While flipping through the channels the other night, I stumbled upon the timeless Talladega Nights, one of the most quotable comedies of the current century and, in my opinion, a top-three entry in the Will Ferrell cinematic canon (Anchorman and Step Brothers round out the top three. Sorry to any Old School truthers in the room). Ferrell’s ludicrous portrayal of Ricky Bobby, an irreverent NASCAR driver with an affinity for wheelchair basketball and Powerade (specifically their new release, Mystic Mountain Blueberry), is a comedic masterpiece of the highest order. We could spend all day debating the film’s cultural impact or where it ranks in the hierarchy of movie comedies but to me, it all boils down to one iconic quote attributed to the late, great Colonel Sanders: “I’m too drunk to taste this chicken.”


What a perfect encapsulation of Sunday’s seven-hour reign of madness, a double-dip of football anarchy that will never, ever be topped. This year’s conference championship slate was drunker than Pam Beasley at The Dundies (which earned her a lifetime ban from Chili’s). High drama, coaching blunders, bad beats, controversial calls, comically large coats, khakis, a breathtaking Andy Reid close-up, another Microsoft tablet sacrificed to the gods (courtesy of one Bill Belichick), the latest in a long line of Tom Brady miracles, a side-splitting Todd Gurley photo-shop and the resurrection of Franken-Gronk—Sunday truly had it all. Whatever adjective you want to attach to it—gripping, draining, heart-breaking, heroic—January 20, 2019 will go in the books as one of the greatest single days in the history of American football. But as wildly entertaining as the two games were, Sunday’s action left behind a stream of loose ends and more than a few unanswered questions. I’m not sure if I can neatly wrap up every mystery left behind in Sunday’s wake—I’m a football writer, not Sherlock Holmes—but since you asked, here are 10 questions I’ve been pondering since the final whistle.


1. Should the Jaguars go all-in and sign Johnny Hekker to be their franchise quarterback?


I’m only half-kidding. When your season is hanging by a thread and your team needs a shot of life—which was very much the case after the Rams sleep-walked their way through a disastrous first quarter in the screaming-loud Superdome—why not turn to your All-Pro punter to right the ship? That’s Football 101, guys. Get with the program.


Just when it looked like the moment was too big for Los Angeles and its wunderkind head coach Sean McVay (who I’m pretty sure still gets carded at T.G.I. Friday’s), the Rams dialed up some elaborate trickery to get themselves back in the game. L.A.’s successful fake punt on fourth down in the second quarter was the jolt of energy the Rams desperately needed and for that, they have Johnny Hekker to thank. We all know Hekker has a booming right leg—his punting exploits have earned him six straight All-Pro selections—but who knew that his right arm could turn the tide of a conference title game?


The Rams have gone to this well before, many times, in fact. Including the postseason, Hekker has completed 12 of his 20 career pass attempts for 168 yards and a touchdown. That computes to a marvelous 103.8 quarterback rating. So to all you quarterback-needy teams in search of a franchise signal-caller (I know you’re listening Jacksonville and Denver), why break the bank on Nick Foles when you can have a dual-threat like Hekker? Talk about one-dimensional—Foles has never even attempted a punt in his seven NFL seasons.


2. What is Sean Payton’s sick obsession with Taysom Hill?


Excuse me for using a Celtics analogy (I’ll be in the building for Celtics/Warriors on Saturday) but the Saints’ use of Taysom Hill, aka the Mormon Missile, bears a striking resemblance to Marcus Smart and his ill-advised affinity for shooting three-pointers. I hate when Smart gets the bright idea to shoot a trey but it’s even worse when he actually makes one because then it gives him the confidence to keep chucking (inevitably he’ll miss the next seven). Which is why I wanted to jump through my television and tackle Sean Payton when Hill scored a touchdown during the third quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Rams.


Will someone please stop this madness? All season Payton has insisted on jamming Hill down our throats, even going as far as to substitute him for Drew Brees, who has thrown for more passing yards than any human so far. I’m not opposed to a little gadgetry—there’s a time and a place for jack-of-all-trade types like Tavon Austin and Cordarrelle Patterson. But taking a Hall of Famer off the field when you’re in the red zone in a playoff game? To me, that’s a bridge too far. Not to mention that any time Hill lines up, it’s a dead giveaway the Saints are running the ball (teams caught on early in the year when Baltimore was using Lamar Jackson the exact same way). I hate to be the “get-off-my-lawn” guy, but this ill-fated Hill experiment needs to end. There’s a difference between clever and outsmarting yourself and Payton’s infatuation with Hill is straddling that line. I’m ready to nip this thing in the bud—a hunger strike, an intervention, a kick-starter page—whatever it takes to open Payton’s eyes. Who’s with me? #StopTaysom


3. Does anyone know of Todd Gurley’s whereabouts?


Most would expect Todd Gurley, he of 21 regular season touchdowns, to be a focal point of the Rams’ offense in their most important matchup of the season. But that wasn’t the case in Sunday’s conference title game as Los Angeles leaned heavily (no pun intended) on late-season pickup C.J. Anderson (the subject of last week’s Bump and Run) while Gurley presumably spent the afternoon sipping tea and reading Malcolm Gladwell books on the sideline. The Rams employed a committee against the Cowboys a week earlier but Sunday’s backfield split was far from even as Anderson out-touched Gurley by a lopsided 17-5 margin. Gurley didn’t look like himself either, gaining just 13 yards from scrimmage (he did score a touchdown) while committing two brutal drops including one that led to an interception deep in the Rams’ own territory. By his own admission it was a “sorry” performance by the fourth-year pro, but is that really why Gurley spent the bulk of Sunday’s game in witness protection?


