Rams dominate in 34-11 wild-card playoff win over Arizona Cardinals

Rams running back Cam Akers breaks a tackle against the Cardinals in the first quarter.
Rams running back Cam Akers breaks a tackle against the Cardinals in the first quarter of the Rams’ 34-11 wild-card playoff win at SoFi Stadium on Monday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Matthew Stafford passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns and the Rams’ defense puts on a stellar display in a 34-11 playoff win over the Cardinals.

Rams cruise to victory over the Arizona Cardinals in wild-card playoffs

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford waves to fans after defeating the Arizona Cardinals.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford waves to fans after defeating the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL wild-card playoffs Monday at SoFi Stadium.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The pressure came from all angles.

Up the middle. Off the edges. From both areas at the same time.

The Rams defense did not wait to see whether the offense could avoid turnovers in an NFC wild-card playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night.

Instead, lineman Aaron Donald and linebacker Von Miller led a unit that swarmed Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, forced two turnovers and completely dominated in a 34-11 victory before 70,625 at SoFi Stadium.

The Rams intercepted two passes — one that cornerback David Long Jr. returned for a touchdown — and punter Johnny Hekker recaptured his All-Pro form and consistently pinned the Cardinals, making it easy for Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford to record his first playoff victory.

“That was exactly what we wanted to be able to do,” coach Sean McVay said of his team’s complete performance.

Rams outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (54) celebrates with defensive tackle Marquise Copeland.
Rams outside linebacker Leonard Floyd (54) celebrates with defensive tackle Marquise Copeland (93) after defensive stop late against the Arizona Cardinals.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

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Matt Gay kicks another field goal to pad the Rams’ insurmountable lead

Rams 34, Cardinals 11 — 4:21 in the fourth quarter

Matt Gay kicked his second field goal of the fourth quarter, splitting the uprights on a 46-yard try to increase the Rams’ lead.


Matt Prater kicks 55-yard field goal for Cardinals

Rams 31, Cardinals 11 — 10:11 left in the fourth quarter

Matt Prater kicked a 55-yard field goal to cut into the Rams’ lead after an Arizona holding penalty on fourth down negated a potential first-down catch by Christian Kirk.

The Rams’ defense has been the star of the game so far, holding Arizona quarterback Kyler Murray to 17-of-29 passing for 118 yards and zero touchdowns along with two interceptions.


Rams extend lead on a Matt Gay field goal

Rams 31, Cardinals 8 — 14:55 left in the fourth quarter

Matt Gay kicked a 37-yard field goal on the opening play of the fourth quarter to further extend the Rams’ lead.

The field goal came at the end of a seven-play, 50-yard drive.


Budda Baker stretchered off after making contact with Cam Akers

Cardinals safety Budda Baker was taken off the field on a stretcher after colliding with Rams running back Cam Akers on a play late in the third quarter. Players on both teams got into a brief scuffle after Akers made a gesture while walking away from Baker, but Akers was among the players shown taking a knee on the field as medical personnel attended to Baker.

TV replays showed Baker moving his hands and arm as he was taken off the field before being loaded onto an ambulance. ESPN’s Lisa Salters reported Baker was moving his hands and talking to EMTs.


Cardinals find the end zone on James Conner TD run

Rams 28, Cardinals 8 — 4:11 left in the third quarter

Running back James Conner scored on a two-yard carry to finally get the Arizona Cardinals onto the scoreboard. Kyler Murray then found Antoine Wesley in the end zone on a two-point conversion attempt.

The Cardinals finally got into the red zone nearly 40 minutes into the game when Christian Kirk caught a 23-yard pass. An unnecessary roughness penalty on Aaron Donald pulled the Cardinals’ to the Rams’ seven-yard line.


Odell Beckham completes 40-yard pass, setting up Cooper Kupp TD

Rams 28, Cardinals 0 — 10:36 left in the third quarter

Cooper Kupp scored on a seven-yard pass from Matthew Stafford to further extend the Rams sizeable lead early in the third quarter.

The touchdown pass came two plays after Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. completed a 40-yard pass to Cam Akers for the biggest play of the game so far.

