It’s the right thing to do, not only for the Rams but for NFL fans in general and, if they’re being honest with themselves, for the New Orleans Saints.
The NFC championship game screamed for a rematch between the Rams and Saints, and both teams obliged with victories this weekend, so they’ll meet again Sunday in New Orleans with a Super Bowl berth on the line.
It’s a game with a high bar to clear, in terms of entertainment. These teams met on Nov. 4 in the Superdome and put on a breathtaking display, as the Saints raced to an early 21-point lead, then watched as the Rams tied the game in the second half.
The Saints held on for a 45-35 victory, and there’s no mystery here. Both teams have high-powered offenses, and the game figures to be decided by whether the Rams will play defense like they did in the first half or in the second half against the Saints in November.
“We didn’t make enough plays,” Coach Sean McVay said in a conference call Sunday evening, “but I think our guys learned from that game the right way. Hopefully, we’ll be able to utilize those things as we move forward this week and hopefully have some more success out there.”
It won’t require much improvement. In the first meeting, the Saints totaled 487 yards, just four more than the Rams. Saints receiver Michael Thomas crushed the Rams for 12 receptions (on 15 targets) for 211 yards and one touchdown, but the Rams played without injured veteran cornerback Aqib Talib.
These teams are not strangers. They’ve played in the regular season in three consecutive years, and the Rams beat the Saints at the Coliseum in 2017. The Saints are a different animal at home, though, and they have a 7-0 record at the Superdome in playoff games during the era of quarterback Drew Brees.
“I think there’s a lot of times a fear of the unknown,” McVay said, “and now that we kind of know what to expect with a great crowd and how that’s going to have to alter some of the different things that we’ll do specific to offense – some of our communication, I think we can use that as a positive. But, we know it’s going to be a great challenge.”
Surprisingly, the Saints’ offense has wobbled a bit of late. They finished the regular season with only a total of 95 points in their last five games, and on Nov. 29, Dallas held New Orleans to one touchdown in a 13-10 victory. The Rams scored 30 points against the Cowboys in their divisional-round victory Saturday.
New Orleans’ defense might be a sleeping giant, though. The Saints looked as though they might get blown away early Sunday by Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and Philadelphia’s offense, but they shut out the Eagles over the final three quarters and held them to a total of only 250 yards.
“They play fast, they all play together, they’re really sound,” McVay said. “It’s going to be a great challenge, especially just having to deal with that atmosphere and that environment with those fans going crazy. But, we’re certainly excited about another opportunity to go back there and see if we can come away with a win.”
After some late-season wobbles, the Rams appeared to right themselves in the victory over Dallas. They totaled 459 yards — including 273 on the ground against a tough Cowboys run defense — and avoided turnovers, and they also stuffed Dallas’ run game, which had only 50 yards.
Now, the Rams are right where many preseason predictions pegged them to be, on the cusp of the Super Bowl. McVay, who turns 33 this month, already is the youngest coach in modern NFL history to win a playoff game, and now he could lead the Rams to a championship in Atlanta, near where he spent some formative years and attended high school.
“It’s certainly exciting,” McVay said. “It’s a great opportunity for us. When you get a chance to play for one game away, that’s exactly why you do all this hard work. To be able to see the people that you love and care about so much – having that success and sharing that with them is what’s special about it.”
Rams running back Todd Gurley apparently didn’t have any issues with his previously injured knee after Saturday’s game. McVay declared Gurley to be “good,” the day after Gurley had 16 carries for 115 yards and one touchdown, plus two receptions.
The Rams seemingly didn’t sustain any new injuries. Talib was the only player to leave the game, when he got evaluated for a possible concussion, but he returned in the second half.
“What we feel fortunate about is that we’re going into this game this late in the year about as healthy as you could ask,” McVay said.
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