The Bengals and Rams took much different routes to Super Bowl LVI

Happy Monday, everyone! We have our Super Bowl set.

Let’s get right to it.

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Good morning to everyone but especially to…

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Everyone loves a good comeback, right?

If that’s the case, everyone (outside of two specific fanbases) loved the Conference Championships.

Let’s start with the Bengals. I’ve always believed teams take the shape of their leaders, and Cincinnati certainly does that with Joe Burrow — a combination of scrappy, fearless, calm and tough. The Bengals finished 4-11-1 in 2020. They had a lot of work to do, starting with Burrow himself coming off a torn ACL. Now, he’s the first quarterback drafted No. 1 overall to reach the Super Bowl within his first two seasons, and the Bengals are the most unlikely conference champion in the last two decades.

Sunday, it was an outstanding defensive effort that turned the tide.

  • The Cincinnati defense held Kansas City to just three points in the second half.
  • Still, when the Bengals lost the coin flip to start overtime, it looked like that Herculean effort wouldn’t be enough. Remember last week, when the Chiefs got the ball first and won minutes later? This time, criminally underrated safety Jesse Bates batted a deep pass intended for Tyreek Hill into the arms of Vonn Bell.
  • A few plays later, Evan McPherson nailed yet another field goal, and the Bengals were celebrating.

A half-country away, the Rams came up with a memorable comeback of their own. In the fourth quarter, Matthew Stafford found Cooper Kupp for a touchdown (his second of the game), the defense — led by Aaron Donald and Von Miller — stepped up, and Matt Gay nailed the game-tying and game-winning field goals.

These are the moments Stafford hoped for when he got traded to Los Angeles exactly one year prior, and he delivered. Stafford’s fourth-quarter stats:

  • 11-for-14
  • 121 yards
  • 1 touchdown
  • 126.5 passer rating

Two weeks ago, Stafford finally won his first playoff game. Now, he’s one game from a title. Coming into this season, the Rams were all-in on a championship. The Bengals, meanwhile, were hoping Burrow would come back healthy and they could continue building around him long-term. Now, they’re meeting in the Super Bowl.

Is football awesome or what?

Honorable mentions

And not such a good morning for…

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“When you’re up 21-3 in a game, you can’t lose it, and I put that on myself.”

That was Patrick Mahomes speaking after the Chiefs’ shocking collapse. And he’s absolutely right.

The Chiefs had plenty of chances to put away the Bengals, but three stick out.

  • With five seconds left in the first half, the Chiefs were 1 yard from the end zone, already up 21-10.
  • With no timeouts left, Patrick Mahomes threw the ball to Tyreek Hill, who was stopped short of the end zone. Time ran out. No touchdown. No field goal. Nothing.

Later, after Cincinnati took a 24-21 lead with roughly six minutes left in the fourth quarter, Mahomes drove Kansas City into the redzone. This had to be the one, right? Mahomes was going to lead another game-winning drive.


  • On 2nd-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Mahomes took a sack.
  • On 3rd-and-goal he then took another one — and fumbled — all the way back at the 24.
  • Lucky for Mahomes, Joe Thuney recovered the loose ball, and Harrison Butker nailed the kick to go to overtime.

Then the Chiefs won the toss. Ok, this had to be the one, right? Wrong. Mahomes went incomplete, incomplete and then intercepted. He would never get the ball back.

The Bengals earned their way to the Super Bowl. The Chiefs certainly helped, too, though, writes our Dennis Dodd:

  • Dodd: “A week after the Chiefs stretched 13 seconds into glory, this will be known as the face plant heard around Chiefs Kingdom. … Patrick Mahomes reached his first Super Bowl in 2019, his second season as a starter and third in the league. That seems so long ago, as does that 18-point first-half lead that was surely going to push the Chiefs into their third straight Super Bowl. Then the worst thing happened to the burgeoning superstar and the franchise he carries on his half-billion dollar back.”

