John Wolford gets it done for Rams in playoff-clinching win over Cardinals

Rams quarterback John Wolford throws a pass against the Arizona Cardinals.
Rams quarterback John Wolford completed 22 of 38 passes for 231 yards, with an interception, in an 18-7 win over the Arizona Cardinals at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

There are easier circumstances for a quarterback to make his NFL debut.

John Wolford did not have much choice, only opportunity, the Rams’ playoff fate hanging in the balance.

Despite a pro resumé that included only preseason NFL games and a stint in a defunct league, Wolford started in place of injured Jared Goff on Sunday and led the Rams back to the postseason.


After having his first pass intercepted, Wolford settled down and played without error as the Rams defeated the Arizona Cardinals 18-7 at SoFi Stadium.

“I had a lot of fun,” Wolford said. “A little anxious going in, if I’m being 100% honest.

“Once I got rollin’, I was just playing football again.”

For the first time since 2002, the Cleveland Browns will be in the playoffs. Sam Farmer breaks down the teams and matchups for wild-card weekend.

Jan. 3, 2021

After a one-year absence, the Rams (10-6) are in the playoffs for the third time in coach Sean McVay’s four seasons. They are seeded sixth in the NFC and will play the third-seeded Seattle Seahawks (12-4) in a wild-card game on Saturday in Seattle.

The Rams had wasted opportunities to clinch a playoff berth against the New York Jets and the Seahawks, but they ended their two-game losing streak and came through Sunday with another strong defensive effort that included Troy Hill’s interception return for a touchdown.

The victory — and the second game in a row that did not include a touchdown by the offense — gives the Rams some much-needed momentum.

“It has certainly been a lot of highs, and then there’s been some tough times that we’ve had to really navigate through,” McVay said of the season. “But I love the way that the team handled this week. I love the way they rallied around John. ... Now let’s go see if we can go do something special.”

Goff, recovering from surgery on his right thumb, was on the sideline in a warmup suit. He had undergone the procedure last Monday with the aim of being available for the playoffs. McVay declined to say whether Wolford would start against the Seahawks — “We’ll talk about that,” he said — in what will be the third game between the NFC West rivals.


The Rams defeated the Seahawks, 23-16, on Nov. 15 at SoFi Stadium. They lost to the Seahawks, 20-9, on Dec. 27 at Lumen Field.

Rams linebacker Leonard Floyd forces Arizona Cardinals quarterback Chris Streveler to fumble during the second quarter.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“Everybody is 0-0 right now,” said Hill, whose 84-yard interception near the end of the first half gave the Rams a lead that was not threatened.

Edge rusher Leonard Floyd, who had a sack that pushed his career-high season total to 10½, is looking forward to playing the Seahawks. Floyd has five sacks against them.

“This third go-round, everybody knows each other,” Floyd said. “It’s just going to come down to who executes the best and who comes out with the right mindset.”

Wolford, signed by the Rams in 2019 after he played eight games in the Alliance of American Football, showed some mental fortitude. Linebacker Jordan Hicks intercepted Wolford’s first pass on the Rams’ second play. The Cardinals converted the turnover into a touchdown.


“Not the ideal first pass for him, but I did think sometimes you can really learn about guys with how they respond,” McVay said. “I thought he settled in nicely and in essence we were going to put the game in his hands offensively and I thought he did a nice job.”

Wolford completed 22 of 38 passes for 231 yards.

“It was almost like once I threw it, I settled in,” he said of the interception.

John Wolford showed in the Rams’ victory over Arizona that he deserves to start over Jared Goff in Saturday’s wild-card playoff game at Seattle.

Jan. 3, 2021

Wolford had several key completions and also scrambled for first downs, rushing for a team-best 56 yards in six carries.

“That just shows his competitive nature,” Floyd said of Wolford’s willingness to absorb contact on running plays. “He’s willing to risk it all to get the first down. Man, it just gives the defense that extra boost of confidence to go out and get him the ball back.”

Wolford, however, could not get the Rams into the end zone, which is on the verge of becoming a trend for a team that once boasted one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses. He twice engineered drives inside the five-yard line. One stalled because of penalties. Another ended when running back Cam Akers fumbled.

But the defense recorded a safety when the Cardinals were called for a holding penalty in the end zone. Matt Gay’s three field goals and Hill’s 84-yard touchdown — his third score this season — proved more than enough for a team that was playing not only without Goff, but also without top receiver Cooper Kupp and defensive lineman Michael Brockers, both on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

“They were unbelievable all day,” McVay said of the defense. “They’ve been unbelievable all year. They’ve really been the strength of this team.”


The Rams will need another strong defensive effort against a Seahawks team that markedly improved since the Rams defeated them in November.

“I don’t think you could ask for much more,” McVay said of the matchup. “Great team in our division. We know each other and I’m excited to be able to go up there and give it our best shot.”

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Rams’ 18-7 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.

Jan. 3, 2021