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Saturday May 25th, 2019 7:21PM

The Latest: Saints grab early 3-0 lead over Rams

By The Associated Press
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The Latest on the conference championship games (all times EST):

3:15 p.m.

The New Orleans Saints have opened the NFC title game with a field goal after very nearly scoring a touchdown.

Drew Brees converted third-down passes of 9 yards to Ted Ginn and 21 yards to Alvin Kamara to sustain the drive, which stalled when tight end Dan Arnold was unable to hold on to a third-down pass in the back of the end zone.

Wil Lutz came on and connected from 37 yards to give the Saints a 3-0 lead.

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2:15 p.m.

There are no surprises among the Los Angeles Rams' and New Orleans Saints' inactive lists for the NFC championship game.

Both teams came in largely healthy and most of those not in uniform are healthy reserves.

The Saints already had ruled out receiver Keith Kirkwood with a calf injury that sidelined him during practice the past week. Kirkwood's absence comes one week after he caught a critical fourth-and-2 touchdown pass in New Orleans' comeback victory over Philadelphia in the divisional round.

Also scratched from New Orleans' lineup is veteran tight end Ben Watson, who has been ill this week. He is in the Superdome with the Saints and even could be seen stretching on the field, raising his prospects for returning if New Orleans advances to play in the Super Bowl in two weeks.

Los Angeles did not have a single player on its injury reports last week.

Here are the full inactive lists for both teams.

Rams: RB Justin Davis, OL Jamil Demby, OLB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DT Sebastian Joseph-Day, DT Tanzel Smart, DB Darious Williams and OLB Trevon Young.

Saints: TE Ben Watson (illness), WR Keith Kirkwood (calf), DL Tyrunn Walker, OL Will Clapp, LB Manti Te'o, OL Derek Newton and RB Dwayne Washington.

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2 p.m.

The Los Angeles Rams are back inside the stadium where they lost for the first time this season, looking for retribution and a Super Bowl berth as they face the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship game.

The Superdome is coming alive for the last time this football season as predominantly Saints fans arrive for just the second NFC title game to be held at the site of seven Super Bowls.

The previous time the Saints hosted a game this late in a season, they pulled out a hair-raising overtime triumph over Minnesota en route to their first Super Bowl appearance — and championship.

That was the 2009 season. Some nine seasons later, coach Sean Payton and 40-year-old, record-setting quarterback Drew Brees are back with a largely different cast, one victory away from the team's second trip to the NFL's biggest event.

When these teams met in Week 9, running back C.J. Anderson had not yet joined Todd Gurley in the Rams' backfield and Los Angeles cornerback Aqib Talib was not healthy enough to play. Their availability puts the Rams in a stronger position than they were in back on Nov. 4, when they fell to New Orleans 45-35.

This is the first NFC title game for Rams 32-year-old, second-year coach Sean McVay and his 24-year-old quarterback, Jared Goff.

On the AFC side, the New England Patriots are in their eighth consecutive conference championship game and trying to reach the Super Bowl for the fourth time in five seasons and the ninth time overall in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era.

The Kansas City Chiefs, led by quarterback Patrick Mahomes, are hosting the AFC title game for the first time at Arrowhead Stadium, and are trying to get to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1969 season.

One thing that is unusual is that the Patriots are a slight underdog against the top-seeded Chiefs.

"We're going against a team that's the No. 1 seed in the league," Brady said after the team's final practice on Friday. "I'm sure there's a lot of people that are thinking they're going to win. Everyone can have their own opinion. We certainly have an opinion, and we've got to go out there and execute our best in order to accomplish that."

The winners that emerge from the conference championship games will meet in Atlanta on Feb. 3 in the Super Bowl.

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More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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