Not so honorable mention

  • The US men’s national team fell 2-0 at Canada. It was an uninspiring performance, as shown in the player grades from our soccer experts Chuck Booth and Roger Gonzalez. Wednesday’s match against Honduras is now a near must-win.

When is Tom Brady actually retiring? 🤔

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After 22 seasons, seven Super Bowl wins, five Super Bowl MVPs, three MVPs, and most major passing records, Tom Brady is expected to call it a career, per CBS Sports NFL insider Jason La Canfora.

BUT Brady has not yet made an announcement, and Brady’s agent (Don Yee), father (Tom Brady Sr.) and coach (Bruce Arians) all said there’s been no decision. However, that is expected to change soon, according to our La Canfora:

  • La Canfora: “‘He is very respectful of the game, and has great respect for the Tampa organization and all they have done for him,’ said one source close to the quarterback. ‘He understands the ramifications that this decision would have on the team moving forward, and he would never want to do anything to upstage the playoffs. Whatever he decides, I’d expect he announces it soon.‘”

It’s hard to imagine an NFL without Brady (I was 3 years old when he was drafted, so it’s really hard for me.) Brady has spent half of his life in the league. He’s shared the field with fathers of current players, including that of his Tampa Bay teammate, Antoine Winfield Jr.

There are so many moments to pick from Brady’s incredible career, and NFL expert Cody Benjamin revisited all seven of his Super Bowl wins. For me, it all blends together. There is not a box he did not check. He won it all early, he won it all late, and then he won it all even later — later than any quarterback in NFL history.

You could have made a case 10 years ago, when Brady went a decade between championships, that his peak was behind him. Instead, he won four more titles. Quite simply, there will never be another Tom Brady — whenever he decides to call it quits.

Raiders, Giants tab new head coaches 🏈

Longtime Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is getting another shot at being an NFL head coach, this time with the RaidersMcDaniels’ ventures into head coaching haven’t gone well.

  • He went just 11-17 from 2009-10 with the Broncos, and was fired before completing his second season.
  • Then, in 2018, McDaniels accepted the Colts job but never coached for them because he decided instead to return to the Patriots.

Otherwise, McDaniels’ credentials are quite strong. The Patriots’ offense was top-10 in points in 12 of McDaniels’ 13 seasons as offensive coordinator, including this year with rookie Mac Jones at quarterback.

Meanwhile, the Giants also chose an AFC East offensive coordinator for their opening: Brain Daboll. Daboll worked wonders with Josh Allen and will hope to do the same for Daniel Jones. Daboll was a finalist for the Dolphins‘ job, and the Saints had hoped to interview him, so this is a big get for Big Blue.

Rafael Nadal, Ashleigh Barty make history at Australian Open 🎾

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Rafael Nadal knows a thing or two about comebacks. This one — or, rather, these ones — might be his finest yet. Nadal overcame a two-set deficit, topping Daniil Medvedev 2-6, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 to win the 2022 Australian Open. This one is special for Nadal for many reasons:

  • His 21st career major, breaking a tie with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer for most ever by a man
  • First comeback from two sets down since 2007

But a two-set deficit is far from the biggest obstacle Nadal overcame. He’d struggled with a foot injury since May 2021, and he had a breakthrough COVID-19 case in December 2021. In his post-match speech, Nadal admitted he didn’t know if he would play pro tennis again.

There was a feel-good story in women’s singles, too: Ashleigh Barty became the first Australian to win the title since 1978. Barty did not drop a single set all tournament, capped off by a 6-3, 7-6 (7-2) triumph over Danielle Collins.

What we’re watching Monday 📺

🏀 No. 9 Duke at Notre Dame, 7 p.m. on ESPN
🏀 No. 6 Indiana at No. 7 Michigan, 7 p.m. on ESPN2
🏀 Heat at Celtics, 7:30 p.m. on NBA TV

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