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New players make big contributions in Rams’ season-opening win over Cowboys

Rams receiver Van Jefferson Jr. makes a catch in front of Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs.
Rams receiver Van Jefferson Jr. makes a catch in front of Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs during the second quarter of the Rams’ 20-17 win Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Rams played Sunday night in a gleaming new stadium, in new uniforms and with a new defensive coordinator.

But nothing impressed more than new players and the moments they provided during a 20-17 season-opening victory over the Dallas Cowboys at SoFi Stadium.

On a night when veteran running back Malcolm Brown rushed for two touchdowns, rookie kicker Samuel Sloman booted two field goals and other rookies — running back Cam Akers, receiver Van Jefferson and safety Jordan Fuller — made big plays as the Rams kept fourth-year coach Sean McVay unbeaten in openers.

“It’s one step in the right direction,” McVay said.

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The Rams moved forward in front of more than 70,000 empty seats in their $5-billion stadium. But the atmosphere did not spoil the evening.

“We brought our own juice to the stadium,” said Brown, Todd Gurley’s longtime backup who now leads a young running back corps that rushed for 124 yards.

The Rams selected quarterback Jared Goff with the first pick in the 2016 draft, envisioning him leading the team to victories in a packed new stadium. The crowd was absent Sunday but Goff completed 20 of 31 passes for 275 yards, with an interception, as the Rams won their first game in the showcase venue.

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“It was a special day to be here and knowing everything that led up to it,” Goff said. “It was really cool to go out and get a win.”

The Rams outgained the Cowboys 422 yards to 380, and the offense had some impressive plays. But it was a defense directed by coordinator Brandon Staley that kept coming up with key stops to ensure the victory.

Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup makes a catch but is called for offensive pass interference.
Cowboys wide receiver Michael Gallup makes a catch but is called for offensive pass interference after being tackled by Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey in the fourth quarter Sunday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Rams receiver Robert Woods leaps over Cowboys safety Darian Thompson.
Rams wide receiver Robert Woods leaps over Cowboys safety Darian Thompson after getting a block from teammate Austin Corbett during the first quarter Sunday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
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At age 37, Staley’s NFL experience amounted to outside linebacker coaching jobs with the Chicago Bears and the Denver Broncos.

On Sunday, his players executed throughout the game, especially in crucial moments.

Veteran defensive linemen Aaron Donald and Michael Brockers had sacks and nose tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day tipped a pass. Fuller, a sixth-round draft pick, made a key fourth-down stop, and star cornerback Jalen Ramsey thwarted another late third-down pass. And new edge rusher Leonard Floyd also had a sack late in the game.

“The defense was the backbone of the team tonight in crunch time,” McVay said.

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Donald said that was exactly how it should be. “That’s what you expect,” he said. “We want to be put in those situations when we got the lead and it’s put on our shoulders to close it out.”

It was a big win for a Rams team attempting to bounce back from last season’s 9-7 finish, which left them out of the playoffs for the first time under McVay.

And it gave them momentum heading into next week at Philadelphia, which lost its opener against Washington. The new players will be integral as the Rams travel to play the Eagles and then the Buffalo Bills before returning to play the New York Giants on Oct. 4.

Breaking down the important numbers behind the Rams’ 20-17 season-opening win over the Dallas Cowboys at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.

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“Those guys showed up,” McVay said, adding, “and that’s exactly what you want. You want depth across the board — guys that you feel can step in [and] make plays.”

No one made a more impactful play than Fuller, who started in place of Taylor Rapp.

The Rams overcame a 14-13 halftime deficit and led 20-17 early in the fourth quarter. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott had his team poised to tie the score with a field goal.

But on a fourth-and-three situation at the Rams’ 11-yard-line, new Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy kept his offense on the field, presumably to try to draw the Rams offside. Prescott instead took a snap and completed a pass to rookie receiver CeeDee Lamb.

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Fuller came up and dropped Lamb short of the first down.

“Unbelievable play that flipped the momentum of the game,” McVay said.

Said Ramsey, who this week signed a record five-year, $105-million extension: “Jordan has been balling all [training] camp…. He’s been playing extremely well so we expected him to do that again tonight.”

INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA SEPTEMBER 13, 2020-Rams players take the field before a game against the Cowboys.
Rams players take the field before Sunday’s game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
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Players on the Rams kneel and stand during the national anthem at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood on Sunday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Rams, however, could not convert the play into points.

They ate up five minutes of the clock before they were forced to punt, giving the Cowboys another chance to take the lead. Ramsey, though, ended that threat when he knocked a third-down pass out of receiver Amari Cooper’s grasp.

The Rams defense got a final test when the Cowboys got the ball back with 2:28 left in the game.

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Floyd had a second-down sack, but the victory was not ensured until Prescott’s pass fell incomplete on a fourth-and-20 play with six seconds left.

Running backs Malcolm Brown, Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson combined for 124 yards in the Rams’ 20-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys.

Notes

The majority of Rams players warmed up wearing black T-shirts with white letters that read “It Takes All of Us.” During the playing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Black national anthem, the Cowboys and staff members lined up at one goal line. Rams linebacker Micah Kiser and offensive lineman David Edwards lined up with two staff members at the other. McVay said he was at fault for players not being on the field because the Rams had finished warmups early. ... For the national anthem, 15 Rams players took a knee and five remained in the locker room. “Everybody kind of did what was in their hearts,” Ramsey said.

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