NEW ORLEANS — The Rams are now one more win from bringing their first title back to Los Angeles.
After getting outplayed most of the afternoon by the hometown New Orleans Saints, the Rams kept hanging around before overcoming a 10-point second-half deficit to prevail 26-23 on Greg Zuerlein’s 57-yard field goal in overtime of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.
John Johnson’s interception of Drew Brees set up Zuerlein’s shot — it was L.A.’s only lead of the day — sending the Rams to Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta two weeks from now. Though no NFL team has been based in L.A. longer than the Rams (52 years), only the 1983 Raiders have brought a Lombardi Trophy back to the City of Angels.
One moment sure to come under scrutiny in the coming weeks will be a crucial no-call on CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, who appeared to commit pass interference on Tommylee Lewis late in the fourth quarter, a play that forced the Saints to settle for another field goal with 1:41 to go.
Here are three other things we learned from Rams-Saints:
1. ‘Special’ teams: Johnny Hekker’s 12-yard pass on a fake punt in the second quarter sparked the Rams to life, eventually leading to Zuerlein’s first field goal after they’d fallen into a 13-0 first-quarter hole. A high school quarterback, Hekker has long been one of L.A.’s most underrated weapons — even though the team has had the luxury of under-utilizing him in recent seasons with the offense’s emergence under coach Sean McVay. Zuerlein was also aces, making all six of his kicks (4 FGs, 2 PATs), including a game-tying 48-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in regulation.
2. Defense still wins championships: Though the Rams are known for their explosive offense, it was the defense that kept them afloat. The Saints penetrated the red zone on their first two possessions, one courtesy of a Jared Goff interception, but were limited to field goals both times. New Orleans also never got going on the ground. The Rams were gashed for a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry in the regular season but limited the Saints to just 2.3 yards per attempt (and 48 yards overall), rendering their attack fairly one-dimensional — especially important during several stalled drives after New Orleans jumped out to its early lead.
3. Dome-field doldrums: The loss snapped the Saints’ seven-game winning streak at home in the playoffs (six of those occurring since Brees and coach Sean Payton came to New Orleans in 2006). Early on, they seemed in little danger of failing, the ear-splitting crowd (110-plus decibels, per the dome’s noise meter) was in full throat from the coin toss and helped induce a key encroachment penalty on Los Angeles DL Michael Brockers — ironically, an LSU product — on fourth-and-2 from the Rams’ 10-yard line late in the first quarter. Brees hit Garrett Griffin from 5 yards on the next play for the Saints’ first touchdown. But New Orleans couldn’t maintain the early momentum, scoring just 10 points the rest of the way.
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.