Over the weekend, four Divisional Round playoff games were held in the NFL, and – of course – half the teams had to lose.
Fans of the Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs, San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams are still rejoicing, but the actual, and very big winner was the National Football League.
All four games came down to the final moments and/or last play of the contests. All of them featured stirring heroics and heart-breaking flubs. All four teams and their fans can look back at those contests and say truthfully, “We played our hearts out.”
Of the most immediate interest to us is the Rams’ improbable win over the Buccaneers and Tom Brady, the Greatest of All Time.
After much back-and-forth, after the Rams had blown a 27-3 and were facing overtime at a hostile Raymond James Stadium. The boys from SoFi had just 42 seconds to pull off a miracle.
“I live for these kinds of moments,” said Rams quarterback Matt Stafford. “I would have loved to have been taking a knee when you’re up by three scores, but it’s a whole lot more fun when you got to make a play like that to win the game and just steal somebody’s soul.”
The Rams seemed to lose their souls earlier with four turnovers, but in the game’s waning seconds, Stafford hit Cooper Kupp for two passes that set up Matt Gay’s 30-yard field goal that won the game as time ran out.
Even that kind of a “gimme” field goal was full of drama. Gay had missed a 47-yard attempt earlier, a boot that fell short of the cross bar. This one just barely sneaked in inside the left upright.
Wow. Instant history.
Of course, the other big winner was coach Sean McVay. He made the call to go for it and not hope for better things in overtime. The longer view is that while in St. Louis, the Rams had 10 straight losing seasons and under Mr. McVay in LA, the Rams have posted five straight winning campaigns, been to the playoffs four of those years and made it to the conference championship game twice. There’s also the matter of the Super Bowl.
Every Rams fan knows that more heroics may be necessary next Sunday as the Rams try to break a six-game losing streak against the 49ers. But every real Rams supporter will want to savor this amazing historic triumph for a while.
At least until, say, Wednesday.
Lakers, Clippers losing, and lost the spotlight
Football has stolen the spotlight recently, and with good reason. And who feels very good about our Southern California NBA teams? The Lakers are 23-24 and in eighth place in the Western Conference, and the Clippers (23-25) are ninth.
Despite that, both teams do have a ghost of a chance to play past the end of the regular schedule. This year, the league has a new wrinkle for the post-season. Eight teams from each conference will make the “real” playoffs. The top six teams from each conference will automatically qualify, but those in seventh through 10th – which includes our guys – will be in a “Play-In” single-elimination tournament among themselves.
Yes, yes, it looks like a ploy to milk more TV revenue, but if Anthony Davis gets well and Russell Westbrook is more consistent, the Lakers, at least, might be able to make use of that almost-consolation bracket.
We won’t know until April, which is when baseball will take over. That’s if the lockout is over by then.
Final out: Announcer Al Michaels on the Rams-Buccaneers’ frantic finish: “This is officially lunacy.”
“Sports Monday” is written by Pete Zarustica.