The Los Angeles Rams defeated the New Orleans Saints 26-23 in overtime to win the NFC Championship and advance to Super Bowl LIII, but their victory was not without controversy over a blown pass interference call late in the fourth quarter.
The Rams will take on the New England Patriots, who also won in overtime to clinch the AFC Conference title and advance to the Super Bowl.
Officials missed an obvious pass interference penalty when the Rams’ Nickell Robey-Coleman knocked down Saints wide receiver Tommylee Lewis at a crucial moment in the fourth quarter. The officials did not throw a flag because they were under the assumption the ball had been tipped. The Saints were forced to kick a field goal on the ensuing play. The Saints took the lead, but gave the Rams ample time to tie the game and send it into overtime. The Rams subsequently won the game in overtime with a booming 57-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein.
NFC Conference Champions (Since 1999)
1999 St. Louis Rams
2000 New York Giants
2001 St. Louis Rams
2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
2003 Carolina Panthers
2004 Philadelphia Eagles
2005 Seattle Seahawks
2006 Chicago Bears
2007 New York Giants
2008 Arizona Cardinals
2009 New Orleans Saints
2010 Green Bay Packers
2011 New York Giants
2012 San Francisco 49ers
2013 Seattle Seahawks
2014 Seattle Seahawks
2015 Carolina Panthers
2016 Atlanta Falcons
2017 Philadelphia Eagles
2018 Los Angeles Rams
The 2017 NFC Champion Philadelphia Eagles ended a streak of three straight AFC teams that won the Super Bowl. The AFC won five out of the last seven Super Bowls.
Rematch in NOLA
The Rams and Saints met in Week 9. At that point, the Rams headed into New Orleans with an 8-0 record as the top team in the NFC. The Saints were 7-1 after dropping the first game of the season, but they had won seven straight games. The top two teams in the NFC combined for 80 points in a fast-paced shootout in the Superdome. The Saints prevailed 45-35 and Drew Brees took advantage of the absence of Rams star cornerback Aqib Talib, who missed the first game with an injury. Saints WR Michael Thomas destroyed the Rams secondary for 12 catches and 211 yards.
The Saints won the top seed in the NFC and finished the regular season with a 13-3 overall record. The Rams won the NFC West and finished with an identical record, but settled on the #2 seed.
The Saints were three-point favorites heading into the NFC title game. Oddsmakers expected another shootout with the over/under hovering around 57 total points.
All Saints in 1Q
The Saints jumped out to a 13-0 lead, but it could have been 21-0. The Rams defense kept Drew Brees and company out of the end zone on the Saints first two possessions of the game, resulting in field goals instead.
The Rams struggled with equipment issues and Goff’s helmet, and found it almost impossible to hear inside the huddle due to a deafening crowd inside the Superdome.
All Rams in 2Q
The Rams offense finally woke up and scored ten unanswered points in the second quarter. They relied on a no-huddle offense and hand signals to overcome the crowd noise. A 14-play drive at the start of the second quarter resulted in a field goal. The Rams defense stepped up and forced consecutive punts from the Saints.
Jared Goff and the Rams marched 75 yards downfield for their first touchdown of the game, which silenced the home crowd and trimmed the deficit to 13-10.
The Blown Call
With the score tied at 20-20 in the fourth quarter, Drew Brees was poised to lead the Saints to a victory. With under two minutes remaining, the Saints were deep inside Rams territory on the 13-yard line but facing a third down and ten yards situation. With Brees working from the shotgun, he fired a quick pass to WR Tommylee Lewis. Nickell Robey-Coleman was beat and opted to run into Lewis. The pass was incomplete and no flags were thrown despite the obvious pass inference.
— That Blind Ref (@ThatBlindRef) January 20, 2019
“Came to the sideline, looked at the football gods and was like, ‘Thank you.’ I got away with one tonight,” admitted Robey-Coleman.
“Being that it happened right there in front of the person who would be the one to make the call, and everyone in the stands saw it, everyone watching at home on TV saw it, that makes it even more difficult to take,” said Brees.
An apoplectic Sean Payton screamed at officials for the missed call. Facing fourth down, the Saints kicked a field goal to take a 23-20 lead. However, they left 1:41 on the clock and gave the Rams ample time to tie the game.
Greg the Leg
Jared Goff led the Rams downfield, but stalled on the Saints 30-yard line. Sean McVay sent Greg Zuerlein out to kick a 48-yard field goal, which was successful and the game ended in regulation with a 23-23 tie.
The Saints won the coin toss and opted to receive the ball first in overtime. On the fourth play of overtime, Drew Brees threw a rare interception. John Johnson III picked off Brees near midfield.
Five plays later, facing a fourth and seven situation from the Saints 39-yard line, McVay opted for a 57-yard field goal. The game was indoors on turf, so without any inclement weather, Zuerlein connected on his fourth FG of the game.
“The defense played the way they did to force it to overtime,” said Jared Goff. “The defense gets a pick and Greg makes a 57-yarder to win it. That was good from about 70. Unbelievable.”
Zuerlein’s winning kick marked the longest game-winning field goal in NFL playoff history. The Rams won 26-23 in overtime to clinch the NFC Championship and they earned a spot in Super Bowl LIII.
Quick Market Correction
Super Bowl LIII, or Super Bowl 53, will take place at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday, February 3.
The Rams are in the Super Bowl for the first time since 2001, when they lost to the New England Patriots 20-17 in Super Bowl XXXVI. The Rams last won the Super Bowl in 1999, when they defeated the Tennessee Titans 23-16 in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
For Super Bowl LIII, the Rams opened as one-point favorites at the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas before the public pounded the Patriots. The line quickly moved in favor of the Patriots and settled with the Rams as two-point underdogs.