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Matthew Stafford, Rams get signature win in 30-23 thriller over Arizona Cardinals

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Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford hands the ball off to running back Sony Michel.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford hands the ball off to running back Sony Michel during the first half of a 30-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Monday.
(Ralph Freso / Associated Press)

Depleted by COVID and injury, the Rams lean on their stars to pull out their most impressive win of the season — and move closer to the Cardinals in the NFC West race.

Rams overcome depleted roster to defeat first-place Cardinals

Rams outside linebacker Leonard Floyd celebrates after picking off a pass by Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray on Monday.
(Ralph Freso / Associated Press)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Rams seemingly were without too many important players.

They departed Los Angeles for Arizona with running back Darrell Henderson, right tackle Rob Havenstein and rotational cornerback Donte Deayon on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

A few hours before kickoff Monday night against the NFC-West leading Arizona Cardinals, star cornerback Jalen Ramsey and tight end Tyler Higbee also were placed on the list.

A showdown with the Cardinals — a true measuring-stick game for the Rams — had all the makings of a Cardinals rout.

But the Rams did not flinch. Instead, they secured a spot on the shortlist of Super Bowl contenders.

Matthew Stafford passed for three touchdowns, linebackers Ernest Jones and Leonard Floyd set up touchdowns with interceptions, and the Rams’ pass rush finally started to come together in a 30-23 victory at State Farm Stadium.

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The story of the Rams 30-23 win over the Cardinals in 11 highlights

1. With the Cardinals on the verge of taking an early 10-0 lead, Aaron Donald tipped a Kyler Murray pass that landed in the hands of Ernest Jones. That set up....

2. .... Odell Beckham’s third touchdown reception in as many games, a two-yard slant from Matthew Stafford.

3. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, Cardinals running back James Conner bounced off Donald, his college teammate, to tie the game.

4. The Rams took a late first-half lead after Stafford zipped this no-look pass to set up Matt Gay’s 35-yard field goal.

5. Kyler Murray worked his magic to set up a game-tying field goal at the end of the first half.

6. On the first drive of the second half, Stafford hooked up with Van Jefferson on a spectacular 52-yarder in stride.

7. After the Rams retook the lead, Leonard Floyd dropped into coverage to pick off a Murray pass and set up....

8. .... Stafford’s second touchdown in the first six minutes of the second half, on a bullet to Cooper Kupp.

9. James Conner’s second TD of the night closed the gap to one touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

10. Stafford found Cooper Kupp on a 44-yard pass to set up the final Rams’ score of the night, a Matt Gay field goal.

11. After the Rams’ special teams flubbed an onside kick, Aaron Donald sealed the deal.

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Cooper Kupp is a factor. You knew that. So is OBJ. Rams close out big win

After the Cardinals found a fresh gear, the Rams rediscovered their scoring touch, using big catches by Odell Beckham Jr. (18 yards) and Cooper Kupp (44 yards and 12 yards on third-and-8) to set up a Matt Gay 33-yard field goal to make it a two-score game.

Tough drive for Van Jefferson, who was called for a holding penalty early in the drive and pass interference late.

The Cardinals caught a break when the refs missed a face mask of Matthew Stafford by Arizona’s Jordan Phillips.

Facing fourth-and-1 on their next drive, the Cardinals chose to forego a 56-yard field goal attempt by Matt Prater—who has already nailed two 50-yarders tonight—and paid for it when James Conner (who has had a brilliant game) was stopped short by Von Miller.

The Cardinals added a last-minute field goal by Prater and recovered the subsequent onside kick to give Kyler Murray one last shot with 34 seconds remaining. A holding penalty on first down, however, negated a long Murray run and Arizona was only able to get off two more plays, the last a sack by Aaron Donald.

Rams 30, Cardinals 23, Final

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James Conner’s second TD closes deficit to a touchdown

Perhaps the most curious stat shared by the ESPN broadcast crew is that DeAndre Hopkins has no 100-yard receiving games this season. He was shut out in the second and third quarters by a stout, Jalen Ramsey-less Rams secondary.

After the Rams went up by two touchdowns, Kyler Murray drove the Cardinals to the L.A. 14, but Hopkins dropped a 4th-and-2 pass, turning back possession to the Rams, who failed to score for the first time in six possessions.

Hopkins’ dry spell ended on the first Cardinals drive of the fourth quarter, but Arizona’s big play was a 35-yard reception by A.J. Green, which set up Conner’s second rushing touchdown of the night, an eight-yard bull rush out of the Wildcat.

Rams 27, Cardinals 20 13:38 left in third quarter

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Matthew Stafford throws two quick TDs, Rams open half in spectacular fashion

The Rams opened the second half in spectacular fashion, when Matthew Stafford dropped a dime on Van Jefferson, who pulled in a 52-yard touchdown pass in stride to give the Rams a 20-13 lead.

