Zac Taylor: Joe Burrow’s ability to put a hit behind him makes our job easier

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Cincinnati Bengals v Tennessee Titans
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As the saying goes, if you get knocked down nine times, you get up 10.

One could say something similar about Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who overcame nine sacks to defeat the Titans 19-16 in the divisional round on Saturday.

One of Burrow’s best throws was his last, firing a 19-yard pass to Ja’Marr Chase to move Cincinnati into field goal range with 15 seconds on the clock after Logan Wilson’s interception.

The quarterback finished the game 28-of-37 for 348 yards with an interception.

After the contest, head coach Zac Taylor told reporters Burrow’s resiliency was a big reason why the Bengals came away with a victory.

“If I had the answer for why Joe Burrow is good at what he does then, I don’t know. I’d sell that, I’d bottle it up and sell it,” Taylor said, via Jake Rice of the team’s website. “He’s just special, that allows us to continue to call things the way we call them. Because even after a sack or negative play, or you still feel like we’re always going to get it back with the weapons that we got.

“Joe’s ability to put a hit behind him and move on to the next play and find a, one of his freak shows as he likes to call them you know, it makes our job a lot easier to play-callers.”

The Bengals will find out whether they’re traveling to Buffalo or Kansas City later today with the result of the contest between the two teams.

Derrick Henry: The fourth-down stop will play in my mind every day until we play again

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Cincinnati Bengals v Tennessee Titans
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Titans running back Derrick Henry returned to play in the playoffs after a foot injury that required surgery sidelined him for the second half of the season.

But the results weren’t what he or the Titans wanted.

Henry rushed for 62 yards on 20 carries with a 3-yard touchdown in the second quarter of the 19-16 loss to the Bengals. Henry’s longest run of the game was 9 yards.

But Henry was arguably less effective than D’Onta Foreman, who rushed for 66 yards on four carries and ripped off a 45-yard gain in the third quarter. That was before one of quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s three interceptions ended the scoring threat.

Henry also came up short in one of the game’s biggest moments. On fourth-and-1 from the Cincinnati 35 with 7:21 left in the fourth quarter, Henry was stuffed for a 2-yard loss and a turnover on downs.

“It’s always disappointing when you come up short in anything,” Henry said after the game, via Mike Organ of the Tennessean. “That play will definitely play in the back of [my] mind every day until we play again.”

Still, Henry said he got through the game fine health-wise. He ended up playing 30 snaps — 57 percent of Tennessee’s offensive workload.

“I felt good and tried to do the best I could to contribute,” Henry said. “I wanted to do my part to help us win.”

But it was the Bengals who came out on top.

Aaron Rodgers: Relationship with Brian Gutekunst has grown “a lot”

NFL: JAN 22 NFC Divisional Round - 49ers at Packers
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At one point in April 2021, a report emerged that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers wanted the team to fire G.M. Brian Gutekunst. Rodgers, who knows how to send a message when he wants to, allowed that one to marinate.

Now that the 2021 season has ended for the Packers, Rodgers has a glowing assessment of Gutekunst, and of the extent to which they currently get along.

For the final question of his post-game press conference following the 13-10 loss to the 49ers, Rodgers was asked to explain how far his relationship with Gutekunst has grown over the last 12 months.

“A lot, you know?” Rodgers said. “A lot honestly. Brian came out and saw me on the west coast and we had some good conversations. And from the day I got back, I feel like there was earnest decisions on both sides to meet in the middle and communicate. I’m very thankful to be a part of the conversations I was a part of. I feel like my opinion mattered. To feel the even deeper and more meaningful support from him and him and [director of football operations] Russ [Ball] and [CEO] Mark [Murphy]. So that was definitely a special part of the season, to see that relationship grow. I think [he] put together a really nice team. A team that could have won the Super Bowl. And he deserves a lot of credit for some of the moves that he made. Disappointed we couldn’t put it together for him and the organization tonight.”

That’s a sign of real progress between Rodgers and Gutekunst. While it doesn’t mean Rodgers definitely will want to stay in Green Bay in 2022, the impediment to continuing his career there apparently won’t be his relationship with the front office.

Giants interviewing Lou Anarumo

NFL: DEC 19 Bengals at Broncos
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Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has come up with winning game plans the last two weeks and he’s moved himself into consideration for at least one head coaching job.

Tom Pelissero of NFL Media reports that the Giants are interviewing Anarumo for their head coaching vacancy on Sunday morning. It’s the first time Anarumo’s name has come up in conjunction with a head coaching job.

