It's not how you start, it's how you finish. The old adage rang true for the victorious defenses on Conference Championship weekend.

A stunning upset pulled off by the Cincinnati Bengals appeared extremely unlikely when they fell 21-3 behind to the Kansas City Chiefs.

But the Chiefs scored just three points across the second half and overtime, with Patrick Mahomes intercepted twice as the Bengals fought back to claim an improbable 27-24 win.

Similarly, the Los Angeles Rams looked to be on the ropes at 17-7 down to the San Francisco 49ers when Jimmy Garoppolo hit George Kittle for a 16-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.

Yet the Rams outscored the Niners 13-0 in the fourth, Garoppolo and the San Francisco attack collapsing when the pressure was at its highest.

So how did both the Bengals and the Rams stymie their opponents when it mattered most and punch their tickets to Super Bowl LVI?

The name's Hubbard, Sam Hubbard

Arguably as important to stopping Mahomes through the air was the move the Bengals made to prevent him from doing damage with his legs.

The Bengals deployed defensive end Sam Hubbard as a de-facto spy of Mahomes, protecting against him rolling out and making throws on the move, as he did twice for touchdowns in the first half, or picking up yardage on the ground.

That meant relying on their coverage to hold up while sending only three-man rushes up front. The Bengals rushed three on 23.9 per cent of their defensive snaps, and the results speak for themselves.

Mahomes attempted just six passes on the move and had five scrambles for an average of just one yard per carry. In other words, when there was not a clear option for Mahomes when operating from the pocket, the possibility to escape and extend the play was taken away.

Travis Kelce had 10 catches for 95 yards and a touchdown while Tyreek Hill registered seven catches for 78 yards and a score. However, Hill did not have a catch after the first half and Kelce only had one across that second half and overtime that went for double-digit yardage, the Bengals' ploy of sporadically bracketing both working perfectly.

The combination of Hubbard's deployment in an unfamiliar role and the attention paid to both Kelce and Hill led to the sight of a quarterback who was unstoppable in the Divisional Round running backwards as the pocket collapsed in a vain effort to produce explosive plays that were not there.

Mahomes had done an excellent job down the stretch of the regular season and in the playoffs of being patient and taking what the defense gave him. In the second half against Cincinnati, the Bengals afforded him no options, and that patience ran out.

Rams give no room to run

The Rams did not need to lure Garoppolo into the bad decision, as Los Angeles knew that, with enough pressure on the much-maligned 49ers quarterback, a mistake is always on the horizon.

Los Angeles only pressured Garoppolo 12 times, but the pass rush came at the ideal time in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter as Aaron Donald and Co. took advantage of a banged-up offensive line when it mattered most.

The level of joy the Rams enjoyed late on was in part a result of their success in defending the run.

With the scoreboard turning rapidly in Los Angeles' favour, San Francisco became one-dimensional having been consistently stymied by the Rams' run defense.

The often dominant 49ers running game was held to 2.5 yards per carry, putting the emphasis on Garoppolo and his O-Line to deliver.

Niners tight end Kittle explained San Francisco's struggles running the ball were down to the Rams employing a new wrinkle in blitzing the A and B gaps when the 49ers went in motion, leading to stacked boxes.

As Kittle put it: "It's hard to run the ball when there are nine guys in the box."

After erasing the Niners' 10-point lead, the Rams' defense could go in attack mode with the ground game shut down and no reason to fear the opposing quarterback.

Given the struggles of the Bengals' offensive line, a similar approach could well be used in the Super Bowl.

The Los Angeles Rams are relishing their opportunity to host the Super Bowl after seeing off the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.

A 20-17 triumph over NFC West rivals the Niners means it is the Rams who will face the Cincinnati Bengals with NFL glory on the line at SoFi Stadium on February 13.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year became the first team to play in a Super Bowl at their home stadium and went one step further by winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy against the Kansas City Chiefs.

And the Rams now have an opportunity emulate the Bucs after reaching their second Super Bowl in the space of four years, with this one on home soil.

"To be able to play at home in this house that Stan Kroenke built, this iconic venue, is really unique," McVay said, per ESPN, after the win over the Niners. 

"A little bit easier travel schedule for us since we travelled all over the country during the course of the year.  Just so happy with this group and proud to be associated with it.

