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Rams

Rams’ Josh Reynolds can finally play off a win ahead of NFC title game with Saints

Rams-49ers
Josh Reynolds, catching a touchdown pass in front of San Francisco 49ers defensive back Greg Mabin in December, had never been on a playoff game-winning team at any level until the Rams beat Dallas.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Like many of his teammates, Rams receiver Josh Reynolds last week experienced the joy of winning an NFL playoff game for the first time.

But the divisional-round victory over the Dallas Cowboys that put the Rams in Sunday’s NFC championship game against the New Orleans Saints was an even bigger first for Reynolds.

“First playoff win ever in my life,” he said.

Reynolds, a 2017 fourth-round draft pick from Texas A&M, said his high school team in San Antonio never made the playoffs. The basketball team did but lost in the first round. His junior college football team lost in the playoffs.

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Now he’s one playoff victory from playing in the Super Bowl.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “It’s awesome.”

When the Rams play the Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Reynolds’ role will be different than it was in early November, when the Rams lost to the Saints 45-35.

Reynolds was the fourth receiver for an offense that included Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp, the trio who played at least 97% of the snaps. Reynolds played only two snaps on offense and nine on special teams. He was not targeted for a pass and did not run the ball.

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On Sunday, he will be in the starting lineup.

The 6-foot-3, 196-pound Reynolds replaced Kupp as a starting receiver after Kupp suffered a season-ending knee injury Nov. 11 against the Seattle Seahawks.

Kupp was injured the week after he caught five passes for 89 yards against the Saints, including one for a 41-yard touchdown that completed a comeback from a 21-point deficit and tied the score 35-35.

Reynolds has 29 catches for 402 yards and five touchdowns. In the Rams’ 30-22 divisional-round victory over the Cowboys, he played 87% of the snaps, caught one pass for 19 yards and carried the ball once for nine yards.

“It’s definitely awesome to be able to contribute like that,” Reynolds said. “I feel better when I’m able to block and do stuff like that for my guys and open up holes for them.”

Experience counts

Two players on the Rams roster — reserve cornerback and special teams standout Sam Shields and center John Sullivan -- have played in an NFC championship game.

Shields played in two, and he came up with big plays in both.

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As a Green Bay rookie in 2010, Shields had one of his most productive days as a pro in a 21-14 Packers victory over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

He sacked Jay Cutler and forced a fumble late in the first half, and also intercepted a pass just before halftime. Shields sealed the victory when he intercepted a pass by Caleb Hanie and returned it 32 yards in the final minute, capping the only two-interception game of his career and sending the Packers to the Super Bowl, where they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Four years later, Shields intercepted a pass in the Packers’ 28-22 loss to the Seahawks.

He has five interceptions in 12 playoff games.

But unless Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters or Nickell Robey-Coleman suffers an injury during practice or in the game against the Saints, Shields probably will be limited to special teams.

That’s fine with Shields, who signed with the Rams after sitting out nearly all of the last two seasons because of concussions.

The Rams, he said, should not try to do anything extraordinary against the Saints. Avoiding costly mistakes, as they did against the Cowboys, is the blueprint, Shields said.

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“We just got to consistently make plays on all ends, be in the right spot, just the little things that we did,” said Shields, who returned a punt 17 yards against the Cowboys. “We just got to take it into the next game.

“We don’t have to do nothing different.”

Shields said the Saints’ victory over the Rams in November would have no bearing on Sunday’s game.

“It’s different — this is the playoffs,” he said. “Everything’s different. You got to take it up another notch.”

Sullivan played for the Minnesota Vikings in a 31-28 loss to the Saints at the Superdome during the 2009 season.

Close to home

KhaDarel Hodge grew up in D’Lo, Miss., about a 2½-hour drive from the Superdome.

When the Rams traveled to New Orleans for their final preseason game, the undrafted free-agent receiver from Prairie View A&M was just trying to make Los Angeles’ roster.

When they returned in November, he played one snap on offense and 13 on special teams.

He said most people in his hometown are Saints and Cowboys fans, but he is excited about going back to New Orleans a third time with a chance to advance to the Super Bowl.

Hodge has two catches for 17 yards. He has made five tackles.

Tackling others, he said, was the “last thing” he envisioned he would be doing while dreaming of playing in the NFL.

“It’s pretty fun, actually,” he said. “I haven’t tackled since high school, and I’m growing to like it and I take the special-teams role seriously.

“Just contribute any way I can.”

gary.klein@latimes.com

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein


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