Greg Zuerlein kicked a 57-yard field goal in overtime as the Los Angeles Rams overcame a 13-point first-quarter deficit to defeat the New Orleans Saints, 26-23, in the NFC championship game Sunday in New Orleans, advancing to Super Bowl LIII.
The field goal three minutes, 17 seconds into overtime came five plays after John Johnson III intercepted a wobbly pass by Drew Brees at the Rams’ 46-yard line. Brees was hit by Rams outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. as he threw. Johnson made the interception on the turf as he fell after Saints receiver Michael Thomas made contact with him.
Jared Goff began the drive with a 12-yard completion to tight end Tyler Higbee. C.J. Anderson was tackled for a three-yard loss on the next play. Goff completed a 6-yard pass to Higbee that advanced the ball to the New Orleans 39-yard line. Goff’s third-down pass was incomplete, bringing out the field goal unit.
“It wasn’t always perfect, but we made enough plays,” said Rams coach Sean McVay, the youngest coach to guide a team to a Super Bowl.
McVay will turn 33 on Thursday.
The previous youngest coach to coach a team to a Super Bowl was Mike Tomlin, who was 36 when he coached the Pittsburgh Steelers to the victory in Super Bowl XLIII in 2009.
“The overtime period personifies what this team is all about,” McVay said. “Defense gets a turnover. Jared makes an unbelievable play to Higbee to be able to even get us in under 60-yard field goal range and then Greg `The Leg’ delivers in a big way.”
The Rams tied the score on Zuerlein’s 48-yard field goal with 15 seconds remaining in regulation, 1:26 after New Orleans had taken a 23-20 lead on Wil Lutz’s 31-yard field goal.
The Rams will play in the Super Bowl for the fourth time in their history and second when they were based in Los Angeles. They also played in the NFL championship game five times before the Super Bowl was established in the 1966 season, including once when they were based in Cleveland.
The Rams won one NFL championship when based in Los Angeles in 1951.
The Rams will face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII Feb. 3 in Atlanta, exactly 17 years after the Rams most recent Super Bowl appearance, a 20-17 loss to New England, the first of the Patriots’ five Super Bowl titles.
New England was a 37-31 overtime winner over the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game played later Sunday in Kansas City.
The Rams are the first Los Angeles team to advance to the Super Bowl since the Raiders in the 1983 season.
Saints coach Sean Payton said the officiating crew “blew the call” by not calling pass interference against Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman on a third-down pass intended for Tommylee Lewis with 1:49 to play and the ball on the Rams 13-yard line.
Payton said he spoke on the telephone with Alberto Riveron, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating.
“First thing Al said when I got on the phone — they messed it up,” Payton said. “It’s a hard job for those guys because it’s happening fast, but I don’t know if there was ever a more obvious pass interference call than that.”
Referee Bill Vinovich told pool reporter Amie Just of NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune “It’s a judgment call by the officials. I personally have not seen the play.”
Vinovich said the time in the game had “absolutely” no impact on the non-call and the play was not reviewable under the league’s replay rules.
Goff completed 25 of 40 passes for 297 yards and a 1-yard third-quarter touchdown pass to Hibgee. An interception Goff threw in the first quarter led to Lutz’s second of three field goals.
Brees completed 26 of 40 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns before an often-noise crowd at the Superdome announced at 73,028. The overtime interception was New Orleans lone turnover.
The Rams outgained the Saints 378 yards to 290. Both teams had 19 first downs, despite the Rams not having a first down in the first quarter and New Orleans seven. The Rams led 32:36-30:41 in time of possession after trailing in possession 10:16-4:44 in the first quarter.
The Rams victory ended the 10-game winning streak by the home team in the NFL’s conference championship games along with the Saints seven-game home postseason winning streak.
The Rams never led in regulation, trailing 13-0 13:25 into the game.
Zuerlein kicked a 36-yard field goal 5:15 into the second quarter for the Rams first points. The Rams got their first down of the game on the drive, with punter Johnny Hekker throwing a 12-yard pass to Sam Shields, usually a cornerback, out of punt formation.
Todd Gurley ran 6 yards for a touchdown 23 seconds before halftime, cutting the deficit to 13-10. Gurley would carry the ball just once more, for a 6-yard gain in the fourth quarter. He made one catch, for 3 yards, in the final minute of regulation.
The Rams were forced to punt after three plays on the opening possession of the second half. New Orleans drove 71 yards on 12 plays on the ensuing drive, with Brees throwing a 2-yard pass to Taysom Hill for the score on a third-and-two play.
The touchdown came one play after Hill replaced Brees at quarterback and threw an incomplete pass. The touchdown catch was the first of Hill’s NFL career. He has run for two touchdowns.
The Rams responded with a 10-play, 75-yard drive which culminated with the Goff to Higbee touchdown pass, with 3:06 left in the third quarter, again pulling the Rams to within three, 20-17.
The Rams tied the score on the first time on Zuerlein’s 24-yard field goal with 5:03 to play in the fourth quarter on nine-play, 85-yard drive that consumed 5:52.
Goff completed a 39-yard pass to tight end Gerald Everett on the third play of the drive, which included Everett running 21 yards after the catch, for the Rams longest play of the game.
Two plays later, Goff completed a 33-yard pass to receiver Josh Reynolds, giving the Rams a first-and-goal at the Saints 7-yard line.
Back-to-back runs by Anderson and Goff advanced the ball to the 2-yard line. Anderson was stopped after a 1-yard gain on third down, prompting the field goal try.
Lutz kicked field goals on both of New Orleans’ first two possessions and Brees threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Garrett Griffin on the third, an eight-play, 68-yard drive. The drive was extended when Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers was called for encroachment on a fourth-and-2 play from the Rams 10-yard line.
The touchdown was the first in the NFL for Griffin, who was signed to the active roster Jan. 12. He did not play in a regular-season game in 2018, making his official debut for the season in last Sunday’s 20-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, where he played on 18 plays, 15 on offense and three on special teams.
Griffin was the No. 4 tight end on the Saints’ unofficial depth chart released by the team Monday. He was pressed into duty because first-stringer Benjamin Watson was not in uniform due to an illness and second-stringer Josh Hill was sidelined by a concussion, a team official said.
Griffin played in three regular-season games in 2017, making one catch for 4 yards.
New Orleans took the opening kickoff, picked up three first downs, drove to the Rams 19-yard line, where Brees’ pass on third-and-7 was incomplete, forcing the Saints to settle for Lutz’s 37-yard field goal.
The Rams’ first drive ended on its third play when linebacker Demario Davis intercepted a pass by Goff at the Rams’ 17-yard line, and returned it 1 yard. The Saints failed to pick up a first down and Lutz kicked a 29-yard field goal.