The Rams will face the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship game Sunday in New Orleans, seeking to become the first Los Angeles team to advance to the Super Bowl since the Raiders in the 1983 season.
The game is a rematch of the Rams 45-35 loss Nov. 4, also at the Superdome, in a game the Rams trailed 35-14 with 26 seconds left in the first half, rallied to tie the score, 35-35, then allowed the final 10 points for their first loss after starting the season with eight consecutive victories.
Following the game, Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers called the loss “a blessing in disguise.” In an interview Friday, he said the team “learned a lot from that game, learned a lot about ourselves, learned what we could fix and what we could work on.”
“It could definitely be a blessing in disguise, because we feel like we know these guys a little bit better now,” Brockers said. “It’s hard to beat a team twice.”
Both teams have had personnel changes since that game.
Rams receiver Cooper Kupp, who caught a 41-yard touchdown pass from Jared Goff that led to the tying two-point conversion, suffered a season-ending torn ACL Nov. 11 against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Rams signed running back C.J. Anderson on Dec. 18, a week after he was cut by the Oakland Raiders. Anderson has rushed for at least 123 yards in each of his three games with the Rams.
Rams cornerback Aqib Talib missed the first game between the teams after suffering an ankle injury Sept. 23 that required surgery and sidelined him for eight games.
“Since Aqib’s been back, we haven’t given up a lot of big plays in the passing game,” Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “He helps out there. He helps with communication, he helps with his talent and we don’t have to change people around to cover up for a guy that hadn’t been playing.
“It gives us a versatility that (we) didn’t have when he wasn’t in there and I think we’ve played better since he’s been in there.”
Talib, who is in his 11th season in the league, “makes everyone comfortable” and “knows everything,” Rams safety John Johnson III said.
In the 30-22 victory over the Dallas Cowboys Jan. 12 in an NFC divisional playoff game, “before they broke the huddle, he called out exactly what they were going to do and it happened exactly the way it did,” Johnson said.
The play was a fourth-and-one play in the fourth quarter when Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott ran two yards for the first down, Johnson said.
New Orleans will be without defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, who was placed on the reserve/injured list Wednesday after tearing his Achilles tendon in last Sunday’s 20-14 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in an NFC divisional playoff game.
Rankins was second on the Saints with eight quarterback sacks during the regular season in what coach Sean Payton said was the best of his three seasons since being the third defensive lineman chosen in the 2016 draft.
The game is a matchup of the second- and third-highest scoring teams in the league. The Rams averaged 32.9 points per game during the regular season, New Orleans 31.5.
Both teams were 13-3 during the regular season. The Saints received home-field advantage because of their victory over the Rams.
The Rams have history against them. Each of the NFL’s last 10 conference championship games has been won by the home team.
Rams coach Sean McVay said New Orleans has “a huge advantage” because of the “great atmosphere and environment” being “the home team provides.”
“It definitely forces you to adjust and adapt and it limits your ability to communicate a lot of things that you would be able to do otherwise, if you were at home so that’s definitely something that we have to be aware of,” McVay said.
“Fortunately, we’ve played in this environment earlier in the year, but I would imagine that it’s going to be an even better atmosphere just based on the magnitude of the game.”
The Rams 6-2 road record was the third-best in the league behind the Los Angeles Chargers and the Saints, who were both 7-1 on the road.
“I think we jell together well on the road and have that mindset of us against the world and all that,” said Goff, who completed 28 of 40 passes for 391 yards against New Orleans Nov. 4, but also had a pass intercepted late in the first half in the Nov. 4 game that the Saints converted into a touchdown.
“When it’s loud, we love it and try to relish in it, try to enjoy it. It’ll be no different this weekend.”
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