By Stu Jackson, The Rams
Led by balanced offensive production and complementary performances from their defense and special teams, the Rams defeated the Cardinals 34-11 Monday night at SoFi Stadium in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
With the victory, the No. 4-seed Rams advanced to face the No. 2-seed Buccaneers in Tampa Bay in the divisional round on Sunday at 12 p.m. pacific time (NBC, Peacock, Universo).
Quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 13 of 17 pass attempts for 202 yards and two touchdowns – connecting with Odell Beckham Jr. (four receptions, 54 yards) and Cooper Kupp (five receptions, 61 yards) on those scores – and also rushed six times for 22 yards and a touchdown. Led by running backs Sony Michel and Cam Akers, the Rams rushed for 140 yards overall, ultimately outgaining the Cardinals 375-182 in total yards of offense. Akers finished with 17 carries for 55 yards, Michel 13 carries for 58 yards.
Meanwhile, the Rams’ defense held the Cardinals to 0-for-9 on third down and picked off quarterback Kyler Murray twice, with cornerback David Long Jr. accounting for one of those picks and returning it for a touchdown. On special teams, all five of punter Johnny Hekker’s punts landed inside the 20, while kicker Matt Gay made both of his field goal attempts and all four of his extra point attempts.
After forcing the Cardinals to go 3-and-out on the opening series, the Rams used a 35-yard run by Michel on their first offensive snap of the game to reach the Cardinals 45-yard line.
A penalty and a sack derailed the drive, forcing the Rams to punt from their own 48, but Hekker’s punt was downed at the Cardinals 9-yard line, advantageous shallow field position that helped the Rams defense force another 3-and-out.
Wide receiver Brandon Powell’s 8-yard return to the Rams’ own 48 gave them a short field to work with off the ensuing Cardinals punt. Aided Stafford completions of 17 yards to Beckham and 22 yards to Higbee, Los Angeles capitalized via a 4-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to Beckham for a 7-0 lead with 3:50 left in the first quarter.
The Rams successfully challenged a Stafford 1-yard quarterback sneak for a touchdown that was originally ruled short, extending their lead to 14-0 early in the second quarter. Like the first score, it was set up by an explosive pass play – specifically a 31-yard completion from Stafford to a wide-open Beckham.
That lead expanded to 21-0 midway through the second quarter when pressure by Reeder forced an errant Murray throw that Long intercepted and returned 3 yards for a touchdown. A 48-yard punt by Hekker, and a big hit by Rams safety Nick Scott on Cardinals wide receiver A.J. Green that the Rams successfully challenged and overturned from an incompletion to a fumble, had a hand in backing the Cardinals up that deep into their own territory.
The Rams snagged a second interception after defensive lineman Marquise Copeland picked off Murray near midfield, but the Rams were forced to punt on the ensuing possession. Still, they ultimate had done enough to carry a 21-0 lead into halftime.
The lead grew to 28-0 after a 40-yard completion from Beckham to Akers on a trick play set up a 7-yard touchdown pass from Stafford to Kupp.
The Cardinals finally got on the board with 4:11 left in the third quarter via a 2-yard touchdown run by running back James Conner, then a successful 2-point conversion to make it 28-8.
Although the Rams answered with a 37-yard field goal by Gay, the Cardinals would find the endzone again
Cardinals kicker Matt Prater’s 55-yard field goal cut the Rams’ lead to 31-11 with 10:17 remaining. Gay’s 46-yard field goal nearly six minutes later put the Rams back up by 23.