We’re on to Super Bowl LVII in Phoenix after the Eagles and Chiefs advanced with wins in the conference championship games Sunday. We’ve been highlighting the best performances during the regular season and now the best efforts in the playoffs deserve to be recognized by our MMQB staff.
Here are the championship game standouts:
John Pluym: Haason Reddick, LB, Eagles. Philly signed Reddick to a three-year, $45 million deal after he posted 11 sacks with the Panthers in 2021. And Reddick lived up to the money and much more with 16 sacks in ’22. But Reddick arguably played the best game of his career Sunday in the NFC championship. He knocked out 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy in the first quarter with an elbow injury, chopping down on Purdy’s arm to cause a fumble. He then knocked out fourth-stringer Josh Johnson, who left the game with a concussion. Reddick finished the game with two sacks and a fumble recovery, and he left the 49ers without a quarterback who could throw the ball.
Mitch Goldich: Home team fans. After a week spent discussing the idea of someday (possibly soon) hosting the conference championship games at neutral sites, we were treated to two football games in two notoriously loud stadiums with great fans. Both home teams won in front of their home crowds, one in a blowout and one in a close game that came down to the final seconds. I hope the league is smart enough to realize how much would be lost by taking these games out of these kinds of environments to chase some dollars by staging these games in random cities that lack an attachment to either team.
Gary Gramling: Skyy Moore, PR, Chiefs. Moore accepts on behalf of the Chiefs’ special teams. Plagued by muffed punts throughout the season and mercifully removed from return duties as a result, Moore replaced an injured Kadarius Toney and put Kansas City in position to have the game-winning drive with a 29-yard punt return. And then, after a messy season that included an ankle injury that he didn’t seem quite recovered from until last week, Harrison Butker hammered the game-winner at the end of a perfect operation—tip your hat to holder Tommy Townsend and long snapper James Winchester. (Also, honorable mention to the Chiefs’ training staff for getting their quarterback’s ankle ready.)
Michael Rosenberg: Christian McCaffrey, RB, 49ers. It is kind of weird to give a game ball to a player whose team got blown out, but 49ers-Eagles was one of the strangest playoff games ever, so maybe this is fitting. Once Brock Purdy got injured, the 49ers were doomed; when Josh Johnson, their fourth QB of the season, got hurt, too, the game was noncompetitive. But McCaffrey is always competitive. With no chance his team would throw, and no chance to win the game, McCaffrey played hard and with surprising effectiveness. He had 106 yards on 19 touches, including his team’s only touchdown on a fantastic run when he simply refused to get tackled. The rest of the Niners had 58 yards total.
Claire Kuwana: Miles Sanders, RB, Eagles. As Michael mentions above, the Eagles’ win at Lincoln Financial was such an odd game that it’s hard to identify what exactly Philadelphia did so well as to punch its ticket to the Super Bowl. And that’s not to discredit what the Eagles accomplished Sunday, but with the saga of Purdy and Johnson’s injuries, much of the game’s narrative has been centered around the 49ers’ bad luck. But one player on the Eagles that stepped up was Sanders—after scoring 11 touchdowns across the entire regular season, he had 11 carries and half of the Eagles’ touchdowns in the NFC title game. His two scores came at key moments for the Eagles, too, which is the main reason he gets a game ball this week: The first was on the team’s opening drive, and the second gave them back the lead after McCaffrey’s touchdown (of which they never relinquished).
Greg Bishop: Jalen Hurts, QB, Eagles. This wasn’t his best game statistically: 15 completions, 121 passing yards, 39 rushing yards, one rushing touchdown. But Hurts cares about one thing: winning. That’s what he has done his whole career, whether at Alabama, Oklahoma or in the NFL in Philadelphia. He didn’t make any crippling mistakes. He helped stake the Eagles to an early lead. And he’s headed to the Super Bowl. If he was hurt for longer, if he didn’t play Sunday, the same could not be said.