After forcing overtime with a 48-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in regulation, Greg Zuerlein nailed a 57-yard field goal 3:17 into overtime to lift the visiting Los Angeles Rams to a controversial 26-23 victory over the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday and a berth in Super Bowl LIII.
Zuerlein’s game-winning field goal came after the Rams intercepted a Drew Brees pass on the fourth snap of overtime. Brees’s right arm was hit by linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., and his fluttering pass was picked off by safety John Johnson at the Los Angeles 46-yard line.
Jared Goff found tight end Tyler Higbee for a 12-yard gain on first down to the New Orleans 42, and the Rams got 3 more yards in three plays before Zuerlein, who has career field goals of 60 and 61 yards, came in to connect on the game-winner.
Overtime came after a wild final two minutes in regulation.
With the score tied at 20 with 4:57 left, the Saints drove inside the Rams’ 15 – with Ted Ginn Jr. outleaping safety Lamarcus Joyner for a 43-yard catch.
Three plays later, New Orleans appeared to be the victim of a blown pass-interference call that would have allowed them to run the clock down and kick a game-winning, chip-shot field goal. On third-and-10 from the Los Angeles 13, Brees threw for Tommylee Lewis on the right side, who was clobbered by safety Nickell Robey-Coleman just before the ball arrived. The ball fell incomplete and no penalty was called.
“I don’t know if there was ever a more obvious pass interference call. That’s a tough one to swallow,” Saints coach Sean Payton said in his postgame press conference. “Our team played well. We played well enough to win the game. We should have won the game.”
Instead, the Saints had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Wil Lutz, for a 23-20 lead, with 1:41 left.
The Rams then drove 45 yards to the New Orleans 30, where Zuerlein tied it with 15 seconds left with the 48-yard field goal, sending the game to overtime.
That set the one for the decisive kick in the extra session, which marked the Rams’ lone lead of the contest.
“Unbelievable, man, can’t put into words, the fight we have, being down early, to come back, have our defence to play the way they did, to force it into overtime,” Rams quarterback Jared Goff said in a postgame interview with FOX. “... Greg makes a 57-yarder to win that was good from about 70 ... unbelievable.”
Brees put the Saints up 20-10 midway through the third quarter with a 2-yard screen pass to Taysom Hill – Hill’s first career TD reception. But the Rams came right back to make it 20-17 on Goff’s 1-yard toss to a wide-open Higbee, on third down.
The Saints wasted a great scoring opportunity after taking over at the Rams’ 46 with 12:22 left, but they could not overcome a first-down holding penalty on left tackle Terron Armstead.
Goff then drove the Rams 90 yards to the Saints’ 1. Instead of gambling for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Rams coach Sean McVay sent in Zuerlein for the tying 24-yard field goal at 24 with 5:03 left.
Goff converted two big throws on the drive – for 39 yards to tight end Gerald Everett and 33 yards to wide receiver Josh Reynolds.
The Saints jumped out to a 13-0 lead with field goals of 37 and 29 yards by Lutz and a 5-yard touchdown pass from Brees to tight end Garrett Griffin, but the Rams settled in and scored 10 straight points to make it 13-10 at halftime.
Goff seemed rattled by the crowd noise in the first quarter, but he led the Rams 81 yards in seven plays just before halftime to set up Todd Gurley’s 6-yard touchdown run 23 seconds before intermission.
Goff set up the touchdown with two tough throws to former Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks – a 17-yard completion on third-and-10 and a 36-yarder down the left sideline to the New Orleans 6, where Gurley scored on the next play.
Gurley’s jitters had a lot to do with the Rams’ 13-0 hole. Trailing 3-0, Gurley dropped a pass from Goff that fell into the arms of Saints linebacker Demario Davis at the Los Angeles 16. But the Rams’ defence held the Saints to a field goal and a 6-0 lead.
Brees made it 13-0, driving the Saints 68 yards in eight plays and finding the little-used Griffin for the score. It was Griffin’s second career reception and first TD catch.
Trailing 13-0 and faced with a fourth-and-5 from their own 30, the Rams had punter Johnny Hekker throw a sideline pass to cornerback Sam Shields for 12 yards and a first down.
The fake punt extended the drive and led to Zuerlein’s 36-yard field goal, cutting the deficit to 13-3 and giving the Rams some momentum.