At the end of the NFC Championship game, Matthew Stafford lined up the offense, took the snap, and took a knee. From that point it was official. After defeating the San Francisco 49ers 20-17, the Los Angeles Rams are the NFC Champions and will be playing in Super Bowl 56.
Here are the breakdowns by position and the resulting letter grade.
Matthew Stafford is now 3-0 in the playoffs as a member of the Rams. Against the 49ers he play with a lead and he played from behind and all the while remained cool and played with confidence. He threw for 31 completions over 45 attempts for 337 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. The interception was a tipped ball off a great defensive effort. The two touchdowns were dimes to the corner of the end zone with perfect timing with his primary receiver. He had two dropped passes, one of which would have been a 38 yard touchdown. Stafford adds another fourth quarter comeback to his record and is now on his way to his first Super Bowl.
Both running backs split carries as Cam Akers posted 13 carries for 48 yards and Sony Michel put up 10 rushes for 16 yards. As expected, running the ball did not come easy against one of the best defensive fronts. The gains in the run game were critical and led to a couple of key first downs.
Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr were the difference in this game. Kupp had 11 catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns. OBJ had nine catches for 113 yards. Both receivers had critical third down conversions when it mattered especially in the fourth quarter while eliminating a ten point deficit. Kupp particularly also was a force with the ball in his hands. Getting the ball on short passes and on a jet sweep, Kupp refused to go down easy in a game that came down to every effort and every yard. On the final offensive series with the game tied, Kupp caught the ball on a 5 yard pass and kept it moving for a 25 yard gain to put the Rams in scoring position. On the down side Kupp dropped one and Ben Skowronek dropped a wide open catch in the end zone.
Tyler Higbee caught two passes for 18 yards before coming out of the game with a knee injury. Kendall Blanton came in to play for Higbee and played lights out. Blanton who scored against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Divisional Round picked it up against the 49ers. He was thrown to five times and caught all five passes for 57 yards. His plays included a flea flicker screen pass and first down conversions down the stretch to help erase a ten point deficit.
There was not a whole lot of give on either side of the trenches. Neither team went over 70 yards total rushing. This was the game that was expected but when push came to shove the Rams had 20 more total yards rushing than the 49ers and those few plays when the running back did make it to the second level contributed to the difference in the game. Instead of the run game, the game plan relied heavily on quick passes and screens. While the Rams gave up two sacks, they also played well against one of the best pass rushes in the league providing enough time for quick passes to get off and working well on the screens getting up field.
The key to the game was to stop the 49ers rushing attack and the Rams effort led by the defensive line nailed it. San Francisco posted only 50 yards rushing and their longest run of the day was nine yards. And while the Rams posted zero sacks the pressure kept Jimmy Garoppolo on the move and forcing the ball out in bad timing. Down to the fourth quarter when the Rams were down by 10 and were in need of stops, the 49ers bet on their run game and lost to Aaron Donald, Greg Gaines, and A’shawn Robinson.
Von Miller led the effort for the Rams linebackers by keeping the pressure on Garoppolo and helping to contain the run game. Troy Reeder struggled a bit to keep up in coverage and tackle in open field. Travin Howard made the play of the game with a heads up interception to seal the deal. The linebacker group was part of the effort to stop the run and hold the 9ers to only 50 yards rushing.
Darious Williams gave up a few plays to 49ers Brandon Aiyuk who ended up four catches for 69 yards. Jalen Ramsey dropped what could have been two interceptions. However the secondary made enough plays to keep the game close and finish it in the end.
Eric Weddle led the team with nine tackles including one tackle for a loss and was a huge contributor in run defense. Nick Scott got six tackles and made one big clean hit on Deebo Samuel coming across the deep middle.
Matt Gay made two of three field goal attempts. The two that he made were clutch as the first was in the fourth quarter to tie the game and the second was to put the Rams ahead and win the game backed up with the final defensive stop.
Coach Sean McVay engineered a game plan tailored to beating the 49ers and it worked. Instead of challenging the 49ers on the run game, the plan was to get the ball out quick using short passes as an extension of the run game and as a way to stretch the field horizontally. Quick passes to OBJ and Kupp erased the pass rush on those plays and gave the playmakers a chance to break tackles and run with it. With an almost even divide between the top two receivers and seven passes to tight ends, McVay spread the ball out requiring the defense to cover all of their weapons which in the end allowed for both OBJ and Kupp to make the big plays down the stretch. On defense Raheem Morris committed to stopping the run game and forced Garoppolo to make big plays to move the offense. Kyle Shanahan remained committed to the run and it costed him as the Rams defensive front showed up to make the critical stops in the fourth quarter.