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🏈 Good morning to everyone but especially …
THE TEAMS HEADING TO THE CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAMES
There will be a day when you should doubt Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. I promise. But it’s not coming any time soon.
Tyler Bass missed — hide your eyes, Bills fans — wide right with under two minutes left, and Mahomes came away with the victory after the first road playoff game of his career, a heart-pounding, back-and-forth 27-24 triumph for the Chiefs in Buffalo.
- It was a classic quarterback battle between Mahomes and Josh Allen through three quarters, with Buffalo leading 24-20 and only one punt combined with 15 minutes to go.
- Isaiah Pacheco scored on the second play of the fourth quarter to set up what looked like another wild finish. And things definitely got bizarre from there. Damar Hamlin got stuffed on an ill-conceived fake punt, but then Mecole Hardman fumbled through the end zone to give the ball right back.
- The Bills, mercifully given new life, went three-and-out on the ensuing drive before Bass’ miss from 44 yards. Pacheco got a first down to seal the game.
When the Chiefs need their best, they deliver. Kansas City averaged 7.7 yards per play and produced eight plays of 20+ yards — both season highs. Travis Kelce looked like the Travis Kelce of old, posting his first multi-touchdown game of the season, celebrating with Taylor Swift and being cheered on by a shirtless Jason Kelce. Mahomes and Travis Kelce have now connected on 16 playoff touchdown passes, the most by a single duo in NFL history.
It’s the Chiefs’ sixth consecutive conference championship appearance. The Lions, meanwhile, are headed to their first conference championship in over three decades. Detroit rallied and then held on to beat the Buccaneers, 31-23. Jared Goff delivered a perfect touchdown pass to Amon-Ra St. Brown halfway through the fourth quarter, and Derrick Barnes picked off Baker Mayfield to clinch it.
One day earlier …
- Brock Purdy shook off a rough day to lead a late go-ahead touchdown drive, capped by Christian McCaffrey‘s second score of the night, in the 49ers‘ 24-21 win over the Packers. Dre Greenlaw picked off Jordan Love to seal it. San Francisco had been 0-31 when trailing by five or more in the fourth quarter under Kyle Shanahan. The close-game playoff results for these teams couldn’t be more different.
- With the game tied at 10, Lamar Jackson delivered an emotional halftime speech and led the Ravens in the second half by rushing for two scores and passing for another on his historic four-touchdown day in their 34-10 win over the Texans. Jackson is awesome. The defense is awesome. John Harbaugh dancing is awesome.
- Chiefs at Ravens, 3 p.m. on CBS, Paramount+
- Lions at 49ers, 6:30 p.m. on Fox
Storylines abound again: The Lions haven’t won a playoff road game since 1957; the Super Bowl didn’t exist, there were 12 teams in the entire league, and goalposts were still at the front of the end zone.
Since then, Detroit has lost an NFL-record 11 straight road playoff games. That’s the bad news. The good news? That win actually came against the 49ers! More good news? These Lions are not the Lions of the past.
In the AFC, it’s Mahomes vs. Jackson. A two-time MVP against a soon-to-be two-time MVP. How could anyone ask for more?
👍 Honorable mentions
- Nick Dunlap won The American Express, becoming the first amateur to win on the PGA Tour since Phil Mickelson in 1991.
- Rory McIlroy won the Dubai Desert Classic.
- Joel Embiid is up to 20 straight 30-point games.
- Mayfield wants to return to Tampa Bay, and he wants Mike Evans back, too.
- The Astros signed Josh Hader to a five-year, $95-million deal, and here’s what should be next.
- The Angels signed Robert Stephenson to a three-year deal.
- San Jose State hired Ken Niumatalolo.
🦬 And not such a good morning for …
THE BUFFALO BILLS
It doesn’t get any better than that call from Jim Nantz. And it doesn’t get any more painful for the Buffalo faithful, and they know pain better than any other fan base. Yes, Bass missed a 44-yarder that would’ve tied the game with under two minutes to go, but who’s really to blame?
Buffalo finally got to host Mahomes and the worst offense of his career. Buffalo hadn’t lost in nearly two months. The fumble bounces went Buffalo’s way. Bass had never missed a field goal when trailing by three or fewer in the fourth quarter or overtime. It was all right there. Until it wasn’t.
It’s another long offseason for the Bills, and no, they don’t get any easier.
👎 Not so honorable mentions
- The Eagles fired defensive coordinator Sean Desai.