"We always talk about being totally and completely present, having a short memory for good and bad. Being able to hit that reset button. I thought our guys did that in a big way."

Matthew Stafford led a Rams comeback from 17-7 down. He completed 31 of 45 passes for 337 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Having gone 12 years without a postseason win as a member of the Detroit Lions, the quarterback now has three straight playoff victories and the chance to match the history made by Tom Brady if he wins a fourth.

"It's great that it's here," Stafford said about the home Super Bowl. "If we were playing in it, I didn't give a hell where it was. I'm like, I just want to play in the dang thing. 

"But the fact that it's under this roof, it's going to be awesome. 

"Our fans did an unbelievable job making it a tough environment. And it's nice to send some of those red jerseys home."

Star wide receiver Cooper Kupp caught both Stafford TD passes in a fine display that saw him make 11 catches for 142 yards.

Odell Beckham Jr (nine catches for 113) was another standout performer and like Stafford he will also play in his first Super Bowl.

"Everything about this place is right, and it's done right," Beckham, who joined in a mid-season trade from the Cleveland Browns, said. 

"It's just been an incredible opportunity that I feel like I'm just trying to make the most of. Here we are playing in the Super Bowl, one game away from our dreams. Just keep going."

McVay was effusive in his praise of Stafford after the game and Beckham was similarly complimentary.

"Everything that you could hope and wish for," Beckham said about Stafford.

"He had that look in his eyes the whole game. He motivated us, he pushed us, one play at a time, and he drove us down. 

"He's just been doing that all postseason, all season really, since I've been here, he's just had that look on him. Just happy that we could get him to this point.

"I know it was tough for Detroit for a lot of those years. He is having an amazing opportunity and is just gonna take full advantage of it."

The Rams have one Super Bowl title in franchise history, which came in 1999 when they represented the city of St Louis, and three NFL championships overall.

Cincinnati will be making their third appearance in the big dance and are seeking their first title.

Aaron Donald was hailed by his Los Angeles Rams teammates after they overcame a 10-point deficit to beat the San Francisco 49ers.

The three-time Defensive Player of the Year gave an emotional speech on the sideline as the Rams trailed 17-7 in the NFC Championship Game.

Los Angeles subsequently rallied for a 20-17 victory that sent them to a second Super Bowl in the space of four years.

They lost to the New England Patriots to conclude the 2018 season and generational talent Donald remains without a ring.

Pass-rusher Von Miller, who tasted Super Bowl glory with the Denver Broncos in 2015 and joined the Rams in a mid-season trade, is desperate to get the team's inspirational figure over the hump.

With seven first-team All-Pro selections and eight Pro Bowl appearances to go with his three DPOY crowns, Miller believes defensive lineman Donald is on the brink of making it a complete career.

"It was great," Miller said to ESPN about Donald's message to the defense.

"He's been Aaron Donald - vocally, physically, emotionally. That's what leaders do. He's a great leader. 

"Like I said, a Super Bowl is all he needs. He could walk off into the sunset, and I'm going to do everything in my power to make that happen for him."

Donald pressured Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for the decisive interception to linebacker Travin Howard that ensured the Rams would keep their three-point lead.

Matthew Stafford will be QB for the Rams in the Super Bowl this time around after Jared Goff played under center in that Patriots loss.

Stafford would have preferred to give the defense a seven-point lead to preserve at the end, but still had faith in a dominant unit.

"Wish we'd have put seven up there, it would have felt a whole lot better sitting on the sideline, but I've got so much trust in our defense, so much faith in those guys," he said.

"They went out there and did their thing and got the win.

"I'm so proud of this group. We've had high expectations all year, done nothing but everything in our power to try to meet those. 

"It's a terrific group we have in there. The game wasn't easy. It wasn't perfect in some spots, but we found a way to win and that's what it's all about. We've got some more work left to do."

Safety Eric Weddle had been retired for two years before making a comeback that will end with a fairy-tale Super Bowl appearance against the Cincinnati Bengals. 

"We were down and out," the veteran said. 

"AD rallied us. He asked us to give more. He said to let us be the reason we win this game. We knew what it meant to him."

And defensive coordinator Raheem Morris was also full of praise for Donald.

"That's what Aaron does," said. "He was vocal all week about what this game meant to him. 

