasn’t the first time the referees struggled to blow a play dead. In the first quarter, a third-and-4 Bengals play was whistled before the snap for a false start, but the attempts weren’t loud enough to engage the players, and the Bengals played out what appeared to be a Burrow scramble for a first down as if it were a normal snap. It was only after the play was over the flags were recognized.
While lead official Ronald Torbert had issues with his microphone throughout the game, the officials need to do a better job of communicating and indicating the play was dead before or at the time of the snap. Can you imagine what would have happened if half the players on the field had heard the whistle and one of the players going full speed injured Mahomes or Trey Hendrickson? This is a player safety issue in addition to a balance and fairness concern.
Did this play impact the game? Probably not. Are Bengals fans using this play as a pretense to criticize other calls later in the games that correctly went against the Bengals? Yes, from what I can see. Would I be mad about this if I were a Bengals fan? Absolutely. This can’t happen in any NFL game, let alone during the second-to-last game of the season.
The Chiefs fire off one of the most conservative punts we’ve ever seen.
After the Bengals declined a third-down holding penalty on Creed Humphrey with 2:36 to go in the fourth quarter, Reid and the Chiefs were left in a bind. The game was tied at 20, and they were facing a fourth-and-8 from the Cincinnati 37-yard line. Some coaches would consider this to be field goal range, but Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker would be kicking in frigid conditions and hadn’t been able to hit anything beyond 53 yards in warmups. This was set to be a 55-yard try.
There’s no ideal solution here. Converting a fourth-and-8 is hard with an injured quarterback. If the Chiefs fail, they would hand the ball back to the Bengals with a short field needing a field goal to win. If the Chiefs try a field goal, they’re taking a low-percentage kick and running that same risk of handing the ball back to the Bengals in excellent field position. On the surface, it doesn’t look like an easy solution for Reid.
Public quantitative models agreed. ESPN’s model suggested Reid cost himself 6.5 percentage points of win expectancy by attempting to kick a field goal as opposed to punting, a massive gap for any decision. Ben Baldwin’s model thought the gap was around seven percentage points, with going for it outright as a preferable move. The Surrender Index account, which compares punts to all others since 1999, saw Reid’s punt call as a historical outlier of a mistake:
KC decided to punt to CIN from the CIN 37 on 4th & 8 with 2:36 remaining in the 4th while tied 20 to 20.
With a Surrender Index of 120.85, this punt ranks at the 99.9th percentile of cowardly punts of the 2022 season, and the 99.9th percentile of all punts since 1999.
— Surrender Index (@surrender_index) January 30, 2023
I’m willing to entertain the notion these models overestimate Butker’s chances of hitting a 55-yard field goal given the conditions, although I’m sure his odds aren’t 0%, even if he missed in warmups. At the same time, they only have a vague idea the Chiefs have a preternatural quarterback, even if he does have an ankle injury. They’re also going up against Burrow, who seems to slice teams up in these very situations.
Reid’s decision end up working out. The Chiefs punted to the 6-yard line and then eventually forced a punt, getting the ball back with 41 seconds to go near midfield after a long return from rookie Skyy Moore.
Bengals defender Joseph Ossai commits a personal foul, setting up the game-winning field goal.
It’s never fun to see games decided by penalties, but after what had been an impactful game as a defender on the line of scrimmage, Ossai made the biggest mistake of his life. While chasing down a rare scramble by Mahomes, he made contact with Mahomes a yard out of bounds and shoved him to the ground. The referees flagged Ossai for a personal foul, turning what might have been a 60-yard field goal attempt to avoid overtime into a 45-yard kick for Butker to convert for the trophy.
Now, note what I said in the above paragraph, because it’s important. There’s a big difference between not wanting to see games decided by penalties and thinking games shouldn’t be decided by penalties. The former wants to see games play out under normal rules in the final two minutes and hopes that nothing happens to help define the game with a penalty over that stretch.
Thinking games shouldn’t be decided by penalties in the final few minutes asks referees to call an entirely different set of rules for one situation than they do for the remainder of the contest. We don’t ask players to play a different sport for the final two minutes of games. When refs don’t call penalties in those situations, it isn’t because players are playing inherently clean football. It’s because they’ve chosen to let players do what they want, and that’s going to lead to uncalled penalties and advantages gained by teams from those illegal acts. Ask Saints fans if they think the refs should have let the players play against the Rams in the final few minutes of regulation in the 2018 NFC Championship Game.
