By Don Wanlass
The Rams have advanced to the NFC championship game Jan. 30 against the San Francisco 49ers after the best weekend of playoff football in the history of the National Football League.
All four games went down to the wire with the winning team kicking a field goal on the final play of regulation.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ win over the Buffalo Bills, the last of the four games, went into overtime after the Chiefs miraculously drove into field goal range in the last 13 seconds of the game after the Bills had taken a 36-33 lead on a 75-yard drive in six plays and 49 seconds.
The final two minutes of regulation and the four minutes of overtime produced 31 points and three lead changes before Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes hit tight end Travis Kelce with an 8-yard pass to win the game after the Chiefs went 75 yards in eight plays in the first possession of overtime.
That game will go down as a classic playoff game, but the three games that preceded it Jan. 22 and 23 were almost as good.
The Cincinnati Bengals earned the right to face the Chiefs Jan. 30 with a 19-16 win over the No. 1-seeded Tennessee Titans in a game that featured three Ryan Tannehill interceptions and the Bengals second-year quarterback Joe Burrow throwing for 348 yards and a touchdown.
Evan McPherson kicked four field goals for the Bengals, including the game-winner from 52 yards as time expired.
The 49ers then eliminated Aaron Rodgers and the top-seeded Green Bay Packers, 13-10, in a defensive oriented game that saw the 49ers score 10 points in the last 4:41 after being held to three points in the first 55 minutes.
The 49ers did it with special teams, scoring their only touchdown on a blocked punt and then seeing Robbie Gould kick a 45-yard field goal to win the game.
The Rams then tormented their fans by blowing a 27-3 third-quarter lead before driving 75 yards in three plays in the last 42 seconds of the game to win 30-27 and knock Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of the playoffs.
By winning, the Rams get to host the 49ers in the third matchup of the year between the two NFC Western Division rivals.
The 49ers won both previous meetings between the two teams. In fact, they come into the game with a six-game winning streak against the Rams.
Rams head coach Sean McVay has a 60-29 record during his five years in the NFL, including playoffs, but he is only 3-7 against Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers head coach who was McVay’s boss when they coached together at Washington and Atlanta.
The Rams are an early 3.5-point favorite for the Jan. 30 game, but the game will hinge on the Rams ability to avoid the turnovers that plagued them against Tampa Bay.
The Rams lost four fumbles — two by running back Cam Akers — allowing the Bucs to score 24 consecutive points and get back in the game.
If they turn the ball over four times against the 49ers they are liable to get blown out, even though the 49ers couldn’t score a touchdown on offense against the Packers Jan. 22.
The Rams’ defense put plenty of pressure on Brady, but the 49ers, who run the ball as well as any team in the league, has defeated the Rams twice this season by playing a ball-control style game that keeps the Rams offense off the field.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford showed why the Rams traded for him against the Bucs, throwing for 366 yards and two touchdowns. He teamed up with receiving ace Cooper Kupp on two passes for 64 yards in the last 42 seconds of the game to set up Matt Gay’s 30-yard game winning field goal.
Kupp finished with 9 catches for 183 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown from Stafford in the second quarter that helped the Rams to a 20-3 halftime lead.
It almost wasn’t enough to beat Brady and the defending Super Bowl champions and the Rams will need similar performances from Stafford and Kupp if they are to advance to the Super Bowl Feb. 13.
COMEBACK KIDS: It’s getting to be a habit for the Clippers.
The Clippers came back from a 35-point second quarter deficit, a 30-point halftime deficit and a six-point deficit with 11 seconds to play Jan. 25 to defeat the Washington Wizards, 116-115.
Guard Luke Kennard scored seven points in the last 11 seconds to pave the way for the Clippers, who never led in the first 47 minutes and 58 seconds of the game. But coming from behind is becoming old hat for the Clippers.
On Jan. 21, they trailed by 24 points before coming back to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers. Two weeks before that, they overcame a 25-point deficit against the Denver Nuggets.
They have become the first NBA team in the past 25 years to overcome three deficits of more than 24 points to win during a season and they have done it all this month playing without their two best players, Kawai Leonard and Paul George.
“It’s crazy,” coach Tyronn Lue said after the win over the Wizards. “We kept chipping away. I know when it was like 17 going into the fourth and [then] we got to 10, I was like, ‘OK, we got a real shot.’”
The Clippers outscored the Wizards 80-49 in the second half, scoring 40 points in each of the last two quarters. The win gives the Clippers a 24-25 record, good for ninth in the NBA Western Conference, a half-game behind the Lakers.
The Clippers have no idea when George will return from an elbow injury, while they maintain hope that Leonard recovers from off-season knee surgery to help the Clippers for a final playoff push come April.
Whatever happens the rest of the way, the rest of the league is on notice: No lead is safe when you’re playing the Clippers.