It was everything pro football has become in 2018… in excess.
The NFL wanted and expected a spectacle Monday night in L.A. when the Los Angeles Rams faced the Kansas City Chiefs, a showcase event in a season that has been all about historically great quarterback play, revved-up offenses, renewed enthusiasm among fans and improved TV viewership.
And that’s precisely what the NFL got — and then some.
Rams 54, Chiefs 51 was the extravaganza that everyone wanted to see. It was the third-highest-scoring game in NFL history. It was the first-ever NFL game in which each team had 50 or more points. And there even was enough glory to go around for the defenses to receive some congratulations.
“I thought it was really just a competitive game,” Rams Coach Sean McVay said at his postgame news conference, “with a lot of high-caliber football in all three phases…. It was an incredible job by both teams being able to deliver a great product tonight.”
The teams combined for 1,001 yards of total offense, 546 of them by the Chiefs. Rams quarterback Jared Goff threw for 413 yards and four touchdowns. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for 478 yards and six touchdowns.
“This,” former NFL defensive lineman Booger McFarland, now an analyst for ESPN, said on the network’s postgame show, “is the new NFL.”
Indeed it is. It is a season in which the new generation of star quarterbacks, with Mahomes and Goff prominent among them, has announced its arrival while all-time greats such as the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees, the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers and the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady have continued to thrive.
The passing numbers have been staggering. The points have piled up at record rates. Defensive players have complained that the rules have been tweaked to make their jobs nearly impossible.
And that’s just fine with the NFL. Offense sells. TV ratings are up. Fans seem pleased.
Remember last season, when so many standout players were hurt and so much attention was given to off-field controversies such as players’ protests during the national anthem and the attempt by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to block NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract extension? All of that has quieted down. Those are fading memories. The NFL is back to enjoying its status as the nation’s most popular and prosperous sports league.
Monday night was the NFL’s chance to savor and celebrate that.
“This game was as advertised,” former Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said in the ESPN broadcast booth.
Goff called the game “unbelievable” and said in a televised postgame interview: “It was four quarters of craziness.”
It fell eight points shy of the NFL’s highest-scoring game. That was Redskins 72, Giants 41 in 1966. Second on that list is Bengals 58, Browns 48 in 2004.
It was the highest-scoring edition of “Monday Night Football.” The previous record was Packers 48, Redskins 47 in 1983.
This game was 23-all at the half. The Rams led, 40-30, after three quarters.
“I could go on and on,” McVay said. “It was a great game today.”
Mahomes and Goff are superb young quarterbacks surrounded by excellent players and working in sound and creative offensive systems. The wide-open version of the sport seen at the college level has trickled up to the NFL, and it has made for a captivating on-field product.
“I told him it felt like Texas Tech and Cal,” Goff said of his conversation with Mahomes.
It would be wrong to say that there was no defense played Monday night, however. A Rams defensive player, linebacker Samson Ebukam, scored two touchdowns, one on a return of a fumble recovery and one via an interception. Aaron Donald forced two fumbles by Mahomes. The Rams sealed the outcome with two late interceptions of Mahomes passes.
“I think I gave them 21 points, pretty much, through turnovers,” Mahomes said.
The Chiefs also had a touchdown on defense. The two defenses were doing about the only thing that can be done against a great offense in today’s NFL: try to generate turnovers and points of your own, even while giving up big yards and plenty of points. The Rams were particularly adept at that Monday.
“Welcome to the new NFL when it comes to defensive football,” former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi wrote on Twitter. “Offenses will move the ball and score. Make a handful of plays a game to take the ball away and get your offense a couple extra possessions. Score on defense is A+. It hurt to write that.”
The Chiefs’ record fell to 9-2. In their two losses, they scored 40 points against the Patriots and 51 points against the Rams. They join the 1966 Giants as the only teams since 1940 to have two losses in the same season with 40 or more points scored.
“We can learn from this in a lot of different ways,” Chiefs Coach Andy Reid said.
Not everything was perfect Monday night. The officials threw too many flags, in the estimation of some observers, in a game that had 21 penalties, 13 of them on the Chiefs. But that’s nitpicking. The NFL, which moved the game from Mexico City to L.A. because of concerns about the condition of the playing surface at Azteca Stadium, was rewarded with just the kind of event it wanted.
“I hope,” Goff said, “it was fun for everyone.”
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