Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay and defensive back Marqui Christian (41) celebrate defeating the New Orleans Saints during the NFC Championship game on Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Photo by Mark Wallheiser/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 20 (UPI) -- The Los Angeles Rams silenced the raucous New Orleans crowd with a 26-23 overtime victory over the Saints in Sunday's NFC Championship game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein drilled a 48-yard field goal with 15 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. He followed that kick with a 57-yard boot in the extra period to lift Los Angeles to Super Bowl LIII.
The defeat was New Orleans' first home playoff loss with quarterback Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton. Los Angeles (15-3) reached its first championship game since the 2001-02 season.
"God is good," Rams running back Todd Gurley said with tears in his eyes. "I love my teammates. We fought hard, and they encouraged me all game even when I had mistakes. I really love this team, coaches, everybody.
"I love this game so much. I've been dreaming of this all my life, and for us to be in this position to make it to the Super Bowl is such a great feeling."
The contest's shocking end came after Brees and the Saints received the ball first in overtime. Brees was under pressure from Rams defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., who made contact with the quarterback's arm.
The fluttering ball fell into the arms of Los Angeles safety John Johnson III, who hung on to the interception while falling down. The Rams drove to the Saints' 39-yard line and Zuerlein connected on the winning kick.
New Orleans (14-4) squandered an early 13-0 lead in the first half. Zuerlein made a 36-yard field goal and Gurley ran for a 6-yard score to make it 13-10 at halftime.
Saints utility man Taysom Hill caught a 2-yard touchdown from Brees to give New Orleans a 20-10 advantage with 8:34 to go in the third quarter.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff found a wide open Tyler Higbee for a 1-yard touchdown late in the third frame, and Zuerlein made a 24-yard kick to even the score at 20-20 with 5:03 left in the game.
Controversy ensued on the Saints' next possession. On third-and-10 with 1:48 left in the fourth, Brees threw a pass down the right sideline to receiver Tommylee Lewis, who fell to the ground after contact from cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman. Payton pleaded with officials for a pass interference call, but never received a flag.
"Frustrating, you know," Payton told reporters about the play. "Just getting off the phone with the league office. They blew the call. Man, there were a lot of opportunites, though. But that call puts it first-and-10, and we're on our knee three plays. It's a game-changing call."
Kicker Wil Lutz and the Saints settled for a 31-yard field goal with under two minutes remaining, giving the Rams more time to set up Zuerlein's winning kicks.
Goff completed 25-of-40 passes for 297 yards with one touchdown and an interception. Gurley, who battled a knee issue in recent weeks, ran four times for 10 yards and a touchdown. C.J. Anderson absorbed a larger workload and had 16 carries for 44 yards.
Brees was 26-for-40 passing with 249 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. The running back duo of Alvin Kamara combined for 30 touches and 148 total yards.
The Rams face off against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3 in Atlanta.