"He calmed everybody down on the sideline and said to do right longer. There was no bigger moment [than the play on the interception]."

The Rams had lost their previous six meetings with the Niners but will now host Super Bowl LVI, looking for their first title since 1999, when they played in St. Louis.

Jaquiski Tartt was his own toughest critic after his dropped interception in the San Francisco 49ers' NFC Championship Game loss to the Los Angeles Rams.

The 49ers led 17-7 going into the fourth quarter, though the Rams soon trimmed that gap to three points with Cooper Kupp's second touchdown catch of the game from Matthew Stafford.

San Francisco looked destined to change the momentum with just under 10 minutes remaining as Stafford uncorked a deep shot intended for Van Jefferson but straight into the arms of Tartt, only for the Niners safety to let the ball slip from his grasp and to the turf.

The mistake did not lead to a touchdown as a Matt Gay field goal tied the game, but the Niners never managed to turn things back in their favour and a late Jimmy Garoppolo interception after another go-ahead kick from Gay gave the Rams victory.

And Tartt offered no excuses as he accepted blame for the agonising defeat.

"For me, it's tough. But it's a moment a lot of athletes I know dream of ... you can make that game-changing play," Tartt told a post-game media conference.

"It was something that I was thinking about all week. I know I can make that play, and the play came up and I ain't make it.

"I know that was a big play of the game, a big opportunity for me and for the team. As a player, I feel like I let my brothers down.

"But for us, we didn't play how we needed to play. ... Obviously my play was a crucial one that I left on the field. Really wish I can have it back, but at the end of the day, take your hat off to the Rams."

Asked what he thought as the ball was coming to him, Tartt replied: "I see it, I'm like 'Oh yeah, he f****d up. We about to win this game,'. It hit my hands. I thought I had it, and I dropped it."

Though Tartt will have nightmares about the would-be interception during the offseason, to lay the blame entirely at his feet would be overly harsh.

San Francisco still had two possessions after Gay's game-tying field goal and lost seven yards across those series as the offense completely collapsed when it most needed to step up and deliver.

The Los Angeles Rams would not be in the Super Bowl without two-touchdown NFC Championship Game hero Cooper Kupp, according to head coach Sean McVay.

The Rams edged the San Francisco 49ers 20-17 with quarterback Matthew Stafford finding Kupp for two touchdown passes.

Kupp had 11 receptions for 142 yards for the game, with his fourth-quarter TD helping them reel in a 10-point final-change deficit.

The 28-year-old led the NFL in the key receiver statistics with 145 receptions, 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns. Kupp has 386 receiving yards this postseason, which is the third all-time most in playoffs history before the Super Bowl.

"He's just a special player," McVay said at the post-game news conference. "I talked about Matthew [Stafford], competitive greatness, Cooper was that today.

"Just big catch after big catch. He's competing in the run game. He does so many things.

"We'd have no chance of being here today without Cooper Kupp."

The victory means the Rams have reached the Super Bowl for the second time in five seasons under McVay, having been beaten by the New England Patriots three years ago.

Stafford completed 31 of 45 passing attempts for 337 yards with his two touchdown passes for Kupp.

The Rams traded in 33-year-old QB Stafford from the Detroit Lions in March last year, with the move paying off.

"We went out and got him because we thought it was a chance to get a great player of his magnitude," McVay said. "Those things don’t come around often.

"He's elevated everybody around him. He's made me a better coach. He's made his teammates better. He's such a great person.

"He's a great competitor. We've seen that all season but it's really been on display this last couple of weeks. We talk about competitive greatness, he embodied that today."

Stafford endured years of under-achievement with the Lions, with only three postseason games which were all defeats, and was delighted to reach a Super Bowl for the first time in his 13-year career.

"I don’t know that I ever thought about what I'd be feeling at this moment," Stafford said. "I probably just sat there and wished I'd be in those games.

"I'm so happy that I've got that opportunity and we've got an opportunity to be in another one that I've always wanted to play in."

He added: "Long time coming, you know. [I] Spent a lot of years in this league, I've loved every minute of it. I feel blessed to be able to play in this league as long as I have. It's an opportunity."

