They’ve done it! With a 20-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers the Los Angeles Rams have officially advanced to the Super Bowl where they will have a head-to-head clash with the Cincinnati Bengals. Matthew Stafford put together another terrific performance in the playoffs to help his team advance to the promised land for the second time in four years and his first of his 13-year career. A tough defensive effort by Aaron Donald and the rest of the defense made it rough for the 49ers for most of the day. Here is how it all went down.
Rams 20, 49ers 17 - THE GOOD, THE BAD, and THE DIFFERENCE
The Rams first opportunity with the ball was short-lived after a quick three-and-out, but the 49ers drive was much the same. A 17-yard reception by Cooper Kupp on LA’s second opportunity was the first first-down of the game. After short yardage by Cam Akers, Stafford found Higbee for a first down with a 13 yard gain. On 3rd-and-goal at the three yard line, Stafford’s throw was tipped in the end zone and intercepted by Jimmy Ward.
San Francisco’s first play following the interception was a 12 yard pass to Brandon Aiyuk. Jimmy Garoppolo had plenty of time two plays later to find Elijah Mitchell for a 18 yard gain. The first opportunity to make a stop on the drive came in the form of a third-and-6. Setting up in shotgun, Garoppolo’s throw fell incomplete to Aiyuk and was nearly intercepted by Troy Reeder. Brandon Wisnosky’s punt was perfectly downed at the four yard line.
Deep in their own territory, Aker’s first run went nowhere, but Sony Michel made some room with an eight yard carry. Stafford’s pass on third-and-2 was incomplete, but a pass interference call put Los Angeles on the 20 yard line. Two run attempts to Akers set up the second third-and-2 opportunity for the offense. Michel was able to find a hole and get the first down.
Score: Rams 0, 49ers 0
Los Angeles continued to get the ball out quick on offense and gained another first down on a strike to Odell Beckham Jr. Two incomplete passes from Stafford set up third-and-10. With not a single receiver open and pressure closing in, Stafford took it himself for a 14 yard run. With Higbee out from an apparent knee injury, Kendall Blanton became the target on an 11 yard gain. An awkward run turned into a three yard loss for Michel, but some of the yardage was gained back on a wide receiver screen to Kupp that went for seven yards. On the 15th play of the drive Stafford found Kupp to convert the first down with a 15 yard pass.
The first play in the red zone was demolished by a relentless pass rush that got to the Rams QB for their first sack of the game. On third-and-13, Stafford found his safety blanket on a beautiful toss to Kupp in the corner of the end zone. Touchdown Rams.
THE RAMS STRIKE FIRST— LA Rams Nation (@RamsNationCP) January 31, 2022
Cooper Kupp gets open in the endzone and Matt Stafford finds him pic.twitter.com/DdlHFnLeRM
Garoppolo fired back with a 32 yard pass to Aiyuk that nearly went the distance with Darious Williams in coverage. Deebo Samuel did the rest on a wide receiver screen that went for 42 yards and the score.
Beckham moved the chains on third down after good pressure from San Francisco the previous two attempts. A dropped pass by Kupp set up second-and-10 but he made up for it on a diving catch for a gain of nine on the next play. LA won in the trenches on the next play and Michel ran for a four yard gain. Ben Skowronek was left wide open on the next play but could not handle the ball in the end zone. The missed opportunity set up an incompletion on third-and-8 and Matt Gay’s kick was far off the mark.
The defensive line continued to struggle against San Francisco’s offensive line. It gave Garoppolo enough time to find George Kittle on a 3rd-and-8. He then found Aiyuk for an easy 13 yard gain. With two seconds left in the game, Robbie Gould gave his team his first lead of the match with a 38 yard field goal.
Score: 49ers 10, Rams 7
Garoppolo's first pass of the half nearly went the other way when Jalen Ramsey jumped the route but could not make the pick in coverage against Samuel. A five yard penalty handed the 49ers a free first down on a neutral-zone infraction committed by Greg Gaines. Two runs and 11 yards later the 49ers had their second. Ramsey gave them their third with an illegal contact penalty. The defensive finally made a stop when Gaines got his hands up and tipped Garoppolo’s pass.
After a two yard loss on a Kupp run, Stafford found Beckham for gains of 13 and 26. Akers was not able to convert a second-and-1 and on the next play Stafford’s throw to Kupp fell incomplete. A QB sneak on fourth down fell short of the line of scrimmage.
Set up with good field position, Samuel’s first carry was stopped short of the line-of-scrimmage. On his next carry he ran over a defender for a gain of five. On third-and-5 Williams could not contain Aiyuk on a 13 yard pass that moved the sticks. Samuel continued to show his strength when he carried defenders with him on 14 yard receiver screen. The Rams defense had their best chance to stop the drive on a third-and-10 but allowed Jauan Jennings to find a gaping hole in the middle of the defense for an 11 yard reception. The next play Kittle was left wide open in the end zone for the touchdown.
Down by two scores, LA needed to get things going on offense if they wanted to stay in the game. That call was answered on a seven yard pass to Kupp that added an additional 15 yards after a taunting call on the 49ers. A trick play that featured Akers throwing back the ball to his QB and then a tight end screen to Blanton ended in a 20 yard gain.
Score: 49ers 17, Rams 7
Blanton followed that up with a 10 yard gain on yet another tight end screen. After Akers failed to gain a yard on second down, Stafford found Kupp for his second touchdown of the game on third down.
Garoppolo continued to have plenty of time in the pocket, finding Mitchell wide open in the middle of the field for a gain of 21. Samuel was then left alone on second-and-10 and moved the sticks with an 11 yard gain. Chunk plays continue to gash the Rams defense as Mitchell ran the ball down the throat of LA for a gain of nine. His second carry was a loss of one, setting up a third-and-2. The defense was able to stuff Mitchell at the line-of-scrimmage and force a punt.
Stafford threw a bomb on the first down that should have been intercepted.
His second pass was much better and he found OBJ for a gain of 30 yards. Unnecessary roughness lead to 15 yards on top of that. On third-and-10 at the 41 yard line, Stafford connected with Kupp on a wide receiver screen for a gain of 16. A questionable call from Sean McVay on third-and-three ended in disaster, but Gay was good from 40 yards out to tie the game with 6:53 left.
Aaron Donald got pressure on Garoppolo's first throw of the drive and forced him to throw it into the ground. LA’s fans played a huge factor on the next play and caused a delay-of-game penalty. Ramsey nearly came away with the interception but set up a third-and-15. Gaines got free and forced a bad throw by Garoppolo—forcing a punt to LA that set them up at their 39 yard line. Blanton continued to show up in relief of Higbee and caught an eight yard pass to convert a third down.
Kupp continued to make a case for MVP when he caught possibly the most important pass of the night. Stafford found him in the middle of the field on a cross for a big gain of 25 to set up the offense at in the red zone at the 12 yard line.
The 49ers defense made their own big play on a sack that dropped Stafford seven yards back to set up a third-and-18. Kupp’s screen went eight yards and Gay knocked in his field goal to put the Rams up by three points.
Interception. Game. Super Bowl
Final Score: Rams 20, 49ers 17