Sean McVay celebrates birthday with wish to keep working … two more games

Sean McVay celebrates birthday with wish to keep working … two more games

Five years ago, on Jan. 12, 2017, the Rams hired then-30-year-old Sean McVay, making him the youngest coach in modern NFL history.

On Monday, McVay celebrated his 36th birthday by beginning to prepare for the NFC championship game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

“I feel really grateful for these five years,” McVay said during a videoconference with reporters. “Has it accelerated my aging? Yes. It’s like dog years, but I’ve loved every second of it.

“But I definitely feel like I’ve aged more than five years over the last handful of seasons.”

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The Rams were on the verge of taking years off McVay when they lost four fumbles and blew a 24-point lead in a divisional-round playoff game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday in Tampa, Fla. But Matthew Stafford’s long pass to Cooper Kupp set up Matt Gay’s game-winning field goal for a 30-27 victory over Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champions.

The win put the Rams back in the NFC championship game for the first time since 2018, when McVay led his team to Super Bowl LIII. McVay has a 55-26 record in the regular season, 5-3 in the playoffs.

“I’m very refreshed,” McVay said when asked how old he felt. “If you said, ‘What’s the birthday present I wanted?’ It’s to be able to still keep working.”

Now, to fulfill their mandate to play in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium, McVay must figure a way to get past the 49ers and coach Kyle Shanahan, his friend, mentor and nemesis who has no doubt accelerated McVay’s aging process.

The Rams have not defeated the 49ers since 2018, a streak of six games.

In November, the Rams lost to the 49ers, 31-10, at Levi’s Stadium. In the season-finale on Jan. 9, the Rams blew a 17-point lead and lost in overtime, 27-24, at SoFi Stadium.

So why have the Rams not been able to get over the hump against their NFC West rival?

“The simple answer is they’re a really good team,” McVay said. “Those previous matchups they found a way to get it done. … But you’re not going to get any excuses out of me.

“They’ve done a great job, they found a way to win. … We’ve got to do a great job of playing our best ball for a full four quarters, and if we need another extra quarter to do that, then so be it.”

The 49ers advanced to the NFC championship by defeating the top-seeded Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. That enabled the fourth-seeded Rams to host the championship game.

 Rams coach Sean McVay enters the field before the NFC divisional playoff game in Tampa.

Rams coach Sean McVay would like to be walking onto a football field for two more games.

(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“Before the game, we were like, ‘The stars are all aligned for us to go back and play the 49ers at SoFi,’ ” offensive lineman Joe Noteboom said Monday. “We wouldn’t want anything else.

“They’ve beaten us the last handful of times, so we need to go in there and get a win on them. … Everyone’s excited to go out there and give it a shot.”

Noteboom started at left tackle in place of injured Andrew Whitworth, and he was among the unheralded players who made significant contributions against the Buccaneers.

Reserve tight end Kendall Blanton, an undrafted free agent who spent most of his three seasons with the Rams on the practice squad, caught his first touchdown pass.

“Just that moment like in the playoffs against Tom Brady, the GOAT,” Blanton said. “It still honestly hasn’t like fully kicked in and set in. … I like to act like I’m tough and say I’m not an emotional guy, but you know it got to me a little bit.”

So did a celebratory headbutt from tight end Tyler Higbee. “Everything was a blur after that,” Blanton said.

Blanton had one regret.

“I was just emotional … and gave away the gloves to a fan,” he said.

Safety Nick Scott was in the starting lineup because Jordan Fuller and Taylor Rapp were sidelined because of injuries. Scott intercepted a pass by Brady.

“Any interception is great,” Scott said Monday, adding, “but there definitely is like a little added, I guess pride when you pick off somebody of Tom Brady’s caliber.

“I mean he’s the GOAT. He’s been doing it for a long time. He’s not who he is for throwing interceptions, so any time you can get one off him it’s a something to be proud of.

“So, I was obviously pretty hyped up about that, but ultimately just excited to get a playoff [victory] and help us be in a position to win.”

Etc.

Whitworth (ankle) and Rapp (concussion) are progressing and potentially could play against the 49ers, McVay said. … Linebacker Ernest Jones, activated from injured reserve two weeks ago, could play Sunday, McVay said. Running back Darrell Henderson, defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day and cornerback Robert Rochell, who came off the injured list and began practicing last week, will not be available Sunday, McVay said.

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