One half of Super Bowl LIII is set after the Los Angeles Rams won the 2018 NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
Jared Goff had 297 passing yards and a touchdown in the 26-23 overtime win against the New Orleans Saints, helping lead the Rams to the Super Bowl only two years after they finished 4-12.
Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein clinched the win with a 57-yard field goal in extra time after an interception by safety John Johnson III.
Todd Gurley had only 10 rushing yards, but the rest of the team picked up the slack after a 13-0 early deficit to earn the road victory at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Saints' impressive season came to an end despite 249 passing yards and two touchdowns from Drew Brees.
Jared Goff Silences Doubters, Shows He's More Than a Game Manager
The Rams went 13-3 in the regular season, but Pro Bowl quarterback Jared Goff rarely received credit.
Head coach Sean McVay is widely seen as an offensive genius, while running back Todd Gurley and defensive tackle Aaron Donald were considered the top MVP candidates on the roster. Those two were the only non-quarterbacks in the MVP discussion.
But against a quality Saints defense Sunday, Goff showed he deserves recognition for what he brings to the table.
The quarterback made some outstanding plays in big moments, including an important throw to Brandin Cooks at the end of the first half:
His fourth-quarter throw to tight end Gerald Everett on the run on third down also extended the game-tying drive:
Despite trailing 13-0 after the first quarter, Goff showed outstanding composure to put his team in position for a comeback victory. Leading field-goal drives to tie and win the game sealed his outstanding effort.
He also did so despite getting almost nothing from Gurley throughout the day.
Perhaps most impressively, Goff succeeded in a hostile environment in the first road playoff game of his career.
The performance also put him in the record books:
Heading into the Super Bowl, Goff should not be seen as a game manager who will have to rely upon the rest of the team to help him win. While he has plenty of talent around him, the third-year quarterback will be the one to decide the Rams' fate against the Kansas City Chiefs or New England Patriots.
The 2016 No. 1 overall pick will try to put the team on his back once again to bring home a championship.
Todd Gurley's Brutal Day a Pivotal Moment in Young Star's Career
Although Gurley dealt with a knee injury toward the end of the regular season, he had 115 rushing yards and a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round and wasn't on the injury report this past week. He was seemingly healthy coming into the NFC Championship Game.
However, he was virtually invisible against the Saints. He finished with only 10 rushing yards on four carries along with one catch for three receiving yards.
He also had negative plays that didn't show up in the box score:
Gurley barely played in the second half and lost touches to C.J. Anderson, who averaged only 2.8 yards per carry.
This was undoubtedly the biggest surprise of the game:
Had the Rams lost, Gurley would have been forced to answer questions throughout the offseason about why he disappeared in the biggest moment of the year. The huge four-year, $57.5 million contract he signed before the season would only raise the pressure on him moving forward.
However, L.A. escaped with a win, giving Gurley a reprieve.
In two weeks, Gurley will have a chance to show what he can do on an even bigger stage. If he returns to form in the Super Bowl, his disappearing act Sunday will become a footnote in his impressive career.
But if he's fully healthy and has another dud, it would raise doubts about his value moving forward.
Saints Offense Let The Defense Down
One of the biggest stories of the 2018 NFL season has been the leaguewide offensive explosion, with creative coaches and elite quarterbacks lighting up the scoreboard. Heading into the conference title games, the top-four-scoring regular-season teams were the last four teams alive.
However, the Saints turned that narrative on its head in the NFC Championship Game, as their defense was better than their offense.
Brees played well, but the offense struggled to finish off drives and ended up with touchdowns on only two of five red-zone trips. An interception in overtime then sunk New Orleans' chances of winning.
On the other hand, the Saints defense slowed down the NFL's second-best offense for much of the game.
Gurley was essentially a non-factor, while Anderson had only 44 yards after three straight games with at least 120 rushing yards. The Saints also put a lot of pressure on Goff throughout the game to keep him uncomfortable.
In addition, a Goff interception in the first quarter led to a field goal that put the Rams into an early 6-0 hole. The Saints then stretched their lead to 13-0 late in the first quarter.
Perhaps most importantly, the Saints held the Rams to field goals on two potential game-winning drives in regulation, including one that reached the 1-yard line.
Those stands kept New Orleans in the game and gave Brees a chance to come away with a win. That's been the Saints' M.O. for the second half of the season, as they held seven of their last nine opponents to 20 points or fewer heading into Sunday.
The Saints averaged 37 points per game in Brees' seven home starts during the regular season, but they mustered only 23 on Sunday. That wound up being the difference between them booking a trip to the Super Bowl and their season ending abruptly.
The Rams will prepare for Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Feb. 3. They will take on the Patriots or Chiefs and try to win the second Super Bowl title in franchise history.
The Saints will enter the offseason trying to figure out how to get two more wins next year.