Rams win ‘playoff’ type game against Cardinals

This felt like a playoff game. Well, it had playoff implications riding on it. Both the Los Angeles Rams and the Arizona Cardinals went toe-to-toe in their Monday Night Football game as if everything was riding on it.

“That’s how I’m taking it,” Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald said about his outlook on the game just a couple of days prior to playing the Cardinals. “I feel like it’s a playoff game, so that’s how we got to take it. That’s the mindset and we know we got to win. We got to win.”

There was a heck of a lot to this matchup. Arizona, with its young superstar quarterback Kyler Murray, came into the game with the best record in the NFL. The Rams were second in the NFC West, two games behind the Cardinals.

If Arizona walked away with a win, the Rams, with four more games to go in the regular season,  would have had to kiss winning their division title opportunity goodbye. Now they have a chance at it. Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris was blunt early in the week about what his defense needed to do to keep quarterback Murray and the Arizona Cardinals offense in check than what they managed to do in Week 4.

In their Week 4 encounter with the Cardinals, the Rams defensive unit gave up 216 yards rushing in a lopsided 37-20 defeat. Murray finished that game with a 120.3 rating after completing 24 of 32 passes for 268 yards, two touchdowns and zero picks.

“We need to do a better job of controlling the things that we can control,” Morris said on Friday. “We got to do a better job of going out there and executing some of our game plan things. (There were) a couple mistakes that we made, simple things as far as execution, as far as mistakes, as far as the tempo, as far as how we practice, as far as how we get everything right, our whole process.

“I think we are well past that point. I think we’ve developed. I think we’ve grown. I think we’ve got a lot better. I think everybody’s more comfortable with each other and I think we’ll do a lot of good things to go out there and try to win this football game.”

Well, the Morris’ defense did play better, but it still took a Donald sack of Murray with no time remaining to seal the Rams’ 30-23 road win.

This game was full of highlights and drama, starting with the Rams not having the services of several of their top players, including cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who were placed on the NFL’s protocol’s list.

Forget about the first half, all of the drama played out in the final two quarters. The Rams came out of intermission and scored two quick touchdowns to take a 27-13 lead.

The bend but don’t break Rams defense put their hands on Murray for four sacks and came away with two interceptions that eventually turned into 14 points for Los Angeles. That was the biggest difference in the ballgame. With that said, Murray still passed for 383 yards and rushed for another 61 yards in the defeat, a highlight reel waiting to happen.

But the Rams came up with the timely plays they needed to get their ninth win of the season (9-4). Donald’s sack of Murray was just the cleanup act for the Rams. There was Cooper Kupp catching 13 passes for 123 yards. Van Jefferson hauled in a 52-yard touchdown pass.

There was Matthew Stafford throwing for three scores, and yet Arizona and Murray had one last crack at tying or winning the game outright when the Rams botched an onside kick.

Lucky for them, the Cardinals could not get their act together in the last few seconds of the ballgame, and head coach Sean McVay and the Rams were able to collect their second win in a row.

After going winless in November, the Rams are now on a short win streak. That streak will be tested in what is left of the regular season. The schedule doesn’t get any easier for McVay and the Rams down the stretch.

So that victory lap celebration has to be quick. Up next on the docket is the Seattle Seahawks, whom the Rams beat earlier in the season. Two road games against the Minnesota Vikings and the Baltimore Ravens then follow the Seahawks’ visit to SoFi Stadium.

The Rams wrap up their season with a home game against the San Francisco 49ers, another division rival.

Leading up to the Arizona game, McVay said the team needed to be aligned with consistency to win the ballgame. They pretty much answered the bell on that. On defense, the Rams held the Cardinals to 103 yards rushing, 113 yards less than what Arizona rushed for in their first meeting. Offensively, the Rams rode the steady hand of Stafford to this hard-fought victory.  

“I think we try to be consistent, but there’s certainly specific things that we say based on the matchups and the things that are important for us to go get it done,” McVay said. “So, there’s always a specific approach geared towards the opponent, but the urgency – you’d like to stay consistent with that week in and week out.

“But you’re also aware and understanding of the fact that hey, if you continue to play relevant games in the month of December, they become that much more important because of what’s at stake. And that’s a positive thing where both teams have a lot to play for.”

Feature Image Caption: GLENDALE, AZ – DECEMBER 13 Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray #1 escapes Los Angeles Rams defensive end Aaron Donald #99 during the Los Angeles Rams vs Arizona Cardinals game on December 13, 2021, at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, AZ. (Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire)