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The Sports Report: Rams clinch playoff spot with win over Vikings

Brandon Powell runs from Minnesota's Blake Lynch during a 61-yard punt return for a touchdown.
(Bruce Kluckhohn / Associated Press)

Howdy, I’m your host, Houston Mitchell. Let’s get right to the news.

Gary Klein on the Rams: Brandon Powell cemented his status as an integral member of the team, returning a punt for a game-turning 61-yard touchdown that propelled the Rams to a playoff-clinching 30-23 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.

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Afterward, Powell clutched a game ball from a victory that improved the Rams’ record to 11-4 and put them in control of the NFC West.

“I’ll probably go to sleep with it,” Powell said. “That hotel gets kind of lonely. So, I’m going to probably be sleeping with this tonight.”

The Rams were resting easy after Sony Michel rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown, and Matthew Stafford overcame three interceptions to pass for a touchdown as the Rams extended their winning streak to four games.

Matt Gay kicked three field goals and Travin Howard intercepted a pass as the Rams clinched their fourth playoff appearance in five seasons under coach Sean McVay.

After a winless November, the Rams completed December unbeaten.

“That says as much about this group as you need to know,” McVay said. “But we’ve got to keep it rolling.”

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Offensive line embraces change: Takeaways from Rams’ win over Vikings

Rams’ 30-23 road victory over Minnesota Vikings by the numbers

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CHARGERS

Jeff Miller on the Chargers: On a day when other teams clinched division titles and playoff berths, the Chargers lost as nearly two-touchdown favorites to a three-win opponent ravaged by COVID-19.

Of course, the Chargers were missing 13 of their players because of the virus, but that fact offered scant consolation in the aftermath of a bitter defeat in the NFL’s Backup Bowl.

Houston’s 41-29 victory was an indictment of the entire franchise on a day when the Chargers fumbled away control of their postseason fate.

“I just didn’t coach well enough today,” Brandon Staley said. “I didn’t coach well enough, didn’t put our guys in good enough positions to be consistent in the game, and that’s why we lost.”

Said rookie Pro Bowl left tackle Rashawn Slater, “It sucks, you know, to be frank.”

In losing their second in a row, the Chargers fell to 8-7. They slipped outside the AFC playoff picture after beginning the day as the No. 6 seed.

And they didn’t just lose to the previously 3-11 Texans; they were soundly beaten by them.

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Chargers takeaways: Justin Herbert’s turnovers prove costly in loss to Texans

Chargers’ 41-29 road loss to the Houston Texans by the numbers

NFL Week 16: Buccaneers rout Panthers to take NFC South title

KINGS/DUCKS

Helene Elliott on the Kings and Ducks: The Kings placed forward Dustin Brown and defenseman Olli Maatta into the NHL’s protocols and activated defenseman Drew Doughty from the non-roster/COVID-19 list on Sunday, the first day teams were allowed to practice since the league moved up the start of its holiday break to Dec. 22. Additionally, Kings assistant coach Marco Sturm and several members of their training staff have been sidelined. The NHL is scheduled to resume play on Tuesday.

Also on Sunday, the Ducks placed left wing Max Comtois, center Sam Steel, and a staff member in the league’s protocols. As of Sunday the NHL had postponed 64 games. It also pulled players out of the Beijing Olympics and will reschedule some of the postponed games between Feb. 6 and Feb. 22, when play was to have been paused for the Games.

In deference to teams being left shorthanded by COVID, the NHL will allow teams to have a taxi squad of up to six players and will allow them to make emergency recalls from the minor leagues if they otherwise couldn’t ice a full lineup of 18 skaters. Emergency recalls can be made of players whose salary cap hit is up to $1 million.

CLIPPERS

Andrew Greif on the Clippers: Life without Paul George is nothing new for the Clippers. The difference now is that it is lasting: At least three weeks of rest ahead before the torn ligament in his right elbow is re-evaluated, not counting the time needed, should he be medically cleared, to ramp up his conditioning for a return to the court.

In the interim, reinforcements are coming. But undoubtedly, so are more performances like Sunday’s 103-100 loss to Denver inside Crypto.com Arena, a game in which the Clippers flashed the requisite components they will need to survive until possibly February without their all-star wing and leading scorer, while also revealing once again the slim margins they are dealing with because of a short-handed roster.

At times, by moving the ball to assist on 12 of their first 13 baskets, or fighting back from a 17-point second-half deficit to lead entering the fourth quarter, the Clippers’ showed a deep reserve of defense and energy, examples of why coach Tyronn Lue said before tipoff that even missing three starters, “I still feel confident that we got a lot in this locker room and we can still get it done.”

But their dearth of scoring options without George – plus forward Marcus Morris Sr. and guard Reggie Jackson – also doomed them against the Nuggets, including a seven-minute span between field goals in the fourth quarter that saw whatever control they had regained during their third-quarter onslaught lost in the final minutes.

No one is feeling sorry for the Clippers, who fell to 17-15, on the Nuggets’ sideline. Nearly half of Denver’s regular roster isn’t available but they have stayed afloat because they have the one player who truly matters. Reigning most valuable player Nikola Jokic scored 26 points, with 22 rebounds and eight assists and seemingly countered whatever intercepted passes he threw with brilliant reads for assists to teammates’ backdoor cuts.

THIS DATE IN SPORTS

1953 — The Detroit Lions edge the Cleveland Browns 17-16 for the NFL championship. Doak Walker’s extra point, after a 33-yard scoring pass, is the difference.

1959 — The Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants 31-16 in the NFL championship. Three field goals by Pat Summerall give the Giants a 9-7 lead after three periods, but Baltimore’s defensive backfield makes three interceptions that result in scores.

1964 — The Cleveland Browns break out after a scoreless first half with 17 points in the third quarter and go on to beat the Baltimore Colts 27-0 for the NFL title.

1974 — Ohio State junior running back Archie Griffin wins the Heisman Trophy.

1987 — Steve Largent of the Seattle Seahawks becomes the NFL’s all-time reception leader in the Seahawks’ 41-20 loss to Kansas City. Largent’s six catches gives him 752, surpassing the 750 by San Diego’s Charlie Joiner. Gayle Sierens announcing the game for NBC becomes the first female play-by-play announcer in NFL history.

1999 — Joe Sakic scores his 1,000th career point on a second-period assist, helping the Colorado Avalanche to a 5-1 win over the St. Louis Blues.

2000 — Mario Lemieux makes a remarkable comeback after 3½ years of retirement, scoring a goal and assisting on two others — one on his first pass on his first shift, no less — as the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-0.

2005 — Rudy Carpenter passes for 467 yards and four touchdowns as Arizona State holds off Rutgers for a wild 45-40 victory in the Insight Bowl. The teams combine for 1,210 yards, a record for any bowl game.

2008 — Pat White, the most prolific running quarterback in college football history, has the best passing game of his career to lead West Virginia to a 31-30 victory over North Carolina in the Meineke Bowl. The senior is voted MVP of a bowl for the third straight year and finishes 4-0 in postseason games, the first quarterback to do so.

2010 — Niklas Kronwall scores the game-winner with 1:18 remaining in overtime and Chris Osgood stops a season-high 46 shots in the Detroit Red Wings’ 4-3 victory over the Colorado Avalanche to become the 10th goalie in NHL history to reach 400 wins.

2015 — Carolina’s bid for an undefeated season ends when Julio Jones’ dramatic 70-yard touchdown reception powered the Atlanta Falcons to a 20-13 victory over Cam Newton and the 14-1 Panthers.

2015 — Kansas City beat Cleveland 17-13 for its ninth consecutive victory and clinches a playoff spot when Pittsburgh loses to Baltimore. The Chiefs and 1986 Jets are the only teams in NFL history with a nine-game win streak and five-game losing streak in the same season.

Supplied by the Associated Press

And finally

Steve Largent sets the NFL career receptions record. Watch and listen here.

Until next time...

That concludes today’s newsletter. If you have any feedback, ideas for improvement or things you’d like to see, email me at houston.mitchell@latimes.com, and follow me on Twitter at @latimeshouston. To get this newsletter in your inbox, click here.


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