Coach Kliff Kingsbury and the Cardinals will have to pull off one of the greatest comebacks in NFL playoff history to have a shot at playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional-round playoffs next week.


David Long Jr. scores on pick-six to give Rams a 21-0 halftime lead

Rams cornerback David Long Jr., top, celebrates with cornerback Donte' Deayon.
Rams cornerback David Long Jr., top, celebrates with cornerback Donte’ Deayon after scoring on an interception return in the second quarter against the Cardinals.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Rams 21, Cardinals 0 — halftime

Rams cornerback David Long Jr. scored on an interception off a last-gasp hurl by Kyler Murray as the quarterback was about to be tackled for a safety, giving the Rams a three-touchdown lead going into halftime.

Linebacker Troy Reeder was about to tackle Murray for a safety when the Arizona quarterback flung the ball toward wide receiver Rondale Moore. Long then ran forward and grabbed the ball around the three-yard line, entering the end zone a second later for the shortest pick-six in NFL playoff history. The touchdown came with 7:59 left in the first half.

The touchdown came one play after a 22-yard pass to A.J. Green was overturned on a call challenged by Rams coach Sean McVay.

On the Cardinals’ ensuing possession, Rams defensive lineman Marquise Copeland intercepted Murray on a deflected pass intended for James Conner, adding Arizona’s misery and the Rams’ jubilation.

The Rams have held the Cardinals to three first downs and 40 total yards. Murray has completed seven of 17 passes for 28 yards and two interceptions.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford has completed six of nine passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. Sony Michel has 44 yards on seven carries and Odell Beckham Jr. has caught thee passes for 52 yards.


Rams extend lead on Matthew Stafford QB keeper TD

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, middle, scores a touchdown.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford scores a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals in the first half.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Rams 14, Cardinals 0 — 11:58 left in the second quarter

Matthew Stafford scored on a one-yard quarterback keeper up the middle to help extend the Rams’ lead. The touchdown came three plays after Stafford found Odell Beckham Jr. streaking down the sideline for a 31-yard pass to the Arizona two-yard line.

It was Stafford’s first rushing touchdown since 2016.

The Cardinals’ third possession went nowhere. Von Miller sacked Kyler Murray on second down before an illegal forward pass by Christian Kirk on third down led to Arizona’s third consecutive three-and-out.


Rams take 7-0 lead on Odell Beckham Jr. touchdown catch

Rams 7, Cardinals 0 — 3:50 left in first quarter

Matthew Stafford connected on a four-yard touchdown pass to Odell Beckham Jr. to help give the Rams the early lead.

Beckham won his one-on-one matchup with Marco Wilson, jumping over the safety and keeping his feet in the far corner of the end zone.

A 22-yard catch by Tyler Higbee and a 17-yard catch by Beckham helped fuel the 10-play, 52-yard drive to the end zone — the Rams’ second possession of the contest. Cam Akers had four carries on the drive.

Sony Michel busted out a 35-yard run on the first snap from scrimmage for the Rams, but it was all for naught, though, when they punted five plays later after a false start and a sack on Matthew Stafford.

Eric Weddle, who came out of retirement to re-join the Rams’ secondary, and Cardinals linebacker J.J. Watt, who missed most of the season with a shoulder injury, each saw playing time early in the first quarter.

The Rams have put plenty of pressure on Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, with Arizona going three-and-out on its first two possessions.


Rams and Cardinals ‘ready to rumble’ as wild-card game kicks off

Just before the opening kickoff, Michael Buffer made sure the first playoff game in SoFi Stadium history got the heavyweight title fight treatment.


How is Cam Akers even playing? The major factors that sped up his Achilles recovery

Rams running back Cam Akers evades a tackle by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw.
Rams running back Cam Akers evades a tackle by San Francisco 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw during the Rams’ overtime loss Jan. 9.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

The Hail Mary was caught in the end zone. The hook and ladder resulted in a touchdown.

Cam Akers is back.

Instead of the standard nine months to a year, Akers returned from a torn right Achilles in less than six months, in time for the Rams’ postseason opener on Monday against the Arizona Cardinals at SoFi Stadium.

The same Los Angeles-based surgeon who extended Tom Brady’s career might have salvaged the Rams’ season. Neal ElAttrache of the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic Clinic improved a procedure he once used to repair Kobe Bryant’s tendon to ensure the dramatic return of the pass-catching running back.

As miraculous as this feels, ElAttrache insisted there was nothing supernatural about Akers’ comeback.

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Matthew Stafford and Sean McVay bear the brunt of Rams’ playoff pressure

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) stands on the field before a loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Jan. 9.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

He is spectacular and terrible. He inspires and infuriates. He thrills and taunts.

He is a quarterback who leads the Rams amid great suspense, their fate resting on shoulders that might steel or slump, everybody cautious, nobody certain, and all of it very familiar.

A year ago, this was Jared Goff.

Today, this is Matthew Stafford.

You’re kidding, right?

The Rams traded two first-round picks and a third-round pick for a quarterback who enters the postseason in the same pickle that pretty much described the career of the previous Rams quarterback?

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Cam Akers, Eric Weddle are another generation of help for Rams in playoffs

Rams safety Eric Weddle is back on the roster for the team's playoff showdown against the Cardinals.
(Kelvin Kuo / Associated Press)

The Rams have yet to take a playoff snap but it’s already a postseason of comebacks.

Safety Eric Weddle, who came out of retirement this week, and running back Cam Akers, who recovered from July Achilles surgery and played in the season finale, are poised to help the Rams when they play the Arizona Cardinals in an NFC wild-card game on Monday night at SoFi Stadium.

It might be tempting to dub them comeback kids were Weddle and Akers both in their 20s.

But Weddle, a six-time Pro Bowl player who played the last of his 13 NFL seasons with the Rams in 2019, is 37. Akers is 22.

“It’s crazy to say this,” Weddle said Thursday during a videoconference, “but it’s as if I never left.”

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Von Miller takes aim at Super Bowl run: Rams ‘brought me here for the playoffs’

Rams outside linebacker Von Miller (40) celebrates after a play against the San Francisco 49ers on Jan. 9.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

As kickoff neared before Super Bowl 50, Von Miller quietly prepared while a boisterous teammate stalked the Denver Broncos locker room.

“Who ready?” cornerback Aqib Talib repeatedly asked. “Who scared?”

Talib went from locker to locker. He stared into the eyes of every player, posing his questions like a mantra as the Broncos readied to play the Carolina Panthers.

When Talib approached the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Miller, the outside linebacker calmly turned and locked eyes with Talib.

“What do you see?” Miller asked.

Six years later, Talib vividly remembers.

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Here are the inactives for the Rams and Cardinals

Here’s a look at the players who will not be suiting up for the Rams and Cardinals in Monday’s wild-card game:


Shut up and run: Eric Dickerson on the history he made and the hurt that came with it

Rams running back Eric Dickerson carries the ball as San Francisco 49ers linebacker Mike Walter tries to tackle him.
Rams running back Eric Dickerson carries the ball as San Francisco 49ers linebacker Mike Walter tries to tackle him at Candlestick Park on Dec. 14, 1984.
(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

Three years into his NFL career, Eric Dickerson set the rookie rushing record (1,808 yards in 1983), the single-season rushing mark (2,105 yards in ’84) and helped lead the Rams to the NFC Championship game (‘85). Beneath the veneer of those accomplishments was an athlete at war with the power dynamic that remains at the heart of the NFL story nearly four decades later. In this excerpt from his forthcoming memoir, “Watch My Smoke,” written with Greg Hanlon, Dickerson revisits the stalemate that would mark the beginning of the end of his relationship with his first NFL team.

I don’t remember the hit, but I remember lying on the field. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t even move a limb.

Then I was in a wheelchair. People would visit me, with sad, pitying looks on their faces. One minute, they’d wanted to be like me. Now they felt sorry for me.

It was the most terrifying dream I’d ever had. I think it was my junior year of college at Southern Methodist when I had it. Ever since I started playing football, I’d been afraid of getting paralyzed on the field. But that dream made the fear worse. After that, the fear popped into my head every couple of months. As the years went by, it took more and more effort to push it to the back of my mind.

