Rams’ Super Bowl path: A week-by-week breakdown

Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein celebrates his game-winning field goal with special teams coach John Fassel in the NFC championship game.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Rams’ journey to the Super Bowl started on the practice fields of Thousand Oaks in July before embarking on a grueling 18-game trek through the regular season and playoffs. Here’s a game-by-game recap of how the team reached Atlanta to play the New England Patriots on Sunday.

Los Angeles Times

Coach Sean McVay decided not to play most of his starters during the preseason, so perhaps they were a little rusty going into a Monday night opener in Oakland. The Rams trailed 13-10 at halftime but tied the score on a 28-yard field goal by Greg Zuerlein on their first drive of the second half.

Quarterback Jared Goff connected with Cooper Kupp for an eight-yard touchdown on the final play of the third quarter to put the Rams ahead for good. Zuerlein added two field goals in the fourth, and Marcus Peters sealed the win with a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown in the final two minutes of his first game with the Rams.

“Just shows how much we really trust and believe in our process,” Peters said. “We was down there coming in at half and then we went back out there and got some stops and the offense put up some points and we got some turnovers.”

Los Angeles Times

The Rams rebuilt their defense during the off-season, trading for star cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters and signing free-agent defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh.

The win over the Cardinals in the Rams’ home opener was a statement game for the defense, as it gave up only five first downs and limited quarterback Sam Bradford to 90 yards passing. Arizona did not cross midfield until the final play of the game.

“You put a bunch of alpha dogs on one defense like that, man, it’s either going to be good or it’s going to be terrible,” Talib said. “And this one turned out good.”

The defense’s performance appeared to inspire the offense. Todd Gurley had his first three rushing touchdowns of the season, and Jared Goff passed for 354 yards and a touchdown.

Los Angeles Times

On a day when the Rams lost cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib because of injuries, Jared Goff passed for 354 yards and three touchdowns as he outdueled Chargers veteran Philip Rivers at the Coliseum.

Goff completed 29 of 36 passes, with one interception. He connected with receiver Robert Woods for two touchdowns and with receiver Cooper Kupp for another.

“He’s not a system quarterback, right?” coach Sean McVay said with sarcasm.

The Rams gained 521 yards and scored five touchdowns. Todd Gurley rushed for 105 yards and a score, the Rams blocked a punt for a touchdown, and the depleted defense staved off a Chargers comeback attempt in the fourth quarter.

Los Angeles Times

Jared Goff had a career game on a Thursday night, passing for 465 yards and five touchdowns with a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Receivers Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods each caught touchdown passes and eclipsed more than 100 yards receiving.

But with cornerback Aqib Talib recovering from ankle surgery and cornerback Marcus Peters playing despite a calf strain, Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins picked apart the Rams’ secondary, matching Goff pass for pass. Cousins completed 36 of 50 passes for 422 yards and three touchdowns.

The visiting Vikings trailed 28-20 at halftime and 31-20 in the third quarter, but Cousins pulled them to within 31-28 with a 45-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen.

Goff answered with a 31-yard scoring pass to Woods before the Vikings added a field goal to make it a seven-point deficit in the final minutes.

Los Angeles Times

The Rams overcame mistakes, missed opportunities and a defense that struggled to contain Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson for a comeback win in Seattle.

“The toughness and resolve of this football team was certainly tested,” coach Sean McVay said.

The Seahawks led 31-24 before Todd Gurley pulled the Rams within a point with his third touchdown early in the fourth quarter. Cairo Santos missed wide left on the extra-point attempt.

Santos, filling in for an injured Greg Zuerlein, redeemed himself with a 39-yard field goal with about six minutes left to give the Rams the lead. Facing a late fourth-quarter decision to either punt or go for it on fourth down, McVay appeared to boldly reverse himself, telling quarterback Jared Goff to sneak it.

Goff got the necessary yardage, and the Rams held on for the win.

Los Angeles Times

Todd Gurley rushed for a career-best 208 yards and two touchdowns, Cairo Santos kicked three field goals and the Rams defense bounced back from the previous week’s effort with a stronger performance in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ return to Denver.

The Broncos were averaging 137 yards rushing per game; the Rams held them to 60. But Denver quarterback Case Keenum passed for 322 yards, burning the Rams for long completions and two touchdowns.

Gurley carried 28 times and averaged 7.4 yards per carry. He scored on a 10-yard run on a fourth-down play in the second quarter, and gave the Rams a 20-3 lead in the third quarter with a short touchdown run.