The Los Angeles Rams rallied from a 10-point three-quarter time deficit to clinch a spot in Super Bowl LVI with a 20-17 NFC Championship Game victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

The Rams will face the Cincinnati Bengals at their home, SoFi Stadium, on Sunday February 13.

Matthew Stafford completed 31 of 45 attempts for 337 yards, combining with Cooper Kupp for two crucial touchdowns, including one in the fourth quarter alongside two Matt Gay field goals to overturn the deficit.

Gay put the Rams ahead from 30 yards with 1:46 left, before Aaron Donald pressured Jimmy Garoppolo into an interception for Travin Howard to practically end the game with 1:09 remaining.

Wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr was excellent for the Rams too, with nine catches for 113 yards.

After a scoreless first quarter Stafford found Kupp, who starred with 11 catches for 142 yards, in the corner for the opening TD. But 49ers running back Deebo Samuel, who had seven carries for 76 yards and four receptions for 72 yards, levelled it up with a remarkable catch and run before Robbie Gould's field goal earned them a 10-7 half-time lead.

The 49ers moved 10 points clear when Garoppolo, who made 16 of 30 passes for 232 yards, threw another TD pass in the third quarter for George Kittle, but the Rams would rally with Stafford finding Kupp early in the fourth to narrow the gap.

Jaquiski Tartt inexplicably dropped a routine pick, allowing the Rams to drive forward for Gay to score from 40 yards. Five minutes later he did it again, before the Rams defense clinched the win.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has plenty to prove after a largely unconvincing postseason, and he will certainly not be short of motivation ahead of the NFC Championship Game with the Los Angeles Rams.

The Niners are on the brink of a second Super Bowl appearance in three seasons but are underdogs against the Rams despite winning the last six meetings between the two teams.

San Francisco's status as underdogs is in part tied to the quarterback matchup, which most see as stacked in favour of the Rams and Matthew Stafford rather than the Niners and Garoppolo.

With the 49ers' defense and running game excelling, the onus has largely been taken off Garoppolo during the playoffs, in which he has completed 61.4 per cent of his passes for 303 yards and two interceptions, a tally that could have been significantly higher as he made several dangerous throws during last week's 13-10 win over the Green Bay Packers at a snowy Lambeau Field.

In two wins over the Rams this season, however, Garoppolo has completed 74.5 per cent of his passes for 498 yards, three touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. He has a passer rating of 108.1 across those games.

Garoppolo helped the 49ers come back from 17-0 down in Week 18 to beat the Rams and punch their ticket to the postseason, leading a game-tying drive in the final 90 seconds of regulation with no timeouts to send a thrilling contest to overtime.

The 49ers could face the Kansas City Chiefs again in the Super Bowl having lost to the same opposition on the biggest stage two years ago, when they led 20-10 with seven minutes remaining.

Garoppolo missed a potential game-winning throw to Emmanuel Sanders in Super Bowl LIV, and the prospect of atoning for that defeat is fuelling the Niners' quarterback.

"Since it's happened, it's been a motivator for me," Garoppolo told a media conference of the Chiefs loss. 

"Honestly, it's a feeling that can't be described. It's unlike any other loss I've ever had. And since that moment it's motivated me and it always will going forward.

"But those are the lessons, sports are never going to be perfect. And if you can take those lessons and be better from it, you'll be better off in the long run."

The history books are in favour of the Niners as they prepare to face the Rams for the third time this season.

Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, there have been 22 playoff rematches between teams where one team won both regular-season contests. The sweeping team has won 14 of those games.

Garoppolo, though, does not make much of what is a new experience for the signal-caller.

"This will be my first time. I've never actually done it," said Garoppolo of playing the Rams for the third time. 

"So, it'll be a little different, but these guys know us, we know them. There's really no secrets or anything like that. So it's about going out there, beating your man and executing. Other than that, it's just football."

The Los Angeles Rams will need their linebackers to be at their best against the San Francisco 49ers, and will have a talented rookie at the position available for the NFC Championship Game.

Los Angeles activated Ernest Jones from injured reserve ahead of Sunday's meeting with the Niners at SoFi Stadium.

Jones has not played since suffering a high ankle sprain against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 16.

The Rams will be grateful for his return as they prepare to face a 49ers offense that consistently looks to torment linebackers and complete passes over the middle of the field.