Chiefs head to Super Bowl after late penalty sparks winning FG
The Bengals are penalized for pushing Patrick Mahomes out of bounds late, setting up Harrison Butker’s winning field goal for the Chiefs.
I can understand wanting to see referees let mutual hand-fighting or borderline calls go if they can be game-changing decisions, like the yardage from a long pass interference penalty, but that’s something those officials should be doing in all situations, not just in the fourth quarter. Not calling a one-sided penalty because it’s late in the game is going to ensure that nobody accuses you of trying to get on television as an official, but it’s also giving the team committing the penalties an advantage.
Go back now to the Ossai play. There’s no way an official can call this penalty any different in the final two minutes of the game versus how it’s called over the first 58 minutes, because it’s an egregious act. Ossai hits Mahomes when the presumptive MVP is a full step out of bounds. Ossai appeared to injure his own knee on the play, but imagine what would have happened if Mahomes been injured and the referees had chosen to avoid putting themselves in the spotlight by making the call. Not a single person would have talked about how the refs kept themselves out of the picture and let the players make their own plays. The same holds true if it had been Burrow injured on a late hit by a Chiefs defender.
Refereeing is a balancing act, especially when it comes to judgment calls or holding on the interior. They were generally pretty lenient with both teams holding in pass protection, which helped both offenses Sunday. The final sequence of the game had several situations that infuriated Bengals fans, including the personal foul on Ossai, an intentional grounding call against Burrow and the second crack on third-and-9, but the first two calls were the correct decisions, and the third one didn’t influence the game. Had the game gone differently, Chiefs fans would be upset about losing a touchdown and an interception to penalties and a ticky-tack taunting call against Wylie. Nobody loves the referees.
As it is, regardless of how a game is being called, players have to be aware of where they are on the field and what they do in key situations. The league is always going to protect quarterbacks, and while nobody would argue Ossai’s hit was intentional, it was a dangerous decision in a place where every defender would know that they’re running the risk of taking a penalty. It’s disappointing to see a close game decided by a rush of blood to the head, and it’s easy to sympathize with Ossai given the stakes, but this wasn’t a particularly controversial or difficult call.
DeVonta Smith ‘catches’ a touchdown pass on fourth-and-3.
In a game between a coach who typically sides with analytics and gets aggressive by NFL standards on fourth down and one who seems loath to put his expensively assembled offense in those situations, it probably should have been no surprise Eagles coach Nick Sirianni kept Jalen Hurts & Co. on the field on a fourth-and-short in the first quarter. Sirianni’s Eagles were technically in “field goal range” as they faced a fourth-and-3 from the 35-yard line, but in wet conditions with some gusts of wind in January, he sent his offense out to convert a fourth-and-3.
This sequence actually stretches back to third down, which shows the value of having an organizational philosophy about staying aggressive on fourth down. Facing a third-and-10, Hurts faced a defense that was dropping its linebackers to the sticks and threw underneath to Dallas Goedert, who picked up 7 yards.
Those 7 yards don’t mean much to a team going to punt on the subsequent fourth down, but they’re very valuable to an offense that is comfortable going for it on fourth-and-3 in situations in which field goals aren’t exactly sure things. Knowing the Eagles are comfortable taking those shots and setting up manageable fourth downs forces the defense to worry about taking away those gains that might create a fourth-and-short, opening up possibilities for bigger plays behind them.
On the ensuing fourth down, Hurts scrambled left and found Smith on a slot fade past Jimmie Ward. Smith appeared to make a spectacular catch in front of the field judge, who signaled for a first down. The Eagles scored a touchdown two plays later.
Eagles score TD after questionable DeVonta Smith catch
DeVonta Smith’s seemingly incredible one-handed catch in which the ball appears to hit the ground is not reviewed, leading to Miles Sanders scoring a few plays later.
On further review, it was clear that no such catch occurred. Smith bobbled the ball on the way down, and while no review ever took place, it’s extremely likely a replay review would have reversed the call to an incomplete pass and a turnover on downs for the 49ers. An overturn by an official, a challenge flag from the 49ers or an expedited review from the league office in New York all could have reversed the call, but none came before the Eagles snapped the ball.
