Coming into the 2021 season, the goal was evident. The Los Angeles Rams were going for it all, to host Super Bowl LVI in their home stadium. There have been many flashes this year of a Super Bowl caliber team, but perhaps none better than a three turnover, 30-23 win in Minneapolis over the Vikings.
Let’s get this straight, this was NOT a pretty game. The Vikings defend the Rams with a zone heavy scheme and the offense struggled to find the big chunk plays. Minnesota kept everything in front of them, forcing Los Angeles to check the ball down. This led to frustration for McVay and Stafford. The frustration, eventually led to turnovers.
Matthew Stafford threw three ugly interceptions in the game, with two of them coming on consecutive drives in the third quarter. However, it wasn’t the turnovers that shaped this game for the Rams, it was the response of the players.
The Los Angeles Rams showed on Sunday that they can play championship caliber football. What exactly does that consist of? Run the football, play great defense, and excel at situational football. The Vikings were given a heavy dose of Sony Michel Sunday afternoon. He carried the ball 27 times for 131 yards and a score. Michel was a constant for the offense, keeping them ahead of the sticks and churning his legs for more yards after initial contact.
Touchdown Sony Michel! Rams go up 7-0 pic.twitter.com/5fp60E8GOU— The Ramily Report (@RamilyReport) December 26, 2021
Although the passing game wasn’t very effective for much of the game, the dominance of Michel kept Minnesota’s defense honest. This allowed McVay to stay on script, and on schedule.
Even through the struggles, Cooper Kupp also remains a constant for this Los Angeles Rams team. He registered 10 catches for 109 yards. Sunday marked 14 games of 90 or more yards this season. He continues to put together an all-time NFL season for a wide receiver, proving that the Rams have a chance as long as number 10 is on the field.
Milestone ✅ – Cooper Kupp@RamsNFL | #RamsHouse | #LARvsMIN🤝 @VUMChealth pic.twitter.com/EEAwk4LANP— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) December 26, 2021
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the day, came along the offensive line. The Rams were without All-Pro left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who was placed on the COVID/Reserve list. This caused David Edwards to move over to left tackle, and Coleman Shelton to fill in at left guard.
Midway through the first half, Brian Allen went down with a knee injury. The Rams had to reshuffle again, moving Shelton back to center and bringing arguably the games most valuable player to play left tackle: Undrafted free agent Alaric Jackson. Jackson came in and comfortably protected Stafford’s blindside. Despite losing their top three left tackles, the offensive line didn’t miss a beat.
The front five dominated the line of scrimmage, helping the Los Angeles Rams rush for 159 yards and not allowing a single sack to the team who leads the NFL in that category. There was plenty of concern about this group, especially without Whitworth and Noteboom. In ways that they never wanted to find out, the Rams have discovered depth and continuity along the offensive line. That’s crucial at this time of the year.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Los Angeles Rams had an outstanding showing. They held the Minnesota Vikings to a whopping 16 percent third down conversion rate. They also were able to stifle the Vikings offense in the red zone, getting an interception on their first try and holding them to field goals for most of the game. The only Vikings touchdowns came late in the game and off of a Stafford turnover.
Much was made of the matchup between Jalen Ramsey and Justin Jefferson, and rightfully so as the two young superstars collided. Although Jefferson had a good overall game, he was held to 3 catches for 24 yards by Ramsey on 21 routes. Ramsey blanketed Jefferson every time they lined up, and forced Kirk Cousins to look for options elsewhere.
Aaron Donald was his usual self, recording five tackles – three of them coming behind the line of scrimmage. The secondary had a solid showing, holding Minnesota in some of the most pivotal moments of the game. This defense picked up an offense that desperately needed it.
Countless times the defense was put in bad field position. Still, they held the Vikings to mostly field goals. Time and time again, different aspect of the team picked each other up. Whether it was someone else stepping up on the offensive line or the defense and special teams picking up the offense.
The huge spark that the Los Angeles Rams desperately needed, was provided by an unexpected contributor. As soon as it seemed like the Rams were trying to give this game away, Brandon Powell took a punt return 61 yards for a touchdowns. This was only the second punt return touchdown in the NFL this season, and it couldn’t have come in a bigger moment. The score game the Rams a 27-13 lead, and set the foundation for the Rams to grind out a victory in Minneapolis.
That is championship level football, refusing to give up an inch even in the toughest situations.
HUGE 61-yard punt return from Brandon Powell!— x – Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) December 26, 2021
BP to the crib for 6️⃣ | 📺 @NFLonFOX pic.twitter.com/P2P2oKml4h
Matthew Stafford then led a huge game-clinching drive, making some marvelous throws on third down. To end it, he found Odell Beckham Jr. for his fourth touchdown in six games as a Ram. Beckham had four touchdowns all of last season with the Browns.
The Los Angeles Rams showed on Sunday that they can weather the storm, and still win when they need it most. Earlier this season and in years past, too many times have we seen McVay and the Rams not be able to rebound from mistakes. This is the type of victory that says a lot about a team. It might not have been pretty, but on a short week on the road after everything this team has gone through over the last month was impressive.
Yes, Matthew Stafford needs to play better. He even admitted it himself. There are not many games you will win in the NFL when turning the ball over three times. However, the resilience of this football team, and the ability to lean on their star players all over the board makes the Rams one of the scariest teams in the NFL.
The Los Angeles Rams clinched a playoff berth on Sunday. With two games to go, they sit at 11-4. Buckle up Rams fans, the fun is about to start. This team is ready for January, and to make a run at Super Bowl LVI.