When you think back to the 2018 NFC conference championship game, the first play that comes to mind is the missed penalty call on Nickell Robey-Coleman that took away a potentially big play on offense for the New Orleans Saints. Converting a first down and moving into scoring position likely would have sealed the game for New Orleans; however, that play was not the most impactful one made in the conference championship.
The missed call allowed the Los Angeles Rams to tie the score and send the game to overtime, where Drew Brees and the Saints received the ball first. As we’ve seen in the 2021 NFL playoffs, winning the coin toss puts your team at a significant advantage - unless you turn the ball over.
Brees dropped back and Dante Fowler, one of the Rams’ aggressive trade acquisitions, rushed off the left edge to knock down the quarterback and tip the pass. The ball sailed on Brees and floated down to John Johnson III, who was on the ground in just the right place at the right time.
Incredible play by both Dante Fowler and John Johnson, who is allowed to interfere here w/Michael Thomas because the ball was tipped pic.twitter.com/C8h88gZpjF— Jordan Schultz (@Schultz_Report) January 20, 2019
In turn, Jared Goff marched the offense down the field to set up for the game-winning field goal - and Greg Zuerlein executed from 57-yards out. Los Angeles was Super Bowl-bound for the first time under head coach Sean McVay.
It’s only fitting that the ending of the Rams’ second recent NFC championship victory mirror the 2018 interception, and this time it was Aaron Donald and Travin Howard that sealed the game for LA.
Matthew Stafford had just engineered a a potentially game-winning drive that ended in a Matt Gay field goal to take a three-point lead. There were less than two minutes on the game clock and it was the defense’s turn to protect the lead and keep Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers from repeating their Week 18 comeback.
Howard made a tackle for loss on a reception in the backfield in order to set up 3rd and 13 for San Francisco with nearly a minute and a half remaining.
Donald rushed from the left defensive tackle spot and drove his man into Garoppolo’s lap. At the last minute, he shed the block to chase the quarterback. As he made contact, Garoppolo attempted to spin loose and heaved a desperation pass to his running back in the flat.
JaMycal Hasty tipped the ball in the air and Howard was in position to make the diving interception. Game over. The Rams return to the Super Bowl for the second time in four years.
Travin Howard : 2 tackles, 1 for loss & the game-ending INT with 1:09 left pic.twitter.com/F9TqgkU2YM— Lee Harvey (@MusikFan4Life) January 31, 2022
The Los Angeles pass rush has been devastating for opposing quarterbacks, and we’ve seen the pressure force mistakes by Garoppolo, the best to ever play the position in Tom Brady, and the promising Kyler Murray.
The Rams had the 3rd-most sacks in the NFL this season with 50. Joe Burrow was sacked a league-high 51 times.— Cameron DaSilva (@camdasilva) January 31, 2022
Burrow running from AD, Von, Gaines and Flo next Sunday: pic.twitter.com/uSJUSH9z7a
Could LA clinch a victory in Super Bowl LVI the same way they’ve secured their two biggest wins in the last four years? Joe Burrow has been under pressure all post-season with the Cincinnati Bengals, and this Rams defense has been playing lights out. Can Los Angeles force the young quarterback to make mistakes on their way to a world championship?