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Rams coach Sean McVay promises he won't turn timid against Saints

Rams coach Sean McVay promises he won't turn timid against Saints
Rams holder Johnny Hekker can't make the first down on a fourth-down run as linebacker Craig Robertson makes the tackle in the first quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Nov. 4, 2018. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Rams coach Sean McVay showed a daring side this season with several decisions. It remains to be seen whether McVay will remain aggressive or turn conservative in Sunday’s NFC championship game against the New Orleans Saints.

“We are an aggressive team by nature,” McVay said. “That’s our mindset, that's our mentality, but you don't want to be reckless. So, there's an element of making sure that that communication is amongst your coaches where you're utilizing those resources around you.

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“But, then there's also a feel where, man, we feel real confident in our players’ ability to execute and we're going to play not fearing failure, but to go attack an opportunity to go win a conference championship.”

In November at New Orleans, with the score 14-14, McVay called for a fake field goal. Holder Johnny Hekker took the snap and sprinted toward the right sideline, but he was ruled short of the first down. McVay challenged the call, which was upheld on review.

The Saints then scored 21 unanswered points en route to a 35-14 second-quarter lead. The Rams came back to tie the score but eventually lost, 45-35.

“If I had approached the play a different way or leaped at the end instead of trying to stretch the ball, it could have been different,” Hekker said. “But I can’t think about that now.”

As he prepared for Sunday’s game, McVay pointed to Saints coach Sean Payton and a decision he made during his team’s divisional-round playoff game against Philadelphia.

Trailing 14-0 in the second quarter, the Saints faced fourth and goal at the Eagles’ two-yard line. Rather than kick a field goal, the Saints went for it and scored on a touchdown pass that helped them come back and win 20-14.

“I have a lot of respect and admiration for coach Payton and the way that he calls a game to go win it — not being afraid of losing it,” McVay said. “I'd like to think that's something that we do at the Rams as well.

“We're going to continue to do that going into this weekend.”

Fowler in the swing

The Rams traded for edge-rushing linebacker Dante Fowler on Oct. 30. Four days later, he played against the Saints and made a tackle for a loss and defended a pass.

After nine games playing in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ scheme, Fowler is fully acclimated and eager for another opportunity against the Saints.

“I feel so much more comfortable, just knowing the plays and being able to go out there and play fast and do what I have to do,” he said, adding, “Especially that game, it got me ready for this moment.”

Fowler had two sacks and four tackles for losses with the Rams this season. He had three tackles, one for a loss, and a hit on the quarterback in the Rams’ 30-22 playoff victory over Dallas.

Fowler is prepared for another chance to disrupt Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who passed for four touchdowns against the Rams in November.

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“It’s going to be a very physical game going against a very great, smart quarterback that knows how to operate really well,” Fowler said. “I just got to do my best to get to him and obstruct him and get him off his foot and make him throw some crazy balls because when he has the time, he’s very efficient.”

Gumbo with side of Suh

After the Saints’ victory over the Rams, Payton said his team got the matchup it wanted when Michael Thomas beat Rams cornerback Marcus Peters on a game-clinching 72-yard touchdown pass from Brees. A few days later, Peters said the Rams would see the Saints “soon” and that he and Payton would have a “nice little bowl of gumbo together.”

In the wake of those comments, some have dubbed Sunday’s game as the Gumbo Bowl.

Asked about the back-and-forth, Rams defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh said, “that's between them,” and that he would have Peters’ back.

“So, if I'm going to jump into that particular conversation, my goal is to take Brees down so he doesn't have the opportunity to throw the ball,” Suh said. “So that's how I'll jump into that conversation.”

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