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Rams Super Bowl-bound after beating Saints in OT; will play Patriots for NFL title

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  • Rams Super Bowl-bound after beating Saints in OT; will play Patriots for NFL title

    Rams Super Bowl-bound after beating Saints in overtime; will play Patriots for NFL title
    By GARY KLEIN
    JAN 20, 2019 | 7:25 PM
    | NEW ORLEANS

    The Rams spent the offseason adding pieces for a Super Bowl run.

    Trade for two star cornerbacks and a star receiver here. Sign a star defensive lineman there. Reinforce the roster during the season with a dangerous edge rusher and a veteran running back.

    They were the weapons Sean McVay and Jared Goff needed to take the next step, after the young coach and quarterback had returned the Rams to the playoffs and the position of title contender.

    On Sunday, all the work paid off.

    Amid deafening noise at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Goff helped set up longtime Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein, who nailed a 57-yard field goal in overtime to defeat the New Orleans Saints, 26-23, in the NFC championship game before a stunned crowd of 73,028.

    The Rams advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2001 season, and the first time since the 1979 season as a Los Angeles team. They will play the New England Patriots, a 37-31 overtime winner Sunday at Kansas City, on Feb. 3 in Atlanta.

    “It wasn’t always perfect,” McVay said, “but we made enough plays, and I think really the overtime period personifies what this team is all about.”

    The victory was not without controversy.

    The officials did not call a penalty against Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman for pass interference or for a helmet-to-helmet hit on receiver Tommylee Lewis in the final two minutes of regulation. Instead of continuing to run the clock, the Saints were forced to kick a field goal that put them ahead, 23-20, but left time for the Rams to tie the score on a field goal with 15 seconds left.

    “They blew the call,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.

    Said McVay: “I am certainly not going to complain about the way that was officiated.”

    There was plenty of hollering and laughter in a jubilant Rams locker room after they overcame an early 13-0 deficit, avenged a November defeat at New Orleans and silenced the crowd.

    “I have a really big headache right now from yelling all day,” McVay joked.

    Cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh and receiver Brandin Cooks — all acquired in the offseason — celebrated with joyous teammates. All played roles in either neutralizing future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees or helping Goff on clutch drives.

    “Nobody in the room’s any happier than those guys,” Rams owner Stan Kroenke said.

    On a day when star running back Todd Gurley scored a touchdown but mainly gave way to C.J. Anderson, the Rams offense got out of an early funk after punter Johnny Hekker completed a fourth-down pass to Sam Shields to keep alive a second-quarter drive.

    The play allowed Goff to put a first-quarter interception behind him, and he led the Rams to their first three points. The Rams pulled to within 13-10 by halftime, but trailed 20-17 entering the fourth quarter. Zuerlein tied the score on a 24-yard field goal with about five minutes left, and then the Saints settled for Wil Lutz’s 31-yard kick after the non-call involving Robey-Coleman.

    Zuerlein’s 48-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in regulation set the stage for another game-turning play in overtime.

    The Saints had the ball and a second and 16 at their 34-yard line. Rams linebacker Dante Fowler, a trade-deadline acquisition, and veteran lineman Michael Brockers pressured Brees.

    “He was holding the ball a long time,” Fowler said. “He finally threw it and I got my hand on it.”

    The ball fluttered toward Saints receiver Michael Thomas and Rams safety John Johnson, who was falling backward.

    “I had ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ playing in my head,” offensive lineman Rodger Saffold said. “I was just praying that thing would come down and be for us.”

    Johnson joked that he was glad he had his contact lenses in.

    “It was up there for forever,” he said. “I kind of felt like a punt returner. I just fell back with it. I’m glad I caught it.”

    After the interception, the Rams took over at their 46-yard line. Goff completed two passes to tight end Tyler Higbee before an incomplete pass brought on Zuerlein.

    “In your head, it’s like going back to when you’re a little kid,” Zuerlein said, referring to practicing game-winning plays.

    Zuerlein’s kick split the uprights and sent the Rams into a celebration.

    “This is everything we expected, man,” said Talib, who along with Peters came to the Rams via trades. “We expected to get their best shot from a team with a Hall of Fame quarterback.

    “We just knew it was going to take 60 minutes or more, and that’s what we did. We came out and played more.”

    Kroenke said McVay, who led the Rams to their first winning seasons in 14 years, “created that special culture, and I think you saw that today.”

    Saffold, a ninth-year pro and the longest-tenured Rams player, said it was “un … be … lievable” to be heading to the Super Bowl.

    “Just to be able to get to this point, this is the pinnacle,” Saffold said. “Because I know exactly what we’ve been through through the years.”

