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Rams 26, Saints 23: NFC championship game recap

The Los Angeles Rams have defeated the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship game, 26-23, in overtime to advance to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.

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The Rams will play the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Here's a recap of Sunday's NFC championship game:

Rams defeat Saints in overtime to advance to Super Bowl LIII
Rams cornerback Dominique Hatfield puts a hand to the face of Saints linebacker Alex Anzalone during Sunday's NFC championship game.
Rams cornerback Dominique Hatfield puts a hand to the face of Saints linebacker Alex Anzalone during Sunday's NFC championship game. (Dan Anderson / EPA)

The Rams had a clear goal as they spent the offseason adding stars to a team that made the playoffs in 2017 and had young quarterback Jared Goff under salary control.

They wanted to reach the Super Bowl.

Coach Sean McVay and his team were one step away Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

And they came through, Greg Zuerlein kicking a 57-yard field goal in overtime to give the Rams a 26-23 victory in the NFC championship game.

The Rams advanced to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2001 season.

They will play the New England Patriots on Feb. 3 at Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game in overtime, 37-31.

Gary Klein

Rams are heading to Super Bowl LIII

Greg Zuerlein kicked a 57-yard field goal in overtime to lift the Rams to a 26-23 victory over the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship game. It was the longest winning field goal in NFL playoff history.

The Rams overcame a 13-0 deficit and never led in the game until Zuerlein's game-winning kick. Los Angeles advances to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in franchise history. The game will be played Feb. 3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

While the Rams are indeed heading to the Super Bowl, NFL might have some explaining to do when it comes to not calling pass interference on Nickell Robey-Coleman on a controversial play in the fourth quarter.

The Rams cornerback appeared to prevent Tommylee Lewis from catching the ball by making contact with the wide receiver before the ball got to him. Saints coach Sean Payton told Fox Sports' Erin Andrews after that "we lost our chance to go to the Super Bowl" because of the non-call.

"It's a disappointing way to lose a game," Payton said during his postgame news conference. "Just getting off the phone with the league office. They blew the call. Man, there were a lot of opportunities, though, but that call puts it first-and-10. We're on our knee three plays and it's a game-changing call. It's where it's at. So it's disappointing.

"Credit the Rams," Payton continued. "They made the plays, though. The kicker made some big kicks. But for a call like that not to be made, man, it's just hard to swallow."

Despite the play, the Rams overcame a sluggish start to get back into the game before waiting until the very end to take the lead. Jared Goff completed 25 of 40 passes for 297 yards for a Rams team that only played star running back Todd Gurley sparingly en route to reaching the Super Bowl.

For more on the Rams' win, be sure to check out Gary Klein's game story.

Austin Knoblauch | 3:15 p.m.

Rams, Saints heading to overtime tied, 23-23

Greg Zuerlein kicked a 48-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 23-23 between the Rams and Saints.

The NFC championship game is heading to overtime. The Saints have won the coin flip and will receive the ball first.

Austin Knoblauch | 3:09 p.m.

Saints take 23-20 lead over Rams in closing minutes

Wil Lutz kicked a 31-yard field goal with 1:41 left in regulation to take a 23-20 lead over the Rams. However, the Rams appeared to dodge a major bullet on a critical third down.

Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman appeared to make contact with Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis on a third-down pass attempt that left Saints coach Sean Payton livid with referees on the sideline.

The Rams get the ball back with one timeout, needing a field goal to force overtime.

Austin Knoblauch | 3 p.m.

Rams-Saints tied, 20-20, late in fourth quarter

Greg Zuerlein's 24-yard field goal with 5:06 remaining in the fourth quarter has moved the Rams into a 20-20 tie with the Saints heading into the final minutes of regulation.

The Rams had three tries to punch into the end zone after a 33-yard catch by Josh Reynolds, but failed to find pay dirt. Reynolds' catch coupled by a 39-yard tackle-shedding catch by tight end Gerald Everett fuled the Rams' drive into the red zone.

It's up to the defense now to see if the Rams can get the ball back before the end of regulation.

Austin Knoblauch | 2:45 p.m.

