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Rams deserve to play in the Super Bowl, even if they got some help to make it there

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  • Rams deserve to play in the Super Bowl, even if they got some help to make it there

    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 dropping two passes, the first of which led to an interception by New Orleans linebacker Demario Davis. They did it with quarterback Jared Goff, in his first postseason road game, shaking off a terrible start and playing with the composure of his elder, Hall of Fame-bound counterpart, Drew Brees.

    In the first 30 minutes of the game, Goff was rattled. He completed 8 of 14 passes for 39 yards. Then, starting with a successful two-minute drill just before halftime, Goff performed like a franchise quarterback. In rebounding from that awful start, he completed 17 of his final 26 passes, managed the game well and made big throws when needed. He finished with 297 passing yards on a day in which the Los Angeles running game produced just 77 yards.

    Goff threw deep to Brandin Cooks (seven receptions, 107 yards). He found Josh Reynolds in key situations. He even found tight end Gerald Everett, who isn’t a big-play receiving threat, for huge gains. It was a resourceful performance in what turned into a defensive game.

    This wasn’t a game of unstoppable offense and scoreboard decorating. It was a tough, multifaceted contest, a competition befitting two championship-caliber teams. On this stage, the Rams and Saints showed that they do have complete squads. They showed that they can grind and play off their defenses and get tough yards on offense. For as much as points and yards have defined these teams and this NFL season, for as much as the high-scoring affairs have added flavor to a game once turning stale, the excitement came with conflict for football purists. Where was the balance? Where was the physical play? Where was the DEEE-fense?

    Beneath the glamour, there was concern the game had become too legislated for offense, with the rules providing even greater protection for quarterbacks and scaring defensive players from pursuing big hits. It provided a boost and seemed to restore some of the waning interest. But on the biggest stages, the game needed to look like the tough, rugged sport it has always been. There is credibility in the fight. And these teams fought.

    Every inch counts,” Robey-Coleman said. “It was physical. You could not go nowhere you wanted. It was a fight. That’s the way we like it.”

    Robey-Coleman did not apologize for the no-call. He claimed that the official told him a flag wasn’t thrown because the ball was tipped.

    “When you catch breaks in this league, you’ve got to take advantage,” he said. “The door opens and closes real quick. Good call, bad call, you’ve got to take advantage.”

    Said Rams Coach Sean McVay, who, at age 32, is the youngest head coach to advance to the Super Bowl: “Certainly, I’m not going to complain about the way that was officiated.”

    On the other sideline, Payton fumed. Even after the game, he couldn’t hide how upset he was. Brees, the 40-year-old quarterback, managed to be quite presidential about the no-call. He explained that the Saints had several chances to put the game away early and late. They failed to do so, and he didn’t want to blame the outcome entirely on the officials’ human error when the players erred as well.

    “It’s never going to be a perfect game,” Brees said. “It’s never going to be perfectly officiated.”

    Still, the Rams are going to the Super Bowl. Nothing can change that. Vilify them if you must, but it’s misplaced anger. The refs blew it. The Rams benefited, and then they won with clutch plays that shouldn’t be overlooked.

    The Rams are a team with 10 players who have salary cap charges of at least $8 million. They have Aaron Donald, the best defensive player in the league. And they have last year’s offensive player of the year in Gurley. But to win this one, they needed contributions from all over the roster. They needed linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. to hit Brees as he threw in overtime, causing a pop fly of a pass that safety John Johnson III caught while falling on his bottom. And then they needed Greg the Leg to make the kick of all kicks.

    “In your head, it is like going back to when you are a little kid playing on the basketball court with three seconds left,” Zuerlein said. “You play all those situations in your head, and hopefully they come to fruition, and you are successful in them.”

    The Rams earned it. They got lucky on one call, but they earned it over more than 63 minutes of tough football. The NFL’s new glamour team won on grit, not favors.

