Once again, the Los Angeles Rams were hit hard by Covid, coming off a short week, and had to reshuffle their offensive line, and once again, as they’ve done all December, they won, and won UGLY. Despite an absolutely November-esque performance from Matthew Stafford, the Rams left Minnesota with a 30-23 win and a guaranteed spot in the playoffs. They also took advantage of losses by the Niners and Cardinals to take first place in the NFC West, and as of now, are a three-seed if the playoffs start today.
It wasn’t easy but the Rams exhibited a great degree of mental toughness as they won on defense and special teams (yeah you read that right). Not since Mr. Burns was visited by three ghosts and funded Springfield Elementary with the money in his tuxedo pants has there been a bigger Christmas miracle.
Sony Michel (27 carries, 131 yards, and a TD) and Cooper Kupp (10 catches, 109 yards) were the big heroes on offense today. Despite losing Andrew Whitworth and Joe Noteboom to Covid this week, Sony Michel was able to pound the rock, when Sean McVay wasn’t abandoning the run. Michel has cemented himself as the Rams number one back especially with Darrell Henderson once again getting hurt and Cam Akers being recently activated (thank you Santa). The problem is that McVay got away from pounding the Vikings, and instead, went back to the pass-happy ways that made November about as baffling and miserable as “Being the Ricardos”.
Stafford threw three interceptions and honestly could’ve had more. Yes, he had a touchdown to Odell Beckham (his fourth since joining the Rams) but dear god was Stafford Baker Mayfield level awful on Sunday. It’s sadly a feature and not a bug, but fortunately today, the rest of the Rams were able to paper over Stafford’s throw-up.
Defensively, Raheem Morris was allowed to keep his job today. Yes, the defense almost broke in the fourth quarter but that was more about Stafford and the offense putting them in tough spots. Aaron Donald was once again an absolute Grinch with five tackles and a sack. Before leaving the game with a hand injury Greg Gaines also had a sack. The defense forced Kirk Cousins into an interception of his own to Travin Howard who had to come in relief duty. The much-maligned Troy Reeder also had himself a day with six tackles. Even with Stafford’s picks, the defense came out the next series and mostly held the Vikings to field goals. They carried the day until the fourth quarter when the offense found itself again.
The biggest surprise of all came on special teams. This unit has been an absolute black hole for the Rams but today their skill set grew ten sizes. They swarmed on return coverage, they recovered the onside kick at the end of the game, and Matt Gay was once again perfect. The biggest surprise was Brandon Powell emerging late in the season to become the returner the Rams have been questing for. He had a 61-yard punt return for a touchdown. That return came when the Rams desperately needed a spark following the third Stafford pick. Powell has shown flashes on returns all month but today was his coming out party. Johnny Hekker also had a nice throwback performance.
Unfortunately, the Rams were dealt some blows along the way as Ernest Jones, Darrell Henderson, and Greg Gaines had to leave the game with injuries. Odell Beckham seemed banged up before catching his touchdown but that’s something to monitor. As of now, there aren’t any updates on these injuries. On the positive side, despite Whitworth and Noteboom being absent, rookie Alaric Jackson filled in nicely and Stafford wasn’t sacked and they helped Sony set a career-high in carries and a season-high in yards. Not bad.
Tyler Higbee also showed how valuable he is to that offense both as a blocker and someone the defense actually has to track. The Rams are often knocked for not having any depth but they’ve proven time and time again that they are able to find players that can at the very least weather the storm until they get guys back. Travin Howard being another example.
A win is a win, especially as it’s almost playoff time and the Rams have demonstrated all month that even when things are going wrong and they’re missing key players they can rise up. That’s the big takeaway from their undefeated December. This team, despite being called soft, SOSAR, and DOA they’ve risen to the challenge and now control their playoff destiny.
Next week they travel to Baltimore who were BLOWN OUT by the Bengals and are fighting for their playoff lives. Their secondary creates an ideal situation for the Rams assuming Stafford can get himself back to what he looked like against Arizona. Cooper Kupp is just 231 yards away from breaking Megatron’s record and Sunday had set the record for most consecutive games with 90 or more yards.
The Rams are now a playoff team and if they can just get over the Covid/injury bug as well as the mental lapses by Stafford and McVay they might be able to live up to their potential.