Should Kyle Shanahan or the league office be excoriated for not intervening? That would be unfair. The Eagles hurried to the line and snapped the ball in 18 seconds after the prior play was completed, leaving the 49ers without much time to review a replay and throw out their flag. Shanahan could have thrown a flag for what looked to be a spectacular catch without having any more insight into the catch, but that would have been an emotional challenge at the very beginning of a game; coaches should be more aggressive in challenging huge plays like Smith’s catch than they are with short completions because of the risk-reward factor, but I don’t believe that there was a replay shown quickly enough for the 49ers to feel confident about winning a challenge.
Likewise, the league office didn’t seem to get a good enough view of the play in real time to justify a challenge. The first replay showed by the broadcast didn’t show the angle which eventually revealed the incompletion, and by the time a second replay was ready, the Eagles were ready to snap the ball. The field judge who made the call was naturally shielded from the ball by his angle on the sideline. The window in which that call could have been overturned just wasn’t very large.
The best way for the 49ers to know they needed to challenge would have been looking at Smith himself. After the play, he ran back to the line of scrimmage and repeatedly bumped his fists together, which appeared to be a code for the offense to quickly run a play. Ironically, the opposite was true in the second game, when Toney’s fade was challenged by Reid even after the former Giants wideout solemnly walked back to the huddle. If a receiver is not even willing to pretend that they made a big play, it’s probably not a catch.
There will be plenty of times to complain about the officiating in these games, starting with a would-be Eagles fumble return wiped off by a whistle at the end of this play. Purdy clearly had an empty hand and actually punched the ball up in the air like a volleyball spike after being stripped of the football, only for Philadelphia to be denied a return by the officials, who thought the play was an incomplete pass.
The play itself was not weird, but what ensued would qualify as strange football. Purdy suffered an elbow injury on the play and was forced from the game with what would later be classified as a UCL issue. Purdy was replaced by journeyman Josh Johnson, who only joined the team in December after Jimmy Garoppolo went down injured.
Johnson was then forced from the game with a concussion, causing Purdy to return to the lineup despite being physically unable to throw the football. Purdy’s two ensuing pass attempts traveled 8.4 and 9.1 yards in the air, as a San Francisco team trailing by multiple touchdowns was left running the football against a defense facing no threat of a downfield attack. The only other pass attempt came from Christian McCaffrey, who took the ball on a trick play and threw deep to nobody. McCaffrey should have been flagged for intentional grounding, but the refs appeared to take mercy on an overmatched 49ers offense.
If Purdy had been the team’s primary starter all season and the Niners had spent their entire year one injury away from turning to Johnson under center, Shanahan and general manager John Lynch would deserve plenty of criticism. Teams can’t rely on their quarterbacks to stay healthy for the entire year, as evidenced by the fact that each of the four starters in these games either came in injured or got banged up during the games.
Purdy injures elbow after getting hit
Brock Purdy fumbles the ball and injures his right elbow after getting hit by Haason Reddick.
Purdy instead was the third-string quarterback, having taken over for Garoppolo after the longtime starter filled in for Trey Lance. It was incredible to even see a scenario in which the 49ers were able to compete with their third-string quarterback, let alone thrive for most of December and January. No team can realistically be expected to compete with their third- or fourth-string passer. There wasn’t an obvious fit for the 49ers to acquire and insert behind Purdy in December, especially after Baker Mayfield was claimed by the Rams.
And likewise, while football sickos around the world wanted to see what the 49ers would look like running the Wildcat with McCaffrey as their base offense, it would have been naive to spend a ton of time installing those packages in the middle of the postseason. McCaffrey has been unable to practice most days while he has battled a calf injury. The inexperienced Purdy needed all the practice reps he could get. Throwing away valuable opportunities in midweek to practice for this worst-case scenario wasn’t the best use of Shanahan’s time. If McCaffrey was going to need to play meaningful snaps in this game at quarterback, the 49ers were going to be toast.
If anything, the NFL is lucky we haven’t seen more games compromised by an injury to a quarterback this late in the season. Two recent examples: The Bears were forced to roll with Caleb Hanie in the second half of the 2010 NFC Championship Game against the Packers, and in the 2019 playoffs the Eagles were forced to insert a 40-year-old Josh McCown in the wild-card round after five regular-season pass attempts and play him through a torn hamstring after Carson Wentz suffered a first-quarter concussion. It also happened in a Super Bowl: In the 1992 season, Buffalo’s Jim Kelly aggravated a knee issue after throwing just seven passes, missing the rest of a blowout loss to Dallas.
