NEW ORLEANS — If you love controversy and hate the idea of the Los Angeles Rams, then it will be easy to discredit what they accomplished Sunday at the earsplitting Superdome. You will brand them lucky. You might even suggest the NFL conspired to get their big-name, pass-interfering fannies into the Super Bowl. When a great game includes a bad call at a critical moment, it’s hard to separate the spectacular from the dirty.

It is a much simpler — and lazier — task to rag on the serial carpetbagging franchise, which is now back in Hollywood with a glamorous roster to match and experiencing a meteoric resurgence that belies the difficulty of its journey. Don’t get carried away with the outrage, however. The messy officiating is only one part of the story. It shouldn’t overshadow that the Rams, for all their star power and offensive brilliance and clever coaching, proved to be more than just stylish in becoming the first road team in six seasons to win a conference championship game.

In a 26-23 overtime victory against the New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles captured a wild and hard-broiled NFC championship game and advanced to Super Bowl LIII. It took everything that the Rams had, and it also took a controversial no-call on a clear pass interference penalty when cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman clobbered Tommylee Lewis on third down with 1:45 remaining in regulation. If a penalty had been called, Saints quarterback Drew Brees would have been given a new set of downs, and Coach Sean Payton would have taken the opportunity to run down the clock and set up a field goal attempt on the game’s final play. Instead, Wil Lutz made a 31-yard kick to give New Orleans a 23-20 lead with 1:41 remaining, which gave the Rams time to drive 45 yards and tie the game with a Greg Zuerlein 48-yarder with 19 seconds left.

There was plenty of football before and after the no-call, but that moment defined the game. It was a shame. But the shame belongs to the referees, not the Rams.

They still won this game on an incredible kick by Zuerlein, who lived up to his “Greg the Leg” nickname and drilled a 57-yard try in overtime to send Los Angeles into euphoria. It was the longest winning field goal in playoff history, and even though it came in the friendly kicking confines of a dome, Zuerlein made it with 73,028 fans creating so much noise the stadium shook. When he split the uprights and the Rams players and coaches ran onto the field to celebrate, the Superdome fell silent instantly, as if someone had pressed the mute button on a remote.

The Rams still won this game by recovering from a disastrous first quarter and overcoming a 13-0 deficit. They did it with running back Todd Gurley II, their best weapon, gaining just 10 yards on four carries and dropping two passes, the first of which led to an interception by New Orleans linebacker Demario Davis. They did it with quarterback Jared Goff, in his first postseason road game, shaking off a terrible start and playing with the composure of his elder, Hall of Fame-bound counterpart, Drew Brees.

In the first 30 minutes of the game, Goff was rattled. He completed 8 of 14 passes for 39 yards. Then, starting with a successful two-minute drill just before halftime, Goff performed like a franchise quarterback. In rebounding from that awful start, he completed 17 of his final 26 passes, managed the game well and made big throws when needed. He finished with 297 passing yards on a day in which the Los Angeles running game produced just 77 yards.

Goff threw deep to Brandin Cooks (seven receptions, 107 yards). He found Josh Reynolds in key situations. He even found tight end Gerald Everett, who isn’t a big-play receiving threat, for huge gains. It was a resourceful performance in what turned into a defensive game.

This wasn’t a game of unstoppable offense and scoreboard decorating. It was a tough, multifaceted contest, a competition befitting two championship-caliber teams. On this stage, the Rams and Saints showed that they do have complete squads. They showed that they can grind and play off their defenses and get tough yards on offense. For as much as points and yards have defined these teams and this NFL season, for as much as the high-scoring affairs have added flavor to a game once turning stale, the excitement came with conflict for football purists. Where was the balance? Where was the physical play? Where was the DEEE-fense?

Beneath the glamour, there was concern the game had become too legislated for offense, with the rules providing even greater protection for quarterbacks and scaring defensive players from pursuing big hits. It provided a boost and seemed to restore some of the waning interest. But on the biggest stages, the game needed to look like the tough, rugged sport it has always been. There is credibility in the fight. And these teams fought.

“Every inch counts,” Robey-Coleman said. “It was physical. You could not go nowhere you wanted. It was a fight. That’s the way we like it.”

Robey-Coleman did not apologize for the no-call. He claimed that the official told him a flag wasn’t thrown because the ball was tipped.

“When you catch breaks in this league, you’ve got to take advantage,” he said. “The door opens and closes real quick. Good call, bad call, you’ve got to take advantage.”

Said Rams Coach Sean McVay, who, at age 32, is the youngest head coach to advance to the Super Bowl: “Certainly, I’m not going to complain about the way that was officiated.”

On the other sideline, Payton fumed. Even after the game, he couldn’t hide how upset he was. Brees, the 40-year-old quarterback, managed to be quite presidential about the no-call. He explained that the Saints had several chances to put the game away early and late. They failed to do so, and he didn’t want to blame the outcome entirely on the officials’ human error when the players erred as well.

“It’s never going to be a perfect game,” Brees said. “It’s never going to be perfectly officiated.”

Still, the Rams are going to the Super Bowl. Nothing can change that. Vilify them if you must, but it’s misplaced anger. The refs blew it. The Rams benefited, and then they won with clutch plays that shouldn’t be overlooked.

The Rams are a team with 10 players who have salary cap charges of at least $8 million. They have Aaron Donald, the best defensive player in the league. And they have last year’s offensive player of the year in Gurley. But to win this one, they needed contributions from all over the roster. They needed linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. to hit Brees as he threw in overtime, causing a pop fly of a pass that safety John Johnson III caught while falling on his bottom. And then they needed Greg the Leg to make the kick of all kicks.

“In your head, it is like going back to when you are a little kid playing on the basketball court with three seconds left,” Zuerlein said. “You play all those situations in your head, and hopefully they come to fruition, and you are successful in them.”

The Rams earned it. They got lucky on one call, but they earned it over more than 63 minutes of tough football. The NFL’s new glamour team won on grit, not favors.

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