With a trip to Atlanta on the line, seeing Touchdown Todd play second fiddle to Anderson (who spent less than a week at his last gig before getting the boot from Jon Gruden) may have been the most shocking reveal in a weekend full of amazing, borderline impossible outcomes. Gurley battled knee issues late in the year and it’s hard to believe that wasn’t a factor in his benching, though the three-time All-Pro selection looked fine against Dallas (118 yards and a touchdown) and claimed injuries weren’t to blame for his conference round struggles. Wherever the truth lies, Gurley’s role is sure to be the talk of Super Bowl LIII.  


4. When did Sean McVay become Mr. Conservative?


Since his arrival in Los Angeles, no coach has pressed more right buttons than Sean McVay, the Rams’ spiky-haired offensive prodigy. Armed with a photographic memory and a knack for offensive pyrotechnics, it seems everything McVay touches turns to gold. In a two-year span, he’s elevated Jared Goff from bust status to one of the league’s elite signal-callers while turning around a franchise that was left for dead by mustachioed court jester Jeff Fisher. In a copycat league, the 32-year-old’s impact has been widely felt as teams have spent the past two coaching cycles hungrily searching for the next McVay, abandoning the cocoon in favor of younger, offensive-minded head coaches like Kliff Kingsbury, Matt LaFleur and Zac Taylor (the latter two coming from McVay’s own coaching tree).


McVay has done a lot right since landing in the City of Angels and many coaches across football have followed his lead by moving toward more inventive offenses bolstered by aggressive play-calling. But against New Orleans, McVay didn’t practice what he preached. In one of the more stunning developments of Sunday’s NFC title bout, Los Angeles—a team predicated on its fierce, swing-for-the-fences mentality—played it inexplicably safe, opting for a field goal on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line with just over five minutes left in regulation. Perhaps Gurley’s ineffectiveness played a role in his decision-making, but with L.A.’s season hanging in the balance, it was jarring to see McVay settle for three instead of going for the jugular.  


5. Was this the worst call in NFL history?


It’s hard to speak in absolutes when discussing the vast scope of NFL history, but given the circumstances, I’m confident in saying there hasn’t been a worse call in a bigger game than Sunday’s missed pass interference at the Superdome. I’m not entirely sure why Tommylee Lewis, a pint-sized special teamer with 20 career catches, was the intended target on arguably the Saints’ most important play of the season, but that’s not the headline here. Whether it was Lewis, Michael Thomas, Ted Ginn, Abraham Lincoln or Tom Pritchard from those Progressive ads (“Can we get a round of jalapeno poppers for me and the boys please?”), Nickell Robey-Coleman undoubtedly committed a foul and should have been flagged for pass interference, setting up first-and-goal from the five-yard line. With Los Angeles down to its last timeout, the Saints could have milked the clock before booting a chip-shot field goal to pull ahead in the closing seconds (a touchdown also would have done the trick). But instead the zebras kept their whistles buried, denying the Saints an opportunity to play in Super Bowl LIII. New Orleans could have finished the deed in overtime but a John Johnson interception threw a wrench in that plan.


The missed call was another gut punch to a team still licking its wounds from last year’s Minneapolis Miracle. It’s bad enough that he didn’t make a play on the ball, which is the dictionary definition of pass interference, but Robey-Coleman was also guilty of a personal foul for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Lewis. The sequence will surely haunt Saints fans for years to come and if this was Brees’ last chance to add a second Super Bowl ring to his resume, it’s a shame that opportunity was spoiled by something out of his control.


6. How did Julian Edelman not touch it?


First of all, how did it get overturned? We’ve all seen the play in question. My belief is that Edelman didn’t touch the ball, though others are convinced it grazed his thumb (the fact that his gloves were the same shade of red as the ball only made it more confusing). Either way, for referees to overturn a call, there must be indisputable evidence to change it. There was not. Not that it made much difference. Karma took the wheel moments later as a dropped pass by Edelman quickly led to a Chiefs interception. 


Let’s say Edelman did avoid touching it (perhaps he was inspired by Catherine Zeta-Jones’ performance in Entrapment). If that’s the case—and clearly the officials at Arrowhead Stadium saw it that way—Edelman is both a ninja and a reckless lunatic. The Patriots slot man would have been better off resting his hand on a hot stove than running down Dustin Colquitt’s wobbly punt, but like a clueless puppy equipped with little more than blissful ignorance, he tried to make a play and almost paid dearly for it. Edelman redeemed himself with a number of clutch grabs in overtime including a pair of third-down conversions, but Patriots fans surely could have done without the heart attack that came before it. Then again, tightrope-walking has always been a specialty of Edelman’s.