On the Cardinals’ second play of the following drive, Leonard Floyd picked off a Kyler Murray pass at the Arizona 30 and returned it 11 yards to set up a Stafford-to-Cooper Kupp TD pass. The Rams’ drive was extended by a Cardinals holding penalty in the secondary on third-and-goal.

The Rams have scored on each of their last five possessions. Stafford has three touchdown passes. The latest was a bullet.

Rams 27, Cardinals 13 9:45 left in third quarter

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Rams retake lead, Kyler Murray works a small miracle to erase it

The Rams’ offense continues to move the ball against a strong defense, retaking the lead on Matt Gay’s second field goal of the night, a 35-yarder.

The key play in the drive was a 39-yard catch-and-run by Odell Beckham Jr. on a shallow crossing on third-and-four. It was Beckham’s third third-down reception of the game. Beckham has four catches for 64 yards.

Kyler Murray worked his magic in the final seconds of the half. With 10 seconds remaining, he scrambled 16 yards and got out of bounds with a single tick left to set up Matt Prater’s second long field goal of the game, a 53-yarder.

Rams 13, Cardinals 13 Halftime

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Cards tie game on James Conner fourth-down touchdown run

The Cardinals answered the Rams’ field goal with a fourth-down touchdown run by James Conner from the one to tie the game. It is the seventh straight game that the former Steeler has rushed for a touchdown.

The big play in the drive was a 41-yard pass from Kyler Murray to Christian Kirk (against good coverage by Darius Williams). The Cardinals had first-and-goal from the Rams 4; after two incomplete Murray passes and a Zach Ertz catch just short of the goal line, Conner bounced off Aaron Donald and into the end zone.

Rams 10, Cardinals 10 3:18 left in second quarter

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The Rams’ big names came to play, L.A. boosts lead to 10-3

The Rams running game is starting to find some holes. Sony Michel, who barreled for 19 yards on the previous drive, opened L.A.'s next possession with a 11-yarder up the middle, then added a 12-yarder two plays later before Stafford hit OBJ on a third-and-long dart for 18 yards. That set up a 55-yard field Matt Gay field goal to boost the Rams’ lead to a touchdown.

Michel has 52 yards on seven carries.

Rams 10 , Cardinals 3 7:28 left in second quarter

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Rams take lead on OBJ touchdown catch

After Aaron Donald made a big play to quash a Cardinals drive inside the Rams’ 5, the L.A. offense relied on its brand names to take the lead.

Starting at his 32, Matthew Stafford hit Odell Beckham on a five-yard pass, then hit Cooper Krupp on his next five passes to drive inside the 5. On third-and-goal, Stafford hit OBJ on a two-yard slant to give the Rams the lead.

Stafford completed all seven of his pass attempts on the 68-yard drive. Beckham has caught a touchdown pass in each of his last three games.

The Cardinals went three-and-out on their subsequent possession, which was punctuated by an excellent tackle from behind of Murray by lineman Greg Gaines. The Rams’ D-line has pulled their weight so far.

Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. celebrates after scoring on a touchdown catch.
Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. celebrates after scoring on a touchdown catch in front of Arizona Cardinals cornerback Marco Wilson.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

Rams 7, Cardinals 3 10:23 left in second quarter

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Aaron Donald makes clutch tip, Ernest Jones picks off pass at the 1

Kyler Murray is completing just a touch under 73 percent of his passes this season. That precision was missing on the first drive when he missed Christian Kirk and A.J. Green, both of them wide-open, on consecutive passes deep in Rams territory.

He appeared to find his groove on the second drive, completing six of his first seven passes, including a highlight-reel, one-handed 18-yard nab over the middle to James Conner, that pushed the Cards inside the Rams’ five. On second down, however, a pass tipped by Aaron Donald landed in the hands of Ernest Jones at the 1. Jones then returned the ball to L.A.'s 32.

Cardinals 3, Rams 0. 3:59 left in first quarter

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Cardinals take early 3-0 lead; Rams lucky not to be down 7-0

The Rams’ defense got off to a promising start, putting the Cardinals in second-and-21 on the first two plays, but a James Conner 13-yard run off right tackle, followed by a Kyler Murray 14-yard pass to Zach Ertz for first down set in motion a scoring drive the ended with a 53-yard field goal from Matt Prater.

The Rams are fortunate not to be down 7-0. On consecutive passes that preceded Prater’s field goal, Murray overthrew an open Christian Kirk, then underthrew an even more open A.J. Green in the end zone after a Rams defender slipped.

In their first series, the Rams went three-and-out.

Cardinals 3, Rams 0 11:12 left in first quarter

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We are underway at State Farm Stadium for Rams-Bird Cage

Five weeks ago yours truly, in preparation for the possibility of a home win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday Night Football, threw together an explainer of previous Rams teams that started the season 8-1. (There are six of them—1945, ’68, ’69, ’85, 2001, ’18).

