The Rams are familiar with the New Orleans Saints — and the travel itinerary for playing them at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Rams played a meaningless preseason game there in August. They were unbeaten when they returned for an early November showdown, a barometer game that resulted in a Rams’ defeat which eventually earned the Saints the NFC’s top playoff seed when both teams finished with a 13-3 record.
Next Sunday, they return once again to face Saints for the NFC championship game and a chance to advance to the Super Bowl.
“It's going to be a great challenge, especially just having to deal with that atmosphere and that environment with those fans going crazy,” Rams coach Sean McVay said Sunday during a teleconference. “But, we’re certainly excited about another opportunity to go back there and see if we can come away with a win.”
A day after the second-seeded Rams defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 30-22, at the Coliseum to advance to the conference championship game, the top-seeded Saints on Sunday beat the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, 20-14, at the Superdome.
The Kansas City Chiefs will play the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game.
Winners advance to the Feb. 3 Super Bowl in Atlanta.
“Just get ready to play,” Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald said Sunday, “and try to get to the big dance.”
Another matchup against the Saints is exactly what the Rams said they had hoped for after a 45-35 loss to them in Week 9.
Quarterback Drew Brees guided the Saints to a 21-point second-quarter lead before the Rams came back to tie the score in the fourth quarter. But Brees’ fourth touchdown pass, a strike to receiver Michael Thomas for a 72-yard scoring play, clinched the victory.
Despite the loss, the Rams left New Orleans confident they could win in one of the NFL’s toughest environments if they got another chance.
“I just know if we see them a second time it’s going to be way different,” cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman said in the locker room after the game.
That opportunity is now before them.
“The last time we played them it came down to a game of just running out of time,” Rams offensive lineman Rodger Saffold said Sunday. “We have to have a better plan against them. … You’ve got to be excited to be able to go back there and get another chance at those guys.”
Since that game against the Saints, the Rams have added an important piece: Running back C.J. Anderson.
Anderson rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns against the Cowboys, complementing star Todd Gurley, who rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown in his first game since suffering a left knee injury during a Dec. 16 loss to the Eagles.
McVay said Sunday that Gurley felt “good” physically after carrying the ball 16 times and catching two passes.
Anderson, a member of two Denver Broncos teams that reached the Super Bowl, carried the ball 23 times against the Cowboys. He said that he was sore but feeling good, especially with another chance to make a Super Bowl run.
“Whenever you get a chance to play on Championship Sunday, it’s a great opportunity,” he said.
The Rams should enjoy the aftermath of Saturday’s victory through Monday, Anderson explained.
“Once Monday night hits, start to wind down and you erase what you did in a divisional game and take some of the things that you need to correct individually, take some things that we need to correct as a team,” he said.
When the Rams practice Wednesday, part of their preparation will include a plan for dealing with crowd noise at the Superdome. After playing there in November, “fear of the unknown” will not be an issue, McVay said.