INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — Travin Howard made a game-sealing interception with 1:09 to play, and the Los Angeles Rams rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter to secure a spot in the Super Bowl at their home stadium next month with a thrilling 20-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game Sunday night.
Cooper Kupp caught two touchdown passes from Matthew Stafford for the star-studded Rams (15-5), who began the fourth quarter down 17-7 after wasting a multitude of scoring opportunities.
But after Kupp’s second TD catch and a tying field goal on a drive extended by Jaquiski Tartt’s brutal dropped interception, the Rams drove for Matt Gay’s go-ahead, 30-yard field goal with 1:46 to play.
Los Angeles' defense then won it when Aaron Donald got hold of Jimmy Garoppolo and forced him to fling a pass toward JaMycal Hasty. The ball caromed high in the air off Hasty’s hands and came straight down to Howard, who didn't miss it.
“I’ve got total trust and confidence in that defense, man,” said Stafford, who passed for 337 yards in the third playoff victory of his 13-year career. “They’ve been unbelievable all year. Way to freakin’ ice the game. I loved it.”
Los Angeles will welcome the Cincinnati Bengals in two weeks for Super Bowl 56 in Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s multibillion-dollar SoFi Stadium.
After 54 consecutive Super Bowls without an NFL team playing in its home stadium, the Rams are the second team to do it in two seasons after Tampa Bay broke the streak last year.
“You can’t write the story any better,” Stafford said. “I’m at a loss for words. I’m just having a blast playing ball with these guys and, shoot, we’ve got one more at the home stadium. Let’s get it done.”
The Rams won their second conference title in the past four years under coach Sean McVay and moved one step from the franchise’s second championship in the Super Bowl era. Perhaps even more impressively, Los Angeles finally snapped a six-game losing streak against its San Francisco archrivals, who secured their playoff berth with an overtime comeback victory in Inglewood just three weeks ago.
Deebo Samuel and George Kittle caught touchdown passes from Garoppolo, who passed for 232 yards in a heartbreaker for the 49ers (12-8). Coach Kyle Shanahan punted twice from the Rams' half of the field and a third time from the 50, and that caution likely ended up costing San Francisco.
San Francisco also will lament its late-game execution, but no mistake was bigger than the dropped interception by Tartt, who could have put the Rams in dire straits moments after McVay wasted his final timeout on a failed challenge with 10:01 left.
In front of a crowd packed with fans of both California clubs, San Francisco held a 10-7 halftime lead after a litany of missed opportunities by Los Angeles.
The Rams got to the San Francisco 3 on their second drive, but K’Waun Williams alertly tipped an end zone pass to Jimmie Ward for a long interception return. The pick was Stafford’s first of the playoffs, but his fifth in three games against the Niners.
Los Angeles shook it off, got a defensive stop and made an 18-play, 97-yard drive consuming more than 9 1/2 minutes. Kupp capped it with his 16-yard TD catch in the back of the end zone.
But the Niners answered with yet another moment of brilliance of Samuel, who caught an inside screen pass and rampaged through the Los Angeles defense. The All-Pro dived to the pylon for his first career postseason scoring catch.
The Rams’ mistakes multiplied: Kupp and rookie Ben Skowronek dropped potential scoring passes on LA’s next drive, which ended with a missed 54-yard field goal by Gay.
Samuel shook off a massive, clean hit from Rams safety Nick Scott on San Francisco’s drive ending in Robbie Gould’s 38-yard field goal at the halftime gun for a 10-7 lead.
San Francisco’s defense stopped the Rams on downs near midfield in the third quarter, and Garoppolo hit Kittle for his second TD pass moments later. Los Angeles kept it close with a gritty drive ending in Kupp’s 11-yard TD catch early in the fourth quarter.