San Francisco swept the regular-season series between the two teams, with the Niners winning the last six meetings with the Rams.

Third-round pick Jones impressed in the regular season, racking up 61 tackles, two interceptions and a sack.

In the regular season, Jones allowed a big play on just 10 per cent of targets, the fifth-best ratio among linebackers targeted at least 25 times.

San Francisco 49ers left tackle Trent Williams is "adamant" he will play in the NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams despite a lack of practice time as he deals with a sprained ankle.

Williams played through the injury as the Niners booked their place in the conference title game with a dramatic 13-10 road win over the top-seeded Green Bay Packers.

He had missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday but was out on the field, albeit walking slowly, before the Niners made their departure for Los Angeles on Friday.

San Francisco claimed a sixth successive win over the Rams in the final week of the regular season, coming back from 17-0 down to prevail in overtime, to clinch a place in the playoffs.

The Niners achieved that feat without Williams, who missed that clash due to an elbow problem.

All-Pro Williams was not ruled out until the day of the game, and head coach Kyle Shanahan will give him every chance to prove his fitness for this clash with a place in Super Bowl LVI on the line.

"It's going to be like it was three weeks ago. I feel the same way as I did at the beginning of the week," Shanahan told a media conference.

"He came out for walkthrough today and Trent is adamant that he's going and he was last time too, which, I believe Trent when he says that he's going to do everything that he can to play.

"And so I'll be surprised if he doesn't, but I was surprised last time. I was also surprised he was able to finish the game versus Green Bay.

"So hopefully his mindset will be how his body reacts on Sunday. We know it'll help us a lot, but if not, we'll deal with it." 

Williams' influence on the Niners' passing offense and their rushing attack cannot be overstated.

According to Stats Perform data, he ranked fourth among tackles with at least 100 one-on-one matchups in the regular season with a stunt-adjusted win pass protection win percentage of 91.81.

In double-team adjusted run-block win rate, he was second with 81.56 per cent.

Colton McKivitz, who filled in against the Rams in Week 18, would likely get the start at left tackle if Williams is unable to play.

There wasn't much value in being the favourite in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs.

Three of the four underdogs, the Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams, prevailed to progress to Conference Championship weekend.

An incredible overtime win over the Buffalo Bills saw the Kansas City Chiefs, the sole favourite to prevail, join them in moving one game away from the Super Bowl.

Despite a victory in a game many have already labelled as the best playoff game of all time, the Chiefs' position in the Super Bowl odds by Stats Perform's rest-of-season projection has gone down, with the Rams leapfrogging them and taking their spot as the team most likely to lift the Lombardi Trophy on February 13.

So how has a week of action in which the Chiefs were victorious flipped the odds against Kansas City?

Hollywood ending in store for LA?

Rest-of-season or, in this case, postseason projection, projects every future game to give a predicted win percentage for each team across its remaining games. Rather than being a simulator of future games, the projections are calculated by looking at each team's quarterback and QB efficiency versus expected – performance in terms of yards added in expected passing situations – as well as team values for pass protection/pass rush, skill position players/coverage defenders and run blocking/run defense.

For the playoffs, the projection has been used to calculate each team's odds of winning a home game against every postseason team, with those predictions then used to forecast each franchise's chances of reaching and winning the Super Bowl.

Last week, prior to the Divisional games, the Chiefs were given a 27 per cent shot to win the Super Bowl for the second time in three seasons, just ahead of the Rams on 26.3 per cent.

Following their respective victories, the Chiefs are viewed as having a 37.84 per cent chance of taking the silverware back to Missouri. The more likely outcome, at least according to ROS, is that the trophy stays at SoFi Stadium with the Rams, whose odds of winning it for only the second time in franchise history have ballooned to 38.21.

It is not a huge margin between the two, but the change at the top is enough to raise eyebrows given how devastating the Chiefs were on offense in defeating the Bills.

But the Rams' position as the new Super Bowl favourite is more a reflection of the potential opponents, rather than a commentary on the merits of the respective teams.

Another nail-biter for the Chiefs

Kansas City already has experience of one nerve-shredding Super Bowl with an NFC West opponent, coming back from 20-10 down in the fourth quarter to beat the 49ers two years ago in Super Bowl LIV.

And ROS expects either a meeting with the Rams or a rematch with the Niners to be similarly tense.

