2021 NFL playoffs: What we learned from Rams' win over 49ers in NFC Championship Game

Los Angeles Rams
2021 · 12-5-0
San Francisco 49ers
2021 · 10-7-0

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  1. The Rams finally cleared the 49ers hurdle. San Francisco has owned a significant amount of real estate in the minds of those representing the Rams for a few years now, and after three quarters, it appeared as if that wasn't going to change. Then, over the course of 15 minutes of game time, Los Angeles finally pulled even with San Francisco and eventually landed the knockout blow it's been seeking for the last three seasons. It all came to an end with Aaron Donald bearing down on Jimmy Garoppolo, forcing the quarterback to backhand fling the ball over JaMycal Hasty's hands, glancing off them and ending in a game-sealing interception. The Rams finally did it, vanquishing their bogeyman, exorcising the gold-helmeted demon that has tortured them since 2019, and earning a Super Bowl bid. They don't have to go anywhere to play the game, either: The Rams will face the Cincinnati Bengals at SoFi Stadium, becoming the second team in NFL history (and in as many years) to play the Super Bowl at home.
  2. Matthew Stafford's move west has propelled him to new heights. Stafford threw the Rams to a thrilling win over the defending champion Buccaneers last week, helping them reach the NFC Championship Game and keeping their storybook season alive. Los Angeles' all-in approach paid off Sunday, with Stafford leading the way. His second of two touchdown passes turned a 10-point deficit into a three-point game, and timely completions down the stretch allowed the Rams to move into range to kick game-tying and go-ahead field goals. His final line -- 31-of-45 passing, 337 yards, two touchdowns and one interception -- justified Los Angeles' blockbuster offseason deal to bring him to Los Angeles. Now he gets a chance to prove the Rams right again in two weeks when the L.A. faces the Bengals.
  3. This one will sting a little more for the 49ers. After getting nearly every break to go their way on their path to the NFC Championship Game, the 49ers finally ran out of luck in the final quarter. Jaquiski Tartt had a chance to bury the Rams in the fourth quarter when a Stafford YOLO ball descended toward him, but he dropped a sure interception, giving Los Angeles a second chance. The Rams capitalized, going 63 yards in nine plays and ending the drive with a game-tying 40-yard field goal converted by Matt Gay. San Francisco's response was an abysmal possession, handing the ball back to Los Angeles after just 23 seconds of game time and leaving the Rams with enough time to march down the field to get in range for the go-ahead field goal. And finally, a desperate attempt to get rid of the ball resulted in an interception flung by Garoppolo, ending San Francisco's unexpected run. There was a moment in this game in which the 49ers appeared to be in control, but they simply couldn't hang on. Their own mistakes opened the door for the Rams, and they burst through it on their way to Super Bowl LVI.
  4. Odell Beckham Jr.'s season of drama was worth it. Beckham wasn't doing much of anything positive in his third season in Cleveland, struggling with drops and failing to get on the same page with Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield. He forced his way out in a very public manner, eventually landing in Los Angeles in a role that seemed more like a tagalong than a key contributor. That changed, however, when the postseason arrived. In the biggest game of his professional career, Beckham rose to the occasion, catching nine passes for 113 yards. His postseason line nearly doubled, moving to 19 catches for 236 yards and a touchdown. Most importantly, Beckham's ascension with the Rams has added a legitimate second threat opposite Cooper Kupp, making the Rams' passing attack significantly more difficult to contain. Beckham played a crucial role in Los Angeles' comeback effort Sunday, and it's fair to say the Rams might not be in Super Bowl LVI without him (we already know that's true if you remove Kupp from the equation). That's certainly worth whatever risk was associated with his addition amid controversy during the regular season.
  5. Jimmy Garoppolo's likely last pass as a 49er didn't do his San Francisco career justice. It might have seemed fitting for Garoppolo to end his season with an ugly interception, but it's not a fair finish. Garoppolo spent much of the 2021 season attempting to ignore the constant questions and conversation regarding his looming unseating as the 49ers' future under center and did a commendable job, fighting through the chatter to help San Francisco turn around a season that once seemed destined for disappointment. With Garoppolo largely leading the way (even through his own injuries), San Francisco won eight of its final 11 games, fought its way into the postseason, then scored upset victories over the Cowboys and Packers just to get to Sunday. For three quarters, it appeared as if their journey wasn't about to end, and it wasn't until the 49ers met sudden struggles on both sides of the ball that Garoppolo found himself in a situation reminiscent of the final stages of Super Bowl LIV. Like that game, Garoppolo and Co. couldn't overcome the adversity, falling in heartbreaking fashion. But he should be remembered for his efforts that got the 49ers to the doorstep of the Super Bowl -- not how it ended, no matter where he's headed next.


NFL Research: Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp connected for their 20th touchdown pass of the season, joining Tom Brady and Randy Moss (2007) as the only quarterback-receiver duos in NFL history to hook up for 20-plus touchdowns in their first season playing together (including playoffs).


Next Gen Stat of the game: Aaron Donald recorded five pressures and one turnover caused by pressure in Sunday's win. The latter was Donald's first turnover caused by pressure in a playoff game in his illustrious career and helped seal the victory for the Rams.


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