After a month of fans crying in the breastmilk and embarking down a Kendall Roy shame spiral, the Los Angeles Rams needed a statement win and they made a STATEMENT. Coming into tonight’s Monday Night game, the Rams were hit hard by COVID, and injuries, with Jalen Ramsey, Brian Allen, Tyler Higbee, Rob Havenstein, Darrell Henderson, and others being on the reserve list, the Rams were in a bind. They were short-staffed against the number one team in the league and many were already looking ahead to next Sunday’s game against Seattle. Fortunately, the Rams weren’t ready to warm up the car, and instead, they came into Glendale Arizona, and beat the Cardinals. They showed that they’re a Super Bowl contender after everyone else wrote them off as nosy pedestrians.
Aaron Donald was INCREDIBLE tonight. He made a sack four seconds into the opening drive and made a sack on the last play of the game. He finished with three total (10 on the season) and tipped a Kyler Murray ball in the first quarter allowing Ernest Jones to make the pick. The only bad play he had all night was a missed tackle on former Pittsburgh teammate James Conner but even that was more a product of other defenders not finishing on a goal-line 4th down. Donald was in damn near every play and in a crazy twist of fate, he actually got holding calls.
He wasn’t the only defender to step up. Greg Gaines had a true breakout game with five total tackles and a sack. He demonstrated his quickness as he was able to chase down Kyler Murray on multiple occasions. Despite not having Jalen Ramsey, Donte Deayon, and Robert Rochell, the secondary held their own against the Cards vaunted offense. David Long Jr. and Darious Williams had some shaky plays but overall they kept Murray and the receivers out of the end zone. Leonard Floyd led all defenders with eight tackles and an interception as well.
Offensively, Cooper Kupp was once again DOMINANT. He had 13 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown. He did it all, he caught clutch deep balls, he caught screens, and he hurdled defenders. Kupp demonstrated why he’s one of the best receivers in the game. Odell Beckham was also crucial tonight. Not only did he have his third touchdown in as many games but he made clutch catches on 3rd down and late in the game he caught a pass and had the sense to run backward and kill time off the clock. Once again those claiming him to be a Gabriel-level tumor were sorely mistaken. Despite getting three idiotic penalties, Van Jefferson also had a gigantic play, catching a 52-yard Stafford bomb (with his dad on the opposing sidelines no less).
The biggest revelation tonight on offense was Matthew Stafford. Coming into this game everyone brought up his overblown record against teams with 10 or more wins. That narrative took a Drederick Tatum level hit tonight because he was AWESOME. He threw for 287 yards, with three touchdowns, and no turnovers. He threw bombs, he threw lasers, and he even made an absolutely impossible throw to Cooper Kupp for a touchdown.
Sean McVay called not only a fairly balanced game, but despite having to cobble together an offensive line and tight end group, he managed to use multiple sets and he actually ran the ball. Sony Michel finished with 79 yards on 20 carries and served as the lone back once again. He absolutely redeemed himself after his fumble in the last Cards game. Sure, McVay called empty sets at times when he shouldn’t have been but he had a solid game plan and it worked.
Raheem Morris also deserves credit for giving the best version of bend don’t break all year. Yes, they still haven’t completely eliminated their tendency to give up big plays on 3rd down (the Cards were 8-15), especially 3rd and long, but overall this was a defense that came out swinging literally from the first play. They had two stops on fourth down (yes they gave up two fourths as well) but this was a defense that played with fire. The fact that Kyler Murray didn’t throw a touchdown, or even run one in, is commendable.
Special teams were still an issue. Johnny Hekker still doesn’t look right as he struggled to punt the ball well and the Rams nearly blew the game because they couldn’t recover an onside kick. Nevertheless, Matt Gay was his reliable self. He was 3/3 on field goals including a season-high 55-yarder and made all his PATs. Brandon Powell was also decent in the return game returning one kick for 27 yards which isn’t anything to write home about but for this unit, it’s a start.
The big takeaway was that the Rams were accused of being soft and incapable of winning against the big boys. With wins over Arizona and Tampa it’s safe to say they belong amongst the contenders. There is an outside shot they win the West (the Cards need to lose two more times) and if Tampa and Green Bay stumble as well they could wind up with the one seed. They still have to win out of course, and that won’t be easy given their remaining schedule, but tonight they proved that with their backs against the wall and without some key players, they can still compete with anyone, even on the road.