The Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots will face off in this year’s Super Bowl after winning the NFC and AFC conference championships, respectively, on Sunday.
The Rams, who overcame a 13-point deficit to beat the Saints, last played in the Super Bowl in 2002 — against none other than the Patriots. The St. Louis Rams won the NFL title two years before that.
The Patriots defeated the Chiefs to return to the Super Bowl for a third consecutive year.
Los Angeles Rams beat New Orleans Saints
Two field goals, a crucial interception and a widely contested pass interference call from officials, helped the Rams oust the Saints.
What the team lacked offensively, Greg Zuerlein made up for with timely kicking. In the final 15 seconds of regulation, the placekicker booted a tying 48-yard kick, sending the game into overtime. In the extra period, Zuerlein nailed a 57-yard field goal to seal a 26-23 victory.
On the first drive of overtime, the Saints lost possession after safety John Johnson III picked off Drew Brees’ lofty pass meant for wide receiver Michael Thomas.
“It’s unbelievable, man. I can’t put it into words,” Rams quarterback Jared Goff told The Associated Press. “The defense played the way they did to force it to overtime. The defense gets a pick and Greg makes a 57-yarder to win it. That was good from about 70. Unbelievable.”
One call cast a long shadow over the game. Referees failed to call what both Saints supporters and sports analysts overwhelmingly perceived as a pass interference penalty against the Rams. With the score at 20-20 in the fourth quarter, Drew Brees’ pass to Tommylee Lewis fell to the ground after he was hit by Rams defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman.
“I don’t know if there was ever [a] more obvious pass interference,” New Orleans coach Sean Payton told reporters after the game.
After the game the NFL confirmed in a call to Payton that referees made the wrong call, according to USA Today.
As the AP reports, “It was the first home playoff loss for the Saints with Brees and coach Sean Payton, who had been 6-0 in those games since their pairing began in 2006.”
The Rams will now play against the Patriots for the NFL title.
New England Patriots beat Kansas City Chiefs
In another playoff game settled in overtime, the Patriots held off the Chiefs to grab a spot in the Super Bowl for the third straight season.
After New England dominated the first half in a frigid Kansas City, the Chiefs took the lead thanks to Damien Williams’ third touchdown run of the game, forcing a frantic fourth quarter.
With 39 seconds left, running back Rex Burkhead was able to lift the Patriots ahead 31-28 — the fourth lead change of the fourth quarter.
Down to 8 seconds, Harrison Butker wrestled back the points for the Chiefs with a 39-yard field goal, taking the rally into overtime at 31-31.
The Patriots then won the coin toss to start overtime. It was the final boost New England needed for a shot at the NFL title. Quarterback Tom Brady kicked off a game-winning drive as Rex Burkhead took the ball for a touchdown, sealing a 37-31 victory over the Chiefs.
“Overtime, on the road against a great team,” Brady told the AP. “They had no quit. Neither did we. We played our best football at the end. I don’t know, man, I’m tired. That was a hell of a game.”
The Big Game
The Rams and the Patriots will contend for the title of Super Bowl LIII champs at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Sunday, Feb. 3, airing on CBS.