The Chiefs would not be considered favourites in a home game with the Rams, Kansas City given just a 45.2 per cent chance to triumph.

That number improves significantly in a matchup with the 49ers, against whom the Chiefs have 58.2 per cent odds of winning a home game.

It is still not an overly decisive margin, however, and pales in comparison to the Rams' prospects of beating the alternative AFC representative, the Bengals.

Cincinnati would have just a 16.8 per cent shot of winning a road game with Los Angeles, and those odds improve to just 19.8 per cent in a home game.

In other words, while a close game likely beckons for the Chiefs regardless of who wins the NFC Championship Game, an upset win for the Bengals in Kansas City would make the Rams or the Niners (72.1 per cent home game, 67.2 per cent away game) clear favourites to win the Super Bowl on the neutral field site at SoFi Stadium.

The Bengals' status as rank outsiders even after making it this far is in part based on the struggles of an offensive line that ranked 25th in Stats Perform's pass protection win rate and allowed nine sacks in the Divisional Round win over the Tennessee Titans.

San Francisco (first), Los Angeles (second) and the Chiefs (15th) each ranked in the top half of the NFL in pass-rush win rate, meaning Cincinnati will be at a clear disadvantage in the trenches in the AFC Championship Game and in a potential Super Bowl matchup.

The 2021 NFL season has been full of surprises, but the numbers clearly point to the Rams playing in a home Super Bowl against the Chiefs. 

So, is everybody ready for Niners-Bengals?

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford insists his teammates do not have a mental block when it comes to beating the San Francisco 49ers.

The two teams will do battle on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game, with the winners to face either the Kansas City Chiefs or Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl.

Stafford, who had never previously won a playoff game in the NFL, has led the Rams to victories over the Arizona Cardinals and defending champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to reach this stage.

The Rams finished ahead of the Cardinals and the 49ers to win the NFC West this season and go into the game at SoFi Stadium – which will also host the Super Bowl - as narrow favourites.

But that status comes despite the Rams having struggled against their divisional rivals in recent seasons. The Niners have won the last six meetings, including both of the regular season clashes in 2021.

In Week 18, the Rams led 17-0 before the Niners stormed back to win 27-24 in overtime and book their place in the playoffs as a wildcard team.

Stafford has only played in the two most recent games in the six-game streak but was asked if his teammates had a mental block against San Francisco.

"No, we just have got to go out there and play good football," he said.

"We had our chances last time we played them to win the game, whether it was a four-minute situation for us on offense, a two-minute situation on defense and we still had a shot in overtime as well. 

"It's a really good football team. It's two really good football teams going after each other, seen each other twice this year, we’re going to see each other for a third time. 

"Not a bunch of secrets. Just who can step up to the plate and make the plays when we need to make them."

Stafford has found the build-up to the NFC Championship Game more normal than for the Rams' previous two postseason clashes.

"Obviously excited about the opportunity, but going about it kind of as a normal week - it’s the first normal week we've had in a little bit," said the former Detroit Lions QB.

"We played the first playoff game on a Monday and the second one on a short week, so this one just feels like a normal week during the season.

"Obviously a lot at stake. We know that we’re playing a really good opponent that's playing as good a football as anybody in the NFL right now. So it'll be a big challenge for us."

Rams head coach Sean McVay was this week forced to deny Niners boss Kyle Shanahan – who worked with him in Washington - was in his head.

"No," insisted McVay. "What I do have is respect for these guys. They've done a great job. 

"You look at it, you got to play well in that three-and-a-half-hour window that we're allotted. You look at the last time that we played them, we didn't finish the game. 

"This is a really good football team. We have a lot of respect for them. We're competing and preparing to the best of our ability to go out and see if we can advance. 

"But this is a really good team. Kyle is an excellent coach. They have great players, great coaches, good schemes. It's why they're in the NFC Championship."

Shanahan, meanwhile, felt McVay should not have been asked the question.

Asked if he enjoyed the narrative, the Niners coach replied: "Not really. I think that's kind of silly. A question like that is giving Sean and myself way too much credit.

"We're coaches. Watch what's going on out on that field and some of the players out there and the people that are competing.

"To think that it's about Sean and I... I know that he doesn't feel that way and he knows that I don't feel that way.

