What a time for the Los Angeles Rams to finally beat the San Francisco 49ers.
Los Angeles defeated its NFC West rivals 20-17 in Sunday's NFC Championship Game at SoFi Stadium to clinch a spot in the Super Bowl for the second time in four years. Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and the defense led the way for the victors, who snapped their six-game losing streak against San Francisco in the process.
Jimmy Garoppolo's interception to Travin Howard in the final two minutes ended any hopes for the 49ers, who lost a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and missed an opportunity to reach the Super Bowl for the second time in three years.
What a matchup for <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SBLVI?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SBLVI</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RuleTheJungle?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RuleTheJungle</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RamsHouse?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RamsHouse</a> <a href="https://t.co/mSWN46eCKw">pic.twitter.com/mSWN46eCKw</a>
Notable Player Stats
- Matthew Stafford, QB, LAR: 31-of-45 passing for 337 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
- Cooper Kupp, WR, LAR: 11 catches for 142 yards, 2 TDs
- Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LAR: 9 catches for 113 yards
- Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, SF: 16-of-30 passing for 232 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT
- Deebo Samuel, WR, SF: 4 catches for 72 yards, 1 TD; 7 carries for 26 yards
- George Kittle, TE, SF: 2 catches for 27 yards, 1 TD
Rams Overcome Mistakes, Slow Start to Clinch Super Bowl in 4th Quarter
It's not often a storyline other than the pursuit of the Lombardi Trophy lingers over an NFC Championship Game, but that was the case Sunday given the 49ers' run of success against the Rams. Even their fans outperformed Los Angeles' in SoFi Stadium during the regular season.
The Rams didn't exactly shake the narrative in a first half that included Jimmie Ward picking off Stafford in the end zone, a rare drop by Kupp on a potential touchdown pass and another drop by Ben Skowronek on a definite touchdown pass.
Throw in a missed field goal by Matt Gay and injuries to Tyler Higbee (knee) and Cam Akers (shoulder), and there was plenty to worry about even after Akers returned to the game.
Fortunately for the Rams, they were down just three at halftime even with those issues because they marched 97 yards in 18 plays on their one scoring drive. Kupp had three catches on the drive and fittingly snagged the touchdown in the back corner of the end zone to start the scoring.
INTERCEPTED AT THE GOAL LINE! <a href="https://twitter.com/49ers?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@49ers</a> take over. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/NFLPlayoffs?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NFLPlayoffs</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/FTTB?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#FTTB</a><br><br>📺: <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/SFvsLAR?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#SFvsLAR</a> on FOX<br>📱: <a href="https://t.co/vywGt5Kgfz">https://t.co/vywGt5Kgfz</a> <a href="https://t.co/F30lfiZzqw">pic.twitter.com/F30lfiZzqw</a>
The pattern of Kupp keeping his team close despite a series of mistakes continued when he grabbed his second touchdown early in the fourth quarter. The Rams found themselves down just three as a result even though they burned through their timeouts with two failed challenges from head coach Sean McVay and turned it over on downs when Stafford was stuffed on a quarterback sneak.
Even with all that, it was tied after Gay drilled a field goal with fewer than seven minutes remaining to finish a drive that should have ended with a Jaquiski Tartt interception on a pass the safety dropped. That dropped pick was magnified for San Francisco when Gay hit another field goal after two more clutch catches from Kupp to give the Rams a three-point lead in the final two minutes.
The 13-point stretch in the fourth quarter was not only the most important sequence of Stafford's career, it was also all the offense needed as the Rams defense finished the game by shutting down Garoppolo and Co. in the fourth quarter.
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers Collapse Down Stretch
It's unbelievable San Francisco was even in this game considering Garoppolo threw for fewer than 200 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception in each of the first two playoff wins, but the special teams and defense overcame the quarterback concerns.
It was more of the same Sunday when the defense forced an early turnover and held the Rams to just seven points in the first half while the offense punted on its first two possessions.
Garoppolo overthrew a wide-open George Kittle on the first drive and struggled to settle in until his wide receivers started making plays. After falling behind 7-0, Deebo Samuel took a bubble screen and burst through the entire Los Angeles defense for a touchdown shortly after Brandon Aiyuk hauled in a deep ball.
Aiyuk also set up Robbie Gould's go-ahead field goal that ended the half with a slant route underneath as Garoppolo used shorter passes to find a rhythm.
It didn't take much to create some separation with San Francisco's defense largely dialed in, and the offense did just that in the third quarter when Jauan Jennings battled for extra yards on a key third-down conversion before Garoppolo found Kittle for a touchdown.
That 10-point lead didn't last long, though, as the 49ers defense finally cracked in the fourth quarter. The blown lead put the pressure squarely on Garoppolo's shoulders in crunch time, and the result was two straight punts after Kittle's touchdown before he got one more opportunity for a narrative-defining drive in the last two minutes while trailing by three.
And he cemented the narrative that the 49ers ultimately couldn't overcome the poor quarterback play even with a loaded roster when he threw the ugly interception to Howard.
The Rams will represent the NFC against the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium on Feb. 13.