Nick Bosa gets clipped on the sideline by an Eagles player on a punt.
Players are supposed to be relatively safe on the sideline. In those moments in which two players on the field careen out of bounds, there is usually enough chatter or warning for guys on the sideline to get out of the way or protect themselves. We’ve seen coaches get injured, with Sean Payton’s torn ACL and broken leg in 2011 as an example, but players usually are able to get out of harm’s way.
Sunday was an exception. After Hurts missed an open A.J. Brown for what could have been a long score on third down, Bosa limped off the field with what appeared to be a knee injury. With the Eagles punting, gunner Josh Jobe was caught up near the sideline and flung forward by 49ers special-teamer Tarvarius Moore. The flying Jobe fell toward Bosa’s ankles, and while Bosa was able to leap out of the way, he came down awkwardly on his leg and appeared to reinjure the knee.
It appears that Nick Bosa being looked at by medical staff stemmed from this play – when he was on the sideline. pic.twitter.com/Z4aVQv0QpS
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) January 29, 2023
Bosa was able to return and ended up playing 76% of the defensive snaps, which isn’t far off from what his role would have looked like without the injury. I’m not sure even a healthy Bosa would have made the difference in a game with Johnson and a compromised Purdy at quarterback, but even he admitted it was a sign the 49ers were having a rough day.
Brett Kern’s punt (maybe) hits the skycam cable.
Oh, and Bosa’s injury wasn’t even the weirdest thing that happened on that very play. With the Eagles punting from their own 26-yard line, it was a surprise when Kern’s punt traveled just 34 yards before going out of bounds. There appeared to be a quick explanation, given that many of the Eagles’ players immediately started gesturing toward the cable used to run the skycam up and down the field. Philadelphia’s players clearly believed Kern’s punt had smacked against the taut wiring and been deflected elsewhere.
It’s certainly possible the punt might have been hit the skycam, and I have no reason to believe multiple Eagles players suddenly decided to pretend that Kern’s punt had been deflected by a foreign object. I’m also not sure there was much recourse, as the officials took a minute or two to converse with the league office about the issue before announcing they could not confirm whether the ball had hit the wire and moving on.
As Kevin Seifert noted in his officiating column, the Eagles could have challenged and replayed the down if the punt had struck a foreign object, like the skycam or a scoreboard, as has happened in Cowboys games. The league also could have called down to note the incident and rule for a replayed down.
At the same time, as Seifert noted, it would have been tough to prove the clear and obvious evidence required to overturn the play existed. There was no immediate angle of the punt hitting the cabling. The league could have turned to the skycam’s own video feed to see if the camera had shown any semblance of a collision, but that might also have been caused by wind.
There is a solution, although it’s not currently implemented. Cricket’s replay challenge system uses acoustics to detect whether the ball has hit anything, like the ground or a bat, as it travels down the pitch. The NFL theoretically could use microphones to gauge whether there was any sort of sound of the ball striking something before being caught, although this is a rare enough play to suggest that such a system would be used rarely, even if it were technologically possible. There are bigger fish to fry for the league, which had another brief issue with its sideline chains this weekend.
Shanahan gets aggressive at the end of the first half and immediately regrets his decision.
For all his genius as an offensive playcaller, Shanahan often has been conservative with his quarterbacks at the end of the first half during his time with the 49ers. He went slow with Garoppolo in a two-minute drill during Super Bowl LIV and ended up missing out on what would eventually become valuable points. He went slow with Purdy last week in a two-minute drill and nearly left three points on the field when Purdy danced around before throwing an incompletion with a second left. Clock management is an issue.
When the 49ers stepped on the field with 1:36 to go in a 14-7 game and Johnson at quarterback, I expected to see Shanahan put his foot on the brake. The Eagles had only two timeouts, and San Francisco was running out its fourth-string quarterback. It was easy to envision a scenario in which Shanahan ran the ball or threw safe passes, at least on the first few plays of the drive.
Instead, Shanahan surprisingly was aggressive. He let Johnson throw a slant to Deebo Samuel for a first down to start the drive. Johnson was then about to drop back for another pass, only for the 36-year-old to take his eye off the snap and fumble, with the Eagles recovering. Philly punched in the ball on the ensuing short field and never looked back. I’m not sure Shanahan was wrong to try to push the ball, but I have to imagine he’ll be back to his old self in these situations next season, even with a better quarterback.