McVay Slays The Shanahan Dragon And The Rams Win The NFC!

The Los Angeles Rams Take On The San Francisco 49ers In The NFC Championship Game. Photo Credit: Brevin Townsell | LA Rams
The Los Angeles Rams Take On The San Francisco 49ers In The NFC Championship Game. Photo Credit: Brevin Townsell | LA Rams

THE LOS ANGELES RAMS ARE GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL! After a game that seemed to lock everyone in a glass case of emotions, the Rams found a way to climb out of a ten-point deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat the 49ers and punch their ticket to the Super Bowl. Sean McVay no longer has to answer questions about whether or not Kyle Shanahan owns him. Yes, McVay and the Rams lost six straight games but to quote “The Little Giants” all it takes is one time. There were moments where it looked like the Rams were going to shoot themselves in the foot one too many times, and even McVay almost coached them out of a victory on several occasions. After a tumultuous season, the Rams are now one game away from being World Champions.

Offensively, the line was much better than in both the prior meetings this year. Yes, Matthew Stafford was sacked twice but he also had more time to throw. Stafford was incredible for most of the day going 31-45 with 337 yards and two touchdowns. He did have a pick in the end zone in the first quarter but it wasn’t entirely his fault. He threw it to Cooper Kupp (11 catches, 142 yards, and two touchdowns) and it took an unfortunate bounce to Fred Warner. He also had a couple of errant throws but Stafford was poised the entire game. He was taking cheap shots all night, but still made throws when they mattered. His two touchdowns to Kupp were exactly the type of throws he was brought in to make.

The running game was MUCH improved as well. In fact, despite the Niners being a weekly master class in running the ball, the Rams actually outrushed them. Who’d have seen that coming? Cam Akers had 48 yards, and more importantly, no fumbles. Sony Michel only had sixteen yards but most of them were moving the chains.

The Rams were without Van Jefferson for large stretches as he was dealing with knee issues and Tyler Higbee went down in the first quarter. Cam Akers also missed most of the second quarter with a shoulder injury and yet the Rams found a way. Kendall Blanton came through on several clutch catches, including a tight end screen following a timeout. His five catches for 57 yards were all needed as not only was he the only tight end left on the roster, but with Van gone, Odell Beckham (9 catches, 113 yards) and Coop were the only productive receivers. For once, Stafford and the Rams offense were able to take advantage of the Niners’ depleted secondary.

That said, they did leave A LOT of points on the board as drives stalled out near the end zone and on one cataclysmic drive, Cooper Kupp dropped what would’ve been a touchdown. Ben Skowronek also had a dropped catch in the end zone (Van would’ve caught that) and then Matt Gay missed a field goal. They dominated the time of possession with 35:39 to the Niners 24:21.

McVay also had some very questionable third-down calls, and in the moment, took the blame for a screen to Sony Michel that forced the Rams to kick a field goal rather than a touchdown to seal the game. McVay also went back to his empty set bag too often and his screen passes were largely read like a book by Nick Bosa and the Niners line. His challenges were also near-fatal. He challenged the Rams fourth downplay and lost, he then tried to challenge a fumble and is damn lucky Kyle Shanahan didn’t decide to go for it. The Rams had to burn through timeouts because of silent counts that almost caused delay of game penalties.

Defensively, things were a bit mixed. The Rams registered zero sacks, and while they were able to shut down the running game, they still got beat by Deebo Samuel. Jimmy Garoppolo had clean pockets for three straight quarters and yet Raheem Morris’ defense didn’t break. The secondary had several near picks as Jimmy is known to give, and the less said about Troy Reeder‘s struggles in the middle of the field the better. It isn’t clear how healthy Ernest Jones was but in the Super Bowl, he better have the green dot because Reeder was getting worked at every moment. Darious Williams had a rough game giving up several passes. The big surprise was that Eric Weddle (yes that Eric Weddle) led the team in tackles and had two clutch tackles that forced the Niners to punt. Not bad for a signing that many signaled as desperate.

Aaron Donald rallied the troops in the fourth quarter which is atypical for him and a sign that Von Miller‘s demonstrative leadership style rubbed off on him. They held the Niners to 3-9 on third down which is a GIANT improvement over the last two meetings. Furthermore, in the fourth quarter, the pressure finally got to Jimmy. He was dying to give the game away and on the last drive he did. They still didn’t get sacks but they finally forced Jimmy to work for it and Travin Howard made the game-ending interception. The Niners did a great job neutralizing Donald until the end when he nearly got Jimmy twice.

Nick Scott was incredible as well, and while thankfully Deebo was ok, Scott’s hit on him (clean) showed that toughness the Rams have been accused of lacking.

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Special teams were solid. Matt Gay had that awful miss but was otherwise on point. The tackling on kick returns was exactly what the Rams needed in the second half as they prevented Deebo from getting anywhere. Brandon Powell had one return for 24 yards and Hekker was once again his vintage self.

The big story was that for the first time in forever, the Rams shed the SOSAR moniker. The stakes were more than just going to the Super Bowl. The city of Los Angeles was finally paying real attention. The stars were out from Leo, to Cedric, to Alba, to Renner, and everyone in between, and a loss here would’ve been devastating. Never mind the 65% or 50% Niners fans depending on who you ask, but the Rams, including Kelly Stafford, fought tirelessly to get fans to the game. The Rams have been trying to build a fan base since 2016 and today was their biggest test yet. A loss here might have been a devastating blow to that. But they won at home and have a chance to win a title at home. This is the kind of galvanizing thing that won’t show up immediately but young fans will remember this, and assuming the team remains competitive they’ll plant the seeds that will pay off for decades.

Sean McVay has his issues as a coach and they are well documented but he’s always been the right person for this job. Every year the roster undergoes some massive change and every time they don’t miss a beat. Yes, they spiraled in November and many fans debated whether or not he was the right guy for the job. Through all the tumult and through all the scrutiny there were never signs he lost the team.

Von and Odell bought into the culture immediately even when the production didn’t show up right away. When the offense got too pass-happy, he found ways to adjust. He rebuilt the running game in the back half of the season and deserves credit for figuring it out when Robert Woods tore his ACL. McVay might have stars but he knows how to make them align. “We Not Me” isn’t just something cool to put on t-shirts or something for the social media to tweet out. The players all believe in it and it showed tonight. He’s led the Rams to their second Super Bowl in five years and the team in 2018 is radically different from the one on the field tonight.

2018 might be tainted by losing to the Pats and for the controversial way they got there, but tonight was earned. They were down 10 points in the fourth quarter and just when it looked like the Rams were SOSAR-ing their way out of the playoffs, they found a way.

McVay beat Shanahan, and while the Niners aren’t going anywhere, they no longer have the feeling that they’re invincible. People accused this team of being soft, overhyped, cromulent, and for McVay, a one-trick pony. All of that is gone. The Rams are now one win away from being champions. Enjoy it, everyone, it’s been a beautiful ride and the Rams aren’t done yet.

The Los Angeles Rams Take On The San Francisco 49ers In The NFC Championship Game. Photo Credit: Brevin Townsell | LA Rams

The Los Angeles Rams Take On The San Francisco 49ers In The NFC Championship Game. Photo Credit: Brevin Townsell | LA Rams