Back in Week 9, the then-undefeated Rams went to New Orleans to take on the then-one-loss Saints.
Based on the way both teams had played to that point, it was a matchup most felt could be an NFC Championship preview. And after the 45-35 loss, reporters asked Rams players whether they thought they’d see the Saints again. Some stuck to the one-game-at-a-time platitude. Others frankly said yes.
Now we know we’ll see the rematch, as the Rams will go to New Orleans for Sunday’s NFC Championship game. And these two teams that finished tied for the NFL’s best record at 13-3 certainly put on a show back in November.
You may remember — or may not want to — but that game started with Los Angeles and New Orleans matching one another blow for blow. That is, until punter Johnny Hekker was ruled down short of the sticks while running a fake field goal deep in New Orleans territory in the second quarter with the score tied at 14.
That’s when the Saints then jumped out to a 35-14 lead — though the Rams made that 35-17 with a last-second field goal heading into halftime. And that run continued until about five minutes into the fourth quarter, when a touchdown and two-point conversion tied the game at 35.
And, yes, L.A. ended up losing by 10. But it seemed like the Rams learned a lot about themselves during that contest and the weeks after.
“I think it just gave us an opportunity to respond where we were 8-0 going into that game and we had our first loss,” head coach Sean McVay said on Sunday. “Really, it was something where, you just get a chance to kind of just test your resolve and see how you can respond. I thought we did a nice job bouncing back — you look back going against Seattle and Kansas City to be able to get big wins before our bye, I thought was great.”
But now that the Rams are getting their second shot at the Saints, there are some clear differences in both teams. They each have a key player back from injured reserve — for L.A. that’s cornerback Aqib Talib, for New Orleans wideout Ted Ginn.
Plus there’s running back C.J. Anderson — who has come in and averaged 140 yards rushing through three games with Los Angeles. While he wasn’t around for that first contest, he knows a thing or two about a playoff rematch just from being around the league for a while.
But just having the experience of going into that stadium and playing against those particular players can be a significant benefit. Left guard Rodger Saffold noted that he feels like the Rams and Saints match up well against one another.
“I think the last time that we played them it came down to a game of just running out of time. At the end of the day, I think that we will have a better plan against them the second go around and you got to be excited to be able to go back there and get another chance at those guys again.”
And if nothing else, getting a playoff victory to get to this point gives the team “a lot of confidence,” according to Saffold.
“It’s definitely exciting, the excitement is still there,” Saffold said. “It’s still surreal, but I think that we are very blessed to be where we are right now.”
“Well you know you can’t use 100 percent of the same game plan that you used to beat that team before,” Anderson said on Sunday. “Obviously, both teams look at the film that they have in the past, and then you’ve got some additions — myself over here, I didn’t play [in that game]. And then New Orleans added Ted Ginn, who is another threat for them. So you look at things like that. And then also, you just try to figure out different ways and different styles, what makes the team best now — what makes New Orleans best now. Because New Orleans went through a little slump, and then they found their niche back — kind of like the Rams did.”
Outside linebacker Dante Fowler actually made his Rams debut in that game in New Orleans, and probably was on the field more than most anticipated — playing 62 percent of the defensive snaps. He had a tackle for loss and a pass defensed in the contest, and figures
“They’ve got everything down pat. They know what they’re going to do and they’re going to execute it. We’ve just got to try our best to stop it. They’ve got a great offensive lineman, Hall of Fame quarterback, and a two-headed monster in the backfield,” Fowler said. “But we’ve got to come with it if we play them.”