The Latest on the conference championship games (all times EST):
A fake punt gave the Rams their first first down on their third possession and led to their first points of the game on a field goal.
Jonny Hekker’s pass to Sam Shields along the right side caught the Saints off guard on fourth-and-5. The play sustained a drive that produced three more first downs before Los Angeles stalled on running back Todd Gurley’s dropped pass inside the New Orleans 20.
Greg Zuerlein kicked a 36-yard field goal to make it 13-3 with 9:45 left in the second quarter.
The Saints have taken a 13-0 lead on Drew Brees’ 5-yard pass to seldom-used tight end Garrett Griffin. It was Griffin’s first career TD and second career reception.
New Orleans used a little gamesmanship to sustain the drive after their third third-down failure in the red zone on three possessions to start the game. The first two ended in field goals. This time, they kept the offense on the field and drew the Rams’ aggressive front offside for the first down.
Brees capitalized soon after, rolling right to buy time before Griffin came open running along the goal line.
The Saints have converted an early turnover into a second field goal to take a 6-0 lead.
New Orleans’ second possession began on the Rams 16 after Jared Goff’s short pass over the middle deflected off running back Todd Gurley’s hands and into the arms of Saints linebacker Demario Davis.
It marked the Saints’ second time in the Rams’ red zone, and the second time they stalled on third down with a short field. Wil Lutz, who kicked a 37-yard field goal on the opening drive, came back out to hit from 29 yards.
The silver lining for Los Angeles is that it trailed by only one TD after its defense held twice inside its 20.
The New Orleans Saints have opened the NFC title game with a field goal after very nearly scoring a touchdown.
Drew Brees converted third-down passes of 9 yards to Ted Ginn and 21 yards to Alvin Kamara to sustain the drive, which stalled when tight end Dan Arnold was unable to hold on to a third-down pass in the back of the end zone.
Wil Lutz came on and connected from 37 yards to give the Saints a 3-0 lead.
There are no surprises among the Los Angeles Rams’ and New Orleans Saints’ inactive lists for the NFC championship game.
Both teams came in largely healthy and most of those not in uniform are healthy reserves.
The Saints already had ruled out receiver Keith Kirkwood with a calf injury that sidelined him during practice the past week. Kirkwood’s absence comes one week after he caught a critical fourth-and-2 touchdown pass in New Orleans’ comeback victory over Philadelphia in the divisional round.
Also scratched from New Orleans’ lineup is veteran tight end Ben Watson, who has been ill this week. He is in the Superdome with the Saints and even could be seen stretching on the field, raising his prospects for returning if New Orleans advances to play in the Super Bowl in two weeks.
Los Angeles did not have a single player on its injury reports last week.
Here are the full inactive lists for both teams.
Rams: RB Justin Davis, OL Jamil Demby, OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DT Sebastian Joseph-Day, DT Tanzel Smart, DB Darious Williams and OLB Trevon Young.
Saints: TE Ben Watson (illness), WR Keith Kirkwood (calf), DL Tyrunn Walker, OL Will Clapp, LB Manti Te’o, OL Derek Newton and RB Dwayne Washington.
The Los Angeles Rams are back inside the stadium where they lost for the first time this season, looking for retribution and a Super Bowl berth as they face the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship game.
The Superdome is coming alive for the last time this football season as predominantly Saints fans arrive for just the second NFC title game to be held at the site of seven Super Bowls.
The previous time the Saints hosted a game this late in a season, they pulled out a hair-raising overtime triumph over Minnesota en route to their first Super Bowl appearance — and championship.
That was the 2009 season. Some nine seasons later, coach Sean Payton and 40-year-old, record-setting quarterback Drew Brees are back with a largely different cast, one victory away from the team’s second trip to the NFL’s biggest event.
When these teams met in Week 9, running back C.J. Anderson had not yet joined Todd Gurley in the Rams’ backfield and Los Angeles cornerback Aqib Talib was not healthy enough to play. Their availability puts the Rams in a stronger position than they were in back on Nov. 4, when they fell to New Orleans 45-35.
This is the first NFC title game for Rams 32-year-old, second-year coach Sean McVay and his 24-year-old quarterback, Jared Goff.
On the AFC side, the New England Patriots are in their eighth consecutive conference championship game and trying to reach the Super Bowl for the fourth time in five seasons and the ninth time overall in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era.
The Kansas City Chiefs, led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, are hosting the AFC title game for the first time at Arrowhead Stadium, and are trying to get to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1969 season.
One thing that is unusual is that the Patriots are a slight underdog against the top-seeded Chiefs.
“We’re going against a team that’s the No. 1 seed in the league,” Brady said after the team’s final practice on Friday. “I’m sure there’s a lot of people that are thinking they’re going to win. Everyone can have their own opinion. We certainly have an opinion, and we’ve got to go out there and execute our best in order to accomplish that.”
The winners that emerge from the conference championship games will meet in Atlanta on Feb. 3 in the Super Bowl.
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