A big comeback. A blown call. And, finally, a booming kick that sent the Los Angeles Rams to the Super Bowl.
After rallying from an early 13-0 deficit, the Rams stunned the New Orleans Saints with Greg Zuerlein’s 57-yard field goal in overtime for a 26-23 victory in the NFC championship game Sunday — an outcome that might not have been possible without an egregious mistake by the officials in the closing minutes of regulation.
Los Angeles cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman committed a blatant interference penalty with a helmet-to-helmet hit on Tommylee Lewis well before the pass arrived inside the 5, forcing the Saints to settle for Wil Lutz’s 31-yard field goal that made it 23-20 with 1:41 left in regulation.
“Came to the sideline, looked at the football gods and was like, ‘Thank you,’” Robey-Coleman said. “I got away with one tonight.”
After the no-call, Jared Goff had enough time to lead the Rams down the field for Zuerlein’s tying field goal, a 48-yarder with 15 seconds remaining.
New Orleans won the coin toss and got the ball first in overtime. But, with Dante Fowler Jr. in his face and striking his arm, Drew Brees fluttered up a pass that was picked off by John Johnson III, who was able to hang on to the interception while stumbling backward.
Johnson hopped up and celebrated by doing the “Choppa Style” dance popularized by New Orleans rapper Choppa, whose namesake song had become a Saints’ rallying cry and was even performed during the halftime show.
The Rams weren’t able to do much offensively, but it didn’t matter. Zuerlein booted through the winning field goal from just inside midfield with plenty of room to spare. The NFL said it the longest game-winning kick in playoff history.
“It’s unbelievable, man. I can’t put it into words,” said Goff, who at 24 became the youngest quarterback to win an NFC title. “The defense played the way they did to force it to overtime. The defense gets a pick and Greg makes a 57-yarder to win it. That was good from about 70. Unbelievable.”
The Superdome, which had been in uproar all afternoon, suddenly turned eerily silent. It was the first home playoff loss for the Saints with Brees and coach Sean Payton, who and been 6-0 in those games since their pairing began in 2006.
This one really hurt.
If the pass interference penalty had been called, the Saints could’ve run most of the time off the clock to set up a winning field goal from chip-shot range. A replay was shown over and over on the Superdome’s giant video boards, prompting some fans to toss trash on the field.
“Being that it happened right there in front of the person who would be the one to make the call, and everyone in the stands saw it, everyone watching at home on TV saw it, that makes it even more difficult to take,” Brees said. “Because of this, I’m sure there will be a lot of talk about reviewing penalties, perhaps game-changing penalties.”
The Rams (15-3) and their 32-year-old coach, Sean McVay, capped a remarkable rise since moving back to Los Angeles three years ago. The team will be appearing in its first Super Bowl since the 2001 season, when the “Greatest Show on Turf” was in St. Louis.
The team hasn’t won an NFL title in Los Angeles since 1951, well before the Super Bowl era. The team moved to St. Louis in 1995, only to return to Southern California two decades later.
“Shoot, I don’t even know what day it is,” McVay said. “All I know is we’re NFC champs, baby!”
It was another bitter end for the Saints, who lost the previous season in the divisional round on the “Minnesota Miracle” — the Vikings’ long touchdown pass on the final play of the game.
This time, New Orleans (14-4) couldn’t hang on to the lead or overcome that officiating mistake.
Payton said he talked to the NFL office after the game and was told that Robey-Coleman should have been flagged.
“Not only was it interference, it was helmet to helmet,” the coach said. “I don’t know if there was ever a more obvious pass interference.”
Patriots down Chiefs in overtime
KANSAS CITY, MO.
It’s the dead of winter, meaning the weather in New England can be brutal. And that the Patriots are headed to the Super Bowl.
It took them overtime and more of Tom Brady’s brilliance to get there — for the third straight year.
While the folks back home dealt with a frigid storm, Brady blew through Kansas City’s exhausted defense on a 75-yard drive to Rex Burkhead’s 2-yard touchdown run in a 37-31 victory Sunday for the AFC championship.
The drive, during which New England (13-5) had three third-down conversions, was reminiscent of when the Patriots beat Atlanta in the only Super Bowl to go to OT two years ago.
“Overtime, on the road against a great team,” Brady said. “They had no quit. Neither did we. We played our best football at the end. I don’t know, man, I’m tired. That was a hell of a game.”
Awaiting them in Atlanta are the Los Angeles Rams, who won 26-23 in overtime in New Orleans for the NFC championship. The Rams (15-3) last made the Super Bowl in 2002 while based in St. Louis, losing to the Patriots.
New England benefited from two critical replay reviews and made its ninth Super Bowl with Brady at quarterback and Bill Belichick as coach.
“This is crazy,” said Brady, who was 30 of 46 for 348 yards. “What a game.”
It’s the first time both conference title games went to OT. The last time both visitors won conference championship matches was 2012.
Several times, the Patriots appeared to have it won, only to see Kansas City (13-5) come back in spectacular fashion.
Brady, at 41 already the oldest quarterback to have played in a Super Bowl, drove New England 65 yards in 1:24 to Burkhead’s go-ahead 4-yard touchdown with 39 seconds left in regulation. That was enough, though, for his far younger counterpart, the 23-year-old All-Pro Patrick Mahomes, to take the Chiefs 48 yards to Harrison Butker’s 39-yard field goal with 8 seconds left to force overtime.
It was a sizzling offensive showing in the fourth quarter after defense had been in charge most of the way. Indeed, the Chiefs were blanked in the opening half for the first time all season.
And they never saw the ball in overtime, which along with the two replay decisions might call into play NFL rules and officiating.
“I thought if we got the chance,” Mahomes said, “we’d score.”
Mahomes finished 16 of 31 for 295 yards and three touchdowns.
New England became the third franchise to reach three Super Bowls in a row. And Belichick now has 30 postseason victories, more than Bill Walsh and Don Shula combined. That Hall of Fame coaching duo also won five Super Bowls; Belichick shoots for No. 6 in two weeks.
An apparent muff by the usually reliable Julian Edelman on a fourth-quarter punt return was overturned by a lengthy video review, prompting raucous booing and some demonstrative arguing from the usually laid-back Andy Reid.
Edelman definitely touched his next try when Brady’s pass deflected off his hands directly to safety Daniel Sorensen. His 22-yard return set up Kansas City at the Patriots 23, and Damien Williams, who scored three times, had no defender near him down the left sideline for the score that made it 21-17, KC’s first lead.
Back came Brady, engineering a 75-yard march on which Chris Hogan’s diving one-handed catch on third down appeared to touch the ground. Reid challenged — and lost.
Minutes later, rookie Sony Michel scored from the 10, his second TD of the night.
With 31⁄2 minutes remaining, there was plenty of time for more points. Williams’ 2-yard run gave the Chiefs a 28-24 edge that New England took up most of the remaining time overcoming before Butker’s field goal sent it to overtime.
The Chiefs barely were a presence in the first 30 minutes, when they had the ball for 8:53.