For all the debate stirred by a blatant penalty that wasn't called in the closing minutes of the NFC championship game, the Rams thoroughly earned their 26-23 overtime victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.,And, finally, they came up with a huge interception in overtime to set up Greg Zuerlein's 57-yard field goal — the longest kick ever to win a playoff game.,It was the first home playoff loss for the Saints with Brees and coach Sean Payton, who had been 6-0 at the Superdome since their pairing began in 2006.,If the pass interference penalty had been called, the Saints could've run most of the time off the clock to set up a winning field goal from chip-shot range.,It was another bitter end for the Saints, who lost the previous season in the divisional round on the "Minnesota Miracle" — the Vikings' long touchdown pass on the final play of the game.
Leave it to Aqib Talib, their voluble veteran cornerback, to remind his teammates about the upside of the New Orleans fans' famed investment in the game.,They'll need every bit of Talib's expertise and skill when they attempt to slow Drew Brees, Michael Thomas and a New Orleans (14-3) offense that already carved up the Rams (14-3) once this season.,"Everybody is preparing for this game different," Talib said.,While many of his teammates got their first career playoff victory last week against Dallas, Talib has seen it all before — from big playoff games in New England to a Super Bowl championship run with Denver.,Talib understandably wouldn't give away the Rams' potential strategy for the NFC title game, and neither would Phillips.
Ponder for just a moment, given the dire forecast, just how brutal the conditions might be at Gillette Stadium late on Sunday had the AFC Championship Game between the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots been played there.,It not only gave the Broncos life in the game but life in the season, and they ended up being able to host the Patriots in the AFC Championship that year and went on to win the Super Bowl.,Kansas City’s secondary is a penalty flag waiting to happen, and they will try to be physical to prevent players like Edelman and James White getting free like they were against L.A. We’ll try these trends: The Patriots as underdogs the last few years have won five of six.,The last time the Rams were underdogs in a game of consequence they blistered Seattle 42-7 last year to win the NFC West.,Now, going against the above AFC pick, the home team has won the conference championship game in each of the last five years.
The Rams have broken hearts and left behind bitter fans in two different cities — in St. Louis, where the team spent 21 years, won a Super Bowl and then split town in a nasty divorce, and in Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city and team’s home from 1946 to 1995, where the Rams built and lost a fan base before returning three seasons ago.,A win over the Saints on Sunday and the prospect of a football championship for Los Angeles could bring Rams fever to a boil and carve out a place for the team in the city’s crowded sports scene.,The Rams didn’t have to work quite as hard to build loyalty in St. Louis, where football-starved fans snatched up tickets early in 1995 and were rewarded four seasons later when an unknown backup quarterback named Kurt Warner and tailback Marshall Faulk turned their offense into the so-called “Greatest Show on Turf” and won a dramatic Super Bowl championship in 1999.,A couple of weeks ago, Saints coach Sean Payton hauled in the Lombardi trophy and a big stack of greenbacks to show his team what was at stake…
Tony Hernandez, a third-generation Rams fan from east of Los Angeles, said half of his uncles and many of his friends gave up on the Rams after they moved away.,Hernandez said he briefly quit watching the team during the 1995 season in protest of the move, but soon was back to watching every game and even flying to St. Louis to cheer in person.
Philip Rivers just concluded his 15th season with the Los Angeles Chargers but the quarterback's future beyond 2019 is one of many areas that general manager Tom Telesco will have to address during the offseason.,Rivers said Monday that he hasn't discussed his future plans with the team, but noted he wants to play at least through 2020, when the new LA Stadium at Hollywood Park opens.,Telesco didn't rule out the possibility of drafting a quarterback this year, but also said that it would have to line up with the team's other needs.,Other notable free agents include cornerback Jason Verrett, who missed the season with an Achilles injury, wide receiver Tyrell Williams and defensive tackle Damion Square.,"We had a very good football team but we played a better football team in New England at New England.
In the NFC, it’s Drew Brees and Sean Payton, whose pairing doesn’t go back as far as the Brady/Belichick match game but nevertheless has been a rare constant in an NFL that is obsessed with constant change.,There aren’t many folks in the country who would mind seeing the Saints get back to the sport’s biggest game one last time.,FOURTH PLACE: Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Rams
You know, a lot of people are hoping for this one, because it would be a rematch of the most insane Monday Night Football game of all time.,THIRD PLACE: New England Patriots vs. Los Angeles Rams
Marcus Peters stood at a podium Wednesday and spoke about his respect for Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints.,As the Saints and the Los Angeles Rams began their preparation for Sunday's showdown, Peters and Payton downplayed the importance of what occurred during and after the teams' first meeting at the Superdome this season.,Afterward, Payton acknowledged the Saints had targeted Peters because they liked the matchup with Thomas — a bold statement to make about a former Pro Bowl cornerback.,I think Marcus was having fun with it, and I know that he has a whole lot of respect for Coach Payton and the Saints.",Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore thinks Peters should be much more concerned about Thomas than Payton — and Peters undoubtedly agrees.
Rivers directed the Los Angeles Chargers to a 23-17 playoff victory at Baltimore on Sunday, setting up another high-stakes matchup with Brady and the New England Patriots.,The reigning Super Bowl champions are still in the mix after Nick Foles threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate on fourth down with 56 seconds left, sending the Philadelphia Eagles to a 16-15 victory over the NFC North champion Chicago Bears on Sunday.,The Chargers (13-4) visit the Patriots (11-5) in the first divisional playoff game next Sunday, followed by the Eagles’ return to New Orleans.,The 37-year-old Rivers beat New England in 2008, but that was with Matt Cassel starting at quarterback for the Patriots while Brady was injured.,Rivers went up against New England for the first time in the playoffs after the 2006 season, tossing an interception in a 24-21 loss to the visiting Patriots.
Before he knew the next opponent, owner Jerry Jones likened the recovery of his Dallas Cowboys from 3-5 to their first playoff win in four years to a boom-or-bust wagon train headed to California.,The other big change, also during the open week, was firing first-year offensive line coach Paul Alexander and promoting someone familiar with what had helped the Cowboys mold one of the best blocking units in football in former player and assistant line coach Marc Colombo.,In his first year, coach Sean McVay led LA to the NFC West title in the franchise's first winning season in 14 years, including a 35-30 victory at the Cowboys after falling behind 24-13.,Dallas has gone to Oxnard for training camp every year since 2010, and Jones played a pivotal role in getting league approval of LA owner Stan Kroenke's move from St. Louis three years ago.,The Rams' new stadium doesn't open until 2020, so the first playoff meeting between these teams since 1986 will be in the same place as that 20-0 LA victory: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.