Seven was the charm for the Rams.
After losing six straight games to their NFC West rival San Francisco 49ers, the Los Angeles Rams defeated them 20-17 in the most significant matchup between teams spanning the games. In earning a hard fought victory at home this past Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, the Rams are going to the Super Bowl for the second time in the last four seasons.
They lost to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots 13-3 in Super Bowl LIII to conclude the 2018-’19 season. This time they will face the AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals, who pulled a shocking 27-24 overtime victory against the Kansas Chiefs on Sunday.
Rams kicker Matt Gay’s go-ahead, 30-yard field goal with 1:46 to play versus the 49ers was the deciding score. It denied San Francisco’s head coach Sean McVay, their quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and other 49ers another opportunity at winning a Super Bowl. They fell short 31-20 to the Kansas Chiefs to end the 2019 season.
The 49ers could have stopped the drive and perhaps extended their dominance over the Rams a few plays before Gay’s field goal. With the game tied at 14-14, Stafford threw an ill-advised pass that landed squarely in the hands of 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt, who dropped what seemed to be a certain interception and perfect set-up for the 49ers’ offense.
“No excuses!!” tweeted Tartt. “I deserve all the criticism my way! Opportunity I dream of I came up short!!! Let my brothers down!! It still won’t define me as a person/player. Only will get stronger and better.”
Instead, the Rams’ win was a lesson in perseverance and resiliency both collectively and individually. The 49ers were seemingly the Rams’ kryptonite. And Los Angeles’ quarterback Matthew Stafford languished in Detroit putting up Hall of Fame numbers with the perennial losing Lions for 12 seasons before the Rams determined he could be the missing piece to a Super Bowl team. So 13 months ago, they went all in and sent their 2022 and 2023 first-round draft picks, a 2021 third-round pick and quarterback Jared Goff to the Lions to acquire Stafford.
The trade shocked nearly everyone that closely follows the NFL. But no one was more shocked than Goff. Now 27, Goff was the starter in the Rams’ previous Super Bowl and had signed a four-year, $134 million extension at the start of the 2019 season. He was expected to be the Rams’ long-term QB. But after L.A. went 9-7 that season and missed the playoffs followed by a 10-6 campaign in 2020 before losing to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, the Rams turned to Stafford.
This postseason he has already played in as many games—three—as he did his entire career with the Lions. The Rams also added future Hall of Fame linebacker Von Miller in a trade with the Denver Broncos at the beginning of November and signed two-time All-Pro wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. on Nov. 12. The talented pass catcher had expressed discontent playing for the Cleveland Browns and was released on Nov. 5, the day he turned 29.
Stafford completed 31 of 45 passes for 337 yards, two touchdowns and an interception versus the Rams, nine for 113 yards to Beckham, who had his best game as a Ram. But he was second on the team in catches and receiving yards to the remarkable Cooper Kupp, who had 11 receptions for 142 yards and two touchdowns.
Stafford, Miller and Beckham all have had a major impact in the Rams making it to Super Bowl LVI (56), which will be played at their home—SoFi—on Feb. 13. It will be the second consecutive season the NFC champion will play the NFL’s final game of the season on their own field. Last February the Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 31-9 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
“I mean, it’s great that it’s here,” said Stafford after the game. “I don’t give a s**t where it is. I’m like, I just want to play in the dang thing. But the fact that it’s under this roof, it’s going to be awesome.”