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Sony Michel rushes for 131 yards as Rams defeat Vikings to clinch playoff berth

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Rams linebacker Travin Howard runs from Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen after intercepting a pass.
Rams linebacker Travin Howard runs from Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen after intercepting a pass during the first half Sunday in Minneapolis.
(Jim Mone / Associated Press)

Sony Michel rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown and the Rams clinched a playoff spot with a 30-23 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

Rams clinch playoff spot with 30-23 win over Vikings

Matthew Stafford throws a pass for the Rams.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford throws a pass during the second half against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday in Minneapolis.
(Bruce Kluckhohn / Associated Press)

MINNEAPOLIS — The Rams clinched a playoff spot and moved into first place in the NFC West with a 30-23 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Sony Michel rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown, Brandon Powell returned a punt for a touchdown and Matthew Stafford overcame three interceptions to pass for a touchdown as the Rams improved their record to 11-4 and 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.

The Arizona Cardinals opened the door by losing to the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday. With two games left against the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, the Rams are positioned to win their first division title since winning back-to-back titles in 2017 and 2018.

The Rams play the Baltimore Ravens next Sunday in Baltimore and conclude the season with a game against the San Francisco 49ers at SoFi Stadium.

The Rams won on Sunday despite having to shuffle their offensive line and Stafford’s uneven performance.

Stafford completed 21 of 37 passes for 197 yards.

Receiver Cooper Kupp caught 10 passes for 109 yards. Odell Beckham Jr. caught a touchdown pass.

The Rams were coming off Tuesday’s victory over the Seattle Seahawks at SoFi Stadium, a game the NFL moved because of a coronavirus outbreak that at one point caused nearly 30 Rams players to be put on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

In the next three days, offensive lineman Rob Havenstein, tight end Tyler Higbee and safety Jordan Fuller returned from the list, which appeared to give McVay a full complement of starters.

But left tackle Andrew Whitworth was placed on the list Saturday morning. Backup Joe Noteboom also is on the list.

So, David Edwards moved from left guard to left tackle and Coleman Shelton started at left guard. When center Brian Allen suffered an injury, Shelton went to center, Edward returned to left guard and Alaric Jackson came on to play left tackle.

Michel rushed for a touchdown and Gay kicked two field goals to help the Rams take a 13-3 lead by halftime.

Vikings safety Xavier Woods intercepted Stafford’s first pass of the second half, but the Rams defense stalled a Vikings drive at midfield.

But on the second play of the ensuing possession, Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr intercepted a pass, setting up a short touchdown run by Alexander Mattison that pulled the Vikings to within 13-10.

Rams punter Johnny Hekker placed a kick deep in Vikings territory, and the Rams defense forced a punt. Powell fielded it and then broke to the right sideline en route to a 61-yard touchdown.

The Vikings added a field goal late in the quarter before the Rams began a scoring drive that culminated with Stafford’s seven-yard touchdown pass to Beckham early in the fourth quarter for a 27-13 lead.

Kirk Cousins answered by engineering a 75-yard drive that he capped with a touchdown pass to K.J. Osborn to trim the lead to seven points.

Gay added another field goal for the Rams with just more than two minutes remaining.

A Vikings field goal with 32 seconds left cut the margin to a touchdown, but the Rams recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock.

Rams linebacker Ernest Jones suffered an ankle injury and running back Darrell Henderson suffered a knee injury.

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Matt Gay kicks third field goal to put Rams up 30-20

Rams 30, Vikings 20…2:05 left

Matt Gay kicked a 24-yard field goal to increase the Rams’ lead back up to 10. It is Gay’s third field goal made of the game.

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Vikings cut Rams’ lead with Kirk Cousins touchdown

Rams 27, Vikings 20…8:21 left

Kirk Cousins found K.J. Osborn for a six-yard touchdown pass to complete a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive.

Cousins has completed 24 of 33 passes for 253 yards.

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Matthew Stafford connects with Odell Beckham Jr. for Rams touchdown

Rams 27, Vikings 13…11:37 left

Matthew Stafford connected with Odell Beckham Jr. for a seven-yard touchdown to complete a 75-yard scoring drive.

Stafford has completed 18 of 34 passes for 147 yards and a touchdown, with three interceptions.

Beckham has four catches for 37 yards.

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Rams lead Vikings 20-13 at end of third quarter

Rams 20, Vikings 13…End of third quarter

The Rams defense got stout when it needed to.

The Vikings appeared on their way to scoring a touchdown when Kirk Cousins engineered a drive to the Rams’ four-yard line.