Anarumo was the Giants’ defensive backs coach in 2018 before joining Zac Taylor’s staff in his current role in 2019. The Bengals struggled defensively in his first two seasons and were middle of the pack this year, but they’ve looked very good while allowing 35 total points in their wins over the Raiders and Titans in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

The Giants have also interviewed Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier since hiring Joe Schoen as their General Manager on Friday. Schoen worked for the Bills before being hired, but there’s a connection with Anarumo as both men were in the Dolphins organization from 2012 to 2016.

Ryan Tannehill: It’s gonna take long time to get over Saturday’s loss

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Cincinnati Bengals v Tennessee Titans
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The Titans finished the regular season as the top team in the AFC, but that didn’t help them on Saturday.

Ryan Tannehill threw three interceptions, including one by Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson with less than 30 seconds left to play. The Bengals needed one play to get into field goal position after that pick and Evan McPherson‘s kick made Cincinnati 19-16 winners in Nashville.

After the game, Tannehill called it a “frustrating day all the way around” and that the interceptions were “not my vision for the game at all.”

“This is brutal, you know,” Tannehill said in his postgame press conference. “It’s going to hurt for a long time. It’s going to be on my mind for a long time. It’s gonna take a long time to get over. You don’t look forward to this situation, you don’t look forward to being out when you had a great opportunity. And this is one of those things only time will heal.”

Saturday’s loss makes it two straight Titans seasons that have ended with home playoff losses and the offense has not played particularly well in either defeat. Tannehill’s contract makes it unlikely that he’ll be anywhere other than Tennessee, so finding a better formula will likely require tweaks on other fronts.

Sean Payton’s future with the Saints becomes an issue

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The man who coined the phrase Sunday Splash! report is the topic of one all over again.

Saints coach Sean Payton, who went through a stretch of multiple seasons in which NFL pregame newshounds sniffed around (and reported about) the possibility of Payton leaving New Orleans, has not yet committed to remaining with the team in 2022, reports Ian Rapoport of NFL Media.

Payton has three years left on his contract.

Unnamed sources tell Rapoport it’s “unlikely” that Payton would coach another team in 2022. Instead, it would be (per Rapoport) a “mini-retirement” after an “incredibly challenging and difficult” season.

If Payton would resurface in 2023, the Saints would be entitled to compensation — the same way the Cardinals were when Bruce Arians unretired after one year and went to the Buccaneers. (The Cardinals, who weren’t exactly upset Arians retired and may have nudged him, ultimately got a sixth-round pick from the Bucs, and sent back a seventh. Payton would surely get much more than that for the Saints.)

Despite the characterization from Rapoport that it’s “unlikely” Payton would coach elsewhere in 2022, he still could. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, for example, could decide that Mike McCarthy has taken the franchise as far as he can, and that the only way to get to the next level would be to land one of the handful of great NFL coaches.

Jones nearly got Payton a few years ago. It came far closer to happening than anyone realizes. The full story is shared in a certain book that will be released on March 15. The reason why it didn’t happen will indeed blow your mind.

I know you’re thinking, “He’s just trying to sell books.” And you’re absolutely right. But the reason will still blow your mind.

We’ll address in a separate post whether Jones would indeed try to upgrade over McCarthy, whether by acquiring Payton or someone else, and how it would work. For now, the point is that, even if Payton doesn’t end up joining the Cowboys, he could be leaving the Saints — 16 years after he arrived.

And if it’s not true, if Payton will indeed be back in 2022, look for him to not be bashful about calling out the latest waves from a Sunday Splash!, whether on Twitter or elsewhere.

Joe Burrow: Evan McPherson is unbelievable

AFC Divisional Playoffs - Cincinnati Bengals v Tennessee Titans
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The Bengals only managed one touchdown in Saturday’s game in Tennessee, but that proved to be enough to get the job done.

Rookie kicker Evan McPherson had a lot to do with that. The fifth-round pick made all four field goals he tried during the 19-16 win, including the 52-yarder at the whistle that gave the Bengals the victory. He also made four field goals in the Wild Card round win over the Raiders and he’s hearing plenty of praise for his work in helping the Bengals get to this point.

Head coach Zac Taylor said McPherson has “ice water in his veins” and quarterback Joe Burrow said the team has the same confidence in McPherson that McPherson has in himself.

“That guy is unbelievable,” Burrow said, via the team’s website. “He was talking to Brandon [Allen] as he was going out to kick, and he gave a little warmup swing and he said, ‘Ah, it looks like we’re going to the AFC Championship,’ right before he went out there and kicked it. We knew exactly what we had as soon as he walked into the building in camp and we just saw how he carried himself. You know exactly how a kicker is going to perform when obviously everyone at this level can kick through the uprights, but it’s how you handle yourself in the locker room that shows us that you have the confidence to go out there and make a kick like this and perform the way he did in a game like this. We knew exactly what kind of guy we had in camp.”

