Rams edge 49ers 20-17 to win the NFC Championship, will face the Bengals in Super Bowl LVI

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could only hide his face after the 49ers collapsed in the fourth quarter in a giveaway to the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles in the NFC Championship (AP News photo)

by Marko Ukalovic

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — For a second consecutive the team from the host city will be playing in the Super Bowl.

Matt Gay’s 30-yard field goal with 1:46 remaining in the fourth quarter was enough to propel the Los Angeles Rams to a 20-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game on Sunday evening at SoFi Stadium.

In a game that went back and forth, the Rams scored the final 13 points of the game and Travin Howard’s interception of 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with 1:09 left in the game booked LA’s ticket to Super Bowl LVI where they will face off against the AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals, who earlier defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 24-21 in overtime.

The Rams pulled a Vincent Gambini, as the 7th time was the charm in finally being able to beat the 49ers

“We came up short today,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. “And that’s a part of sports and a part of life, so you gotta deal with it. Those guys are hurting now, but they’ll rebound, they’ll be strong like before.”

Neither offense could get going on their opening possession which resulted in a three and out for both teams.

Los Angeles got inside the red zone in their second possession, but Jimmy Ward intercepted a tipped ball inside the endzone off of quarterback Matthew Stafford and returned to the 23-yard line.

San Francisco wasn’t able to capitalize on the turnover as their drive stalled near midfield.

The Rams then went on a long drive that consumed over nine and a half minutes of possession. Stafford engineered an 18-play drive that started at their own three-yard line. The drive was capped off with a 16-yard touchdown reception by wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who was able to get behind the 49ers’ secondary in the endzone.

The 49ers answered back immediately on their next drive. They only needed four plays to even the game when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo connected with hybrid superstar Deebo Samuel with a wide receiver screen at the line of scrimmage. Samuel performed his magic as he raced down the field before diving for the pylon for a 44-yard touchdown reception.

It was the first offensive touchdown for San Francisco in more than six quarters since they scored in the third quarter against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Wild Card game.

Los Angeles was on the verge of responding back on their next drive. However, two big drops, one by Kupp and the other by Ben Skowronek that went off his hands in the endzone stalled the Rams drive at the 49ers 36-yard line.

Matt Gay’s 54-yard field goal attempt missed badly wide right with 1:55 remaining in the first half.

The 49ers responded by going 36 yards on eight plays which resulted in a Robbie Gould 38-yard field goal to end the first half 10-7.

The 49ers defense dominated the third quarter in the trenches as they held the Rams runing game in check. The big momentum turner was the Niners defense stopping Stafford’s quarter back sneak attempt on 4th and 1 near midfield.

Garoppolo rewarded the defense’s effort by marching the offense down the field 58 yards on 10 plays that was capped off by an outstanding reach of a reception by tight end George Kittle for a 16-yard touchdown to put the 49ers up 17-7 with 1:59 left in the third quarter.

Stafford then led the Rams on a seven play, 75-yard drive where he finished it off with an 11-yard touchdown reception to Kupp, his second of the game to cut the lead to 17-14.

Gay kicked the 40-yard game tying field goal with 6:49 left in the fourth quarter as the Rams went 63 yards on nine plays. The key play on that drive was the first play when Stafford threw deep down the middle of the field and Jaquiski Tartt had the ball fall in and out of his hands for a would-be interception. The next play Stafford hit Odell Beckham Jr. with a 29-yard reception and Jimmy Ward was flagged for unnecessary roughness.

“For me that’s something I was thinking about all week, I know I can make that play,” Tartt said. “That was a big opportunity for me, and the team and I just felt like I let my brother down.”

The Rams defense didn’t allow the 49ers offense to score in the fourth quarter as they were able to plug the gaps and not allow San Francisco’s run game to gain any momentum. They also were able to pressure Garoppolo into forced throws as they chased him out of the pocket during the 49ers final two drives.

“I think we won the line of scrimmage,” said Stafford. “Our guys on the outside made plays. It’s a team effort. That’s what it’s all about.”

Los Angeles kept the 49ers defense on the field for the majority of the game. They ran 42 plays in the first half and won the time of possession battle 35:39-24:21. The Niners defense had a difficult time getting off the field on third down that allowed the Rams offense to extend drives into 49ers territory.

“It was a roller coaster of a year, it really was,” Garoppolo said. “We fought through it. We’re a resilient team and that’s what good team do; you fight through things like that (so) you come up better from that.”

Stafford, who will be playing in his first Super Bowl after 13 seasons, finished the game 31 of 45 for 337 yards, two touchdowns, one interception a QB rating of 96.2. Kupp led all wide receivers with 11 catches for 142 yards to go along with his two touchdowns. Odell Beckham Jr. had a productive game with nine catches for 113 yards. Cam Akers, who returned to the lineup, chipped in with 48 yards on 13 carries.

Garoppolo, who might have played his game in San Francisco, finished 16 of 30 for 232 with two touchdowns, one interception and a QB rating of 87.1. Samuel led the 49ers in receiving with four catches for 72 yards, but only contributed 26 yards on the ground on seven carries. Brandon Aiyuk had a quiet game with four catches for 69 yards. Elijah Mitchell had just 20 yards on 11 carries.

GAME NOTES: San Francisco finished 3-for-9 on third down conversions. Los Angeles was 11-for-18.

Despite the loss, San Francisco is 6-1 in their last seven games against Los Angeles.

The attendance, which consisted of a majority of 49ers fans, was 73,202. The normal capacity for SoFi Stadium is 71,500.

Rams tight end Tyler Higbee left the game in the first quarter with a knee injury and did not return to the game.

Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles suffered a knee injury in the first half, and he did not return as well as linebacker Dre Greenlaw who suffered a calf injury.

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