NFC Championship Game: Rams’ big gamble pays off as they bury 49ers to reach Super Bowl

NFC Championship Game: Rams’ big gamble pays off as they bury 49ers to reach Super Bowl

The Los Angeles Rams hit the jackpot. Their gamble was cashed Sunday night. They mortgaged tomorrow for today, and today is glorious. The Rams’ biggest names, led by Matthew Stafford, buried the San Francisco 49ers at the most important time Sunday night, rallying from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to win 20-17 in the NFC Championship Game. LA’s next stop? Hosting the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl.

Los Angeles Rams rally past San Francisco 49ers, reach Super Bowl

The Rams are back in the Super Bowl for the second time in four years. And this time, they have the firepower to finish the job. New Rams Stafford, Von Miller, and Odell Beckham Jr. were difference-makers Sunday. Who cares how many draft picks or cap dollars it took? Sean McVay and Les Snead’s picks-for-players philosophy worked.

Stafford wasn’t perfect Sunday, but there’s no question he is better than Jared Goff. The Rams would likely have lost Sunday if Goff was their quarterback. So what does it matter that Los Angeles won’t pick in the first round again until 2024? The objective is to win championships, not accumulate draft picks. Picks are hope, while stars are reality. And Sunday, the Rams’ stars showed up.

Stafford rallied his squad from down 10 in the fourth quarter by scoring on three straight possessions. LA’s last three non-kneel down drives: An 11-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to Cooper Kupp and field goals from 40 and 30 yards from Matt Gay.

Stafford was 31-of-45 for 337 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. Kupp caught 11 of 14 targets for 142 yards and 2 scores. Beckham, who has revived his career after two lost seasons in Cleveland, went for 113 yards on 9 catches.

Stafford didn’t lose faith and is now heading to the Super Bowl for the first time in his 13-year career. He said he told his teammates in the locker room at halftime that “there’s no way we’re not winning this damn game.”

Stafford added, “I’m blessed to be part of this team. … Can’t write this story any better.”

Rams defense ends Jimmy Garoppolo’s era

Jimmy Garoppolo’s last pass of the season, and likely as a San Francisco 49er, was an interception. But unlike some of the far-more egregious throws earlier in the game, this one wasn’t his fault.

The Rams’ defensive front completely owned the Niners’ offensive line late, with Miller and Aaron Donald doing the most damage. After a 10-point San Fran lead gave way to a 3-point deficit, Garoppolo had one last chance to be the hero 49ers fans (and staff) always hoped he would be.

Instead, on third-and-13 from his own 22-yard line with 1:19 left, a besieged Garoppolo was swamped by LA’s overwhelming pass rush. He just tried to keep his team alive with a throwaway with Donald crashing down onto his lap. But his up-for-grabs throw found the grasp of Travin Howard, who picked off Garoppolo to seal the game.

Garoppolo trade on the horizon?

If the Niners can find a trade partner, Garoppolo will almost certainly be gone this offseason. The future is Trey Lance because the 49ers believe his ceiling is higher than Garoppolo’s. Jimmy G has proven he’s good enough to get San Francisco to the playoffs but not good enough to win the biggest game.

“I love Jimmy,” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters after the NFC Championship Game. “I’m not gonna sit here and make a farewell statement. That’s the last thing on my mind. … I love coaching Jimmy.”