7. Is Gronk a thing again?


We’ve been quick to write off Rob Gronkowski this year, dismissing the once-great tight end as an injury-riddled shell of his former self. Even in the rare instances when he’s drawn praise, analysts have largely focused on the 29-year-old’s superior blocking while operating under the assumption that Gronk’s days of being a difference-making pass-catcher are long over. After flirting with the idea last offseason, most have considered Gronk’s long-rumored retirement a near-certainty this time around. And while that possibility still looms—NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Sunday that Gronkowski is eyeing a post-football career in acting—Sunday’s resurgence in Kansas City proved that No. 87 still has something left in the tank.


After securing his lone target a week earlier against the Chargers, Gronkowski tripled that output with a trio of first-quarter catches. He wasn’t heard from much in the middle quarters but when the Pats needed a hero to push them over the top in the game’s closing minutes, Gronk was more than willing to play the part. His towering 25-yard catch over ace (albeit hobbled) safety Eric Berry gave New England a pulse in the fourth quarter while his chain-moving 15-yarder in overtime bailed the Patriots out of another third-and-long. In many ways, 2018 has been the most frustrating season of Gronkowski’s illustrious career, but when it mattered most on Sunday, he was there to throw New England a life preserver. 


8. Is Tony Romo a prophet?


Romo’s penchant for reading plays was a fun gimmick at first, but at this point, the ex-Cowboy’s predictive powers have gone well beyond harmless parlor trick and into the realm of full-on sorcery. After watching Romo correctly prognosticate nearly every pivotal play in Sunday’s Patriots victory, I’m beginning to wonder if this is really the best use of his powers. If Romo can truly see into the future, shouldn’t he be working for the military or the FBI? And how has no team snatched him up as a coach or at least a coordinator yet? He’s Will Hunting minus the Southie accent. I know CBS is our competitor here at NBC, but I’m definitely looking forward to hearing Tony drop some knowledge in the booth at Super Bowl LIII.


9. Who summoned Rex Burkhead from Patriots backfield purgatory?


I’m willing to bet most of you own a sweater that collects dust in the back of your closet, waiting to see the light of day. That’s been Rex Burkhead this season. 2018 has been a real kick in the pants for Burkhead, who has spent most of the year either injured or ceding backfield duties to first-year bull-dozer Sony Michel and stud receiving back James White. Sunday’s game in Kansas City looked like it would be no different as Michel went to the locker room with 19 first-half carries compared to just two for Burkhead. But with Michel running on fumes in the second half, the Patriots unleashed Burkhead in a big way, riding him to a pair of touchdowns including a walk-off two-yarder to send New England to its third straight Super Bowl appearance. The Nebraska product had his struggles—he was stonewalled on fourth-and-short early in the fourth quarter—but without his two end-zone visits, the Patriots might be looking at tee times right now instead of flights to Atlanta.


10. When will all of you stop doubting Tom Brady?


Nobody gives Father Time the middle finger quite as emphatically as Tom Brady, the fine wine of NFL quarterbacks. Every year we find new ways to critique the Pats’ offense. Brady’s deep ball isn’t what it used to be. Gronk has one foot out the door. Brandin Cooks is gone. ESPN said Brady and Belichick hate each other’s guts. The Patriots can’t win away from Foxboro. And while there’s a layer of truth to all these criticisms, after two decades of seeing Brady escape danger in increasingly insane fashion, how could anyone in their right mind doubt him?


Brady finished Sunday’s game with a 77.1 quarterback rating, his fourth-lowest of the season. He was intercepted twice (three times if you include the one negated by an offside flag thrown against Dee Ford) with one of them coming at the one-yard line. The Patriots woke a sleeping giant in Patrick Mahomes while watching a 14-point halftime lead give way to a four-point Chiefs advantage with 2:03 remaining in the fourth quarter. But even while frostbitten and fourteen hundred miles from home, Brady shined by doing what he does best—embracing the chaos.


With flames all around him, Brady put out the latest in a career full of fires, demoralizing the Chiefs with a series of do-or-die third-down conversions including three in overtime. Brady wasn’t perfect Sunday—just when it mattered. Patrick Mahomes may be the NFL’s next big thing, but the 41-year-old proved to be a worthy sparring partner, matching Mahomes blow for blow in a late-developing shootout at Arrowhead (so much for the under, huh)? A huge assist goes to New England’s stout offensive line, a unit that has yet to allow a sack in this year’s postseason. That’s quite an achievement considering some of the elite pass-rushers they’ve faced during that span (Joey Bosa, Dee Ford, Justin Houston and Chris Jones to name a few). For those eagerly waiting for New England’s dynasty to dissolve, just know that nothing is over until Brady says it is.

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