- Trae Young is in the concussion protocol.
- The NCAA is investigating Florida‘s recruitment of former quarterback Jaden Rashada.
- The Athletics are considering playing in Triple-A stadiums in Sacramento and Salt Lake City before they move to Las Vegas.
- The Islanders fired Lane Lambert and appointed Patrick Roy as head coach.
🏀 College basketball recap: Tara VanDerveer passes Mike Krzyzewski, Caitlin Clark collides with court stormer
There’s a new name atop the all-time college basketball wins leaderboard: Tara VanDerveer earned her 1,203rd career win Sunday with No. 8 Stanford‘s 65-56 win over Oregon State. With Cameron Brink (leg) out, Kiki Iriafen scored a career-high 36 points. VanDerveer spoke with Isabel Gonzalez about her journey to the top of the mountain.
That capped an eventful Sunday: No. 18 Ohio State rallied from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to top No. 2 Iowa, 100-92, led by 33 points and 12 rebounds by Cotie McMahon in front of a program-record 18,660 fans. One of those 18,660 caused a scary scene, though. As fans stormed the court, Hawkeyes superstar Caitlin Clark was accidentally blindsided and fell to the court in obvious pain. Luckily, Clark (who scored 45 points) told reporters she’s fine, but she called the incident “disappointing.”
She’s right, just like Matt Norlander was right a few weeks ago when he told coaches to stay off the court. I’m all for court storming. But if players can’t be safe on the court of all places, what are we doing?!
The Ohio State women weren’t the only ones pulling off upsets. On the men’s side …
- West Virginia beat No. 3 Kansas, 91-85.
- Pitt stunned No. 7 Duke, 80-76, the Panthers’ first win at Cameron Indoor Stadium since 1979.
- Texas took down No. 9 Baylor, 75-73, on Tyrese Hunter‘s buzzer-beater.
- No. 10 Memphis lost its second straight game, falling to Tulane, 81-79.
We have grades and winners and losers from the weekend, and No. 8 Kentucky is a big winner after center Zvonimir Ivišić got cleared by the NCAA and delivered 13 points in his debut, a 105-96 win over Georgia. Matt says Ivišić makes an already-very-good team significantly better.
- Norlander: “The outlook on the next 10-12 weeks in this sport feels different after what happened Saturday in Lexington. The Wildcats were a national title contender without Big Z. Now they’ve got this cheat code coming off the bench? This looks like the deepest team in the country. … Nobody knows how good/consistent Ivišić will be, but even the threat of his 7-2 frame shooting, swatting, traipsing up and down the floor — it expands Kentucky’s profile.”
🏈 Ohio State reels in two standout transfers from Alabama
Alabama‘s losses from Nick Saban‘s retirement are other programs’ gains. And no one is gaining more than Ohio State.
On Friday, the Buckeyes added star safety Caleb Downs after a magnificent debut with the Crimson Tide that saw him earn second-team AP All-America and 247Sports True Freshman All-America honors. Two days later, five-star 2024 quarterback Julian Sayin transferred to Ohio State as well, just a month after joining the Crimson Tide as an early-enrollee freshman.
Downs is a stud. He was one of two freshmen with at least 100 tackles and multiple interceptions last season, and he also had a punt return touchdown. Now he joins a defense loaded with returning talent, including defensive ends JT Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer, cornerback Denzel Burke and defensive tackle Tyleik Williams.
Sayin, meanwhile, joins a quarterback room that has many new additions. Starter Kyle McCord transferred to Syracuse, but the Buckeyes added Will Howard from Kansas State, four-star recruit Air Noland (No. 57 overall in the 2024 class) and now Sayin, arguably the cherry on top. A five-star (No. 21 overall) recruit out of California, Sayin joined the Crimson Tide for practices and workouts last month ahead of the Rose Bowl.
Downs isn’t the only freshman standout leaving Tuscaloosa: Offensive lineman Kadyn Proctor transferred to Iowa.
📺 What we’re watching Monday
🏀 Spurs at 76ers, 7 p.m. on NBA TV
🏀 Wake Forest at No. 4 North Carolina (M), 7 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 No. 5 UCLA at No. 20 Utah (W), 7 p.m. on ESPN2
🏀 No. 7 Kansas State at No. 12 Baylor (W), 8:30 p.m. on FS1
🏀 Cincinnati at No. 3 Kansas (M), 9 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 Hawks at Kings, 10 p.m. on NBA TV