But on second down, Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald stopped a run for a two-yard loss. Cousins’ third-down pass was incomplete and the Vikings had to settle for a 24-yard field goal with 1:31 left in the quarter.

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Brandon Powell’s 61-yard punt return for touchdown increase Rams’ lead back to 10

Rams 20, Vikings 10…7:06 left in the third quarter

Brandon Powell returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown to push the Rams’ lead back to 10 points.

The Vikings seemingly had some momentum before Rams punter Johnny Hekker forced them to start a drive at their 12-yard line.

The Rams defense forced a punt and Powell, who was added to the roster a few games ago, fielded it and broke down the right sideline for the touchdown.

Powell had a 14-yard return earlier in the game.

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Vikings take advantage of another Matthew Stafford interception to cut Rams’ lead

Rams 13, Vikings 10… 11:01 left in the third quarter

Matthew Stafford’s mistakes are catching up with the Rams.

Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr got his second interception of the game, setting up a two-yard touchdown run by Alexander Mattison on the next play.

Stafford has had three passes intercepted. He has completed 15 of 28 passes for 120 yards.

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Rams lead, 13-3, at halftime

Rams 13, Vikings 3…. Halftime

Rams kicker Matt Gay kicks a 32-yard field goal.
Rams kicker Matt Gay kicks a 32-yard field goal during the first half against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday in Minneapolis.
(Jim Mone / Associated Press)

Sony Michel rushed for a touchdown and Matt Gay kicked two field goals, the second with 11 seconds left in the second quarter, as the Rams went into halftime with a 10-point lead.

Gay’s second field goal came after the Rams took possession with 2:34 left and drove to the 13-yard line. But three passes by Matthew Stafford fell incomplete, forcing the Rams to settle for the field goal.

Michel has rushed for 67 yards in 11 carries.

Stafford has completed 15 of 25 passes for 120 yards, with an interception. At least two other possible interceptions were dropped by the Vikings.

Rams receiver Cooper Kupp has six catches for 51 yards.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has completed 11 of 16 passes for 89 yards, with an interception.

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Vikings intercept Matthew Stafford, get on board with field goal

Rams 10, Vikings 3…2:34 left in the second quarter

It could have been worse.

Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr intercepted a pass by Matthew Stafford with about four minutes left and returned it to the Rams’ 11-yard line.

Greg Gaines sacked Kirk Cousin for a seven-yard loss, and the Vikings had to settle for Greg Joseph’s 21-yard field goal.

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Matt Gay kicks 32-yard field goal to increase Rams’ lead 10-0

Rams 10, Vikings 0…6:37 left in the second quarter

Matt Gay kicked a 32-yard field goal, making him 29 of 30 this season.

The Rams scored despite losing another offensive lineman.

Center Brian Allen was assisted off the field because of a knee injury and is questionable to return.

That caused another ripple effect in the line.

Coleman Shelton switched from left guard to center. David Edwards, who had started at left tackle, moved to left guard, and Alaric Jackson came in to play left tackle.

Running back Sony Michel has rushed for 65 yards in 10 carries.

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Travin Howard’s interception at end zone helps Rams hold 7-0 lead at end of first quarter

Rams 7, Vikings 0…end of first quarter

Rams linebacker Travin Howard, who came off injured reserve before Tuesday’s victory over the Seattle Seahawks, thwarted a Vikings threat when he intercepted a pass in the end zone with 17 seconds left in the quarter.

Howard came into the game only moments before to replace rookie linebacker Ernest Jones, who was assisted off the field because of an apparent leg injury.

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Rams score first with Sony Michel touchdown

Rams 7, Vikings 0…7:13 left in the first quarter

Running back Sony Michel capped a 12-play, 70-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run to give the Rams the early lead.

The Rams survived a couple of near miscues to complete the drive. Quarterback Matthew Stafford’s first pass was nearly intercepted and Stafford fumbled a fourth-down snap before rushing for a first down.

Stafford’s 19-yard completion to receiver Cooper Kupp was a key play, as was tight end Tyler Higbee’s 11-yard gain on a screen pass.

Michel gained 22 yards in five carries.

Stafford completed four of five passes for 39 yards.

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Rams, Vikings inactives

The Rams have listed quarterback Bryce Perkins and running back Cam Akers among the inactives against the Minnesota Vikings:

The Vikings have listed wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette inactive against the Rams:

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Rams’ David Edwards, Coleman Shelton listed as starters against Vikings

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford walks off the field with offensive tackle David Edwards.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford walks off the field with offensive tackle David Edwards after a loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 3 at SoFi Stadium.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

On Friday, after getting tight end Tyler Higbee and safety Jordan Fuller back from the reserve/COVID-19 list, Rams coach Sean McVay thought his team would be traveling to Minnesota with a full complement of starters.

But starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Saturday, joining back-up Joe Noteboom.

So left guard David Edwards is listed as the starting at left tackle, with Coleman Shelton listed as the starting left guard against a Vikings defense that leads the NFL with 44 sacks.

Edwards, a third-year pro, played tackle in college at Wisconsin. He was on the field early at U.S. Bank Stadium working on his footwork.

The 6-foot-6, 305-pound Edwards became a starting guard seven games into his rookie season.

Rams center Coleman Shelton wears a hat in honor of Crucial Catch.
Rams center Coleman Shelton wears a hat in honor of Crucial Catch during the second half against the Chicago Bears on Oct. 26, 2020 at SoFi Stadium.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

For Shelton, it marks the third time in four games he has stepped into an important role.

One play into the Rams’ victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Shelton replaced injured Brian Allen. He started the next game against the Arizona Cardinals.

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NFL roundtable: Why Rams, Chargers must win last three games

Rams coach Sean McVay walks off the field after a win over the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 21.
(Kevork Djansezian / Associated Press)

The Chargers and Rams are very much in the thick of the playoff races, and the Rams still have a good chance to win the NFC West and earn a home playoff game. They have three difficult opponents to go, however, and the first two are on the road. The Chargers close with two division games after a trip to Houston. With three weeks remaining in the regular season, Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller, Rams beat writer Gary Klein, Los Angeles Times NFL writer Sam Farmer and columnist Dylan Hernandez discuss what has happened and prospects ahead.

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Rams’ Cam Akers returns to practice, but when he plays is uncertain

Rams running back Cam Akers stands on the field during minicamp in June.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Cam Akers’ season seemingly ended before it began.

Five months ago, on the eve of training camp, the Rams’ second-year running back suffered a torn right Achilles, leaving coach Sean McVay without a player that he planned to make an offensive centerpiece.

Akers is not expected to be available Sunday when the Rams (10-4) play the Minnesota Vikings (7-7) with a chance to clinch a playoff spot. Akers could be available for the end of the regular season or the playoffs, McVay said Thursday after the Rams designated Akers to return to practice.

It was apparent a few months into Akers’ rehabilitation that he might return this season, McVay said during a videoconference with reporters.

“We kind of had an idea that he was really accelerating his rehab and making great progress,” McVay said. “He’s a freak.”

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Rams vs. Minnesota Vikings matchups, start time and how to watch

Rams tight end Tyler Higbee runs with the ball after making a catch against the Giants.
Rams tight end Tyler Higbee is among the players back in the lineup this week.
(Frank Franklin II / Associated Press)

Breaking down how the Rams (`10-4) and the Minnesota Vikings (7-7) match up heading into their game at 10 a.m. PST on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium. The game will be shown on FOX.

When Rams have the ball: With the return of tight end Tyler Higbee and right tackle Rob Havenstein from the reserve/COVID-19 list, the offense is back to full strength. That is welcome news for quarterback Matthew Stafford as the Rams face a Vikings defense that leads the league with 44 sacks.

End D.J. Wonnum has a team-best six sacks and is one of five players with at least five. Stafford passed for two touchdowns with an interception in the Rams’ 20-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Tuesday. The 13th-year pro has passed for 35 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.

Sony Michel has been solid as the starting running back the last three games, and Darrell Henderson also contributed against the Seahawks after working through a thigh issue. Pro Bowl receiver Cooper Kupp is chasing a triple crown of sorts. He leads the NFL with 122 catches for 1,625 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Van Jefferson has six touchdowns, Odell Beckham Jr. three. Linebacker Eric Kendricks leads the Vikings in tackles. He also has five sacks and two interceptions. Linebacker Anthony Barr and safeties Harrison Smith and Xavier Woods also are standouts for a unit that includes corner Patrick Peterson and Cameron Danztler.

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Rams vs. Minnesota Vikings: Betting odds, lines and predictions

The next two weeks are going to be interesting for the Rams. They’ll face desperate opponents in the Vikings and Baltimore Ravens and have to travel long distances for those games.

The Vikings are clinging to the final wild-card spot in the NFC with a 7-7 record. Given that the Vikings have had a lead of seven or more points in 13 of 14 games, you could make a strong argument that they should be a lot better. Dalvin Cook was placed on the COVID-19 list Thursday afternoon, which is a big loss for Minnesota.

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