By Don Wanlass
Thanks to holiday deadlines, I was still working in the office when the greatest Monday night football game in history was played Nov. 19.
I listened to the last eight minutes of action on the radio as I drove home and then spent the rest of the evening watching highlights.
Needless to say, there were plenty of highlights in the Rams 54-51 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Two dynamic offenses went at it for three and a half hours.
The end result was the most points ever scored in a Monday night game, the first time both teams scored more than 50 points in NFL history and a game that people will probably talk about for years.
It was a duel between third-year quarterback Jared Goff of the Rams and second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs. When it was over they had combined for 891 passing yards and 10 touchdowns.
Where was the defense, you might ask? It was there. Three of the 14 touchdowns were scored by the defense, with Rams linebacker Samson Ebukam accounting for two of them himself, returning a fumble and an interception for scores.
And the Rams intercepted Mahomes twice in the final minute to preserve the win.
The talk after the game was about these two teams meeting again this year, which could only happen at the Super Bowl.
This is the future of the NFL. The rules have been changed to protect the quarterbacks and help the offense score more and this is what it looks like when two great offenses, two offense-oriented coaches with creative minds and two great quarterbacks with great supporting casts meet.
Mahomes, who started one game as a rookie last season, threw six touchdown passes in the game. He now has 37 for the season, leading all NFL quarterbacks.
Goff has 26 touchdowns so far, but his stat line resembles Mahomes. Both have thrown for over 3,500 yards so far this year, completing about 67 percent of their passes.
Goff has fewer interceptions, 6, to Mahomes’ 10.
One surprising stat is that Rams 455 yards without Todd Gurley accounting for more than 100 of those yards. Gurley touched the ball only 15 times (12 runs, three passes) for 94 yards.
Rams tight end Gerald Everett had his biggest game of the season, catching three passes for 49 yards and two fourth quarter touchdowns, including the game-winning 40-yard pass from Goff with 1:49 left that won the game.
The Chiefs had two chances after that play, but the Rams intercepted Mahomes to end both possessions.
I would be in favor of seeing the two teams meet in the Super Bowl, but it is too early to start talking like that. Both teams now take a week off, a much-needed breather in the middle of a long NFL season.
THE BLAME GAME: As I write this Nov. 20, Clay Helton is still the football coach at USC. That thought angers most USC Trojan fans that I know.
Helton is the one the fans blame for the Trojans 5-6 season that will almost surely end 5-7 after No. 3 Notre Dame gets through with them Nov. 24.
But USC as a university has more pressing concerns than a bad season by its football team.
The scandal involving the university gynecologist who allegedly molested hundreds of students during examinations over the years, which followed another scandal about a medical school dean with a methamphetamine problem, caused President Max Nikias to resign over the summer.
USC is now being operated by an interim president and the university’s board of trustees.
With legal costs soaring as more and more students come forward with stories about the gynecologist, the university probably doesn’t want to spend the $13 million or so it will take to buyout Helton, who had his contract extended to 2023 by athletic director Lynn Swann after his second successive 10-win season last year.
Of course, Sam Darnold was the quarterback the two previous year before heading to the NFL a year or two early.
Darnold may not look like much with the New York Jets this year, but he is a distinct improvement over JT Daniels, who should have stayed at Mater Dei another year.
Helton has the same problem at USC that other coaches not named Pete Carroll, John McKay or John Robinson have had.
They can’t (or won’t) control the players. In the Trojans’ 34-27 loss to UCLA Nov. 17, a costly and unnecessary penalty by a defensive player extended a drive at the end of the game for UCLA. The same thing happened the week before against Cal.
USC has always played with a certain amount of arrogance. So does Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State and all of the big college programs that expect to contend for national titles every year.
But USC players don’t check themselves and if the coaching staff won’t check them by yanking them out of the game and sitting them on the bench when they do something stupid, then they will keep on committing stupid penalties.
I don’t think a win over Notre Dame this weekend will save Helton’s job because I don’t think Helton’s job is in jeopardy. If it was, he already would be gone.
I expect him to make wholesale changes in his coaching staff, particularly on the offense side of the ball and return next year with a more mature JT Daniels, a sturdy running back or two and a few other blue-chip recruits.
USC won’t have big expectations entering next year and we will see if Helton can really coach a major program like USC. If the Trojans are near .500 again next season, then Helton will be gone.
CLASSIC MATCHUP: I don’t usually like to hype pay-per-view events because the people who promote them do way too much of that anyway. Still, the Nov. 23 matchup between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson should be good watching.
This match never would have happened when the two golfers were in their prime. They didn’t like each other much back then. It would have been an intensely competitive round of golf but that intensity would have brought more tension to the duel than I think we will see this week.
Both players have mellowed with age and have become friendlier. That doesn’t mean either one of them will take it easy on the other. After all, there are nine million reasons (the prize for the winner) for them to play well.
What I am interested in seeing is the interplay between the two golfers who have been the best of their generation. Fifteen years ago, they might not have said a word during 18 holes, but I expect some wise cracks from both of them during this match-play event.
Woods and Mickelson may not be able to outdrive the kids on the tour anymore, but they have enough tricks in their golf bags to match each other shot after shot. On a weekend with four days of football game after football game, this will be a welcome diversion.