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  • Nick
    Rams win overtime thriller on Greg Zuerlein 57-yard field goal to reach Super Bowl
    by Nick
    Rams win overtime thriller on Greg Zuerlein 57-yard field goal to reach Super Bowl
    By RICH HAMMOND | [email protected] | Orange County Register
    PUBLISHED: January 20, 2019 at 3:38 pm | UPDATED: January 20, 2019 at 9:04 pm

    NEW ORLEANS — This song, a rhapsody in blue and yellow, started that nervy day in Jan. 2017 when the Rams hired a kid to coach their quarterback bust. So the world thought. That narrative took in its final gasp Sunday afternoon, moments before a field goal cleared the bar and the Superdome finally exhaled.

    Sean McVay and Jared Goff. Their destinies would be tied together no matter what, whether — as once widely thought — they would fail miserably or whether they would lead the Rams to success. No one in the organization thought it would happen this soon. In two years, the Rams went from punchline to champions.

    The Rams, who won four games in 2016, are going to the Super Bowl thanks to their 24-year-old quarterback and their coach, who turns 33 this week. Their nerve, grit and skill showed the way Sunday in a brilliant team effort as the Rams rallied to beat New Orleans 26-23 in the NFC championship game. They will meet Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl in Atlanta on Feb. 3.

    “I’m just happy for the city, happy for the team and happy for Sean,” Rams owner Stan Kroenke said. “He has done a fantastic job. Our fans are wonderful and I’ve felt that support, so I appreciate that.”

    Greg Zuerlein’s 57-yard field-goal attempt easily sailed through, 3:17 into overtime, and the Rams scattered across the field in celebration as Saints fans tossed trash, rightfully upset with a non-call late in the fourth quarter that likely cost them the game. The Rams cared not, and celebrated like kids.

    McVay became the youngest coach ever to reach the Super Bowl. Goff became the first quarterback to win a NFC championship before his 25th birthday. They will face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl on Feb. 3 in Atlanta.

    “Definitely went through the whole gamut of emotions when the field goal went through,” Goff said, “from excited to emotional to just overwhelmingly happy. Very excited, man. I get to the play in the Super Bowl. We deserved it. We earned it.”

    Most of the Rams hadn’t been born on Jan. 20, 1980, when the Los Angeles-based Rams last made the Super Bowl. Many of them were on other teams, or in college, in Jan. 2016, when the NFL approved the team’s relocation from St. Louis. Many of them were brought in after Jan. 2017, after the Rams hired McVay.

    Now they’re going to the Super Bowl together, thanks to an unlikely climax to an unlikely two-year rise. McVay last attended a Super Bowl in 2000. He was 14 years old when the (St. Louis) Rams beat Tennessee, and the game was played in Atlanta, where McVay went to high school.

    “It’s surreal,” McVay said. “You’re so happy...
    -01-21-2019, 05:12 AM
  • Nick
    Super Bowl or Bust: Rams’ gamble pays off
    by Nick
    Super Bowl or Bust: Rams’ gamble pays off
    By Lindsay Jones Jan 20, 2019 20

    NEW​ ORLEANS — The Rams​ never​ made​ banners declaring their​ intentions this year​ to be​ Super Bowl​ or Bust, but​ they didn’t​​ have to. Their actions made it obvious.

    Trades last spring for a new pair of starting cornerbacks, Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters. The free agent addition of intimidating defense tackle Ndamukong Suh. Massive contract extensions for Todd Gurley and Aaron Donald. A midseason trade for pass rusher Dante Fowler.

    So many explosive players, several with equally explosive personalities, that when mixed with an already talented roster and an all-star coaching staff, would result in a Super Bowl berth. Or so they hoped.

    But how many times have these Super Bowl of Bust teams turned combustible? The 2011 Dream Team Philadelphia Eagles, collectors of blue chip free agents, flamed out. The other team that went all in for 2018, the Minnesota Vikings, with their acquisition of Kirk Cousins, didn’t even make the playoffs after making the NFC Championship game last year.

    The Rams have shown over and over since their move to Los Angeles three years ago they are the NFL’s biggest gamblers. Each of the moves paid off Sunday in the form of a 26-23 overtime win over the New Orleans Saints.

    And like any gambler knows, it required some major guts and a lot of luck to get there.

    Guts came in the form of the call for a fake punt on the second play of the second quarter, from their own 30-yard line. Punter Johnny Hekker lobbed a pass to cornerback Sam Shields for the first down, providing the Rams’ first spark after an ugly first quarter and extending a drive that eventually ended with a field goal.

