Late in the third quarter of the NFC Championship game, the Los Angeles Rams fell into a 10-point hole. For most of that time they had shown little sign of climbing out of it.
For all their top-end talent and respected coaching, the Rams (15-5) haven’t knocked out many opponents this year. Most of their victories have had to be fought and fought for, relying on resilience and perseverance.
And that’s exactly what they did to get to the Super Bowl.
The Rams are star-studded, but it’s their understated tenacity that stands out during a playoff run that’s now one win away from a championship.
“We had to buckle in and give a little more,” All Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey said after the Rams’ 20-17 win over San Francisco. “We really had to want it. It would boil down to wanting it more. We had to show it. Everyone wanted it, but having one of our leaders talk to us and show us around puts you even more on the right track.”
The Rams are scoring a lot of points mainly because the bond between Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp is incredibly strong. They’re improving weekly on defense as the teamwork of Aaron Donald, Von Miller, Ramsey and their supporting cast becomes ever more dangerous.
But the Rams are in the Super Bowl because all of their big names have put the team first in the second half of this season and created a powerhouse that has met every challenge on the track.
“Today was a great sign of resilience,” coach Sean McVay said Sunday night. “That’s one of the things that embodies this group. You go down 17-7, not looking good. But the boys just stayed in the moment. One piece at a time. Did a great job. … There were just so many great plays from great players today.”
The only remaining obstacle for Los Angeles is AFC North champions Bengals. The Rams had plenty of fun raising aloft a trophy on a confetti-strewn field, but it’s highly unlikely they’ll struggle to get back to business later this week. Miller said leaders would not allow the Rams’ focus to falter.
“It’s just a blessing to be here and experience it with your teammates and your real brothers,” Miller said. “It’s so surreal man.”
The Rams fielded an impressive San Francisco defense that knew exactly what was in store for the teams’ third meeting of the season. Kupp had five catches for 64 yards and a touchdown in the first half and six catches for 78 yards and a touchdown in the second half. Odell Beckham Jr.’s performance was similarly balanced, and the Rams ran the ball decently, although Cam Akers was slowed down by an early injury. With 1,199 yards in three postseason games, Los Angeles has found an offensive flow broken only by turnovers.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Rams need their dwindling playmaker base to stay healthy. Tight end Tyler Higbee, receiver Van Jefferson and Akers were all injured against the Niners. Jefferson (a catch for 6 yards on four targets) and Akers (3 yards on three carries) had no effect coming back and Higbee couldn’t come back at all. Rookie receiver Ben Skowronek had to play 21 snaps and failed to miss a hard touchdown reception on his only goal.
Los Angeles received a huge boost from Kendall Blanton as Higbee went down with a knee injury. The undrafted tight end barely played for the Rams in his three NFL seasons and only made his first four receptions earlier this season. But Blanton came up with a TD catch in Tampa Bay last week and did an excellent job of filling in Higbee with five catches for 57 yards against the Niners.
Pro Bowl kicker Matt Gay missed a field goal attempt for the second straight week, coming up short and straight with a 54-yarder in the kicker-friendly conditions of SoFi Stadium. He also missed two kickoffs without touchbacks, allowing Deebo Samuel to get the ball twice. The Rams covered those kicks well, and Gay eventually hit two field goals in the fourth quarter to win it, but Gay admitted on Twitter that he “needs to clean up some things on my side.”
Higbee has a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee, and McVay doesn’t know if he’ll be ready for the Super Bowl: “He’s such a tough guy. We’re going to do everything we can to get this guy ready.” … The Rams didn’t have any other major injuries from the game.
51 – Total snaps (100%) played by safety Eric Weddle, the Rams’ lead tackler against San Francisco. The 37-year veteran ended a two-year retirement less than three weeks ago and agreed to help out after the Rams lost both starting safeties to injury in the regular-season finale. It’s one of the wildest comeback stories in recent sports history.
A Super Bowl match at the Rams’ home stadium between the winners of what are probably the two toughest divisions in the NFL.