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  • 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, 05:58 AM
  • general counsel
    Rams stop saints 26-23 in OT; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
    by general counsel
    The Rams overcame an extremely hostile road environment and rallied from behind to defeat new orleans 26-23 in overtime on a booming dead center 57 yard field goal from The Leg to advance to super bowl LIII for a super bowl xvi rematch against new england. The Rams dug themselves an early 13-0 hole with some ugly play and frankly, the score could have been a lot worse if not for some outstanding red zone defense. A fake punt completion from Hekker to Shields got the Rams moving and a sensational throw from Goff to Cooks followed by a six yard run by Gurley (one of his only five touches for the day) closed the gap to 13-10 at half. Despite going down 20-10 late in the third, the Rams rallied again with 212 yards of offense in the fourth quarter to tie the game on a 48 yard field goal by The Leg with 15 seconds left in regulation, forcing overtime. In overtime, new orleans won the toss but a qb hit by fowler forced a wobbly fly ball from brees which johnnie johnson made a sensational interception on while lying flat on his back, giving the Rams a first down at their own 45. Two sensational throws and plays by Goff, both short gains, but both critical, put the Rams close enough for the Leg to bomb in the game winner. We can now add "The Kick" to "The Catch" and "The Tackle" in Rams folklore of sensational plays. I am so incredibly proud of the resilence that the squad showed today. True, we got a huge break at the end on the non-interference call on Robey-Coleman that may well have ended our season, but if anyone wants to say that non-call in the reason new orleans lost just point out the obvious missed facemask on the Goff scramble at the goal line that cost us four points. Games don't turn on one call. There were lots of close calls and plays in this game. No class at all out of new orleans in their post game comments, but at this point, i could not care less, just looking ahead to the super bowl and our chance to avenge the darkest day in Rams history, at least since the brutal loss in the 1950 title game.

    The Good

    The Rams as a team never gave up, left it all out on the field and fought their hearts out. Digging a 13-0 hole in that environment and then getting down 10 again at the end of the third was a huge mountain to climb, but we never stopped fighting our hardest and we made enough plays to get it done against a really good team in just about the loudest stadium anyone could ever imagine, against a first ballot hall of fame quarterback.

    Goff was not perfect today, he certainly missed some throws and was indecisive when he had a chance to run the ball into the end zone for the go ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. However, with the game and the season on the line, he outplayed first ballot hall of famer brees and got the job done with some spectacular plays. The third and three scramble late in the fourth quarter that led to the 39 pass to everett was an all-pro...
    -01-20-2019, 10:30 PM
  • Nick
    Rams Super Bowl-bound after beating Saints in OT; will play Patriots for NFL title
    by Nick
    Rams Super Bowl-bound after beating Saints in overtime; will play Patriots for NFL title
    JAN 20, 2019 | 7:25 PM

    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...
    -01-21-2019, 06:05 AM
  • Nick
    Jared Goff’s in-the-huddle speech that got the Rams rolling to Super Bowl LIII
    by Nick
    Jared Goff’s in-the-huddle speech that got the Rams rolling to Super Bowl LIII
    By Vincent Bonsignore Jan 20, 2019 24

    NEW​ ORLEANS — Rob Havenstein​ doesn’t​ exactly​ remember what the​ score was when​ it all​ went down.​ The Rams were​ struggling, he​​ knows that much. Between the crowd at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome — which roared so loudly it seemed like the Rams were constantly lining up alongside a Boeing 747 about to take off at LAX — and Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara and the revved-up New Orleans Saints defense, the Rams handled the first quarter of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game about as poorly as they could have imagined.

    A few more slip-ups like the ones they incurred to that point and they might as well kiss all their Super Bowl hopes and dreams goodbye.

    And that would have been a shame, given everything the Rams have been through this season and how far they have come since their return to Los Angeles. From the depths of the 4-12 hell they put everyone through in 2016 to the brink of pro football’s biggest prize, it has been a wild and miraculous ride.

    But there they were, shaken and wobbly and on the verge of turning what could have been a spectacular season into just a very good one. Yes, it was early in what would be a 26-23 overtime victory for the Rams. But you got the sense time was already running out.

    So Jared Goff huddled up the Rams offense and, in his own chill, laidback California way, basically told his teammates to shut up, listen up and get with it.

    This was long before one of the most egregious non-calls in the history of professional sports gave the Rams a sliver of hope late in the fourth quarter. Without question, Nickell Robey-Coleman was guilty of a pass interference penalty against Tommylee Lewis that should have given the Saints a fresh set of downs inside the Rams’ 5-yard line with under two minutes left in regulation. New Orleans could have either bled the clock before kicking a game-winning field goal or punched it in for a touchdown to go up by seven to leave very little time for the Rams to respond.

    In fact, Robey-Coleman was essentially trying to slam as hard as he could into Lewis — be it to break up the pass or, worst-case scenario, get called for the penalty.

    “I still would have been able to live with that,” Robey-Coleman said.

    Anything but giving up the sure touchdown, which it would have been had he done nothing at all.

    “As soon as I got up from the ground, I was looking for (a flag),” Robey-Coleman said. “I had to. It was natural. Because I knew I was low-key wrong.”

    And it was well before Dante Fowler got just enough body on Brees in overtime to force him to launch a pass so high into the air it seemed to hang there for an eternity before miraculously falling into the waiting...
    -01-22-2019, 06:02 AM
  • 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, 06:16 AM