But the outcome was not secured until receiver Robert Woods knocked an onside kick out of bounds with fewer than 90 seconds left.

Los Angeles Times

Todd Gurley scored three touchdowns, Jared Goff passed for two and Greg Zuerlein kicked three field goals as the Rams improved to 7-0 with an easy road win.

Cornerback Troy Hill and safety John Johnson intercepted passes, and the Rams sacked 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard seven times.

The Rams also recovered two fumbles and middle linebacker Cory Littleton blocked a punt that resulted in a safety. Defensive lineman Aaron Donald forced and recovered a fumble and recorded four sacks, looking every bit like the reigning NFL defensive player of the year.

Linebacker Samson Ebukam started the barrage of turnovers on the 49ers’ first possession when he chased down Beathard from behind and punched the ball out of his hand. Rookie linebacker Trevon Young caught the ball in the air to set up a field goal.

Los Angeles Times

Jared Goff took another big step in his career and the Rams escaped possible last-second magic by future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Goff passed for three touchdowns and guided a late field-goal drive that provided the winning points. Ramik Wilson forced and recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff return, allowing the Rams to run out the Coliseum clock without Rodgers getting another chance.

The Rams’ offense started slowly. They punted five times in a row and trailed by 10 points in the second quarter. But after the defense produced a safety, Goff threw touchdown passes to Josh Reynolds and Gurley for a 16-13 lead in the third quarter.

“Why be worried?” said Goff, who overcame five sacks to complete 19 of 35 passes for 295 yards. “Long game, and I think we do tend to score a lot of points.

“When we don’t, we can’t freak out.”

Los Angeles Times

The Rams’ hopes for a perfect season were dashed by the one-loss Saints and quarterback Drew Brees, who threw for 346 yards and four touchdowns at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

With the score 14-14 in the second quarter, the Rams faked a field-goal try. Holder Johnny Hekker took the snap and sprinted toward the right sideline but was ruled short of the first down.

Two Brees touchdown passes and an Alvin Kamara scoring run later, the Rams were down 35-14.

The Rams mounted a comeback after halftime, eventually tying the score on touchdown passes from Jared Goff to Malcolm Brown and Cooper Kupp, a two-point conversion pass to tight end Gerald Everett and a Greg Zuerlein field goal.

But Wil Lutz’s 54-yard field goal gave the Saints the lead again, and Brees ended the scoring by hitting Michael Thomas in stride for a 72-yard touchdown.

Los Angeles Times

Following a difficult week that included a mass shooting not far from their Thousand Oaks practice facility and mass evacuations because of wildfires, the Rams showed their mettle.

Jared Goff passed for two touchdowns, Greg Zuerlein kicked three field goals and the defense made key stops in a comeback win at the Coliseum.

“We felt sorry for our community,” offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth said, “and came out and played our best we could to try and win.”

Dante Fowler made perhaps the play of the game during the fourth quarter when he sacked Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and forced a fumble. The Rams converted the turnover into a Brandin Cooks touchdown. Wilson answered with a touchdown pass to Mike Davis.

Wilson got one more chance with less than 90 seconds left and drove the Seahawks to the Rams’ 35, but the defense forced three incomplete passes to clinch the victory.

Los Angeles Times

The Rams and Chiefs became the first teams in NFL history to score more than 50 points in the same game, in the highest-scoring “Monday Night Football” game in history.

Jared Goff passed for 413 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another score. His 40-yard touchdown pass to Gerald Everett gave the Rams the lead with 1:49 left in a game that was played at the Coliseum after being moved from Mexico City because of poor field conditions.

The outcome was not decided until Lamarcus Joyner intercepted a long pass with 13 seconds left.

“Until those final seconds ticked off,” coach Sean McVay said, “you weren’t able to breathe.”

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes passed for 478 yards and six touchdowns as the teams combined for 1,001 yards of offense.

Los Angeles Times

Todd Gurley rebounded from a minor ankle injury suffered two weeks earlier with 132 yards and two touchdowns in 23 carries and Aaron Donald recorded two sacks and forced a fumble that led to a touchdown.

Their performances helped the Rams overcome a subpar performance by quarterback Jared Goff — who completed 17 of 33 passes for 207 yards with an interception and a fumble — and clinch a second consecutive division title for the first time since the 1978 and 1979 seasons.

“We’re happy,” Donald said, “but we have to keep rolling.”

Defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh made six tackles in a homecoming game against the team that selected him with the second pick in the 2010 draft.

The Rams led 16-13 going into the fourth quarter but pulled away on Gurley’s touchdown runs.

