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Rams end interception drought in style

Rams end interception drought in style
Inside linebacker Alec Ogletree of the Rams flips into the end zone during a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter. (Norm Hall / Getty Images)

Alec Ogletree approached the goal line after intercepting a pass and then punctuated the takeaway with a front flip into the end zone.

It was a highlight-reel play by the Rams linebacker in a 32-16 road victory Sunday over the Arizona Cardinals.

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It was also one of two Rams interceptions in a win that secured the franchise's first winning season since 2003.

Ogletree appeared to land awkwardly on his right side. He was later sidelined because of an elbow injury.

After the game, neither coach Sean McVay nor Ogletree provided a prognosis.

But Ogletree was eager to tell reporters, with his left elbow wrapped in ice, that that he did not injure himself during his haphazard celebration.

"It wasn't on the touchdown," Ogletree said, adding that the flip was a last-second decision. "The next series it was on the tackle and a guy hit on it, a little friendly fire."

Safety Lamarcus Joyner also intercepted a pass — on the Cardinals' first play of the game — as the defense ended a minor interception drought.

The Rams went into the game ranked among the NFL leaders with 19 takeaways, but they had not intercepted a pass since a victory over the Houston Texans in Week 10, when linebacker Mark Barron and defensive back Blake Countess each had one.

After last week's victory over the New Orleans Saints, several defensive backs sat in the locker room feeling frustrated after failing to secure multiple interceptions.

By the end of the first quarter Sunday, Joyner and Ogletree both created turnovers.

Joyner saw the ball coming the entire way as Cardinals quarterback Blaine Gabbert rolled to his right and lofted a pass down the field.

Joyner picked it off and returned it 46 yards, setting up a touchdown.

"To come into a tough division opponent like the Arizona Cardinals with a chip on their shoulders … and to get a momentum swing like that in the game is always huge," Joyner said.

Joyner, who is tied for the team lead with three interceptions, credited cornerback Kayvon Webster for "great communication" on the first play.

"He kind of gave me the signal that it was coming," said Joyner, who also deflected three passes, "and I kind of read the quarterback with his own eyes and shot my gun and made a play on the ball."

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Ogletree intercepted a pass by Gabbert later in the quarter and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown, giving the Rams a 16-0 lead.

"I kind of pulled out of the rush and saw him just kind of palming the ball and he actually threw it," Ogletree said. "I jumped up and kind of tipped it to myself to catch it and looked around and saw the open area and just took off running."

The interception was Ogletree's first of the season and his second interception returned for a touchdown in his career.

Ogletree, who signed a four-year, $42 million contract extension in October, initially tried to play through the injury, but the Cardinals took advantage.

Gabbert and running backs Kerwynn Williams and Elijhaa Penny strung together a nine-play, 67-yard scoring drive up the middle of the field.

"I wish I didn't go back out there because I didn't feel like I was any good," said Ogletree, who finished with a tackle and a deflected pass. "They definitely were running right at me."

Said coach Sean McVay: "He was kind of just protecting himself and we had to do a good job trying to protect him and make sure we got him out."

Bryce Hager, a third-year pro, took over. The Cardinals ran in Hager's direction on an ensuing six-play, 70-yard scoring drive, to make it a three-point game.

Hager, who also had to take over communication for the defense, finished with a tackle, deflected pass and quarterback hit.

"He got the calls, got the communication, and handled it the right way," McVay said, adding, "Bryce did a good job filling in and hopefully we'll be able to get Alec back."

Hager said he was prepared to step in since spending more than two seasons as a backup.

"You've got to prepare like you're a starter," Hager said. "You don't know when the opportunity is going to be."

The Rams also played without linebacker Connor Barwin, who underwent forearm surgery after suffering an injury against the Saints.

Rookie Samson Ebukam, a fourth-round pick from Eastern Washington, made his first start and finished with five tackles.

"He continued to show up down-in and down-out," McVay said.

Follow Lindsey Thiry on Facebook and Twitter @LindseyThiry

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