    The luck came much later when cornerback Nickell Roby-Coleman bulldozed Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis, a blatant display of pass interference as he was desperately trying to save a touchdown, but no flag was thrown. The Saints settled for a field goal.

    That non-call could give this NFC Championship game an asterisk and a reason for the Saints and their fans to gripe, but it should not take away from the team the Rams built, the risks they made along the way — from trading all the way up to draft Jared Goff to become the new face of the franchise upon the move to Los Angeles, to hiring a then 30-year-old Sean McVay as head coach, to the flurry of veteran additions this offseason.

    “What it showed me was, we’re ready. We want to win now,” said defensive end Michael Brockers, the Rams’ longest tenured defensive player.

    When the Rams left the Los Angeles Coliseum after their wild-card round playoff loss to the Falcons last year, they were disappointed, of course, but encouraged. The believed their Super Bowl window had opened, maybe a year earlier than planned, and...
    -01-22-2019, 04:58 AM
  • Nick
    Rams don't sweat losing a possible perfect season after 45-35 defeat at New Orleans
    by Nick
    Rams don't sweat losing a possible perfect season after 45-35 defeat at New Orleans
    By GARY KLEIN
    NOV 04, 2018 | 8:25 PM

    The Rams’ locker room was devoid of long faces. No exclamations of frustration pierced the quiet.

    If anything, after Sunday’s 45-35 loss to the New Orleans Saints, it seemed as if a long exhale had calmed the room. The crucible of trying to complete a perfect season was over.

    “This game right here might be a blessing in a disguise,” defensive lineman Michael Brockers said.

    It did not play out like one, not on a day when quarterback Drew Brees stayed to form as a future Hall of Famer and torched the Rams for 346 yards and four touchdowns in front of a delirious 73,086 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

    The Rams rallied from a 21-point deficit to tie the score in the fourth quarter, but the Saints kicked a field goal and Brees sealed the victory with a long touchdown pass.

    After eight victories to start the season, the Rams learned a hard lesson in reality.

    And they apparently welcomed it.

    “We love it,” coach Sean McVay said. “You find out about yourself when you have a little bit of adversity. … Sometimes setbacks can be setups for comebacks.

    “That’s how we look at it.”

    None of the players said they were comfortable with losing, or with giving up nearly 500 yards — 313 in the first half.

    But after the fawning adoration that came with their 8-0 start, they sounded relieved to focus on the next game, against the Seattle Seahawks, rather than queries about whether they could finish unbeaten.

    “No more media with, ‘The great team, nobody can beat them, dah,dah,dah,dah, dah,’ ” Brockers said. “The pressure’s off.”

    The loss “does relieve some of the maybe pressure to be perfect,” safety John Johnson said.

    “We didn’t go into the week saying, ‘Oh, it’s pressure. We got to stay undefeated.’ It’s nothing like that.

    “We did a good job of blocking out the noise, but it is a little bit of a relief.”

    For much of the first half, it looked as if McVay and Saints coach Sean Payton were competing in a game of one-upmanship to claim the title as the NFL’s most clever play-caller.

    The Rams appeared headed for a blowout loss after McVay made a second-quarter decision that backfired and started the Saints on a run of giving up 21 consecutive points.

    With the score 14-14, the Rams faked a field-goal try. Holder Johnny Hekker took the snap and sprinted toward the right sideline but was ruled short of the first down. McVay challenged the call, which was upheld on review.

    Brees then drove the Saints for a touchdown, Greg Zuerlein missed a field-goal attempt and Brees passed for another touchdown, increasing the lead to 14 points. The Saints then intercepted a Jared Goff pass, setting up running back Alvin...
    -11-05-2018, 02:10 PM
  • Nick
    Rams’ Robey-Coleman admits he thought he’d be flagged on controversial non-call
    by Nick
    Rams’ Robey-Coleman admits he thought he’d be flagged on controversial non-call
    By RICH HAMMOND | [email protected] | Orange County Register
    PUBLISHED: January 20, 2019 at 8:32 pm | UPDATED: January 20, 2019 at 8:32 pm

    NEW ORLEANS — Nickell Robey-Coleman hit New Orleans receiver Tommylee Lewis before the ball arrived. The world saw it. Saints fans certainly did. The officials did not. Robey-Coleman prefered blissful ignorance.

    “No, I have not seen the replay.” Robey-Coleman said with a smile.

    Did he want to see it?

    “Um, no,” he said. “We do not want to see the replay. Let’s just get on the bus and get on the plane.”