Los Angeles Times

What was once the NFL’s hottest team was stopped cold by a Bears team that intercepted four Jared Goff passes and held the Rams to the fewest points under coach Sean McVay.

“This one is very, very humbling for me,” said McVay, whose team was held without a touchdown for the first time in his two-year tenure.

The Rams defense gave the offense plenty of opportunities by intercepting three passes. But the host Bears pressured Goff from all angles and sacked him three times, including one that resulted in a third-quarter safety.

In the end, the Bears beat the Rams with two field goals, a safety and a touchdown pass to an offensive lineman.

That was enough on a night when the Rams gained only 214 yards and got two field goals from Greg Zuerlein.

Los Angeles Times

Jared Goff struggled for much of the first three quarters and Todd Gurley was sidelined periodically because of a left knee injury as the Rams lost for the second week in a row.

“We got to be able to figure this out,” coach Sean McVay said, “and figure it out fast.”

The score was tied 13-13 at halftime, but the visiting Eagles began pulling away on Wendell Smallwood’s short touchdown run and a field goal. They increased the lead to 17 points after an interception of a Goff pass set up another Smallwood touchdown.

Aqib Talib’s fourth-quarter interception sparked the Rams, and Goff led field-goal and touchdown drives to pull the Rams to within 30-23. But the rally came up short when Goff’s pass to receiver Josh Reynolds in the end zone fell incomplete as time expired.

Goff completed 35 of 54 passes for 339 yards, with two interceptions.

Los Angeles Times

Running back C.J. Anderson, signed by the Rams five days earlier, rushed 20 times for 167 yards and a touchdown in place of Todd Gurley, who was out with a left knee injury.

“I knew I had an opportunity to play. And you knew you had to be ready no matter what,” said Anderson, who arrived at the Rams’ practice facility at 5:30 each morning during the week in an effort to learn the playbook.

Quarterback Jared Goff broke out of a three-week slump, completing 19 of 24 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown at Arizona’s State Farm Stadium. Aaron Donald sacked Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen three times.

The Rams led 21-9 on touchdown runs by Robert Woods, Goff and Anderson. They put the game out of reach when Goff connected with Woods for a 39-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.

Los Angeles Times

Jared Goff passed for four touchdowns, C.J. Anderson rushed for 132 yards and one touchdown and the defense forced four first-half turnovers at the Coliseum.

Aqib Talib returned a fumble 47 yards to set up the Rams’ first touchdown, Blake Countess intercepted a pass, and Cory Littleton intercepted two passes, returning the second for a touchdown as the Rams built a 31-10 halftime lead.

Receivers Brandin Cooks and Josh Reynolds each caught two touchdown passes.

The Rams finished the regular season with a 13-3 record, including a 6-0 mark against NFC West opponents, and earned a first-round bye in the playoffs.

“We got that bye week so we’re already into the second round,” linebacker Mark Barron said. “It’s a great opportunity and we’ve got to make sure we take advantage of it.”

Los Angeles Times

C.J. Anderson was brought in late in the season to fill the void left by injured running back Todd Gurley. In the Rams’ first playoff game, the running backs joined forces at the Coliseum.

They combined to rush for 238 yards and three touchdowns against a Cowboys team that boasted the NFL’s fifth-best rushing defense during the season and limited the Seattle Seahawks, the league’s top rushing team, to only 73 yards the previous week.

“I guess it was a good thing I got hurt,” Gurley joked.

Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott, the NFL’s leading rusher, was limited to 47 yards and a touchdown in 21 carries. Dak Prescott completed 20 of 32 passes for 266 yards and a touchdown.

But the Rams helped stave off a possible Cowboys comeback, stopping Elliott on a fourth-and-one play to start the fourth quarter.

Los Angeles Times

Amid deafening noise at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, quarterback Jared Goff helped set up kicker Greg Zuerlein, who nailed a 57-yard field goal in overtime to put the Rams in the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2001 season and the first time since the 1979 season as a Los Angeles team.

The Rams trailed by 13 early, but the offense got out of a funk after punter Johnny Hekker completed a fourth-down pass to Sam Shields to keep alive a second-quarter drive.

In the final two minutes of regulation, the Rams benefited from a controversial non-call against cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman and ended up sending the game into overtime on a 48-yard Zuerlein field goal with 15 seconds remaining.

The Saints got the ball to start overtime, but safety John Johnson intercepted a Drew Brees pass on the Rams’ 46-yard line. Two completions to Tyler Higbee and a Zuerlein boot later, the Rams were Atlanta bound.