Saints lead Rams, 20-17: Los Angeles slices through New Orleans defense
Rams wide receiver Josh Reynolds catches a pass during the second half Sunday's game.
Rams wide receiver Josh Reynolds catches a pass during the second half Sunday's game. (John Bazemore / Associated Press)

The Rams are starting to match the Saints slug for slug in this NFC championship game showdown.

Jared Goff found tight end Tyler Higbee all alone in the end zone on a 1-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter to cut the Saints' lead to 20-17 with 3:06 left in the third quarter.

The big play that helped set up the touchdown as a 16-yard by Josh Reynolds on a reverse to put the Rams just outside the end zone.

While the Rams' resurgence in the last two quarters has kept them in the game, Todd Gurley has been more or less missing in action bar his 5-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. He only has three carries for four yards.

Austin Knoblauch | 2:13 p.m.

Saints lead Rams, 20-10: Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara working their magic

Drew Brees connected on a 2-yard touchdown pass to Taysom Hill to cap off the Saints' longest drive of the game and give them a 20-10 lead with 8:34 remaining in the third quarter.

While Brees was able to punch it in, it was Alvin Kamara who spearheaded New Orleans' march up the gut of the Rams' defense. Kamara caught several passes on the 12-play, 71-yard drive, exposing the soft underbelly of the Los Angeles linebacker corps. Along with fellow backfield menace Mark Ingram, the running back duo played the biggest roles in expanding the Saints' lead.

The Rams ended the second quarter on a high note. Let's see if the momentum is still on their side.

Austin Knoblauch | 1:58 p.m.

Saints lead Rams, 13-10, at halftime: Huge TD catch by Brandin Cooks pushes Rams back into the game
Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks, left, hauls in a pass ahead of Saints cornerback P.J. Williams during the second quarter of Sunday's game.
Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks, left, hauls in a pass ahead of Saints cornerback P.J. Williams during the second quarter of Sunday's game. (Jonathan Bachman / Getty Images)

A huge, over-the-shoulder catch by Brandin Cooks has given life to the Los Angeles Rams. Cooks' 42-yard catch on a perfectly placed pass by Jared Goff set up a 5-yard touchdown run by Todd Gurley on the next play to cut the Rams' deficit to three points heading into the locker room.

The Rams needed a touchdown to stay in the game, and Goff delivered. On a critical third-and-10 at midfield, Goff weather the corner blitz and completed a 17-yard pass to get Los Angeles on the edge of field-goal range before connecting on Cooks again on the big pass to set up the TD.

Goff enters the second half completing 12 of 20 passes for 114 yards and C.J. Anderson leads the Rams on the ground with 29 yards on seven carries. Gurley only has three carries for four yards.

Drew Brees has completed 14 of 20 passes for 132 yards and a TD. The Rams have limited New Orleans' dynamic running back duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram to a combined 14 yards on eight carries.

Austin Knoblauch | 1:30 p.m.

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Rams trail Saints, 13-3, in second quarter

A successful conversion on a fake punt has helped the Rams get onto the scoreboard.

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Rams punter Johnny Hekker kept a Los Angeles drive alive in the second quarter when he connected on a 12-yard pass to Sam Shields. Unfortunately, the Rams couldn't find the end zone, settling for a 36-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein to trail, 13-3, late in the second quarter.

Hekker's pass is the longest completion of the game for the Rams, so far.

Thanks to Hekker's heroics, the Rams managed to scrape together their first points of the game on a 14-play, 57-yard drive. But they likely need to find the end zone soon in order to keep up with the Drew Brees-led Saints offense.

So far, C.J. Anderson and Todd Gurley have combined for a meager 27 yards on the ground and Jared Goff has completed 8 of 14 passes for 39 yards. The noisy Superdome isn't helping the Rams' cause.

Austin Knoblauch | 1:01 p.m.

Saints hold 13-0 lead in second quarter after Michael Brockers mistake

A costly penalty by Michael Brockers on fourth down has put the Rams in an early hole.

An encroachment penalty by Brockers on fourth-and-2 gave the Saints a first down. On the next play, Saints signal-caller Drew Brees found tight end Garrett Griffin in the end zone on a 5-yard touchdown pass to give New Orleans a 13-0 lead with 1:35 left in the first quarter.

It was Griffin's first catch of the year. He was just added to the active roster for this game.

