Rams rally past 49ers to win NFC championship, reach Super Bowl for second time in four seasons

Mike Jones
USA TODAY

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Matthew Stafford did it again, and took another crucial step toward validating the Los Angeles Rams’ aggressive gamble acquisition from a year ago.

Facing a 10-point deficit with just less than a quarter remaining in the NFC championship game, the Rams' quarterback directed the 44th fourth-quarter comeback of his career -- and his second of this postseason -- to lift his team 20-17 over the San Francisco 49ers Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

In so doing, Stafford and the Rams punched their ticket to Super Bowl 56, where they will face the Cincinnati Bengals right back at SoFi Stadium. 

The Rams become only the second team in the Super Bowl era, and the second in as many years, to host the NFL’s championship game in their own stadium.

A 13-0 fourth-quarter scoring run directed by Stafford -- whom the Rams acquired via trade for Jared Goff, two first-round picks and a third-rounder last offseason -- gave Los Angeles the lead, and a ferocious defensive stand that resulted in an interception by linebacker Travin Howard on a tipped pass off the hands of San Francisco running back JaMycal Hasty with 1:09 left slammed the door.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is pressured by 49ers defensive tackle D.J. Jones during Sunday's game.

Sunday represented the third meeting of the season between these teams, and San Francisco entered having won both of the prior contests this season and their last six matchups with the Rams overall. 

Not surprisingly, the grudge match started in slow fashion, with neither rival unable to find the end zone in the first quarter. 

The Rams produced a promising first possession, marching 64 yards in 10 plays to reach the shadow of the 49ers' goal post before safety Jimmie Ward picked off a deflected Matthew Stafford pass and returned it to the San Francisco 23-yard-line. 

But not until midway through the second quarter did either team score when Matthew Stafford connected with Cooper Kupp on a 16-yard toss. But two minutes later, San Francisco countered, going to their do-everything weapon Deebo Samuel, who caught a short pass to the left and took it 44 yards to pay dirt to tie the game at 7-7.

San Francisco took their first lead of the game on a 38-yard Robbie Gould field goal as time expired in the second quarter. The 49ers extended their scoring run to 17 and their lead to 10 points with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Garoppolo to tight end George Kittle with 1:59 left in the third.

But over the course of the next 11 minutes, the Rams pieced together two scoring drives as Stafford connected with Kupp once again (this time from 11 yards out) and then kicker Matt Gay, who had missed a 54-yarder earlier in the game, made a 40-yard field goal to tie the game at 17-17 with 6:49 left on the clock.

On that game-tying drive, Odell Beckham Jr. made two crucial catches (a 29-yarder to jumpstart the possession, and a seven-yard reception that moved his team into field goal range).

Two failed challenges by coach Sean McVay left the Rams without any timeouts with 10 minutes left in the game. But that wound up not coming back to haunt his team. 

A crucial defensive stand that featured three Garoppolo incompletions (two of them drops) forced the 49ers to punt from their own 25 with 6:26 left on the clock, and Stafford proceeded to methodically march his unit downfield completing four of four passes to set up Gay for the lead-capturing field goal.

Kupp finished the game with 11 catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile Beckham added nine catches for 113 yards. Stafford's final stat line read 31-for-45 for 337 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.