It came down to four plays.
Backed up to its four-yard line in the final minute, the Rams defense needed four stops to keep the Cleveland Browns from possibly tying the score Sunday night.
“Four stops,” safety John Johnson said. “That’s the only thing on our mind.
“One at time — boom, boom, boom, boom. Let’s get off the field and go home.”
The Rams defense made plays on every down of the decisive series, finishing another outstanding performance and leading the team to a 20-13 victory before 67,895 at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Johnson’s interception of Baker Mayfield’s pass into the end zone sealed a victory that improved the Rams’ record to 3-0 heading into Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Coliseum.
“We’re right where we wanted to be,” linebacker Cory Littleton said.
On a warm evening on the shore of Lake Erie, the Rams neutralized Mayfield and receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and sent a loud crowd home unhappy as denizens of the famed Dawg Pound watched their team fall to 1-2.
For the second week in a row, the defense came up big and made up for an offense that continues to start games slowly.
“I’ve got to do a much better job for us offensively, getting us in a position and finding a rhythm early on,” coach Sean McVay said. “That sole responsibility lies with me.
“But we’ll take the win however we can get it.”
Quarterback Jared Goff connected with receiver Cooper Kupp for two touchdowns and Greg Zuerlein kicked two field goals.
That was enough on a night when linebacker Clay Matthews recorded two sacks, defensive tackle Aaron Donald got his first sack of the season and edge rusher Dante Fowler harassed Mayfield throughout the game.
Goff completed 24 of 38 passes for 269 yards, with two interceptions, against a defense that was without every member of its starting secondary because of injuries.
He credited the defense for its effort throughout the game, and especially after a late mistake.
Defensive back Juston Burris intercepted a Goff pass and returned it to the Browns’ 43-yard line with 2 minutes 46 seconds left.
“I’m going to be upset with myself a little bit for that last series,” Goff said. “I can’t make that decision there at the end of the game. It should have been over far before the defense had to go back on the field.
“That’s on me.”
Mayfield, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, moved the Browns into position for a potential tying touchdown with impressive passes to receivers Jarvis Landry and Damion Ratley.
That set the stage for the Rams defense.
Donald said only one thing went through the unit’s mind.
“Make the play,” he said. “Find a way to make a play.”
On first down, the Rams blitzed from the secondary and forced Mayfield to throw incomplete.
On second down, linebacker Samson Ebukam deflected a pass.
“I thought they were going to run the ball,” Ebukam said. “I thought it was a toss [play] and then I was like, ‘OK, well, it’s not a toss.’
“Whenever [Mayfield] throws it, he throws it low, so I just stuck my hand up there.”
On third down, Mayfield tried to connect with tight end Demetrius Harris in the middle of the end zone. But cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman and rookie safety Taylor Rapp broke up the pass.
“We were just playing off each other,” Robey-Coleman said.
Rapp said he did not have time to look at where the ball was coming from.
“I just played through the hands of the tight end,” he said.
That set up the decisive fourth down.
The Browns called a timeout. Then the Rams took one as well.
“Everybody was like, ‘Last play, right here. This is it, right here. Let’s get this money,’” cornerback Aqib Talib said.
With Mayfield under pressure, Johnson intercepted a fourth-down pass into the end zone to preserve the victory.
“Just trying to do my job and be in the right place at the right time,” Johnson said. “That’s what I pride myself on.”
Said Robey-Coleman: “We knew if we would come through, coach McVay would be super-duper happy with us.”
McVay was not the only one.
The Rams remained unbeaten and on track for a possible return to the Super Bowl.
And they did it again Sunday with the defense making big plays down the stretch.
“That’s what you got to excited about,” Donald said. “When we needed to bow-up and make a big stop we did that.”