The Bengals didn’t leave themselves much margin for error on Saturday and McPherson ensured that they wouldn’t need it.

Report: Tom Brady “remains noncommittal” to playing in 2022

NFL: JAN 16 NFC Wild Card - Eagles at Buccaneers
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Consider Bruce Arians potentially shocked.

The smoke regarding a potential Tom Brady retirement after the 2021 season is building, even though he previously had said — on multiple occasions — that he’ll play through 2022, the year in which he turns 45, and then decide what to do after that.

Adam Schefter and Jeff Darlington of ESPN report that sources with the Buccaneers and sources close to Brady “all recognize” that Brady “remains noncommittal” to playing beyond this season. Schefter and Darlington call Brady playing in 2022 “currently far from a given.”

The possibility of Brady leaving, per the report, has “quietly come up” within the Buccaneers’ organization “for weeks now,”with “internal uncertainty” about what the future holds.

The outcome to the current playoff run will be a factor, per the report. If the Bucs win another Super Bowl, Brady becomes more likely to call it quits.

The team’s head coach said Friday that he’d be “shocked” if Brady retires. That could be wishful thinking, if the reporting about the feelings within the team is accurate.

It’s shocking that it’s gotten to this point. The phrase “remains noncommittal” implies that he became noncommittal at some point. When did that happen?

In late September, Brady said he’s definitely playing through 2022, with questions about his future arising in 2023. “Maybe it’s another year after [2022]; maybe it’s two,” Brady said. “I’ll have to see where I’m at with my family. That’s probably the overriding factor — what I’m missing out on.”

Earlier that month, Brady said he wanted to play for the Buccaneers for a long time. “Hopefully, I’ll be here a long time,” Brady said at the time. “For many years.”

Before the season, Brady made it crystal clear that he’ll play through 2022.

“I felt for a long time I could play until I was 45 years old,” Brady said during a SiriusXM town hall. “This year, I’ll be 44. Which naturally takes me to next year, and I’ve got a two-year contract. We’ll see what happens beyond that.”

So how does Brady go from being so certain about playing through 2022 as recently as late September to thinking seriously about retiring? Maybe it’s a family issue; as recently mentioned, no NFL player has missed so much of his family’s life cycle, because no one has been all-in for football so deep into his life. It could be physical. Even though he doesn’t look 44, he quite possibly feels every bit of it — especially after a 17-game regular season (which he opposed) and a playoff game.

He may have been lying to the media about playing through 2022 (he said in June that 90 percent of the things he says publicly aren’t true), in order to avoid a full season of “will he or won’t he?” chatter, along with what could have become a potential farewell tour. Finally, it could be some sort of motivational tactic, aimed at getting everyone in the organization fully focused on capping what could be Tom Brady’s last ride with a Super Bowl win.

Surely, he wants to leave on top if he can. It would be the perfect ending to a perfect career. Actually, it could be the only ending that allows his career to be regarded as truly “perfect.”

However it plays out, something that wasn’t even on the radar screen a week ago is now smack dab in the middle of it, beeping loudly.

Jimmy Garoppolo: It’s never going to be pretty, but we find a way

NFC Divisional Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Green Bay Packers
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The 49ers offense didn’t score a touchdown on Saturday night, but the team is still going to the NFC Championship Game.

A blocked punt late in the fourth quarter was returned for a game-tying touchdown by Talanoa Hufanga and the 49ers were able to come up with a 44-yard drive in the final minutes to set up Robbie Gould‘s game-winning field goal as time expired on a 13-10 win. Those 44 yards gave the 49ers 212 total yards for the night and they blew chances for more points with an interception and a failure to convert on fourth down, but quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said the result was what matters at the end of the day.

“It’s just how we win. It’s never going to be pretty, but we find a way,” Garoppolo said, via 49ersWebzone.com.

Garoppolo’s performance — 11-of-19 for 131 yards — won’t convince any doubters of his fitness for the job, but tight end George Kittle doesn’t believe those players exist in the 49ers locker room.

“People just try to pull him down, and all he does is try to deliver,” Kittle said. “He leads this team, he has a sense of calm in the huddle, he has a sense of calm in the storm, and he allows us to play football at a high level.”

Trey Lance‘s presence makes Garoppolo’s future with the 49ers an open question, but he’ll be starting the conference title game for the second time in three years and that makes the present pretty enjoyable.

Deebo Samuel says he’s fine despite limping off the field after picking up big first down

NFC Divisional Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Green Bay Packers
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San Francisco receiver/running back Deebo Samuel made one of the biggest plays of the game on Saturday night when he ran for nine yards on third-and-7 with a minute left, setting up the game-winning field goal. But after that play, he appeared to be injured.

The good news is, Samuel indicated just moments after limping off the field that he felt fine.

