Overtime field goal lifts Rams over Saints, into Super Bowl

Greg Zuerlein kicked a 57-yard field goal in overtime to give the Rams a 26-23 win over the Saints.
Greg Zuerlein puts the Rams in the Super Bowl with a 57-yard field goal in overtime. [Associated Press]
Greg Zuerlein puts the Rams in the Super Bowl with a 57-yard field goal in overtime. [Associated Press]
Published January 20
Updated January 20

NEW ORLEANS — Greg Zuerlein kicked a 57-yard field goal in overtime to give the Rams a 26-23 win over the Saints in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday and put them in their first Super Bowl since 2001.

The Rams' drive began after John Johnson intercepted Drew Brees at the Los Angeles 46-yard line on the first drive of overtime. Brees was pressured on the pass by Dante Fowler, a former Lakewood High and UF standout who hit his arm, causing the ball to flutter weakly. Four plays later, Zuerlein got his chance for the winner on fourth and 7 from the New Orleans 39.

Zuerlein sent the game to the extra period with a 48-yard field goal with 19 seconds left that tied the score at 23.

The teams exchanged field goals in the final six minutes. The first came when Rams coach Sean McVay, known for his bold decision making on fourth down, opted for a field goal at the goal line to make it 20-20 with 5:06 left.

Brees quickly drove the Saints downfield on the next possession, but New Orleans was stalled when officials missed a pass interference call on third down. Rams defensive back Nickel Robey-Coleman slammed into Tommylee Lewis while the ball was still in the air, and Saints coach Sean Payton was livid when no flag was thrown.

New Orleans' Wil Lutz followed with a 31-yard field goal with 1:45 left. Los Angeles then drove into Saints territory to set up Zuerlein's tying kick.

Payton said the NFL told him officials botched the pass interference call.
Payton said officials on the field told him Robey-Coleman "arrived at the same time that the ball did." Payton got on the phone with the league to discuss the call immediately after the game.

"We lose a chance to go to the Super Bowl with a call like that, it's just disappointing," Payton said.

As the Rams celebrated the victory, some gathering at midfield and some racing around the dome, the public address announcer implored the crowd, "Do not throw anything from your seat, or you will be ejected." The crowd, so loud all day, responded with boos and a spare cup or piece of trash fluttering from the seats. They were furious about the lack of an interference call.

The Rams earned their way back into the game after falling behind 13-0 in the second quarter. The Rams needed a response, and their next three players, which included a noise-assisted false start, netted 5 yards. The Saints' might and the cacophony inside the dome threatened to make the game a runaway. Facing fourth and 5 and maybe the end of his team's season, McVay turned to trickery.

Johnny Hekker lined up to punt, but the Rams had called a fake. On the right sideline, Saints cornerback Justin Hardee backpedaled away from gunner Sam Shields, a blazing cornerback who entered the NFL as a wide receiver. The space gave Hekker – a remarkable athlete who had completed 11 of 19 passes for 156 yards on fakes in his career – an easy toss to Shields. He sped around Hardee and bolted past the first-down marker.

The drive would end in a field goal, but more important than three points was the psychic effect of the fake. Rather than give the ball back and risk an immediate blowout, the Rams had stabilized.

The Rams said they will wear their royal blue-and-yellow uniforms at the Super Bowl. The team  wore similar uniforms for much of their first stint in Los Angeles but ditched the royal blue for a navy-and-gold scheme in 2000 while in St. Louis.

The franchise moved back to L.A. for the 2016 season, and after an outcry from fans, it again adopted the royal blue jerseys as a primary home look this season.

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