Brandon Powell helps Rams return to playoffs in win over Vikings
A few months ago, Brandon Powell was sitting on a Florida beach every day, reading motivational self-help books and waiting for his next NFL opportunity.
The receiver had spent time on several rosters and practice squads before the Rams, desperate for help with their struggling special teams, signed him to a free-agent contract.
On Sunday, Powell cemented his status as an integral member of the team, returning a punt for a game-turning 61-yard touchdown that propelled the Rams to a playoff-clinching 30-23 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Afterward, Powell clutched a game ball from a victory that improved the Rams’ record to 11-4 and put them in control of the NFC West.
“I’ll probably go to sleep with it,” Powell said. “That hotel gets kind of lonely. So, I’m going to probably be sleeping with this tonight.”
The Rams were resting easy after Sony Michel rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown, and Matthew Stafford overcame three interceptions to pass for a touchdown as the Rams extended their winning streak to four games.
Injuries and issues with COVID-19 couldn’t stop the offensive line from playing an oversized role for the Rams in their 30-23 win over the Vikings.
Matt Gay kicked three field goals and Travin Howard intercepted a pass as the Rams clinched their fourth playoff appearance in five seasons under coach Sean McVay.
After a winless November, the Rams completed December unbeaten.
“That says as much about this group as you need to know,” McVay said. “But we’ve got to keep it rolling.”
With games left against the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, the Rams are positioned to win their first division title since winning the second of two consecutive titles in 2018, the season they went to Super Bowl LIII.
“We’d love to make that spot as good as we can make it from here on out and control where we sit in the seedings,” Stafford said. “There’s still more out there for us.”
The Rams will need a better performance from Stafford if they intend to fulfill a mandate to play in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium.
Stafford completed 21 of 37 passes for 197 yards, and his late touchdown pass to Odell Beckham Jr. was reminiscent of the quarterback’s early season success. But the three interceptions harked to Stafford’s turnover-plagued November.
“Less than spectacular in the pass game,” he said.
The defense kept the Rams in the game, but Powell broke it open after the Vikings (7-8) pulled to within 13-10 early in the second half.
He fielded a punt, found a hole and then ran down the right sideline to the end zone where he completed a somersault. He said his teammates did most of the work.
Tom Brady throws for 232 yards and a touchdown to lead the Buccaneers to a win over the Carolina Panthers and their first NFC South title since 2007.
“I just did the easy part,” he said. “I just caught the ball and ran down the sideline.”
Said McVay: “He’s brought a great spark to our team.”
McVay and teammates lauded Powell for his approach and his perseverance.
Powell played in college at Florida and in 2018 signed with the Detroit Lions as an undrafted free agent. He caught six passes from Stafford for 103 yards in a game at Green Bay but was cut before the 2019 season.
Powell signed with the Atlanta Falcons practice squad, and last season he played in 15 games for a team that included Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris on the staff.
In March, Powell signed a free-agent contract with the Buffalo Bills but was waived before the season.
So, there he sat on the beach, reading books and not knowing what would come next.
“Kept working, kept believing in myself, trusted in God, and now I’m here with the Rams going to the playoffs,” he said.
The Rams have lacked a serious return threat for several seasons. So, when Joe DeCamillis was hired as special teams coordinator, he did not mince words.
“We’ve got to get a guy that can ring the bell and drop the ball over the goal line,” he said after he was hired.
Powell rang the bell Sunday after showing potential to do so in his first few games.
With the team in the throes of a three-game losing streak, Powell made his Rams debut by returning the opening kickoff against the Jacksonville Jaguars 65 yards.
On Sunday, Powell provided a precursor to his touchdown return with an impressive 14-yard return against the Vikings.
But his game-turning play was a revelation — and the result of hard work.
Receiver Cooper Kupp, who caught 10 passes for 109 yards, has practiced punt returns with Powell.
“He’s a pro — he handles business,” Kupp said. “He wants more on his plate. He’s always asking for more responsibility. He wants to shoulder more and more. ... So, I was pumped to see him get an opportunity and make the most of it.”
So, according to Powell, were his family members in Florida. He did not recall the details of his somersault but said his family would no doubt be celebrating his touchdown.
Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Rams’ 30-23 road victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday — scoring and statistics.
“I’m pretty sure my grandma, probably that’s what she wanted to do,” he said. “So that’s why I did a flip. I’m pretty sure my dad got a pulled hamstring from running down the street.”
After the Rams recovered an onside kick with less than a minute left, Powell was on the field for the final snaps.
Before Stafford took a knee to run out the clock, he said he gave Powell a shout-out in the huddle.
“I was like, ‘I mean got to give it up for this guy. That seven points were the difference,’” Stafford said.
Powell said he was appreciative that coaches and teammates believed in him.
“It just showed that just keep working, just keep working hard, your time’s going to come,” he said. “That’s really all it is.”
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