With a 30 to 23 victory over the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday, the Los Angeles Rams officially have their ticket into the postseason and control their own destiny atop the NFC West. Matthew Stafford may have had one of his worst games in a Rams uniform after throwing three interceptions, but a strong showing from the defense and impressive play from Brandon Powell on punt return duties kept the Rams ahead the entire match. This is how it all went down.
After forcing a three-and-out on the Vikings first series of the game, the Rams first offensive drive set the tone quickly with a eight yard run from Sony Michel. Stafford nearly had two disastrous errors when an errant throw flew past Van Jefferson on a crossing route and was nearly intercepted, then, after a challenge from Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer made it fourth-and-inches, fumbled the snap on a QB sneak but was able to pick it back up for the first down. Once at the seven yard line it took just two handoffs to Michel for the Rams to put up the first touchdown of the match.
Sony Michel for 6️⃣! #RamsHouse— Sunday Night Football on NBC (@SNFonNBC) December 26, 2021
On the ensuing kickoff the Rams special teams made an incredible play when a myriad of players wrapped up return man Kene Nwangwu at the eight yard line. The Vikings got things going with a 18 yard run from Alexander Mattison. Kirk Cousins showed resilience in the pocket against the Rams rush, avoiding negative plays with his legs and stuck in the pocket just long enough to find the open receiver. He found a wide open Adam Thielen for a 25 yard gain with Darious Williams in coverage.
At the LA 8, a pass intended for K.J. Osborn was tipped by the receiver and intercepted by Travin Howard, who came in to the game to take over after rookie Ernest Jones was walked off the field with an injury.
First career INT for @TravinTheGreat.— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) December 26, 2021
The defense for the Rams may have stopped any points from getting on the board, but the offense could not award them for their efforts. Following the turnover Stafford and company went three-and-out, coming just two yards shy of a first down on a Odell Beckham Jr. screen that went for eight yards.
Score: Rams 7, Vikings 0
Their next opportunity on offense faired better, however. Michel bullied the Vikings defensive line despite an injury to starting lineman Brian Allen, including a strong 16 yard gain. On a third-and-three at the 14 yard line, Stafford fired a strike to Beckham to the end zone that just fell out of reach. Matt Gay’s kick was good, giving LA a 10 point lead.
At this point of the game, Jalen Ramsey got the better of Viking’s star receiver Justin Jefferson. On a third-and-7, Cousins launched a deep pass to his favorite target this year, but excellent coverage by Ramsey forced Jefferson to the sideline and out of position to make a play on the ball.
Deep in their own territory after a special teams error on the punt from the Vikings, Stafford faced some pressure up the middle on third down but was able to evade the sack—but he did not avoid the interception. Anthony Barr came away with the turnover on a questionable throw from Stafford that was intended for Michel.
.@AnthonyBarr picks it off for the #Vikings!!— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) December 26, 2021
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With a great opportunity to put up seven before the half, Cousins and company took to the field with high aspirations. Greg Gaines, however, had other ideas. The underrated defender got the first sack of the game for LA. Minnesota could not overcome the yardage and settled with just a field goal on a drive that started on the LA 11.
Following his interception, Stafford put together an impressive two minute drill to get his team within scoring position before the end of the half. At the MIN 13, Sean McVay called three straight passing plays that were all targeted to the end zone. None of them converted and Gay got his second field goal of the game.
Score: Rams 13, Vikings 3
LA got the ball first to start the second half of the game after deferring on the coin flip. Stafford’s first pass following halftime was intercepted by Xavier Howard. The veteran QB was looking for V. Jefferson deep, but underthrew him possibly due to some heavy pressure coming from his side.
After a defensive stop, Stafford’s third pass of the half turned into his third interception of the game. Dalvin Thompson deflected a pass intended for Tyler Higbee and Barr walked away with his second interception of the game.
Man of Fire @AnthonyBarr— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) December 26, 2021
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Mattison scored on the next play with a physical run into the end zone.
Go get that 6 @AlexMattison22— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) December 26, 2021
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While LA’s defense was bailing their offense out of head-scratching mistakes, the special teams was playing one of their best games of the season. Brandon Powell solidified himself as the punt returner going forward when he took a Vikings punt to the house.
HUGE 61-yard punt return from Brandon Powell!— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) December 26, 2021
BP to the crib for 6️⃣ | @NFLonFOX pic.twitter.com/P2P2oKml4h
Minnesota’s offense suddenly came to life as they attempted to answer in a big way following LA’s touchdown. Jefferson was the answer, as Cousins found him for a gain of 34 yards. Once they got to the six yard line, Donald absolutely wrecked any chances of the Vikings cashing in a touchdown. They once again settled for the field goal.
Score: Rams 20, Vikings 13
With Stafford struggling, McVay turned to his run game for help. Darrell Henderson’s first run on the day went for 17 yards, but it was Higbee’s ability to get open on a third down play that kept the drive alive—his 12 yard reception converted a much needed third-and-seven. Stafford then got his first touchdown pass of the game, finding Beckham in the corner of the end zone for the score.
Odell Beckham Jr touchdown✅— HotStreak Fantasy (@JoinHotStreak) December 26, 2021
Griddy dance celebration✅#RamsHouse #Vikings #SKOL https://t.co/YwUVLq7arb
Down by 14, the Vikings came out on their next possession on fire. Cousins first three completions went for 19 yards, 19 yards, and 14 yards. In just five plays, the offense made its way to the seven yard line. Three more plays and Cousins found Osborn for an easy six yard touchdown.
Quick strike to @KJ_Osborn!!— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) December 26, 2021
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On maybe one of the most important drives of the game, it was Kupp whose name was called. The potential MVP candidate showed off his speed and strength on his route and ended shaking off his defender for a 37 yard gain. He then converted a third-and-four on a quick catch at the 16 yard line, giving LA an opportunity to continue to wind the clock down. Gay’s second field goal attempt was successful following a stop by the Vikings defense with just 2:03 left in the game.
Without any timeouts to utilize, Cousins found Osborn on a quick 18 yard reception. That was followed up with a Donald sack that nearly ended the game when the ball came loose, but Von Miller was not able to come away with the takeaway. With just 45 seconds left Jefferson put his team within field goal range with a 15 yard catch in the middle of the field. Cousins downed the ball with just 36 seconds left in the game. Minnesota elected to kick the field goal and attempt an onside kick. V. Jefferson sealed the game when he secured the kick.
Final Score: Rams 30, Vikings 23