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The NFL Championship Games Establish Historic Super Bowl

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (left) and Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (right) will go head-to-head in Super Bowl LVII. Photo by CNN.

Another blow-out 31-7 win for the Philadelphia Eagles and a down-to-the-wire 23-20 victory for the Chiefs sets up a Super Bowl contest between the NFL’s two best teams.

Following the NFL Championship games, Super Bowl LVII can be described in four words: Blacks, brothers, Texas, and exes.

Super Bowl LVII will be the first time two Black starting quarterbacks, Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, face off for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. As the game plays out in the present on Feb. 12, it will be cemented in and celebrated as Black history at just the right time. The two quarterbacks also played high school football in Texas. 

Furthermore, when Eagles center Jason Kelce takes the field with his brother, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, family loyalty will be determined as they are the first pair of brothers to play against each other in a Super Bowl.

Finally, Andy Reid. The second-most winningest coach in Chiefs history has the most wins as a head coach in Eagles history. Reid coached the Eagles for 14 seasons from 1999-2012 and led the Birds to four consecutive NFC championship appearances from 2001-2004. Reid becomes the fifth head coach to face his former team in a Super Bowl, with the previous four coaches having a 2-2 record. 

However, what is coined as historic is determined by the outcome of what occurred in the present. Key moments in the NFC Championship games that serve as poignant memories for the San Francisco 49ers and Cincinnati Bengals led to the well-anticipated matchup between the Eagles and Chiefs.

Philadelphia Eagles 31 v. San Francisco 49ers 7: A Fourth String And An Elbow Injury 

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Controversy and chaos were present early.

The Eagles scored on their first drive, something they have accomplished more than anyone in the league this season. On fourth-and-three at San Francisco’s 35, the Eagles’ second-year wide receiver Devonta Smith made an outstretched one-handed grab before tucking the ball back into his chest. 

The ball hit the ground upon Smith’s landing; however, Philly forthwith went to the line of scrimmage and snapped the ball, giving the officials no time to review the play. Smith’s 29-yard reception set up a 6-yard Miles Sanders touchdown run. 

The Niners’ offense, led by the outstanding play of rookie quarterback Brock Purdy, set out on the ensuing drive to respond with a touchdown. 

Their response was interrupted.

Purdy threw an initially ruled incomplete pass in the middle of the field with a little over seven minutes left in the quarter. Upon further review via an Eagles challenge, the call was overturned and outside linebacker Hasson Reddick was credited for a forced fumble. 

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The interruption impacted the trajectory of the game. Kyle Shannahan would have to coach a fourth different quarterback of the year as Purdy injured his UCL on the same play. Josh Johnson, a member of 14 NFL teams across a 15-year football career, in his third stint with the 49ers, now had the responsibility of leading the Niners to an NFC Championship victory against a number one seed. 

To many, the game was now over. However, Christian McCaffrey kept the Niners alive. With Shanahan relying on his run game, McCaffrey answered the call and broke four tackles en route to a 23-yard rushing touchdown, his only one of the game. McCaffrey finished the game with 84 yards on 15 carries. 

Despite a profusion of penalties against their defense, the Niners secondary kept their teams’ hopes afloat. Johnson and the Niners offense received possession with 1:36 to go in the half down 14-7. Johnson collapsed under the moment’s pressure, failed to secure a snap, and Reddick pounced on the ball, his second involvement with a fumble in the game. Reddick also had two sacks in the game, matching his performance against the Giants in the divisional round. 

The Eagles capitalized on the fumble and another defensive penalty that gave them first-and-goal. Niners defensive back Nick Bosa did not cover the outside, and Boston Scott read the coverage and rushed outside for a 10-yard touchdown run with 16 seconds left as Niners. His touchdown was one of four rushing touchdowns by the Eagles. 

Matters only worsened for the Niners. 

Josh Johnson went down injured on the opening drive of the second half. Exhausted of quarterback options, Purdy entered the game incapable of throwing the ball. Johnson completed seven passes on 13 attempts for 74 yards. 

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Purdy completed two passes in a second half where the 49ers utilized every run play imaginable, with no success following. Desperation reached its peak when tight end George Kittle was placed in the rushing unit a little under two minutes into the fourth, gaining 4 yards. 

A Hurts rushing touchdown at the end of the third and a Jake Elliot 31-yard field goal at 5:17 in the fourth extended the lead to 31-7 for the Eagles.  

With 4:05 left in the game, Niner’s hybrid threat Deebo Samuel, who rushed for -9 yards in the game, had the ball knocked out of his care by Blankenship. Blankenship wrapped the ball in his hands like a blanket and stamped an Eagles trip to the warm state of Arizona.

Jalen Hurts will be the youngest quarterback in Eagles history to reach the Super Bowl. He demonstrates maturity beyond the age of 24. Every ounce of maturity is necessary to defeat a team that has appeared in three of the last four super bowls. 

Hurts displayed overzealous joy during the postgame celebration, leading the sold-out Lincoln Financial Field crowd, which included the First Lady, in a “Fly Eagles Fly” cover that could be heard all throughout the city of brotherly love. His impactful play justified his inferior vocal skills.

