By RYAN BRAUCH
On February 3, the New England Patriots will take on the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, Georgia. Both teams have been extremely dominant throughout the course of the 2018 season and have been favorites to find their way to the championship game. Although both of these teams were expected to make it to the Super Bowl, both the AFC and NFC championship games sparked a lot of controversy.
The NFC championship game saw the New Orleans Saints host the Rams on Sunday, Jan. 20. The Saints jumped out to a hot start early, scoring 13 unanswered points. The Rams looked slow on the offensive side of the ball and looked sloppy on defense as the fans roared with every misstep.
Towards the end of the first half, the Rams started to kick things into gear as they got their first points on the board with a made field goal from kicker Greg Zuerlein. As the Saints cooled off on offense, the Rams took charge as quarterback Jared Goff completed a deep bomb to wide receiver Brandin Cooks. The catch by Cooks enabled the Rams to run the ball into the endzone for a touchdown with star running back Todd Gurley, who surprising did not get much playing time in the championship game. Quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints still felt confident at halftime, as the score stood at 13-10.
To start the second half, the Saints were rolling on all cylinders as they drove down the field on a seven minute drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Taysom Hill. The Rams answered with a long drive of their own that ended with tight end Tyler Higbee bringing in a touchdown pass to make the score 20-17.
The fourth quarter was slow, as both teams held each other in check defensively, until a controversial no-call changed the rest of the game. With the score standing at 20-20, the Saints had the ball on the Rams 13 yard line with two minutes remaining in the game.
Although they had great field position, the Saints quickly found themselves staring at a third-and-long, desperately needing a first down. Brees then targeted one of his receivers but before the ball could arrive, Rams’ cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman demolished the receiver, going in for a huge hit and leading with his helmet.
To almost everyone watching the game, it was a clear pass interference penalty. The receiver was defenseless, the defender led with his head, and most importantly, the ball was not in the vicinity of the receiver, yet there were no flags on the field. This crucial no-call ended up costing the Saints a Super Bowl berth, as the Rams took the game 26-23 in overtime.
With chaos ensuing in New Orleans with an army of rightfully angry Saints fans, the Patriots were gearing up to play the Kansas City Chiefs, in Kansas City. The weather was cold and the fans were loud, yet quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots jumped out to an early 14-0 lead and carried that lead into halftime.
The Chiefs ended up climbing their way back into the game and forcing a shootout with the Patriots and eventually sent the game to overtime. The Patriots won the coin toss to start overtime and since the NFL overtime rules stand that the first team to score a touchdown wins, the game was over in an instant, as the Patriots effortlessly pounded their way down field for a touchdown, with a final score of 37-31.
As Tom Brady prepares to compete in his ninth Super Bowl in his Hall of Fame career, he intends to win his sixth championship. Meanwhile, a young Rams team led by second year head coach Sean McVay are looking to bring the Rams their first Super Bowl title since 2000. Running backs have been a focal points for both of these teams all throughout the playoffs.
The Patriots will have to exploit the Rams defense with the help of running back committee James White and Sony Michel. The Rams will also have to pound the Patriots’ defense with the run game using their dual threat running backs in Todd Gurley and CJ Anderson. In the end, the Patriots will likely capitalize on the Rams’ inexperience and take their sixth Super Bowl in the Brady-era.