INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — For 6 3/4 games, the San Francisco 49ers had dominated the Los Angeles Rams. Then came the fourth quarter of Sunday’s NFC championship game, when everything unraveled.
Coach Kyle Shanahan decided not to go it on fourth-and-2 in Rams territory, followed by a dropped interception by Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmy Garoppolo throwing a pick at the worst time.
All of that led to San Francisco’s bid for a second Super Bowl trip in three years falling short in a 20-17 loss. The Niners had a 17-7 lead entering the final 15 minutes but saw the Rams score 13 straight points.
“Both teams had their opportunities,” Shanahan said. “I thought we had them on the ropes, but we gave them a chance. When you give those guys too many chances, eventually they are going to make them.”
Rams coach Sean McVay appeared to provide Shanahan a gift when he challenged a third-and-2 play on which McVay thought Kyle Juszczyk fumbled instead of being held for no gain. Replays showed Juszczyk lost the ball after being down by contact, which left the Rams with no timeouts.
Instead of seizing momentum and going on fourth-and-2 at the Rams 45 with a 17-14 lead, Shanahan decided to punt after taking a delay-of-game penalty.
As bad as Shanahan’s decision was, Tartt’s dropped interception on the ensuing play was worse. From the Rams 15, Matthew Stafford’s long pass came directly to the seventh-year safety who had no one around him on a 50-yard pass. Tartt dropped it.
“We almost got a chance to get right back,” Shanahan said, “but we missed that pick, those guy’s got going and in a rhythm.”
On the next play, Stafford found Odell Beckham Jr. for a 29-yard completion up the left sideline, along with 15 additional yards when Jimmie Ward was called for unnecessary roughness. Matt Gay hit a 40-yard field goal seven plays later to tie it at 17.
After Gay’s second field goal gave the Rams the lead, the Niners had a final chance to win or tie. Garoppolo was pressured by Aaron Donald on third-and-13 from the Niners 22 before being picked off by Travin Howard.
The Rams had their second trip to the Super Bowl in four years.
Los Angeles also becomes the second team to host a Super Bowl in its home stadium after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made history last year. The Rams will face the Cincinnati Bengals, who advanced with a 27-24 overtime victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC championship game.
Besides the failure to execute in the fourth quarter, the Niners struggled to stop Rams All-Pro wide receiver Cooper Kupp. San Francisco often had single coverage on Kupp, including an 11-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter when K’Waun Williams got beaten off the line.
San Francisco’s defense also couldn’t get off the field on third downs as the Rams converted 11 of 18.
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