    Robey-Coleman, always a bright, positive presence in the Rams’ locker room, laughed loudly. The people of New Orleans did not share his enthusiasm. They hurled trash on the field, both after the fourth-quarter play and after the Rams beat the Saints 26-23 in Sunday’s NFC championship game at the Superdome.

    The play will be long-remembered. With the game tied 20-20 and less than two minutes remaining, the Saints faced a third-and-10 play at the Rams’ 13-yard line. Quarterback Drew Brees threw toward the right sideline, toward Lewis, and just before the ball arrived, Robey-Coleman delivered a face-to-face hit to Lewis.

    The crowd responded with an initial roar, in anticipation of a flag that never came. Then came the boos and the trash, and the warning from the public-address announcer to not throw it.

    “I saw the defender coming,” Lewis said. “He got up under me. I got up looking for a flag and didn’t see one. It was a bad call. … There was no question in my mind. I got up and popped up, looking for a little yellow flag on the field. I didn’t see one.”

    The situation was costly for the Saints. A pass-interference call would have given the Saints the ball at approximately the Rams’ 6-yard line with 1:45 on the clock. Theoretically, the Saints either could have scored a touchdown or burned enough time to kick a final-second field goal.

    Instead, the Rams got the ball back with 1:41 left, drove 45 yards, then tied the game on Greg Zuerlein’s 48-yard field goal with 15 seconds left. Zuerlein then won the game with a 57-yard overtime field goal.

    Not surprisingly, Saints coach Sean Payton said he talked to league officials shortly after the game. What did they say?

    “It was simple,” Payton said. “They blew the ball. It should never have not been a call. They said not only was it interference, it was helmet to helmet.”

    Rams coach Sean McVay, not surprisingly, had a different view.

    “It was a bang-bang type play,” McVay said. “The one thing I respect about the refs today is, they let the guys compete and they let the guys play. I thought Nickell Robey made a nice play.”

    Independent of the result, he did. Robey-Coleman explained that he initially...
    -01-21-2019, 05:16 AM
  • Nick
    Rams deserve to play in the Super Bowl, even if they got some help to make it there
    by Nick
    The Rams deserve to play in the Super Bowl, even if they got some help to make it there
    By Jerry Brewer
    WP Columnist
    January 20 at 9:40 PM

    NEW ORLEANS — If you love controversy and hate the idea of the Los Angeles Rams, then it will be easy to discredit what they accomplished Sunday at the earsplitting Superdome. You will brand them lucky. You might even suggest the NFL conspired to get their big-name, pass-interfering fannies into the Super Bowl. When a great game includes a bad call at a critical moment, it’s hard to separate the spectacular from the dirty.

    It is a much simpler — and lazier — task to rag on the serial carpetbagging franchise, which is now back in Hollywood with a glamorous roster to match and experiencing a meteoric resurgence that belies the difficulty of its journey. Don’t get carried away with the outrage, however. The messy officiating is only one part of the story. It shouldn’t overshadow that the Rams, for all their star power and offensive brilliance and clever coaching, proved to be more than just stylish in becoming the first road team in six seasons to win a conference championship game.

    In a 26-23 overtime victory against the New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles captured a wild and hard-broiled NFC championship game and advanced to Super Bowl LIII. It took everything that the Rams had, and it also took a controversial no-call on a clear pass interference penalty when cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman clobbered Tommylee Lewis on third down with 1:45 remaining in regulation. If a penalty had been called, Saints quarterback Drew Brees would have been given a new set of downs, and Coach Sean Payton would have taken the opportunity to run down the clock and set up a field goal attempt on the game’s final play. Instead, Wil Lutz made a 31-yard kick to give New Orleans a 23-20 lead with 1:41 remaining, which gave the Rams time to drive 45 yards and tie the game with a Greg Zuerlein 48-yarder with 19 seconds left.

    There was plenty of football before and after the no-call, but that moment defined the game. It was a shame. But the shame belongs to the referees, not the Rams.

    They still won this game on an incredible kick by Zuerlein, who lived up to his “Greg the Leg” nickname and drilled a 57-yard try in overtime to send Los Angeles into euphoria. It was the longest winning field goal in playoff history, and even though it came in the friendly kicking confines of a dome, Zuerlein made it with 73,028 fans creating so much noise the stadium shook. When he split the uprights and the Rams players and coaches ran onto the field to celebrate, the Superdome fell silent instantly, as if someone had pressed the mute button on a remote.

    The Rams still won this game by recovering from a disastrous first quarter and overcoming a 13-0 deficit. They did it with running back Todd Gurley II, their best weapon, gaining just 10 yards on four carries and...
    -01-22-2019, 04:57 AM
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