The Rams are headed back to the Super Bowl.
Greg Zuerlein kicked a 57-yard field goal in overtime, and the Los Angeles Rams stunned the New Orleans Saints, 26-23, in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday afternoon at the Superdome.
Zuerlein converted a 48-yard field goal at the end of regulation to tie the game, and then made the biggest kick of his career in overtime, to punch the Rams ticket to their first Super Bowl since the 2001 season.
"I really wasn't thinking," admitted Zuerlein of the game-winner. "I looked up and saw it was going straight and I was happy."
Jared Goff threw for 297 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the victory.
"It's unbelievable, man. I can't put it into words," said Goff, who clearly hadn't let the moment sink in yet. "The defense played the way they did to force it to overtime. The defense gets a pick and Greg makes a 57-yarder to win it. That was good from about 70. Unbelievable."
The highly anticipated matchup between two of the top offensive teams in the NFC was not the high-scoring affair as their earlier matchup in Week 9.
The two teams combined to score 80 points on that day—a 45-35 victory for the Saints—the game was much different with a Super Bowl appearance on the line as both teams combined for just 49 total points on Sunday.
One week after combing for 273 rushing yards, the Rams two-headed attack of Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson was silenced by the Saints stout defense. Gurley and Anderson combined for just 60 yards on the ground, and the Rams had just 77 total as a team.
"I thought they [the Saints] did a good job as a whole slowing down our run game," said McVay. "It was a feel for the flow for the game. CJ did a nice job."
Los Angeles must have hit the snooze button this morning as they sleepwalked through the first quarter to start the game.
Before the game began, Saints head coach Sean Payton said that the home crowd needed to be loud inside the Superdome and that his team needed to score first.
Check and check.
Not only was the Superdome the loudest we've ever heard it, New Orleans opened the game with an 11-play, 56-yard drive, that resulted in a 37-yard field goal from Will Lutz.
"I've never coached in an atmosphere that loud, ever!" admitted Rams head coach Sean McVay. "It was so loud. We had some communication issues from the start. We dealt with some big time adversity and it personifies what type of team this has been throughout the course of the year."
Disaster struck the Rams on their opening drive as Goff had trouble hearing the play calls in his helmet, and a short pass to Gurley on third down slipped through his hands and into the awaiting arms of Saints' linebacker Demario Davis for the interception.
"I wouldn't have said this had we lost, but my helmet went dead," admitted Goff. "I was wearing Sean Mannion's helmet for the first and second drive. Trying to hear was difficult, trying to communicate the plays was difficult. We put tape on the ear flaps in the second half and it helped tremendously. I wish I had done it from the beginning."
The Saints started inside the red zone on the Rams 15-yard-line and were held to another field goal to take a 6-0 lead.
A few minutes later, Brees found tight-end Garrett Griffin in the end zone for the game's first touchdown and New Orleans led 13-0 after the first quarter.
The Rams were forced to attempt a punt on the ensuing drive, but feeling the momentum start to slip away, Rams head coach Sean McVay called for a fake, and punter Johnny Hekker delivered a perfect pass to Sam Shields on 4th and 5 to pick up the first down and keep the drive alive.
The risky decision worked for McVay and the Rams as they stole momentum from the Saints, and marched down the field and into New Orleans territory. However, Gurley once again let a ball slip through his fingers on 3rd and 6 inside the red zone, and the Rams were forced to kick another field goal.
"We needed a little bit of momentum," said McVay of the fake punt call. "We felt like if the look presented itself we were going to take it. Sam Shields did an excellent job and Johnny delivered the ball on the money. It gave us life."
Gurley would make up for the costly drop on the next possession as Goff delivered a dime on a slant route to receiver Brandin Cooks on a 36-yard-pass that placed the ball on the Saints' six-yard line.
One play later, Gurley rushed through the left-gap for the score and Los Angeles was back in the game. The Rams had taken the Saints best punch and were still standing.
The Saints soaked up the clock on their first possession of the second half, capping off a 12-play, 71-yard drive, with a touchdown pass from Brees to fellow quarterback, Taysom Hill. Alvin Kamara got the ball six different times on the nearly six-minute scoring drive.
The Rams responded on their next possession, as Goff found tight-end Tyler Higbee on a play-action pass from the Saints one-yard line. The score momentarily silenced the crowd as Higbee put two fingers up to his lips after the touchdown.
The game was tied at 20-20 with 5:16 remaining in regulation, before Brees found Ted Ginn Jr. on a deep 43-yard completion that set up the Saints for the go-ahead field goal.
Before the field goal, controversy struck the Saints on third down, as it appeared that Rams' cornerback, Nickell Robey-Coleman, hit receiver Tommylee Lewis before the ball arrived in what was an obvious pass interference call, but no flag was thrown.
"It was simple. They blew the call," said a visibly upset Sean Payton after the loss. "Should have never not been a call. Not only was it interference, it was helmet-to-helmet. I couldn't believe it."
Undaunted and unfazed, the Rams marched down the field and tied the game on a 48-yard field goal.
The Saints won the coin toss ahead of overtime, and received the kick-off, looking to march down the field, find the end-zone, and advance to their first Super Bowl since 2010.
However, as the Saints were about to come marching in, Rams defensive linemen, Dante Fowler Jr., got in Brees face on 2nd and 14, forcing a floating pass to Michael Thomas that was intercepted by safety John Johnson III as he was laying on his back on the turf.
"It's a tough pill to swallow," said Brees of the loss.
Adding insult to injury, Johnson hopped up and celebrated by doing the "Choppa dance," a celebration started by the Saints after New Orleans-based rapper, Choppa.
"We'll see you soon, Atlanta," added Johnson III, matter of factly.
The Rams just needed to get into Saints' territory and attempt the game-winning field goal, a 57-yarder by Zuerlein that sent the Rams back to the Super Bowl.
"It felt good coming off my foot," said Zuerlein in the locker room after the game. "I knew it was long enough because I thought I hit it pretty well. I just didn't want it to tail one way or the next, and luckily it stayed true."
It was the first time an away team has won the NFC Championship Game in 10 years, and the first loss in the playoffs at home for Saints head coach Sean Payton (previously 6-0).
Blow the Whistle
Cameras caught Saints fans using actual whistles to try and disrupt the Rams offense. In addition to the Superdome being the loudest decibel level in the NFL this season, the whistles were a classless (and illegal) move by the fans.
The Rams advance to their first Super Bowl since they lost to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in 2002. They were known as the St. Louis Rams at that time.