“My ankle got twisted up and I got scared there for a minute, but I’ll be all right,” Samuel said on NFL Network after the game.

Samuel was seen walking around after the game without a limp, and he did not appear to seek any medical treatment. So from all indications, the 49ers’ top offensive playmaker will be good to go in the NFC Championship Game.

Robbie Gould is 20-for-20 on field goals in his playoff career after game-winner in Green Bay

NFL: JAN 22 NFC Divisional Round - 49ers at Packers
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San Francisco 49ers kicker Robbie Gould is taking his place as one of the great playoff kickers in NFL history.

After hitting a 45-yard field goal in the snow at Lambeau Field as time expired on Saturday night, Gould is now 20-for-20 in his career in the postseason.

No kicker in NFL history has as many playoff field goals without a miss as Gould. Gould has made 12 playoff field goals with the 49ers, as well as six with the Bears and two with the Giants.

Gould is also a perfect 32-for-32 on extra points in the postseason. He’s never missed in the playoffs, and in a week he may get a chance to kick the 49ers into the Super Bowl.

Aaron Rodgers: I’ll “take some time” but then make a decision before free agency

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The clock is ticking on Aaron Rodgers‘s next move, sooner than he expected.

Following Saturday night’s upset loss at home to the 49ers, Rodgers said he’s going to figure things out, and that he’ll make a decision before free agency begins.

“I’m gonna take some time and have conversations with the folks around here,” Rodgers told reporters after the game. “And take some time away and make a decision . . . It’s fresh right now. It’s a little shocking for sure.”

He added that he thought he’d have more time to being the process of contemplating his future, and that he’s “a little numb” that things ended so quickly. He plans to talk to G.M.Brian Gutekunst within the next week.

Will how the last three seasons ended factor in the decision-making process? “I mean of course it does,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers also made it clear that he doesn’t want to be “part of a rebuild” in the event the team decides not to keep some of the key players who are due to become free agents.

Rodgers created the impression that his decision will be to stay or retire. Would he play for another team?

“It’s tough to say at this point,” Rodgers said. “I don’t think it’s fair to anybody or myself to really go down those paths at this point.”

At some point soon, those paths will become relevant. Rodgers will win the MVP award for the fourth time in his career, and for the second straight year. If he wants to play but not for the Packers, he’ll  need to identify a new football home.

Matt LaFleur: “We’d be crazy” not to want Aaron Rodgers back

NFC Divisional Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Green Bay Packers
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Does Aaron Rodgers want to keep playing for the Packers? That remains to be seen. Packers coach Matt LaFleur wants Rodgers to stay.

“Certainly we want him back here,” LaFleur told reporters after Saturday’s stunning home loss in the playoffs to the 49ers. “I think we’d be crazy to not want him back here.”

Frankly, they’re crazy to let it get to the point where he’s thought about leaving. But that’s not on LaFleur.

We’ll see what Rodgers says. We’ll see whether the Packers offer to pay Rodgers significantly more than his current contract, which carries Jared Goff (yes, Jared Goff) money.

Rodgers will be speaking soon. Stay tuned.

Packers had 10 players on the field for game-deciding field goal

NFC Divisional Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Green Bay Packers
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It’s never easy to block a field goal. It’s even harder without 11 players on the field.

The Packers had only 10 players on the field for the field goal attempt that resulted in the 49ers upsetting Green Bay and advancing to the NFC Championship.

“That’s unacceptable,” coach Matt LaFleur told reporters after the game. “That’s on me.”

It’s easy for him to say that, because he has a regular-season record of 39-10 in three years on the job and will not be fired. The real question is whether special-teams coordinator Maurice Drayton will pay for the blunder with his job.

It doesn’t help that it was a blocked punt that opened the door for the 49ers to tie the game.

“I’ve got to do a better job, obviously, and be more involved to make sure those types of things don’t happen,” LaFleur said. “Ultimately, it all falls on me.”

It may fall on LaFleur, but he won’t take the fall. We’ll see whether anyone does.

Trent Williams on crutches, headed for X-rays after Saturday’s win

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49ers left tackle Trent Williams battled through an ankle injury on Saturday night, but went for further medical evaluation after the 13-10 win.

Reporters in Green Bay noted that Williams was on crutches after the game and headed for the X-ray room to have tests done on his injury. There’s unlikely to be a definitive update on his condition before the team returns home, but Williams’ condition will surely draw attention leading into the NFC Championship Game.

Wide receiver Deebo Samuel also got banged up over the course of the game, but stuck around long enough to limp off after running for a first down to set up Robbie Gould‘s game-winning field goal.

The 49ers will find out on Sunday where they will be next weekend. It will likely be a few days before we know how healthy Williams will be for that contest.