The Rams' offense has struggled to find any momentum, so far. For the Saints, tight end Josh Hill is in concussion protocol after a helmet-to-helmet hit.

Austin Knoblauch | 12:42 p.m.

Saints take 6-0 lead after Jared Goff is picked off
New Orleans Saints' Michael Thomas tries to get away from Los Angeles Rams' Aqib Talib during the first quarter.
New Orleans Saints' Michael Thomas tries to get away from Los Angeles Rams' Aqib Talib during the first quarter. (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

Jared Goff throws an interception on the Rams' first possession. Demario Davis picked off Goff on a pass intended to Todd Gurley.

Fortunately for the Rams, they avert disaster by stopping Drew Brees on the ensuing possession, holding New Orleans to a 29-yard field goal by Wil Lutz about midway through the opening quarter.

Definitely not the start the Rams wanted. Jared Goff and company need to play mistake-free football if this game evolves into an offensive shootout.

Los Angeles then goes three and out on their next possession.

Austin Knoblauch | 12:26 p.m.

Saints take 3-0 lead on game’s first possession

Wil Lutz's 37-yard field goal has given the New Orleans Saints a 3-0 lead over the Los Angeles Rams in the opening minutes of the NFC championship game.

The Saints nearly scored a touchdown on their first possession, but second-year tight end Dan Arnold dropped a sure-thing TD pass on third down to force New Orleans to settle for the field goal with 10:07 left in the first quarter.

New Orleans' scoring drive was fueled by a big catch by running back Alvin Kamara out of the backfield on a wheelhouse route for 21 yards.

Let's see how the Rams respond.

Austin Knoblauch | 12:17 p.m.

Jared Goff looks ready to play for Rams

Rams quarterback warms up before the biggest game of his young career. Will he be able to guide the Rams to their first Super Bowl appearance since the Greatest Show on Turf era?

Austin Knoblauch | 11:43 a.m.

Rams fans living the dome life

Sean McVay's army travels well. Gary Klein caught these Rams fans flying their RWO colors before Sunday's game at the Superdome. Ric Flair would be proud.

Austin Knoblauch | 11 a.m.

Plenty of ways to get to the Superdome

Who needs a car when a boat will get the job done in the bayou. Check out what Sam Farmer captured on video prior to the Rams-Saints NFC championship game in New Orleans:

Austin Knoblauch | 10:56 a.m.

Darth Raider has nothing on Darth Easy

Rams beat writer Gary Klein always arrives early to the stadium, even for out of town matchups. Check out what he spotted in New Orleans on the way to the Superdome:

Here are some other Saints fans outside the Superdome prior to the game:

Saints fans gather outside Mercedes-Benz Superdome before the NFC championship game.
Saints fans gather outside Mercedes-Benz Superdome before the NFC championship game. (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
Saints fans gather at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome before Sunday's NFC championship game against the Rams.
Saints fans gather at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome before Sunday's NFC championship game against the Rams. (David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
Saints fans gather outside Mercedes-Benz Superdome before the NFC championship game.
Saints fans gather outside Mercedes-Benz Superdome before the NFC championship game. (Justin Lane / EPA)
A Saints fan shows her support for the team outside the Superdome on Sunday.
A Saints fan shows her support for the team outside the Superdome on Sunday. (Sean Gardner / Getty Images)
Saints fans gather outside Mercedes-Benz Superdome before the NFC championship game.
Saints fans gather outside Mercedes-Benz Superdome before the NFC championship game. (Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)

Austin Knoblauch | 10:48 a.m.

Who will win Sunday in Rams vs. Saints showdown?
Saints coach Sean Payton, left, and Rams coach Sean McVay have guided their respective squads to the NFC championship game.
Saints coach Sean Payton, left, and Rams coach Sean McVay have guided their respective squads to the NFC championship game. (Associated Press)

Gary Klein's prediction

The Rams left New Orleans after their defeat in November feeling as if they could win a rematch, regardless of where it was played. Now they will prove it.

RAMS 30, SAINTS 27

Sam Farmer's pick

All the pregame focus is the way these teams throw the ball, but this will come down to the Rams' clock-hogging ground game versus a Saints defense that's missing Sheldon Rankins up front.

