Rams’ fourth-quarter comeback to beat 49ers makes spot in home Super Bowl extra sweet

Rams linebacker Travin Howard, left, celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass.
Rams linebacker Travin Howard, left, celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass from 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to seal the Rams’ NFC championship win Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

All those billions Stan Kroenke spent to build SoFi Stadium and host Super Bowl LVI.

All those trades for star players.

All those moves to go all-in.

All of it paid off.

On Sunday, the Rams continued their dream season and fulfilled their mandate to play in the Super Bowl by defeating the San Francisco 49ers, 20-17, in the NFC championship game before 73,202 at SoFi Stadium. The Rams advanced to the Super Bowl on Feb. 13, where they will play the AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals.

“Love this team,” said coach Sean McVay, who led the Rams to the Super Bowl for the second time in the last five seasons. “We got one more.”


On Sunday, Feb. 13, at SoFi Stadium, the Rams will play the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI. Think about that. It’s flat-out unreal.

On the one-year anniversary of the blockbuster trade for quarterback Matthew Stafford — the Rams’ pronouncement that they were pursuing a boom-or-bust run to the Super Bowl — Stafford connected with star receiver Cooper Kupp for two touchdowns and led a game-winning scoring drive for the second week in a row.

Stafford had more than the 42 seconds needed to knock off Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl-champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he escaped a near disaster and led the Rams to another 30-yard field goal by Matt Gay that gave them a 20-17 lead with 1 minute 46 seconds left.

Star lineman Aaron Donald pressured 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo into desperation mode, and linebacker Travin Howard intercepted a pass that sealed the victory, breaking the Rams’ six-game losing streak against the 49ers and sending them to the Super Bowl.

“It feels amazing,” star cornerback Jalen Ramsey said. “That’s really the only word I can think of.”

In 2019, the Rams traded for Ramsey, pairing him with Donald, a three-time NFL defensive player of the year. Last year they traded for Stafford, and then during the season traded for star linebacker Von Miller. A few days later they signed star receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

On Sunday, Kupp caught 11 passes for 142 yards. Beckham had nine catches for 113.

“They have superstars all over the field,” 49ers tight end George Kittle said. “And their guys made great plays.”

So did unheralded players such as Howard, backup tight end Kendall Blanton and safety Nick Scott, who played a very physical game against one of the NFL’s most physical teams.

But at the center of it all was Stafford, who toiled for 12 seasons in Detroit before the Rams sent quarterback Jared Goff, two first-round draft picks and a third-round pick to the Lions for a quarterback who had never won a playoff game.

Stafford now has led the Rams to playoff victories over the Arizona Cardinals and the Buccaneers and 49ers.

“He’s played like we thought he would,” McVay said. “No moment’s too big for him.”

Stafford was cherishing the moment.

“Long time coming, you know,” he said. “Spent a lot of years in this league and I’ve loved every minute of it. I feel blessed to be able to play in this league for as long as I have, but I sure am happy for this opportunity for not only myself, but really so many guys in that locker room that deserve this too. So, and that’s what it is. It’s an opportunity to go out there and win another.”

Aaron Donald tackles 49ers' Jimmy Garoppolo, whose desperation throw was intercepted to seal the Rams' win.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

To advance with a victory over the 49ers was especially sweet for a Rams team that lost twice to their NFC West rival, including a 27-24 overtime defeat at SoFi Stadium in the regular-season finale that dropped the Rams from the No. 2 seed to No. 4.

“Whatever was gonna happen,” Beckham said, “the story could not be written any better than for us to play them in the NFC championship and shut the door.”

McVay ended three years of frustration against the 49ers and coach Kyle Shanahan, his friend, mentor and nemesis.

“We just looked at being in this moment,” McVay said of the team’s six-game losing streak against the 49ers, “taking care of this game.”

It did not start well for the Rams — 49ers safety Jimmie Ward intercepted a pass by Stafford inside the five-yard line.

Despite the turnover, the Rams took a second-quarter lead on Stafford’s first touchdown pass to Kupp, a 16-yarder.

Deebo Samuel, the 49ers’ do-everything star, answered with a 44-yard catch and run for a touchdown. And after Gay missed a 54-yard field-goal attempt, the 49ers took the lead on Robbie Gould’s 38-yard field goal at the end of the second quarter for a 10-7 lead.

Photos from the Rams’ 20-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.

Garoppolo extended the lead to 17-7 in the third quarter with a touchdown pass to Kittle.

That’s when Donald addressed the defense on the sideline. His message?

“We got to give a little bit extra — we got to give more,” Ramsey said. “We just kind of went out there and did that.”

Early in the fourth quarter, Stafford pulled the Rams to within three points with his second touchdown pass to Kupp, an 11-yarder. And then he got a break.

On the Rams’ next possession, the 49ers lost an opportunity to possibly close out the game when safety Jaquiski Tartt dropped a certain interception. Stafford took advantage, and Gay tied the score with a 40-yard field goal with 6:49 left.

San Francisco 49ers fans once again won the battle of numbers among fans attending Sunday’s NFC championship, but Rams fans were the ones left cheering.

The defense forced the 49ers to go three and out, and Stafford got the ball at the Rams’ 39-yard line with slightly more than six minutes left.

“He had that look in his eyes all game,” Beckham said.

Stafford’s 25-yard strike to Kupp set up Gay’s field goal that put the Rams ahead.

Then Donald stepped up, nearly taking Garoppolo to the turf before the quarterback tried to flick the ball to running back JaMycal Hasty. But the ball bounced of Hasty’s hands into the arms of Howard, clinching the victory and sending the Rams to the Super Bowl.

Miller was the most valuable player of Super Bowl 50 when he played for the Denver Broncos. He was ecstatic about getting another opportunity.

“It’s like having a second kid,” he said. “You love the first one, then you have another, you love the second kid too.”

Stafford is thrilled to be playing in his first.

The Rams made all moves possible for a chance to get to Super Bowl LVI in their stadium, while the Bengals were just looking for improvement after a four-win season.

“It’s great that it’s here,” he said. “I don’t give a s— where it is. I’m like, I just want to play in the dang thing.

“But the fact that it’s under this roof, it’s going to be awesome.”

The Rams intended to celebrate Sunday night. Then McVay would begin to prepare to face off against Bengals coach Zac Taylor, a former Rams assistant.

“I’m looking forward to diving into the tape,” McVay said, “and figuring out how we can put together a good game plan to try to see if we can finish this thing off.”