Short-handed Rams step up to beat Cardinals for most important win of the season
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.
Matthew Stafford obliterated doubts about his ability to win big games with a brilliant performance in the Rams’ 30-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Aaron Donald had three sacks and Matt Gay kicked three field goals as the Rams improved to 9-4 and kept alive their chances of winning the NFC West — and possibly more.
“Unbelievable job by our team,” coach Sean McVay said, adding, “There’s so many guys that contributed. ... This was the sign of a mentally tough team.”
With so many key players not available, a Rams team that was built to play in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium did not necessarily look like one when the game began. But McVay guided his team to its most important victory of the season.
The Cardinals (10-3, 4-1 division) could have clinched a playoff spot and held on to the top seed for the NFC playoffs. But the Rams spoiled the party and improved to 2-2 in the division with four games left.
The Rams play the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at SoFi Stadium. They play on the road at Minnesota and Baltimore before returning home for the season finale against the San Francisco 49ers.
And they are feeling confident after earning their first victory over a team with a winning record since a Week 3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“This definitely was a big step toward us really playing how we really want to,” Floyd said. “We came out and played like it was the playoffs and got the job done.”
Stafford appears completely past his turnover-plagued three-game stretch against the Tennessee Titans, 49ers and Green Bay Packers. He got back on track in last week’s rout of the Jacksonville Jaguars and played without a major error against the Cardinals.
Stafford completed 23 of 30 passes for 287 yards and touchdown passes to receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Van Jefferson and Cooper Kupp. Stafford has passed for 33 touchdowns with nine interceptions.
Kupp caught 13 passes for 123 yards. Beckham had eight catches for 77 yards, Jefferson two catches for 58 yards.
“We had some guys in some new spots,” Stafford said. “We had a lot of moving parts.”
The Cardinals defeated the Rams, 37-20, on Oct. 3 at SoFi Stadium. In that game, the Rams committed two turnovers and Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray came of age and established himself as a most-valuable-player candidate by passing for two touchdowns, scrambling for key first downs and playing error free.
On Monday he completed 32 of 49 passes for 383 yards — and scrambled for 62 yards — but his two interceptions proved costly.
Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Rams’ 30-23 road win over the Arizona Cardinals on Monday — scoring and statistics.
Donald dominated from start to finish. He sacked Murray on the Cardinals’ first play and their last.
“When I get them one on ones, I’ve got to take advantage of that and I got enough opportunities … to have that game that I’m used to having,” Donald said.
McVay was shocked when he learned Monday morning that Ramsey and Higbee would not be available.
“My initial reaction was, ‘You gotta be s—ting me,’” he said.
Donald said Ramsey sent him a text informing of the news.
“I told him we was going to hold it down for him,” Donald said.
Stafford’s short touchdown pass to Beckham and two field goals helped the Rams play the Cardinals to a 13-13 tie at the end of the first half.
Stafford wasted no time putting pressure on the Cardinals. On the third play of the second half, he connected with Jefferson on a 52-yard touchdown.
And then Floyd made what was arguably the play of the game.
Floyd dropped into coverage, extended his 6-foot-6 frame and tipped a pass with his right hand before cradling the ball for an interception. He returned it 11 yards to the Cardinals’ 19, setting up Stafford’s four-yard touchdown pass to Kupp for a 27-13 lead.
“He basically threw it up to me,” Floyd said, “and I had to go get it.”
The Cardinals threatened when they drove to the Rams’ 14, but DeAndre Hopkins dropped Murray’s fourth-down pass.
That did not take the fight out of the Cardinals.
Early in the fourth quarter, James Conner took a direct snap and rushed for an eight-yard touchdown to cut the Rams’ lead to 27-20.
The Rams had a chance to again make it a two-touchdown lead, but the Cardinals forced them to settle for Gay’s third field goal and a 10-point margin.
The Rams got closer to victory when Von Miller stopped Conner on a fourth-and-one play with slightly more than five minutes left.
The Cardinals added a field goal with 37 seconds left — and then recovered an onside kick.
If Rashawn Slater, who’s on the COVID-19 list, cannot play Thursday against Kansas City, the Chargers will have a major void to fill at left tackle.
But Donald sacked Murray on the final play.
McVay sounded relieved to have the tumultuous week behind him.
“The amount of changes — I can’t even go through,” he said.
“My head is killing me going through all of this.”
But he is looking forward to what’s coming.
“Let’s keep building on this,” he said. “That’s what the good teams do. They get better in the month of December.”
Go beyond the scoreboard
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