"The entertainment of this business is cool and stuff, because it brings a lot of fans and makes a lot of money for everybody, but I think that's pretty ridiculous. I don't give coaches that much credit."

Getting wide receiver Cooper Kupp involved is likely to be key for the Rams after he became the first player to win the NFL receiving triple crown since 2005 this season. 

He followed that achievement by putting up 183 receiving yards against Tampa Bay, which was second-most in a playoff game in Rams history behind Tom Fears in the 1950 Divisional Round (198). 

Per Stats Perform data, the Rams have never lost a game, regular or postseason, when Kupp has at least 125 receiving yards (9-0).

Kyle Shanahan insists under-fire San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo deserves more recognition for helping his team to the NFC Championship Game.

The Niners will travel to face NFC West rivals the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday as they bid to reach a second Super Bowl in three years.

They need two straight wins at SoFi Stadium – which will also host the Super Bowl on February 13 – to make history.

The play of Garoppolo has come under scrutiny in the playoffs despite San Francisco's advance.

In their two wins over the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers, he had zero touchdowns and two interceptions, with passing yard totals of 172 and 131 respectively.

His future has been in doubt ever since the Niners traded up at huge cost to select QB Trey Lance at number three overall in the 2021 draft.

But head coach Shanahan believes the public support shown by Garoppolo's teammates such as George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Fred Warner and Nick Bosa speaks volumes for his contribution.

"It shows what our guys think of him," Shanahan said. "And it also shows our guys probably are on social media [seeing the criticism].

"They probably feel a need to stick up for him. I know his social media probably hasn't been that great, so I'm glad they're sticking up for him because what they say is the truth."

Garoppolo also led the Niners to the Super Bowl in the 2019 season, resulting in an agonising loss to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

He could only play in six games last season as the whole Niners roster was decimated with injuries but led the team in 15 regular season contests in 2021.

"Jimmy is one of the main reasons we're here," insisted Shanahan.

"He's done an unbelievable job. People don't give him enough credit. We win as a team, and that's why he doesn't always have the same stats that some of these MVP candidates have.

"But Jimmy's a very good quarterback - he doesn't worry about any of that stuff. He doesn't worry about social media. That's why he's a little similar to me.

"He never really changes, and I think that's what people respect the most about him.

"He's gone through some ups and downs while he's been here, like most quarterbacks do, but he's the same guy. And that's why people, first and foremost, respect him as a human, as a person.

"And then the way that he goes and battles on the field, everyone knows how tough he is, everyone knows how hard he'll compete running with the ball and our guys also know he can throw pretty well too."

Garoppolo, who arrived in a trade from the New England Patriots in 2017, has a similar view about outside critics.

Asked if he had a strategy to cope, he said: "Well, friends, family, they always seem to remind me of those things, but I don’t know.

"Just knowing yourself and knowing who you are plays a big part of that, because if you get lost in it and start believing some of those things, it could take you down the wrong road.

"So I don’t know, I think it’s just about knowing yourself as a player, as a person, and as long as these guys in this locker room have faith in me and belief in me, that is all I really care about."

The Niners have won six straight games over the Rams in their regular-season series, with a dramatic comeback 27-24 overtime victory over LA in Week 18 getting them into the playoffs as a wildcard team.

But it is NFC West champions the Rams who go into the contest as narrow favourites having knocked off defending Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Divisional Round.

The 49ers, meanwhile, won 13-10 in Green Bay despite failing to score an offensive touchdown.

They were just the ninth team ever to win a playoff game in that way - NFL teams were previously 8-103 in playoff games without a scrimmage touchdown.

Avoiding turnovers is going to be critical. The Rams are 8-0 this year when Matthew Stafford does not throw an interception, while the 49ers are 7-0 when Garoppolo does not throw a pick.

The San Francisco 49ers have been handed a twin boost ahead of Sunday's NFC Championship Game against the Los Angeles Rams with Deebo Samuel and Jimmy Garoppolo taken off their injury report.

Samuel took a helmet to his knee late in the 49ers' win over the Green Bay Packers but was a full participant at practice on Wednesday.

Quarterback Garoppolo has been battling shoulder and thumb complaints, but he also did not appear on the injury report.

"I'm sure it's pretty good," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters on Wednesday.