The Rams, of course, were drubbed by the Titans, fell to 7-2 and have beaten only the two-win Jacksonville Jaguars since. In an LA Times Sports meeting this morning, one staffer pointed out that, outside of next Sunday’s home game against the Seahawks, the schedule is savage. You can look it up.

Conversely, a win tonight on Monday Night Football, given the circumstances and stakes, would easily qualify as the most impressive and important this season, the Rams’ first against an opponent with a winning record since their 34-24 defeat of the Bucs in Week 3.

In any case, we are underway at State Farm Stadium. The Rams have won the toss and elected to defer. Follow here on the Live Blog, as well as onsite staffers Gary Klein and Sam Farmer, for all the details.

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Tonight’s last word Rams-Cardinals preview in 15 words or fewer

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Feels ‘like it’s a playoff game.’ Rams know what is at stake when they face Cardinals

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp, right, celebrates with quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp, right, celebrates with quarterback Matthew Stafford after scoring a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 5.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Five games remain in the regular season. But the Rams are not waiting for the postseason to play games they categorize as playoff-worthy.

The Rams (8-4) play the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals (10-2) at State Farm Stadium on “Monday Night Football.”

If the Cardinals keep winning, they are on track to be the top-seeded team in the NFC playoffs. The Rams are currently the fifth-seeded team.

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Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth on playing at 40: ‘It’s pretty wild’

Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth walks back to the locker room after a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth walks back to the locker room after a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars at SoFi Stadium on Dec. 5.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Shortly after signing with the Rams in 2017, Andrew Whitworth played golf with one of the greatest athletes of all time.

Whitworth was a youthful 35 at the time. After their round, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky offered sage advice.

“He told me ... ‘Just make sure you make people tear that jersey off of you and you don’t walk away until you’re ready because you’ll miss it,’” Whitworth said.

Whitworth still wears No. 77. No one is attempting to strip it from his towering frame.

On Sunday, his 40th birthday, the 6-foot-7, 330-pound Whitworth will travel with the Rams to Arizona for a Monday night date with history.

When Whitworth lines up against the Arizona Cardinals, he will become only the fifth NFL offensive lineman to play at age 40, the first to start a game at left tackle.

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Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals: Betting odds, lines, start time and how to watch

Rams at Arizona Cardinals (-2½, 52), 5:15 p.m. PST; ABC, ESPN

The Rams will have to wait until Monday to answer the biggest burning question of their season. Can they beat a good team? Some will point back to Week 3 and the win against the Buccaneers, but that is an eternity ago in terms of how a football season progresses.

The Arizona Cardinals host the Rams to wrap up Week 14 and are lined as a 2½-point favorite across most of the market. Given that home-field advantage is around two points in the NFL, the two teams are virtually power-rated about the same. With how the first meeting went, that might be hard to believe, but the Rams are still viewed as one of the NFL’s best teams, despite the recent returns.

That could change after this game if the Rams fall short against a comparable opponent once again.

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Rams’ Jalen Ramsey and Tyler Higbee placed on reserve/COVID list, won’t play tonight

Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey plays against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 5.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Rams star cornerback Jalen Ramsey and tight end Tyler Higbee will not be available for Monday night’s game against the Arizona Cardinals because they have been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the team announced.

Ramsey and Higbee are the fourth and fifth players to be placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list in the last few days, joining running back Darrell Henderson, starting right tackle Rob Havenstein and rotational cornerback Donte Deayon.

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

Rams running back Sony Michel scores a touchdown as quarterback Matthew Stafford celebrates.
Rams running back Sony Michel scores a touchdown as quarterback Matthew Stafford celebrates against the Seattle Seahawks on Oct. 7.
(Stephen Brashear / Associated Press)

Breaking down how the Rams (8-4) and the Arizona Cardinals (10-2) match up heading into their game at 5:20 p.m. PST on Monday at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. The game will be shown on ABC and ESPN.

When Rams have the ball: Matthew Stafford is looking to build on an error-free game against Jacksonville that ended a streak of three turnover-laden performances. Stafford has passed for 30 touchdowns with nine interceptions. Cooper Kupp continues to lead the NFL with 100 receptions for 1,366 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Van Jefferson and Odell Beckham Jr. both have recorded a touchdown reception in each of the last two games. Starting right tackle Rob Havenstein was put on the COVID-19 reserve list Sunday. The question is whether coach Sean McVay will rely on the rushing attack again and use an extra blocker in heavy formations, a role usually manned by Joe Noteboom, the likely replacement for Havenstein.

Sony Michel, starting in place of an injured Darrell Henderson, rushed for 121 yards and a touchdown against the Jaguars and will start against the Cardinals. Henderson was put on the COVID-19 reserve list Saturday.

Arizona’s defense features several playmakers, including safety Budda Baker, who has three interceptions, including one he returned 77 yards in a Dec.5 win at Chicago. Cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. has four interceptions. Linebacker Jordan Hicks is the leading tackler, and linebacker Markus Golden has 10 sacks. Linebacker Isaiah Simmons has forced three fumbles and intercepted a pass.

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