Saints Come Marching into Renovated LA Memorial Coliseum

Rams Beat Panthers 30-28

The New Orleans Saints will come marching into the new Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum this Sunday, Sept. 15, with an eye on redemption for losing 26-23 to the Los Angeles Rams in last season's NFC Championship game. That game will forever be known for changing the way the league reviews pass interference calls due to a non-call late in the fourth quarter, likely costing the Saints a Super Bowl appearance.

With the Rams surviving a 30-28 well-earned win over the Carolina Panthers in NFL Week 1 last Sunday and the Saints barely squeezing by the Houston Texans, 30-27, on Monday Night Football, the game is a must-watch contest. The teams split their two matchups last season as the Saints ended the Rams 8-0, 2018 season start, with a 45-35 win at New Orleans.

"They're going to be a great challenge," said Rams head coach Sean McVay. "Their offense has consistently been one of the best units in the league over the last handful of years since Sean (Payton, head coach) and Drew (Brees, quarterback) have been there. He added: "We'll be ready for the new changes from the rules."

The Saints needed a booming 58-yard field goal from kicker Will Lutz as time expired to beat the Texans on Monday. On the other hand the Rams took several 13-point leads throughout against Carolina before the Panthers cut the lead to three twice in the fourth quarter. It was McVay's third consecutive opening game victory in three seasons as head coach of the Rams.

The Rams offense was rusty. Quarterback Jared Goff was inconsistent at best. He completed six of his first seven passes, got sacked, and then missed four of his next five targets. He also fumbled once and threw an interception early in the fourth quarter. Yet, Goff's only touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter was critical to victory.

McVay: "I think it starts with some of the play selections. To Carolina's credit, they did a good job. Really, at the end of the day, we were trying to win the football game and we felt like that approach was conducive for winning the game as a team."

Running back Todd Gurley looked pedestrian in the first half, gaining eight yards on five carries. He righted the ship in the fourth quarter when Carolina rallied. Gurley finished the game with 97 yards on 14 carries and offered glimpses of last season when he led the league with 21 touchdowns. He caught one pass for four yards, well below last season's average when he caught 59 passes for 580 yards.

It was the Malcolm Brown Show for the first three quarters. Switched in for Gurley, Brown gave the Rams sputtering offense a much-needed punch. He scored two touchdowns while rushing for 53 yards on 11 carries. His one-yard run gave the Rams a 23-10 lead late in the third quarter.

Robert Woods anchored the receivers with 70 yards on eight receptions. Cooper Kupp looked completely healed, catching seven passes for 46 yards. Brandin Cooks caught his only two passes for 39 yards, setting up kicker Greg Zuerlein's 27-yard field goal for the 16-3 lead. Higbee caught five passes for 20 yards, including the 5-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter that secured the game.

The Rams defense were effective in holding quarterback Cam Newton and the Panthers to three points in the first half, only yielding a 46-yard Joey Slye field goal two seconds before halftime. They also recorded three sacks, the first by linebacker Clay Matthews, already paying dividends after being signed in the off-season.

Dante Fowler looked in midseason form with two sacks on Newton. Linebacker Corey Littleton had a stellar game, causing and recovering a fumble with Carolina driving in the first quarter. He also made a 26-yard interception return late in the game and led the team with 14 tackles. Linebacker John Johnson also had 11 tackles and a tackle for loss.

However, defense coordinator Wade Phillips' side was ineffective in containing Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey... by ground or air. McCaffrey kept the Panthers in the game throughout, rushing for two touchdowns while gaining 128 yards on 19 carries. He also caught 10 passes for 81 yards.

"Really impressed by some of the things that he (McCaffrey) was able to do," said McVay. "We always want to be consistent in terms of just being able to stop the run, getting them into some of those second down and long situations and the third down and long plays."

The Rams had one scare when safety Eric Weddle had to leave the game in the second quarter. McCaffrey kneed him in the head with a flying hurdle. Weddle was bleeding from his forehead and was put on concussion protocol. "He didn't have any symptoms today, but he has to go through that process," said McVay. "I think we're hopeful he'll be able to check out, but he has to go through all that."

The special teams were hot and cold. There was one very badly missed field goal attempt by Zuerlein that would have given the Rams a 13-point lead late in the game. A greater error was punter Johnny Hekker getting his punt blocked early in the fourth quarter, leading directly to a touchdown and cutting the lead to three. But true to form, Zuerlein' s three field goals and a Hekker 68-yard punt were the difference in the game.


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