The Rams will face the New England Patriots Sunday in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, seeking to give Los Angeles its first NFL championship since January 1984.
The Super Bowl appearance comes two seasons after the Rams were 4-12, prompting the firing of coach Jeff Fisher with three games remaining in the 2016 regular season and the hiring of Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay to replace him.
Both McVay and owner Stan Kroenke had the Super Bowl on their minds when McVay’s hiring was announced on Jan. 12, 2017.
“I am confident in his vision to make this team a consistent winner and to ultimately bring a Super Bowl title home to Los Angeles,” Kroenke said.
After thanking Kroenke and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff “for their faith in me to lead the Los Angeles Rams as head coach” McVay said “collectively, we are committed to building a championship-caliber team.”
McVay’s hiring was announced 12 days before he turned 31 years old. He was the youngest coach in the modern history of the NFL, which is considered to have begun in 1933 when the league was split into two divisions and a championship game was played.
Now 33, McVay is the youngest coach to guide a team to a Super Bowl. The previous youngest was Mike Tomlin, who was 36 when he coached the Pittsburgh Steelers to a victory in Super Bowl XLIII in 2009.
McVay, a grandson of John McVay, the New York Giants’ coach from 1976-78 and an executive with the San Francisco 49ers from 1979-95 when they won five Super Bowls, quickly turned around a team that had 10 consecutive losing seasons under four previous head coaches.
The Rams were 11-5 in McVay’s first season, winning their first NFC West championship since 2003. McVay was selected NFL Coach of the Year for turning the Rams into the league’s top-scoring team, one season after they were its lowest-scoring team.
The 2018 season was even better.
The Rams won their first eight games, their best start since 1969. Their 13-3 regular-season record was their best since 2001, when they were 14-2 and reached the Super Bowl for the most recent time before this season.
“He’s changed the whole culture in L.A.,” said Bill Cowher, who coached the Pittsburgh Steelers to a victory in Super Bowl XL in 2006 and is now an analyst on CBS’ “The NFL Today.”
The Patriots were 11-5, their worst record since 2009 when their season ended with a 33-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in their most recent appearance in the wild-card round.
“I think both these teams are playing their best football right now,” Cowher said in a conference call last week.
Super Bowl LIII has the largest age difference between coaches — at 66, New England’s Bill Belichick is 33 years older than McVay — and at quarterback, where the Patriots’ 41-year-old Tom Brady is 17 years older than 24-year-old Rams starter Jared Goff.
“Both these coaches have proven to be very aggressive in their coaching,” Cowher said, citing a fake punt by the Rams in the second quarter of the NFC Championship Game that led to their first points.
“We all know with Bill Belichick he will not hold anything back. That’s why this will be a great chess match with the young coach and the old coach.”
Both teams advanced to Super Bowl LIII with overtime victories in their conference championship games Jan. 20, the first time both conference championship games went into overtime.
The Rams defeated the New Orleans Saints, 26-23, on Greg Zuerlein’s 57-yard field goal in overtime that completed a comeback from a 13-0 first-quarter deficit.
“The confidence that Jared Goff got at the end of the game against New Orleans and in overtime is going to propel him to be very calm in this game,” said Boomer Esiason, an analyst on “The NFL Today” and an NFL quarterback from 1984-97.
The NFC Championship Game will likely be best remembered for a non-penalty call against Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman on a third-down pass intended for Tommylee Lewis with one minute, 49 seconds to play and the ball on the Rams’ 13-yard line.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday a penalty should have been called against Robey-Coleman.
New England was a 37-31 winner over the Kansas City Chiefs in an AFC Championship Game that included a fourth quarter with three lead changes and a tie.
The teams had six common opponents this season — the Los Angeles Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings.
The Rams were a combined 5-1 against those teams during the regular season, with the only loss coming to Chicago, while the Patriots were 6-1 in the regular season and playoffs. The loss was to Detroit.
The Rams will use Sunday morning at their hotel to run through it all one last time. Players will have an “activation,” in which the strength and conditioning staff will get them loose and put them through a stretch, McVay said.
“Then we’ll have quick meetings, a walk-through and pre-game meal and then come over and here we go,” McVay said Saturday while taking a look around Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
New England will also hold team meetings Sunday morning, Belichick said.
The Rams received four awards at NFL Honors on Saturday night.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald was selected as The Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year and the winner of the Deacon Jones Award for leading the NFL in quarterback sacks. It is named for the late Hall of Fame defensive end who played for the Rams from 1961-71.
Goff received the Unstoppable Performance of the Year Award. A weekly winner is selected each week. Goff was honored for his Week 4 performance against the Minnesota Vikings where he threw for 465 yards and five touchdowns in a 38-31 victory.
The Rams’ offensive line was announced as the Offensive Line of the Year.
The Rams will be playing in the Super Bowl for the fourth time in their history and second when they were based in Los Angeles. They lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-19, in Super Bowl XIV on Jan. 20, 1980.
The Rams 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, one in Cleveland in 1945 and one in St. Louis for the 1999 season.
The Rams are the first Los Angeles team to advance to the Super Bowl since the then-Los Angeles Raiders in the 1983 season, when they defeated Washington, 38-9, in Super Bowl XVIII.
Super Bowl LIII comes exactly 17 years after the Rams’ most recent Super Bowl appearance, a 20-17 loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI, the first of New England’s five Super Bowl titles.
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