Head coach Nick Sirianni highlighted the impact the city of Philadelphia has on the team after the game. 

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“This is a blue-collar city and we think that is the type of team we have,” Sirianni said. 

Kansas City Chiefs 23 v. Cincinnati Bengals 20: A Push From Missouri to Arizona 

Only thirty seconds remain in an electrifying Arrowhead Stadium on a cold five-degree night in Kansas City, Missouri. The Chiefs have the ball near the middle of the field after a 29-yard punt return by rookie wide receiver Sky Moore at their 47-yard line. Mahomes, on an injured ankle with only three healthy receivers, couldn’t possibly manufacture another miracle and beat Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow for the first time, paving the way for his third trip to the Super Bowl in four years. 

An Isiah Pacheco six-yard run, and an incomplete pass by Mahomes would set up third-and-four with 17 seconds left, nowhere near field goal range. 

As the cold caused tears to roll down the eyes of 310-pound defensive tackle Chris Jones, Mahomes took the snap and rushed for five yards and a new set of downs on an injured ankle. 

Five yards were converted to an extra 15 when Bengals second-year defensive end Joseph Ossai received a penalty for unnecessary roughness after he pushed Mahomes to the ground when Mahomes was already out of bounds. That push to the ground propelled Mahomes and the Chiefs to the top of the AFC mountain as Harrison Butker kicked a 45-yard game-winning field goal. 

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After the game, Mahomes, who suffered a high ankle sprain that usually takes three to six weeks to recover from, denied crediting himself for such a miraculous performance and outcome.

“I just want to thank God,” Mahomes said. “He healed my body and gave me strength.” 

CBS reported during the pre-game telecast that Mahomes treated the ankle four to five hours a day to increase mobility. In addition to Mahomes’ ailing ankle, tight end Travis Kelce suffered a back injury in practice just days before the AFC championship battle. 

The offensive deficits left the Chiefs’ defense a great responsibility to keep their team in the game. Led by defensive player of the year candidate Chris Jones, Andy Reid’s defense did just that, sacking Joe Burrow three times in their first two defensive drives. Burrow was sacked once by the Buffalo Bills in the AFC divisional round.

The defense registered five sacks in the game, three coming in the first quarter. The Chiefs’ defense dominated the first quarter, holding Burrow to two completions for 12 yards, whereas Mahomes threw nine completions for 105 yards. The Bengals’ offense garnered just one first down while the Chiefs mustered up six, yet the score remained 3-0. 

Both defenses held their own, with the Chiefs holding on to a 6-3 lead deep into the second quarter. Fourteen yards away from the end zone with under five minutes left in the half, the Chiefs failed to secure the first down on third-and-one. They converted only 50 percent of third-and-ones in the regular season. However, they converted nearly 77 percent of their fourth down snaps on the season, good enough for second in the league. 

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The knowledge of Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, combined with the chemistry between Mahomes and Kelce, led to another successful fourth-down conversion on this drive. Mahomes found Kelce for a 14-yard touchdown, extending the Chiefs’ lead to 13-3 with the game’s first touchdown. 

Just three plays later, Burrow’s pass intended for Tee Higgins was picked off by rookie cornerback Jaylen Watson. A quick three-and-out by the Chiefs gave the Bengals the ball back with two minutes left in the quarter, down 13-3. Burrow led a 12-play, 90-yard drive that resulted in a field goal, narrowing the margin to 13-6 going into halftime. 

With injuries plaguing each team’s receiving core, Mahomes, and Burrow would have to will their team to victory with the tools in hand. 

The Chiefs settled for a punt on the second half’s opening drive. However, the ensuing offensive drives for each team saw the ball in the back of the end zone for a touchdown when Burrow found Tee Higgins for a 27-yard touchdown, followed by Mahomes finding Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 19-yard touchdown reception.

Higgins and Valdes-Scantlin led their respective teams in receiving yards. Higgins had 83 yards to Valdes-Scantling’s 116-yard performance. 

Bengals running back Samaje Perine ran for two yards into the end zone, tying the game at 20 with 13:30 remaining. 

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The show began. Arrowhead was pierced with elation and terror. Up to that point, Mahomes had 16 career game-winning drives, including two in the postseason. Mahomes, the second quarterback to start five straight conference championships at home, never lost a playoff game against an AFC opponent in regulation.

Burrow closed the stretch of this game with nine career game-winning drives, three of which were against the Chiefs. 

The journey to number four against the Chiefs became gloomy when he threw his second interception to Chiefs cornerback Joshua Williams with 7:02 left in the quarter. 

After all, defense wins games. 

Chris Jones’ second sack of the game couldn’t have come at a better time than on a third-and-eight, with 44 seconds left in the game. The clutch effort of Jones gave his hobbled quarterback a chance. A chance is all Mahomes needs. He capitalized as usual and capped off an incredible season by sealing a trip to Glendale, Arizona, on Feb. 12 to take on a defense that eats quarterbacks for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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