NFL Playoffs Recap and Analysis


Brendan Bullock ’23

2022 Super Bowl Bracket.

On February 13th, the Los Angeles Rams hoisted the Lombardi Trophy for only the second time in franchise history, overcoming the Cincinnati Bengals to become the 2021-2022 NFL Champions. This year, the state-of-the-art SoFi Stadium – the home of the Rams – played host to the event, making it the second consecutive year that a Super Bowl was hosted at the home stadium of one of the finalists. In front of a full crowd, the Rams beat the underdog Bengals with strong performances from eventual Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp and perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Aaron Donald. The entire postseason was an incredible journey from start to finish, featuring enthralling matchups and incredible talent.

In the month leading up to the Super Bowl, the 2021-2022 NFL postseason kicked off with the newly-implemented “Super Wild Card Weekend,” featuring seven teams – one more team than past years – from each conference. The wild card round featured four blowouts, but the two games within one score were where the action truly was. Though the Bengals won, a controversial inadvertent whistle gave them a crucial touchdown early in the game. The Cowboys, meanwhile, entered a tough matchup against rival San Francisco 49ers. The Niners entered the fourth quarter with a thirteen-point lead, but Dallas was soon within a touchdown with possession and less than two minutes left. The Cowboys advanced downfield, and with fourteen seconds and no timeouts, ran the ball up the middle of the field in a perplexing move. Dallas players attempted to spike the ball against the rules, before the referee spotted it. Since Cowboys players obstructed the referee’s path to the ball, the clock expired, bringing the whirlwind game to an end and sending Dallas home.

The Divisional Round was an incredible and action-packed week of football. All six games were within one score, and two games went to overtime. Bengals rookie kicker Evan McPherson hit a walk-off field goal to eliminate the number-one seeded Tennessee Titans, the 49ers made a walk-off field goal to squeak past the Green Bay Packers, and the Rams also scored yet another game-winning kick to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This final matchup was to be the final game for arguably the greatest football player of all time, Tom Brady. A few days later, Brady announced his retirement after 22 seasons in the NFL. The prior week’s controversy continued into the Bills-Chiefs contest. Down with under two minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Bills struck for two touchdowns, taking a one-score lead with only 13 seconds left. Not to be outdone, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes found Tyreek Hill deep downfield to tie the game and send it to overtime. The Chiefs won the coin toss, meaning the game would end if they scored a touchdown. Kansas City did just that, finding All-Pro TE Travis Kelce over the middle for a walk-off touchdown that made many fans question the league’s overtime rules. An action-packed Divisional Round may have disappointed some fans of eliminated teams, but electrified the entire football world.

With fans still recovering from the week before, the Championship Round was just as action-packed. The Bengals and Chiefs faced off for the AFC title and a ticket to So-Fi Stadium. A tightly fought game between gunslingers Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes could not be decided in the regulation sixty minutes. Just like the week before, the Chiefs won the coin toss and got the ball first to begin overtime, only for the Bengals defense to stifle them, forcing a third-and-long. Mahomes’s ensuing pass was deflected and intercepted by cornerback Vonn Bell. Burrow pushed his team downfield, setting up another walk-off kick for Evan McPherson. Coolly, McPherson sank the kick and sent the Bengals to the Super Bowl. In the NFC, two divisional rivals, the 49ers and Rams duked it out. While 49ers’ QB Jimmy Garrapalo sputtered, dual-threat WR/RB Deebo Samuel stunned, single-handedly keeping the game close. In the end, however, the Rams’ overwhelming attack of Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. put them over the top to win 20-17.

Super Bowl LVI was exactly the Hollywood blockbuster any game in Los Angeles would aspire to be. The Rams struck first on a stunning catch by Beckham, only for him to leave the game soon after with an injury later revealed to be a torn ACL. The Rams’ momentum continued nevertheless, as Cooper Kupp continued the action with his sixth touchdown of the postseason. To make it a three-point game, Bengals RB Joe Mixon ran a “Philly Special”-esque play, lobbing the ball to Tee Higgins for the first Cincinnati touchdown of the game. After trading field goals in the third, the Rams trailed by four points near the end of the fourth quarter. Rams QB Matt Stafford quickly drove down field, and once in the red zone, four consecutive plays were flagged for penalties. Now near the brink of the goal line, Stafford found Kupp for his second touchdown of the game, leaving the Rams only a defensive stop away from the Super Bowl title. The Rams stood strong, managing to stop the Bengals on the third and fourth down with only a yard gained. On the fourth down, Burrow had no time to even find a receiver, as Aaron Donald quickly dispatched the offensive line for a sack, sealing the win. In the end, the Bengals’ biggest problem all season reared its ugly head as Burrow was sacked a record-setting seven times.

Following four quarters of thrilling football, Rams players and confetti alike poured onto the field as the Lombardi Trophy was raised high into the Los Angeles night. Football fans will now patiently await the NFL’s return in five months time.