By Howard Balzer
It is often said that time flies, and I couldn’t help but reflect on that in the last few days.
Last summer, while interviewing former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Warren Sapp during the Pro Football Hall of Fame weekend in Canton, Ohio, I asked Sapp about time flying and wondered if he found it hard to believe he had been enshrined six years earlier.
Sapp laughed and responded, “I’ve always said: Days drag, years fly and decades zoom.”
Do they ever.
Consider that this weekend is the 20th anniversary of the Rams rocking the dome with a pulsating 11-6 victory over a Buccaneers team that had Sapp on it, sending them to the Super Bowl against Jeff Fisher’s Tennessee Titans.
Today (Jan. 16) is the anniversary of the first home game in St. Louis pro football history when wide receiver Isaac Bruce scored a 77-yard touchdown on the Rams’ first offensive play of the game to help push his team to a 49-37 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
The day before, the Jacksonville Jaguars ingloriously ended the head coaching career of now Hall of Famer Jimmy Johnson with a 62-7 thrashing. The Jaguars then lost at home in the AFC title game to the Titans. And, let’s not forget that Tennessee got that season’s playoffs off to a smashing start by defeating the Buffalo Bills in the Music City Miracle.
In that game, Kevin Dyson ran for a touchdown after a controversial lateral pass on a kickoff return to win the game. Several weeks later in the Super Bowl, Dyson was tackled one yard short of a potential tying touchdown on Mike Jones’ tackle after Bruce had scored the winning touchdown on a 73-yard play. Bruce is the only player in history with two receiving touchdowns of 70 yards or more in the same postseason.
So, here we are with Kansas City hosting Tennessee and Green Bay visiting San Francisco Sunday to determine who will be playing in Super Bowl LIV in South Florida.
(To reflect and look ahead, a personal heads-up is that on The Hardline Friday from 2-4 pm, I am filling in and guests include Dick Vermeil, Fisher and 49ers general manager John Lynch, who played in the Rams-Bucs game and is a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame along with Rams receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.)
The Chiefs are at home in the AFC title game for the second consecutive year, this time facing the gritty Derrick Henry, who has rushed for 1,273 yards in his last eight games including the playoffs. That’s 159.1 yards per game. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill has attempted just 29 passes in his team’s two playoff games, completing 15 for 160 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. In last weekend’s win over Baltimore, Tannehill attempted four passes in the second half.
For Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, this will be the 28th playoff game of his career, the fourth-most of any coach in NFL history. But his overall record is 13-14 and he’s been to the Super Bowl only once, losing to the Patriots when he was with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes said this week if the Chiefs win Sunday, “I would probably be happier for him, for sure,” while acknowledging, obviously, that “I’ll be pretty happy, too, for myself.”
Of Reid, Mahomes added, “The work that he has put in every single day, everywhere he’s been, he’s had success, so we want to get him that Super Bowl. But we understand it’s a process. First off we’ve got to come in, have a great practice today, play great this weekend, and then try to give ourselves a chance to try to get in that game and try to get ourselves that trophy.”
Perhaps bulletin-board material isn’t needed at this time of the year, but Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill provided some anyway when he said, “I feel like nobody in the NFL can guard any of us, and that’s no disrespect to nobody. That’s just the confidence that I got in myself and the wideouts I’ve got around me, including the tight ends and the running backs. I feel like no DB unit, no secondary unit, no linebacker, any defense can guard any of us. So man-to-man is just easy for us to beat. If you just allow us to run through zones, it’s even easier.”
Earlier this season on Nov. 10 in Tennessee, the Titans defeated the Chiefs 35-32 and blocked a field-goal attempt as time expired. Hill had 11 receptions for 157 yards while Mahomes passed for 446.
That game was the first of Henry’s finishing flourish when he rushed for 188 yards on 28 attempts (8.2 average) and two touchdowns, including a 68-yard run.
Game on, fellas.
Meanwhile, two 13-3 teams meet in the Bay Area for the second time this season. On Nov. 24, the 49ers ran away from the Packers, 37-8, after building a 23-0 halftime lead.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 20 of 33 passes for just 104 yards and was sacked five times. Meanwhile, 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was 14-for-20 for 253 yards with two touchdowns and a 145.8 passer rating. One of his scores was a 61-yarder to tight end George Kittle, who had six receptions for 129 yards.
Overall, Green Bay totaled 198 yards on 70 plays, averaging 2.8 yards per snap and were 1-for-15 on third down. The 49ers ran just 45 plays but averaged 7.5 yards for 339 total on just 24:44 on possession time.
Coach-of-the-Year candidate Kyle Shanahan said of Rodgers, “There’s probably not anyone on the planet who throws better than him. There might be a couple guys that you can compare with him, but his arm talent is just unbelievable, his athletic ability is unbelievable. He’s always been able to run around, extend plays, make throws from any angle and he’s a very intelligent guy who can get them in the right play and it’s hard to throw stuff at him that he’s not prepared for.
“He can make a throw in any situation. He’s got a lot of players around him and there’s a reason he seems to be in this game a lot.”
Shanahan said his team won’t be focusing on what happened two months ago.
“The guys see tape on them from the whole year,” Shanahan said. “And even if you go back and watch our game, that was much more competitive than the score looked. You get 38 points and things like that, but you go to some of the turnovers that happened, some big plays, but it was a lot harder of a game than it seemed and all the other games that you watch on tape. It looks like you’re playing a really good team and it looks like you’re playing a team that has the record that they do.”
Rodgers said, “You realize playing against them how good they are.”
He’s also not surprised the two teams are playing again.
“At the time, they had a two-game lead after that game, plus obviously the tiebreaker, so just calculating things in my head, I figured if we got to the playoffs and made a run we’d probably have to beat them in their place at some point,” Rodgers said. “Sure enough we’re back in a situation where we have to do it to get to the Super Bowl.”