RAMS 35, SAINTS 28

Rams and Saints inactives for Sunday
Rams will beat Saints, advance to the Super Bowl
Bill Plaschke predicts a big win for the Rams in the NFC title game against the New Orleans Saints.

You could see it last Saturday night at the Coliseum, where dozens of blue stars lay flattened on the muddy turf.

The Rams didn't just beat the Dallas Cowboys. They ran them into the ground.

"I think we kind of feel like we were born for this moment,'' tackle Andrew Whitworth said.

You could feel it this week in Thousand Oaks, where giants are moving about with sturdy assurance, speaking with quiet conviction, acting like they know they belong.

The Rams aren't scared of their biggest game in many seasons. They're embracing it.

"We're getting back to getting hot and feeling good about ourselves,'' Whitworth said.

Bill Plaschke

Video: Marcus Peters confident: ‘I’m a fiery player’
The Rams exude quiet confidence as they prepare to face the New Orleans Saints in Sunday's NFC Championship Game at the Superdome.
How the Rams and Saints match up in the NFC championship

How teams compare statistically. All stats are per-game averages, except for sacks and turnover differential, which are for the season (league rank in parentheses):

Category Rams Saints
CategoryPoints scored Rams32.9 (2) Saints31.5 (3)
CategoryPoints allowed Rams24.0 (20) Saints22.1 (14)
CategoryPass offense Rams281.7 (5) Saints252.6 (12)
CategoryRush offense Rams139.4 (3) Saints126.6 (6)
CategoryPass defense Rams236.2 (14) Saints268.9 (29)
CategoryRush defense Rams122.3 (23) Saints80.2 (2)
CategorySacks Rams41 (15) Saints49 (T5)
CategoryPenalty yards Rams54.9 (10) Saints58.7 (15)
CategoryTurnovers RamsPlus eleven (4) SaintsPlus eight (7)
Jared Goff and Drew Brees: One will go to the Super Bowl, the other to the Pro Bowl
Rams quarterback Jared Goff, left, greets New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees after the Saints defeated the Rams, 45-35, on Nov. 4, 2018 in New Orleans.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff, left, greets New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees after the Saints defeated the Rams, 45-35, on Nov. 4, 2018 in New Orleans. (Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)

They were Pro Bowl teammates after last season, and both again were voted onto the NFC roster for the NFL's annual All-Star exhibition that is played the week before the Super Bowl.

But Rams quarterback Jared Goff and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees won't be sharing a meeting room, practice reps and a sideline next week in Orlando, Fla.

One of them will be busy preparing for the Super Bowl.

On Sunday, Goff and Brees will square off in the NFC championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The winner advances to play the Kansas City Chiefs or the New England Patriots in the Feb. 3 Super Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

"Always something you dream about growing up is being able to play in the Super Bowl," Goff said Wednesday. "Try not to think about it too much because you know you have to focus on this game and get this one won and then you can focus on that.

"Even playing in the NFC championship is a dream come true."

Gary Klein

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Rams getting some Santa Monica love

The Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica pier is sporting some trippy visuals in an ode to the Rams' logo. It isn't the only Los Angeles landmark showing off its Rams colors this week.

Video: Rams looking to put the squeeze on the Saints
The New Orleans Saints feature a future Hall of Fame quarterback, the NFL's best wide receiver and an unrelenting running game. Stopping the explosive Saints is objective No. 1 for the Rams in Sunday's NFC championship game.
Rams return to New Orleans with a weapon Saints didn't see in first matchup
Rams running backs Todd Gurley, left, and C.J. Anderson give the New Orleans Saints something new to prepare for.
Rams running backs Todd Gurley, left, and C.J. Anderson give the New Orleans Saints something new to prepare for. (Associated Press)

The rotation began seven plays into the Rams' divisional-round playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

Star running back Todd Gurley, on the field for the first time in nearly a month, had carried the ball four times when backup C.J. Anderson came off the sideline and carried three times before an eventual field goal. The rotation continued throughout the game.

"There was times he wanted to come in, and I tell him I was in a rhythm, and there was times he felt like he was in a rhythm and I'm going to let him go," Anderson said.

By the end of the 30-22 victory, Anderson had rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns in 23 carries. Gurley rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown in 16 carries. It had been two decades since two backs from the same team each ran for more than 100 yards in a playoff game.

Gary Klein

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