I once told a writer from Sports Illustrated that football isn’t a game, it’s a business. Scrabble is a game, I told him, because you can’t break your neck playing Scrabble. In football, it only takes one play. Every week, you’ll see that guy writhing on the ground whose career — or even life — is never gonna be the same. As a player, it’s not a question of whether that’s gonna be you one day. It’s only a question of when it’s gonna happen, and how bad it’s gonna be.

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New aim for All-Pros Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, Cooper Kupp: Rams playoff stars

Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald runs onto the field at SoFi Stadium.
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald runs onto the field at SoFi Stadium before a game against the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 21.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

The Rams apparently cannot stop collecting star players to fulfill a mandate to play in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium.

It started in January when they traded for Matthew Stafford. It continued in November when they traded for linebacker Von Miller and signed free agent receiver Odell Beckham Jr. This week, they coaxed safety Eric Weddle out of retirement.

Those players were added to a foundation of established and emerging stars.

On Friday, defensive lineman Aaron Donald, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and receiver Cooper Kupp were announced as part of the All-Pro team selected by the Associated Press. A 50-member nationwide panel of media members who regularly cover the NFL participate in the balloting.

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Matthew Stafford not the only Rams star seeking first playoff win

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford gestures before taking a snap against the San Francisco 49ers on Dec. 9.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

His NFL resume includes nearly 50,000 yards passing, dozens of comeback victories and a selection to the Pro Bowl.

But Matthew Stafford has never won a playoff game.

In 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions, Stafford was 0-3 in postseason games, his last appearance coming in 2016.

On Monday night, Stafford continues his quest for a playoff victory when the Rams play the Arizona Cardinals in an NFC wild-card game at SoFi Stadium.

“There’s no question that in the playoffs it’s win and continue, lose and go home,” Stafford said. “Not oblivious to that.

“But the biggest thing for me is to try to be the best version of myself for this team and let the chips fall where they may.”

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Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals matchups, start time and how to watch

SoFi Stadium in Inglewood will host its first NFL postseason game Monday night.
SoFi Stadium in Inglewood will host its first NFL postseason game Monday night when the Rams play the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC wild-card playoffs.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Breaking down how the Rams (12-5) and the Arizona Cardinals (11-6) match up heading into their game at 5:15 PST on Monday at SoFi Stadium. The game will be shown on ABC and ESPN.

When Rams have the ball: Matthew Stafford enters the playoffs coming off an up-and-down performance in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Stafford has passed for 41 touchdowns with 17 interceptions, which are tied for the most in the NFL. Stafford played through a toe injury against the 49ers and said this week it was not an issue.

Sony Michel has been the top running back, but coach Sean McVay is expected to give Cam Akers more opportunities in his second game since returning from Achilles surgery. Receiver Cooper Kupp was a unanimous selection to the All-Pro team after catching a league-leading 145 passes for 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Van Jefferson, who has six touchdown catches, was limited during practice because of a shoulder injury and is listed as questionable, but he will play.

Odell Beckham Jr. has five touchdown catches. Tight end Tyler Higbee did not play in the Rams’ 30-23 victory over the Cardinals because he was on the reserve/COVID-19 list. He has five touchdown catches.

Safety Budda Baker and linebacker Isaiah Simmons are key players for the Cardinals defense. It remains to be seen whether lineman J.J. Watt is activated for the game after returning from shoulder surgery.

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Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals: Betting odds, lines, picks and predictions

Arizona Cardinals at Rams (-4, 49½); 5:15 p.m. PST, ABC, ESPN

The rubber match between the Rams and Arizona Cardinals will decide who goes home and who goes to the NFC divisional round of the playoffs. After splitting the two regular-season meetings, both teams lost in Week 18, which allowed the Rams to back into the NFC West title and host this week’s playoff game.

The road team won both games during the regular season, so many will scoff at the notion of home-field advantage, but ask any coach or player and they’d say that hosting the game is preferred to sleeping in a hotel and dealing with the opposing fans. The Rams get that chance. Let’s see if they make the most of it in the first “Monday Night Football” wild-card playoff game.

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