It’s time for NFC Championship Sunday, and the Los Angeles Rams have a chance to do something very special. For not only do they have a chance to stamp their ticket to the Big Game on Sunday, Feb. 13, but they also have an opportunity to do so while enjoying their final two games of the season having been played at SoFi Stadium — the site of both the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers and Super Bowl LVI. They would be only the second team in NFL history to host the Super Bowl, and would then hope to become the second team in history to win it on their own field, having seen Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers achieve both feats one year ago.
And speaking of Brady, thanks to the Rams, the reigning Super Bowl MVP is now done for the season after having lost in the divisional round — clearing the path for a three-match between Los Angeles and the San Francisco 49ers. And with only two opponents standing in between the Rams and glory, let’s take a look at how they can finally get over the hump after having been so close to doing so only a few seasons ago.
Lock up ‘Bad Stafford’ and toss the key
It can’t be denied how much credit Matthew Stafford deserves for elevating the Rams in his first year with the club — dispelling an unpleasant postseason narrative about himself in the process — the most recent evidence of this being his 44-yard, game-breaking throw under pressure with only seconds remaining in the NFC divisional round to send the almighty Brady packing into the offseason (and maybe retirement). That said, let’s not pretend there isn’t also a dark side to Stafford’s coin, one that has seen him literally throw away games on more than one occasion this season. What absolutely can not happen, if the Rams are to secure their first Lombardi Trophy since the 1999 season, is for Stafford to revert to the version of himself that throws multiple interceptions in a game, having done so on five (!!) different occasions this season. The defense will presumably do its job, and simply need Stafford to be on his very best behavior in the pocket.
Bring the pain
The defense doing its job must entail more than simply landing some key pass breakups, especially at this point in the postseason. A unit led by two future first ballot Hall of Fame defensive linemen, namely Aaron Donald and Von Miller, must first punish a less-than-whole Jimmy Garappolo to the point he begins making mistakes, be it via fumbles, interceptions or both. The pressure up front will help shorten coverage windows and force the majority of the game away from downfield threats and All-Pro tight end George Kittle and solely on the shoulders of Deebo Samuel, which is a battle in and of itself. Pass this test and there won’t be a moment to breathe before having to take on either Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs or Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals — two offenses that can torch the scoreboard. No pressure up front will equal no ring in hand.
‘Be like water’
Bruce Lee knew. When the late martial arts legend told everyone to “be like water”, his point was that it’s always best to be fluid in your motions and adaptable to all situations. That’s something head coach Sean McVay has made a career hanging his hat on — being able to adjust his play-calling in-game based upon what the opposition is giving him. The Rams will need peak McVay in the NFC Championship and, should they defeat the 49ers, again in Super Bowl LVI. Now, it’s easy to say this and presume it shall be, but McVay also remembers what happened when he tried to fit a square peg through a round hole in his Super Bowl LIII loss to the New England Patriots, when Bill Belichick shut McVay’s offense down to the tune of only three points. If the Rams don’t want a repeat of that disappointment … be like water.