"I hear about the thumb more than the shoulder, so that's off the injury report now, so I guess we're good."

Left tackle Trent Williams is in some doubt for the Rams game due to a right ankle issue sustained against the Packers.

"In Trent's mind, there's no way he is not playing," Shanahan said. "That's why he was so crushed last game because he believed he would and his body wouldn't let him.

"Hopefully we'll have some better luck this game. But I know he believes he's playing and so do I, so we'll see how that pans out as the week goes. If he can, he will."

Matthew Stafford revelled in "stealing somebody's soul" after he helped the Los Angeles Rams end the Tamp Bay Buccaneers' playoff hopes.

The Rams prevailed 30-27 over last season's Super Bowl champions on Sunday to reach the NFC Championship game, which will be a matchup between two underdogs after the San Francisco 49ers' win over the Green Bay Packers.

Yet it could very well have gone badly wrong for Los Angeles, who had led 27-3 until a Tom Brady-inspired comeback from the Bucs in the final quarter.

Brady connected with Mike Evans for a 55-yard touchdown pass, with the possibility of a turnaround that would rank as the joint-fourth largest in postseason history coming into view.

Evans' score made the game 27-20 and another Rams mistake allowed the Bucs to level the scores through Leonard Fournette.

Yet Stafford had other ideas, with the 33-year-old – who joined from the Detroit Lions ahead of this season – combining with wide receiver Cooper Kupp to set up a Matt Gray field goal.

"In my mind, I live for those kinds of moments," said Stafford, who has now made 43 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime. That is the most of any player since the QB first featured in the NFL in 2009.

"I would have loved to have been taking a knee up three scores, but it's a whole lot more fun when you've got to make a play like that to win the game and just steal somebody's soul.

"That's what it feels like sometimes where they're sitting there going, 'Man, we just had this great comeback.' And you get to reach in there and take it from them. That's a whole lot of fun."

Stafford threw for 366 yards against Tampa Bay, a high mark for the season, besting his previous high of 365 set against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 5 and bringing up the third-highest yardage in a single postseason game in Rams history.

He also threw for two touchdowns, rushed another and registered a pass completion rate of 73.7 per cent, finding his target with 28 of 38 attempts.

One of those touchdown passes was a 70-yard combination with Kupp, who led the way in the regular season for receiving yards (1,947), receiving touchdowns (16) and receptions (145).

However, Kupp was not happy with how the Rams' offense performed in the midst of Tampa Bay’s fightback.

"As an offense, we first and foremost did a terrible job of executing for this team in the second half," Kupp said.

"We can't do the things that we did. Put our defense, our team in a really bad spot."

Yet head coach Sean McVay was happy to reflect on a thrilling win, saying: "That's why you play four quarters and try to finish that game out.

"That was something else. That was something else.

"Those guys did a great job. I thought Matthew Stafford was unbelievable throughout the whole day. Just his poise, his command, his decision-making."

Tom Brady declined to discuss his playing future amid retirement talk after almost pulling off a miracle comeback as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers crashed out of the NFL playoffs.

The Bucs trailed 27-3 but fought back to level the game in the final quarter before eventually losing 30-27 to the Los Angeles Rams in Sunday's Divisional playoff.

Brady threw a spectacular pass for Mike Evans for a 55-yard touchdown to make it 27-20 in the fourth quarter.

Tampa Bay's exit comes amid growing speculation about the 44-year-old quarterback's future, with one year remaining on his Bucs contract.

"I haven’t put a lot of thought into it. Just take it day-by-day and see where we’re at,” Brady told reporters after the game.

Brady added: "The truth of it is I'm only thinking about this game. I'm not thinking about anything past five minutes from now."

Tampa Bay head coach Bruce Arians offered no insight into the situation either, stating "that's up to Tom" when pressed on the issue.

Brady completed 30 of 54 attempts for 329 yards and one touchdown in Sunday's defeat. The seven-time Super Bowl champion had a 67.5 percent completion rate for a career-high 5,316 yards with 43 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season.

The Bucs had entered the playoffs as the NFC's second seed but fell short after going all the way last season as fifth seeds.

"Always tough losing at the end of the year," Brady said.

"Obviously we showed a lot of fight but at the end of the day when you lose a game, you lose a game."

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